Mental Health is Wealth

I’ve blogged after a celebrity death before. And I don’t really want to do it again. I have nothing new to say. What does it matter whether it was a celebrity, friend or family member who committed suicide? It’s horrible.

Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.
Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.

Robin Williams worked with Chris once. Chris played a doubtful doctor in the movie Awakenings. And he said Robin Williams was very funny, acerbic, a great mime on the set. He was always on and creative. Chris liked him.

I felt sad. As if I knew this guy. That he was one of us.

And then I felt angry too. Shit. He had it all – career, money, relationships, friends. But wait — he was missing one important thing – he didn’t have mental health.

I have only occasionally been sick. It sucks. Physical illness sucks. Mental illness sucks too. If I just have a little cold, I’ll tell you about it. But depression is another beast. A lot more than a psychic cold.

I think I was depressed deeply, 20 years ago, when my ex and I split up. All food tasted dry. I didn’t feel like eating much. I lost about 20 pounds. But I got myself back (with the help of friends, family, comedy, and cinnamon rolls, oddly – something about their gooey sweetness made me feel glad to be alive.) It was a situational depression. It abated. It was about the loss of my first marriage.

Sometimes I feel slight depressed about my situation now too. I wish that Chris was who he was before he had Parkinson’s Disease. When he was in big movies. But this morning in the Adirondacks he and I played tennis and then we swam out to the reef (what is that? Like a mile?) How lucky — how blessed are we?

Tomorrow I’m picking up our daughters from camp. And Friday, I’ll pick up my son and his cousins from their flight from Chicago. Next week all five the Coudal siblings and their kids and our parents will be together. I have so much to be grateful for.

But mostly, I have good physical and mental health. That’s not nothing.

Something Good About to Happen

I have had this uncanny sense that I’m about to experience some miracle.

Is it the onset of summer? A time of less work? I have been freelancing, leading workshops, substitute teaching, tutoring and working my ass off. Okay, I wish I worked my ass off, just a little — not that my ass is too big — but well, you know, metaphorically.

And then, there’s the work of family life — the endless meals and maintenance that my three teenagers and disabled spouse require.

But two of my darlings will be in summer camp and one will be on a school trip to Botswana soon. And my husband will be on a fishing trip in Canada. So, maybe it’s just that — soon, for a couple of weeks, I will have less responsibility. I will be free. I can watch what I want on TV. I won’t have to work so hard.

Maybe, it’s the longer days and the light. The birds are definitely chirping when I wake in the morning.

Long summer days, picnics, in Riverside Park.
Long summer days, picnics, in Riverside Park.

I can ride my bike everywhere and I am always happy on my bike.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel lighter in spirit. I just know that something good is about to happen. And I wonder what it is.

 

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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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My 2013 in review

I should take stock. Here I am winding down the hours of 2013. For the first time in my life, or since I was single any way, I’m invited to four New Year’s parties and one private New Year cocktail party with a BFF so I’ll probably hit the two parties and that one cocktail party.

But I feel a little melancholy. Maybe because my brother-in-law Dan had a stroke a week and a half or so ago and it really bummed me and the whole extended Jones family out. He’s an aces kind of guy — good listener and all. He’s recovering but has a long freakin’ haul. And I guess that’s the thing — no one’s promised another day. This is it. This day’s all we’ve got.

In 2013, I continued to draw life, energy, humor from my kids. What can I say? They drive me bananas but I like bananas. My husband also drives me bonkers. And I’m not as much a fan of bonkers as bananas. He got a bad deal with the Parkinson’s Disease and it’s slowing him down. When he asked the neurologist about the progression of his disease a couple of weeks ago, the doc basically said his progression is average.

Chris was diagnosed almost 11 years ago. It’s been a long time and continues to be a long downhill slide. That being said, I have a compulsive need to always mention him positively on this blog — in the event anyone who knows both of us reads this, so here goes: He continues to be a wonderful person — still very much into theater and cooking and family. He had a nice success in 2013 being featured on the radiolab podcast.

For myself, I also enjoyed some writing successes. The biggest deal was being featured in the Listen To Your Mother Show, a national reading by authors about mothers. We performed live on Mother’s Day at Symphony Space. My piece was funny and angry and honest. I loved performing again. The best part? I made some awesome new friends.

On the creative front, I’ve also been working on a novel that I’ve begun to show some people and the responses are pretty good. And I like it. It’s kind of like Breaking Bad for middle-aged mothers — angry, funny, and honest again! I want to add more sex scenes, but am overcome with embarrassment every time I try that. (And again, I’m very worried about people I know reading it and judging me!)

On this blog, I tried to systematize my posts and hit publish every Friday and Sunday, which helped me in the discipline department. I’ve loved posting pics and media on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook too!

For paid work, I’ve had some nice successes. But I’ll post more about that in the new year. I’ve got a couple of new things brewing. But I’ve got to run now — put on some lipstick and dress up for a night out.

So let me shake off this melancholy and shake the champagne bottle. Here’s to 2014!

***

Here’s the WordPress.com 2013 annual report for my – MBCoudal blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013.

Click here to see the complete report.

20131231-175646.jpgHere we are at a sushi restaurant in Montreal a few days ago! So cold!

20131231-175736.jpgThis was after our 5K run on Thanksgiving Day. I considered doing the New Year’s Central Park run tonite, but it’s too damned cold.

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

Becoming Dr. Ruth

BDRCoverPhoto

I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

drinks at BEA
Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

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Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.
 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Be More Than One Thing

I’ve read a lot about branding. As a small biz owner I’ve heard I should focus on ONE THING.

my little treasure boxes
my little treasure boxes

See I’m a writing coach, but I’m also the director, producer and star of some short comedy films. Oh, and I make little treasure boxes. And I’m an advocate for kids’ creative learning. I love religion. I’m into improv and stand up comedy. I am totally a feminist and global peace-lover. I support Parkinson’s Disease causes. I occasionally run 5Ks. I review Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Mostly, I’m a blogger.

See, what I mean? It’s impossible to put myself in a box.

How can I be just one thing? How can you?

In our frenzied, distracted society, it may be that we only give ourselves time to label each other as one thing.

Ken Norton, back in the day.
Ken Norton, back in the day. (courtesy of boxingkodvds)

I was thinking about this this morning when a brilliant friend and student of mine (yes, they’re ALL brilliant!) posted an article about the death of Ken Norton. See, Matthew Baker knows a lot about boxing. He also takes people on Beautiful New York tours, and is a super-involved dad and lover of Broadway.

I wonder how Matt brands himself? Boxing enthusiast? Blogger? Tour guide? Dad? Actually, I don’t care how he brands himself. I am interested in his voice.

I read Matt’s article about Norton, not because I have any interest in boxing, but because I have an interest in Baker’s take on boxing. So rather than focusing on what we do, let’s focus on who we are. Let’s listen to the voices of complex people in our midst.

We are all complicated people. Complications bring new insights into old subjects. Be Renaissance women and men with many interests, not just one. It may be easier to brand yourself but who wants to be easy. Be interesting.

I know a little about a lot. Thanks to Matt, today, I know a little more about boxing. And I got this great line from Matt’s article. “He always treated me like I was somebody.” That’s what Tyson said about Norton. That’s nice. Maybe Norton saw that Tyson was more than just one thing (I’ve always labeled Tyson as a screw up.)

Maybe when we stop branding ourselves and others we can be a little more compassionate. Maybe people are more than screw ups. Maybe people are more than their brand. I am.

This reminds me of the headmaster’s advice, inspired by Wittgenstein, “Be a duck-rabbit.” I blogged a while back about  Dominic Randolph’s brilliant advice to Riverdale 8th graders.

Be more than one thing. Don’t brand yourself.