How the Artistic Director of the Moth Spends Her Sundays

“We invite people from all walks of life to come tell a 10-minute story,” said Catherine Burns, the artistic director of the Moth, renowned for its storytelling series. After getting its start in a New York City living room 25 years ago, the Moth has expanded into stage and touring performances, television, educational programs, radio and podcasts. A typical storytelling event, Ms. Burns said, can feature an astronaut, a former K.G.B. prisoner and a dental hygienist. “I get to meet the wildest, most wonderful variety of people in this job.”

In April, the Moth, a nonprofit, published its fourth book, “How to Tell a Story.” Although Ms. Burns loves to spend her down time with books, she often has to fit in reading stories between listening to them. “People are eager to share about their lives,” she said. “We have a hotline where people can call and talk for three minutes to pitch their story. In a normal month 500 people can call.”

Ms. Burns, 53, lives with her husband, Joshua Polenberg, 50, a senior manager at Pfizer, their son, Harold, 12, and a parrot, Hamilton, in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

“I generally cook, but Sundays my husband makes these delicious pumpkin pancakes. I’ll make bacon and we all have brunch.”Credit…Lucia Vazquez for The New York Times

CLOSET INTROVERT I recently moved — we were those people who bought a house during the pandemic — so I’ve been re-establishing my routine or giving it a reset. I wake up on my own between 5:30 and 6:15 a.m. My husband and my son will sleep until 9. My job is very social, but I’m actually a closet introvert. I need my solitude.

CHIEF I’ll go downstairs for my first cup of coffee. My husband has some fancy kind made in the pot from the day before. I pour whatever is left over ice into a glass and drink it black. I’m not particular about my coffee; I am about my tea. I do a combination of two tea bags, Earl Grey and green tea with a cinnamon stick, which I drink from a beautiful, green mug with the word Chief on it. It’s a club for women executives in the city. Then I sit and meditate for 15 minutes.

“We play games to limit Harold’s phone and computer time,” said Ms. Burns, with her son, Harold, and husband, Joshua Polenberg. “He’s really into chess, or the board games Splendor and Azul.”Credit…Lucia Vazquez for The New York Times

DIFFERENT WORLDS I go downstairs and get The New York Times and then I go upstairs to my home office/guest room, sit on my couch and read. I love to read. It drops me into different worlds, ones I could never inhabit in real life. I’m a naturally curious person. I read one poem each morning, which centers me. I’m currently reading “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities,” by Chen Chen, and “Shine Bright,” a memoir by Danyel Smith, who has told for us before, and I’m hoping to find something that will work in her new book.

RUN AND REMEMBER I started running in 2019. I’ve lost 85 pounds. Since I moved, I’ve discovered Highland Park, which is about two miles from my house. I’ll run between five and eight miles. I cut through the Evergreens, a beautiful old cemetery. You’re not allowed to run in the cemetery, so I power-walk from one entrance to another. I’m someone who’s obsessed with the stories of the city. The women who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire are buried there. I put flowers on their graves so they know someone remembers their story.

In the Evergreens Cemetery, Ms. Burns often visits the monument for the women who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.Credit…Lucia Vazquez for The New York Times

FAMILY BRUNCH I’m back by 9. If my boys aren’t up on their own, Hamilton starts chirping and will be their weekend alarm clock. I generally cook, but Sundays my husband makes these delicious pumpkin pancakes. I’ll make bacon and we all have brunch. There’s also a place in our neighborhood called Love, Nelly, which makes homemade empanadas, that we sometimes go to.

GAMES We play games to limit Harold’s phone and computer time. He’s really into chess, or the board games Splendor and Azul. We also do puzzles, which can be soothing. We recently went from 500 pieces to 1,000. I don’t like ones with all one color, like blue. That’s my idea of hell. We just bought one that’s pictures of 1980s music; it’s nostalgic and entertains me and my husband. And another that’s of old books. It’s fun to explain what these things are to our son.

MULTIPURPOSE ROOM If I get hungry, I’ll make myself an omelet with mushrooms and spinach and maybe some precooked shrimp. It’s one of my little indulgences. Since the pandemic I’ve been recording our show, the Moth Radio Hour, out of my house. One of my Sunday projects is turning my laundry room into a recording studio because it has no windows.

TEMPORARY DIGS I’m heavily into gardening because now we have a yard and a roof deck, which was a lifelong dream. So far I have tomatoes, kale and strawberries. I’m still experimenting to see what will grow. One day maybe I’ll pass this on to whoever the next homeowner is. That’s part of the beauty of New York City. We are only in these places temporarily.

Working in her rooftop garden, “which was a lifelong dream,” Ms. Burns said. Credit…Lucia Vazquez for The New York Times

NEWSLETTER PILEUP I’ll try to catch up on some emails so I can go into the week with a clean slate. I get over 70 email newsletters a month. I’m constantly trying to get off them because it’s too much. Then I subscribe to more. I can’t help myself. It’s the curiosity. Three standouts are Maria Popova’s The Marginalian, The Pause from On Being Studios and R. Eric Thomas’s hilarious Here for It.

BURGER SUNDAY During the pandemic we established Burger Sunday Nights. Josh and Harold have them on a bun; I put mine in a salad. Then we all go into the family TV room. We’ve watched all the “Star Wars” and just started the Obi-Wan Kenobi series. And we love “American Ninja Warrior,” which is off brand for me, but it’s such inspiration, especially the women. In losing the weight I’ve really gotten in touch with my inner athlete.

A little YouTube time with Harold. Credit…Lucia Vazquez for The New York Times

MOTHER/SON Josh usually leaves us at 7:30 to play video games online with his friends, so Harold and I will watch Japanese anime, including YouTube videos, especially ones from Lily Hevesh, who goes by Hevesh5 — she makes these mind-blowing domino creations — and Mark Rober, an engineer. We love the videos where he catches people who steal packages or scammers. It’s sweet that Harold still wants to share them with me because I know that’s going to stop at some point.

BATH, DROP THE BOOK Around 8:30 Harold goes up to his room to read, I take a bath. This house had a great tub, and I got into the delicious habit of taking a 20-minute bath at night. It relaxes me. I’ll listen to a little meditation and light candles. Like everybody, I was drinking too much during the pandemic. A bath helps me not want that glass of wine. Then I put on my pajamas and get into bed with a novel. I’m currently reading “Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel. Josh will play for hours and gets into bed after me. I read until I drop the book; that’s usually around 9:30.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Catherine Burns on Instagram @thecatherineburns or on Twitter @burnzieny.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button