Thoughts

Friday Night Dinners

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Friday night dinners used to represent home and family time. Of course, that was when I had to share one bathroom; now, I have two to myself. Growing up in Queens, on Fridays the table would generally be set for a holiday (which works since Shabbat is the most important holiday) and we would light the candles, say the blessings on the wine and challah, then enjoy a meal with courses. Once a month we would go to synagogue where chubby me always looked forward to the oneg, the tea, coffee, and cookies (Italian sandwich!), after services rather than the sermon by the droning old-school rabbi. Priorities were clear!

In Israel, my father-in-law would recite the blessings at break-neck pace so that they sounded like one multi-hyphenated word, and then onto those celebratory courses again. The highlight was always my mother-in-law’s cooking; who knew that gefilte fish could be made fresh and tasty from a carp that had previously been swimming in a tank at the supermarket, and not just to emerge lifeless and tasteless from a jar? Afterwards, we would meet friends or walk on the promenade along the Mediterranean enjoying the end of a semi-relaxing day of getting all shopping and organizing done since most things are closed on Saturday. (In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday.)

Now, post-family at home, it’s either frozen pizza and TV or out with friends. Both have their benefits. Not that I don’t profoundly miss those dinners of yore, but I have come to accept the evolution of Shabbat dinner. What is essential is that it is still a sanctuary created in the space between the pressures of work and the preoccupation with getting things done on the weekend. I might not observe Shabbat from sundown Friday to stars out on Saturday eve by eschewing technology, but I do appreciate the necessity of a break from the day-to-day active and re-active, to the reflective.

Last Friday I had dinner at a local restaurant with a group of friends that I met through volunteering with a political organization. This week a friend and I went to services, which included an interfaith community choir and then dinner where we spoke with some members of the choir. Next week I will have dinner and then go to the opera with my mother and younger daughter in Florida. Quite the range of ways to honor and respect the Shabbat and myself. Thinking about these Friday night dinners makes me realize that community is family. This open policy feels liberating since it acknowledges that adherence to labels limits one’s interactions. It’s the weekly version of Friendsgiving.

As a social introvert, this weekly engagement satisfies both my need to interact with grown-ups and my need to not overdo the whole being with people thing that can be so draining. Once in a while or once a week, a celebratory evening, a break-feast, and then home alone. It might not be sacred, but it feels sanctified. Setting aside time to acknowledge the present, the passage of time, the separation of the working self from the self’s self, might not follow any dictates, but it certainly does adhere to the underlining meaning and importance.

 


Flowers for Me

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As a rule, I don’t buy bouquets of flowers for myself. Occasionally I’ll buy a flowering plant that I can replant or expect to last long enough for me to feel that I got enough flowering out of the investment. But sometimes when I look over at the bouquets in the supermarket, I wish I would just splurge and get a bouquet, leaving aside rationalizations why not to purchase and just let myself go for ephemeral beauty. It’s hard to splurge on myself, and it’s not just about wanting to save, or rather not to spend, but that I have a hard time convincing myself that not everything needs to pass a purpose test.

While this is clearly not a serious problem at this time of national turmoil and humiliation seeping down from the top, it does get to a self-punishing mentality from which I occasionally need a break. Even when I get together with friends nowadays, we commiserate and rant about the administration, then re-gain ourselves and declare a need for a break. Then we back down from disgust and get into the details of our lives.

The other day I was in Trader Joe’s when I thought that I needed to do something different. Defiantly I stood before the buckets of bouquets and forced myself to find a bunch. It wasn’t to fulfill a resolution, it was more that I needed a break from my sternness. When I got to the cashier, one of the flowers in the bunch fell apart, so I went back for another bunch. That’s when I saw the packages of 20 tulips in brown paper. The decision this time was instantaneous: the dark purple closed blossoms. This time I wasn’t being defiant, I felt graced by their beauty. It was about appreciation, not a lesson.

It is good sometimes, isn’t it, to simply let ourselves remember that truth is not always in words or explanations. It can be found in those generally unacknowledged connections that exert pressure on our hearts through our senses. It’s true especially now, isn’t it, that we need to remind ourselves that hearts connect through webs of compassion as fully as flowers bloom.


From Eating Out to Taking Out

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Rocktree

The progression from needing to be around other people at mealtimes to accepting being alone represents an arc to wellness that incorporates, dare I say it, happiness. Suddenly I realize that the need to sit in a booth consuming fries and diet Coke while staring at a book has become a remembrance, no longer a salvation.

In the five years it took from separating, to divorcing, to selling the marital home, to moving on my own with shared custody of younger daughter while older daughter escaped to college, I would weekly escape to a favorite diner for a Sunday meal. It was an escape valve from the hothouse atmosphere at home. Those moments of disconnection and quiet amid the sounds of other people’s mundane conversations were as sweet as the smells of syrup and bacon. It’s funny the things that save a person. It is a balance of things, though, for how can I separate the range of interactions to an essential one; it is a distillation of experience that is now my past.

Now, more than nine years after moving on my own and discovering that, indeed, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but only because there were mini-lights along the way, I think about how I rarely eat out alone. When I do, it’s usually for the eating, not the necessity of escape, of company, of saving self.

When I am with friends at restaurants it is as interaction, not as preservation. We look back, we look forward, we are not mired in present. We mull the present, but it does not weigh us down. Is it acceptance? One friend just turned fifty, another sixty. Are our lives less dramatic or are we realists with more time behind than ahead, aware of less time to squander, consolidated better into self? Have we accepted the positions we have reached, the families we have or have not created, the men we do or do not love, the people we have become?

Now, I do not need to escape the silence that I come home to since it is not the alternative to something else, it is what I have created, what I need, who I am.


Not My Holiday

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The other day a friend sent a pitying text concerned that I don’t have anything to do on Christmas. She failed to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas. In the mad crush to bake cookies, buy gifts, regift gifts, model ugly sweaters, decorate trees, some people forget that the holiday is based on (as the carol sung at my school’s winter celebration melodiously stated) the birth of the savior. Some of us who are not Christians and have not been tempted by the tinsel, do remember that.

This is not my holiday.

Unlike an Indian friend who is able to enjoy her Hindu holidays and seamlessly let Santa in for her nieces and nephews, I have not been able to blend holidays. And unlike friends and family who are in mixed religion relationships, for me Christmas does not represent mutual respect for each other’s traditions. Sure, we Jews have our tradition of going to the movies and eating Chinese food, but these fill a day when so much is closed more than anything else.

Since this is the first winter break in a while that I haven’t visited one of my daughters, it does seem like a bleaker season than usual. But how would taking on something that doesn’t relate to me ease my aloneness?

Though alone, my life is not still.

The quiet experiences of self are not an alternative, they are the basis, the breath, the source. I have learned (am learning) that external experiences that bring smiles and memories complement, supplement, support. I do not need to be entertained endlessly to be fulfilled. I cannot talk if there are no pauses.

The answer is not to place my happiness on the transient, the substitute. No, it is to accept and grow. It is also to acknowledge that my daughters are independent women living their lives and I cannot demand inclusion. I would never want resentful traditions. A few years ago, I visited older daughter in Palm Springs two years in a row. The first year we cooked all the traditional foods. The next year they let me bake an apple pie to go with the non-standard fare. Perhaps the traditions that thrive for us are those that we create—we want—and not those of external conventions.

Tradition, as is so eloquently, though tragically, shown in The Fiddler on the Roof, is to accept that the past will neither dictate the present nor the future.

Yesterday, while I did a 5k around my neighborhood, I came up with an idea for a book project. I came home and started doing the research, and then I had dinner of homemade Chinese food and watched Roma on Netflix (highly recommended). It was a fulfilling day.

When so many people are off doing their family things, it is not that I want to join in, it is that I need to remember my joys. Which makes me think of Wordsworth’s powerful poem of remembrance, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

 

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

 

A poetic gift to those who celebrate Christmas and those who don’t. May there be beauty in your every day, lived and recalled, now and in the future.

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Roses ready to bloom in the winter

 


Living Loss and Life

Blue Heron 2018

Yesterday, as I was pressing 7 repeatedly to delete the messages a saleswoman at a bathroom design company left for me, I accidentally pressed 7 an eighth time before I realized that I was in my saved voice mail box and deleted the message my father left for me two months before he died nine years ago.

When I called Verizon, the message informed me that the wait time was unusually long. After ten minutes, I agreed and hung up. I called back an hour later. Still an unusually long wait time, but this time I read my book while on hold. When my call was finally answered, I was told, three times because I thought that if I kept asking the answer would change, that once a voice mail message is deleted, there’s no getting it back.

For nine years I have been pressing 9 for save after my father tells me that he hadn’t heard back from the doctor yet, but that he was still on some endless-seeming line to actually hear back from a specialist. He did eventually hear back to be told that he has esophageal cancer. Within two months he would die from it. After two chemo treatments he felt horrible and declared that he wouldn’t do that again. He died a week later.

In his last days he was in the hospice wing of a hospital where younger daughter and I visited him (older daughter was abroad), and my brother and one of his children visited him. It was hard for my mother to comprehend that she had to stand by as he was only given pain-relieving drugs and not supplemental food. How does a wife who for thirty-years conscientiously cooked his heart-healthy food relinquish the idea that food saves?

Remembrance has become a part of life.

My gentle, but loud in a protective-way, Poops died two years ago. A cookie jar in the shape of a Maltese sits on the box that contains his paw prints. I couldn’t comprehend wanting to have his ashes; it was death too physically present. When I see little white dogs, and even the occasional little black dog, I think of Poops and miss him. But I don’t want another dog: he was so perfect for me that I can’t imagine another dog being so flexible to my schedule and needs. Besides, I have no desire to cater my life to an animal’s bodily functions again.

My ex-husband is still missing; he hasn’t had a stable address for six years and no one has heard from him for a year. He will turn 56 at the end of the month. He was lost to me years ago when he started demeaning me. Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t know what she was talking about when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When someone you had loved and admired insults you, it’s darn hard to disregard it. And as much as that is in the past, moments of his meanness are never completely forgotten.

I have lost friends, not to death, but to misunderstandings and contradictory needs. One, I assume, did not like that I cancelled attending a party of hers. Another asked me to do something for her that I was not as good at as she had expected I would be, and neither of us wanted to admit that to the other. With another friend the your-time-to-support-me balance got out of sync and so we both lost any support. Other friends simply drifted off into their lives. It is both easy and not easy to lose a friend. Sometimes it is a sloughing of skin that forces you to grow into your newer self. Other times, it rips off an appendage that never grows back. It is wearying.

I remember when I lived on a kibbutz and was told that the children who grew up there didn’t get involved with the volunteers since it’s so hard when the volunteers are constantly leaving. I had two sexual encounters that I had hoped would be dating experiences with two men who had grown up on the kibbutz and were serving in the military. It was the time of the first Lebanon War in 1982. Seems so long ago. They lost friends in the war. I guess I comforted them, though I don’t understand how unsatisfactory sex can make someone feel better about losing a childhood friend.

This, too, is life; this remembering. It hurts and it heals. It is not good to forget or be forgotten, even the pain.

 


Thankful for Conversations

Fall 2018

I used to be a conversation snob. Small talk was not for me. If we didn’t discuss the meaning of life, then, why talk. Now, I find that all my conversations are casual update conversations. This is surely a by-product of only seeing friends occasionally. It’s hard to get into philosophy, or even politics beyond the rant, when you need to share what’s happening at work, what you did on vacation, what your children are doing, what your body parts are—or are not—doing, and a dissection of dating life. By the time that shared litany is over, so is the meal or coffee and it’s time to go home, to go shopping, to go onto the next thing.

Living our lives only leaves time for limited interactions.

Paradoxically, I can’t decide if I know my friends better now or before. Which reveals a person more: thoughts or actions?

With one friend, for years we would get together twice-a-year for an update brunch. We did an excellent job of covering the basics and keeping the enthusiasm for our friendship going. But when we tried to meet more often, after all we were having such a good time together, the friendship ended up being stretched too thin. We didn’t have enough in common to sustain more than those updates. Thankfully, we went back to the less frequent get-togethers and we added other people so that we could stay engaged. At some point in our more than fifteen years of meal-sharing, it seemed that our history together had become an important part of the friendship itself and clearly neither of us wanted to lose that.

While I look forward to these conversations, sometimes they leave me with an uneasy feeling. Has living alone meant that I lost my ability to converse? Do I have what to say? Have I gone shallow? Perhaps I should think about the source of my dissatisfaction? What do I crave from these interactions? Is the problem that I am too much like my friends, so that while these conversations comfort me, they don’t stimulate me. Or is it, as I realize as I write this, that I’m beginning to long for a relationship whose basis would be a continual, developing dialogue rather than these choppy conversations.

This last point surprises me. While I have been on dating sites, I didn’t think that I wanted to meet anyone, it was more as a way to not close off possibility.

On Thanksgiving I spent time with two second-cousins, their spouses, and their children. I’ve been divorced so long that I’ve gotten used to being the single in attendance, but I did appreciate the easy banter within the couples, the gentle touching and praising. My part in the conversation was in the words, while theirs was also in the non-verbal communication that is, at its positive core, emotionally supportive. Maybe it’s not that I miss intellectually challenging conversations from my friends, perhaps it’s that I miss the range of sustenance that you can receive from a partner. Perhaps I am getting what I need from my friends, it’s just that I need more than those pop-up meetings can give me. Food for thought as I eat my leftovers.

 


Summer Vacation: Together and Alone

Bike Ride in Northern Vermont 2018
Cycling in Northern Vermont

 

My Quebec vacation was each person encountered, activity endured, meal enjoyed, accent savored, view valued, knowledge gained (then lost), and solitary pauses, as well as the totality of the week, which together fill a space of recollection in my mind’s kaleidoscope. It was, in detail and in sum, a resolute realization of self.

Some have their bucket lists, but since I don’t like that type of conceptualizing that minimizes and objectifies, I simply have daydreamy repetitive thoughts about possible experiences I’d like to live. Since I know that so many of those ideas will remain lovely wisps of thoughts, it was even more rewarding to accomplish so much in that one week.

First, the very fact that I went on that vacation itself was an accomplishment. The vacation entailed a Roads Scholar trip that was filled with physical activities, then two days by myself in Quebec City. I didn’t visit a relative. I didn’t go with a friend or relative. I didn’t take a class. I simply went on vacation by myself. Being alone is not new since I’m an empty, empty, empty nester (no children at home, no husband, no pet), but at home there are always things to do and work to think about, so this week someplace new, doing new things with new people, was pure detachment and discovery. Vacation.

For years I’ve been envious looking at images of kayakers solemnly convening with the still blueness of nature; and bikers, in their sleek gear, beckoned seductively, but those thoughts just kept stewing until I decided that the time had finally come to act on those desires. Maybe I feel more secure financially. Maybe I realized that I should stop imagining that a relationship will appear and I need to keep my schedule open for a couple’s trip. Maybe I sensed that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it. Younger daughter saying that I was not an adventurous person and that my one adventurous act (moving to Israel at 22) was a long time ago, stopped me in my self-image, and made me realize that she was right. The settling in had happened (thankfully): I had been teaching at the same school for more than a decade, teaching the same classes, and had turned my apartment into a home. Yes, time for some adventure.

As I looked around for trips, I found this Road Scholar trip at a drivable distance that included biking, kayaking, and nature walking. I figured that this was the ideal way to get the guidance I needed, and since there were a few sports, I didn’t need to commit to a week in a kayak’s cockpit before knowing if I even liked it. While it turned out that I was the novice bike rider and kayaker in the group, I was the only one making myself anxious about it since everyone was supportive of me and the challenges that I had placed before myself.

My fear of speed (even in the car my daughters hate my love of the brakes), made me hold off on going down the first hill in very hilly northern Vermont. So, I was driven down the hill to a relatively level spot to start my first bike ride in more than 40 years. The level spot soon got to a very long uphill battle that I lost. In the end, I walked my bike almost as much as I rode it. I walked uphill and downhill, and biked a bit in-between. My anxiety about losing control when the speed was too fast, my lack of bike leg muscles, and my aversion to even trying to figure out the gears, were things I could deal with. They were not things to feel bad about. Nothing to be told I needed to overcome or figure out or push through. I did what felt right for me. There was nothing to prove: it was me trying something, being right about why I had been anxious about it, then figuring out how to do it with minimal discomfort. After lunch when I was asked if I want to ride the van back to the inn rather than confronting another series of hills, I had no qualms in opting for the van ride.

The next day, thankfully, the bike trail included some spectacular hills (one woman estimated that she sailed down at 40 mph) as well as an 11-mile section of Rails-to-Trails riding that was essentially flat as it meandered along a river. I did this part of the ride which enabled me to enjoy the scenery, the faster-than-walking pace, the quiet of riding through corn fields, the smell of the cows creating dairy products, and the butterflies coasting in the stillness of a hot summer day. I got bike riding, at a leisurely pace.

Kayaking day made me grateful for summer camp and canoeing lessons, even though I still remember the thrill the counselors got scaring us by saying that we had to navigate through a chute by the side of a waterfall at the last bend, when, in fact, we simply ended the ride by coasting into our camp’s placid dock on a lake in Great Barrington. In spite of the spite, I knew a bit about paddles and directing things so I wasn’t completely terrified when I, as one with my kayak, splashed into the water. Of course, by the time I got in and started figuring out the two-sided paddle and how uncomfortable a kayak is, everyone else was ready to go—right into the ¼ mile stretch through the choppy water of Lac Broome to the calm, winding marsh.  

Again, it was me, along with the mostly retired people who all seemed to be life-long athletes, on the water. One of our guides, noticing my slightly raised and agitated voice, adjusted something in the back so that I wasn’t going left no matter how I paddled. After that, I calmed down enough to appreciate the fact that I was still on the water (rather than in the water), my arms weren’t noodles in the first five minutes of paddling, and—look ducks!

My roommate for the week, an avid kayaker (and biker), pulled her kayak alongside mine to give suggestions and encouragement. Later, when I told her that neither of the guides stayed at the end of the group with me, she commented that it was because they had confidence in me and that I was doing fine. New friends sometimes know the right things to say.

But this part of the trip wasn’t just about deciding that I hadn’t discovered two new favorite sports, it was about being with people who I didn’t know and becoming friends with many of the 19 people (5 men and 14 women) on the trip, as well as the 8 people who fed and led us. It was me deciding to change the table (there were two large tables) and seat at which I sat for each meal and trying to talk to everyone. It was me listening and trying not to focus on telling my own stories. It was about not judging or making assumptions about people. (It also helped that on the first night five of us vociferously proclaimed our disgust for t- and the administration.)  

St Lawrence River and Quebec City
Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River

 

The next part of the trip was on my own: two days wandering around Quebec City. I continued to stretch my leg muscles walking up and down hills for an all-time record of 9 miles and 70 flights of stairs on my final day. Knowing that I was heading into a long day of driving the next day, I kept pushing myself.

Those two days spent in this beautiful Europeanesque city made me realize that I don’t want to take a long trip by myself since there is too much silence and talking in my head. Taking pictures is not a substitute for conversation, nor is the occasional text to my daughters. On the three tours that I took, I was the one asking questions. It was to learn, but it was also to engage in conversation—to be seen and noted. I now know that being alone at home is fine, is sought after, but solo travel for a person who isn’t going to strike up conversations with strangers at the next table, is isolating. After spending five days with strangers-to-friends on the first part of the trip, I was in my friendliest mode, but even so, I nod here, a suggestion there, a discussion about paint colors, doesn’t change the fact that sharing experiences can enhance them.

Granted, I’m immensely glad that I went on this trip, both parts of it, because now I am aware of the balance that I need between group travel and solo travel. Previously, I had thought that I would like the solo adventure more, but now I can envision myself excited about the opportunity to meet new people, as well as to rethink how I perceive and present myself.

 

 

First Nations Sculpture at Governor General's Home
First Nation sculpture in the Governor General's home.

 


Initial Hospice Visits

Potomac Vista
Potomac River from Alexandria

 My hospice visits have started, though I’ll refer to them as elderly visits since the people I visit will not necessarily be in hospice. One of the two people I started visiting is, thankfully, healthy enough to no longer be in hospice; he lives in a memory care facility in a senior community. The hospice patient lives in a relative’s home in an in-law suite. Each of them suffers from a form of dementia, amongst other maladies, including cancer.

Before my volunteer training, I had thought that hospice was a physical place where people go to die without being poked and prodded to prolong life just for the sake of prolonging life. But I was wrong. Hospice is a status, whereby a doctor evaluates a patient and estimates that the patient has up to six months to live. Obviously, this is not an exact science, but a general guideline. Hospice care itself is generally covered by Medicare, a person’s insurance, or Veteran’s benefits. Having a volunteer visit is a part of the umbrella of services offered.

My seemingly unending search for a volunteer program to which I could be dedicated has brought me here, to the end of the road, so to speak. After realizing that I need ongoing one-on-one interactions with the same people rather than the occasional help-us-out activity, as well as remembering how important hospice was to my father (he died in a hospice in a hospital), and after seeing a flyer about a volunteer opportunity at another volunteer event, I decided to sign up and see how it goes. Two days of training and a binder full of information to read, as well as suggested books about dying and hospice and dementia, which were not as depressing as I had feared, I was ready. You know, it’s not bad to understand where life may lead us, especially with a mother in her 80s and increasing discomfort trying to hoist myself up from the ground, as well as hints of a droopy jowl.

After my initial trepidatious visits because I didn’t know quite what to expect (even though the training was excellent) or how I would react, at four weeks in I am much more comfortable. It is shocking—in a positive way—how a little bit of experience can dispel a lot of angst. Now when I head out for my weekly visit, I’m not concerned about how I feel or how I’ll do, rather I focus on getting out of the Me Zone. It’s like when I started teaching: initially I was consumed with my stress and what I needed, but after a few years, by gaining confidence in my abilities, I have been able to bring the focus on my students and what they need from me.

The woman I visit, my first patient, exudes both a gentle kindness and a stoic frustration. She seems aware of some of her memory issues since she will try to say something, but the wrong word will come out. When that happens she’ll pause, shake her head, and say, “No, that’s not it.” Then she’ll stop trying to talk and retreat from my attempts at conversation and interaction to just sit quietly. Still needing to engage her, I find myself commenting on the clouds outside the windows. One day she tried to tell me about something she saw, but she could only say, “Black thing,” and then she laughed uneasily. I think she was referring to a bird.  

Watching someone else deal with a loss of words—and not recovering those lost words—is scary in an ominous what-will-be-with-me way. At the supermarket the other day, I was in the self-check-out aisle holding this nubby thing that I got for my stir-fry, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Faced with the alphabetical listing on the screen, I blanched at the idea of going through the entire alphabet of fruits and vegetables. The letters b and g came to me, so I started at the beginning of the alphabet. When the image of and word “ginger” appeared, relief rushed through me. It wasn’t the joy of winning something, rather of being released from dread. But that night, when I was telling older daughter this story (maybe I shouldn’t tell my daughters these stories, but I feel that I must), I momentarily blanked on the word “ginger” again.

Who amongst us has not momentarily forgotten the name of something or someone? When a teenage student tells me that she forgot what she was going to say, I gladly tell her that it will come back to her, making me feel a little less anxious about my own lapses. Other than no longer needing to remember phone numbers, there’s so much to know and keep track of as we get older. But still, these temporarily blanked out words are troubling, and being exposed to someone who has Alzheimer’s is both less and more anxiety-inducing than not. Less because I realize that this is still a person beside me. It could be that since she is not too far along in her disease I am able to experience her humanity, even with few words. And more because she seems so much like a lost child, not able to express herself, not remembering that her parents are dead, that her husband is dead, where she used to live, where she lives now, or even that I previously visited her. So much is lost when we can’t access our words and memory.

She seems to like holding a book, looking at it. But after the first time when I read to her for a few minutes, she doesn’t want me to read. Perhaps she no longer understands many of the words or she cannot create a picture in her mind. This is surprising to me. I had envisioned myself quietly reading to the people I visit. It is such an elementary way that we have devised to experience being together. Now I must think of other ways to do that. The key, I am realizing, is to shed my need to impose upon our time—to fill our time—and to let an hour of being together be the accomplishment itself.


Hostility and Humility

Butterfly on goose poop

 

Two horribly contrasting images of people have lodged in my mind. There is the vile image and the poignant image.

There are the people who are okay (pleased, I dare say) with ripping children away from their parents, with taking healthcare away from children, with manifesting that vile thing that lives in them on the rest of us. These people can explain why they do these things, logically and with big words, and they can even expound on the purpose of boundless pain.

Unfortunately, this ease with evil is not new to our world.

There seem to be stories from every generation that reveal curdled hearts. These people, whose minds and souls are sealed within vast vats of self-serving rhetoric, cannot be fathomed. These are the people who, generation after generation, have enslaved, branded, burned, lynched, pierced, shot, macheted—and still they have the audacity to think that their actions are valid, have a purpose that is more than to manifest evil.

How does a person skip compassion? I understand the meaning of the term “dehumanization,” but its very inhumanity still boggles the soul.

I hate to say “these people,” but sometimes blanket statements feel necessary. And one more: These are the people who never find blame in themselves because these vile acts are what brings about the world they want.

Then there the people who touch you because there is no artifice to them. Their presence shakes you to contemplate that which makes a person good. The connectivity does not degrade or propel, rather it is the gentlest nod of inspiration to simply be in the moment, of the moment, expecting nothing gained, except the internal breeze of positive soul meeting positive soul.

Such interactions remind us that all is not bile and bluster. They remind us, don’t they, that generally it is children and the elderly, with no axes to grind or ladders to climb or ideas to prove, who let us settle into a shape that does not shift—a self we can find comfort within. They remind us, too, how important it is to have shelter for the soul—that there is within a place that cannot be invaded. To know that our core (and the core of so many) has not been corrupted. To know with solidity that a mind can mesh with another mind in respect that can be akin to love.

There are tears of sadness, and tears of joy.

There are pangs of pain, and palpitations of hope.

There is suppression that cannot smother.

There is the will to never succumb to the sordid nature of evil and hate.

There is hope to propel and prevail, for never is it all lost.

We must find, create, inspire all that may be a bulwark against all that tries to debase.

We are each other’s soul supports, especially now.


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

 

IMG_20171112_110112985_HDR (1)

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


A November Eve

IMG_20171030_175933782_HDR

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

20170903_110535
"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.

 

20170821_143838 (1)
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

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.