Friday, September 30, 2011

I gave an IV infusion, or "I'm a nurse!"

Never Done: I gave an IV infusion, or "I'm a nurse!"

I am very close to someone who, when she was a baby, had a seizure that damaged her brain. She's forty now, and I've known her since before the brain damage. As she moved into her teenaged years, she fell in love with James Taylor (as did the rest of us) and Uno, and loved to spend time with friends and family. She developed a few sentences that she repeated frequently, mostly having to do with things she loved (James Taylor, Uno) and things she wanted to tell us (that she loved James Taylor and was going to play Uno) and also, randomly (but probably not so randomly, since she had to see a lot of doctors and nurses) "I'm a nurse!"

Her sister and I (and our other close friends) heard these phrases so often that they naturally became part of our vocabulary. So the first time I got to give Josh a home infusion of IV antibiotics (which I will get to do for another few weeks) I couldn't resist, as I pushed the air out of the saline syringe, declaring, "I'm a nurse!"

According to my much more medically-trained friends, it's essentially impossible to mess up with the set-up we've been given. Nevertheless, I was nervous the first time I did it. We had detailed instructions on how to set up the IV pole, prime the line, flush the line with saline, administer the drugs, flush the line again with saline, and finally with heparin. There are clamps to open and to close, and connections to clean. I felt that it was important that I do the job seriously while keeping the mood light. That's where, once it was all hooked up and going well, the declaration of "I'm a nurse!" came in.

The truth is, saying "I'm a nurse!" out loud also validated the part of me that really really really likes cleaning things and priming things and clamping things and hooking things up. I became a carpenter because I like doing that stuff, and it turns out that hooking up some antibiotics to a PICC line is similarly satisfying. I'm sure the fact that Josh is truly fine makes it easier -- that this isn't a high-stakes situation. In fact, it's a perfect situation for me to discover that I enjoy this, but also a model for future attitude and approach. Let's say I would at some point encounter a more scary situation. Would I still allow myself to enjoy doing technical stuff that I do, in fact, enjoy? I would argue that allowing ourselves to experience and express enjoyment makes us better tube-attachers and caregivers, and that I hope to remember that if, pu pu pu, I am ever again in a more high-stakes situation.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I answered a question at 10Q

Never Done: I answered a question at 10Q

10Q is an online for self-reflection during rosh hashone and yom kippur. Every day, 10Q sends you a question, and you get to answer it in your own private 10Q space, and then at the end of the 10 days, just as the ark is about to be sealed, just as we and our actions are to be inscribed in the book of life, you get to push a button and send your answers into a locked vault. A year later, 10Q will send them back to you.

I love this. I have been thinking about how to create an online Never Done portal and think I could learn a thing or two from 10Q.

Here's the first day's question: 
Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?
Interesting. Well, there's my Mussar practice. And there's writing this blog. And there's getting a new job. And there's the adoption falling through (so far -- I'm not giving up.) And then there are all the smaller things I wrote about all year long. I rode the Ferris Wheel.  I bought Colgate. Mich moved away. I went to Germany. I introduced two friends and they fell in love. I completed a triathlon. I tried karaoke. I saw Book of Mormon. I started Brooklyn Soup Swap. I painted my fingernails blue. 
Significant experiences happen every day. And yes, I am grateful. And relieved. And resentful. And inspired. And tired. And sad. And hopeful. And jealous. And scared. And unsure of myself. And proud. And surprised. 
But most of all, I am happy I am paying attention. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I played left handed ping pong while wearing glasses

Never Done: I played left handed ping pong while wearing glasses

I almost did two long-standing Never Done activities, but neither worked out. In the morning I didn't go to the hospital. Instead I stayed home to get very focused work done until it was time to move the car. When it was time to move the car, I decided to drive it down to Avenue J in Brooklyn to redeem a Groupon at The Pickle Guys, where I bought enough new pickles and horseradish pickles to last months. Then, I thought to myself, I am so close to Di Fara Pizza and it is never open when I go. This is my chance. I can dash over for a slice, and then bring the car back and get to the hospital. So I drove down Avenue J, and found a parking spot on the street, and walked up to Di Fara, and it was just like a bad dream that repeats again and again and again. Di Fara was closed. It is closed on Monday and Tuesday. This was the third time I'd gone on a Monday or a Tuesday, and the third time I'd been thwarted. You'd think I'd learn.

Once my Never Done appetite was whet for the day, I started thinking of other things I could do, and it occurred to me that since I was spending so much time on the Upper Far East Side, that I should ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway. It would be quick, it would be exciting, and it's something that's been on my list all year long. And I've been in the neighborhood every day for a week. A no-brainer! But the hospital had other plans for me; they were going to let Josh out. So I hunkered down with my laptop and finished up all the work I needed to get done before leaving on vacation, interspersed with conversations with interns, residents, fellows, nurses, and social workers. It did make me laugh to notice that after hope hope hoping that he would get out soon, that a little part of me was disappointed that my tramway ride was getting messed up. Luckily I tucked that little part of myself away pretty quickly (and only brought it out now for all to see.)

When we got home, Josh was antsy. Understandable after a week inside. He has a PICC line in his right arm but other than lifting heavy things or playing tennis with that arm, he's just fine, so I suggested we go to the gym and play a game of left-handed ping pong. He was totally up for it. On the way over, I realized 1) I had not brought my glasses case and that 2) I had never played ping pong with glasses. (I've grown more sensitive to putting my glasses in a case when not using them because only 4 months after getting them, I scratched both lenses and had to have them replaced.) But right away I knew it was an opportunity to do a world-record-style Never Done activity. First time playing left-handed ping pong while wearing glasses. (Josh did me one better, and played me while talking on the cell phone. Sorry the photo is so blurry -- it's an action shot.)

Here's what we discovered about playing lefty. While our shots lacked the blazing power (ha) of our regular right-handed game, the volleys lasted longer than usual, and the game was both fun and focused. I spent my childhood discovering this -- I would bounce things lefty, bounce things while balancing on a giant rolling cardboard tube, juggle things while balancing on a giant rolling cardboard tube, bounce balls on the edge of a raquet instead of the strung face of the raquet, shoot left-handed layups, etc. What happens, of course, when you break out of your comfort zone, is that you have to apply a new level of focus to a normally mundane activity, and it allows you to lift a veil and see all the elements of the activity. I wrote not long ago about approaching life with Beginner's Mind, and on this last day before the start of the new year (leshone toyve everyone!) I want to encourage all of us to try to do this more often -- by choice -- so that when we have to do it by necessity, we already have the strong and flexible Never Done muscles we need.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I watched the season finale of The Big C

Never Done: I watched the season finale of The Big C

I sometimes think about what The Big C would be like if it starred someone other than Laura Linney, who gives a full-body, stage theatrical performance like I've actually never seen on television. She plays a woman with Stage 4 melanoma. She is dying, but she looks quite healthy and seems quite strong. This is one of the things I love about this show -- it shows a character who has something very serious going on, which most people can't see unless they know her very well. From what I understand about what it's like to have cancer -- which is limited, because I myself have never had cancer (but both my parents and some very close friends have) -- this is incredibly important territory to cover.  Do you look better than you feel? Do you feel better than you look? Do you feel like you can do something that a doctor would advise against? That your close friends and family are scared for you to do? What is appropriate for people to say to you if they are scared? What is appropriate for you to say back to them?

This is the heartland territory of The Big C, and also of cancer survivor, journalist, and author Lori Hope's newly re-issued book, Help Me Live -- 20 Things People with Cancer Want You To Know as well as her blog, What Helps, What Hurts, What Heals. These two resources have been invaluable to me as a support person to people with cancer, and also they've been invaluable to me as, well, just a person trying to think well about other people. Because at the heart of what Lori writes and reminds us about again and again, is the fact that to be a good friend is to listen, to be compassionate, to be there and follow through, and to apologize when we mess up. Not rocket science, and yet it is sometimes so hard to do. And just like the early rabbis who wrote about the Mussar practice said, "You aren't going to learn anything new in this book. You already know how to be a good person. You just need practice." (OK, that wasn't really a direct quote -- it was a paraphrase, but a pretty good one, I think.) Like those rabbis, Lori also offers us a practice about how to be a good person, a good friend, a good citizen, a good support person. It's not rocket science. We already know how to do it. It just sometimes takes someone to remind us.

I like getting my reminders from many sources. On the season finale of The Big C, when Cathy -- the main character who has cancer -- tells her husband she wants to run the marathon, he explodes. "I just can't predict your next move! Why is it that everything you do brings you further away from me?" To which she calmly suggests, "Wait for me at the end so I can run towards you." Was it her job to lead him to the right perspective in that moment? Probably not. But did she decide to take it on and extend a loving hand while still going for the exact thing she knew she needed? She did. Our models are out there. It's our job to learn from them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I found a white leg hair

Never Done: I found a white leg hair

A long one. It's long because the other ones are also long, not because it's a particularly freakishly long white one. The other ones are also long because I am sporadic with my leg hair removal; sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. I have a couple other randomly positioned white hairs (arm, eyelash, chin) but this is definitely the first one on my leg, and it feels like some new rite of passage. Early on in the writing of this blog, my cousin told me she was surprised by my middle aged tag -- and I was surprised by her surprise. I mean, I know I don't fit the normal model of what a middle aged woman is like, but I am 48, and I have silvery hair, and the whole impetus behind the Never Done year was to make sure my life stayed expansive instead of diminished. But what Leigh told me stuck with me, and literally every time I put the middle aged tag on, I think of her and her perception of me as not so very middle aged. And how that makes me feel good -- like somehow I've beaten the system, or done it right, or stayed young, or stayed current, or lived outside the mainstream norm for so long that I just don't look like most of the other women of my generation.

And then I found a long white hair on my muscular right shin. Part of me feels like it's quirky -- like when I got my white streak in my hair in my early 30s. In fact, I feel that it's actually like my white streak -- a premature, stand-alone statement, in contrast with its surroundings, that stands out and says, "I'm an iconoclast."  But another part of me feels like it's the beginning of a transition I wasn't even thinking about. One, in fact, that I didn't actually anticipate. Is all my body hair is going to turn white? Am I going to get white eyebrows like my uncle has? (I have long ones like he has, but I tame them.)
And it all that happens, then am I still an iconoclast? Or am I just middle aged?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I had a sleepover with a dog

Never Done: I had a sleepover with a dog

I don't think a dog ever spent the night in my house when I was growing up, and I have never lived with a dog in all the years I've been on my own. The few times a friend has brought a dog along on a visit, the dog has stayed outside. Of course I've stayed in many homes with dogs -- but that is completely different from having a dog stay at my place.

Mich came to Brooklyn for the weekend and brought her sweet (and somewhat cowering) pit bull Tsippy with her. At first it was hard for her to find a place to stay because all her close friends have cats. She couldn't stay with me because Josh is allergic to cats and dogs (which is one of the reasons we don't have cats.) but then, as it turned out, Josh isn't home this weekend, so I texted Mich and asked if she wanted to stay with me. She asked -- what about Tsippy? And I wrote back, "When the cat's away ..." to which she promptly responded, "The pit bulls play!"

And so we made a plan, and when I got home Saturday night, they were there waiting for me. Here's the ethical question part. I didn't tell Josh in advance. I didn't want to give him something to worry about. Instead I set it up so that Tsippy wouldn't go anywhere with carpet and wouldn't get on the furniture. When she is gone, I will vacuum a lot, which frankly needs to happen anyway. And maybe this will really sound like justification, but Josh is usually the vacuumer in the family, and so maybe it will all turn out to be an excellent gift for him -- that he will come home to a very vacuumed apartment. Justification? Or ethical decision? When is it better to not say something? When is it better to say something?

In Catholicism, there are many kinds of sins -- two of which are sins of omission and sins of commission. If this is a sin, it is a sin of omission. But I'm not sure it's a sin at all. I know for a fact that Josh would love for me to have some close time with Mich. He would definitely see it as a silver lining to the events of this week. What I am counting on is that what he doesn't know won't hurt him -- and also that once he's back home I'll tell him. Also, I am practicing the mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking. Which, admittedly, is sort of an easy mide to use to justify not telling someone something. But also, it's true -- I am reflecting before speaking, and really thinking through all the implications of saying something or not, and when is the best time to, and what to say, and why I would say it. Which is something I don't do enough. I tend to blurt things out first, and then regret them later. So for what it's worth, I am holding back this time (only sort of not, of course, since you are reading this) and choosing to be silent, in order to give my sweetie some piece of mind. You know how the Car Talk guys sometimes ask people to check back in with them later, to see how their advice was? I feel like I should check back in with my blog readers later, to let you know if this was a good decision on my part. In the meantime, what do you think?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I didn't go on vacation

Never Done: I didn't go on vacation

I was supposed to leave for vacation after work today but something else came up instead. In a word, but without actually using too many words, instead of vacation mode, I've landed in medical mode -- and spent the day doing my best to make the best of it. Squeezing together on a little bed, side by side by laptop, Josh composing and me giving dramaturgical feedback on a performance I recently saw. Josh looking up at the acoustic ceiling tile and pretending it looks like birch bark. Me breaking out the macarons and Scrabble. (Josh is winning.)

Talk about Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Am I disappointed that I am not currently at the Durrant's farm on East Bare Hill Road, and then on my way to Maine? You bet I am. Am I dwelling on it? I am actually not, and the extent to which I am not dwelling on it truly feels like a testament to a year of Mussar practice.

As the year draws to a close, and I am in a mode of assessing my life, and my responsibilities, and my relationships, I am also assessing my relationship to my Mussar practice. While I don't think I practice it as deeply as I hope to, I have been steady for an entire year in this writing practice -- the public, ethical examination of at least one activity I have never done before -- and it's been transformative. Having a public conversation in and of itself has been transformative -- not just for me, but for some of you who have written to tell me the ways this has changed you. One good friend has started learning something new every day, and another is inspired to start her own blog about retirement, aging, and activism.

Would you take the time to comment about the ways this blog and my practice have transformed you? It would be a great gift to me, especially during this week of reflection and changed plans.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shadow post

Never Done: Shadow post

Sometimes I do something that is too private to blog about. This time it pushed me to think about weighing and balancing priorities -- when something comes up that overshadows the things that previously seemed of utmost priority. The challenge, I think, is to remember that the small things actually still matter -- and in fact matter very much to other people -- even if they have been eclipsed, or diminished, by events in my own life.

So that happened.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I painted my fingernails blue

Never Done: I painted my fingernails blue

Why on earth am I so conservative sometimes? It truly baffles me. I look at a punk with yellow or green or blue or black fingernails, and I completely appreciate the aesthetic. I think about painting my own nails something other than clear or pinkish, and I balk. But this whole summer, whenever I saw a certain shade of light blue nails, I perked up. I like it. I wanted it. And then I didn't do it. I did paint my toenails a fabulous metallic silver, to compliment my silver hair (and to remind me that I rock -- as the only silver-haired triathlete on my team of hundreds) and I loved that. Maybe metallic silver is the gateway color, because I finally examined my resistance to blue enough that I realized it's ridiculous. It's just a color. There is really no reason why one color is any more "appropriate" on a fingernail than any other color. And if I think one is more appropriate, then I don't respect myself and my own leanings towards homogeny. So I chose a blue -- the blue I'd actually love for my glasses frames, because I think it's an excellent compliment to my silver hair -- and I painted it on my fingernails.

I'm a little self-conscious, but not really because they are somehow transgressive, but because I think my fingers look excellent and I like to look at them. Here, maybe you will too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I went in to Apple Bank

Never Done: I went in to Apple Bank

What an interesting experience it is to walk into a bank, not knowing anything about it, considering becoming a customer. I had in fact never done that before. Usually it's either been some big corporate bank that everyone knows is horrible -- like Bank of America or Citibank (where I currently have my accounts) -- or else it's a community bank or a credit union that I knew about because I lived in the neighborhood.

For some time now I've wanted to open an account at a less pernicious bank, but I haven't found anything that works. I don't qualify for any credit union I know of (there's no freelancer's credit union) and there are no community banks in my neighborhood. So when I noticed that I walk past a beautiful Apple Bank building every day, I decided to go in and find out what kind of bank it is.

First of all, it's gorgeous, cavernous, stately, solid, cathedral-like. It is constructed of stone and wrought iron. It feels conservative and safe -- which is, I suppose, exactly what a bank wants to project. I was there late morning, and it was almost empty. I walked all the way across the shiny floor to the other side of the huge room, and spoke with a customer service representative.

Hi, I'm considering opening a new account, and I'd like to know what kind of bank this is.
What kind of account are you interested in opening?
What kinds of accounts do you have?
This is a savings bank. What kind of account are you interested in opening?
(Not completely sure what bank isn't a savings bank.) So you have savings accounts?
We have all kinds of accounts. What a you interested in?
I'm interested in a bank that functions on a local level and supports the community it's based in. Is this a community bank?
This is a private bank.

At this point I realized that 1) I was not going to get the answers I wanted in this conversation, and 2) I barely know anything about banks and banking. I stood up and told her I would do some more research, and at that point she offered me some brochures. Brochures about branches, kinds of accounts, about the bank itself. Perfect, I thought, this will tell me everything I need to know. I thanked the woman and left through the substantial door. As I walked away, I looked at the brochures, and learned ... almost nothing. With the exception of branch locations, the info on the brochures was as opaque as the info from the woman. What I did figure out from that is that if it were a community bank with community-based values, they would say so right on their brochure. I was getting the impression that maybe it's a high-end bank for discreet clients, because they said so little.

When I got back to my office, I Googled Apple Bank to see if I could figure it out. Right off the bat, this picture

reconfirmed my sense that it's a conservative bank for conservative people. And then I went on to read the history of the bank which let me know it used to be a community bank in Harlem but now it's acquired many other banks, and then I read Apple Bank's Wikipedia page which told me that, and here I quote directly from Wikipedia, "In 1985, Apple converted from a mutual savings bank to a stock-issuing public institution, selling 4.6 million shares for a total of $53.5 million. In 1990, a prominent real estate developer and investor Stanley Stahl became the sole stockholder of the bank when he paid about $170 million. In August 1999, Stahl died and the bank is controlled by his estate."

So this isn't my groovy community bank, but I have to admit, I was so seduced by the building's interior that I wanted to look past common sense and likelihood and everything I know about New York real estate (that building was not really going to house a credit union) and pretend that it was the place for me. I pictured myself doing my personal banking on the way from the subway to the office. I pictured my money going to support ... what? ... Central Park Conservancy maybe? But the truth is I knew the truth as soon as I entered, and I didn't need the woman and the pamphlets to basically tell me that if I didn't already know what it was, then it wasn't for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I haven't done (I did a YES cartwheel)

Never Done: What I haven't done

In just a couple weeks it will be yom kippur, the day of atonement, the end of the High Holidays, and the end of the Jewish year, and My Never Done year will draw to a close. This month leading up -- the Hebrew month of elul -- is typically a time for reflection, a time for self-accounting, and a time to mend one's relationships to others. (In fact, the mussar class that Alissa Wise taught at the JCC was particularly scheduled during the month of elul, to help people prepare for the high holy days.) While I am certainly in a process of self-accounting in relationship to others, I am also in a process of self-accounting in relationship to my Never Done year; I have started to think about all the things that I had wanted to but won't get to do this year -- and what that means to me.

To jump straight to the point, I spent about 10 seconds feeling regret for what I didn't do this year that I had wanted to, and then shifted very quickly to feeling excited for all the things I still get to do for the rest of my life. Here are just a few of them -- ones I tried to do during this year, some of which I might still accomplish.

Go to the Bronx zoo
Have my birth mark removed
Shoot a gun
Ride a hot air balloon
Live in a place I love in NYC (where I can have a vegetable garden)
Adopt a child
Join an independent NY community bank or credit union
Create an apple mosaic
Get a book deal from my Never Done year

In the meantime, what did I do Monday that I had never done before? I did a YES cartwheel! Actually I did six. So fun! So affirming! So loud! So quick to accomplish! Sometimes you just need to yell YES!

Monday, September 19, 2011

I went to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Never Done: I went to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Boy, did I want to stay in bed. But boy did I have to get up to get to work for the JCC's 10th anniversary open house. So I dragged myself up and out and to the Upper West Side where I served as the outdoor stage manager all morning until the early afternoon. It went really well, and was even pretty fun to work, but it became funner still (for me) when Karen and Andy showed up and we started hoofing it around town. We started out a few blocks away to Luke's for a lobster roll, and then into Central Park and all the way down to 59th Street, and then southwest to the High Line at 30th Street and 11th Avenue, and then down the High Line (god, I love the High Line) to 14th Street, and then east east east to the East Village, to 7th Street between 2nd and 1st, to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. You see, I gave Karen a Groupon to the BGIC truck well before they opened the shop, and she actually planned her trip, in part, with a trip to the BGIC truck in mind. So when we found out that the truck wasn't out this weekend because the shop was busy, and that the shop wasn't taking the Groupon, do you think we were daunted? Hell no. (You know we weren't, because I already told you we marathoned there from the Upper West Side for her first gay confection.) When we arrived, I told the incredibly friendly guys who were working there that my friends were in from Chicago, and that I'd given them a Groupon, and that the truck isn't out, and would hey consider honoring the Groupon. The guy at the register was on it. "How long are you in town?" "Until 6" I said, which was true. It was 5:15. He asked Karen for the Groupon. He wasted no time; just made it happen. At the same time, he let me know that they'd be accepting the Groupon at the store starting October 1. I liked how clear he was, and how completely he exhibiting Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation, and Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Also, he exhibited great ice cream cones -- among us we had a Salty Pimp; vanilla with olive oil, sea salt, and fig sauce; and a new thing involving pretzels and chocolate whose name I can't remember. It was great. It tasted almost as good as the exact same thing tastes coming from the truck. The only thing missing was a Big Gay Bench to sit on (do you think if I make them one I'll get a choinkwich lifetime supply?) but we sat on the Butter Lane cupcake bench instead and thoroughly enjoyed the best soft serve in town. (What is in there? What makes it taste so good?) And then I walked with Karen and Andy back to their hotel, and then took two trains and a shuttle bus home, and then crashed my bones onto the couch and didn't move til the Emmy's were over. (And yes, I was thrilled that Kyle Chandler won for his role as Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights.) Some days it is completely worth it to drag my bones out of bed. (But now do I have to do it again?)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I officiated a bar mitzve

Never Done: I officiated a bar mitzve

In 2005, I moved to Hoboken for one year that turned into four long years. There were very few bright spots for me in Hoboken; one was the Mile Square Theater, and the other was Josh's old friend Robin and her family. Josh and Robin have known each other for almost 50 years, from the Yiddish secular camp Boiberik. We got close to Robin and Cliff, and their son Jack over our years on the other side of the Hudson, and have stayed close since moving back to Brooklyn. So when they asked us if we would lay officiate Jack's bar mitzve, it didn't come out of the blue, but it was certainly the first time I've been asked. You see, Jack realized, over the course of time he has spent in Hebrew school, that he doesn't believe in God. But Judaism is important to him, and he still wanted a ritual entree into Jewish life. But for many months, he didn't have words for it, and he didn't have a connection to secular Judaism in a way that let him know there was a tradition of exactly this, that he was on a well-trodden path.

In conversations with me and Josh, we were able to give him this context, and it's because of that -- and particularly because Josh himself had a secular bar mitzve, in a restaurant, half a century ago. I talked with Jack about growing up as (and still being) an atheist Jew, and having a rich Jewish life, mostly connected to progressive politics, yiddishkeit, and music and theater. Josh reminded Jack that his own mother came from a rich secular Jewish background. Together, we connected him with a rabbi (Alissa Wise) who deeply respects secularism and helped him craft a ceremony -- and a speech -- that pushed him to identify his ethical and cultural responsibilities and influences. It was because of all this that they asked us to lead the ceremony.

It wasn't always easy. It wasn't always so obvious to people what I had to contribute compared to what Josh had to contribute, and yet I had been invited -- and wanted. I found myself having to practice the mide (middah) of decisiveness. Deciding to be confident. Deciding to know I was wanted. Deciding to speak up and make suggestions. Deciding to dig into my history to articulate to myself and others precisely what I had to offer. Deciding to let go of needing credit for my ideas. Deciding to take responsibility for making Jack's bar mitzve as meaningful as it could possibly be.

In the end I did a lot of behind the scenes work, and also took a front-of-the-room position. I started the ceremony off by welcoming everyone, and talking about how growing up as an atheist Jew who only knew Jews in my own family, I deduced that Jews don't believe in God. In went on to talk about my path to a Jewish secularism that is rooted deeply in community, and inviting Jack to take that same journey. The rest of my job was mostly, with Josh, to weave together the rest of the speakers -- to MC if you will -- until it came to the l'chaim at the end. I think this might be a lot of what it's like to be a rabbi. Lots of behind-the-scenes work, some stage time, lots of setting aside of one's ego, and a lot of pride in and appreciation for everyone else. All in a bar in Hoboken.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I saw Karen in NYC

Never Done: I saw Karen in NYC

I am quite sure this is true. I am almost entirely sure this true. We just finished spending the week practicing the mide (middah) of Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true, and I am not 100% sure this is true, and yet I am saying it because it is 1 AM, and after work I went to the Lower East Side and met Karen and Andy (who I have definitely seen in NYC) for dinner, and I have a big day Saturday, and so I don't have a lot of time to come up with a different Never Done that I did, but uh oh, I just texted Karen to ask her if I have ever seen her before in NYC, and it turns out that not only have I seen her here, but I have seen her here THREE separate times, plus another one in Hoboken. (It's disturbing what a poor memory I have. I am extremely grateful to my friends who remember our collective history.) So guess what my Never Done activity is? I am Interactive Blogging for the first time. Only (and since we are still talking about truth, I feel like I need to say this) as I said, it is 1 AM, and so it is not really Friday's Never Done activity, is it?

OK, I did other things. I put dozens of apples in bags for the upcoming JCC Open House. I didn't feel like I had the time to help, but then I realized that sometimes I'm going to have a huge event and other people are not going to feel like they have time to help, so I made the time to help and what came from it was that I got to know one of my coworkers who I had never spent any time with before. Also, I wore my first Fall outfit of 2011. A funky/pretty wool skirt, a knit top, and my scraped up but cushy leather boots. It felt wonderful to wear Fall clothes when I was outside, but inside I was shvitzing. (The day before I was freezing inside, so go figure.) Many people, when they saw me, commented on how it's Fall now, or how this is the Fall Jenny, or how sad they are that Summer is over, or how much they love my Fall fashion. And now I am going to put on Fall pajamas, and climb into bed, so I can be rested for my big Saturday, in which I am going to co-lead a bar mitzve for the first time. (A secular bar mitzve.) More on that tomorrow...

Friday, September 16, 2011

I organized things neatly

Never Done: I organized things neatly

I don't know how I got so far in life without Things Organized Neatly or Extreme Tidying Up. I also don't know how to capitalize on my foibles. I do know how to make community out of my foibles; I met Andrew -- one of my now closest friends -- at the breakfast seating of a B&B, and I noticed he was alphabetizing the tea bags. Man after my own heart! Five years later, when he and his partner got married, I made them a beautiful decorated wooden box filled with alphabetized tea bags. (I wasn't able to find a tea starting with Q so I made one up: Queer Wedding Blend.)

Anyhow, when I discovered these people who make art out of their hyper-organization, I fell in love all over again. (And sent the links to Andrew.) I also went home to try it. I looked at my shelves to see what did I have, and what might benefit from order, and what could be pretty. Or, put another way:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

I met Alan Morinis and other folks from the Mussar Institute

Never Done: I met Alan Morinis and other folks from the Mussar Institute

I don't think I've ever expended as little energy getting to an event that I would have gone to great lengths to attend. At 7 PM, after a long and at times taxing day at work, I stood up from my desk, left my office, walked down one flight of stairs, and took a seat in the beys midrash. (Beys midrash means, literally, house of learning -- and at the JCC is a lovely room lined with Jewish texts.) I was there for a lecture called, Seeing Your Life as a Soul Journey: An Evening of Mussar with Alan Morinis.

The seat I chose was near the back, but when I got a text message from Dana that she would be coming very late, I moved to a closer row where I could leave her a seat on the aisle. Before the lecture started, suddenly -- right behind me in my new seat -- a woman tripped over someone else's cane, and simultaneously fell down and spilled her water and her plate of fruit. She was OK, and the first thing she wanted to do was clean up. I offered to do that for her, because although she had not badly hurt herself, I remember what it feels like to almost hurt yourself badly, and your heart needs some time to stop racing, and your soul needs a bit of time to realize you're actually OK. (Or, in some cases, that you're not.) So I cleaned up her spilled fruit, and a couple other women did too, and I threw it away, and I got a bunch of napkins to dry off the chair where the water mostly landed. (If this feels like a mundane description, just hang in there -- it's going somewhere.) As I blotted up the water, a woman who was sitting nearby said to me, "We were going to sit there."

OK. Many things went through my head at that moment. I admit, most of them were sarcastic. Instead of saying any of them, I chose Silence: Reflect before speaking, and continued to clean up. Then she said, "There are four of us." It seemed to me that she was complaining about the fact that there was water on a chair she wanted one of her friends to sit on, and that she wanted me to do something about it. I don't think there was any way for her to know I work at the JCC, and in fact I wasn't cleaning up the water as a JCC employee, but as a person thinking about Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space and taking responsibility for our collective space. So my mind went to a bunch of judgmental places about this passive woman who expects other people to clean up for her, when it occurred to me that I don't actually know what is going on for that woman. Maybe she's wearing a brand new silk dress that would get ruined if she sat on a damp chair. Maybe she hasn't seen the people she's with for years, and it's truly her priority to spend time with them. We really don't know what is going on for others. Then I decided to move the chair instead of mop up the chair, so I picked it up, and I asked the woman to move some other chairs over so I could put this chair a row behind. It was just like one of those games we had as kids -- where you move squares one at a time until you get them in the order you want. Only she couldn't see how to get where we were going, and she was moving chairs in a way that would only shuffle the wet chair among her four friends, and not remove it from her row. Finally I was able to describe to her what she would need to move in order for me to put the chair down, and while this was happening, I suddenly remembered that when I was at the Dan Bern concert, a woman moved her wobbly chair to another table instead of removing it from the hall, and then another woman sat on it and it broke, causing her to fall to the ground. I remember writing that I could imagine myself as the person who just moved the wobbly chair elsewhere instead of completely removing it from the room, and that I was going to heed that lesson and try to take complete (not partial) responsibility for the spaces I use from here on in.

So there I was, holding the chair, having this memory, and noticing that if I put the chair down where I am about to then someone else might get a wet tush. I looked up to see how to remove it completely, when I saw that a man was reaching out his hands to take the chair from me, and I could tell that he saw the big picture, and was going to remove this chair from the line of duty. I handed him the chair, I thanked him, and I sat. (I later found out that this man was Michael, the Executive Director of the Mussar Institute.)

All this, and the lecture hadn't yet started. And more -- I got the woman who had fallen a replacement plate of food, and when I sat down, I thought again -- as I often do -- about what it means to be so deeply predisposed to be in service to others. This was a situation in which I had nothing else to do but sit and wait, and helping her was in no way taking away from a somehow more interesting life activity. But there are certainly times in my life in which I default to service to others when I have not yet taken care of my own basic needs. Since I do have that tendency, and the Mussar practice is deeply about service to others, it's no wonder that I am drawn to it. But the practice also has at its core a thoughtful examination of the balance between the needs of self and others. To borrow a common analogy, if you don't put on your own oxygen mask first, you won't be able to assist others with theirs.

Speaking of which, I actually have to go to work, and can't take the time to write about Alan's actual lecture, beyond to say that it focused on three aspects of the soul -- neshome, nefesh, and ruakh -- and the importance of tending all three aspects. Neshome is the pure, brilliant, clear essence of our humanity. Nefesh is our character traits -- anger, patience, humility, passivity. And ruakh is our spirit. Neshome just is -- it's the part of the soul that cannot be sullied. It's often most evident in a new born, who without language or pressing appointments, is purely human. Nefesh can get out of balance. We can be too angry, too humble, too patient, too impatient. It is the work of a Mussar practice to keep this in balance. Ruakh can also become sick -- if we have too little energy and our spirit is tamped down, we are depressed. If we are over-energetic, and can't calm down enough to focus, our ruakh is also out of whack. The heart of Alan Morinis's lecture was that our Mussar practice is one of seeing our own and other people's neshome, and working to keep our own nefesh and ruakh in balance -- largely by being in service to others.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

Never Done: I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

When I met my writing partner Steve, he was working on a great screenplay -- an urban teenage golem story. A golem is a figure in Jewish mythology -- an animated creature made from clay, that is often used for protection. Also when we met, I was working on a vampire jazz romantic comedy. We were fast friends. First we rewrote my screenplay, and then we rewrote his. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any event, we made each others' work better, and that's why we still write together. (We haven't sold the golem script yet, but we should. It's our best work, and someone should make that movie.)

A couple weeks ago, Josh saw that there was a lecture on the golem legend at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and let us know. We made a plan to meet for dinner first, to do some screenplay business (about which I've been negligent since I started my JCC job.) The lecture turned out to be great. The lecturer, Curt Leviant -- a Jewish studies scholar, novelist, and Yiddish translator -- had a wonderful mastery of his lecture, and especially of his Q and A session. He did a great job of both being the expert and also making us realize how much we already knew, and leading us up to the point at which he knew more than us, so that we would welcome him to step through the door and tell us all about it. I was mostly thinking about what he was talking about, but a little bit I was thinking about how he did this -- and what it might mean, from a mussar point of view, to be a good teacher and to remove ego as much as possible, and to think about the burden of the other -- the other being the people listening to you.

I really started thinking about the burden of the other when we got to the Q & A session. Just the other day I read this NY Times piece about how to ask a good question at a public event. (1. There is no such thing as a two-part question. 2. If you have a genuine sense of curiosity, you're probably on a good track. 3. If you feel a sense of pride in yourself for thinking of your question, it's probably better to let someone else have the mic.) I had a burning sense of curiosity. I had a real question that I wanted to know the answer to. I didn't feel rushed, just curious. Eventually someone passed me the mic. But then all sorts of other people got called on before me, and by the time I could have stood up or spoken up, I decided that even though I was genuinely interested to know what Leviant would say to answer my question, I didn't feel the level of drive I would have needed to muscle my way into the public space. And when I handed the microphone over to someone else, and they used the time to grab attention to themselves, I knew I had made the right decision -- because even though the answer would have been interesting to me, I'm not sure it would have been all that interesting to other people.

There is a mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking. Maybe I'll write a comment on the NY Times online page of the story on public questions. But, um, I will have to reflect carefully before I do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I swam before work

Never Done: I swam before work

It is hard to spend two hours commuting and still have time to work out. Even, I admit, with a gym and a pool in the building. Once the day gets going, I have so much to do at work that I find it near impossible to dash down for a swim, even though that is just what I did when I first started. So I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual (5:30 instead of 6:30) and was out the door by 6:40 and on the train by 7, and I should have been at my office by 7:35 and in the pool by 7:45 and at my desk by 8:30 but at 42nd Street, a yelling man got on the train, in my packed subway car. The yelling man yelled, "You can't touch. Me, that's it, that's my right, I gotta go where I'm going, that's it! Don't touch me! Call whoever you gotta call, just don't touch me!" The entire train car tensed up. People started looking at their watches. The woman next to me said, "Just get him off." I couldn't stop thinking about all the iterations of self and other. I felt compassion for him, the other, because it sounded like a cop had grabbed him. I also felt frustration that he was holding up a couple thousand people's commutes (also the others) and in particular, mine (I'm the other too.)

I realized that I was feeling a lot of fear -- fear that he might go off in some extra violent way if he was pushed too hard. Fear that he would be physically removed from the train. I also was afraid that I would be late, and that I'd miss my me time. When he finally got off the train, still yelling but not removed physically, the entire car exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Including me.

There is just much opportunity to not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. I want (need) more sleep, I want to spend more time with Josh, I want time to talk with friends, I want to clean the apartment, I need to reprocess the tomato sauce I made because I forgot to boil the jars in a hot water bath, I want to watch Friday Night Lights and US Open tennis, I want to read my book (whatever is the current book), I want to go shoe shopping with L, I want to spend more time outside, I want (need) to find a new apartment that is big enough to adopt in, I want to adopt (and then we'll see if I have time to get to the pool!), and so much more. I actually thought of all these things when I woke up at 5:30 so that I could get to the pool by 8, but I told myself to be patient and not aggravate the situation by dwelling on everything I was giving up, but rather to focus on what I had chosen. I did not have that awareness a year ago. Thanks to my Mussar practice I now do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I yarn bombed

Never Done: I yarn bombed

Yarn bombing is a kind of street art graffiti made from yarn -- often knitted or crocheted. It's a beautiful way to transform an urban, suburban, or rural environment -- and it's always a surprise to come across a bike rack or a post or a bench that has been transformed with color and texture. Yarn bombing has been on my Never Done list since the start. It feels like a cold weather activity -- what hard metal lamppost wouldn't want a wool cozy? As the weather start to turn, I started to think about times and places I might want to launch a yarn bomb. And then on the morning of the tenth anniversary of September 11, I realized the time had come.

My thought was that I could transform the day -- and the idea of terrorism -- with this one little act. I decided I wanted to cover something within sight of downtown Manhattan without actually going to downtown Manhattan, so I chose the Brooklyn Promenade. Then I looked through my bags of yarn and realized that all the yarn I have right now is really nice (ie, expensive) yarn -- and I didn't really want to knit up something that nice that was just gonna get A) cut down or B) rained on or C) both. So I looked around a little more -- and something caught my eye. Last khanike, I "won" a very unattractive scarf in an interminable game of dreydl (a khanike gambling game.) My friend A's mother had given it to her, and she had not wanted to throw it away so she brought it as an exchange gift. When I "won" it, I also did not want to throw it away, because it had come from A's mother. So I stuck it on a shelf and waited for the day I'd figure out what to do with it. Today that day came.

I grabbed the scarf, and went outside to wrap it around stuff to see what width object I would want to cover. It would be perfect around something about 3-4 inches in diameter. I then went back inside to find a crochet hook and some yarn, but I discovered instead some bright yellow yarn already cut into 18-inch lengths. (I think this was cross-stitch yarn.) The ugly scarf was knit loosely with chunky yarn, so it was easy to weave these through the knit, about 6 inches apart, so that all I would have to do would be to wrap the scarf around whatever I was going to wrap it around, and tie it on with the yellow yarn.

Josh came with me. As we approached the promenade, he noticed how different an urban landscape looks when you are on a mission. Instead of seeing every dog or car or tree or pothole, we were looking for long interrupted expanses of hard materials about 3-4 inches in diameter. As soon as we actually arrived on the Promenade, I realized that the top slat of a park bench would be perfect. And in fact, when we placed the scarf along its length, it fit absolutely perfectly.

It took only about 5 minutes to tie the scarf on to the bench, and it looked great. In fact, the scarf no longer looked ugly. And so in addition to transforming the space, and the context of terror and attack, and the day -- we also ended up transforming the scarf itself. When we finished, I stepped back and took some photos with downtown Manhattan in the background, and I started to think about bombs. Both my parents were staying in the World Trade Center hotel at the time of the bombing in 1993. (That wasn't clear. They weren't in the building at the time of the bombing -- they were staying at the hotel at the time -- and out during the actual event.) They were impacted to the extent that they had to walk for many hours to get somewhere safe, and they had to leave their car in NYC, because the parking garage was turned into a crime scene, and they had to find another way to get home. And also, this event was one of the many events in my mother's life that convinced her that New York sucks -- a lesson she tried hard to pass along to me, with some success, and yet here I am. But there I was, looking at the empty space where there used to be magnificent buildings, thinking about bombings and other attacks, and looking at the silly, soft, multi-colored bomb I had just dropped. Or wrapped.

And then I thought about the photographs in my father's archives -- of the Able and Baker nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini Islands -- the first bombs he ever saw, and photographed. He used to tell the story that before they went up in the planes where they were going to photograph the bombs from, they were told, "We don't what's going to happen here. We don't know if we will come back from this. Please take a moment and think about your loved ones." And then all those men climbed into their planes, or whatever their stations were, and -- well, served their country. My father said it was terrifying, but also, it was beautiful, from his aerial view.

With yarn in hand, I thought about what is means to intentionally change a landscape -- for worse or for better -- and then I stepped away from the bench, and gave it over to the general public. Within 10 seconds, three young women passed it by, and asked us if had done it. As I said yes, I heard something up above me. It was a man applauding. He had the aerial view.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I ran my first (sold-out) show at the JCC

Never Done: I ran my first (sold-out) show at the JCC

When I got to work in the afternoon to start prepping for Galeet Dardashti's Monajat concert, many of our computer systems were down, so nobody could get into the program where we write down what is happening in what room, and what the set-up needs are, and the people at the box office could not access the ticket sales records, and I could not print.

But everyone who was supposed to be there was there and was doing an fantastic job of working around our lack of information. In fact I think in some ways it was a good thing to happen on my first event, because people worked extra-collaboratively, and with such a giant flashing arrow pointing at systems error,  nobody was pointing fingers at other humans.

Well, there was some finger-pointing. We had some people who came 45 minutes late (for a one-hour show) and were upset that we had re-sold their seats. That one was my call. We had a lobby full of people who wanted to get in, and we had held the door for 15 minutes, and I made that call that ticket holders who hadn't arrived by the time the show was supposed to start would forfeit their tickets (and get refunded.) (Note to self: make new policy. Print new policy on ticket confirmations.) I didn't know what the policy is normally, and I wanted to represent the community center in the spirit of community, and I wanted to respect the people who were there, and I wanted to respect the people who had pre-purchased tickets, and in the end I decided to practice the mide (middah) of Decisiveness: Once you make a decision, act without hesitation, and make my best call and stick with it with confidence.

All this was happening on the back end of the show, and meanwhile the auditorium was buzzing with excitement and with people seeking out the last available single seats, and finally it was time for me to make my first curtain speech to a JCC audience, and I welcomed them to the JCC, to the first show of our fall season, and to my first show at the JCC, and please turn off your cell phones, and please welcome Galeet Dardashti ... and the rest was in her (extremely capable) hands.

Except it wasn't, actually. I had received a last-minute request from the artist, and had to take care of a few things so they would be ready for the post-show reception, so I slipped in and out of the performance. This posed another ethical dilemma for me. The mide (middah) of Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time would normally guide me to sit in the auditorium and be a fully-present audience member. My own desire to see the show would guide me in the same direction. My professional desire to know and be able to articulate the work -- also the same. Once I was in a master acting class with the incomparable actress Marian Seldes, and she spent most of the class teaching us 1) how to take care of our skin (stay out of the sun, and in the theater) and 2) how to be good audience members (sit in rapt attention, giving the actors as much attention as they give you.) I have been in audiences with Ms. Seldes, and she does in fact live true to her word. As a presenter, I would like to model excellence in audiencing (can I make a gerund out of a noun that I am pretending is a verb?) but at the same time, I have an obligation to make the entire night run smoothly, and not just the concert.

And this is what I love most about the Mussar practice; it gives me the opportunity to rethink these small (and larger) decisions, to examine my conflicting ethical obligations, and to come up with new, fresh approaches based on my reflection. Maybe I'll be sitting next to you during my next show.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I helped carry a double stroller up the subway stairs

Never Done: I helped carry a double stroller up the subway stairs

Come on people. The woman was just standing there at the foot of the stairs, with two kids in her double stroller, waiting for some help. And you all just climbed up without even noticing? Or maybe you noticed and decided you didn't want to A) take the time, B) hurt your back, or C) care.

I asked her if she needed help, and she nodded. I asked her where I should lift the stroller from, and when she just smiled I realized she was not an English speaker. So I tried again to ask where to lift from, but this time using my hands, and she showed me where. (I had never lifted a double before, and I didn't want it to tip over.) Her kids were biggish -- toddlers, not babies, and the thing was heavy. I got up to the first platform, and realized this was not a job for me (I did not want to drop her children) and so when a strapping young guy came by, I asked him if he would carry the stroller the rest of the way, and he immediately stopped to help.

This gets me thinking about the mussar mide (middah) of Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others. The truth is, I really don't know what was going on for all the people who walked past her. Maybe they all had hidden injuries or pressing meetings that would prevent them from carrying a stroller. It is possible. On the other hand, I would think that if they had something very heavy to carry up the stairs, or if they got a flat tire, or if they couldn't get the lid off the pickle jar, they would want someone to stop and help them. Also, as I demonstrated, if you start to help and can't continue to help, you can still help by asking someone else to help.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I celebrated Dana's birthday

Never Done: I celebrated Dana's birthday

Every year, my friend Dana has a wonderful (or so I've heard) party for her birthday at her family's (now her) house in Canarsie. Every year that we've been friends, I've been away in Maine during her party -- and that's going to be the case again this year. There's not a lot that could make me disappointed to be in Maine, where I get to be with good old friends, and good newer friend, and the Common Ground Fair, and my family, and on the Damariscotta River, and this year for an extra bonus -- at Serena's wedding. I wouldn't trade that time for anything. But Dana's party sounds amaaahzing, and each year I wish I could be there.

So when she mentioned she was having birthday dinner with her aunt and cousin on her actual birthday, I finagled myself a reservation. I adore Dana's family. They're just like my family only nothing at all like my family. Do you know what I mean? They are warm and close and funny and sarcastic and smart and inappropriate and inclusive ... and in a totally New York way whereas my family is just like that, but in a New England way. I'd actually love to put them all in a room and see what would happen. I know what would happen. They'd start having large family gatherings together, somewhere in Connecticut. (Blue + yellow = green. New York + New England = Connecticut.)

My family would never get together at Olympic Pita Israeli kosher restaurant in Midwood Brooklyn. We'd get together at Parker's Maple Barn on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. But we'd stop at Rein's Deli in Vernon Connecticut and slam down pickles and white fish like the best of 'em. And I would guess that Dana's family wouldn't turn down a stack of blueberry pancakes with fresh maple syrup. And maybe my family would feel a little out of place with the Orthodox Jews, and maybe Dana's would not quite fit in with the staid New Englanders. But I still think we're basically the same family.

One of the things that's hard for me about living in NYC is that my family isn't here. I have some incredibly close friends who feel like family to me (A, J, E & L) and that goes a long way to making this place feel like home. Same thing goes when Dana invites me into her clan -- and I remember why she's so rooted here. So, thank you Dana -- for letting me celebrate with you. It's possible your party was as much of a gift to me as it was to you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I went to Rock a Baby

Never Done: I went to Rock a Baby

I don't think I've seen Tabitha since I started my job. I've written a little about how hard it's been to see all my friends since starting my job, and she's no exception. I mean, I leave the house before 8, and I usually get home around 7, and I have all the regular life necessity things to do in between -- make dinner, make breakfast, make lunch to bring, do dishes, pay bills, do something new, blog, try to keep up with email, and get some sleep. I'm not doing so well keeping up with my friends. And I miss them. (You.) Michelle had the idea that she could bring Tabitha to the JCC and Tabitha and I could go to a class together while Michelle got an hour to herself. This was a really really really accommodating solution for me -- less so for Michelle, who had to travel an extra express stop on my behalf. And to make it even more of an elegant solution, I got to go to one of the toddler music programs in my building: Rock a Baby.

Rock a Baby is a guitar - keyboard - vocal toddler entertainment rock band who brings out puppets, maracas, balls, and bubbles to rock up their already rocking renditions of toddler classics from Old MacDonald to Wild Thing. (I wanna know for sure.) They were great -- good musicians, able to pay attention to 15 toddlers while also singing a story book. Tabitha was slow to warm up to it, and gave me lots of opportunities to make ethical decisions. First, she just seemed sort of sad and wanted to stay very close to me. As in arms and legs wrapped around me, and head leaning on my chest. At first that seemed more about missing her mom than about wanting to be close, but after a while when I could see she was also having fun (she liked it when the maracas came out) she would venture out for a little bit, and then turn and smile and come flop back on me again. She wasn't very interested in engaging with the musicians or their puppet alter-egos, and it made me alternately want to encourage her to do that, and also to just hog her for the whole time -- because it was really sweet to snuggle with her. She wasn't talking to me, so I wasn't sure what was going on for her, and I went back and forth about this in my mind, when it occurred to me that just because she wasn't talking to me didn't mean I couldn't talk to her. So I told her, "If you want, you can go dance with the puppet. I'll be right here; you can always come back. Also, it's totally fine if you want to just hang out with me."

And guess what she did? She got up, looked at me, smiled, went over to the puppet but gave up when the puppet had other kids to dance with first, and came back and snuggled with me for the rest of the class. Sometimes people just need to know what's OK to do and what's not. I mean, I need that, so why wouldn't 2-year-old? Sometimes it's easy to forget that we're all just figuring out what's OK to do and what's not.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I watched the Upright Citizen Brigade Comedy video: Fucking Tea

Never Done: I watched an Upright Citizen Brigade Comedy video Fucking Tea

Remember when I went to the Upright Citizen's Brigade and it wasn't funny? In fact it was offensive? Well, the people at UCBC have redeemed themselves by making fun of one of my favorite things in the world: tea (and those of us who love tea.) I didn't even know they made videos, but I sure do love tea. I love brewing tea. I love smelling the fragrance of tea. I love drinking tea. I love tea cups. I love tea pots. I love tea strainers. I love putting milk in tea. I love mixing teas. I love making iced tea. I love making hot tea. I love making sun tea. Most of all, I love telling people how much I love tea, and how much they should love tea. Especially the teas I love. Tea is better than coffee. It's better for you. People who drink it are superior. Especially people -- like me -- who drink herbal tea. (Which are more properly called tisanes or herbal infusions.) Because peppermint is not actually a tea; it's an herb. Tea is a specific plant species: Camellia Sinensis. Oh, you find this obnoxious? Am I maybe just a little too holier than thou about this whole caffeine thing? (At least if you drink coffee, I hope it's organic.) Oops, sorry. I did it again. Well I guess it's a good thing you people at UCBC made this video. Fucking tea.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I took Zofran

Never Done: I took Zofran

I got seasick on the ferry to Provincetown. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good. I'm pretty prone to motion sickness, and I've never successfully found a remedy. Normally I'm pretty safe on ferries, because they tend to be big and stable, but the Provincetown ferry we took is smallish and goes really fast and randomly swerves, as if avoiding a dead skunk on the road. I spent a little bit of the weekend worrying about the ride home, and then I remembered that I should practice Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief, which is to say that worrying about getting seasick wouldn't actually alleviate my seasickness, but it sure would put a damper on my weekend.

But before I got that clarity, I mentioned to Mich that I was worrying about it, and she -- nurse practitioner that she is -- said, "Oh don't worry about it. We'll get you some Zofran." And once again I realized that it's not actually wasted grief if you are telling someone who can actually help you DO something about whatever you are worrying about. But patterns are persistent. I started worrying that the Zofran wouldn't work for me. Or that it wouldn't work on motion sickness, because it's really made for chemo. So I decided to tell Mich I was worrying about THAT now, and she explained that it blocks the nausea receptors in the brain and that it would in fact work. So this time, I stopped worrying for real, and just took the pills when the time came.

And guess what? It worked. I rode all the way back on the return ferry and had no problems. And the sun shone, and the people were happy, and it was good. Omeyn.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I went to a gay tea dance

Never Done: I went to a gay tea dance

Earlier this summer I was invited to volunteer at a Hampton Tea Dance, which was a gala fundraiser for the Empire State Pride Agenda. I really wanted to make a fascinator for it, wear long white gloves, and serve drinks to well-dressed gay men. I pictured it sort of like to royal wedding, but for gay people in the Hamptons. Fancy. Stately. Mint juleps on the lawn.

In the end, I couldn't go, and I thought that was the end of my hopes to go to a tea dance this summer. But no! There is a tea dance every day from 4-7 in Provincetown, and it's free from 6:45 to 7, so Mich likes to go and dance like crazy for fifteen minutes. Wait, dance like crazy? At the royal wedding? Well, it turns out that the Provincetown tea dance is far from formal. It's a techno-blaring, chest baring sweat-it-out-on-the-dance-floor mob scene. (Plus one slow-dancing lesbian couple.) We pushed in to the center as far as we could, which wasn't very far at all, and danced as much as we could, which wasn't very much at all, and I remembered that just because I've never done something before, or just because I'm with a category of people I tend to like, doesn't mean I'll suddenly enjoy something I've never enjoyed before -- like being trapped in the middle of a rowdy crowd of intoxicated people -- and so we pushed our way back out of the crowd and went to dinner.

Ethical lesson: be open to trying new things but stay true to yourself.

And then after dinner, if you are lucky, you will get to hang out with Urvashi Vaid and Kate Clinton, and you get to realize that you got to do that because you were at the tea dance when you were, and you left when you left, and you ate where you ate, and you finished when you finished, and it's not exactly that everything happens for a reason, but that if you practice Equanimity, and go with the flow, sometimes the flow ushers you somewhere wonderful and unexpected.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I saw an exhibition of artwork of John Lennon

Never Done: I saw an exhibition of artwork of John Lennon
Never Done: I walked through the Provincetown dunes

When I went for a run in the morning, I noticed a street banner advertising a show called Imagine: Yoko Ono presents the art of John Lennon. I kept going, knowing that I would be coming back that way to look for the address, and locate the gallery. There is something about being up early in a vacation town -- sharing the morning with delivery truck drivers and people with dogs -- that let's you see the actual bones of a place. Town Hall is massive and stunning, as is the library; tide is low; Commercial Street stops being commercial after the Provincetown Antique Market.

Also, I love going out on a discovery mission and bringing back a find -- and what better find than a John Lennon show? It turned out to be 3 days only, in the Unitarian church hall -- a benefit for the church. I told Abigail and Mich about it, and they were both excited to go. We weren't sure if Yoko Ono would be there ("Yoko Ono presents") (which, I have discovered, would be completely possible because people like to come here) (she wasn't.) But we were there. The show was not originals -- it was prints from his drawings and paintings. Much of his work is incredibly moving and personal -- his line drawings that captured whimsy, personality, and sometimes entire socio-political theories. Abigail noticed, having spent significant time working in a print shop, that something that was missing from the show was the presence of the people who worked in the print shop. As soon as she said it I realized she was right; the wasn't a wall panel that explained that these were notebook sketches -- originally quite small -- that had been enlarged and reproduced with incredible care by xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, and xxx. one. Of the things I love about going to an art show with an artist is exactly this -- the artist's knowledgable perspective. I think it's the first time I got the artist's knowledgeable ethical perspective.

Later in the day we hiked out through the dunes. A gorgeous hike through bog cranberries and juniper, past a couple beach shacks -- barefoot in deep dune sand, all the way to the ocean. When we got there, the water was rough and the waves were breaking so close to the shore that the surf was full of sand and seaweed. Mich had prepared a gorgeous picnic -- curried tuna salad, sesame cabbage slaw, fresh corn salad, two kinds of iced tea -- and we spread it out on a towel, made kiddush, and spent the afternoon eating and talking like we always used to, til we got too cold to stay longer, and we hiked back across the dunes, back to the town where it would not be odd to see Yoko Ono, even though we didn't -- we saw Boy George instead.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I was featured in an online radio interview (and then took the ferry to Provincetown)

Never Done: I was featured in an online radio interview (and then took the ferry to Provincetown)

My BK Buzz interview, called A Year of Trying New Things, posted online. I already said so much in the interview -- and Shannon did such a good job of editing and framing it -- that I will let the BK Buzz be my words for today.

I can't actually. I would be leaving out a big piece of Never Done information if I didn't also tell you that I took the ferry to Provincetown for the first time, with Abigail, to visit Mich, and once here I saw a couple songs in a set by a great show: Scream Along with Billy. I don't think I've been in P-town since 1982. Also, I have only ever been here in the off-season. In a car, because I get seasick, and also because I came from central Massachusetts, not Boston, so taking a ferry wouldn't have made any sense. But more important than travel talk -- we have many Never Done adventures planned for the weekend. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I went to the Studio Museum in Harlem

Never Done: I went to the Studio Museum in Harlem

I am planning something at work that has to do with civil rights, and I've been looking around for interesting art/performance projects that relate. I noticed that there was an exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem of the Spiral Collective -- a New York–based collective of African-American artists that came together in the 1960s to discuss their relationship to the civil rights movement and the shifting landscape of American art, culture and politics. The show is up until October, and I knew I wanted to get up to see it.

I've been to Harlem many times, but I had never been to this museum. It's right on 125th Street, a couple blocks from the train -- super accessible. I must have walked past it before and just not noticed it -- which is hard to imagine, because it has a lovely street presence. But that has very little to do with my experience inside. I went with my coworker, who curates visual arts. It's a beautiful small museum. The man who worked the front desk was warm and welcoming. The galleries are behind a closed door that I got to open -- which felt a little Greek, like somehow I was Orpheus or something, and about to enter a cave. Only it wasn't a cave -- it was a sanctuary. A gallery. A broad room with art on the walls (duh) and a staircase up to an open loft second floor. There are two additional separate spaces -- one is a room to the left of the main gallery space, and the other is a smaller open gallery down a flight.

But why am I talking about the space? Let me jump right to the point. I GOT TO SEE TWO ORIGINAL ROMARE BEARDON COLLAGES. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Romare Beardon is my favorite visual artist of all time. I love his work so much. It is complex, with huge vision and simultaneous attention to detail. It has startling depth -- and by that I don't mean intellectual or creative depth (it also has that but I don't find that startling) but actual visual canvas depth. Like you can look at a work and see deeper and deeper and deeper into it. Plunge in, even. Once I was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for the annual Spring show called Art in Bloom, in which garden clubs from across the state get to design works of art in floral arrangements, and display the floral arrangement near the work of art. The arrangements were, for the most part, beautiful and creative. But there was one of a Romare Beardon collage, and it was literally transcendent. One of my favorite books is called I Live In Music (you can click to look inside the book) which is a poem by Ntozake Shange, who might be my favorite poet of all times, illustrated by Beardon collages. (I have spent hours plunging into that book.)

So I got to see my favorite artist's work, and I got to see a bunch of other work by other artists I didn't know as well -- some of it was arresting, and all of it was important. You know what I mean by that? This collective was vitally important. I would like there to be a collective of visual artists as engaged in discussion about the artist's role in response to the contemporary civil rights movement. The art work is communicative. It was meant to generate discussion. It was completely linked to its time and place. Maybe I didn't love the actual work of art, but I loved the conversation it was meant to start.

When we had taken it all in we almost left, but then we thought -- wait, we are here -- why don't we step upstairs to see the work of the artists in residence? And as soon as we neared the top of the stairs, I saw that one of the artists is my friend Simone Leigh. Really? Just like that? The truth is, I'd seen her posts about her recent shows, but it hadn't sunk in to me when we headed up that this was where her show was. What's the lesson here? I should have paid closer attention to her invitations? Made a specific effort to get up there? Maybe yes, and maybe no. I do think that would have been valuable. But also, I think it's of some value that I got to happen onto her work (which is stunning by the way -- she creates sculptures out of ceramic -- not busts and bowls, but giant cowrie shells and hanging missiles that are really breasts but are really bullets) and take it in in relation to the work of the Spiral Collective, hung just below.

I think another lesson has to do with going off one's beaten path, and taking small adventures, going on small quests. Not long ago I got some Tibetan dumplings in Jackson Heights. It's not like it's hard to go to Jackson Heights. It's not like I don't ever go to Jackson Heights. It's just that I don't normally go to Jackson Heights -- but we live in a city where pretty much the point of living here is that there's so much here. So I am saying that ten years in this city, and never once going to the Studio Museum of Harlem (or the Guggenheim for that matter, which I also visited this year for the first time) is too long. And I am saying that with all that's behind doors around this city, it's good to push them open every now and then, and take little epic journeys.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I sent money to the Department of Homeland Security

Never Done: I sent money to the Department of Homeland Security

Let me start by saying that sending money to Homeland Security is not the end goal here; it was a means to an end. -- the end being getting a visa for a wonderful Zimbabwean musician to come from Canada to do a program at the JCC. But this is not the beginning of the story; it's just a stop along the way. Maybe the beginning of the story was that in 1986 when I first started spending time in the Pacific Northwest, Dumi Maraire was teaching in the ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington. Dumi was a master Zimbabwean mbira (thumb piano) player who, while he lived in Seattle, spawned Zimbabean marimba bands up and down the Pacific coast. I knew some people in one band, and loved the music, and when I moved to Portland in 1990, I started taking marimba lessons from a tall skinny white American guy named Kite. I must have been a good student because before long I was invited to try out to play in Portland's marimba band: Boka Marimba, and before long I was in the band. I felt more connected to this music than I had ever been before to any other music. Maybe it was in part the physicality of the experience of playing the marimba and hosho (gourd shakers.) Maybe it was the time in my life. And maybe it was that I really loved the music.

But here's the tragedy. The longer I played it, the more I became aware of the ways that I didn't understand it well enough to be playing it in public. I was fine. I was a great performer. But I had a hard time grasping the cutting rhythms that were essential to the music, and the more I played, the more I heard them, and the more I heard them, the less I was able to play them. In the end, this made me stop playing. I think if this was happening now, I would understand that I was in a deep and confusing place of growth, and to somehow stick with it. But instead, I did something else that turned out to be wonderful and formative: I decided to learn "my own" music -- Yiddish music.

OK, flash forward 20 years. I am in Toronto with Josh, at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival with the film Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today. Josh edited the restoration of the film, and I did bits and pieces of work on it. The festival treated the film gorgeously. In between screenings, Josh and I took a walk around Toronto. We were heading back toward the theater when I heard the sound of mbira. Not just any mbira -- Zimbabwean mbira. And not just any mbira playing. Good mbira playing. I felt drawn to it -- like in a folk tale or a psychedelic trip. I tracked it down a couple of blocks until I found two young men playing on a street corner. I listened for a while, and then I introduced myself, and they introduced themselves: Pasi and Mutamba. We got to talking. We told them why we were there. Mutamba was interested in the film. We got him a ticket. He came and brought a friend. We spent some more time talking.

Every now and then you meet someone who shines. They don't have to shine every minute -- it's not a pressure kind of thing -- but they have a presence in the world that just reaches for humanity. Mutamba has that. We started talking about some projects we might work on together. I had an idea for a short film about a shared culture in the Zimbabwean and Jewish cultures about temporary structures. Jews build sukes (sukkahs) -- temporary shelters -- to remember the fragile shelters Jews lived in during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. In the Zimbabwean folk music repertoire, the song Nhemamusasa, which means Gathering Branches for a Temporary Shelter, is about the structures that people lived in during wartime.

We shared ideas about it. We stayed in touch. We became Facebook friends. We tracked each others' lives from afar. I donated to a fundraiser he had to raise money for a project for AIDS orphans. I want to try to describe this: we barely know each other, but we found a level at which to stay in touch which is both respectful of the fact that we really are not close friends, but at the same time acknowledges that we saw something important in each other.

Fast forward again. I got the job at the JCC, and I was in a meeting about programming a sukes (sukkot) event, when it dawned on me: this is it. This is the moment. I could bring Mutamba to come do a program, on sukes, in the suke, that ties together our traditions of temporary shelters. I pitched the idea. People loved it. I emailed Mutamba. He was up for it. We set up a phone call. When I reached him, he was working in his community garden. Oh, did I mention that he's a gardener, and also a social worker? He's such a complete person.

And for all of these reason, I was willing to give a significant sum of money to the Department of Homeland Security to get Mutamba an I-129 Visa and a P-3 classification as a Culturally Unique Artist or Entertainer, to come to New York to do an intercultural musical exploration of temporary shelter. (October 14. Mark your calendar. It will be on the roof of the JCC, which should be magical.) The mide (middah) of Frugality: Be careful with your money encourages us to be thoughtful about the ways we use our resources, and to consider the impact of our spending (and non-spending) on others. I found this perspective super helpful as I put the check in the FedEx envelope this afternoon, knowing that the impact of spending this money would be widespread and transformative.