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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A Long Winter’s Nap

Tabata, my sister's cat. She doesn't care much...
I get sick of cat photos but this one’s cute. (Photo credit: creative commons, Wikipedia)

Yesterday the weirdest thing happened. I had a lot to do, so I napped. I never nap. I only napped when I was pregnant.

I felt guilty for napping. Guilt is my fall-back feeling for doing anything that does not improve the house, help my husband or my kids, earn money.

After all, I had to:

  • Clean the house. (The cleaning lady couldn’t come due to the impending storm.)
  • Write a proposal for the Players Club about a January blogging event.
  • Say yes! to a request to lead a social media workshop in April 2013 at Religion Communicators Council gathering in Indianapolis.
  • Begin a magazine writing assignment.
  • Watch the president’s acceptance speech. (Couldn’t stay up on election night to wait for Romney’s concession!)
  • Help my husband with bill-paying.

So I napped. I slept for two and a half hours. I woke up groggy, confused. I had dreamt I was at a racetrack with my son and I was drinking champagne. It was a warm afternoon and I was enjoying our shady spot. I wanted to stay asleep.

My kids chased each other with snowballs into the apartment building.

The kids come home from school, dropping their backpacks by the front door, noisy and hungry for a snack or attention.

But I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t remember who they were, who I was, or where I was. It took me half an hour to feel right. That’s why I never nap. It’s discombobulating.

I know I’m tired because I’ve been waking early to get the kids up to their bus and get to my 7:30 am guided meditation class.

In meditation yesterday morning, a long-haired dude sitting next to me was falling on my shoulder, snoring away. It threw me off my meditation game.

My nap threw me off too. Since it snowed last night, I’m wondering if maybe I was just getting ready for a long winter’s nap.

Voting in New York City

by the people, for the people

Anti-government people, you must remember that government is by the people and for the people. So if you’re anti-government, you’re anti-people.

Democracy is a beautiful and messy thing. But it is our best mess, way better than a crappy monarchy. (I really can’t stand how infatuated the world is with the spoiled and inbred English monarchy. People, that’s why we revolted! In the U.S., no one is born superior or more royal. We are a country of equals.)

Waiting in line to vote.

Yesterday I stood in line for two hours and fifteen minutes to vote in a part of the country that pundits and politicians are quick to write off. I wasn’t alone. Millions voted. It was our right. And we made a difference.

What talking heads say on the perpetual news channels matters not one iota, compared to how simply and elegantly my single vote matters. Your vote matters. Every vote matters.

Tight quarters as we waited to vote in NYC, but the people in line with me were even-tempered.

Many voters in line with me were old and in wheelchairs. Many carried books. Some carried dogs or babies. One guy talked to another about Bikram yoga. I talked to the science teacher ahead of me about teaching middle school kids.

Another voter complimented our over-worked poll worker’s equanimity. Yes, there were some crabby people too, but they were a minority. And negative people, overall, lost to optimistic people last night.

In an age of increasing distrust and cynicism over big and traditional institutions, like banks, universities, political parties, religions, we have to return to trust and optimism in the value and ideals upon which this country is based, our simple, elegant, democratic truth: that all are created equal.

And as we treat one another equally and make a positive difference close to home, our small actions ripple to impact this vast country.

This election reminded me to love my neighbors, even the crabby ones, and to love my community and my country (and your country) − this messy and beautiful democracy.

the shining city upon a hill.

Remember Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion to the Gettysburg Address:

…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

On the Local News

I found out I was on the evening news because a couple of people emailed me and a couple more Facebook messaged me.

On Tuesday morning, the reporter called me over by tapping on her microphone and pointing to the CBS logo. I am not that impressed by daytime network news. (I don’t watch daytime TV so maybe I shouldn’t judge).

Like most New Yorkers, I am usually in a hurry. And on that morning, most people were hustling to work. But I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. Being a journalist myself, I felt a little sorry for any reporter who has to snag interviews at 9 am in the 72nd Street subway.

So that’s why I stopped to talk. The segment was about a legal case I knew nothing about (though the reporter briefed me on the case and told me where to find the legal papers to learn more.) While I did not know about the ruling, that did not prevent me from having an opinion or an experience with the issues of the case. Here’s the link: CBS news story on subway grinder and video segment.

I showed the kids the interview. “How can you even ride the subway again?” C. asked.  The experience is really not something I dwell on or can’t get over. It was a long time ago. I get more jumpy when squirrels get too near me at a picnic in Riverside Park. Yes, wildlife scares me, not people on the subway.

I also hesitate to share anything negative about my experiences in New York City, because I do not want people to dislike or dis or be afraid of my beautiful city. Maybe I am being grandiose, thinking that I am responsible for people’s impressions of the city. (But I do like to think I am a one-woman tourist industry. Why else have a blog called My Beautiful New York?)

What’s tough for me  is actually not that one random experience on the subway, but the way people have commented on the news story. I glanced through a couple of comments on the web and then stopped reading. I have a policy not to read or respond to comments about me or my issues on unmoderated websites. I do not handle criticism well. I would rather be proactive than reactive. I do not ever want to engage in an online argument. I feel I would lose and waste my time and grow increasingly bitter. Why bother. I’m in a hurry.

New Yorkers are a big dysfunctional family. And every family has its heartbreaks, and hurdles. And the crowded subways, the occasionally abusive people, the rabid Riverside Park squirrels, and even the crazy commenters are just a few of New York City’s challenges. And the assets of living here far outweigh the city’s deficits.

Fall Schedule

I plan my life and then my plans change. Still, I love starting a new season.

As a  kid I remember getting excited about the new fall season on TV. I loved that there were new possibilities — just for me and my entertainment. I couldn’t wait for the spin offs of my favorite sitcoms, like The Jefferson’s, Lou Grant, that Rhoda show. I loved James at 16 and the Walton’s too. Such good shows!

While my kids’ first day of school is still a few weeks away and my last day of work is a month away, I feel  a similar excitement.

I temper my enthusiasm — reminding myself that there will be a lot of laundry. When I get my darlings home from camp, I’ll have to check their hair for lice. Yes, nice! (But even that, includes holding them tight, so I won’t mind!)

As an adult, life is a lot of work before you can just plop down in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn. There are so many things to do and to plan.

Tomorrow night I teach my first East Coast Querying Workshop. I have a ton of ideas, about six people signed up, and a sketch of how the 3-hour class will unfold.

But I want to remember that the best laughs, the most memorable moments, are usually the unscripted ones. On TV, I never knew what George, John-Boy, or Rhoda would do. I just knew they would do something to make me laugh, think, or cry. I trusted them.

I am trusting that my fall line up this year will be similarly exciting.

Stay tuned. Don’t change the dial. (Remember when TV’s had dials?)

Leaving the Job

In about a month, I’m going to be divorced from my job. In many ways the marriage has been fruitful. We’ve had wonderful children (projects) together; we’ve gone many places; we’ve grown; we’ve pushed each other to grow; and now we’re moving on. We are going our separate ways. We have other loves and other children and other journeys to take. Still, it’s weird. I have mixed emotions.

I find myself moody and at times sad and in need of attention. My friend Rachael said, “That’s good. As it should be.” I remember as a kid going to summer camp or to college and missing my crazy family like crazy. (Work has been like a family to me.) But I assured myself, “It’s okay. It’ be horrible if I was just happy to be rid of them. Just to be free.”

There is a longing for freedom — a desire to speak my truth and not care if my truth jibes with the dogma of the faith-based group. I want to scream from the mountaintops, “I love Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs! I love all religions — no one has a corner on truth. No one of you is more perfect than the rest!” And if I blog about how I love gay marriage I don’t want to fear some stuffy church exec pulling me aside, “You represent the agency so please keep your public opinions to yourself.” (Yes, that kind of thing, on occasion, happens!)

I’ll miss the family dramas. I’ll miss the comedy. I won’t miss the meetings.

I’ll miss my identity as a writer. I always felt I had the best job at the place. There are many writers who want to write full time. And for most of my 20 years with the agency (10, part time and 10, full time) I’ve done it. But writing for work is different than writing for your own passion. And because I’ve given at the office, I don’t always feel like giving out at home.

I gave the best years of my life to that workplace. (I get dramatic. Maybe the best is yet to come?) The agency made me better and I made the agency better.

Still, I feel untethered, unmoored. What am I doing? I need the apron strings of a day job to get by in NYC, especially since I have three kids heading to college within the next six years.

I assure myself I am not alone. I am one of 38 of the 201 full time staff of my agency who accepted this voluntary severance package. That’s about 20 percent of us, who are cut loose and footloose.

I’m starting my own business coaching writers. (Check out my new biz.) I’m freelancing writing and teaching in a couple of afterschool programs. Oh, and I’m going to every single one of my kids’ meets and games in track, swim, basketball, soccer, and gymanstics. I’m going to volunteer with the PTA, go on field trips, and help backstage at the shows.

Here’s the view from the top of my office building.

I’m not going far. I’ll still hang out with my old work friends for lunch, happy hour, maybe even to walk the 19 flights up to the roof, hit up the art opening, visit the ecumenical library, or take my old Pilates class. It is, it turns out, all of these peripheral things that I’ll miss, that I’ve added on to my work life, that have made my life meaningful. It is what I’ve brought with me. And these things, it turns out, I can take away.

I may be getting a divorce from work, but it is an amicable one. We still love each other very much and want only the best for one another.

Get the Boot!

Writers Boot Camp

Click on our new website for info on writing boot camp in NYC. My first workshop was held on August 16, 2012 at the Elizabeth Seton Women’s Center… Get ready. Start working out.

Runner from Botswana

I have found my Olympic athlete to watch!

On the shuttle bus ride in Portland on June 3, I met this future Olympian, Amantle Montsho from Botswana. Ms. Montsho was very sweet; she had just competed in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon the day before and came in second. She was departing our van and looking for Delta; I think she was heading to Europe. I was looking for my rental car as I was heading for Eugene to meet my college roommate and spend the day. (So much fun!)

I learned about this runner on the New York Times cover sports story about Amantle Montsho. I am usally ticked off that every story in the sports section (of every newspaper) is dedicated to men’s sports so I was surprised and happy when I saw this article about a woman Olympic hopeful. I thought, “Way to go, NYTimes! Way to go Botswana!”

The kids and I love Botswana, ever since we hosted two young women for a week in New York from Botswana a month or so ago. Lolo and Rati were beautiful, smart, talented! We became fans of this land-locked country, north of South Africa. And especially the people there. I wrote about our awesome experience hosting these high school musicians at Our High School Students from Botswana.

Lolo told us that the whole country of Botswana is rooting for Amantle. They all know her personally as Botswana is small country (almost as big as Texas, according to Google).

When Amantle walked away from me at the airport, she seemed hardly to touch the ground as she walked. It may be cliche to say, but she was extremely light on her feet. Like a ballet dancer in New York City coming from class, you can tell by the way she walks, she is a special kind of person who really lives in her body. She is lithe and strong. She also seemed quite young and innocent.

And I’m rooting for her!

20120603-181654.jpg

Official Results – Women – 400 Metres

Pos

Athlete

Nat

Mark

1 Sanya Richards-Ross USA 49.39
2 Amantle Montsho BOT 49.62
3 Novlene Williams-Mills JAM 49.78
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Lose It!

According to this month’s cover Atlantic story, The Perfected Self, by David Freedman, people, including the author’s brother, have lost weight with the free app Lose It!

The application seems a perfect way to use social media to connect people around positive life goals. I know I have blogged (almost) every day because of the prodding of my online community of Catherine Flowers, Julie Jordan Scott, Kim Koning and Meredith Cardenas Weis at Post A Day (Week) Challenge at Postaday2012 on Facebook.

I have another friend who regularly documents the pounds she is losing on Facebook and she receives a ton of support (and a bit of unasked-for advice!)

The Freedman article is an homage to the psychologist B.F. Skinner who advised positive reinforcement as a route to changing individual behavior for the good of society. Alcoholics Anonymous does this for problem drinkers who seek sobriety.

I’m not sure if an app can replace a support group (or peer pressure). For me, one real-world application for this app is: Sure, I feel good when I work out — but I feel even better when I work out and other people compliment, encourage and admire me for doing so! (Or compete against me!)

I’m always bragging (complaining) to my kids — “I did Pilates and rode my bike to work today!” To which, they shrug!

I like praise for working out! I’m just not sure if an app will praise me enough. Will the app shrug at my efforts for health and fitness? I may try it and find out and document my attempt at: Running Aground, my health and fitness blog.

Memories of Meeting Chris

It was about 1992 and I’d recently come back from a retreat offered by Marble Collegiate Church about relationships. I realized three qualities I wanted in a partner were brilliance, creativity and financial independence. And after a few times hanging out with Chris, (thanks to a Kirk Douglas film he was in with a mutual friend), I realized Chris had those three qualities. And more. He was a good listener. I was attracted to these qualities.

He had been an English major and so had I. He was the only person ever to express an interest on the topic of my Master’s thesis – deconstructionism and psychoanalysis. English majors just generally tend to get (and love) one another. When I met Chris, he was reading Updike’s Memories of the Ford Administration. Here was a guy who loved Updike and was a good listener? Nice.

So life ensued. We married in ’95. The kids came along in ’97 and ’99. And after a bout with prostate cancer about 10 years ago, Chris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 9 years ago.

Chris and Cat watch the trailer for the Endgame Project.

While I know many of you love Chris as an actor and an artistic colleague, and I, too, love the brilliance and the creativity, but there is another quality Chris has brought to my life which may not sound so sexy: his steadiness.

He is not literally steady, because Parkinson’s does cause his hand and arm to shake, but figuratively, he is a rock. When the kids were little, one preschool director, Holly, commented that she’d never seen a dad so involved with the kids as Chris was.

He’s a real family man. And even as the disease progress, Chris is aces as a parent. He still cooks and shops and walks the kids home from late-night parties.

And he listens well. He’s steady. And I like that.

He no longer reads Updike the way he used to, but then again, who does?

Chris is making a documentary with a buddy who also has Parkinson’s about putting on Becket’s Endgame. To see a clip of the documentary, link to: The Endgame Project.