Creative Genius

Yesterday a friend mentioned, jokingly, that, once again, he was bypassed for the MacArthur genius grant. Yup. Me too.

But wait. Another person’s success can guide and catalyze you.

I have been a genius at parenting, teaching, writing. I have also been an utter and complete failure.

The problem with lone geniuses? In my opinion, there’s no such thing. All geniuses need a partner, a team, a band.

The Beatles created their great work when they competed against each other. On 60 Minutes last week, Paul McCartney talked about feeling competitive in his songwriting with John Lennon.

“If he’d have written [‘Strawberry Fields Forever’], I would write ‘Penny Lane’, you know, and it’s – he’s remembering his old area in Liverpool, so I’ll remember mine.”

So genius entails walking the streets of our childhood and young adulthood. One of my adult students has asked me to offer a writing workshop on the subject of sexual abuse and survival. So many of us have memories dredged to the surface during these Senate Supreme Court hearings.

I am figuring out how to offer this. Because writing about our vulnerabilities from a childhood place is a way into genius, but you have to feel safe.

How safe are you today? How vulnerable can you be in your art?

And another thing — Who among your friends is not a genius? I know that all of my friends are geniuses and worthy of reward.

What is genius?
What does genius have to do with creativity?

This I know: Intense emotions and pursuit of healing can lead to artistic acts of genius. So I will leave you with these two thoughts:

“Sometimes one of the great things [that] motivates a song is anguish.” -Sir Paul McCartney.

“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” – Julian Fleron

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One of my personal heroes, Rev. William J. Barber II, a winner in this year’s 2018 MacArthur Genius awards.

One Day, One Week, One Month of Happiness

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.

http://www.art-vangogh.com/

A Girl Plays Football

“Hey, the Packers are going to beat your Cowgirls!” a student said.

And I corrected the student, “Don’t put down a team by calling them girls.” See, I believe in gender equality. I am a follower of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that everyone should have equal access to opportunity.

Last year there was an ad on during the SuperBowl. It was about running like a girl. Did you see it?

The commercial spoofed the stereotype that girls could not run well. But they can. The ad showed that many kids thought the phrase, “run like a girl,” was an insult. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. Run, fight, throw like a girl. That takes courage. We all must do things that require courage. We all must be unconventional.

I’m going to tell you a little story.

This is the story of a girl who played a lot of two-hand touch football with her brothers and cousins. Her Uncle Tom N. was a great coach in Park Ridge, Illinois. One boy who went on to play college football and become a coach himself said Mr. N. was the best coach he ever had. Uncle Tom was patient, kind, smart. But he made one big mistake at a family party.

See, at this big party with lots of cousins, Uncle Tom was throwing a nerf football around the dining room to only the boys. But one girl jumped up and caught it. An interception. Yes. the girl.

“Hey, you’re pretty good. Too bad you’re a girl. And you can’t play football.”

“I can play,” the girl said.

“No you can’t. But just to prove it — If you want to try out tomorrow for the team, you can. But I won’t give you any special consideration because you’re a girl or because you’re my niece,” he said.  “Don’t feel bad if you get cut — Only half of the boys who try out make the cut.”

So this girl showed up with her little brother John to try out for the Mighty Might football team, the Vikings. She was very scared. But she did not let on.

She did her very best. There were tires on the ground and she hiked up her knees and hopped in and out of the tires. And there was a catching practice. And she caught it just like she always did when playing with her brothers or her cousins – one hand on top, one hand on the bottom and she hugged it to herself and ran fast. Faster than the boys.

And during the scrimmage of the touch football – they didn’t have their equipment yet — she was so scared of getting tagged, she ran even faster. She played her heart out. She even got to throw the ball and she jerked it back next to her ear just like she always did. ‘Cause see, she played like a girl – a fast, athletic, capable girl.

After the tryout, when her father picked her and her brother up from the tryout, she told him that she and John had done well. She felt proud. She felt like a winner.

And that night they got a phone call. The girl made the team, but her little brother John didn’t. (In fairness to John, he did not make the age cut off. It had nothing to do with ability.) But she never went on to play in a team. She just wanted to prove that she could make the team. And she did.

And that girl was me. So, never say, a girl can’t play football, because she can. She just might not want to.

When I was a girl, schools did not really implement Title IX yet. You know what it is, right? It’s a law that says public schools have to give equal funding to girls’ sports as boys’. And there were other ways that schools, when I was little, weren’t fair. I loved wood shop, but I could only take shop one quarter of the year and three-quarters of the year, I had to take cooking and sewing.

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That didn’t seem right. So in middle school, I ran for and became the first girl president of Lincoln Junior High. I’m not sure if I made much of a difference. But there was an article in the local newspapers and maybe some minds started to change through my small acts of resistance about what girls could do.

Although women are not represented very well in the government in the U.S., in many countries half of the elected officials are women. In churches too, we have come a long way but we have a ways to go. As a girl, before Third Grade, I attended Saint Joan of Arc school in Skokie, Illinois and I could not be an Altar Boy. In Communion class in Second Grade, I asked the priest, Why can’t women be priests? And I’m still asking that.

So my message is: we must judge one another on the content of our characters and not on the way we look.

We can do better. We must do better.

  1. Girls are just as good as boys.
  2. Do not judge a book by its cover.

In English class we talked about how cool it is when a character is not how they, at first, appear. Take Chewbacca in Star Wars. How does he look? (Wait) Big, scary, mean. But you couldn’t have a better friend — a gentle giant.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about we need to do in a sermon that is often called “A Tough Mind, A Tender Heart.” He talked about a creative solution to resist inequality. Thank you to Rev. Andrew Stehlik of Rutgers Church for his sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, which inspired me.

Dr. Martin Luther King said:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the political officials and protectors of the old order.  He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the mist of wolves.”

And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

That was what he said. We must have soft hearts. We must give everyone a chance and we must be aware of the potential in everyone. We must encourage everyone. We must ask, Why? Why can’t we all be equal? Why should we put someone down for how they look? Or whether they are a boy or girl?

What can we do? Resist the status quo. Do not become lazy or timid when you hear someone put another person down. Or when you hear a boy call another boy, ‘a girl’ as an insult.

And this goes for ourselves too. Do not put yourselves down.

I tell you:  be more loving. To each other and to ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that. So did Jesus. Dr. King said we have to love everyone, even those who were hating on us. He said, “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system.”

In other words, love the hater but reject the system that encourages hate.

At the end of his sermon, Dr. King said,

When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in God’s nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

I want to end with one more upshot to my brief career as a football player. After that Vikings football season, between fifth and sixth grade, I took a summer school class on newspaper reporting. I wrote about my experience playing football. And a lot of other students, and even teachers and parents, said they saw my article in the school paper and they liked it. It made them think. And that summer school class probably inspired me in high school to work on the school paper, and, years later, to become a professional writer.

I saw that writing might start to change people’s minds –and I would not have not known that, had I not tried out for the football team. So take a risk, try something new. Just because everyone says you’re good at football doesn’t mean you can’t knit too. In fact, when I was a girl, there was a football player named Rosie Grier and he was a writer too, He wrote a book, Needlepoint for Men.

He was unconventional. So was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So was Jesus. You should be unconventional too.

This is a slightly revised version of a chapel talk I gave to elementary school students after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Getting Organized

Spent the morning flipping my wardrobe from spring to fall. Feels great to declutter.

Also, my friend Joanna suggested a closet organizing app so I downloaded Wardrobe to organize my closet’s work choices. With a new job this year on the Uppers East Side I’m trying to up my preppy game.

Rolling and putting away my spring-time clothes.

I tried to follow the guidance of the life-changing magic of tidying up by Maria Kondo.

Then in the afternoon I visited my doctor for my annual physical. Today is my doc’s birthday and she is 71. I noticed this on her desk.

This summer my doctor competed in three triathlons. She said it’s easy at her age to win first place. (So few entrants.) It is just good to be in the race. I love my doctor. When I’m 70, I’m going to do three triathlons too.

I got my flu shot. My arm is sore.

My health is great but I have to get my every five-year colonoscopy, go for my annual mammogram, visit the dermatologist and the ob-gyn. I can’t really complain that I have a few aches and pains — it is all part of the aging package. And you know, consider the alternative.

It makes me happy to take care of business. Feel good? You look good too.

Daily Prompt: Daring to Tell Your Truth

Last year when Patrick Kennedy spoke about his family’s alcoholism on 60 Minutes — and his own — it totally inspired me. It made me happy that a man was telling his family truths. That he was seeking to heal by being honest.

Does every family think they are a little bit like the Kennedy family? I think my family is. And by family I mean the family I was born into, the family I married into, and the family I created. All three of these  families share a legacy of intelligence, humor, and service. And yes, a dynasty of not talking about feelings but forging on and accomplishing greatness no matter what.

Every family has their health struggles. How do you handle yours? Do you put on a brave face? Do you speak your truth? This topic often comes up when teaching writing to adults– What if writing my truth hurts someone? Maybe we should ask instead, What if it heals someone? What if the truth does set you free?

And then there is, of course, this advice (from Anne Lamott?) ‘If they didn’t want you to write about them, they should’ve treated you better.’ But some people can’t treat you better because they’re not in treatment.

I thought it was interesting that Patrick said his father Edward Kennedy suffered from PTSD because his two brothers were assassinated.

Talking about your family illness — whether is be Parkinson’s, alcoholism, depression, or cancer — is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

kennedy

 

via Daily Prompt: Daring

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Ordinarily Happy

In the next day, my 16-year-old twin girls are going to tour nearby colleges. My 19-year-old son and his good friend are just home for the weekend to attend a concert, and they will fly the coop back to the university tonight. This leaves just me and my husband at home. And I am longing for a new beginning.

Yes, in the last month I have started a new job, I have refloored our kitchen. As exciting as work friends and home improvements are, I can easily feel stuck. My distraction of choice? I tumble down a rabbit hole, like Alice. I fall into the day’s election news.

In this morning’s revelations on Trump’s taxes, I will tell you, I pay A LOT in taxes. Last year, in addition to what we paid throughout the year, we owed and paid about $12,000 at tax time. Oy! That hurts. But I do not care. Gladly, I would pay more to be sure every single person in this country has health insurance. Also, I have to release my taxes every year to apply for financial aid, so if you want my family’s financial details, we oblige.

I enjoy following the election news — opinionators, bloviators, and pundits. And I, too, can easily spin off on a political rant.

There is also this — I want to be informed to be a good citizen. When public schools were first growing in the United States, their purpose was to teach citizenship, not just load students’ heads with facts. What does it mean today to be a good citizen?

How can I take the day’s news, not feel swamped by a tsunami of unease, but make the world a better place?

Can reading and writing political rants enhance my ordinary life? My citizenship? My kindness towards my fellow human?

Because ordinary life is extraordinary. Yours is too. Your ordinary, boring day is a miracle. You get to be here in this life. You get to embark on a new beginning.

The election is a kind of new year. My children, considering and attending colleges, are at a new stage. And I am ready for newness. And if something new and wonderful does not drop in my lap today, I aim to find the new beginning in this one day. In my ordinary day. This makes me happy — the idea of some unplanned and happy synchronicity.

harold-and-maudLast night, in addition to the joy of the new season of Saturday Night Live, Cate, Chris, and I watched the movie Harold and Maude. I woke up humming Cat Stevens.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are

Upcoming Goals

Earlier in the season, before the storm, the days were brighter and warmer, and the girls played soccer in Central Park. Look how much fun these soccer moms are having!

Just back from my girls’ freezing soccer game. Thank God basketball season is upon us because soccer season is tough on the spectators. I posted on Facebook, ‘this soccer mom needs a hot toddy.’

The term, ‘soccer mom,’ is used disparagingly, but I appreciate the soccer moms and dads who coach teams and bring snacks and stand there in the cold, cheering and chatting, without warm beverages.

I appreciate myself. I put air in the girls’ tires so we could ride bikes to the game. But I was overambitious. It was too cold. We were miserable, riding into the cold wind off of the Hudson River.

The girls would’ve rather taken a bus, a subway, a taxi, anything. Getting places in New York can be cushy or tough. Sometimes I make us tough it out. Perhaps needlessly. Sometimes I feel like I am an Outward Bound leader rather than a parent.

I want to be grateful that my kids are so athletic and like playing team sports.

I have so many good things on my horizon. I want to focus on positive things and my upcoming goals. I do not want to dwell on the argument the girls and I had when it was time to ride home from the game and the girls wanted to switch bikes.

Here’s are some good things ahead:

  • My trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving
  • Upcoming writing workshops
  • Christmas in the Adirondacks
  • Basketball season
  • Ice skating in Central Park
  • Wonderful things I can’t even imagine right now.

I believe in pronoia, which is the sneaking suspicion that the universe is conspiring to help you. (Unlike paranoia, where the world is conspiring to get you.)

That’s my upcoming goal until New Year’s — to have faith in the power of pronoia.