Lessons from the Trampoline

There’s nothing quite like a trip to the trampoline park to remind me:

1) How old I am

2) That yes, I have actually grown and birthed a baby

and

3) To Get Up

Yesterday, nearing the end of our hour-long jump (and rock climb, and dodge ball, and basketball), Briggs and I headed toward the foam pit.

“It’s easy, Mum, you just run, jump and crash in.  Watch!”

Briggs demonstrated with as must gusto as you can imagine an active six year-old can muster before noon.

“You’re turn.”

I took a bit of a running start, got in two pretty good jumps and then landed (cannon ball style) into the pit of purple foam cubes.

After a deep exhale I admitted, “I wasn’t nervous about the launch or the fall, it’s the getting up that’s got me a little wobbly.”

A pit of foam cubes sounds like it should be easy enough to navigate, but it’s actually pretty awkward and requires a bit of upper body strength that my yoga workout earlier in the morning kind of borrowed from.

The brilliant little girl to my left noticed my struggle and without any prompting offered the following:

“Yeah, getting up is always the hardest part – that’s what makes it worth doing.”

I told her she was wise.  Took another breath.  And gave thanks for the reminder.

Getting up is always the hardest part – that’s what makes it worth doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Share. Connect. Love.

Once I left for college, I never came back home.

I mean, to visit, of course.  But never to live.  Not even for a summer.

By 18, I was ready to be free of the small, rural New Hampshire town that had taken care of me in so many important and (at the time) invisible ways.

I think where you grow up (be it a small town, a city block, an apartment building, or a series of couches and transitions), becomes a part of you.

No matter what, I know my small town is still a part of me.

Which is why when I hear news (of any kind) of the kids I grew up with and the adults who all played a part in helping me become an adult myself, I still always want to connect.

This week I heard the news of the diagnosis of Arden Sawtelle – the beautiful seven year-old daughter of my elementary schoolmate, Jonathan Sawtelle.  This is from Arden’s GoFundMe site:

Arden has a growth on her brain stem, one that is inoperable and goes by the name Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). DIPG is an extremely rare and highly aggressive brain stem tumor. While medical advances have been extraordinary for some cancers, DIPG is not one. DIPG is the leading cause of death from pediatric brain tumors and has a 9 month survival time from diagnosis. Barring a miracle, it offers no chance of survival.  

I’m connecting you with Arden’s story with the intention that greater connection can foster greater healing.  Contributions of any kind – be it financial or faithful – are always appreciated.

Please share, love and connect for Arden, and for all our kids, everywhere.

Fundraiser for Arden.

Arden

You are Helping

It’s rarely a good decision, but I opted for sad songs on my commute this Monday morning.

A little Ani.

A little Prince.

A lot of tears.

Then, as I made the left to come across South Station I flipped to ‘Hand Clap Radio’ – my six year-old’s favorite Pandora station.  It plays the likes of Meghan Trainor’s Me Too and Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You.

Just as I started to bop into it, I noticed a pedestrian waiting for an opening to cross – and noticed the pedestrian was actually a friend.  A woman who my other friend Sara and I met four months ago when Sara and I ran a storytelling workshop for some employees at a local pharmaceutical company.

I rolled the window down and asked if she wanted a ride to work.

She was all in.

After seatbelts were fastened she asked how I was doing – I told her about the recent song choices  – and that, to make a very long story short, “I just basically don’t know what I’m doing.”

She laughed (a loving laugh) and added, “Story of my life.  Every time I’m very sure this is where I’m going and here’s where I’ll be in a year – bam – SHARP left turn.”

Her candor immediately made me feel better.

Then, just before we reached her destination she said, “You know everything I learned from you and Sara – from that workshop – it’s still making a difference at work, but now I’m using all of it to officiate a wedding.  I mean if I can get up in front of my whole company and share a personal story, I should definitely be able to get up in front of friends and say good things, too.”

Now I was beaming.

“Absolutely you can.  That’s amazing.  If there’s anything else I can do help, just let me know.”

“You are helping,” she said.

And as I dropped her off it was strikingly clear that she was the one actually giving me a lift.

storymic

 

 

Last Night

Last night, I told a heavy story with Fugitive Stories at the Kickstand Cafe in Arlington.

It’s the one about my Dad.  And my baby blanket.  And the complicated relationship I continued with each of them for the vast majority of my life.  It includes divorce.  And drinking.  And drugs.  And separation.  And reconciliation.

It’s the most powerful tale I’ve got.  And every time I tell it, afterwards people want to talk.  Hug.  Share.  Open up.  Break down.

Last night was no exception.

I adore (crave, want, desire) being on stage.  I feel…turned on by the energy and attention that I’m both putting out and taking in.  It’s amazing and fulfilling – but it’s still second to the afterwards.

Most of the time, I struggle with direction.  Strategy.  With what to do when, where, and why.  I beat myself up.  But, that’s never the case after I’ve just poured my heart out.

When someone comes up to me in tears, or all smiles, or filled with fear and courage and says, “thank you,” or “I needed that,” or “me, too,” or “how can I?,” or “I love you.”…it’s in those moments that I actually feel like I’m giving it (this, life) all I’ve got.  And that I’ve got a lot.

It’s when I feel the most Me.  When I can see the you-est You.  When I know with certainty that We are totally and completely, enough.

fs-seal-teller-6.17 red

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Bad Thoughts

This year for my birthday I took myself to a writing workshop.

I drove down to Providence, treated myself to a hotel and spent a day reminding myself how to give in to the craft.

Mostly, it felt good – except for the forgetting about the question part:

“So, what are you working on?”

It’s a killer at these things.

If you’re together, motivated, published, polished (etc.) you have a really great answer like: “my second novel,” or “a piece for the Atlantic.”  If you’re me, you have an awkward smile and, “well, I have this blog…”

“Oh, is it a follow-up from your book?”

More awkward smiles and timid nods.

“Oh, so you don’t get paid for it or anything.”

This conversation played out this way a good four or five times during my birthday workshop, but then I started talking to author, Tova Mirvis.

“What are you writing?” she asked.

(Heavy sigh) “Honestly, I’m not quite sure.  For more than a year, I’ve been writing this gratitude blog.  I guess it’s about my practice of Thanksgiving.  Sometimes 100 people read, one time 1000 people read it, sometimes 10 people read it – who are all related to me.”

“It still counts,” Tova said.

“It’s kind of like Weight Watchers for my creativity.  I know writing and sharing are key to keeping me…not crazy…and at this point, if I go too long without posting, someone who loves me will ping me to get back at it.”

“You should write that piece for Weight Watchers.”

Tova’s suggestion stayed with me for the rest of the day, the entire ride home and the better part of the next two months…until one lazy morning in between innings of a living room baseball game with my son, Briggs, I turned on the TV and caught an ad for Weight Watchers.

All I could hear was: You should write that piece, after you drop this weight.

That Sunday I weighed 133lbs.  The heaviest I’ve ever been since pregnant with Briggs (age, 6).  Today, less than three full months on Weight Watchers, I weight 108lbs.  The same weight I was three years before ever dreaming Briggs into being.

I have a tendency – maybe even a propensity to overthink.  I very much want to know things.  Where (exactly) I’m going.  What (exactly) I’m doing.  How (exactly) this will work out.  It’s constant and exhausting and far too often results in indecision, or worse, in beating myself into submission.

On the other hand, when I go with how I feel…like writing and sharing, because it feels good.  Braving a conversation with an accomplished author because it feels good.  Taking a chance on a new approach, because if feels good – the directions tend to reveal themselves.

And that feels a whole lot more like engaging in good work, as opposed to just getting through the hard work.

Feel more.  Do more.  Hurt less….and then go shopping, because nothing fits. 😉

PS – This would be a great place for a before and after picture, but I didn’t take a picture the first day I joined Weight Watchers, because I definitely wasn’t feeling that.  Instead here’s a song that keeps me motivated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Musing

I can still quote every line from Almost Famous.

In addition to watching it over and over as soon as it was released in the States (2000), I then stole the DVD from a friend while living in Luxembourg sophomore year of college and watched it every single night for the better part of six months.

If you’ve never seen this movie, please stop reading this and fix that.  (I mean, it’s on Netflix.)

The story is loosely (and not so loosely) based on the screenwriter, Cameron Crowe’s actual experience touring with artists like The Allman Brothers Band when he was a 16 year-old high school senior.

My favorite character (by far) is the Band-Aid, Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson).  In a much looser, cheaper term Penny is a groupie, though as is explained (and pondered) by herself, her faithful followers and the story’s protagonist, William, Penny is so much more powerful than that.

She’s a muse.  In this case mostly for the band’s lead singer, Russell, who also happens to be married – but for whatever reason his wife doesn’t tour.

William may be the story’s central character – Russell may be the lead singer – but neither are the main draw.  The band, the music, the writing, the energy – clearly – that’s all Penny.

She’s magnetic.  I mean, in the movie, nearly everyone of substance falls for her. Hell, every time I watch it, I still fall for her.

There’s something irresistible about inspiring greatness.  About being seen or known as the one that helps others connect to their best selves, or at the very least with their best ideas.

She’s magic that Penny Lane.  She can see you…even (and especially) when you can’t seem to focus on yourself.

Sadly though, that doesn’t make her (or the objects of her inspiration) impervious to heartache.

For a very long time, I romanticized Penny and muses.  Wanting to find one.  Wanting (perhaps even more so) to be one.

But as that iconic Tiny Dancer scene has continued (for almost two decades now – yikes) to play on repeat in my mind, I’ve started to feel that big, brave truth more and more:

Penny is You.

Your Muse is You.

Like, my second favorite character, William’s Mom (played by the remarkable Frances McDormand) reminds us: Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Your Muse already believes that, it’s all happening.  Maybe we should, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Carries

Two  weeks ago my friend Sara and I got to help about 40 1st-3rd graders find their voice.

To best honest, it was Sara’s project.  She got connected with the Bell Foundation and the Boston’s Children’s Museum, and it turned out that these groups wanted to do something to help kids connect with storytelling.

When Sara asked if I would help, I said: It’s all I ever want to do.

The majority of the kiddos (and their camp counselors) didn’t quite know how this was going to go.  How we would go about making it fun, and safe, and meaningful to share.

There were language barriers.  And trust barriers.  And schedule restraints.  But, we’re storytellers – so, Sara and I showed up being able to hear past all that.

We showed up and invited them to tell their stories through movement.  And pictures.  And their words.  They told ‘Once Upon a Time‘ stories from their imaginations, and ‘One Time I’ stories from their memories.

We played games.  Went on trips.  Learned each other names.  Found out what made us laugh and think – and by the time it came to perform for an audience, all of those smart, brave, bold storytellers found out that they could make Sara and me cry, too.

Right before we wrapped one of the 3rd grade boys said: “My stories matter.  People want to hear – and I can use my voice.”

Another one filled my heart, when afterwards, out on the lawn he came up to me, gave me another hug and said: “Okay, Amanda tell me you’re story.  How old are you?  Are you married?  Do you have kids?”

I answered all of his questions and then with wide eyes he goes: “I can’t believe someone gets to be your son.”

I told him: “I can believe how awesome it is to be your Mom.”

There were more hugs and more stories and I did my best not to let out more tears.

There is little (if anything) more powerful than our voice.  Finding it.  Using it.  Loving it.

Our voice is what connects – and carries – and conquers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Dying Up Here

I haven’t posted in days – longer than I typically go.  So, I woke up committed to getting this done.

Though, I’ve spent the better part of the last 90-minutes deleting half-posts.

What I actually want to write about is Sunday night’s episode of I’m Dying Up Here.  It follows a group of young comics trying to make a living being who they are and doing what they do out in L.A. in the 1970s.

One of the characters, Eddie (played by Michael Angarano) is this kid from Boston who brings his buddy out west with the best laid plans–to move in with another comic friend from Beantown–only to find that, that place (and that friend) is no longer an option.

Eddie immediately goes to work on Plan B – secures a closet for him and his buddy to crash and gets a gig at a deli, where he convinces the owner to let him do 10-minutes during his shift for an audience that really just wants a decent sandwich.

Eddie is killing himself.  Doing whatever it takes to actually pay his bills, fill his belly and squeeze in his standup.  His art.

Eddie’s buddy on the other hand – far more go with the flow – leaves the worrying and planning and even the un-fucking to Eddie.

Eddie’s buddy lands a sitcom.  Eddie winds up writing jokes for a morning show radio host who initially ripped off some of his material after catching his bit at the deli.

I can’t STOP thinking about this episode because, I’m Eddie.

I want to be his buddy.  I want so much to be more go with the flow and to not just believe but to know that it’ll work out. (And I also wouldn’t mind a role on a sitcom.)

But, I’m Eddie.

I’m the one finding ways to work my art into my day jobs.  Spending nights and weekends telling stories in dingy nightclubs, and big theaters, and small coffee shops and  church basements.  I’m waking up early (after getting in far too late) to write a post…to…I don’t know…write a post.

Eddie and I are both kind of dying up here – but for anxious, scattered,  crazy, creative (workaholic) characters like us – that kind of dying feels a whole hell of a lot like living.

PS – Watch the show – Showtime’s offering the first 5 episodes for free online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.O.A.T Breakfast

Without question, my favorite meal is breakfast.  At home.  In a diner.  A fancy restaurant.  By myself.  One-on-one.  Or with the whole gang…breakfast is best.

And this morning, as I nailed my go-to scrambled egg burrito and raised my game on Briggs’s cinnamon toast, I started thinking about my Greatest Of All Time Breakfasts.

Here are the top five in chronological order:

Maryann’s Donut Drive (guessing 1983, I would’ve been 2 by then and on solid foods): A local donut and muffin shop that my parents (I’m guessing) frequented long before I came along, as it was a mainstay in Fitchburg (where they grew up and I was born) for 40 years.  Maryann’s was the reward for making it through mass at St. Bernard’s.  Their muffins were the size of my head, they were always warm, and the chocolate chip variety was more chocolate than muffin.  The emaciated Jesus nailed to the cross and the gray, sad hues of St. Bernard’s massive gothic church tended to freak me out, but the promise of Maryann’s made me a believer that things (especially gooey things) made with love are worth the wait.

By the Fire (1985 – 2016): From the time I was in Kindergarten, I can remember going camping.  Almost always in a tent, sometimes for days – sometimes for weeks – sometimes in the woods – sometimes on the beach – sometimes with extended family – sometimes with a caravan of friends – sometimes just us.  Regardless of where, when, or with whom, the best part is always the early morning fire – and the toast, or eggs, or bacon, or sausages, or coffee (or all of it) that’s cooked on it.  Though, of every camp breakfast I’ve ever enjoyed the very best happened at Hermit Island circa. 1996, following a lobster bake the night prior – when Dad made a lobster omelette on the open flame and Mom topped it with a homemade béarnaise.  Sand in our toes, lobster on our plates – a perfect start.

Our Wedding (September 19, 2009): I happened to be working in broadcasting when Ken and I got engaged, and one day happened to help produce an interview with one of Boston’s top wedding planners.  In a moment of downtime, I mentioned my engagement and asked for her quickest go-to advice for couples-to-be.  Her response:  Get married ASAP.  Meaning, have that ceremony as early as you can the day off, as soon as the vows are exchanged and the thing is actually done, everyone can breathe a little easier and enjoy the day.  Ken and I took the expert to heart and planned our 8-minute ceremony to kick off at 10 o’clock in the morning – and then, we served our favorite meal of all time: Breakfast.  Our 180 guests were treated to fresh fruit, bacon, sausage, french toast, pure New Hampshire syrup, home fries, scrambled eggs…honestly, it was the best smelling wedding I’ve ever attended.  A big, beautiful white tent wrapped in syrup and coffee.  Love, love, love.

The First Night of Briggs’s Life (June 29, 2011): I couldn’t eat for 36 hours prior to delivering Briggs.  It was a high-risk, emergency situation and I was pumped full of magnesium – so, no food prior to the c-section – and then for about 9-hours following the delivery I was in and out of consciousness.  Briggs was born at 11:29 in the morning, and I had my very first meal of the day at about quarter to ten that night.  In the span of a day and a half I’d just (thanks to science and my medical team) avoided a massive stroke, been taken off food and water, undergone surgery, been told my baby was stable but would be living in intensive care for at least a month (ended up being two), and had my milk come in.  When a nurse named Jackie told me that night that I was FINALLY clear to eat, I hugged her.  My breakfast that night consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made on squishy wheat sandwich bread, a handful of saltines, another handful of graham crackers, a can of ginger-ale, and half a fruit plate.  It tasted absolutely divine.

His First Christmas (December 25, 2011):  Briggs hit his double-digit weight gain just before his six-month marker.  So, by Christmas morning he weighed 10lbs.  This felt like a massive achievement (and relief) at the time.  He was also officially off his liver development meds and we’d been given the “okay” to stop seeing his gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s.  I’ve never experienced such gratitude for the miracle of a child’s life as I did that Christmas – and so, while I knew there would be no way for Briggs to remember such a thing, I made a big fuss.  I woke up at quarter past five and prepped two different kinds of strata, and cinnamon bread pudding, and sliced fresh fruit and expensive cheese.  I purposely used the “good” candles and made sure all of the lights were plugged in before he or Ken woke up, or before our parents and sisters came over.  I actually made a “table scape” (which is very, very out of character).  But it was lovely, and good, and delicious – and I’ve been making Christmas morning breakfast like this ever since…and I love doing it.

This morning, as I nailed that burrito and upped the game on cinnamon toast all of these G.O.A.T. Breakfasts came back to me.  Could be that I’m just a little over tired and a bit over sensitive – or could be that there’s a little bit of each of these breakfasts in all of the breakfasts that I get to enjoy.

Either could be true, but I like the way the second theory feels, so that’s the one I’m going with.

GOAT

PS – That’s cinnamon in my coffee cup 🙂

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

I can’t remember if I was 10, 11, or 12 – but I know I wasn’t yet a teenager – and I was spending a long weekend on the beach at my grandparents’ cottage in Camp Ellis, Maine.

I was on a borrowed bike, looping the neighborhood over and over – making my way very cautiously down the path’s one real hill each and every time.  Beach to the right, cottages straight ahead and to the left.

I’ve always talked fast.  Thought fast.  Jumped on projects.  Always the first to raise her hand – but I’ve also never been one for speed.  Roller coasters scare me.  Running hurts me.  I’ve never (ever) had the urge to slam the gas just to see how fast I can go.  For me, motorcycles are for looking at, not riding on.

And while I’ve always known that there’s no real chemistry between speed and me, on this day in Maine, when I was 10, 11, or 12, on my final loop around the neighborhood with the beach to my right and all those familiar cottages to the left, instead of pumping my brakes all the way down, I came to a complete stop a the tippity-top.

There was a stop sign at the bottom of the hill – as this road cut through the main road of this quiet beach community.

It was after dinner but well before dark.  Still hot even though the sun was setting.  The whole sky was painted this pinky-orange.  My bike was pink and so was my tank top.  I remember feeling like I matched – like I was a part of something – a bigger something.  And I really liked how all this pink seemed to make my tan sparkle.

I smelled the ocean – listened for cars – and once I was confident that the coast was clear, I let go of the brakes and let that bike carry me fast and free.

Then I froze.  Smack in the middle of main street.  As a young man (who looking back now, I assume was a newly licenced driver) came careening around the corner in a fairly beat-up, red sports car.

I likely should have kept going – but I heard the car before I saw it and panicked. The driver slammed his brakes, started to skid and (thankfully) realized he still wasn’t going to stop in time.  He made a mad left swerve and managed to just miss.

I still couldn’t move – and he still couldn’t drive away.  With the car in park but still running he opened the door, got out, turned around and just stared at me.

I looked up to find my grandparents’ neighbor on her front porch.

She just stared, too.

“I’m..,” that’s all I could manage.

The driver put up one hand, nodded, got back in his car and slowly (very slowly) drove away.

The neighbor called out:

“Honey, you should really get out of the middle of the street.  And don’t fly down that hill anymore, okay?”

I nodded, pedaled on and prayed the neighbor wouldn’t tell – and to the best of my knowledge, she didn’t.

Yesterday, on my commute home I noticed two girls – ages 10, 11, or 12 – not yet teenagers, biking down a steep hill at the tail-end of rush-hour.

They ignored the stop sign, too.

The second biker called out the to first, “WAIT!”

But, by then, the first biker was already in the middle of the street – and I (fortunately) was stopped despite having a green light.

I waved them both through and heard the second call out to the first: “Oh my god, what  if she hadn’t stopped?”

And all I could think was:

Sometimes you get to receive the warning and sometimes you get to give it.  Either way, it’s a gift.