Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hope and Expectations: Dirty Words?

Well, they're not supposed to be.

But can they be?

Let's unpack this and see where it lands. A certain percentage of kids are growing up in a country that may be at war, or unable to lift itself out of poverty, and hope is of short supply there. If there is a ray of hope, they'll hang onto it, and they should, and you should help them do it.

Another percentage are growing up in a land of plenty and they may be told they can do whatever they want to and get wherever they choose. That could happen, sure. But can it also set the stage for unrealistic expectations?

Say your child tells you he/she wants to be a physicist. You can steer that child in the right direction in all sorts of ways and help him or her get into schools that make this dream into a reality. In that case, expectations would be mostly realistic.

Say your child tells you he or she wants to act in movies and become a big star. You can be helpful in getting the child training and so on; but a lot is going to depend on luck and the people your child meets along the way. There's all kinds of things that can derail that ambition.

Hope and expectations here can be treacherous. You don't want to derail your child from the ambition, because that isn't going to work. But you may want to temper the expectations and tell them that, while you are behind them 100%, there is a lot in the profession that can't be predicted and all they can do is the best they can without the expectation of becoming a star.

Are there other things they want that they can have? What's realistic for someone going in to the entertainment profession to want? What will they need to do while they are trying to make their way -- and will they have the strength to do it?

All questions you may want to ask them -- and at the same time, ask them to think about what they will do if stardom doesn't happen, just as an acting exercise. What will make them happy? Because that's a reasonable question, and it won't cost anything to answer.

My friend Irene O'Garden told me once that she realized she was working way too hard to be happy, and that she finally realized it wasn't a destination, but somewhere she already was. I loved that and tried (with uneven success) to live that way, but always felt it could be true if I was able to manage my expectations. Irene's new book Risking the Rapids: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood has inspired me again about a lot of this happiness stuff; so I thought I'd share it with you.

So, yes, hope and expectations, by all means. But maybe we (I) also need to take a look at who we are, wherever we wind up. And figure out how great that can be if we let it be.

Meditating BoyNCVO London

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Doing January

Sixth day of January, which is my least favorite month. In childhood, January meant vacation and holiday time were over and I had to go to school in the cold. It meant dark comes early and you can't be outside walking or talking or throwing a ball around.

As an adult, I like January even less than I did in childhood, if that's possible. And the house I love that my husband and I just bought in summer doesn't do a very good job of being heated. So there's that.

Look on the bright side, I try to tell myself, but I'm not doing a very good job of that. Maybe what I need to do is stop fighting it?

January makes you want to sit on the couch more and write less, and I would like to turn that around. It makes me want to eat more and sleep more, neither of which turns out very well.

But maybe sitting on the couch can be paired with reading, which will at least inspire me to write more. And there are a lot of great books out there.

Maybe meeting friends on days I am out already will bring me to a place where I can be careful about ordering and have fun at the same time.

I don't want to make snowmen or learn to downhill ski and my cross country skis aren't inspiring me right now, and the idea of snow shoes also makes me want to say no.

I do have an indoor bike and there are malls to walk - and in fact my husband says he will go with me.

Maybe that's a start?

The fact is, I can't do much about January in this cold, bitter climate. But I can still do January in my own way. And last week, we did get lucky, because we found a mall that had a carousel right in the middle of it.

So after walking that mall, we took a little carousel ride, and it turned out to be worth the ride out to the mall in the cold.

Twenty five more days to go for this month and all I have to fight it are books and one carousel.

You know what?

I'll take it.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Talk to Them

One of my first freelance writing jobs involved writing about someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) and how she clawed her way back to walking and living, as she said, like everyone else. Talking to her and family brought home a truth I hadn't really grasped until then:

There is a wall between the sick and the well (or temporarily well). The well don't want to cross it.

I think what happens is we (as in "human race" we) get scared of what might happen to us in the future, and even when someone is not contagious, we want to avoid them so as to avoid thinking about them = us.

The easiest way to do that is to isolate the sick people. Into hospitals, though that doesn't work so well anymore. Care communities (aka nursing homes), dpecialty housing, or even their own rooms.

Am I being too harsh to think of Kafka's story The Metamorphosis,  whose lead character Gregor Samsa wakes up one day to learn he has turned into a giant cockroach? His family struggles to adjust, and in the process treats him terribly.

I don't think I am being too harsh. I think the story describes most of us, and our reactions when someone becomes ill, depending on how long the process happens to be.

But I didn't start writing this to jump on your head and start screaming. I just want to say if there's someone in your life with an illness, talk to them. You don't have to cure them and you don't have to fix their problems.

Just talk. Or walk. Or see a movie with them.

Maybe they have MS, or diabetes, or Hashimoto's disease. Maybe they are tired of talking aboiut it but want to talk about books or politics or go to a museum and maybe they need a wheelchair to get there. Go with them. Listen to them. Smile.

Maybe they have dementia. Maybe you do. Maybe you want someone to go to church or synagogue or a mosque and pray with you. Don't be afraid to ask. Tell someone at your place of worship what you need to make it happen. Or help someone get there if they need a ride.

Maybe someone you know has cancer or maybe something far less life threatening that is still turning their world upside down, like psoriasis or alopecia (causing hair loss) or rashes that don't go away. Maybe they can't drink wine or have a special diet. Figure out what they can eat and go have lunch with them. Drink if you want to, just don't push them to drink. 

Maybe they are dealing with depression or schisophrenia.

Talk to them. Talk to them. Talk to them.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

That's not only the best thing you can do, it's what you need to be doing. AND teach your kids to do it, too.

And no, this is not a lecture, she says, like she does to her kid when he asks. It's a Point of View.


Reading material:

Protecting Our Kids From Other Sick Children Can Kill Our Social Life

Talking with Children About the Serious Illness of a Family Member

6 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Disabilities

Hand star: Book Lin

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tween Talk: That Whole Fashion-Glamour Thing

Holiday time means party and family time--which in my world, also means party clothes and makeup. I have a male friend who says he loves dressing up, wearing women's stockings, eyeliner and mascara.

I asked him, would you love it that much if it was a requirement?

Don't know, he said, but I love it now.

I do like the way heels look, but I hate wearing them. I was never really a makeup person, either, though growing up, I pored over the magazines trying to figure out how to look like the models and wondering why I never could.

I wish I realized then that I had my own style and whatever it is they call "glamour" isn't something you can buy in a magazine. It would have saved me a lot of time crowding around a mirror with the other women and girls in my extended family. Time I could have used.

So, glamour. What is it?

Magazines like Elle, Vogue, GQ, InStyle and yes, Glamour want you to think they know. But is that what we see when we open their pages?

Well, no. 

Not that I have anything against these magazines, but... 


I have never seen anything in their pages that convinces me "I must go out and buy that outfit NOW!" Not even once.

So what IS this whole glamour thing? If you want to talk about with your tweens, what do you say?

I DON'T think it's about some fashion guru's sense of fashion. I DO think you can dress yourself and look exceptional IF you have confidence. Things like weight, body type, hair color, and even what you are wearing matter a whole lot less than you (and your teens and tweens) think.

In writing about a girl growing up in the Beat Generation, I don't touch on fashion very much, but Beat fashion, such as it was, can be summed up pretty simply: leotards, leggings, jeans, and lots of black (did they really wear berets)?  It was mostly form, not fashion, and I think it was really supposed to be about not caring about what they wore.

In The Beat on Ruby's Street, Ruby's mother Nell says "Pretty fades, but cool is forever."  I think that's what Beats believed, and I stand behind that. 

Because glamour isn't about money or conventional beauty or having a new power outfit every five minutes. It's about how you carry yourself. 

You can't buy that. You have to live it. And the reason people look so good in movies is because they figured out how to stand up well, physically and emotionally and be who they are, fully and without apology.

That doesn't fade, and can only get better with time, yes? 

If only we could sell it. Like a magazine.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dating Terrors in the Online Age

This month's Atlantic magazine has an article about how Millennials are having less intimacy and relationships than other generations. The article's conclusions blame some of this on the online culture we live in. Some young people in the article say they are terrified to ask someone else on a date.

Think about that. Terrified to ask someone on a date.

I remember asking my son once if he ever used online services for dating and he said he had never done it and never would--that it just wouldn't work for him. I thought that was interesting as he is very much a millennial, but somehow or other, grew up in a different world. Sometimes he says he feels like a member of my parents and grandparents' generations, and feels more kinship with them.

I'm not sure why, or what we did wrong or right, but I do know we spent a lot of time doing stuff like going to museums or movies or theater or friends' places; and that his father's house was also full of people coming and going.

I'm feeling good about that because he wants to meet people in real time and has no trouble talking with them. I would hate to think I raised a young man who was afraid of asking someone out -- or even talking to someone he thought was interesting.

But a lot of people are right now--at least according to the Atlantic--and I have no clue what to do or say that would be helpful. I think about tweens growing up and what they are learning socially. Sitting in front of computers for hours and days on end may give them windows into fascinating communities all around the world. I don't want to say that technology is bad for us, because it isn't.

I just wonder if spending all the time they have on phones or computers isn't limiting at the same time? Don't they need to stumble around trying to talk to someone? Ask someone to go somewhere with them? Ask someone to dance -- even if they get turned down?

Do teens and tweens do that any more?

I hope they do and fear they don't. I have to say I think it's really important - no, super important. Because if you don't start talking to people and flirting or joking or having fun, you just get more and more isolated. And machines are no substitute for human beings--and neither is virtual reality.

So... do I have a solution? Not really. But do I believe it's a good idea to try and find social opportunities for your kid whenever possible, starting at a very young age?

Meetings. Committees. Parties. Camp. School dances (if there are such things now)? Clubs. Athletic teams. THEATER.

All that good stuff.

Yes. Yes. And Yes. That's what I think.

Some ideas for reducing screen time might help too, and here's what I found about that:

Reduce Teen Screen Time Without Stress
Internet Addiction Disorder: What Parents Can Do for Their Child
Antisocial Networking?

Couple photo: makelessnoise

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Sunday, December 9, 2018


First, letting you know there is a sale going on now through December 18 - so if you haven't read book 1 of the Beat Street Series yet, you can for 99 cents--(and I'm hoping that will send you to book two, Fool's Errand). You can find the sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

When I started writing The Beat on Ruby's Street, I had no plans to create a series. Then, as things took shape and my first publisher (Booktrope) asked about it, I started to give the idea some thought.

Now, book two has arrived, and both books are published by Dragon Moon Press. What I wanted to do in book two was take my main character Ruby out of her small Greenwich Village world and broaden it. (And yes, New York City is considered to be one of our biggest cities, but Greenwich Village is really pretty small.)

Since one of Ruby's favorite poets is Jack Kerouac, it makes sense she would go out on the road, as he did--though for completely different reasons. I started thinking about how the places we grow up tend to influence us, in good and bad ways, and how I wanted Ruby to experience more than one kind of life.

I grew up mostly in a suburb of New York (across the river in New Jersey) and spent most of my tween and teen years wanting to be in the city, which of course was much cooler than anything I was experiencing. If I had to describe my tween and teen years in one word I would choose "longing" - to go across the bridge and find adventures, act in plays, sing in bands, walk the streets with friends, go to parties and take risks that would get me farther than I ever thought possible.

After graduating from college and spending two extra years in New England, I came back home and then managed to get an apartment in New York City. I got to do some of the things I always wanted to do, though it was much harder at times than I thought it would be. But the flavors, smells, madness and kindness of New Yorkers went a long way toward making me the person I am.

I think of the places we live as places where we are flavored ourselves, spiced up and turned and polished, and the world we see is the world our place wants us to see, no matter where we are or who is with us.

I left New York because my (first) husband got work in the Midwest, and it was wrenching and hard for me--I got homesick the minute I left. But now I'm really glad to have met people in Hammond Indiana, Chicago, the Twin Cities, Two Harbors, Springfield and other places. I've learned to appreciate a Midwestern spring at the end of a long winter and find artists from all different states and countries and have the time to write, which New York never seems to give you.

New York is a city of scenes and you fall into them, one after the other. The Midwest offers you space to pause, see, listen and dream.

I don't know what I would have been like if the reverse had happened--if I was born in, say, Chicago or St. Paul or Hammond and Indiana and then went to New York. But my son was born in St. Paul and then he DID move to New York, so maybe I'll have a chance to find out. That's the first thing I'm going to ask when I see him this spring.

I can't wait to see what he tells me.

Greenwich Village Street photo: samchills/

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Story of a Family

Just came from a wonderful "shower" party, given by two friends who have decided to become foster parents. I have never known any foster parents, though of course I know about foster programs and have read several accounts from both parents and children who were involved.

Because I know this couple and how incredible they are with kids--both are therapists and one created a truly singular theater (where, full disclosure, one of my plays was produced)--I know that both parents will be stellar. That doesn't mean there won't be bumps in the road--there always are. But it does mean whatever children come into this couple's world are going to find a place to heal, and a place that will nurture them.

I'm not sharing names right now to protect the couple's privacy--but I do want to share that while I know several people who were adopted (some pretty well), it's not something I think about a lot, or at least not unless prompted in some way. Yet, as you and I are sitting here on this damp December day, hundreds of children in our state and hundreds of thousands throughout the country are either being separated from a parent or are losing or have lost one. Others may have run away from dysfunction.

I think of the children's home I wrote about in The Beat on Ruby's Street, and the children Ruby met there. And I think of how little time we spend thinking about those children, on their hopes, dreams, fears, and on the stories they tell.

What I think this couple will do best is respect those children's stories, because they themselves know the power each story has in the people it reaches every day. They know stories are, in fact, what makes us most like who we are, because they are what we use and need to process the world around us.

This particular couple's story is about to take a monumental and adventurous turn, and while some people might be terrified, they are walking into that adventure with open eyes and hearts--and I can't wait to see how their stories widen and change in the months ahead.

On the way home, my husband said he volunteered us to babysit when we were asked to write out what we wanted to give to the couple and their new family. He also wrote that the children would give them laughter and a great excuse to watch cartoons. All of this made me remember how, when my son was barely 6, we adopted this man into our homes and lives, and how he adopted us too, and how lucky it was that we found each other, against all odds and expectations. And how lucky we are, still.

I guess somehow, sometimes, things really do turn out the way you want them to. It's not an accident, and it takes years and years of doing the very difficult work that goes into knowing yourself and the people around you--and figuring out how to live with integrity and confidence.

But when it works, it works better than you'd ever think it would. And that, I guess, is the reason we're all here.

To learn more about foster parents, you might want to look at these articles. There are a ton more out there, too.

About Foster Parenting
Foster Care vs. Adoption
Is Foster Adoption Right for Me?

Family photo: xelusionx

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