Archive for ‘Silly Me’

April 17, 2012

All Things Must Pass

Hi.

This is going to be my last post on this blog. I have enjoyed writing here over the past year – kind of sliding back into it after a long and difficult period of my life, without much fanfare… I’ve been able to explore a lot of different topics here with some great support from my readers. I will miss this spot.

But it’s time to move forward. My new blog is called She Says Yes. I hope you will come visit me there and share your thoughts, often!

While it’s true that all things must pass, I am also learning that so much is possible.

Thanks for coming along for the ride,

Deborah

March 16, 2012

Adventures in Jury Duty

3/15/12

Jury Duty. If you’re like me, you see those words and you inwardly groan, start thinking about ways you can get out of it. Well, this week I reported to the Bronx court for the third time since I’ve lived in this borough. I thought I knew what I was in for, but I was hardly prepared for what ensued…

The first time I was called for jury duty, I sat around for three days but my name was never called. I was let go early on the third day, told thank you very much, and that I would be contacted again in no less than four years.

The second time I was called, I knew I did not want to sit. I figured there were any one of a number of ways I could get out of it by saying something objectionable. I was inspired by a story a good friend had told us about how he had gotten out of serving on criminal court. An African-American man, he happened to have a very identifiably Muslim name. When asked whether he felt he would be able to be objective on the case for which he was being considered, he replied, “I have an inherent distrust of the police.”

Needless to say, he was not picked for that case or any other.

I figured I could do as well as he had. So when my name was called in consideration for a case, I dutifully went with the group of prospective jurors and prepared to be interviewed by the attorneys. They began by outlining the basic facts of the case. A New York City bus driver was injured on the job when the bus he was driving went over a large steel road plate that had been improperly placed by Con Edison (the local utility company). He suffered injuries as a result, and he was looking to be compensated.

When the attorneys asked if anyone had a conflict of interest or other reason why they felt they could not serve impartially on this jury, my hand shot up. They took me into a separate room to hear the details. I said, “The guy’s a bus driver, doing his job, and he gets injured. It’s Con Ed for goodness sake, they should just pay the guy’s damn medical bills… I’m already pissed off…” to which the attorney for the plaintiff chuckled and said, “I have no problem with that.” The attorney for the defense of course, responded, “I don’t think so.” We all agreed that I would be moving on.
Although I was returned to the jury pool, I was not picked for another trial. For the second time, I was released from duty without having actually served.

I started my latest bout with jury duty yesterday. They have a wonderful orientation video now, narrated by Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer. It’s filled with some terrific history of the justice system (did you know one of the ways they used to try someone was to throw him in the lake, and if he floated he was guilty and if he sank he was innocent – woo hoo!)… but most of all a kind of pitch to our sense of civic pride and responsibility. How can you refuse Ed Bradley? I was inspired.

When I was brought in as part of a group of about two dozen prospective jurors on a civil case, I was prepared to formulate my strategy for disqualification. As the first eight people were questioned by first the attorney for the plaintiff and then the attorney for the defendant, I listened, fascinated by the content of the unfolding discussion. These would-be representatives of justice were being asked to talk about their personal sense of responsibility and safety, as well as how you can tell whether someone is in pain or not. It seems this case was about a car accident. The plaintiff had been rear-ended by the defendant. This was not in dispute. What was being tried was whether or not the plaintiff had indeed suffered injuries worthy of damages, and if so, to what level of compensation.

Well, I figured… there’s no way they’re going to pick me for this jury, because I just lost a husband of over twenty years who suffered from chronic pain. No way I can be objective about that. I’m good to go.

And then today, when it was my turn up in the box, a funny thing happened. I began to get into it. I started to enjoy sharing about teaching my son about responsibility and personal accountability and hearing similar stories from my fellow Bronxites. I appreciated the young woman who worked at a clothing store but also helped care for her little sister with cerebral palsy. I appreciated hearing about the woman who had to mete out justice each day to her class of pre-schoolers.

I appreciated hearing the single mom sitting next to me talk about her son, a few years older than mine, also very smart and funny and athletic, and how there was only so safe she could keep him when he was playing football and fractured his ankle. Here I was, with members of my community. Would I be comfortable making a decision about someone who lived here among us? Could I be fair and thoughtful, and examine all of the evidence and make a decision based on the facts? Of course I could! I would be proud to participate in this flawed but excellent system of justice.

I leaned over to my fellow mom and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we both got picked?” She laughed… “We’ll just have to go with the flow.” Just yesterday we had both been talking about how neither of us could afford to take the estimated trial time of a week off from work. And yet here we both were, qualifying ourselves with distinction…

When the lawyer for the plaintiff asked about our history with people who had suffered car accidents, I realized I had a couple of related pieces of experience that would be worth describing. I mentioned about my husband with whom I had shared over two decades of care giving related to his chronic illness, and dealing with the subjective nature of pain. How many times had nurses or doctors said to him or his fellow sickle cell defiers, “You don’t look like you’re in pain,” or “I just gave you medicine three hours ago, you shouldn’t be in pain again.” How many hundreds of encounters like that had we weathered together over the years?

So when the attorney for the defendant mentioned me by name, wondering aloud if I would be able to remove myself from the emotions related to my personal experience with my husband’s pain in order to view the facts of the case fairly, I had to wonder. Could I do it? I had already begun to embrace the feeling of being part of this group of good citizens. I know that I am an intelligent, fair-minded person. I know how to interpret medical information. I am a good judge of character. I am a good listener, and I can pay attention to details, follow instructions well…

But then something strange happened. Suddenly feeling exposed and vulnerable in front of my peers, I felt a bit fuzzy in the head. The clarity and confidence I had embraced moments earlier was dissipating. Instead, I sensed some long harbored sadness slowly rising in my throat. I thought of my sister, still recovering from injuries suffered in a bike accident, possibly left with permanent, chronic pain issues as a result. I thought of the intense challenge and burden a life of chronic pain can be to the person who experiences it, as well as to their loved ones. I felt the memory of my husband’s relentlessly stoic management of his own pain, like physical waves, moving through my own body. I recognized the return of these memories and feelings as the first steps in coming emotionally undone.

So when they took a final poll down the line of us, asking whether or not we each felt that we could render a fair decision based on the case they would present to us, I looked at the lawyers and said, I think I need to talk to you guys. They called a five minute break and the three of us met privately.

I told them that I just didn’t know if I could trust myself. I had thought I was OK, but now these emotions were coming up, and I was starting to get kind of overwhelmed and just then I felt a hot flash coming on and my shoulders started tensing up and my lower lip began quivering and I knew that I could not risk taking on this responsibility. They had gotten me very excited about fulfilling the noble mission of participating in our justice process. I had been frank about who I was, carefully articulating my positions in a way that I knew qualified me. So as proud as I had begun to feel about myself, I was that disappointed that I didn’t feel capable of living up to the standard of objectivity that was required for the task at this particular moment in my life.

I told them, “This is bringing up a lot of stuff for me that I didn’t expect… I’m a writer – a communicator. I can be very persuasive. I just don’t trust myself to do justice to both of your clients if I’m going in with all of these very intense emotions, and potentially pushing them onto the other jurors.” Maybe I was overestimating my own significance, but they had gotten me to take this thing very seriously. I felt that being honest about my situation and my potential shortcomings was the best way I could demonstrate my civic responsibility.

They thanked me profusely. They appreciated my honesty and gave me a lot of credit for sharing my experiences with them, (as well as living through them). It seems that I was part of an exceptionally thoughtful and forthright group of jurors that day, and they felt very fortunate to have enough responsible people to choose from to facilitate this trial on behalf of their clients. Even without me, they would be able to fill the jury box successfully. It was a peak moment for all of us. Yay for truth, justice and the American way!

So I never did have to fabricate some pretext for not being able to serve. Sure, there’s some gray area there – I won’t pretend there’s not a part of me that’s breathing a sigh of relief right now that I can return to work and my regular responsibilities. But I learned something important over the last couple of days that has really gotten me thinking. I met a group of individuals who were really excited about doing their part for their community – a social worker who was also a Caribbean immigrant who felt extraordinarily grateful to be an American, a single mother, a teacher, the sister of a disabled girl – all ready to interrupt their regular lives to participate in this trial. I was proud of them.

I am grateful that we have this process in place, and I only hope that if I ever find myself on the other side of the jury box, that all of its inhabitants are as thoughtful and articulate as the people I met who will be trying this particular case. I may not be up for joining them on this go-round, but next time I’m called upon, I am pretty sure I’ll be approaching the entire scenario with a different set of eyes.

Photo courtesy of dweekly

February 3, 2012

I Remember A Time When…

… the most risque thing on TV was Charo on Johnny Carson.

… random sex was the beginning of a long term relationship… not the whole relationship.

… kids did the illegal drugs and parents did the legal ones.

… pubic hair just was.

… a chat was a little conversation… with actual voices.

… getting drunk on Manischewitz at Passover was a big deal.

… cooking was not a competition sport.

… pictures really could get used as evidence.

… I actually knew all of my friends.

… kids got bullied by getting the crap beaten out of them in the schoolyard.

… white people still felt guilty.

… McDonald’s was actually good.

… nothing said I Love You like a ride on the back of your banana seat bicycle.

… you were either on American Bandstand or Soul Train.

… scratching was something you did to an itch.

… the worst thing you could step on at the beach was a broken sea shell.

… kids laughed at me for saying I wanted to be the first woman president of the United States.

… I actually thought I wanted to be president of the United States.

Photo courtesy of jelene

January 21, 2012

Snow Time Inside

I love this winter snowstorm today. It is soft and gentle, like snow is supposed to be. Not so cataclysmic that I couldn’t go out if I really wanted to or had to, but enough of a motivation to make me want to stay inside at least for now. Somehow being enveloped in this white swirling cushion from the safety of my warm home gives me permission to let my mind wander and the thoughts flow unobstructed…

Life is so mysterious and complicated. I don’t know of any easy way to make sense of it all. Formulas that wrap things up in 10 easy steps, later seem more like platitudes, perhaps incomplete, vague or even empty, devoid of any meaningful resonance. Rules are broken, patterns become erratic, and contradictions upon contradictions render even our most solid assumptions doubtful, at best.

So what do we rely upon for guidance and truth when even our most reliable sources can fall apart under scrutiny? Even seeing is not always believing. Eye witness testimony is hardly considered dependable evidence, pictures can be photoshopped, video can be morphed into anything.

I suppose wisdom is an especially idiosyncratic body of thoughts. One person’s gospel is another’s blasphemy, and everything is completely subjective and relative.

That being said, there are a few things that I have learned from my peculiar body of experience. They work for me.

For example, I know that it’s OK to learn the basic rules and then go off and experiment. Once you hit a wall, you can go back and learn some more to facilitate your continued growth. I studied the flute for many years, and at a certain point began to enjoy just improvising along with recorded music. I would find new harmonies, countermelodies… much of the time I was stumbling along, but sometimes I’d find something that resonated rather deeply, and it would be so very fulfilling.

My son is just learning to play the recorder in school. He has learned a few basic tunes, and is still getting a handle on keeping his fingers on the holes to maintain clear notes. He’s so excited to be playing the same melodies over and over again. This morning I heard him playing along with a song from one of his favorite cartoons, Phineas and Ferb. He has the rhythm down – the melody not so much, but he’s slowly finding it. I did notice that his notes were very clear, and his tone is so much smoother. He seems to be gaining facility in keeping his fingers fully covering the holes. Progress.

Broken plans are not the end of the world. This is another one I have learned. When my husband was alive, we cancelled plans on a routine basis. The impermanence of scheduling was drilled into my head. He might have every intention of attending this party or that engagement, but on the day of the event, his body might have other plans. Sorry, we won’t be able to make it. And then we deal with the disappointment and reshuffle our expectations and move on.

Now, I make it a point to keep my commitments to the best of my ability. I might be a few minutes late (a different story altogether), but I’ll make it there. I will often go over and above to show my loyalty. Again, I may show up late, but I will bring everything I have when I do arrive. The fluidity of time and the ability to fulfill an intention in an unconventional manner are concepts that seem particularly suited to the complexities of modern living.

I sometimes think that my rapidly expanding universe only serves to confuse me – new people coming into my life all the time, with their opinions, perspectives, emotional needs… so many forces pushing and pulling at me, begging a response.

Then I remember that I have lived long enough to trust my heart. It’s not all chaos. The constant wash of information that I experience on a daily basis need not buffet me against ragged shores of resistance. I am actually learning to love the joyful chaos of random input. It’s as though my theory of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks has been reversed. I’m now the wall, and spaghetti is being thrown at me. I trust that what is ready to be received will stick. The rest I can let fall away.

Sometimes, I become so responsive to things around me, I feel as though I will explode with emotion. I will hear a song, and all I can do is dance around. Music has always had that kind of effect on me. Sometimes a particular piece will make me cry. (The other day my son and I were listening to a piece of guitar music and we both found ourselves wiping tears away.) Or I may feel overcome by desire, or happiness, or excitement about an idea. Perhaps it is just the thrill of being alive, of knowing that I have choices, that so many things are possible.

When I was a young girl, I used to particularly enjoy going to school on rainy Mondays. I would always pick the brightest clothes in my closet to wear, and some of the kids would look at me like I was crazy. Somehow it always felt like an obvious choice. Why wouldn’t I want to brighten up a dark and gloomy day?!

This blog post was not on my agenda. I have a long list of pieces, many already in progress, that I want or need to complete. Some of them have been assigned, while others are just burning their way out of my brain. If I don’t get them out, I will suffer a painful sensation, a kind of mental/emotional constipation. So when something jumps to the front of the line, ahead of the others, like this, I know better than to block it.

And it’s a good way to start the day. Despite the snow, we have several parties to attend today. It will be fun to get out of the house. We might even wear bright colors, and we’ll try not to be late.

 

 

January 8, 2012

I Lost My Voice

I lost my voice. A cold moved into my chest, and I lost my voice.

I wonder at the timing and the symbolism. Am I sad, overwhelmed? A bit confused as to what should be  my next steps? Yes, a bit.

Don’t be alarmed. We’ve all been there. It’s normal. I’m not afraid to share this, because I know it’s not unique. You all know what I’m talking about. You know, those times when you look around and you wonder, what am I doing every day? How am I spending my hours?

Sometimes I wonder, how do we not have these thoughts every single day? Forgive me if I sound cynical, but really, doesn’t everything seem so ridiculous when you stop and think about it? The financial worries, the petty annoyances, the grudges, the deeply held beliefs and opinions that propel us into heated arguments… What really matters at the end of the day?

Do you love yourself? Are you loved? Do you find meaning in your life? In your work? Your activities? Do you contribute in some way to the life of at least one other person? Do you appreciate the beauty in the world? Can you embrace the sadness that is on the tail end of every happiness? Can you fully appreciate the depth of your own spirit?

Sometimes my heart gets so full, I just begin to cry. Today it happened when I was driving in the car. I had just dropped my son off to spend the afternoon with a friend, and the song Harvest Moon by Neil Young came on the radio, and before I knew it, I was crying out loud. The sweetness of the melody and the lyrics just seemed to break open this melancholy that I didn’t realize had been building inside me, and it felt good to feel the tears come out of my head…

I have known deep love and sorrow and yearning and disappointment and great joy and contentment. I have recently entered a new phase of my life, and now I am knowing love again, in a different way.

While I embrace the exhilaration of the new, I am also connected to the turmoil of that which resides inside me – memories, anticipations, frustrations, fears, concerns… Those who know me well also know that I am relentlessly optimistic. If you read this blog regularly, you will see this pattern emerge in my writings. I won’t shy away from difficulty, but neither do I allow myself to drown in its power to overtake me. If I have to make things up, trust me, I will. I will live “as if” until “it is.”

So when I become ill, and my voice disappears, I know that my body is actually talking to me. It’s telling me, slow down, stay inside, stop talking so much, shut up for a minute and just listen.

I hear the droning of a thousand bees. I hear the dazzle of a million stars. I hear the regular pumping of my heart, and the blood, pounding in my ears. I hear the crying of a little child. I hear the splitting of my head as too many thoughts jockey for position near the front of the line. I hear the turning of the pages as another day slips by me.

And yes, I hear myself, crying, too. Sadness? Joy? Relief? Is there really a difference? I cannot tell you right now. My voice is resting…

 

Photo by Foxtongue

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December 31, 2011

Wild Women Just Do It

I have received a request. A dear friend and creative compatriot has suggested that I change the name of my blog. She says it is misleading. It’s not that she doesn’t get the irony therein, I’m sure she does. She is quite perceptive and has a brilliant sense of humor. However, she seems to think that people may not bother exploring any further if they are hit with something that reads as a psychic stop sign upon first meeting me in cyberspace.

Perhaps I should re-title this blog, Fucking Fantastic Writing. Maybe it’s time for me to come out of the shadows of my own modesty (read: insecurity). Perhaps it’s really OK for me to blast my message confidently throughout cyberspace and beyond. After all, I do not have an agent or a marketing guru or a PR firm working on my behalf. It’s just me.

See here’s the challenge. I might think what I’m penning is just brilliant, but you might hate it. There it is. Nothing complicated. What if I act like I’m the shit, and you just think I’m shitty?? That could be pretty awkward for me. Do you see my predicament here?

OK, you’re all pretty creative. Some of you might even make a living off your creativity. By the way, I hate you. No, ha ha… I don’t mean that. Seriously, I’m just playing, because I’m sure you really are brilliant and deserve whatever you have achieved. I’m just a mite jealous of anyone who doesn’t have to navigate the schizophrenia of the day job mind split.

But do you see what I mean?? This is a perfect case in point. I’m a pretty compassionate, loving person, and here I am openly admitting that if you have what I’m striving for, I would say I hate you and be jealous. Seriously. This is not a benevolent situation here, people. I absolutely want to be that person that arouses that kind of jealousy and hatred. Of course, if when I achieve that level of success, I wouldn’t won’t be a big dick about it, and I would will try to help as many people as I could can before, during and after, and who knows if I would will really be happy once I got get there… oh, the dog eat dog part of this really makes me a bit weary…

The bigger issue here is this. How do I claim my identity as a writer – own it, really own it, without worrying about you thinking that I’m a conceited, narcissistic, needy, insecure… need I go on??? OK, ok, you think I’m just fishing for compliments, but seriously, this shit gets very debilitating. I know, I know, none of you are sitting around thinking about me. You’re all busy dealing with your own shit. I get that. I learned that in therapy years ago, (to my great relief, I might add).

But nevertheless, I still get way too attached to what you might or might not be thinking. What writer doesn’t care what her readers are thinking??? I mean, you can’t really think about it while you’re writing, but like any act of bravado, you put it down with a flourish, hit send, and then the anxiety begins. It’s not easy to be brave when you know on the back end you’re gonna hear it from someone who says, um, that wasn’t a good idea, or, really, do you think you should be writing about THAT??? I mean after all, you are a (choose one) mother, professional whatever, someone who has to face your neighbors in the supermarket… the list goes on…

What am I, Catholic??? What’s with all the guilt? Yeah, I’m Jewish… OK. Let’s not make this a religious argument. I’m pretty sure I’ve stumbled into what my other extremely creative and brave friend describes as the plight of many women writers. We are often strangled by our sense that we, as women, can only express ourselves in certain prescribed ways, and to step out of that safe zone is to open ourselves up to all sorts of nameless dangers.

Seriously, girls, are we still buying in to that? You’d think after all this time we would have figured out that it’s OK for us to use naughty language and talk about sex or violence, or changing the government or being angry at corporate greed or protesting war, or pointing out injustice, or WHATEVER THE HELL YOU FEEL LIKE TALKING ABOUT!!!

Well this may be an extremely roundabout way of getting around to making a New Year’s resolution, but there you have it. 2012 will be my Year of Living Dangerously. This shit burns a whole in my brain, and it’s either write or die…

Earlier this week, my son and I participated in a Kwanzaa celebration with another dear friend. For those of you who are not familiar with its workings, Kwanzaa is a relatively new African American holiday designed to inspire and support a sense of family and community spirit. Its daily principles resonate with power and potential. As part of the yearly tradition, a libation (small offering of wine or water) is poured in honor of our departed ancestors as we celebrate their continued presence in our lives. We then honor ourselves and our children as the holders of our future.

In this spirit, I wish to honor some of the creative women I know who have  inspired and continue to inspire me through their work. Women who are not afraid, or if they are, they are not letting it stop them from pursuing their passion, their truth.

Kalae All Day – At the ripe young age of 23, one of my youngest friends, Kalae is someone who is coming into herself so quickly, she’s going to explode. She may think she’s already there, and honestly, she’s in there pretty good, but this is one young woman who brings so much to the table, I feel like she’s only just scratched the surface. Singer, rapper, writer, designer… the list goes on. See for yourself. Visit her blog. She is a force.

Deb Margolin – What can I say about Deb? She is quite literally one of the smartest, funniest, most honest women I know. As an artist/mother/lover she really gets the painful dilemma of creating, loving and letting go. Her experience, from playwright to performance artist to Yale University professor, and everything in between, speaks to the range of possibilities for creative women. She is also a damn good musician. Get her to a piano, and see what I’m talking about…

Kim Schultz – When I first met Kim, she was performing a one woman show about her relationship with a con artist and the death of her father. It was really funny. This incredibly candid woman has a knack for turning the sorrows and challenges of her life into the most enlightening and entertaining works of drama and comedy. A trained actress and improv performer, Kim’s latest is a piece she wrote after falling in love with an Iraqi refugee. Artist and accidental activist, she puts her heart on her sleeve on a regular basis, and for that I love her dearly.

Lillian Ann Slugocki  – Lillian’s stuff is so immediate, so passionate, so familiar (to me), and so unfettered by self-consciousness, that she inspires simply by being. I love the way she embraces the full range of her experience as a woman, and explores all aspects of her history, her desires, her needs… and she is one helluva storyteller. One of my newest mentors and friends, I look forward to her bravery and inspiration rubbing off on me as I resume working on my fiction.

Jennifer aka J.J. Brown – Jennifer’s background is extraordinary. As a scientist, she brings a level of insight to her fiction that is rare, indeed. Another woman who perceives herself and her work in the context of the world at large, she is not afraid to look unflinchingly at life in all of its dimensions, and explore the light and dark aspects with equal curiosity and sensitivity. I am proud to count her among the new friends I have made this year.

Jenifer Jackson – For the last decade or so, I have been enjoying the quiet evolution of one of my favorite singer/songwriters. This Austin, Texas resident who used to live in the East Village writes songs of love and loss and hope with a sweetness that touches me deeply. I saw her perform live the last time she came to NYC, at the Rockwood Music Hall, with her seasoned band. I think I cried from joy through half the songs.  Her music evokes at different times strands of folk, country,psychedelic pop, bossa nova, jazz and soul. I go back to it again and again…

Cherie Blackwell – This talented visual artist is also, I’m proud to say, my cousin. Another woman who incorporates a passion for science into her art, Cheri is currently engaged in a cubist exploration of Brooklyn landscapes. She is also a New York City public school art teacher, which automatically elevates her standing in my book threefold… not to mention the fact that she does a mean beat box.

Alice Bradley – Unless you count a few brief exchanges on Twitter, Alice Bradley and I do not personally know one another. Co-author with Eden Kennedy of the pee-in-your-pants funny book, “Let’s Panic About Babies…” (it’s a really long title), Alice is someone who I will probably run into at some point or another. She’s from Long Island, like me, so already, we are practically friends. Her book about birthing made me rethink everything I know about trying to be inspirational and give advice to other women. Plus, she says fart a lot. Well, at least once that I know of…

Carole Hart – Award-winning producer/director of the film, For the Next 7 Generations, Carole has been paving the way for women who believe in the healing power of the arts for decades. A seasoned television and film producer and writer, Carole has been at the helm of such notable works as Free to Be… You and Me, Hot Hero Sandwich, and this most recent documentary about the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. She has taught me volumes about bringing spirit and balance into art and life, and I’m proud to call her friend.

Erin Cressida Wilson – I am most grateful to Erin for her extraordinary support and encouragement at a pivotal moment of my life. It was she who encouraged me to start blogging when I was still in a fog, and she has been a great fan of my work even when I had no idea what I was doing. When I did not believe, it was her absolute conviction that I had a strong voice that kept me moving forward, one baby step at a time. I’m so lucky to know her, after all these years…

* * * * * * * * *

So happy new year to all of you, wild or not, women or not. I look forward to connecting more with each and every one of you in the coming year!

Photo by Crinity

December 27, 2011

A Few More Thoughts for the Holiday Season, or, My Laundry’s Laughing at Me

Every year at this time, I feel a recurring urge to sum things up, make a grand gesture, sew up loose ends – something big to mark the passing of another year. When I was younger, I always used to get completely worked up about having a good time – no, the BEST TIME EVER on New Year’s Eve. Invariably, the night turned out to be a drunken argument between me and my date, because damn it, nobody can withstand that kind of pressure!

So I’m not trying to make any grand statements here, no major revelations, no deep wisdom… just point out a few things that seem like patterns to me, and see what type of connections we can make. After all, it is a reflective time of year.

I think one of the things that scares me most is beginnings. Sometimes when I have to head in a new direction or start a new project or even complete a simple task like doing the dishes, I am gripped with an overwhelming sense of… anxiety. At least that’s what us seasoned experts call it. But once the warm water is flowing over my hands, I’m good. In fact, I relish those sensations. I love the actual process of bringing the dishes and glasses and pots back to their original, smooth state. I love stacking everything just so in the drainer, in a particular pattern that I’ve developed over the years that maximizes its capacity. The sense of order I get seeing the empty sink, wiped clean of any remaining food particles or soapy residue, and the dish rack filled to capacity, is actually quite soothing.

But taking that first step can sometimes be so nerve wracking, that I’ve had to just walk away from the kitchen and come back later in the day, or the next morning. Other things around the house can induce that kind of inner paralysis – doing the laundry, for instance. Once I push myself to sort and wash it, I’m only halfway there. I’ve actually stepped over baskets of clean but increasingly wrinkled clothing for weeks at a time. Go figure.

This kind of avoidance behavior does nothing for one’s sense of confidence. You give a pile of wash or a stack of dishes that kind of power over you, and the next thing you know, you’re being bullied by unpaid bills. It’s a slippery slope, my friends. In fact, can’t you just imagine the pit of my stomach clenching right now, as we speak???

OK look, this post is not meant to be Things That… Freak Me Out Part 2, but I will say that I’m glad to be naming all of this fear and anxiety so close to the end of the year. I really need to get this shit out of my system before New Year’s Eve, or I’m bound to have a totally sucky night…

Have you noticed that many psychotherapists are kind of wacko? Don’t get me wrong! I love therapists, and believe me, I’ve seen my share. But seriously, they are one nutty bunch. Not that I’m making any kind of a generalization here… well, I kind of am, but in a good way… because it’s a natural tendency for people to want to heal the thing that troubles them most. Well, heal or destroy, I guess. Take for example homophobes, who definitely skew high in the category of repressed homosexuals, don’t you think? Kiss em or kill em or heal em, I guess…

There’s a theme here. We gravitate towards the thing that most holds our curiosity, our fear, our confusion, our anger. We keep on visiting old wounds again and again, often re-enacting a painful dance like a moth that burns itself repeatedly against a light bulb. The patterning of familiarity is deep, regardless if it works for us or not, and breaking free from that pattern can be just as frightening as the consequences of repeated injury from staying in it.

So despite any resolutions to the contrary, I am quite certain that I will be walking into this new year facing all of the same old bad habits and challenges with which I’ve been struggling all of this past year. My only hope is that perhaps I’ve learned a few things along the way, so all of that bashing my head against the wall will not have been completely in vain.

As a way of setting the correct tone, this year I am changing up my holidays a bit. I figured out from the last couple of Decembers that merely doing what I always did before, except with one key person missing, was way too sad and painful. (For anyone who has lost a member of your immediate circle, I would suggest a balanced blend of maintaining certain meaningful traditions along with starting new ones.)

Being that I’ve been part of a blended family for a couple of decades now, I’ve picked up a bunch of traditions along the way. This year I decided to share as many different religious and cultural traditions as I could with my son. So far, we’ve attended one Chanukah party and lit the candles in our home for each of the seven days (tonight will be the eighth). I’ve taught my son the accompanying prayers I’ve known since I was a little girl, and he has been singing them with me from memory each night. Christmas included not only our little family tradition of presents under the tree first thing in the morning, but an afternoon trip to a local church to help serve meals to homeless and hungry families.

Now we’re moving into Kwanzaa, preparing to learn about and celebrate its family and community building principles one evening this week with friends, and on New Year’s Eve we’ll be back at church for a Watch Night service. This is a tradition that dates back to the late 1700’s, with roots in a small Christian denomination called the Moravians, who used this practice to reflect on their readiness to meet their maker, should this be their last night on earth. The practice was picked up by Methodist founder John Wesley, who turned it into a monthly ritual.

Watch Night took on a particular significance on the night before January 1, 1863, the first day of the official end of American slavery. On that particular night, African Americans gathered in Black churches all across the south, awaiting their first moments of freedom as the Emancipation Proclamation would become law at midnight. Just imagine adding to the tradition of meditating on your state of grace the dimension of jubilation in learning that you are no longer a slave??? I would’ve been dropping to my knees in gratitude, too!! This tradition has been kept alive in parts of the African American community for nearly 150 years, and I will be proud to share it with my son this weekend.

In the meantime, there is work to be done. Work work, as in my job, domestic work, as in the various things that need cleaning, fixing, purging, and otherwise tending to in my home and family life, and creative work, as in the multitude of stories and essays that are pressing their way out of my subconscious daily with, it seems, a greater and greater sense of urgency. And the holidays, though they are giving me a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the joys and reflect on the sorrows in my life, have only created a backlog on the very mundane responsibilities that haunt me the most. I am struggling with the transition back to daily routine as we speak. And though I am encouraged by the fact that my kitchen sink is actually clean at the moment, there is a growing pile of dirty clothing in my hamper, and I swear I can hear it chuckling…

Photo courtesy of Nrico

December 20, 2011

ADD, End of the Year, and Revelations

It’s the end of the year, and in the best spirit of articles like Things I Promise to Do Better Next Year and Top 10 Holiday Party Ideas, I bring you, My Exploration of the Mechanics of ADD.

OK, back up for a minute. I have not actually been DIAGNOSED with ADD, but I really think the name applies here. Nor am I a mental health professional. So everything you are about to read is completely made up, subjective and far from technically correct or accurate.  For the purposes of this piece, I will use the term ADD to refer to what I think of as “challenges in staying focused.”

OK, so now I will give you my impressions of life with ADD, and how I think this underlying condition has contributed to my creative energy, my incredible sense of loyalty, and my issues with boundaries. You may notice that I jump around a bit. Of course I do.

Carpools may be inadvisable, as then you will drag unwitting victims (and possibly their children) into your web of creative timekeeping. There’s nothing worse than being the one that makes everyone in your little circle sigh and tap their feet about, while they roll their eyes upward. Being resented like this does not make you popular.

There is just so much amazing shit in the world to get excited about… truly! If I had actually lived during Renaissance times, perhaps I would have made a name for myself as a Now Woman. But alas, my predilections are a bit outdated. Or at least, referred to by evolving and various nomenclature:  confused, dilettante, experimenting, needs to settle down, self-involved, genius, iconoclast, not sure I get her, anti-establishment, multi-genre, entrepreneurial, impractical, unconventional, bohemian, radical, ridiculous, original, derivative, ADD or just plain weird. But really, everything is just SO COOL!

 

Here’s the thing about commitment. When you have ADD, you are just so glad when you can lock onto something, you just might never let go. I think it’s kind of an action/reaction sort of thing – like how we’re attracted to the things we fear the most. This of course is the most mysterious part of the whole syndrome for me – and the most fascinating. It’s the “Backwards World” section of the story – the part where hyperactive kids are given speed to calm them down.  So paradoxical in its truth.

So it makes sense that people with ADD might actually be very loyal and good at long term relationships, because a steady, committed partner is just the thing to help tether us to something resembling normal. I believe we also make good caregivers because we’re excellent in a crisis, and adrenaline is extraordinarily focusing. I’m talking about that heightened sense of knowing the correct thing to do during an emergency.

We are also very in touch with our potential as human beings, because we’re aware of every little molecule in our midst. We understand the power we’re sitting on with atomic energy, because you blow one of those suckers up, and you’ve got acres of possibilities. Well, mostly blown to bits, but you get where I’m coming from…

Here’s what the creative process is like. OMG, if I don’t get this (pick one) story/song/poem/dance/screenplay/painting/theory/video/sculpture out of me, I’m going to throw up. Either that or, I feel something, but I’m not sure what it is… maybe I need to do the dishes, no, cook some soup, but first I will just read this article, and I’ve been meaning to google that friend of mine from high school, what the hell is her name (I always forget when I’m in front of the computer), and then I will take a shower, and oh – don’t forget to buy milk, butter, olives, that bread with the parmesan cheese and tomatoes on it, what is it called again, it’s from that region in Southern Italy where what’s her name’s family is from – ooh, I have to call her about the tickets for Friday’s show, damn, I sure hope they haven’t sold out already, let me just check their website – yes. THAT is what I call a theater. I would definitely have my play performed there, and Oh My God, the character’s name is Darcy!! That’s her name, holy shit, I can’t believe it, I found my main character’s name, and oh… she’s definitely talking to me – QUICK! Grab some paper and get this down before it disappears…

And four hours later, a first draft is complete.

Now just imagine I am your friend, and we live in different countries. You may not hear from me for months, but when you finally do, I will have sent you a 20 page, handwritten letter, detailing in flowing prose every single one of my current obsessions, revelations and special moments that will seem more real just for the sharing of them, along with as many genuine questions about your life since the last time you wrote to me.

And I will revel in the backwards process of gathering up all of the exploded pieces and forming them into something new and beautiful, and quite meaningful for the sheer fact that it came from the splattered pieces of my mind all over the floor.

So the next time I am the last one to leave from one of your parties, just take me firmly by the shoulders, look me directly in the eyes, and gently but firmly tell me, Deborah. Focus. And go home.

PS – Forgive me, I might let the dishes pile up once in a while, but once I get to them, they will be spotless.

PSS – Forgive me also, old friends who hadn’t heard from me in over 20 years, for those really long messages I wrote to you describing every single detail of my life since then, during that time right after my husband died and I discovered the true networking capabilities of Facebook.  I got very excited, but it was harmless.

PSSS – Happy Holidays to everyone who is, loves, or fantasizes about being a person with ADD or who is too distracted to care!!

PSSSS – It might just be perimenopause, I’m not sure…

Photo courtesy of Plinkk

December 8, 2011

I write fiction, too. And I’m entering a contest.

You may notice that I’m expanding my subject matter lately. I’ve added more pieces on the arts and culture, and you can look forward to a new series of interviews with notable creative and visionary people who inspire me.

And, I am working on my fiction. Yep.

I’ve entered a contest to see if my main character’s voice is strong enough that a panel of experts can guess his age. Today, I’m to post the first 250 words of the story on my blog for the other entrants to see, and submit a copy to the judges. This is actually the beginning of one of my favorite short stories, but I can’t tell you the name yet, or I’ll break the contest rules.

I figure it’s time to open up my work to more criticism, hopefully of the supportive type. I just know I can make it better. So if you’re one of my regular readers, please, send me your thoughts. I care what you think. And if you’re a new visitor, welcome. I’m happy to have you, and I welcome your feedback as well…

And now, here is the beginning of my story…

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Mr. Mooney was in a very bad mood.  Driving home from work on the crowded West Side Highway north towards the Henry Hudson Bridge, he heard a funny clacking sound coming from under the hood that sounded suspiciously like the sound he heard the last time he brought the car into the shop.  Damn that mechanic.  I know he’s ripping me off, he thought.  You just can’t trust anyone.

Alexander Mooney was never one to require reassurance or a softening of hard edges.  He liked his lights harsh, his desk clean, and his coffee on time.  So when his gal Rosemary hadn’t shown up that morning until nearly 9:20 with his morning brew, he knew this was going to be a particularly shitty day.

Rosemary was very efficient, pretty, and cheerful enough, but she had three children between the ages of 7 and 17, and something was always going wrong with one of them.  If she hadn’t been so good at typing and shorthand, or hadn’t been in the habit of wearing particularly tight blouses (with what must have been a brassiere made of gauze for all the good it did her), he would have given her the boot a long time ago.  The girl simply missed too many days of work.  It was always something – one kid with the chicken pox, the other one who cracked his front tooth during a sporting match, and then that oldest girl with her mysterious female troubles – infection, or some such thing…

Photo courtesy of sampsyo

November 29, 2011

Five tips to not starting your day like an insane, lunatic parent

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I like to write about the arts and culture as well as more personal essays about life and love and loss and yes… parenting.
Because after all, I am a mom.
Here’s a little ditty I recently penned for my son’s elementary school magazine. Fortunately, I didn’t give them the copyright, so I can share it with you, too.
BRINGING CALM TO OUR STRESSFUL, BUSY LIVES
Are your days too short and your lists too long?
Do you have trouble keeping your focus?
Do your kids push your buttons?

Are mornings particularly stressful?

Welcome to parenting! If you’re like me, and you work a full time job, or if you have more than one child, or you are simply attempting to do at least one more thing besides being a mom or dad every day, then you know what if feels like to be a circus performer… that is, to be a juggler.

The idea of “multi-tasking,” as they like to call it nowadays, is not new. People have been managing multiple priorities for generations. In fact, modern living is much easier than in the olden days, what with technological advancements like the washing machine and the water pump. (Seriously, can you see yourself down at the well at dawn, or scrubbing clothes on rocks down by the creek?)

But I think that modern technology now offers us so many choices, that it makes it hard to concentrate our energies in one direction at a time. And our kids are feeling it too. Between input from television, the internet, video games, and DVD’s, they are on sensory overload. And that doesn’t even include the good old fashioned influence of things like books, music, arts & crafts, sports, games, playing outside and just plain old conversation.In order to maintain our own sanity, and simultaneously help our kids successfully navigate through their own world of personal development, school responsibilities and extra-curricular activities, it helps if we can maintain some measure of calm and focus through all of the seeming chaos of modern day life. If you’ve seen me running down the block into the schoolyard with my son on some mornings, you know that I haven’t gotten this down to a complete science yet… Although I do attempt to start our days with a sense of order, some mornings are better than others.

Here are a couple of tips for beginning the days that I find helpful. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and I don’t imagine that any of us will be on top of every item on it, every single day. However, I think they are good reminders of what’s possible, and hopefully may come in handy if you glance at them once in a while…

1) Be realistic. The morning is only so long, and you only have so much energy. You’re probably not going to be up early enough to get extra loads of laundry done AND pay all your bills AND do the leftover dishes and still have time to get your kid up and ready for school. Perhaps you wouldn’t even consider trying to get extra things done in the morning. Good for you. Concentrate on getting your kids out the door.

2) Be calm. Seriously. If you want your children to have a calm day, show them how it’s done. This one may take some extra doing, especially if you have developed some habitual morning conflicts with one another. But this one is worth it, particularly if you’re in a bad rut. You might need to take an extra five minutes before your children wake up to do a little deep breathing, or some light meditation. Don’t dismiss this one out of hand. You’d be surprised how much it helps to just slow down your thoughts and clear your mind, even for only a few minutes. It’s like hitting a reset button. Remind yourself just how much you love your children and try to keep the little annoyances in perspective.

3) Have some fun. I like to sing a song to my son when I first wake him up. It’s one I’ve been singing to him since he was a baby. Sometimes if he is particularly sleepy, I tickle him awake. I talk in funny voices. We crack jokes about silly things that happened the night before. It helps to lighten things up…

4) Stick to a routine. This may be the most important tip of all. For kids, routines provide a sense of order, structure and safety. For adults, they help us make sure we haven’t forgotten anything important. If you have to, make a checklist, and look at it every single day. It helps to prepare things the night before. Make sure all the homework is packed into the knapsack. Prepare a lunch. Set out the clothes. Whatever you can do to streamline the activity of your morning, do it. Involve your kids – they love to contribute to something that feels like a project or a challenge, and it helps them to feel responsible for their own behavior. Note: there will be the inevitable unexpected glitches, like a bowl of cereal spilled all over clean clothes, or a favorite barrette that just can’t be found. Build in a little extra time for mishaps. If everything goes smoothly, then consider it a bonus. Woo hoo!

5) Forgive yourself for not doing it right. You will have bad days. Your child will have bad days. You will lose your temper. He or she will start crying. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up. Go easy on your child. There’s a lot of pressure to perform at our peak levels all the time. Sometimes things just don’t go right for any of us. Try and remember that we all want the same thing, and we are, in fact, on the same team. If something goes wrong, you and your child can comfort and reassure one another and move on. There is always another opportunity to do better next time.

One final note. In the evenings, when we are ending our days, it helps to make some quiet time with our children to just talk, read or even be together in the same space doing separate activities with one another. I felt the value of this one acutely during the recent snowstorm when we lost our electricity (fortunately, only for one day). Without the ability to watch anything on TV (in our case, Netflix) or turn on the computer, we were left with the option of just hanging out with one another. We were able to use our gas oven and stove to bake and cook and warm up the kitchen. While I prepared homemade soup by candlelight, my son sat on the floor near me playing with his Pokemon cards. It was one of the most peaceful and intimate evenings we shared together in a long time.

Of course we don’t need a natural calamity to make us enjoy some quiet time with one another. It’s truly gratifying, and reminds us of why we became parents in the first place! Even if your life is so busy that you only get that opportunity once or twice a week, do what you can to make it happen! The chaos will be there waiting for you, and the juggling will continue, so you might as well take a “time out” once in a while. You’ll all be glad you did!

Photo courtesy of Denise Carbonell