Friday, April 30, 2010

Lauren and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

I don't like to admit it, but here it goes...I occasionally feel crabby. Yup, it's true. I do my best to pretend that i am immune to feelings of irritability, anger and frustration, but really, secretly, i can sometimes be cranky. In an effort to help, in the past 24 hours, i have been told to:
  •  make a gratitude list
  • count your blessings
  •  appreciate the sunshine
  • think of how much worse it could be
  •  take a bath
  • watch a movie
  •  read a good book
  • sit outside in the sun
  •  take a walk
  • stretch
  •  walk in the sun (apparently all is better in the sun – which is true considering I’m an Arizona girl at heart and used to 362 days of sunshine per year)
  • call a friend
  • make some tea
  • drink less tea
  •  have some chicken soup
  •   just be happy because no one wants to be around someone who’s cranky
  • allow myself to be cranky
  • be cranky but don’t tell anyone
  • be cranky and share how you feel
  • stop focusing on what’s wrong and focus on what’s going well in your life

Now, these are all great suggestions and I appreciate all of the advice, feedback, pep talks, etc. However, in my experience, these tasks are great for when you’re feeling great and want to feel better. For example, when I wake up and I’m just glad to be alive, making a gratitude list is easy and meaningful. When I wake up and am engulfed by the realization that there are now a good fifteen hours in the day that I have no clue how to fill and just want to pull the covers over my head and hibernate, a gratitude list is still do-able, but doesn’t really seem to help things.

Gratitude list on a happy, joyous and free morning:
  • my family
  •  my friends
  •  the beautiful sunshine and warmth
  • living in my own apartment
  • taking warm baths
  • the smell of orange blossoms

ah yes, life is good.

Gratitude list on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day:
  • not having any broken bones
  •  being able to breathe
  •  having a place to live
  •  still being alive

still all very true – but doesn’t seem to quite do the trick in terms of propelling me over into the ‘singing in the rain’ spirit.

That’s the problem with some of these tools. They’re great when you don’t really need them, but when you are grasping at anything to wash away the greyness of the day, they seem to fall short. Maybe it’s just me…or maybe, just maybe, I’m trying to hard to just be happy all of the time.

It seems that we are told through the various forms of evil media that happiness is the ultimate goal, something that is achievable 24 hours a day. And I buy into this every time. I know – ‘what we resist persists’. And yet, when is good time to be crabby? Because it’s true – who wants to come and visit someone who’s not a happy camper? Then again, most of the time, I am my own company, and I don’t even want to be around myself like that.  However, I must admit – my way…this idea that I can somehow force myself to be happy, talk myself out of feeling occasionally irritable, brow beat myself into a blissful state – it doesn’t really seem to be working. Shocking, I know. My way of thinking often gets me into trouble – a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over again.

So knowing all of this and being reluctant to try all of these tools when they seem useless, the magic is that sometimes the thing that you least expect to help is the thing that turns the day around.  Today it was simply a phone call – reaching out to someone else I love, sharing in their day, bantering back and forth – that was all it took. And then the unexpected news that my puppy, the best dog in the world of which I will tolerate no debate on, is coming to stay with me for a while. And that was it – the magic potion that colored in the rest of the day.

Because now, knowing this, all of a sudden, the sunshine is bright again and I am grateful and the edges of my life seem softer. This I know for sure – it’s always the little things that make the most difference. Those quick hugs and reassuring words, the shared laughter with a friend, the invigorating walk or the quote from a book that lingers…it is how I relocate my happiness. So it’s not that the suggestions don’t work or that the tools are useless. Rather, it’s the inability to know which one is going to do the trick. And since I can never know, it’s better to try, even if they don’t make a different in that moment, than to just sit and stew and wish for a brighter tomorrow. 

I don’t know about you, but for me, a dog’s wagging tail and unbridled love when you walk in the door makes it almost impossible not to feel at least a hint of joy. Even the anticipation of her arrival is enough for today. The looking forward to a promised glee is often just as good as the actual event.

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ll wake up tomorrow to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but for right now, I think I’ll just enjoy this happiness and go sit in the sunshine. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010


While I have many skills, patience is not one of them.  I can wait patiently for five minutes, ten even. I can wait if the circumstances are understandable – say your house burned down. Understandably, you might be a bit late for our coffee date. And if there is a known limit to the waiting, I fare better, as if the boundaries drawn make it more tolerable.  I will say I come to this weakness honestly. I’m remembering a new years day walk with my parents where they were discussing resolutions. My father’s was ‘to have more patience’ at which point my mother exploded back – ‘more patients – you don’t work hard and long enough as it is? You want to see more patients??’ At which point my father, getting an opportunity to put his new years resolution into play responded, ‘patience…not patients’ (you idiot! I’m sure he was mumbling under his breath). So like I said, the apple doesn’t fall far.

It’s the ambiguous, extendable waiting that it my downfall. Example: ‘The doctor is running a bit late this morning and will be with you soon.’ Now, as a doctor’s daughter, I’ve long since cracked this code. ‘Running late’ can mean he’s tied up with a patient and will be with me in five minutes, or it can mean he took the day off and is sunning at the beach and will see me next Thursday.  So, at the beginning of the morning I want to be the good patient, the likable one, opposed to the woman in the bed next to me who has been complaining about everything from the flimsy sheets to the inept hospital system.  After half an hour, I ask again – ‘so should he be with me in the next ten minutes? Half hour?’ Quick lesson – it’s never a good sign when the nurse looks at the floor in response to this question.  ‘He should be with you in the next hour, hour and a half’. 

And that’s the moment that my patience snaps. I’ve been waiting quietly, but after counting the squares in the ceiling for the fourth time, pondering how tasty the sheet would be to appease my hunger, and bundling under three blankets, I’m done waiting. And yet, I’m done waiting and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it but wait a bit more. Plus, given the situation, I decide it’s not prudent to piss off the very people in charge of snaking a tube down my stomach…well done, Lauren. Patience, I repeat like a mantra…patience…patience…

And then I’m awake and it’s over and I’m ready to go, using every ounce of concentration to get the can of apple juice to my lips rather than down my shirt thanks to the effects of anesthesia. The doctor stops by with the results. Yes, the waiting has been worth it! There are results! There will be an answer!

‘So, we sent some samples to the lab and we should know something in about a week and we’ll go from there.’

My inner un-patient self glares at him while I smile sweetly.  Really? More waiting? Not a happy camper over here on bed 12.

So I wait. I wait and I try to distract myself with chores and movies and writing and sunshine. But inside, my fingers are drumming and I’m just staring at the clock…just waiting for an answer, waiting for my happy ending…any time now…

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

happily ever after

We all want the happy ending. No matter that troubles are thrown in the way of our hero, we walk to walk away smiling because it all worked out in the end. We want the boy to get the girl, or the boy – whichever he prefers. We want the drowning to be saved, the dog to be rescued, the lost child to be found, the frog to turn into the prince.  Even in stories of hardship, we wait, hungering for the life lesson to be learned that will have made the pain worth it – the miraculous recovery or in the face of death, the action taken on behalf of his life to change the world.  The happy ending changes as we grow up and learn that life isn’t just a bed of roses, and even if it was, roses have thorns and aren’t so pleasant to laze in.  So instead of wishing for the glass slipper to fit on the princess’ foot, we know that there will be sickness and complications and messiness. We concede to divorce and death and tears and loss. It’s impossible to bury your head in the sand for too long about all of the evils in the world and the suffering that exists on a daily basis across the world as well as right next door. 

But still, we wait for the happy ending. Please let the illness teach him to cherish those he loves instead of living at the office. Allow her to transform her abuse into an organization to help battered women.  Let his addiction move him to speak out against drunk driving. Make her realize that after losing her job, it’s time to embrace the moment and do what she’s passionate about instead of settling for security. It’s why the old formula of “boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” still works. We all know it’s coming, and yet, at least in the movies, let us have our happy ending.  And sometimes, it’s not even our own happy endings that we need. I might be unsatisfied with aspects of my own life, but if you can tell me your story, let me share in your tidy, wrapped up package with a bow, then I can relax, assured for another day that there is a sense of fairness and order in this chaotic world we call home. 

The part I always get stuck on is that sometimes one person’s happy ending results from another’s disaster.  She learned to live in the moment after watching her best friend die. He decided to leave law school to start a farm after seeing his father live at the office his whole life. She marches for breast cancer when her sister is diagnosed.  It’s still a life changed, a lesson learned – all probably resulting in more happiness and meaning, but what about the other characters? Where was their happy ending?

And I know, I know. Life isn’t fair. And yet, there’s that still that five year old in me that pouts and wants to know “buy why? Why does it have to be like that?”  I tend to wish that I could learn the lesson without going through the hardship. I would like to create a world where I learn love without having to survive loss; where I can follow my dreams without having to lose my job; where I can cherish those I love without almost losing them; where I have compassion and empathy for suffering without having to have had to experience the suffering myself.  And yet, I also know that I could have done that. There’s no reason why we can’t become our best selves and find the happy ending without the sorrow. The thing is, I don’t think I would appreciate the ending. I wouldn’t recognize the bow on top if it came automatically; it probably wouldn’t be appreciated.  There’s a reason why the cliché “we don’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone” exists. If we don’t know sadness, we can’t feel the bliss.

Lately, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to set the ground work for a happy ending. Or said another way, life has pretty much sucked most days. Or one more time, I am learning valuable life lessons and have the chance to grow from them…all true, and depending on which side of the bed I wake up on, I choose from one of the three. 

And since I like to live a organized, aka controlled, life sometimes, I like to know which lesson I’m supposed to be learning before I actually learn it. As if I could somehow cheat the system.  Example: Before these past two months, even with ample free time, I kept myself busy. I was busy with “stuff”. Nothing urgent, just always running errands (still not sure exactly what these errands were…various trips to target or tj maxx or Walgreens, the library, washing my car…) and even at home, I could fill hours cleaning and searching on the internet, organizing, cooking…it didn’t matter, I just didn’t sit still.  Know, sometimes knowing how to keep yourself busy is a skill – good for moments where you need distraction. However, not really a good life plan.  So obviously, learning how to rest, to relax, to unwind would be a good lesson for me. I knew this…and once again, knowing something, at least in my life, doesn’t translate into actually doing it.

So, since I’ve been mostly housebound for the past two months, I am learning to relax. We can call it forced relaxation, or on more bitter days, I call it “get me away from this damn couch!”  I never appreciated my car and the value of a long drive until I could no longer stand the motion of the car.  I used to long for days with no agenda, no lists of things to do, but after three months of being unemployed, the shininess has worn off.  But I am learning. I can watch an entire movie without also working on the computer or washing the floors. I take walks in the sunshine just to feel the warmth. I write. I read in the middle of the afternoon. I paint my toes.  Still, patience is not a lesson I have mastered, and so I find myself wanting to decide when I’m done with the lesson – when I’m ready for my happy ending.  Ok world, I get it – need to relax! And good, check! Ready to move on now.  But it just doesn’t work like that. Or perhaps that’s not the lesson that I’m meant to be learning…

Still, it’s the happy ending that gets me out of bed each morning. It’s the hope that something good will come from this, I will be a better version of myself by the end. Sometimes even a diagnosis can be a happy ending, or getting fired, or getting divorced.  Happy endings sometimes sneak up on us in disguise, or they get lost in the noise of the day, buried amidst the laundry. 

We all want our happy endings. Even when the movie ends with a predictable final kiss, we might proclaim our disgust in it’s predictability, but secretly, don’t we all want to live happily ever after?  So we’ll wait…and learn…and wait a bit longer…. I keep my eyes open, scanning the horizons, sure that a happy ending must be just ahead.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unsung Heros

Growing up, I looked to them as my role models.  Close enough in age but still old enough to make every thing they did glamorous. I mapped out my life by my cousins, Rachel and Julie.  They were wiser and hip, funny and loving, and I wanted to be them.  When Rachel worked at hagen daaz as a teenager, then that was my plan.  When Julie worked at the mall, then that was added to the agenda.  It did get a tad complicated seeing as I was trying to fit two lives into my own, but I was sure I was up to the task.  When they went to UT Austin, that was my first choice university.  More like sisters than cousins to me, I looked to them as my models for how to grow up, how to be cool, how to be a woman making her way in our confusing world.  In the absence of actually being them, I at least wanted to be as close to them as possible.  So they obliged, carting me along on errands while home for the weekends: bra shopping, trips to the post office – I didn’t care. It was the time together I was looking for, the setting was inconsequential.

As we all grew up and Julie moved across the country to start her own family, she still is the closest thing to a sister I have.  She knows me in that way that so few others do. She remembers the day my mom brought me home from the hospital and she and Rachel decorated the house. She can recall twirling me around the dance floor during the hora at my bat mitzvah. She flew to middle-of-nowhere Abilene, Texas to watch me accept my diploma. She listened through the years when I complained about my parents or more often my brother, when I cried because I missed home, and all of the moments of pain and joy in between.

And even better than a sibling, we have none of the history of rivalry and bickering; just an intimate knowing of each other and where we come from.  Today, as adults, I’ve given up trying to be Julie and am satisfied instead to be her friend, her cousin, her pseudo-sister.  And to this day, she remains one of my heroes.

I can’t tell you the celebrity gossip or name the singer of the newest hit song or list prominent politicians as my heroes.  But I do have heroes and feel lucky that they are members of the circle of family and friends that I keep close by my side.  It’s funny because while I adore her from afar, she is often unaware of her greatness, as so many truly great souls are. 

I watch her with her two kids – her patience and sense of humor, her sensitivity and easy laughter. I know when I compliment her on the amazing family she has created, she thinks of the times when she isn’t so patient or sensitive, the mistakes and things she could do better.  But a real hero is never satisfied with his or her greatness – there’s always room for improvement – and Julie is no different.  When I watch her son gently put his arm around his sister, I see the evidence of her love passed down and around to those she touches.  And her life isn’t easy. I’ve long since abandoned wanting to be here – to be a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a mother, let alone a mother to a little girl with diabetes…it’s not an easy life. And my heart aches for her as she walks through this life with more fear for her daughter than many have to experience.  I don’t know that kind of hard.  My life is hard in a different way to be sure, and yet, with all of this, she still shines. 

The annual diabetes walk is this Sunday, and ‘Bailey’s buddies’ are gearing up to walk. She doesn’t have to organize the 60+ walkers or design t-shirts or put together a home video so moving that even I, the girl who remained dry-eyed during ‘terms of endearment’ and ‘beaches’, sobbed all the way through. (there’s a link to the video that everyone should watch! Bailey's Video She doesn’t have to do it – she does it because she has a big heart. Because she has a loving soul. Because she yearns to make the world a softer place for her daughter. Because she longs to find a cure for the disease that rules so much of their day. 

And what she doesn’t realize is that she makes the world a softer, safer place for me just by being part of my world. Another unsung hero living among us. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

unanswered prayers

So this hallway that I’m living in (when one door closes, another one opens, but it’s hell in the hallways…), it appears that I would have been in it one way or another. Perhaps the world is more well-managed that I thought. Unanswered prayers…so interesting when the one thing you thought you wanted; the one thing that if only you had it, then life would be so much better; the thing that would make everything easier, brighter, under control – it turns out that it was a blessing in disguise not to be granted that wish.

Being somewhat of a control freak, I like to have a plan. I like to understand why things turn out the way that they did and what I need to do to move forward.  At the end of January, I lost my job and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  I spent endless hours combing through the details – where did I go wrong? Where did I screw up? What did I say/do/think that caused this to happen? And it wasn’t that I wanted it to all be my fault, but I would rather think that there had been a specific mistake that caused this misery than sit with the ambiguity of a situation that didn’t make sense to me.  Not being such a master of living in the gray, I tried to think my way out of the mess, which resulted only in getting lost in the dangerous neighborhood of my brain.

Plus, if I could just figure out what I did wrong, then it’s within my power, my control, to fix it. I can make sure I never do it again. I can apologize. The world can still seem orderly and neat, like the books lined up on my shelves alphabetized by author and genre. But alas, the world’s bookshelves seem to be organized by children, often stuffing mystery among romance and poetry in with the magazines.

And yet, perhaps, in all of that chaos, there is a beautiful order, a method to the madness that we can only see when we step back far enough to appreciate the symphony of color and allow the full picture to come into view – like those posters we used to love made up of dots that you had to let your eyes glaze over in order to see the hidden picture.  

And so the job that I hungered for, the company that I ached to work for – believing that life would be ok if I could just be there- the company has just shut down. Two months after losing my job, all of the employees are job-hunting.  

And true to form, I try to figure out what the lesson is here, what the hidden picture is trying to tell me. But maybe the lesson is simple – I don’t always know what’s best for me, and the things that I wish for might just be the very things I would be better off without.

Unanswered prayers in a well-managed world…it takes a leap of faith to believe that there is a master plan and synchronicity, but in the absence of any other answers, I’ll jump.

So for now, I’ll keep pacing the hallway, on the lookout for opened windows and doors; putting one foot in front of the other and letting go out the outcome. It’s time to have a little faith…

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gold medal for parking

I put the car in park and glance around, waiting for my round of applause. Hello world…did anyone notice my crowing moment of glory? I, Lauren beth, just parallel parked. I’m ready for my trophy.

Parking has been the constant thorn in my side since I moved to LA. Friends invite me out and my first question is always, “is there a parking lot near by?” I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona where the streets form a grid nicely numbered and parking lots abound. There was no parallel parking on the driving test – who needed to? Unfortunately, this is not the case in the city of angels.  My outings have been dictated by whether or not the restaurant offers valet (not always the wisest choice when one has no source of income) or is limited to remote areas where street parking offers spots wide enough for three cars.

I seem to be lacking the spatial distance gene – somehow viewing my Nissan altima as the length of a limo…  Interesting…I have distorted car image! I never realized my skewed image in the mirror has now expanded to include my car.  I wonder if there is a sort of therapy for this…learning to love your car as it really is, curves and all.  Then again, on the list of things I should work on, this ranks rather low.

Last summer, my very capable parking friend took me out for lessons in a school parking lot. (reminiscent of my first driving lesson at 15 where my mom allowed me to ‘coast’ around the lot, as I was banned from the gas pedal, as she explained how to use the windows – big fun to be the first child of driving age! Then again, her nervousness was understandable as I pulled into the garage and hit the wall causing my dad’s desk on the other side to jut out a few inches…again, damn parking!)

Anyway, my friend set up some plastic cones and proceeded to try and teach me the art of parallel parking. I was convinced the lesson would end with me running her over, but we both returned home with our limbs intact. Still, it’s a whole different ball game when you’re trying to fit your grandmother’s old 2000 car between a porche and a Lexus in Beverly hills.

However, yesterday I was running late and saw a largish spot (I thought my limo could fit!) and holding my breath, I parked. I had to circle my car a few times in awed glee as I awaited my trophy from the judges.  And so, this was enough for the day – this small achievement – on days when they are sometimes hard to find – I decided to be content with this accomplishment and count the day as a success. It was enough – dayainu… as I take my bow to my adoring fans. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Where heaven and earth touch

I can hear it in his voice – a wisdom, a deepness that seeps into his words, alerting me to the fact that something special is occurring halfway across the world. The words are no different from any other Friday afternoon – the voicemail wishing me a ‘good shabbos’, telling me he loves me…and yet, today, this message is infused with spirituality, sent not from the car on his way home from work but rather in a city that bustles with preparation to welcome to Sabbath queen, from Israel – the land of freedom.

And nothing gives me more joy than listening to his message.

I got an email from the rabbi accompanying my father in Israel, with a picture titled "Where Heaven and Earth Touch".  Perhaps he meant Jerusalem, the city where heaven and earth touch. I heard it differently. I heard it as watching two men, both of whom have made quite the spiritual journey to live the religious life that they now do, pray in an ancient synagogue - heaven on earth.  

My dad, the one who would go hiking while we went to shul on Saturday mornings, the one who hungered for bacon and eggs if we went out for breakfast, the one who was raised in an orthodox Jewish home and then moved across the country to build a life that bore no resemblance to the one he had come from. My dad seems to have grown into his skin. He fills the shoes of those who walked before him and he has discovered the beauty buried within the traditions and rituals that he practices on a daily basis.

I’m often asked what it’s like – being raised as a rather non-religious conservative Jew – to now have orthodox parents who keep strictly kosher and don’t drive on shabbos or turn on the lights, who study with a rabbi every week and are more involved with the synagogue community than any other. And sure, there are things that take some getting used to – and the day that my mom starts wearing a wig or my father grows peyis, the long curls by the side of his face, I’m sure I’ll have a moment of panic. And let's be clear - my father is not a saint, and there are still rituals that he balks at - not necessarily ready to give up going out to eat with his buddies or trading walking on the treadmill for morning servies.  But mostly, this shift into orthodoxy - it brings me joy.

It brings me joy to watch my father rush off to shul rather than off to the hospital to do rounds. It brings me joy to listen to the passage that he studied with the rabbi and his thoughts on it. It brings me joy to hear the humility mixed with spirituality in his voice when he tells me “the world is well managed” – this from a man who used to announce his disbelief in G-d with pride. 

And, not surprisingly, he is returning to his roots – resembling his orthodox father more and more by the day…but not the father from childhood he remembers: demanding, punishing, disapproving, but rather the grandfather I knew, the father he met in older years. The grandfather that donned tefillin every morning and prayed as he welcomed in the day. The grandfather that held my hand and pointed out the different plants and trees on our walk through the park. The grandfather that survived unimaginable horror and still believed, who loved with a whole heart and when he spoke in his soft voice, we all leaned in to listen.

Today, when my father speaks, I lean in; anxious to learn from him, to share in his journey, to let him know I see this man he has become, and even if he didn’t hear it enough growing up – perhaps he can hear it from me –

I have never been prouder of the man, soul, father, friend that you are. Good shabbos Dad. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Difficult to Love

The world of therapy is backwards…I should know this being a therapist myself. But there’s something twisted about considering it progress to recognize your shortcomings or admit a problem.  Shouldn’t the progress be that I no longer have that problem? Sure – eventually I know that’s the goal. But still, it’s hard to swallow that I should be proud that I realize this sad fact…I am difficult to love. Yup, I feel good about myself now! Time to sit back and relax…

But it’s true – despite my good intentions, available ear and kind words, I can be quite demanding – even if it’s mostly just in my head. This is one of the curses of being a perfectionist – the unreasonable standards I set for myself occasionally extend to those I love as well. Not all of them – I’m much easier on others than myself as most of us are – some strange twist of “Treat others as kindly as you treat yourself” – really, if some days I spoke and treated others the way that I treat myself, I surely would be behind bars.  So, I’m definitely more forgiving other others and tend not to impose all of the rigidity on to my loved ones.

However, still…difficult to love.

Basically, I would like you to read my mind and know exactly what I need so that I don’t have to ask, which allows me to avoid feeling too needy.  I want you to know when I need a pep talk or company and when I need my space. I want you to miss me and call and stay in touch, but not too much lest I feel suffocated. I want you to care about the details of my life and be interested, but only when I feel like talking about them; otherwise I’ll conclude you’re prying and controlling.  I want you to tell me what you think and give me advice on what to do, but I want you to agree with me and think that I’m right in the decision I end up making. And if I make a decision that’s not what you recommended, I want you to end up convinced that I was right all along and then support me 100%... sounding very appealing, no? any one ready to sign up?

And so I’m constantly amazed when people are willing to stick by me, to love me even when I’m crabby, to roll their eyes at my defensiveness and sigh at my compulsive straightening up but still want to spend time with me. I have days where I don’t even want to spend time with me. But then I remember that I stick by the people I love too – even when their messy, lumpy parts bump into mine.  And ironically, it’s often those ideosyncracies (a nice way of saying ‘annoying traits’) that I come to love because it’s what sets a person apart from the masses.  Sure there might be thousands of 30 year old wanna-be writers right now, but can they all offer neatly lined up yogurts in the fridge and a library addiction? Perhaps the pool just got a bit smaller!

These are the things I try to remind myself as I contemplate this difficult to love business. Sometimes I can remember them and sometimes not. But assuming that the first step to change is recognizing the problem, then I can consider myself in good shape.

Still, knowledge and insight is not the same thing as change. I am an expert at describing all of the issues and problems and ways I would like to make my life better; which is all fine and dandy, but eventually it’s time to just get off the couch and start doing the changing. And some days, the couch is just really comfy.  However, this I also know (again, know it, but do I do it remains to be seen…): I can have the plushest couch in the world, but if I never find a voice, practice being more flexible, learn to recognize what I need and want and then ask for it, there could come a day when the couch is my closest friend…and that would be a very small life and one that I want no part of.  

So today, I’m sitting in a chair…

Monday, April 19, 2010

Smells Like...

It's one of those things that you have to leave to receive.  That welcoming gift of walking back inside your front door when you recognize the scent that means you're home.  It's that glimpse into what others must associate with your house but that is invisible to you unless you've been gone a while.

Bubby Rene used to send us birthday packages filled with cotton pjs and socks (apparently in her mind, scottsdale was middle-of-nowhere desert making these items scarce) Upon opening them, our immediate reaction was to put them up to our noses - ah, yup, bubby rene's house...not a good or bad smell, just that overwhelming reminder of the house where two people lived who loved us more than...well, pretty much anything. (If you're one of two grandchildren to Holocaust survivors or perhaps really any grandparents, you pretty much walk on water...I have yet to be able to find anyone else who thinks this of me, but still looking...) That mixture of brisket and cologne and hairspray - and absolutely impossible to replicate or pin down.  How do you describe a smell? It smells like...bubby rene.

I know the smell of my parents house: it has hues of freshness and tile with a tinge of warmth that draws me in. So I wonder, what is my house smell? It is lived in long enough to have that smell of belonging? Do my friends walk in and know where they are even if their eyes are shut? Is it inviting or sterile? And what do you do if you have a bad house smell? is there such a thing - like deodorant for houses? I know - candles and roomspray, but those aren't the house smell - they simply coat over it.

Gardenias and perfumes and freshly baked cookies; pine trees after the rain and warm laundry...all favorite aromas of mine...but its the ones i crave the most that are irreplaceable. The sweater I treasured of Zaidy Charlie's has long since lost the sweet musk of his smile and soft hands. The pink blanket Bubby Ida knit me simply smells like Bounce. and my cotton pjs, long since outgrown, are missing the smell of the cosy house in Toronto that used to be crammed with brown cooking, pictures, and adoration.  To be fair, the actual house is missing too, as the wealthy neighbors bought it and turned it into a garage.  (Makes for a special nostalgic trip through my father's childhood streets..."Ok kids, here's the garage where we all lived...")

And then I have to smile as I anticipate my mom's sleep-over at my apartment tomorrow with the knowledge that when she walks thru my front door, she carries with her arizona and comfort and love and mim embedded in her jeans.  Perhaps, she'll leave a little bit of mom-ness in the pillowcases - and I'm guessing that I'll wait a while to throw them in the wash, because you just can't find that smell in a bottle.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rules for Playing

“Look both ways before you cross the street”, “Never talk to strangers”, “Be nice to your brother”, “Say please and thank-you”, “Lying is bad. You should always tell the truth.”

We learn the rules as soon as we can talk. We learn how to stay safe and play in the world within the boundaries drawn around us. We color within the lines. When we don’t know, we look to mom and dad for the answers.

Wherever we go when we are young, there are always rules. “Stay in your seat.” “Raise your hand if you have something to say”, “No cutting in line.” “Do your homework”.  And so the world seems simple and manageable – there are clear cut directions and order reigns.

And then there are the other rules – the ones that we absorb thru our skin, that swirl around in the atmosphere dictating what to look like, what is “cool”, how to fit in, how to be a “good girl”. Some shrug these off and make up their own mind about how to show up in this life. Others, myself included, commit these rules to heart, rehearsing them over and over until they are no longer something externally imposed, but rather they become so digested that we are no longer aware of what we believe and what the world tells us to believe.

“Stay in your room until you can come out with a smile.”
“Less is always more. Thinner is always better.”
“Perfection is the goal. Mistakes simply mean you weren’t trying hard enough.”
“Be sweet and nice to everyone.”
“Taking care of others is noble. Taking care of yourself first is selfish.”
“ To be ‘cool’ is the ultimate goal. To fit in, you must fit yourself to others’ mold.”
“Doing nothing all day is lazy. You must always be doing.”
“Success is measured by the balance in your bank account or level of fame you achieve.”
“Achievement is what matters, not the journey.”
“Bite your tongue if you’re angry.”
“There is a right and a wrong answer and if you think about it long enough, you’ll be able to figure it out.”
“Life should be filled with order and discipline in order to prevent chaos.”
“Being good enough is never good enough. You could always be better.”

Even though many of these rules aren’t written down or directly taught, they’re well communicated nonetheless. And still, despite their harm, at least they’re still rules. They give direction and order.  Without rules, we are like the children without a bedtime, running wild seeking for some structure.  So as I build my own adult life, I look around me and realize that for the first time, there is no one authority figure dictating my choices or outlining their worldview for me to subscribe to.

In the past decade as I’ve moved from state to state and job to job, much like searching for available grandparents, I have sought out new teachers wherever I go. But instead of sifting through their lessons and deciding which parts I agree with and which parts I’ll choose to let slip through my fingers, I instead have simply swallowed them whole. A new outlook on life complete with the rules for playing came with every new location, and I was an eager player. It’s much simpler this way. No thinking for yourself, no agonizing debates about values and morals, no uncertainty about what to say, what to think, what to do.  And yet, the fatal flaw is that eventually I moved, moved on, moved away, and was left floundering with competing rules from all of the different schools of thought. 

In psychology graduate school, the outlook was that of dysfunction and healing and speaking your every truth. In Buffalo Gap, Texas, the standard was confrontation and voicing your anger, one day at a time and tough love. In St. Louis, I learned to value movement and color over words and to ignore declarations and only trust actions.  Back in Arizona, I learned that family is a unit that stands together and falls together and that love has no limits but that love can also bring a family to its knees.  In Malibu, I learned independence and feminism and yet, still had to play by the rules of fulfilling a role to please those around me.

And so, in west LA, in my own apartment, there are no rules written on the chalk board, no mindset that I can put my finger on that chooses my values and opinions for me. And being the slightly obsessive craver of order that I am, I decide to make my own rules…Some of which are old, some have been taught, some are simply applicable for today. The beauty of making your own rules for living is that you get to add amendments at any moment without needed a majority vote.
  1.  It is possible and acceptable to be angry with someone and still love them.
  2.   Less is simply a smaller life. Taking up space in the world leads to richness.
  3.  Making mistakes is part of the journey and simply are items to be learned from.
  4. Taking risks can lead to failure, but it can also lead to unforeseen opportunities, and you’ll never know which one it will be if you never take the first step.
  5. Doing ‘nothing’ is often harder than staying busy with mindless tasks and rather than meaning you are lazy, it means you are working at relaxing and self-care and peace of mind.
  6.   Reading is a talent rather than a mark of ‘uncoolness’
  7. What is being 'cool' anyway and who gets to decide? Perhaps being cool is being yourself.
  8. Being crabby is part of life and everyone is allowed to have a bad day, week, etc. without having to shut themselves off from the world.
  9.  I am not a mind-reader and therefore can stop dancing through life trying to please others in the way that I think they want.
  10.  Those I love are not mind-readers and therefore I must tell them what I need rather than waiting for them to decode my signals.
  11. Living well includes being present in the moment and finding small beauties in every day.
  12. Simple kindnesses make a difference. Not everything that matters has to be a grand gesture.
  13. Everyone has baggage. It’s just a matter of finding others whose luggage compliments your own.
  14. Nobody is perfect and if we were, we’d just be boring. It is the struggles and lumpy parts that make us who we are.
  15. Weaknesses can be turned into strengths if you can figure out how to harness them.
  16.  Despite thinking in terms of black and white, life is often filled with grey. Figuring out how to live in an ambiguous world is the challenge rather than searching for the perfectly “right” answer.
  17. There is no such thing as “good enough”. We are all “enough” exactly as we are, right at this moment.
  18. Speaking of how we look, “I’m not a frame, I’m a finished home.” (Cosy Sheridan, ‘The Losing Game’)
  19. We all need teachers and mentors including learning how to heed the advice of the one we carry within us.
  20.  Falling down doesn’t mean defeat, it simply means it’s time to brush yourself off and take another step.
  21. Each day we have a choice about how to show up in the world, how to treat others, how to treat ourselves and it is the sum of those choices that make a life well lived.

 So for today, these are what I strive to live by. And of course, some rules are meant to be broken, and some rules are harder than others to follow. But knowing the rules has to be at least a start. Otherwise, without rules, how do you know how to play the game? And i'm done sitting on the sidelines watching others play while i wait to fully grasp all of the rules. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Will Work for __________

I drove by him twice just to make sure I was reading the sign correctly…there’s no way – it’s couldn’t possibly say…yup, read it right –

“Homeless. Looking for Love.  Need a Wife- Please Help.”

I was tempted to stop and talk to him, but after pondering this for a moment, I decided that my friendliness might be interpreted as an application for marriage, so I kept driving, torn between laughter and sorrow.

But the rest of the day, I kept thinking about him, realizing that there’s a part of me that completely understands his approach.  Not that I think the corner of Venice and National Blvd. is the best pool to find a life partner from, but as a recent resident to LA, it’s hard to meet people – friends or spouses.  Not being in school or at a job, where do others find their people? 

There’s the religious avenue, although after having gone to three different synagogues numerous times, I haven’t quite met anyone other than the friendly smile and request if the seat is taken.  Now, this could rest entirely on me – perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, slipping into my seat quietly and slipping out at the final prayer – but it’s hard. It’s hard to know who to approach and how to do so without seeming pathetically desperate. Plus, it’s one thing to make acquaintances to wave at in the halls of my apartment building, and quite another to find friends to share my life with. 

But then I realize, I’m full of it – I’m repeating an old script that excuses me from having to put myself out there and make an effort. Being so used to finding friends from the pool of women that I happen to live with or be in class with, I’m accustomed to easy friendships. Friendships that happen quickly and deeply due to being roommates or co-workers – friendships that don’t take as much effort because I see them everyday without having to make plans; because we come home at the end of the day to sit on the same couch, or we show up each morning at the same office to gripe for another day.

Now that I live alone and am not working in an office or in school, I’m beginning to realize that connections take work, and both participants have to be willing. And they are different kinds of friendships – they move slower and lack the intimacy that comes from brushing your teeth side by side or pulling an all-nighter in the dorm.  So I’m quick to write them off as acquaintances and am tempted to back away before they have the chance to blossom into something beautiful. 

Plus, I realize that the old whining script about trouble meeting people was disproven last night.  Who did I spend the evening with? Two friends – my neighbor from across the hall and a woman I met on an airport shuttle.  In the ten minutes we shared a van to the off-site airport parking lot to claim our cars, we chatted, traded numbers and realized we lived within two minutes of each other. It could have ended there – a nice woman with a sweet smile. And yet, a couple weeks later, I called her, inviting her to come to synagogue with me, and since then, she has proven to me not only that you can find friends when you least expect them, but also that she is someone who comes through for me at a time when those than I expected to often do not. A true “gutta n’shuma” (a good soul in Yiddish) as my bubby Rene would say. And I am grateful – grateful for these two friends and grateful for the lesson that they teach me that there are friends around every corner if only I make the effort to look for them.

So, perhaps Venice and National Blvd. isn’t such a crazy place to look for a spouse – still, I don’t think I’ll be writing my own cardboard sign to find a mate anytime soon. But if you happen to be looking for a husband, there’s one for hire in west los angeles.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Books Worth Singeing Your Eyebrows For

I am on constant alert, scouring newspapers, magazines, over-heard conversations on the street, looking for new books to add to my list to read. I realize that not everyone is as devoted (aka obsessively anal) about books and reading, nor does everyone keep a running list of great books to recommend. So it occurred to me that maybe others are looking for some reading recommendations, and because giving the gift of a great read is almost as good as reading it myself, here are a few books worth running into a burning building for…


“I Know this Much is True” by Wally Lamb
 “Fall on Your Knees” by Ann-Marie MacDonald
 “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
 “The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
“Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan
“The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver
“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver
“We were the Mulvaneys” by Joyce Carol Oates
“Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseni
“Unless” by Carol Shields
 “Stones in the River” by Ursula Hedgi
“A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” by Melissa Banks
“Cider House Rules” by John Irving
 “Black and Blue” by Anna Quinlan
“Midwives” by Chris Bohjalian
“The House of Sand and Fog” by Andre Dubas III
“The irresistible Henry House” by Lisa Grunwald
“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese
“The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant

“Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” by Amy Krause Rosenthal
“Spilling Open” by Sabrina Ward Harrison
“The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan
“Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott
“Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott
“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls
“The Last Time I wore a Dress” by D. Scholinski
“The Color of Water” by James McBride
“Prozac Nation” by Lauren Slater
“Angry Conversations with God” by Susan E. Isaacs
“Million Little Pieces” by James Frey
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Dideon
“This Camera My Mother Gave Me” by Susana Kayson
“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Long Past Stopping” by Oran Canfield
“The Good Body” by Eve Ensler
“Death be Not Proud” by John Gunther
“Blackbird” by Jennifer Lauk
“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers
“A Girl Named Zippy” by Haven Kimmel
“Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Remen
“My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen

Okey doke, so I just realized that these lists (not to mention the ones I left out – short stories, children’s books, advice, spiritual nonfiction…) could go on forever, so in a moment of self-restraint, I’m going to stop…for now. However, out of loyalty for all of the books not on these lists, lest I hurt their feelings, know that there are many more that need to be added! (this is kind of like my worry when I was five that the stuffed animals that I didn’t choose to sleep with would be hurt, so I forced myself to rotate which ones I cuddled with – I know, this explains so much of the craziness, doesn’t it?)

Please feel free to add more suggestions, and I promise more recommendations to come!

Oh – “The Gift of Rain” by Tan Twan Eng…ok, now I’m really done

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Map Game

Materials needed: Large world map, geographical ignorance, friends

  1.  One player is selected, preferably one with little to no knowledge of geography
  2. Selected player is positioned 3 feet away from world map, which should be hung on the wall
  3. Other players choose a state or country at random, shouting it out as it occurs to them
  4. Selected player must then locate such country or state as quickly as possible

 Scoring: Selected player earns one point each time he or she correctly points out the voiced location in under 1 minute. Player loses one point if location is spotted after 1 minute or if he or she is looking in an absurdly wrong part of the map (ie searching for California in the vicinity of Rome). Negative points may be accrued.

I realize that this game perhaps would be considered rather simplistic when played at the college-level, however, I assure you, it has provided many hours of glee during my sophmore year.  Seeing as I was always the selected player and keeping in mind that I thought Chicago was a state until the age of 16, this game was created by my roommate and hence the fun began.  I don’t believe I ever had a final score over zero but the hilarity that ensued – mostly for my audience of friends – made the game worth it.

 I can’t figure out how it is that I have such little comprehension of what the world we live in looks like. I’m not a visual person – when someone is giving me directions, I need the words rather than a map.  And when mapquest shows me the map of my route, I find myself turning summersaults with my head trying to figure out which way I need to turn (not recommended while driving.) 

Still, when my roommate’s five year old cousin creamed me at the map game, it occurs to me that there may be some holes in my education. Not that I did anything about it, but admitting you have a problem is the first step!

But this morning, I miss the map. I miss the game and the friends and the laughter too, but mostly, I just miss the map. It’s one of those mornings where I would like to glance at a map, close my eyes and point to a spot, and then just escape there.  A vacation from my life where preferably my baggage of worries and stress is lost by the airlines. 

I know – in the grand scheme of things, I have a rich man’s problems (without the wealth!).  No one is dying (knock on wood), I have a place to call home, food to eat, friends for company, and a family whom I love. I can walk to the library and the sun is shining.  So really, nothing life-shattering.  But it’s those little stresses, those daily irritations that start to build up leaving an air of displeasure on my morning. Not having a job, annoying calls from Verizon about an account no longer in my name, shuffling doctor’s appointments and filling prescriptions, inability to find a crystal ball to figure out what’s ailing me…

Nothing has changed from yesterday, and yet today it takes more work to shrug off the small grievances in order to appreciate the day.  I’m missing new eyes this morning and I just haven’t remembered where I left them. I try a gratitude list: carrie, Julie h, mom, dad, benj, a blanket on loan covered by the right fur, warm weather, my own apartment…nope, still haven’t found those new eyes for the day.

And so it goes  - some days are better than others. Some days are easier than others. And some days are just grey.  This doesn’t sit well with me. I tend to be a tad black and white…ok, that’s a lie. I tend to be extremely, over-the-top black and white. If I feel off, I want there to be a damn good reason – something I can point to and blame. Something I can know to avoid or work on. It’s the days that are just blah that get under my skin because there’s nothing really wrong, so there’s nothing I know to fix to make it better.  And I’m working on moving into the grey, really I am. However, like most life lessons that I have to learn, I have a very slow learning curve with this one. Not so much baby steps as snail steps, and with patience not being one of my strongest suits, I want to force things along.  Just be happier self! Snap out of it! Appreciate the day and it’s beauty!  Ah, obviously I also haven’t learned that berating myself into joy isn’t the most effective tool.

This I know – the more I struggle against the grey, the more it persists. So instead of trying to change the moment, the plan is to be in it, and maybe the next hour will be different.

Still, if I don’t answer my phone, I just might be on my way to Tahiti….if only I could find it on the map…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Saving up the sunshine

It's interesting to have new eyes when you wake up. Same scene: the couch with stacks of books, pillows arranged just so, the red blanket balled in a corner no longer needed after the chill of the night. Same room and yet, more hopeful today. Less of 4 confining walls imprisoning me in isolation, and somehow, today it's wider, breezy, slight joys wafting in through the blinds (note to self-clean blinds...). So immediately i'm trying to figure out what makes today different and how can i bottle up this hope to have on hand for the dull mornings?

Rejecting the idea of a magic apartment, it must be the new eyes that i greet the day with. My instinct, rather than enjoying the lightness of the day, reverts back to when i was a kid - always saving the best for last, postponing joy in an effort to make sure there would be some left over for tomorrow.

I was the kid who eat her halloween candy in order from most hated to most loved. The flaw in this method was that if we could only eat one piece a day, by the time i got to the treasures-the sugar babies and milk duds-most of the time they were hard and stale, crushed under the weight of all of the other junk we had collected. It wasn't only with halloween candy though. Always wanting to capture the treat, to save it up, having no faith that tomorrow would bring new surprises, new favorites, new gifts. Plus, there seemed to be this perverse pride in abstaining from the prize, as if deprivation equalled strength while indulgence was something to be hidden.

A year ago, I was cleaning out the closet in my childhood bedroom to make space for future guests to stay (which caused the five year old in me to want to pout and beg for her own room to remain untouched, a shrine to a childhood not ready to be left behind. Never being the kid that threw tantrums, i figured it was in poor taste to start now) So armed with trash bags, i began sorting.

At the back of my closet was a red plastic briefcase stowed away from when i turned 8. That year it was the prize of the birthday gifts - containing all sorts of shiny and glittery papers and crafty things that seemed too precious to touch.  I had been saving it, not wanting to waste my favorite gift...and so 20 years later it stood, covered in dust. And while i remember all of the excitement and ideas i had about what i could make and create, now it lay useless, no longer holding the magic that it once had.  I almost opened the kit out of loyalty to that patient little gift, but instead i just felt sad; a sadness that isn't easily explained or fixed because it's a heaviness of lost laughter and wasted joy. It's a yearning to hold her and convince her that it's ok to be happy today because tomorrow will bring something new.  And then the sadness deepens as i know that even as an adult, i still do this-promising myself joy if only i finish everything on the never-ending "to do" list, skipping out on pleasures that don't seem essential or believing that i must spend my happiness carefully, in small amounts in order to ration it for future years.

It's the false belief that there isn't enough to go around, that what we have today is all we will ever have. I see that 8 year old still having a hand in my life, believing that the money in the bank must last a lifetime and therefore any non-essentials are indulgence.  She lacks, as do I sometimes, the belief that the world is made new again and unforseen joys await us.

I see her in the way that i saw my favorite sweater to wear, holding out for the perfect time to wear it, until spring has come and it's time for t-shirts again. The way i save my favorite foods to eat for later until i'm too full to enjoy them. I'm not sure that the entire life motto has to be "eat dessert first"but i do know it's time.

Time to play with the best toys and use the favorite perfume. To stop saving up pleasures for the perfect time or simply just saving them for later, because later never comes - lest i find myself 20 years old living a grey life all by my own choosing.

And so today, with the glimmer of hope, i set outside to breathe in the sun, trying my very best to ignore the whispers of tasks and chores i have yet to do. Do i really need to dust my blinds before i can go out and enjoy the weather? or boil some eggs? The emails and the craigslist job search will wait.  The sunshine will not. I will not allow this to be another day where i postpone a joy waiting at my feet until i finish being busy with nonessentials, only to realize that i've missed the sunset. The tasks will get done - they always do...and the job, well a day without craigslist won't be the end of the world. And if it is, then at least i got to walk in the sun, sit in the library, and enjoy the warmth and joy.  This is the gift i give that 8 year old. Learning how to enjoy the prize today with the faith that tomorrow will bring new gifts if i can find the new eyes to see them with.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy...sort of

“Dear Author/Illustrator:
Thank you for submitting your work to (insert publishing company of your choice). Your submission was given careful consideration by one of our editors, and we are sorry to say that we do not feel it is right for our list…”

Ok self, let’s use those therapy tools you like to preach to clients…

A twisted sort of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

AUTOMATIC THOUGHT: I can’t write. My children’s book is horrible. I’ll never be a real writer, I should just give up.

REFRAMING (PREFERABLY MORE POSITIVE THOUGHT): Rejection from publishers is part of being a writer. Did you really expect everyone to love it and chomp at the bit to publish it, throwing money at your feet? Grow up!

REFRAMING THOUGHT – TAKE TWO: You can look at this as a rite of passage in the life of a writer, and know that you’re a writer whether you’re published or not. 

AUTOMATIC THOUGHT: Sure, that’s lovely…a load of crap, but lovely.  I believe we’re rapidly approaching plan B: selling a kidney on the black market.

REFRAMING THOUGHT: Perhaps we’ll hold off on the harvesting of kidneys for the moment and instead continue writing while giving yourself positive affirmations. Repeat after me: I can write. I am valuable no matter what. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me (thank you stuart smalley)

Useful tool, that cognitive behavioral stuff…for other people maybe. As for me, my stubborn brain refuses to budge; zooming in on the rejection and tossing aside any positive feedback I may have gotten. It’s like that one person in the room that doesn’t like me and all of a sudden, she’s the only one that matters. This is not a trait I’d recommend as it promises continual discontentment and unhappiness.

And so, I sit down to write anyway, ignoring the pesky voice that mocks and devalues inside my brain, pushing aside the doubts and insecurities...

I write because it’s what is in front of me to do, because it’s the next right thing, the equivalent of putting one foot in front of the other despite having fallen flat on my face. I write because are things I want to say (enter pesky voice…”what could you have to say that hasn’t been said before by wiser, better writers??) and for the moment, I tell that voice to SHUT UP!

I write because it anchors me to reality, grounding me in this life that I create, this life that creates me. I write because it makes things real; it roots my experiences to the page and allows me to stand more solidly. I write because it’s easier to have a voice on paper than in person, and with a pen I am more able to speak my truth while I practice learning to do the same out loud. I write because otherwise I tend to get lost in my head – not really the best neighborhood to wander in alone – and I fall prey to the whispers that I’m not good enough to do this.

I write for escape, I write for joy, I write for clarity. I write the craziness in order to capture the sane. I write in order to feel free, to be free. I write for me: to speak my heart, but I also write for you in the hopes that a phrase from my hand resonates with you, thereby forming that most essential gift – a connection.

But mostly, I write because I choose to believe I am a writer. Not someday; not “if I get published”, but now, in this moment.

I write to remind myself that a writer is someone who writes. Period. End of sentence. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kindle Cravings

I am a closet Kindle craver.  I say this quietly and only on paper...and apparently, now to the world wide web or anyone who cares enough to follow this...hi mom! To admit this feels akin to reading trashy magazines or watching reality tv (oy, making enemies right and left with this one!) I have it in my head that real book lovers must abhor anything digital, and so i have stood strong, visiting the library every couple of days, finding refuge in a bookstore for the afternoon, and feeling ever so content when my nightstand drawers are stuffed with books waiting to be read. Plus, what would i put on my shelves if not books?  Which is why i restrained myself from stealing my father's new Kindle (1 point for lauren).

But secretly, i love them. I love the idea of instant gratification - want a book and poof - it appears on the Kindle. Have to take a trip? No need to pack eight books instead of the essentials like socks. want to remember a quote - no problem, simply highlight the text and the kindle will save it for me!

Right now, my coffee table is unusable due to the stacks of books: one stack that needs to be returned, a stack to read from the LA public library and a stack to read from the County of LA public library (and they don't appreciate when you mix up the two with your returns). Books everywhere! Bliss.

The highlight of the month was when i discovered that the interesting building with quotes on it's sides was...wait for it....a library! 2 blocks away from where i sleep! childhood dream come true (i'm not being sarcastic at all). Can we take a moment to ponder the utter genius and value of a public library? Armed with nothing other than a piece of mail and my driver's license, I stroll in and am granted that magical access to the world of words - my very own (2nd) california library card which allows me to check out all the books and dvds i want for free! Plus, little known secret - from the comforts of my couch, i can request any book or movie my heart desires and not only will they arrange to have it waiting at the library of my choice with my name posted on it, they'll also email me when it's ready!

Cost to read as much as I want: 0
Cost to laze away hours gazing at shelves stuffed with books: 0
Cost to enjoy opening a long-awaited novel while tucked into bed: priceless

So needless to say, Kindles seemed like the enemy threatening to steal these simple pleasures and bastardize books into yet one more screen that we stare at.

Until i held one. I believe i held out for at least 2 minutes before i decided that there would need to be values compromise. When my shoulder aches from toting around two books (just in case i finish the first, seriously...) i entertain the wish of a sleek silver screen that really does still feel book-ish and yet contains shelves of books but weighs less than my wallet.

But then i open my mailbox and my book has arrived! ("The Good Body" by Eve Ensler - must read! incredible!) and i have to conclude that this is where a Kindle will always fall short. The excitement of a shiny cover, the love of dog-eared pages and discovering notes in the margins of a used book, the smell of new pages that are yearning to be read, the promise of greatness held in the weight of the novel...these are simply joys i would miss.

And then i remind myself: It's not black and white, either/or. I can appreciate both - both good!
So i'm a reluctant convert to be sure, but still...if i won the lottery, after the charity giving, gift giving and stocking up on toilet paper, a Kindle would be at the top of the i go relax with my new book.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Monsters Under the Bed

It seems that so often we think of children’s fears as sweet and insignificant, exchanging knowing glances of their heads as we go on a boogeyman raid in the closet and banish the ghosts from the corners of a dark bedroom.  Because it’s somehow allowed to have these irrational fears as a kid – and as adults, we can see the obvious: that there’s really nothing to be afraid of, that there are no monsters beneath the bed, that they are safe. How I wish that my fears today could be as easily banished with a flashlight and a soothing voice.

Come to think of it, even as a kid, my fears were resistant to soothing.  Always being precocious, I bypassed the boogeyman phase and leapt straight to fear of death – not my own but rather my parents.  When I was eight, I refused to go to sleep.  I’d lie in my bed, hypervigiliant to the footsteps of my parents and every time they seemed within earshot, I’d call out, “Good night. I love you!”  While this might appear harmless at first, after hours of this, I can only imagine my parents’ frustration as they tiptoed through the hallways, avoiding my end of the house, seeking only for some “sans enfant” hours (my parents reverted to French when they wanted to speak in code once we broke through the spelling code…small glitch though…my father’s recollection of the French language was on par with an eight year old, often leaving him the one out of the loop).  So at the slightest hint of a shadow across my bedroom door, I called out my refrain, “Good night, I love you.” And if they didn’t respond, my panic great. Being a budding co-dependant, I was terrified that something would happen to them during the night and they wouldn’t know that I loved them.  So, when their strategy to induce sleeping turned to simply ignoring me, my panic only grew. 

Now, to be fair, did I tell them what I was afraid of? Of course not – and why, I have no idea.  I think it was the knowing that as soon as you put something into words and make it concrete, it becomes more real, and I had the innocent notion that somehow I was protecting them from certain death by keeping my fear close to my chest.  Plus, I knew, even then, that whatever they might say to try to soothe me or erase my fear would fall short. After all, they already promised that nothing bad was going to happen to them and that we were all safe at home. But really? I knew that wasn’t true. We are descendents of the Holocaust and I was convinced that at any moment, I would be watching my family in the line to the right stepping in to the gas chambers while I took on the sidelines helpless to save them and wanting only to join them to avoid the worse fate of being the only survivor.

And, never wanting to make anyone feel ineffectual, if they had tried to ease my worried brain, I felt the pressure to reassure them that I felt much better thank you and now I was fine…and it’s the pretending that kills you in the end – the mask of being fine when fear overwhelms. So night after night, I insisted, “I love you! Mom? Mom? I love you! I love you!” still, over 20 years later, I feel the panicky anxiety of the silence that followed, waiting, praying for her to answer…”please, please understand the hidden message I’m trying to send…I’m scared and I don’t know how to make it better.”

Funny, things haven’t changed that much over the years. The wording of the fears have changed but that certainty within me – that reluctance to share my fears to avoid the inevitable pep talk that never seems to induce lasting change in the way my brain works. Plus, the practical suggestions that so often come as solutions I tend to find insulting. I know it’s not fair, and I know my inclination when someone has a problem is to do that exact thing – try to fix it. And yet, my skin bristles with defensiveness when quick fixes are suggested, and I feel insulted because if there was a simply, rational solution, I probably would have thought of it. But that’s the thing – fears aren’t rational. And so the rational solutions are like trying to combat nuclear bombs with magic wands.

 So often when I write down my fears of today, they seem small and silly, as if they should be easily overcome – and so I label them stupid and childish, shrugging them away as if I ignore them for long enough, they’ll evaporate. All evidence to the contrary. Rather they gain strength and garner support, recruiting new fears into their army.

Fears of the moment:
  • not being able to find a job or support myself
  •  running out of eggs
  • missing out of the fun in life by being too bound by rules
  • feeling sick forever
  • my sheets not being washed because I forgot to get quarters (despite having two loads worth of quarters)
  •  taking up more space in the world
  •  being crabby and therefore not having any friends
  • drinking a smoothie
  •  losing my parents
  • never being able to be a writer as a career
  • being able to be a writer as a career and finding out I hate it
  • trying something and failing
  • trying something and succeeding
  • slipping on my wood floors
  • falling down the stairs (I’m quite clumsy…)
  •  hurting those I love the most
  • being dispensable
  • being late to anything
  • being ordinary
Some larger than others, they whisper their theme….what if you’re just not good enough? Just not enough?

When I look at them on paper, it seems clear that they are no longer useful, but in the moment, they are seductively powerful and I long for a strong enough flashlight to clear out the closets of my brain. What we don’t tell the children is that there are monsters under the bed, but we’re the ones who put them there and the ones who keep them there.  And so it stands to reason, we’re the only ones who can set them free. 

Perhaps it’s time for some spring cleaning beneath my bed. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things to do while driving

Growing up, we used to play a game as we carpooled to school – a minivan full of crabby, tired, overachieving kids summoning up the energy to make it through another day (and that’s a topic for a whole different posting…more on that later). I’m guessing the view from the driver’s seat was a bit more optimistic – looking forward to dropping off her wardens for a couple hours free from whining and chauffeuring and bickering children (“Be nice to your brother – One day you’ll be best friends!”) So at 7:30 am, we used to pay a game – who could spot the person doing the most ridiculous thing in their car – while making sure we stayed far away from them as doing ridiculous things usually didn’t lend itself to conscientious driving.

Some of the prize winners:

1. tweezing eyebrows

2. shaving

3. singing loudly while dancing

4. changing pants (this really takes some skill and flexibility if you are the driver...)

Today, on my way to an interview, I saw one that wins the gold medal…a guy lifting hand weights, doing bicep curls, and all of the other arm muscle exercises that I would know the name of if I actually ventured to a gym ever. But the most entertaining part to me was that the guy kept glancing around him as if to say “I know, I know, I’m being ridiculous…please stop looking at me”. Then again, it’s LA – perhaps the subliminal message was “Look at me and how studly I am” – sorry sir, but if that’s you’re goal, you are failing miserably.

Sometimes it amazes me how my outlook on life can change in just hours or minutes…

Outlook last night (and why does every thing seem worse at night??): I am going nowhere, I have no possibilities of ever earning enough money to buy toilet paper, let alone support myself. I am delusional thinking I should try being a writer, I will never succeed, I think I’ll go eat worms…

Outlook after bicep man: It’s such a beautiful sunny day in California. How lucky I am to live so close to the beach. I just feel happy for no good reason, it’s a great day to be alive. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands! Clap, clap.

Ideally, I would like to be able to channel this naive optimism, or at least learn how to spread it over a day instead of experiencing it in short bursts that burn out, leaving a mess of ash at nightfall. And again, if I go around clapping my hands to myself in my car, I believe I’ll end up on a whole different kind of list…

Still, in the face of, what would be a optimistic way of putting it…, “life growth opportunities”, there’s something about those unexpected moments of joy and laughter than make me willing to keep putting one foot in front of the other, at least for another day.