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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Today's Interview: Kathleen Hirsch

The Art of Balance: A Conversation With Kathleen Hirsch
Conducted by Christine Cody

Being a human being is a multifaceted reality. Every day, life pulls us in different directions. The roles we choose -- employee, partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend -- can create conflict, tension, & stress. The demands of work, loved ones, & the homestead can be so great that we respond by compartmentalizing these stressors into neat little packages in order to cope. Sooner or later, this faulty coping mechanism catches up with us, & we find ourselves fragmented & depleted & aching for integrity.

At midlife Kathleen Hirsch made many discoveries. Among them were the pleasures of nesting, the letting go of what others think, & the rewards of creativity. In A Sabbath Life, Hirsch questions her roles – feminist, journalist, author, wife, friend – &, over the course of her intimate journal, admits that each of these roles alone may not contain all her true life’s work, but committing to oneself & achieving a dynamic equilibrium in all of these roles together does, Hirsch feels, result in an authentic life.

Could you talk a bit about how you came to write this memoir, Kathleen?

Kathleen Hirsch:
I wrote this book in part because of my own experience in searching for words of wisdom to help me with my own journey, some 7 or 8 years ago. There were, & are, lots of books on the market extolling the virtues of success, tough-mindedness in the workplace, the arts of negotiation, etc. And these are valuable but they certainly aren't the whole story. I began to realize that I needed to understand the "arts" of life that I'd lost touch with -- the arts of balance, of managing to have a deep & meaningful personal life, of being able to spend time in nature without guilt, the need to touch down into my soul place -- all of these "arts" which I now consider essential to a woman's inner health.

Also, part of the reason I wrote my book was to describe how I did it, as a
possible path for other women to follow. You do need to detach from your current life a bit, either by stepping back emotionally, or by taking some
time away. Simply quieting oneself, silencing all the agendas, yields more
insight that you can imagine. One builds, one step at a time. It's hard for
women, since we're still socialized to take care of everyone else before ourselves.

Women today are so rushed. Technological developments – from high-speed travel to all-digital personal communication services – would seem to save time, but as the speed & pace of our society increases, we all feel we have much less of it. How do we find time for these arts? For ourselves?

Part of the answer to your question is that we need to be less rushed, & the moment we begin to say "no" to second-place demands, to claims on our time that we have met simply because "they were there," we realize that the great riches of life come from simplicity, & not from overextension of our precious resources: our selves.

But so many of us women were raised as people pleasers, seeking approval & avoiding conflict. How do we begin to say “no?”

What is the best way? I will give you a personal, recent example. I suggested, in a church committee meeting, that the children of the church write prayers & letters & draw pictures to "God" & that we collect them into a small book as part of my church's 150th celebration. All at once, I was assumed to be heading up such a project, which when I thought about it seemed truly daunting, were it to be done well. Just as suddenly, I was being called & invited to attend organizational meetings to discuss what others were doing, how we could coordinate calendars, etc. I very politely said, no, I couldn't attend the meeting (or the Sunday school dinner meeting happening two nights later), & I would probably try & delegate this task to a woman who wasn't working outside the home. A long answer, but No must be no, even when it rubs our social conditioning the wrong way.

Do you practice yoga or a meditation?

I do follow what I call a daily "practice," trying to combine the best of meditation with a half hour of exercise. I rise before the rest of the house (being a morning person makes this the right choice for me; others may choose to stay up after the house is asleep), I read a bit of poetry or a spiritual text, wake everyone up, & then, with breakfast underway, either work out, or arrange my work day to begin at 8:30 & work out when everyone leaves for school/office.

How does one know when one is involved too much, when one is a “woman who does too much?”

When I wake up in the middle of the night, find myself obsessing about details left undone, when I can't see the flowers blooming along my walk because I'm so preoccupied, I feel it in my gut. My effectiveness begins to fade. I'm just not as focused, & it is hard to be sincere & grounded when you're not focused.

Women in this country fought long & hard for the right to vote, the right to fight, the right to, as you state in your book, “the same norms of success, the same terms of performance, the same operative structures, as men’s.” How do we, as women, both honor those who struggled for those rights &, at the same time, wear our identities lightly?

Now that women have proven that we can achieve the same "norms of success" as men, I think that we need to adapt & humanize them. Men's norms of success are far too monotonal & arbitrary even for most men. Any candid man will
tell you that he feels overworked & under-realized as a human being. I
think we women have a real opportunity today, not to "reject" these norms of
success, as much as to be the leadership that says, Success is a many-faceted
thing. There are times in our lives -- as young career women, as older
single women or as women who don't have children -- when a more traditional
intellectual or professional life is wonderfully invigorating & meaningful.

There are other times when it is quite necessary to delve more fully into
our spiritual lives, our creative lives, our nurturing selves (this is true
for women & for men), & we need to establish a more sophisticated &
subtle understanding of human nature in order to make these times acceptable,
even natural.

The Europeans & Asians, by & large, don't have the problem of accepting
the importance of artistic, social, spiritual pursuits as coexisting with
earning one's living. Our youth as a culture, our Protestant work ethic,
our very diversity of immigrant backgrounds, has mitigated against a common
consensus around these deep cultural matters that other cultures enjoy.

Do you have any specific suggestions for women running the rat race?

Get up early & meditate. Then, try & make little 'breaks' in the middle of the day -- several times. Take five minutes & look out the window, pull out a book of inspirational poems, carry a set of crayons & draw how you are feeling. When you feel your heart racing, breathe!!! Slow down. Don't let the corporate machine run your life. The other thing I'd strongly suggest is that you take up some kind of craft work or art work in the off hours & try to do it, quietly, silently, to music. I believe that art, quiet, music, are essential parts of wholeness. Artistic talent isn't what's needed or demanded. Simply desire to be in the moment is all...children, after all, draw all the time without worrying about "talent."

Also, find or create a community of support outside of work -- friends you can call on, a women's group that meets once a month...human sympathy that's far removed from your workplace.


Copyright © 2001 by Borders, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's Interview: Wendy Wasserstein

An American Daughter: A Chat with Wendy Wasserstein

Conducted by Christine Cody, Nonfiction Editor

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein gets it. Capturing the essential elements of contemporary women’s lives, probing, with humor & sensibility, predicaments facing educated women who came of age in the second half of the 20th century, Wasserstein keenly articulates women’s passions, friendships, attachments, & losses & returns them to us as art.

Her first play, Any Woman Can’t (1973), is a cutting farce on one the major themes of her entire oeuvre -- a woman’s attempts to succeed on the same terms as men. Wasserstein’s 1989 play, The Heidi Chronicles, won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama & the first ever Tony Award given to a female playwright. Clearly, Wasserstein knows firsthand what it feels like to smash a glass ceiling & to grapple with career ambitions & personal fulfillment.

Here, Wasserstein talks with nonfiction editor Christine Cody about her new collection of essays, Shiksa Goddess, as well as themes that concern both her life & her writing: identity, motherhood, self-esteem, & humor.

Let's start with the title essay. What was it like to find out that your denominational heritage is not Jewish but actually Episcopalian? Did this news change anything for you? Did it change anything for your mother, Lola? Does it change anything for you as a mother?

Wendy Wasserstein:
It came as a shock to me. It happened just after Madeline Albright & Tom Stoppard realized they were both Jewish. And of course my favorite headline in the New York Post is "Oy Vey Hillary is Jewish!" This was because Hillary Rodham Clinton's 4th cousin 5 times removed was married to a Jewish woman for one week. Lola, my mother, thought a lot of Jewish men marry shiksas. She thought it made my chances greater.

I will always be a Jewish mother.

I was recently rereading An American Daughter, which you produced for TV last year & which starred the incomparable Christine Lahti. Your characters are so strong. They even populate your essays in Shiksa Goddess. What is your process for writing plays? Do you begin with character, or do you begin with conflict?

I always begin with character. I find once I can get them talking, then I know where the play or the story will be going. I write from character so it begins with people talking, which is why I like writing plays. But then I cut it back to make it work. All the plays are different in structure: The Heidi Chronicles is episodic, & The Sisters Rosenweig is your basic well-made boulevard comedy, whereas Old Money,, my newest play, goes back & forth in time, more like a dance. I'm so glad you enjoyed An American Daughter. That play is one of my favorites.

Humor is an essential element in this new collection of essays, as well as in your plays. When were you first aware of your own sense of humor, of wit, of irony, & of satire? How did you develop these qualities?

I was the youngest of four children. Being funny is the way I figured
out the best way to survive. My mother Lola is innately hilarious. Once your mother serves hamburger in butter sauce to the Rabbi's children you know you're on the road to something.

If you write comedy, it has a little bit to do with having distance. Being able to look at any situation somewhat ironically, being able to pretty much find the holes in anything, lets one look at something & think -- oh, come on, this is just pretentious. It keeps one free of self-pity.

Last year, at the age of 49, you gave birth to a daughter. When I read of it in “Days of Awe: The Birth of Lucy Jane,” in The New Yorker, I was amazed at the purity & the intimacy & the bravery of your piece. You close Shiksa Goddess with this essay. How did you feel after it was first published? Did you feel vulnerable?

I think so much about pregnancy is still mythical & mysticized that I wanted to honestly tell the story of the birth of Lucy Jane. No one had prepared me for any of the possibilities both glorious & terrifying. I did feel vulnerable afterwards. I once sat next a man at a dinner party, &
he said "you're the one who doesn't believe in husbands." But I've also met & spoken to many other parents of premature children who said that story helped them. I also wanted Lucy Jane to have it when she grew up.

What do you want for your daughter that you didn’t have for yourself?

: My daughter’s life is so different than mine because I had siblings. My older sister, this corporate pioneer, took very good care of me, & my brother Bruce was always influential in my life. My mother, Lola, is a dancer. She still wears leather pants; my mother’s a Broadway classic.

I want self-esteem for Lucy, the kind of self-esteem that makes you calm. And hopefully she'll become a gerontologist & take care of us all, especially during global warming.

Has the relationship with your own mother changed since the birth of your daughter?

Yes it has. Lola loves Lucy Jane, in fact, she adores her. I see a link
between them. Some days I find it very moving, other days I think my daughter will start wearing leather pants & will start dancing. They both have great spirit. The birth of Lucy Jane has made me want to write more about my mother.

Do you feel that motherhood influences your work? Are the ideas that interest you shifting?

I began writing Old Money before I was pregnant, & I finished the first draft knowing I was pregnant. The play goes back & forth in time & into the future & it does deal with life & death.

My daughter’s beautiful. That’s the thing -- it’s not just about you, it’s about them & about your relationship with your own mother . . .I think, How long has this been going on?

Copyright © 2001 by Borders, Inc.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Today's Snap - (26) - Yellows

Friday, January 25, 2008

Today's Snap - (25) - Yellows

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today's Snap - (24) - Yellows

© 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's Snap - (23) - Yellows

© 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Today's Snap - (22) - Yellows

© 2008