Free Write and Gratitude

I don’t want to grow old but, you know, like they say, consider the options. One upside to aging? Higher cheekbones. One downside? Lower boobs.

One upside? I tan easily. One downside? Skin cancer — but mine’s basal cell, the least problematic type, so I’m cool with that. I really shouldn’t complain.

The thing I’m really not loving about growing old is the way that you gain one pound a year for 10 years and then suddenly you’re like 10 pounds more than your ideal weight.

But wait, let me remind myself. I have had friends and colleagues, younger than me, who have been diagnosed with cancer. And many survived and a few are no longer around. And they’d all probably remind me to not worry about weight. So seize the day.

I am reminding myself to take nothing for granted. I’m happy today’s problems include:
1. I don’t feel like writing right now.
2. I don’t feel like emptying the dishwasher.

Sure, I sometimes feel sorry for myself. Chris is really having more troubles with his Parkinson’s and the tasks of daily living. This worries me. A lot.

Let me grind my gears back to a place gratitude.

Here’s today’s gratitude list:

  • Citibike – commuted home today although it was cold. It feels so good to sail through the beautiful streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
  • My two good legs — to power the Citibike and take me up and down so many flights of stairs at work.
  • My fitbit — although my battery does not stay charged for as long as it should. (Don’t we all wind down as we age?) I may not have achieved my 10,000 steps for today, but I have been active nine out of nine hours.
  • My beautiful big apartment. It is always a work in progress. But it’s been the perfect place for raising my beautiful family and occasionally hosting the fabulous dinner party.
  • My washer/dryer and dishwasher — true, I don’t feel like unloading the dishes, but, wow, I have clean dishes. Such a gift.
  • Big one here — my kids. Love love love these nerds. As my neighbor upstairs used to say, “Not one is a shrinking violet.” Nope. That’s the way I like them.
  • Chris. Yes, he’s a handful, but we do connect on a deep level.
  • My excellent job — sure, it’s not perfect — I’m far too nomadic, moving from one class to another, but I have wonderful colleagues and generally look forward to going to work every day (and coming home at the end of the day). Several days a week I have to take the little guys to the bus and guess what? On those days, I hold hands with kindergartners and cross them safely. How lucky am I? Kids are hilarious.
  • My writing — whether it’s my journaling or my humorous essays or these half-baked blog posts.
  • My attitude. New York City is known as a FuggetAboutIt kinda place. But actually, most people are cool. They’re just in a hurry. Me? I’m naturally happy-go-lucky.

So, I’m grateful that I’m growing older, that I have my health, that I am loved and that I love well. What else is there? Unloading the dishwasher? Ah, FuggetAboutIt. I’m going to watch TV. Yes, grateful for my TV too.

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So many bridges in Central Park. The chipping paint looked like lace on this one.

Open Your Heart

At a recent teacher three-day professional development workshop, on the last day, one of the co-leaders told the assembled, “You all were so great. I have serious anxiety. And I got through that with you all this weekend.”

I wish he had confided in us on the very first day about his anxiety. After all, who among us does not have anxiety? I would not have been so hard on our facilitator. At one point, I had to call him out on what I perceived of as his lack of female and non-white role models in his presentations.

My point is sometimes our leaders can be so smart and yet they do not lead from the heart. They lead from their heads. And intelligence is often not enough.
I’ve been thinking about this because I saw this Sioux saying on Instagram (from Meaningful Minds and Mark Nepo).longest journey

Many schools, like mine, had Monday off for Columbus Day, yet there is a move afoot to remake the day as Indigenous Peoples Day. That makes sense to me.

I have written several articles about Native American Ministries. And one take away for my research was always this truth: we are interconnected. We are all family. Even the air, water, wind, birds, trees — these are all our relations.

This summer as I communed with nature on a church group camping trip, a young boy wrote a prayer. His message? Look with the heart and not with the eyes. When I asked him how he came up with this bit of brilliance, he told me that his public school teacher had shared this message from the children’s classic, The Little Prince. And so I give you:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

See with your heart. Think from your heart. Lead from your heart. After all, we are all family here; your anxiety will disappear. Take the journey from your head to your heart.

Big City Blues

I remember when my ex and I split up, I was in a divorce recovery support group, the therapist said he enjoyed working with people in pain because they were motivated. Hell, yes. That is me and my country. We are in pain and we are motivated to make some positive change.

Make some good use of our righteous anger. Besides feeling down by the state of our beloved union, yesterday, I was downhearted by the neurologist’s appointment. It’s not that anything has changed in Chris’s Parkinson’s status. But that’s just it. There’s never really a positive change either.

Still, I will not let my rage silence me. I will not let doubt rob my optimism.

These are my thoughts from the jury waiting room, snuggled in beside a couple hundred of my fellow citizens. As I look around this room, I notice we are way more beautifully diverse than our congress, our judges, our corporate leaders.

New York City uplifts me. There is something beautiful about the diversity of the people in today’s jury pool. My fellow jurors and travelers do not look like the creepy elders from any dystopian movie (think, Hunger Games) you know, those octogenarians who make up the justice committee confirming the Supreme Court nominees. New Yorkers are not creepers like that.

Sure, we have some older folks here, in a walker or wearing a suit and tie. But the people around me are also young, female, many shades of brown and beige and pink. Many hair styles and many fashion icons among us. This is the freakin’ melting pot — or better yet, the beautiful mosaic, as my pal (and former mayor) David Dinkins said.

So, yes, we get down but beautiful New Yorkers keeps us afloat.

At lunch time, I swung by the City Clerk’s office to pick up my application to be a marriage officiant. Don’t ask me why. I have no good reason. And we all must do those things for which there is no good reason.

Here are a few pics of today’s happy newlyweds and families. Feeling down? Notice all the happy couples. And if you’re still down, let that pain motivate you — to serve on a jury or to do something for which there is no good reason.

PS I was excused from jury duty service today and for the next six years. When so many of us show up, not all of us are needed.

Creative Conflict

First off, there are many reasons to be angry at this point in history. We realize we are mad as hell, feel distressed, because in this country, these United States of America, the status of women and children is important to us. So let’s start there: country-wide conflicts educate and inform us of who we are and what we value.

I find myself thinking about my values because last night I attended a seminar on Navigating Conflict in the Workplace for NYU alumni, led by Erik Yazdani.

Here were some strategies I learned and then I dive into greater detail below:
1. Get on the balcony to see the dance floor
2. Collapsing vs. Opening Up Your Thinking
3. Know Negotiation Theory
4. Use Systems Thinking
5. Identify Your Core Identities

1. You have to see the bigger picture. Make sure in your mind’s eye, in the film of your story, you shoot the establishing shot. This is tough for me. I am someone who does not always see the forest for the trees. As a writer I am exquisite at getting lost in the details. When I paint, I can get into the smallest of brush strokes. But composition? Setting the scene? Not so much.

2. Yazdani demonstrated the idea of collapse vs. opening up by showing two images — one of two people facing each other in a heated exchange. The other, two people on a park bench staring off together into the distance. This is a good image for me. As one of the world’s greatest bench sitters, I love the vista and relaxation of a moment on a park bench. I love to look outwards at a body of water towards the common good.

3. Negotiation theory is that idea of Getting to Yes. Ask open-ended questions. Find wiggle room. Find the places where there is more than one possible answer or way out. We discussed the example of the car salesperson who may not be able to negotiate on price but may be able to negotiate on the timing of the car payments.

4. Systems Thinking involves recognizing that there’s a whole back story to each of us. And we may have to compromise. What a radical concept — compromise. We are all coming to our own understandings and conclusions, given our own habits, styles, personal histories.

5. Core identities refers to our values. Conflict calls these into question. When I am in conflict, I definitely become sensitive, withdrawn and, yes, emotional. Because I care! But my heated emotions may trigger your defensiveness. And the goal is to NOT EVER trigger the other person’s defensiveness, because then, we have just begun a tug of war. We are not able to listen empathetically to one annother. We are only listening to win.

Conflict helps us identify our core identities, so we ask:

  • Am I competent?
  • Am I a good person?
  • Am I worthy of love?
  • Am I able to stand up for myself?

Other take-aways from last night’s session about difficult conversations include the advice to:
1. Start well — set a tone of curiosity rather than certainty. (Love this!)
2. Imagine you are speaking from the place of a third-party party mediator. I have said this to my kids: imagine you are your own lawyer. Yes, speak up for yourself, but do so factually, rationally. Be a self advocate. Be lawyerly. Self-advocacy is a tool that takes practice.

Yazdani recommends these books: Difficult Conversations and Leadership on the Line.

I also remind you of the amazing The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. For women and especially for us at this moment in history, this book explains why we cry when we are angry. Back when it came out, this book changed my life. I was able to see that there were some people to whom I could speak up to when I felt injured or hurt, but there were others for whom I could not (and should not) i.e., my boss or my teacher.

Lerner also taught strategies for not blaming someone else but using your “I” statements — like a broken record, if necessary. State your emotions — from the “I” point of view — again and again, if you are not heard the first time. Stay empathetic and thoughtful. (Yes, curious, too.)

I have also always loved the book Getting to Yes. When I led the middle school debate club at school, I wanted to use this text, but it is a little advanced for preteens. I love the idea that in conflict negotiation, all parties can win.

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.” – Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships 

“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.” – Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

Central Park Bench
There must be a story behind every plaque on every Central Park bench.
Reservoir park bench
Near the reservoir you have flowers, tee shirts, shorts, coffee, and citibikes galore.

For more information from Erik Yazdani on Navigating Conflict, check out: ExploringFulfillment.com

Have a reservoir 

I took this picture at noon today near the reservoir in Central Park. I love working in a place where I can step outside and be surrounded by beauty in an instant.

I sat on a bench for 15 minutes. I set aside my smartphone and looked around.

Beside me, there was a young woman, an older woman in a wheelchair, and a middle aged woman. The middle aged woman had a Caribbean accent and she kept telling the woman in the wheelchair, “Your granddaughter is here. She came to see you.”

And the two, the caregiver and the granddaughter, both stroked the older woman’s hair. The woman in the wheelchair was unresponsive. But the two were undaunted. They were loving. They kept talking to the grandmother, caressing her.

Noticing their affection feeds my soul, makes me realize that people are basically good. And ultimately, love wins.

The reservoir in Central Park is a popular tourist spot. It is so vast. And seems, almost an anomaly. Maybe even obsolete. But the reservoir in the middle of a city park is necessary — a place to rest or glance across.

A place for ordinary kindness. So needed. So natural. So true.

 

Change is good

It’s bittersweet. The General Board of Global Ministries, (a.k.a. The Board, Global Ministries, and GBGM) closed its New York doors on Friday. When I started working there — at the Women’s Division, which was then conjoined with GBGM, I could not believe my good luck — a beautiful office space, amazing intellectual and faith-based women leaders, and wonderful multilingual coworkers.

I was going through a divorce and this job was a happy distraction from my loss. I threw myself into my work.

My position lasted six months and then I was let go. See, at the time, the staff association prevented any temp from staying longer than half a year. But I came back a few months later, as a consultant, supporting the United Methodist Women by helping write a handbook, policies, and international reports.

When the web was being developed, I became the part-time reporter for GBGM, writing about the agency’s national work . When my daughters were three years old, I started back full time at the Women’s Division. And then within a few years, I was staff writer on the communications team for GBGM.

I was there until 2012 but I never really left. Since I first set foot at 475 Riverside Drive in something like 1991, I have always loved the vibe — the internationalism, the celebration of diversity, the empowerment of women, the concern for the marginalized.

While the office is closed, some staff continue — having moved to a smaller space in Atlanta. United Methodist Women will remain in the New York space. But almost everyone in my beloved Communications team of GBGM has been let go.

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The empty 14th floor at 475 Riverside Drive

It’s sad. I will not be able to stop by and share coffee or tea with colleagues whom I’ve known and loved for decades.

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the view from my old office.

I don’t want to idealize my experience. It was not always sunshine and roses. Like in any job, there were some tough times — when I felt I was not paid as well or respected as much as my male colleagues. I was bypassed for promotion.

But, all in all, I learned a lot. I grew a lot. And it seems like a lifetime ago that I went to GBGM for the first time — I had taken the 2 or 3 train, instead of the 1 train to the wrong stop, arriving all sweaty and out of breath to report to Sister Mary Louise Head, the office manager at the Women’s Division.

I’m proud of my work at GBGM. And now, over these few years, I’m amazed I’ve been able to reinvent myself as a teacher, also work I am challenged by and love. It’s meaningful. I like making a positive difference.

There is no substitute to good, purposeful work in contributing to a sense of happiness. I’ve been blessed and continue to be blessed with good work. This makes me happy.

change

Wonder Women

wonder-womanThis year the United Nations celebrates Wonder Woman’s 75th birthday by making her an honorary ambassador for empowering women and girls. In 1998, Winnie the Pooh was an icon for the year of friendship.

Women need friendships like Pooh and Piglet’s. We need to rely on our superpowers — especially during this election season. There is so much vitriol from the Republican camp; it sickens my soul and my heart.

We need to uplift one another. We need to tell our stories. The writer Kelly Oxford launched the hashtag #notokay on Twitter for women to share their stories of inappropriate touch, harassment, abuse. Tens of millions of women are adding their stories. The flood of women’s reports shows that we are hungry to be heard. We have rights. And the women who tell their stories — especially those women who report having been assaulted by the Republican nominee — are courageous and exemplary women.

One of Wonder Woman’s driving force is her search for truth. We need Wonder Women like that.

We also need Pooh.

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As much as the message, I have always loved the artwork of the Pooh stories.

Your style may be slow, sweet, and gentle like Pooh or righteous, authentic, and athletic like Wonder Woman. But be you. Use your personal style for good. Know that you do not have to be passive about the political scene. Participate. Tell your story.

For my part, I have made some calls, attended some events, and donated some cash for Hillary. I am looking forward to celebrating my Wonder Women and Hillary after the election. I celebrate all who tell their true stories.

In my recent quest for happiness, I came upon a blog that said usefulness is intrinsic to happiness. Agreed. Be useful. It will make you happy.