The Spiritual Path

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I walked at the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Very pretty.

At the airport  gate, I chatted with an older woman who had just walked the Camino in Spain. I’m not really sure where the Camino is. I’m too jetlagged from my Ireland trip to google it. But I think it’s a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of some beloved saint.

The 70ish woman carried only a small backpack. Her feet were tired she said but her boots were sturdy. She lifted a boot to show me.

“Nice,” I said although they were just plain old hiking shoes, not attractive at all. I guess hiking boots are not supposed to be attractive. “They look functional.”

“Some people do hike the Camino in sneakers, but I think you need these.”

“I am going to do that – a spiritual journey,” I nodded.

“Any walk can be a spiritual walk,” she said. “Like you told me you’re from New York. You could walk the Hudson River?”

“Really?” I said. “What’s spiritual about the Hudson?”

“I don’t know. Maybe do Vermont then,” she said.

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This is a path Dan Wakefield and I walked at the Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania.

I am attracted to the idea of long walks like the Camino, wherever that is, or the Appalachian Trail. Yes, the AT’s cool. You start in the spring in the south and end in the fall in New England. But do you sleep in a cozy bed? I don’t think so. I love a bed and breakfast where someone – not me – makes me coffee.

Maybe I should consider the wise woman’s advice and see the Hudson as a spiritual path. I could blog about it. I might call the new blog, Hiking the Hudson, A Spiritual Journey. Oh, I like the sound of that. The Hudson is beautiful in the fall. Maybe I’ll do the hike this fall when my darlings go back to school.

Wait. The Hudson is too ordinary. I want to do an extraordinary hike — Mount Kilimanjaro or K2 — a climb that will make me famous. Or at least make me feel alive. I might encounter rattlesnakes, freeze to death, stare down a wild boar. But will I sleep in a soft place? I don’t think so. Maybe I should stick with the Hudson and then I can head home every night to my cozy bed on the Upper West Side.

Maybe every walk can be a spiritual walk, just like the elder pilgrim said. Every journey can spark lofty thoughts, philosophical ponderings and celebrations of God.

I believe God is found in nature and in chance encounters on the daily  journey. Maybe God even resides in the ordinary river that I pass every day.

Maybe I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to some distant land and blog about it to find my spiritual path.

I wrote this post at the Ecumenical Library lunchtime writing group at the Interchurch Center led by Tracey Del Duca. The next God Box writing group meets on Aug. 10 and 24. 

Tending Twilight

the day darkens. i get too tired. i find the housework oppressive.

i ask for help, then don’t want it. like in the decluttering. i don’t know why it bothered me. what to do with the tapes from my old show? leave me alone.

Today #snowday #gopark #riverside #park #urban...
Snow day in Riverside Park via mbcoudal

the snow — more of the same color of the same grey sky.

i like when the sky is a crisp blue, like today. then i can forgive the weather gods. i can go on. but when dark and grey, i want to stay in bed. i have only a few weeks left of winter. i would like them to be azure blue.

i would like blue sky days. but after all the grey — why is grey so like death?

i go to Florida — old people, malls, alligators.

for a few days, i sleep in a twin bed, and laugh with Nicole and my brother, (and dad and Marty). we talk about creativity.

Tonite at the lower school #sunset #riverdale ...
Lower school sunset in Riverdale via mbcoudal

that is the start of my spring. and that is followed by the buds on the trees in Riverside Park.

my kids get older, get away from me, find fault in me, our apartment, why don’t we have nicer floors?

the sun does not ask for thanks. so i try to just give light too. just do my job — mother, wife. but the endless giving becomes a chore.

sure, the sun must want a thank you. the grey day gets no thanks. for it takes my energy. it does not give. it is the negative ion. i need the positive.

the wind whips and the shadows blend into dark night. i know spring comes after winter, always taking me by surprise. then the summer. lighter, longer days of laughter, hugs.

we are destined for spring.

Laughter is the language of the soul
Laughter is the language of the soul (Photo credit: symphony of love)

I wrote this in a writing group last weekend. Here’s more writing from a blogger in the group: Wendy: the prompt that made me cry

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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.

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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

Biking Adventure

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my view while teaching. And the shadow of my students
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This is an awesome place to explore.
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Along the West Side bikeway
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Around the uptown Fairway
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The George Washington Bridge and the little red lighthouse creep up on you

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The detour under the highway

Yesterday I took a long bike ride, from where I was teaching — around Central Park and 77th to 180th and Broadway for my girlfriends’ craft club.

I took the bikeway. Around the uptown Fairway, I had to detour under the West Side Highway.

Like when I run, when I ride, I am not fast. That gives me time to talk to myself. And time to think. Too often, I scold myself. So last night, I was trying just to be. Just to notice.

Notice the generosity of the Hudson River. Notice the crazy summer flowers that refuse to believe summer is almost over.

Coming back home, in the complete dark, I did not have so much fun. Many places along the path are pitch black and I don’t have a light. I need more light.

Downtown Comes Up

Living on the Upper West Side, we avoided the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but we had to suffer the downtown refugees. Of the influx of hipsters on the Upper East Side, my teacher Charles S., said, “They’re taking our groceries, our seats in restaurants, our women!”

“How do you know they’re from downtown?” I asked.

“Oh, you know!” he said.

When Chris came home with groceries from Fairway, he said the guy behind him in the check-out line was mumbling, “I can’t wait to get back to SoHo.”

Our sidewalks on Broadway are full, not just of hipsters, but runners as Riverside and Central Parks were closed and the marathon, cancelled.

But we uptown people can take all comers. The Upper East and West Sides are big tents: bigger than this year’s political parties in that we can seat all migrants at our tables in our kitchens or in our restaurants.

I coped with the influx of downtowners the way I coped with my helplessness after 9/11. I went downtown to see a show.

Subways back in service at 42nd street.

Yesterday Chris and I traveled via subway to Tribeca to see Heresy by A.R. Guerney at the Flea Theatre. So good.

This political play takes place in a military office stocked with a bar and characters who believe various degrees of American exceptionalism.

An offstage character, Chris (as in Christ), delivers a manifesto, extolling the:

  1. Shops were back in business in Chinatown.

    the evils of consumerism

  2. the lie of the American Dream
  3. the reality that frustration with #1 and 2 leads to violence.

Karen Ziemba was hilarious and Annette O’Toole was heartbreaking.

It was great theater and a needed  escape from the crowded streets of the Upper West Side.

Adirondack Writing Weekend Recap

Kathryn Cramer, one of the workshop leaders called our writing weekend, “an unqualified success.” And George Davis, another leader, made this awesome video:

As you can see, we wrote, we ate, we talked, we wrote, we did yoga, we walked, we ate, and we wrote a little more.

Writers working at the Adirondack weekend retreat.

On the last day of the weekend we started writing with a prompt that began, “I weathered the storm when I…”

I weathered the storm of hosting my first writing weekend. Turns out the hardest part was not the weekend, but getting home again.

It took me a couple of days to get back to New York City from the Adirondacks due to the storm known as Sandy. My Amtrak was cancelled and I relied on friends to give me lifts along the way. (I began writing this post yesterday from a comfy Holiday Inn, half-way home in Albany. I admit I enjoyed my enforced solitude, a menage a moi!)

During the storm, my fam and I stayed in constant digital contact. On the Upper West Side, we never lost electricity. But there is no replacement for real life hugging. And real life writing. And real life family.

Joanna Parson, Kathryn Cramer, Mary Beth Coudal, workshop leaders for the writing weekend

I’m totally grateful to the family and friends (and small businesses) who helped make the writing weekend happen. While holed up in the Albany hotel yesterday, I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone (I hope!) who had a part.

To the editor:

In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about which political party helps small businesses the most.

After my first foray as a small business owner hosting a writing weekend in Westport, New York, I believe that no party helps a small business as much as the party of other small businesses.

Thanks to the Westport, Wadhams and Essex small business communities who fed the bodies, minds and spirits of a dozen

George Davis led a workshop on storytelling in the digital age.

writers last weekend.

Special thanks for catering to Carolyn Ware at Ernie’s for lunches of sandwiches and chili; to David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadow Farm for a quiche brunch; to Janice Hainer at Everybody’s for the groceries; to Jim and Jayne Vance at Westport Hotel and Tavern for our cozy first night’s dinner together; and to Dogwood Bakery for the artisan pizza. We’re lucky to have such tasty options. The writers loved the local foods!

Beyond the nourishment of feeding our bodies, the weekend fed our spirits. We paused to breathe, thanks to Michelle Bartz Maron at Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well. A morning stretch allowed us to stretch as writers throughout the day.

Kathryn Cramer explains it.

The writing workshop teachers, storytellers George Davis of Essex, Kathryn Cramer of Dragon Press Bookstore in Westport, Ted Cornell at Crooked Brook Studio in Westport and Joanna Parson of Letter Perfect in New York led the writers to hone the art and craft of writing stories from real life.

Thanks to artistic director Shami McCormick of the Depot Theatre and to teacher Shoshi Satloff for their support and to the entire Jones family for the setting of Skenewood, a magical place for a writing weekend.

To reach an audience of writers for the weekend, I must thank Nathalie Thill of the Adirondack Center for Writing in Saranac Lake and Valley News columnist Colin Wells for spreading the word.

This memoir writing weekend was my maiden voyage as a small business owner. I felt lucky to set sail and discover land in Westport, New York. Because of the work of small businesses, artists and teachers in Westport’s midst, the writers at Skenewood had a meaningful and fun time at our first Adirondack Memoir Retreat.

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Coudal

Writers talking about writing at the Adirondack Memoir Retreat. (l. to r., Joanna Parson, Alex Speredelozzi, George Davis, Beckie O’Neill)

My biggest thanks go to the noble writers who attended the weekend, willing to depart on a voyage in uncharted territories.

The art of memoir requires risk, as does the art of making a writing weekend happen.

My business coach, the awesome Mandy Gresh, was the first to call this writing weekend “my maiden voyage.” I like that.

We hiked on an Adirondack road.

Turns out the journey through the woods and into the writing weekend was not as fearful a journey as it could’ve been. (Though the weather in New York City was more treacherous.)

We’re tentatively planning another Adirondack weekend retreat for Artists and Writers: Talking about Setting from May 16 to 19, 2013.

Stay tuned to our website at Boot Camp For Writers for updates on writing workshops and weekends in Portland, OR and New York, NY.  Which reminds me of two last thank you’s.

The dock at Skenewood.

Thanks to our Boot Camp web developer Felicity Fields. And special thanks to my Boot Camp biz partner, Kelly Wallace.

When I came up with the idea for the weekend, Kelly said, “Oh, yes! Good idea!” It was!

Becoming a Stricter Parent

On one of the first days of Middle School, my twin daughters did not return home. It was 5 pm. Then 6 pm. My attitude moved from mildly worried to wildly apoplectic.

I walked over to their school, wondering if they’d stayed after drama class for some show in the auditorium. The police officer at the front desk (yes, NYC public schools have cops at the entrance) told me that all the school kids were gone from the building.

It started to rain. I walked down Amsterdam Avenue peering into the Jewish Community Center, wondering if they’d stopped in the café there.

I called home. My son told me they hadn’t come home yet. My phone rang. It was the pastor from Rutgers Church. I do not remember why he called.

But I blurted out, “My girls are missing. I can’t talk. I have to find them. I’m sure they’re fine.”

“Strict yet loving,” he told me. “As a parent, you must be strict yet loving.” I loved that. I especially loved how he said it – with his Czechoslavakian accent.

I have the loving part down. The strict part? Not so much.

My phone sang. My son reported that the girls had wandered into the apartment, unaware that they were late. The girls had stopped at Cosi’s café with a new girlfriend, keeping her company until her mother came to pick her up.

I got them on the phone, “Thank God you’re safe. But you are not to stop anywhere but home after school. For any reason.  Without asking me. Got that?” They agreed.  “Okay, I’m stopping in at the JCC for the support group. I need it. You kids make me crazy.”

I aim for “strict, yet loving,” yet actually deliver “make you feel guilty yet loving.”

***

This post is partly a response to my previous post — about how I feel sorry for my kids so I let them off the hook in terms of chores. And then I feel resentful and exhausted because no one but me does any damn housework. i.e., just yesterday, I worked all day, hosted the kids at the cafeteria for lunch, then came home and worked all night, including packing their stuff for today’s 7-hour train ride to the Adirondacks. (Fun! http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/trains-are-better-than-planes/ ) Then last night at 11 pm, they wanted to wrestle on my bed, where I had finally settled in for ten minutes of Me Time with a book.

“I’m sorry I’m done for the day, my friend,” I told my littlest darling. “You are too. Go to bed.”

I suck at setting boundaries.

That reminds me — I have gotten into some conversations after that post on making my kids do more housework. I know I have to make them work harder around the house. It is not easy for me. I have to try. I have to be strict yet loving.