International Women’s Day

Why Resist?

Because I believe in protecting the rights of the marginalized, especially women, children, and the disabled.

Even though we have much to work do in our country, I tell myself to work on myself. Make a difference in the ways I can. Work on the things in my realm. This is the way I dug myself out of the 9 11 morass. I did small acts of kindness. I cleaned my kitchen. I joined forces with people who focused on children. I worked for social justice, which means a lot to me. I worked with the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women. My life has been about fostering sisterhood and brotherhood across borders and countries, which are, let’s face it, arbitrary lines on a map, subject to interpretation. I’m now teaching. And teachers can make a difference.

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Why International Women?

When I went to China for the women’s conference in 1995, I was amazed by the beautiful diversity of women around the globe and the work they do. Especially women activists – rural women, college women, labor advocates, environmentalists. I don’t know if international women will save the world. But I think it’s possible. I find hope in knowing that there are countries where women political leaders are not anomalies. Diverse leadership teams always succeed in ways that homogeneous teams do not.

Young international women, too, like Malala Yousafzai, are making a world of difference. Can you imagine being shot by the Taliban and then rising like a phoenix from those ashes to write and speak so brilliantly (and win a Nobel prize!)?

well behaved womenSo Why Now?

I enjoy Maria Shriver’s weekly newsletter. In last Sunday’s paper, she said:

Feminine power is available to every woman because power starts within. You don’t have to act like a guy, talk like a guy, or dress like a guy to be powerful. You have to talk, act, dress, and think like the person that you are.

It’s not a man’s world. It’s everyone’s world, and it’s ours to go out and make better.

Yes, we have the power. We have the international connections. We have the authenticity to start right where we are. To do something, anything — with compassion. We can write a postcard, support a teacher, speak highly of women leaders, join a march,  vote, organize a huddle, diversify our boardrooms, or run for office.

On International Women’s Day and every day, women are looking out for each other, for children, for people with disabilities. And we are facing fear with love. We are calling out hypocrisies. We are finding our why and sharing it.

These are some of the reasons why I’m proud to wear red today and I’m proud to be a woman every day. I celebrate international womanhood and sisterhood!

My friend Hillary

I was just in Louisville, Kentucky for the once-every-four-event of Assembly for United Methodist Women, April 24 to 27. I was doing reporting for Response magazine. And I was thrilled to be there with 6,500 women of faith, including Hillary Clinton.

Now, many people who know me know I love Hillary Rodham Clinton. After all, we are both from Park Ridge, Illinois. We went to the same high school. At this point in the conversation, someone might ask me, “Did you know her?”

Puh-lease! She was a few years older than me! Still, I am her comrade and sister nonetheless.

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I was so proud and moved by her speech I was bawling.

I was first blown away by her concern for women and children when I heard her speak at the UN Conference of Women — what that 20 years ago? oh my god! — in Beijing, China. I was at this conference performing comedy near the technology tent with fellow stand-up Emmy Gay. It was at this conference Emmy and I first learned how to email! And look, now we know how to blog.

It was also at that UN conference that Hillary coined (or maybe coopted?) the phrase ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ And she and I are still going strong advocating for women and children. She’s involved in an effort to advance maternal health internationally. And I’m encouraging women to share their stories of transformation through writing. (shameless promotion: come to our writing workshop May 29 to June 1 Adridondack Writers’ Weekend)

Hillary knows the power of women of faith by her own experience in church, Sunday School and from her parents. A youth group leader took her from “lily white” Park Ridge into the beautifully diverse city to learn about the world.

This is one reason I love Methodism — their concern for neighbors outside of their own backyard. But when Hillary grew up, that was the radical ’60s (love, love, love). Since then, religion’s gotten a bad rap. Maybe, deservedly so. Maybe some religious leaders have chosen to played it safe — instead of loving neighbors outside of their church, they loved only those in their own church.

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The teleprompter says it all!

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Being a member of the press has its privileges. I schmoozed with fellow press. I learned that Hillary discouraged the Louisville Democratic Party and Democratic mayor from attending this United Methodist Women gathering, telling them, “This is not for you. It’s something I’m doing for my faith.”

Also, the press noted that she paid her own way and declined the honorarium – you know those United Methodist Women, good stewards of their funds, appreciated that show of frugality.

I have never met Hillary in person although my husband did. He met her backstage after a Broadway show, Democracy, that he was in. Hillary and Bill had come back to congratulate the actors.

“My wife is from Park Ridge, Illinois, too,” Chris told Hill.

“Really?” He said her eyes lit up — that she was excited to learn of the connection.

He told me later. “She’s really beautiful in person.”

“More beautiful than me?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “She’s more beautiful than you.”

I’ve never let him forget that. I’ve never forgiven him either.

But we are all beautiful women, each in our way. This weekend, United Methodist Women and Hillary reminded me of that.

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My Mom, My Worries, My Optimism

Today’s daily prompt is Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

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Took this pic a couple months ago upstate New York. I love a working landscape.

A few days ago, the prompt was:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

My five people include dear ole mum, so this blog post fulfills two daily prompts.

  1. My mom – though I don’t talk to her every day (or even, every week) I think of her all the time. I thank her for passing down her good looks, sense of humor, personal style, and intelligence to me. Of course, she did this in combo with my dad, I know. But Mom still does yoga, teaches college, and stands on her head every day. What’s not to love?
  2. My secret garden – I would like to say more but, ya know, shhhhhh, it’s a secret. And it’s a garden. So ya… (it’s one of 7 Rules for Surviving, so revisit this post.)
  3. My three kids – they are my front and center; my alpha and omega. Everything I do and everything I want to do, I do for the darlings.
  4. Jolain and my girlfriends – When I became a mother, I found my center, but I also worried I’d lost my mojo. With a strong community of women friends, I’ve kept myself intact, even when I regularly lose it.
  5. Hal and my former colleagues. I know this is crazy, but I love my ex-coworkers so much. I love their intelligence and their passion for making the world better. I’m glad I’ve moved on from my full-time work, but this year, my heart and my social life is still full of the awesome staff from United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries.

I know many wives would put their husbands on their top five people. And Chris and I do have a great thing going, but, let’s be honest, the Parkinson’s Disease has really put a cramp in our romantic lives. We still are great co-parents and movie-going comrades.

Speaking of movies, next week our Screen Actors Guild special screening, Chris and I will see Les Mis and the Hobbit. How does anyone ever work full-time when there are so many amazing movies to see every damn week?

I have three persistent worries. And these are:

  1. Will we manage as we embark on two and a half months without health insurance?
  2. How long does my husband have in fairly good health? (I know, I know, no one knows how long any of us have, but with a spouse with a chronic disease, you worry.)
  3. How will we pay for our three kids’ college?

My sources of optimism:

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my mom and my daughter, my raisons des etres.
  • my boot camp for writers, my new biz
  • my ability to make funny jokes
  • my obtaining more wisdom and patience as I age, (right? tell me there are gifts to ageing)
  • my crazy creative writing students
  • my president
  • my belief in the restorative nature of nature
  • working out
  • movies and books

the path less taken

When we thought up the idea for Writers Boot Camp.

We came up with the business only a few months ago and already we’ve hosted a few workshops and a writing weekend.

meandering

We took the noncomformist path.

Kelly and I started our business, Boot Camp For Writers because I went off track.

I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.

Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.

I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.

A detour in Oregon.

The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”

I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.

We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.

After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).

We sat at a cafe then walked around.

Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.

“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.

“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.

Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.

We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!

Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.

Volunteering at the Shelter

Last night I volunteered at the women’s shelter at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s. I sat around with six volunteers and my family of five (whom I’d made come to drop off the homemade cookies). My husband and son cut out as soon as we finished our job of setting the table with plasticware and my son was assured he’d get community service credit for the help.

The girls wanted to leave too, but I told them, “Stay until the women arrive.”

I was sitting by the door when the six or so women arrived. I jumped to my feet and greeted them. “Hi! Welcome! Good to see you!”

One women looked confused and indignant, “Do I know you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just being friendly.” I was embarrassed. Behind the woman’s back, one of my daughters, C., lifted her eyebrows at me protectively. I rolled my eyes, shrugged. Maybe, at times, I can be too friendly. Maybe she didn’t want friendliness, she just came for dinner and shelter. I didn’t mind.

I chatted with a woman who sat beside us. I complimented her on her camouflage-patterned rubber rain boots. We chatted about the ease of slipping on rain boots and all the pretty patterns they come in nowadays. One of my daughters has a pretty pair.

The food was ready and one of the volunteers suggested, “Please help yourself.”

I suggested, “How about a quick grace first?” Then I asked my boot-wearing friend to lead us in prayer. She stood up in the center of the room and blessed the food. I think that’s what she did, I couldn’t hear her too well and she mumbled. It was a short prayer and heartfelt — my favorite kinds.

The girls and I left before dinner. As we said good bye, the Do-I-know-you-woman gave me and the girls a big smile — a huge silly giggly smile — like a kid who’s made a new best friend. We smiled equally wide back at her.

I said good bye to another woman one who was smoking on the front steps. “I’ll come right in after I finish this cigarette,” she said. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“No problem,” I said. And for some reason, she reminded me of my mother. We hopped in a cab and came home.

I don’t know which of my rules this experience relates to. Maybe to the rule about Expect the Best, Love What you Bet. Even from your overly friendly self.

Writing Childhood Memories

Loved teaching “Food and Faith” at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s last Sunday.

I love that childhood memories are treasure troves, little magical boxes full of light. Memories point our way. Remembering where I come from reminds me of where I am going and who I am.

One exercise in my workshop was to write about a childhood memory of food that brought you closer to your family. I wrote about my Norwegian grandmother’s Christmas lunches. The open-faced sandwiches. The mutton, head cheese, slim-sliced hard-boiled eggs. The meatballs. The herring. It was the one day a year we all sat down to eat on Grandma’s enclosed porch together.

In the workshop, Barbara wrote about her father teaching her to count by planting seeds in the garden. Memories are like shoots of green. The memories are the parts of the plant that are still showing. The memories lead to an ancestry that lies buried deep in the soil, connecting us to relatives who are long gone.

Writing down the memories of family meals or family gardens takes you back and takes you deep — into the heat of a summer garden in Pennsylvania or the  bright light of Christmas in Chicago.

Writing down your memories reminds you of where you come from, who you are. Writing takes you home.

The Labyrinth

I really had a lot to do. I had to finish writing two stories. But as I was dashing out of the Experience Hall, I bumped into my friend, Rachel Harvey.

“Great to see you!” I said. Rachel seemed even calmer than usual. “Love to stay and talk but I gotta’ get to the Press Room.” That’s me — busy, busy — but good busy.

“Wait. First, check out the Meditation Room. I just came from there. You can wear a prayer shawl, walk a labyrinth,” Rach said.

I’m a sucker for labyrinths. So I took Rach’s advice and visited the Meditation Room.

There were shawls draped on almost every chair. There were small gardens and a trickle of a waterfall. Women chatted quietly in pairs. Some sat silently by themselves. Some knitted, some quilted, some wrote and posted prayers on a wall.

The labyrinth was in the back. I slipped off my sandals and set off on my path. I was a little leery. Perhaps there were six people ahead of me. That seemed a little too crowded for a meditative walk.

But I walked quickly. I had to hurry. Deadlines loomed. My bare feet liked the feeling as they hit the canvas. My feet slowed down.

I remembered another time I’d walked the labyrinth. Ten years ago, I’d been with my women’s Bible Study group in the basement of Rutgers Church. It was right after I’d given birth to my twins. I’d been feeling ashamed of my body as I walked that labyrinth in the church basement. It wasn’t returning to its shape after my daughters’ birth.

At the center of the labyrinth then, I’d received a gift — a small rock sculpture of an elephant. “That’s me,” I thought. “I have a sagging once-beautiful body and a sagging once-buoyant spirit.” I had to admit to myself, newborn twins were an incredible joy, but also draining. (Literally, too, for I’d breastfed them for a year.)

I’d felt like a humongous mammal. After walking the labyrinth that day, some of my shame lifted. I’d whispered to my friend Holly at the edge of that labyrinth, “The elephant in the center of the walk was a perfect symbol for me. That’s how I feel. And though I know it’s wrong to call myself an elephant, elephants are beautiful too. Even though they’re saggy, they’re strong. Like that elephant, I can go far. That’s me, the elephant,” I said, smiling.

“It’s not an elephant,” Holly said. “It’s just a rock. Look.” And I looked back at the empty labyrinth and she was right, I’d made up the elephant in the center of the labyrinth. It was only a rock.

So, at Assembly this weekend, I wondered in this crowded labyrinth how I’d feel when I reached the center of the labyrinth. What gift awaited me in the center of this walk? It was the word Peace. I knelt down and ran my fingers over the smooth lines of the small sculpture. There was a small bird in front of the letters. (By the way, it was clearly a bird, I didn’t make it up this time.) I loved that little bird. That animal symbolized me too — darting, flying, hurrying, perched.

‘Great, now that I’d had my spiritual experience — Peace, I really have to get to the Press Room. The stories won’t write themselves,’ I thought.

I encountered an obstacle — a slow walker ahead of me on the labyrinth. I debated passing her. She was exceedingly slow. I had to go.

Then I remembered the Meditation Class I’d had at St. John the Divine with Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein. He had told us to walk in the St. John garden mindfully. To be aware of each foot as it hit the pavement. I tried this at Assembly as I waited for the woman ahead of me to hurry up.

I became aware of my breathing. With one step, I inhaled. With another, I exhaled. I slowed down. I felt relaxed as I walked. I tried walking with my eyes closed. I was aware of my breathing with each foot fall — heel, ball, toe. I contemplated nothingness.

Then, I realized something — I was now the slow one. A woman behind me seemed slightly impatient with my tempo. The woman who had seemed so slow was now way ahead of me.

Finally, I left the labyrinth.

I sat cross-legged on the floor. I took my time. I made a quilt square, wrote a prayer on the wall, prayed for others.

Ready to leave, the woman near the exit asked if I wanted to receive an anointing. “Yes,” I said. She put oil in my palms. We hugged.

I walked slowly back to the Press Room. Along the way, I bumped into another friend, Joanne Reich. I took my time chatting with her. I did not rush. The stories I was assigned to write could wait. They would, in fact, write themselves. I had my own story to tell. I advised Joanne to walk the labyrinth.