Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I made basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, sage pesto

Never Done: I made basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, sage pesto

Right before the hurricane, my co-worker came to an early morning staff meeting and announced she had a present for everyone. She had picked all the herbs from her garden, wrapped them in wet paper towel, put them in plastic bags, and brought them for us. She was afraid her garden would wash out in the storm -- and she decided to share her bounty.

I loved that she did this. I felt that in making these little herby goodie bags, she really showed herself to us in a way that I am not yet showing myself at work. I'm starting to -- I've now told a couple people about my Never Done year, and someone suggested that I teach a Never Done workshop, which is a great idea. I show myself when I make programming suggestions, or join some co-workers at a lunchtime spin class. But I don't think people really have a sense yet of my brand of rural secular cultural yiddishkayt and Judaism. It'll be good for me to show it, in good time.

But this was my coworker sharing herbs from her garden. I took them home and thought I'd make something with them right away, but right away was some anesthesia, and then a hunkering down hurricane day, and then back to work -- and I just don't cook as much as I used to now that I am a commuter. But I felt determined to do something lovely with her lovely gift, so when I got home from work, I took out the herbs, stripped them off their stems, washed them, and let them sit to dry while I contemplated what I could do with them. They would have been perfect in my mom's roasted tomato sauce, but I didn't have tomatoes. I thought about making a pasta salad and tossing them, fresh, with olive oil and garlic. But I wouldn't have been able to eat it fresh, and that seemed like a waste. But it gave rise to another idea -- something I'd never tried before -- to make pesto with a mixture of herbs. Not just basil pesto with a pinch of something else, but truly a pesto of mixed herbs.

And so I practiced Decisiveness: Once you make a decision, act without hesitation, and I tossed the herbs in the Cuisinart along with some pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, and salt -- and went to town. The result was a lovely, tangy, almost lemony pesto -- one that I have the feeling will ripen with age. It made three jars, and I put one in my bag to bring in to my coworker. Just a little gift to show myself a little bit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I went to the Moth, or we applaud the storyteller; we applaud the story

Never Done: I went to the Moth, or we applaud the storyteller; we applaud the story

Faithful readers know that a couple weeks ago Heath and I waited for over an hour -- in the rain -- to get into The Moth: True Stories Told Live storytelling salon, but were foiled by the recent innovation of pre-sales. I was determined to get in before the end of my Never Done year, but time is running out (between their schedule, my upcoming travel, and the coming of yom kippur.) I wasn't able to leave work as early as I wanted to to guarantee a spot, but I got in line by 6 for a 7:30 show (same as last time, but closer to the front this time.)

I'd be lying if I said the time moved quickly -- it didn't -- but at least I was productive. I talked on the phone, I did some work email, I read some in my book (A Visit from the Goon Squad) and I talked with the young people in line behind me, who had a friend on the Moth inside who promised them great seats, which reassured me that I would get in, since I was in front of them.

They also handed out little pieces of paper with a question -- What's a time in your life when you were fiercely motivated? -- and asked us to fill that in, so that we could participate in the evening even if we didn't want to get up to tell a story. The idea was that the host would read them in between stories, as little interstitial moments. I couldn't think if what to write. I have been fiercely motivated so many times that, frankly, I got overwhelmed. Breaking my own badminton birdie bouncing records? Learning Yiddish? Lying my way out of humiliating moments? What to pick? Eventually I put it away and went back to my book, and decided to jot something down at the last minute if it came to me. It did. Just as I approached the door, I wrote: I waited in line three (changed to two) times to get into the Moth. This is my first time getting in. I wanted to say three because I knew it was funnier and more impressive and made a better story. But it wasn't true, so I wrote over it and turned it into two, which was the truth. But later, when the host did in fact pick my slip and read it aloud, my poor handwriting messed him up anyhow, and he ended up reading, I waited in line one time to get into the Moth. This is my first time getting in. And then he made fun of it because it didn't make any sense, and said I'd probably leave at the half. This got me thinking about how true -- and how exaggerated -- the stories were that people were telling.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I got inside, the place was already packed, and it looked like there was standing room only. But I found a table with one empty seat, and asked the people there if I could join them, and they said yes. It turns out that all the tables were full because, of course, the people who pay extra to not have to stand in line, get to come in early and take all the seats. I mean, it did work out for me, but I might have been the last line waiter to rest my tush -- and I had been outside for 90 minutes. (I am putting on my arts presenter hat now, and thinking about ethical considerations for audiences. I do think it's ethical to have different levels of ticket pricing, but I don't think it's ethical to set the levels such that the people who pay more literally get to take most of the available seating -- or whatever is comparable in other venues.) But I did stand in line, and I did get a seat, and eventually the show got going.

It was hosted by Brad Lawrence, a storyteller, burlesque performer, and man of many other writing credits. It was an open slam -- which is to say that people could put their names in a hat, whether or not anyone knew if they were any good, and if their name was drawn, they got to be one of ten performers for the evening. The judges were three teams of people who were selected from the audience. The stories would be judged on three criteria. 1) were they true? 2) did they have a beginning, a middle, and an end? and 3) did they stick to 5 minutes? Also, 4) did they stick to the theme, which this night, was Drive.

Drive can be explored through just so many lenses. Ambition, golfing, sex drive, driving a car. I expected a lot of esoteric interpretations of Drive, but all the stories had to do with cars.

1) Lana went to a Jewish speed dating event and ended up going to sing karaoke with a man, only to find that he had also invited another woman. She assumed the other woman was a tagalong, and so Lana took the front seat of the car, but when when she saw the way the guy looked at the other woman when she was singing, she knew it was the other way around

2) Bridgette's mother always demanded that she call when she got somewhere, so her mom would know she had not landed in a ditch. One day Bridgette literally landed her car in a ditch.

3) When Jefferson's dad gave him a Chevette, he also gave him three rules: Don't drink and drive, don't smoke in the car, and never let anyone else drive the car. He let a girl drive it, and it ended up going through a wall, into an apartment. And it's not the only thing he's ruined in the name of love.

4) Max used to drive around and shoplift all the time. (OK, this one -- while not as well constructed, actually was about a drive to steal.)

5) Jim wanted to fit in in his working class neighborhood in the Bronx. But when he finally got the chance (by asking some shady characters to helpf his car troubles disappear) he realized he was really still a kid from Westchester.

6) Johanna's dad owned a car dealership. She thought they were well off. But when the time came to move and the moving van was almost hijacked by black sedans, she learned the family was actually 6 months behind on the rent.

7) Julianne threw her wedding ring out at Exit 7 of the New Jersey Thruway.

8) Molly was a rule follower, to the letter. When her high school friends want to ditch a party to go to the beach, she calls her mom to ask permission, and quashes the whole adventure.

9) Joshua was driving his family to Chelsea Piers, but left his wallet on the top of the car and lost it on FDR Drive. Over the next days, he makes his wife get out and gather his credit cards that have been strewn along the side of the road.

10) While Camille is in England for work, she learns many words that are different in British English from American English. When a perverted cabbie asks her if she wants to see his scar, she can't resist finding out what it really means.

I enjoyed the stories. I enjoyed people's confidence. I enjoyed that three of the story tellers (Lana, Max, Julianne) were doing it for the first time. I thought about what I would tell. I thought about the significance of telling a rehearsed story in front of a live audience. Brad would tell little stories about Drive in between the big stories, and he would read aloud the slips of papers that we filled out while waiting in line -- and he would deconstruct them. Often word by word, often imbuing meaning where it was clearly not meant. Brad is a good performer -- with a quick
wit and focused mind. But he's a mocking comic -- his humor comes from making fun of people, which while skilled and impressive, rarely gets a laugh out of me. But you know who didn't he mock? The ten storytellers who got up on stage. He treated them with respect and I would say professionalism, frequently reminding the audience that, "We applaud the storyteller; we applaud the story."

And that is a lesson to take away.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I volunteered at an emergency evacuatation center

Never Done: I volunteered at an emergency evacuatation center

When I woke up on Sunday and realized that there was no flooding in the basement of the house where we live, and that no trees came down on any part of our house or car -- although there were plenty down just 1/2 block away -- so it could have happened) and that there was really no chance of any flooding whatsoever in my neighborhood (I live in one of the highest points in Brooklyn) ... once I realized all that, I knew I had an entire day ahead of me, to do as I wished. One thing I wished was to watch episodes of Friday Night Lights, my new TV rerun obsession. I also wanted to get out and explore my neighborhood in the wake of Irene. But I also -- partly because I had just written about thinking about others during the storm -- wanted to spend some time actively thinking about others, and so I went to the Armory YMCA, which is my wonderful gym, to see if they needed non-Red Cross volunteers.

They did. Sort of. Not really. Josh and I walked over together. First, there were police and National Guard stationed outside, keeping people from getting in and people from getting out. I realized immediately how hard it would be to be in one of these centers. We asked if they needed anything, and the cops did that body positioning thing, where they block you without saying they are blocking you -- without saying anything actually -- until the shelter coordinator came over and said they wouldn't turn away any volunteers. It was an ambiguous answer to the question of whether they needed volunteers, and we soon found out why. But first, we went in to a table set up on the running track, and signed in. We were then sent to talk with the operations coordinator -- a nice woman from Borough Park who had just arrived that morning. Her message to us was that there was really nothing to do. This shelter was for people with medical and developmental disabilities, and so most of the help needed was medical. Nobody was allowed to give out food unless they were medically trained (in case someone was diabetic or had other medical food needs/issues) and they had tons of National Guard guys there for the heavy lifting, so she was not sure what to do with us. But while we stood there talking with her, a Red Cross volunteer came over and asked if any of spoke Russian, because there was a 92 year-old woman in the shelter who barely spoke English, and couldn't fully describe where she lives. The Red Cross volunteer got a degree in Russian 10 years ago, and spoke passably but not fluently. Josh speaks some Russian, but figured it would not be as much as Red Cross woman, so we apologized and declined.

As we were on the way out, it occurred to Josh that maybe the woman spoke Yiddish. We went back over, and were brought over to the woman, and Red asked, but no -- she was not Jewish. But once over there, we discovered that there was a question about the woman's ability to know where she lives -- and maybe not so much a language barrier. We went out again, and Josh again had an idea -- we have plenty of friends who are fluent in Russian, so we called one of them, and reached P while she was at Yidish Vokh (Yiddish Week.) Again we went inside, and again we went to the woman -- and this time explained that we had someone on the phone. This is when the most amazing thing happened. While she was waiting to talk with P, this woman gestured to her cot and to the little plastic container of pudding and apple sauce that the shelter had brought her -- to offer us a place to sit, and something to eat. The gesture was full of grace, and reminded me what it means to be human -- fully human -- to offer something when you have little, potentially not even your complete faculties.

As it turned out, P and the woman spoke, and they got a little than anyone else did -- they got her street corners, but not a house number or apartment number or whether it's a nursing home or a private home. I could tell that it gave a great level of relief and peace of mind to the woman to speak with someone who understood her -- her whole face changed; she felt cared for. When they got off the phone, she thanked us, and once again we left -- for the final time. In the end, this might have been the most important thing we could have done -- to bring comfort, communication, and peace of mind to an elderly woman who was far from home and disconnected from her people. If I ever find myself in such a situation, I hope there are people who can do that for me.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I made a disaster preparedness kit

Never Done: I made a disaster preparedness kit

As I wrote yesterday, I didn't get to get ready for the storm while I actually felt agitated about it. Instead I had to wait until I felt rational and calm about it, and after I had a better sense of its true magnitude. It looks like it's going to be a Category 1 storm, which is not nothing, but it's not the Big One people were predicting. True, 5 people have already died in North Carolina, and 900,000 people are out of power (as of this writing, which is Saturday evening, even though it's going to post on Sunday morning, because I don't want to assume there will be power in Brooklyn on Sunday morning) -- as I was saying, true, it's causing damage in North Carolina and about to hit Washington D.C., but it's not supposed to cause flooding in my neighborhood, and it's predicted to be 60-70 mph winds instead of 90-100 mph.

Still, I read Zeitoun, and I know how bad an urban hurricane disaster could get, so I decided not to take the storm lightly, and to make a disaster preparedness kit, according to FEMA's recommendations. I know, I know ... FEMA. But I already had most of the items on the list, and it doesn't hurt to have some latex gloves around. I know, I know ... I'm not likely to be flooded in or out of my apartment, but it doesn't hurt to have some extra peanut butter and 9-volt batteries.

It's interesting to pack a Go Bag without feeling like a paranoid jerk. To make a copy of your license and insurance card and to put it into a baggie and into a backpack. It feels so self-centered. But at the same time, it's actually an act of lessening your burden on society -- and getting things ready to share with other people. If it would turn into an actual disaster, and I would not be at all prepared, I would require more resources and services to get through it. Also, by stocking up on saint candles and tuna fish, I can offer light and food to others if they need it. Also, by spending the day paying my bills and cleaning up piles of papers, I make a nicer living environment for me and anyone who joins me here while the storm shuts us in.

This is just one of the ways we can be thinking about others during a storm/ event. There are people without homes across the Eastern seaboard, who hopefully have access to shelter(s.) There are people incarcerated at Riker's Island without an evacuation plan because Bloomberg decided not to make one. There are people getting evacuated to centers -- two are very near my house (because my neighborhood is pretty high and not at all likely to flood) -- who don't get to stay home and pay bills. I don't actually know if we can volunteer there, or if we need prior training and certification with the Red Cross. (My sister does Red Cross certified disaster work.) We can think about if our actions put anyone else -- including rescue workers -- at risk. Every time there's a big storm/event, someone goes out and does something (goes surfing, goes canoeing) that requires someone to risk their life in order to rescue them. I myself was one of those people during Hurricane Gloria, which I chose, with some college friends, as the perfect time to trip on mushrooms. We took them, went out, and had a completely gorgeous day running around campus in the storm. It was glorious, but it was a terrible decision that could have gone just so terribly wrong.

And yet sometimes it's a delicate negotiation to figure out how to balance our decisions against other people's decisions. I asked my landlords to move the patio furniture, which is essentially outside my bedroom, but they don't think the wind will be strong enough to blow it around. Now, it's true that I have no idea if it's going to be strong enough to blow it around, but I also know that it's possible that it will be, and I don't want a rocking chair smashing into my bedroom window. I could go out and move it myself, but where to? There is no room inside my apartment. I could insist that they move it for my sense of safety, but that's a lot of work (although I offered to do it with them) for them to alleviate my fears and meet my standards of hurricane preparedness. Or I could do what I'm going to do, and spend an uneasy night, knowing that it could go either way, but that I would have preferred to err on the side of caution. I think the guiding mide (middah) here is Patience: Don't aggravate a situation with wasted grief. It might be bad, and it might not, but I can only be as prepared as I can be, and there's only so much it makes sense to worry about.

In the end, I live on high ground and I have a lot of peanut butter. Enough to share. Let me know if you need some.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I tried to make a disaster preparedness kit but got an endoscopy instead

Never Done: I tried to make a disaster preparedness kit but got an endoscopy instead

As you probably recall, on Tuesday I was at the doctor during the earthquake. On Friday I went back to have an endoscopy -- just as everyone around me was anxiously preparing for Hurricane Irene. It was a crazy time to be doing this -- the doctor's office was backed up 90 minutes, and so all of us very hungry people (procedure requires fasting) were waiting in the waiting room instead of out doing what we really wanted to do: buying batteries and peanut butter cups.

It's a good thing the doctor I see is a mentsh (SUCH a mentsh -- if you need a recommendation for an excellent GI doctor, hit me up) because I wouldn't have wanted to go into a situation where I was going to go under anesthesia with resentment to a doctor. Instead, he came into the room when we first saw each other, and just threw his arms open and apologized for the wait, and told me that everything had been crazy -- that people hadn't prepped right, that he'd found tons of polyps, that people were insane because of the storm, that he had plenty of time for me and he was completely rested and he was going to do a thorough and careful job. None of this was cavalier -- just real and engaged and actually reassuring.

But here's the thing. I'd been experiencing a pretty high level of anxiety about the hurricane all day long. I would rather be pretty much anywhere but New York City for an emergency-type event -- probably because I have dealt with dozens of power outages in the country, but have never had to deal with them in the city. Also, I feel trapped in New York, because it is, in fact, an island. Whereas the places I would like to go to for this storm are surrounded by fields and orchards instead of rivers and oceans. But I felt that the anxiety I was feeling went beyond the impending storm -- and it wasn't until I was sitting in the waiting room for way longer than I should have that I realized that it wasn't only the storm that had me feeling anxious. It was that I was about to go under anesthesia right before a storm -- the ultimate helplessness -- and didn't know when I would be done, and how I would feel, and if I would be able to go buy batteries afterwards, or if I would need to be home asleep, and in fact how it would be go get home, and if I would have a bad reaction to the anesthesia (sometimes I do and sometimes I don't) and really irrationally, what if the hurricane came while I was under? -- which there was no way it was going to do, but the earthquake had struck while I was in the same doctor's office, so it sort of made sense that I was afraid of that -- and also, I sort of wanted to drive away from the city Friday night to avoid the storm entirely, but they warn you not to drive for 24 hours after anesthesia, and -- well, of course I was feeling a little bit of helplessness. Of course.

Once I figured that out, I realized I had to just chill out, let go, and trust Dr. Mentsh would take good care of me. Also, that I could buy batteries and Band-Aids on Saturday morning. He did take good care of me, and although I was quite loopy when I came to, I eventually got unlooped enough to go home, and even to go out looking for batteries. And guess what? There were none. Anywhere. (Well there were plenty of AA and AAA, but I already have a ton of those. I was looking for C and D batteries. Flashlight batteries. Also, flashlights because ours are ... you guessed it ... mostly in storage. Also, my dear Ellen reminded me that after the flooding in Hoboken a few years ago she sent me a disaster preparedness kit -- with candles and a hand-crank flashlight. And where is that? Agh, in storage!) But the interesting this is that I didn't feel all anxious about this. I felt frustrated and a little concerned, but not anxious, which validated my theory that my anxiety of the impending storm was partially displaced.

And so I watched some episodes of The Big C (now she's a swim coach!) and hit the sack early, with plans to find light in the morning.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I accidentally saw an opera

Never Done: I accidentally saw an opera

Sometimes I need to be alone to think. I work in a big, open work area -- cubicles with walls that come up to my chest. At its best, this fosters collaboration and creates a warm, collegial atmosphere. At its more frustrating, it makes it hard to get writing and deep thinking done. I needed to do just that -- writing and deep thinking -- and so I decided, rather than try to do it at home, to stay late and work in the vast emptiness.

I remember this feeling. I've often worked late in my old workplaces, and there is something incredibly comforting about it. I think it's related to making the place mine, and actually, as I write about it, I think it goes back further back than workplaces, all the way to being in middle school at night, for a Fireman's supper, or a school play. That feeling of walking down the floors that Mr. Foss and PJ had swept and mopped, lights out in the classrooms, hallways echoing with the absence of voices. It was a little transgressive, and also incredibly comforting all at once. If you're in a place at a time that you aren't usually, you own it. You make it yours. You belong.

So in fact, this isn't a new thing for me. It's just a thing I've never before done at the JCC, and it's actually my way of crossing a threshold into a deeper sense of comfort and ownership of my job and my place in this community. The truly beautiful thing that happened is that because I was thinking about staying late in my high school for plays, I decided to poke my head into the auditorium on my way out -- just to make it feel like my own as well. It's a good thing I went in quietly, because it turned out there was an opera rental in there that hadn't showed up on our website (because it's not really part of my own programming.) A beautiful small production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, by Opera Slavica. As it turns out, I have never seen Eugene Onegin, and I stepped in just as two men were about to have a duel over the love of a woman. I heard the beautiful aria that one of the men sings before the other shows up, and then a comic introduction to the duel. What world to I work in that this is possible? If I go down 3 flights, I can go swimming. If I go down 4, I can run on a treadmill or take a yoga class. If I go down 10, I can see an opera. If I go all the way down to the lowest level, I could take a class and learn how to sew shoes. (I work in a vertical community. I could probably embark on an entire new Never Done year, and never leave this building -- especially if I stay late more often.)

I'm at a loss as to how to end this post. I want to write about all the ways we can make spaces our own, or how the shift from day to night shifts our ownership of space, but truly, I think I am just enamored with the fact that I opened a door, and inside I found an opera.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I went inside the Courtelyou Branch Library

Never Done: I went inside the Courtelyou Branch Library (in Ditmas Park)

I love libraries. I still have a card from my growing up library, from my college library, from the Portland public library, from the New York public library, from my grad school library, from the Hoboken public library, and of course, from the Brooklyn public library. Among these, I love the public libraries more than I love the private libraries. I love that you can go in to read, get out of the rain or the heat, pee, or use a computer (if there's not a line.) One day last summer, when I was doing a lot of driving around Massachusetts and upstate New York to see if there was a place I didn't know already where I might like to live, I went into a public library to ask the research librarian in Northhampton for help finding a good swimming hole. She had a folder on local swimming holes. (I love that librarian. I did not love Northhampton.)

A while back, I was contacted by Shannon who wanted to interview me her radio journalism blog, The BK Buzz. She had read about my Never Done project in a Brooklyn Based about Madhu Kaza, and asked if she could do a podcast interview about my Never Done year. (I am currently torn between writing about the interview in detail, and waiting to write about it for when it posts. I think I am going to wait, and stick with the library post right now.) Shannon and I went back and forth several times on dates, and once we found a good date, we needed a location.

Since I've produced so many things -- especially film shoots -- I am accustomed to looking for locations that are good for sound recordings, but since I started my new job at the JCC I just don't have time to put in to things that aren't mine. (Which is, in and of itself, interesting to look at. I've struggled for years with being saddled with/taking on too much responsibility and how it relates to being a freelancer -- when the expectation is that my flexibility allows me to do stuff that other people can't do, which is actually true, but it's also hard to be a successful freelancer if one is doing all sorts of stuff that's not the freelance job. Now that I am working an hour's commute from my home, without access to my home email, I am physically and logistically more limited than I've ever been, and it physically and logistically inhibits me from over-volunteering for responsibility.) (That was a very long parenthetical.) Shannon asked me to come up with ideas of where to meet, but I didn't have the time or attention to do a scout for a location with good sound for a radio interview. I wanted to help, but I didn't have any great ideas, and didn't have the time to find out what her sounds needs are. She eventually made a great suggestion for a location, and we were all set. Except that we then had to change the date, and had to start this process over. She asked me for a location; I suggested she find something; she didn't know the area well (we were meeting somewhere different because I was going to a birthday party after work); I felt pulled to solve it; I didn't have time to solve it; and then, all of a sudden, I had the perfect idea: the Courtelyou branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

It was an interesting private moment. The producer side of myself was delighted that I had solved the problem. The neurotic part of myself almost wanted to pretend I hadn't, in order to prove to myself that I wasn't taking on too much responsibility. The producer side of myself didn't know the hours the library was open. The Mussar side of myself noticed that I thought I didn't have time to solve it, but that I had solved it in an instant -- and that this related in some ways to the mides (middot) of Patience, Humility, Equanimity, Decisiveness, Diligence, and Silence. I sat for a moment with all of this swirling inside myself, and then just dashed an email to Shannon suggesting that she check the hours of the library. She did this immediately, and then wrote back to say it was a great idea. Perfect.

I hope you've noticed that this was an entirely internal process -- that all this internal swirl came up when Shannon merely asked me for suggestions, close to where I would be, for a good place to meet. Totally normal, understandable, and good-producer behavior on her part. Exactly what I would have done. Exactly what I have done hundreds of times.

By the time I walked down Courtelyou Road and saw a young woman in a bright green shirt standing outside the library, all these logistics were behind me, and I was reviewing my year, thinking about the important things to talk about on the interview. But as soon as we entered the library, I realized I'd never actually been inside that branch, and I voiced a silent Shehekhianu, thankful that these spaces are still available -- and filled with books -- for public use.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I (how to put this delicately) was indisposed during an earthquake

Never Done: I (how to put this delicately) was indisposed during an earthquake

I'm warning you now. This post will be full of euphemisms and metaphors. It's also going to refer back to a post I already wrote in this blog. So much informed consent, and we've barely even begun. Those of you on the East coast probably noticed we had an earthquake today. I've been in a lot of them, because I used to live in Oregon, although the first one I remember was when I lived in Massachusetts, and the quake rattled some plates off the table and onto the floor. They broke. The next one I remember was pretty much exactly the same, only in Maine. The first Oregon earthquake though was a big one. All I remember is that it was 1993, and it was very early morning, and I was in bed with my girlfriend, and a violent shaking woke us up, and the next thing I knew, she had thrown herself across me, declaring clearly, "It's an earthquake!" She grew up in California. She knew from big earthquakes. I just looked it up, and it had a name: the Scotts Mills Earthquake.

The next earthquake I was in was the one I wrote about before here. About the time I was in the middle of an acupuncture treatment, when the entire building started to creak and shake, while I lay on the acupuncturist's table with needles in my back, praying that no ceiling would fall on me and ... well, you probably don't want to think about that. This time around, it was sort of like that, only different. I was seeing a doctor. I was wearing a gown, open to the back. I was ... the doctor was ... well the doctor had to do a quick exam where the sun don't shine. And the next thing I knew, the whole building started to shake. Boy, I thought. It never felt like that before.

The doctor finished the exam, and we both went out into the hallway. The receptionist started looking for information about the quake. Some of the staff didn't notice it, and one of them was flipping out. I later found out that that's pretty much what happened at my office too. After I was all dressed again, the doctor and I went out on the balcony to see that a bunch of buildings on the other side of the street had evacuated. It hadn't even occurred to us. I got outside, and I called Josh and I texted Jesse. I called Josh's mom, who lives much closer to the epicenter, and had slept through it. It's interesting to notice who feels like family in these moments. I also dashed an email to one of my co-workers, because I wanted her to know I was fine and already on my way back to work. It seems that in 7 short weeks, I've started to think of my co-workers as family, and wanted to know that they were all OK too. (They were.)

Now if a large natural disaster would strike, I would not want to be in New York City. I have always felt safer without tall buildings around that could fall on my head. But I live here now, and I made through this non-disaster just fine, so I think I will just be happy about that instead of worried about some future disaster that will probably never happen. How's that for a disaster readiness plan?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I went to the New York International Fringe Festival

Never Done: Shadow post
Never Done: I went to the New York International Fringe Festival

Sometimes when I do something I've never done that I truly can't write about publicly, I write about something else. It was a banner crazy shit day -- I'll say that. And sadly for this blog, that is all I'll say.

But I did go to the New York Fringe Festival, which I am 99% sure (even though this is practically impossible to believe) I have never done before. Let's pretend I'm 100% sure. The show I went to see was on the Lower East Side, in a little space called Kabayitos in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center. There is something so precious about spaces like this -- little 60-seat houses, up two flights in an old school -- where incredibly dedicated people present their souls to incredibly devoted theater goers. It just feels so lonely and decentralized -- and connected and unified. I know that's a huge contradiction, but I think that's what making small theater is most of the time. Every now and then, it all comes together. I made a show once that all came together. It was a perfect storm of all coming together, and it felt so disorienting that I didn't realize it was happening until, when the audience was clapping, and then standing, and I had left the stage, my friend D literally had to tell me to go back up there and take a second bow. I had been working on it all alone for so many years, and then with my collaborative team for so many months, that I was just not ready to integrate the sold-out, enthusiastic audience into the experience.

That's not what happened when I went to the Fringe. This show and audience did not all come together in a perfect media storm -- just like most of the shows I've been in, written, and worked on in my lifetime. This slight disconnect made me feel quite tender toward the show, and toward the audience, and toward the people working in it and the people working for it. It made me want to wrap everyone up in a big polar fleece blanket (except not really, because it was shvitzy in there) so let's see, different metaphor ... it made me want to pour everyone a nice tall glass of blended mint lemonade, and tell them how much I appreciate that they are digging into their souls to create and support theater.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I went to the End of the World (and back again)

Never Done: I went to the End of the World (and back again)

After the Dan Bern show in Piermont, I drove to my college friend Cyndi's house in Poughkeepsie to spend the night and then go to her favorite swimming hole the next day. The plan was to meet Josh's train, have some brunch, meet up with some of her friends, and head up there by 1. The weather report said 80% chance of thunderstorms every hour, but also showed a sunny icon all day long. Cyndi's a pretty optimistic, go-with-the-flow kind of person, and she felt quite sure that we'd catch a break. While we were in the cafe having brunch, the skies opened up and started to dump torrents of rain. I started suggesting all sorts of alternate plans. She kept true to her belief that she thought it would blow over, and that anyhow, the weather is different up on the mountain. I didn't think it was likely -- it felt like we were settled in for a real all-day rain. I wasn't invested in it raining, and in fact I really wanted to go swimming, but I just had a hard time seeing that things could change from what I was seeing. (Metaphor/lesson alert -- having to do with impermanence and intransigence alert -- for the rest of my life.)

And of course, as you suspected, after a while the rain did ease up, and so we headed up to Lake Minnewaska State Park Preserve, to hike in along Peterskill, to a secret (not so secret) and beloved swimming hole called the End of the World.

When we arrived at the gates of the State Park, the warden told us that Lower Falls is closed, and that rangers are clearing people out of there. Cyndi seemed sure that we were headed elsewhere, but she also knew that we weren't really supposed to go to the End of the World. Undeterred, we set off. It's about a 30-minute walk through the woods to get there, along the Peterskill. Gorgeous woods, with spruce, and sassafras, and white pine -- as well as rhododendrons and mountain laurel and sweet fern and blueberries. As we walked, I saw dozens of gorgeous places to go swimming, which built up my anticipation for what might make the End of the World different from these other places. I started thinking it might either be more secluded, or deeper, or just so spectacular that it was going to be obvious. Cyndi kept the mystery alive and just let me speculate (which I love) -- as we worked our way closer and closer to our destination.

When we arrived, it was clear that we were indeed at Lower Falls. Because, well, we had descended to someplace significantly lower than we had been, and also, we were at a big basin falls. It was gorgeous; the sun was out, the air was soft and warm, the water was completely clear and fresh. My first swimming hole of the summer! This is the trade-off of having done the triathlon -- until last week, I didn't get out of the city all summer, and now I intend to get out as often as I can for the rest of the year, and to get into as many clean and fresh bodies of water as possible.

Lying in the pool, chilly and shivery, with the warm sun coming down and the swirl of the water around me, I started singing, "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." And I did. I felt incredibly fine. The only question was -- is it ethical to go there when it's against the rules? We did no harm, left nothing behind, and were neither the first nor the last people to go there that day. What I think is that the warden has to tell us not to go, and by telling us not to go, he is actually telling us that he knows we are going, and to take good care of it. The arrangement seems to be working -- the falls were pristine.

When we were done, we hiked out and drove back to New Paltz, and just as we got back into town, the rain started to fall again. It made me think about the day Cyndi and I graduated from college. It was dumping a torrential rain all morning, and then cleared up for just the right amount of time for people to walk to the ceremony and for the ceremony itself, and then the skies opened up and everyone ran for cover. On the way to Brooklyn, we drove through the hardest rain I've ever driven though -- it brought visibility down to almost zero. So much rain that I would have pulled off if there would have been a safe place to, but we were on the Taconic with no exits for the hardest rainfall. Instead, I drove on home very slowly, appreciative of Cyndi's confidence in the shifting winds, and in her plans for the day. As we approached Brooklyn, and again as we approached the apartment, I asked Josh if he thought it might stop raining long enough for us to unload the car. He said that he thought it would. I, apparently having learned nothing all day, did not. And wouldn't you know it, just as I pulled up to the curb near our apartment, the rain eased up to just a light sprinkle. And I felt fine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I went to the Turning Point, in Piermont, NY

Never Done: I went to the Turning Point, in Piermont, NY

Just ten miles north of the George Washington Bridge sits the hamlet of Piermont, NY. A one-street town, which you can picture as it used to be - without the coffee house, without the jewelry store, without the high-end dress shops. You can also picture what is going to become of it -- with the photo of Lance Armstrong in the coffee shop window (he stopped off there on a long ride) and the Amy's Organic products starting to fill the shelves of the D&D Market. At the same time, you can picture the ways it will always stay the same - the Hudson River and its shores, and the Victorian houses which are either too beautiful, or landmark protected (or both) to ever tear down.

And then there's the Turning Point -- a music club that has been there since the late 1970s, which feels like a combination of your dark basement with most of your old furniture in it, and a Wild West saloon. (The door is even staffed by a toothless old coot named George.) (I don't think I ever wrote the word "coot" before. Suddenly I'm worried it's a derogatory term instead of just a descriptor of a grizzled old man, or a water bird. I'm going to go look it up. Stand by .... OK, according to Urban Dictionary, yes: offensive. I'm leaving it in, for the sake of transparency of my learning process.) Back to the atmosphere and the old furniture: three women came in and sat near me. One of them didn't like the way her chair wobbled. She made a big show with her friends of going and getting a different chair, and putting her chair where the other one came from. About 20 minutes later, when the club had filled up, we heard a tumult. An elderly woman had fallen -- the wobbly chair's leg had broken. I spent some time thinking about responsibility here, and ethics. I do think it was, first and foremost, the responsibility of the club to have safe chairs. But I also think it was the responsibility of the first woman to tell the club owner that her chair was wobbly, instead of handing it off to someone else. I think it's very possible that I would have done what that first woman did -- and decided to learn from that experience. (So many learning experiences, just by going to and writing about a show.)

I was up there to see Dan Bern play. I've written about him before -- he is one of the best contemporary singer-songwriters I know. He's a brilliant lyricist and performer, with acute observational skills and political analysis, a love of sports, rooted in Jewish cultural and political identity, and on top of that has recently started writing children's songs. And somehow he manages to combine all of this into a club gig -- including the children's songs. There are just so many directions this blog post could go right now, but I think the place I'm going to take it is to show you the lyrics to one of the children's songs he played at the Turning Point, so you can see how he writes from a global, sweet, astute, and personal place all at once. To get a broader sense of his work, here's the place to go.

Farmer -- music and lyrics by Dan Bern

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting wheat
His little farm is down the street

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting millet
Your eyes are huge, just like a skillet

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting scallions
His people come from a long line of Italians

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting leaks
They're good each day of the week

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn and rutabagas
With seeds that come from Venezuela

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting shoes
If they don't grow, we've got nothing to lose

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting flowers
They grow a foot every hour

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting corn, he's planting wheat
His little farm is down the street

You are a ghost, you are a charmer
Look there is jones, he is a farmer
He's planting wheat, he's planting corn
I am so glad to you were born.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks

Never Done: I wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks

It actually took a while to find street chalk! Days, even. Craft stores? Bodegas? Ricky's? In the end, I found some in a weird little stationer's. And as soon as I got it, it became very rainy, so my plans to do street chalk art and messaging got delayed. It turns out to be incredibly fun, and also feels just a little bit transgressive, like maybe it's graffiti and you'll get caught -- but, of course, it's chalk and a rainy season, so it's actually not very transgressive at all, except that people look at you funny, which lets you remember that not everybody is writing messages in chalk on their way to work.

Also, it's a little bit hard to think of what to say, when you don't really know your audience. I mean -- you see the people walking to work, but you don't really know what they need to hear. They specifically, as in the individuals. So I ended up writing more to the people, as in the People, as a whole. Let's all watch tonight's news for Windsor Terrace/South Slope and see if there's an increase in reported ethical acts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I stood in line for an hour to go to The Moth (but didn't get in)

Never Done: I stood in line for an hour to go to The Moth (but didn't get in)

The Moth is a storytelling series, where people tell true stories in front of a live audience. I've never been, but I've heard many of the stories from The Moth on This American Life. So I looked up their schedule, and put it my calendar about a month ago. It says on their website that doors open at 7, but you should get there an hour early to get a seat. So I dutifully got there at 6 PM, and thought I had a good place in line -- because I've seen the line go all the way around the corner from where I was standing. Heath joined me when they got off work, and we had a great talk, sometimes in the rain, sometimes eating dosa for white people, while we waited.

While in line, someone came down to tell us that they had just started doing pre-sales. It used to be that all sales were made at the door, but they just started pre-selling 50 tickets at twice the price, and they told us that since they had never done this before, they didn't know how to judge how many people from the line would get in. They told us they would come down the line later to update us, once the pre-sale audience showed up. This would probably be a good time to mention that every night has a theme, and that this night's theme was Betrayal. Really, do I have to even keep writing the rest of this blog post?

So yes, eventually the line started to move, and no, we did not get in, and yes, if they would have let in the fifty next people in line we would have just made it. And yes, a woman in line suggested we go somewhere and do our own storytelling session, on the theme of Betrayal: "They told us they would come down the line to update us!" Heath noticed that when the word came down that it was over, we weren't getting in, people didn't really leave. Instead, we stood around, saying, "Really? We don't get in? But, we came an hour early." New York, the city of dashed dreams. This is the stuff of poignant, life, first person, true story telling. But you know I'm persistent. You know I'll be out there again, 90 minutes early.

Here we are while our dreams were still intact:

And here we are, refusing to accept the truth:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I alerted the station master and police that a passenger fell on the tracks

Never Done: I alerted the station master and police that a passenger fell on the tracks

First of all, he was OK. Second of all, every single person In the situation acted well. Here's my version of the story. I went to the doctor on my lunch break. At the end of our appointment, she asked if it was OK to draw blood so she could send a comprehensive set of labs to a hematologist. Despite the fact that I just had blood drawn 8 days ago (I hate having blood drawn) I said yes. (Little did I know that she was going to take 9 tubes.) So I came out of the there a little wobbly. I didn't go right back to my office, but sat in the doctor's waiting room for about ten minutes til I felt unwobbly.

When I got off the train at 72nd Street, I was pretty solid, but still cautious. As I made my way up the stairs, I heard someone screaming in a repetitive way. I dashed back down and saw that someone had fallen on the tracks. I dashed back up and told the station manager that someone had fallen on the tracks. He immediately ran out of his booth and down to the platform, while I called the police. My conversation with the police was riddled with miscommunication: 911, what's the emergency. Someone fell on the subway tracks at the 72nd Street 1 train. What borough?

Why don't they say, 911, what borough? Once we had worked our way through the questions she had for me before I got to tell her that someone had fallen on the tracks, she said to me, "But there's no train in the station." it sounded like she was arguing with me about the importance of the call. I assumed she had access to an interactive map of trains and could see that the closest southbound 1 train was at 103rd or something. But it turned out that she was asking me, "But there's no train in the station?" By the time I finally understood that, I also saw that some passengers had pulled the man off the tracks, and that the station master was accompanying him upstairs, and that he was blind.

The station master called his direct line to the police, and I heard him say that he wanted the gentleman to get medical attention, that it was hot down there, that it had been quite a fall. That's what he called him -- a gentleman. It was very respectful. I took a look at the man who had fallen. He couldn't see. I don't know if he had a cane before he fell, but he didn't have one now. The station master asked him if it was OK if he would sit on the floor -- again, respectful.

At this point, I had forgotten that I had been wobbly, and then I remembered again, and then I realized that it was time to go back to work. All of that at once. And when I stepped outside of the station, I felt as if I was leaving something precious behind -- a little trauma zone, where we had all acted quickly and in unity. A zone with clearly defined borders -- which once I stepped away from, no-one would understand where I had just been. And it was true. Once I was out on the street, I was no longer part of a bonded group of people. I was the one drop of red dye who was quickly dissipating into an entire stream. I tried to look at the other people with the awareness that they were also little red drops, who had just come from their own bonded world. Because that has to be true, right? Even if they didn't just come from a heightened emergency? And if I could remember that, then maybe I wouldn't feel so dissipated all the time, because really, I'm in the same stream with all the other drops. Right?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I met R.L., or how to keep Beginner's Mind even when you're no longer a beginner

Never Done: I met R.L., or how to keep Beginner's Mind even when you're no longer a beginner

I am so new at my job that I could blog about something new I've done every day. For example, yesterday I started filing for a P-3 artist visa to bring someone in for an October performance, but I'm not going to write about it. Instead, I am going to write about the meeting I had with a woman who is the arts and culture consultant to all the JCC's across the country.

The thing I loved most about the meeting is that she made me feel comfortable asking her opinion about things that are intrinsic to my own job -- things that in another context I might not have felt comfortable asking, feeling like I need to prove myself. We had a wonderful conversation about what makes Jewish performance Jewish, and if it's not Jewish, what makes it belong in a Jewish performing arts space. This is a topic I have thought about extensively of course, but now that I actually program a Jewish space, I'm applying my thoughts for the first time, and I'm very interested in what other people have to say about it. So instead of erecting a wall with my own opinions, I asked her what she thinks, and this opened the door to one of the most interesting conversations I've had on the topic to date.

This got me thinking about what can get hard about practicing Humility: Seek wisdom from others; there is so much pressure for us to prove ourselves -- and so much pressure to not show our vulnerabilities. There is so much pressure for us to prove that we are experts, and to pretend that we not actually beginners.

There is a central concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, or Beginner's Mind, that encourages us to approach learning with the open attitude of a beginner -- without preconceptions about our own performance -- even when we are learning at an advanced level. Right now I actually am a beginner at my job, so it's easier than it will become for me to practice Shoshin. But what about in a month, when people get tired of reminding me where certain forms are, or in a year, when I am supposed to be expert? My hope is that I will still be able to meet people and listen openly to their knowledge and experience, while approaching my own areas of expertise with all the openness and lack of self-judgement I would if I were a beginner.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I ate Tibetan dumplings in Jackson Heights

Never Done: I ate Tibetan dumplings in Jackson Heights

It's not really the greatest adventure Never Done ever, but it's one of those wonderful ones that come from noticing what's special about where you are, in the moment. Here's what happened. I woke up in Karen and Andy's house in Northbrook, Illinois -- a Chicago suburb. Karen brought Josh and me to the airport. We flew home to New York -- to Laguardia. Josh and I got in a cab that dropped me in Jackson Heights, and then took Josh to Brooklyn -- with all my luggage. I was about to hop right on the subway to go to work, when I realized that I was in Jackson Heights, and hungry, and why would I ever want to go to the Upper West Side to get lunch, when I could get lunch in Jackson Heights, which is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the country, and has an incredibly diverse array of restaurants and food trucks as well.

I do think I've changed as a result of this Never Done year, because instead of doing something safe and known, I decided to walk around the corner to Broadway and just see what was there. And what was there was a Tibetan dumpling house, and so I went in and ordered vegetable Momo. I'd never had momo, and they were absolutely delicious. I ate them as I rode the 7 train in to work -- as I thought about how much I missed Lake Michigan, and how much I loved my week away, but how good it's been for me to always try to find something to appreciate about where I am.

There's a Yiddish (Bundist) political ideology called doikayt -- hereness -- that is centered around the idea that we should fight for our rights, and for social justice, in the place in which we live -- rather than to look elsewhere (Israel, for example) for our happiness. While eating dumplings is not part of a righteous struggle for political freedom, noticing that I am in Jackson Heights, and taking the time to appreciate what is right in front of me is at least on the same spectrum as doikayt. And I even can make a case that it's a struggle for freedom -- freedom from longing for something else, and freedom from complacency and routine. Wow, I might have just convinced myself that eating dumplings is actually an act of personal liberation, rooted in Bundist ideology. Stop me before I make a case for dumplings for the Republican ticket. Can't be any worse that Bachman, Perry, and Romney!

Monday, August 15, 2011

I went to Ravinia

Never Done: I went to Ravinia

When Karen invited me to visit, she actually built the invitation around Rufus Wainwright performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, at Ravinia. I have never been to Ravinia, although I have many friends who have played there, and certainly friends who have gone to hear music there.

It turns out to be the classiest outdoor music venue I've been at. People picnic on the lawn, under the trees, with actual little tables and tablecloths, and beautiful spreads of wine and cheese whatever else they are eating. Nobody checked our bags to keep out alcohol, because actually, you can bring in as much as you want -- as long as it's an excellent vintage and you drink it out of crystal. OK, not really, but it's sort of the feeling you get.

A diversion: I just came very close to being one of the people to go to Diner en Blanc -- Dinner in White -- a flash mob picnic dinner, where everyone wears white, and brings their own table, dishes, white tablecloth, and picnic, and gets to eat en masse at some beautiful location that is kept secret until just before hand. Due to massive technology failure (and then some pretty poor decisions that followed technology failure) I (and hundreds of other people who actually registered before other people who got in) will not be going. In fact, it was lined up to be my Never Done activity for August 25. (Now I am thinking about organizing a big counter-picnic, Diner en Jaune.) Why do I bring it up? Because Diner en Blanc is all about participants following a set of rules to create a unified aesthetic. And the people at Ravinia knew the rules of picnicking at Ravinia. These weren't people on blankets with sandwiches, no. They knew to bring a little table, and a table cloth for it. They wore pretty hats, they put out bottles of wine, silver, and sometimes even candles. It sort of reminded me of Sunday in the Park on the Island of the Grande Jatte, only different. (Ravinia is not on a river.)

We, however, didn't sit on the lawn. We had had pavilion seats -- comfy seats under an open amphitheater roof, with a view of the stage (which the lawn seats do not have.) The audience was friendly, the music was lush, the evening was still and clear, and I was with my close friends on the last night of vacation. This could be as good as it gets.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I sewed a skirt out of old T-shirts, or This Could Be as Good as it Gets

Never Done: I sewed a skirt out of old T-shirts, or This Could Be as Good as it Gets

It's the vacation of new skirts! The day started out gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I went for a long walk, we went out for breakfast, we went to the beach and swam and swam and swam, and even went for a walk on the sandbar, and sunbathed and sun-napped, and then before we knew it, a storm blew in and turned the sky dark and water aquamarine, and then lightning struck the lake and all the moms and dads got their kids out of the water, and the wind blew the umbrellas over, and people scrambled to pack up our towels and and goggles and chairs, and we all evacuated the beach in unison.

We got back to the house around 4 PM, and Karen and I started a new sewing project: skirts out of big old T-shirts. I didn't have enough big T-shirts with me to make one for myself, but both Karen and Andy gave me shirts to wear, and I ended up making a very New Yorky themed skirt. I think I'd be stretching it (so to speak) if I found something ethical in this endeavor. The truth is, I just thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with Karen and sewing, and I love my new skirt. At one point in the day, when we were sitting side by side, each sewing our own T-shirt ski, I remembers the very end of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, when they have finally discovered how content they are to just hang out together, folding T-shirts. This could be as good as it gets.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I taught someone (Karen) how to can (and we canned my mother's brandied peaches)

Never Done: I taught someone (Karen) how to can (and we canned my mother's recipe for brandied peaches)

One of the things Karen suggested we might do as a never done activity is canning. She had a big box full of transparent apples (that grow ripe in July! July!, as the fruit farmer told us the other day) that she wanted to turn into applesauce. And she'd never canned before. I, however, grew up canning from a very young age. My mother loved to can -- jelly, jam, applesauce, roasted tomato sauce, and her very special brandied peaches. After initially telling Karen that wasn't a good never done activity, it occurred to me that I have never taught someone to can, and that it was actually a perfect never done activity.

She had just done a gorgeous job teaching me how to put in a zipper (and sew the hard parts of a skirt) so I wanted to do as good a job with the canning. The thing is -- canning up a bunch of peaches is WAY easier than sewing a skirt. At least it is if you 1) are teaching an already excellent cook, and 2) are using time as one measure of difficulty. (It took much of two days to make a skirt, and it took only a couple of hours to can up some peaches.) On the other hand, canning has high stakes. The whole point of canning is to prevent bacteria from growing in your food. To that end, you sterilize your canning jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, and your aluminum lids and rings for five. You don't touch anything with your hands -- but use tongs instead. You leave a 1/2-inch gap between the top of whatever you're canning and the top of the jar, so that as the food cools down, there's some air in there to help create the vacuum that will create the seal that will prevent botulism from getting in there and growing. High stakes! But actually really quite easy.

I think I did a good job teaching her. I tried to explain what we were going to do in advance, and why. And I let her do everything herself, instead of me showing her, until the very end, when I wanted to show her how to put the lid on without touching it (to prevent germs) and also how tight to tighten it. And when we ran out of brandy (because we hadn't bought enough) I consulted with her and we put Grand Marnier into a few jars, which will probably taste excellent.
She's in the kitchen right now canning applesauce, so I'll find out pretty quickly how well I actually did. In the meantime, the peaches look gorgeous:

Friday, August 12, 2011

I installed a zipper

Never Done: I installed a zipper (and almost finished making a skirt)

When Karen invited me to visit her in Michiana, she sent me a long list of things we could do that I've never before done. She knew what I'd never before done because she has known me since 1977, and also because she had just recently read one of my blog posts in which I posted a long list of things I'd still never done. One of which was sew undies out of t-shirts. I have still not sewn undies out of t-shirts, but Karen brought a book called Generation T: 120 Ways to Transform a T-shirt, along with a pile of fabric, and not one but TWO sewing machines.

I brought along three pieces of fabric I wanted to make things with, as well as the two pairs of hand-made undies (made from T-shirts) I bought from Etsy. The first thing I decided to do was a skirt. I had brought a large shirt that I had picked up at Brooks and Jeannie's annual New Year's Day clothing exchange. It had been Jewel's, and as soon as I saw it, I thought the fabric would make a very cute skirt. I even asked Jewel if she would mind if I took the shirt in order to transform it, and she loved the idea. So I deconstructed it, and laid out the fabric, and realized I would need some additional contrasting fabric in order to make a skirt. Karen also wanted to make something, so we headed into town to a fabric store, where I looked for contrasting fabrics to pair with my original.

Somewhere along the way, I found a fabric called French Country, which was line-drawn roosters on a cream background. And as I built this fabric into my others, it started to grab the focus, and before I knew it, I had to admit that my original fabric no longer fit into the world dominated by French Country. On the other hand, French Country was fantastic, and so were the fabrics we were finding to go with it.

I am often surprised that there is not a mide (middah) about dettachment, as there would most certainly be in a Buddhist ethical practice. (Here's a reminder list of the mides (middot). Maybe detachment is a combination of Order, Equanimity, and Patience?)

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

In any event, I was able to let go of my original fabric, and to go in a new direction. And Karen and I picked up matching thread and invisible zippers, and headed back to start sewing. I've never actually made a skirt before, and I've definitely never put in a zipper before. On the other hand, I can cut out patterns, and I can pin things together, and I can sew a nice straight line, and I have made a couple lovely garments and hand bags. But I've never sewn a skirt, and I've never installed a zipper. Karen assured me she would help, and that it would be easy.

OK, so one out of two ain't bad. There is no question that she helped. She read instructions in three places -- the skirt directions, the sewing machine directions, and the directions on the zipper itself. She looked at my skirt panels and tried to figure out how to make sense of the directions with the reality of the pattern. And when we both got confused (because installing an invisible zipper is really not easy) she grabbed another one and installed it in some scrap material so she could help some more. All the while, she was incredibly careful to leave the actual zipper installation to me, because she understands the balance between helping someone and taking over someone's project. (It also bears mentioning that she was simultaneously working on her own project, which she extremely patiently stepped away from whenever I encountered a roadblock.)

As I write about this, I'm struck with how being both an ethical teacher and student require patience, equanimity, humility, order, diligence, silence and calmness. Were there times she showed me something I already knew? Absolutely. Were there times I forgot what she had just showed me? You bet. Did I want to finish the entire skirt in one day? Absolutely. Did I also want to take a long bike ride along the shores of Lake Michigan? You bet. And so we did both (what a fabulous bike ride!) and we went for a swim in the lake, and Karen worked on her other projects while she helped me, and we stopped and made corn pudding for dinner, and by the end of the day, I had in fact installed an invisible zipper, and I had made 9/10 of a skirt. All that's left is to put on the waste-band interfacing, to adjust the side seams (because at the moment the skirt is too large for me) and to trim up the hem.

Here are two photos of the skirt in progress. First the back (can you see the zipper? Well, yes, you can a little bit there at the bottom, but I'm going to fix that part by the time I wear it.)

Then the front:

Next time you see it, hopefully I'll be wearing it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I ate a Sugar Pear

Never Done: I ate a Sugar Pear

My first morning in Michiana was a little cool -- and by a little cool, I mean perfect. Not 90 degrees, and not 80 degrees, and not even 70. High 60s, still summer, sun shining, breeze coming off the lake -- heaven. Karen is a very good sewer (that looks nasty; I mean seamstress) who knew I wanted to make undies out of t-shirts and do other sewing projects while I'm here. So after a hot drink and a little magazine time (Vanity Fair's coverage of the phone tapping hoohah) I set out to start one of my projects. (I just realized though that if I write too much about it, I won't have what to write tomorrow, because that is a two-day project that once complete will be a Never Done. So suffice it to say that at some point in the morning, we got to go out to a fabric store.)

On the way home, Karen wanted to stop by her favorite fruit stand to buy white peaches so we could buy peaches for another Never Done project I'll also eventually be writing about. Driving through the Michigan City area -- in and out of Michigan and Indiana -- is alternately depressing and breathtaking. The commercialism is either depressed or empty: discount cigarettes, thrift shops, vacant strip malls. But the country side is verdant and lovely -- fields and trees and corn, and of course Lake Michigan. So we drove out to the fruit stand through fields and scattered farms, and finally pulled into someone's driveway. I could see where the fruit was, but it turned out to be just in a ragged garage. And in the ragged garage was a ragged cat and a small (at first glance, ragged) assortment of peaches, pears, apples, zucchini and one eggplant. And an elderly woman -- the farmer -- helping another customer.

Eventually it was our turn, and Karen started to ask what she wanted -- do you have any transparent apples left? The emphatic answer came back -- July! July 15! And she took a peach and split it in two, and offered it to us as if to say, we eat peaches in August, please no more talk about apples. We chose our peaches, and she told us about her good-for-nothing nephew who was supposed to come over and pick blackberries, but he went fishing instead. I pictured a 35-year-old man, but no -- the offender is merely 14. You see, I have rheumatoid arthritis, and she can't pick anymore. But here -- and she took a small green pear from a box labeled Sugar Pears and handed it to Karen to eat. Some people like them hard, and some people like them softer. And when she handed Karen a softer one, Karen gave me the rest of the hard.

Now, I always thought Sugar Pears were Seckels, but this wasn't a Seckel, Unless it's a variety I don't know about, and she does, in fact, specialize in heirloom varieties. What it was? The most delicious pear I have ever tasted in m life. I asked the woman about it, and she told me the tree is over 100 years old -- her most prolific tree. When she told me about her tree, I was filled with a sense of peace on her behalf. She might be old, her joints might hurt, her nephew might not come around as often as she wants, but she's on her land and she knows every one of her trees as well as she knows this one. Murdoch is tapping phones for tabloid fodder, the stock market is crashing, and London is burning, but it's August, and the white peaches and sugar pears are in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I swam in Lake Michigan

Never Done: I swam in Lake Michigan

Some days you wake up in Brooklyn, and end up -- with the help of financial resources, aviation technology, and the generosity of good friends -- jumping waves in Lake Michigan.

I assume I am not covering new territory for most of you here, but Lake Michigan is not salty. And it's vast like an ocean. And it's not salty. How do I explain this? I didn't think it was salty. In fact, I knew it was not salty. But when you have never been in a lake as vast as an ocean, and you have never been in a lake with swells and waves and seagulls undertows and riptides and miles and miles of sandy beach, then your head tells you -- against what your head actually knows -- that it should smell salty, that it should taste salty, that it should be salty. But it's not salty. It's fresh water. It's so much fresh water that along with the other Great Lakes, it makes up 21% of the fresh water on the planet. (That's something I did not know.)

Also, Lake Michigan seems (to me) lovely and clean. It must be at least fairly clean, because it's the source for Chicago's drinking water. Floating and jumping in the lake, it was hard not to contrast it with the last water I was in -- the Hudson River. I don't actually think I've ever swum in water that I could tell was dirty like the Hudson was dirty. The contrast between that water and Lake Michigan water got me thinking about one of the Mussar principles: Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space.

I think, if I am honest, I feel powerless to clean up the Hudson. I'm not even sure what I contribute to its condition -- except maybe living in New York City. But even then, I live in Brooklyn, not on the Hudson at all. So I don't actually know if I contribute. Is my waste water processed at the Harlem Waste Water Treatment Plant (where there was a recent sewage leak)? I doubt it -- it seems more likely that Brooklyn waste water is treated somewhere in Brooklyn -- maybe on the East River. (Just about now I have a strong urge to Google this, but I feel like the more ethical approach to this post is to be honest about my ignorance.) Certainly, if there were legislation or a petition or a community clean-up effort -- anything public that I heard about -- I could call my legislators or sign or participate. But the truth is, I don't hear about anything. If I would go looking, the first place I would look would be Clearwater. And I bet that if I lived upstate, I would be involved. So what is it about living in the city that makes me feel less power, ownership, responsibility, and connection to the river? And what is it about Lake Michigan that makes me feel immediately connected to and responsible for it?

The only answer I have is the same old answer I always have -- that I am essentially a country person, and I instinctively grok how things get done in rural areas, and am intimidated by how things get done in urban areas. But it's also possible that there is something particularly special about Lake Michigan that makes me feel so connected to it. Hmmm. I'm not sure. I think it requires further research. I'll be back in a few hours....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I got up and went to work the day after doing an Olympic-length triathlon

Never Done: I got up and went to work the day after doing an Olympic-length triathlon

Is that too much of a cheat? How about I got fasting blood work done the morning after doing an Olympic-length triathlon? How about I returned the bike I borrowed for the Olympic-length triathlon? How about I typed "Olympic-length triathlon" five times in under a minute?

It was a lovely day. I enjoyed the aftermath of the triathlon. I am just a little bit sore -- not as sore as after many much less strenuous endeavors. One person at work said that it will probably hit me tomorrow. Everyone else was duly supportive and encouraging. I thought I was going to want to completely crash afterwards, but I found it quite pleasurable to just be normal today -- and to enjoy my body in a resting state. Not a lethargic state -- I was actually quite energized.

There is a school of drama theory that says that contrast is at the heart of drama, and I think what was lovely about today was that it could only have been so enjoyable in contrast with yesterday. Which is to say that I don't think I an the kind of person who has an every-day appreciation for "normal" days -- and I think one of the great things about doing something so remarkably big is that it allows me to appreciate what comes after. Even the act of blogging (which I do every day now and sometimes feel is a burden on my already-full days feels) was a welcome routine. But not one I am going to extend beyond this word.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I completed an Olympic length triathlon

Never Done: I completed an Olympic length triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run)

I thought I was going to title this post, "A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" with apologies to David Foster Wallace, but, surprisingly, there were a few fun parts about the triathlon. I liked the most of the biking, with a few notable highlights. (I'll get to them in a bit.) And I loved seeing my friends cheer me on. And I laughed once when I was going up the biggest, longest hill in Central Park, because one of the Manhattan coaches made a joke about me being from Brooklyn. Maybe that wasn't exactly fun, but it was nice to be remembered.

Most of all though, the big takeaway (lesson learned, growth, positive outcome) of this entire endeavor is that I finally finally finally learned that you can't measure six months of success based on one day's performance. I am such a competitive person that it took something very big (and at times arduous) to teach me this lesson. As I told a friend recently, if I think all my hard work is only of value if I perform a certain way on the day of the race, then I'm seriously fucked. This is one of those lessons that I knew intellectually but really needed to live through to completely internalize. And here's how it went.

The swim was tough. The race was delayed by about 30 minutes because a car flipped at 158th Street and spilled oil everywhere, and they had to clear it before we could start. When we got into the water (at 96th Street) it was extremely choppy, on top of sizable swells. I did fine -- swam the 1.5 K in 21 minutes (with an assist from the current) but I did swallow one big mouthful of nasty Hudson water, and I also just endured the swim -- I didn't enjoy the swim. I did like the very end, when an impressive team of people literally lifted me (and all the swimmers) up the steep ramp and out of the water.

It was raining when I got on the bike -- and for most of my ride. Our coaches told us it would slow us down -- that it should slow us down, because we should ride with caution -- but somehow I rode about 10 minutes faster than I had predicted I would. As I went past Inwood Park, I got to think about my dad, who grew up there, and ran in that park as a teenager and young adult. As I went over the Henry Hudson Bridge, I got to look right at the apartment building Josh grew up in, and I yelled out my greetings to his mom, even though she doesn't live there anymore. We rode from 72nd Street up the West Side Highway to Moshulu Parkway, where we turned around and rode down to 56th Street, and back up to 72nd. I remembered to end the bike ride with an easy spin, to get my legs ready to run, but still -- as soon as I started to run, my left calf started to cramp up.

This didn't come as a surprise, but it was a disappointment. I had stretched it and stretched it, gotten a massage the day before that focused mostly on my left leg, I was drinking lots of electrolyte drink. In other words, I was doing everything I could do -- but that reconfigured leg (8 knee surgeries) was just not happy to get off a long bike ride and start running. This is the part where the lesson comes in. I had not enjoyed the swim, but I had rocked it. I had also rocked the bike ride. And now I had to stop every 2-3 minutes to stretch my left calf muscle, while encouraging people yelled things like, "You're looking good! Almost done!" (No I'm not. I have completed about .2 miles of a 6.2 mile run.) But instead of moping -- or quitting -- I just gave myself permission to stop and stretch it as often as I needed to, and to walk up the hills, and run down the hills and on the flats, and to try my best to relax. And you know what? At about mile 4, it started to release. It wasn't perfect, but it was better. And just about the same time, I noticed that I might be able to make it in under 4 hours. At first I tried to talk myself out of any attachment to any measurable results, but by then the sun was out, and it was hot, and I was almost completely spent -- so I allowed myself a little comfortable competitiveness -- as an incentive for the final 20 minutes. And so I pushed the final 2 miles, and finished strong, and finished depleted, and finished in 3 hours and 48 minutes.

And I knew that wasn't the point. Because if it had taken me 4 hours and 22 minutes, I would have still worked as hard and learned as much. And the honest truth is -- more than the physical accomplishment, I am proud of (finally) internalizing this value.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I rode a shabes elevator

Never Done: I rode a shabes elevator

(Only it was called a shabbat elevator.) I had gone to drop Pam's bike off at the triathlon transition area, which involved a few miles of riding, including a test ride up the very steep bike start (which wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be -- at least not without 3000 other athletes) ... and all that was after a massage. So I was a little sticky. Luckily, I work 3 blocks from the bike transition area, and there are showers where I work, so I dashed up to the JCC for a shower before going on with the rest of my day.

I've been there before on a Saturday, but never thought to take the shabes elevator. The shabes elevator, for secular Jews and gentiles out there, is an elevator that is pre-programmed to stop on every floor, so if you are observant, you don't have to push a button to call it. Basically it's a workaround to help observant Jews get around Jewish law pertaining to the sabbath. What the hell, I thought. I should take it. Never done.

It turns out that the shabes elevator takes a lot of patience. You are standing right next to three other elevators that you could call and they would arrive much more quickly, but you wait. And wait. And when it finally comes, it goes down to the basement before going back up again, stopping again on every floor. Just like the sabbath, when we're supposed to slow down, the elevator slows us down too. For a secular Jew, this seems to be about choice. I am sure that for some observant Jews, this is less so, and more just the way things are.

I thought about that while I showered, and then took the "normal" elevator back down -- thinking I had closed this experience out for the day. However, I went to visit a friend later at Beth Israel hospital, and guess what I saw:

It makes sense that at a hospital they would run express in one direction -- hospital people have more reason to rush than JCC people. Even on the sabbath.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I attented my New York Nautica triathlon orientation

Never Done: I attended my New York Nautica triathlon orientation

To get your triathlon registration packet, you have to first sit in a 30-minute orientation where they tell you helpful things like "Since we are doing a new time-trial start have no idea what time you will get in the water, so you need to be the extra early." Then you get a hand stamp to prove you were there, and that hand let's you get in a long line to pick up your packet with your numbers (my number is 1091) and get your wrist band. If you are an elite athlete you get to stand in the very short Champions line. If you are a larger than average (but I don't know by whose standards) athlete you go to the Clydesdales or Athena line. You are on your lunch break. Your line moves slowly. You didn't realize there would be a giant expo with sports vendors hawking their wares. You almost skip it but then realize that's where you are going to get your string bag and official t-shirt, and also where you can get body marked - with your race number on your upper arm and hand and your age on your shin. After you get body marked you remember you are getting a massage tomorrow and the Sharpie is gonna smear all over with the warm oil. You go back to work. Some people ask about your numbers but mostly you just work. Your wrist band is too tight. You go to therapy. Therapy happens to be 4 blocks from the triathlon headquarters. You decide to see if they will loosen your band. You expect them to be annoyed but a nice woman says that if she can help with the little things she is happy to. Your new wrist band is way better because in addition to being looser, it's smaller. On your way out, you look at the Expo just a little. A t-shirt catches your eye. It says Nautica New York City Tri on a background of the NYC skyline made out of participants' names. It is beautiful. You almost leave without it, but you see your mentor looking at the same shirt, looking for her name. You almost leave without saying hello. Then you tell yourself - but she's your mentor and she's been great. You go back. You say hi. You find your name. You buy the shirt. You make a plan to go to the triathlon together Sunday morning. You leave the hotel, feeling a little more connected -- both by the graphic on the t-shirt and your relationship with your mentor.