NYU Alumni Weekend

Here are a few quick snapshots from my reunion today down in the Village. This ‘playable actions’ slide, a call to remember our purpose in public speaking, is from a workshop in finding your voice. The leader, Jackie Miller of Be Spoken Partners, reminded us that actors trains for six, eight, ten weeks so when doing public speaking, we should likewise train and be well prepared. The gifts of having an actor’s training with emphases on breathing, posture, focus, all translate well in daily, needed communication skills. Her exercises were experiential and fun. Image-1

This first workshop I attended, basically on disputing fake news, was led by Michael Posner, who runs the first ever human rights discipline in a biz school, Stern School. On the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt) — and on a day like today, with, God help us, a horrible synagogue shooting  — we must know that all humans have rights simply by being human. Rights to worship, learn, be safe. This is the universality of humanity. This is our right.

Posner made an interesting point when he said he used to ask Secretary Clinton at the State Department, “Why do we have an ambassador to Benin and we don’t have an ambassador to Walmart?” After all, he reported, the economy of Walmart is bigger than Chile, and Apple is bigger than Bangladesh.

He also called upon the digital platforms to do a better job of prioritizing information. “The most divisive posts become the most amplified.” We react to emotion — fear and anger, mostly.

“You’re not editors, but you’re prioritizing information,” he would say to those who run search engines and social media. And the companies have a responsibility, to take down, “not just what’s illegal, but what’s not right.” And to call out the bad actors, like Russia, who plays upon a country’s divisiveness.


And, finally, as I was leaving my NYU reunion day, after a lovely breakfast, lunch, and evening party, as well as additional workshops, I saw this message at Judson Memorial Church. It is why I love the village and have always loved NYU. The community opens your mind. Image

Be Disruptive

Yesterday I was at the awesome NYU Entrepreneurial Festival. A highlight for me was Luke Williams’ class on disruptive thinking. Here’s what I got out of it.

In your biz and in your life, chose the scary route. In this picture, look at the dude on the left, “Who is he? I don’t know — just the happiest guy I could find on the internet,” Williams said. “Why is he so happy? He’s complacent. He’s the face of all the companies we know. Doing what he’s always done, making small incremental changes.”

Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.
Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.

Like Kodak, everyone saw that Kodak’s biz was going down when digital cameras came along, but the CEO of Kodak basically said, “Why stick your hand in an engine that’s running?” If you’re the mechanic, you don’t reinvent the car while you’re supposed to fix it. Right? Williams is smart.

Now look at Janet Leigh. This is how your client or company should look — scared. And ready for change.

Hitchcock killed off his leading lady in the first 30 minutes of Psycho. No one had ever done that. Be like Hitchcock. Be counter-intuitive.

How do you do that? If sodas are supposed to be inexpensive, sweet, and aspirational; make them expensive, sour, and real.

Look for cliches — “widespread beliefs that govern the way people think and do business.” And then disrupt the cliches. Be like Little Mismatched, the company, that sells socks, not in pairs, but in singles or in threes.

Feed your own rebellious instinct — the one that wants change for the sake of change.

I plan to disrupt this endless winter with spring.

Spring starts in five days for me. I’m going to Sarasota, Florida for a few days, back to NYC for a few days, then to a dude ranch in Patagonia, Arizona with the family for almost a week, then just me and Hayden, my 11th grader, go to look to North Carolina (where I’ll offer a writing and art workshop with the fabulous Cindy Sloan.) And Hayden and I will visit a couple of colleges in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham for a few days.

I have been so slammed with work. Tomorrow and maybe a couple of more days this week, I’ll be subbing middle school English at a nearby prep school. I’m also continuing posts and articles with my fabulous blogging client. I have lovely tutoring jobs. I have an annual report due for a new client. I have to meet with my mentor to get my paperwork signed for my self employment assistance program.

I don’t want to disrupt my busy work life. But I don’t mind disrupting winter to get to spring. And summer.

Walking towards 8th Street near NYU.
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Bitcoins vs. Dollars

Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn]
Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn] (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)
Last night we were out at an Irish pub eating steak sandwiches. My son H. and I returned to a recent argument.

See, because of a conversation with a fellow coworker at new work city, I’ve become interested in bitcoins.

Honestly, I’d be interested in kumquats or any new kind of currency to replace the almighty dollar.

I’ve spent my whole adult life — spending and making and spending and obsessing about dollars. And if this bitcoin thing takes off, then maybe I can be free from the shackles of the national pastime – the pursuit of and the obsession with the American dollar. (This blog is called To Pursue Happiness, not To Pursue Wealth.)

Beyond that, I’m sick that banks get bailed out and individuals suffer bankruptcy. Where’s the love? H. told me, “Then blame Obama.” But I’m not blaming anyone (except the big banks. I’m so incensed that congress raised the student loan rates to 6.8 percent, and yet, you still consider yourself lucky if you get 1 percent interest on your savings account. Again, where’s the love?)

from our blogging workshop at new work city.
from our blogging workshop at new work city.

But I try to be part of the solution rather than the problem. And maybe bitcoins will solve the big bank monopoly.

I took one semester of economics at NYU with a Marxist professor, so my understanding of world economics may be skewed.

But as I understand it, bitcoins are a peer-to-peer exchange of value, a digital currency. They’re “mined for” on the internet so they’re scarce. They’re global.

Bitcoins need to be spent. Like all currency, the system’s messed up if you hide them in a shoebox under your bed. And they are currently valued at something like $90. They are not overseen by any vast financial machine (thus, making them perfect for drug dealers.)

My son and I had a good, heated discussion. Like, he actually said, “Do you think middle-aged and older people who take your writing workshops are going to pay you in bitcoins?”

“They’re not all older. And I don’t know,” I said, laughing “But I’d accept them as payment.” I started laughing so hard.

The idea was funny and true. I often think I am the first to discover great ideas. I had just told my son earlier how I was the first person to discover the artist, Pink, because I’d loved that song, Get the party started. And H. admitted he was the first to discover Cee Lo Green.

I digress. “Hey,” I said, returning to our economics argument, “I could pay my web developer with a bitcoin. We already use PayPal.”

My son thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. To show I’m not the only crazy one, I mentioned how the early adopters, the Winklevoss  twins, those of Facebook fame, are opening a fund for bitcoins. H. was unimpressed.

So, to conclude my 4th of July rant, let me just say, when our founding parents set up this beautiful country, they set this country up as a DEMOCRATIC not as a CAPITALIST society.

A democracy means we all count. A democracy means we are free. We have free speech and we have freedom to try different currencies. We are free to pursue kumquats or bitcoins. Or happiness.

The Road Less Traveled

No one knows this about me. But when I was an assistant editor in the biz school at Pace University, I thought for a day or two about going into nursing.

I was in grad school for literature at NYU at the time. I had tuition remission at NYU through my then-husband, but I could also get tuition remission at Pace. I debated about applying to Pace law school, but the campus was in Pleasantville or Westchester somewhere. That seemed like such a trek from my natural habitat of downtown Manhattan!

So I thought about nursing. I’d heard there were a lot of jobs. Besides, I had loved being a candy striper when I was a teenager.

"Acrobat in the Ring", sculpture by ...
I have always loved this sculpture, “Acrobat in the Ring.” by Chaim Gross at the Pace University, New York City Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the thing — I’m not cut out for it.

When my kids throw up, I gag, shudder and turn away. When they bleed, I feel woozy. And when they hallucinate with a fever, I find their hallucinations extremely funny and can’t stop giggling.

I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it — I guess they learn to control these impulses. Maybe I, too, could stifle my gag or my giggle.

So instead of pursuing law or nursing, (real practical skill-type jobs!) I took grad psych classes in critical thinking at Pace in the Straus Leaning and Thinking Center with Dr. Rachel Lauer.

The program blew my mind. I learned so much about learning. For ex., I first learned the word, meta. I learned about methods of thought, rhetoric, kinds of intelligence, and philosophy. I’m richer for it.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had pursued nursing or law,  instead of writing and teaching.

The Road Less Traveled – The Daily Prompt

What  jobs did you fantasize about? Why didn’t you go down that road?

In our Boot Camp For Writers’ workshops, we offer a writing prompt on the road less traveled.

Learning Is Not Easy

I found my kids’ classrooms and tried not to embarrass them by drawing attention to my enthusiasm for learning.

As reported in the Times magazine article (What if the Secret to Success is Failure? by Paul Tough), the head of school at Riverdale, Dominic Randolph, is passionate about developing character and resilience. On Parents’ Day, Randolph spoke about his passion for learning. Here are some of Randolph’s remarks and my responses:

1. Grammar, syntax — this skills are important. But more important is voice. Voice is mystical. “Finding voice and developing it is like tending to a campfire in the night; it is easily bulldozed.”

Love this. I can have skills but I need craft, which leads me to my unique voice. Craft only shows up when I write daily. Writing, like meditation, is a practice, not an achievement. Voice is difficult to attain and easily dismissed.

2. For skills and knowledge to stick — and our writing to be compelling, simple, elegant — we need emotion and story.

Humans are wired to love stories. There is something in our brain chemistry that begs for a beginning, middle and end. We are always in pursuit of closure and resolution to our stories, but we need and love the pursuit.

Love this picture of kids at Riverdale Country School. Getting out of the classroom and into the sunshine.

3. Learning is hard. We are all in it together. We need to coax and encourage one another to share our learning.

Yes, learning may seem to be a solitary endeavor, but humans are social animals. We need the camaraderie of a shared challenge or pursuit. Pursuing learning is innate, like hunting and gathering. 

4. Learning is experiential. So we move the science class to the bank of the Hudson River.

Get out of the dark interior of your thoughts, your classroom, your computer station; get into the realm of sunshine, river and mud. Invite your senses to partake in learning. Our minds will remember more when our bodies are engaged. 

 After hearing Randolph speak, I was inspired to unleash my enthusiasm for learning and creativity, even if this enthusiasm is a source of constant embarrassment to my kids.

Yesterday, I was inspired again at NYU alumni day, when I listened to John Sexton, president, talk about the city school, “in and of the city.” http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/nyus-john-sexton/

The Times article I referenced can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=all

NYU’s John Sexton


How did Washington Square Park get so pretty and manicured? It wasn’t like that when I went to college there in the mid ’80s.

At the front of the auditorium stage, President John Sexton sat on the floor and talked about his passion for NYU and New York City.

Here’s some of what he said:

“If you wanna lie on the grass and not smell pot, you should go to Columbia.”

Sexton said he was “good at noticing things, good at storytelling, good at inspiring people of high intelligence, good at coaching people to be a team.”

“We’ve got this wonderful locational endowment, structural endowment, and attidunal endowment.” By attidunal Sexton meant, “Forty percent of New Yorkers are immigrants, born in other countries. And we don’t believe in a Golden Age. We believe the best is yet to come… And these immigrants all identify themselves as New Yorkers. The city is a genuine community of communities.”

Sexton did harken back to the Good Old Days of his Brooklyn Catholic upbringing during the time of the Vatican Council and ecumenism. “There is much richness to be gained — not to look at the world through a single window, but to see the many facets in a diamond.”

When asked about the NYU Abu Dhabi and Shanghai campuses, Sexton got defensive. He bragged about the elite core of students in Abu Dhabi and defended their freedoms. He said the construction workers are housed as well as soldiers in US Army barracks (which actually doesn’t sound that good to me).

One older gent pushed Sexton on NYU’s choice of locating a school in the MidEast, asking Sexton to consider this: instead of making NYU so global, how about making it less expensive for the middle class? (The gent got applause.)

As part of his defense, Sexton said he sneaks away just about every weekend for a 14-hour flight to teach a class at the campus there. (That doesn’t sound that fun to me either.)

I drifted out of Sexton’s lecture to get to my next class, leaving NYU’s president and my fellow alumni to hash out the situation. Perfect. NYU, like NYC, is “a complex and cacophonous world,” as Sexton said.

Outside the lecture hall, these guys (and one woman) were playing pétanque. So cool.  I felt like I was not in New York City at all, but in the South of France. Even though I love and live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, life is much more exotic and European in the Village.