Wanted: Help

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.

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At the Yacht Club with Lindsay a few weeks ago. We were toasting out new rules for living.

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.

The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.
The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.

So what can I do?

  1. Care about the helpers
  2. Go to the park
  3. Farm out the tasks I don’t like
  4. Get help
  5. 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.

the path less taken

When we thought up the idea for Writers Boot Camp.

We came up with the business only a few months ago and already we’ve hosted a few workshops and a writing weekend.

meandering

We took the noncomformist path.

Kelly and I started our business, Boot Camp For Writers because I went off track.

I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.

Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.

I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.

A detour in Oregon.

The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”

I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.

We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.

After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).

We sat at a cafe then walked around.

Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.

“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.

“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.

Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.

We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!

Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.

Adirondack Writing Weekend Recap

Kathryn Cramer, one of the workshop leaders called our writing weekend, “an unqualified success.” And George Davis, another leader, made this awesome video:

As you can see, we wrote, we ate, we talked, we wrote, we did yoga, we walked, we ate, and we wrote a little more.

Writers working at the Adirondack weekend retreat.

On the last day of the weekend we started writing with a prompt that began, “I weathered the storm when I…”

I weathered the storm of hosting my first writing weekend. Turns out the hardest part was not the weekend, but getting home again.

It took me a couple of days to get back to New York City from the Adirondacks due to the storm known as Sandy. My Amtrak was cancelled and I relied on friends to give me lifts along the way. (I began writing this post yesterday from a comfy Holiday Inn, half-way home in Albany. I admit I enjoyed my enforced solitude, a menage a moi!)

During the storm, my fam and I stayed in constant digital contact. On the Upper West Side, we never lost electricity. But there is no replacement for real life hugging. And real life writing. And real life family.

Joanna Parson, Kathryn Cramer, Mary Beth Coudal, workshop leaders for the writing weekend

I’m totally grateful to the family and friends (and small businesses) who helped make the writing weekend happen. While holed up in the Albany hotel yesterday, I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone (I hope!) who had a part.

To the editor:

In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about which political party helps small businesses the most.

After my first foray as a small business owner hosting a writing weekend in Westport, New York, I believe that no party helps a small business as much as the party of other small businesses.

Thanks to the Westport, Wadhams and Essex small business communities who fed the bodies, minds and spirits of a dozen

George Davis led a workshop on storytelling in the digital age.

writers last weekend.

Special thanks for catering to Carolyn Ware at Ernie’s for lunches of sandwiches and chili; to David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadow Farm for a quiche brunch; to Janice Hainer at Everybody’s for the groceries; to Jim and Jayne Vance at Westport Hotel and Tavern for our cozy first night’s dinner together; and to Dogwood Bakery for the artisan pizza. We’re lucky to have such tasty options. The writers loved the local foods!

Beyond the nourishment of feeding our bodies, the weekend fed our spirits. We paused to breathe, thanks to Michelle Bartz Maron at Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well. A morning stretch allowed us to stretch as writers throughout the day.

Kathryn Cramer explains it.

The writing workshop teachers, storytellers George Davis of Essex, Kathryn Cramer of Dragon Press Bookstore in Westport, Ted Cornell at Crooked Brook Studio in Westport and Joanna Parson of Letter Perfect in New York led the writers to hone the art and craft of writing stories from real life.

Thanks to artistic director Shami McCormick of the Depot Theatre and to teacher Shoshi Satloff for their support and to the entire Jones family for the setting of Skenewood, a magical place for a writing weekend.

To reach an audience of writers for the weekend, I must thank Nathalie Thill of the Adirondack Center for Writing in Saranac Lake and Valley News columnist Colin Wells for spreading the word.

This memoir writing weekend was my maiden voyage as a small business owner. I felt lucky to set sail and discover land in Westport, New York. Because of the work of small businesses, artists and teachers in Westport’s midst, the writers at Skenewood had a meaningful and fun time at our first Adirondack Memoir Retreat.

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Coudal

Writers talking about writing at the Adirondack Memoir Retreat. (l. to r., Joanna Parson, Alex Speredelozzi, George Davis, Beckie O’Neill)

My biggest thanks go to the noble writers who attended the weekend, willing to depart on a voyage in uncharted territories.

The art of memoir requires risk, as does the art of making a writing weekend happen.

My business coach, the awesome Mandy Gresh, was the first to call this writing weekend “my maiden voyage.” I like that.

We hiked on an Adirondack road.

Turns out the journey through the woods and into the writing weekend was not as fearful a journey as it could’ve been. (Though the weather in New York City was more treacherous.)

We’re tentatively planning another Adirondack weekend retreat for Artists and Writers: Talking about Setting from May 16 to 19, 2013.

Stay tuned to our website at Boot Camp For Writers for updates on writing workshops and weekends in Portland, OR and New York, NY.  Which reminds me of two last thank you’s.

The dock at Skenewood.

Thanks to our Boot Camp web developer Felicity Fields. And special thanks to my Boot Camp biz partner, Kelly Wallace.

When I came up with the idea for the weekend, Kelly said, “Oh, yes! Good idea!” It was!

Write Your Spiritual Autobiography

I am proud (and a little embarrassed) to be the guest speaker at the Resource Center for Women in Ministry at New York Theological Seminary next Tuesday, February 21, 2012 from 4 pm to 6 pm in Suite 500 at the Interchurch Center. Please join me. It’s free.

We will be talking about and practicing Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop is inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book, The Story of Your Life.

Here is the sign in the elevator at work promoting the event!

I have led this workshop a dozen time and every single time, it’s different and the stories are brilliant. Seriously.

We write about and share how small, quiet, ordinary events shape our lives in unexpected ways.

Yes, the big events — the weddings, births, divorces, funerals — are important, but so too, are the ordinary days when nothing really seems to happen. The extraordinary is found in the ordinary. And we discover a pattern, a meaning — our own awesome-ness. We just need to take a moment to write down our stories and share them.

I am always blown away by the stories that I hear. There is a magical and healing power to writing and sharing your story. Just come to the workshop. You’ll see what I mean.