Sunday, July 31, 2011

I had my last Team in Training group triathlon practice

Never Done: I had my last Team in Training group triathlon practice

.... and saw the water entrance and exit and the bike entrance and exit and the transition areas and practiced running up the really big hill that starts our run (after our swim and our bike) as well as a couple more miles, after breaking one of the cardinal rules of training: don't switch shoes, but I did switch shoes, because my left foot has hurt so much, and in fact I ran both miles (we did them separately) without having to stop, in 9 minutes each, which makes me think the shoes were a good broken rule, and then after all that, I got my guts up to ask one of the coaches what he thought might help for someone (me) who is completely prepared, has gone to almost every practice, is fit (lame, but fit) and yet is dreading the race. He looked a little scared of my question, but he went for it, and he said -- well, you have come this far, and you've done it for charity, for people who need you to be there for them, and so I guess you should just go the rest of the way for those people who need you to be there for them. I found this to be on the one hand, incredibly useful -- because I do in fact know how to go into the mode of shutting down and pushing through and being there for other people, and in fact, that might be what I do next Sunday. On the other hand, I found it to be incredibly sad because I was looking for some other guidance -- something outside of my head-down plough-through bullishness -- something that could open a window to my own enjoyment, pride, and sense of accomplishment. I thanked him, and we kept talking a bit, and then he said something interesting. He told me he loves to train, but he doesn't like to race. He doesn't like the crowds (me either) or the pressure (me either) or the high levels of stress (me either.) So what he does is he finds small races -- mom and pop races -- races where he feels like he's getting to do what he likes to do without all the crowds, pressure, or stress. And for some reason this helped me. I don't think I'm likely to go find those races and continue in the sport, but it gave me a little hope that I can take the parts I like from this experience, and transform it into something meaningful and enjoyable to me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I drank (a tiny bit of) alcohol at work

Never Done: I drank alcohol at work

Just a little tiny bit, but still -- I don't think I've ever done that before. It was all very appropriate: a going away party, a toast. As you know, I'm never interested in getting tipsy, and this was a circumstance in which I was even less interested. But it was good to celebrate, and, I think, important to toast the person who is moving on to their next endeavor. I also thought of it as an early shabes -- although I had to keep working afterward -- and I liked the ways that we all loosened up with each other afterward, less from the brew and more from the time we spent with each other -- away from our cubicles and more and more into each other's lives.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I tried to compliment everyone I spoke with

Never Done: I tried to compliment everyone I spoke with

It's hard to remember! By 10 AM I had spoken with 3 people, all of them in the allergist's office, and as I was leaving I realized I had only remembered to compliment one of them, and that was in a last-minute, oh-yeah blurt, "You're great!" -- as I left the room. (BTW, I am allergic to rabbits, dust mites, ragweed, sycamore and sweet gum trees, and other assorted unspecified trees.)

But as with every practice, I told myself, it takes practice, and so I recommitted when I got on the subway, and thought about the range of people I would talk with over the day, and how it could be meaningful to compliment them: a opera singer who runs a classical music program in my performing arts series, my writing partner and the two film producers who have optioned my screenplay, all my co-workers, random people in the subway, cafe servers, my friends at the Mark Morris/ Brooklyn Philharmonic performance in the park.

I didn't want them to be empty compliments -- for example about fashion or other appearance instead of people's actual selves. I found myself thinking about the commitment I'd made -- compliment every person I speak with, and started to notice the urge to speak to fewer people. I witnessed a very interesting conversation that I otherwise might have jumped into, between a teenage girl and a probing adult male construction worker.

What do you do? I don't do anything. No, what do you do? I don't do anything. I'm young. What's your job? I'm 18. I go to school. What do you want to be? A doctor. What kind of doctor? I don't know yet. You have to start thinking about what you want. It's a long way off. You could be a adult doctor, a children's doctor, an animal doctor. Adult. What kind? I don't know. Psychiatry? Foot doctor. Eye doctor. You have to think these things through. Control your future. I want to be hands on.

This was the point at which I had something to compliment them both with. I started out thinking he was just being a pushy inappropriate jerk, but the truth is, he was pushing her to think about her future, and she was totally holding her own in the conversation. I found both to be compliment worthy, but held my tongue.

The IT guy at work was super helpful to me today. I thanked him frequently and told him that I loved that the photos of his children (on his cubicle wall) are gorgeous. He blushed. That's sort of a compliment, but also potentially in the shallow category.

I met the opera singer. She had great programming ideas. I told her so. I forgot to compliment the server in the cafe, but I did say the food was excellent. (It was -- house-smoked trout on quinoa salad.)

I told my writing partner he's a great writer (he is) and also that he is very skilled at keeping a serious game face during a business meeting. I told the producers they are doing a great job packaging the films they are packaging, even as they asked us to extend our option for no money.

Back at the office, I spoke with four random people who called asking if I could program their band, their show, their solo recital, or the thing they just saw at the National Yiddish Book Center. I was not able to think of a way to compliment any of them. Mostly I was thinking of a way to be really kind and warm and get them to send me their materials by email, where I have an auto response saying I'll get back to them if I have further questions or if I am interested in programming their thing.

But then I got to talk with a musician who I think is really good, and is young and just starting out with her new band, who I want to support, and I think people will really like. At the end of our conversation, I said to her, "I know I already wrote this to you, but I love your voice. I love your band. It's a real treat for me to get a chance to fall in love."

When I found out that my best, most incredibly helpful co-worker is going on vacation for a week, and offered to answer my emails while she's gone, I told her what a wonderful job she's been doing to help me through my transition. (She has.)

Let's see, I bought some tomatoes and raspberries, and forgot to compliment the salesperson, I spoke with my oldest friend on the phone and told her she's a wonderful parent (she is) and then I ended the day with three friends I planned to see and two friends I ran into at the Brooklyn Philharmonic/Mark Morris dance performance in Prospect Park. I am pretty sure I didn't remember to compliment the run-in friends (why is this practice so hard to remember???) but I went two for three with the friends I spent the whole evening with.

In conclusion, and to answer my triple question-marked question above, I think the challenge of this practice is that it is in direct conflict with my desire to avoid social awkwardness. Or, to toss the double negative, I strive to make people comfortable, not freaked out. And let's face it, too much appreciation often feels like it is a cry for attention -- from the person doing the validating.

At the end of the day (literally) I am quite interested in this practice, and want to continue to play with it -- to see how far I can push it before crossing the boundary from thoughtful to creepy and narcissistic. Oh, and your persistence and diligence in reading this blog for an entire year is phenomenal. Also, I love your hat.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I finally went to the Uprights Citizens Brigade

Never Done: I FINALLY went to the Uprights Citizens Brigade

It was the very very very first item I ever wrote on my Never Done list: Go to Upright Citizens Brigade. At the time I didn't know that it was going to become emblematic of my year -- low hanging fruit that I had somehow never picked -- it was just this thing I had never done that I had always wanted to do. And first on my list. For non-New Yorkers, Upright Citizens Brigade was an improv sketch comedy troupe (including Amy Poehler) that came from Chicago to New York in the 90s, and then morphed somehow that probably involves infighting and legal agreements to be the name of a theater/venue that presents improv and sketch comedy, as well as training people to do same. I love great improv, and rarely rarely rarely go see it, let alone do it anymore, although I used to in another moment in my life.

When I didn't go in the first few months, I thought -- well, it's still early. I have an entire year to fill up. I should leave myself something easy to do later. When I didn't do it the fourth and fifth months, I started to think that it was special, and maybe I should save it for the very end of the year. When I didn't do it the sixth, seventh, or eighth month, I started to doubt I really wanted to do it. And yet there it was, topping off the top ten list:

  1. upright citizen's brigade
  2. kayak on the hudson
  3. ride a Ferris Wheel
  4. sleep in past noon, not sick
  5. go to spring training
  6. have a child
  7. make a dress
  8. go rock climbing
  9. sell a screenplay
  10. get a tattoo

(It's not really a top ten list. It's just the first ten things I thought of when I started this project. It's interesting to me that of the first ten, I have done only three and a half, but I do have the intention of doing all ten.)

So when I was sold out of going to see Pilobulus (specifically a work by an Israeli choreographer I've been advised to see) and I had not yet completed a Never Done activity for the day, I decided on the spur of the moment to go down to UCB and see a show. Finally. My time had come. And it felt great that the very act of going was last minute, spur of the moment, improvisatory you might even call it. Well, it felt great until I got there, paid my $5, sat in the back row of the dingy theater on a seat that seems to have been missing all its springs on the right side so I had to keep from sliding into the giggling woman on my right, and the lights went down, and the stage lights came up, and two guys started doing stand-up comedy. Wait, what? I didn't even know there was stand-up at UCB. But apparently there was, because I had just come in for an hour of stand-up. All in all I saw five guys (yes, all guys) and I am not going to tell you their names, because I don't have anything good to say about any of them. But I will tell you that in one hour, I laughed exactly zero times, and that the audience laughed approximately ten million seventeen hundred thousand four hundred ninety one times -- mostly at "jokes" about people who are homeless, fat, "faggy", black, Korean, female, or (just once) Mexican. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Like the story about a guy on the subway who kept saying "Ew, it smells like shit here. Ew, it seriously smells like human shit! Oh, whoa, this is horrible. It smells like human shit." while his friends tried to shut him up because he was standing right over a homeless man who apparently had no access to bathroom facilities. End of story. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. And the story about you would never kick the seat of a black person on the subway, because that would be terrifying. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. (Also, why would you want to kick the seat of any person on the subway?)

Yes, I stayed. I felt that it was a commitment to my own practice to sit in that theater (trying not to think about bedbugs) for one hour and listen to these cocky young guys tell offensive, un-funny stories. (Actually the worst of the guys was a cocky middle-aged guy who told offensive, un-funny stories.) And here's what I gained from the hour: 1) a deep appreciation for reading. I was in the middle of a book that I was just adoring reading (this is in the past tense because the subway ride home to an unprecedented 90 minutes during which I finished) that Abigail had lent to me, called someday this pain will be useful to you, by Peter Cameron. 2) the re-realization that just because you've wanted to do something for a really long time doesn't mean that it's right for you, and 3) the confirmation that one of the great things about the Never Done practice is that it gives one (me) an understanding of my world: this is something I would like to do more in my life; this is something I would like to never again do in my life; this is something that warrants further experience and exploration. Which means that the entire practice is working, since I started it in order to have a more expansive life just at this point at which people expect me to have a less and less expansive life.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I spent the night in a sleep clinic

Never Done: I spent the night in a sleep clinic

Even though I went in at 10 PM on Monday night, I decided to write about this as something I did on Tuesday, because I spent my first 7 Tuesday hours attached to wires, following the instructions of the staff at the Center, and trying to sleep.

When you go into a sleep center at night, you are led to a room -- like a small hotel room with no windows (and in my case, as over-airconditioned as many hotel rooms.) You are given a clipboard full of questionnaires to fill out. How long does it usually take you to fall asleep? How many hours of sleep do you get? Do you take any medications? Do you wake rested (on a scale of 1-10.) You are asked to change immediately into your pajamas, brush your teeth and wash your face, and then go out to the main area -- the nursing station if you will -- to get hooked up to wires. Wires on your legs, wires on your chest, wires all over your face and head. A microphone on your larynx. Wires wires wires. Then you get to hang out until you get sleepy, at which point you're supposed to call the nurses and they come attach the wires to machines, and put a nasal cannula in your nose. Plus, there's a camera filming you. And now we have to run a small battery of tests.

Close your eyes
Open your eyes
Using just your eyes, move you eyes up and down
Using just your eyes, move your eyes left and right
Blink five times fast
Breathe through your nose
Breathe through your mouth
Hold your breath until I tell you to stop
Move your left foot once
Move your right foot once

Relax! Sleep! Nighty night!

What can I say? It's not like I expected to get a good night's sleep. And I didn't. I got a night's sleep that was normal for me -- only worse. Which is to say that it fit the pattern of a bad night of sleep -- waking up at 4, tossing and turning, hard time sleeping from 4-5:30, then a deeper sleep til the alarm (or in this case the nurse) wakes me. The only differences were that I was uncomfortable from all the clips and tapes and wires and nasal intrusions, and I was aware that I was being evaluated. Which actually made me hope for a normal-bad night of sleep, so they could get a good read on what goes on for me, which was a comfort in the long, often sleepless night.

In the morning, the nurse asked me to go through the same set of tests.

Close your eyes
Open your eyes
Using just your eyes, move you eyes up and down
Using just your eyes, move your eyes left and right
Blink five times fast
Breathe through your nose
Breathe through your mouth
Hold your breath until I tell you to stop
Move your left foot once
Move your right foot once

and then sent me in to shower the paste off my face and out of my hair, get dressed, and fill in a morning questionnaire. How long do you estimate it took you to fall asleep? How many hours of sleep do you estimate you got? Did you take any medications while here? On a scale of 1-10, how rested were you when you woke?

Goodbye! Have a good day! The doctor will be in touch!

And before I knew it I was in Madison Square Park, the sun starting to steam up the day, searching for some breakfast away from my usual breakfast at home, and then kicked uptown to work.

I didn't expect to hear anything from them for quite some time, but the call came on Tuesday while I was in a meeting. When I called back, the person on the phone reported to me, "You have extremely fragmented sleep." It took all my powers not to say, "No shit, Sherlock." But she went on to describe anatomical details that they observed in the night, and she invited me in next week to look at graphs of my night of sleep, and discuss the results with my Argentine-Uruguayan doctor. So I think my job now is to practice Hope, and Patience, and Humility -- and maybe I'll start to become a more rested person!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I got allergy testing

Never Done: I got allergy testing

First of all, when a nurse is looking at your name on your chart, you would think she might try harder to pronounce it right. "Jane Levinson?" Second of all, when you the only person in the waiting room, you would think she would look up, realize it's probably you, and ask with an inflection that indicates that she realizes it's probably you, but she has to be sure, rather than a robotic, head-down, let's
-get-this-one-corralled-into-the-next-room attitude. And once she has you in the next room, when she asks you why you are here, and you say that you were referred by one of the doctors in the same practice (subtly and perhaps passive aggressively indicating that it should be in your chart) and you go on to tell about your breathing issues, and she interrupts to say it doesn't matter who referred you, and you take a deep breath and turn around so you won't say something inappropriate, it is time to practice Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief.

I'm happy to say it worked. I transformed my relationship with Debbie pretty quickly from throttle to cooperation, which was especially good because she chatted with me while taking my blood pressure so the mechanized machine couldn't read me correctly and re-inflated two times before capturing my most excellent blood pressure of 97/56, at which point she casually said she shouldn't have made me talk because the machine always does that when she talks with people and who wants the cuff to inflate more than once? She then went on to prick my arms with 60 allergens and leave them to incubate for 15 minutes, and as she left the room (door open) she said "Just call if you need anything. My name is Debbie but I'll answer to anything if you scream loud enough. Those things can get itchy!"

I didn't see Debbie again. Instead, the doctor came in when my timer went off, and once again, I went over the breathing, the questionable asthma, the reflux, the triathlon, the lung infections, the sudden onset if it all. Maybe it's because he's an allergist, but he thinks I have allergies. The prick test showed reactions to a random variety of trees, to dust mites, and to, of all things, rabbits. (Rabbits? Who's allergic to rabbits? I thought they were the go-to pets for people who are allergic to cats and dogs.) They weren't huge reactions. I certainly wasn't calling for Debbie, nor was I going into anaphylactic shock. I got a few bumps. I got a little itchy. It didn't seem like a big deal to me. I went to work.

As I write this, I am trying to figure out what makes it particularly part of an ethical practice, aside from the way I handled myself with a nurse who had less attention for me than I had for her. I think it might be that I am acting with such persistence to solve my breathing problems. That I haven't given up on myself. That I am leaving no stone unturned. That I am committed to my own health for my own sake and the sake of the people who love me. In some ways it would be easier not to, and when the doctor told me that today was Part 1 of allergy testing, I nearly spit. It turns out that I have to go back on Thursday morning so they can inject the allergens under my skin (woohoo!) for a better diagnosis. At least I'll know that I'll need to have my Patience game on before I walk in the door.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I read Sunset Park (or, How to Differentiate Between Real Brooklyn vs Fictional Brooklyn)

Never Done: I read Sunset Park (by Paul Auster)

I adore Paul Auster's writing. I first came upon him in a rare instance in which I was introduced to an author through a screenplay that he penned, Smoke -- long before I dreamed that I would someday live in Brooklyn. I've since then seen the other independent film he wrote and co-directed, Blue in the Face, and listened to him read his own novel -- The Brooklyn Follies. (If you like audio books, then I recommend this recording with twenty five stars -- I find Auster to be not only a brilliant writer, but a brilliant reader.)

When his latest novel, Sunset Park, came out last November, I put it on a list, and then didn't get to it until this week. When I inhaled it. Gulped it down. Read from the moment the subway doors closed til the opened again, and again and again til I had read the whole story of Miles Heller and the concentric and disconnected circles that newly form -- and have always formed -- around him. I don't want to give a synopsis of the novel -- you can go find one online if you want that -- but instead to talk about what it means to read a novel set 20 blocks down the way from where I live, how I feel more like a part of fictional Brooklyn than I do real Brooklyn.

In fictional Brooklyn, I imagine the heat and the cold and the smells and the traffic, but in real Brooklyn I sweat and I shiver and I cover my nose to keep them all out. In fictional Brooklyn, I know people just like that, but in real Brooklyn I know those people. So why do I feel more of an affinity for fictional Brooklyn than real Brooklyn? Is there still a left-over romanticism left over from when I didn't yet live here, but I'd heard my friends' stories? Is it just always easier to project myself into someone else's story rather to create my own? I think this is one of those blog posts that won't resolve completely -- but will just end with these questions. Not unlike Sunset Park itself.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I changed a flat tire (on my bike)

Never Done: I changed a flat tire (on my bike)

I am a person who believes that as much as possible we should know how to do things for ourselves. It gives us a lot of choice and power -- we can still ask for help, but we can also do it on our own if we want to or need to. After a million years of riding a bike -- including once 5 days around Novia Scotia and another time across Ireland, I have never actually gotten a flat on the road -- until a couple weeks ago when I couldn't avoid a pothole, about 3 seconds from my apartment, in Windsor Terrace.

Did I go right home and learn how to change the tube? No. I brought the bike home, and parked it in the hallway, and took out a different bike. Because I have become a person with multiple bikes and multiple pairs of running shoes, all hanging out in the hallway. The bike that got the flat was one of the two bikes that aren't mine, and it's not the one I'm riding in the triathlon. It's the one that I was hoping to ride, but is too small for me. But also, I didn't know how to fix the flat.

Which sort of embarrassed me. I took a car maintenance class while I was in college, and I later became a carpenter, in part because I thought it was important, as a feminist act, to know how to master the physical world. I've wired rooms for electricity, I've figured out how to change the labels in the Food Coop pricing scale, and after riding a bike since I was 4, I have never learned how to fix a flat. It was time.

And it's part of our triathlon training. So I brought the bike with the flat over to Prospect Park, with a new tube and some tire tools, and watched as my coach deflated his own tire, dissembled it, and put it back together, and then tried to do it on my own. But right from the start, something was different about mine. It was hard, and stuck, and crumbling. In other words, it was old, and had dried-up, crumbling rim tape to which the tire had become pretty strongly bonded. I was tempted to give right up, and in fact my coach suggested I don't even bother trying to learn on that tire, but one of my teammates came over and gently encouraged -- and taught -- me, so I stuck it out.

I pried the stuck tire off the wheel. I got the busted tube out of the tire. I checked the tire for cracks or glass or nails. I put a new tube into the tire. I inflated the tube with a CO2 cartridge. I put the tire and tube back into the wheel. I mounted the wheel back on the bike. Sounds easy, right? But oh, there are so many little things to remember. And to go wrong. But with José's help, I stuck with it. And I realized what I've realized so many times before -- I can do pretty much anything I am physically strong or agile enough to do. It just takes Patience, Practice, and Persistence.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I got my first JCC paycheck

Never Done: I got my first JCC paycheck

When I accepted my new job, it's not that I thought the paycheck would be the primary reward -- I would never have taken the job if I didn't think it was going to be meaningful, fun, productive work -- but the paycheck was the impetus behind leaving freelance in the first place.

But then I worked three weeks. Week one: I was a dry sponge trying to soak up a puddle of water, but too overwhelmed to be absorbent. Week two: I gained context, deepened my conversations, built the foundations for what I think will be excellent collegial relationships. Started to dream about what I might be able to do there. Week three: I started to understand how to make the dreams come true, and started to understand that there will not necessarily be a firewall between Jenny the creative artist and Jenny the arts curator/professional. (Big week!)

And then I got a paycheck. If it had come after week one, I might have felt differently, like hell yeah I deserve this. But it came when I was acutely aware of liking and appreciating my job, and I felt like, all this and I get paid too?

To celebrate, I bought an entire roasted duck in Chinatown to share with at shabes Soup Swap. Frugality: Be careful with your money. Which sometimes means to earn some, and use it to make a better life (or dinner) for the people you care about.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I bought a bootleg movie from a guy on the subway

Never Done: I bought a bootleg movie from a guy on the subway

He was good. He was really good. He came on at West 4th with his brother, and started hawking his wares. Usually it annoys me when people talk loud in the subway, because it interrupts my reading or writing. But there was something about this guy that made me pay attention, and then the young couple next to me started to notice him too. "They're crystal clear. We brought a DVD player so you can screen before you buy. Before you buy, we have to buy and we want them to be good. We have top titles. I'm putting on Harry Potter for you right now. You pay $5 at the movie theater, and all you get is three pieces of unbuttered popcorn. Pay us $5 and your whole family can watch a movie over and over again." When I write it down, it doesn't convey the intelligent performance that this guy delivered. But trust me, he was gifted.

Before long the young couple and I were talking together. Then the movie seller started his rap all over again, but this time in Spanish. One of the two said, "Spanish! Now the cat's doing it in Spanish!" I told them I was almost tempted, and in saying that aloud, realized it's something I've never done and -- well, you know what then.

Here are all the reasons I considered not doing it:
It's illegal both to sell stuff in the subway and to bootleg proprietary art
It's my own industry no less
Just because they weren't annoying me doesn't mean they weren't annoying other riders
I didn't really want any of the movies he was selling: Bad Teacher, Green Lanterns, The Hangover Part 2

And the reasons for going for it:
He exuded something that made me want to support him, or at least engage with him
I'd never done it before

As you can see, it wasn't traditional ethics that prevailed, but a sense of adventure and new experience -- and the ethics of choosing to do something I have never done. I bought the latest Harry Potter movie from him. (I am still going to see it first on the big screen.) As is so often the case with the things I do that I have never done, the big adventure came as a result of having done it. When I returned to my seat, I got into a conversation with the young couple and a middle aged woman who was now also sitting near them. I don't usually do this, but I told them that I had bought the DVD because I have a practice of doing something every day I've never done before.

They lit up. The middle aged woman asked me what I did yesterday. When I told her I ate Halal street meat, they were delighted and amazed. You never ate it before? But it's sooooo gooood! And the best part is that it's open 24 hours. Then the woman asked what I did the day before, and I told them about the triathlon, and my insight. Another round of delight, and a conversation about process vs product. Then she wanted to know what the most adventurous thing is I've done -- the biggest. After thinking for a minute, I told them about adopting an older child, and this about melted the young guy, who had a very astute analysis of the significance of this. Eventually the young woman spoke up, and just said -- you'll be a great parent. Any child would be lucky.

It was so sweet. The four of us -- a multi-racial, multi-cultural, impromptu cohort on the train -- talking like we had just met at a dinner party. Finally I turned to the young couple and said, "In the end, the small things I do are as significant as the giant things." This made the young woman laugh, pointing at her guy. "He says that all the time." He confirmed. "It's the little things that count!"

My stop was approaching, and I said goodbye. As I was stepping off the air conditioned train into the thick heat on the Jay Street platform, I heard them say I have "great energy." But you know who had great energy? The movie guy, who brought us all together.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I ate Halal street meat

Never Done: I ate Halal street meat

Believe it or not, one of the things that has been on my Never Done list all year is to eat Halal street meat, and it's taken me 10 months to get up the courage to do it. A friend I went to graduate school with ate some one night and ended up with horrible food poisoning. The image was so strong for me that I wrote it into my vampire jazz rom com that the vampire, when he is trying to regain his humanity, tries to eat some meat. Instead of throwing up (he does that later when he actually does manage to eat something) he gets freaked out by the wooden skewer (get it? Vampires? Wooden stakes?) that he flees without even trying any.

I wouldn't say that I have a weak stomach, but I would say that it's delicate. So meat that's been on a cart all day under dubious refrigeration has, frankly, scared me. I've had food poisoning. I wouldn't invite it back into my life. On the other hand, people line up to eat this stuff, and so I assume they are not going home every night and hurling.

So I made an ethical decision based on a the mide (middah) from a couple weeks ago: Enthusiasm. I could play it safe and wait til the weather cools down, or I could laugh in the face of my fears and eat street meat on one of the hottest days of the year. And so that's what I did. Chicken and lamb over rice. With grilled onions and fresh parsley and garbanzo beans, and a healthy squirt of green sauce and white sauce. $5.75 for more food than I could possibly eat, under any circumstances. Bring it!

As it turned out, I was heading to a Mussar meeting with two hungry people, so I got to share it with them both -- and neither of them blinked twice at it before tucking in. Which was a great reminder that one person's 8-year fear is another person's every day commonplace delight. Not that we should all become exactly like each other -- that would be tragic actually -- but it is useful sometimes, when you are on the brink of embracing something strange and frightening with forced enthusiasm, to notice that many people find it delightful.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight

Never Done: I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight

We're in the middle of a heat wave. It's going to be 98 degrees by the end of the week. Just walking outside (or lying on my bed) makes me sweat. And as you all know, I am training for a triathlon. The thing that was most daunting to me about this triathlon was not the swimming, and not the biking, and not the running -- but New York City in August. Why is there even a triathlon in New York City in August? (Why is there even a triathlon in New York City? Wouldn't we all rather go to Maine, or Hawaii, or Westchester?) Yes, we would. We would all rather go there. (OK, there are people who would rather stay in NYC.) But we also have a job, and we can't just take off for a destination endurance sporting event. So we convince ourselves that it will be really cool to swim in the Hudson, and to ride up the West Side Highway with no cars, and to run into the arms of our adoring friends and families in Central Park.

And we go out in the 90+ degree weather to train for this, with the humidity, with the smog, with the smells that we don't like to think about. Except when we don't. I've been wanting to quit for about 2 months now, but I haven't. Instead, I've seen four different doctors and a couple acupuncturists to help figure out what's going on in my lungs, and I've consulted with my coaches, and I've modified my running style, and gone to bed at 8:30 to get up at 4:30, I've borrowed a bike, and I've bought shoes, and I've (almost) made peace with my wetsuit, and told my friends that I have to leave Coney Island before the fireworks. I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining, because I'm actually quite proud. I'm trying to describe what it takes to do this.

So when an email comes at 3 PM on a 90+ degree running training day that if "we are sensitive to the heat, we might want to do the running indoors" you better bet that I thought about it for about 3 seconds and then rearranged my plans to go running on the treadmill in the gym at work. All air-conditioned all the time. And I'd never gone into the gym before -- so it in itself was a Never Done activity for me. I was surprised that in the middle of Manhattan, at 6 PM, there were plenty of open treadmills, and the woman who works at the desk said that although they have a 30-minute limit, it would be fine for me to run for 60 minutes because "they never have a line." Maybe it's because they have such a huge facility that there's plenty of other stuff for people to be doing. I'm not sure, but it felt great to run with no pressure. And surprisingly, it felt great to run. I've gotten so used to it being hard that I had forgotten what it's like when it's not. 25 minutes went by before I realized that I wasn't even breathing hard. And with that little bit of distance, I started thinking about how much I've been wanting to give up.

I think I've stuck with it out of determination and stubbornness and some faith that it will be meaningful to me to complete this venture. It certainly hasn't been enjoyment or a sense of strength and accomplishment. But when I noticed that I'm in much better shape than I thought I was, I got to think about how good it will be after the triathlon -- when I'm in great shape, and can use all these muscles to do anything I want to do. And then I realized that the sense of accomplishment doesn't have to come on August 7. It can come today, or in September, or in a year when who knows what I'll be doing. This is the transformative insight I have been waiting for -- the one I knew I needed to have in order to make these 6 months of training -- and August 7 -- meaningful. It's really not about the day of the triathlon. It's really not. It's not about the day of the triathlon. (Repetition is helpful when I'm trying to internalize something new.) It's not about what happens on the day of the triathlon. It's about everything I've learned, and everything I've become from persisting and pushing and learning when to rest and asking for help and figuring it out on my own and trusting my coaches and trusting myself and practicing all thirteen mides (middahs) in order to get to this point.

Humility: seek wisdom from everybody
Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief
Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential
Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true
Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation
Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space
Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time
Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others
Frugality: Be careful with your money
Diligence: Always find something to do
Silence: Reflect before speaking
Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently
Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships

So that's what taking on something huge is about. It challenges every area of our lives, and allows us to work not just every physical muscle we have, but every ethical muscle. It also teaches us that these endeavors truly are about the process and not about the product -- and that the process continues after the competition is over. Because on August 8, when I am bone weary and want to stay in bed all day, I will still get up and go to work. And even if I don't feel like lifting a muscle ever again, it would be ridiculous to let the ones I have just developed atrophy. I certainly wouldn't want to let my Patience and Humility muscles atrophy, so why would I want to let my Quadriceps or my Gluteus Maximus muscles wither?

I have been going on faith that doing the triathlon is an important part of my Never Done year, but until now haven't understood what is so important about it -- especially since it has felt in competition with doing more adventurous, more creative, more titillating Never Done activities. But I've known in my gut that the year has to be balanced out with some Big Things (adoption, triathlon, new job), some whimsical things (put art up on the streets, hand out flowers to strangers, buy underpants on Etsy), some emotionally weighty things (start therapy, attend funerals, go to Germany), and some big adventures (ride a roller coaster, go up in a hot air balloon.)

Now that I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight, I understand my own path.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I learned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Never Done: I learned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that causes mentally healthy people with visual loss to have complex visual hallucinations, first described by Charles Bonnet in 1760, and first introduced into English-speaking psychiatry in 1982. (I took that description from Wikipedia. I kept in the part about the 222 year lag between discovery and publication because even though I don't know the circumstances, I find it sad to think about all the people who could have benefited from that information during that time.)

I know someone wonderful -- in fact, one the most mentally healthy people I have ever known -- who is experiencing something that seems like it might be CBS. It's been going on for a while (not 222 years) without knowing what was going on, and once they found out (from an Internet search) that there's an explanation for what's been happening -- an explanation that pretty clearly states that this is not about dementia -- they experienced a profound sense of relief. Again, I think about all those people between 1760 and 1982 who would have received great comfort from an explanation.

I also think about diagnosing in the age of the internet, and this article I read in Slate, in which a woman's Facebook friends helped to diagnose her son's rare and potentially fatal disease. And my own ventures into figuring out what might be wrong with me, and the ways in which my doctors have both respected and mocked my own research. Why isn't information more free-flowing? What possible ethical justifications can the be for withholding information? (I can think of plenty of non-ethical reasons and I'm sure you can too.) The truth is, I can think of ethical reasons as well, but I want to make it more of a practice to notice when I am doing it for selfish reasons and when I am doing it for the good of others. Because sometimes it's hard to see clearly enough -- even without complex visual hallucinations -- to do the right thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I participated in a Facebook meme

Never Done: I participated in a Facebook meme

Band I was given (in an act of mercy, by Mickey): Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band

Song I love: Growin' Up (make sure to watch all the way to the end of Part 2 as well)
Song I like: Incident on 57th Street
Song I hate (although that is a strong word): Walk Like a Man

And then the part that was hardest to do and pass along, but I did it anyway. I wrote, "Like this post, and I'll give you a band."

I mean, I like to have fun as much as the next guy, but sometimes I get a little embarrassed about playing these games publicly. Well, more than a little embarrassed. Embarrassed enough so I don't do it. I think it's the part that feels like it's imposing on other people -- the part that feels like a chain letter -- the part that cajoles friends into playing. That's the embarrassing part. But the truth is, nobody's forcing anyone to play. Instead, we're just giving opportunities. And actually, the fact that I block every game link on my wall (so I don't see any Farmville or Mafia Wars) should help me see that there's no imposition if people can just choose not to look.

And really, what was most fun about the game is that I got to go through a bunch of Springsteen music I hadn't listened to in ages -- and think back to the 70s and 80s when I went to see him play as often as possible, including with my cousin Kenny to see Bruce open the Meadowlands. And I got to honor the memory of Clarence Clemens, z"l -- not only one of the finest sax players ever to play, but someone who, along with Bruce, got to model deep public love between two men. So if a little Facebook meme can get me thinking about that, and to find Bruce's eulogy for Clarence, which somehow I missed when it first got printed, then more power to it. Thanks Facebook. Thanks Mickey. (Thanks Bruce. Thanks Clarence.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I time traveled

Never Done: I time traveled (but really I read When You Reach Me)

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I loved (and which I meant to blog about but didn't.) When I got done, I wanted to preserve the experience of immersion in a book, but I also wanted to honor summer and read something light and easy, yet still worth it. I didn't have anything like that around the house, and I didn't know what it was I wanted, and so I had the idea to ask my Soup Swap group if they wanted to add a Book Swap layer to our weekly gatherings. They did! So last Sunday, we all came to Soup Swap with a selection of good summer reading, and I chose a children's book by Rebecca Stead, called When You Reach Me. It won the won the Newbury Medal for children's literature.

As is often the case when I want to write about a work of art -- a film, a book, something with a plot -- I don't want to write about it in a way that would spoil it for anyone who might also want to go see it or hear it or read it. Sometimes I throw up my hands and just warn everyone that I'm going to write spoilers, but sometimes I try a different approach: interesting vagueness. That's what I'm choosing this time. First, from the jacket flap:

By Sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it's safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know who to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda's mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper.

I am coming to save your friends' life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her thing she's too late. This remarkable novel takes place in the real world but holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart. When You Reach Me is an original, and a brilliant and profound delight.

So now you know what the author wanted you to know before you read the book, and now I get to write what I want to tell, which has to do with what it's like to be an adult reading a children's novel. This novel plays with the concept of time travel. There, I've already said more about the plot than I would normally have. But it's true -- that's what the blurb means when it says it's set in the real world but holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart. (BTW, the book is very cool in this way -- it reads 99% like a wonderful teen novel, but it does bring in a fantastic element, but it doesn't read like a fantasy book.) So anyhow, we're adults, and this book is for children, and it has something to do with time travel, which is something you learn pretty early in the novel, only you don't learn what it has to do with time travel til the end. But ... you're and adult reading a children's novel, so you catch the clues earlier than most younger readers will, and in that way you get to experience another layer of the book -- you get to feel like you're time traveling within your own reading of the novel, because the end hasn't happened yet, but you can see how it might happen, while at the same time you can remember how you would have read this book as a child -- transport yourself to your eleven-year-old reading experience while simultaneously having a deeply satisfying contemporary reading experience.

It might have helped my time travel that the book is set over the course of one girl's sixth grade year -- 1978/1979 -- just four years after I was in sixth grade. I'm not even sure how Rebecca had transmitted those details to me, because she doesn't name the year 'til most of the way through the book, but I had already felt it enough so that when Josh asked me if the book is contemporary, I said it seemed like it was set in the 1970s sometime, even though there was actually nothing solid to know for sure. I wonder if someone twenty years older or younger than me would also have felt that it was set in their teenage era (because she writes so well about the sixth grade experience) or if in fact it's infused with details I picked up on without being distracted away from the story. Either way, if you're an adult, and you want to time travel, I recommend this book.

PS. I read it in a day. If you have a subway commute or a day off, you could too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I watched a movie on my commute

Never Done: I watched a movie on my commute

Some days you just want to zone out. And in fact, I would say that some days it's important to just zone out, at least for the parts of the day it's OK to zone out. The reason I'm thinking about this is that I have already started to think about how I could work on my commute, because there is just more to do in my normal work hours than I can foresee being able to accomplish. To that end, I set up my email (and calendar) so I can access it at home, and like I said, started to think about mining my commute time. But I actually want to protect my commute time. Mostly I've been using it for blogging, and when this Never Done year is over, I hope to use the commute for screenwriting.

Hope. Did you catch that little word? It's this week's mide (middah) and has become quite hard for me. Somewhere along the way -- I am thinking it's been a couple of years -- I became one of those people who doesn't want to hope because I don't want to be too deeply disappointed. A person who armors against disappointment rather than planning for a hopeful future. Among the things I'm not hopeful about lately is my ability to keep a writing practice while working a full-time job. (Despite the fact that I've been writing successfully on the train every single day.) To counter all this hopelessness, I downloaded a movie that intertwines vignettes in a way I am trying to master with one of my screenplays, and I plugged in my earbuds, and I turned it on at Grand Army and watched all the way to 72nd Street, and then set aside to finish Southbound at the end of the day. The movie, by Rodrigo Garcia, is called things you can tell just by looking at her.

And wouldn't you know, the movie is all about hope -- people trying to have some, people crushed when they do and it hurts them, and people who barely even let themselves start. And it does a lovely job of intertwining -- not too often, not too forced, not too coincidental. It did what I hoped it would to help me think about my screenplay. Which I hope to have time to write this Fall, two hours a day, rocked steady by the northbound and southbound trains.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I called the MTA and got them to fix a light in my subway stop

Never Done: I called the MTA and got them to fix a light in my subway stop

There's been a light out in the stairwell coming up from my subway stop for weeks. If you come home at night, it's so dark that you can't even see where your foot should go to land on the step. And that means that you can't see if someone's waiting there to grab you, or if someone's done something on the stairs that you wouldn't like to step in. (Like that euphemism?) Usually I just get off a stop earlier, and walk home further. But the night before last was late and I was tired, and I was carrying extra bags, and I thought that maybe by now they'd fixed it, so I took the train to my stop (Prospect Park/15th Street) and the light was still out, and I was actually quite scared coming up the stairs. It was 9:35PM, and so I called 3-1-1. After I waded through their system, a 3-1-1 agent transferred me to MTA.

And then I started a whole new round of pushing 1 if I wanted to complain about the bus. Pushing 2 if I wanted to complain about the fares. Pushing 3 if I wanted to compliment the train conductors on their diction. OK, not really, but finally I got to push 0 to speak with an agent, and then I got put on hold for another 15 minutes or so. Until 10:02, to be exact. At which point I got a message saying that the office was open until 10PM and I should call back during business hours.

I laughed, I complained, I found it ridiculous, and I hoped I would find time to call the next day. And as luck would have it, my morning commute (I tried the F train again -- bad idea) took 90 minutes just to get to Columbus Circle, so rather than transfer to yet another train that could travel the speed of a rowboat, I hopped off and walked -- and called the MTA back. This time I waited about 10 minutes for an agent, and when I told her that the light is out at my station and that it is dangerous, and that the MTA should fix it, she ambled into the conversation. "A light? Where" In the stairwell? Hmmm, OK." But eventually she gathered all the info, and she thanked me and told me she would "note my concern." I didn't have high expectations for her noting, and I forgot about it until I was on the train home while it was still light out, when it still feels safe to get off at the stop with the broken light, which I expected to be still broken.

But lo and behold! The light was fixed! My call (or maybe someone else's? Or a combination?) had produced results! I had practiced Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief, and participated in the civic process and done my part to keep the city safer (and our shoes cleaner.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I met Daniel Bernard Roumain

Never Done: I met Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)

One aspect of my job is to run an artist in residence program with two wonderful artists who were already selected before I came along. One of them, DBR, is a composer, violinist, and bandleader who is married to a Jewish woman, and they have a son who is half black and half white, half Catholic and half Jewish, half Haitian and half American. He is spending the year at the JCC composing a musical Hagaddah for singers and string orchestra.

He's having a series of study sessions with rabbis and artists and musicians and scholars and funders and cultural workers who have something to say about Passover and the Haggadah -- and I went to one of them. It was the first time I sat on the other side of the table. The first time I was not the artist, but the institution. The first time I had to think carefully about what power I either have or am perceived to have, and to make sure to use it in a thoughtful and supportive way. The first time I really felt like the Director of something.

I rode home thinking about the mide (middah) of Frugality: Be careful with your money. There are six words in that phrase. It's clear we are meant to pay attention to the words Frugality, Careful, and Money. Be is attached to Careful and With is attached to Money. And that leaves Your (which I am going to talk about as My.) What is my money? Is it the money my institution already committed to this artist? I do think so, and so in being careful with my money, I think I have an ethical responsibility to give him as much support as possible in order for him to succeed. Is my money the money that people think I might have, even if I don't? My perceived money? I think it is also that -- in which case I would have an ethical responsibility to be careful about how I communicate about my money, and neither raise nor lower expectations unduly. Is it the rest of the budget I have to work with? Yes, that too. And in being careful with it, I'm not going to write about it publicly, except to say that I think that the chance to think about an institutional budget from a Mussar perspective of self and other is incredibly interesting, and also potentially useful -- and might help me navigate my opportunities and limitations in a meaningful and grounded way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I ran 6 miles

Never Done: I "ran" 6 miles

It was 93 degrees, and we ran the official New York Triathlon race course in Central Park. Except I walked some. Or maybe it was 91 degrees. And maybe I walked a lot. What's a lot? Basically, I walked up some of the hills, and I ran the flats and downhills, and it took me 80 minutes to do the 6 miles. Or maybe it was 6.2.

It was my first time running around Central Park. It's a lot hillier than I thought it was going to be, especially from 110th Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I got pretty nauseous, and also I had one of those gulping breathing episodes -- I guess they're called asthma attacks -- near the end.

All this made me think about accomplishment. It's possible that I am going to complete the entire triathlon, and because I will probably have to walk up the hills, I might not feel like it's an accomplishment. In fact it's not just possible -- it's likely, unless I do something with my attitude within the next 3 and a half weeks. In contrast my own value system, I've always been rather product oriented, and not terribly process oriented. So the fact that I have trained relentlessly since March doesn't much factor into my sense of accomplishment (again, I am not justifying this, just being honest about how my mind works) and instead I'm focused on my performance the day of the event. So how do I change my own sense of accomplishment? Intellectually I already value process in conjunction with product, so I'm not suffering from a lack of vision or framing, but rather probably a childhood filled with competition and comparison.

This pattern is so deep that I feel the need to apologize for walking the hills -- and to explain to any of my friends who might come out to watch the race that I would run if I could -- that I'm not lazy, just injured. What's more, I feel humiliated about it. Rather than feeling proud that I can swim a mile, bike 25, and run 4 and walk 2, I feel humiliated that I can't run 6.2. What the hell is that? Is there a month-long training program I can undertake to shift it? Because I would like to be as enthusiastic and proud as everyone else is likely to be on the afternoon of August 7, when I am sweaty and exhausted -- and have completed the New York Nautica Triathlon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I used a hashtag

Never Done: I used a hashtag

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach someone what a hashtag is, and in the process, gave them more thought than I ever had before. I even looked up who invented the hashtag, and when. Like many symbols, it's already evolved. What started out as a way to organize conversations has become a form of emphasis, sort of the way we used to use the *asterisk.* But not really the way we used to use the asterisk, because you can't just put a hashtag in the middle of a sentence to emphasize something instead of italicizing it. You can tweet using a hashtag and you can update your Facebook status with a hashtag, and you can do it when it's the only phrase you're using, or you can use it as the second of two -- the second hashtagged phrase being commentary or detail of the first. Oh, new grammar! New forms of communication! I sort of love you! (And I sort of fear you.) So I decided to try you.

I was having another tough day, but was focused and engaged at work, and went out for a lobster role at Luke's Lobster, and when I paid the woman working there asked if I wanted a frequent eaters card. Of course I did! I work 4 blocks from Luke's, and I intend to eat there frequently. (They even let me bring my own wheat-free bread, and they grill it up for me, just like Red's Eats does in Wiscasset Maine when I order their ridiculously delicious grilled haddock sandwich.) When she handed me my Lobsta Mobsta Buy 10 Get 1 Free card, I actually felt better. I felt part of something that felt like home, and I just felt delighted at the simple pleasure of having easy access to something I love so much.

So when I finished eating, I took out my cell phone and updated my Facebook status:
Hard day just got easier. #Luke'sLobsterLobstaMobstaBuy10Get1FreeCard

If I had it to do over again, I think I'd shorten the part after the hashtag to merely #LukesLobster, but hey, it was my first time. I'm allowed to be a little awkward.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I hit a pigeon with my car

Never Done: I hit a pigeon with my car

I swear I wasn't trying. I've been trained so deeply that birds will fly away when you approach them with the car -- even pigeons who appear more interested in their tasty morsels than approaching traffic. So as I approached three pigeons in the middle of 7th Avenue (Brooklyn) I didn't slow down and two flew away, and then suddenly I heard a small thump and saw a dramatic flurry of feathers fly up in front of my windshield. Shit. I hit a pigeon! I hit a pigeon? I hit a pigeon! I've never done that before. I can blog about it. Oh, that thought is even creepier than actually hitting the pigeon! Or is it? (That was my inner monologue, in case you were wondering.)

Is it appropriate to say kaddish and the Shehekhianu at the same time?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I went to Film Biz Prop Shop

Never Done: I went to Film Biz Prop Shop

In the basement of the building where Josh and I used to have office space is a very cool business that sells and rents stuff that came off film and television shoots: the Film Biz Prop Shop. Their mission is to recycle stuff from the media industry that might normally be thrown away -- and so they have a giant space full of furniture and giant rulers and lamps and disco balls and vintage listening booths and mannequins and giant fake wedding cakes and books by the yard and Dentist Office in a Box and a model of the inner ear and fake food and fake blood and ... well, pretty much anything that might come off a film or TV set that someone might want in their home, or might need on another film or TV set.

I bought Josh a Groupon to FBPS for his birthday, and also bought a Groupon for myself, thinking we might find some wonderful thing for our home. We made a date a few weeks ago, for after my Coney Island swimming and running practice (Michelle, you might want to skip the rest of this sentence) where I had to swim for 45 minutes with thousands and thousands of (non-stinging) jellyfish -- which whapped me in the face, arms, and feet. (I know that's gratuitous information and has nothing to do with the Film Biz Prop Shop, but I've never done it before, and I really really really really hope I never do it again.)

We were both looking forward to it, and when we entered the vast space, got excited to explore. And while exploring was fun, the first thing I found that I would love to have had a little tag that said Groupon Excluded, and the second thing I found that I really loved said Rental Only. What were the odds? An entire warehouse, and the two things I like are off-limits. I wish I was giving a big interactive presentation right now, because regular readers can already guess the outcome of the trip. "And what do you think happened?" You got overwhelmed and ended up leaving without buying anything! "That's right!"

I still have til the end of the month, and if I pull it together to go again, maybe something new will have come in that I love and want. And if not, then I made a $25 donation to a cool organization. If thinking about the mide (middah) of Frugality: Be careful with your money, is it more ethical to buy something I don't really want or need, or to consider the money already spent a donation? I think the latter. What about you?

Ruler: Rental Only

My people: The Story of the Jews bedside lamp: Groupon Excluded

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I went to a sleep clinic

Never Done: I went to a sleep clinic

I've always been a light sleeper and I have also always been a rural sleeper, which is to say I get sleepy when the sun goes down and I wake up when it's time to feed the chickens. I did pretty well for most of my life without getting tons of sleep, but a few years ago it started to take its toll. as I've been sorting out the asthma/ breathing problems I have developed, I've started to notice that I sometimes wake up either coughing or having what seems like an asthma attack. When I mentioned that to one of the doctors I've seen, he referred me to a sleep clinic, with a stern warning: it's not safe to wake up in the night and not be able to breathe right. I hadn't really thought of that before. So I made the appointment.

I went to see a completely delightful Argentine Jewish (but mostly raised in Uruguay) doctor with a great sense of humor and probing mind. I filled in a massive survey (How often do I nod off while talking with friends, while driving, while in the theater. Do I have restless legs? Am I a vegetarian? Do I have a hard time falling asleep? Staying asleep? Would my partner say I snore? Kick? Do I get up and eat in the night? Do I take naps? How long? Did I think Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica was actually gay?) (You're right. They didn't really ask that. But I think he was.) Then the doctor interviewed me, and then my partner, and interspersed sweet jokes in between his medical discovery. (In my country we do triathlons too. We play football, we eat barbecue, we take naps.) (That sounds like a much more fun triathlon than the one I am doing.)

In the end, he decided that I should go in for a sleep study -- where I will sleep in a bed overnight hooked up to wires and probes and even a microphone. When I expressed my concern that it might not be much of a night of sleep, he reassured me that all he needs is 4 hours. Funny, I wasn't so much thinking about what he needs, but hopefully his needs are really to serve mine, and hopefully we'll work together so that the next time I ride blog on the subway ride home I won't nod off like I just did. (Which I did not make up, and is 100% true.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

I was one of those women who wore sneakers and a skirt to work

Never Done: I was one of those women who wore sneakers and a dress to work

Commuting by subway turns out to be 99% logistical. It's 90 degrees out, but air conditioned on the train and in the office and you will be super sweaty from running practice after work so you don't want to get chilled but you don't want to wear your nice little office sweater over your sweaty self, but you are already carrying a work bag and a gym bag and by the way, walking a mile in those red flat sandals isn't as comfortable as you thought it would be but you're already carrying a work bag and a gym bag and a mug because the first day a work you used a paper cup from the Executive Director's office. So you look around to see how other people do this and you see that most women carry two bags and about half of them wear sneakers with their skirts. (I'd say that includes the frum women, who tend to wear sneakers with skirts all the time, not just when they are going to work.)

Oh, I miss living in a place where I can get to work by bike or car. I miss tossing an extra bathing suit in the trunk just in case I can go to the river after work. I miss listening to the radio and offering to pick something up for someone and riding with the wind rushing past me and pulling right up to where I am going. I know the subway system is some kind of miracle of engineering and city planning, and it's all environmentally cool and shit, but we are all smushed together like proverbial sardines, and let's face it: we all look drab in our sneakers and skirts.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I went swimming (and took a shvitz) in my building on my lunch break

Never Done: I went swimming (and took a shvitz) in my building on my lunch break

It was a long morning that stretched into the afternoon. Trainings, meetings, reading through the files that the old arts and culture director left, building tour. It was 2 pm before I had 5 minutes to eat a sandwich at my desk and 3:10 pm before I got to take a break, and I had another meeting at 4. My head was spinning from learning computer programs, and My eyes were shutting from a poor night's sleep. So what's a Jewish arts professional to do? Drink coffee? Never! Not at least when there's a swimming pool three floors down. So I grabbed my suit, which is already living under my desk. Now, I knew the pool was going to close at 3:30, and for a moment I considered that maybe I didn't have enough time to swim. But then I reconsidered. Was I going for a workout? No. I was going for refreshment. So I went down and changed into my suit and entered the pool deck. Wow. What a pool deck. It's on the 5th floor, with floor to ceiling windows - light streaming in. I hopped into an empty lane, and I started to swim laps. I was tired, I was tight, I was thinking about arts programming for MLK day, but I was swimming in the middle of my work day. Amazing. Before I knew it, the pool closed, and so I hopped out and showered. (They have shampoo and conditioner and soap!) But I'd only been out of the office for 15 minutes and there was a steam room just beckoning me, so I went in. Just for five minutes, but five minutes of hot steam in the middle of the work day! And another shower! (And q-tips and body lotion and deodorant!) (And towel service!) and before I knew it, I was back upstairs taking a call (my first, never done) about comps for the next program and off to a meeting with the box office manager and then another with my boss. But I was fresh, attentive, and relaxed.

Swimming is a Jewish value. We are actually mandated to teach our children to swim. Ostensibly that's because it's a safety measure - to prevent unnecessary drowning. But I also value swimming for it's relaxing, strengthening, and meditative qualities. And for all that, I said the Shehekhianu. Omeyn.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I started my new job as Director of Performing Arts at the Manhattan JCC

Never Done: I started my new job as Director of Performing Arts at the Manhattan JCC

It's been a long time since I regularly commuted. Since I got up early and was first in the shower, dressed in something other than a shleppy t-shirt, ate breakfast, packed a lunch (along with a work bag and a workout bag) and left for the train before 8 AM, knowing that I'll be doing it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

The prospect of the F to 2/3 train transfer at 14th street sort of depressed me, so I opted for a 20-minute walk to the 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza, and then a one-train, 40-minute ride. (Apologies to people who don't live in New York, who aren't obsessed with train travel; the point is, I didn't want to be late on my first day, and it can feel vulnerable to put your responsibility to your new job in the hands of the MTA. I got to work on time. Just.)

Being new is like being a worldly baby with a lot of context and life experience and dozens of parents (or guardians.) How do you get hot water out of the hot water machine? Your boss can show you. How do you set up your email and phone? The tech team can show you. Can you have a gym locker? No. What kind of MLK programming do we do? The archivist will send you old programs. Does my program have a Facebook page? The marketing department knows about that. And then you suddenly grow up real fast when you find out there are some nights to program in September and have an invitation to a theatre festival in Israel (in 6 weeks) if you think it would be a good use of your time. Meanwhile, how do you make hot water come out of that machine, again? And do you know when I'll get my own desk?

And so the day went. One unexpected highlight came when I went out to find some lunch, and I found (after I ate a lovely meal at a vegan cafe) four blocks from my office, an outpost of Luke's Lobster -- my number one top favorite lobster roll place in NYC. I've written about them before -- Luke is a Mainer who supports the Maine lobster industry by donating a portion of his profits to the Maine Lobsterman's Association. Also, he makes a fabulous lobster roll. I was already happy about my new job, but I find it particularly delightful that on the same day I got to talk about shomer shabes cultural programming, I also found my beloved treyf just up the street.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I finished watching all of Battlestar Galactica

Never Done: I finished watching all of Battlestar Galactica

Not only was it the third day of a three-day weekend, but it was the last day before the first day of my new job, so I grabbed the opportunity to watch the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Now, pay attention, OK? If you have not seen it yet and you think you want to, stop reading now. I am going to write lots and lots of spoilers.

SPOILER ALERT: When Alex and I first watched the beginning -- it starts with a four-episode miniseries -- I came to the conclusion (and wrote about it on this blog) that the show is a creation myth, all about discovering Earth. When the final episode wrapped, a small group of highly technologized survivors had, indeed, found Earth -- they landed in what appears to be tribal Africa, and spread out to start their new lives. For the most part, it's difficult to imagine what that life will be like -- how this group of humans and cylons in their slinky dresses and military garb will create a new society in the African savanna. There's talk about building new cities, but Lee Adama is against it. (No city. Not this time.) He wants to let humanity start all over again. Let the Colonials enter the new world with just their basic possessions, and teach the best parts of themselves to the tribal humans on this world. He explains that humans have always let their brains outrace their hearts. He hopes that by giving up their advanced technology, they might "break the cycle." This is of course a topic near and dear to my heart -- the way city people carry the illusion that cities are somehow more advanced than rural, agrarian societies, and at the same time, the way that city people romanticize rural, agrarian societies. This gets a little deeper when Gaius Balthar, the opportunistic scientist turned politician turned messianic figure returns to his farming roots which he had violently rejected (going so far as to have changed his rural accent and ridiculed his father for being a simple peasant farmer) and with tears (of defeat? relief?) scouts out a piece of arable land.

And so much more. The Colonials agree to let the Centurions (robotic cylons who have decimated most of humanity) go free, reasoning that although "it's a risk, setting them free might be enough to break the cycle of violence." (Big message point!) Laura Roslyn, the president of the colonies, passes away while watching a huge flock of pink ibis, and whispering "So much life." Admiral Adama, everyone's daddy figure, leaves the rest of the Colonials to settle alone on a bluff. Lee Adama sets out on adventure. Starbuck, whose was prophesied to be the angel of death, turns out not to be an angel that brings people to their deaths, but an angel who had come back from the dead, who then led people to Earth. Her mission complete, she disappears -- and although she (and we) are not sure where, I assume that because she is an angel, she'll drop in on the people she loves from time to time. And finally, Hera -- the half-human, half-Cylon child of Athena and Agathon runs and jumps across a field, as her parents playfully argue over who will teach her to hunt.

And I thought, OK, this group of people somehow survived, and co-existed with the tribal people, and maybe it happens in the future, and maybe it's in the past, or maybe it's actually in the present -- I can't quite tell -- because if it's in the past, and Laura Roslyn was eating sushi on Caprica 5 years earlier and now she's landed into a hunter gatherer society on planet Earth, then what is happening to time? Maybe they are all time masters, like the shaman told me I am, and they can allow past, present and future to coexist. Yeah, maybe that's what was going on.

And then there was a title card: 150,000 years later. And we drop into modern day Times Square, a man reading a newspaper about the discovery of the Mitochondrial Eve -- the woman from whom all living people descend. It's made clear that this is Hera -- and that the extremely modern, highly-evolved, sushi-eating society that landed on tribal Earth 150,000 years ago, did in fact evolve and grow and "advance" to a shiny, urbanized, technological society. In fact, the point is driven home when we see a video display about simple robots, with a sign: Advances in robotics.

It has all happened before. But will it all happen again?

Monday, July 4, 2011

I bought a book I'd already bought (and read)

Never Done: I bought a book I'd already bought (and read)

It was late. I was tired. The trains were messed up. I was sad. I saw a bookstore. I went in. I decided to find a good summer book -- not too hard, not too long, but still something that would jump off the shelf and draw me in for a meaningful summer read. I looked in staff picks, but mostly they were books I'd already read -- at least 10 years ago. I moved over to new fiction and found a book that looked wonderful until I picked it up and felt how heavy it was. I didn't want anything too heavy. And then I found it. A new (well, 2009) novel by Lorrie Moore, one of my favorite authors, called A Gate at the Stairs. I knew right away that it was the right choice for now -- familiar because she's such a familiar author, but adventurous because it's a new novel to me.

I bought it, and I went down into the messed up subway, feeling relaxed because I had something to read, I cracked the cover, and immediately I knew. I had read this book before. I thought about going back up and out to return it and find a new one, but it was late and I was tired and the trains were messed up and I was sad and I just wanted to get where I was going, so instead, I sat down and waited for the train.

And then I realized that this is the first time that doing something again was something I had never done before, and the Möbius strip quality of this thought was amusing enough to let me open the book and start to read it again.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I saw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and The Dream of Wild Ponies Dancing

Never Done: I saw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and The Dream of Wild Ponies Dancing

It's a great day when I can see performance created by friends. It's an even greater day when I can see two. And it's a fascinating day when one of them is on Broadway and one of them is in a little outdoor garden space in the East Village, and both of them are ultimately quite meaningful.

Because I'm not a reviewer, and I decided at the beginning of the year not to review my friends' work in this blog, I'm not going to write about content of either performance. Instead, I'm going to write about what ultimately was most meaningful to me -- environment. After seeing Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the friend I went with said that she thought it would have had a greater impact if it wasn't on Broadway -- if it was in a theater about the size of the New York Theater Workshop, for example, which is a wonderful, high-quality small theater. While we both acknowledged that the play would lose its astounding production design in a smaller house, I ended up feeling that the audience could have connected better to both the play -- and actually to itself as an audience -- in a different kind of theatrical environment. Because you never really forget that that's Robin Williams, do you? And even if you do, then you don't -- because the audience claps for him when he enters the stage, and when he exits, and sometimes, randomly, in the middle of a scene in the middle of the play. And when the lights come up during intermission, you are most definitely in a Broadway house, with liquor for sale in the lobby -- not a non-profit theater which might have decided to design the lobby -- or even intermission performance -- to keep the audience engaged with the play.

I should add -- I love Broadway shows. I love the ornate houses, and I love being swept away, far from New York, into the imaginary worlds created on their stages. And you know what else I love? Going to a garden in the East Village that presents music, film, theater, and other performance in, around and through the foliage of the garden itself, where I went later with a different friend to see Quito Ziegler and friends' Department of Transformation. A completely different performative experience -- one in which there was a premium on the audience's ability to connect with the performance and with itself. One where we tucked into little corners together, and shared a watermelon, and watched Super 8 film projected onto a building's wall. One in which the lines between party and performance were blurred -- as were the lines between community and community building. I ended up feeling that the environment for this performance was a work of art in and of itself, and I'm not sure if I would have understood this as strongly had I not just come from the Richard Rogers just a few hours earlier.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I met Devin

Never Done: I met Devin

Actually, the Never Done activity I planned (and did) for the day was to go to Fairway for the first time. A real New York rite of passage, no? I think I made the mistake though of going in a hurry, because instead of it feeling like a miracle of abundance, it felt like a crush of overwhelm and confusion. Why are there three different places with the same kind of carrots and two places with the same kind of cantaloupes? I think it's intended so lots of people can get at the produce at the same time, but really, it's quite confusing. Also, why is there a sign for gluten free breads and crackers that points directly away from the breads and crackers? Do you scoop your own coffee? There are bags of nuts -- why aren't there bags of raisins and other dried fruit? But most of all, why is it that with so much to choose from, it's harder to find anything out of the ordinary? I went in with big intentions to break out of my Food Coop routine, but I ended up buying what I always buy: lots of produce, yogurt, soy milk, turkey, smoked fish, cheese, sunflower seeds, almonds, and a bar of dark chocolate. (Welcome to my world. It's actually amazing how much variation you can get with this baseline. At the end of the day I had a surprisingly transcendent tofu and vegetable stir-fry, made with rich mushroom soup stock I had frozen some months ago.)

I think if I had had time, I would have wandered through the aisles with a little more attention, considering sauces and pickles and meats and teas. But I didn't, so I didn't, and instead I walked down the aisles -- every single one of them -- thinking I should want to try something out of my normal realm, but instead feeling that we over-consume, and don't need as many choices as we are offered, and doing what I tend to do, which is to decide I don't really need it, whatever it is.

So I bought my groceries (the same I usually buy at twice the price ... but a parking lot!) and went to my lovely and full day that included not one but two friend dates, one of which brought me to meet Devin. Who's Devin? He's the newborn (18-day-old) son of my friends Jennifer and Lisa. And what is more Never Done than meeting a baby? It somehow feels fresher and more significant than meeting an adult for the first time. Maybe it's because they've hardly met any other people in their short little lives yet. To think of it, they've hardly even done anything at all in their short little lives -- although I'd probably be surprised at how much he's packed into 18 days. I bet to him, it feels like Fairway felt to me -- a whirlwind of newness, so much to take in, not sure what to do with it all. But most of the time I saw him, all he did was sleep, which looked like a totally appropriate response to being two weeks old. You've got my full support on that one, Devin. I followed your example not so long after seeing you (and I bet your parents would love a little of that sweet slumber as well.) In fact, I think that one of the great things we can learn from newborns is that it takes a lot of rest to be human. I'm going to try to remember that.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I went to see a shaman

Never Done: I went to see a shaman (in Tribeca)

I don't think I ever expected to say -- or write -- those words in this lifetime, but one of the most wonderful things about my Never Done practice is that it leads me to be open and non-judgmental about new experiences. Three weeks ago, I was talking with a close friend about my lung problems, when she became quite focused and said, "You have to see Shaman Elizabeth."

Without even knowing anything about Shaman Elizabeth, I knew in that instant that I would be going -- mostly because I could tell that my friend's conviction was strong, and that she truly believed this could help me, and partly because when you are doing a Never Done practice and someone tells you to see a shaman in Tribeca ... well, duh. Also, I don't think it's uncommon, when we are bumping up against the limits of what traditional medicines can do for us, to start looking into more obscure healing modalities. So I wrote for an appointment (her closest one was three weeks out) and waited, as my lungs got worse, and I tried more inhalers and prednisone, and then finally got a diagnosis of GERD, which is also somehow often linked to having a deep cough (although nobody can explain exactly how.)

I'm not going to tell you everything about my session, because it feels important to me that most of what she said and did should stay private. But I'll describe parts of it. The first thing is, Elizabeth is a pretty blonde Minnesotan. This is not who I would immediately think of as having a shamanic calling. (I don't actually know if she has Native ancestry -- I decided that it didn't matter to me one way or the other.) She works out of a small room in her loft -- a room like many massage studios - with a couch, a massage table, and a table filled with stones, feathers, bottles of clear liquid, and other talismans. She asked me to leave my shoes and bag outside, and to take off my jewelry. Then we sat on the couch and talked -- Elizabeth with little pretense, and a great deal of compassion and curiosity. She asked me why I was there, and I found it reassuring that this wasn't a test in which she had to prove what she could tell without our talking -- but that she wanted lots of information that would inform the rest of the session. She told me that much trauma that we are dealing with in this life is rooted in our past lives, and that she can find it and clear it out. We talked about a great deal of family history during this time -- ending with my parents' deaths. She wanted to know if they had died worrying about anything, or feeling like they needed to take care of someone. She said that sometimes if that's the case, they don't cross over to the other side, and stay in limbo and attach themselves (and sometimes their physical or emotional needs) onto us. She also stressed that when dealing with a physical manifestation like my bad cough, it's imperative to keep working with doctors -- that these healing modalities compliment each other, not replace each other.

She asked me to choose a stone from a tray, and when I chose, she made a little sound of surprise. She asked me to blow on it three times, and then she took it. She asked me to stand up, and she shook a gourd rattle around me, and made some blessings, and then did something with her hands -- she describes it as working with the energy around me. This was -- for lack of a better word -- the diagnostic part of the session. She told me what she saw, and what she wanted to do to heal it. I will say that what she saw made an awful lot of sense to me, both physically and metaphorically.

Then she asked me to lie down on the massage table and hold my stone -- first on my stomach, and then on my back. This was the heart of the session -- I was probably on the table for 45 minutes to an hour, while she used feathers, stones, stone knives, something she burned, some of the fragrant water, and her hands and voice to clear out what needed to go, and to instill what needed to be there to replace it. What she was doing was actually very literal, which I loved because I could picture the process clearly. I also loved the fragrances of the burning and the liquid -- and that's not a given for me. When she was done, she asked me to sit up, and we spoke. The first thing she told me was that she had been quite surprised at the stone I chose. It's a stone about time mastery -- rarely (if ever) chosen. Time mastery, she said, is about past, present, and future all existing at the same time, and is always associated with advanced healing. She told me that my session was not about past life trauma at all, but about intergenerational trauma -- passed down from my ancestors to me, looping around in cycles, existing in the past and present simultaneously. She said she rarely sees this, and thought it was connected to my having chosen the time mastery stone, which also pointed to the fact that I am already well into the healing process. Also, for those of you who knew them and are wondering, she also let me know that she did not see my parents hanging around in limbo -- that they are crossed over.

She told me more what she had done to clear out the trauma, and to instill something more positive to replace it. She also gave me the bands of protection, because she felt that after she removed all the protections I had in place (that weren't serving me well) that she would be leaving me too vulnerable. The bands of protection are visualized bands of black, red, gold, silver, and white light wrapped around my chakras, and then woven together into a permeable mesh of protection. She gave me a round stone that I can carry around for at least a few weeks to help me remember to invoke the bands of protection. Finally, she suggested I go home and take a hot bath with epsom salts and baking soda. She said she thought she had cleared out a lot from my lungs, but that it probably now hurt in my throat (which it did.) She suggested getting all the way into the hot bath -- all the way so my throat would be under water -- and letting that help clear things out the rest of the way.

The rest of the day was tough -- my cough got worse, and I got a headache, and I got incredibly tired. I wasn't able to go to sleep though -- was out til almost 10PM. But when I finally got home, I did draw a hot bath with baking soda and epsom salts (which I had just randomly bought last week) and sunk down deep for as long as I could, and then climbed into bed and slept better than I've slept in weeks.