Monday, September 27, 2010

Decorator Extraordinaire

I stepped back, giving myself a decorating pat on the back as I surveyed my work.  Yes, my writing area was off to a good start, a lovely combination of calming lake photos, inspirational quotes, and the tree house painting that I dream of residing in.  Perfect. 

As I rifled through the un-hung art, planning on adding to my creation, I noticed a slight snag.  Within on 6’x6’ wall, I had just placed almost my entire wall decor, leaving at least 9 walls pristinely white.  Martha Stewart would not be pleased.  

I pondered undoing my hammering and spreading out the beauty, tailoring the decor for an outsider’s eye.  How much did I care about Their opinion? Who is the one actually living here, enjoying the view? All of a sudden the placement of my bulletin board was about more than what height to put the nail, and all about owning my own life, believing in myself, and yanking up my confident adult underpants. 

It’s a radical move – catering to my own taste – especially because I’m learning on the fly, defining preferences as I go.  Its un-trodden snow to opt based on intuition, to follow my own leanings rather than through the filer of others who I assume know better than I.  I brush aside the nudge of Nora Ephron in ‘When Harry Met Sally’, “Everybody thinks they have good taste but they can’t all possibly have good taste...” and hope that my art maintains no resemblance to the aforementioned wagon-wheel coffee table.  I’m choosing not to care today.  It’s my sense of peace that these walls are charged with unearthing, and my personal nook in the world that needs to spur an exhale as I unlock the door. 

I leave things where they are, and for now, breathe easy wherever my gaze falls.  That shall be the new measure of success.  So lets make my walls ooze with balance, reflect motivation, and draw me close with the scent of Home.  Let my eyes rest upon tree houses that nudge easy smiles and frames twinkling with memories of laughter and sweetness. 

Welcome to adulthood, Lauren, where I get to be queen, master of my domain, and the judge of good taste.  I think I could learn to like this...

Friday, September 24, 2010

It would be funnier if...

JTA: Ahmadinejad tells U.N. - U.S. was behind 9/11 attacks

It would be funnier on the big screen with popcorn and a credit reel.  It would be laughable if the genre fell on the fiction shelves.  Not so funny at the podium of the U.N. General Assembly. 

According to Iranian Present Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, its time to set the record straight, informing us all that the U.S. arranged the 9/11 attacks to “save the Zionist regime”.  He then called on the United Nations to establish an “independent fact-finding group” to investigate the attacks. Were I there, I would have followed the footsteps of the U.S. delegation who walked out of his speech, along with all 27 European Union delegations, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Costa Rica.  I’m wondering who was left? Did he finish his ranting to an audience of reporters?

Were I a reporter at the General Assembly, I might have a few questions for Mr. Ahmadinejad. 
A) If this is true, wouldn’t it have been wiser for us to stage the mass murders on foreign soil so have our own citizens? Or at least set the attacks at a location that wouldn’t cause so much chaos and the middle of nowhere?  B) How exactly do the 9/11 attacks relate in any way to Israel and supporting them? I’m not the most politically savvy, but I’m failing to see the connection.  C) Is he not aware that there were extensive ‘fact-finding groups’ following 9/11, which led to a war that we are still fighting (we’ll leave the discussion of the accuracy of those groups for another day...) D) Could you comment on the irony of your speech taking place not far from where Islamist terror attacks destroyed the World Trade Center towers 9 years ago?

 E) Were you dropped on your head as a small child, or take medication for the voices you must hear in your head??

The outrageousness would make me laugh were he not the president of a state with nuclear powers and sitting too close for comfort to Israel.  It would be funnier if this weren’t real life...

I’m not laughing. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Something Furry

It was the ‘something furry’ that gave me pause; furry not being the usual texture my toes met on the kitchen floor.  Stumbling out of bed at 4 am for some milk, I figured the ‘something furry’ warranted lights. 

And it was a bat.  Dead, I hoped.  Half asleep, I simply put a mug over it on the floor with a note: “Bat Inside. Dead.” And promptly went back to bed.

But it you thought we’d just toss it in the trash come sunrise and carry on merrily, you just earned a lecture in bat safety and the Bottner mishagas.  No, no. There were rushed trips to the department of health, calls to the department of public safety, and debates over who might need the series of painful rabies shots. Worse was the all-consuming obsession with exactly how said bat ended up on our kitchen floor. 

Perhaps I’m not the most cautious.  I struggle to remember to buckle my seat belt, never wash my apples, and only started locking my car after my iPod got stolen earlier this year.  But I wasn’t concerned so much about the bat.  No one was foaming at the mouth, no fang bite marks – we’re fine! Plus, we were out last night, hence opened the front door when we returned – problem solved! Bat came in when we did. 

I was voted off the island with these opinions.  Seeing as how I’ve learned to pick my battles and my doctor father knew far better about the dangers of rabies than I, I kept my 2 cents to myself and enjoyed the sun by the lake.  As the bat was sent to the lab, tested and analyzed, my dad enlisted neighbors to help seal up all potential cracks in the cottage frame with duct tape. 

End result: no rabies.  No more bats.  And I started turning on the lights during my midnight treks for milk, lest the ‘something furry’ be not so dead next time. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Facebook Memo

This perhaps is the funniest thing I've read all month...
       If Historical Events had Facebook Statuses

I must have missed the memo, lost among the other phases I bypassed, i.e. boy-crazy, love of malls, love of drinking, and fascination with reality TV. I’m sure there was a memo: “Don’t delay! Facebook is only way to survive in the world!”

To be fair, I do have an account, set up years ago by my hipper, cooler sibling.  And there are the occasional thrills of reconnecting with friends or seeing new baby photos from a long-distance birth. I do post links to my writing, just in case it slips onto the screen of a new fan.

However, this is where my use abruptly halts.  I have no desire to join the bandwagon of daily status updates:

8 am: am walk...yawn...still waking up
8:05: nice poop Gracie. Good Girl!!!
8:30: still grey outside
8:40: vacuuming...
9 am: mail time!

Really? Would anyone’s day be enriched by this extra special glimpse into my life? Or was that just 10 seconds of your life you’ll never get back?

Then there are the late night musings I’ve read, which I have at various moments related to, but now would spur me to enact a “No posting after midnight” statute.
1 am: pondering point of it all...rooftop is looking good
1:05: or just a bottle of tequila.
1:06: hate my life

Thank goodness I’m never reading these in real-time as I’d opt for dialing 911 over the usual comments I normally see:
            RS: what’s up?
            TZ: sooooo with u!

Moving on, I do have a number of Facebook friends. Some actually people I see in the flesh or at least know the sound of their voice, and the rest are “friends”. Try explaining that: well, mostly they’re my friends from the past but we don’t really ever get together or talk or basically we say hi and then I’m privy to all of their updates, photos, ‘likes’ and links...think voyeuristic without the creepy pedophilic undertones. And you can be ‘de-friended’ on the heels of an argument, flinging you back to the high school pettiness of “we don’t like her today”.  Or if you prefer, you can trade a friend in for a virtual hamburger, which is only slightly more insulting.

Which brings me to my personal favorite: the Facebook gift.  Over the past months, I have received, plants, bumper stickers, roses, teddy bears, and I believe a pasta dinner – none of which I could smell, cuddle, or taste, begging the question, what the hell is the point? Just for the record, in case you were wondering come birthday/Hanukah/just because I love you, I choose items that don’t rely on an Internet connection.

So all in all, I’m just a Facebook lost cause.  I enjoy the ease of keeping in touch and the always-accessible ocean of connections, but the rest of the territory remains unexplored. 

Of course this is all ridiculously ironic should you be reading this from my link I posted on Facebook...ah, I get lost in my own hypocrisy! 

Friday, September 17, 2010

I ask forgiveness

I deeply apologize.  I could have done better.

For the sharp comments and irritable retorts. 
For the cranky mornings and frustrating indecisiveness, I’m sorry. 
For the moments of impatience, cutting off without really listening, and assuming without hearing, I could have done better.

For the unanswered emails, forgotten birthday cards, and delayed calls to keep in touch.  For the friendships that slipped behind errands and plans unmade due to laziness, I apologize.  For the times when you needed an ear, a hug, a hand to hold, and I wasn’t there.  For the connections lost without required tending and support asked for that I didn’t hear, I’m sorry. 

For the fear, panic, worry and heartache I’ve caused.  For the times together marred by my worn-out craziness; for the rigidity I can carry in my wake, I could have done better.

For tossing aside the blessing of life, invincible faith to choose familiar over right, I’m sorry.  For the expired rules I blindly follow and the childhood fears I grasp without reason.  For the anxiety over the mundane as I miss the sweet blossoms; for the aimless obsessiveness and automatic rituals, I apologize.  For the doubts that halt my footsteps and the self-criticisms that mute my voice; for the lip service to ideals and the promises absent of action, I could have done better.

For the wasted minutes of worry and the pits of overwhelm I easily slide down.  For taking for granted the blessing of breath, limbs that move, and a beating heart.  For misplacing priorities in favor of tired habits and putting off growth for tomorrow, I could have done better.

For all of the ways I may have hurt you, known and those I don’t even realize, I ask for your forgiveness.
For all of the ways I have cut myself off from bliss, abused my blessings, and lost sight of my dreams, I ask for my own forgiveness.
I could have done better. 
I hope, plan, and intend to do better in the coming year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Case for Fasting

I used to argue my case for fasting, fervently citing ritual and tractate, claiming spirituality as my motivation rather than an excuse to have a calorie-free day.  It wasn’t all a life.  I wanted to be a member of my tribe, beat my chest remorsefully along with my community and share the hunger pains of late Yom Kippur afternoon. I believed that fasting could be holy, a setting apart, a focusing on the holy rather than the mundane.  But for me, the larger truth was that I wanted an anorexic’s freebie day.

I was 20 the last Yom Kippur I fasted, already a veteran patient at eating disorder treatment centers and hospitals.  I was 20 and home from college for the High Holidays, arguing with parents who feared for my life on a daily basis.  As I pled my case, they rebutted with worries that fasting would in fact keep me out of the book of life, that not eating was choosing a slow death rather than opting for another year of life.  I knew the allowances for the sick, elderly and children, that fasting didn’t apply if health was an issue.  My parents were right.  If fasting symbolized a sacrifice, a step away from the norm in the direction of holiness, then for me, eating was more meaningful than fasting.  But at the age of 20, I was to starved and stubborn to concede their points or admit the reasons behind my staunch desire to fast.  I held my self-destructive ground and spent the day light-headed in shul, bowing and remorseful, chanting communal sins while beating my bony chest. 

And so, aside from the services, it was no different from any other day.

My light-bulb moment wasn’t at the blast of the shofar or the closing Nehila prayers.  It wasn’t the sermon that moved me to tears but rather the break-fast later among family and friend.  It had been a bitter day for me, knowing the insane hypocrisy of begging for another year of life while having spent the past 365 days actively tossing aside that very precious gift.  I was afraid to pray for healing, too ashamed to make vows of recovery as I stood on too many years of broken promises and identical Yom Kippur reflections.  But as I stood from the sidelines and watched my family fill plates with warm kugel, bagels and lox, and all the Jewish comfort foods I loved, a small light flickered within.  My personal fast never ended.  There was no break-fast celebration for me.  There was no end date where my inner calculator shut off and my starving dictator was muted.  There was no meal where I freely filled my plate and rejoined the land of the living.  I listened to the laughter and praises to the chef as I cried out my first true prayer of the day.

Please Hashem, help me choose life.  Guide me toward healing and end this perpetual fast that keeps me far away from you, locked in a tiny life. With gratitude for the million second chances, please grant me this moment, this chance to taste freedom, this opportunity to take a bite of my mother’s kugel as a step toward life.

This year I’ll be at services with my community, making my amends and atoning for my sins.  This year I’ll beat my chest and desperately plead for my name to be sealed in the book of life. This year I still need to do better, take bigger bites and farther steps. 

This year I’ll find my holiness in a full belly and experience as much spirituality in the sounding of the shofar as in the taste of my lunch. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Balancing in an extroverted world

There are stories swapped easily and smiles tucked between glances; layers erasing distance and an ease of side by side silence.  We are strangers, children of friends, dock neighbors extending our own line of connection.  It’s rare to meet a friend where the initial meeting is absent of small talk.  I tend to shun cocktail party shallowness and mark escape routes during aimless chatter.  I often reach my human interaction limit long before those whose genes I share.  And yet, always a good student, I can hold my own, having been well schooled in the art of extroversion from a magnetic father who reigns at the hub of the party.  

We operate on different gears, he and I.  He happily stacks plans upon activities, is calm with a full table, and has the energy of a five year old.  I come via a solo train, introverted by default, preferring groups to dot the day rather than be the norm.  Still, I laugh at the jokes and join the debates, surprising myself at times with my enjoyment of the crowd.  But after an hour or two, I’m done; finding the extra bodies more draining than energizing, I long to retreat to recharge in the stillness.  It’s a balancing game – avoiding the gentle slope into isolation, integrating friendship with mindfulness and connections with calm.  It’s a learning process as I examine my comfort zone and learn where I need to step away in favor of shared laughter and fun.

I will never be the party girl with an overflowing date book and more friends that I can count.  I can happily spent a Sunday writing, reading, going to the park, calling friends, and never getting out of my pajamas. And yet, I still fight against the extroverted judgments, the labels: not normal, nerd, loser, boring, pathetic.  I practice allowing myself to have my own rules for living and standards of joy, struggling against the childish biases that no longer apply. 

So when I find a kindred spirit whose smile also turns stale upon the bell of midnight, I link arms with relief that there are others just like me.  However, even as I learn who I am and create my own grown up life, I watch my dad in his splendor, a table full of friends, and I take notes.  I watch, simply grateful to have been taught the tools of connection by a master.  I slip in and out of his overflowing calendar, but am always welcomed with a genuine smile and an outstretched hand as he pulls me by his side.  And just as I stretch myself to dance in his world, his shining compliment is when he shrinks to intimacy, carving shared moments of just the two of us sitting on the dock, trading thoughts upon the wind.  He glows in a bustle, but gives a gift to my introverted soul, as he makes clear that our family of four is all the party he needs. 

I continue to learn.  I learn what I need, want, and wish for.  I learn how to slip into family without unleashing old shadows but rather filling my shoes with a love that cushions until the next time.  I learn how to appreciate the din of the crowd along with the stillness, loud laughter along with deep talks over coffee.  I learn when to stretch and when to swing in quiet peace.  I learn to appreciate the differences, to cherish family, and to keep close friends who also understand interaction limits and grown up time outs. 

And so I made a new friend on the dock this summer, and for a few days, we swapped book lists and laughter, pages of history shared under the sun.  Despite the distance between us, I look forward to seeing her next summer, and I remember the ease of her company as a fellow introvert lost in a community of extroverts. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dirt-filled Bliss

I never knew that bliss was covered with dirt.  In all the corners I’ve searched for balance, in the teachers I’ve sought for peace or the books I’ve read hoping for calmness, I didn’t expect to find it on my patio.  And yet, for someone who vacuums obsessively and runs late to do last minute dusting, I’m reveling in a love of soil. 

I’ve always wanted a garden with plants to sprinkle with hope and whisper sweet dreams.  I’ve always envisioned fresh herbs and green shoots tended by my hand.  I linger upon lush yards during my walks with my puppy, drooling over tomato plants and gardenia bushes that seem to never fall out of season.  And yet, I haven’t had a backyard, or a patio, or even a ledge to plant my seeds.  And I haven’t had the best luck with indoor plants – usually my downfall is overwatering, anxiously peering in soil and determining that more is better until they drown with my protection.  I’ve been limiting myself to cacti, which you actually have to have murderous intentions in order to spur their demise. 

With all of that, I am a gardener at heart. I just know it.  I love the pruning and the mothering. I love the morning checks for new leaves and glimpse of a miracle as seeds sprout into splashes of color.  So the clincher on my new apartment was the patio with a small bed of soil and ample ledges for things of green.  I wandered up aisles in the nursery, swirling with possibilities and unlimited by any knowledge of practicalities, seasons, or space requirements.  Admittedly, I missed a few items: planters, topsoil, and a watering can... But I was too distracted by the basil, cilantro, rosemary, strawberry plant, and various beauties to remember the basics.  It didn’t matter.  Yesterday I became a gardener as I left my gloves in the kitchen and dug with bare hands to create room for roots, whispering prayers for growth and strength for all of us.

Amidst the din of daily life traffic, for a few moments, I found my balance.  Something about new possibilities sprinkled with nurturance and warm breezes allowed me to breathe in the calm and settle into simple contentment.  Protective of their fragile roots, I steadied my feet in my own life.

I run on overwhelmed, with a default setting of anxiety.  I forget inhale, to prioritize, and to grasp that a to-do item doesn’t demand immediate attention simply by appearing on the list.  I wobble with change, and squirm until the last picture is hung on the wall.  I struggle to schedule fun before errands and relaxation in the face of emails unanswered.  And yet, filthy under a lazy Sunday sky, joy superseded groceries and my head ceased its 90 mph roaming to match my feet in the dirt. 

Maybe my plants will shrivel or my green thumb never appears.  Maybe.  But it won’t change the fact that I am a gardener, permanently imprinted with the sweet glee of my hands in the earth, taking deep breathes and gratefully balanced in my new home. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Exactly what I was looking for

It never ceases to amaze me as the unexpected teacher arrives, when the words swirl into my heart, freshly brewed as exactly the message I need to hear.  I’m always surprised when my sour first impression fills with sweetness and I’m reminded again how book covers rarely capture the story’s poetry. 

I was rushing, later than I planned, panicking over a missed self-imposed arrival time.  I was late for a petty reason I abhor – can’t decide what to wear – and then my inability to walk away from unwashed dishes or the bathroom floor that all of a sudden demanded immediate swiffering. Stupid.  And when I’m late, anxiety sets in, even in the absence of consequences; simply the act of rushing becomes my pavlovian panic bell.  I’m trying to practice deep breathing as I hike up seven flights of stairs, not knowing that the Rosh Hashanah services I’m searching for are on the second floor.  Note: Should really include floor number on direction sign instead of merely “Stairs to services”. 

I find a seat, saving one for my even later friend, and close my eyes, trying to find a width for prayer, for calmness to open a connection for spirituality.  But after 20 minutes in a sparsely filled women’s section of dry chanting and mumbled Hebrew, I’m inching towards the door. To the background of the shofar, I wondered what I was expecting?  I don’t belong to a shul, and no place ever seems to have the right ingredients of passion, holiness, music, meaning, familiarity and community to deliver the warm “Lauren” specialty I crave.  No service is going to deliver instant fulfillment, light bulb moments flashing by the second.  I keep my tush in my chair and try to locate my own door to spirituality.  But then I followed the trail of congregants into an ‘alternative class’ and while fighting the ‘bad Jew’ guilt of opting for lecture over services; I shifted in the hard plastic chairs and found what I was looking for. 

With humor and the casual manner of a young Rabbi, this man captured my attention and spoke with an honesty that struck me deep into the place of stirring change and motivating action.  He made the day come alive, brought G-d into this Day of Judgment, and handed me old lessons rewrapped to fit the missing pieces in my life today.  He spoke of pausing to take stock, and the gift of a Judgment that withholds decrees for another ten days.  He made it personal, telling tales of his own neurotic craziness and how he wants turn to G-d before the crisis and not only once disaster has brought him to his knees. 

There was more during the hour I listened; more lessons I wish I could have jotted down, knowing that there were too many jewels lacing his words and that they would blend and fade by the time I got home.  I forced myself to simply be, to stop taking stock myself, to wait until later to ponder the places in my life that need renovating, the lessons that I still haven’t learned.  But the catch phrase that keeping bouncing between my brain, even two days later, is this: Are you willing to be ‘woken up’ no matter what?  Even if it means suffering and pain, loss and tears?  This was why I came to services that day.  This is what I needed to hear – again.  This is the lesson that burrows between my routines and widens the doorways of holiness.  It’s time to wake up –no matter how many fears and scrapes that journey may hold. With gratitude, I head home, eyes wide open, opting for a contemplative afternoon at the park rather than mindless errands that all can wait.  I head home blessed with the next week to sift through my prior days and pull out the weeds by the root.  I know that the motivation will dissipate and pearls of wisdom will get lost in the shuffle.  I still find myself distracted with moving and organizing just hours later, and remind myself that change still counts even in small increments. 

But the teacher arrived, and I was in my seat.  In a room full of strangers, I was among community as I found exactly what I was looking for.