You want to be happy but there’s so many chores to do.
For one moment, put your happiness first.
The other day, I bought myself a really cute pink party dress from Talbots. Once, as a preteen, reading Young Miss, an article said: ‘In order to be popular, do not wear a new outfit right after you get it. Wait at least a week.’
I have internalized this advice and have for more than 40 years tucked away my treasures in the pursuit of popularity. But WHY???
There is another truth: Don’t hide your light (or pretty pink dress) under a bushel. I am wearing the dress today.
Also, to increase my happiness quotient, the other night I went to the 52nd Street Project. I saw plays written by 10-year olds, performed by top-notch adult theater professionals, like Bill Kamp and Edie Falco. Going out to the theater makes me so happy. But especially because I like hanging out with my friend Joanna.
So for today’s happiness advice, I suggest you:
Do something nice for yourself
Wear something new
Go to the theater
Meet up with a friend
Admire the creativity of children
Plan something fun
Tomorrow the girls and I leave for almost two weeks in Italy — Milan, Ravenna, Bologna, Florence, Rome. Looking forward to this trip has made me happy.
One special night Chris and I took the kids to see the Big Apple Circus. The show was spectacular and Grandma, our favorite clown, was so funny. It was warm although it was Thanksgiving weekend. A golden moon hung over Manhattan.
“Look at the moon,” I told my son, who was eight or nine years old at the time.
“No, c’mon. Hurry up, Mom. I have to get home to see Drake and Josh.” That was his favorite TV show.
Duhrr! What did I do wrong? I had given my kids EVERYTHING — including the moon and what did I get? No ‘Thank you.’ ‘Gee, I’m so lucky.’ ‘You’re the best.’
I just read this Karen Weese article in the Washington Post about raising kinder kids. I love it. I relate. I know, too, that kids at certain ages are simply caught up in the here and now. And they cannot fathom that something wonderful is not right in front of them at any given moment. They deserve it. We all do. Even though something wonderful might just have happened for us. Are we all so entitled?
We have to learn to SAVOR. This is a stage I learned about at Global Ministries on the Marketing Team. Working for the United Methodist Church, I had worked on lots and lots of marketing campaigns. On the team, we needed to remind each other to stop and pause and savor how well we had done before we started some new project. It was hard to do.
Probably in all jobs and in all families, there’s this feeling — I’m on a treadmill. I just hopped off this one treadmill. And now I must jump on another. That’s life. No time.
Let’s remember to pause every day. Pause between our runs on the treadmill. We must savor. And in that savoring moment, have gratitude for the circus, for the moon, for our favorite TV shows, but mostly for each other — and for Grandma too!
We were on the move. While talking to my pastor Laura, in the Climate March last week, I had an insight — I have to pay as much attention to and love my own children as much as I notice and love my students.
That seems obvious. But sometimes I come home from teaching brimming over with funny stories about the 6-year olds in my afterschool creative writing and reading class, and I can see (or feel) my children roll their eyes. My affection for other children does not take away my love for my own children. But I have to make sure that they know that. I have to encourage them.
Laura and I talked about this as we walked with hundreds of thousands along the Manhattan streets in the biggest climate change march ever. We were on West 59th, walking along Central Park South, discussing Eleanor Roosevelt and the recent fantastic PBS series on the Roosevelts.
And I had told Laura, “It just seemed that as Eleanor grew older, she was alone. Her life was not full of family and picnics and fun, but international travel and great causes.” Which, of course, I love. I love her internationalist impulse and her love for the world. But maybe she should’ve hung out with her family more.
When I went to college, I moved from suburban Chicago to New York City. And I just stayed. I am far-flung from my family of origin too. I want to be intentional about connecting with my mother and father and sister and brothers too.
So for the next 31 days, I will be writing about:
How my husband’s Parkinson’s impacts our family
My son’s college search
Letting go of my desire to keep up with the Joneses
My take-aways from teaching
How and where I try (and sometimes do) get published
Decluttering my messy apartment
Trying to stick to a family meal plan
and maybe even
Pursuit of fitness
And maybe some random (good enough) essays I’m working on.
I am good enough. You are good enough. You don’t have to be or do better. Just accept that where you are is where you are. There is no perfect. There is today. I’m so glad we have today.
I aim to be a loving presence in my little sphere of the world.
I love the concept of Good Enough. I am a perfectionist. I want everything to be just right. But sometimes that hinders me from finishing things, from sending stories out, or feeling that I’m good enough. Lately, I’ve also been blessed with so much wonderful work. And so many great friends. And yes, a great family too! And that is so good!
It should be obvious from my blog posts that my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease is not a death sentence. It is a “shit-this-sucks!” sentence. The disease has slowed down Chris’s ability to move and, perhaps, to think.
But it is not a stopping or a slowing down of the love he feels from and to and with other human beings.
Chris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 12 years ago. His first symptom was stiffness in one arm. It didn’t swing much when he walked. He seemed to have an ever-so-slight drag in his step. More symptoms, such as a mask-like visage and stooped posture, have appeared since the time of his diagnosis. The years have not been easy.
Chris still thinks he got a better deal with a Parkinson’s diagnosis than a diagnosis of A.L.S. or some other fast-acting kind of cancer. He thinks Parkinson’s is not the worst disease.
Like Robin Williams, Chris is (and was) an extraordinarily talented comic and dramatic actor, conversationalist, and, yes, humanitarian. Chris is not acting that much anymore. He’s winning awards for his translations of Chekhov. He’s working on writing projects and directing plays. (He’s still a pretty good conversationalist and humanitarian.)
More importantly, he continues to excel at loving his children and his family. That is essential.
Now, about depression.
This is tough to talk about. Chris was briefly on anti-depressants (Lexapro, I think) for a malaise or depression that may have appeared around the same time as his Parkinson’s. He felt that the pills did not help. He felt that it was just one more damn pill to take. He has to take a lot every single day to keep his neurons firing.
The neurologist did not push these pills. He addressed my complaints about Chris’s symptoms by suggesting that they fit the criteria of apathy, not depression. And apathy, Dr. Ford said, is more annoying to the people living with the apathetic person than to the person who has the apathy. (And there was a bit of joking that I, as the complaining party, was the one who needed the antidepressants. Not the identified patient. But I declined.)
Apathy, turns out, is not an uncommon side effect of Parkinson’s.
From my point of view (and I have encouraged Chris to write from his perspective), depression, apathy, and Parkinson’s Disease – these diseases do, in fact, totally suck. They deplete the quality of life. Because Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive disease, the symptoms continue to worsen. The disease and its symptoms require a person to constantly fight inertia or apathy. Or depression.
And for some, perhaps Robin Williams, who carried a compounding of diseases, the heavy weight of the battle was too much to carry. (I am not judging. I am writing from my own point of view. I know that we — every single one of us — is fighting his or her own battles. I cannot judge. Only love.)
From my experience, the part of a human being that is capable of giving and receiving love does not seem to be affected by Parkinson’s Disease. Perhaps, one’s capacity for love is what makes us human. And life worth fighting for. (But, again, it may not be enough.) Is love, in fact, what makes life worth living?
Just for today. One day at a time.
When all else – body, mind — fails, perhaps, we should celebrate when love remains.
One of my girlfriends and I talk about this a lot. We bemoan that our schools don’t teach our daughters how to be confident. In relationships and in the workplace, confidence seems to be a make-or-break key to success.
How can we inspire confidence? As parents and teachers, we can model confidence. Or, at the very least, model competence. Then, move on towards excellence.
I tell my kids the best way to be confident is to be prepared.
I have had a funny relationship with confidence. At times, I am overly confident — optimistically reporting my capabilities (and then, behind the scenes, scrambling to skill up). Other times, I am insecure. My voice shakes and my body posture gets smaller.
I attribute my confidence problem to one small fact — I don’t like to be wrong. And when I am, I get defensive, mad at myself for not knowing all of the answers from all of the angles.
Recently, when I don’t know something, I’ve tried a new method. In my presentations or workshops, I’ll say, “That’s a great question. I really don’t know.” I might say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Or better yet, I’ll kick the question back to the group and use my curiosity as an opportunity to find the wisdom from the crowd.
Another inspiration has been from the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on body language. Cuddy shows that when you strike a power pose for even two minutes, you are perceived as “assertive, confident and comfortable.” A power pose could be a Wonder Woman stance, a wide-armed and wide-legged stance, or a feet-on the table, hands behind-the-head stretching pose.
Cuddy advises that we not ‘fake it ’til we make it,’ but we ‘fake it ’til we become it.’
That’s what I’m doing with confidence. Only I’m not faking it. I truly am curious and I am prepared. My friend Evelyn suggested that in presentations, we should get ‘large and in charge.’ I like that. And that’s what I will suggest to my girls.
Like 20 years ago, I was temping at a bank in New Rochelle. I was working for a banker — I forget his name — but he was younger than me by a few years. But he seemed older. He was getting over some kind of cancer. He used to buy me lunch almost every day. He seemed confused by me.
Then, he told me why. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
“Really?” That seemed weird. I’m no Mother Theresa. I get impatient and insecure on a daily basis. I felt sorry for this banker — I mean, if I was the nicest person he’d ever met! Well, that just seemed sad.
Still. Nice gets a bad wrap. I remember in the book The Happiness Project when Gretchen Rubin is super-nice to everyone in her life for a week as a path to happiness. No one really notices her niceness and she’s glad when the week’s over ’cause it feels like kinda a waste of time. And niceness requires a lot of effort.
I have felt that my niceness is, at times, perceived as stupidity. (Especially at work — when the cynical males were perceived as smart and the young female optimists were seen as fools. Well ha! Fools have more laughs than cynics!)
I can’t help it. I am compulsively nice. And this kind of “nice girl” syndrome has cost me. Maybe in being nice I have swallowed some honest emotion.
Still. In the long run, I’d rather be overly nice than overly critical or mean.
My daughter and I had a screaming match yesterday and she accused me of being so mean. And ugh, that hurt. In a quieter moment, I asked my husband, “Was I mean?”
“When you two lock horns, no one wins,” he said. Which, I think, meant, ‘Yes, you were unfair or unkind.’ Hey, I thought, I’m sorry. And you only hurt the ones you love.
I don’t want to get into the deets of the argument, but my daughter and I talked it out later and we both promised to do better next time — to give each other a little more patience and more room to breath. Tough stuff. At least for me. Me? The nicest person you’ve ever met.
I have blogged about this before. And interestingly enough, I also wrote about my daughter four years ago in the blog post the power of niceness. I, then, too, referenced the Happiness Project and my resentment about workplace sarcasm winning over niceness. Weird. Four years later. I’m writing about the same stuff.
yes, first off, my awesome kids, especially as they were good traveling companions over Thanksgiving
my family whom we visited in Chicago — all 5 of us Coudal kids were together with our families — so many fun memories!
my blog, my facebook, my instagram, my twitter — and even my foray into pinterest
my new bathroom lights (this may seem small, but as we live in a rent stabilized apartment, we get very few home improvements. The super was in our apartment when we left for Chicago and when we came back, voila! fixtures were installed!)
my quirky freelance gigs and steady income
all of my writing students — even my bratty middle school kids
my old friends, like from college and high school, who’ve been my friends for DECADES!
my new friends, like from new work city
my writing class
my love of travel
the NYC theater scene
my finishing a 5K on turkey day
my Upper West Side
the NYC citbike program
my secret garden
my health — because, it’s true, health is wealth
When I am grateful, something in me opens up and I make room for more acceptance.
Gratitude is a practice.
I am not perfect. At times, I see too quickly what I am missing. Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease, I am, at times, sorry for him, sorry for my kids, sorry for myself. Just sorry. And mad.
I have wished I was married to someone who did not have chronic health problems. But I want to remember to appreciate and celebrate what I have. I have a lot.
I do not like asking for help. At last week’s lecture on teen boys, Rosalind Wiseman said getting help is a lifelong skill, I agreed, intellectually.
I am the driver who does not like asking for directions. In fact, I am the sole long-distance driver in my family. Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease — or his meds — have compromised his ability to drive. My son does not yet have his permit. We don’t own a car any more. But I am the family driver, metaphorically too.
In 2009, on Lindsay’s birthday, we made up 7 rules for living on the back of a paper napkin while drinking champagne at the Yacht Club. This year we did it again, but had to finish up over coffee the next morning at the Inn. Lindsay Pontius and I made up seven new rules for living. And I will blog about these rules in the coming weeks.
In the last round of rules, my number one rule was Pile on the People. Which I then changed to Pile on the Useful People. Because, at some point, I felt that I was helping more than I was helped by helpful babysitters, caregivers, friends.
For example, I remember hiring a professional babysitter when Hayden was a tot. She took Hayden to the playground, while I stayed home and folded laundry. I loved the playground. I hated the laundry.
Luckily, at that time, I had a therapist, April Feldman, who helped me see the error in this equation. Do the fun stuff. Farm out the chores, like the laundry.
Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s, everyone says to me (and I say to myself) “Get help!” But piling on more people (for me) is often piling on more work. I am exceedingly generous, even to the point of bankruptcy.
This may have to do with my white (and wife) guilt for needing to hire caregivers at all. Caregivers are often people of color. I dont’ want anyone to think that I am better or believe I am better than they are. We are all equal.
So what can I do?
Care about the helpers
Go to the park
Farm out the tasks I don’t like
See that asking for help requires practice.
I wrote this at the 475 Riverside Drive ecumenical library’s first and third Wednesday of every month writing group a couple of weeks ago.
The post was inspired by today’s Daily Prompt. The task was to grab any book, open anywhere, go to the 10th word. I grabbed Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale: A Memoir. My word was “wanted.” As in, Wanted: Help.
No one knows this about me. But when I was an assistant editor in the biz school at Pace University, I thought for a day or two about going into nursing.
I was in grad school for literature at NYU at the time. I had tuition remission at NYU through my then-husband, but I could also get tuition remission at Pace. I debated about applying to Pace law school, but the campus was in Pleasantville or Westchester somewhere. That seemed like such a trek from my natural habitat of downtown Manhattan!
So I thought about nursing. I’d heard there were a lot of jobs. Besides, I had loved being a candy striper when I was a teenager.
Here’s the thing — I’m not cut out for it.
When my kids throw up, I gag, shudder and turn away. When they bleed, I feel woozy. And when they hallucinate with a fever, I find their hallucinations extremely funny and can’t stop giggling.
I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it — I guess they learn to control these impulses. Maybe I, too, could stifle my gag or my giggle.
So instead of pursuing law or nursing, (real practical skill-type jobs!) I took grad psych classes in critical thinking at Pace in the Straus Leaning and Thinking Center with Dr. Rachel Lauer.
The program blew my mind. I learned so much about learning. For ex., I first learned the word, meta. I learned about methods of thought, rhetoric, kinds of intelligence, and philosophy. I’m richer for it.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had pursued nursing or law, instead of writing and teaching.
Upon my oby gyn’s recommendation after a regular check up last Friday, I had a sonogram. The technician’s name was Lark. I could tell that she was measuring the length of something. I’m no doctor but when I got up out of the stirrups and looked at the screen, I could definitely see that I had some kind of cyst.
So, yesterday, after biking down to NPR to contribute to an interview about Chris’s Endgame project for RadioLab, I biked to teach my last Creative Exploration class.
I was in the back of the middle school auditorium at 5:15, when I saw that I’d gotten a message from my gyno Dr. Beth Simon. The message said, “You need a blood test and MRI.” My Creative Explorers’ performance was over and so I snuck out of the auditorium and left her a message to please call.
We talked by phone 20 minutes later. She said, the cyst was 4cm and part solid/part liquid, which is the kind they do not like to see.
“There’s a chance it’s benign. There’s a chance it’s malignant.” She was direct and unflinching.
When I said, “I’m worried,” she did not tell me not to be. She told me, “I’m sorry.”
She also said, “I was really on my game to feel that your uterus had gotten a little bigger.” I have to say that I loved her confidence and her possible early detection of something in me that is not so good, ovarian cancer.
So, this morning, before driving upstate, I am running back uptown for a a CA-125 blood test. If the number is elevated, then that’s not so good.
I debated about blogging about this, because I am unsure of the outcome and I am a little scared. But I process things through writing.
And my friend Jenny Allen wrote a play about her ovarian cancer, I Got Sick Then I Got Better. And also after seeing Chris Clavelli’s play this week, it seems the more we talk and write about the tough stuff, the less hard it is.