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?


Keep Practicing

I love a daily discipline of writing. I loved doing NaNoWriMo in November. Writing is a solitary experience. So a shared blogging platform, like PostADay2011, made writing a communal experience in 2011

work in progress, my book for book of days

Today I signed up for 365 Grateful and Book of Days for 2012. I like a push, a reminder, shared misery, and shared joy.

I respond well to a gentle and encouraging nudge.

If I’m creative on a daily basis, then I have a vessel in which I can dump my creativity when something really cool pops into my head.

It’s good to keep practicing. Writing is a practice. I love that Buddhism is considered a practice, not a fixed religion. The practice of a religion or creativity is not idolizing an icon, but living creatively and staying open to the creative spirit.

Somewhere in my brain there’s a quote about the reason that firefighters shine the pole in the firehouse every day. It needs to be smooth for that one day a year when there’s actually a fire. That is why I write daily, for that one day a year. That”s why I practice.

Switching from Verizon to Sprint

It took three days hours to switch our phone service at our nearby Radio Shack.

The reason it took so long was that I could not authenticate myself. See, I gave them my license and credit card and passed the credit approval, but then Johary, the clerk at the store, handed me a phone and the operator asked me a series of questions, which seemed easy enough, like, “From which state did you receive your Social Security number?”

Maybe I was too breezy with my answers. The kids were tugging at my sleeve and the store was noisy. We had to get to the airport. And one of the the first of the three multiple choice questions I didn’t really hear.

In one question, the operator asked, “Where have you lived?” And rattled off some cities, to which I replied, “None of the above,” although one of the choices was my sister’s city.

Finally, the verdict. I was not authentic. I asked to speak to the supervisor on the Sprint authentication line. This is when my son began shushing me. Apparently I was becoming ticked off a little loudly. Janet #2233 in Colorao, the supervisor, apologized, but said, “You did not pass the test. You got two out of three questions wrong. Try again in 60 days.”

Janet was kind enough to suggest that before my next attempt, I should get a copy of my public record from my local county court. Presumably, I could bone up on myself.

Really? Really?

Me? I am the one who seeks authenticity in everything. But apparently I do not know myself well enough to get a new fricken’ phone.

The matter of the new phones finally got resolved when I called my husband who, apparently, was able to authenticate himself. (I had to head out of the store for the last couple of hours to get to my creative writing class.)

We did get new phones, but were not able to switch all the phone numbers and the data. The sales guy who was helping us, his daughter was in the hospital, which made us all feel bad for taking so much time.

our new phones

And any way, we did have a plane to catch. And as you can see, it was fun to play with the new phones as we waited in the airport lounge.

Mother Daughter Book Club

The House on Mango Street

This month we met at our house and we discussed the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. We were five moms and six daughters, in 6th and 7th grades. We had these comments:

  • the language is poetic
  • the daughter feels ashamed of her home
  • all women and girls feel that they are different
  • the women keep the families going
  • every man is suspicious
  • it’s not so great to be pretty
  • names and naming are important

The next book we read is Home for the Holidays: Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick.

I have signed myself and the girls up for Girls Leadership Institute in March. It’s expensive and I have to save some money in the coming months from my writing and teaching to pay for it.

As I was sitting in the circle last night, talking about this book with my book-loving friends, old and young, I felt we are already in a leadership group. Sharing the truths found in books is a way to talk about yourself, your values and girls’ leadership.

Comment, Like, Cheer

I love to like. Do I over-like? I wish there was a love button. Then I could crank my love into overdrive.

I think everyone needs a boost; everyone wants their stuff to be liked. My friend Amy once told me everything we do or say is either one of two messages — “I love you,” or “Please love me.”

On Facebook , there’s the handy-dandy like button, a thumbs up. And on Twitter, you can retweet a tweet to show your favor. On a blog post, you can like or comment.

Best of all is the cheer button at 43 Things. Here are my 43Things.

You get only 5 cheers a day. Once you start complimenting or cheering others, you don’t want to stop, so once you hit your 5 cheer limit, you have to stop cheering people online and start cheering them IRL (in real life). Being a positive person is contagious. And you’ get back as many cheers as you give.

I love making New Year’s resolutions at 43 Things and one of my resolutions will be to admire, to like, to comment, to praise, and to cheer more — online and IRL!

Leave Me Alone! I Am Writing!

I cannot get a thing done around here. Just since I started this blog post, I got:

Child 1: Mom, where is the blank paper for the printer? In this box of office supplies.

Child 2: Mom, where’s your credit card? I need to update my XBox name. You really need to? How much? $10. Here, Mom, I will pay for it myself. Here’s the money. (He hands me $10.) Okay. Now where’s the credit card? Here, take my credit card.

Child 3: Mom, I can’t find my Spanish text book. Where is it? I will help you look. (We cant’ find it. She’s upset.)

Husband: Mary Beth, how come Google is telling me I’m timed out? What does that even mean? All right, I’ll sign you out, now you have to sign back in.

Seriously? I cannot buy a freakin’ vowel around here.

But to cope with the demands, I did what I had to do. I plugged in some headphones (thanks for the tip, queenbeetf) and began writing.

I visited Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die site. There, you set a goal — mine is usually 500 words in 10 minutes, which I’ve yet to achieve. You must keep writing for the committed time, because if you lift your fingers, even for a few seconds, lights will flash, car horns will start honking, and I don’t know what else happens, because I start moving my fingers on the keyboard so that Dr. Wicked will not yell at me ever again. (Fear=motivator.)

So with the prodding from Dr. Wicked, I have broken the halfway mark on my NaNoWriMo novel. I have written 25,012 in 20 days. I have 10 days left to hit 50,000. My NaNoWriMo stats page informs me that I must write 2,272 words per day to hit my mark.

If I hit 400 words in 10-minute increments, five times a day, I should be able to finish. All I need is one extra hour every day.

Riverside Park is so beautiful lately.

I want to keep writing. The novel has taken a dark turn, following our crazy (or is she?) mother of three into the subway where she finally gets some relief from her parenting responsibilities sleeping in a secret room under the subway. But when she sleeps, she enter another world where a Corporation is trying to take over souls, forcing happiness on everyone. Our protagonist knows happiness is overrated. Hardship is necessary. Well, that was the plot from today. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Not me.

The month will be over in a week and a half. I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled life. So until then, people, leave me alone, I’m writing!

Wait, this just in — Child 3 just found her Spanish book (it was on her desk, of all places!). So, there you go. This story ends like most good ones with a happily ever after.

Modern Warfare 3

I hung my head, ashamed. I was not alone. Every parent at the Upper West Side Game Stop store was embarrassed to be there, ashamed to be buying the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

I assume that’s what we, these pairs of parents and sons, were buying. The updated game was just released last week. How do I know this? I have no idea. It has simply seeped into our family culture.The posters with the dystopian world in the background and the gun-slinging hero in the foreground.

We, parents, have to be there to buy the game because it’s rated M for Mature. My 14-year old could not buy it without me, and he cuddled me as if he were a toddler, while we wanted in line for the purchase.

The cashier handed the mother in a business suit ahead of me the DVD X-Box game in the plastic bag.

“This is not mine,” she took the bag, like it was a dead mouse.

“It’s all yours,” she passed the bag to her son. He could barely suppress a smile. These teens and preteens get their way and they know it.

Why do I do this? I wondered. I am basically a pacifist. Maybe I let him have this game, because I want him to be happy, popular and a part of pop culture (UGH! I did just write that!). My son runs track, gets good grades, has the money ($65) to pay me back. Yet I am enabling an addictive activity. And I know it.

Yesterday he had three friends over and they had a great day. They played all day. They stopped to eat at Shake Shack; played a brief game of Apples to Apples; and watched Saturday Night Live; but otherwise, they were glued to the game.

The boys believe war gaming is useful because, my son tells me, “It develops hand-eye coordination and teaches about guns and modern-day battles.” Hmmmm. Doubtful.

My son’s friend’s dad, Daniel, told me he believes the boys talk about important things besides slaughtering one another while playing MW3. He said he’s overheard them talking about school, girls, and the Yankees. I don’t know. I only hear, “I need another kill” kind of thing.

If I didn’t have a 14-year old son, I would think parents, like me, who buy this kind of game for their sons are irresponsible. Wait, I still think that.

I want to write more on this, but I have to pry the boys off the XBox game (yes, one of the boys spent the night so they could play more) and get them ready for church. It’s a beautiful day in New York City and I don’t want them to miss it. There is a time for everything, a time for peace and a time for modern day warfare?

Why I Write

We do not write to be understood. We write to understand. – C.S. Lewis

This was one of the quotes from Writing for the Soul, a workshop led by Rev. Lynne Hinton in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. She has written 14 novels. Yes, 14! Oh, to be so prolific.

Tomorrow, Nanowrimo starts so I’m hoping to write one more novel this month!

In Rev. Hinton’s workshop, we began with free writing à la Julia Cameron’s admonition in The Artist’s Way to write three morning pages — which I have been practicing for about 15 years. Every morning, I hand write three pages of brain drain. But give me free rein later in the day to tap into my unconscious and I’m, oh so happy.

Lynne gave us an exercise where we chose random words, picked like wild flowers from our unconscious, to add to word prompts, like these (but not these, exactly!):

Diamond _____

Shelter _____

Instant _____

Prayer _____

Barcelona _____

Boo _____

Avoid _____

Teacup _____

Angel _____

School _____

Write _____

Create _____

Ocean _____

Sun _____

Venice _____

June ____

Moon _____

You get the idea. We wrote our own couple of dozen words down the page on the blank lines. From our written words or the provided prompts, we made sentences on bits of paper. Then we shuffled our sentences and wrote them down in a poem format.

How fun! Our internal censor didn’t even know we were writing a poem, we were just playing around! Writing is play!

It’s impossible — at least, for me — to attend a writing workshop and not make new friends. I find the adage so true —  A stranger (or a fellow writer) is just a friend I haven’t met yet.

Often in writing workshops, my friends and I drop into such a deep level of sharing that we cry when we hear each other’s work. I felt this way hearing the poems of my fellow writers, Jessica Connor, Beth Buchanan, Kerry Wood and Isaac Broune. I was blown away as they unearthed playful and meaningful poetry from their unconscious.

I am so grateful for the wisdom of fellow writers, writing teachers and my own ability to tap into my unconscious on a regular basis. Going a little crazy in my writing keeps me sane!

Getting the most out of writing conferences

Gill and Coudal at the National Arts Club

Yesterday I was studying memoir with the International Women’s Writing Guild at the National Arts Club. It was a great group of women in New York’s most beautiful brownstone.

This morning I was journaling about how much I love writing conferences and being in community with other writers. I also love Twitter chats around the hashtags #blogchat and #wjchat (web journalist).

Writing is a solitary endeavor so communing with other writers online or in person inspires and energizes me. I fill my soul with other writers’ stories and feel less lonely and more courageous when I return to my writer’s desk to write my own story.

Here is advice on attending writing conferences:

  • Sit in the front, pay attention
  • When a volunteer is called for, raise your hand
  • When a question is called for, have one ready
  • Make one friend
  • Tweet one quote from the speaker
  • Tell someone about your big secret project
  • Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest

I mostly took my own advice:

  • I sat in the back, but I paid attention
  • When a volunteer was called for, I read something funny about marriage and work being overrated (got some nice laughs)
  • I made a friend who is heading to Abu Dhabi to report from a falconer conference
  • I tweeted, “Writers make the invisible visible” -Eunice Scarfe #iwwg
  • I told Judith Glynn about my secret project
I love IWWG women’s writing workshops because, beyond the juicy substantive information, i.e., Eunice shared a ton of unknown delicious memoirs, there is always depth, laughter and understanding among women writers.

The International Women’s Writing Guild is a fabulous group that has empowered me as a writer, by giving me mentors and a sense of belonging.



In the creative writing workshop I taught yesterday, we wrote haiku. This traditional Japanese poetry looks surprisingly simple — seven syllables, then five, then seven. But we found it challenging, a habit of writing we are unused to.

I told the class to think of the poem’s structure like the cage around a songbird. You have to confine your poem, your bird, your meaning, within the frame. Within the constraint, the songbird can sing freely. And then the poem can flow like a song, traveling far from its cage.

I gave us about 10 minutes to write our haiku.  Here are a few of mine.

I have been teary
Hoping to be understood
Fearful of shadows

Somehow I miss you
Your crazy way of kissing
I live on longing

Need to swim far out
Farther than you can catch me
Splashing, laughing, far