Join Me at Bloomsday 2015

Last year I pretended I was going to Dublin as I celebrated Bloomsday with the Irish American Bar Association in Lower Manhattan. But this summer I really am going to Dublin for the Dublin Writers Retreat (Join me!)

Just goes to show that sometimes you dream on your blog and your bloggy dreams come true.

I am going to dream (and hoist a few) at this year’s Bloomsday celebration again and see what dreams may come. (Join me!)

JoyceUlysses2Let me remind those of you who were not English majors and who do not live with your noses in books: Bloomsday is celebrated June 16th, chronicling one typical, working class day in Dublin, 1904.

Joyce found the extraordinary in the ordinary. But I don’t think he did meant to write some exotic literary masterpiece. He meant to recreate a city’s ebb and flow. And now, every year on June 16th, dozens of places in the world read or enact or discuss or celebrate this literary day. And I am one of them.

I find that Bloomsday is a more authentic holiday for the Irish and the Irish American diaspora than St. Patrick’s Day.

In the US, the book is also one reason we do not censor. It had been banned until 1933 because it was deemed obscene and pornographic. Judge John Woolsey lifted the ban, writing:

“In writing ‘Ulysses’ Joyce sought to make a serious experiment in a new if not wholly novel literary genre.

“Joyce has attempted- it seems to me with astonishing success- to show how the screen of the consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries as it were on a plastic palimpsest not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.

“The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men, and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe, by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe.

“If one does not wish to associate with such folks as Joyce describes, that is one’s own choice.”

So, zoom back in your consciousness, people, to present-day Ireland.

I believe Marilyn Monroe was super smart. She dug Ulysses too.
I believe Marilyn Monroe was super smart. She dug Ulysses too.

Who are ‘such folks’? A minute ago, ‘such folks’ were marginalized. But today, isn’t Joyce rolling in his grave? Don’t you wish that Oscar Wilde could somehow know that Ireland is accepting of homosexuals — the first country to legalize same-sex marriage? Whoah! I am even more ecstatic to visit Ireland now. For a spirit of openness and tolerance and — dare I say — love for people is blowing! And this can only be good.

In other news, our vice president’s 46-year old son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer on May 30. And this reminds me: gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Life is short. So short. Too short.

Celebrate Bloomsday. Celebrate every stupid, ordinary day! For in the ordinary, there is magic.

I will be at the Irish American Bar Association of New York’s Bloomsday celebration, pontificating on the beauty and wonders of the ordinary. Join me.

Get all the details and purchase a ticket here.

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Violent Images

Last night Chris and I saw the play Tamburlaine. At the 30-minute intermission, I told Chris, "This is the best production of Tamburlaine that I will ever see. And the worst." I said that about Cymbeline too. Glad I saw it. Don't need to see it again. 

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John Douglas Thompson (photo courtesy of Nigel Parry and NYMag)

It has my favorite actor, the Marlon Brando of our time, John Douglas Thompson, in it. Tamburlaine reveled in his own psychosis and had such a lusty love of blood-letting.

Thompson, in fact, is a gentle man, a bit of a friend. He played MacBeth when Chris played the porter in the Scottish play. Chris says of him, “He doesn’t shy away from the big parts.” (Othello, Emperor Jones, Julius Caesar). He is all in. So good. Exciting to see such commitment. And the whole stage rocks with turmoil.

But to what end? The play is loaded with buckets of blood and plenty of gore, including a scene where a tongue is cut out. Eeeeew! The play by Christopher Marlowe was first staged in 1587.

I overheard an audience member say, “This hasn’t been done since 1957 on Broadway.” And with good reason. It’s just an endless parade of marauding death.

On the way to the beautiful Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, Chris realized he forgot his medicine.

“Do we go back home?” I asked.

“No.”

“I will just be slow.” Chris’s Parkinson’s medicine helps him move. Without it, he freezes. After the play, I put a hand on his back. On the way home, I pushed him along.

He was extremely slow walking to the subway, heading back to the Upper West Side. Then we got home and I had to tell Catherine she could not watch Django Unchained.

“It’s not a problem,” H. said. “She looks away during the violent parts.” He loves having a companion with whom to watch movies.

“I’m sorry. No,” I said.

“You’re too protective.”

“Yes,” I said. Believing that they secretly like that. Even thinking maybe Catherine wanted to be told not to watch that.

“Why? Why can’t she watch it?”

“I don’t want her to have those images in her head — of such violence.” I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve heard. And yet, Tamburlaine filled my head with violence too. I don’t think I’m worse for it. Maybe it would’ve been okay. I don’t know. We live vicariously. But plays are different. The cast comes out for a curtain call.

We know it’s fake. We love the artifice.

We go slowly home.

Girl Power

It was 9 am and I was a little behind schedule. I had gotten up early to finish and submit two freelance stories, one a day late. Got them in. Then I hopped on my bike to rush to my art handling job. Wait. First. I had to stop at the private school where I’ve been substitute teaching to get my paycheck on track.

Having to talk about money and getting paid makes me uncomfortable.

Like with my freelance jobs — I worry that I accept too little. And then I worry that I charge too much. Whaaaa! Whatever I do, I want them to like me. I live to be liked!

When I got to the school, I dashed up the stairs, two at a time. Then, I slowed down. Wait. What’s this? Yup. A ton of cool signage in the stairwell about the Day of the Girl. (This is a United Nations movement on October 11, which aims to educate and end child marriage, stop sexualized media images of girls, and celebrate girls as athletes, students, artists! Check their link to find out about more.)

Seeing these signs made me drop my insecurity. I felt empowered. it’s important I’m paid well and fairly. I want to be a good model for the girls.

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Girl power!IMG_7004.JPGI started a Pinterest Board, Girls Can Be Anything, with images of girls doing fun girl stuff — climbing trees, playing superheroes, making art. I hate when the only option for a girl is princess. I prefer president. Girls can aspire to that. They can be anything.

In fact one of my daughters ran for student council today. I don’t even care if she wins. I’m just proud of her for writing a speech, delivering it, and throwing her hat in the ring.

On my bike ride from the school to the art job, the chain came off my bike. But I put it back on and kept riding. Got my hands dirty. But yup, girls can fix their bikes too. Girls can do anything. IMG_7003.JPG

Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice

I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”

“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”

kurt-vonnegut“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.

Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.

But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.

In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.

Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).

“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”

And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”

And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”

riverside park coudal

I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.

Since we’re all trapped inside on this snow day, I recommend that you got out of your own head and be inspired by If this isn’t nice, what is? advice for the young too.

Related:

The worst addiction of them all by Vonnegut for the Nation

Repurposing

I began blogging on WordPress about four and a half years ago. My first post was on my first rule. See, during a champagne dinner with my friend Lindsay, we had come up with seven guidelines to help us cope with work and family.

In fact, just this summer, Lindsay and I toiled again over a champagne dinner and many-coffee brunch the next day, to update our seven rules and come up with seven BRAND SPANKING NEW rules. And I will share them, in time, my friends.

But among our old rules, the first was Pile on the People.

# 1 Pile on People (P.O.P.)

There is no problem that can’t be bettered by adding a lot more people to it.

If two parents are good, then three are even better still. Four or five? Excellent! After all, it does take a village to raise a child. Or fight a war. Even George Bush employed this concept — he called it a surge.

In my life, I have employed a surge. Especially in the last few years I have piled on the people by employing housekeepers and babysitters. And it’s really worked well. (Heck, half of my facebook friends are the kids’ babysitters.)

One note: it does cost you. So, be prepared to DTE (damn the expense!) and pile the money on as you pile the people on! Or barter! Or get family members on board.

I was just chatting with Josie, former babysitter, the other night. I was dissing marriage to her. Saying Let’s face it, married couple love is way overrated. That relationship is so fetishized by, oh, I don’t know, diamond companies, candymakers, Valentine’s revelers, Catholic priests. If we are going to celebrate love, let’s expand our concept of love a wee bit.

Let’s celebrate a love of a single mother for her kids, a sister for her brother, two dear old friends, a son for his dad, an aunt for her nephew, a student for his teacher, a pastor for her flock, a babysitter for her kids. I dunno. I’m just sick of all the brouhaha over marriage.

My point is — it’s wrong to send love like a garden hose in just one direction. That won’t water the garden. Hook it up to a sprinkler and let love be more like a fountain — spraying in many directions and watering a wider land.

I’m digressing.

I want to tweak my P.O.P. concept. Make it P.O.U.P. — Pile on Useful People. Because just a pile of people gets unwieldy. And given that I’m a real people pleaser, when you have to please unwieldy people, it’s a real drag. So try to see that the people in your life add, not take away.

A Garden hose.
A Garden hose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started on WordPress in July 2009, I had four blogs. This blog appeared on the first.

  • To offer advice on staying happy – My 7 Rules
  • To document my beautiful NYC – My Beautiful New York
  • To run a 5k – Running Aground
  • To get my kids off technology – The Connected Life

***

Looking this first post over, I realized that the topic is still relevant as last night at book club, while discussing Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, we got into this same conversation about marriage again.

I contend that it is not right or fair or realistic to expect one person to be everything to you. Shouldn’t we pile on the the people? The more, the merrier.

Grateful

Here are some things I’m grateful for:

  • yes, first off, my awesome kids, especially as they were good traveling companions over Thanksgiving
  • my family whom we visited in Chicago — all 5 of us Coudal kids were together with our families — so many fun memories!
  • my blog, my facebook, my instagram, my twitter — and even my foray into pinterest
  • my new bathroom lights (this may seem small, but as we live in a rent stabilized apartment, we get very few home improvements. The super was in our apartment when we left for Chicago and when we came back, voila! fixtures were installed!)
  • my quirky freelance gigs and steady income
  • all of my writing students — even my bratty middle school kids
  • my old friends, like from college and high school, who’ve been my friends for DECADES!
  • my new friends, like from new work city
  • my writing class
  • my love of travel
  • the NYC theater scene
  • my finishing a 5K on turkey day
  • my Upper West Side
  • the NYC citbike program
  • my bike
  • my secret garden
  • my health — because, it’s true, health is wealth
  • my optimism

When I am grateful, something in me opens up and I make room for more acceptance.

Gratitude is a practice.

I am not perfect. At times, I see too quickly what I am missing. Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease, I am, at times, sorry for him, sorry for my kids, sorry for myself. Just sorry. And mad.

I have wished I was married to someone who did not have chronic health problems. But I want to remember to appreciate and celebrate what I have. I have a lot.

Related articles

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me and my siblings and my mother
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I was in this crowd, running along Lake Shore Drive at the Turkey Trot
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my awesome kids over Thanksgiving

Writers in the Hudson Valley

Another writer and I were walking in search of cappuccino just on the edge of town, when this middle-aged blonde woman walked towards me. She pointed to me and began to sing, “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.” And I sang along.

Yes, we two strangers sang the Mister Roger’s song to each other one recent sunny afternoon in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Is this what goes down in small towns? Apparently, on my writing retreats that kind of thing happens.

What else happened?

  • walks on country roads
  • morning yoga 
  • writing
  • painting little boxes
  • arts and crafts in the gazebo
  • time to read and write and reflect

I’m really grateful to Carla, April, Don, and the crew at Olmsted Center, so that, a few weeks back, several intrepid writers and I could set sail on this maiden voyage to write the story of their lives.

I have to admit I was disappointed with the turnout. Only a handful of writers attended the Hudson Valley weekend. And more would have been better. We wrote about love, work, money, and family. And I don’t think the cost kept people away — it was a good deal — the weekend cost $295 for 2 nights, 6 meals and a bunch of fun writing and art workshops.

In any case, I’m not even putting a price on the experience of having some stranger sing to me on the sidewalk. As usual, the most magical and fun moments happen when you get off script and get off campus. There’s a lesson here — get out of your comfort zone to find fun.

In the writing workshops, the writers found the thread of meaning in seemingly random life events. Every one said they’d love to do the weekend again. But I’m in a bit of a dilemma because the center needs to have a minimum of 10 participants next time. I’m not sure I can do that. I am also having trouble finding a May or June date. I’d like June 13 to 15, but that’s Father’s Day. Would writers want to get away on Father’s Day weekend?

Bootcamp4writers is a dream of mine, but I have to be honest. Putting on the weekends takes a lot of work and I’m not sure for my small margin of profit, whether it’s worth it. I took a loss of a couple hundred dollars at this Hudson Valley retreat and I don’t want to do that again. (In addition to the retreat center, I pay for yoga, insurance and supplies, as well as my own transport and PR.)

***

I love getting out of the city and having a chance to reflect on my life.

Like the city writers on the weekend, I get to taste a bit of country life in the Hudson Valley. For example, there was a couple of ladies sitting outside a church, passing out candy corn and juice. How nice is that! 

The workshop ended with time to map the hills and valleys of their lives through big and small life experiences from their spiritual lives.

We laughed, we cried, we made new friends. We want to do it again, But I’m just trying to figure out whether we can.

Contact bootcamp4writers@gmail.com for more details or visit the website at bootcamp4writers.com

Here are some pictures I shot from the weekend. See? Looks like fun, right?

Would you come?

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Here’s where we held the retreat, Kirkwood House at Camp Olmsted.
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Just one of the glorious views as we took an afternoon walk

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Getting ready to write
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Out at the gazebo, we made some art. We painted boxes.
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In town we came upon some ladies giving out kindness.
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Time to plug in and write.
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A quick trip by commuter rail to Cornwall-on-Hudson.
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Here’s me, wondering whether to do it again.