Extreme Kindness

I was at a faculty meeting where the administrator kept raving about one particular teacher and I felt like pulling my turtleneck over my head. Why did she not praise others? Was that one teacher her favorite? I suddenly realized, This is what a child feels like when a parent overly praises a sibling.

Children see their parents as if they were Olympic judges flashing scorecards. If one gymnast is getting straight 10s, that must mean I am getting 7s or 8s, and, let’s face it, a perfect score is nearly impossible to beat, so why even try?

But, here in the workplace conference room, we are all adults, not children. Shouldn’t we enjoy the success of our colleagues? I am going to try to enjoy other’s success, even if it feels, like, I am being passed over.

Just for today, I am going to make a secret vow to be exceedingly kind to everyone I meet. And in my generosity, I will pick no favorites.

I am hell-bent on fairness. As a teacher, I am exceedingly kind, yet I am firm and set boundaries. I am not a freakin’ doormat. Sometimes students ‘call out’ over me or another student, I will note such interruptions, respectively, asking gently, ‘Please wait your turn,’ or ‘Quick reminder: Raise your hand next time.’ I choose not to correct in a shaming way.

“Quit calling out. You’re being rude.” I have heard teachers (at another school) label students as ‘rude.’ Truly, students are motivated towards comedy, amusing one other and themselves. But I do not believe they are intentionally rude. Or are they? I’m sure behavioral psychologists have figured out at what age a child’s disrespect becomes willful or intentional. What is the age of self-control? It must arrive sometime after First Grade.

Why does kindness seem so hard? Is it that we’re giving away a bit of ourselves? Is it that giving something away goes against our human / animal tendency to hoard — hoard things like compliments? I’m not sure. All I know is that as I’m giving more and more kindness away, I haven’t lost a thing. If anything, the rewards keep rolling in.

It’s not always easy. Still. Keep on keeping on with by showing of extreme acts of daily kindness in words and deeds.

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Yesterday, I walked along the Reservoir from the east to the west side to meet friends.

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people. – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Incidentally, I realized I wrote about excessive kindness three years ago. October must be my season for reflecting on matters of kindness in the classroom.

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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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One Day, One Week, One Month of Happiness

You want to be happy but there’s so many chores to do.

For one moment, put your happiness first.

The other day, I bought myself a really cute pink party dress from Talbots. Once, as a preteen, reading Young Miss, an article said: ‘In order to be popular, do not wear a new outfit right after you get it. Wait at least a week.’

I have internalized this advice and have for more than 40 years tucked away my treasures in the pursuit of popularity. But WHY???

There is another truth: Don’t hide your light (or pretty pink dress) under a bushel. I am wearing the dress today.

Also, to increase my happiness quotient, the other night I went to the 52nd Street Project. I saw plays written by 10-year olds, performed by top-notch adult theater professionals, like Bill Kamp and Edie Falco. Going out to the theater makes me so happy. But especially because I like hanging out with my friend Joanna.

So for today’s happiness advice, I suggest you:

  • Do something nice for yourself
  • Wear something new
  • Go to the theater
  • Meet up with a friend
  • Admire the creativity of children
  • Plan something fun

Tomorrow the girls and I leave for almost two weeks in Italy — Milan, Ravenna, Bologna, Florence, Rome. Looking forward to this trip has made me happy.

http://www.art-vangogh.com/

Health Care for All

I believe in covering children for health care. I believe in health insurance for families of disabled people and those with preexisting conditions, like Parkinson’s. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and he has been on Social Security Disability for years. He has also taken early retirement.

These supports were important to us as a family – they kept us afloat as I changed jobs from writing to teaching. As I started a small business. And as Chris received less work as an actor.

I feel ashamed to see Congress stripping away the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). They voted down support for young people on their parents’ coverage, veteran’s health, and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. They gutted programs at 1 in the morning when they thought no one is looking.

I am looking.

It is hard to look. I am still in such a state of shock for our country and, these days, I turn away more often than not.


I’m in a pretty hectic job; our daughter is going away to a semester school; my family house, Skenewood, is sold; my son is home from college. And every night I have to help put dinner on the table. I cannot do everything. But I can do some things.

I am going to the women’s march in DC next weekend.

I’m not giving up. I’m saying my piece. My peace. I’m seeking peace.

I believe in Obamacare, in health care for all. I believe in looking out for the marginalized, especially children and people with disabilities. Having health care has helped me and my family survive. I believe it is a right not a privilege. We can do better.

The Common Good

Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist. It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.

Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.

I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.

Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.

Daily Prompt: Daring to Tell Your Truth

Last year when Patrick Kennedy spoke about his family’s alcoholism on 60 Minutes — and his own — it totally inspired me. It made me happy that a man was telling his family truths. That he was seeking to heal by being honest.

Does every family think they are a little bit like the Kennedy family? I think my family is. And by family I mean the family I was born into, the family I married into, and the family I created. All three of these  families share a legacy of intelligence, humor, and service. And yes, a dynasty of not talking about feelings but forging on and accomplishing greatness no matter what.

Every family has their health struggles. How do you handle yours? Do you put on a brave face? Do you speak your truth? This topic often comes up when teaching writing to adults– What if writing my truth hurts someone? Maybe we should ask instead, What if it heals someone? What if the truth does set you free?

And then there is, of course, this advice (from Anne Lamott?) ‘If they didn’t want you to write about them, they should’ve treated you better.’ But some people can’t treat you better because they’re not in treatment.

I thought it was interesting that Patrick said his father Edward Kennedy suffered from PTSD because his two brothers were assassinated.

Talking about your family illness — whether is be Parkinson’s, alcoholism, depression, or cancer — is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

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via Daily Prompt: Daring

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A Little More

Last night we saw A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend, a funny, sad one-man show with and by Chris Clavelli about the death of his 6-year old son Jess.

clavelliThis sucks. I mean the play is awesome, but the show reminds you that life sucks.

Life is a total crap shoot. You get shit. You get joy. You live. You die. Other people live and die too.

You have to talk about it. You have to write about it. You have to tell about it. You have to live it. You have to make something, maybe theater, out of it.

The sucky part, sometimes, is living on and getting up when you feel like curling up in bed and not getting up.

***

Taking the garbage out last night with my daughter Charlotte, one of our neighbors, a former Hollywood starlet from the 1950s (and this is not even giving her away because we have several senior actresses in our building), asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” or something like that.

Charlotte looked at me quizzically.

“He’s doing good,” I said, about my husband. “He’s got a great creative spirit. Is directing a show upstate this summer.

The former starlet said, “He’s wonderful. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and great artistry despite the tragedy of his life.”

We said good bye at the recycling bin.

“What did she say?” Charlotte asked. “The what of his life?”

“The tragedy. I suppose, she meant the tragedy of his Parkinson’s diagnosis,” I told my daughter.

I don’t think of my husband Chris’s life as a tragedy.

This is not the first time a neighbor has used stark terms to refer to my husband’s disease in front of my kids. I guess, in the dailiness of life, the reality of Chris’s illness is not a tragedy, it’s normal.

It is not always a comedy, but tragedy? I don’t know.  Chris feels he is lucky. He feels there are worse diagnoses.

***

This is the second time I’ve seen Clavelli’s play. It’s blown me away. Made me laugh and cry.

I am friends with Clavelli, and his girlfriend Leonisa, who funnily enough, was my work out buddy at my former workplace, before she and Clavelli got together.

The play reminded me to hug my darlings, to love the people in my life, to laugh and cry with them, to talk about truths, to listen to other people’s truths, to make art.

When someone tells their truth, I can’t argue or judge. Hearing someone’s truth makes me want to tell my truth. Because, I know, making art is a way of healing.

Life is a tragic-comedy.

***

Any way, go see Clavelli’s show. It’s really good. It’s only running in June in NYC.

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