Thoughts

Ordinary Day in Extraordinary Times

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It’s split personality time: half of me is doing my work and keeping the stove and washing machine busy, while the other half remains obsessed with the news and the latest outrages. It’s darn exhausting, but the groundedness means that I can’t get too overwhelmed, and that I don’t lose my connection to optimism, however tenuous. That optimism comes from the unshakeable belief that nevertheless, she persisted is a positive trait within enough of us to push back against the obscene absence of basic humanity in t- and the repubs who push the papers around that punish people for not being them.

Not being them. I fundamentally reject the attempt to reinforce the superiority of one group of people over the diversity within each of us. The insidious drive to undermine the independence and equality of the other never seems to be quelled, quieted perhaps, but not permanently conquered. What is it within man that finds it so difficult to share and try things at the neighborhood pot luck?

Yes, I admit, it’s scary to realize that there are situations wherein you are not the expert, and you are not in charge. It’s called maturing and, perhaps, developing compassion, a backbone, and experience that, if contemplated, can morph into wisdom. Is it really so hard to comprehend that some people have different customs and habits than you, and that that’s okay? You would think that it’s a natural part of growing up. These guys seem to have heard FDR’s statement that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as a call to give in to your fears, rather than to conquer them.

How hard is it to look someone in the eye who doesn’t look like you? That shouldn’t be on the fear scale, that should be on the hospitality scale.

I’m trying to understand fear that has long ago morphed into ugly hatred because what else can be at the core of their incessant campaign to cut away the rights of any other. But maybe I need to stop doing that. Maybe I need to stop giving hate space in my mind, and focus instead on the encouraging enlightenment that the resisters demonstrate. Let me switch my focus from those who prefer to deprive sustenance to those who thrive on providing succor. Let me remember the faces flush with promise at the Women’s March and not the berating scowls from behind podiums of testiness.

This in no way means that I will ignore the unfolding horrors, because I turn on the news and read the news, but I will rejoice in the emails of petitions and meetings to collaborate because we have our guiding sentiment: “Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have” (Margaret Mead). Caring cannot be debased into supporting corporations over people and the earth, nor the already supremely entitled to have even more entitlements on the backs of those who are burdened.

This call to action that so many have answered is the valid response of the compassionate; it will not be debased by commenting that people won’t accept the outcome of the election. As we call out at rallies: “This is what Democracy looks like.” It is not disgruntled; it is enlivened by the lives of this and future generations, not the transitory glee in defeating those who have already been pushed down. It is, isn’t it, the all too present battle of the haves and the have nots, the survival of the fittest, the law of the jungle. It is those jabbing the jugular vs. those living heart-to-heart. It is those who know all the answers vs. those who cannot know until they have heard, seen, felt, and learned.

At this time we each need to act, to not be bystanders who either know not what they stand for or are unwilling to defend or protect those beliefs, because silence is easily perceived as acquiescence, and the world that is thundering in threatens to still far too many of us.


Dress Like a Woman

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 Dress like a woman. The head reels from the insults of the little man in the White House. It should be hard to believe that a man still feels he can tell women to wear skirts and dresses, but we’re talking about a man who’s friends with guys who want to forcefully put an ultrasound wand up our formerly private parts and he wants to go there without a wand—and he’s buds with guys who think a rapist has more rights than the woman he raped. We’re talking about a man and his guys who know better than us weak women what to wear and what to do with our own bodies. What’s with the insatiable need to control people? Can they all be so very insecure and consumed with their own importance that they can’t give a woman a smidgen of respect?

UGH.

This rant is on a loop.

Dress like a woman. The images in Twitter of female scientists, astronauts, doctors, soldiers, Supreme Court justices, and simply women walking are inspiring. Ah, the biting humor. Reminds me of the Women’s March on Washington two weeks ago, and those signs, which, clearly, didn’t have an impact on the small-handed/minded man. Or maybe it did. Maybe he needs to lash out to make sure that at least he can control the women in his little sphere, because outside of the White House (which, by the way, is ours) none of us is putting on panty hose or spanx for him. (Maybe he wants to wear them himself?)

Dress like a woman. Growing up I had to wear dresses all the time. Dressing like a girl back in the 60s and 70s. How I hated tights and the suffocating feeling of my body being encased in plastic. Dresses just made me uncomfortable; I’m naturally of the Pantsuit Nation. Is it that a woman appears to be submissive when she wears a dress? Or is it that she’s conforming to a norm? Enough already. Its 2017. Conformity has taken a hit.

Dress like a man. What’s with mean man telling the men who work for him that they need to wear a uniform: solid color suits and ties, and (this must be a rule too) white shirts. (Are brown shirts next?) Is no one allowed to be an individual around him? Does he need to subvert all sense of self to himself?

Dress like a woman. Which is doublespeak (finally America has an official second language) for act like a woman. Why? What’s in it for me? I was married to a man who knew he was smarter than me and was always trying to tell me what to do. (I thought we had discussions; I was delusional.) When I couldn’t take it anymore and finally said NO, he was stunned. But the mutual shock of that moment flipped the order of things. I was in control (okay, I won’t exaggerate four years of agony after that moment), but it stopped the fall of my self-esteem. This is our NO moment. We have taken it for far too long to back down now. There is no place to go back to. It’s not safe there because it led us to here. Only ahead, into the future we create may we each find what we need. We tried to play the game, we played nice, too nice, but we have been stymied at every turn—and that last glass ceiling that’s been cracked and artificially held in place, that’s temporary.

Dress like a woman. I have a friend who wears the tiniest of thongs. I’m partial to cotton briefs. Is she more of a woman than me?

Dress like a woman. When you figure out that women are individuals intent on being their own selves and not a prop for your ego, you can find me in my hot pink sweats.

I know there are other offenses that have been tweeted, spoken, and signed this past week, but this insult to women is such a button to me. The verbal appeasement of Vlad and the throwing under the bus of every American who has tried to protect this country is so astonishing that it’s hard to figure out what to grasp onto other than: this man is his ego, and that’s not a solid thing. For all his bluster, we must be relentless—until he begs us to take him to the place where they have a nice pair of solid-color fuzzy pajamas with very long sleeves waiting for him.

 


Just Let Us Be

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I am sick of seeing the bland, pasty faces of middle-aged white men making seething-red decisions for us women. This has got to stop.

I know we marched, and we’re energized and mobilized, but underneath that power is the sickening, demoralizing sentiment seen in some signs at the Women’s March: “I can’t believe we’re still protesting this sh*t.”

Right now, after seeing the scotus pick, I need to howl and howl and howl, and howl some more until these boys without b*lls turn and look into the eyes of us women.

How I wish we could mean nothing to them so they would just leave us alone. I don’t want to be an object of desire and projection, I don’t need protection by / from them, just let me be.

We don’t need you. Deal with it.

Stop the pandering, the pampering, the patronizing.

Just stay in your boys’ club doing boy things and let us be. Let us get on with our lives and I promise we won’t make jokes about, well, you know.


I Marched for Women in DC

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"Hello 1955? Please hold for the Republicans." 

What a day of celebrating women, especially our feistiness! You’ve got to love the creators of the clever signs and hot pink pussy hats that turned the streets of DC Amazonian. Ladylike subtly had no place on those streets that reverberated with pent up frustrations of women of all ages, and the men who respect us. We might have burst out in smiles and humor and camaraderie against the sexists we’re fed up, but underlying it all was the giving and taking of support and understanding for what we have put up with to reach this point. We are fed up and fired up! Our votes weren’t enough, so now it will be our actions, starting today, as so many of the speakers stressed.

At 8:00 Saturday morning when a good friend and I met up with a woman I worked with this summer to register voters in Northern Virginia and a close friend of hers, we were two pairs of friends. Six hours later, when we hugged goodbye at the same Metro station where our day had begun, we were March Friends who stuck together through the chill, the confusion, the crowds, and the certainty that this was an historic moment we were proud to be part of.

At various times through the day, one of us was cold and needed to sit, tired of standing in one spot and needed to walk, wanted to get closer to the speakers to hear clearly, and just wanted to go home. We were a team that took care of each other, balancing our needs so that we each had the march we needed. It wasn’t just being nice, it was true womanly solidarity, and it came from how we helped each other, and how everyone around us supported each other too. There were hands to help us climb over barricades when we couldn’t enter into the mass of people in Independence Avenue and there were shared cheers that helped momentarily expel the gnawing shame and pain of the new president. Those cheers! Apparently, I have quite the voice to be heard, as my newest friend in the group noted during one early rising wave of cheers that rolled down the avenue. I heard no beginning and no end. It kept rolling.

When it was time to go home, we walked quite a bit (making it another part of the march) to find an open Metro station. But just as we were about to go down the stilled escalator, a Metro rep said that the station had just been closed. A woman called out to ask him what was happening and when would it open again. No response. He was mute, taping away on his phone. Then, when a man called out and asked the same question, there was a response. It could have been the timing, and it could also have been the fact that the officer's ears were attuned to hearing a man’s voice and answering it. The woman who had asked, all of us women, was having none of his dismissiveness—not on our day! Feet away from a march for women and the same ole was happening. We know why we march!

It’s funny in a sad, way-of-the-world sigh that as I sit here thinking about the day, I realize that there wasn’t a moment when I felt unsafe walking around the march area or when I felt that I couldn’t look directly into a person’s eyes without being assessed, ranked, rated, catalogued. My goodness, it was ennobling not to have to look down or away after meeting someone’s eyes. We could meet and be met heart-to-heart.

My first realization of this insight came when we stood jammed on the street waiting to go down to the Metro. I said aloud, to understanding nods, that I didn’t have to worry (about being groped or pushed against—we all knew what I was talking about) with so many women crowded together as I would have been if there were more men around. So that’s what men must feel every single day: unintimidated and unsexualized. A feeling that all women deserve to experience every single day. A powerful reason to march and keep on marching!

The march certainly was in stark contrast to what we’re fighting against, which was pretty darn clear in the signs: a misogynist, p*ssy grabber who would have us go back to the 1950s when white men ruled the roost, from home to House. But we are not going back there! Didn’t you see us march around the world in protest to that!

We March Friends, the four of us and beyond, will not be divided from our mission. Our hopes for our first woman president were stolen from us. We see that we have each other to depend on—and we need to act on that, and reach out to the women who could not envision what a positive thing a sea of pink could be. And you know what they say about women: their place is in the House and Senate, and White House too!

Onward, marching to action.


It Really Happened

 

At noon today, inauguration day, I heard a jet fighter shudder through the air above my apartment in Northern Virginia. It was, I immediately realized, the ominous sound of bitter reality: the inauguration of t- was happening.

I am sad, angry, disappointed, and shocked that that man has become president. But I don’t want to punish/push myself deeper into a depressed daze by thinking of all the negatives that led to this moment, or about the repulsive bigot-in-chief, or about the devastation coming. All the blaming and hostility I will leave to people who can accomplish something with those insights and outrage. This will be a moment to reflect on how I can filter my thoughts and hopes into reverberations that might join with others to turn back this tide propelled by blindered, arrogant egos.

From within my woman’s brain and my “we are a village and we must take care of each other” perception of the world, is my strength, which was, ironically, strengthened through my divorce from a man with one of those narcissistic egos. An essential lesson from that marriage-divorce experience is that persistence in the belief that I would not put up with being directed or belittled (once I realized what was happening), and once I adhered to that I was able be the safe, content, and unimposed woman I am today.

Which is, it seems, where we need to start our perceptions with t & co. These are not leaders who deserve respect for their grasp of an issue, or even their compassion and desire to do right by people and the earth, even if we disagree with them. These are people who bully and order others around, unconcerned with damage and destruction as long as their will is done. The “my way or the highway” types. They are the bullies and they will push us around, as my ex did to me. But I didn’t remain limp: we didn’t even start out limp! As people have rightly done, we need to rise up. Each in his/her way. Raindrops coming together to create a storm, a river: movements.

By relentlessly believing in our causes, pushing back, pushing against, refusing to surrender is the way to win back democracy from encroaching authoritarianism and t & co.’s desired erosion of our rights.

We cannot be bystanders.

I might not be up to running for office or leading an organization or group beyond myself, but I can be one of those voices that rises up to create thunder sonorous enough to drown out a fighter jet.

Yes to calls and emails and petitions. Yes to visits. Yes to questioning and investigating. Yes to mocking! Oh, how those big egos hate to be mocked—to not be perceived as above us all. Yes to continuously saying NO!

YES TO VOTING in every available election. The system, we see, must be changed from within. From within us.


Done with Make-up

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About a month ago, I stopped wearing make-up. It wasn’t as if I threw away an array of bottles and tubes, and then rethought my look and retooled my morning routine. Nope, I threw out one tube of mascara, one blush compact, one eye shadow compact with eight shades of brown and beige, and one green eye shadow compact. It wasn’t even done as a protest against make-up (kind of obvious with the number of items I had; anyway, I had already made that protest in my teens) and how we women are made to think that we cannot be without adjustments and alterations. My act was to prevent even more chemicals seeping into my body. In the month since that act, I have become surprisingly relaxed and comfortable about my appearance—and this from a woman who had already been pretty relaxed. (What a joy to be middle-aged!)

I’ve stopped leaning into the mirror to critique myself. I’m not looking to find what needs to be hidden (except the “occasional” chin hair to be plucked), even with my minimal tools, or to declare the dullness of my looks, casting a pall upon my mood even before my day has started. Nope. I’m not looking for—and, of course, finding—signs of age, stress, lackluster features, a general discontent reflected back at me. Getting rid of make-up has helped me to stop worrying about interpreting my visual self and then to, seamlessly, infuriatingly, depressingly, impute that upon my internal, unseen self. And, if I’m not worrying about how I look, then I’m not worrying about what other people think about how I look, and so I can simply prepare myself for my day.

That ease has transferred to my clothing. As my make-up was utilitarian, so too are the clothes in my closet. Thinking back on this past month, I find that I have focused more on how I want to feel, and, logically, the weather, rather than on how I want to present myself. I’ve cut myself loose from external guidelines and expectations, and it’s been darn good. It’s as if I’m living my internal life externally.

Perhaps this has been my reaction to the election: my discomfort with the world and this pervasive sense of doom and uncertainty have led me to strip away the non-essentials. Perhaps a world that seems focused on the external, the barely thought, the quick assessment and denigration of others, is one in which I can protest simply by centering within and honoring myself, and use that as a deep base from which to face those perceptions. Perhaps this is a way to not allow the ugliness in; to protect myself from words and demeanors that degrade. Perhaps this non-compliance with a norm is a step in undermining its weight—I will not allow external entities to evaluate me.

This is the way forward.

This protective action that, for me, seems to be a proclamation against the misogynists and people who “simply” think men are more/better than women. I continue to stand against their misguided interpretation of strength, independence, interdependence, and what it means to be beautiful.

And I call out to women and men to join me. Each woman should take a step in/out that affirms that she will not be defined or sidelined. And each man should look in/out for echoes of thoughts and actions that belie a paternalistic interpretation.

It’s absurd that we’re still at a point where pernicious, belittling attitudes toward women hold sway. It’s absurd that men still let themselves be bridled by a confidence that is not theirs, but on which they ride.

It’s time to cast aside prohibitive stereotypes and embrace feminism, for it seems that our well-being and that of our world depends on it.

Yes, all that from not wearing make-up. 


Hanukkah, or Defying a Government that Oppresses You

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Potato latkes and jelly donuts might be the oil-soaked foods of Hanukkah celebrations with a hefty side of chicken soup and brisket, and dreidel may be the game of choice (who doesn’t want to win chocolate gelt), but in essence this festival of lights (WOOHOO!, the oil lasted eight days instead of one which enabled the temple desecrated by the Romans to be rededicated nice and pure again) is another Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews surviving an attempt to suppress us and our religion, and if that didn’t work, well, then, let’s try to kill all the Jews. It’s a We Survived holiday!

At around 168 BCE, the Jews survived this onslaught brought about by the Syrian-Greeks and their Roman overlords.

And then there’s Purim, when we survived the ancient Persians. Let’s send gifts of food, eat hat- or ear-shaped cookies to celebrate the defeat of a very bad bad-guy, Haman (noisemaker noises here), and drink too much in celebration of surviving!

And there’s Passover, when we survived the ancient Egyptians. Let’s recount the miraculous slavery-to-freedom story and then eat plain matzah, matzah balls, and fried matzah for eight days in celebration of getting out!

Then there are the non-celebrated cycles of expulsions and pogroms from here, there, and everywhere. Existence itself is the bittersweet celebration. Thank goodness for heavy post-survival recipes from pre-assault days to dull the memories!

We live. We suffer. We pray. We rebel, we refuse, we relocate. We survive. We thank God. We eat.

It’s a horrible cycle that had seemed as if it was coming to an end. It seemed that, somehow, people had risen above the visceral hatreds—after the ultimate display of hatred—that stoke the dank recesses of the soul. Yeah, no.

But I’m not thinking only about antisemitism now, now in this time of rising anger against any “other” (including, of course, why not, the Jews) but rather of the stokers who live to incite and reap (what? what do they reap?). I’m thinking of how we can heed history as it has been forced upon Jews and how we can help understand how not to be crushed by history.

Emperor. King. Pharaoh. President. Sovereign. Tsar.

They have all taken power from us, the hands that feed them. We, the human trampoline, from which they yield so much fun fun fun in the guise of power and property.

Can we Jews be a lesson to the world about the everlasting survival from—and, unfortunately, of—Fear and Hate in their tightly wound package that explodes to suppress all resistance to the complacent uniformity it demands so as to filter out and renounce respect and compassion—and with it the hope for something more than timorous survival. Because that’s what I see here: the rise to power of those who serve no one but the self, as opposed to those who find power within the communion of people for the good of all. This Them versus Us is the rise of I KNOWers versus We THINKers.

Why can’t the lesson from the cycle be to try to prevent the pain of survival? Why not try with all our concerted efforts to prevent the destruction from which, we pray, survive?

I refuse to cede mind or future to people whose passion is acquisition of control and usurpation of rights. This is not tikkun olam, improving/repairing the world, this is destroying the world—what entity could sanction or reward that? They want to take away education, healthcare, financial security, clean air and water, freedom of speech and religion, a woman’s sovereignty over her body. This is not disagreement, this is attempting to supplant my right to live—to breathe freely (physically and psychically). We must try to prevent the need to rise up from the ashes; we need to thrust against plans and ideas that mangle bodies and souls. We must be the true majority: the People who believe in and live with compassion. We need to call on and out all supposed leaders, demanding that they refuse to compromise or placate or play the politics game on our backs. This is not wait and see, this is learning from history that rulers do not share unless forced to.

I don’t want a special treat (I envision, though, a long-cooking stew with a dollop of bitter cream and a garnish of crumbled Bugles) and game (find the hidden treasure, only to find it composed of things the other players took from you and each other during previous rounds) to celebrate survival. No, I want our voices rising and our votes cast from now until this travesty has been declared an impotent failure and a sign of all that is wrong, and then to keep calling out until we are the government that is of, for, and by we, the people whose concerns are for each of us and not the feigned righteousness of a few.

The Woman’s March on Washington on January 21 is a start. I’m going and will be helping out. I hope to see you there: Women's March on Washington. And if you can’t make it to DC, think about joining a local march. Voices rising!


Let Shrillness Ring

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This is for my student who wrote “rape won”;

for my daughter who thought sexism was dead;

for the girls who deal with boys being boys;

for the sluts we are for having a woman’s body.

 

Let our shrill voices rise and spread until they are heeded directives.

Let our bitchiness thrive until it is the norm that is no longer placated and silenced.

 

Don’t try to soothe us: we are beyond appeasement.

We don’t want your condescending advice dictated in superior tones.

We are not the vessels of your perverted visions;

We are

Not of you

We are of ourselves and the people who respect

Our bodies

Our minds

Our moods

swinging

Our stubbornness.

 

We are the pinpricks of conscience you feel, but don’t acknowledge.

You don’t know this, but

we mock you and your need to control and limit—

for we rise and thrive past your oppression,

but you, you are tied to it—constricted by the emptiness of your own binds.

 

Each of us is

a fountain that cannot be contained;

a decision that banishes naysayers;

an emotion that unites;

propelling us forward—past the misogynists

and into the respectful reality we envision for ourselves

and each other.

 

Ours is a vision that cannot be crushed:

united together

woman women.  

 


Sharers and Shearers

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I have no plan; it seems, though, that this is the time to join with others who are planning to resist and resist and resist. I will sign petitions and send emails. I will gather to stand for our rights not to be trampled under the feet of the arrogant. I will be part of wells of justice that counter walls of hatred. I will not be undermined by wallets stacked with bills of perversion. I will share what comes from my place of strength. These are my intentions.

In the middle of the night I awaken with my jaws clenched. I am trying to understand, but I ache and cry tears of fear and disgust.

These are my pronouncements.

I am proud to be a woman who cares about other women and their ability to support themselves, and take care of themselves and their children.

I am proud to be Jewish, raised on a foundation of working to make the world better and safer for Jews and all oppressed people.

I am proud to have come from New York City, where we respect each other and understand that we have bonds that join us and create interdependence even if they are forged in the steamy subways of summer.

I am proud to be part of the tide that has turned Northern Virginia from red to blue—still—and where the immigrant population has made this a restaurant haven where we appreciate new flavors and ways of interpreting the world.

I am proud to teach in a school were students generally see differences, not as dividing lines between people but as something to respect and be curious about.

Call me a bleeding-heart liberal. Call me an out-of-touch coaster.

SO

I feel for people with no plans or prospects.

I feel for people who want the past to be the present.

I feel for people who agonize over the choices women make for their bodies.

I feel for people who are discomforted by same-sex love and gender fluidity.

I feel for people who rage over their lost foothold on the societal totem pole.

SO

It’s hard to care when in return your ideals get trammeled.

BUT

Right now I have no desire to understand or excuse people who live lives distorted by anger, shame, demands, or bitterness and won’t accept another person’s reality. It should not be you or me, there should be an overlapping space of compassion where support is understood to be better than destruction.

Perhaps I cannot accept a worldview in which people are only concerned about themselves.

I don’t want to comfort myself by saying this seems to be a battle in the eternal war between the sharers and the shearers (together with those who serve the shearers even when they themselves are being sheared).

This is my call and cry to myself, to those who sing in my choir, and to those who have not heeded our songs.

No to hindering and bullying. No to oppression and suppression.

This is my constructive call to action to honor each person’s desire for fulfillment and purpose. This is my plan.


Pins, Shields, and Smiles

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I speak for myself.

My thoughts are mine.

My rants are mine.

My interpretations are mine.

Long may they remain so.

I am still too upset to listen to other people’s verbal rants; I can only focus on hearing my anguish anger mortification. This election is beyond my capacity to make positive assumptions about someone else’s mind and experiences. There is no pass into sympathy or understanding for people who would prefer that millions of us would shrivel, body and mind, and vanish from this country (earth?) to make it more pleasant for themselves. Those who voted for tboy are terrorists since their goal is to scare people with their insults, chants, messages, symbols, and acts of hate and intolerance. –

I must breathe and think, and act.

I’m still hopeful that each vote cast will count and Hillary will become president.

I’m not sure what to do.

It’s as though time stands still. How is it that the election was almost a month ago? How is it that I have learned of so many self-serving hypocrites intent on harming so many people in such a short amount of time from their lofty perches atop piles of our money? 

I’m unable to focus my contemplations on my singular life. There is no safety and comfort in keeping to myself—there is the maw of history that must be confronted and shut so we are not swallowed into yet another evil cycle of death by discrimination. Had we really thought that we finally transcended this historical cycle?

The day after the election a student wrote “Rape Won.”

Three weeks after the election and the rape she referred to—the rape of women’s bodies by a misogynist who has never suffered the consequences of his actions—has expanded to feel as if the world we are stepping into is one suffused with the violence of attack and invasion. Rape of body and soul and hope.

But it must not be so. We must resist and fight and light the paths around us. But what of the prevalence of date rape: of people we know attacking us, taking advantage of us, abusing us, violating all that we are. How do we get them to hear our cries if they were so easily tantalized by the slick poison of tboy?

How is it that people are talking about the economy?

How does that matter?

How does your wallet matter when people are carelessly, brazenly demeaned and treated with disdain, as if their bodies and minds are not worthy of concern and care?

When we learn of the reasons for World War II, we can understand the economic pressures, but not when we learn of the Holocaust. There is no explaining the ravages of ancestral hate.

When people try to understand terrorism they like to point out the paucity of hope and means that shapes people. But enough studies have been done to show that to be a lie. Perhaps there is always this battle of good and evil because the scales of fear (of losing what one has/is/perceives) are easier to tilt than it is to uphold the weight of compassion. Yet that is where action needs to take place—not against those intent on holding our heads under water, but to support those dog paddling alongside us in the same pool of bile.

It is a fight for, by going against.

I will wear my Jewish star (which in Hebrew means David’s shield) to show that I will not censor myself nor will I be intimidated so easily. I will also wear my safety pin (which I got from a bowl on a stone fence—inviting people to take so that they can announce themselves as safe spaces), and my Statue of Liberty pin (which I received at a synagogue, to indicate my welcome to immigrants, as our ancestors had once been immigrants). But I will probably forget to move them from on jacket to another. I know, though, that a pin is metal; it is not my heart. What I need to do is look into people’s eyes, and nod, and say hello. This is time to find and give comfort in reaching out to others who fear for their present and future, and not just retreat inward.

Now is the time to say lalalalalalalala over hate and the haters, and to say hello to those who may be fearful or anxious—again, still, or for the first time. A step. An action. No sign-up or donation required (but those too). It seems like a start. It should have been a continuation, but aren’t we always learning. Connection is the antidote to derision.

 


The Gift of Memory

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When I speak, words sometimes hide behind opaque curtains. Words like sank, orthodontist, and Las Vegas, suddenly play hide-and-seek. They are far enough away to require covering up the disappearance with another word, but close enough to reach minutes or seconds after the required moment. This stop-and-go aspect to memory is a fear mongerer. These words should be immediately accessible—I think them, they are there, spouting forth—thought and speech simultaneous. But should that demand be re-evaluated? Can I excuse myself by saying that I have so much stored in my memory by now that I can expect some things to slip out of their at-my-fingertips compartments? Does that excuse matter when worry overshadows explanation?

A few weeks ago I started a new school year with approximately 160 new students. By now I know most names, first and last. I push to pride myself on that accomplishment rather than the slippages. But still, I can’t forget that they happen, and what the disappearances may augur.

Those momentary loses sometimes extend beyond words to cover thoughts. Whole ideas imagined or read disappear. Pouff! Lost amid untold layers of crumbled careless thoughts. They are retrieved, some after focus, others after online searching.

It’s easier to deal with the small age spots that have appeared on my hands (six on the right and seven on the left) in a purely observational manner, but my memory, my mind—it is who I am. Perhaps it’s just menopause and the curtain will draw back soon, held by its ties, and all will be well. But as things go, these momentary lapses themselves will never disappear into a memory lapse, they will always incite fear, whether the word bank of temporarily lost words grows or remains contained.

Another wrinkle to my memory game is that I teach five classes of the same subject and they are all, more or less, on the same schedule. So, within a couple of days I need to repeat myself five times. Even with all my memory systems in place, it’s hard to remember to which class I already cracked my joke about how I dislike orthodontists because they don’t have afternoon hours and every student with braces (and it seems that it’s all of them) misses morning classes to accommodate their orthodontists’ golf schedules and not their patients’ school schedules. As much as I try to remember who I tell what to, at some point I sound like my 82-year-old mother telling me for the umpteenth time about how she freezes the dark meat of her Costco rotisserie chickens.

In and of itself forgetting a word or two isn’t a horrible thing, but this fear of Alzheimer’s and dementia is more powerful than the fear of other illnesses and diseases because for me words, through which I express myself and make my living, are supreme. My body might rebel against this hierarchy, but time to read has always been more important than time to exercise.  

Each time I lose and then find a word, I experience the dip and then rise of my confidence because I did remember the word. That is until I speak to a younger colleague who looks at me with horror when I tell her that “drowned” wouldn’t get out of the way for “sank.”

Sometimes when I talk I can feel the words tumble out at an ever so slightly slower pace to accommodate a brief pause newly needed for my words to catch up to my thought and then tumble out, under supervision. As a fast talking former New Yorker, this slower pace might not be a bad thing for the people who listen to me, but it troubles me. I want to be a non-agerian who is lucid even when her hair is coiffed high to hide its paucity and I’m wearing lady diapers.

My daughters hate to hear about these moments, so I have stopped telling them. They need me to be their focused, reliable mother who is the foundation upon which they depend, not a wavering mother unable to offer the solidity they need. I am their family, and I take that responsibility as seriously now that they can legally drink or smoke pot as when they were babies learning to sit and I would put pillows behind them so they wouldn’t bang their heads on the hard tile floors when they wobbled backwards.

I try to remember the lost word fast and hold onto it. But what of the words to come?

I never had a strong memory. Forgetting the book I just read as soon as I finished reading it. Forgetting the address of the place I last lived. Forgetting people’s names. But that felt like a normal part of my identity. Laura with the bad memory. A word, though, isn’t something to forget; it’s not hidden on a shelf in an inner bookcase, it’s an integral part of the language of my life. These lapses are personal.

It’s not just a missing thought, it’s the momentary fog that hovers over the well of memory.

Besides the fear of what may be, there is the realization that what is must shake me from any casual (to its border with flippant) attitude about life. It’s not that I need to go on a week-long raft trip or learn how to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel, but burgeoning from within is a heightened degree of acceptance, respect, sanctity, joy, peace. A litany of words generally reserved for greeting cards, but they are the potpourri through which I have begun to breathe.

It may be anxiety that has caused me into an awareness of the finiteness of life. But it is what has made me realize that I do not dread not accomplishing what I dream of, but that I won’t be the person I could be. The woman who is guided by and exudes acceptance, respect, sanctity, joy, peace.

The bucket list, something I have always found offensive but wasn’t sure why, now I understand why. It is all about achieving and having. Of seeing life as a shopping basket. I’m starting to work on my Be List: how I want to be, whether or not I remember the word …pail… something…


Why Date?

Cherry tomato

The last of the cherry tomatoes growing on my balcony.

It’s been a while since my ex-husband ruined my life. So long ago, in fact, that sometimes I think about how his life has been ruined and feel sorry for him, and not in the pitying vindictive way people imply when they mention karma.

The years of shredding my self-confidence have faded, leaving behind the dullness of disappointment. In him. In myself. Making me, not quite regret, but wonder about what might have been if we had caught ourselves before bitterness seeped into the solitary spaces of a marriage between opposites.

The impact, though, is on far more than the lost possibilities in our joint past; it is in my resistance to wanting to have a relationship today.  

I tell friends that there are no men to meet, that no men attract me, and I joke about the men online (who start each sentence of their profile with “I,” and have manly pictures on motorcycles, and refer to women as girls, and write about wanting to impale a woman’s mind into his mind to discover something worthwhile). And about the men who make it past that hurdle to a date [there were the guys with whom I barely made it through the complementary one hour of conversation; the antisemite who thought he was going to score; the guy who brought his own teabag to Starbucks (not because he was a tea snob, but so he could just pay for his cup of hot water); the guy who didn’t believe in evolution (he made it to date five and sex before this revelation); and the married guy whose wife had a brain tumor who left (after paying the bill) when I was in the bathroom, sick from attempting to drink two lemon drop martinis]. I even comment, in a completely judgmental way, to my mother that when I look at my friends’ husbands, there is not a one who, in other circumstances, would entice me. Nice men, but not the man for me. She, being a supportive mother, states the same about her friends’ husbands.

Notwithstanding my objective lack of success, I wonder if there is a subjective element that bars me from meeting the/a man. Perhaps the question isn’t Why haven’t I met someone, but—with a slight shrug—Why would I want to meet someone.

The last time I was in a relationship was more than four years ago, with Kenny, who lived with me and my younger daughter for a year and a half. He said he loved me with all his heart and would do anything for me. Anything, it turned out, but make me happy. In that relationship I was increasingly stifled by his need to be acknowledged and loved in the ways that suited him. Which, not surprisingly, inevitably meant his disappointment in something I did or did not do in accordance with his desires, which, of course, made his love for me “better” than my love for him. I will freely admit that I ignored his request to wear dresses when we went out. Even if I liked wearing dresses, which I don’t (and he could have seen that in our closet), that was a huge invite for me to definitely not wear a dress even if I felt like it. Why is it so difficult for men to understand one of the thickest redlines they should not cross with a woman (it can’t just be me) is to tell her what to wear. I got the petulant silent treatment for wearing pants.

My reaction to his suggestion/demand shouldn’t have been a surprise because during our long conversations, when he was living in Beirut and then Belfast, I would tell him how harmed I had been by my husband’s controlling ways. He had been so understanding and supportive. He knew that I was dealing with the residual pain of insults and put downs, of my desires deemed wrong or inappropriate, and my need to not be curated.

So his man-structing was unexpected and devastating.

When we argued, I couldn’t leave the room because of his fear of abandonment. But what of my need to be alone and think so as not to immediately lash out? Being told that I needed to argue in a way that supported him was another redline too many. The relationship became as if on a continuum with how my husband had tried to control my actions and thoughts and emotions, or maybe it was worse because I had opened up to Kenny about retreating into self and how I was trying to not shut down.  

The best part of that relationship were the trips we took together. We would talk in the car, opening up our internal monologues as we drove along the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or along highways and backroads from Virginia to Key West and back again. We wanted to stop at the same time and try the same places, and we even needed pee breaks at the same time. We were in unison, at least on the road. But at home, his need to be taken care of, which had to be done exactly as he wished to prove my love and to prove that he was lovable, underpinned his declarations of love. I was increasingly reminded of how unhappy I had become in my marriage as I tried now to make him happy. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to take on someone else’s emotions.

If you’re not one of my daughters, then I don’t want to take care of you. (Except, maybe my mother, and I’m dreading that scenario.) And he did want to be taken care of. As did my ex-husband.

And I did it.

But I don’t want to anymore.

On weekends, I don’t want to think about what someone else wants for breakfast and I don’t want to try to anticipate his desires. And to be fair, I don’t want someone trying to cater to me.

My standing weekend desire for a soft scrambled egg with feta and fresh herbs from my balcony garden, right after I wake up and take Poops for his morning walk, and as soon as the coffee in the French press is ready, the bread toasted to a warm brown, every section of the newspaper available, and no talking required, is, frankly, why I don’t want to date.

Beyond the fear of being hurt and undermined again, lies the very basic question: What do I want out of my life?

Surely my inability to formulate a substantial why I should want to be in a relationship is a reflection of past failures, but I can’t help but dread that it would be more of a diversion from how I want to live and what I want to do, than a benefit. Do I want to be in a relationship just to have someone with whom I can travel or rehash the stresses of the workday? My inability to even perceive a relationship as a source of respectful, supportive love shows my state of being.

My two friends who date the most, and are in and out of relationships like my high school students, are also the ones with the most out-going personalities. Both of their lives center around doing, and not around contemplation (there are no books in their homes) or fulfilling an inner drive to create or express themselves. Perhaps relationships are their manner of expression.

I would rather sit by myself in an internal monologue than have a conversation, day in and day out, just to fill the time and play a role.

Am I missing the chance at a great love that will imbue my world with joy?

I had that grand romantic love when I was first with my ex-husband. I needed it then. He helped pull me out of myself and into the world. I was aglow; I bubbled. Now when I think about those years it occurs to me how intensely focused we were on each other. I can’t imagine wanting to narrow down my life again. If by some outrageous dating app algorithm that intensity of love at 22 were to revisit me, that insular quality of being part of a couple is not something I want to relive. An identity as part of a couple is not something for which I yearn.

I was married for 21 years; approximately 15 of those made the marriage worthwhile. So moments of envying people in marriages and relationships are quickly overridden when I realize that I prefer to be alone or with different friends, without limiting myself, then always having a partner, even if he is not physically present at that moment.

A life of placid contentedness is not a surrender, it is lake upon which I float or into which I plunge, knowing that no one will interrupt my daydreaming in the tub.  


I'm Back!

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It’s been a busy and sedentary year. I taught and I translated a book from Hebrew to English that took far more time and work than I thought it would. I also gave myself time to think about what I want to do in my non-work hours. It was my year to not challenge myself any more than I had already done. While I enjoyed it, I did feel a pull to do more, a pull that drew me back to writing, back to the way I interpret myself and my world, the way which, as the years of life have taught me, is where I need to delve so that I am not continually feeling I am missing something. It is not an activity that I was missing, it was the solitude and confidence to explore my meanings.

 

Those of you who are new here, welcome! Those of you who have been reading through my ups and downs, and contemplations, I hope you continue to find moments of clarity and connection through my writings, welcome back!


New Clothes

New sweaters

 

I was in a frenzy this morning: I needed to go clothes shopping. Originally I planned to wait until after school on Wednesday, but there are SALES and who knows how the prices will leap on Wednesday. One reason that I’m overweight is that I don’t deny myself some of life’s little pleasures (as if shopping for clothes when overweight is a pleasure, but it does enable me to envision myself in something other than my well-worn winter clothes that make me feel well-worn and overweight). This morning I took those oft-folded sweaters down from the top shelves where they had been relegated on the first sweaty day of spring, and practically wept imagining another year folded into those tired clothes.

I’m not exactly a high-end lady: I was at Old Navy before it opened. (Younger daughter has convinced me that I am not killing women in Bangladesh because I am not a wasteful shopper who treats clothes as disposable, but only shop when I need them—and I was in an extreme need situation.) But there was nothing to try on. My quest was for cardigans and button-down shirts: the clothes that fit my frame and make me forget my frame, thinking, occasionally, that I look good. Next, it was on to TJ Maxx.

When I was going through my divorce, I had pared down to black and white. There were no colors in my closet. Then there was my red phase: a post-divorce exuberance that even allowed a mustard yellow cardigan to enter my closet. But now it seems that I have settled into a very calm (depressing?) oatmeal and gray wardrobe. It’s not purposeful, it just seems to have happened. I stay away from black; I have decided that it’s a lazy non-choice choice. But, really, is gray any livelier? Or oatmeal? Blah and blah. Why is it that the only things that fit, don’t itch, and are not made of material that, let’s be blunt here, make me feel that my sweat glands think I’m working on a farm and not a classroom, come in those two color categories? It’s not so bad, I tell myself, at least it’s not white and black. 

With gray, I know this is hard to believe, there is rebellion. Growing up, gray was the big no-no because my mother’s mother worked in the fashion industry when it was still alive and well in New York City and the clothes made for display were gray, which is what my mother would sometimes get. So between her and my grandmother, there was a negative hand-me-down feeling to gray. I, as I am wont to do, have defied tradition. So gray is not dull, it is the color of personality.

I did try on some navy sweaters, but, really, is navy any more exciting than those other choices?

Patterns would be nice.

Yesterday I saw a woman wearing a dress in diagonal stripes of orange and white. It’s not nice to disparage someone else’s fashion choice, so I will merely say that if I had ever thought to wear diagonal stripes (horizontal was long ago listed as no-go), I am certain now to never even be tempted to touch a stripe of any kind—even if it’s really really discounted.

I tried some patterned blouses. But as I knew ahead of time, hence the search for cardigans and button-down shirts, they didn’t fit or feel right. They seem to allow a greater degree of roll-perception than my other fashion choices, and a woman is never more critical of herself than when a roll might be discerned, and a day in the mode is not a good day.

But I was successful: two cardigans, one oatmeal and one gray, although they are the same sweater in different “colors,” which feels wrong, but I know that I won’t have the energy to go shopping anytime soon so I told myself it’s okay, it’s better than the depression of constant repetition of a wardrobe from years gone by. I did get a gray over-sweater that seemed to hint, ever so slightly, that the wearer has a modicum of a sense of style.

Then it was home to put my new sweaters in my closet, pushing the old ones to the back.

Oh, I also got a big jar of Dead Sea bath salts, because soothing was necessary after that fun ordeal. 


My Other Selves

Potomac River

Lately I have met some of my alternative selves. Surprisingly, this has not upset me. It has actually made me happy to see how possibilities not taken would have worked out. At one time I would have decried the notion that there is another Laura out there, but time has made me realize that while we are all unique, we’re unique in groups of similarly unique people. I have found my sub-category of people.

Yesterday during lunch, a woman I met recently told me that she, too, went to Israel right after college. She said that she had considered joining the Peace Corps, but then found a program that brought Jewish people to Israel to do community work in development areas. If I had known about that program, I would have done it instead of the kibbutz program I participated in after college. At temple on Yom Kippur evening, I sat next to a woman who joined the Peace Corps right after college. She remarked that she had thought of going to Israel instead and how she sometimes wonders what her life would have been like if she had gone to Israel rather than to South America as a Peace Corps volunteer. I, too, had thought of joining the Peace Corps, but I went to Israel instead because I decided that I wanted to contribute my energies to the strengthening and development of Israel and the Jewish people. The three of us made a triumvirate of women with similar desires, but we each took a different step, yet we each could have lived the other’s choice.

Though I don’t know of their lives outside of our casual conversations, we also represented other life possibilities: married with children, divorced with children, divorced with no children. Kind of a basic mash of life choices and circumstances. At a glance, we seemed content, intelligent, engaged, down-to-earth women. Our possibilities seemed to have led to fulfilling lives.

But the Laura possibilities can also lead to hardship. A few months ago a friend told me about a friend of hers who, like me, had lived in Israel and married an Israeli. She stayed in Israel and got divorced there, while I got divorced in the US. As I had feared for myself if I had gotten divorced in Israel, this woman lost her children and, from what I understood, lived in very reduced circumstances because her ex managed to manipulate the system to his advantage—as I am sure would have happened to me if I had gotten divorced there. A bleak possibility that could have been my reality.

These peeks into possibilities have made me realize that I am living the life I am supposed to. I didn’t mess up by going to the wrong place, or studying the wrong thing, or marrying the wrong person. I lived out the paths of possibilities that were mine to take and forge into my fate.

As a person who seems to be constantly tainted by regret and envy, these meetings have been good for me. Those other choices seemed to have led to lives lived parallelish to mine. Sure, there could be Laura’s directing innovative companies and publishing bestsellers, but there is, I have finalized realized, a contentedness of self that has resisted pushing past the comfortable and known.

Choices are made and seemingly made for us. Yet, how we live with those choices defines us as much as or more than the choices themselves, for don’t the small daily decisions we make and live with represent us more than the biggies. Or, the biggies represent aberrations rather than the norm, and we always settle back into our personalities and the lives in which they can thrive. 

 


Summer Vacation Thoughts

University of Richmond

 

It is true that I am not as smart or funny or attractive as I had hoped. It is also true that sometimes I am almost as smart and funny and attractive as I imagined. What’s more, I am both more and less delusional than I would have expected. This is based on the assumption that this is normal, even the norm. Why is so much of self-perception based on delusions? And why does one’s perception of reality tend to team up with self-criticism? You just have to wonder what’s the point of introspection when you generally end up hauling yourself over simmering coals as opposed to placing yourself on a tacky pedestal. For every moment of self-flattery, there are the non-stop, non-subtle knocks of disapproval.

But who cares!? Who the curseword cares. Not me. I am freeing myself.

It’s time to crash the clown car of critique and live within delusion. What’s the harm in thinking I’m my best expression of myself? Is it really hurting anyone, even myself, if I refuse to bow down and place some cockamamie gilded goddess of perfection and leaning as the light of my light? I think not.

It gets tiring living in a two-tiered world, where one tier encourages others in confidence and aspirations, and the other confronts the self as if it is a criminal for eating and napping, and, generally, just being a woman who needs (nay, wants) to eat and nap.

Oh, but to convince myself that my little island is the best expression of myself even as the tide of aspirations ebbs and flows. How lovely that would be. Could be. Will be?

It gets tiring thinking that who you are is not enough. But if there was someone else I could have been, I would have been her by now. Perhaps if I honestly settle into this acceptance I can be as content as I tell myself I am. Perhaps then I will let myself realize that there is no purpose of life other than to live, and that it is enough. I could do without burdening myself into thinking that the only valid life is one that is saving the world, when I find it challenging enough just to go through the mail once a week.

The calm that enables the chastisement is pretty darn fertile because it is also the foundation from which actual accomplishments arise. Maybe not the ones I envisioned when I told myself who I am and can be, but actual accomplishments which, apparently, are the ones I’m geared to make.

This calm is the place from which I will head into my eleventh year teaching. And I’m excited to meet, challenge, and encourage new students. It continually confounds me that I discount my teaching and think it only a worthwhile enterprise to solve the problems we read about in the headlines. Instead of those angel wings that people tattoo on their backs, I need to imagine butterfly wings beating, not in a vacuum, but participating in some sort of People’s Nobel Prize of Humanity wherein we all do what we can to bring out and encourage goodness. 


Contentment Is a Place

Summer balcony

It is a beautifully blue June day with sunbeams graying the black floorboards, a slight breeze cooling the afternoon heat, children’s playground calls ringing out, and me, sitting on my chair, looking out / in. During this season of travel plans and gatherings, the ease of sitting and thinking without concerns and complications feels as luxurious as a Caribbean beach. It is not that I have had enough of seeing the sights of the world, but the solitude of mind is far gentler on my couch than meandering cobblestone paths alone while passing couples and families.

There is a way, I am coming to understand, to make insularity feel like the best alternative and not the only option. I rearranged my balcony to feel less rustic hut and more vacation bungalow. A rose plant, on sale because it needs TLC, is giving that to me by adding its brilliant red blooms to my assortment of practical herbs. The rhythm of a home-based retreat enables me to find only comfort and avoid those confrontations of self that, inevitably, call forth wonderings of lackings, and I realize, suddenly, that it is strength that I have crafted. Why wander lonely when I can sit comforted?

The other day I read an article that stated that it is better for one’s long-lasting sense of self and self-preservation to be content than to seek happiness, which, I assume we all know by now, is transitory. Sounds about right, but it does take a long time of seeking the high to realize that it is too dependent on others to ever be of intrinsic value. It also takes a long time to realize what one needs to be content.

A job I enjoy, at which I’m good and want to keep improving. Vacation time long enough to focus on what I need, which has narrowed down to time spent with words. Volunteer activities that I expect to bring me fulfillment and not just a pat on the back. Friends, in emails, on the phone, down a path, on the other side of a table, with whom my life has been woven into an enveloping fellowship. Body acceptance that finally enables me to go sleeveless. Family, essentially the three women—daughters and mother—with whom there exists a spirit of independence and dependence that makes me feel just the right amount of needed.

But still (and this has taken more days of introspection since that blue June day to understand) there is an emptiness. Does being content mean accepting the present for what it is and what it is not? Getting to this calm point has involved two major relinquishments: love and vanity. No expectation to meet a man and no expectation for writerly recognition. Two hard things to accept. But life does feel easier, even if that acceptance is, at times, overlapped with loss and regret. True contentment, then, must not be guided by willful ignorance, but by forthright acknowledgement.

I wonder why it takes half a lifetime to stop crying about what will not be. The power of wanting what we learn to want. The time it takes to honestly assess one self. It is hard, isn’t it, to realize that you are not who you want to be, but are merely who you are. Change is not always possible, and even if it were, who would you be—and for whom? Half a lifetime gives you time to look around, time to realize that you could not be another, time to nod we got this to the self, time to try stilettos and revert to flats. It takes time to fill a space with what seems necessary and to empty that space of what is not necessary. It takes time to sculpt a soul.


Allergies and Analogies

Ball in tree

 

I can finally open my right eye, but little pustules keep appearing on my arms, while the weeping ones give me hope that this plant v. Laura battle will eventually end. My face feels like a mask of dry, itchy skin pressing down, suppressing the breathing of my pores, sealing me in. Time and steroids and lotions and ice packs and antihistimines are doing their work, and it has only been four days, but this feeling of being incased within myself is haunting, disturbing. There are layers of me, but this outer layer presses down and in so doing takes control. There is no escaping the discomfort of feeling so aware of my irritated skin.

 

And while I focus on battling this invasion of poison ivy, I think about racism, poisonous racism, and I wonder if hate is a person’s poisoned outer layer or is it his interior, awash with receptors to toxins that permeate the outer layer.

 

We are told that we are not born with hate, that it is something learned, then why are we so darned good at hating—as if we are born to it? Perhaps there is a gene that enables us to transition from hate-free to hate-full. What could there possibly be within the supple limbs of a child, the contours of a lock of hair, the radiance of a smile that makes hate natural? Is hate a lack of spirit? Is someone who hates a person who is afraid of anything new, different, not the norm that he was raised within? Is it not so much a taught capacity, a learning, but rather a reflection of fear, an inability to survive—to trust—anything outside the known boundaries?

 

Is hate a poison that is always within, waiting to protect the self with a shell that scratches at those who come near? Are too many of us too innately the survivalist dependent on the tribal, afraid, innately, to test the self against / to present the self to the unknowns of people who are not like me? Do they need guns and weapons and manifestos because looking into someone’s heart might profoundly reveal that there was never a reason to stand separate.

 

My face feels unfamiliar to me. The skin that I obsessively moisturize is bumpy and tingles with an itchy dryness that cannot be moisturized away. I press ice to it, numbing the irritation.

 

The battle of good and evil.

 

The clash between love and hate.

 

This interminable space that separates fear from acceptance.

 

Summer. Another season.

 

Last night there was a pounding storm. Now there is oppressive sun and heat. And still my skin. And still to contemplate hate.

 

It must be deep inside: the sand that an oyster uses to create a pearl must be for us a switch that turns the self into a representation, a weapon. Could it be that in the interior of self we are so far removed from any degree of intelligence that we are only that ancient instinct for survival and all that does not mirror us is a danger? Is that a place where rationality dissolves and we seep back into the past beyond memory?

 

Perhaps hate, racial hate, hate of the other, anti-Semitism, actually shows that we humans have progressed from the dawn of pre-time because there are those among us who don’t differentiate and label and shun and pummel. Maybe the only thing positive about a murderous racial rampage is that the murderers and their apologists are over there, in the thicket of instincts, but there are those of us who cry in pain and sorrow and deep regret that we could not reach into that shell of hate to help them see that other is another word for neighbor. 


Not Regretting Regrets

Orchid blooming

An orchid that I received post-bloom a year ago and which, obviously, I have somehow cared for well-enough to rebloom. What a sense of accomplishment.

 

Apparently we are not supposed to live with regrets, as I became aware yesterday while loop listening to “No Day But Today” with its insistence that I “Forget regret—or life is yours to miss.” But how do you tell your personal documentary that events and people need to be eternally spliced? How do you stop a mind’s meanderings while driving down a straight road early on a Sunday morning? Which brings me to an important tangent: What is with songs nowadays that are barely disguised self-help lessons? I don’t want a song to tell me what to do; I just want to hear a few uplifting love stories that might bring on a memory, balanced with those that reveal the ugly churn of love into empathetic pain. Is that too much to ask for? Can songwriters keep the suggestions of their therapists to themselves and stick to harmonizing about love.

 

Has it always been like this? I don’t think so. I remember listening to the ache of love missing, present, and past, not this guidebook. And it’s wrong. Who wants to hear a 20-year-old spouting words of wisdom? If I wanted the words, I wouldn’t have taken a break from NPR. The same applies to older singers: I don’t want to know what you think of the world we live in; again, taking a break from that to listen to you.

 

Going back to that line that’s bothering me: “Forget regret—or life is yours to miss.” That is a horrible suggestion; or, perhaps, it is a horrible suggestion to a middle-aged woman who needs to find her way amidst regrets for things done and not done, ‘cause it can’t be undone. And certainly steer clear of telling me that only by making decisions and choices is life lived, because it’s happening whether or not you make choices, wise or otherwise. Let’s be honest: there will always be something to regret for there are more choices than paths to be taken. Life cannot be missed, even for the fatalist on a sailboat. Besides, this implies that we only have regrets if we don’t act, but what about regretting actions taken, which, certainly, is a treasure trove for a woman with age spots, skin tags, and a mind that recently blanked on “pool table” and “fidget”?

 

Regret. It seems to be my new home territory, and, definitely, an uptick from where it used to reside at self-pity. I say, regret is in the same category as envy, hard to live there, but even harder not to stop by for the occasional visit. Why regret regret? Live with it because it seems that there is no alternative to backward looking, and doesn’t it, really, help you better understand and accept where you are, regretfully or not?

 

Note: I’m back, I think. I’ve been busy with school, but more so I’ve been residing in my little hole where I am certain that only published authors, especially novelists, have valid things to say. But you know what, they don’t. I have worked at convincing myself that I am like a poet or songwriter (of yore, not these singing therapists) who focuses on one topic and makes it into a world and that is okay since we all need to be reading accounts from lots of worlds to inform our own mini-micro-world. 


ALWAYS LEARNING

 

C&O Canal, Washington DC

C&O Canal, Washington, DC.

 

The other night I dreamed that I was in a synagogue. I put my pocketbook down on a pew and went off to do something. When I got back to the pew, my pocketbook was gone. It doesn’t take years of analyzing dreams to figure out that this dream shows that a place that had been safe is now unsafe, and I immediately knew that the synagogue represented the school where I teach. Between the initiatives from the newest principal, to the impending changes from the county which is gung-ho for uniformity, to the cliquishness and negativity that some of my colleagues have elevated lately, I’m feeling that life has become a bit nightmarish.

 

My sanctuary from the cacophony of the classroom used to be the twenty minutes of lunch with my colleagues. It was the only daily meal that I would eat with anyone, and it used to feel like we were a family sitting. As much as I like my dinner companions (House Hunters International and Cooking with Lidia), solo eating requires the occasional break for it not to be an emotional drain. So, those few minutes of grown-up conversation of lampooning and commiserating were important for my ability to be okay with all the other solitary meals, and hours of only talking to teens. To effectively live a lone life, there needs to be the right balance, however seemingly unbalanced, between aloneness and togetherness.

 

On Wednesday, with the intention of driving home to make stir-fried tofu and vegetables for dinner, I drove straight from school to a Greek restaurant. It wasn’t that I needed a gyro (though it has become a comfort food; or is it the fries?), but I needed not to be alone, and I needed to be served. Although the waitress seemed to think that I needed to be alone and barely served me, I was still comforted by not sitting in my dining room, staring at the screen, feeling alone.

 

The desperation for the grand dinnertime escape came from two days of hostility, closed doors, and whispered conversations. It’s not only that I don’t agree with all of the conspiracy theorists around me (regarding the new initiatives), it’s that I am confronted so starkly with the fact that I am the eternal outsider. As much as I think I am friends with this core group of women, there are times (whisperings about happy hours that I am never invited to and dinners that I never know of) when I am forced to realize that, just like when I was in high school, not only am I far from being a cool girl, I am outside of all groups, a group unto myself. There seems to be no escaping how your character is interpreted: I am always alone, an internal design feature it seems. Sometimes I wonder if having created and been part of a family was the anomaly, and the aloneness the norm.

 

But while I am an introvert who surely needs her alone-time, there are times when I need to be with other people, when I need to see faces and hear voices and feed on the energy of interaction. And, honestly, being a teacher surely negates the assumption that I am a “pure” introvert.

On my drive home from the restaurant I decided that maybe I’m not the problem. I vowed not to keep putting myself into an unwelcome and needy situation. If I’m not wanted, then you’re not wanted, and I did the grown-up thing: the next day I abandoned my usual seat and sat, instead, at the other end of the long lunchroom table. It felt immature, but, you know, confronting things sometimes means that retreat is the best course of action.

 

As I sat there, it occurred to me as I listened and talked to my other-end-of-the-table colleagues that these women were the women I should have been sitting with all along. These are not the mean girls grown up, who always have something critical to say, but the considerate girls, who have compassion to spare. So now, I wonder, why did I not realize sooner which was the better environment for me? Do I always need to try to push myself forward, always to think that I am not quite who I am, always to assume that I shouldn’t be myself? No wonder I am still in high school. I still have lessons to learn.