REBLOG: I Come from a Long Line of Warrior Queens

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Today would have been my mom’s 92nd birthday.
This is a repost of a blog I wrote 2 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!


Mom & me, Early 1955

Mom & me, Early 1955

Today, Mom would have turned 90 years old. We lost her on July 18, 2005, after a brutal and harrowing couple of months that I covered here, here, here, and here. I am very fortunate that in her final years on this earth, I made my peace with her and she with me; her last words to me were “I love you, you’re my prize.” A person can live happily for a long time on a memory like that.

For me, winter and early summer are about my dad; he was a January baby, and we lost him (literally) in June of 2010.
Spring is always about my mother; when the snowdrops start to peek out of the cold ground, and crocuses begin to unfold, the forsythia blossoms bright yellow and the Bradford pears start their bridal march up Northern Boulevard, their white blooms wafting on the warming breezes, my mother is close by. She’s never too far– there are times when I imagine I see her face in the mirror overlaying my own– but she breaks out in the spring. It’s her birthday, Greek Easter, Mother’s Day, our first communions…spring is and always has been her season.

When I was a teenager and then a young adult, and thought I knew everything about everything, we rubbed each other the wrong way, often. As stubborn as my mother was (she was, after all, born on the cusp of Aries and Taurus), I could match her. We would yell and carry on; she’d forbid me to do one thing or another, and I would do it any way. I honed my passive-aggressive skills at her knee.
If she knew she was right, she would not cave; neither would I.
Those battles were great training for life. It wasn’t until I was older, and we made our peace with each other, that I recognized what a boon her fighting spirit was to me. When I was young, I felt thwarted by her restrictions and demands and opinions; in retrospect, I see that her fighting spirit was what made my life possible.

Here’s one story:
I decided sometime around the fifth or sixth grade that I wanted to go to the High School of Art and Design. The twin sisters of a grade school classmate had been accepted to A&D, and when I heard about it, I wanted nothing more than to go to a school where I could draw all the time. I told my folks, and I think they were hoping I would get over it, the way I got over wanting to be a nurse (when I was six) or a Maryknoll Missionary nun (when I was eight).
I didn’t get over it.
Fast forward to eighth grade, and taking the diocesan placement tests in mid-autumn (for the Catholic high schools); my choices were Mater Christi (where almost all my friends would go), The Mary Louis Academy (where my close friend Carol was trying to persuade me to go), and St. Agnes (where I REALLY did not want to go, but I needed to list three schools). I did very well on the test, and would have no problem going to the school of my choice. In January, I had the placement test and portfolio submission for the High School of Art & Design. I’d worked on my portfolio all during my Christmas vacation with Our Lady of Sorrows’ third grade-and-art teacher, Miss Mary Biedermann. She helped me matte all my artwork while listening to Leonard Cohen songs (a revelation!) and eating brie (ditto!!). It was a glimpse of what a student artist’s life might be like and I was hungry for it.

I wondered in later years if the nuns knew that Miss Biedermann had helped me; she did so outside of class and on her own time, in her own home. I travelled by myself on the subway with my art and supplies in hand; she picked me up in her car near Borough Hall on Queens Boulevard to take me to her place in Richmond Hill. I do not remember how or by whom the arrangements for all of this extracurricular activity were made. Miss Biedermann wasn’t even my teacher– my middle sister Nancy was in her third grade class– but, at some point, my parents had to be involved with the planning. I remember bringing home the day’s matted work and showing what I’d done to my mom and dad; I remember thinking they did not really understand what I was doing, but at least they were not fighting me. At that point, I don’t they thought I would get into A&D; they knew I loved to draw, but I don’t know how talented they thought I was, or –even if I was talented enough– whether this was a path from which I could be diverted. There were no artists in my family; there was no road map for them, or me, to follow. They were not sold on the idea of me being an artist…but time could change things, and anyway, maybe I wouldn’t get into A&D.

I got into Art and Design; my real life would begin that fall. All I had to do was tell Sister Mary Dorothy, the principal of Our Lady of Sorrows.
I told my teacher, Sister Regina de Lourdes, that I’d been accepted to A&D.
She, or someone, told me and told my parents that there would be a full scholarship for me to go to The Mary Louis Academy, an offer which was rarely made to anyone.
I told my parents about the scholarship, and that I didn’t want to go “Snob Hill” (what everyone called The Mary Louis Academy in those days).My mom asked me where I did want to go, and I said Art & Design. They asked me if I was sure, and I was, so that was that; there was no fighting.

I recognize now, as an adult, what an extraordinary leap of faith that was for my parents to make. Their firstborn thirteen-year-old daughter would be going to a high school that none of her classmates were attending, taking a subway into midtown every day, learning to be a professional artist.
She/I would be doing this instead of going to a Catholic high school that wanted me enough to pay the full freight, a high school that would put me on track to St. John’s, Fordham, or even an Ivy League school.Inexplicably, they let me do what I wanted to do.

It wasn’t over at OLS, though; Sister Mary Dorothy was incensed by my choice. She called my home while I was in school to speak to my mother. She yelled at my mother, carried on about how my mother was letting me ruin my life, that I wasn’t old enough to make such a choice, and on and on; she pulled every manipulative trick in the book to try to get my mother to change her mind, or better yet, change my mind for me.
My mother refused, and told Sister that it was my choice, and it was done. Sister persisted, and yelled some more.
My mother hung up on her. She fought for me, against every grain of her own doubt and fear about my choice, and she hung up the phone on the principal of my school.

I don’t know that I would have been so brave had I been in my mother’s place.
When I asked her, many years downstream, why she had let me go, she said “Because you wanted to– it meant so much to you.”
That is love, and courage, and faith, and hope, wrapped in the fighting spirit that my mom held on to until her last breath. She not only gave me life, but she gave me MY life, the life I was truly meant to have.

On this ninetieth anniversary of her birth, I say THANK YOU, Mom, for all your many gifts, but especially for that one. It was the fork in the road that made all the difference.Geranium Blossoms

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Reblog: What Is Love?

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Our First "Walk" as Husband and Wife
Our first “walk” as husband and wife, wearing our stephana (crowns)

I originally posted this three years ago. Everything I said then still goes, so I am reposting it today, on our 37th wedding anniversary.
(And I still wouldn’t trade a single day.)

Today is our 34th wedding anniversary. Later this year, we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the day we met.

We met for the first time in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art. I was there with my sketchbook, drawing the massive Gaston Lachaise bronze nude, an Amazon standing with her hands on her hips, surveying the territory (I really wish I had kept those sketchbooks). A voice behind me asked me what I was drawing; I turned and told him; we introduced ourselves; we spent the rest of the afternoon walking MOMA, showing each other our favorite paintings; he walked me down Fifth Avenue to the subway stop by the main library on 42nd Street. He asked me for my phone number, asked if he could kiss me. I said yes, we kissed, and that was it.

When I got home that afternoon, I told my mom I had met the man I was going to marry. Six years later, we did. Thirty-four years later, here we are.

See, Mom? I was right!

It all goes by so fast; one day, you’re seventeen years old, drawing in the museum, and then you turn around and you’re middle-aged, looking back at forty years with the love of your life and praying for forty more. Some days are interminable (days when you’re waiting for test results, days when a parent dies, or a job is lost, or you find out you have to move from a place you’ve called home for twenty years)… but how then do years fly by like torn-out pages on the wind? Every breath, every kiss, every quarrel, every walk in the park and movie watched and meal shared, every laugh, every tear, bridges that first moment, that “What are you drawing?” moment, with this one, right here, right now. These moments are tied together, and tie us together, like the ribbon that joined our stephana, the crowns we wore as we took our first walk as husband and wife. We have our crowns still, sewn into a linen pillowcase that I embroidered with our initials and wedding date, carefully tucked into the drawer of my maternal grandmother’s tabletop shrine. We wed at the same altar where my parents said their vows, almost twenty-five years to the day before we said ours. All these moments, and days, and years, all are joined and twined into a garland of life and love and joy and tears.

Husband&Wife

We begin.

And THAT is what love is. It’s made of air, water, flesh, earth, fire, time, effort, grace, joy, pain, grief, laughter, stubbornness, tenacity, art, music, dark chocolate, good red wine, and whatever else is important enough for you to feel compelled to share with your full heart and your open mind. It’s what we are here for.

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Happy Birthday, Dad

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Today would have been my dad’s 93rd birthday.
Here’s a bit of his story, in pictures.

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The Year of the Pithy

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So, I know you remember what my friend Peg Streep and I started working on last year. I talked about it here and here.

In case you don’t remember — We have come up with a growing collection of graphic quotes that we call “Pithies”. You know the memes you see all over the internet, that presume to give you advice or make observations, sometimes spiritual, sometimes psychological, and usually accompanied by mundane and cliched pictures? We wanted to reinvent that. We wanted to combine smart advice, grounded in neuroscience and psychology, with a spiritual bent, good writing, and thoughtful, interesting imagery. We call them “Pithies” because we are offering more substance than your average meme.

Peg does the writing, and I do the art and design. We hope you will enjoy the fruits of our labors enough to want to share them with your friends and families. VERY SOON, we’re going to be launching an online storefront with pretty and useful things featuring our Pithies.

Just to remind you what we’ve done so far, here’s a glimpse. You can see more on my Facebook fan page and Peg’s FB Author Page, as well as catching up with the other things we work on independently. You should check out Peg’s Psychology Today blog “Tech Support”, too, where she writes about relationship issues in the digital age.

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Happy New Year!

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Best wishes for a FABULOUS 2015,
from me to you!

GC-NewYears


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December 31st ~ The Finish Line

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December 30th ~ The Way of Man

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December 29th ~ Nests

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December 27th ~ It’s Not So Much What You Do…..

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….but how you do it….


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December 26th ~ Good Works

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