Running

Today is launch day for my talented and thoughtful husband’s book and music! (Auguri tesoro!) And no, he hasn’t paid me to type these words… You can check out more about him and the projects at theconsideredlife.com or stefanboublil.com, and make a purchase at  Amazon.com (book) or iTunes (music) or iTunes (audiobook)!

ORDER

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With that exciting piece of news out there, my son and I had an interesting conversation the other day that has had a most unexpected result… running. I’ve never been a big fan of running for sport. Sure, if zombies are chasing you or you need to get out of the way of a collapsing building, I could understand why you might want to pick up the pace, but otherwise, aren’t you just running to nowhere for no good reason? Of course, running friends and family have always extolled its virtues, telling me its good for heart, body and mind. One of my first roommates out of college even got me running around the reservoir in Central Park for a few months, but only an invitation from my 11-year old could have gotten my butt to even contemplate doing it again.

He’d be the first to tell you that he’s not a sports guy, despite trying out baseball, soccer, tennis and a little basketball. None of these have ever been all that much fun for him, despite encouragement and support from the 11-year old living over on the right there, who does enjoy many of these. Since moving to Italy, going to numerous soccer practices with a close friend, and experiencing some World Cup fever, I think he’s definitely understood and maybe even appreciates how much hard work goes into playing that game or any sport well. But it isn’t sports, friends or his parents that have motivated this guy to run, it’s dreams of boot camp! Yep, boot camp. Who knows who’s boot camp (I’ve heard something about the U.S. National Guard) but he’d like to get in good physical condition so that it doesn’t kick his butt. Maybe living across the river from West Point for 4 years did this? Books about Roman soldiers?

Whatever the case, we’ve started by downloading the Nike + Running app (Thank you Lena!), and it’s the perfect motivator for the pre-teen with a mild screen addiction problem. It has smart tracking tools (how much you run, your time, calories burned and Nike Fuel points earned), a built-in coach (with which we easily started an 8-week training program), social media sharing (Instagram and Facebook friends here we come!) and the ability to hook up with friends or your mom so that we can challenge each other for the top spot each week.

Out on our hilly gravel roads, the running is not as easy as it might be in a city, but so far some fun is being had, our bodies are definitely being challenged, and it’s easy to see all the life lessons that this running to nowhere has the potential to teach, lessons momma probably needs as much as her son. We’ll see where all this takes us. If all goes well, maybe we’ll even try running a 5k in August!

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Paddling

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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Stefan on this, the LAUNCH DAY for his book and music projects and the official introduction of the considered life to the world! I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing a few moments of its development over the years and I promise you, neither the book nor the album should be missed.

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In other news, summer is here! I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I’m just so doggone happy to be puttering around the house in bare feet with the windows open, the sloshing of boats on the river the soundtrack echoing through our house as the people and animal who live here settle into the rhythm of the season.

A change like this often comes with moments of bewilderment and it was during one of those murky mornings late last week, when Noah and I were bumping into one another in the kitchen and Ray was trying to get out the door to catch a train and Luca was whining because he wanted to go for a walk that I decided we needed to do something different–you know, in an attempt to flow with the slower pace and the looser structure of the day and not, ahem, paddle against it. Noah and I talked about finding a movie to see or going to the mall or, even, hopping on the train with Ray and heading into the city for a museum visit and lunch, but the sky was crystal blue and the breeze was gentle and warm and it wasn’t a day to be inside. So, I made the rare choice to go kayaking. You know, without our resident water expert around to guide us.

It’s not that I don’t ever go out on the river without Ray, but often it’s just easier and, to be honest, more palatable to have him with us. For safety and security reasons and because it’s obviously more fun, but also because he’s good at dragging the kayaks around and warning us about the changing tide and keeping Noah and I, two starry-eyed neophytes, focused on looking out for motor boats and tankers and other detritus that must be avoided whilst splashing about on this giant body of water in a plastic vessel the size of a bathtub.

Noah, ever the adventure seeker, was thrilled and did not miss a beat. Of course we could do it alone! No worries! He wanted to pack lunch. He wanted to find a swimming hole. He wanted to try to take the dog in the boat with us, too.

Luckily, I was able to keep my wits about me and made the executive decision to leave Luca home, but after making Noah promise to help me with the dragging-of-the-boat-down-to-the-beach and the paddling-up-the-river and the paying-attention-to-the-tide, we packed some snacks and a few jugs of water and headed out onto the Hudson.

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Happy.

We were treated to calm waters and beautiful scenery and we had a truly magnificent afternoon. It’s so interesting to visit places you’ve seen a thousand times before, but from an alternate point of view. We are lucky enough to live at the river’s edge and we watch it, awestruck, every single day. Our viewpoint, though, is always from above. We look down at the river and across at the mountains, perspectives that give us a sense of dominion or, at least, of safety over all that water and land. But to see everything looming above us, except the water of course–which itself seemed far more copious and deep once we were floating on top of it–made both Noah and I silent with appreciation. For the day and for one another.

 

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Our gazebo, seen from below.

Our house is perched up on a rock wall and even during the most violent storms (Sandy, Hurricane Irene) we never feel like there is a threat of danger or flooding. Once you’re down on the river, though, that certainty starts to shift. Sure the water in June is warm(ish) and the gentle lapping of the small waves against the boat seems comforting, but you also realize the river’s power and potential peril. When you’re depending on that water to keep you steady and moving, when the mountains form a bowl around you, when you are surrounded by rock walls that seem impossible to climb, you can get to thinking that maybe a storm could come through and send waves in through the back door.

You paddle on. Not afraid, but reverent and still. And curious.

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Our fellow travelers on the river–like these big tankers (we passed four or five) carrying everything from other boats (the one above is loaded down with yachts) to cement and gravel and oil–demand respect as well. While we enjoyed playing in the waves of their wake, we mostly stayed away and admired them from a distance.

Combing the riverfront we were treated to features of the shoreline we don’t usually get to see: driftwood structures built by campers or teenage revelers who find solace (and sometimes trouble) at dusk along the narrow beaches;

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and marooned logs and uprooted tree stumps, battered and smoothed down by water and sand.

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Even our beloved village’s waterfront, a place where we regularly walk the dog and eat ice cream and sit on one of the benches to read or write, seemed unfamiliar and exotic and strange.

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I’ll end today with a quote from The Considered Life:

“Escaping our familiar contexts seems to me one of the better and more tangible reset buttons that life, in its wise wisdom, has seen fit to make us believe was our idea…Such migrations do not necessarily have to mean visa-stamping and language-learning…The foreign-soiled experience can be had anywhere that feels alien to whoever you think you are or home to whoever you want to be…For I know that the crossing of borders and the changes in points of view, literal and metaphorical, supply me with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of what has come to mean so much to me: the quest for quality of life.”

Yes.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Creative Leaps, Writing, and Libraries

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I love libraries. Big, small, ornate, modest, all of them. And I’m continuously amazed that as a species we seemed to have all (or almost all) agreed on this one fabulous idea, create spaces loaded with free access to books and information, and then put work spaces in there, so people can sit and… ahem… read quietly. In a world where we can’t agree on things that seem pretty straightforward like you shouldn’t be able to carry loaded weapons into a Target store, it’s rather amazing that the concept of the library has endured throughout centuries.

Back in our tiny Phillipstown, which includes both the hamlet where we lived, Garrison, and the small town, Cold Spring, where Christine lives, we were incredibly lucky to have not one, but two outstanding local libraries. Whether because of its proximity or its warm and exceedingly helpful staff, I spent a lot of quality time in the Julia Butterfield Library of Cold Spring. They had a fantastic collection of kids books that allowed me to bring home a fresh stack every week that our children, especially the older Zoel, happily plowed through. That little brick building on a hill also gave me a space to escape to when working at home was driving me nuts. I’m particularly thankful for one week in a October of 2012 when I was able to sit in their wood-paneled main room and tap out a first chapter of something… for now, I think of it as a memoir of an important trip to Cuba that I took for my 40th birthday. I may have filed it away after that October and gone on with the hundreds of little things that preoccupy our lives, but the seed had, luckily, been sown.

Almost a year later, once we had gotten ourselves settled here in Bologna last summer, I opened the document, and surprisingly, found that not only was the seed not lousy, but it seemed to have taken root in the depths of my brain. I had more to say on the subject, some things to water the seed with, if you will. Okay, I’ve gone too far with the seed metaphor now, but you see what I’m saying. Libraries work for me, and that’s probably why I’ve found another little one here. After trying out the large, swanky one in the middle of Bologna, and another one in our town, Casalecchio, I found the right fit for me at a small 2-floor library outside Bologna’s center, not far from the kids’ school. Here I sit today with about 2 dozen college students. Most of them are reading, writing and highlighting, while I tap away on my ipad. (They rarely have laptops or iPads, which I always find odd, and wonder if it’s a sign of this country’s struggling economy or it’s conservative education system, or something else.)

In this concrete, light-filled room, I have found yet another quiet and comfortable spot that vibrates with mental activity, and motivates me to let by mind leak out onto the page. I expect to be spending many hours here and at home over the next few months, continuing to put my memories and thoughts on the page.

This creative leap of faith that I’m taking into a very different kind of work then I’ve ever done in the past, has been inspired in no small part, by my husband’s work over the last few years as he developed a book, called The Considered Life and a related EP, The Pressure. In the book, he urges you to take a closer look at all the thousands of little decisions you make every day and assure yourself that they are firmly based in what you, and you alone, believe. And the music is just plain funky and soulful, inspired by the themes in the book. Both works are officially launching July 1, but will be available for pre-order on June 14th.

Vicariously, I’m living the thrill and the terror involved in releasing your thoughts and creations into the world, and surprisingly, I’m finding myself wanting to take the same brave steps. We’ll see what comes of it in the next few months or years, but before I run out of iPad battery, here’s more info on Stefan’s two new projects. I do hope you get a moment to check out the book, audiobook and/or EP later this month!

 

 

 

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In the Battle Zone

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The War of Art is the title one of the books I’ve been reading this week. It’s a sort of how to unblock your creativity guide written by Steven Pressfield and I checked it out of the library on Monday hoping to, well, unblock my creativity–which sounds so highbrow and obnoxious when really all I really want to do is find a way to motivate myself to write more. Write more on this blog and for a few other projects that I’ve started and abandoned and, eventually, for the more formidable ones that are still just glimmers on my imaginary literary bucket list.

In his book, Pressfield’s theory is laid out this simply: that there is a force that gets in the way of us humans making art and its name is Resistance. Pressfield begins the book by saying, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” Don’t I know it. My unlived life is filled with ideas for excellent poems, daydreams of hours spent at twinkling tables of brilliant food and discourse, travel to sunny, soul-infused lands and a closet full of red-soled shoes. The life I live confers none of those things.

According to Pressfield, Resistance is a self-generated force and its aim is to distract us and prevent us from doing our work. I’m unclear about what its motive might be (Do forces even have motives? I don’t think gravity does…it’s just always there, doing its thing) but I have certainly felt the power of opposition. Right now, queued up in the other tab I have open on my computer screen, is the IKEA website. As I was sitting here writing and looking at the river I remembered that I want to get a few new planters and candles and things for our gazebo and herb garden and since I have most of today free it would be a good day to head to IKEA. So I started googling the closest store and their hours and thinking about which color scheme might work best and planning out everything in my head only to, twenty minutes later, remember that I have this post to write. After just ten minutes of writing or “writing,” my attention had wandered from this blog post about not writing to me…NOT WRITING. Ugh.

So, something’s going on. Maybe I’m distracted by spring and the warm day (dontcha love the way I can’t let a post go by without mentioning the weather) or envious of Gina’s trips to all the fabulous places (see next door) or just plain indolent, but writing usually feels like chore instead of providing my soul the nourishment that I’d like it to be and I’m not sure that forcing myself to endure more time chained to my computer feeling bad that I’m not writing (even though I’m not writing…so confusing) is the most effective way to change things.

Pressfield’s theory about Resistance having to be wrestled to the ground is troubling to me. Also, his idea the creation of art has to be a trial; an ordeal. Do we, the artists, need to exert an enormous amount of negative force against ourselves in order to get anything done? Why is it necessary to suffer and struggle? Because then–and only then–will we experience success? Only after we’re laying bloody and bruised on the battlefield, can we expect the muses to come calling; can we expect to create?

I disagree with these principles for several reasons. One: what is up with the idea that we have to struggle in order to succeed? The axioms of success in our culture are consistently tinged with Protestant philosophies such as:

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
― Winston Churchill

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
― Frederick Douglass

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
― Thomas Paine

And of course:

“No pain no gain.” (A sentiment that Jane Fonda made famous in her 1980s aerobic workout videos but one that has come to be short hand for the modern American narrative of believing that the road to achievement runs inevitably through hardship.)

I mean, what gives? I’m all for hard work and picking ourselves up after we fall, but I’m not so sure about this idea: that if we want something favorable and constructive to happen in our lives then we have to suck it up, be patient, endure, suffer, work, toil, never give up and maybe MAYBE after many many many years we might (though possibly not) experience some kind of triumph. Isn’t that kind of behavior pretty close to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Forget for a second that all of the truly terrible things that happen in our lives we deem the product of an instantaneous and effortless cruel, cruel fate.)

See the contradiction?

While I don’t want to rebut the brilliant minds I’ve quoted above, I’m also not blind to a possible by-product of all of this prodding and poking we’re to do to ourselves in order to become the artists we think we want to be. (i.e. guilt, regret, self-reproach) Here’s the thing: what if the fact that you have to constantly convince yourself to do your art (to write, to paint, to practice your oboe), then perhaps that said art is not your passion after all. I mean I have all kinds of fantasies playing out in that aforementioned internal life, but some of them are not simply possible. I’d like to win Wimbledon (but being 43 with a pretty weak forehand shot, that’s not going to happen). I’d also love to be a singer (but more than one musician has noted my tone-deaf-ness), so that’s out too.

I’m not trying to argue against hard work and struggle and I don’t necessarily think that life should be easy. I’m more than willing and able to hunker down when I need to–when I want to–but how do we know when our hunkering and struggling is necessary to overcome some kind of laziness in ourselves or when a decade of fumblings and failures are actually big giant road signs, warning us that we’re headed down the wrong path?

Allow me this comparison: Relationships are difficult–we can all agree on that, right? They, like art, require work and are sometimes very often beset with times of hardship and skirmish, but there are clearly limits to what kind of behavior we put up with from another person. There’s a line between accepting a person’s quirks and allowing their peculiarities to devolve into mistreatment or injury of us. The threshold is different for everybody of course, but the bottom line is not doing (nor allowing) harm.

When we wake each morning, dressed and ready to battle Resistance and we head out into our days to slay this dragon of sloth that is breathing fire at our feet, how do we know when to say ‘enough’? Because there is also the wisdom of this poem by Charles Bukowski.

Really. Go read it. I’ll be back with more tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are You Reading?

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My book-loving son just finished the 1011 pages of the 3 Lord of Rings books and has his momma feeling like a bit of a slacker on the reading front. Granted, he doesn’t have the same responsibilities (and worries… oh, the time those take!), but still, for months, I’ve been sitting on 500 pages of Galileo’s Daughter, a historical memoir by Dava Sobel, based on the letters the daughter, a nun named Suor Maria Celeste, sent her father from the convent. I hear you laughing. Yes, it could be my choice of reading material that’s slowing me down, but believe it or not, some of it is interesting, mainly because their story takes place right around where we’re living, and because the father/daughter relationship goes a long way in giving some dimension to the “father of modern science”, and of course, Galileo has some pretty swell ideas. But even so, after a few weeks of trudging through conniving cardinals, powerful ruling families, struggling artists, cloistered women and sponsored scientists, I had to take a little break, and moved over to lighter fare, a book called, Global Mom, by Melissa Dalton-Bradford. It was supposed to be my guilty pleasure read, and for a while there, it was. I was intrigued by this American mom’s recounting of her family’s adventures living in 8 countries over the course of 20 years, even if it also felt rather self-indulgent to be reading about a well-off clan’s definitively first world problems (settling in and growing accustomed to world capital after world capital) while sitting on my privileged perch as an ex-pat mom settling in and growing accustomed to my European city. I justified the read to myself thinking, hey, it’s better than reading gawker all night or watching mindless TV, right? She also has some very witty anecdotes and useful information to share with a neophyte like myself! But then, at a point when they are in Paris, a city I know relatively well, I turned the page and the most unexpected and devastating thing happens to this family. I forced myself to read on as my anxiety level soared, but then had to put it down to keep my heart from exploding. A week or so later, I picked it up again, feeling I had to know how the family’s story continued. Now, I’m happily back with Galileo and Maria Celeste, and the very even rhythm of their story. I may make it through this time, but just in case, please tell me what some of your favorites are – profound, fluffy, literary, witty, whatever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are You Reading?

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I, too, feel a little bit guilty about my reading habits after hearing about Zoel’s completion of the Lord of the Rings series (see Gina’s side over there). Here, on this side of the ocean, Noah is burning through the Artemis Fowl books (this past weekend he read two of them). I share this tidbit with you not in an attempt to keep up with Gina’s story, but to echo the awe I have in the tenacity of our 11 year olds: Boys. Who aren’t supposed to want to be reading. Reading. (And READING!) is a testament to something awesome. School. Opportunity. Intelligence. Most likely, extraordinary parenting.

There’s always a pile of books on the table next to my bed, waiting to be consumed. Books that I’d like to finish at a quick clip, the way our boys devour fantasies and tales of dragons and wizardry. Lately I’ve not been very successful. A few of the tomes collected there I’ve read thoroughly. Cover to cover. Usually in a couple of days. Others I’ve tunneled into a few times, satisfied after consuming a bit of their soft, chewy nougat centers, but unable or indifferent about spending too much time with them. Most, I return to the library…dusty and untouched.

I’m not sure if my lack of follow through with books comes from disinterest or mistaken selection or just plain laziness on my part, but it bums me out. I used to be a voracious reader. Used to be. Before so many words were available on my computer and on my phone. It is so much easier to read little snippets of ideas and stories online. Tweets. Statuses on Facebook. The comment section at Jezebel. Beginnings and middles and ends are tied up there in a paragraph or two, or in one sentence or a dozen craftily placed characters.

Lately my reading habits and hopes could be likened to a wish for the power of osmosis; a hope that if I just place the book next to my head, its contents and wisdom will automatically be transferred to my brain. Want the wisdom of an 800 page book about peri-menapause? No problem. Just check the book out from the library and sleep next to it for a few nights. Hoping to understand the nuances of the latest short fiction prize winner out of Iowa? No problem! Just download a (discounted) copy to iBooks and open the app. Of course reality doesn’t work that way and all I really have to show for my lazy ways is an impressive collection of eBooks and a hefty library fine.

I think that the commitment to and practice of reading that these two middles school boys of ours seem to possess points to some things that I’ve somehow lost: a willingness to allow a story to take me out of my present state of mind, to enjoy it (or even to not-enjoy it), to learn, to see beyond myself and to stick with it. Somewhere along the road of trying to become a writer myself, I stopped letting other people’s stories matter. I started to focus too much on technique and on the craft; on trying to glean the secret to literary success by imagining a code, an invented formula for arranging words on a page that some people are privy to; a system that leads to their stories being bound and printed and shared. I was finding myself not so much interested in the authors’ stories, than in how they got it published in the first place.

Ugh.

A few posts ago I wrote about my hope to read more (and internet-surf less )and I’m happy to say that I’ve been somewhat successful at the challenge. I’ve started to make my way through our three month stack of New Yorkers in the living room. I’ve also become more finicky about the books I put by my bed. Here are some notes on my current reads:

  • The Great Work of Your Life is the tamest in the collection of titles I have lined up on the floor next to my bed that have to do with spirituality, souls, self-improvement, self-help and god. I’m about 3/4 of the way through. (Expect to finished by spring.)
  • The Gift is an extraordinary book that has to do with creativity and writing and making a life, but it’s a high-calorie snack that I only imbibe in once in awhile. When I do, however, I consistently come away with a nugget of something wise and true. (Expect to be finished by the end of the year.)
  • Donna Tartt’s first book called The Secret History is extraordinary and fun. I’m hoping her latest, The Goldfinch, lives up the the reviews I’ve heard about it.
  • Ray and I watched Capote not too long ago–wishing to bask in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s shadow for a bit. The movie was pretty great. And reminded me that I have always wanted to read In Cold Blood--the book upon which the movie was based. Also a book that I’ve had on my shelf for years. I started it but then put it down. We’ll see…
  • And poetry. (This week its Bukowski and the translation of a Tuscan poet.) These are the  books have no problem devouring, no matter the fat content.

Here’s hoping for a word-filled month!