Sunday, October 31, 2010

Breaking down the binary

Never done: Shadow post.

What a day. Today I did something that's been on my Never Done list for almost 8 years, and yet I can't write about it, because I want to protect another person's privacy. But it was long-awaited, and positive, and I'll write all about it in a private document, and keep it for myself and my own practice. Meanwhile, it was a banner day for doing things I'd never done before, so I have plenty to write about anyhow (and make up for yesterday.)

Hiked up Fishkill Ridge: The weather was supposed to be rainy all weekend, and so I brought board games for people to play in the hotel on the day of the (evening) wedding. But when we woke up on Saturday morning, it was a gorgeous, crisp, blue-sky day, with acres of hills and ridges of fall foliage. So Josh, Jeremy, and I decided to go hiking. We drove to Beacon, where we set out to hike up Fishkill Ridge. The trail we chose was an initial 600 foot ascent over the course of a mile -- once we walked about a mile a half to get to the trail head. As we set off, I told the two others that I would go slowly, and that I thought we should all go at our own paces. We all agreed, and started to climb. I don't enjoy climbing. I love walking (and running) on flat terrain, and I love hiking down hill, and I don't mind going up for short bursts to keep things interesting, but I don't enjoy long, steep climbs. I was 17 the first time I did one, when I climbed one of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, in the Spring. I went with a college friend of my sister's, and I was completely unprepared -- I had sneakers, and there was still a lot of snow on the trail. What I most remember from that climb was the way he would go ahead of me, and then stop to wait for me to catch up, and then as soon as I got to him, he would keep going -- so he got little rests (which he probably didn't need or want) and I got none. By the end of the day, I had decided I wasn't interested in spending more time with him, and as it turned out, he died in a climbing accident a couple years later. I wish I remembered his name, alev hasholem.

As the three of us ascended Fishkill Ridge, I found myself behind in a way that's not uncommon. I fell behind about 5 paces, and then stayed there. I don't get why I didn't keep falling behind more and more, and I don't get why, if I could keep pace at 5 steps behind, I couldn't keep pace alongside my friends, where I could hear and be part of the conversation. I was behind, and I tried to pace myself so that I could climb steadily. At some point along the way, I noticed that I wasn't looking around at the gorgeous trees, or taking in the way the light shone through them. I was climbing, and trying not to get too tired. So I stopped, and looked, and took it in, and my friends stopped too, and we all enjoyed sitting, and when we got up to keep climbing, we somehow fell back into the exact same 5 steps behind formation again. That's when I realized -- they wanted to talk with each other. So I fell back a couple more steps, just so it wouldn't be tempting to try to catch up, and climbed the rest of the way. As we neared the top, I got more energy, and bounded up ahead of the others. If the view were a painting, it would be straight out of the Hudson River School. And ... it was my first time seeing the view from that high. (Shehekhianu.) Those captains of industry knew what they were doing, building their mansions into those Hudson River hillsides. But we had a wedding to get to, so we moved along, and climbed back down. (I love down!)

Later, at the wedding, having already made the choice between wearing a dress that was a little too tight or a dress that was a little too short, (I chose the short one -- it was more comfortable, and better for dancing) we all said the Shehekhianu together, to bless the new marriage. The rabbi was impressed that so many people knew the blessing, and that made me smile -- because 6 weeks ago, I would have mumbled my way through half of it. Despite my complicated feelings about marriage in general, this was a wedding that was easy to bless --the khosn and kale (bride and groom, in Yiddish) are very much in love, and as far as I can tell, really good for each other. If this post wasn't already too long, I'd write about my complicated feelings about marriage, but instead let's suffice it to say that after about 4 hours, I finally broke down the binary on the dance floor.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

To the wedding

Never do again: Set off on a trip without personally checking the directions. This was the first day since I started my Never Done year that I didn't do something I'd never done before (which as someone pointed out to me is, in itself, never done.) So I decided to add a new concept to the project: things I will never do again.

I don't know if sense of direction is innate or acquired, but I one way or another, I got an excellent one. My partner -- not so much. So when we set out for a wedding weekend in Fishkill, NY, and I left the directions to him, I inadvertently signed up for turning a 1 hour 45 minute trip into a 3-hour journey, in which we crossed the Hudson twice (Tappan Zee bridge heading west and Newburgh-Beacon bridge back across) instead of not at all. Not that it was all horrible. We found a classic rock station that played Pete Townsend and the Stones, and so we turned up the volume and sang along. But ... I am prone to car sickness, and we were trying to get to the wedding weekend early rather than late, and I would always rather spend my extra hour walking in the woods than sitting in bridge traffic. So from now on, I will check the directions myself, before we leave.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Sense of Wonder

Never Done: Have genetic testing. My body doesn't store iron. I don't have any ferritin, which is (source: wikipedia) "a ubiquitous intracellular protein that stores iron and releases it in a controlled fashion. This protein is produced by almost all living organisms, including bacteria, algae, and higher plants, and animals. In animals, it acts as a bugger against iron deficiency and iron overload." We are supposed to have between 10 and 291 nanograms/mililiter of ferritin in our bloods, and I have 1 on a good day. It's been this way for many years. I have taken iron supplements, been injected with weekly B12 shots, cooked on an iron frying pan, eaten kale, spinach, molasses, raisins and apricots, and none of this had had an effect. Then earlier this summer I asked myself for the first time (shehekhianu) WHY I might have such low ferritin. And it turns out that the two most common links are thyroid disease and celiac disease.

I'll try to avoid going all too-much-information on you here. We did some blood tests, found I have thyroid problems, and I started treatment. Celiac is harder to test for because I've been on a wheat-free diet for 18 months (because I feel much better without it) and yet in order to test positive for celiac, I would have to eat gluten for many months, so we could find the enemy within. To get a read on things sooner, and to help assess whether it is worth it to submit me to all this, my doc ordered some genetic predisposition testing for celiac and we just found but that yes, I carry a gene variant associated with celiac disease. I've been gene-mapped! I can't believe I didn't ask her to test if I share an ancestor with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Mario Batali. (I still haven't watched Faces of America. I'll put it on my list.) (I also haven't eaten at Eataly.)

On the one hand, this news and this genetic testing technology don't seem like big deals. On the other hand, I am old enough to think like my parents thought, and can still be amazed with the advances in technology over their, and my, lifetimes. My father was born in 1918, and my mother in 1929 -- and I was born in 1963. Let's think about all the things we didn't have when I was growing up. ATM machines, personal computers, IVF, the internet, Dippin' Dots. And if I'm honest, I like that I still have this sense of wonder, when I walk down the street and see everyone talking on their cell phones -- and I think about how it was when I grew up, when I went into the bank to deposit money into our savings account, and I typed my papers on a manual typewriter, and people who were infertile adopted, and I did my research in the public library, and we made our own ice cream with a hand crank, and the phone was connected to the wall in in the kitchen. I'm not trying to go all sentimental retro here -- because I love my computer, and I am incredibly happy that my friends have been able to have their fantastic children with the help of IVF, and I talk on my cell phone all the time. (I hate Dippin' Dots. They are made of chemicals and taste bad. I love ice cream though, and still eat it every day.) So no, I am not trying to go all sentimental retro; I'm just trying to explain about my sense of wonder when I see this on my lab report: !HLA-DQ2(DQA*05/DQB1*02): Positive.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The end of nationalism

Never Done: Make a monthly accounting system. There are days when I question my decision to try to do a new thing every day. Those aren't the days when I've lined up something amazing that's been on my list for 5 years; nor are they the days when grace places a church medallion in my line of sight. Instead this happens when I am struggling with the question of what makes my life significant. I haven't always struggled with this question. For most of my life, I've been very clear about the ways my life, and my work are significant. It's a question that has dogged me since moving to New York City -- where I have felt more anonymous, and less effective, and less able to build community in the ways I'm used to. This has all started to shift for me in the past months. I feel more connected and more effective, and I can notice that I am more central in this Big City than I have ever felt before. This is both Never Done, and also Tshuve -- because I am starting to feel like Brooklyn is just a town, and Manhattan is just a town, and that I can do things here like I did in Portland, which when I moved there was a huge overwhelming city to me, and by a few years in, was one of my deepest homes. One of the reasons I am so excited about the Brooklyn Soup Swap, is that it's the kind of thing I would have easily done in Portland, and took me 8 years to initiate here. (It's going great, by the way. We have 8 households, and I will be making the first round of soup next Friday. I will write about it then.)

The question of significance has also dogged me since both my parents have now passed. As wonderful a global network of friends as I have (and I do have a beautiful global network of friends who are really good at reminding me of my significance) -- nothing has ever reminded me of my own significance like caring for my parents as they aged and died. Not that I haven't been super invested in a ton of political work that I've done, or performance or writing or film .... it's just that since they've gone, I have more days when I wonder what I'm doing here.

So when I come to the end of a day and my Never Done is that I set up a monthly accounting system, you can imagine that I might feel a little tiny in the world. But the thing is, I know that that little system is going to have some big reach. First of all, I'm hoping it will lessen dull conversations between me and my partner. We are both pretty great about taking care of our own lives, but we still, after 7 years, haven't figured out how to take care of our joint life. So this is actually a joint monthly accounting system. I took a little notebook (very pretty with a black and white photo of a spiral staircase, with iron work and ornamental plaster work) and we wrote down all our joint monthly expenses, and who pays which bills, and which ones are recurring, and which ones are variable. And we are going to sit down at the end of every month, and add all these numbers up, divide by two, and settle up our accounts. (It sounds so simple, right? Why did it take 7 years to start?) So I am hoping that we will have ONE dull conversation a month about this, and not 15 dull conversations sprinkled throughout the month. And that should lead to our having a lot more fun together, which will lead to my increased productivity, which will lead to my writing the screenplay about my father's secret career in pursuit of the end of nationalism, and that will end to the end of nationalism, and THEN I will be able to tell that my life is significant. And it all started with a monthly accounting system.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Embarrassment of riches

Never Done: Ate goat meat. I had dinner with Alissa Wise last night. (Did you just notice that? I wrote her name, not just her initial. I asked her if it was OK.) We went to Purple Yam, a fantastic Filipino fusion restaurant in Ditmas Park, where she had been before, and I had not. She suggested two dishes, and we ended up ordering them both to share -- one was a delicious and complex goat curry, and the other a fresh vegetarian lumpia. When Alissa recommended the goat, I felt a little inner hesitation because I was hungry, and wanted something I knew I would like. But then I had that awareness moment -- "Ah! this is something I've never done!" and so I decided to order it. When it came, and I took a bite, and it was delicious, I put down my fork and asked Alissa if she would say the Shehekianu with me. Because Alissa is not only a good friend, but she is a rabbi. And she is not only a rabbi, but she is the person who introduced me to Mussar, and will be leading a year-long Mussar group I'm going to be in. And she is not only my Mussar teacher, but we were getting together to talk about Never Done: My Mussar Year.

I loved saying the Shehekianu together. Even though I've been saying it every day for over a month, I was totally embarrassed and stumbled over it while saying it together with Alissa. I don't think I had ever said a blessing before while someone looked me straight in the eyes and beamed at me (another Never Done, which would require another Shehekianu, which would be even more embarrassing.) And while I am tempted to report on our conversation about Mussar -- and in particular, Mussar as an ethical framework for life -- I am going to let that wait until our group is underway, and I've internalized more of my own understanding of the practice. Instead, I want to thank you here, in this forum, Alissa, for opening your Jewish door wide open for me, for being my Mussar teacher, and for making me blush. Omeyn.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This is new! Let's do it again!

Never Done: Take a cute baby video. When you're a baby, you do things you've never done every day, and then you want to do them again and again and again. I went to the playground today with T and her mom M. T, 13 months, played on the slide, in the rubber tire, on the swings, and for the first time in her life, in a veritable Never Done, in the sandbox. She adored the slide, and would have played on the it the entire time, but after a while, M and I would take her somewhere else to try something new. For the most part, she'd try the other things and be OK with them (with the exception of the sandbox, which she really didn't dig (so to speak) but after a while, these other things were, ultimately, not the slide. And so we would bring her back to the slide, and she would beam with delight as she went down it again, and again, and again. (And I took a video of that beaming delight with my iPhone, which was both the first time I'd taken a video with my iPhone, and the first time I ever took a cute baby video.)

Her mom says she is the same with books and watching videos. When she and her husband read T a new book or show her a little video of herself, T wants to hear it/see it again, right away, and again, and again, and again. M thinks it has something to do with making sure it's still the same -- that it hasn't changed. I imagine it also has to do with learning English, hand-eye coordination, and three act story structure.

So for T, the experiences of Never Done and Tshuve are closely intertwined. "This is new! Let's do it again!" If I'm honest with myself, I notice that I have the same impulses much of the time -- I just don't have the time to follow them the way I did when I was a kid. Maybe I'll put this one my Tshuve list -- spend a day shooting hoops, for as long as I want, the way I did when I was 15, or maybe watch the entire season of Battlestar Galactica in a single marathon, assuming I like it as much as everyone says I will.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can't see the artwork for the trees

Never Done: Saw art on the Church of the Virgin Mary. I walked first north, and then south down 8th Avenue. Heading north, I glanced over and saw a medallion of artwork that I'd never before noticed on the church. I thought about it a while, wondering why I'd never seen it before, and then eventually got lost in other thoughts. Heading back south, I walked on the church side of the street so I could get a closer look, but got distracted by a tree stump, right in front of the medallion. I figured that the tree was most likely lost in the tornado and micro-storms last month, and I mourned it -- another giant gone. But then I realized that the tree had been blocking the view of the art, and that I couldn't see the artwork for the tree.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cheese Sandwich Lost

Never Done: Met one of Josh's college roommates. Not only did I meet him, but he and his wife hosted us over night, on a moment's notice, the night after they returned from a 2-week trip to Italy. AND ... they integrated us into a dinner along with two of their daughters, a granddaughter, a sister-in-law, and two nieces. Spending time with B was a view into Josh I had never had before. At breakfast the next morning, he came down with a stack of parodies that they wrote in college (Harvard, class of 1969.) One of them was called Cheese Sandwich, Lost -- a hilarious parody of Milton's Paradise Lost, based on the in-joke that one of their roommates lost a cheese sandwich and couldn't stop complaining about it. My favorite line was something like, "Wrapped in wax. Wax, the stuff of Icarus's fiery ascent." I'll get the real text and post it, so you can see the actual brilliance, and not the diluted and mis-reported brilliance, of Josh and Bob in '69.

A little Never Done context that I haven't yet explained on this blog: I am a person who has held many jobs, and done many things. This is not a project for a very young person, because by definition a very young person has never done many things. It is also not a bucket list, which I think of as for people who are at or near the end of their lives -- because of either age or illness. It is about short and long-term goals, and it's also about, as I wrote before, awareness: being able to notice when something new is in my path. It's also about choices. There are things on my Never Done list that I don't intend to do, and there are things that scare the crap out of me, but that I might just have to consider. Examples? I've never shot heroin, and I don't intend to. But I might have to consider sky diving, joining a synagogue, or this new idea I just had that is so fucking ambitious that I am afraid to even say what it is. (But it has to do with television, in case you want to keep me honest later.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's a corridor

Never Done: pitch meeting. Someone recently asked me what I am writing, and I replied, "Contracts." Somewhere along back May I started selling my first screenplay, which is not, as it turns out, at least in this case, and overnight event. A couple weeks after that, the same producer engaged me and my writing partner to write a script for them. Both of these scripts promised to pay handsomely. (If you are already sensing a downturn in this story, due to the past tense of the word 'promise' you are only partly right; the deals are still very much alive, but admittedly frustrating.) This is a story about the work for hire. My partner and I were pitched an idea (details will be scant; we have signed a non-disclosure agreement) for a screenplay that the financial person of the production company has come up with. It's a totally, perfectly good idea for a screenplay, and we both decided that yes, we could write it, we could make it meaningful to us, and we could do a good job. We were handed a story outline, and hired to write a treatment that could be taken to investors. When we got into it, we saw that the story outline we were given didn't really add up to a screen story -- so we took it and faithfully turned it into a 3-act structure, with fleshed-out characters, plot and subplot, and actually ended up loving the work we did. We turned it in on time -- even a couple days early -- and waited.

The creative producer loved it, and the financial producer (whose idea this is) ... not so much. Long story short, we started to negotiate simultaneously about the story and about the payment for this work -- all while still in negotiation on the terms of the other screenplay deal. Which brings us to the meeting we just had, a full 7 weeks after delivering the treatment, in which I was asked to pitch the screenplay. It caught me off guard, and put me on the spot, but it was actually a great move on the part of the producer to ask me to pitch it, because it brought the story alive for the financial partner. The same story that was on the page -- the same story she'd had in her hands for 7 weeks, she suddenly loved. And I couldn't help but think how much more we communicate with our eyes and hands and intonations than with our words on paper, no matter HOW good we think our writing is.

This isn't the end of the story -- and we still have a ways to go before I get to write the words "Never done: Sold a screenplay" on this blog. But after all my years of training for it, I successfully pitched a screenplay and moved some negotiations forward a little.


Friday, October 22, 2010

You Gotta Believe!

Never done: Spoke with an adoption agency. This is a big one. I knew when I started this project that some days would feel insignificant and some days would rock my world. Well, rock on. I had a long talk with Mary Keane, from You Gotta Believe! which is a program (let's not talk about that strange name, which sounds like it's a booster for the World Series underdogs) for older child adoption in New York City. Over the past year I've called literally every adoption agency in the city, and received not one, not two, but NO return phone calls. It finally dawned on me to call the LGBT center, and ask them if they could be a resource. Terry Boggis called me back immediately, and has started to reach out on my behalf. She also recommended that I start going to GPS/MAPP classes. (GPS/MAPP stands for Group Preparation and Selection/Model Approaches to Partnerships in Parenting.)

So I called Mary, who leads the class at the Center, to tell her I would start going in early November, and we had a big full conversation. I always thought I would adopt. I grew up across the street from my (now) oldest friend, who is the only biological child in a family of four children -- her three younger siblings are adopted. They were all adopted as infants, and I think I imagined that's what I would do as well, but I've gotten to 47 without doing it, and my partner is 62, and so it's started to make more and more sense to consider adopting an older child.

I hear it already. "It's so hard." "Once they're that long in the system, they can't learn to trust." And yeah -- these are my exact fears too. But should the thousands of kids who are waiting for families never get them because potential parents think it will be hard. Well, it *will* be hard. Parenting is hard. I don't expect to go into this blindly -- or to pretend that I have no limits on what I am capable of. On the contrary, I know that there are certain things I can handle as a parent, and certain things I can't. (And hopefully the GPS/MAPP classes will challenge me on what I "know.")
Isn't this a wonderful example of how to balance out the needs of the self versus the needs of the other? There it is again, the heart of Mussar practice.

Here's what I believe: I believe that every person is capable of learning to trust, no matter how badly trust has been broken in the past. I don't think it's always possible -- or useful -- to rebuild trust with the person who broke it. But I do think it's possible for a person who has been very, very hurt to heal. Repair. Tshuve.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eternal comedy

Tshuve: I joined the Armory YMCA as a charter member last winter, and I got a wonderful cranberry inaugural jacket with a New York Y insignia on the arm. You see them all over the neighborhood -- members sporting them like we are all on the same hipster team. The new wonderful Armory YMCA has no showers though, and my old apartment was a little far from the gym, so I didn't like going, getting sweaty, and not being able to get clean. So I stopped going. But now I have moved 3 blocks from it, and so I am back lifting weights, running on the track, and using the elliptical machine. It's not just a return to the Y -- it's also a return to a certain kind of physical activity. I've been quite physically active since not going to the gym -- running and swimming and doing yoga -- but that's not the same as going to the gym, which gives me a deep sense of tshuve -- return -- to the most grounded place in my adolescence, to which I have returned and found strength, both literally and figuratively, many times over the past 30 years.

Never done: I went to a reading of Nahma Sandrow's brand new translation of a Yiddish play, Yankl der Shmid (Yankl the Blacksmith) by David Pinski. Nahma is a gifted translator, and I loved the play, which is really about the main character's struggle against the yetzer hore, which Nahma translated as the "evil impulse." Yankl is a drinker and a womanizer, but he wants very much to change his ways. He falls in love with a lovely young woman -- an orphan with few prospects -- and she marries him despite his reputation, because he is super good-looking, she believes he can change, and she doesn't think she has better prospects. The play is about the struggle between good and evil -- his in action, and hers in faith.

In Mussar practice, one way we look at yetzer hore is as focus on self, whereas the yetzer tov (good impulse) can be seen as a focus on the other. It could be thought of as a moral conscience -- the impulse that reminds us of god's laws when making decisions.
Yetzer hore is selfish nature -- the desire to satisfy personal needs like sex, food, shelter, etc without taking into consideration the moral consequences of fulfilling those desires. What most interests me about Mussar practice is right at the nexus of these two impulses: how do we balance out our own needs with the needs of our communities? With the needs of the environment? With the needs of the world? This is something I, like many socially conscious people, have struggled to understand for myself for many years. Buddhism taught me to hold my own needs in one hand while holding other people's needs in the other hand. Therapy, the same. But it's still not easy for me; years of subsuming my needs for the needs of the family made it difficult for me to gently, confidently, easy-goingly stand up for myself without over-asserting my self. It is also not easy for Yankl the blacksmith, who is tortured by the yetzer hore, or for his beautiful orphan wife Tamara, who is constrained by the yetzer tov. But their lives are a melodrama in four acts, and mine is, hopefully, an eternal comedy.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New film collaboration

Never Done: I had dinner last night at Do Sirak with three other people to talk about a potential new film project. Each of us knew two of the others of us at the table, and each of us was meeting one person for the first time. I adore the two people who I already knew -- one I've known since I first moved to Portland in 1990, and the other is a friend from New York who I've known now for a couple of years. The third -- the person I've never met before -- is a high school friend of my Portland friend, and a long-time friend of the other person at the table. (I haven't figured out yet how to deal with naming people in this blog. It seems like I need to ask before I tell, so for now I'm keeping things anonymous.)

So this third person, who I will call D, is terrific. She is smart, thoughtful, and straightforward -- three qualities I respect, and which I most want in a collaborator. I loved listening to her talk about the way she envisions the film, and I loved sitting at that table and imagining us as a new team of four. And I forgot to say the Shehekhianu.

I did remember to say it earlier in the day though when I crossed "start the blog" off my To Do list.

The few friends I've told about Never Done all ask me how I'll have the time to do it all. I don't really know, but I think it might have something to do with spending less time on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shehekhianu

Baruch ata Adonai Elohenu, melekh ha’olam, shehekhianu, v’kimanu, v’higianu, lazman hazeh. Praised be you, Adonai, king of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this day.

The Shehekhianu is the blessing Jews say when we experience something for the first time. We also say it when we celebrate a ritual for the first time during the year, or we eat a fruit for the first time during a season. I wrote it above to mark the first time any of us are experiencing this blog. My leap of faith. My new project: Never Done: My Mussar Year.

Starting on Yom Kippur, which this year fell on September 18, 2010, I committed to doing one thing every day that I have never done before. And to write about it. I have a successful month under my belt -- and I've already learned a lot about what my project is, and isn't.

I started out by making a huge list of things I have never done before -- mostly things I would like to do, and including some that I'm not sure about.
Some are relatively small, like go to Upright Citizens Brigade, or go kayaking on the Hudson river. Some are bigger, like get a tattoo or adopt a child. I expected that I would pick something from the list every day, and go for it -- mixing up the little with the huge.

But in fact that's not how it's been working. I quickly learned that Never Done is more of an awareness practice than a Pick Your Own Adventure. As I go through the day, I almost always come to a moment when I notice that I have come face to face with something I've never done -- and that I can choose to do it. In this first month, there have only been a couple days when I reached into the grab bag -- once because it was 11 PM, and I hadn't done a Never Done yet, and once because I just felt like it. But most of the time, someone offered me a quail egg, or I took the wrong turn on a path in the woods, and ended up someplace new. It's a wonderful feeling to notice suddenly that I'm on the brink of a Never Done, and to say yes to it.

So why am I doing this? What's the journey? I'm 47, which strongly feels like I'm approaching 50. Most people tell me they think of as younger, and so do I. In fact, I can barely imagine fitting into the identity of a 50-year-old. But I will turn 50 on January 13, 2013, so I decided to make sure that 50 feels expansive to me, and not limiting. When I had the idea for Never Done, of course I thought about "a woman's work is never done" which can be subverted to be really quite expansive, if you think about it. No forced retirement (noting the irony that as I write this, the French are going out on general strike to protect the retirement age of 62) and eternal opportunity. The truth is, my mind is sharper than it's ever been, I am much more productive, creative, and effective than I've ever been, and I have more patience for people than I did in my 20s and 30s. But still, I am afraid of aging -- what it means to me, and what it means to others about me -- and so I decided to do something new every day, and see how transformed my life is by the time I turn 50.

Just a couple days into this practice, I talked with a 50-something-year-old friend who told me that at this point in her life she is more interested in returning to things she's loved in the past than she is interested in exploring new things. She said that is one of the main reasons she wanted to have a child (and she does have a child -- a terrific 9-year-old.) This made sense to me, and so I started thinking about Done Before, return, tshuve. I realized that if all I do is new, new, new, never done, never done, never done, that I won't be grounded or rooted, and I will miss returning to things I already love and value. The cranberries I pick every October, dinner with my old friend, swimming across Walden Pond. And so I have also been writing down when I return to something meaningful to me.

There is a part of the Jewish spiritual/ethical practice of Mussar -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musar_movement -- in which we choose an action and take it consistently throughout a year. Some people choose to give money to everyone who asks -- no questions asked, and some choose to stop for yellow lights -- every time, and some choose bless their food every time they eat. As I understand it, the idea is to stop the bargaining our minds can engage in: "I really have to go through this one yellow light, because the ice cream is melting in the back of the car." "If I give this man some change, then he's gonna want more tomorrow." You stop the voices, you do the action every time, no questions asked. And you see what it is like. If you forget and run the yellow, or you tuck into your slice of pie before remembering to bless it, then you get to notice why you forgot, and that is really at the heart of the practice. So far I have not gone a day without doing a Never Done, and I've never not noticed that I've done it, but I have forgotten to say the
Shehekianu.

This is a long post -- and I haven't even included my list of things I've Never Done, or what I've done in the past month. So I will write up what I did on my first day of my Mussar Year, on Yom Kippur, and I'll just list what I did this past month, so that if I decide to go back and reference them later, you'll have at least a point of reference.

9/18/10
Never Done: Get caught on the wrong side

After morning services at the beautiful egalitarian shul in Bath, Maine, JW and I went to Popham Beach. I like to spend part of Yom Kippur outside somewhere beautiful, and for the past number of years I've gone to Popham. Popham is a wonderful sandy beach with a tide that approaches from two directions, and salty estuaries that cut through the sand. The tide comes in fast, and it's possible to get caught on the wrong side -- either out on an island that the tide cuts off entirely from the shore, or on the wrong side of the estuaries. I've been going to Popham Beach since I was 4 years old -- so for 43 years -- and I have never, ever been caught on the wrong side. But we were out playing on the beach (three adults and a 9-year-old) and by the time we noticed that the tide was coming in, we couldn't get back across the estuary without wading across swift, cold water up to our waists. Halfway across, not sure how much deeper it was going to get, my shorts and gatkes already wet, I noticed that this was a Never Done! And I started to laugh, and laughed my way across to the embankment. (Another 10 minutes, and I wouldn't have been laughing.)

And then ....

9/19/10
Never Done: Watched Veronica Mars

9/20/10
Never Done: Shipped lobster across the country
Tshuve: Climbed on the rocks at Ocean Point in the late afternoon sun

9/21/10
Never Done: Cooked Lobster Fra Diavolo

9/22/10
Never Done: Built a sukke

9/23/10
Tshuve: Return to the Boothbay Farmers Market
Never Done: Started a new screenplay called Temporary Dwellings
Never Done: Went for a walk in the woods, turned down a new path, and ended up somewhere I'd never been

9/24/10
Never Done: Said the Shehekianu after eating a new fruit (Mollie's Delicious Apple) in the sukke.
Never Done: Spent time with my cousins G and P in Boothbay
Never Done: Saw four of the moons of Jupiter through G's telescope!

9/25/10
Never Done: Went into a golf clubhouse
Tshuve: Watched the sunset at Porter Preserve
Tshuve: Went to Robinson's Wharf, which was my father's favorite place, but it was also a Never Done, because I had never gone as an adult

9/26/10
Tshuve: Returned to Common Ground Fair
Never Done: Brought JW, met up with EG, met EK
Never Done: Introduced J to the grilled haddock sandwich at Red's

9/27/10
Never Done: Walked from Peterson's Cove, over the little bridge, and up the steps, and out of the cove onto Farnham Point Road. It was a small thing, but I did say the Shehekianu over the bridge.

9/28/10
Never Done: Had a film that I'd worked on at the New York Film Festival (Nuremberg)

9/29/10
Never Done: Got my hair cut at Mudhoney, from a woman on a pre-agricultural diet (which I'd never heard of)
Never Done: Had a film that I'd worked on premiere at the Film Forum (Nuremberg)

9/30/10
Never Done: Started working at the Camden Film Festival (met a bunch of
new film industry people)

10/1/10
Never Done: Had Nero D'Avola wine at CIFF, met a bunch of new film industry people
Tshuve: Had lunch with an old friend, and for the first time were together as film festival colleagues

10/2/10
Never Done: Saw the film Do It Again, in the Bayview Cinema in Camden
Never Done: Went to a documentary pitch workshop

10/3/10
Tshuve: Picked the cranberries I always pick in October
Never Done: Saw the film Prodigal Sons

10/4/10
Tshuve: Left East Boothbay
Never Done: Went to sleep before the D's

10/5/10
Never Done: Spoke with 3 Muslim men after they finished their prayers on the sidewalk of the Merritt Parkway rest area. We spoke about Jewish and Muslim prayers for things we do for the first time.

10/6/10
Never Done: Spilled a full cup of tea all over JW's desk -- with hard drives, papers, and into power strips. (All was OK.)

10/7/10
Never Done: Had a beer milkshake (it was fantastic. Best milkshake I've ever had.)
Never Done: After seeing the Social Network, I accepted the Facebook friend request of my ex whose requests I'd been intentionally ignoring.

10/8/10
Never Done: Called the LGBT Center to inquire about adopting a child

10/9/10
Tshuve: Woke up with laryngitis
Never Done: Went to A's bar mitzve
Never Done: Since starting this project, said the
Shehekianu together in a group of other people (for A's bar mitzve)

10/10/10

Never Done: Saw the film Memories of Overdevelopment.
Never Done/Tshuve: Baked apple pie at AM's house, with apples from L's trees

10/11/10
Never Done: Started the Brooklyn Soup Swap

10/12/10
Never Done: Got a call back from the LGBT Center about adoption

10/13/10

Never Done: Saw Big Bambu on the roof of the Met, with P.

10/14/10

Never Done: Had sex in our old apartment, the night before we moved out.

10/15/10

Never Done: Moved to our new apartment

10/16/10

Never Done: Woke up in the new apartment

10/17/10
Never Done: C visits in Brooklyn
Never Done: Watched the Mad Men season finale upstairs with landlords

10/18/10

Tshuve: Had 3rd quarter check-in with D, D, and N
Never Done: Introduced K and D for the first time

Thank you for reading. From here on out, the posts will be shorter, the life will be fuller, and maybe the formatting will be more consistent. (I've been wrestling with fonts and italics for 30 minutes now, and it's time to let it be good enough.