The Heiress

Washington Square is a character in The Heiress.
Washington Square is a character in The Heiress.

In New York, it’s always about the real estate. The dude from Downton Abbey still coveted a spot on Washington Park North.

Even in 1880, when Henry James wrote Washington Square, the story upon which The Heiress is based, the gentleman caller loved Catherine Sloper for her Greenwich Village real estate, 16 Washington Square.

I love the story of The Heiress and oh, all right, I love all girl/women empowerment stories! I took a seminar about Henry James in college. In one of his prefaces, James wrote that it was far better for an artist to never marry so that the artist could focus on his or her art, sublimating sexual urges for creative ones.

I wrote about this in another blog post: Work pays better than marriage.

James never married and was incredibly prolific — coincidence? ….He thought marriage was deadly to artists, particularly writers.

I love the fierce independence, social awkwardness and artistic drive of Catherine Sloper, our hero.

The acting in this production of The Heiress was awesome. When I saw it Tuesday night, I kept thinking, ‘Man, that Jessica Chastain can act! She looks nothing like the CIA agent she played in Zero Dark Thirty,’ which I had just seen the day before. (Zero Dark Thirty was wonderful, too, in terms of fricken’ amazing women who can do so much with tenacity and surveillance, much more effective war-time tools than torture!)

‘Chastain’s a great actress,’ I thought. ‘Great actors can make themselves look so completely different.’ After the show, my husband informed me that the understudy, Mairin Lee, had gone on for Chastain that night. Wow! I’ve got to read the playbill before the show apparently! I did not know that.

In 1995, I saw this show with Cherry Jones and Michael Cumpsty (love them!). What I remember from that performance is how Jones sat alone at the end, completely satisfied and completely alone.

As we left the theater, I told my husband, ‘Even if Catherine had hooked up with the dude from Downtown Abbey and the marriage didn’t work out because he might’ve just loved her only for her apartment, she still might’ve gotten some awesome children out of the marriage. And that would be wonderful. That is wonderful.”

curtainI saw this show with a cool bunch of fashion, mommy and travel bloggers and before the show, we had pizza and schmoozed at John’s Pizza on 44th Street. Yummy. (Disclosure: I wasn’t paid to write this post, but was given the ticket and dinner.)

The real estate on Washington Park is not permanent. You only get to live there a little while on 48th street. (The show runs until February 10th.)

Even briefly, you can join Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and Jessica Chastain (or her replacement) and live like Catherine Sloper.

Sure, you may be plain and witless, but you get a glorious, delicious home and hot guys itching to marry you.

Just remember James’s word to the wise: marriage may derail your creativity.

For more info, visit www.TheHeiressOnBroadway.com
The Heiress on Twitter: @TheHeiressBway and Facebook 

Thanks for the ticket, Mama Drama.

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Conflict Resolution and My Ideal Saturday Morning

Writing about anything but yesterday’s tragedy in Newton, Conn, feels insensitive. But to cope with horrors, ordinary or extraordinary, I need to write. Through any endeavor, creative and artistic, we find out who we are, what we think, and how we feel. And we figure out how to go on.

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This morning I dropped off one of my daughters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel calm looking at art and making art. Thanks, Andy Warhol.

I’m a teacher, a mother, and a writer. I’ve been thinking about conflicts.

I know in families and schools and all our relationships, conflict is inevitable. But how we deal with our internal and external conflicts is optional. I believe our society preys upon our conflicts. Our media exploits our differences — red state vs. blue state; stay at home mom vs. working mom.

Honestly, we have more that unites us than divides us.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have to find a way to seek common ground and lift one another up, not put each other down. We cannot whip out automatic rifles when we cannot get along — with ourselves or with our mothers.

We have to find and share our public spaces like our schools and our museums. Our public places and institutions are sacred.

I teach my writing students that conflict is the essence of drama. We mustn’t avoid conflict. But we cannot rest in a place of constant conflict. We must learn to use conflict to further the plot of our lives, to reach out, to state our needs, and to work on how to find a common humanity. Even when we want to find a common enemy.

Every child and every adult should lean how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Those of us who live in cities and ride the subways or share public spaces know we must coexist. And when we cannot live peaceably with ourselves, our families or our neighbors, we must get help.

And as every one is saying on social media, getting help should be a whole lot easier than getting a gun. There is no shame in experiencing conflict or in getting help with whatever arise in our lives. The tragedy arises when we cannot resolve our conflicts without hurting someone else.

To manage our inner and outer conflicts, we can:

  • make art
  • write in a journal
  • talk to a friend
  • work out
  • seek professional help
  • listen to music
  • walk in nature
  • attend a worship service
  • read a book

I don’t know. There are probably a million ways to handle conflict healthily. But we must be taught them; they don’ t just come naturally.

Today’s daily prompt, What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Ideally, I may do any of the above conflict resolution items.

I write in my journal. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I go for a run. I make a nice brunch for my family with bagels and lox. My kids clean up the brunch without being asked. Then I go to a nearby spa for a massage. The kids get themselves to wherever they may need to go — basketball, Bat Mitzvah. I feel at peace. I make art.

While the first few things I listed do happen, reading, writing, drinking coffee — the last few things don’t. I cannot control other people. (I am concocting a plan to make the kids more self-reliant and supportive of one another and of me and my husband.) I also do not get lox or a massage on a Saturday morning because I worry about the expense. I feel guilty spending money on myself during the holiday season. My budget is already pretty tight with kids’ presents and holiday travel. I guess that would be an ideal too, not feeling guilty.

Just for today, I teach my kids to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. I love them well and hold my dear ones close. Just for today, that is my ideal.

Here’s the link to today’s daily prompt: Me Time

Here’s an earlier blog post on Navigating Conflict. I learned these skills at the Girls Leadership Institute, an amazing group that empowers girls.

The Blank Page

One day at the Art Students League, my teacher was late. The art teachers there always wander in late and bleary, as if awakened from some brilliant art-making reverie only to remember that they have to teach a bunch of art-starved students.

Since the teacher was late, the proctor, a middle-aged woman with uncombed red hair and bright eyes, sidled over to me.

She told me, “Tape your paper to the board and just get started. You’re not afraid of the blank page, are you?”

“No,” I laughed. Not me. I’m not afraid of the blank the page. The blank slate. The tabula rasa. Every time I go to blog, every time I start to write or paint anything, there it is – the blank page. And I’m not afraid.

I am so not afraid of the blank page that I have to excise it immediately. I must do away with it. I must X out the blank page using any old black font on the white screen. I must not pause. I must not stop. I must let my fingers fly.

gesso-ing my art journal

In art class with Robert Burridge at the Holbein Art event several years ago, Burridge instructed me, my sis, and my dad to prime the heavy paper with acrylic gesso. Gesso is that heavy white, chalky paint that makes the next layer of paint stick. Then, my dad, or maybe Burridge, said all that gesso-ing is just a way of smearing your DNA on the page, making it your own.

My problem with gesso-ing the page is that I have to wait for the page to dry. Once I gesso, I want to get right in there and go. Slide the brush around the page.

Yup, that’s me. Not afraid of the blank page, but impatient for the creative process.

For creative inspiration, check out Bob Burridge’s website.

10 Thing That Make Me Happy

  1. Helping a friend with a big event. I’m doing flowers for Barbara’s wedding! And I can’t wait for a highlight of my life — dancing at weddings.
  2. A bike basket. I have had half a dozen bikes in my adult life in New York City. This is the first time I have had a basket. Super cute and convenient.
  3. Riverside Park garden at about 91st. How gorgeous is this. Even in this heavy humidity as I glide on my bike past the flowers, I am weighed down with the tropical smell and the riot of colors. I am transported into some version of heaven.
  4. Brilliant colleagues. I have had intellectual and creative coworkers. The best thing about my work is joking with my coworkers.
  5. A book club. We are hilarious. We travel together for one weekend every year and after that weekend, my jaw hurts from talking and laughing so much.
  6. Kids! Mine are smart, gorgeous, athletic, and basically kind. Even when they bicker and snipe, somewhere deep down, they are whispering, “I love you,” to each other. (I tell myself this.)
  7. A biz partner. Kelly Wallace is supersmart and talented. We are tapping into possibilities of a new kind of writing collective and getting unheard voices into the mainstream. Check out our website at Boot Camp for Writers
  8. Small kindnesses. Holding a door for someone or accepting the gift as someone holds a door for me.
  9. Resilience and New York theater. Last night my husband and I had a date night. We saw “Red Dog Howls” at New York Theatre Workshop and then we had dinner at the Frenchy French restaurant Calliope. Chris had real physical challenges during our meal. These were obvious as he struggled with his forkful (I hate Parkinson’s Disease!) Still, we had a night out. He never complained. I admire his resilience. (The play was a tough one – reminded me of the horrors endured by civilians as one character describes the effects of war on Armenians.)
  10. A washer and dryer. When I got these in our New York City apartment, I swore I would never want for anything, ever again. So I am grateful for my appliances.

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?)

My New York City Weekend

I stayed in the city but I felt like I went to camp. I have been preoccupied with myself, winding down from my day job and gearing up for my small biz. So I got out of my writing head and into my artsy, theatrical side. I had such a restorative weekend in New York City, a ménage à moi.

There are so many creative, fun, and cheap things to do in the city. As a mother of three, I am always looking for fun and cheap activities for my kids, but I found fun and cheap stuff for myself.

On Friday night, I saw Shakespeare in the park — Riverside Park —  Hudson Warehouse’s Richard III. It was a magical, bloody, funny, professional production. (cost: free)

Richard III, the Hudson Warehouse production in Riverside Park

When you see theater outside, you are at the mercy of the elements. And there is room for serendipity, like the lamp posts flickering on at the magic moment. Or when a family looking for a picnic spot crosses in front of the stage with their stroller and grandmother. (That was very funny!) Also, you can’t go wrong with the backdrop of Riverside Park — breathtaking — at sunset.

On Saturday morning, I took my favorite collage art class with my favorite teacher Mariano Del Rosario. I learned that my life drawing teacher Anita Steckel had died. Sad, but she was getting up there.

There are so many brilliant men and women who teach at the Art Students League, many of them ancient. When you take art, it doesn’t matter how you look or what you wear or how you think. What matters is getting into the zone of creating and making something out of nothing. (cost: about $18)

Last night, I attended Sunday Night Improv with Tom Soter. I love improv. I believe in the, “Yes, and…” philosophy. Say yes and then move the story along. The one-hour class went quickly. (cost: $10)

After a scene in which I was making a ton of offers to my partner, Tom gave me a bit of advice, “You don’t have to work so hard.” Wow! He also advised the class not to try to be clever, but to “Say the simple thing.” Brilliant. I’m going back.

Check out:

Hudson Warehouse for Free Shakespeare

The Art Students League

and

Tom Soter’s Sunday Night Improv

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And no NYC weekend is perfect unless you have a slice. Mine was from T & R Pizza, my local joint. (cost with a soda: $3.50)
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Writing as a Practice

I make writing my spiritual practice. It takes practice.

Winding down my work days at my day job and gearing up for my new small biz, I have let my blogging slide. I want to get back into the practice.

Also, let’s face it, the Olympics are on. I watch these athletes every night. I see effortless skill and human perfection. It looks like magic. But to get into these games, they have spent at least ten thousand hours practicing.

Practice is such a boring word and is such a boring idea. It seems to bear no fruit. It reminds me of those few piano lessons I had in second grade, sitting there in our front room in Skokie, Illinois. No one to hear me or encourage me as I pounded out my drills and scales.

And it all amounted to nothing. I did not seem to get better. I still can’t play the piano. Truth be told, I spent way more time avoiding practice than practicing. I loved kickball better.

But wait, there were a few moments of fun. I remember goofing off on the piano by myself, figuring out how to play Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, not by reading the music, but by hearing the tune I loved in my head and playing it. Just playing around.

I guess if practice requires some kind of play, some kind of goofing around, it is not deadly boring. Practice, then, becomes a discovery and not a rote memory.

Practice becomes a journey, a way to pole vault you from one side of the hurdle to another.

I may never make it to the Olympics of writing, but I will practice any way. For in the art of practice, there is gold.

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This was the back of a tee shirt at the United Methodist Ubuntu Day of Service, working at the Tierra Negra Farm in Durham, NC.