Thursday, March 31, 2011
In the beginning of Jeff Lipsky's latest film, Twelve Thirty, two teenagers go into an open house, and pretend to be adults shopping for their first home. I responded to a Craigslist ad that sounded promising, and it turned out to be an ad for a brownstone on my block. A brownstone about which I'd been super curious. A brownstone that costs way more than I can afford, because it's on 13th Street, right next to Prospect Park. But when the woman on the phone asked me if I could afford $1.7 million, I mumbled something about it being close to my price range. Yep, I lied. Because I wanted to see the inside of that house. There's a mide (middah) about lying. Actually, it's about Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it's true. Ummmm.
I guess part of the Mussar practice is to spend some time examining why we don't uphold the mides (middot.) Not necessarily justifying or judging, but examining. In that spirit, I'm going to go ahead and be honest and admit that I was just plain curious. I wanted to see the inside. And it was fascinating. The house has been in the same family since 1927, and I think they've been smoking cigarettes since 1928. Right now, there are three sisters, their cousin, and their uncle living there. Both their parents died recently within 9 weeks of each other. The house felt like the grief that interrupts continuity.
In fact, the house itself had been interrupted for some time. It is set up like an SRO, full of family members. One sister lives in the front room on the ground level. The cousin is squeezed into a rear room on the same floor. The uncle has a little room on the main floor, and two of the sisters each have a room on the third floor. The third floor living room was equipped with twin hospital beds, recently occupied by their parents. They all seem to live, for the most part, behind closed doors. One seems to be a hoarder. Most seem to be depressed. One seems to be holding the whole family together. I would be lying again if I didn't say that it felt like a theater set in which the house was actually the main character of the play.
And as we walked through the house, I became sad that this family has to move out, and yet it also seems like they're ready for the change. I started to wonder what's going to happen to the house itself, which is peeling and dripping and slanted and permeated with smoke. It made me sad to think of the renovations to come -- the granite counter tops and the cherry cabinets that will come in and replace the linoleum and pine. The back yard concrete slab that will be pulled up, and the plantings of native grasses that will go in. And even though all that would make it more beautiful (well, not the granite counter tops; I pretty much hate granite counter tops) I still empathize with this house, which has known just one family for the last 84 years, as it prepares itself for what comes next.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I have a love-hate relationship with acupuncture. On the love side, in the mid 90s, John Blank ran a community acupuncture clinic in my workplace -- Workers Organizing Committee -- and provided weekly acupuncture to workers and staff. We all sat together in a big room, and while we all were thoughtful and respectful, we could hear what each other was dealing with -- addiction, muscle pain, STDs, anger management. I think we grew closer because of this, and were able to deepen our community, and support each other more fully.
On the hate side, sometimes acupuncture hurts like fuck and doesn't seem to work.
On the love side, sometimes acupuncture works great.
On the good story side, once I was in the middle of an acupuncture session in Portland, OR, with a bunch of needles in my back, and the acupuncturist was in the other room, the way they tend to be while they leave you to let the chi flow, and an earthquake hit. Earthquakes were more common in Portland than on the East coast, so we all had a fairly practiced response. Drop to the ground. Get under a sturdy table. Stand in a doorway. So there I am, lying on my stomach, needles in my back, and the world starts to shake, and the acupuncturist crouches in the doorway, leaving me on the table. Imagining the worst, that the ceiling would fall and push the needles in, I was, shall we say, directive. "Come here now and take these #&@! needles out of my back!" She did, we both crouched in the doorway, and all was fine. This was one of those bonding experiences that endeared me to her for years to come.
Which brings me to my thoughts today. How do you react when a health care provider makes a mistake that causes no harm? Upon reflection of past and recent experience, I seem to respond positively. When I was at the Brooklyn Acupuncture Project, which is, by the way, a wonderful clinic on 3rd Ave and 13th Street, my acupuncturist (who helped me through the remaining vestiges of bronchial and sinus congestion) mistakenly left two needles in my head. I have a tendency to run my hands through my hair, and when I did this, I hit one of the needles, yelped in pain, and drew my hand away to find it was covered in blood. My acupuncturist was pretty relaxed about it. She came over, she took out the needles, she tried to stop the bleeding (which wasn't actually so easy -- I guess heads bleed profusely) and she said something about how she hadn't seen them because they're the same color and length as my hair (which is totally true.) To me, this was perfect. She had already shown me how skilled she is, and when she made a mistake, she was responsive and relaxed about it. Endeared.
Once my OB/GYN tripped and knocked the light into my crotch, and then cracked up laughing. Endeared. Once when my mom showed a gross something to her doctor, he instinctively said, "Ewww." Endeared.
What about you? How human/real/infallible do you want your health care provider to be?
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
I had a late night phone date with Kathleen to talk about our upcoming trip to Berlin (whoa, in just over 2 weeks.) For those of you who do not know, we are going to Berlin as part of Kathleen's journey to build relationships with people who were directly involved with the murder of her brother, Eddie Pimental, in 1985. He was murdered by members of the Red Army Faction, a leftist, anti-imperialist organization in Germany, when he was 20 years old. Kathleen wants to meet the people connected to his murder in friendship, and learn more about how her brother's death has affected them. She is doing this because, in her words, whenever people connect after acts of violence, we inch closer to a more peaceful world.
We went over a list of all the stuff she still needs to do before leaving and what I can do to support her (my job is to support her) and who we will be meeting with and who we still need to try to get meetings with and how to speak better German in two weeks and what kind of cultural stuff to do while there and what to do for peysakh since we'll be there on the first and second seders and whether it's OK to wear jeans or if I should bring slacks also just a lot about what she's trying to accomplish, and who might be able to help her accomplish it. For me, it's all a ginourmous learning curve. I write down every name Kathleen says, and try to remember if I've already heard that name, and if so, if I can remember who that person is. I don't actually know German, so I don't always spell the names correctly, and so when I go to look them up, I get to de-code the language and culture. I am trying not to worry about all the stuff I don't know, and to just stay steady about why Kathleen asked me to do this: I've known her for 20 years now; I've seen her through huge transitions in that time; and I believe in her.
More than anyone I know, Kathleen sets goals for herself and then sets out to accomplish them. She is diligent and patient and focused and realistic and hard working and (are there maybe a few more mides (middot) she embodies?) humble, calm, and honest. What it comes down to, is that Kathleen is not a drama queen. And to demonstrate it, last night, after we had spoken about everything we could think of, she asked me, "What will you need on this trip?" What a lovely question to ask of the person who is going there to support her! I told her I could really only think of three things. 1) enough sleep, 2) time to blog, and 3) time to train for the triathlon as much as possible. And that's when she told me that she's started running, and that she's been learning something called ChiRunning -- a running technique specifically geared to reducing and preventing injury, and to "transform injuries into wisdom." I love that! I want to transform my injuries into wisdom!
So after we got off the phone, I went to the ChiRunning website, and started to poke around. I was intrigued right away that they don't recommend lifting your knees up high when running, which is the first thing I learned from my new running coach, and which felt horrible on my messed-up knee. But most of all, I was intrigued that the technique comes from a place of gravity and core strength, and I had such a strong sense that it's going to be useful to me that I ordered the book and DVD. Who would have ever thought that when I said "yes" to Kathleen's invitation to go to Berlin that it would bring me to a new running technique? We really never know where life is going to take us.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
For anyone who came to reading this blog late, the reason I am doing this year-long Never Done project in the first place is to come to terms with my real age -- now 48, but 47 when I started -- and to discover what it really means to be ambling toward 50. Are there any limitations I need to accept? What are the opportunities? What can I push myself on? What should I be appreciating? What do I actually appreciate if I take the time to notice it? How can I come to terms with my disappointments about the past, and my fears about the future?
And so it could not have been more perfect that Young Jean Lee asked if people over 45 would watch and give feedback on a rehearsal of her new cabaret show, WE'RE GONNA DIE, which opens next week at Joe's Pub. She describes her show as an evening of heartbreak, despair, aging, sickness, and death. Exactly. What was I just saying about my disappointments about the past, and my fears about the future?
It was the first time that anyone specifically asked for my over-45 expertise, and in turn it was the first time that I felt genuinely happy to be over 45. I wasn't happy just because any old someone needed middle-aged input -- I wouldn't have felt the same if a marketing focus group wanted to know what kind of car I am most likely to buy (I have a thing for the Toyota Matrix.) It mattered to me that it was Young Jean -- whose work I respect like crazy, and who happens to be making a show about precisely what I am also dealing with. (Since her show isn't open yet, I don't want to say too much about it. But if you live in or around NYC, and if you like intelligent, insightful, emotionally vulnerable storytelling and indie rock music, you should go.)
It occurred to me early in the performance that Young Jean is a little young to be facing these intense fears of mortality. I don't think I was facing them at 37, although I was 36 when my father died, so you know what? Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that was exactly when the fear started to grip me. But regardless of my experience, what I love about Young Jean's show is the way she pinpoints a series of heart-wrenching experiences in her own life, and with them, she draws us in to her emotional reality, and shows us that she has earned her (slightly young) mid-life crisis cred.
Most people don't get to choose a theme, comb through their lives, and then craft a show that explores the ways their particular experiences tell a story to expound on the theme. But that's what artists get to do, and it's what society relies on artists to do. Young Jean's new cabaret is deceptively simple -- stories and songs about her life -- but I believe is in fact a significant addition to the body of literature that addresses heartbreak, despair, sickness, aging, and death.
I will be going on April 2, if anyone wants to join me, and we can see how much of my feedback gets integrated into the final piece.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
I hate to vacuum. It requires more patience than was doled out when the gods (I've been watching a lot of Battlestar Gallactica lately) were giving away attributes. I especially hate vacuuming carpet. Which is the only time it makes any sense to vacuum anyhow, because why even vacuum wood or linoleum when you could use the Swiffer Sweeper, which is a miracle of a floor-cleaning apparatus? Or a broom, which is pretty miraculous in its own right. I like sweeping -- it's quick and easy and effective. I hate mopping, which just seems ineffective, and I usually end up on my hands and knees scrubbing the trouble spots, which often turns into the whole floor. But most of all, I hate to vacuum.
In my household, I do the lion's share of the housework, which isn't ideal, and it isn't the goal, but it is true. I do 95% of the dusting. (I actually think I might do 100% of the dusting, but I also think that saying that is a good way to get into an fight, and since I don't mind dusting, it's not something I want to start a fight over.) I probably do 75% of the bathroom and kitchen cleaning (not including dishes, which I think get done pretty equally around here.) I am pretty good at cleaning in fits and starts -- doing a room when I need a break from writing or while my lunch is cooking. But I almost never vacuum, and until tonight I had never vacuumed the bedroom in this apartment. This bedroom with wall-to-wall carpeting. Light gray wall-to-wall carpeting that picks up every piece of fuzz, lint, and dust that comes near it.
Now, this feels dangerously close to airing dirty laundry, but it's real and I think it's worth writing about. A couple of weeks ago, Josh mentioned that he was going to clean the floors in the apartment. So I picked up all my stuff, and got it all ready for the big clean. I also took that opportunity to clean other stuff -- I did the dusting, I cleaned the bathroom, I did a big load of recycling. And by the end of the night, I noticed that he hadn't actually cleaned the floors. And the next day I again noticed that it hadn't happened. And then I noticed he had vacuumed the rugs in the living room, but hadn't done any of the other floors. And then I asked him about it and he said he was going to do it. And by then I had let my stuff pile up on the floor again, and so I picked it all up again. And then more days went by. And finally -- you know where this is going because I already told you what I did that I had never done -- finally I decided to stop waiting, and to just vacuum the bedroom.
I hated it the whole time, but I wasn't angry or upset while doing it. I think I was more resigned. But I did notice that as soon as I finished, Josh started to assiduously clean the kitchen and the bathroom -- including, finally, the floors. Maybe it was because he felt bad that I ended up doing the vacuuming, or maybe I just gave him an opportunity to notice that he had the time to clean, but either way, it seems to be helpful that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did the damned vacuuming.
Friday, March 25, 2011
And ... it's not available.
But that's a good sign, right? That it's possible to settle here, grow raspberries, love my neighborhood, have a driveway, acquire a family, have room to sew and make art and music, have room for guests, have a home office... and not be too terribly isolated from most of the other people I am close to.
Damn, why is that house not available? And why did I also find a decent rental on the same day -- not ideal, not nearly as dreamy as the house, not "it", but seriously decent -- on the same day? And what will I do about that? Take the one that's seriously decent, with the reminder in my fact that it's not dreamy, and the knowledge that dreamy actually exists? Not take it, and hold out for the dream, potentially sacrificing the seriously decent?
What mide (middah) do I need to focus on to stay hopeful and positive about this? As usual, Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Plus, I think a healthy dose of aggressive, cutthroat New Yorker would also serve me pretty well, don't you?
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I mentioned here about a month ago that I have started writing a web series. It's going well; I love the world I'm writing about. I am starting to have fun with the characters. I think it will be super meaningful once it's produced and out there in the world. But I have a problem. I don't know the business side of this particular business. How do you get someone to sponsor a web series? Where do people make their money with dramatic internet content? How do I team up with a producer, so I can focus on the writing?
I saw a Facebook status update by my favorite web series writer; the update was a link to an article urging women to mentor other women. Immediately I wanted to write to her and ask her to mentor me, but immediately after I had the thought, I second guessed myself that it might be opportunistic. So I put it in the middle of my mind to work on while I did my other work for the day, and when I finished, I took it back out to run it through the Mussar mull. (I was going to write the "Mussar mill" but I realized that was a terribly mixed metaphor, and so I decided to invent an even more mixed metaphor, mixing up "mull it over" with "mill about" and "put someone through the mill.")
And here's what I thought about. Mentoring is, by definition, being in service to the other. And my socially-relevant web series, if it would be well-produced, would also be in service to the other. Also, one of the most overlooked aspects of asking for help is that it gives someone else the opportunity to ... well, to serve the other. And so without a lot more mulling, I decided to just go for it, and ask this talented, accomplished, productive woman if she would share some of her expertise with me. I'm hopeful that she will say yes.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tshuve: I made homentashen
With the magic of antibiotics, I started feeling better, and I thought I had the energy to do a baking project. Purim had come and gone, and I hadn't yet eaten a homentash, and I adore them. Well, I adore them if they're mon (poppy) and if they're good. I love them best if they're the yeasted, bready kind my father made when I was growing up, but I knew I didn't have any yeast, so I checked to see if I had enough poppy seed to make a batch of the cookie kind, and I did. Even to make them with oat flour instead of wheat.
It started out great. I washed my hands. I made the mon filling. My mom's recipe:
Homentashen Mon Filling
1/2 c. poppy seed
1/2 c. orange juice
1 T. margarine
(I didn't have any; I used butter.)
1 T. honey
1/4 c. chopped nuts
Grated rind of 1/4 lemon
2 T. seedless raisins
1 T. sugar
1/2 tart apple, grated
2 T. jam or preserves, any fruit
Combine poppy seed, orange juice, margarine, honey, nuts, lemon rind, raisins and sugar into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture is thick.
Stir in grated apple and desired jam or preserves. Makes enough filling for 2-3 dozen.
I made the cookie dough (replacing the wheat flour with oat flour.) I was careful not to lick any spoons. But when it was time to roll out the dough, cut it into circles, fill it with mon, and pinch them into tri-cornered hats, just the thought of all that exertion sent me straight back to bed. Josh had gone out for the evening, or else I could have cajoled him into doing the next part. So I texted Mich to see if she was interested, thinking it might be a pretty tough sell. "Hi, I'm sick, but I made cookie dough and then got tired. Want to come over and finish making homentashen for me?" But you know what happened? She said yes! Not only did she say yes, but loved the idea. I guess one person's pathetic is another person's opportunity.
So Mich came over, and she rolled out the dough and cut out circles, and together we spooned the mon on and pinched them into triangles, and she told me all about the Purim party I missed, and baking cookies was a far less daunting task with a friend, and I even did all the dishes. And when they baked up, they were perfect -- truly the best I have ever made, and I'm pretty sure the best I have ever eaten. I'm not sure there's a deep lesson here -- except that by being able to both notice that I am getting better and also that I wasn't all the way healed, I got time with -- and help from -- a friend, when I would have otherwise spent the evening alone. And I got really good cookies.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Once, when Josh and I were living in Hoboken (never again, never again, never again) he gave us a present, and hired some ecologically-correct cleaners to clean our apartment. My mom had been sick for a long time, and we had been going back and forth from Jersey to Massachusetts on a weekly basis, and cleaning had fallen off the priority list. The one thing he asked the cleaners not to touch though, was the bookshelves. I had had my biggest meltdown about how much I hated living in Hoboken on the floor next to those bookshelves. Simply, I had spent hours putting the books away, and was unable to reconcile the fact that I wanted to be anywhere but there with the fact that I had just alphabetized and categorized my books, which supposedly symbolized home for me. It was not a good day.
Now, I order my books in categories, i.e., classic fiction, new fiction, non-fiction, Yiddish, French, children's, plays, books on music, books of music, zines and comics, white nationalism, and books by friends -- and then alphabetize them within those categories. Josh asked the cleaners to leave the books alone, because he didn't want them to get out of order, after I had gone through some trauma to get them in order. When I came home and discovered that someone had cleaned the house, what I really noticed was that my books had all been re-arranged, and were now organized by height -- tall to short, left to right, within shelves. Disaster. If you wanted to design a torture for me, you would have designed this torture. I was completely undone by this mishap.
And in fact, we lived in Hoboken for another 2 years, and I never re-arranged those books, and I lived every day with the frustration of not being able to find what I wanted when I wanted it. With one exception: I restored my "books by friends" shelf. I love that shelf. It contains books by, among others, Pagan Kennedy, Jesse Green, Rupert Kinnard, Julie Zickefoose, Miriam Budner, Stew Albert, Howard Waskow, Heather Woodbury, Anndee Hochman, Ed Goldberg, Andrew Boyd, and Amy Schutzer.
Amy's first novel was Undertow, published by Calyx Press. Her latest is Taking the Scarecrows Down, to be published by Finishing Line Press. (Finishing Line Press could use a better web designer; if you want to find Amy's book, just search the word Scarecrow, and you will eventually find her book, nestled in with all the others.) In between Undertow and Scarecrow, Amy has completed two novels, and is writing her fourth. Her second novel, The Color of Weather, is still unpublished, but was one of four finalists (out of 450) in last year's Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. That's a lot of writing, and not enough publishing, wouldn't you say?
And what does it take to be a wonderful, lyrical, specific, prolific writer in the face of not enough publishing? Many things, I think -- but thing is Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Amy could get up every day and say, "Screw it." She could choose to dwell on her frustration with the publishing industry. She could let self-doubt creep in. But she doesn't. Instead, she chooses to do what she loves, and what she knows best; she chooses to write, because she is a writer. And writing (and revising and submitting and revising) takes patience, and as I write about it, I realize it also takes Diligence: Always find something to do with your time. And not any old something. Something you care about. Something that's meaningful to you. Like ... writing if you are a writer. No matter how you feel. And if you are excellent at your craft, like Amy and the rest of the people on my "books by friends" shelf are, or even if you're just good at your craft like most of us, then I say, stick with patience and diligence, and keep writing.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I've been holding tickets to see a new Gershwin musical for months now. It came through as a Groupon, and the show itself was of some interest to me, but the clincher was that the show was in the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College has been a mythical place for me for about 20 years (since hearing CW's stories of her college days) and even though I have actually lived in Brooklyn now for nigh on nine years (not excluding the Exile in Jersey years) I had never actually gone there.
But when I woke up on show day, I was still sick, and I had a hard time distinguishing among my priorities. On the one hand, I needed to get better. On the other hand, I have this commitment to doing something every day I've never done, and I had gone 6 months without skipping a day. On the one hand, I didn't care very much about the musical. On the other hand, Go to Brooklyn College has been on my Never Done list since the start. On the one hand, I could have gone to Brooklyn College any old day. On the other hand, it's been in my calendar for this day for months.
I decided to go. In retrospect, the wrong decision, but that was just because the show sucked, and I ended up having to leave early anyhow because I was really too sick to be out, but I did see Brooklyn College campus and get a little fresh air.
Who knew that Brooklyn College had a quad? And ivy? And a white clock tower? This was nothing like what I pictured from CW's stories, 20 years ago. I pictured something more urban. More of a clump of nondescript buildings, retrofitted for a college. Or something more like Hunter -- with concrete exterior spaces, but no quad, lawn, brick, ivy. It's strange that I have kept some of my old images of Brooklyn in tact, despite actually living here. Which makes me wonder how much I actually look around, and what I actually see of where I live.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Saturday marked 6 months that I have been doing something every day that I have never done before -- I am half way through My Mussar Year! It would seem a good time to take a step back and reflect on what I've learned so far -- about the practice, and about myself. And yet, I am not feeling particularly reflective. Fluish, more like it. In survival mode, rather than thrival mode. Napping more than tapping (on the keyboard.) I will bring you the deeper perspective in coming days, as I get my brain back more fully.
The half-year mark was also my first day of official training for the Nautica New York City Triathlon. And a super moon. And Purim. I got to experience a little of all of these things. I was actually feeling better in the morning, and so I went to the first group training session, having already told the coach that I would go there for the coaching, and just sit out the actual running. But the fresh air felt good, and as usual when I am sick, I felt better in the morning, and so I did some of what everyone was doing. We started with a side shuffle which cracked me up because it was exactly like the "white girl shuffle" at minute 1:45 in this workout video. Aside from the fact that it was making me laugh, the group was also doing it much faster than I could, so I hung in the back and did a little bit at my pace. We proceeded to go through a bunch of warm-ups that I think when I'm healthy will be great for me. We were a motley crew -- some clearly excellent athletes, and some people who couldn't (later when we started running) run for more than a minute at a time. When we did start running, we did three sets of 5 minute "out and backs" -- which is to say that we each at our own pace, ran five minutes, turned around and came back, and then turned around and did the same thing two more times. This keeps the group pretty much together -- or no more than 5 minutes away from each other. I felt OK to run for 20 minutes, and then I walked the third out and back. My pace is slower than most other people's, but many of them, even if they started out running faster than I did, ended up walking. I think I might be the tortoise of the group.
This week's mide (middah) is still Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone, and I reflected on that on my way over to the practice, because I will need to find a deep balance between listening to the wisdom of the coaches and listening to my own body, to best train with my messed up knee and back (and occasional flu.) This came to a real testing point later in the morning, when we were at a gear clinic at Jackrabbit Sports. The coach brought us there to go over all the gear we would need, from shoes to socks to shorts to tops to sunglasses to swim goggles to nutritional gels. They covered everything, everything, everything. They brought out samples, they passed them around, they took questions.
I had a question. What about bras? And I asked it just like that -- "What about bras?" And the coach said, "What about bras?" I didn't know if you wear a bra in the water, under your top, under your wetsuit and then just keep it on while biking and running. He had just talked about the tri shorts that are engineered so that by the time you get on your bike, they are dry. So I asked, "What about bras? Do they make bras that dry out that quickly too?" And his answer was, "There's some support in the tri tops."
Some support is good for some women, but many of us need some more support. And it's hard to stay humble when pushed up against the dominant paradigm (dominant = male, in this case) so intensely. It's hard to believe that this coach would ignore my question out of malice or intentional disrespect -- more likely out of ignorance or embarrassment. But way more than half his team are women, and even though I might have been on the bouncier end of the female chest spectrum, by no means was I the only woman there who would need to know about bras. I wanted to say, "This is a gear clinic. Let's talk about all the gear." Instead, I decided to modify the mide, and I will seek wisdom from chesty triathletes.
I knocked myself out for the rest of the day, and ended up in bed, unable to go to the JFREJ/Great Small Works Purim party I had worked on, and in which I was supposed to perform. But Mich came over with her friend Tali to bring me chicken soup, and I was able to help them both out with costumes, without leaving the comfort of my down comforter.
And once everyone else was out enjoying their evenings, I snuck out of bed for 5 minutes, wrapped up in a warm coat, and walked over to the park, just in time to see the Supermoon rise through the trees. I wished I could see if from my bedroom window, as I could have from the bedroom I grew up in, but my viewing wouldn't have lasted long; I was fast asleep by 9PM.
Halfway through my Never Done Year.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I was sick all day. Headache, sore throat, aches, fever, cough, and generally exhausted. The last thing on my mind was doing something I'd never done before, because really all I wanted to do was sleep. Which I did, some. And I also worked. Mostly from bed. And I also went out for a short walk because it was SEVENTY FIVE DEGREES OUT and how could I not? But just to put one foot in front of the other tuckered me out, and I found that it was hard to take a deep breath, and so I just came back home and got back in bed.
I did obsess a little about Saturday (which is my first official Triathlon group training session -- a running clinic in Prospect Park, and then a gear clinic at Jackrabbit Sports.) The obsession was whether I would be able to run since I'm sick, and if I would look like a wuss if would go and not run, right after they had that guy talk to us about training for the triathlon while in chemo treatment. I expect I will go and not run and let my mature self deal with the fact that my sick self can't inhale right now.
But other than all that, I didn't even have the energy to watch TV today. So what did I do that I'd never done? I answered two emails from someone I used to be very, very close to. And to whom I am no longer very close. And yet the person asked me some very deep questions, and I felt I had some deep answers. Answers I haven't had the time or attention or patience to answer before today. Answers I was not sure I was going to give. Answers that I was not sure I wanted to give.
But then somehow, even though I didn't have the energy to write a job application letter today, or even to read the Sally Lockhart book that Taylor Mac lent me ... somehow I had the physical and emotional energy to answer these emails. Both emails asked my advice on how to make big life decisions. Both emails started out by saying that I was really good at making this kind of big life decisions. Both emails brought up big feelings, because the person writing was someone with whom my life used to be intertwined for what I thought was going to be forever. We were severed a long time ago -- in the Spring of 1998. Long enough ago that I do not think about it every day, but not so long ago that it doesn't still hold an important place in my narrative of destabilizing incidents. Long enough ago that I know it all turned out for the better, but not so long ago that I don't still wonder yeah, but what if it had been the way it was supposed to be? Not that I would want to go back to it. I wouldn't. But what if it had never been severed?
As I said, the emails started out by saying I was really good at making these big life decisions. Should I take a meaningful job -- all the way across the country? What about my home here? My community? How do I figure this out? And while it's true that I've jumped many times into these waters, and I've swum and I've swum and I've swum ... I'm not sure that makes me wise. Maybe just good at jumping and swimming.
And because I am good at jumping and swimming, I decided to jump in and write back to my old friend. Did I think the current friendship deserved this level of intimacy? Did I think I would rebuild the old connection? I didn't. But I thought I could help, and whenever I can, I do try to help. And so I wrote about the exact things I am trying to figure out myself right now. And I found I had opinions and insight and knowledge for someone else's life that I don't necessarily know how to apply to my own life. And somehow along the way, a dialogue started between us. More of a dialogue than there has been in 13 years. This week's mide (middah) is Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone. And so I'm wondering -- maybe there is something for me to learn right here, right in this dialogue, right in this place where I think I have nothing to learn. If there is, I don't know what it is. But if there is, I could use the help.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I was having a hard time finding a blond actress for the video I am producing, and that seemed ridiculous to me. So instead of just repeating the casting notice I had posted several places, I wrote a Facebook status update that merely said, "How hard can it be to find a blond actress in NYC?" And bingo. The referrals started pouring in. (Thank you, RIPFest, Michelle, John, and Jill!)
I ended up casting Nancy Anderson, a wonderful actress with Broadway (and lots of other) cred to play a 5-second role. But that's 5 seconds out of a 40-second video, so that's 12.5% of golden screen time. Nancy went to college with Jill, who I know because she and my mom were really close friends (Jill is younger than I am, and my mom was great at inter-generational friendships) and also because I like reading her parenting blog, Langer Loksh (long noodle, in Yiddish, which was her dad's nickname for her.) At the top of her blog, it says, "Come for the birth defects. Stay for the Disney Princesses." This is what it, and she, is about, in Jill's own words:
I started this blog to keep friends and family informed about my son Charlie, who was born with something called hemifacial microsomia. The right side of his face is sort of squished and his right ear looks like a shiitake mushroom. He has moderate to severe hearing loss in that ear. People were worried about him. He's OK.
Along the way I discovered that in some ways, my mini-me daughter, now a first grader, actually poses the bigger parenting challenge. (Drama!)
Now we have switched from man-to-man to zone defense with the arrival of new baby Oscar.
My husband Jeff has 18 first cousins. My Grandma Sophie lived to be almost 104. I won $64,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.So that's Jill who introduced me to her college friend Nancy. When a stunning and talented actress walks into the studio, ready to put on a bikini and white mink ear muffs, you don't usually think "geologist" right off the bat, but Jill and Nancy did, in fact, study geology together at Tufts. It's a weird thing to be a feminist and to write a role that intentionally minimizes and stereotypes women. And then to ask someone you've never met to play the part while a man gets to wear a button-up shirt and deliver all the speaking lines. It might be a weird thing to be a feminist and be asked to do the role, but here's the thing. I have found that the more confident and skilled someone is, the more relaxed (s)he is about doing stuff that could be perceived as reductive. And Nancy walked into the room with grace, confidence, professionalism, and collegial generosity and then she nailed the role. She gave us 10 different takes on her one non-speaking sequence. She cracked us up each time. She proved no exception to the rule that it takes a smart actress to play a dumb blond.
Now if this weren't a blog about things I'd never done, I would also glow on and on about working with Bill Franke, who got to wear a button-up shirt and deliver all the speaking lines. But I've worked with Bill before, which is why I wanted to work with him again, so as deserving as he is of all my praise, he will have to wait for it til we release the video on April 1. (Alright, not really. He was perfect. And you should go see him in The Soldier Dreams at Theatre East.)
Thursday, March 17, 2011
And got full-on, headache, shivering, uncontrolled coughing sick in the middle of it. What am I to make of that? Meanwhile, there was a guy talking with us from the stage who told us that he was in chemo, being treated for lymphoma, when the woman next to him -- also getting chemo -- invited him to join her triathlon team. He politely told her that maybe, one day, when chemo was done, when he was better -- maybe then he would consider it. And she looked at him and said, "No, now." And the following Saturday, in the middle of treatment, he joined the triathlon team and trained and completed a triathlon.
Now I know the fact that he could do that doesn't mean that my throat isn't actually burning sore, and that it's not OK to wish I were home in bed instead of in the Blood Center of New York on 67th and 3rd. I do know that sick is sick, and uncomfortable is uncomfortable, and that we all have our own paths, and that I have a video shoot to produce and it sucks that I am going to be full-on sick on the day of the shoot, and it's really going to suck if I can't control my coughing and have to leave the room because shoot day is the most fun day of all the weeks of work that come before and after. I know all that. But also, hopefully, that guy's story will help motivate me when I have to get to 8 AM running practice this coming Saturday. And I will need motivation, because it has practically been my religion that I do not run at 8 AM.
(I am writing this from the morning of that above-mentioned video shoot, so I don't have time to go into more detail now, although there are many more things to say about the kick-off. If I can, I will come back and modify this post later. In the meantime, it's cough drops and Tylenol, and off to work.)
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I am producing a video shoot this week -- it's the same one I've been writing about for which I had props built (which are now sitting on my kitchen table looking terrific.) The video will go public on April 1 -- and I'll link to it then. In the meantime, I had a very full day casting an actress who would be willing to wear a bikini and fur hat (it's a satire), and delivering an 8-foot long set piece to Flatiron by subway, and shopping for returnable costumes. That third assignment took me to the East side, to the Gap on 54th Street and 5th Avenue. As I walked out of the store, I started to notice women wearing fur hats -- and realized that of course -- it was the perfect neighborhood to scout costume ideas. Just then, a woman walked past me wearing white fur earmuffs, and it hit me that that's the aesthetic I really needed. As I walked along wondering if anyone I know owns white fur earmuffs, I passed a man with a giant sign that read:
Well, I'd never been to a sample sale. And I had certainly never bought fur. And it was right on my way. And I had an extra 15 minutes. So really, what was keeping me from going in, aside from a moral opposition to buying fur. Oh, that little thing?
So I went into the pop up store. Two old Russian men were sitting at a fold-out table near the door, inspecting bags. An African American salesman in a gorgeous suit came over to greet me. When I told him what I was looking for, he led me right to the table of fur accessories -- gloves, scarves, collars, hand bags -- and dug through the ear muffs until he found the one white pair.
Now, what did I know about the price of fur? I literally had no idea if these were going to go for $40 or $4000. So I asked. And they cost ... I wish this could be a little more interactive, to give you a chance to guess before I tell you. Maybe you're asking yourself if it makes a difference, ethically, if you buy cheap fur or expensive fur. Maybe you're thinking it's better if it's cheap, because then at least no-one is profiting so much off the killing of an animal. Maybe you're thinking it's better if it's expensive, so that it will be more out of reach for most people, and so fewer animals will be killed for fashion. Maybe you're thinking if people eat meat and wear leather, what's the difference if they wear fur? Maybe you're thinking there is no justification of any sort for buying or wearing fur. Maybe you're wondering how much a pair of white fur ear muffs cost. Well, they cost $60.
Which was within reach on our budget. But still, I decided to try to bargain with the woman -- because I wasn't putting any other money into wardrobe, and because it seemed like maybe people bargain at sample sales. What did I know? I'd never been to a sample sale? So I asked the guy if they would take $45, and he said I had to talk with the gray-haired Russian woman at the register. So I went to her, and asked her if they would take $45. I explained that they were for an independent, small-budget video shoot for immigrant rights. She remained impassive, and then said, "The cost is $60." I mentioned that it's a very small company, to which she said, "We are a small company." At this point, I realized that I was not going to get any deal from this woman, whether or not people bargain at sample sales, which I still had no idea about. But even if they do (do they?) she was much tougher than me, which she proved by standing up and leaving me at the cash register. Completely leaving me. Completely walked away and left me standing there and went somewhere else and tried coats on and didn't come back. When I asked one of the bag check men if she would return, he said, "She's busy." I pointed out that I could see her. She was trying fur coats on. What kind of a world was I in? The man asked me how much she said I could have the ear muffs for, $50? I didn't want to lie, and I also didn't think he was in a position to work the register. I said, "I offered $45. She said $60." He walked away too.
It was so strange -- had I actually offended them? Did they all hate their jobs? If I had kept at it, would I have eventually gotten my price break? Was I supposed to walk away too? Those of you who know me well know that I'm a terrible shopper even under the most predictable circumstances. This was all too much for me. I realized I didn't want to play anymore, and I had forgotten about my ethical concerns about buying fur, and I knew I wanted the muffs for the shoot. So I asked yet another woman if she could help me. With great apparent reluctance, she shlepped over to the register and rang me and my ear muffs up for $60. She treated me like I was, I don't know, forcing her to rub green food coloring into a white mink stole.
Or maybe that was me wanting to act out. Instead, when I signed the credit card slip, I wrote a note underneath my name:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I think I'm probably more surprised than you are. Because even though I wrote a couple weeks ago that I was going to start training for a triathlon, and in fact, since then I've been doing it -- swimming Mondays and Thursdays, biking Tuesdays and Fridays, and running Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sundays I rest -- even though all that, I've been waiting a couple weeks to hear back from someone at Team in Training who I could talk with about my particular injuries. In particular, I wanted to talk with them about whether they could help me modify the training so that I could really truly do an entire triathlon without getting hurt along the way.
It took a long time to get to the right person. First I went in to meet with someone who was supposed to be a physical therapist, but then it turned out he wasn't a physical therapist -- just a running coach. Not that a running coach doesn't know a hell more than I know about running, but he was in his 20s and I am in my late 40s with a busted up knee and a messed-up back, and I can't be cavalier about this thing. So I called the coordinator guy again, and asked if I could meet with the physical therapist coach he had first mentioned, and then it turned out that maybe there wasn't one, but I could talk with the head triathlon coach. That sounded good to me, and so I wrote him a letter, and then I didn't hear anything from him for over a week. When I wrote again, it turned out he had been away on vacation out of the country, and he said he'd be happy to talk with me. (I'm going into a lot of detail here; sorry if it's dull. I have a point.) Another week went by of trying to get a date to talk, and finally this past weekend, I spoke with him from the parking lot outside the Montgomery Aquatics Center in Rockville, MD. We had a dreadful connection. We got cut off -- and I am not making this up -- 15 times over the course of our conversation. But each time we got cut off, he called me back and was completely good-natured, present, and available to continue our conversation. After one time we got cut off and reunited, he said to me, "Well, you know I don't give up!"
Most of the things he said sounded reassuring to me -- Team in Training has no interest in people hurting themselves; I could do my running training in deep water or on an elliptical machine (I chose to ignore the fact that he also mentioned a StairMaster); I shouldn't increase any of my distances by 10% a week until I've had 4-6 weeks of injury-free training. I liked how he listened, and I liked how he spoke -- not because he had a mellifluous British accent, which he does, but because his approach to training triathletes for Team in Training is very consistent with my Mussar practice.
He never lost sight of the fact that most people who compete in an endurance sport event for Team in Training are doing it partly for others (they set a fundraising goal that we must meet, and most of the money we raise goes to cancer research and education, and the rest goes to our coaching, and fundraising support, and cute purple shirts) -- and also partly for ourselves (we want to get strong; we want to go through a process that will help us grieve the loss of someone we loved who died from a blood cancer; we want to accomplish something that makes us feel completely badass.)
For me, the self and other motivations are intertwined, because I spent most of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 taking care of my mother, as she lived with, and then died from, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Had there been a cure at that time, maybe she would still be here now, which would have been good for me and many others. I would imagine that most participants have similar stories and motivations.
So here's something I've never done. I'd like to ask you -- my blog readers -- if you would please go to my fundraising page, and donate whatever amount is significant for you. And then I'd like to ask you to send it other people who you think might also donate. My goal is to meet my fundraising goal before our first group practice, this coming Saturday morning. I bet nobody has ever done that before. Crazy, right? Not really. Within seconds of posting on Facebook that I had signed up to do the triathlon, Lynn and Gary Cohen had already donated. I did the math, and if each of my Facebook friends would donate $2.63, I would be fully funded. (Or, if each of my Facebook friends would donate $25, I would raise over $30,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.) How hard could it be to raise $30,000 by Saturday morning?
Fundraising is the ultimate Mussar activity. We give because it makes us feel good, effective, powerful, and connected -- and also because we know we are helping others. Please join me in my Mussar year. We can be badasses together.
Monday, March 14, 2011
After rehearsing to sing in a Yiddish choir in a Purimshpil (Purim play) which I had never done before, and then going to a beautiful memorial for Judy Socolov, z"l, I came home to either crawl into bed and sleep, or to go back out to Ariel and Logan's apartment to celebrate Pi(e) Day, with -- what else? -- tons of pie!
Honestly, as excited as I was about Pi(e) Day, I felt myself heading towards my bed, until I found out that Mich was on the same subway train as Josh and I were, and she was planning to go home, get her pie, and head to Pi(e) Day. We made a 3-way mutual vow to stay for just a little while, and we all went to Pi(e) Day together.
Savory pies, sweet pies, things that weren't pies at all but still somehow worked, like plantains on skewers, all in service of 3.14. (Like good Jews, even though we were by no means all Jews, we celebrated it the evening before: erev Pi(e) day.)
Samosa Shepherd's Pie
Turkey Shepherd's Pie
Beef and Guinness Pie
Kale and lamb phyllo pie, and my personal favorite:
Roasted cauliflower and olive pie on a gratin potato crust
And on the sweet table:
Chocolate Caramel Tart
Blood Orange Crostata
Chocolate Cream Pie
Coconut Cream Pie
Peanut butter chocolate pie
Mixed berry tart
How do you get all those pies in one room? Through community. And who loves to curate food and community? Nina Callaway. (The same one and only who brought you Pieathon last Thanksgiving.) Speaking of community, I met two people I had wanted to meet for a long time. I met Sierra, who is going to do a Team in Training Century Ride this summer (stay tuned for tomorrow's blog post) and also Jennie Livingston, the filmmaker who made the film Paris is Burning. She's working on a new film that sounds very interesting to me, and right up the alley of what I was writing about yesterday: Earth Camp One, about grief, and loss, and her hippie summer camp. I also went to a 1970's summer camp that I've long thought of making a film about -- only in my case it wouldn't be about grief and loss, but about what it meant to me that as a young child I spent the summers in an environment of intentional racial, class, and cultural integration. Keep an eye out for Jennie's Kickstarter campaign -- not yet launched, but coming soon.
So the pies were delicious and the community was wonderful. But how did I feel about showing up empty handed? A little strange and empty. If everybody shows up without pie and assumes there will be plenty for them to eat, then the whole thing breaks down. I don't like to under-contribute, and I hate to miss an opportunity to bake, but I also felt very welcomed and relaxed knowing that it was all OK -- that another time, I will host the party and provide most of the food (and that in fact, I recently did that.) So thank you, pie bakers -- for baking me a gorgeous dinner and surrounding me with lovely dinner companions. And I have just four words for Pi(e) Day 2012:
Lobster Pie. Be there.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Josh's mom can't see, and it's extremely hard for her to hear, so it's hard for her to make new friends. A new woman, Jane, moved into the apartment right next door to hers and also sits at her meal table. When Josh and I first showed up to spend the weekend with his mom, we met Jane, in the dining hall, and she seemed clear and present and invited us to join them for lunch. We hadn't arranged to eat there that day, but we decided to eat together with them the next day.
We sat down, and Josh and his mom and I started to ask Jane questions about herself, and she started asking us. Where is she from? (Central Pennsylvania) Where are we from? (Brooklyn, NY.) Does she come from a large family? (She's an only child.) Did she have a career? (Not really.) Does she have children? (No, but she has a lot of cousins.) Was she married? (Yes, actually she still is.) What's her husband's name? (She can't remember.) Where are we from? (Brooklyn, NY.) Where does her husband live? (She isn't sure.) Where are we from? (Brooklyn, NY.) And by this time, Josh and I understood that she is a lovely and gracious woman with a shattered memory and excellent coping mechanisms. She couldn't remember from literally minute to minute that she would need to talk loud and slow for Josh's mom to be able to hear her, but she was unfailingly positive: whenever she became confused, she would look around and say, "This is a lovely room we are sitting in. So elegant."
It was an extraordinarily sad lunch for me. On the one hand, I was sad for Josh's mom, that our hopes of brokering a friendship were dashed. On the other hand, I was sad for Jane, who might or may not be an only child, or have a husband, or have had a career. And yet, when it became clear to us that it stressed her out to talk about herself, we took up the mantle and told stories, and she seems to have had a lovely time, just being in the present moment, listening to us talk. Josh's mom certainly enjoyed it, and when I could keep my attention away from my sadness and my own fears of aging, so did I.
I have plaguing and intense fears of aging. Maybe it came from having had an older father (not by today's standards, but by 1960's standards; he was 44 and already bald when I was born.) Maybe it comes from being together with my grandfather when he died, when I was just 12. Maybe it was worsened by spending so much time with both my parents over the months leading up to their deaths, and also being with them as they passed on. Maybe all these things have actually helped me with my fears -- I don't actually know -- but aging frightens me.
I find myself thinking today about which middah (mide) might help me through my fears. It seems like the two best candidates would be Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief, and Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential. But is my grief wasted? And is there anything inconsequential about aging and death? And how do I peel my brain away from my fear of the future or my confusions of the past, and make each hour of the present fully count?
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I woke up at 5 AM to drive to Potomac, MD to visit Josh's mom, and to look together with his sister at the Hebrew Home, because they are considering whether she needs to move to a nursing home. We got on the road by 5:30 AM, which was early enough so that we missed traffic all the way down. As we pulled off 495, and started to navigate through the long straight Potomac area roads, we pulled up alongside a man with a sign that said he was homeless, and that asked for some money.
We had a bag with apples in the car, and without really thinking about it, I rolled down the window, and asked him if he would like an apple. He walked over to us, and said that yes, he would. I handed one to him. Our hands touched. We looked into each other's eyes. He thanked me. I told him to take care, and he told me, "God bless you." Then the light turned green, and we drove on to the Hebrew Home, and he stayed on the median strip asking for help.
I've given money or food many times to people who asked, but I've never done it from the car, and I felt like I was going through some sort of drive-thru, only I was the one handing out food. Also, it's different to have a traffic signal dictate the length of a human interaction, rather than we the people. But we did have time for a human interaction. We touched; we saw; we acknowledged; we spoke. And the connection we made, though short and small, was real. As I drove away to help take care of a woman who has a loving family, I wondered if this man also is close to his family, and if there is a safety net beyond that apple.
Friday, March 11, 2011
That's my first Never Done that rhymes! (Shehekhianu.)
One day last week I got a notice of a traffic violation that was about to go to civil court, even though it was the first notice I'd seen. Apparently it happened on November 27th, on McDonald Avenue -- which when I looked up the date in my calendar, told me that it happened when Rima, Dana, Dara, and I went to Sandoony (Russian baths.) I couldn't even tell from the form what kind of violation it was -- just that it was a NOTICE OF IMPENDING DEFAULT JUDGMENT.
The form gave me all my payment options, and told me that if I had any questions, I should call 311. And I realized ... I did have a question, and I have never called 311. So I called up and spoke with a woman named Ginger. This might be the dullest blog post of my Never Done year, because to my surprise, nothing really happened. Ginger was very kind, and clear, and communicative, and she looked up the hours of the payment center on Joralemon Street, and she told me the hours, and she asked me if there was anything else she could do to assist me, and then she thanked me for calling 311, and told me to have a great day. Woohoo! Big adventure!!
But isn't that the big adventure we want when we call 311? And why was I so surprised that she was nice and communicative? Is it maybe time that I have a little more faith in this city? I'll work on that. In the meantime, I'm getting out of here and heading to Maryland for the weekend.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
So cool! Picture a giant photocopy machine, only imagine that instead of having a paper feed, you have a bed made of a sheet of metal honey comb -- about a foot below the glass plate where you place your original image. And then imagine that instead of that bar of light that moves across the plate with some sensors that somehow sense your image and translate it into information for the printer, that you have tons of vectors figuring it out so a laser can cut through something in 3D. That's what a laser cutter is like. I know I just did a laughable job of describing it, and that reminds me of a game a friend recently told me about, in which she asks her artsy, non-scientific friends to explain scientific things, and then she videotapes them. Like, how do satellites work? And how about photosynthesis? And then these people with a basic artist's working knowledge of science and technology try to explain How Stuff Works. (I have asked her for a link to these videos, but didn't ask soon enough to link to it here, but when I get it, I'll go back and link for you.)
Anyhow, Josh's mom was an amazing paper cut artist, and had a lot of her work reproduced by laser, so in the past number of years I've been around a lot of laser cut artwork. I think if I had run into a laser cutter a couple years ago, before falling in love with Tsip's artwork and then starting to notice what in the world is laser cut, it wouldn't have been such a big deal to me, but given that I have, and given that the props for the video I am producing are being laser cut, I loved getting to see the tool of the trade.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The ball games were over (for us, not for the ball teams) and we still had a full day in the Florida sun before heading to the airport. We had intentionally chosen a hotel close to Sanibel Island, because I had gone there when I was a kid, and I remembered vast, empty white beaches covered in shells. I especially remember walking down the beach with my mom, who had brought her shell identification book (she never went anywhere without an identification book) looking for whelks and olive shells. For years -- actually until we cleaned out my parents' home after they died -- the fireplace was adorned with a giant conch shell that we had found on Sanibel.
When I told my sister I was going to Sanibel for a day, she asked me if I was going to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Center. I had completely forgotten the name Ding Darling, but recalled it immediately when she said it, and I remembered that we took a canoe trip through some mangrove groves, and had seen crocodiles and alligators and ibis and roseate spoonbills. My childhood memories are all vague and impressionistic, so I got excited about the chance to return (tshuve) and re-visit these places I remembered warmly.
So Mickey and I set out in the morning -- first for the beach, then for Ding Darling. We didn't have a big agenda -- just wanted to spend the day out there before having to fly back north. It was a perfect, perfect day -- clear, sunny, and 80 degrees, and as soon as we crossed the causeway to the Island, and we could see into the Gulf of Mexico, we just sat back with deep feelings of well-being and anticipation. Only as we drove onto the island, and hit the backed-up traffic of people doing the same thing we were doing, did I notice that this wasn't the same island I had vaguely and impressionistically remembered. I mean, it was the same island. It just had changed a lot in 40 years.
I did not vaguely and impressionistically remember it packed with cars, or littered with overly cute shopping plazas, for starters. And I did not vaguely and impressionistically remember a 20-minute line to feed dollar bills into the machine to pay for parking in 2-hour time slots. And I really did not vaguely and impressionistically remember a beach as packed as any North East coast beach -- blanket to blanket, umbrella to umbrella, overhearing people's conversations about celebrities, and accidentally brushing sand onto each other, because where else was it going to go? On the contrary, what I did remember was an empty beach, just me and my mom, walking for what felt like miles (but maybe an 8-year-old mile is an adult 1/4 mile) and only occasionally even seeing another person.
But I told myself, "Hey, I've changed in 40 years, and so I guess can an island." We put down towels in the middle of the crowd, and I went for a walk down the beach, looking for shells. I walked, and I didn't find anything that felt particularly special, and I started to feel a little off -- just a bit of malaise -- and started to wonder how I could feel a sense of malaise in the midst of such a beautiful place, and I realized that I wasn't really looking for shells. I was looking for a reconnection to my mom that I wasn't going to find there on a crowded beach, already picked over by shell pickers who had been there for hours before we even arrived. So I walked back to Mickey, and invited him in the water where we floated and floated and talked and floated until I felt like a prune, but a calm prune.
From there we went 1/2 mile down the road to Ding Darling, where we hoped to take a bicycle tour, but it turned out that we didn't have enough time. The retirees who volunteer there -- slightly more middle class versions of the baseball retirees -- recommended that we watch a film that would prepare us to take our own little car and walking tour. So we went into an auditorium and watched an extremely earnest video all about Ding Darling and FDR and the beginnings of the conservation movement and the creation of the Federal Duck Stamp Program (with a strong sales pitch to buy one) and, eventually, just a little bit about how to take a tour of the wildlife reserve. They even used that Margaret Mead quote that everyone uses whenever they need an inspiration quote -- Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Maybe it's my arrogance from working in video production, maybe it's because the volunteers knew that Mickey and I only had 1 1/2 hours in the refuge, and they effectively ate up 1/3 of our time, but by the time they got to that quote, I was biting my hand to keep from laughing aloud, and the little kid in front of us was turning around to see what was so funny.
And maybe it was the serious look in that 8-year-old's face, or maybe it was that I felt a true connection to the land and wildlife conservation movement that my father dedicated so many years of his life to, but I walked out of the auditorium, and into the book store, and for the first time ever, I bought a Duck Stamp. It felt great to support an FDR project, and to pretend we live in a climate where radical right wingers are out there trying to shut down programs like this, and to pretend I was voting with my $15, and to pretend ... oh wait, I don't have to pretend. We do live in that environment. My $15 actually does give vital support to an endangered program. Wow. Take that, Tea Party.
So we took the Duck Stamp, and we showed it to the woman at the gate of the Wildlife Drive, and she waved us in, and we drove along at 15 miles per hour, spotting egrets and eagles and ibises and herons, and then we parked got out and walked for about 45 minutes, and we spotted some salamanders and more egrets and ibises and herons and cormorants, and then a woodpecker, and then, finally a pair of mallard ducks, floating down an estuary under a canopy of mangrove trees, blissfully unaware that I was hoping for something more exotic, but still, ducks.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
First, might I just say that swimming 1K first thing in the morning in an empty 25-yard, slightly-heated outdoor pool is so much better than doing it in a crowded, overheated 20-yard Brooklyn pool. So much better. Especially when you get to go spend the rest of the day day watching the Red Sox play ball in a tiny stadium. I could get used to this.
This is one of those posts in which I know what I did that I had never done, and I even remembered to say the Shehekhianu, but I have no idea what I am going to write about -- what from today will emerge as significant. So I am setting out without a roadmap ...
We got to the stadium early, with an inkling that they might not take batting practice the same way the Mets did, and it was true. We were allowed in early, but to watch them on the field, or to stand in the crush of people next to the dugout and ask for autographs. (If you are tall enough, you can accomplish both things at the same time, but not I.) I walked right up and got Terry Francona's autograph without a hitch, so I figured it was going to be easy to get others, but I was neither counting on the crush of the crowd nor the disinterest of the players. After a long while, I came out of the fray, with two autographs (the second from Adrian Gonzales) and a solid bruise on my hip, for the effort. I realized that essentially I missed seeing the Red Sox warm up so that I could take my chances getting some autographs, because I had never asked for autographs before, and I has wanted to know what that experience was like. Essentially what it feels like is that you're too busy documenting the event to experience it, or as Hallmark says, you're "Making Memories." I can say with confidence that autograph seeking is one Never Done activity I won't be taking up as a regular part of my life.
Later, when the game was about to start, a young woman sang the national anthem and colossally messed up the words -- not once, not twice, but she went down the slippery slide of mess up, and couldn't recover. In an instant, the crowd figured out to sing with her -- it happened spontaneously, us all starting at the same time, after the same mess-up, and together we held the young woman up as she completed the song. I don't know if this was primarily an act of support or of patriotism, but it touched a tender spot in me and made me weep. (In the moment I thought it was support; it's only in retrospect that I realized it could be patriotism.) But there was one guy -- and he happened to be three seats away from us -- who heckled the singer instead of singing along. I felt like someone had shot an arrow through my heart -- I was incredulous that someone would be so mean-spirited. I turned to Mickey, with tears in my eyes, and he said a most wonderful thing. He said, "You can only hear him because he is the only one. I prefer a world in which the assholes stand out."
And with that, I stopped paying attention to the asshole (Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief) and I sat back, surrounded by thousands of other people with New England accents, and took in a Red Sox game on a perfect Florida day.
Monday, March 7, 2011
I have wanted to go to Spring Training for years. Everybody else went. My uncle, aunt, and cousin. My therapist. My nerdy baseball friends. But somehow it fell into a category of things that were out of my realm - something (and there are many such things) that felt like the domain of other people, but would be too impenetrable for me to sort out. I can't explain this rationally, but I can tell you that there are many such things, and they are random and unpredictable. It's more that I don't know how things work than I can't do them. When I was young, why didn't I know there was a party? Or that everyone was wearing red that day? More significantly, when it came time to choose colleges, I had next to know guidance counseling and surprisingly little guidance from my parents. I chose a school an hour from the school my sister chose. And when I got there, was confused about advanced placement credits - how did everyone have them when I literally had never even heard of them?
So it's less about limited opportunity and more about limited access to information that then translates into limited vision. When I first made my Never Done list, I filled it with things that felt reachable, if difficult. Then slowly I started to add the things that felt felt unreachable. I waver most on these. I wanted to go to Sundance. January went by and I did not go. I want to write, produce, and direct a short film - but I haven't gone past the writing. I wanted to go to Spring Training but the only person I could think of who I would like to go with, and who would like to go with me was not available. So I started to waver. I called my cousins. They urged me to go. I considered going alone, but wavered more. I made lists of games I would Ike to see and checked if I could clear my schedule for three days. I was on the verge of letting it pass by, when I ran into Mickey at Zach's thesis performance, and blurted out something like, "You! You! Would you like to go to Spring Training with me?"
Mickey looked me in the eyes and said yes.
At that point we had had maybe three conversations together, total. We had never intentionally done anything together. And I knew we were going to Florida together.
That night I sent him all my research. He looked it over and chose his best dates. (Mickey is a Mets fan, and for those of you who do not know, I am a Red Sox fan, so we were looking for a lineup of games that would allow us to see both teams, and both teams' training facilities.) We settled on a Mets-Red Sox game, and then a four hour drive across Florida for a Red Sox-Orioles game.
I started reading websites about places to stay, but ultimately it was Mickey who did the bulk of that research. And before I knew it, we were booking flights and hotels, and the buddy trip was in motion.
It occurs to me now that maybe the trick with things that feel impenetrable is to get help, do them with other people, and break down the isolation that says we are supposed to figure these things out on our own. You still need to know who and what to ask, and that still trips me up sometimes, but even just thinking in that direction helps bust out of the isolation.
Suffice it to say we made it to Florida, and we made it to Digital Domain park where the Mets play, and we asked for direction from a series of sweet, retired white guys in orange Mets shirts until we found the entrance to the practice fields. And then there we were - on the fields while strapping men took batting practice. Mickey knew who most of them were, and I only recognized a couple, but what I did recognize was the connection between Little League and high school and college ball and the major leagues. It's the same guys, the same skills, the same exercises, the same everything. Only the money's different, and not even for most of the guys we saw. (These are guys who got invited to Spring Training but are most likely slated for the minors.) It's hard to describe, but it felt comfortable. A field like so many fields I have played on. A bunch of athletes like so many I have known. Men pursuing their American dream.
By the time the actual game started, Spring Training had been so thoroughly domesticated for me that I felt like I'd been 100 times. As it turned out, the game itself - while super fun - was a anticlimactic for me; the Red Sox left most of their star players near Fort Myers, and played a bunch of guys I'd never heard of. It was a close game, and the Mets won 6-5. But most of all, I was sitting with a friend in a ballpark, wearing shorts and counting strikes, joking with the guys in front of us and laughing at the guy on the cellphone behind us, and feeling very much at home.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Never Done: I went to Brooklyn Banya
You might remember that I wanted to do a polar bear plunge on the Near Year, and then again on my birthday, as a way to wash away the old year and shock myself into the new year. I couldn't find anyone to go with me on the other occasions, but learned that Mickey and Nina are veteran plungers, and had gone in the water at Coney Island at New Years. Nina wrote me a whole check list in case I made it one day without them.
Bring a towel to stand on. The sand can be really cold.
Warm clothes to wrap up in after.
A nip of whiskey to build up courage.
Maybe a hot drink for after.
Don't go alone or with one other person who is also plunging.
We usually end up at a diner after because after the cold there is usually a hunger.
A month went by, and Nina and Mickey and Mich (and some other friends) and I all bought Groupons to Brooklyn Banya (Russian baths) in Kensington. We set the date for March 5, and went on with our winters. March felt very far away. And then suddenly it was upon us. I had the idea that it could be perfect to do the polar bear plunge on the same day as the Banya. Normally it would be more common to get hot in the shvitz and then plunge into the icy water, but we planned the opposite. We would drive to Coney Island, where Mickey and I would take the plunge, and then we would spend all day sweating in steam rooms and saunas. And then, I feel I should tell you, because you're going to find out soon enough, Mickey and I would go to the airport and fly to Florida to go to Spring Training for the first time.
So I woke up and packed three bags - one for the beach, one for the baths, and one for the trip. I went to the gym to run and had the luck to find Rimma, just about to run as well. So we ran a mile together, gabbing the whole time, and when she peeled off after a mile, I stuck with it and ran another mile and a half, for a total of 2.5 miles in 30 minutes.
I went home, feeling great, and had some lunch before Nina and Mickey came by, and then we drove to the beach. I was afraid I was going to chicken out. I was afraid it would just be too cold for me, and I would freeze, so to speak. But the whole way there, I thought about Anders Bohlin, a dear friend from Sweden who recently passed away, who used to say about getting into frigid Nordic waters, "I have only to make my strong mind overcome my weak body." (It might go without saying that Anders' weak body was Herculean by most people's standards.) When we got out of the car near the beach, the wind whipped at us, and I started to voice my fears that I would wimp out. But Nina -- wise Nina -- reminded me that this was about washing away the challenges of the past year, and starting fresh. When I told her I had been thinking about that the night before, and was having a hard time making it relevant because it was neither the Jewish nor the secular New Year, nor was it my birthday, she said, "A new year starts every day." and in that moment I knew I would go through with it.
So we walked to the ocean's edge, and I set out everything I would want afterwards - my towel, my hat, my thermos, and my stroke of brilliance: the felted slippers Carol made me. And then we peeled off our clothes, and ran in. I got up to my thighs, and stopped running -- it wasn't going to get much deeper unless We would go in much further. I was going to have to dunk right there. My lungs gripped, and my heart slowed, and I told Mickey I had to do it or I never would, and he looked eerily calm and said OK. So I did it. I dunked under. I didn't get my head, so I dunked again til my hair was wet. I looked and saw that Mickey was in, and I stood up and ran out of there.
I felt exhilarated and cold and in that moment I knew that I had truly let go of something and was making a clean start. And then I realized how cold my feet were, because the water shoes had trapped cold water. As soon as I peeled them off and slipped on my felted slippers though, I was fine. I put all my warm clothes on, and we walked back to the car (amazingly, Mickey stayed in his wet clothes,) and off we drove to the shvitz.
The Russian baths in Brooklyn are better than the Russian baths in Manhattan. There, I said it. You get to spend all day wandering in and out of hot steam, dry sauna, wet sauna, hot tub, and cold plunge -- and all the while you can eat smoked fish, or liver kebabs, or borsht, or pickled vegetables, and drink hot tea, or beer, or kompot (homemade fruit punch) on plastic tables right in the bathing area. It's unbelievably relaxing and friendly - and also wonderfully Russian, and inter-culturally welcoming. And on a day when I left the old year behind by shocking my system closed, it seemed perfect to warm it back open, sweat out the remains of the past, soak and steam and eat and talk with Nina, Mickey, and Mich -- and emerge, shiny, depleted, and renewed, into the new year.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
I have these friends, and they go to Friends. And I have this other friend, and she teaches at Friends. And for years now, I thought they all spent their time on Prospect Park West, where it turns out Poly Prep is. It's not that big a deal, except that it really messes with my perception of the past. Like when my dad found out that his ex wife had been dead for years, and no one had told him, and he felt like it was incredibly strange that he couldn't sense that. This mix up with the school was like that, only nowhere near as intense.
Why did I go to Brooklyn Friends? To see Erez get his head shaved for St. Baldrick's Foundation, to raise money to find cures for childhood cancer. Or, in other words, Going Bald for St. Baldrick's. I had a meeting in midtown, and then hopped the train to get there, knowing I might be a little late. I got to the lobby, and while waiting for the elevator, ran into a couple of teachers who asked me who asked me if I was also going up to the gym where this was happening. I said I was, and they asked me if I had a kid there. This has always been an interesting question for me when I am going to see kids I'm close to perform or play or get their head shaved at school. I want to say yes, because it feels more honest than no, but neither is completely accurate. Is he my kid? No, I'm not his parent. Do I have a kid there? Well, yeah, I am going to see someone who I think of as mine. I guess I could initiate a conversation about the definition of the word "have." Or I could just say, as I usually do, "One of the students here is a really good friend of mine." So we got through that, and she asked me his name, and I told her. She winced, and told me he had just finished getting his head shaved, that I missed it. Then she did an impersonation of him that was so accurate that I knew she was right.
I went up anyway. Really, Jesse and Andy came down, and then Jesse went back up with me. And I got to see the clippers clipping and the buzzers buzzing. And I got to see Erez with his buzzed head. And Jesse was very complimentary about my own buzz cut. (The back did get buzzed. Too bad I didn't donate it St. Baldrick's. Some kid could have rocked my silver hair!) Now, Jesse is so good interpersonally that I don't actually know if he really likes my hair cut, or if he knows what kind of compliment would be most welcome right now, and so he manifested it with incredibly authenticity. And you know what? If you have to ask that question about a friend, then you don't have to ask that question about a friend. Because it's a blessing to have a friend who either means it or can fool you, and you should just soak it in.
Friday, March 4, 2011
It looks like something that has been hanging over my head for almost three years is about to hurdle to a wrap. We finally got the closing document for my mom's estate, and our accountant suggested that if we could do everything it would take to close it by March 31, that would be a really good thing, because otherwise it will stay open for another year. "Settle an estate" is actually on my Never Done list -- although I've been slogging the hard work of it since 2008. I can hardly imagine the sense of closure I will have when it is done, and I suspect that I will enter a new phase of mourning when it is -- because I think that in some ways, having do crunch numbers and submit documents and meet with lawyers and deal with probate court and maintain Excel spreadsheets and reconcile accounts all serves to shove emotions down. I think when I am free from the bureaucracy, I might feel some deeper grief.
So on top of my regular work deadlines, I have a bunch of stuff to do now. First thing I have to do is find $273 -- the difference between my accounting and the bank's. Now, I am not a very precise numbers person, who when I balanced the checkbook and reconciled the spreadsheet, and found that after 3 years, we had a difference of $273, I was elated and proud and declared it a success. Until I had a little email correspondent with my accountant (who is wonderful and kind and whom I've known for a very long time) in which he wrote, "That will be close enough for today's conversation." To which I replied, "You're not going to let me off the $273 hook, are you?" To which he replied, "That's what we accountants are like." And then he added a smiley face emoticon.
So I spent a bunch of time doing forensic accounting, searching old emails, and all my accounting -- my spreadsheet, the bank statements, etc for records of a $273 deposit. So far I found an email from last July where I had already noted that we were off by $273, and that the previous August, we were even Steven. So then I went through the bank statements between those months, and the only thing I found might be a total red herring. One day in April 2010, when a particular check cleared, it left a balance ending in $273.00. (I hope this isn't too boring to read.) I asked Josh, who minored in mathematics, if this meant anything mathematically -- because on the one hand, it feels completely coincidental. It seems the chances are potentially high that after three years a balance might land on $273.00. On the other hand, it occurred during my 10-month period, and it there is just something about that .00 that makes me think something is relevant here. Josh's answer was very interesting. He said he thinks it does mean something worth paying attention to in my search -- not mathematically, but spiritually.
More on that later, when hopefully I can write an entire post in which I have settled and closed the estate, but I had to dash away from my accounting to go to mid-town for a therapy appointment with my brand new therapist. I was running late because I had to get off and change F trains twice (once it was re-routed to Queens, and the next time it was also re-routed to Queens.) When I got out, I had a message on my machine that she was expecting me an hour earlier. When I called her, it became clear that we had had a true misunderstanding. I was sure we had scheduled for 5, and she was sure we had scheduled for 4. Each of us remembered the same part of the conversation that led us to our separate conclusions. I was just a few blocks away, and it wasn't yet 5, but she wasn't able to see me. I had so much to do back at work, and yet there I was on the streets of Manhattan with an hour and a half before my next meeting. I started out quite crushed, but then decided to use the time to find something I had never done. I was near Bryant Park, so I decided to go ice skating there, which I have always wanted to do. So I walked over, but skating season is over -- the rink was partially disassembled. I wandered into the Center for International Photography, but I've been there before, so I wandered back out. I ended up simply noticing an atrium I had never been in, going inside, sitting down and watching the guys play speed chess.
After everything I needed to get done, and everything I hoped to get done, it felt tiny. All I did was go into an atrium. But the truth is, I needed to stop, slow down, and feel what I needed to feel, and the truth is, an atrium is a good place to do that. There were green vines everywhere, and little tables to sit at, and it was warm but not hot, and it gave me the space I needed to deal with my disappointment and frustration before heading back out into the bustle.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Never Done: I helped make shiva for Judith Socolov, z"l
So, I woke up, reached to take my thyroid pill, spilled water into my alarm clock, and shorted it out. While I was mopping it off with a towel, I said, "Well, I never did that before," and both Josh and I cracked up laughing. And then I said the Shehekhianu.
And then I felt an incredible sense of relief. Because it was also the first time that I completed my Never Done activity the moment I woke up. Such freedom for the rest of the day! But my alarm clock was ruined. Or was it? I wrapped it in a towel and stood it on its head, to drain. I dried it with a blow dryer. I plugged it in. It didn't work. But it didn't spark and sputter and short out the outlet, so I let it stay there and went on with my day.
My day that included learning that you get what you pay for. A friend did me a huge favor and did some graphic work for free for a low-budget video I am producing, but as good as it was -- and it was -- it wasn't going to work physically for the prop builders who were going to take the designs and turn them into props. And when I called the prop builder (who I was massively underpaying -- really offering what amounts to a stipend, but he did agree to it, and he did tell me he would do the job) to check in with him, he started backpedaling all over the place. The price didn't include the stands, and he couldn't really commit to any price until he had final artwork, and he has a bunch of other work so he can't commit to a schedule ... all of which he had actually already committed to. As I tried to figure out what to do, I remembered that one of the mides (middot) is Frugality: Be careful with your money. As I thought about frugality, it occurred to me that I had underbid the job, and that I was trying to get something for next to nothing, and it was trickling down to disrespect my friend who was offering me something for nothing. So as I thought about all this, I decided to ask my other good friend who hired me if there was a way to get more money for the budget. I emailed and called him, and within -- I don't know -- an hour, he had approved the extra money. I don't know if I would have been able to call to ask for more money if I hadn't taken the time to realize it was actually my responsibility to make a good budget.
And then I went to help set up shiva (ritual Jewish mourning period) for my good friend Emily whose mom, Judith Socolov, just died. I adored Judy. I first met her when the Socolovs invited me to their family seder in 2003. She was the first person I ever met who truly reminded me of my mom -- because they shared a warmth, directness, wit, irreverence, and intelligence. My mom was living at the time, and we tried to orchestrate a meeting between Ann and Judy on one of my mom's visits, but it never happened. What I didn't know is that our mothers shared experiences of deep secrecy. Judy had been convicted of being a Soviet spy which she denied was true, but never spoke about publicly, and rarely in the home. (If you click on the link on Judith's name above, you will see her AP obituary that goes into some detail. Also, click here for the New York Times obit, which Emily says has a few factual errors.) My father had a top secret career (that I have written about elsewhere) that he never spoke about, even with my mother. By the time I met Judy, my father had recently died, so my mom was still dealing with the information that she had lived most of her marriage in an environment of secrecy. Now I wonder how much of their shared personality also came from some shared experience.
When my mom died, my close friends made shiva happen. They brought food and set everything up and stayed on top of it all evening and cleaned up and my sister and I didn't have to think about it. I was in a daze that day, but I do remember Andra taking the lead, and Ellen, Karen, Claire, Tonia, Lis, Barbara, and I actually do not know who else (but thank you!) joining her to take care of everything. When Judy died, I realized I could help in a similar way. I went over about an hour early, and joined Emily and her brothers as we cleaned the apartment, draped the mirrors, moved furniture, and set up food to get ready. As the evening went on, and I took care of the food and garbage, I realized that this is what Emily does every time she is at a party or an event; she makes herself a part of the event in a deep way -- and usually by sharing in the work. It felt good and right to be there and to be able to remove some responsibilities from her and her brothers' shoulders. It was a wonderful gathering, and Judy will be missed. May her memory be a blessing.
And, as I'm sure you already guessed would be the case, when I came home, the alarm clock was working.