5 Things on a Deserted Island

My five favorite things are:

  1. coffee
  2. my journal
  3. my bike
  4. my iphone
  5. books (on kindle or paperbound)

But if I had to live on an deserted island, I know I’d have to take one more thing — sunscreen. Because my dermatologist would yell at me more than she already does if I showed up at my twice-yearly appointment with even more sunspots.

In terms of non-things on my island, (in addition to my immediate family, of course), I’d also want to take my book club and my writing class because we never seem to run out of things to say about what we write or read.

I’d also like to take Manhattan to my desert island because it is a treasure trove of beauty, especially on a foggy day like today.

Man, today was bea-ut-i-ful — so perfect for a bike ride through Central Park. Scroll down for a few more pics.

On a writerly note, I was going to post a memoir piece about my Norwegian grandmother that I wrote in the my Monday night writing group, but suddenly it felt too personal. Any way, come to a writing workshop if you want more personal writing. Check out the workshops at: http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/

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Central Park leaves
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This whimsical art installation of Eight Giant Red Snails from the Galleria Ca ‘d’Oro and Villa Firenze Foundation as part of the REgeneration Art Project.
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Any place more beautiful than Central Park on a foggy day? I don’t think so.
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He da man, Shakespeare in the Park

Grateful

Here are some things I’m grateful for:

  • yes, first off, my awesome kids, especially as they were good traveling companions over Thanksgiving
  • my family whom we visited in Chicago — all 5 of us Coudal kids were together with our families — so many fun memories!
  • my blog, my facebook, my instagram, my twitter — and even my foray into pinterest
  • my new bathroom lights (this may seem small, but as we live in a rent stabilized apartment, we get very few home improvements. The super was in our apartment when we left for Chicago and when we came back, voila! fixtures were installed!)
  • my quirky freelance gigs and steady income
  • all of my writing students — even my bratty middle school kids
  • my old friends, like from college and high school, who’ve been my friends for DECADES!
  • my new friends, like from new work city
  • my writing class
  • my love of travel
  • the NYC theater scene
  • my finishing a 5K on turkey day
  • my Upper West Side
  • the NYC citbike program
  • my bike
  • my secret garden
  • my health — because, it’s true, health is wealth
  • my optimism

When I am grateful, something in me opens up and I make room for more acceptance.

Gratitude is a practice.

I am not perfect. At times, I see too quickly what I am missing. Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease, I am, at times, sorry for him, sorry for my kids, sorry for myself. Just sorry. And mad.

I have wished I was married to someone who did not have chronic health problems. But I want to remember to appreciate and celebrate what I have. I have a lot.

Related articles

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me and my siblings and my mother
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I was in this crowd, running along Lake Shore Drive at the Turkey Trot
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my awesome kids over Thanksgiving

Becoming Dr. Ruth

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I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

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Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

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Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

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Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.
 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Writers in the Hudson Valley

Another writer and I were walking in search of cappuccino just on the edge of town, when this middle-aged blonde woman walked towards me. She pointed to me and began to sing, “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.” And I sang along.

Yes, we two strangers sang the Mister Roger’s song to each other one recent sunny afternoon in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Is this what goes down in small towns? Apparently, on my writing retreats that kind of thing happens.

What else happened?

  • walks on country roads
  • morning yoga 
  • writing
  • painting little boxes
  • arts and crafts in the gazebo
  • time to read and write and reflect

I’m really grateful to Carla, April, Don, and the crew at Olmsted Center, so that, a few weeks back, several intrepid writers and I could set sail on this maiden voyage to write the story of their lives.

I have to admit I was disappointed with the turnout. Only a handful of writers attended the Hudson Valley weekend. And more would have been better. We wrote about love, work, money, and family. And I don’t think the cost kept people away — it was a good deal — the weekend cost $295 for 2 nights, 6 meals and a bunch of fun writing and art workshops.

In any case, I’m not even putting a price on the experience of having some stranger sing to me on the sidewalk. As usual, the most magical and fun moments happen when you get off script and get off campus. There’s a lesson here — get out of your comfort zone to find fun.

In the writing workshops, the writers found the thread of meaning in seemingly random life events. Every one said they’d love to do the weekend again. But I’m in a bit of a dilemma because the center needs to have a minimum of 10 participants next time. I’m not sure I can do that. I am also having trouble finding a May or June date. I’d like June 13 to 15, but that’s Father’s Day. Would writers want to get away on Father’s Day weekend?

Bootcamp4writers is a dream of mine, but I have to be honest. Putting on the weekends takes a lot of work and I’m not sure for my small margin of profit, whether it’s worth it. I took a loss of a couple hundred dollars at this Hudson Valley retreat and I don’t want to do that again. (In addition to the retreat center, I pay for yoga, insurance and supplies, as well as my own transport and PR.)

***

I love getting out of the city and having a chance to reflect on my life.

Like the city writers on the weekend, I get to taste a bit of country life in the Hudson Valley. For example, there was a couple of ladies sitting outside a church, passing out candy corn and juice. How nice is that! 

The workshop ended with time to map the hills and valleys of their lives through big and small life experiences from their spiritual lives.

We laughed, we cried, we made new friends. We want to do it again, But I’m just trying to figure out whether we can.

Contact bootcamp4writers@gmail.com for more details or visit the website at bootcamp4writers.com

Here are some pictures I shot from the weekend. See? Looks like fun, right?

Would you come?

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Here’s where we held the retreat, Kirkwood House at Camp Olmsted.
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Just one of the glorious views as we took an afternoon walk

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Getting ready to write
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Out at the gazebo, we made some art. We painted boxes.
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In town we came upon some ladies giving out kindness.
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Time to plug in and write.
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A quick trip by commuter rail to Cornwall-on-Hudson.
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Here’s me, wondering whether to do it again.

Barnegat Lighthouse

I am a lighthouse. I stand tall, watch for shipwrecks, give light.

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Barnegat Lighthouse. On the night of the full moon, we climbed the 217 steps.

Earlier in the day, we’d walked to the lighthouse and I said, “Let’s walk out on the jetty.” But we didn’t.

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20130822-123207.jpgIn the morning, my mother stretched in the bay. I think she missed her daily Chicago yoga when she was visiting me on the East Coast. At the bay beach, mom was bitten by little bugs and wanted to go to the ocean side and so we did. She left for the airport at lunchtime.

That night of the full moon, we climbed the lighthouse steps. I told the girls, “Go ahead! Scamper up! I am going to take my time.” I got dizzy in the spiral staircase. But I love spirals.

All the metal, echo-y steps were the same. Looking up and looking down were the same. It was hard to orient myself.

I think I would like to live in a round building. When my son lived briefly in a yurt at camp, he said there is nowhere to hide when there are no corners in your cabin, so campers were more engaged in conversations. And he said, that campers were closer to nature, and could hear people talking outside the yurt.

Maybe round structures like yurts and lighthouses are more a part of the elements. Round buildings fit in better with nature, like tree trunks and whirlpools. And spirals.

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The girls stopped in a windowsill and asked me to take their pic. The flash blinded us.

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We waited about an hour to climb the stairs of the Barnegat Lighthouse. It was worth the wait.

While standing in line, I thought about the last time I was at Barnegat Light with my son. We kept singing the jingle, “Stronger than the Storm.” And I thought, maybe I don’t always have to be strong. Maybe it’s okay to be weak or vulnerable. What’s so great about being strong? That’s a very male quality. How about I value a more female quality — being soft and round, like a mother?

Every night the sun sets on Barnegat Light.
Every night the sun sets on Barnegat Light.

Yes, I know the sun sets and the moon rises everywhere. I just don’t notice it. Maybe I am not a lighthouse after all.

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The full moon rose as we waited to climb the lighthouse steps. And then it followed us home and hung around all night.

Lean In

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I felt so happy to meet Sheryl Sandberg at BlogHer

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, talked about how women can step into their rightful place as leaders.

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Lisa Stone interviews Sheryl Sandberg at the BlogeHer Conference in Chicago

Sandberg said she was inspired by Mellody Hobson, a Chicago businesswoman, who said she was “unapologetically an African American and unapologetically a woman.” Sandberg said she was “unapologetically a business executive and unapologetically a feminist.” Me too!

Sandberg’s blunt truth is that “men rule the world. Ninety-five percent of big companies are run by men.” We all have biases so let’s not be afraid to talk about them and fix them.

As women, we must do a better job of believing in ourselves and stepping up as leaders. And we don’t have to be titans of industries. This applies to women as leaders in our families, school boards, small businesses, classrooms, and hospitals — wherever we find ourselves .

I love this message. I’m glad people are hearing it. I’m glad women are lifting each other up.

I stayed for a small group session. That’s where I briefly chatted with Sandberg. I told her I, too, was a COO of a small biz.

“Really?” she asked. “What’s your business?”

“I lead writing workshops.”

“That’s great!” She said. She seemed genuinely excited and interested in Boot Camp for Writers

As a workshop leader, I’m always trying to improve my game. So I wondered what kind of workshop does the most powerful woman in the world lead. Turns out it’s not so different than mine. Yes, the introduction part of the workshop is EXACTLY the same as mine. It’s a way for people to get to know each other and it’s an exercise I learned from my mother.

Professor Carole Robin from Stanford University led the small group exercises. She told us that we are “three to six times more creative in a group than we are alone.” The power of the peer group can be seen in study groups, weight loss programs, and I would add, church groups. We are challenged and encouraged in small groups. We learn best when we move out of our comfort zones. In fact, “it’s impossible to learn if you remain comfortable,” Robin said.

In our group of six we talked about times when we were brave and times when we were unable to take risks. I can’t disclose more because we agreed to anonymity. We learned that disclosure begets disclosure. And I made a few new friends and cheerleaders!

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is a bestseller and it’s my book club’s choice this month. We meet on Monday night. And you know I’ll have a lot to talk about when we get together.

I’m going to check out LeanIn.org, which is the fastest growing and most engaged internet community . I’m going to value and encourage the leadership of the women and girls in my life. I’m not afraid to push back on sexism and the pay gap. I’m not afraid, even when I feel myself shrink from taking my rightful place at decision-making tables.

I have Sandberg on my side. So do you. So go ahead. Lean in. We’ve got your back.

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Reflections on Race after the Verdict

Here are a few random thoughts on race.

**

I believe more people should learn conflict mediation skills and fewer people should carry guns.

I was thinking about the Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) workshop that my daughters and I attended last year. A key factor in resolving conflict is TALKING, not fighting, not fearing each other.

After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)
After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)

The talking solution may sound girlie, sissy, touchy-feely. But in fact, if more people talked about their feelings and fears, there would be less trigger-happy people and disputes.

Look at what a girl can do when you look at Malala Yousafzai who had been shot by the Taliban for speaking up. She celebrated her 16th birthday by speaking to the United Nations in favor of educating girls.

Personal gripe: Last year, when I worked for the faith-based women’s group, I wrote a curriculum on using conflict resolution skills in small group settings for a young women’s training. Despite being riddled with conflict, even the women’s group saw conflict mediation as a low priority.

**

If my 16-year old son were walking the streets of Florida, no one would feel alarmed. This case was definitely about race. The Paula Deen incident shows people talk about race in private, but not in public.

We say nothing. We are afraid. We don’t want to offend. We avoid conflict. But talking (writing) is the best solution. And we may need to employ conflict mediation skills to let one another talk without judging. Use “I” statements and all.  We need to learn to talk about tough stuff. I do, any way.

**

What the hell, Florida?

My father belonged to a neighborhood watch group in Florida.

Last year, I asked him if he saw anything worrisome. He said once he saw a group of Hispanic men hanging out near a park at night. He called it in. The cop said leave them be. My father said the group claimed to be a soccer league, but my dad did not see any soccer ball.

He never saw the group again.

**

Once I was at a cocktail party in the Adirondacks and I met the writer Nell Irvin Painter. She wrote the book, “History of White People.” She was about to go on the Daily Show to talk about her book. She was studying art. We sat on a comfy couch and talked about Princeton, art, writing, and race. Her book sounded brilliant.

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Nell Irvin Painter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We shared some laughs. I wanted to read her book about white-ness and the construct of race. I have not read it yet.

**

I was at another cocktail party in the Adirondacks. (Apparently that’s the only place where I go to cocktail parties. (Though once I went to cocktail party at Gay and Nan Talese’s house. That’s another story. (Charlie Rose was there.))

Back to this friend in the Adirondacks — she said that the U.S. should’ve never fought the Civil War. This idea was anathema to me. She said, ‘We should have annexed the south because southerners were and are such a drain on the country. The north would accept all people as free people. The south, because of its bigotry, would implode. All would be welcome in the north. We would thrive.”

Again, it was provocative cocktail party talk.

**

I want to take my kids to see Gettysburg.

Once I went to Gettysburg with college chum Jeff Carey (T. Jefferson Carey). I was splitting up from my first marriage. He was going through some shit.

We took this crazy road trip in his really crappy car. We totally made all these connections about how the Civil War was a metaphor — for my marriage and for our families, for our divisiveness within ourselves, and for our country, even today.

I kind of remember him burying something on our road trip  — some kind of talisman — under a tree. Or maybe he dug something up. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.

I do remember that Jeff and I bought this tape. We played the dramatic tape in his tapedeck as we drove around listening to the story of the bloody war at Gettysburg. I remember crying over that tape’s dramatic narration of Gettysburg — where brother fought brother.

I want my kids to hear and learn about Gettysburg. I want, as a country, for us not to forget the Civil War. I want us not to forget Trayvon Martin. I want us to listen to people like Malala Yousafzai and Nell Irvin Painter.

I want fewer people to have guns. I want to read books and talk about race. I want people to learn how to mediate conflict and talk about race and gender, like we learned to through the GLI.

After all, this is the least we can do to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

P.S. I want to go to more cocktail parties.