Writing Prompt

At our lunchtime Wednesday Writers group, Rashida Craddock led us on a hilarious exercise. She passed out a list of 26 strange words like cabotage, quire, tittynope, and xertz. And she told us to write a story of one person explaining how to use the word correctly to a child. Even though we didn’t know what the words meant, we were to write as if we did. She gave us 10 minutes.

Here’s a little story I wrote with my word, winklepicker.

“Oh, little one, a winklepicker is not for you. That’s a grown-up word for what grown-ups eat when they’re having their cocktails on the terrace. They have pickles, cheese, crackers, stuffed mushrooms, winklepickers!”

“But Grammy! I saw a mermaid on the terrace when you were having cocktails.”

“Oh, little one, cocktail time is magical. I have seen my share of mermaids during cocktail time too.”

Yes, little one, also known as Juliet, had seen the mermaid. And Brownie, the mermaid, had seen Juliet many times. She’d seen her on the rope swinging in the Elm tree, kicking her legs and climbing high.

Brownie was lost and had to get back to her school. And she believed that the girl could help her return to her school of fish.

I’ve been telling these girls bedtime stories about Juliet and Brownie their whole lives. Made up bedtime stories are the best.

“Now, you run along. Go find your mermaids, your leprechauns, your fairies,” said Granny. “I’m in need of a sleep fairy myself. I’ve been so busy writing invitations to our next cocktail party. And by sleep fairy, I mean a frighteningly delicious mix of champagne, cranberry, and a splash of Kir.”

Juliet slunk away while Grammy tinkled with the ice. Juliet sat on the window seat in the library and looked out the window…. (there’s more but I’ll stop there with my bedtime story.)

I was so happy to be with my lunchtime writing community. I hadn’t been there in two months, since I left the day job. We are such an amazing group of creative women. Don’t believe me? Check out Rashida’s art blog.

How to Start a Biz

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress and a writer. But I always knew I would be a teacher. I had a hobby of making worksheets for my little sister and trying to teach her French. I was like that. I saw learning for the sake of learning as a life-long hobby.

Since I left my day job two months ago, I have learned a lot. Here are some of my take-aways:

  • Pursue your passion. If you like doing your biz, then people will like being around you when you’re doing it. Happiness is contagious. People in your sphere feel permission to pursue their passion when you pursue yours. That’s part of life’s purpose: to provide a space for people to be authentic.
  • Have accountability buddies. My buddies are my brother Brendan, my coach Mandy, my biz partner Kelly, my ex-colleague Hal, and my web developer Felicity. My experience hosting the writing weekend in the Adirondacks showed me how awesome and important it was to have empathetic and smart people in my orbit. I could lean on them, admit my doubts, and be encouraged to persevere.
  • Stay social. I need to spend solitary time to blog and to prep for teaching. I imagine every start up can be lonely. So, I am joining some MeetUps, going out to lunch with friends, staying social.
  • Wear jeans. For ten years, I dressed in business clothing almost every single working day. Enough already! I still put on a nice outfit when I teach or go out to lunch, but I am happy that every day is casual Friday.
  • my city block in the morning

    Get up and out. I have to get up and out by 8 am every day. If all I do is walk the kids to the bus stop two blocks away at 7:40 am and come right back home, that’s fine. My other favorite destination is a nearby 7:30 am meditation class. And, of course, I love the little French bistro, Margot Patisserie, for coffee and a croissant. The downside to my early mornings, I wake by 6:20, is that by 10 pm, I am wiped out and crabby and yelling at the kids, “Get to bed!”

I wrote this blog post, inspired by Don Miller’s Storyline. I especially like Miller’s advice to Be Patient. That’s not always easy, but I think it’s always worth it.

It reminds me of Rilke’s advice to:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

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A Photo A Day

Just about every day I have posted a photo on Facebook or on Instagram. A year later, I’m not sure whether I’m going to stay with my #photoaday habit.

But I have learned a lot. And I offer these guidelines, inspired from a workshop given years ago by my brilliant colleague, Paul Jeffrey. Check out Paul’s blog at Global Lens to see how a pro does it.

  • Get close.
  • Get far.
  • Get personal.
  • Get simple.
  • Get high.
  • Get low.
  • Get light.
  • Get dark.

I find nothing more beautiful than an extreme close up of a flower. However, eyes cannot feast on a stamen every single day. So I try to change my perspective.

The Jersey Shore. Give me any shot of water any day and I’ll be happy.

Here are some random examples from the last year.

After I cleaned my NYC kitchen, I posted a picture proudly. People are naturally voyeurs and like a peek into other people’s lives (and kitchens).
What’s ordinary for some people is extraordinary for others. (When I shot this photo, my friend was mortified. she wanted me to be more discreet with my iphone!) Thus, the blur.
Get far. Skylines always make me feel melancholy. (photo credz to my son. I was driving, so I told him, “Hey, take a picture.”)
I find a close up of a flower with an interesting background relaxing.
And when looking for a subject to shoot, I just have to turn around and there are my bored kids. (I shot this at the Easter Parade.)

Secrets of a Freelance Writer

the view from my old office, yesterday.

During yesterday’s long lunch with Hal, he mentioned casually, “You should be making about $2,500 a week freelancing.” Gulp. I reminded him that unemployment pays $405 a week. Next to my computer sits a book from my sister a few Christmases ago: Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly.

Since that 2nd edition, the third edition’s out. A potential freelancer’s pay’s shot up to $100,000 a year. Okay, great, let me get going.

I cracked open the book, looking to get on that $2,500/per week thing. Here are some tips (based on Bly’s book):

  • manage time well
  • be concise
  • get to the point
  • keep the client satisfied

All good. And here are some of my tips:

  • let go of the guilt for asking for any pay at all
  • make your promotional material pretty (like website, biz cards)
  • turn it on time
  • network well
  • give clients more than they asked for

I added that first bullet point, because I realize I have guilt for making money and guilt for not making money. (In yesterday’s post, I admitted to feelings of guilt for indulging in any activities that please myself only and do not please others.) Thus, I have to let go of all guilt, even about gilt!

I am letting go of my excuses for not pursuing the almighty dollar. Yes, yes, I was born a girl, raised Catholic, worked for a Christian group. I have believed (even unconsciously) that money was the father’s job. That the pursuit of money made me selfish or materialistic. That other people had greater need than me so let the poor suckers have my money. That I am artist so I must suffer and live in poverty.

Be direct and unemotional. This book advises you not to make the same mistakes she did.  I love and relate to her honesty.

None of this is true. And I felt affirmed in my quest for asking for top dollar after reading Mika Brzezinski’s book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth. Mika faced and overcame the same problems I have with money. Her advice is:

  • be yourself
  • sponsor or mentor one another
  • stay matter of fact (don’t get emotional, apologetic)
  • I should have told Hal what I really think about making money. Money is just energy. To make more of it, just insert yourself into the energy’s flow. I buy that.
  • And I will get on it, right after I finish reading another book. And blogging.

A Long Winter’s Nap

Tabata, my sister's cat. She doesn't care much...
I get sick of cat photos but this one’s cute. (Photo credit: creative commons, Wikipedia)

Yesterday the weirdest thing happened. I had a lot to do, so I napped. I never nap. I only napped when I was pregnant.

I felt guilty for napping. Guilt is my fall-back feeling for doing anything that does not improve the house, help my husband or my kids, earn money.

After all, I had to:

  • Clean the house. (The cleaning lady couldn’t come due to the impending storm.)
  • Write a proposal for the Players Club about a January blogging event.
  • Say yes! to a request to lead a social media workshop in April 2013 at Religion Communicators Council gathering in Indianapolis.
  • Begin a magazine writing assignment.
  • Watch the president’s acceptance speech. (Couldn’t stay up on election night to wait for Romney’s concession!)
  • Help my husband with bill-paying.

So I napped. I slept for two and a half hours. I woke up groggy, confused. I had dreamt I was at a racetrack with my son and I was drinking champagne. It was a warm afternoon and I was enjoying our shady spot. I wanted to stay asleep.

My kids chased each other with snowballs into the apartment building.

The kids come home from school, dropping their backpacks by the front door, noisy and hungry for a snack or attention.

But I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t remember who they were, who I was, or where I was. It took me half an hour to feel right. That’s why I never nap. It’s discombobulating.

I know I’m tired because I’ve been waking early to get the kids up to their bus and get to my 7:30 am guided meditation class.

In meditation yesterday morning, a long-haired dude sitting next to me was falling on my shoulder, snoring away. It threw me off my meditation game.

My nap threw me off too. Since it snowed last night, I’m wondering if maybe I was just getting ready for a long winter’s nap.

Voting in New York City

by the people, for the people

Anti-government people, you must remember that government is by the people and for the people. So if you’re anti-government, you’re anti-people.

Democracy is a beautiful and messy thing. But it is our best mess, way better than a crappy monarchy. (I really can’t stand how infatuated the world is with the spoiled and inbred English monarchy. People, that’s why we revolted! In the U.S., no one is born superior or more royal. We are a country of equals.)

Waiting in line to vote.

Yesterday I stood in line for two hours and fifteen minutes to vote in a part of the country that pundits and politicians are quick to write off. I wasn’t alone. Millions voted. It was our right. And we made a difference.

What talking heads say on the perpetual news channels matters not one iota, compared to how simply and elegantly my single vote matters. Your vote matters. Every vote matters.

Tight quarters as we waited to vote in NYC, but the people in line with me were even-tempered.

Many voters in line with me were old and in wheelchairs. Many carried books. Some carried dogs or babies. One guy talked to another about Bikram yoga. I talked to the science teacher ahead of me about teaching middle school kids.

Another voter complimented our over-worked poll worker’s equanimity. Yes, there were some crabby people too, but they were a minority. And negative people, overall, lost to optimistic people last night.

In an age of increasing distrust and cynicism over big and traditional institutions, like banks, universities, political parties, religions, we have to return to trust and optimism in the value and ideals upon which this country is based, our simple, elegant, democratic truth: that all are created equal.

And as we treat one another equally and make a positive difference close to home, our small actions ripple to impact this vast country.

This election reminded me to love my neighbors, even the crabby ones, and to love my community and my country (and your country) − this messy and beautiful democracy.

the shining city upon a hill.

Remember Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion to the Gettysburg Address:

…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

Sorting Socks

Part of my problem with sorting socks is that my kids don’t mind wearing non-matching or nearly-matching socks. I wish wearing mismatched socks was a trend when I was a kid.

I know it’s Election Day. I woke up feeling confident that I would win. Er, I mean, my man Obama would win. So while I’d like to blog about the 2012 election, I thought I’d post about finding happiness a little closer to home.

Yesterday, I was super excited to declutter. Crazy, right? I sorted more than 50 pairs of socks and it took me hours! These socks had hung around the bottom of the laundry basket for several years, years when my kids’ sock sizes grew from child to adult-sized.

At the bottom of the basket, I found toddler socks. Yes, it’s been a while since I dug down that deep.

My kids are teenagers. So after a momentary fling with nostalgia over those cute little toddler-sized socks, I tossed them away.

I’ve never enjoyed sorting socks. People say, “Do it while sitting in front of the TV at night.” But I don’t watch TV.

I found inspiration for this boring activity from this blog post, 29 Ways to Declutter. It seems Deb Smouse is saying that there’s a spiritual side to decluttering. I like that. Her post begins with this quote:

Clutter is a physical manifestation of fear that cripples our ability to grow. – H.G. Chissell.

When I left my job six weeks ago, I thought, “Great, now I’ll have time to do all those things I’ve always wanted to do, like sort those damn socks in the bottom of the basket.”

Yup, I’m finding satisfaction in getting to the bottom of the barrel and finding my kids’ childhood.

Incidentally, I’m renaming this blog, To Pursue Happiness and I’ve rolled all my blogs home here.

With starting up Boot Camp For Writers and kick starting my freelance blogging career, I just don’t have the time or energy to post on all four of my blogs, so find me here! For the month of November, I’m posting every day.

Getting Quiet and Slowing Down

Leaves of Grass. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, ...
Leaves of Grass. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, year 85 of the States. [1860-61] page. Creator: Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 — Author. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On the Adirondack writing weekend, we walked along the shore of Lake Champlain. For most of the way, we chatted. I love words and filling my world with words.

Honestly, I can speak or write extemporaneously on any given topic. Yes, I’m a know-it-all (and I come from a long line of know-it-alls, of which we are proud!)

For three days in the Adirondacks, I did yoga with Michelle Maron (Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well). Now back in the city and with the kids back to school, I’m doing guided meditation in the mornings. I’m finding benefits to being still, keeping quiet.

I LOVE Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

We stopped and waited and listened.

Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

I first discovered the joys of Walt Whitman and in overstimulation in college when one of my friends liked to study, watch TV, blast the radio at the same time. I tried it back then and found I liked it too. I found it relaxing. I liked cacophony.

I like the adrenaline of rushing, so New York City’s energy is perfect for me. But so is the quiet of the country.

In light of my husband’s gradual slowing from Parkinson’s Disease (he was diagnosed nine years ago), I know I must, regularly, slow and quiet myself and the kids down too. Chris needs to take more time. He stands frozen. He cannot respond quickly to a question.

Walking in the Adirondacks.

In those instances, words don’t matter but slowing down does. Stopping to wait matters.

As we walked in the Adirondacks, the other writers and I stopped talking for a little bit. We said nothing.

When I wasn’t talking, I could listen. I could hear our footsteps, our breathing, a bird on the lake. I could hear a breeze through the leaves of grass.

Downtown Comes Up

Living on the Upper West Side, we avoided the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but we had to suffer the downtown refugees. Of the influx of hipsters on the Upper East Side, my teacher Charles S., said, “They’re taking our groceries, our seats in restaurants, our women!”

“How do you know they’re from downtown?” I asked.

“Oh, you know!” he said.

When Chris came home with groceries from Fairway, he said the guy behind him in the check-out line was mumbling, “I can’t wait to get back to SoHo.”

Our sidewalks on Broadway are full, not just of hipsters, but runners as Riverside and Central Parks were closed and the marathon, cancelled.

But we uptown people can take all comers. The Upper East and West Sides are big tents: bigger than this year’s political parties in that we can seat all migrants at our tables in our kitchens or in our restaurants.

I coped with the influx of downtowners the way I coped with my helplessness after 9/11. I went downtown to see a show.

Subways back in service at 42nd street.

Yesterday Chris and I traveled via subway to Tribeca to see Heresy by A.R. Guerney at the Flea Theatre. So good.

This political play takes place in a military office stocked with a bar and characters who believe various degrees of American exceptionalism.

An offstage character, Chris (as in Christ), delivers a manifesto, extolling the:

  1. Shops were back in business in Chinatown.

    the evils of consumerism

  2. the lie of the American Dream
  3. the reality that frustration with #1 and 2 leads to violence.

Karen Ziemba was hilarious and Annette O’Toole was heartbreaking.

It was great theater and a needed  escape from the crowded streets of the Upper West Side.

NaNoWriMo

All my online friends are doing it. Here it is November and that means National Novel Writing Month. I have won NaNoWriMo in two out of the last three years. That is, I’ve written 50,000 words and completed a novel in 30 days.

I am NOT joining the writing frenzy this year. Even though I feel a tug to start. When a crowd takes off running near you, you feel like taking off too. My problem is I love to start stuff.

As Beth in writing class said the other night, “You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner.” (That’s a bad analogy since there are no NYC marathoners this year. And that’s a lot of disappointment from my fitness friends here in NYC!)

I love starting stuff so much more than I love finishing stuff. I love creating new characters in NaNoWriMo. I love running out of words and then writing up crazy, surreal dreams for my characters. I love weaving their dreams into plot points.

As Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWrMo, said, “No Plot? No Problem!”

I am using the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program curriculum for teaching my middle school creative writers. Kids love conflict. They love creative characters. They need to know the arc, or plot, of a story.

The national novel writing month curriculum for my middle schoolers is fun and gets kids talking about the best way to tell stories. I feel so lucky to have this resource (for free, no less)!

No, I am not running the marathon known as NaNoWriMo this year, but I plan to start it and win it every other year for the rest of my life! I am cheering those nano marathon runners from the sidelines.

Wait! I feel lonely and eager to join from the sidelines. So I plan to join another online competition or campaign. I am going to join NaBloPoMo. (National Blog Post Month).

So far, I’m on track. I have posted on this blog every day of November. And the theme is: blogging for blogging sake.

Now, team, get out there and write!