Posts tagged ‘fear’

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

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October 30, 2011

Something About the Darkness

There’s something about darkness that drives me to places I don’t expect. About twelve years ago, a friend invited me to stay in his cabin on Block Island. I drove up there alone. It was in early March. Cold, deserted. Not tourist season. One of the locals I met in a convenience store described it as The Shining.

I fancied myself on an artist’s retreat. During the day, I woke up at dawn, did yoga as the sun rose over the water, watched the snow fall out of the windows and wrote poetry. I bundled myself up and took my video camera outside to capture close-ups of frozen plants and wide shots of ships sailing on the horizon. I listened to music on my portable CD player and danced around the room. I played my flute, improvising harmonies to the melodies I heard. The quiet solitude drove me deep inside myself. I felt a trembling desire to derive meaning out of everything I saw and felt and heard and thought.

As sunset approached, my anxiety grew. I cooked pasta, drank wine, and watched as the windows darkened all around me. What had been, during the day, a symphony of soft light playing across the bare wood and woven fabrics of the cabin’s modest interior, became at night an increasingly frightening experience that threatened to overwhelm me. I felt trapped in a spartan cubicle of rustic solitude. The darkness was filled with shadows that flitted just outside of my line of sight. The wind whistled with a sinister mystery. Cell phone service – none. TV – nope. A couple of random movies that I played on my laptop helped to pass the time and tire me out. My night time poems took on a desperate and slovenly appearance as I drank more wine.

I cut my trip short after four days. I couldn’t take it anymore. On the ferry ride back, the waters were so rough that I spent the entire trip throwing up. The drive back to NYC barely settled me down, and by the time I arrived home to my husband and cat, I could only meet their enthusiastic welcome with a queasy half smile.

Much has happened since then. I have endured great losses, and my fear threshold has risen dramatically (that is, it takes a lot more to scare me). What I fear now has less to do with the cycles of light and day, and more to do with the internal spaces that I strive to fill with significance. I still yearn for that satisfying experience of self-expression, but I am not as drawn to the heroic gestures of creativity that characterized my youth. My aspirations are broader, the projects more long-term. I recognize the work will be only about one part inspiration to nine parts diligence and hard work.

It takes more of an effort to focus these days. I’m sure part of it has to do with the sheer volume of responsibilities that fall under my domain – parenting, home-owning, working a full time job, not to mention the stuff of everyday living – taking care of myself, paying my bills, maintaining relationships with my family and friends… I also know that the nature of my work lends itself to a consciousness pulled in a myriad of different directions at any given time. Managing communications for a small start-up company, I wear a lot of hats, and I spend a good deal of my time engaged in social media marketing and networking. Plus, I still work on my own creative projects that fuel my spirit and fire up my imagination. They feed back into my ability to do everything else.

When we lost our electricity yesterday in the surprisingly severe snowstorm, I was surprised at how I embraced the opportunity to be home with my son and enjoy the simplicity of the evening. Sure, I had work I was supposed to be doing, and I regretted that I would lose time on a number of key projects. But as night approached, I decided to hunker down and enjoy the moment.

To combat the increasing cold, I turned on the oven and baked a kabocha squash. By candlelight, I cut and peeled vegetables for soup while my son sat on the kitchen floor organizing his Pokemon cards. We talked quietly. We laughed. I drank wine. He added orange seltzer to my glass, and I discovered a new, refreshing kind of wine cooler. We ate soup and squash together on the couch, cuddled under a warm shawl. He fell asleep before his usual bed time. We moved into my bedroom and hunkered down together in our clothes, under layers of blankets. We slept for almost 11 hours, hibernating like bears, hoping to wake up to warmth and light.

I didn’t write anything last night. No flood of creative inspiration in the midst of a liminal experience. But I did touch a quiet place inside myself that I rarely encounter. I thought about the different people in my life. Some happy, some sad. Some  in passionate, satisfying relationships, others lonely, searching. Most of them having moments of each, since life and love are rarely if ever only one thing.

Do you get scared and lonely in the dark? We all do. Once in a while. But darkness is also a place of great magic. Memories, fantasies, dreams and desires blend and mingle into a soup of possibility cooked from the simple ingredients of our experience. It’s all material. I try to remind myself of that. All those awful moments, the mistakes, the regrets… they’re material. I’m grateful for having all this stuff to work with… I hope to create something very special.

July 4, 2011

How my tag sale taught me an important life lesson

I had a tag sale on Saturday. It was, how shall we say… a bit emotional.

I’m not saying that having a tag sale is up there on my list of all-time worst things to have to deal with (death of loved ones, chronic illness, major surgery, foreclosure and moving), but it definitely brings up some, shall we say, “issues.”

To put it plainly, it really freaked me out to have to go through a major accumulation of stuff in my house that had all sorts of emotional ties to persons living and dead. In classic style, fueled by the preceding couple of extra busy weeks, I ended up saving all of the preparation for the night before. I made a bunch of signs, and then my son and I drove around the neighborhood to our local supermarkets (great community bulletin boards) and to our handful of favorite establishments (pizzeria, barbecue place, gourmet grocery store) where they know us, and would not hesitate to post a sign in the window. However, it was so emotional that I bought prepared food at two of the three places we visited (stuffed tilapia, lasagna), so one could say that I actually started the sale $16 in the hole. (sigh)

This produced an additional, terribly negative layer of self-criticism that I would rather have done without. Something that sounded a bit like this:
Nobody saves all the prep for their tag sale to the night before. You’re going to have people showing up at your house, and you’re not even ready, you’re not taking this seriously, your neighborhood telephone pole signs are not even up, you are disorganized, unprofessional, stuck in an utterly destructive procrastination loop, and you don’t even have any TAGS!!

Then I pretty much cried myself to sleep.

Fortunately, I was joined first thing in the morning by some intrepid cousins and later a few additional friends who helped me carry the heavy stuff out of the house. I’ve lately been plagued by low back pain, so there’s no way I could have done this thing without the labor of others. Even though I was still feeling kind of shaky when they arrived, I expressed my conscious decision to simply go with the flow of the day, and see what it would bring. I figured it would all just fall into place if I could relax enough to let it unfold naturally.

I scheduled this thing to start at noon, so we were able to slowly roll into action. I put some signs up on telephone poles in the blocks immediately surrounding my house, and felt a little cheered up. The first man to show up had seen my sign at the supermarket! He asked if I had any paintings. I hadn’t planned on selling any artwork, but I remembered that back in the bowels of my garage (aka floor to ceiling storage space) I had some old framed things from when I was a kid. I found a set of three drawings of animals that he purchased for $15. My first sale!

And so the day slowly unfolded. I met two sets of neighbors who lived on my block and we had never seen each other before! People bought things and chatted with us. Friends came by and my son had a few successive waves of playmates join him for some running around and TV watching. Later on, a small group of us barbecued into the evening and hung out in the cool night air up on the porch until the wee hours.

One visitor told us about a weekly church flea market where we can rent an inexpensive spot and will no doubt be able to make some money on selling my son’s HUGE Transformer collection (the majority of which was not sold). That will be our next Saturday project! I’ll have to donate the rest of the stuff, and it will probably take at least two carloads to cover everything, but my friend manages a thrift shop where they support a community soup kitchen and financial support for neighborhood folks who need medical care for their pets, so I have my destination all picked out.

So yes, we took in a little over $100, and I was reminded of the blessing of family and friends, but most importantly, I saw in action the concept of saying “yes” in the face of my doubts and fears. Even though I had no idea how it was going to turn out when we started, I gave myself over completely to the rhythm of the day, and it flowed as naturally and effortlessly as I could imagine, bringing with it a myriad of pleasurable moments with new friends, and a lot of nice surprises along the way.


Here’s a coda to this story:
I’m in the process of developing a workable budget designed to help me transition out of a tremendously challenging financial situation. It involves deep cuts in personal spending that will necessitate drastic changes in my daily habits. My friend who is helping me out wanted to review the numbers yesterday so I could start making some debt payments this week.

Of course, I couldn’t find the final sheet of numbers we had done earlier in the week, and I had to refer to an older, slightly outdated version. I was very tempted to do the old, “Deb, what is wrong with you, why are you so disorganized, you’re avoiding, etc.” He just said, it’s OK, get a fresh sheet of paper and let’s do it again, it will be a good thing. What he basically said was, “Let’s find the YES in this.”

I realized it was the same thing as a conversation my improv teacher friend Kim Schultz was saying the other night to my colleague Alexandra Moga, who is a yoga instructor, and invited me along to listen in on her interview with Kim for her own blog (coming soon, will keep you posted). They have been discussing this same concept as it appears in both improv and yoga. It was also the same thing I had done when I was tempted to go down a negative path on the morning of my anxiety-provoking tag sale.

So I had a triple revelation, that this concept exists in all of these three places: yoga, improv and in regular life, particularly when dealing with a difficult task that you seem to be “failing” at (having a tag sale, creating a budget, etc.). Right at that moment before self-judgement, self-denigration… there’s a real opportunity to invoke faith and just go for it, and see what happens.

It turned out that by doing the numbers again, I gained a whole different level of insight as to my whole financial picture, and we discussed a new way of me keeping the info handy so that I could keep the concepts alive in my daily behavior (not binging on take-out food when we have food at home, cuz it’s just not in the budget, for instance)… It WAS a good thing!

By chance, I found the perfect link with which to close this post, courtesy of the good folks at http://learnedevolution.com/ who had posted it on tumblr. It’s Amy Poehler giving the commencement speech at Harvard: http://bit.ly/lmzPKC. The whole thing is really funny and smart, but a little past 8 minutes into it, she starts getting at the heart of this lesson from the world of improv that applies to life in such a far reaching way. Don’t be so afraid that you don’t move forward.

 

Photo courtesty of MoonSoleil

May 14, 2011

Surgery, Life, Health and Courage

Apparently, like so many women, I herniated my belly button during childbirth eight years ago. At first, I thought it was just that usual, “I used to have an innie, but now I have an outie,” thing. But over the years, that outie popped out further and further. Not so cute.

I admit, I was told by more than one doctor that eventually, I would have to get it fixed. But what really made me understand that something had to change, and fast, was that I was incurring increasingly frequent bouts of lower back pain. After an acute, two-day, flat-on-my-back episode several weeks ago, my astute chiropractor, Dr. Loretta French, explained to me how the lack of abdominal muscle strength caused by the hernia (i.e. no core!) was causing me to overuse various muscles in my lower back. Hence, the weakness and vulnerability there.

I can’t tell you how happy this made me. Seriously. I have not been able to sustain a workout regimen for longer than a few months without injuring myself since I had my son. I went out the next day and scheduled an appointment to see a surgeon. Finally, an explanation for the chronic problems I’d been having since giving birth! I had just thought, OK, I had a baby, now I’m broken… But no! It did not have to be this way! Now I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. So I expedited the process, and this past Tuesday, I had the outpatient surgery. It went well, and I’ve been slowly recovering at home, gradually getting back to my regular work…

Of course, the experience brought up a few things, and of course, I want to share them with you.

First of all, I have to say, it’s very different being on the receiving end of medical services than it is being the care partner of a patient. I fulfilled that latter role for over twenty years with my husband Ivor, before he finally passed away in October of 2009, due to complications of his lifelong, chronic illness, sickle cell anemia. During our decades together, Ivor and I logged countless hours in emergency rooms, intensive care units and regular hospital wards. We crossed paths with untold numbers of nurses, interns, residents, specialists, technicians, assistants, pharmacists, therapists… I found most of them to be caring, dedicated and skilled, although over the years, we did have the misfortune to meet more than a few who were plagued by cynicism, overwork, negative presumptions about Ivor or his illness, or just plain battle fatigue. We learned to be pro-active, articulate and self-protective.

We were a team.

Now my surgery was no where near the harrowing, life-threatening, repeated incidents Ivor had to endure over the years. Having not let my condition progress too far, the procedure was still at the semi-elective stage, and besides that one problem, I’m basically strong and healthy, so I had no other risk factors going into surgery. Predictably, there were no complications. But things did get a little weird for me when, a half hour before the procedure was to begin, the anaesthesiologist described how he would be putting me to sleep with some medication via my IV, and then inserting the tube down my throat for the general anaesthesia. The what? THE WHAT? How had I missed that??

Intubated. The thing that happens when you’re so weak from pneumonia that you can’t breathe on your own. When one of your major body systems can’t function and you need mechanical support. When you are near death. Tube down my throat? I acted calm, but inside I was filled with all of the most negative associations. So much so, that when it came time for them to administer the first injection, the anaesthesiologist asked me if my heart always beat that fast, or was I just nervous. I said, I’m very nervous. My kind surgeon, Dr. Sas, offered to hold my hand. I squeezed it hard. But honestly, when the medicine began to hit, I remember saying, “Oh yes, this will work just fine.” And the next thing I remember, I was waking up in recovery.

Surgery is a kind of miracle of faith and trust. You put your life in the hands of doctors and nurses who cut into you to change your body, so you may live a better life. You have faith that when you go to sleep, you will in fact, wake up better than before. That you will, in fact, wake up! That you won’t wake up attached to some metallic, wired apparatus in a hidden room somewhere, with alien creatures performing strange sexual experiments on your helpless body (yeah, I went there). Or that you won’t end up at the end of the tunnel of light with your dear, departed husband (I love you honey, but I’m just not ready to be dead yet). All these thoughts and more were crowded out of my brain by the flood of endorphin producing chemicals that do whatever else it is they did to mercifully blank out my consciousness, allowing those talented and caring professionals to exert their skills on me.

I feel grateful that I don’t have to do this on a regular basis, and I feel awe and respect for those who do. Living with a chronic or life threatening illness enters you into an ongoing ride on the faith, trust, courage, strength, and fear train. Repeated challenges to one’s inner fortitude take almost as much, if not more energy, than the physical toll of the medical condition and its treatment.

The sacred bond between patient, doctor and all members of the support team (including the care partners) is one that I will always honor. I have lived many sides of it, and know of its profound impact on the souls of all who are involved. Being part of this circuit has given me an appreciation for the preciousness of each moment of life and good health. I am deeply grateful for my experience.

And yes, I have an innie again…

Photo courtesy of otisarchives 1