Who was the nomad?
Was it you?
Did you use a walking stick?
A talking stick?
Did you find — as you journeyed — a sense of home?
Why did you leave?
Were you told to honor your father and mother?
But left any way
And now you are being left.
The natural right loneliness of the child, your child,
who fills his backpack, walks away and never looks back. Not once.
I don’t begrudge my children growing up.
I just didn’t know what you went through.
Until it happened to me.
It explains why everything fell apart.
Ancestors before me, have compassion. Forgive me.
I get to thinking it all began — I began —
when my grandparents and great grandparents came on a big ship
From Ireland and from Denmark and Norway.
Separate big ships. In the turbulent Atlantic sea.
Colliding in me.
Making my brothers and sisters too.
But mostly me.
I was born on three big ships crossing the Atlantic.
But I go back to fields and plains and caves.
Just like you.
We were all of us. Walking.
Walking with sticks.
Singing and laughing and arguing
And wondering who our children would be.
And now we set out, as nomads, again.
Where is your journey?
I hope you will find — as your journey — your way home.
Wrote this and am reading this poem for History and Heritage Day, an alternative celebration to Columbus Day today at the Interchurch Center, NYC.
No hot breakfasts on school days. Yes, you can have: cereal, toast, oatmeal, fruit, but no pancakes, French Toast, or omelettes. On weekends, okay.
Then they wanted smoothies. I hate the mess! I do not enjoy cleaning the blender.
“If you want smoothies, you can make them yourselves,” I told them.
But this morning I was feeling generous. Chris and I had been out last night — at the screening of some awesome short films from the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.
A friend of Chris’s, Merav Elbaz Belschner, had directed this hilarious movie about writing, Suddenly.
So I was feeling guilty that they’d ordered in pizza last night and Chinese food the night before. Yes, I’m that mother. Hence, the smoothies. But did they thank me? Did they enjoy the special effort on my part?
They complained. In fact, Hayden announced, “This is the worst smoothie I’ve ever tasted.”
When Chris, God bless him, tumbled out of bed, (getting out of bed is difficult for him — he’s not yet medicated first thing in the morning and it takes a long time), tasted the smoothie, he pronounced, “It’s good. But the kids like juice-based, not milk-based smoothies.” I don’t really know these people who I live with. Who are they? What do they like? My family is a mystery. They reveal exciting nuances every day.
I thought they’d like the smoothie because I made it with frozen grapes, frozen strawberries, milk, ice cream, Greek yogurt, ice. And, of course, a lot of love. But no.
I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”
“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”
“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.
Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.
But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.
In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.
Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).
“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”
And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”
And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”
I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.
I began blogging on WordPress about four and a half years ago. My first post was on my first rule. See, during a champagne dinner with my friend Lindsay, we had come up with seven guidelines to help us cope with work and family.
In fact, just this summer, Lindsay and I toiled again over a champagne dinner and many-coffee brunch the next day, to update our seven rules and come up with seven BRAND SPANKING NEW rules. And I will share them, in time, my friends.
But among our old rules, the first was Pile on the People.
# 1 Pile on People (P.O.P.)
There is no problem that can’t be bettered by adding a lot more people to it.
If two parents are good, then three are even better still. Four or five? Excellent! After all, it does take a village to raise a child. Or fight a war. Even George Bush employed this concept — he called it a surge.
In my life, I have employed a surge. Especially in the last few years I have piled on the people by employing housekeepers and babysitters. And it’s really worked well. (Heck, half of my facebook friends are the kids’ babysitters.)
One note: it does cost you. So, be prepared to DTE (damn the expense!) and pile the money on as you pile the people on! Or barter! Or get family members on board.
I was just chatting with Josie, former babysitter, the other night. I was dissing marriage to her. Saying Let’s face it, married couple love is way overrated. That relationship is so fetishized by, oh, I don’t know, diamond companies, candymakers, Valentine’s revelers, Catholic priests. If we are going to celebrate love, let’s expand our concept of love a wee bit.
Let’s celebrate a love of a single mother for her kids, a sister for her brother, two dear old friends, a son for his dad, an aunt for her nephew, a student for his teacher, a pastor for her flock, a babysitter for her kids. I dunno. I’m just sick of all the brouhaha over marriage.
My point is — it’s wrong to send love like a garden hose in just one direction. That won’t water the garden. Hook it up to a sprinkler and let love be more like a fountain — spraying in many directions and watering a wider land.
I want to tweak my P.O.P. concept. Make it P.O.U.P. — Pile on Useful People. Because just a pile of people gets unwieldy. And given that I’m a real people pleaser, when you have to please unwieldy people, it’s a real drag. So try to see that the people in your life add, not take away.
When I started on WordPress in July 2009, I had four blogs. This blog appeared on the first.
To offer advice on staying happy – My 7 Rules
To document my beautiful NYC – My Beautiful New York
To run a 5k – Running Aground
To get my kids off technology – The Connected Life
Looking this first post over, I realized that the topic is still relevant as last night at book club, while discussing Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, we got into this same conversation about marriage again.
I contend that it is not right or fair or realistic to expect one person to be everything to you. Shouldn’t we pile on the the people? The more, the merrier.
I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”
Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.
Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.
Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.
I love to make collage art and book journals.
I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.
And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.
I just got great news. I’m going to be teaching at the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference at Drew University. I’m going to lead a workshop on Dangerous Writing: Your Spiritual Autobiography from August 8 to 12. Yup, we’re taking our writing to the edge.
When I was 28, I wanted desperately to attend the guild summer conference, then held at Skidmore College, but my ex and I were flat broke. We were living in Inwood. He was unemployed. I was a temp. I was literally so sad that I couldn’t afford a week of writing that I lay in an empty bath tub, fully dressed and cried.
The next year I still couldn’t rub two nickels together, but by then, I was separated from my ex and willing to take risks to pursue my passion for writing.
I threw myself at the mercy of Hannelore Hahn, the founder of the guild, asking her for a scholarship and promising her that someday, as a scholarship recipient myself, I would give a scholarship to a deserving young woman writer like myself.
She agreed. For partial tuition, I happily worked the registration table.
That was, a-hem, more than 20 years ago. Off and on over the years, I’ve been able to attend the summer conference. I’m not quite yet able to give a scholarship, but I am able to give a heckuva workshop. Check back with me in 20 years.
Life’s funny, right?
Attending the guild summer workshop as an instructor is worth the wait. I’m just happy this year to be a part of it and not crying alone in the tub. (I hope!)
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.
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.
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.
Brilliant colleagues. I have had intellectual and creative coworkers. The best thing about my work is joking with my coworkers.
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.
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.)
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
Small kindnesses. Holding a door for someone or accepting the gift as someone holds a door for me.
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.)
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.
On my happiness list, the last item is “Embrace uncertainty.” And the second to the last? “Live every day as if it were your last.” These are hard to follow because I love making lists and planning my day.
There was one day, three or four years ago, when the darlings, Josie and I were in Italy for Thanksgiving and we had absolutely no plans. We followed the Improv rule, “Accept every offer.” If someone suggested we stop somewhere, that’s where we went. We chased a ball in a church courtyard for a long time.
We got lost in Venice. Someone said, “Let’s stop at that pizza place.” We did. We ate pizza under a bridge.
Then someone pointed to a boat and said, “Oh those clementines look good.” So we bought clementine oranges off of a boat. The kids tried to peel the clementines in one peel so you could hold them back together again and they’d look whole. They were the best clementines ever.
Then the kids wanted to spend hours feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. But I took a break with a cappuccino at a café off the square. When the waiter delivered my coffee in the white china cup, there, in the frothy milk, was a heart.
When I let go of my agenda, things surprised and pleased me — things I didn’t even think were possible.
I had that list of Summer To Do things. And some of the things I’ve done and some I haven’t. And I’m not sure I’ll get to them today. After all, my last item is “Quit making lists.”
Update my resume
Get more help for Chris and household management
Research joining a writer’s room or applying for writer-in-residence program
Befriend new families in kids’ new Fall schools/classes
Prepare kids well for camp
Have a party while kids are at camp
Replace or do something about annoying kitchen cabinets
Six years ago, I borrowed a book from my daughters’ preschool. The book was called Teaching Your Children Responsibility. I don’t remember any advice from the book. All I know is that I never returned the book to the preschool lending library.
I have felt guilty about not returning that book for six years. I try to model responsibility and consistency. Sometimes I model guilt and blame.
For the mess in our apartment I like to blame my husband Chris and his Parkinson’s Disease and my children who have no good excuse. And of course I blame myself because I don’t discipline them enough and I would rather write before work and play tennis after work than clean and do laundry. I would rather go out to Happy Hour with my work peeps than make a family dinner. How often have I said, “Let’s order Chinese food again, kids”?
I may be irresponsible but I am happy. I may be guilty but I am keeping the Cottage, the best Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side in business.
I may be messy, but I am creative. This is what I tell myself. In our country house there is a magnet on the fridge. It says, “A creative mind is seldom tidy.” So true.
This jibes with my Rule Number 5: Expect the best, love what you get. Even from yourself.
Someday I’ll return that library book. Until then, I’ll try loving myself.