No good reason to write

I hate when I get out of the habit of writing. I feel life’s pointless; I feel I will never catch the momentum of my creative life again.

It’s like the train is idling in the station and I have to run and catch it. This has happened a million times when I drove down from Lake Champlain to Albany-Rensselaer. I had to run to catch the train, back to the city, back to work.

Once I missed the train and I was so pissed. Couldn’t they have radioed down to tell the conductor, “Wait one minute!” I watched the train pull away.

I digress. I was writing about writing. And how hard it is to write.

I have been preoccupied with winding down from my day job; vacating up in the Adirondacks; teaching my first boot camp workshop; caring for kids, spouse, family; trying to get my freelance biz going; and now organizing the Adirondack Memoir Retreat (Oct. 25-28 – Please come).

The point of my life is to make stuff.

Yet all things conspire to get in my way when I sit down to to write. Everything and everyone. And they don’t even mean to. And besides, I tell myself there’s no good reason to write. No one’s asking me, “Can you please blog?” (But kids ask me, “Can you fix some dinner?”)

There’s no good reason to blog because it doesn’t make any money. And why do anything but make a buck? our capitalist society asks.

Yet our souls hunger for art. Our lives need to make things of beauty or else it’s all for nothing. It’s all spent grasping for the stupid gold ring on the merry-go-round. And you can never grasp it. You can never have enough. Money does not satisfy.

Art satisfies. Creativity gives back. Handmade dinners, crafts, and poems thank you. If they don’t, well, then you have something to write about then too. Write about the disappointment and the tragedy of all that lack of return on your investment.

Most of the time, you get the return, you catch the train. The conductor waits.

I have caught the train more times than I have missed it. I hopped on. I watched the cities roll by my window. I opened my laptop. I caught my breath from the run to the train and started writing.

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. But yesterday I went to the Staten Island Yankees game. On the free ferry, you pass Lady Liberty. You are free and at liberty to pursue your happiness.

The Muse Will Show

The muse will come when you stop messing around on Facebook or goofing off on Twitter. Reading other people’s stuff sometimes inspires the muse, but the muse can be prickly, even jealous. Ignore your own creativity? The muse runs away. The muse doesn’t like when you spend too long working for other people and not long enough on your own. If you don’t care about your creativity, the muse won’t either.

This is where I am writing, — in a room with a window seat, looking out on Lake Champlain. The muse likes a room with a view.

The muse will show up when you let go of perfectionism. When you stop comparing yourself to all of the successful, rich people you get bombarded with every single day. Those beautiful people get to your muse. Those people are like vampires, making you run into your house and lock your front door.

The muse doesn’t like when you choose safety over the midnight walk in the woods. The muse loves to roam too and wants you to live on the edge of a cliff, not in the cocoon.

The muse will show up when you put fingers on the keyboard and wipe away the blank screen.

The muse will show up when you stop cleaning the kitchen.

When the muse shows up, it’s not work. It’s play. You just have to get out of your own way. Something, some brilliance — seriously! – will flow through you. You will sit back when you are done and go, “Wow! I did that!” But no, you didn’t do that. Not alone any way. You were the conduit. The creative spirit, the muse, flew through you and is now flying away because your ego — such a barking dog — chased it away.

And tried to take all the credit. But that’s okay; that’s the ego’s job.

The muse will be back tomorrow. Or later. But won’t/can’t stay forever, because you have to eat and go to the bathroom and chat with your kids and make dinner and throw a load of laundry in the washer and gossip about the neighbors and, don’t forget, you’ve got to pay the bills.

I know, as an artist and writer, I can visit the muse when I jot my ideas and images in a little notebook, even when I am away from my keyboard or canvas. I use Field Notes, a product. But I get no money (or respect) from Coudal Partners for this endorsement. Although occasionally, I swipe pack of Field Notes when I am at the Coudal household.

As Field Notes saying goes, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I want to write more about my prickly, beautiful, sensitive, strong muse. But I have to go for a walk. I have to stretch my body. I have to take my time. I have to let my muse fly.

This post was inspired by the Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that made me to take my muse seriously.

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Sibling Rivalry

I have complained about how my kids bicker too much. It is so annoying. They can be so mean to one another and to me. And I know deep down we all love one another.

The other day H. and I were bickering at the bookstore. He needs his summer reading books, 1984 and the God of Small Things. I said the version didn’t matter, he said he must have the exact, specified version. I had a get-it-done attitude; he had a wait-and-see attitude.

I was embarrassed when another mom friend, L., interrupted our disagreement just to say hello.

“Oh, sorry, we were just fighting,” I explained. “We fight a lot.”

“Fighting’s good,” she said. L’s a teacher and I believe her. Respectful disagreement is healthy.

One of my favorite phrases in an argument, and one that I always hope is a closer, is, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

I realized that my desire for my kids to never fight, bicker, or disagree puts undue pressure on them. Maybe even my attempts to squash their sibling rivalry somehow escalates their fighting. As if they unconsciously realize, “Great, now Mom’s in the fight, too. Let’s fully commit to this argument.” And then the yelling escalates.

At times, I do flip out. “Don’t you realize your arguing creates an impact! We are kind, loving parents. You are not being kind and loving!” The kids are too competitive. Or maybe they simply can’t help being mean, like when they point out one another’s pimples. I can’t figure it out.

I show exasperation.

And sometimes having a human and impatient response pays off. Recently after my kids were in a yelling match, my son went to play ball. On his way home, he phoned me. “Mom, I’m passing the grocery store. Do we need anything?”

I was shocked. “Yes, we need juice and milk.” I was totally pleased. And yesterday, the kids did pitch in and tidy up the apartment, even as they fought about how little the other person was doing, and how much they were doing. (See what I mean? Competitive!)

I had set the timer for 10 minutes. I said, “That’s all you have to do! Ten minutes.” But  an hour later, H. was still working, hammering loose cords into the molding.

Small victories. But I’ll take them. And I’ll take the fighting because I have no choice. I do have a choice in my response to their sibling rivalry. I will not let it get to me.

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Getting Rid of Stress

Stress has visited you like the devil in days of yore. It has caused your heart to race, your hands to dampen, your throat to dry. So let’s beat back stress with these 11 steps.

1. Do a daily act of kindness. You know you can’t think your way into good action, so you must act your way into good thinking. You must do one act of kindness and service daily. Open a door for a stranger. Donate to the subway musician. Anything.

2. Get up early every day and write in your journal. This private brain drain will add years to your life. Studies show people who write about their stressful moments boost their immune systems.

3. View your life as a hero’s journey. You have read about Joan of Arc and Odysseus. Now there is YOU. You are no less remarkable. You have fought your battles — an abusive spouse as fierce as a dragon? Look at your life as a quest. Your purpose is to complete your mission.

4. Find your mission. Mine is to parent three awesome children, to write, to teach and to make the world a kinder, better place than I found it through my words and actions.

5. Work out three or more times a week. Or just move your body more regularly from the sitting position. Yes, our ancestors were hunters but mostly they were gatherers. Get in touch with your inner gatherer. Get in touch with nature.

6. Pamper yourself. Manicure? Haircut? Massage? Once a month — is this too much to ask? Take care of the vessel you were given.

7. Get to bed early. Get a book. Get several. Get horizontal. Pull the covers up. Go to bed by 10 pm every night.

8. Have sex regularly. Sexuality is a gift from God. Why else does it feel so good? Because it is a beautiful part of the human, adult experience. Do it your own way but do it.

9. Listen without talking so much. You have a lot to say, a lot to share. But you will be remembered on this earth, not by how well you have said what you have to say, but by how well you compassionately listened.

10. Eat healthily. Okay, a bacon cheeseburger and a beer is okay once in a while. But do not use unhealthy food as a way to pamper yourself or indulge. Healthy tastes good.

11. Give seven hugs a day.

Thanks to Alicia Pitterson who provided the prompt at yesterday’s Wednesday Writers lunch time series. She asked us to create an agenda for an event called, “Don’t let stress get the best of you.”  

The School Fundraiser

I was recently at a fundraiser, even though my kids don’t go to that school. I love school auctions. I love the fancy purses, the summer camps, the cabins in the Poconos, the brocade jackets. I can see myself in all of them.

Me and Ang and the centerpiece made of dried fruitUsually, I find myself bidding on the most obscure items. I have bid on the opera lessons for my children – what was I thinking? I paid $100 for something none of my kids wanted.

It is now a running joke. Before I go to the auction, the kids beg, “No opera lessons, please, Mom! Go for the Knicks tickets.” Of course, we never used the opera lessons and I could never bid high enough for the Knicks game. Talk about Lin-sanity!

I root for the underdog, even if my team is in the lead. I feel sorry for the loser. I bet on the longshot. I bid on opera lessons.

I see a trend in fundraising — away from this auction fundraiser and towards a more simple party. We parents are competitive enough already. Why do we have to outbid one another for a psychotherapist’s session or a math tutor? Really?

Couldn’t we all just share a session with the dad who is the shrink or the mom who is the math whiz?

In our present-day culture of Occupy Wall Street and the shift in our workplaces towards more collaborative work styles, there have to be better, friendlier, more cooperatives ways to raise money for our schools.

At my kids’ school now, there is a showcase of the kids’ creative arts. There is no auction. We schmooze and graze, but don’t sit down, like at a wedding. I like that.

These fundraisers are a lot of work and planning. These extravaganzas usually require more delicate and skillful diplomacy than the General Assembly at the United Nations.

So, let’s all thank these hard-working women who make the fundraising benefits happen, (because, yes, the fundraising committee is usually made up of women, except for the bartenders at the fundraisers — they’re usually men.)

While school fundraisers are becoming friendlier, I’m still worried about the the opera lessons? What if no one bids on them?

Emotional Intelligence

Last night I saw the Diane Keaton movie, Darling Companion, which will open April 20th.  

It’s a dog lover’s movie. And that’s not me. The movie is also a valentine to the older, sensitive male, played by Richard Jenkins.

Kevin Kline plays a know-it-all doctor who lacks the Jenkins character’s smooth ease with people. (Jenkins is, also, according to Dianne Wiest’s character, a “generous lover.” I love Wiest’s and Jenkins’ sexy-ness!)

At one point, Kline is chastised for his lack of emotional intelligence. And I think emotional intelligence is underrated.

My daughters and I are still reaping the rewards of a girl empowerment weekend, where we were able to talk freely about our feelings. We learned how to navigate conflict — an awesome learning experience through the Girls Leadership Institute.

A February opinion piece in the New York Times, Building Self-Control, the American Way by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, offered this: “programs to enhance social and emotional development accelerate school achievement.”

So emotional intelligence helps with school intelligence. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of helping our kids handle their emotions — it’s just smart to be aware of and articulate our feelings well.

In the Times article, the authors prescribe imaginative play, aerobic exercise, and studying language as tools to help children succeed emotionally and intellectually.

As for ageing adults, like Kevin Kline’s character, how do they (we) become more emotionally intelligent? In Darling Companion, the advice was to:

  • value our pets more than our cell phones;
  • define ourselves in ways beyond our work;
  • get lost in nature;
  • and be open to prophetic wisdom from people we consider marginal or flaky.

Powering Down

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I can’t get my kids to unhook both of their ear buds. When I come home from work and they’re lounging on the couch, I ask them about their day and they unhook one bud. They’re, literally, half listening and half answering.

If I reach over and pull out the other ear bud, they scream, “You’re abusing me. I’m calling Child Services.” (They love to joke like that.)

I feel like putting in my own ear buds. In my ear, I will arrange for a preteen to whisper, “You’re such a good mother. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for working every day. Thank you for your kindnesses and humor. Now, mother, I will go make dinner for the family. And I will set the table.” Sure, it sounds robotic and saccharine. So? What’s wrong with that?

I like having and giving my full attention. I like giving and receiving household help.

I ask for help getting dinner. No one answers. They are bopping their heads to invisible music or smiling as they look at the small screen in their hands.

At least, when family dinner is on the table and we are seated together about to say grace, they are fully present. No, wait, why is my son smiling at his lap and why is his lap buzzing and glowing? That little brat! Give me that! (I take his iPhone.)

I am writing this on our vacay on the West Coast of Florida by the pool. At this moment, I don’t really care that no one listens to me. I’m not listening either. I hear only the gentle splashing sound of the fake waterfall by secluded swimming pool. Life is good. Tune out. Power down.

This Month’s Book Club Picks

For book club we are reading Diane Keaton’s Then Again.

I can’t find the passage but at one point she says we mustn’t blame mothers for all of our adult unhappiness. Mothers do their best. I agree. The book is a collage of memories, a collage like the kind Diane’s mother created –  scrapbooks and journals.

I am having trouble staying focused on my reading. Fortunately, occasionally, the choices from my work book club and my other book club coincide, like when we read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls in both.

At my work book club, we are reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Catch-22 and for Mother-Daughter Book Club, we are reading the Robin Benway’s The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June. The girls and I recommended that book; we’ve already read it. Very funny. (But if you don’t like it, don’t blame me, a mother.) Phew. I have one less book to read.

I’d like to blog more on this topic, but yes, you guessed it, I have to get back to the Diane Keaton memoir. Book club is Tuesday night and I have hundreds of pages to go. I might just skip ahead to the Warren Beatty part.

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Time Management

I want to get my kids off the internet and focus on their homework. I want to be a beacon of light for them, teaching my darlings the ancient art of self-discipline.

My brother J. says that in work styles, we are either woodpeckers of hummingbirds. And I think we can agree that the Coudals are hummingbirds, whirring, darting, tasting, moving, buzzing. I would like to try life as a woodpecker, hammering away, dull, obedient, effective.

I actually have a lot of down time, like the other night, here, I was double parked, waiting to drive my daughters to book club.

I believe breathing has to do with focus. I would like to teach my kids to take deep breaths into the depths of their beings to improve their ability to focus.

Or at least guide my children in the art of becoming effective managers of their limited time. We are all given the same amount time per day. It’s not like money; it is an equitable resource.

And I’d like to write more about this, but first let me dart off and tell you that last night, I read this interesting article, Are You As Busy As You Think? by Laura Vanderkam for the Wall Street Journal.

The article reminded me that when I hear people complain about how busy they are, I think they’re trying to tell me, “I’m important.” It’s anathema in this culture to say, “Yup, I’ve got the right balance of work and life. I’m doing just fine, thank you.”

No, we must be martyrs on the pyre of overwork. And if someone tells me, “Mary Beth, you seem to have the work/life balance down. You’re good at self-care,” I think, “Ummm, are you telling me I’m lazy?” I don’t know where I got this paradigm that I should act extremely busy and overworked at all times.

I’d like to write more, but I’ve got to get to work (but first, check my Facebook) because I am sooooooooo busy. No, wait, let me first take a few deep, cleansing breaths. And focus!

ughs for UGGS

When C. wanted a pair of boots for winter, I thought a $20 pair of rain boots would be nice. No. She wanted UGGs. Of course, she did. Everyone wants them. So Santa brought her a pair of $165 boots. Yes. That’s right, I spent more on her boots than I did for either of my wedding dresses.

A week or two after Christmas, I was invited to a fancy cocktail party and realized, due to all my dashing around the city, I wouldn’t have time to stop home to change out of my sneakers into my one pair of stylish (Aerosoles) boots, so I ducked into a store and bought myself a pair of boots. The store I went into was K-Mart and those boots cost $18.

What happened to me? I wondered then. And I’m wondering now. How did I get in this rut of spending so much on my children and so little on myself? I think I am not unusual.

All parents want better for their children than they have themselves. Parents sacrifice for their children.

Basically, I realize, too, I’m jealous. My kids are more stylish and have nicer stuff than me. By being aware of this, maybe I can change it.

And I do have one consolation: C. will grow out of those boots and then I can have them. I miss getting those nice sneakers from my son.