An April Sunday

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Cleaning up in Lake Accotink Park

Has the world changed?

It still revolves around the sun.

Daylight comes in the morning and

Dusk darkens into evening.

People kill.

People mourn.

Some shout yes, others shout no.

There are those who no longer love,

And those who want to love.

I’m just checking because there must be differences

Since hate and negativity are in ascendance everywhere

I read and hear.

But if I look

I see the unfurling seeds and

Petals floating in the warming air.

It is then that it comes to me that politics is not life,

And we, the you and me who breathe breath into the world,

Will overwhelm, always, eventually, that which tries to break and impede.

Our stance, our backs, our commitment

To optimism, to believing in the eternal

Triumph of good over evil.

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Spring

 

Gray clouds hover over the dimming day,

I turn to an empty room and into that which hovers

I sigh a prayer of and for compassion,

For seeing that your toes and mine need to tread lightly,

Honoring that which exists without us, beyond us;

That differences that define should not negate.

But I worry that they cannot perceive  

My humanity because of

Labels

That state but do not

Respect.

Look into my eyes,

Be close enough to have no fear:

Why do you want me not to live freely?

Why do you want to shout over my voice?

Why do you not recognize my needs—my humanity?

We each have a life to live,

One life!

Overcome the call to smother, instead

Remember that no one is always right.

Trust me—

I will not cause the earth to tremble or the

Heavens to fall.

It is merely my voice and my heart—

Beating against yours

For acknowledgement that I have

A right to my opinions, my presence,

My equality—

Our equality.

Holocaust Memorial Service JCC NOVA 2018
Holocaust Memorial Service, JCC NOVA

Realizations about Religion

 

Foggy Day

No glass of wine, bottle of beer, or Colorado gummy bear can make my mind fuzzy enough for long enough to stop the realization that is finally solidifying.

I have wished that I was a religious person for much of my adult life. Hence moving to Israel at 22 and wondering about becoming a rabbi last year. I have wished that prayer could reach into my depths, and for religious rites and observances to motivate me, give me meaning beyond rote repetition. I have longed for inspiration from a fast or adherence to a food restriction that would propel me to deepen my commitment. Throughout, I have wondered what I lack since I have remained steadily unmoved.

Yet, my perceptions and groundedness, I realize, have remained steadfast in being connected through time and space with Judaism, with being a Jew. I have finally realized that the basis of my morality, my concerns, my commitments, my perception of what is a good life and a good person, are based there, and in the unending stream of generations that has continued to hone and embody that way of being—a belief that embodies one’s entirety. The consistency of the believers has enabled the wonderers, like myself, to be grounded in a truth that for us is human-inspired rather than divinely inspired. Perhaps we each are meant to have our role to make the whole.

I have always wondered and longed for meaning that I thought religion could foster. Alas, I am not an acute observer of rules, regulations, or restrictions as set down centuries ago by or for this God. But while I thought this created a hollow space within, I am realizing that all this time my internal space has been filling up with a connectedness that reaches as deep as any sacred prayer or act could.

Finally, I have ceased to ache for what I lack; instead, I perceive that inspiration—meaning, purpose—comes from an interconnectedness that transcends direct guidance, propelling the self without command, rooting purpose within that expanse. An expanse which is the underlying beat of compassion that connects us all, the breath of the earth and its manifestation in all that is, here, within each of us.

Compassionate congregating occurring each moment we interact, engage, think about another, the other, the not me, which, within this connective thread, is somehow me.

Crying when hearing other people’s stories.

Smiling when watching other people’s joys.

Carrying concern.

Perhaps I lost a reality that I thought I wanted, but perhaps, too, that desire helped form who I need to be.

 


Disgusted. Grateful. A Short Cycle.

Desert Sky

ONE

How many times can a heart break?

This is not a rhetorical question.

Why are guns more important than lives?

Again, not a rhetorical question, a cry from tears cracking a heart.

Why is there a gun show in Miami this weekend?

Again, not a rhetorical question, a plea for a different future.

Why are the lives of children less important than gun sales?

Again, not a rhetorical question, a wonder that is revulsion.

Why do men need to pretend they’re superheroes with assault rifles?

Again, not a rhetorical question, an acknowledgement that their desires create massacre-makers, not saviors.

How is it that the gut of too many lawmakers is shriveled with dollars?

            Again, not a rhetorical question, a demand for action, change.

How can a parent mourn a child, a child lose a childhood friend, a custodian clean up so much spilled blood, a parent comfort a grieving child, a teacher experience empty seats, a sibling grasp loss, a grandparent bury a grandchild, a country keep letting it happen?!

There are no rhetorical questions here, only a demand for swords into ploughshares, assault weapons into rain barrels, bird feeders, planters—let there be growth, not death.

We are angered beyond enough.

We are drained so deep to drive demands.

TWO

With so much abhorrent information coming out about this administration and its servants in congress, I constantly vacillate between disgust and utter disgust. There is no space for nuance. That horror comes, too, from a seeming echo chamber of “strong” men around the globe. Suddenly the world seems so small, constricted, and blatantly focused on power and ever more wealth for the arrogant who demand control of we, the masses.

I fear the rabid infestation of antisemitism, of concocting scapegoats, of the vile up of us and down of them, of the dangerous inability to see each person as deserving of respect that is racism, of the profoundly offensive misperception that men are better than women because they are men. There is only to scream in horror over and over and over again. How is it that these people keep slithering back?

How can one not be stressed?

There is to mobilize in whatever way suits you because it is not okay that we finally understand history, finally understand—even with media, mass media, social media—how the rulers grab power, attain power, hold onto power; finally understand the ad nauseum cycle of the rich and powerful trodding down the rest of us, we of the small voices.

This has been seen before; otherwise, where would these voices have come from?  

- Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. Churchill

- Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Martin Luther King, Jr.

- Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

- A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

But as I sit here on a rainy day after brunch with friends, I can’t help but wonder if these men are experiencing a non-stop grinding in their heads, the non-stop voices of critique that penetrate, a non-stop inner voice that is never satisfied because the turmoil generated by self-hate cannot be appeased. Why do we need to continually suffer because of the dark inner worlds that far too many men live and fester within, and try to smother through silencing our outer voices of discord?

Before my divorce, and long before my ex-husband tumbled all the way down, people would say that I am strong and he is weak, that his need to control me, insult me, belittle me, indicated how small he feared he was. I, who trembled to hear his accusations, his grating voice hollowed of compassion, never believed them. The visceral dynamic of an abuser and the abused, is tough to alter. Eventually, though, I was able to understand how that internal plague could function in others.

There was never any satisfying him. No gift, no matter how well thought out, was good enough. No act of kindness was ever satisfactory. Groveling from the heart might have worked, but I could never muster such a diminishment of self to serve him sufficiently. There was no gratitude for anything.

On the drive home from brunch, thinking about how calm I was after being with, talking to, relaxing with three good friends, I felt grateful. It is not hard to be grateful. To accept that who you are is enhanced through your connections. To acknowledge (even the deepest introvert among us) that strength and determination and confidence flow from a stream/well within that is fed through a stream/well outside of the self.

Leaving my marriage was a giant marker that I would no longer put up with a bully; that I would no longer scream in anger and hurt because of someone else’s desperate ego.

My lot is with those who make me feel grateful to be living my life, who make me proud of myself simply because I’m trying to be as good as I can be.

Now that I see that my past and present have merged to make me realize that neither can be wasted if I want to maintain a shred of dignity.

THREE

My mother, who lives about a half-hour north of Parkland, Florida, learned about the shooting when I finally reached her on Wednesday night.

“Did you hear the news?” I asked, needing to talk to someone.

“No, I was at the movies,” she asked, immediate anxious worry in the voice of this woman whose daughter lived in Israel for many years.

“Don’t you listen to the radio in the car?” I asked, anxious that I need to tell her about a school shooting, about 17 dead, about so many teens dead, about loss so very close, about losses that I assumed would somehow connect back to her.

“We were talking.”

She went to services at her temple on Friday night. She said they it was devastatingly moving. Teens spoke who lost camp friends in the shooting. An adult spoke who lost a childhood friend. And the rabbi spoke up, against guns, apologizing for not having voices his stance sooner.

Time for tears is the same as the time to speak up. Let’s hope more religious leaders finally find the moral strength to speak up for life, and not the capacity to kill. There are those who wonder why more people don’t connect to religious institutions: if you silence your voice, no one will follow.

We need to find and use our own voices. Perhaps they were schooled in a tradition, but if that tradition no longer serves us, then we need to go beyond it. Go beyond the confines of what was, and learn to use it to twist into a new future.


Of Envelopes and Mirrors

Horizontal tree

Listen

To the women in your life.

Our voices are not sealed in a safe,

Or buried under a tree,

We are the envelope

Unsealed by the steam of empathy.

 

Once open, listen.

How does a child imagine evil

If it has not happened to her?

Creativity is, sadly/happily,

Oft based on reality.

 

Do not placate us,

For that suffocates.

Do not put us on a pedestal,

For that petrifies.

 

Why are there still millennia of assumptions to strike?

Why do men continue to hold and control

When women have been the

Foundation upon which their façade stands.

 

Our selves

Our clothing

Our sexuality

Our careers

Our wages

Our visions

Tired of fighting merely

To be seen, heard, heeded.

 

Why do they insist on an unrelenting superiority?

Equality, I assume (who knows), cannot hurt.

Why weigh threats against tears,

Arrogance against heartache?

 

We are not the unknown,

We are their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters, cousins, nieces.

Why do they feign confusion that we deserve/demand

R E S P E C T.

Haven’t we been singing about it for a while.Hello, hello can you hear me?

 

Have we coddled and comforted too much:

Transferring her ego to support his.

Destruction by love.

 

Surely it is easier to climb by helping

Not shoving,

Easier to thrive by sharing

Not taking,

Wiser together

Not crushing.

 

Do not kiss my forehead,

Sidestepping my content for

Faux comfort.

Embrace

The fullness of my body.

 

Stand before a woman,

Imagine you are her mirror image,

What do you reflect back, what do you ignore?

Is it a suggestion or the details of a person. 

 


Speaking Up: A Kind of Black Dress

Oasis December 2017

What is it about women and sex? Why do our faculties for observation and nuance, so in-tune in public settings, suddenly become akin to a toddler’s?

What is it about men and sex? Why do their capacities to let women take care of them suddenly evaporate, leaving a vacuum in which they surge to prove something about themselves?

When I was in college a young man told me that he would take me to the airport in the morning. Somehow that morphed into having sex in his apartment, and somehow that involved his using my vagina as a prop for his penis, and somehow the shock of the situation muted me, paralyzed me, so that I became that prop. A crying prop, but one who was scared, shocked, and utterly still.

Why I suddenly became terrified of this guy who moments before seemed a bit of a fool, someone I could use to get what I wanted, still upsets me. He could barely get it up, yet I was overcome by such a paralyzing inertia that I said nothing as he put cooking oil on his penis because I was so dry, rather than stop and think about why I was so dry.

My anger at him and my disappointment in myself have never abated because that situation or variations of it seem to keep happening to other women and men.

What are mothers of sons teaching their sons about women and consent?

What are fathers teaching their sons about self-respect and respecting women?

As a mother of daughters, I can tell you that the phrase “no one is to touch you without your permission” was on repeat loop.

How is it that we still f-ck up such a basic interaction?

How is it that women, finally schooled to speak up, don’t?

How is it that men can possibly think that women are vessels for their needs?

What has been the impact of all those lessons on bullying and boundaries and “No Means No” if we are still incapable of understanding a silent withdrawal into self or a hand pushed aside?

What is so difficult about it? I don’t care about a millennia of behavior: we are not in caves and no man needs to overpower a woman to prove anything about his masculinity. 

I am fed up.

Time’s Up. #Metoo.

Equality. Feminism. How is it so hard?

We’re different, but not so much.

If the little voice in your head that’s always assessing the situation or critiquing your thoughts and actions suddenly gets awfully quiet or overbearingly persistent, it is time to go home. Straight to sleep.

Do no harm.

Men, how about pretending that your ego doesn’t count? How about always consider someone else’s ego before your own? A variation on the golden rule.

Generalization: women are more reticent; men are more boastful. How about we consider those basic guidelines in all our interactions?

I’m on a loop of suggestions that go out without an echo, but I’m going to ascribe to the butterfly ripple theory. Or the “my voice matters as much as any one else’s voice” theory. Or simply, I can’t be quiet. I have no black dress to wear, this is my black dress.

 


On Rain, Pebbles, and Sighs

 

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I am a basket filled with severed headlines whose savage stories seep into the sweet staleness of daily life with visions of the horrors of hate.

What is there to hate in a world of autumn golds, a glowing moon, the shy happiness of a child growing into confidence, the anticipated joys of future gatherings, connections, friendships?

Why must the haters project their shriveled sense of self onto us, we who don’t demand the scepter, but simply want to share?

Perhaps I am wrong and it is not heated hate that drives them, but simply the dust of disregard. The burden of being unable to care about anyone but those within the first degree of separation.

Surely it is time for interconnectedness to battle those who thrive on division, those who stand on their own paltry hills versus those of us who have a conscience, a purpose, a path that is not single-file even when alone.

It is true, isn’t it, that nothing can be personal when there is so much sanctioned pain, when the evil of egos controls.

Emotions that raise the bile within my throat form, but I don’t want to share that emotion; thrust from me the fire pit that burns with my own form of hatred and amplify instead the voice that cries with the urgency of the invisible turned visible.

No longer will we be the onion of the metaphor, needing to be peeled to be revealed, so hidden were our voices our pains our perceptions. No longer. No.  

We stand howling the rawness of truth—of so much pain handled on our own, in our minds and bedrooms; of dealing with the drip and deluge of indignities individually; of trying for strength amidst the crushing insinuation of smiles;

We must acknowledge that my interior, is yours ours, and now we must reach out alone together, a chorus to hear heed.

We will not be shunted stifled.

It has become too much, too blunt, too vast, this desire of the traitorous rulers to encage our minds our souls our selves, we will not retreat succumb enable.

Enough.

Look at me and see me. I am not a reflection of your world and your desires.

Somehow (unimaginable inner strength / the basic drive to live free) we—women and men too—have survived and our rise will not be thwarted by their animosity.

During my divorce I discovered that as my mind stopped being a dungeon full of his words and images of me, I lightened and lifted into a self that is proud of being, dreaming, sharing. Once shed of his demands for who and what I should be, I was able to be—and to know that being is admirable.

No longer controlled by a man—or fighting his attempt at control, I learned that this life is not a game to be won, of winners and losers, rather it is

A cohort creating, expressing, nurturing, with the intellect to speak down the generations so that the vilenesses will always be seen for what they are. We have raised our young to recognize that we will always fight. We have always stood against the waves of tyrants; it is here, in the steel within.

Now we are a herd, women demanding to be heard beyond the tables around which we intrinsically congregate.

Succor, it is not a bad word. It contrasts with the pain too many men drag down to us.

They have called us strident, nasty bitches to demean us, but I see it as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there won’t be a reckoning and karma won’t play havoc upon their minds and lives, nevertheless we drive on, urged by millennia of women and men ravaged because they held no earthly riches. There may be religions about honoring the least of us, but that doesn’t mean actions speak louder than words.

It is on me to know that my core—both inside and out, for that is how we must be—will not be debased by the criminals who conquer even after being vanquished, generation after generation. What has changed is not the cycle of good and evil, but our recognition that rain wears away, pebbles divert, sighs howl—and that each of us is part of that process.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 

If I am not for others, what am I? 

And if not now, when?” 

-- Rabbi Hillel


Virginia Democrats: Let's Vote on Tuesday!

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Ralph Northam: Revving up Lee Dems on Thursday

Virginia Democrats: Let's get out and vote on Tuesday! 

Let's push for positive people policies with 

  • Ralph Northam for Governor
  • Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor
  • Mark Herring for Attorney General
  • Your local state delegate
  • And if you're in Fairfax County, YES on the School Bond.

and let's start turning the tide against the horrible policies and personalities that come from the other side.

For information on voting, go to iwillvote


A November Eve

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Plunging people past optimism

Into chasms of chaos

Where deep inside all we can spot is the light

From others, who, like us

Refuse to succumb to the lure

Of me me me me me…

Or maybe, our me is different.

 

It is a grand

Us

That grants, bestows, recognizes

The beauty within each shade,

Each manner of bending,

Each.

 

It is not nice to merely pretend you care

About something that is other than

Mine and money

Because if all you care about is mine and money,

Then the rest of us,

Have so much to do.

To breathe

To protect

To support

To push back

Continually.

 

We had hoped, hadn’t we,

That the world that has always been at war,

Had finally surpassed that expression of self.

But since it is still our sad reality,

We cannot shelter in place—

When wails reach us through walls and 

Hearts.

 

Battles between continue to rage,

But, there, beyond the horizon,

Some of us still perceive what is not, yet,

Except in the hearts of those who beat

From the root to the crown

With tendrils interwoven, strengthened,

Supported by conjecture

That there will be a time

When those joined in solidarity

Can cause to cease arrogance and tyranny

To foster a Resistance

That will become the Expression of

What it means to be a person.

We/Us not supine

Because ‘tis better to Persist

Resist

Than

Not be.

 

This is the time, too,

To support those of us

For whom life is not a grand plan

But moments of together.

Their burden is not to change the trajectory,

But engage in the simplest acts

Of love of compassion of union.

 

For isn’t that the point?

To create the space for each of

Us

To love and be loved

Until our final breath.


October 2017

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"Pick a bouquet for you and a friend!"

 

It is getting cool in the evening, here, in Northern Virginia.

I took a walk earlier and bought new flannel sheets since the set I bought last year I gave to my younger daughter. I raided my home to give to her and her boyfriend; a young couple needs so many things and I was glad I could give.

Last year’s flannel sheets are navy blue, this year’s are light grey. I can’t say I regret the switch. Something about pale gray sheets soothes me. They don’t jar like white, and they don’t try so hard like navy.

Another reason I went to the store was to finish my 10,000 steps; almost 6,000 from canvassing for governor. Such a beautiful day. So many people out and about, but the people who were home were lovely and motivated to vote for the Dems, to vote FOR and also against. The people I spoke to were so representative of those of us who oppose the direction that t- and the selfish haters are taking the country. Women (how ridiculous that we have been made a minority). African-American. Arab-American. Gay-American. Indian-American. Latino-American. Let us vote, push against the terrible tide of bullying tyrants. Home at 11,003 steps: accomplishing more than the mission!

My ex-husband tried to control me. Restrict my thoughts and friends. Determine what is good for me and what is not. I have no desire for my government to be worse than he was. Him, I could divorce. We need to separate from the direction that the government and the racist, sexist, polluting politicians are taking the country, before we lose the ability to speak up and out. Divorce now.

I want warmth, not the threat of so much frigidity. Even mired in distress, there is no giving in. We are each the modern incarnation of those before us, our ancestors, who strove against oppression for freedom; we continue to be part of the arc that bends toward justice. There is no back then to go back to: there is only forward. There is always forward.


My Eclipse Experience

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Totality: the sun is hiding behind the moon and clouds.

 

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Totality: I think the white dot is Jupiter.

 

My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.

Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.

First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.

But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.

The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.

While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.

But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.

All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)

I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!

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Green Pond Landing, SC: A little while before the eclipse

Not Married 32 Years

Guard Dog in Old Town Alexandria

 

August 1985. Married.

August 2007. Divorced.

August 2017—

Still using checks with married name and

PO Box (that hid my intentions).

 

A reminder each time I use one

(crossing out last name, PO Box,

writing in maiden name, my home address),

To note the difference that time makes.

 

Ten years since the decoupling

Has dulled wrenching tears into

Unwelcome, unfocused remembrances.

 

I am past dwelling

(is that a reason I shy away from men—

no desire to re-live

when exchanging histories?)

Though cynicism lingers.

 

Twenty years of marriage:

They can be perplexing to recall—

What tone do I take that

Hurts the least, yet respects

The years together?

 

Ten years of divorce:

A bridge between then and now—

Always shifting.

 

The pain of living with wanting to forget,

But not wanting.

Disappointment in a cancelled paired-vision.

Regret in decisions and directions taken—or not.

 

Failure removes the sheen of romance

That had been vibrant.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to see the pairs, always pairs.

Even if their grass is not green, there is still

Something about those ten twenty thirty years together

That I have lost.

 


A Week of Not Thinking

Night on the Potomac

I took off a week from my working mind. No classes to teach. No writing to mull over as the background music of my days. I became a version of myself who filled her hours with chores and errands, volunteering and chatting, reading and watching. It went well. Very well. I finally did my will. I bought a rose bush and some other flowering plants for my balcony. I rearranged furniture and organized my space. I finally decided on a paint color for my bedroom (painting to be done with younger daughter next week). I ate healthy. I swam and walked.

Yes, it went well.

It wasn’t that I was bored, because I wasn’t. I had things to do and I did them. There was a stillness to my mind which I could probably get used to it, but I don’t want to. It was strange to be me on the outside, but not on the inside. I was only concerned with what I was doing or going to do; there were no threads of thoughts to follow beyond the moment. It was as if I was living at noon with no shadow to follow me around.

Who am I without that shadow self? How can I simply be the woman who buys a shower mat, and not the woman who absorbs observations and readings, thinking about how to convey and develop her thoughts in writing.

It was an experiment. And it succeeded. It made me realize that to be mentally absorbed with my writing is essential for me to be fully myself. That immersion is my identification. A final piece of writing is not so much what defines me as does the ongoing internal discussion that culminates in that writing. It is, I assume, the same for someone who is absorbed in any activity or topic of study: that process of focused thinking is necessary to feel whole, capable, hopeful. Inspired and inspiring. 


Sleepless with My Cellphone

 

Trees outside my window
Trees outside my window

I might not have a man in bed with me, but, boy, is my bed ever crowded. Nightly, I get into bed, ready to read literature—right after I catch-up on my phone-reading of the newest sputtering from / or mockery of t- and his horrific administration, and the r’s and their persistent betrayal of the basic norms of decency that I might have missed in the previous update, an hour ago. I exhaust myself with 30 minutes, okay, an hour, of being a witness to the unrelenting ignominies. Then, determined to maintain my commitment to reading about something other than the destruction of American Democracy and people’s persistence to not be thwarted by their elected officials, I charge my phone and finally open my book. But within minutes I start nodding off.

Why is outrage “easier” to read than a novel?

Perhaps it’s the immediacy: the shock that dystopian fiction is coming to life, the fear of where it will lead, and the need to be alert to the latest treachery and its real-life implications. To be a witness. To be prepared to resist.

A few hours after I fall asleep, I wake. The requisite trip to the bathroom is not enough to ease me back to sleep. I try looking at the trees outside my window. I try emptying my mind. I try closing my eyes and unclenching my jaw. But thoughts settle in for the night unbidden. I don’t want to relive my day or the outrages that seep in. I want to go back to the oblivion of sleep. Once up, though, it won’t happen. Surely, I am a lousy meditator since I barely give myself five minutes to attempt to ease into my breath and the now. I have hours to go before I re-sleep.

Staying like that, thinking about the thoughts and conversations of my day, inevitably leads to some level of disappointment. It’s like watching repeats of programs that weren’t very interesting the first time around. And if I add to that thinking about our reality, my jaw re-fuses.

Stupidly, I take to my phone. A form of self-flagellation. There’s nothing new, for the writers and analysts are asleep, attempting their severance before starting all over again in the morning. Still, I seek out commentary I may have missed. By now, my mind is both numb and abuzz, and my frustration with myself and the world cannot be soothed simply by putting the phone down. So I turn on the radio which plays BBC after midnight. I go in and out of sleep for hours, getting updated on what’s happening around the world, hearing in-depth analyses of all sorts of problems I didn’t know existed. There is pain all around. Hearing artists and writers speak for a few moments of calm. Finally shutting it off when soccer scores come on. Will a new pillow help?

I wake when the grey sky outside my west facing window signals that morning has finally come. I take a few minutes to be in the moment, often succeeding in resisting the phone. Daybreak, savoring the moment: the calls of the birds, the sky in its grayish blue hue, the brightening leaves on the trees, the sensation of air on my body.

And then it is time to get up and face what I may have missed in the past hour or so.

 


Broth and Bouillon

Huntley Meadows Blooming

 

A friend called me last Friday night to go out dancing with her and a group of people from a Meet-Up. With no time to think about why I shouldn’t go, feeling weighted down by a long day of unenthusiastic summer teaching, a too long conference call, and a look at my low-count Fitbit, I decided to go. It helped that the restaurant was four minutes from my house and there wasn’t enough time to stress about what to wear.

As soon as I arrived, I started dancing. When the band took a break between sets, my friend asked me what plans I had for the weekend. I said that my one plan for a walk and lunch on Saturday had been cancelled, and that I was plan-free to be home writing and reading. “You like that,” she commented. Yes, I do!

I enjoy these free weekends more now that there are weekends when I do get together with friends. When it was an unending stream of plan-less Saturdays and Sundays (even if I stayed home to grade papers), the perils of solitary boredom would bear down on me. It’s hard to have confidence in your ability to think and write when you can barely stand to hear your thoughts another moment.

Is this a good idea for an essay? Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I take a break now or should I continue to stare at the computer screen? Should I read a book to learn something or read one to relax? Should I eat now or wait until later? Should I eat a salad or just say the heck with it and have ice cream? Should I watch another episode of this show or finally open the mail? Should I go for a walk someplace close by or waste time and drive somewhere that has a view? Should I sit in a coffee shop tomorrow morning or stay home so I won’t feel bad that I’m alone? -- You know, the pervasive thoughts that eddy around endlessly.

Too much of a good thing (the very empty nest) has made me value these breaks from myself to be a part of other people’s lives in the day-to-day interweaving of our stories. Through my friends I participate and release the control stick. They provide an out from constantly judging and assessing myself and others (a big drawback to being a teacher). Life not in the abstract. As a bee, needing both the hive and the individual buds.

I can finally relate to extroverts who thrive on interactions, and not just the introvert’s need for solitude. I must have intrinsically perceived this dichotomy for how else could I have taught, and enjoy teaching, for so many years?

But this movement out is not just about understanding different aspects of myself, it’s also about having enough of the right people in my life to enable me to come to this revised reality. Both the friend with whom I went dancing and the friend who cancelled our plans are self-proclaimed introverts. Although they, too, have come to straddle the social and the solitary, pushing out so as not to feel confined. Perhaps this is a stage that (single) (middle-aged) women inevitably reach so that our lives will expand, rather than condense and contract. Broth and bouillon.

I wonder, though, if I have been mistakenly looking at myself through the irrelevant lens of personality label. As we get older, we come to realize, don’t we, that we are shaped more by our experiences than our character traits. (And often those experiences occur in spite of our self-defined traits.) While they surely feed into each other, it begins to feel that those labels need to be dropped. They no longer explain or excuse who we have become; moreover, they limit our ability to fully thrive in the present. I must be open to who I am in a way that is undefined, unconfined, in flux.

Maybe I'll go dancing tonight.


On Taking Solo Walks

Bay and bridge view

 

Sometimes when I’m walking I feel as though I’m standing in place. The joggers whiz by at their pounding pace; cyclists careen past, occasionally with an “On your left,” but generally just the sudden sight of the cyclist in front of me, already receding into the distance. Then there are the people coming toward me, once I notice them, it is as if we switch into slow motion, the distance between us closing like molasses, slowing down until, somehow, there is the nod and pass. Looking down at my feet and the path beneath me (which I do when engrossed in my thoughts or a podcast since Poops passed away in December, so that now I am no longer a part of his sniff-and-pee style of walking), I miss much of the scene around me.

Is there always a trade-off: being introspective or being observant? Do I need both close-to-home and look-at-that! solo walks to maintain my equilibrium? Probably, since we learn over time, don’t we, how to regulate our lives so we can be comfortable in ourselves.

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The first walks that I took by myself were, ostensibly, to find a place to read outside, but as I realize now, they were just to get out. An un-understood drive to wander, to be in the fresh air (NYC-fresh that is), to be unconfined, to be alone—unreachable.

While there were plenty of benches and greenery outside of the apartment building I grew up in, there was no privacy. If there’s anything an introverted, self-conscious, bookworm needs, it’s not to be noticed. And sitting outside reading would not be noticed with great admiration from the neighborhood kids, especially the bullies who always seemed to be around. So onward I went.

Perhaps if I had grown up in a house where I had my own corner in the garden I might not have needed those walks; I might have been content to sit on my stump to read and daydream. I don’t think I regret that loss; how much of a homebody would I be if I were content to just sit on my balcony full of potted flowers and herbs overlooking a church and a graveyard?

There was a bay (Little Neck Bay) about a mile from my house. I generally went there on my walks. Having a view without cars and buildings and people is what, I realize now, propelled me there. While there was the Cross Island Parkway on the other side of the path, I could keep my eyes focused on the water and the sky, and I could pretend that the sound of the cars racing by were waves and wind. It was the vista of space that I needed. My destination could have been to wander my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods, examining homes and gardens with their distinct personalities, but that suggestion of people wasn’t what I needed. It’s fascinating how we uncover what we need—and how, sometimes, that thing stays with us. I needed a water view with its hint of distant worlds. I still need a water view. It is for me a glimpse at whatever is divine in the universe; my visual connection with the immensity of existence.

Once I learned how to drive, I would drive to Jones Beach. Depending on traffic (a phrase anyone from a city uses to preface driving information), it took about 40 minutes to get there. But it was worth the drive. I wouldn’t go in the summer when the traffic was crazy and the beach towel-to-towel, but off-season to walk, to be. The waves broke and the wind blew ceaselessly off the Atlantic Ocean, drawing me both in and out—wondering, and I was at peace. Not an acquiescent peace, rather a peace that inspires a foundational confidence that the future would hold more than the present.

When I lived in Israel I had my walks along the Mediterranean Sea, which often combined with a swim and a drive. They were not solo, they were a part of my relationship with my ex-husband, and they helped to establish our rhythm and belief that we were in sync. Maybe if we had stayed close to those shores things might have unfolded differently?

Now that I live in Northern Virginia I have my walks along the Potomac River. Although they don’t match the drama of walking along a bay, a sea, an ocean, my life, too, is more sedate, like a river. While my occasional Potomac walks settle my need for a water walk, the closeness of the opposite shore, so like where I stroll, hinders me from being inspired. That shore keeps closed something within me.

The nearest ocean walk is three-hours away, and there is always traffic.

Maybe I need the frustration, the thwarting, to stop my settling into a creeping capitulation. Maybe I don’t know what I need anymore, so accepting have I become of what I am. Maybe I reached a high tide, hoarding what I have, flourishing in my waters, expecting low tide, wondering what it will leave and what it will take.

 


Morning Waves of Envy

June 2017 Bronx Botanical Garden
Rose Garden, Bronx Botanical Gardens

 

I’m trying to figure out if I’m envious of my colleagues and friends who have recently entered into serious relationships, or if I’m just a good friend who’s happy for their happiness. The of-the-moment me, before my me-me-me thoughts intrude, jumps up and down for joy, echoing their abandon and confidence. Who could deny the sensuous pull of new love?

The cynical part of me, though, feels as would a woman in a long-term relationship (I had been in one of those; 21-years) who looks on with a haughty, bemused expression, thinking back to her own romantic beginnings and where they had led her. Wondering, as the weight of her accumulated grievances bring her down, how could anyone be so naïve.

But the part of me that’s a tad uneasy about being alone in the somewhat-distant future, when I start to fall apart inside and out, wishes that envy were at my core, driving me to actively seek out someone whom I could love for making me feel protected and adored. A stroke to the ego and a helping hand can’t be the worst things in the world, especially when I can imagine regret tearing at the edges of my days and a wobble as I steady myself for standing.

My bitter divorce (10 years next month!—unbelievable how time zooms), my brief manipulative relationships, and various bland dates should have cleared me from harboring envious thoughts, but, I realize sadly, they have not. I really do wish my thoughts were untainted, but, unfortunately, they aren’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to act on them, though, because my envy-penetrating walls still offer more comfort than unease.

As I see picture after picture of couples enjoying summer baseball games at stadiums around the country, I wonder, as I sit at my dining/writing table, about missing the opportunities that paired life seamlessly present. Again, envy prickles, because isn’t that, still, what I’m supposed to want. It’s hard to look past the social norm that summer vacation is to accumulate shared experiences, especially with a partner.

For a while now my purpose has been unmoored from that base, though still tenuously tethered to that ill-fitting norm, hence the creep of envy. But what if my purpose has morphed to ensure that I always have solitary breathing time and space from which the thoughts that nourish me propagate, and not for the activities and chatter. Perhaps the envy surfaces to force me to continually re-assess my stability and happiness. Perhaps it is not to unnerve me and push me toward abandoning my path, but rather to check in, to see if this is still right for me.

Looking at those paired smiles I need to invite the envy, not fear it, for I want my life to remain vibrantly my own. I need to anticipate that my perceptions may change and not shut them out, beyond my walls. For now, envy quickly fades back to sympathy, signaling that, for now, I am right where I need to be.

 


Balancing Act

Morning on Naples Beach  July 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it’s been a longer while since I’ve written anything other than from a solid core of disgust, anger, and disappointment. I’ve been trying to figure out how to function in this early-stage dystopian world that is pulling us down, but I haven’t succeeded—perhaps because I refuse to concede that this is our future. Still, it’s impossible to look away (even for two days at the beach in Naples, Florida), to pause in the cycle of read, react, watch, rant. But I’m finally getting to the point when I must let other thoughts and ideas develop and be sustained. It is not an abdication of my duty as a citizen. Rather, it will enable me to continue the drumbeat of resistance without being drawn into the silence of despair and inertia.

I’m doing my part, getting involved as much as I can within the limitations of my personality. I tried stretching myself, but there’s just so much elasticity in desire. Still, I am trying to rise to the horrible occasion of so much self-serving dishonesty and greed, and a monochromatic palette of hatreds. I know I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but I feel I must, especially since my writing mind generally veers into the personal, the contemplation of my life to understand myself and my world, and to, hopefully, help others along their contemplative paths. Since my guiding understanding has always been that if something interests me, concerns me, fascinates me, other people have those same curiosities; therefore, I feel I must state that just because my writing is not an endless howl at the pile-on of treacheries, that is not to say that I have acquiesced to acceptance. I am becoming the actions and voices that will enable me to resist and persist.

Alligator at rest


Weekend

20170508_135324
Along the Potomac River, between Mount Vernon and the White House

A nap,

A walk,

A piece of pie,

A slice of cake,

A pint of ice cream,

A bottle of beer,

A glass of wine,

A drama,

A comedy,

A documentary,

A novel—

It is never enough

There are never enough

Distractions

To forget.

 

How can I let myself

Even for a moment

Forget this man/these men

This ego/these egos

Their actions and policies

That destroy.destroy.destroy

With glee and arrogance.

 

My mind

Has become fraught

Aghast

Grieving, yet

Hoping

for a rationality that is more than

beseeching supplication.

 

When will it end!?

 

There are only momentary respites

From this reality.

How hard is it to live in a time

Of circus mirrors where everything is

Wrong/opposite!