Work Life Balance

I am lucky that I have two really wonderful part-time positions which together just about equal my former full-time salary

The world of work, for me, is a patched-together affair. Like a quilt, I provide comfort and care.

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Chris yesterday at our block party.

Although I work a lot, I still need time to care for the family. Chris’s Parkinson’s impinges on his life and our family in small ways. While he is still capable of doing most of his own daily tasks, increasingly, over the years, there are ways the kids and I have had to pitch in — provide small services like helping him to stand after seated a long time or reminding him to take his pills.

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Me and Char at our block party. We chatted with our neighbors and local politicians.

Beyond paid work and caring for family work, I need time for self-care — work on my novel, my essays. Or simply read my book for book club. Or prepare a nice dinner party or plan some fabulous trip. (I have absolutely no upcoming trip and this always unnerves me — when am I going to go where?)

I rarely see a story of my patched-together work-life balance in popular culture. Although today’s cover article in the New York Times Sunday Review talks about “A Toxic Work World” where only the young, childless can survive. I agree. While society has changed, our expectations at work have not. Our work life is no longer Mad Men and our family life is no longer Fathers Know Best. I more identify with Frankie in ABC’s The Middle — overworked, struggling, but still, funny, hopeful.

Unlike Frankie, I am an intellectual too — a middle-aged writer, teacher, editor, just trying to keep it together — offering love and friendship and trying to make a very real positive impact on my world.

“We would think managing kids matters just as much as managing money,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the Times article says. “We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be seen as equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care.”

I want to believe politicians are talking about this too. After all, Hilllary Rodham Clinton wrote the book, a million years ago, called, It Takes a Village. A cynical culture may refer to the title sarcastically or see the treatise only politically, but I see it as a reminder — none of us do it alone. Even geniuses, like the Beatles or Mother Theresa or Einstein, drew upon the wisdom and received help from their communities.

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I snapped this pic from my bike ride to work the other day. Riverside Park.

I believe we are due for a cultural shift. And this may be the message of the pope when he flies through town this week. Caring for each other is way more important than competing against each other. I want to be a part of a culture of caring. Utopian? Let’s try it.

Like the song from South Pacific says, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true? Happy talk. Happy talk.”

Twenty-five Seven – Getting Published

 

my kids sleeping. when they were little.
my kids sleeping. when they were little.
  • Sleep in
  • Flip through a magazine
  • Lay by a body of water
  • Write more
  • Chat on the phone

This reminds me, I wrote an essay — a  tribute to sloth in an overachieving culture wherein I advise you to:

  • do less
  • stay off the grid
  • aim low

This appeared in this weekend’s Times Union commentary section. Proud.

Maybe if I had a second extra hour, I’d spend that time querying other magazines and newspapers with my funny, short essays.

I sent that essay to the newspaper as part of my challenge to query 7 places in 7 days. I may challenge myself with that again. But maybe in November, because in October my challenge is to post every single day. And besides that, I’m a little lazy.

Need. more. coffee.

This post is in response to the Daily Post:

Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes?

Women and Ethics in the Newsroom

 

Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)
Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)

Have been watching The Newsroom featuring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. I love the snappy dialogue and the urgency of the news in our shared recent past. 

The show raises important questions, like, Is the purpose of television media to educate or to divide? 

Let’s look at health care. Since Obamacare passed, the news has had a freakin’ feeding frenzy on a side topic — the website’s technological failings. The media fed this vulture of divisiveness, serving the egos of a few recalcitrant Republicans who loved pointing out what went wrong.

Why not educate us on what we should do about this new law? How can we sign up for our newly granted right? Why did the media not walk us through, step by step, the best plan for a newly covered individual? Or tell us what are the benefits (or drawbacks) of universal coverage? How does a person register for the health insurance? Let’s take a look. No, we didn’t get any of that.

Maybe we don’t get these service stories because the media is ruled by the New York Times. I love the Times – don’t get me wrong – but it is written for the intellectual (and economic) elite. Maybe the staff there has health insurance, but what about the rest of us? We need to know. We need all the news that’s fit to print. Inform. Inspire.

The news has a noble purpose and I believe it is to educate. We are not supposed to simply whip each other up into a mud-slinging party of hatred.

We are social animals. Humans, like horses, need to stay together as a pack. Why are we so divisive?

The Newsroom addresses these ethical questions. Last night I saw the episode on bullying and the news anchor and reporter realized that they had bullied their guests. And they were sorry. Wow!

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Brenda Starr, reporter

I think I love The Newsroom because I have always loved the way pop culture portrays the smart news reporter or television producer. Emily Mortimer is so smart. Remember Mary Tyler Moore and Brenda Starr? They were reasons I wanted to be a writer.

The news room is one television genre where brilliant women shine. And these fictional women make me proud to be a girl reporter. Okay, just call me a reporter. And in real life, there are real brilliant women reporters like Arianna Huffington and Helen Thomas.

I don’t want to brag (much) but do work and have friends who work in the media biz and they (we) are, like these characters, super bright and super committed.

I’d like to write more about this but I have to read up on the firing of Jill Abramson, the perhaps underpaid, fiesty executive editor of the New York Times. 

Wait. I want to consume a divisive newstory? Me? I guess I like mud slinging just as much as the rest of the world. For that, I’m sorry.

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A Play Celebrates Diversity in Jackson Heights

On a dreary cold afternoon in Manhattan, I took my two 13-year old daughters to see a sparkly, “You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase,” a magical play by a team of writers about a place in the world that is the exact opposite of the place where I grew up.

Way back when Hillary Clinton was running for president, the cover of the New York Times ran an article about Ms. Clinton’s (and my) hometown that began with a phrase, something like, “In the lily whitest of Chicago suburbs, Park Ridge, Illinois…”

We did not have diversity in Park Ridge or in our class of about 800 at Maine South High School. The one African American kid was actually African, an exchange student from Kenya. There was one Jewish family.

No wonder I love diversity. I love it beyond words can explain. And I love that this play loves diversity.

“I think I now know about 20 different ways of saying, “I’m looking for a beautiful woman new to the city,” says Joe, one of the dozen characters who wander on the stage on a quest. He is looking for the owner of the suitcase.

This play, “You Are Now the Owner …” is the middle play of the Jackson Heights trilogy, a microscope on diversity and a kaleidoscope of racial and ethnic community.

This is magical realism with a contemporary ‘tude.

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A magic cell phone and a diverse community that looks out for each other. (photo by Joel Weber, courtesy of “You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase.”)

Characters jump from a storybook.  A cell phone turns into a girl.

With so many storylines, I lost the thread of plot at times, but I was just happy to be with my girls and to be transported, taking a trip, like that suitcase.

Here’s some poetry from the play:

ROSA: As a rose petal falls and the rain feeds the underground, my love will remain true to the one that grants me my soul through and through.

TOMÁS: That makes you guys soul mates. Ah that’s nice.

They make their way to the book. ROSA crawls in. TOMÁS looks around.

TOMÁS: Man, this place may not be a fairy tale. But love does live here.

There's action in magical realism. (photo by Joel Weber, courtesy of "You Are Now..." )
There’s action in magical realism. (photo by Joel Weber, courtesy of “You Are Now…” )

The play is a multi-culti mish mosh, just like the borough. Just like New York City.

My favorite character was Salim, the fast-talking cell phone salesman. His shop seemed to be the hub upon which the whole world spun.

One of my daughters said, about the play, “It was abstract and beautiful.”

The other said, “It was a mystery.”

I said, “The play celebrated diversity.”  Like David Dinkins always said, “New York City is a beautiful mosaic.” And so was this play.

Thanks culture mom media for the tickets! (My thoughts are always my own!)

“You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase,” was conceived by Ari Laura Kreith and written by Mando Alvarado, Jenny Lyn Bader, Barbara Cassidy, Les Hunter, Joy Tomasko, Gary Winter, Stefanie Zadravec.

I think the show has closed now, but like a suitcase in your closet, I hope it opens again soon and transports you somewhere warm and diverse and teeming with interesting and eccentric characters to enchant you.

After all, this is spring break! You deserve such a nice break.

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.

 

One Hour Without Technology

It went badly.

I told all family members that for one hour on this Sunday afternoon they had to turn off their phones, computers, television sets at 3:15 pm. They could do anything they wanted — nap, eat, clean, anything.

At 3:15, they begged for, “Five more minutes. Just until I finish this episode.”

Hayden’s hooked on reruns of Prison Break and the girls on How I Met Your Mother. So I relented. At 3:20, I collected their phones and laptops and put them in a sealed, secret box.

My husband (who may have some OCD tendencies) began counting playing cards to get a Gin Rummy game going. The girls began to clean their room. So far, so good. Then my son began foraging in the fridge for something to eat and came up short. It’s true we’ve been gone a few days and the cupboards are pretty bare.

“You can go grocery shopping,” I suggested.

“No,” he said, flopping on my bed. “I’m hungry.” I began making him some frozen Trader Joe appetizer thing, left-overs from a party months ago.

“Mom, I have to turn on the computer to check what homework I have,” my son said.

“No,” I said.

“I think he should be allowed to do that,” my husband piped in.

“No,” I was not going to give in. “He knows he has to read the Odyssey. Just crack the book open.”

at the airport yesterday, my kids were all plugged in.

“I already read it,” he said.

“Then do something else,” I said.

“You’re such a jerk,” he said. Nice, right?

“You’re not allowed to call me a jerk. Or say I’m crazy,” I said. Last week, he called me crazy. Yes, I’m crazy. But a good kind of crazy. And that’s not what he meant.

Then the girls started bickering about a shirt they both claimed. And Charlotte was goading Catherine to quit lying on the floor.

Charlotte was exasperated. She said, “I’m the only one who does anything around here.”

And that naturally, got me yelling. Because that’s my line. I’m the only one who does anything around here.

My husband asked, “Who wants to play cards?”

“Not me!” the kids said.

“Get up off the floor,” Charlotte told Catherine.

“I’m hungry, Mom,” Hayden said.

I tried to keep it together by remembering the article on sibling rivalry from today’s NYTimes by George Howe Colt. He points out that when kids argue over food maybe what they’re really arguing over is mother’s attention.

That idea that mothers are powerful got me through the awful hour without technology. The other realization that pulled me through was knowing our social media sabbath was only going to last another 15 minutes. I served the kids that appetizer-y thing. People calmed down.

At 4:20, I went into the secret box and handed them back their phones and laptops. Okay, I didn’t hand them back. I threw them back. I said, “Here you go! Now we don’t have to talk to each other any more today.”

But we did talk later — at dinner. I suggested that we try this brief digital sabbath every week. They didn’t argue.

 

Biking in New York City

signage in a bike shop window in Portland

I love riding my bike in New York City. I love when I forget my helmet and I feel the wind in my hair. I used to not wear a helmet at all but then I had kids and I valued my life (and my brains) more.  I always make the kids wear a helmet now too.

I think I started riding a bike in the city when I was about 30 and had just broken up with my ex. At that time, if a girlfriend and I were going out for a drink, my friend’d take a cab and I’d ride my Schwinn. We’d set off at the same moment. And I’d always get there first.

Mostly now, I just ride my bike to work. The bus or subway takes about 30 minutes. I’ve pedaled the 45 blocks in less than 15 minutes.

my morning commute

Besides, staying healthy, saving money, I sail past trees and grass and flowers and happy people in the park. I have a lovely commute through Riverside Park.

Pulling in to my work garage, I used to think people were kind of laughing at me and my bike. Now? Am I imaging it? — coworkers seem slightly jealous. I have a sweet ride.

Ten thousand new bikes are about to be launched on New York City streets through a bike-sharing program. Cool. Every day, my fellow New Yorkers will discover my secret pleasure — commuting to work by bike.

I’m not worried about my route getting clogged with bikers, because most of the bike stations will be in midtown and downtown.

This blog post could easily have been written for another one of my blogs, My Beautiful New York blog. I love New York City.

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