How to Achieve Your Goals in 2017: A Step-by-Step Guide to a VISION QUEST

I had the good fortune to take a walk recently with my friend Abbie Schiller, CEO and co-Founder of The Mother Company. We walked along the beach path, the vast ocean our soundtrack.

We talked about what sparked her to create The Mother Company — her passionate desire for quality children’s entertainment that would support parents’ efforts to raise kind, well-adjusted kids. She and a partner envisioned it, planned it, worked hard, and created it.

Then we talked about the how. She told me about her “Vision Quest” practice, a way of dreaming and planning that she credits for helping get control of her life. The idea: Plan a mini-retreat with a trusted friend, bring a paper and pen, dream of what you would like to achieve, and write down concrete deadlines and goals for how you’re going to do it. She wrote about her 2016 process here, with helpful step-by-step instructions. This past year her goals ranged from making new friends to winning an Emmy for The Mother Company’s “Ruby’s Studio” TV show. Guess what? Both accomplished.

The close of one year and birth of new one is the perfect time to try a Vision Quest. I have resolved to set aside time for it after the kids go back to school. I’m already mulling possible goals — complete my second novel, or perhaps even sell it? Travel more? Connect with friends more often, in person or on the telephone, instead of texting or not at all?

I’m so grateful that Abbie and I had that walk, and I’m very happy to share Abbie’s Vision Quest article with you. My new year’s wish for you: May you make all your dreams come true. 

IMG_2608

 

 

Savor Every Sweetness; It’s About to Get Nasty

Waiting in line yesterday at a coffee joint in my small-town Los Angeles suburban village,  I scanned newspaper headlines, and was drawn to the most catastrophic: the likely nomination of the Exxon Mobil CEO — a man with as much diplomatic experience as I (then again, maybe he didn’t spend a semester in Spain) —  as America’s Secretary of State. I wanted to shout FORGIVE US THOMAS JEFFERSON! Instead I emitted a muted groan, shook my head, and looked up to see a friend and her little girl at a table in the corner. My friend was reading the same newspaper. I walked over to them, touched her shoulder, and she looked up, aghast. We cupped our hands to our foreheads. Can this be for real?

Seeking solace, we turned to her daughter, a pre-schooler carefully sipping spoonfuls of oatmeal drowned in whole milk. We let our talk turn to baking gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies, and adopting puppies, and wondering when she’ll get a dog. We talked of things that might suck the poison out of our blood; emergency triage for the soul.

We are just two of the the millions of Americans horrified by each new designated Cabinet nominee and the damage they will do to our country — to our natural resources, to our economy, to our rights — and who are pulled by a primal desire to look away. To bury and busy ourselves in cookies and sweet singing and this little girl enjoying her oatmeal in her rainbow-striped sweater, yellow floral dress, and red and white striped tights. Maybe here in this village, in this coffee shop, in this protected affluence, we who don’t depend on the minimum wage, who can buy water flown in from Fiji if the tap turns bad, who might avoid the initial arrows of hate, have the luxury to look away.

But we can’t. I’m sorry, folks, we can’t look away forever. The world is counting on us.

So let’s get R&R, let’s bake cookies and build gingerbread houses and celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, but let’s remember they are not for hiding in, but for restoring us for the fight.

My friend asked as we parted, “Is your sign still up?” I smiled and said, “Yes. It is bathed and sparkling in holiday lights.” It is adorned for the duration.

sign-with-lights-2

(In case you missed it, my lawn sign got the attention of a neighbor who opined in the local weekly paper that it was “silly” of me to keep it up. Thing was, I had just taken it down. After reading the paper, I had no choice but to restore it, lest anyone think I’d been cowed by the unsigned comment. Here it stands. I still think it’s pretty.)

A New Message to the Little Girl in Nevada

I keep thinking about the little girl from Nevada who listened to her grandfather challenge me to explain why I supported Hillary Clinton, and then bet me that Donald Trump was going to win. The day before the election I wrote a message to her that was filled with optimism and exuberance about the impending election of our first female President of the United States. I owe her another message, so here it is:

  • America is ready for a woman President.

It didn’t happen this time, but it wasn’t because America wasn’t ready for a woman. Hillary Clinton earned more than 62 million votes (and counting) from men and women, more than any other candidate except President Obama, and about a million more votes than Donald Trump. (Those voters weren’t spread out in enough different states to give her the presidency, but let’s not delve into that now). What I want you to remember is that Americans are ready to vote for a woman President.

And guess what – your state, Nevada, voted for her! (Take that, Grandpa.)

  • Many smart, hard-working woman were elected to important positions.

Your state elected Catherine Cortez Masto, to the United States Senate, defeating a Congressman who had voted to defund Planned Parenthood nine times, cutting off access for low-income women to health care.

My state, California, chose between two accomplished, smart, hard-working women to be our U.S. Senator. Kamala Harris will join many other tenacious, brilliant advocates in the Senate, including Elizabeth Warren, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tammy Duckworth, to work for our country. So keep your head up. Which leads me to the next point.

  • Seek out people who build you up.

You will come across jerks in your life, people who think they’re better than you, who want to keep you down. (Remember, I met your grandfather.) Sometimes those people will have power; they may be bosses or teachers. But don’t let them get you down. Remember that they see the world through their own experiences. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, or let them define you.

Seek out people who see the world, and you, as full of possibility. We want and need to hear what you have to say.

  • The future is bright. And it needs YOU.

This is my most important message for you, young one, and all American girls and boys. We need you. So study hard in school. Strive. Do art. Sing and dance. Write. Express yourself. Learn a second and a third language. Leave home. See our country. See the world. Read books — novels and non-fiction. Challenge your assumptions. Talk to people who disagree with you. Develop empathy and curiosity. Strike out and make a difference. Be confident that you will make a mark.

We are ready for you to become your whole self, and to step into the world with confidence. This is my message to you this week: Kick ass, young one. Kick ass. 

Amidst the crushing disappointment, there was this ray of light: Natalie ran for Student Body President, and won.

To my best friends’ children, my nieces (and my own kids), this is for you.

I cherish your moms. I treasure their intellect, humor, and their camaraderie. They challenge me, teach me, inspire me, and lift me up when I’m down. Together we navigate motherhood and womanhood in the 21st Century.

To my law school friends’ children in particular, you may know that during the Presidential debates, and again last night, our group texts were flowing. Yes, we stay connected through the same devices we are always bugging you to turn off.

Ours was the first class at Berkeley Law with a majority of women, and at our graduation, four years into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as First Lady – the first FLOTUS who was a lawyer and activist in her own right, and the highest ranking female role model we had – we considered giving our middle names as “Rodham” to be read aloud in succession by the Dean (a woman, who wrote the book on Sex Discrimination) as we crossed the graduation stage. It was a silly/serious idea to honor someone we admired. But we chose instead to take our first professional steps under our own names.

We used to rely on each other to study for finals or blow off steam. We still rely on each other for guidance, including how to parent you. It’s no surprise that the values we have striven to raise you with are the same values that were the heart of Hillary’s campaign: to reach for your dreams; to respect all people; to work hard and be conscientious; and most importantly, to be big-hearted, welcoming and kind. You kids paid attention to this election in your own ways – watching the debates, debating the issues with others, volunteering. We are proud of you for all of your accomplishments, and for becoming your authentic and unique selves.

There were tears last night — moms, sons and daughters alike. This morning we are mourning. But I want you to know that there will be light again.

This morning Hillary Clinton acknowledged that it hurts to lose this election, but she reminded us that fighting for what’s right is always worth it. She told “all the little girls to never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue and deserve your own dreams.” That message is just as important for you boys to understand: Never forget that you have equal partners in this job of repairing the world. You cannot do it alone, nor do we expect you to. One more thing, don’t let any bully anywhere – including that bully called self-doubt – tell you you’re not good enough. Do not believe for a second that your brain, your ideas, your hands aren’t as powerful as anyone else’s. What has always been true about bullies remains true; they speak from their own wounds, and must be stood up to, especially by caring bystanders.

Amidst the crushing disappointment this morning, there were rays of sunshine. Natalie ran for Student Body President, and won.

natalie

Thank you for putting yourself out there, for believing in your capability, and for giving me something to cheer this morning! Thank you also to Lilia, you fierce five-year-old, for getting right back up again with your suggestion of making protest signs to show to Donald Trump. Thank you to Sophia for making phone calls into swing states to get out the vote. You reached people. Stay engaged.

To all of you: Thank you for bringing out the best in us, your moms. For inspiring us to work hard to make the world a place we want to raise you. For picking up the baton of progressive activism and running with it. Do not lose heart. Yes, this is a tough day. But know there are more than 52 million Americans who share your disappointment, and your hopes. You are good, kind, smart people, raised by good, kind, smart parents, and I have faith in you. You rock.

With love,

Laura

P.S. Thanks for letting me borrow your moms for an evening or weekend every now and then. It’s REALLY important.

What Hillary Clinton’s Election Will Mean to Girls, and My 8-Year-Old Self.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in the Guardian this weekend that when she was a girl of eleven, she asked her father if a woman could be President, and he answered her with an unequivocal No. Something to do, he said, with menstruation, aversion to power, and a natural attraction to motherhood. It became for her part of the litany of things she could not do because she was a girl.

“The slap-downs were often unexpected. Play drums in the band? No. Sign up for the science team? Go camping with the guys? Go jogging in shorts and a tank top without fear of being assaulted? Experiment boldly, have a career, command a moral authority of my own? Walk home safely after dark? No, no, no.”

My parents, on the other hand, encouraged me to dream big. They said, “Yes, you can be President! Girls can be anything they want to be!” But their wishful thinking could not overpower the blatant messages I got from observing reality. Despite their fairy tale answer, there remained the persistent facts: No woman had ever been President. No woman had even been a serious candidate for President. Their encouragement was akin to them saying, “Of course you can go to Mars!” It was fantasy, in the realm of remote possibility in a far off someday. It was, “Never say never, but don’t bank on it.”

Only I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that society’s silent messages had overshadowed my parents’ answer until I was 15, and Geraldine Ferraro’s nomination as Vice President shook my foundation. A cloud lifted and an idea rang in my brain, “Oh, I guess they were right, I guess that is not foreclosed.”

Only when I saw a flesh and blood woman speaking from behind the podium, on the debate stage with George Herbert Walker Bush, answering questions of substance like any other candidate, did I sense my own personal glass ceiling break a little. Only then did I believe that maybe a trip to Pennsylvania Avenue wasn’t as far fetched as a trip to Mars. Only then did I realize that I had never believed my parents.

The disappointment of Mondale/Ferraro’s loss reverted back to “the way it is.” That didn’t shift again until Bill Clinton began making Cabinet appointments. Here were women in roles previously filled only by men in the entire history of our country. Every photo of every President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Attorney General was another gray haired man. By 1992, I was an aspiring lawyer, and when Janet Reno, who died today, was named Attorney General, I felt the same blasting away of the old truth that important jobs were reserved for men.

“An Attorney General named Janet!” I celebrated. A friend asked me, “What does it matter?” He meant that all government officials were the same, that it didn’t affect our lives day-to-day. All I could tell him was that it mattered to me, to my personal sense of worth and possibility.

Yesterday I was in Las Vegas, canvassing neighborhoods to encourage voter turnout, handing out a paper that included the local polling place. At one of the last houses on my list, I met an older man and his granddaughter. She scooted outside and sat on a jumble of red rock gravel, while he demanded in a raspy voice that I tell him one reason I liked Hillary Clinton. (Before I could answer, he railed against Bill Clinton and some business dealing in Arkansas.) When he finished, I said, “ You asked for my reason: Hillary Clinton wants to help us get more good jobs, health care, and education, and that she cares about families like yours and mine.” Then, mindful of the little girl listening to this dialogue, I added, “When I was a little girl, I didn’t believe I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. If Hillary is our President, all the little girls in America will know that they can.”

With that, I thanked him for his time, and turned back toward the sidewalk.

Wait!” the girl stopped me. “Can I give one of those papers to my mom? She votes!” My heart lifted as I handed her the paper with the address of her polling place, and I spoke to her as though I was speaking to my own 8-year-old self, “Yes, you make sure your mom votes on Tuesday.” She took the paper and hurried inside.

I like to imagine that little girl walking into the house with the voting paper, waiting for her mom to come home from work and handing it to her, urging her to vote. I like to imagine the conversation they might have about it. I like to imagine that my words might have taken hold inside her head, that she will believe, “Yes, young one, you can be and do anything.” I will be thinking of her tomorrow, and hoping she gets the message she deserves.


Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

The only step we need to take tomorrow is vote. If you have to be late to a meeting, or school drop-off or pick-up, be late. It’s not much of a sacrifice compared with those who came before us.

A mysterious shipment, a hero, and a good deed.

A man named John Boettner recently received a box containing 36 copies of my novel, SHELTER US. Trouble is he hadn’t ordered them. He contacted Amazon, that renowned lover of books and humanity, and was told “just destroy them.”

An author himself, he couldn’t toss them like garbage. Instead, he took the time to find my website and contact me to see if I wanted to claim them.

I’m writing to publicly say, THANK YOU, JOHN BOETTNER.

Turns out Mr. Boettner isn’t only an author and book hero. He’s also a teacher hero, and a founder of Teen Press. Watch this short trailer about how he inspires kids, and you will hear advice from Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. (Seriously, watch it. You know you crave good news.)

His book, HEY MOM, CAN I RIDE MY BIKE ACROSS AMERICA? is described as:

Dead Poets Society meets Stand By Me, as five real 12- and 13-year-olds ride their bicycles 5,000 miles across America. They want to see if their country is as wonderful as their teacher says it is.” (You can get it at Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and public Libraries. And yes, it is of course available on the A-word site, too.)

Many of you know that I’m happiest on my bike, that I prefer kayaks to motor boats, acoustic guitar to electric. I’m an analog person in a world moving at warp speed, where Amazon will have your box delivered in an hour…even if it’s occasionally to someone else’s door. So it is wonderfully fitting that this teacher hero and bicycle guru was the unintended recipient of my books. The universe sometimes works in mysterious ways.

I have yet to solve the mystery of how Mr. Boettner received the box of books, or for whom it was intended. If no one claims it, I may ask him for one more favor if he’s willing — to offer them to his students, local non-profits, shelters, and libraries. I have great appreciation for the generosity you have already shown. And in that spirit of gratitude, thanks to Amazon for leading me to the work of this teacher/author/all-around good guy.

Writer’s Life: Cristina Alger

cristinaalger

Cristina Alger’s Twitter bio sums her up as “Reader, Writer, Mom” and author of two novels. Her second novel, THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN, is now available in paperback. Author Sarah Pekkanen calls it “A funny, bittersweet, and ultimately uplifting look at parenthood through the eyes of a single father. You won’t just root for these characters—you’ll fall in love with them.” I’m so pleased to have found Cristina and her work, and to introduce her to you today. Meet Cristina:

1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

How to get stuff done under less-than-ideal conditions. Parenting is like a crash course in how to multi-task on little-to-no sleep. I’ve become a lot less precious about where and when I write since I had my children.

2. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

Anywhere my children are not. My most favorite place to work is the New York Society Library (down the street from my apartment). It’s the oldest cultural institution in New York City and they have wonderful exhibits and events. I have a little band of writer friends who work there, too, which makes it feel like an office (in the best possible way).

3. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Always be kind.

4. Who inspires you?

My son. He had open heart surgery at three days old and spent the first month of his life in the NICU. He is quite literally the toughest person I’ve ever met. He’s endured so much physical discomfort in his short life, but he’s the happiest, sunniest little guy. He inspires me every day.

5. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I’ve been involved with the New York Public Library for nearly a decade. It’s an incredible organization. It’s so much more than just a place to check out books – it’s really a cultural hub and a safe space for people of all walks of life.

6. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?
This has been such an incredible year for books! Right now I’m reading CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Levitt. It’s absolutely spellbinding. Before that, I really enjoyed UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn Berry and BEHOLD THE DREAMERS by Imbolo Mbue.


Cristina Alger is a lifelong New Yorker. A graduate of Harvard College and NYU Law School, she worked as a financial analyst and a corporate attorney before becoming an author. Her first novel, The Darlings, was published in 2012. Her second novel, This Was Not the Plan, was released in 2016.  She is currently working on her third novel.

Buy the Book

Follow Cristina at: CristinaAlger.com  Facebook  Instagram  Twitter 

this-was-not-the-plan-paperback

My Son’s Advice to Keep Going

The writing deadline I gave myself seemed expansive back in January: complete the first draft of a novel by year’s end. But as we creep up on Halloween, that draft remains listless and sprawling, even though the idea, hatched years earlier, still inspires me. There’s something there, I still believe, and I’ve got 10 weeks to get myself to some sort of ending.

I put mediocre words on paper in service of a first draft deadline, knowing even as I write them that they’ll have to be jettisoned. That my own writing sometimes puts me in the mood for a nap cannot be a good sign. Where is the magic? Where is the emotional truth? The keen observation? The aha insight?

Into these doldrums comes Emmett, twelve years old, and the personal narrative he has just completed, his first writing assignment in middle school. He chose to write about the Vermont ropes course.

The fresh Vermont air smelled like what the Earth should smell like, pine cones and wild fruits. The air was also infected by the smell of multiple people sweating. I saw a tree swaying inches below the platform I was on. The area was a forest and everything was green, except for the ropes. I suddenly realized my climbing gloves were coming apart. I knew I had to finish as quickly as possible.

I reached the third net with sweat falling off me and hitting the ground far below. I struggled to keep my grip as I crossed the net. Through my tearing gloves I could see how white my knuckles were. I was wondering what was more white, my knuckles or Dracula’s face, when I heard a cheer from my brother. He had finished the holed wall. He was on the easiest of obstacles: a rope with a ring that you had to swing on. I reached the end of the third net. I didn’t think I could go any further. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit!” I hissed at myself.

He reminds me why I love writing: you can lead someone to feel something deeply. You can place someone not only in a particular space and time, give them the touch of wind and cool air on their skin, the smell of soil and trees, the blisters budding on palms, but you can also lead them to an emotional place, can make them see themselves in someone else’s experience, can recognize their common humanity. I love writing because it is a treasure hunt, searching for a nugget of what I am hiding from myself.

I shake out my body, stretch my arms and legs and get back to it. I search for treasures, trying to trust that if I don’t find them on this go ’round, I’ll be closer to them the next revision. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit” I hiss in unison with my boy.

standardropescourse

This stock photo must stand in for our real experience. Because where would YOU have put your camera???

The Only Three Words You Need

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

Reading earlier posts from this time of year, I marvel at how much has remained constant, though so much has changed. In this post from seven years ago, Christopher and I wanted to greet the new year at the ocean, while our kids refused to budge. The same was true yesterday, but now our boys are plenty old enough for us to wave goodbye without grandparents materializing at our front door to babysit, as they did years ago. In fact, so much time has passed that the rabbi’s sermon this year about ethical driving (practicing “patience, gratitude, and forgiveness” behind the wheel) arrived at the perfect moment for our 15-year-old firstborn’s ears.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

Sunset 1

Stronger Together: Four Generations Cast Their Votes With Her

I am sitting in the “Bistro” area at my grandmother’s assisted living home this morning. Picture a grand but casual hotel, a deluxe joint I have told her is like an ideal college dorm, with exercise classes, lectures, parties and movies, staffed by the type of kind, warm folks you’d want caring for your grandmother.

“Really? A college dorm?” she responds with a smile, this woman who hopped a bus to Hollywood at 18 and never attended college.

The Bistro is laid out with tables set for four, with a small kitchen offering light breakfast of fruit, toast, juice and coffee. Some residents are watching CNN. It is 9:00 a.m., and with nine hours to go before “tip-off” for tonight’s Presidential Debate, the pundits are already discussing the potential pitfalls and highlights of tonight’s clash. I am on edge. I turn away. So much rides on this.

The Bistro is awakening with activity, as men and women who have fought in wars, raised children, created industries (and ask for no credit), arrive for breakfast and tune into the debate coverage.

My grandmother sits next to me, a vision. Her auburn hair is set off perfectly by her light green jacket and pants, and her sharp wit reminds you that you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Two of her favorite friends, Addie and Arlene, join us for breakfast and conversation. Turns out the four of us have a lot in common. We talk about our children, our increasing memory loss, and our strong feelings about the election.

I pull out my laptop to show them a campaign website I had described to my grandmother last night, the one that lets Hillary Clinton volunteers reach out to voters across the country. It’s astounding how easy it is for people to get involved and to connect. I wanted to show my grandmother how far technology has come.

This is a milestone election for our country. It is also special for my family, but not only because we will have four generations voting for President for the first time. (That itself is cool, but mostly a testament to longevity). What’s truly noteworthy is that in this election, my grandmother, born before women could vote, will cast her first ever General Election Presidential ballot for a woman, while her great-granddaughter will cast her first General Election Presidential vote ever, and it will be for a woman. (And it’s not just “a woman.” It’s this indefatigable, qualified, hard-working, smart, tough, compassionate, imperfect-as-humans-are, brilliant, problem-solving, dedicated-to-service woman.)

It shouldn’t have taken so long for my grandmother to get here. But here we finally are, in a world in which my nieces and my sons, and their cousins and friends, can believe that anyone — any-qualified-one — man or woman, can and should follow their dreams, unlimited by the invisible weighty burden that “no one has ever done that before.”

Our table’s conversation turns to voter registration. One woman isn’t sure if she is registered here, or in her home state of Michigan. We do a quick Google search (after she asks me to “Google her”), and get her registered. Two ladies at an adjacent table come over to confirm they are registered;, and they are. My grandmother calls over the activities director and tells him we have to set up another voter registration day. He agrees. She gets things done.

I’ve sat here an hour longer than I expected, and if I could I would stay all day. The activities are just getting started. And with every minute, I’m feeling less anxious about our country’s future.

lilli-and-addie