Meeting the Coach

Before we embarked on this college tour, I pestered Hayden mercilessly to contact the swim coaches of the schools we were about to visit. He would say, “I’m not good enough for a swim scholarship.” I thought it was worth a shot. And his high school coach thought he could swim at division 3 schools, (which don’t give athletic scholarships).

But I’d back off from the pestering, knowing the more I pushed, the less he’d do. He’s an excellent student and a great swimmer. He places in the top few spots against all of the other small private NYC high schools. Next year, he’ll be captain. But he tells me he does not register on the nation’s or even the east coast’s list of top-notch swimmers. He’s good but not great.

So after an infraction last Saturday night, (which I won’t go into here – but use your imagination, he’s 17) one of his seven punishments or consequences was to write to three college swim coaches. The whole list of consequences he deemed to be more “productive” than punishing.

He set up one interview at one of the small Midwest liberal arts schools last week. The interview went really well. He was a little nervous. I thought I’d wait out in the hall. But I was with the coach and Hayden the whole time.

The coach, who looked like a college student himself, was impressed by Hayden’s height and potential. He told H. about the practice hours for the college swim — 6:30 to 8 am and then like 4 to 6 pm. Grueling. He showed us around the pool and the weight room. He seemed interested in having H. come back for a visit with the team.

If Hayden’s swim ability gives him an edge when considered for admission into a fantastic school, bring it on. He could contribute well to a team. It would give him a ready group of friends. He is already a hard worker. Discipline and practice would make him even better.

The experience of visiting colleges with Hayden has vaulted me into my own college memories. How hard my classes were! How I learned the knack for sitting in the front row of my classes, knowing then, as now, I am prone to distraction. And I loved getting to know my teachers. You are more memorable when you sit in the front row.

Beyond evaluating my own college experience, taking Hayden on this college tour has reminded me that parenting is a dance of push me/pull you/back off/stay on it.

After the interview with the swim coach, Hayden told me, “Mom, I should have been interviewing with swim coaches this whole time.” I bit my tongue. I did not tell him, “I told you so.” Though I felt like it (and I’m telling you!)

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Campus at Colgate University
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Another amazing guide. Tour of Hamilton College (we thought this looked like Harry Potter-land).

Saving Mr. Banks

I felt unhinged by Saving Mr. Banks.

Respect for Writers

First of all, it is always amazing to see respect lauded on a writer.

Respect is not why I write. But I have to admit that reverence for a writer – in this case, P.L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, a children’s book, is a rare and beautiful thing.

Women as Creative Team Leaders

From a feminist perspective, I loved that the men, even the studio head, the great Walt Disney himself, deferred to Travers. Of course we all know men who defer to their female bosses or wives or business partners. It should not be an oddity. But somehow, the world has turned and I rarely see men respecting women in mainstream movies.

Maybe because I have teenagers I am overexposed to hyper-sexualized women in the media on awards shows – too many women rock stars wearing lingerie while the men wear black tee shirts and jeans.

But seeing Travers run the show? Well, that was just amazing. She is occasionally arbitrary – but what genius is not? Emma Thompson is brilliant at creating this very real, flawed, lovable, cold writer.

Explaining Mary Poppins

I loved, too, that Saving Mr. Banks explained why Mary Poppins does not change as a character. Like everyone, I love the Julie Andrews movie. But it’s always bothered me that Mary Poppins does not change – she does not become more loving or more interesting as the film progresses.

Her character does not go through the fires of some great conflict and come out the better for it. This movie explains why. She is the agent for other’s transformation, not her own. Change is reserved for Mr. Banks, the father, an idealized version of Travers’ father.

Becoming More Loving

Our Travers gently returns to being an imaginative and playful person. This transformation into a loving human being happens in small ways. Our hero here does not suddenly turn around and become a fabulous new person.

This is a subgenre of movie I happen to love — watching characters return to love — like the movie based on C.S. Lewis’ Shadowlands.

English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the ...
English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the trailer for the film Mary Poppins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What About Mrs. Banks?

Now, you know, I have to find something not to love. I did not love that Travers seemed to be seeking to come to terms with only her father. What about her mother? She certainly was equally complex. Is the mother not as curious and exciting and crazy a character to explore? Or are men more enigmatic? Why must it be the father we need to heal?

The Treasure Trove of Childhood

I, like Travers, have a treasure trove in my past – a childhood of great love, adventure, and benign neglect. But it is in from this personal history that so much creativity can spring from.

This book reminded me of Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, a psychological text that explains why overly sensitive children do not have a full childhood as they are always in tune to their parents’ struggles. Then, as adults, they are adrift. They are less inclined or able to explore their own lives. I think about this from my own story and from my children’s reality.

There are times that I, perhaps due to Chris’s Parkinson’s, as a parent, turn to the children for more support than maybe they need or want to give. And then there are times, too, I just let them off the hook — but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s the same story. It’s the story of excessive attachment and then, benign neglect. I console myself with the certainty that great creativity can come from a troubled childhood.

You should see — or read — this story. Think about it, talk about it — about respect for writers, women as creative leaders, the importance of childhood, and what makes for creative genius.

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Halloween Begins the Holiday Madness

Happy Halloween! Wait! I’m not ready. Did I celebrate my daughters’ birthday, or even, 4th of July or Easter, well enough?

This is the first of the marching holidays and I’ve hardly finished my last holidays. But they march on, whether I am ready or not. I have to comfort myself that I do them well enough.

I am a do-er and I do the holidays well enough. But sometimes I want to celebrate Easter in November and Thanksgiving in March.

I am a do-er but also an iconoclast or an anarchist (or some big word that means rule-breaker.)

I can change some things, but I can’t change big things like the seasons. Christmas is good in the winter. Maybe it’d be better at the beginning of December? Maybe I should start a campaign to change the date of Christmas. I could start small.

Here’s my idea: Let’s pump up the less celebrated holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Let’s make it a big peace and love day — bigger than Christmas. Same with International Women’s Day. Let’s really love on our international sisters that day.

And I can use the money I save buying shit nobody needs at Christmas to throw some really big Pace and Love parties.

I’m not a Scrooge. While I like, and even love, Christmas and other holidays, I reject the disgusting materialism and commercialism that pervades our culture. I don’t want new things. (I want new experiences.) I don’t want my kids — or anyone for that matter — to think the acquisition of goods leads to the acquisition of happiness.

I have been happiest traveling light. The less stuff I have, the happier I am.

I have been happy with friends, having — and going to — parties, being with my kids, my family. Happy Halloween! March on holiday madness!

So,  “If bloggers had their own Halloween and could go from blog to blog collecting “treats,” what would your blog hand out?” asked the Daily Prompt today. And I answer: more fun, more love, more peace, and more parties. 

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At the church retreat at Shelter Island last weekend, some of the teens carved awesome pumpkins. This is one.
beach scene in October
Leaves blew on to the beach on Shelter Island.

A Little More

Last night we saw A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend, a funny, sad one-man show with and by Chris Clavelli about the death of his 6-year old son Jess.

clavelliThis sucks. I mean the play is awesome, but the show reminds you that life sucks.

Life is a total crap shoot. You get shit. You get joy. You live. You die. Other people live and die too.

You have to talk about it. You have to write about it. You have to tell about it. You have to live it. You have to make something, maybe theater, out of it.

The sucky part, sometimes, is living on and getting up when you feel like curling up in bed and not getting up.

***

Taking the garbage out last night with my daughter Charlotte, one of our neighbors, a former Hollywood starlet from the 1950s (and this is not even giving her away because we have several senior actresses in our building), asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” or something like that.

Charlotte looked at me quizzically.

“He’s doing good,” I said, about my husband. “He’s got a great creative spirit. Is directing a show upstate this summer.

The former starlet said, “He’s wonderful. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and great artistry despite the tragedy of his life.”

We said good bye at the recycling bin.

“What did she say?” Charlotte asked. “The what of his life?”

“The tragedy. I suppose, she meant the tragedy of his Parkinson’s diagnosis,” I told my daughter.

I don’t think of my husband Chris’s life as a tragedy.

This is not the first time a neighbor has used stark terms to refer to my husband’s disease in front of my kids. I guess, in the dailiness of life, the reality of Chris’s illness is not a tragedy, it’s normal.

It is not always a comedy, but tragedy? I don’t know.  Chris feels he is lucky. He feels there are worse diagnoses.

***

This is the second time I’ve seen Clavelli’s play. It’s blown me away. Made me laugh and cry.

I am friends with Clavelli, and his girlfriend Leonisa, who funnily enough, was my work out buddy at my former workplace, before she and Clavelli got together.

The play reminded me to hug my darlings, to love the people in my life, to laugh and cry with them, to talk about truths, to listen to other people’s truths, to make art.

When someone tells their truth, I can’t argue or judge. Hearing someone’s truth makes me want to tell my truth. Because, I know, making art is a way of healing.

Life is a tragic-comedy.

***

Any way, go see Clavelli’s show. It’s really good. It’s only running in June in NYC.

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Chris Clavelli

A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend

Beauty in Tragedy, The Poem (writingsofamrs.wordpress.com)

Iron Man Ignored the Kid

The iron man and us
The iron man and us (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

I love summer blockbusters. I also love French films and independent films and basically any kind of films (though, true fact: I have never seen an X-rated movie, unless flipping around and catching Robin Byrd on cable counts!)

I just love losing myself to the dark of any movie theater.

But something kept rattling in my brain after seeing Iron Man 3. I was disturbed by the way Iron Man treated the kid who had rescued him. He totally ignored the kid.

Iron Man seemed to think a dark roomful of toys/tech equipment could replace the presence of a loving adult.

See, the kid in the movie had been abandoned by his dad, and no surprise, when Iron Man showed up, the kid assumed he was a dad figure. And when the superhero needed help, the kid was helpful. (This is not a spoiler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the kid will be useful to Iron Man.)

iron man 3But then the kid was not rewarded for being there for this father figure. In the end, the only thing the boy received was all kinds of digital devices for him to tinker with. This is his reward?!? The kid needed a frozen yogurt with the dad figure, or a picnic in the park, or, yes, the proverbial, game of catch.

In this room of tech equipment, the product placement of FiOS plastered all over the huge flatscreen TV was jarring and obscene. I was totally taken out of the movie and felt I’d landed in a stupid commercial.

So the message on this Father’s Day weekend seems to be: you want to be a good father? Buy your kid off, get them tons of tech stuff so they can play alone in a dark room. And then you can retire, alone yourself, in your own dank and dark digital kingdom. That’s Hollywood.

This is relevant to my life right now because my son is being punished (I won’t go into the details). And his tech equipment is taken away. He is clueless as to how to survive. I’ve suggested fro yo, a picnic, or a game of catch. But like Iron Man, our superhero, he’d rather be alone with his devices than outdoors with his friends or dad or sports or, even, ice cream.

I find this choice sad — not nearly as thrilling or active as an action film or life could be.

My Mom, My Worries, My Optimism

Today’s daily prompt is Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

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Took this pic a couple months ago upstate New York. I love a working landscape.

A few days ago, the prompt was:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

My five people include dear ole mum, so this blog post fulfills two daily prompts.

  1. My mom – though I don’t talk to her every day (or even, every week) I think of her all the time. I thank her for passing down her good looks, sense of humor, personal style, and intelligence to me. Of course, she did this in combo with my dad, I know. But Mom still does yoga, teaches college, and stands on her head every day. What’s not to love?
  2. My secret garden – I would like to say more but, ya know, shhhhhh, it’s a secret. And it’s a garden. So ya… (it’s one of 7 Rules for Surviving, so revisit this post.)
  3. My three kids – they are my front and center; my alpha and omega. Everything I do and everything I want to do, I do for the darlings.
  4. Jolain and my girlfriends – When I became a mother, I found my center, but I also worried I’d lost my mojo. With a strong community of women friends, I’ve kept myself intact, even when I regularly lose it.
  5. Hal and my former colleagues. I know this is crazy, but I love my ex-coworkers so much. I love their intelligence and their passion for making the world better. I’m glad I’ve moved on from my full-time work, but this year, my heart and my social life is still full of the awesome staff from United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries.

I know many wives would put their husbands on their top five people. And Chris and I do have a great thing going, but, let’s be honest, the Parkinson’s Disease has really put a cramp in our romantic lives. We still are great co-parents and movie-going comrades.

Speaking of movies, next week our Screen Actors Guild special screening, Chris and I will see Les Mis and the Hobbit. How does anyone ever work full-time when there are so many amazing movies to see every damn week?

I have three persistent worries. And these are:

  1. Will we manage as we embark on two and a half months without health insurance?
  2. How long does my husband have in fairly good health? (I know, I know, no one knows how long any of us have, but with a spouse with a chronic disease, you worry.)
  3. How will we pay for our three kids’ college?

My sources of optimism:

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my mom and my daughter, my raisons des etres.
  • my boot camp for writers, my new biz
  • my ability to make funny jokes
  • my obtaining more wisdom and patience as I age, (right? tell me there are gifts to ageing)
  • my crazy creative writing students
  • my president
  • my belief in the restorative nature of nature
  • working out
  • movies and books

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.

 

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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Getting Rid of Stress

Stress has visited you like the devil in days of yore. It has caused your heart to race, your hands to dampen, your throat to dry. So let’s beat back stress with these 11 steps.

1. Do a daily act of kindness. You know you can’t think your way into good action, so you must act your way into good thinking. You must do one act of kindness and service daily. Open a door for a stranger. Donate to the subway musician. Anything.

2. Get up early every day and write in your journal. This private brain drain will add years to your life. Studies show people who write about their stressful moments boost their immune systems.

3. View your life as a hero’s journey. You have read about Joan of Arc and Odysseus. Now there is YOU. You are no less remarkable. You have fought your battles — an abusive spouse as fierce as a dragon? Look at your life as a quest. Your purpose is to complete your mission.

4. Find your mission. Mine is to parent three awesome children, to write, to teach and to make the world a kinder, better place than I found it through my words and actions.

5. Work out three or more times a week. Or just move your body more regularly from the sitting position. Yes, our ancestors were hunters but mostly they were gatherers. Get in touch with your inner gatherer. Get in touch with nature.

6. Pamper yourself. Manicure? Haircut? Massage? Once a month — is this too much to ask? Take care of the vessel you were given.

7. Get to bed early. Get a book. Get several. Get horizontal. Pull the covers up. Go to bed by 10 pm every night.

8. Have sex regularly. Sexuality is a gift from God. Why else does it feel so good? Because it is a beautiful part of the human, adult experience. Do it your own way but do it.

9. Listen without talking so much. You have a lot to say, a lot to share. But you will be remembered on this earth, not by how well you have said what you have to say, but by how well you compassionately listened.

10. Eat healthily. Okay, a bacon cheeseburger and a beer is okay once in a while. But do not use unhealthy food as a way to pamper yourself or indulge. Healthy tastes good.

11. Give seven hugs a day.

Thanks to Alicia Pitterson who provided the prompt at yesterday’s Wednesday Writers lunch time series. She asked us to create an agenda for an event called, “Don’t let stress get the best of you.”  

The School Fundraiser

I was recently at a fundraiser, even though my kids don’t go to that school. I love school auctions. I love the fancy purses, the summer camps, the cabins in the Poconos, the brocade jackets. I can see myself in all of them.

Me and Ang and the centerpiece made of dried fruitUsually, I find myself bidding on the most obscure items. I have bid on the opera lessons for my children – what was I thinking? I paid $100 for something none of my kids wanted.

It is now a running joke. Before I go to the auction, the kids beg, “No opera lessons, please, Mom! Go for the Knicks tickets.” Of course, we never used the opera lessons and I could never bid high enough for the Knicks game. Talk about Lin-sanity!

I root for the underdog, even if my team is in the lead. I feel sorry for the loser. I bet on the longshot. I bid on opera lessons.

I see a trend in fundraising — away from this auction fundraiser and towards a more simple party. We parents are competitive enough already. Why do we have to outbid one another for a psychotherapist’s session or a math tutor? Really?

Couldn’t we all just share a session with the dad who is the shrink or the mom who is the math whiz?

In our present-day culture of Occupy Wall Street and the shift in our workplaces towards more collaborative work styles, there have to be better, friendlier, more cooperatives ways to raise money for our schools.

At my kids’ school now, there is a showcase of the kids’ creative arts. There is no auction. We schmooze and graze, but don’t sit down, like at a wedding. I like that.

These fundraisers are a lot of work and planning. These extravaganzas usually require more delicate and skillful diplomacy than the General Assembly at the United Nations.

So, let’s all thank these hard-working women who make the fundraising benefits happen, (because, yes, the fundraising committee is usually made up of women, except for the bartenders at the fundraisers — they’re usually men.)

While school fundraisers are becoming friendlier, I’m still worried about the the opera lessons? What if no one bids on them?