Jogging through historic Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY, just now, past the grave of Samuel Wilson, aka "Uncle Sam," symbol of American patriotism, I wondered if the flag was flying at half-staff in honor of Eddie Gray of Baltimore, the latest in a tragic parade of young black men violently killed through the use of excessive force, and I thought about how growing up as a child in this city, built largely by white European immigrants, including my proud Irish grandparents -- where there were no people of color in my neighborhood and I never even spoke to a black person until I was a junior in high school -- just this past month two young men of color have announced their candidacy for the Mayor of the City of Troy and I take this as a hopeful sign that the "home of Uncle Sam," is moving forward .
Jogging down Hoosick again today to intentionally pass by and "soak in" School 18 where I will be speaking to parents Thursday night as a kick off to the school's year-long "Hopes and Dream" literacy theme year. Yesterday at 6:30 am I noticed lights on in classrooms, teachers getting ready for the day. At 6:30 am. Today I was struck by three things: the old inscription over the entrance "Education is the Security of the Nation," the antique green clock stopped at 10:07, and the huge blue alien-space-ship-looking municipal water tower looming in the distance and I got the spark to do a writing contest for the students of School 18. Pick one of those three things...the inscription, the clock, or the blue tower and write a short piece about it (fiction, non-fiction, poem, editorial, song whatever) weaving in one book/literary reference (to tie writing to reading). 1st, 2nd, 3rd place prizes, cash and bookstore gift certificates, a party for all who enter.... hopefully Principal Kilgallon will approve so I can announce tomorrow night. When I think back to the moment when I first felt like a "writer," it was after winning a poetry contest in 4th grade. I want to do contests for all the Troy schools! Feeling so good about this as a way of getting kids excited about writing. Heart spark, pass it on. :)
As I ran along 8th street, 9th street, 10th street...up to 17th and home on this beautiful fall-is-in-the-air day, I smiled savoring the memory of yesterday's lunch with friend Corrine, a retired 4th grade teacher and true kindred spirit. Corrine had recently re-read two of my books, Sunny Holiday and Dreamsleeves, and invited me for lunch at the fancy Provence restaurant in Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, to tell me what she thought of them. She had several pages of notes -- such a gift for an author always hungry to know the work matters and lives on. Comfortably nestled in a back corner booth, we took our leisure catching up, making connections, enjoying the delicious food, bringing tears to each other's eyes with open heart sharings and much, much laughter. Before I realized it, nearly 3 hours had gone by and the restaurant was empty. But I was full. Full with the joy one gets when spending time with a friend who is right in front of you, eyes to eyes, smile to smile. A friend who really sees you. Facelook friends. Spark.
Earlier this month I joined in Community 2022, a group formed about ten years ago by my amazingly wise and spark-filled friend, Fred Miller, CEO of The Kaleel Jamison Consulting, based here in Troy, NY. There are about 40 of us, ranging in age from early 20's to near 90, from throughout the US and several other countries, of various professional fields and interests, who have promised to gather one weekend every August until the year 2022 to share the unfolding journeys of our lives. We "check in" about highs and lows since last year, discuss topics of interest, and chill (there's a communal Electric Slide and a "talent/no-talent" show on Saturday night :)) This year's "world conversation" topic was "what does it mean to be local?" I thought about that as I jogged this morning, down Park Boulevard, down Middleburgh, past dreary looking School 2 (wishing there were sunflowers planted all around to welcome kids back to school), right turn onto the 8th Street bike path (which sorely needs some love -- repaving, garbage cans, perhaps bikes to borrow, a water fountain?), up through the Martin Luther King projects, down Oakwood, past the lovely pavilion and fountain, then the sprawling Frear Park golf course -- and it struck me how vastly different the quality of life is for so many people who are my neighbors. Think Global. Act Local. I will meet with the new principal of School 2 tomorrow to find out how I can be a better neighbor this year and I will find out which Troy City Council Committee handles Parks and Rec and find out when their next meeting is so I can voice my hopes for the 8th Street Bike Path which would be such a good thing for School 2 and kids at the "Kings." If I recall correctly, we taxpayers spent $50,000 on a new sprinkler system for the golf course this year. I think it's time we focused on the other side of the neighborhood. Spark.
Running up Hoosick Street I found a yellow plastic heart tied to the end of a long yellow ribbon, perhaps once attached to a bouquet of balloons or flowers, now a gift for me. I picked it up and carried it home. Next Monday I begin writing a new novel, a spin off of the 6 Willa books set on Cape Cod, MA, about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer one day. I am moving Willa in a new direction, starting with moving her here to my hometown of Troy, NY. Perhaps the yellow heart is telling me that if I keep my eyes open, keep my heart open, as I run each day, there will be a new sign for me.... something that will move the work forward. Thinking about running as a treasure hunt for "signs" takes a bit of the edge off the pain and sweat. Smile. Heart spark, pass it on.
Jogging through the grand and sprawling Oakwood Cemetery, on the National Register of Historic Places, Uncle Sam is buried here.... reading the names and Born/Died dates on the headstones, grateful to be alive on this sweet summer day I wondered.... if you knew you would die tomorrow, how would you spend today? Is there one more thing you would say? One more thing you would do? What would you want written on your grave marker? Surely something more than dates.
Jogging up Tibbits Avenue, by School 14, the RPI President's estate, nursing home, and cemetery, wishing for a really great hook for the new novel I start writing September lst.... there was a woman trudging slowly ahead of me, one hand at her waist holding up oversized pants, the other tossing a finished cigarette out onto the road.... as I passed by her and said "hi," our eyes met and I recognized her as the woman who's been pan-handling for money over by the pharmacy on Hoosick Street.....twice this summer she approached my car to ask if I "could spare a dollar" and both times I said, "No, sorry." In the brief seconds that our eyes connected just now, I saw a tsunami of pain inside her. I will say "yes" the next time. It's not about the dollar....it's about the spark of light it might offer to ease the burden she's carrying. As I reached South Lake and headed home, I got a great idea for a hook...
This morning I participated in the "Wonder Women Roundtables Breakfast" sponsored by the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce, part of their Tech Valley Series for Empowering Women, and soaked in great energy and inspiration as I listened to the stories of so many interesting women. Our final task was to write, on a bright gold piece of paper, the single best piece of advice we've ever received. I wrote: Follow Your Bliss. Just now out running up Hoosick then out past the green pastures of a city farm, I felt tremendous gratitude to God for first being able to find the work that brings me joy and for then finding a way to make a living from it. Although it can be a scary path financially at times, not knowing when the next book contract or teaching opportunity will come, I intend to keep following my bliss, writing and teaching, for as long as my one life light continues to shine.
Running thinking about the wonderful local launch events for my new writer's journal, FIREFLIES -- so great seeing many fans and friends -- we sold out at Market Block Books in Troy and The Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany...and how I will enjoy using it during school visits and also for my workshops with adult students at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy and then *spark* I thought of one particular student, Anne, who showed up at my Sunday signing and who will be taking another class from me, The Writer's Circle, starting tomorrow night at the Arts Center and then *spark* I thought of a wonderful title for the book she's working on! Just now at home, I wrote the title and some notes on a slip of paper. Can't wait to share with Anne tomorrow night. Sometimes we get firefly sparks for our own writing and sometimes for others. Either way, it's exciting and inspires me to run on and write on.... who knows what surprise will spark next. :)
Beautiful summer morning.... ran through Frear Park then up Oakwood Ave and into St. Peter's Cemetery. I chose this route today as a dear family friend, Mary Mahoney, mother-in-law of my sister Noreen Mahoney, will be laid to rest here tomorrow morning. A life-long resident of Troy, beloved mother and grandmother, one of the most gracious and generous people I've ever met, Mary was 90. After a bit of searching, I found the stone grave marker, "Mahoney," in the center of the cemetery on a grassy knoll next to a grand old tree. There were the names of Mary's husband, Justin, and daughter, Laurel, who left this world before her. "It's a beautiful spot, Mary," I said.
Birds flitting by, crickets chirping, the smell of freshly mowed grass. Tomorrow there will be heart-wrenching grief here -- children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends mourning the loss of this wonderful woman. Mary's great spark will live on in all of them. In years to come there will be sunshine on this hill, birds flitting by, crickets chirping --signs of life to remind the living to appreciate it all, every moment, and try to be a little kinder and love a little more, like Mary. Exiting the cemetery, I heard Mary's spirit saying not to cry but to "smile for Jack and Ry" -- (Mary's grandsons.; my nephews). Just like you, Mary, to always be thinking about brightening someone else's day.