Catharsis

My beautiful children at Hanukkah 2016

The election truly crushed my spirit, and I had pretty much given up on writing my blog. I just had no enthusiasm for it. Two things happened recently to change that. The first was that I sent a few posts to a friend, and in the re-reading, realized I missed the writing. The second was this post by my friend Lisa. It wasn’t so much her very amusing post as the comments afterward that inspired me. Yes, I really did miss writing about my slice of life experiences. So I was thinking this morning, as I was walking Buttercup, that it was time to start writing again. That it is cathartic, that the small joys that bring happiness to my own life (and the travails as well) might as well be shared in this time of, well…

I never thought of myself as someone who ran away from problems (except maybe my looming divorce for the first 9 years), but since last November, I have truly become an ostrich. And I have to say, it has been very therapeutic. I never listen to the news (and although I miss NPR, I can’t afford the risk of a news break); I don’t read the email alerts that come into my inbox if they seem even remotely related to Washington DC; I cancelled my newspapers; and in my beloved The Week, I go straight to “It wasn’t all bad.”

Yes, this is probably immature, but it is allowing me to focus on my own ups and downs. On the things I’m responsible for. On the things I am grateful for. On the things that are most important–some things which I have some control over, and some which I have none, but they are my things, nonetheless. As Lisa points out, writing about the little stories is liberating. And I have plenty of those.

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Just Vote

I didn’t think that I was going to be so emotional about this election. It has been such a clusterf*@k since the beginning and I thought by now I was immune. But here I am teary-eyed. As I have mentioned in a previous post, four years ago, I never really believed that Hillary Clinton had a prayer. And I was dead wrong. And here we are on what is a truly momentous day in American History. It’s still early. I have no idea how the voting is going. All I know is that today is historic. I just read an article about people putting I Voted stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave. That brought more tears. It has been not quite 100 years since women got the right to vote in this country. Here you can watch a livestream of men, women and children standing in line to pay their respects to a woman who helped make today possible.

No matter what else you are doing today, make time to vote. We live in a country of great privilege, and this is one of the most vital. I just can’t stress it strongly enough. Vote. Encourage your neighbors and colleagues to vote. Drive someone who can’t get to the polls. Take your children to watch you vote. Be a part of our truly amazing democratic process. Just vote.

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Productive

img_4653Last Friday, October 14, was the one year anniversary of my first post. This got me to thinking about far I have come in a year. First, my house is still pretty much as I last wrote about it, so better than last October, but not where I would like it! The garage is currently enjoying a few days of being less cluttered, as Shira and I had to clear much of it so that the new garage door could be installed.  But that gave us the opportunity to start the new Jewish year with something that’s new–and something good coming from something bad (the last door was accidentally crushed). The new door has windows that let the light in. A fine metaphor for starting off a new year.

It rained this morning, for the first time in oh so many months, and now in mid-October, my plumeria is finally blooming (and so are the irises). This is the first time it has ever had flowers, and I’m so excited. Another beginning.

img_4687I believe I’ve become a lot calmer over the course of this year. I’ve made some new friends, on the blog and off, and I’ve discovered new blogs that help expand my universe. I’ve read a lot more fiction this year, which is truly amazing, and I’ve discovered a number of new podcasts that I am really enjoying.

Currently I’m listening to Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I often feel that I find these shows at exactly the right time in my life. She covers topics I’ve already written about, like satisficers, but also things I plan to write about, like whether you savor or spree (think Netflix and chocolate).

One of the things that Gretchen talks about is coming up with a one-word theme for the school year. Tweaking this a bit for the Jewish new year, I am choosing “productive” as my theme for the year 5777.  So I am putting it out there: I want to be more productive in writing this blog, productive in finishing the conversion of my dissertation into a companion book for The Poisonwood Bible, and productive in getting my house uncluttered and my son’s room cleared out. Which brings me back to where I was a year ago, blogging about letting go and clearing out space, both mental and physical.

So dear friends, please keep me on the path to productive. I can use all the help I can get. A very happy and productive year to all of us. Let’s continue to let the light in.

 

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Atonement

washington-sunsetOnce again it’s Erev Yom Kippur. A day that traditionally leads me to be self-reflective out of synagogue. For many years I struggled with what I “should” do on this day of atonement and what I really felt in my heart to be appropriate. When I was much younger, I even wrote a poem  about that internal conflict that was going to be published in a book of women’s essays (volume 3), but the book never got published. The poem itself, however, led to a lot of discussion in my Jewish women’s group.

My favorite part of Yom Kippur has always been the singing of Avinu Malkeinu. So much so, that when I used to attend services where it was spoken and not sung, I felt let down, like I had been denied something crucial to my High Holiday experience. It took me a few years to realize that the reason I felt so denied was because singing that prayer was my primary reason for going to services. It was the music that spoke to my soul. And I realized that atonement for me is not about sitting in shul, but about my relationships with others.

Judaism is very particular in the way we atone and is unlike Christianity in its perspective on transgressions:

On Yom Kippur, God mercifully erases all the sins we have committed “before God”—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. If we really want to come out of this holy day completely clean, we need to first approach any individual whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness. This applies whether the offense was physical, emotional, or financial (in which case, seeking forgiveness is in addition to making appropriate monetary restitution).

Just as the offending individual is enjoined to sincerely seek forgiveness, so, too, the victim is expected to wholeheartedly forgive—provided he is assured that the plea for forgiveness is indeed sincere. (From Chabad.org)

So it is that time of year to ask forgiveness for the sins I may have committed against others, whether intended or not. And it is the time of year to consider how meaningless so many of our fights and disagreements are. How holding on to them is self-destructive. And that maintaining our relationships is more important than who is right. At the risk of endlessly repeating myself, Yom Kippur is a good time to call those who are important to you and tell them that you value their love and friendship over whatever differences you may have.

Yom Kippur is also the time to forgive those who have hurt us, whether intentionally or not, and to move on from that hurt, no matter how hard. Because it is a fresh new year.

So if I have not had an opportunity to ask in person, please forgive me if I have hurt you, if I have said or done anything to cause you pain. And if I have, I hope you will let me know so that I may make amends.

My friend Marty Cohn Spiegel leaves us with these words: As we are about to embark on the new year, 5777, I pray that a year with three 7s in it will bring us good fortune, calm, peace, and happiness, and leave behind the stress and anxiety of the past year. May we forgive and be forgiven, and may what was broken in our lives be mended.

May it be so. Shanah Tovah.

Posted in Beauty, Forgiveness, Gratitude, loss, Poetry | 4 Comments

American Beauty

barbie-legsI discovered a big bruise on my shin the other day, and when I went to show it to my daughter, the words inadvertently popped out of my mouth: “I hate my legs.”  The moment they were out, I regretted them. Why would I say something like that? Why would I care about what my legs look like at a moment when I was showing her a bruise?  Well, it was the end of the night so they weren’t super smooth, and I have other bruises and marks from life, but mostly I think it is because I am conditioned to say I hate my legs. What a terrible thing. My legs look like legs are supposed to look and, thank god, they work like legs are supposed to work. So why would I hate them?

I have spent much of my life trying to overcome the ridiculous American standards for beauty. I was fat from ages 13-24, but those years were enough to imprint on me a lifetime of being afraid I’ll again get fat. And of seeing myself as fat. I recognize that this is a very distorted image, but even now, 30 years later, I don’t have a clear picture of myself as just healthy. And I still hate my legs. I don’t wear shorts or skirts above my knees (even though being “petite” apparently demands that). I have also always wished for larger breasts, even though my breasts have worked well for me my whole life. No backaches, perfect for breastfeeding, appropriate for my size. And in reality, there aren’t many things I would trade about myself for a larger cup size.

As hard as it is for me to not be worried about the fit of my clothes (or the state of my hair) on any given day, I do know that in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. There are too many people in my life who have many more things to worry about than their pant size (although I know they do anyway), and that helps put things into perspective.  I am fortunate to be waking up and walking on my own volition, and I’m quite grateful that I still have my breasts. My friends who have real struggles remind me of these blessings every day.

I hope I have taught my children that what truly makes us beautiful is how we interact with others and the good we do when we have the chance. And I hope that I have instilled in them the knowledge that no matter what we look like, we are beautiful when we are the best versions of ourselves. Everything else, nonsense it all is, to quote Notting Hill. And I really just have to get over the thing about my legs.

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Diver Appreciation

aop_2016-47_2121x1414_1227265_wmLast Saturday night was the Volunteer Diver Appreciation Party at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Shira volunteers there as a diver, an aquarist, and as an education docent. But tonight was about honoring the divers.

At 23, she is one of the youngest volunteer divers, I learned, and it seems that everyone has taken her under their wing, both staff and other volunteers. Shira is fortunate to have a very bubbly, easygoing nature; effervescent is how someone once described her, and I can’t think of a better word.

She was allowed to invite one guest to the party as her “plus one,” and I was honored to be chosen. And even more gratified when every person she introduced me to gushed about how much they loved her, how hard she worked, how she was always smiling, how kind she was to the guests. But I get to work with her three times a week, so I already knew all this, because my coworkers constantly tell me.

It is a very special blessing for a parent to have a child like Shira. And I am blessed that we are so close. Here’s to telling our loved ones how much they are appreciated every day, even when there’s not a special party.

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Who Knew?

petes-truckThis morning on my walk, I said hello to my down-the-street neighbor, Pete. Pete must be in his late seventies, has lived in his house longer than I’ve lived in mine (25 years), and he still drives a semi-truck cab that he owns (his name is on the side). It hooks onto an enormous 18 wheeler which is rarely on the street these days but has been known to make random appearances. The cab, however, lives in Pete’s driveway where he drives it off somewhere almost every day, and now that he’s semi-retired, he washes it some mornings instead.

I first met Pete about 18 years ago because his grandchildren, it turned out, went to elementary school with my children, and they would visit him. A weird coincidence considering that my children went to school about 10 miles out of our district. And then I noticed him because he began sitting on his front porch every morning before work and every evening after driving the cab back home. Just sitting on the porch at night in his rocking chair with a six-pack. He is a man of little words. Gruff but friendly. A large man with a beer belly who fits the trucker stereotype. And as far as I can remember, he looks pretty much the same now as he did when I first met him back in the 90s.

So imagine my surprise when I was walking by Pete’s house this morning as he was washing the cab and heard the haunting strains of Ella Fitzgerald’s classic Someone to Watch Over Me. It was so incongruous. And so unexpected. Which I admit, was very biased of me. And it got me to thinking about other people who have surprised me over the years when I learned something about them that was at odds with what I thought I knew about them.

Like a man at the center where I work who is doughy and phlegmatic. It turns out that he writes and performs pretty harsh rap on the weekends. The first time I heard it on YouTube, I was shocked. And there’s a woman I work with who loves dubstep, but you would never guess it from the very soft and feminine way she presents herself. And then there’s my friend who’s covered with tattoos from head to toe, is in a Hell’s Angels club, rides a Harley, and is an avid flower gardener. Appearances are sometimes so deceiving, aren’t they?

I guess the most surprising thing about me that people discover is that I square dance. And I like to wear the petticoats. And now that I don’t teach, a lot of people are pretty surprised to discover that I have a Ph.D. But no one who really knows me is surprised to find out that I gave birth to my daughter in the very bedroom I still sleep in. Do people still do that?

What do we really know about our neighbors and our co-workers? Mild-mannered reporters by day…  Thinking about all this makes me realize just how deeply ingrained and sometimes unfair my preconceived notions about people probably are. It’s not that I judge one way or the other; they just defy my expectations. But often in a good way. I think it’s awesome that Pete listens to Ella. Next time I think I’ll stop and listen a little longer.

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Viable

dscn6263A friend of mine, after reading Whither Thou Goest, asked me if Ken returned to Orange County, whether our relationship would be viable. That is an interesting word. Viable. My first thought when I heard the word had to do with sustainable. Upon looking it up, I added a few more definitions: feasible,  practical, possible, realistic…  And of course every successful relationship has to be viable, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that despite our previously “good enough” relationship, and our excellent friendship, whether or not it’s viable isn’t really the point.

Because I don’t want just a viable relationship, or a “good enough” relationship; I want a relationship that is thriving.  I guess that’s the advantage of being older and wiser and recognizing that I really do want someone to spend the rest of my days with. And my nights. Ken and I were OK not living together, and not spending every Thanksgiving together, and retreating to our separate spaces after dancing. But I want to live with the next man I fall in love with. And share our families. And our holidays. And quiet reading time. And passionate discussions. And our bed. Even if we only have 25 years together instead of 50. And I want the next one to be “The One.” And the last one.

It makes me think of Steven’s post, I Just Need Someone to Love, where he writes:               “[Women] say that a romantic relationship would be ‘dessert’ or ‘icing on the cake’ or ‘the cherry on top.’ I don’t feel that way. For me, a romantic relationship, or what I’d prefer to call a primary relationship, is not dessert; it’s the main course. I want a partner who also wants a main course, who won’t think of me as dessert. I want to be the priority in her life, as she will be in mine… My partner is the person who will stand by my side through the remainder of my life, the person who will be there for me whenever I need her, the person who will always be available when I need to talk, the person who will pick me up if I fall. She will be my soft place to land. And I will be all these things for her…”

two_swans-wallpaper-3840x2160

I want the same. Truthfully, I think the only reason that I’ve been OK living alone all these years is because deep down I knew that I didn’t want “good enough.” And despite economic dating theories to the contrary, at the end of the day, merely “viable” isn’t good enough for the last relationship I ever hope to have. I want it to be spectacular.

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I Love You Friends

Love is the only thing1I was listening to Joel’s latest podcast, and he and his guest, Warren Talbot, discussed two things that resonated with me. The first I have talked about in a previous post, and that’s addressing fear: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I thought it was great that Warren asks that of himself and of his clients, and I thought it interesting that Joel said he had never thought to ask himself the question. Instead, when Joel is afraid to try something new, he asks himself: “what if everything I have ever done has been to prepare myself for this moment?” I like that as well. They talked about bravery, and as I’ve spoken about in that same previous post, no small bit of my journey has been about getting past fear.

They also talked about I Love You Friends: friends that you love and actually tell them so. This was a new concept for Warren, Joel being his first I Love You Friend. I’m guessing that not too many people have I Love You Friends. I love you is such a hard thing for people to say. It’s so loaded with unspoken meaning and baggage and joy and promises and heartbreak. And here in America, land of nuclear families and isolation and loneliness, I Love You is just too scary, too much responsibility. There are countless tales of people saying I Love You with disastrous  results: saying it too soon and scaring your lover off; saying it too late and losing what you had. And the manipulative reasons: saying it only to get something you want; saying it only to keep something you have. Why is this?

What would our world be like if I Love You meant, “you are very special to me, and I care really deeply about you.” If there were no potential ramifications for saying something so beautiful? Why is English so nuanced in so many areas but has only one word for love? Of course there are different levels of I Love You. We all know that when you say I Love You to your child, you don’t mean the same thing as when you say I Love You to your brother or your spouse or your co-worker who just offered to switch shifts with you when you had an emergency. We are smart enough to understand these shades of I Love You. Why aren’t we able to say it more often?

I have I Love You Friends, some men and some women. Two are friends from childhood, one I’ve come to love in the past decade, one in the past year. There are several exes who I still keep in touch with, and some are friends with whom I’ve gone through life’s challenges and we’ve become closer because of our experiences. And yes, I tell them I Love You. I tell them that they are important to me, and I use the word Love because I don’t believe it dissipates the meaning. Because love isn’t a commodity to hoard. What are the clichés? The more you give the more you get? Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies?

I don’t think that saying I Love You should scare someone off or make you look needy or insane. I think it’s too bad that we don’t have the opportunity (and it’s too bad that it’s not encouraged) to say I Love You more often. Or maybe it’s just too bad we don’t have more words for all the emotional bonds that Love encompasses. And because in English we don’t have any other simple way to say, “I really like who you are; I connect with your spirit; I embrace your being,” I Love You shouldn’t be so frightening.

We all have relationships with people who are deeply important to us. The next time you talk to one of these friends, I challenge you to say “I Love You.”  What’s the worst thing that could happen?

 

Posted in dating, Gratitude, Love | 2 Comments

School Days

back to schoolToday is the first day of school in Long Beach, CA. Such excitement in the air. Such traffic in the streets. Such adorable first day pictures on Facebook. I remember so clearly how much I loved the first day of school. There was the nervous anticipation in elementary school of finding out who my teacher would be (in the old days they didn’t tell you until that morning), and even more important, which of my friends would be in my class.

Once a year I got new clothes (ordered from the Sears catalog), so there was the excitement of staying up late the night before to pick out the perfect outfit, and then picking out a different one, and then wait, maybe that one is even better. Laying the clothes out neatly on my bed and crawling in carefully so I wouldn’t disturb them while I slept. The picking-out-clothes ritual persisted through high school and college and even now there are glimmers of it in my life–before a big party or interview or a first date (or second date, or third…). And even more than new clothes, there was the excitement of new pencils, new notebooks, a new book bag… To this day I prefer shopping for stationery supplies over clothes. (And I once actually had stock in Staples. But I digress.)

More nostalgically than my own school days, I miss my kids getting ready for their first day of school. The nervous anticipation after a summer of no responsibility, the ritual of picking out the perfect outfit (no uniforms for my kids), the first day of school photos, the excitement of seeing their friends after a long summer. My own excitement to get the house back for a few hours a day. So maybe that’s why I’m a little teary today. It’s a poignant Throwback Wednesday.

Happy school days; Happy birthday, Ken; Happy new outfits (and pencils) for everyone.

Posted in Gratitude, Love | 2 Comments