Travel the World in NYC

I received my press credentials for this weekend’s New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center. I love this event. I love the expansiveness and beauty and diversity of the world. I have been three times — I’ve learned something new each time.

I have been blown away – I see myself climbing Machu Pichu, snorkeling with sharks, parachuting from a plane. In fact, last time, I did mountain climb, not only on a climbing wall but through Virtual Reality goggles, which, honestly, made me queasy.

My kids, my mother, and my niece have joined me. They, too, loved sampling the free snacks, snatching the give-aways, and taking in all of the vibrant colors. One time, my kids and I actually went scuba diving at the Travel Show. I’m not kidding.

This year I intend to attend more lectures and discussions. Last year or the year before, I attended one on how to travel in luxury — on a budget. I love travel.

Last month’s trip to Italy totally ignited my wanderlust. My motto is ‘Travel begets travel.’

The world is full of color, jewels, food, gifts, adventure. On a cold New York City morning in January, you may not be able to travel the world, but you can get out of bed and travel to the Javits Center.

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Saturday Morning

I went for a run. I tried to keep up with a stranger. Even though she was taking selfies as she ran,  I still couldn’t keep up.

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I was more at this guy’s pace.
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Mercifully, I bumped into my friend Ellen and her husband so could stop running and have coffee with them at the Pier1 cafe. (It’ll shutter for winter next week). We talked about Nokomis, Florida and Weston, Vermont. And more. It’s always heaven when you bump into friend (after trying to keep pace with a stranger).

I am writing this on my phone on the train to Princeton. My family is all gone this weekend – so I am getting away too! Maybe I will see some beautiful fall colors.
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Yup. Fall colors at the train station.

Lots of memories of wintering in Princeton when Chris played Scrooge at the McCarter Theatre. I love using seasons as verbs – it’s tres hoi polloi – ‘summering, wintering, springing, falling!’

Memoir and Belfast

Today’s my fifth day in Ireland.

I have been to Ireland, at least, three times before – ’74, ’83, and ’96. When I was 12, in ’74, I was with my mother, we were on a tour, paid for, I believe, by a small inheritance from my grandmother Catherine. And we were with my aunt Terry and a couple of hilarious great aunts. I remember riding on a tour bus, having a lot of laughs.

Then in ’83, I’d been studying in an NYU London summer program, gobbling up delicious chunks of Cadbury, Shakespeare, theatre, French Silk, and art history. In London, I’d dyed my hair with streaks of blue. My roommate was punk and she inspired me. My hair was basically platinum blonde, so the color of my blue streaks was green. Pretty. So I thought. Sure, I couldn’t get a comb through it. The day after I got home to Park Ridge, Illinois, my mother made me visit Arlene to get my hair cut and colored. From that day forward, my hair has been, semi-normal. Well, at my first wedding, I wore it asymmetrical, you know, one side long and the other short. But that was just cool.

During that NYU London summer, I’d stayed with Colin, my grammar school penpal in Belfast. We were frisked just going into the movie theatre. And to get into the city center, soldiers eyed you, patrolled our bus.

When I asked Colin, ‘Where are all those soldiers, riding in the back of the open trucks, going?’ He said, ‘Nowhere. They just ride around.’ With machine guns, they rode around then. I haven’t seen soldiers like that on this visit.

We had a lot of laughs in pubs and talked politics then. How we hated Ronald Reagan. I went to a party, this guy who hosted the party, this swank Iranian, made a recurring joke, more and more frequently as the drinking went on, about kidnapping me –because that was the thing then, the kidnapping of Americans by Iranians. And I didn’t think it was funny, but I went along, laughing. Because I felt it was impolite. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill in another country and say to the host of the party, “That’s not funny.”

That summer, when my classes ended, my boyfriend at the time, Jim, who would become my first husband, met me in London. We came back over to Ireland, rented a car and toured around. Mostly, we had a great time, going to pubs and driving the countryside. Snapping pictures. (As always, having a lot of laughs. My kids sometimes tell me now, ‘You have a laughing problem.’)

I remember thinking, Ya, it’s easy to take great pictures here. I took my pics with film, of course. And Jim, moody bastard, encouraged me, believing me to be a brilliant writer and photographer. So whatever other failings he/we had, I loved and was grateful for the way he encouraged me to write and take pics.

Then, 19 years ago, my godfather Uncle Kevin was taking his six siblings and their spouses and his two children on a round-the-country Ireland trip to celebrate his 50th birthday. And Chris, my new husband at the time, and I horned in on the journey (and I was self-conscious about that during the trip, believing I had imposed ourselves in their journey. I was/am sensitive.)

I was pregnant with Hayden. My aunt Judy told me, ‘This is probably the happiest time of your life – the pregnancy of your first child.’

And I remember being happy, so happy when I was pregnant, as if my purpose in life had been revealed, I was going to be a mother. And a damn good one. I had been a great babysitter. How different could it be?

I made a little video of Ireland at the time of that trip. I was still doing my cable show when I was pregnant.

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I have had a lot of dreams in Laura’s sweet second bedroom in Dublin, near the docks.

My writing teacher Wendy Rohm said that her students report a lot of vivid dreams during the Dublin workshop. And, apparently, they also see ghosts at the Arts Club where her workshops were held. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t not believe in them. I’m like Scooby Doo, a scaredy-cat until they’re revealed to be the local real estate agent, trying to drive away tourists or something. Then, I’m all bravado.

When I visited the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, I saw how Yeats believed in automatic writing as a way to enter into your unconscious — to use writing to find a deeper level of existence.

The Irish are mystics.

The Dublin writing retreat with Wendy helped me organize my thoughts on plot points, blurbs, the structure of my narrative. Those are not my strengths. (Probably not Yeats’s either.)

I like to meander in my writing, in my life. Travel is good for meanderers.

I’m writing this from the train from Dublin to Belfast for my work with United Methodist Women. I love the blessing (and occasional curse) of working for this group — and Global Ministries too. I love that these agencies love and support peace and peacemakers..

In the Shadow a Gunman by Sean O’Casey which I saw Friday night at the Abbey, the poet is not the brave soul. He is grand, dramatic, beautiful, full of bluster. It is the girl Minnie Powell who is brave. She is a perfect mix of idealist and pragmatist. I love her. I love that it was Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, who inspired him.

Women are mystics.

Women are more revered in Irish culture than American culture. Maybe it’s the inheritance of the Catholic cult of Mary. What’s not to love about Mary?

A mother of three young children is nearby on the train. She is reading a paperback with a pretty cover, How To Cope, a welcoming approach to life’s challenges. Something like that. The Welcoming Approach. I must try that.

Another woman, across from, looks exactly like my mother’s cousin with Maureen. But with a different color hair, blonde instead of black (not green or blue). It’s funny to be in a place where people look familiar, like family, yet are unrelated. I am half-Irish.

And I’m from an island, too.

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I remember when we were in Nantucket. Just me and the kids on spring break. A Jamaican guy in a sandwich shop – or was it a teacher at the Whaling museum? – one of the two said, “People who come from islands do well on islands, like people from the Caribbean or Ireland do well on Nantucket.” And I said, “Ah, like me from the island of Manhattan?” I joked.

There was a beautiful assignment my children wrote at PS 87- write a poem, beginning with, “I am from…” I am from here.

 

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The displays at the Titanic Museum were so interactive and creative. Here’s me in front of one video.

The Titanic Museum was ah-mazing. Highly recommend.

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Under your feet is a replica of the remains of the Titanic.
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And, of course, the beauty of the Irish countryside, just spotted outside of my train window.

The Sharing Economy

I’m a believer in the sharing economy. I think the world is changing. We are no longer worshipping at the altar of capitalism. We are divesting. I love minimalism.

The point of life is not to accrue, but to share. The more you share, the richer you are. Here are my examples: On my blog, I’m oversharing. I’m into carsharing and bikesharing.

And I’ve jumped into housesharing. My first experience was a few weeks ago with AirBnB – it was  wonderful.

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Chris, Hayden and I were in Vermont. We were visiting the girls at camp. Charlotte was in the show, Twelve Angry Women, an all-female production of the classic Twelve Angry Men. The show got out late so rather than driving back across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks, I drove us fifteen minutes to a neighboring town of Essex Junction. We stayed with Mike and Iris whom I’d booked with on AirBnB.

Mark and Iris, 50 ish, greeted us at the door at about 11 pm. They showed us in to a screened-in porch and laid out a cheese and fruit platter. They were friendly and very good listeners. I’m a huge fan of deep listening. But they were good talkers too. We chatted about politics, parenting, and the arts. We could’ve talked well into the night. But finally, we went to bed.

Hayden had his own room and so did we. We had a private bath. I think the two bedrooms were formerly their grown sons’ rooms. Breakfast was lavish, delicious, and healthy. Mark and Iris have opened their house to 70 some travelers over the past four or five years. They said everyone’s been interesting and nice. Their experience with housesharing has been great.

A week or two ago, Hayden and I trekked across several states, staying with family, friends, at hotels, at a guest house in Chautauqua. Outside of Cleveland, we were going to stay at another AirBnB – a former Brooklynite, actress and writer – Hello, new friend! But that didn’t work our –some glitch in the listing and they didn’t have two rooms. No worries, I received a full rebate. And we had an even better time with old friends.

I asked Hayden, “Among all the places, the half dozen, where we’ve stayed in the past few weeks, where was your favorite?”

“With Mark and Iris,” he said.

Chris and I are going back to stay with Mark and Iris on Sunday. The girls are in another show — this time, my darling has the lead in Drowsy Chaperone! (brag!)

Because of our housesharing experience, I’d love to open our big, gorgeous, family-friendly apartment to weary travelers, but I think it’s still a sticky wicket in the city. (And I do not want to jeopardize our lease.)

In any case, I’ll find new ways to share.  That’s the trend and the currency that counts.

 

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Charlotte (in black and white) argues a point. Twelve Angry Women. Jury room dispute.
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Fenton Memorial Deaconess Home in Chautauqua Institution, one of our stops on the road trip.
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Our beach on Lake Champlain. Sharing room on the raft.

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).

Writing at the Unconference

Today was the unconference #IndieCon at New Work City, my coworking space. When I got there, I learned that at an unconference, participants just sign up for the workshop they want to teach. On Thursday night, I had taught Blogging Basics so one of my coworkers suggested I offer a taste of that workshop in one of 30 minute sessions this afternoon.

I did. I had a wonderful group. I gave the bloggers seven minutes to write (then added two more). I offered “hungry for more,” as one of the creative writing prompts to pump the well and get the words flowing. So, in less than 10 minutes, this is what I came up with.

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I’m hungry for more. I am looking to learn more, I’m grateful for the business I have, leading the workshops I lead, but I want to lead a writing workshop in the Amalfi coast, in a Paris cafe, or on a Guatamalan mountaintop.

I have a bad case of wanderlust.

At my Dangerous Writing workshop with the IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) last month, several of the participants had traveled to Natalie Goldberg’s workshop in Italy. One participant said I was a better teacher than Natalie, which blew me away. (Yes, I’m a competitive creative writing teacher!)

And, my student added, she would take an international writing excursion with me, because, besides being a good teacher, I would let her and her friends drink when we traveled together to the castle in Italy.

“Of course, I would let you drink,” I said. Curious about the most famous creative writing teacher’s motivation, I asked, “Why wouldn’t Natalie let you drink?”

“Because then we might become friends,” another of my students who had been on Natalie’s writing workshop chimed in.

Maybe Natalie wanted clear-headed writers. I understand. I know Cheever wrote his best stuff when he sobered up. And I know that the myth of the alcoholic writer is simply a myth, but still, on a writing retreat to Italy, I think we can imbibe.

I love the word ‘imbibe.’ It is such a buttoned-up word and yet the act of drinking is buttoned down.

I am hungry to button down.

I am hungry. Or maybe I am thirsty to imbibe.

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Here are two photos from my day today. This first is from my early morning birding with Charles Chessler in Central Park. And the last is from my bike ride home from the Unconference along the Hudson River path.

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Give Me a Break

I seriously was about to cry when I read The New York Times Sunday travel section today. The cover article, “Give Us a Break,” by Jennifer Conklin talked about three levels of spring break travel: budget, moderate, and in your dreams.

The budget travel option for a week-long vacay in Orlando (without airfare) for a family of four? $4,115. This is referred to as “thrifty.”

Really? Really? Is that thrifty? I consider it thrifty to spend less $400. For our spring break, I am hoping to spend less than $1,000. Maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I’m out of touch with the cost of vacations.

I still think vacations cost about what they did when I was in college. My bible was the paperback “Let’s Go Guide to Europe.” I think my budget was $20 a day.

Are we not, as a country, still clawing our way out of a recession? Are we not all looking for simple joys and saving any extra thousands of dollars for our kids’ college? Who reads The New York Times that $4,000 is considered thrifty?

I don’t care. I will rise above.

I do want to go somewhere grand for spring break and I will. I am psyched that we have spring break plans to visit cousins in Boston or Nantucket and perhaps some old friends. Vacationing with family and friends is way better and more luxurious than some stupid generic vacation a travel agent could arrange.

Maybe the Times did not publish this article to infuriate me about the cost of spring break travel and my inability to travel first class. But did they really have to rub my face in that $1.06 million Caribbean private yacht cruise as an example of the in your dream options?

So to calm my anger, I will write a few “thrifty” spring break fun ideas (and all for about $2.50 a day)

  • sit on a bench in Central Park with a friend (free)
  • visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History (donation is a suggestion)
  • ride on the M5 bus to SoHo ($2.50) or Chelsea and gallery hop (free wine!)
  • walk the High Line (free)
  • have coffee at a cafe and write in your journal ($2.50)
  • bike ride in Riverside Park (free)
  • Saturday morning at Wave Hill (free for the fam)
  • read The New York Times, get mad, blog about it ($2.50)
  • help friends with a creative project, working on a movie, like I did today (free)
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a still from the comedy adventure series I worked on.