Integrity Has Grit

ImageIt’s easy to focus on the negative in this current climate. Like Elizabeth Gilbert said in yesterday’s Instagram post, “Before I start getting high off the crack pipe of outrage, I decided to do an integrity check on myself.”

Integrity. What a word. All Germanic and noble-sounding. Like a pillar, a Greek column to hold up our society.

Who has integrity? Who has grit? (The word ‘grit’ is actually found within the word integrity.) There is so much I’ve learned from educators like Angela Lee Duckworth who has proven that grit predicts success better than intelligence or talent. Creativity predicts success too.

I have worked with many colleagues who have integrity. They’ve not been perfect people. Lately, I’ve been wondering why the bond I had with my colleagues at the United Methodist Church was so strong. Was it that we had each other’s backs and we sought equity and inclusion? We did. We could never travel for work, representing only one race or age or gender. We had to be a diverse team. It was an unwritten mandate.

The most beautiful part of camping this summer with St. Paul and St. Andrew community was the final words from Pastor K. Karpen, who said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Jesus traveled with a ragtag group. It wasn’t the ‘best people,’ or the most winning team.'” It was tax collectors and women who washed feet and mothers and fishers of men.

Yesterday, Gilbert asked, “Do I preach love and courage and peace and inclusion, but then use my social media platforms to spew rage and fear and panic and condemnation?” Yes, for sure, I am high on anguish and muted on hope.

How can I not be? I freakin’ hate intolerance. I hate the idea that this country is penning up children who are simply seeking sanctuary. I hate white male privilege. I hate I hate I hate. I have a righteous indignation. How can I — in my desire to overthrow an unjust system — not become the thing I hate? In making the world better every day, spreading my radical love and courage and peace and inclusion, how do I not destroy myself?

On a practical level, I can push myself to show courage. To have grit and integrity — to use my passion and persevere. To forgive people who do not think like me or act like me or love as well as I do.

I have a fatal flaw of righteousness. I like to be the designated driver, the responsible one. And I look down on those who have lost their compassion, humanity, responsibility for the least of these, for women and children who have suffered and are suffering.

This dichotomy of this showing off-ing kind of humility was on display yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibit on Heavenly Bodies. The Catholic Church, notorious for covering up statues of nude bodies in the Vatican, inspired designers to glitter up the body-denial clothing. As if to say, ‘Yes, this nun’s frock is inelegant; yet in that black habit, there is a beauty and a style and hey, let’s throw some rhinestones on the bodice too.’

So let me dress up my humility — like fashion designers dressed up the spartan attire of holy men and women. It’s easy to hate the opposition as enemies. It’s too easy.

Like Versace’s excessive accessorizing, let’s take our self-denial to the nth degree. Let’s have integrity and courage by NOT hating. Add sparkles to the activism.

That after all is the secret to creativity. Throwing opposites together. I seek to love the intolerant. Love them into change — not hate them for their inelegant and false integrity. To be creative: take two opposites and make something new and better out of them.

Sometimes, I think, I’m going to be okay, but will this country? I  don’t know. Sadly, I’m actually not in charge of this varied and vast country.  I’m only in charge of a small piece of earth for a small piece of time. Myself. I can only take this one little mind and heart and body — and use my gifts of hope and courage and love. And while I’m at it, throw some glitter on my grit and integrity. Make integrity a pillar of society.

Integrity = Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete — having moral uprightness.

Grit = sand, gravel. Pluck, spirit, firmness of mind.

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Reinventing Myself

So a few weeks ago, when I saw the play Tamburlaine, I reconnected with my fellow audience member and friend Amy. She’s been my friend for almost 20 years. We hung out many an afternoon at the Jones Beach on Lake Champlain.

Anyway, at the Brooklyn play, Amy was big and pregnant and beautiful. And I said, “Oh, I’d heard you were working at my kids’ school.” (But teaches on a different campus.)

“Yes, but I’m going on maternity leave and they can’t find anyone to replace me.”

“I can replace you,” I said, chirpily. See, I’ve been substitute teaching at some Upper West Side private schools for the last year or so. Mostly I’ve taught Middle School English. (But I also love teaching History. And I discovered the beauty of teaching Science too. In the lab setting, kids can wander around, talk amongst themselves as they conduct their lab experiments. Yes, I’ve led experiments. (Mostly about chlorophyll)).

“You can,” she agreed.

I found out whom to contact. And then, I emailed and waited. Then I emailed a reminder. Thanksgiving came and went. Then the phone rang and I had a couple of phone interviews. And then I was invited in to see the school and be interviewed by some leaders of the schools. And teach a class. Which felt like a lot of pressure. How can I teach with so many people watching me? There were seven adults in the room. But I did a pretty good job. I played improv games with the kids and we had some laughs.

Of course, while this whole process was going on, I had several other pots I was stirring – teaching an afterschool class for first graders, editing a wonderful book, writing for Interpreter magazine and, my favorite job, blogging for SPSARV.

My friend Alicia said I reminded her of this skit from In Living Color where every member of the West Indian family works eight jobs. While asleep, they stir the pot. That’s my style. I stir the pot.

In any case, I was offered the job pending the approval of my background check. Which — even though I’ve done nothing (seriously) wrong — still rattled me. I hoped to pass. They checked my education, work and several of my references. And, surprise! Surprise! I passed. Then, I had to wait for the pay offer. Which I hoped would be as good as my last full time job, but it wasn’t.

It was better. Why did no one tell me that teaching paid better than corporate writing? And you don’t have to sit in a cubicle all day. You get to hang out at recess with kids. Outdoors!

So I temporarily took over Amy’s position teaching drama for first through fifth graders last week. And I love it. I’m so glad that I saw that bloody play Tamburlaine. Not because of the play. Because I saw Amy there.

Incidentally, when I first got my job as a consultant at the Women’s Division, maybe 25 years ago, it was because I bumped into a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a special exhibit on the art of Mexico. So it pays to be cultural!

I love the school – the kids, the teachers, the staff. I even love the school bus. That’s right. I get back and forth to the campus on the yellow school bus. Like all of the other children on the bus, I just tuck my head into my technology and play on my device for the 20 minutes of travel time.

And that’s how I’m reinventing myself from communicator to teacher. (Thanks, Amy!)

Happy Everything!

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Museum Hack

My coworking guru Tony Bacigalupo suggested a MeetUp for coworkers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So a handful of us meet there on Wednesday, Lincoln’s birthday, to fire up our laptops and work. We also took a few quick breaks to see a few cool things with Museum Hack’s brilliant Jen Oleniczak.

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Jen gave us some insider info on Madame X by Sargeant. And then in honor of Lincoln, we checked out his death mask (created while he was alive). She was an awesome guide and leader — really passionate, smart, informative, funny.20140212-133801.jpg

We even got to groove on the vibe of the Visible Collection, a vast storage space I’d never visited before. Jen showed us a scary story here (you can tell, we’re scared). 20140212-133815.jpg

We hacked into the Museum so hard that we even got into the Media Lab. That’s me with a 3-D printer.20140213-194311.jpg

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Here is our group. And below, that’s the Met’s media lab manager Don Undeen, showing us some cool stuff the Met’s working on to marry tech with fine art. They’re making projects around smiles in art and around getting pathways mapped out for people with special needs. 20140213-194342.jpg

I am crazy in love with the flowers in the grand lobby of the Met. They never fail to blow me away.20140213-194411.jpg

The highlight of the coworkers’ hacking into the Met to celebrate Lincoln’s b’day?

Yup, we sat on the floor — and also sprawled out on the floor — of the Fragonard room. We looked up at the Rococo ceiling and took in the whole frilly mess. So cool. From the three hundred year-old floorboards, you can take in all the possibilities at the Met from a new angle — literally and figuratively. 20140213-194630.jpg

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Give Me a Break

I seriously was about to cry when I read The New York Times Sunday travel section today. The cover article, “Give Us a Break,” by Jennifer Conklin talked about three levels of spring break travel: budget, moderate, and in your dreams.

The budget travel option for a week-long vacay in Orlando (without airfare) for a family of four? $4,115. This is referred to as “thrifty.”

Really? Really? Is that thrifty? I consider it thrifty to spend less $400. For our spring break, I am hoping to spend less than $1,000. Maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I’m out of touch with the cost of vacations.

I still think vacations cost about what they did when I was in college. My bible was the paperback “Let’s Go Guide to Europe.” I think my budget was $20 a day.

Are we not, as a country, still clawing our way out of a recession? Are we not all looking for simple joys and saving any extra thousands of dollars for our kids’ college? Who reads The New York Times that $4,000 is considered thrifty?

I don’t care. I will rise above.

I do want to go somewhere grand for spring break and I will. I am psyched that we have spring break plans to visit cousins in Boston or Nantucket and perhaps some old friends. Vacationing with family and friends is way better and more luxurious than some stupid generic vacation a travel agent could arrange.

Maybe the Times did not publish this article to infuriate me about the cost of spring break travel and my inability to travel first class. But did they really have to rub my face in that $1.06 million Caribbean private yacht cruise as an example of the in your dream options?

So to calm my anger, I will write a few “thrifty” spring break fun ideas (and all for about $2.50 a day)

  • sit on a bench in Central Park with a friend (free)
  • visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History (donation is a suggestion)
  • ride on the M5 bus to SoHo ($2.50) or Chelsea and gallery hop (free wine!)
  • walk the High Line (free)
  • have coffee at a cafe and write in your journal ($2.50)
  • bike ride in Riverside Park (free)
  • Saturday morning at Wave Hill (free for the fam)
  • read The New York Times, get mad, blog about it ($2.50)
  • help friends with a creative project, working on a movie, like I did today (free)
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a still from the comedy adventure series I worked on.