31 Days of Good Enough: On the Move

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.

daisies medium

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.

Today’s message:
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!

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Tending Twilight

the day darkens. i get too tired. i find the housework oppressive.

i ask for help, then don’t want it. like in the decluttering. i don’t know why it bothered me. what to do with the tapes from my old show? leave me alone.

Today #snowday #gopark #riverside #park #urban...
Snow day in Riverside Park via mbcoudal

the snow — more of the same color of the same grey sky.

i like when the sky is a crisp blue, like today. then i can forgive the weather gods. i can go on. but when dark and grey, i want to stay in bed. i have only a few weeks left of winter. i would like them to be azure blue.

i would like blue sky days. but after all the grey — why is grey so like death?

i go to Florida — old people, malls, alligators.

for a few days, i sleep in a twin bed, and laugh with Nicole and my brother, (and dad and Marty). we talk about creativity.

Tonite at the lower school #sunset #riverdale ...
Lower school sunset in Riverdale via mbcoudal

that is the start of my spring. and that is followed by the buds on the trees in Riverside Park.

my kids get older, get away from me, find fault in me, our apartment, why don’t we have nicer floors?

the sun does not ask for thanks. so i try to just give light too. just do my job — mother, wife. but the endless giving becomes a chore.

sure, the sun must want a thank you. the grey day gets no thanks. for it takes my energy. it does not give. it is the negative ion. i need the positive.

the wind whips and the shadows blend into dark night. i know spring comes after winter, always taking me by surprise. then the summer. lighter, longer days of laughter, hugs.

we are destined for spring.

Laughter is the language of the soul
Laughter is the language of the soul (Photo credit: symphony of love)

I wrote this in a writing group last weekend. Here’s more writing from a blogger in the group: Wendy: the prompt that made me cry

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It Must Be October

On an autumn walk, these wildflowers said, "Hello. We are still beautiful."
On an autumn walk, these wildflowers said, “Hello. We are still beautiful.”

I feel old.

It must be October.

It must be the pumpkin-flavored everything.

I am no longer pumpkin-flavored.

I am nutmeg. Nutty.

I see my reflection in the subway window.

I think,

“I need Botox.”

The train travels through Cornwall on the trestle. Sunset.
The train travels through Cornwall on the trestle. Sunset.

I am becoming

invisible – like all the New York belles, wrinkled, made up,

inevitable.

I don’t care – and then

I start singing –

“I don’t care. I love it.”

I am silly, happy. humming to myself on the subway.

I am not yet that creeping cold November.

I am still this playful hot October.

In the beginning of the autumn month.

I am still jumping in a pile of leaves, singing songs to and of myself.

It must be October.

I don’t care.

I love it.

Mary Beth Coudal
I am in October.
United Methodist Retreat House
This is where we (bootcamp4writers.com) had our beautiful fall retreat.

Cleaning the Closet

Wallpaper - Hyacinth, pattern #480 - 1915-17
Wallpaper – Hyacinth, pattern #480 – 1915-17 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been decluttering my apartment — but I’d rather be in Paris.

I hired a home organizer, the Clutter Whisperer, and bribed a girlfriend, Barbara, to help me declutter my stuff. My brother and sis-in-law helped a lot too.

“The 1970s called, Mary Beth,” my bro Brendan said. “They want their chair back.”

I cannot do this kind of spelunking alone. Or without some humor, apparently.

Cynthia, a.k.a., the Clutter Whisperer, whom I found years ago on Craigslist, gave me some advice: purge your books and your clothes. I like her nonjudgmental approach. She said I’d do well in a big old farmhouse rather than a NYC apartment. That’s nice. I’d do better with a backpack in Europe too.

In my defense, as I tell my mother, “City apartments don’t have garages, basements, attics, big closets, cars, or home offices.” I know. I know. We have museums and parks. And I’d take them any day. I like experiences way better than things. But I have to get rid of the things so that I can have the experiences.

I thought when I left my job a year ago, I’d stay on top of my family’s stuff. A family of five just accumulates. And with Chris’s Parkinson’s, he’s a bit slower to help or initiate decluttering.

Also, I’ve been way more interested in my biz and my freelancing work than in home-centered activities.

I have excellent taste. I’m good at noticing (and sometimes making) beautiful things, I’m just not good at showcasing them or bidding them farewell (as in kids’ art projects!)

When working on my closet Friday, Barbara offered me this quote from William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.” Tall order. As I cleaned the closet, I found:

  • a journal from my raft trip on the Rio Grande in 1992
  • Hi8 tapes from the kids as toddlers
  • an orange tank top with the price still affixed (LOVE orange, but often wear the basic NYC black!)

These things were all kind of beautiful and kind of useful. The “kind-ofs” get me. I hang on to “kind of.”

I am asking the kids to join me in the purging of books and clothes.

I feel like contacting Gretchen Rubin. In her book The Happiness Project she talks about the joys of decluttering and, even, gasp, keeping an empty shelf. I’d like to do that. I’d like be a minimalist. I’d like to escape to Europe.

Right now, I’m traveling through my daughters’ seventh grade papers, going back in time. And if I’m lucky, I’ll recycle the past and move into the present, perhaps even experience a park or museum today.

Iron Man Ignored the Kid

The iron man and us
The iron man and us (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

I love summer blockbusters. I also love French films and independent films and basically any kind of films (though, true fact: I have never seen an X-rated movie, unless flipping around and catching Robin Byrd on cable counts!)

I just love losing myself to the dark of any movie theater.

But something kept rattling in my brain after seeing Iron Man 3. I was disturbed by the way Iron Man treated the kid who had rescued him. He totally ignored the kid.

Iron Man seemed to think a dark roomful of toys/tech equipment could replace the presence of a loving adult.

See, the kid in the movie had been abandoned by his dad, and no surprise, when Iron Man showed up, the kid assumed he was a dad figure. And when the superhero needed help, the kid was helpful. (This is not a spoiler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the kid will be useful to Iron Man.)

iron man 3But then the kid was not rewarded for being there for this father figure. In the end, the only thing the boy received was all kinds of digital devices for him to tinker with. This is his reward?!? The kid needed a frozen yogurt with the dad figure, or a picnic in the park, or, yes, the proverbial, game of catch.

In this room of tech equipment, the product placement of FiOS plastered all over the huge flatscreen TV was jarring and obscene. I was totally taken out of the movie and felt I’d landed in a stupid commercial.

So the message on this Father’s Day weekend seems to be: you want to be a good father? Buy your kid off, get them tons of tech stuff so they can play alone in a dark room. And then you can retire, alone yourself, in your own dank and dark digital kingdom. That’s Hollywood.

This is relevant to my life right now because my son is being punished (I won’t go into the details). And his tech equipment is taken away. He is clueless as to how to survive. I’ve suggested fro yo, a picnic, or a game of catch. But like Iron Man, our superhero, he’d rather be alone with his devices than outdoors with his friends or dad or sports or, even, ice cream.

I find this choice sad — not nearly as thrilling or active as an action film or life could be.

Conflict Resolution and My Ideal Saturday Morning

Writing about anything but yesterday’s tragedy in Newton, Conn, feels insensitive. But to cope with horrors, ordinary or extraordinary, I need to write. Through any endeavor, creative and artistic, we find out who we are, what we think, and how we feel. And we figure out how to go on.

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This morning I dropped off one of my daughters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel calm looking at art and making art. Thanks, Andy Warhol.

I’m a teacher, a mother, and a writer. I’ve been thinking about conflicts.

I know in families and schools and all our relationships, conflict is inevitable. But how we deal with our internal and external conflicts is optional. I believe our society preys upon our conflicts. Our media exploits our differences — red state vs. blue state; stay at home mom vs. working mom.

Honestly, we have more that unites us than divides us.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have to find a way to seek common ground and lift one another up, not put each other down. We cannot whip out automatic rifles when we cannot get along — with ourselves or with our mothers.

We have to find and share our public spaces like our schools and our museums. Our public places and institutions are sacred.

I teach my writing students that conflict is the essence of drama. We mustn’t avoid conflict. But we cannot rest in a place of constant conflict. We must learn to use conflict to further the plot of our lives, to reach out, to state our needs, and to work on how to find a common humanity. Even when we want to find a common enemy.

Every child and every adult should lean how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Those of us who live in cities and ride the subways or share public spaces know we must coexist. And when we cannot live peaceably with ourselves, our families or our neighbors, we must get help.

And as every one is saying on social media, getting help should be a whole lot easier than getting a gun. There is no shame in experiencing conflict or in getting help with whatever arise in our lives. The tragedy arises when we cannot resolve our conflicts without hurting someone else.

To manage our inner and outer conflicts, we can:

  • make art
  • write in a journal
  • talk to a friend
  • work out
  • seek professional help
  • listen to music
  • walk in nature
  • attend a worship service
  • read a book

I don’t know. There are probably a million ways to handle conflict healthily. But we must be taught them; they don’ t just come naturally.

Today’s daily prompt, What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Ideally, I may do any of the above conflict resolution items.

I write in my journal. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I go for a run. I make a nice brunch for my family with bagels and lox. My kids clean up the brunch without being asked. Then I go to a nearby spa for a massage. The kids get themselves to wherever they may need to go — basketball, Bat Mitzvah. I feel at peace. I make art.

While the first few things I listed do happen, reading, writing, drinking coffee — the last few things don’t. I cannot control other people. (I am concocting a plan to make the kids more self-reliant and supportive of one another and of me and my husband.) I also do not get lox or a massage on a Saturday morning because I worry about the expense. I feel guilty spending money on myself during the holiday season. My budget is already pretty tight with kids’ presents and holiday travel. I guess that would be an ideal too, not feeling guilty.

Just for today, I teach my kids to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. I love them well and hold my dear ones close. Just for today, that is my ideal.

Here’s the link to today’s daily prompt: Me Time

Here’s an earlier blog post on Navigating Conflict. I learned these skills at the Girls Leadership Institute, an amazing group that empowers girls.

My Mom, My Worries, My Optimism

Today’s daily prompt is Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

red barn
Took this pic a couple months ago upstate New York. I love a working landscape.

A few days ago, the prompt was:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

My five people include dear ole mum, so this blog post fulfills two daily prompts.

  1. My mom – though I don’t talk to her every day (or even, every week) I think of her all the time. I thank her for passing down her good looks, sense of humor, personal style, and intelligence to me. Of course, she did this in combo with my dad, I know. But Mom still does yoga, teaches college, and stands on her head every day. What’s not to love?
  2. My secret garden – I would like to say more but, ya know, shhhhhh, it’s a secret. And it’s a garden. So ya… (it’s one of 7 Rules for Surviving, so revisit this post.)
  3. My three kids – they are my front and center; my alpha and omega. Everything I do and everything I want to do, I do for the darlings.
  4. Jolain and my girlfriends – When I became a mother, I found my center, but I also worried I’d lost my mojo. With a strong community of women friends, I’ve kept myself intact, even when I regularly lose it.
  5. Hal and my former colleagues. I know this is crazy, but I love my ex-coworkers so much. I love their intelligence and their passion for making the world better. I’m glad I’ve moved on from my full-time work, but this year, my heart and my social life is still full of the awesome staff from United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries.

I know many wives would put their husbands on their top five people. And Chris and I do have a great thing going, but, let’s be honest, the Parkinson’s Disease has really put a cramp in our romantic lives. We still are great co-parents and movie-going comrades.

Speaking of movies, next week our Screen Actors Guild special screening, Chris and I will see Les Mis and the Hobbit. How does anyone ever work full-time when there are so many amazing movies to see every damn week?

I have three persistent worries. And these are:

  1. Will we manage as we embark on two and a half months without health insurance?
  2. How long does my husband have in fairly good health? (I know, I know, no one knows how long any of us have, but with a spouse with a chronic disease, you worry.)
  3. How will we pay for our three kids’ college?

My sources of optimism:

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my mom and my daughter, my raisons des etres.
  • my boot camp for writers, my new biz
  • my ability to make funny jokes
  • my obtaining more wisdom and patience as I age, (right? tell me there are gifts to ageing)
  • my crazy creative writing students
  • my president
  • my belief in the restorative nature of nature
  • working out
  • movies and books