Friday, December 31, 2010

I rode on a cargo bike

Never Done: Ate at a Portland food cart
Never Done: Got a ride on a cargo bike

Everyone kept talking about the food carts, and I was all, yeah, I know about the food carts -- there's nothing new about the food carts, and they were all, the food trucks are the Big New Thing, you have to go to the food carts, and I was all, the food carts have been there forever, and they were all, here's an article in the Willamette Week about the food carts, and eventually, because even if I am dense and slow sometimes I do actually pay attention, and I remembered the mide of Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone, so eventually I thought to myself, maybe they know something I don't know. So then I learned that the food carts I remembered are still there, downtown, but that now that are dozens more, all over town, in tons of different neighborhoods. If you are interested, here is a link to read about them.

So then I set out to go to a food cart, and it turned out to be a little harder than I thought it would be. Carol and Amy and Josh and I tried to go to one in Sellwood, but some were closed for the New Year's Holiday, and one was closed when we were there, at noon, but was open an hour later when we had already eaten elsewhere. Then I tried to go to the one on Hawthorne where there are apparently really good potatoes, but my timing was off, and I couldn't make it there. Eventually, Josh and I went to the pod on Mississippi, because it was on the way to my exciting date with Kronda and her cargo bike, even though I didn't want to go back to Mississippi (see my post from the day before yesterday.) And there we found a pod of carts, mostly closed, two open: a vegan place called The Ruby Dragon, and Garden State: Italian street food from the Willamette Valley. I went for the chickpea patty sandwich with delicata squash, carrot and radish slaw, and lemon aioli from Garden State. Damn it was good. And damn it was cold. The temperature had dropped to just about freezing by the time we got there, so it was just me, Josh, a big empty tent, and a superb sandwich. As soon as we finished, we hurried off to turn on the car heater and warm up our fingers.

And head to meet Kronda, who had promised me a ride on her cargo bike. Kronda has a lot of bikes. I forget how many now -- four I think. Maybe more. She commutes on her bike, and she jumps over logs on wet trails on her bike, she rides for days on her bike, and she goes camping with her bike. (Kronda has great muscles.) And when she heard about my Never Done project, she offered to take me for a ride on her cargo bike. Yay! It turns out to be really different to ride on the back of a friend's bicycle than a friend's motorcycle. I mean, she's doing all the work, and I'm sitting there, feeling vaguely guilty but actually having a wonderful time. When I told her this, Kronda said there was no vague guilt allowed -- so I put that aside, and just enjoyed being cargo. She rode me along Willamette Boulevard, which overlooks industrial Portland, and over the river to Forest Park (where I had just walked that morning, with the most wonderful Iowan, Bill Welch.) People smiled at us as we went by, and I waved, as we passed in slo-mo. I got to see the world at the pace of a bike, which is a pace I love, and one of the reasons I love to ride a bike, but I could look anywhere I wanted and take my hands off the handles. Maybe the closest I've ever come to this was being pulled in a little red wagon when I was a kid. Only different. Hard to explain, but it is complex to be transported by another driver on an outdoor, slow-moving, human-powered vehicle. I've never taken a pedi-cab, because it feels too uncomfortable to pay someone to pedal me around. But
I found riding behind Kronda completely delightful -- I think because I have such a long, trusting, two-way, reciprocal relationship with Kronda. And also because Kronda is an enthusiast, about bikes for sure, but also about her life in general, and I knew she was taking as much pleasure in sharing a new experience with me as I was in sharing it with her. I just love people like that, and aspire to be more that way myself. Maybe that will be my resolution for this goyish New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Now Is All You Have

Never Done: Springwater Corridor
Tshuve: Amy, Carol, Judi, Molly, Howard

In 1903, John Charles Olmsted, who designed Central Park, made a report to the Portland Park Board in which he wrote, "A connected system of parks and pathways is manifestly far more useful and complete than a series of isolated parks." In 1990, the same year I moved to Portland, the city acquired portions of out-of-use rail lines, and over the years acquired more rails and other small connecting bits, and in 1996 opened small segments of what is now called the 40-Mile Loop to the public. The Springwater Corridor is major Southeast part of this big loop, that crisscrosses Johnson Creek, and passes over industrial areas, and weaves through fields, and eventually connects to other trails that take you all the way to downtown Portland.

Not only had I never done this, I had never even heard of it, even though it is right up my alley. I love to walk, run, or ride my bike away from traffic. I love the idea of conserving and connecting land for public use. My father was involved for years with the Harvard Conservation Trust, which over the years has acquired and protected over 700 acres of land in my home town. When Josh and I visited Anna-Karin in Lund, Sweden this summer, we hopped on our bikes whenever we wanted to go somewhere, and rode on a spectacular, interconnected system of bike paths to get anywhere we wanted to go. But not bike paths like we have in most US cities, where you have to suck fumes and dodge cars and stop at lights, but bike paths like the Springwater Corridor -- 10 feet wide, paved, off the road, wending through trees and fields, crossing roads safely and well-marked.

We walked from Carol's house in Brentwood Darlington to Sellwood, about 4 miles, and saw the rushing, rushing Johnson Creek. We saw beaver dams and birds, and more than ever before, I felt like Portland was part of the rural Oregon -- its pre-development history poking through its present, and co-existing here where the creek rushes through people's back yards, and blackberry brambles line their unpaved roads. You get a little of that bramble and pothole in my old neighborhood in Northeast, but without the rushing creek, which I found quite thrilling in an urban residential setting.

As we passed over Milwaukie Boulevard, we looked down and saw an old boxcar that someone had painted with the words Now Is All You Have, with a web address ( in the upper corner. I took it as a message to help me with my concerns about my limited time to spend time with everyone I would like to. Not so much in that way we do when we say to ourselves that we could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but more a reminder that every moment is Now (unless it's Then) and that the best thing we can do is to pay full attention to it. I tend to spend too much time worrying about what is coming next and not enough time fully enjoying the now. I think it comes from having to look over my shoulder to see if something bad was coming my way, which I had to do when I was little. Even though most of my young days were just as you would hope for a child, some of them were seriously not, and I never really learned to fully relax into the Now, without also worrying about the past and future Then. In my years of Buddhist meditation, my mind never fully calmed down to the now, because I found that sitting for all that time, with nothing very interesting going on in the Now, all my mind had was to go backwards or forwards. But coming across a boxcar reminder while walking on a quiet urban trail in the cold rain with an old friend was actually a helpful reminder which I carried with me through the rest of my day, except when I totally forgot, and didn't. But the great thing about Now is that it is extremely forgiving, and offers an infinite number of opportunities to rejoin it every day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sex, shoes, and salt

Never Done/Tshuve: Walked with Kara through my old Portland neighborhood
Never Done: Had a Portland date with Kathleen and Dana
Never Done: Waited 45 minutes for a table for a late lunch in a Portland restaurant (Tasty and sons)
Never Done: Ate a bacon cheeseburger (at Tasty)
Never Done: Witnessed the gentrification of the Mississippi neighborhood (salt, shoes, and sex)
Tshuve: Games and pizza with Rupert and Scott

This is a hard post to write. On the one hand, as you can see from the list of stuff I did that I clearly had a wonderful day. Josh and I saw some of my closest, deepest friends in both new and old haunts. We had a short walk with Kara, who I've known since the early 1990s, who is one of my best friend's (Ellen) best friends, but this was our first time getting together without the our other friend, or without a big group of people. Then we got to have lunch at a super hipster new Portland restaurant located of all places in the old Oregon Food Bank building, eat my first ever bacon cheeseburger (I ended up picking out the bacon but it was a spectacularly wonderful burger) and wander along the surreally revamped (ie., gentrified, ie., a store that sells salt and a store that sells sex toys in the same block of buildings, where there used to be -- well, there used to be people) Mississippi street with Kathleen and Dana, who I set up, and who are really, really enjoying each other's company, and who have started calling themselves "girlfriends." (Do I get to count their Never Done experiences if I was the person who put them together?) Then, we got to go over to Rupert and Scott's house to play games and eat pizza and laugh like I miss like crazy.

On the other hand, I already miss the friends I have gotten to see -- and wish I could double, triple, quadruple, or megalotteryduple my time with them. I have only seen Carol, whose house I am staying at, for one minute on my first morning here, as she was heading to work and I was heading to the bathroom. I haven't seen Rupert and Scott in 18 months, and a couple hours feels like criminal. Same with everyone else I am seeing. And I didn't even tell a bunch of people I was coming to town, and that feels really crummy, for all of us. I adore the people who I didn't call, and my heart bursts with how much I would love to see them, but there literally aren't the hours in a week. I fantasize about moving back, but hesitate to talk about it because I don't want to either appear insincere, or ungrateful, or to lay bare my deep geographic indecisiveness. So when I visit, I end up experiencing Portland as an intense longing for something I actually have in the moment, but know will be gone from me again in just a few days. Something that will stay without me, that will grow and change and expect me to do the same wherever else it is I am living.

This week's mide is Righteousness: what is hateful to you, do not do to others. This makes me think even more than I already do about how my trips are for my friends. Part of the reason I don't call everyone is because I don't want to have dates that feel rushed to people -- as in, "Hi, it's wonderful to see you. I have to get to my next date now." On the other hand, I know it must really suck for people I really love, and love me, if I don't see them at all when I visit. This trip is the first time I didn't overbook myself, and still I feel overbooked and rushing off from one person to see another. How do I solve something like this? Is there such a thing as too many dear friends? If I am honest, am I being responsible to my friends? If not, what are the possible solutions? Maybe I need to take longer trips here -- which is theoretically possible, since I am a freelancer, and could work from here when I am not collaborating with other people in New York (which I often am.) If I would move back here, I would leave behind my entire family on the east coast, not to mention all my east coast friends. Everyone who knows how much I go back and forth about this know that this is a narrative that runs frequently in my head. I think the truth is that it's an unsolvable puzzle -- that I and my friends and family can't in fact, have everything, and that I have to choose the best solution, and then set up systems that help us all see each other as fully as we possibly can. Or I wonder if it's not I who should choose the best solution, but we -- a committee of sorts -- a representational body from east coast and west, from New York and New England, from family and friends who have a real say in the solution.

I have no idea if that's a good idea, but it is at least a new idea.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Met a new baby on the anniversary of my father's death

Never Done: Met baby Sophie
Tshuve: My father's yortsayt

There is nothing like meeting a healthy and beautiful 3-week old baby for the first time to remind you (me) that the life cycle is a healthy and beautiful thing. Even more so if it happens on the anniversary of your (my) father's death.

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.

Yisgedal veyiskadash shemey rabo
Be'olmo di'vero chir'usey
Veyamlich malchusey
Bechayeychon u'veyomeychon
Ba'agolo u'vizman koriv ve'imru omeyn

Yehey sh'mey rabo mevorach le'olam u'le'olmey olmayo
Yisborach ve'yishtabach ve'yispo'ar ve' yisromam ve'yisnasey
Ve'yis'hadar ve'yis'aleh ve'yis'halol
She'mey dikudsho b'rich hu
Le'eylo min kol birchoso ve'shiroso tushbechoso ve'nechemoso
Da'a,orpm be'olmo ve'imru omeyn

Yehey sh'lomo rabo min shemayo ve'chayim
Oleynu ve'al kol yisroel ve'imru omeyn
O'seh shalom bimromov
Hu ya'aseh sholom oleynu ve'al kol yisroel
Ve'imru omeyn

May the Eternal's illustrious name become increasingly great and holy
In the world that was created according to the Eternal's will,
and may the holy one's kingdom be established
in your lifetime and in your days
and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel
Speedily and soon. And let us say omeyn.

May the holy one's illustrious name be blessed always and forever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled
Honoured, raised up, and acclaimed
be the name of the holy one blessed be the eternal
beyond every blessing, hymn, praise, and consolation
that is uttered in the world. And let us say omeyn.
May abundant peace from heaven, and life
Be upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say omeyn.

May the eternal who makes peaces in the highest places
Make peace upon us and upon all Israel,
And let us say omeyn.

Wow. I am always struck with how the blessings for the brand new and the blessings for those who have passed are quite beautiful and interchangeable. And really not about the newborn baby or the deceased, but about praising God, or g-d, or the holy, or whatever it is you (I) believe in.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Morgenbesser Principle

Never Done: Understood (what I am calling) the Morgenbesser Principle
Also: Saw Arrested Development

Here's a true story. A Columbia University philosophy professor named Sidney Morgenbesser went into the corner coffee shop for his morning coffee and bagel. When he asked what kind of bagels they had that morning, the guy told him they had sesame and poppy. Sidney thought about it a while and then said, "I'll take a sesame." The guy went in the back to get his bagel, and came back with the news that they also had plain. "In that case," said Sidney, after a thoughtful pause, "I'll take the poppy."

I always thought this story was about Jewish neurosis, until Josh and I were eating bagels with my family, and he told that story, and before I knew it, we were talking about electoral politics. You see, I have always assumed (erroneously) that you can choose among many things (movies you want to see, photos of yourself, shirts you might want to wear) by comparing two, choosing the one you like better, setting aside the one you like less, and then comparing the one you like better to another one -- and so on and so on until you are left with one thing that you presumably like best. Not only have I assumed this, but I've practiced it, and it's brought me great comfort -- choice without anxiety. Until now. It turns out that Morgenbesser was sincerely choosing among the three bagel types. Had he been presented with poppy and plain at the beginning, he may well have chosen poppy. And Leigh pointed out that someone might like Democrat A over Republican B, but if Democrat C over Democrat A. I actually found it quite confusing, until I was on the airplane to Portland, with three DVDs from Netflix: The Maltese Falcon, Alien, and Inglorious Basterds.

I decided to choose which one to watch my old way first -- by randomly comparing two to see which one I prefer, taking the loser out of competition, and then comparing the remaining two. I chose Maltese Falcon and Alien -- and between the two, I wanted to watch Alien. Then I compared Alien and Inglorious Basterds, and between the two I still wanted to see Alien.

Then I tried it another way -- which was to compare Maltese Falcon and Inglorious Basterds -- and from that match-up I wanted to see Maltese Falcon, which had been the first movie eliminated the way I first did it. Just like Sidney and the poppy bagel! Now imagine I would choose among a dozen candidates, and I would throw out the first one based on this illogic. It would be much harder for me to see my way back to that candidate than it would be to see my way back to one of three. It turns out that there is no algorithm to help entire districts determine who is the most wanted candidate -- that's why some nations have systems of representative democracy -- like England's parliamentary system. I should be upfront here that I am not very fluent in civics -- and am mostly repeating what I Leigh, who is, said -- but I do finally understand that the way I have been making decisions for years is flawed. I don't so much worry that I've chosen the wrong headshot or appetizer, but more that in the future I'll agonize more over decisions. The mide (middah) Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation -- doesn't give much help with actually making the decision -- just putting it into action. I guess I'll have to develop new comparing and contrasting techniques. Meanwhile, I put on the Maltese Falcon, and got excited about seeing it, as the introduction scrolled by, and then ... the sound didn't work. So I put on Inglorious Basterds. Sometimes help comes in strange places. (Then I put in Inglorious, and watched until chapter three, when the Nazi is drinking milk in the French dairy farmer's house before the battery on the computer ran out. Not sure what that means, but maybe it's something about not having too much anxiety about the choices we make, because life can come along and intervene anyhow.

So I watched Arrested Development for the first time and felt so caught up with the early 2000s.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Righteousness is a good place to start

Never Done: Played Xbox (360)

My cousins Geof and Patty are fun and generous people. They show up to parties with home-infused blueberry vodka,
magnificent and not inexpensive Alaskan king crab meat (once a year), and (usually music-related) video games. They also make time for people -- for fun and for not so fun, They brought a telescope to Maine this Fall, and showed me Saturn's rings in the clear night sky, and they found the time to be close with my mom when she was sick. To the extent that I am also a fun and generous person, I've definitely learned how to be that way from them. This Christmas they showed up with a game called Dance Central, on the Xbox 360, and we all got to bust out our best moves, and try to dance along with avatars, while a motion detector detected how well we did, and scored us. It's hard to explain, but it's a little like Dance, Dance Revolution meets America's Got Talent. In your living room. With web-cam sensors instead of judges. And family members cheering you on. Or competing against you. Or taking videos of you and posting them to your Facebook page (sorry Kenny.)

This week's mide (middah) is Righteousness: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. I've been told that this ideal is found in every major religion. The golden rule, do unto others, love your neighbor as your self -- you know what righteousness is. As I hung out with my family -- uncle, aunt, sister, partner, cousins, and first cousins once removed on both sides of my family -- dancing against -- and for each other, I noticed that on the whole, we treat each other pretty well. We're not a kid-glove clan -- we have all developed our share of thick skin in reaction to sharp tongues and especially to a family pattern of needing to be right. But at the same time, we don't want to be treated with kid gloves either, so we do a pretty great job of treating each other the way we want to be treated.

And when we don't, the rest of us try to step in. Some of us had a tough talk after dinner -- we are trying to figure out how to give some much-needed support to someone in the family who isn't being treated the way they should be. It's too delicate to go into on this public forum, but this was also something we had never done -- spoken together, not just two or three people at a time, but many of us, putting our heads together, to try to solve something big. Every time I noticed us slipping into a blame game, I tried to catch myself, and think about righteousness, and what it would feel like if the shoe was on the other foot. And what I could to to shift the way I was thinking. Do unto others.

It's late and I have to go get stuck in the airport, so this won't be as developed as I would normally like, but I would like to do some more thinking about how an ethical structure like one that Mussar provides could help us through this situation. I will start writing about it in my private Mussar journal, but for now, I think righteousness is a good place to start.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ho! Ho! Ho! Slaphead Mofo!

Never Done: Christmas eve with Steve, Julie, and Leigh
Tshuve: Pajamas for Christmas

Josh and I flew to Boston to spend Christmas with my family in New Hampshire. I was all geared up to write about My Very First Full-Body Pat Down (having decided I didn't want the dose of radiation from the scanner) but apparently TSA isn't too worried about the people flying out of JFK -- we just went through a regular detector, and no pat down.

All cleared, we ran into Felix and Christina in the Jet Blue terminal, and hung out for an hour, talking about film and collaboration and how to stay warm in a winter house with no insulation and just a wood stove and no hot flashes.

The flight was on time, everything went smoothly, and when we arrived in Boston, my uncle Steve was there to pick us up and bring us to New Hampshire. On the way home, we stopped at Shaws to pick up the Christmas salmon, and ran into my cousin Judy and her daughter Madeline in the fish department.

Once back at the house, we jumped right in to help with food prep -- and excorticated (I had to look that word up -- what we did was so much more than peel and section) a dozen oranges and a dozen grapefruits for salad, boiled a dozen eggs for garam masala deviled eggs, made a raspberry sauce to go on poached pears (more on those tomorrow), and caught up with my aunt Julie and cousin Leigh.

Until it was time to go to dinner at Villa Banco in Nashua -- a double Never Done, since I'd certainly not been to that restaurant, and also I have never spent time in Nashua. My uncle and I once met with MoveOn people in a parking lot in Nashua to get out the vote for Obama and local democrats in the 2008 primary, but after our orientation, we were sent to his town of Hollis to door knock. I loved door knocking with my uncle that day. I loved being a progressive team, 75 and 45 years old, and getting to see my uncle in his town. He is on the school board, and volunteers at the library, and knew most everyone we met that day, and if he didn't, he knew who knew them. But that was in Hollis, not Nashua.

Downtown Nashua at night is beautiful in that New England small city way. A long main street lined with brick buildings, and, it being Christmas time, white lights. Even though I'd never been there, I got the feeling I often get when I'm in New England -- a feeling of cultural and aesthetic home. I don't have to know the place, but I know the place. (Whenever I come to New England I get confused about why I live in New York, but that's another story.) After dinner (I also feel in my cultural home when I get to eat lobster -- and got it with shrimp and crab and scallops and pasta, no less!) we were sitting in the cold car when my uncle asked me, "What does that bumper sticker mean?" I craned my neck and saw it: SLAPHEAD MOFO. I didn't know what slaphead was, but I said, "Well, mofo means motherfucker." At first he didn't believe me -- and pointed out that it should really be "mofu" -- but Leigh backed me up on it, and he believed her. Then Leigh looked up slaphead in the urban dictionary and found out it basically means "du-oh" -- like when you slap your head in a stupid moment. So we figured out that a slaphead mofo is a stupid motherfucker. Then we found that Slaphead Mofo is some kind of mountain biking community with a confusing website. (Kronda? Can you explain?) Then Leigh mentioned that she had to tell her mother the other day what a firecrotch was. Steve didn't know that either, so Leigh explained it's someone with red hair .... It's hard to explain, but when you're with your close family, and you're talking about motherfuckers and firecrotches, it is strangely comforting. I settled into the back seat, very happy to be with my clan.

And speaking of comfort, when we got back to the house, Julie came out with presents for everyone, and explained that they have a Christmas eve tradition -- they each get a new pair of pajamas, and she had included me and Josh. Mine is a beautiful black and white brushed cotton patterned pants with a black t-shirt top that fits perfectly. (Julie is an amazing shopper.) This is not the first time I have received pajamas for Christmas. I also did in 1981, when I was on my exchange year in France. I was accustomed to wearing a t-shirt to bed, which I had been doing since I had arrived there in August. At Christmas time, my host family gave me a pink nightgown. At first I didn't appreciate this gift -- I didn't like pink, I didn't like nightgowns, I didn't need a nightgown. I am pretty sure (and I really hope) I didn't say any of this gracelessness aloud, but instead I started to wear the nightgown, and after a while I fell deeply in love with it, for its own sake, but also because the gift felt so caring. I also came to understand that they might not have felt so comfortable with me in my t-shirt and underwear, and that it might have been a gift for the whole family. It was one of those growing-up lessons; after that I always traveled with appropriate pajamas.

So it was a day full of never-done activities, but none as meaningful as just being together with my family on Christmas eve.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dirty Martini: How I learned to stop worrying and love myself

Never Done: Drank a martini
Tshuve: Sewed a pillow for a friend

About ten years ago I tried to learn to drink. I would go to bars, and ask bartenders about different drinks, and then choose one, and then tip well. I wanted a bar repertoire, because I was getting bored with my usual seltzer and lime, and I wanted to like some alcoholic drinks. I wanted to be one of those people who could just know what they wanted when someone asked, "What would you like?" I knew some things I didn't like. I didn't like drinks that are too sweet, and I didn't like drinks that are too strong, and I was afraid to try tequila, and the one time I had a gin drink I did something I regretted. I learned that I like things with elderflower, and I like peach bellinis at brunch (somehow not too sweet) and I like a drink that a bartender once made me that has puzzled every other bartender I've asked for it: equal parts dry vermouth and sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist of lemon rind. The best drink I ever had was with friends in the bar of the Fontainbleu in Miami, and we got the recipe from the bartender. It's called the Emerald:

1 inch chopped cucumber
1 oz chopped kiwi
2 oz fresh pressed apple juice
3.75 simple syrup (when I made it for myself I cut this in half)
juice of 1/2 lime
1.5 oz vodka
shake hard with ice

But you can't exactly go into a bar and order a specialty drink from the Fontainbleu. (But you know what you can do? You can sneak into the pool area of the Fontainbleu and go swimming in every single one of the swimming pools.) So ultimately I did not develop a repertoire, and about 85% of the time someone offers me a drink I still ask for a seltzer with lime. It's hard to explain; I just freeze up when someone asks me what I would like. The chatter in my head goes something like this, "Try to remember the name of a drink. Any drink. Try to remember something you liked. You're taking too long. Just order some wine. I don't really want wine, I want to order a drink drink." And then I ask for seltzer and lime.

In all those years of experimenting (I didn't go out that often -- we're talking maybe a couple times a year) I never ordered a martini. When I made my big list of things I've never done, it was early on the list. For weeks now I've been thinking about stopping into a bar to order one, but always had a reason to keep my wits about me -- either because I had work to do or other pressing matters. Then the day came when I had done it all. I had crossed off (literally) 26 items from my day's list, the last thing being that I made a pillow for a friend out of beautiful fabric and the duck down from a torn ancestral pillow. I had dinner ready in the fridge, and all I had left to do was pack for a trip. The time had come!

I texted Josh, and asked him if he wanted to meet me at Johnny Macks, the bar near our apartment (which is also the bar where I drank the regretted gin) and, being the amenable person that he is, he agreed. I explained to the bartender that I had never had a martini, and she was intrigued. She asked if I wanted it to be gin or vodka, and because I had done my homework earlier (I had read the martini wikipedia page) I didn't freeze up, and I said that I'd probably like it better with vodka, but wasn't an authentic martini made from gin? She said it was. I was doing so well! Then she asked me, "What kind of gin would you like?" And I just looked at her and said, "I don't know!" I asked her what kind she thought I should have, and she sold me on Tangueray No. 10, which I have just read is "the only gin distilled with handpicked fresh fruits and botanicals, including white grapefruits, oranges and limes -- along with gin's signature juniper and coriander and a hint of chamomile." OK, that sounds amazing. I'd like it with seltzer and lime please.

I sat back, pleased with myself, but before I was out of the hot seat, she asked if I wanted a dirty martini. I knew what that was -- but I wasn't actually sure if it was considered original or not. But I like olives, and I thought I might like the way the olive juice would dilute the alcohol content, so I said yes, and relaxed for good. Josh decided not to order anything because we both knew I was not good for the whole drink. As I watched her chill the gin, and pour olive juice into a glass, and trickle the vermouth out of a tall bottle, I was taken with the alchemy of a bartender's life -- mixing liquids while keeping her eye on everyone, chatting, greeting, and fending.

When she presented me with my drink, I said the Shehekhianu as if it were a new fruit I was tasting, not yet knowing about all the fruity components of the gin. And finally, I tasted my first martini. It was surprisingly salty. Very ginny. But smooth, and clean, and crisp tasting. I sort of liked it. I took another sip. I still sort of liked it. I ate a gin-soaked olive, and I loved that. Then Josh took a sip, and he thought for a moment, and then said, "It tastes like sea water." The next sip I had tasted like sea water, and I wasn't quite as fond of the martini anymore. The next sip I had really tasted like sea water, and I shuddered. I didn't really like the martini anymore.
I tried one more sip, but it was all over.

I couldn't tell if I was reacting to the memory of gulping sea water instead of air, or if the martini just plain stopped tasting good. But once the suggestion was set in my mind, I couldn't get it out.

I usually love to swim in sea water, but there have been times when it's just felt wrong. Wrong when I swallow it by accident. Wrong when I feel seasick from the waves (this has happened to me more than once!) Wrong when the waves are strong, and I am tired. Wrong when I am far from shore, and any of these things are happening. But the narrative that goes on in my head is usually a narrative that tells me that I should be enjoying myself, because I like swimming in sea water.

So there's the metaphor. It's about trusting my own instincts, and discerning among conflicting facts and feelings and pressures and other people's inputs to come up with the answer to the fundamental question -- what do I want? Right now, in this moment? Regardless of what I have wanted at other points in my life? It's a question that many women have trouble answering -- having so often been trained to take care of other people's wants and needs and feelings -- and fittingly it's the question that Nancy Schwartzman explores in her film about sexual consent, The Line.

It's a little embarrassing, but I'm going to tell you all the forces that worked on me. I felt some pressure to finish it, for the Never Done project, to experience what it would feel like to drink an entire martini. I also felt some pressure to drink the entire drink, because I was paying for it. I also felt some pressure because I didn't want to disappoint the bartender. (Wow.) And then, of course, I was focusing on why I stopped enjoying it instead of simply acknowledging that I no longer did.

Later, after I got home and was packing for my trip, a little tipsy from six sips of martini, I was glad I hadn't had more. This morning, writing this, I am glad I was able to identify and ignore the pressures, and figure out what was right for me. I often find it useful, when tackling a Big Life Issue, to pinpoint cases when I succeed, and to break it down to understand it, so I can then try to recreate the success in harder situations. I am hopeful that the next time someone asks me, "What do you want?" I will be able to identify and ignore the forces that make me want to freeze up, and take my time to decide what I want, and then say so.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nothing says middle age like a hot flash

Never Done: Had a hot flash, I think

I walked over to Zeva's for Mussar group, with a couple detours to run errands at the bank and the library; probably altogether I spent an hour outside in the clear cold weather, completely warm in my long down coat. When I arrived to Zeva's, it was extremely hot in the apartment. I peeled off my coat and hat, and sat down to talk with her. After about 10 minutes, I noticed that I was dripping sweat. I didn't pay much attention to it because I was in the middle of a conversation, but then I realized that this was more than just the hot apartment; this was a hot flash.

I'm not sure what else there is to say about this except that if that was a hot flash, it wasn't so bad. Ask me how I feel about them in about ten years.

I was going to be flippant and end the post there, but the truth is that this is the very reason I have embarked on this year-long Never Done project and the very reason I am writing this blog.
Because nothing says "You're middle-aged" like peri-menopause. As I approach 50 (but first I have to approach 48) I want to have a bigger, expansive life -- not a smaller, diminished one. But I also want to be honest with myself and open with others about what it actually feels like to be this age. For someone like me, who wanted to but never did have a child, it is sobering to feel the biological door closing.

At the same time, my hope is that by the end of a year of trying -- or noticing -- new things every day, that I will have opened many other doors, and discovered which ones I want to walk through, and which worlds I want to enter and live in. A quarter of the way through the year, I am already living a more expansive life, and already discovering what I want to keep permanently (singing, spinning, sewing, soup swap.) (I didn't actually just choose all "s" words -- those were the first four things that came to mind.)

I'm looking forward to the rest of the year, and the rest of my life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All I really need to know I learned in middle school chorus

Never Done: Sing Along Messiah (at Lincoln Center)
Tshuve: Singing in a chorus

One of the things I loved more than anything when I was growing up was to sing. I sang in the school chorus, I sang in community musical theater, I sang in the living room (usually along to all the Broadway musical LP's we had, (which wasn't a vast collection, so I know My Fair Lady, West Side Story, and Godspell extremely well) -- and also, I sang in the Unitarian Church choir. I loved singing in the church choir. I loved the music, I loved being upstairs in the church balcony, I loved the organ. And I was extremely confused about whether or not to sing the words Jesus, Lord, or God out loud.

As I think I have mentioned on this blog before, when I was little, my family was the only Jewish family in my town. Later, other Jewish families came -- first the Kaplans and then the Maisels, and then a few more, and now I am pretty sure the school closes for the High Holidays (although if I would hazard a guess, I would say that the Jewish population of Harvard still falls below the American average of 2%.) But back then, I literally didn't know anybody Jewish who wasn't in my family, and since we were atheists, I didn't understand that Jews could believe in God. I did understand that singing about Jesus was problematic for us (but I had no problem whatsoever belting out the songs from Godspell in the living room.)

I can't remember the last time I'd been in a situation that brought back the feelings I had in church choir -- coming upon the words Jesus Christ, with an imperative to sing them loud, sing them proud, and to feel myself pause on the edge of the word, poised on the moment of transgression. We don't believe in Jesus that way. I think the reason that singing Christmas carols doesn't have the same effect is that when I sing them, I feel like I'm singing on a lark -- in situations that are casual, silly, or truly just for fun. But I took church choir seriously. I took the music, the choral director, and the role of the choir seriously, and really struggled, privately, with the issue. In the end, I decided, privately (I don't remember ever talking with anybody about this) to mouth the words Jesus and God, but that it was OK to sing Lord aloud. I think that's because I had read enough 18th and 19th century British literature (Little Lord Fontleroy, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) to become comfortable with the word Lord.

So I started saying I can't remember the last time I'd stumbled over singing these words -- until last night, when Josh and I went to the Messiah Sing-In at Lincoln Center. I had borrowed the score from the Brooklyn Public Library, and had downloaded the London Philharmonic's recording, and had practiced a few choruses just a few times -- score and recording. I'd managed to listen to the entire recording a few times through, just on its own, while I was doing other things, but last night was the first time I started at the beginning, and sang through to the end. And just like old times, I didn't have any problem with Lord, and I didn't have trouble with God either -- probably due to the fact that now, 35 years later, I understand the universality of the word God, but I'm telling you, when we got to "But thanks, but thanks, thanks, thanks e to God, but thanks, but thanks, thanks, thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, the victory, through our Lord, Jesus Christ!" there was really no way around the Christianity of it all. And that was a little hard for me.

But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Avery Fisher Concert Hall was not filled to the gills, but it was quite full of amateur and professional choral singers, most of whom had all come with a score, ready to sing Handel's Messiah, from start to finish. We were not seated in sections; we were seated, as one conductor put it, "scrambled" -- which makes for a wonderfully integrated sound, but it also means that if you don't know the work very well, and you aren't a great sight reader, you have to listen carefully to find your closest counter-part. I was lucky that there was a fairly strong soprano in front of me, and four extremely strong sopranos about 5 rows behind me. When I got lost, I listened for them, and caught a ride. I am an OK sight reader -- quite good with pitches, and less good with rhythms. I'm also very out of practice. There was a time in my life when I was much better at this -- when I studied with an aim to get my BFA in music composition. (I am a few credits, and now many years, shy of reaching that goal.) During those same years, when I studied with the nuns at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon, I sang with one of the small chorales. Later, when I was studying jazz theory at Mount Hood Community College, I sang with a jazz group, and I think I didn't make the cut to sing with the small chorale when I was at Portland State University. This was all in the mid-90s, so I would say I haven't sung regularly with a choir or chorale in 15 years. So when Martin Josman, Musical Director of the National Chorale, stood on the stage and explained to us how we were going to do this, I got tshuve shivers -- so excited to be returning to choral singing, and to be doing it with over 2000 singers in this amazing hall.

It worked like this: there were four soloists, and they each got to sing a couple solos, but Josman explained that they wouldn't get to do all of them because we were there so WE could sing. There were a bunch of choral directors, from Jersey high schools to Columbia University to the musical director for New York public schools -- and they each got a turn conducting us. One of my favorite parts of the evening was when these conductors would take the stage, and would take a couple minutes to actually direct us -- suggest we make our vowels round, or practice the rhythm of a particular passage, or my favorite one, who asked us to raise our right hand and take an oath: "I promise I will not slow down the tempo, no matter how many sixteenth notes, so help me Handel." I just loved feeling a part of a group endeavor where it was in the best interest of the group for each individual to do our best -- and also that the stakes were just not that high. Nobody's career was on the line, no organization's future was being determined; we were singing together, and we all hoped we would sing well, and we all hoped it would sound beautiful. We could probably all learn a lot about how to conduct ourselves in life from how we conduct ourselves in choral singing.

I was going to go on and write all about the actual singing, but I feel like I just hit the Big Message of the day, so I'm going to wrap up. I do want to say that Josh and I saw Nettie there, who is a wonderful singer, and a reader of this blog, and she has since shown me this tool for learning our parts, for next year. If anyone wants to practice, and come back next year, let me know.

Also, I just counted, and I have completed 1/4 of My Mussar Year! I wonder how I'll celebrate... I know -- by doing something I've never done before!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A night in the Museum (during the day)

Never Done: Went into the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it was closed

I got this email from my friend Quito a few weeks ago:

"Dear ones. My friend Hyla who works in the photo studio in the Met can let us into the Met on a Monday. If you've never been to the Met without people, I can tell you: it is one of the more special experiences you can have. So quiet. So much art. If you are available to share this rare experience with me, say yes, and make requests: we will have to plan our route carefully. We only get an hour and then our guide has to go back to work."

Then she wrote me a special little note mentioning what a great Never Done activity this would be.

I was intrigued. I had certainly never been inside any museum when it wasn't open. I started thinking about art I would like to see in private. I knew I wanted to see brushstrokes up close. I checked to see if the Met has any Chagall. I love Cy Twombly. I thought it would be lovely to be alone in a room wit the impressionists. I looked up the exhibits at the Met right now. I was intrigued by the Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand photo exhibit. Also, the Miró. And it wasn't only going to be up to me; we were going to be a group, and for just an hour, so we'd need to make some choices. I told myself I would do some research, and come up with my #1 choice for the time there.

Instead, I got busy with my full life, and I completely ran out of time, and ended up telling myself that it didn't really matter what I would see -- that truly, seeing anything alone in the museum would be amazing.

The day came, and in the end it was just me and Quito and Hyla. The first thing Hyla asked us was, "What do you want to see?" It suddenly seemed vast and overwhelming, and I lost my resolve that seeing anything at all would be amazing. I suddenly feared that I would waste the opportunity. But then I looked up, and saw the massive staircase, with nobody on it, and thought, "OK, this really will be amazing."

Quito had been to the museum just the day before, whereas I hadn't been since Patricia and I went to see Big Bambu on the roof. Quito said she wanted to see a courtyard. I mentioned the Stieglitz show and Hyla said it was a great thing to see on a closed day, because when it's open it's really hard to get up closet to the photographs.

Before I say more about the museum, I want to say that both Quito and Hyla are wonderful photographers. With websites even. Click on their names, and see the magic.

So off we went, up empty staircases, through empty corridors, past some wonderful photographs that are part of a different show. We stopped to look at some of these, and ran into a friend of Hyla's who is a photography fellow at the museum, who it turned out curated the exhibit we were looking at. An image of the moon -- a photogravure, made from two different plates in 1895, caught my eye. It reminded me of images I grew up with -- moon and Mars images that were taken with cameras my father had designed, or helped design. I started to feel the power of having a solitary experience in a museum -- as I read and looked, looked and thought, thought and imagined, and nobody jostled me out of the way, or coughed quietly to speed me up.

When we ourselves were ready, we moved on to the Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand show. Hyla brought us right over to her favorite photo Stieglitz had taken of Georgia O'Keeffe's hands -- one in a series of photos he took of her between 1918 and 1937. These were extremely intimate photos, and to be able to see them in an intimate environment was really quite precious. I fell for a simple photo of a branch of wet apples in front of a gable -- it turned out to be a shot he took later in life, and had mounted on a card to give to Georgia, after he could no longer take photographs.

When Hyla and Quito were talking, I ducked into a room that had nobody in it. Nobody else. Really, nobody. I quickly said the Shehekhianu, and then felt a thrill as I looked at shots of police firing on Russian revolutionaries in 1917, and city scapes, also from 1917, that were reminiscent of the imagery from the film Metropolis. These weren't the most moving works of art in the exhibit, nor in the museum, but they were my private pieces -- the ones I came upon at the moment I happened to be all alone.

When we were done with this exhibit, we went off to find a courtyard for Quito. Riding the elevator with a couple people who worked in the museum, Quito asked them where a good courtyard was, and a woman said to go to the Astor Court -- a recreation of a Ming Dynasty-style Chinese courtyard, conceived of and funded by Brooke Astor. So off we went, past exhibits of Korean art, and Buddhist art, and long glass cases of ceramic ware, and jewelry, and past a gigantic Buddha, and finally to Astor Court. You duck through a round entryway, and you're suddenly in another world -- a world with beautiful light, growing green ground cover, bamboo, and rocks.
If I had more time to write this post, I would write about the light -- and what it felt like to be in this space, with vast sky lights, and also carefully designed un-natural light. But just like then, when our time in the museum was running out, I also must run out to another appointment, and can't keep writing.

I don't think I've done a particularly good job of writing about how meaningful this was -- especially the deep connections I made with my father's personal history as a photographer and a camera designer, which was actually the deepest part of the experience for me. A self-portrait of Stieglitz holding a copy of Camera Works Magazine was like a portal directly from Stieglitz's world, to my fathers, and to mine. I guess if there is a lesson to be learned from the experience, it might be something about saying yes to friends with big ideas. Or to have big ideas and make them happen. Or to be open to any eventuality once big ideas are afoot. I don't think I could ever have imagined, when Quito first suggested we go to the museum, and I was sure that I wanted to see brushstrokes, that I would have ended up with such a reconnection to my father. Or alone with a giant Buddha.

Monday, December 20, 2010

End classism, smash brand loyalty

Never Done: Bought Colgate

I don't even pretend to understand all the factors that go into the reason I have brand loyalty to Crest toothpaste, but I'm going to try to probe my experience honestly, and see what I come up with.

So here's the deal. I grew up using Crest toothpaste. When I got out and on my own, I switched to Tom's. When I got older and got some gum recession (too much information?) I started using Sensodyne sometimes, and also I left Tom's behind and went back to Crest. In the meantime, my mom started using Tom's. That's important, because as you'll soon learn, I think I probably got my brand loyalty to Crest from her, or from both my parents.

I can remember when I was growing up, when I would go to other people's homes, I was quite open to some things they did differently from our family, and I was quite judgmental about other things. Some things landed in both camps -- things I liked but also judged. Store-bought salad dressing is in this category -- we didn't use it at home, but it became a guilty pleasure of mine when I went elsewhere. (Still is, and I still don't buy it.) I don't know what there was to judge about salad dressing in a bottle. It's not like we didn't use other processed, packaged products. Why did I get judgmental about that when we bought Hershey's chocolate syrup in a plastic bottle? (Which I then grew to judge, and have never myself bought.)

But this toothpaste thing is a little different. Most people I know, unless they use baking soda, buy toothpaste of some sort. So instead of opting out of buying the product altogether, we choose which one to buy. When it's time for new shampoo or soap, there can be something a little fun about choosing something new; as a bottle or a bar starts to run low, I can get just a little excited that I get to choose a new product. (Except that now that my hair silver, and I want to keep it from yellowing, I use one certain shampoo (Aveda Blue Malva) and don't get that little bottom of the bottle thrill anymore.

But let's explore why there's a little voice inside me (or there was until I noticed it and kicked its ass) that says that Crest toothpaste is better than other brands (except Tom's or Sensodyne -- one of which is obviously morally better (according to my little voice) and one of which serves a special purpose, so it's neither better nor worse.)

When I was a kid, there weren't as many product from which to choose. Also,
until I got old enough to shop with my mom and dad, I didn't make the choices -- products just appeared in grocery bags. Today I buy my own toothpaste, and in addition to brand, I have choices about flavors, packaging (tubes or squeeze bottles), whitening, and Disney princesses. I also wonder -- were there fewer toothpaste brands in the 60s than there are now? I assume so -- so I assume that the choice my family made to buy Crest toothpaste might have been a choice among just a few brands, and not dozens. And if that is the case, I can see why I might have decided that Crest was choice OVER Colgate -- and therefore a declaration of Crest's supremacy. It's also possible that I grew up in an environment that promoted "we are better" thinking -- even if it was unintentional. I remember going to a middle school choir festival, and sleeping overnight at someone else's home. This was probably the first time I slept at someone's home who I didn't know at all, where I had no bearings. It wasn't a friend of the family, it wasn't a friend of mine from school; it was a random family in Duxbury MA who had a kid in a choir somewhere. And they drank powdered skim milk. We drank bottled whole milk. I remember that my distaste for powdered skim milk, a glass of which they poured at dinner, and also which we ate on cereal in the morning, became the marker for me of how much I didn't like staying at those people's house -- that they were different from me -- that I didn't belong.

Now it's also true that they weren't particularly fun, and the kids were not particularly nice to me -- but now, thirty five years later, it's the taste of powdered skim milk that I remember from staying there, and the lesson I learned from the milk, that not everyone does things the same way. Which is a good lesson to take away from a home stay.

At the time, I had no idea that class played any part in any part of this. Writing about it now, it's clear to me that class played a part in every part of this. I think the concept of "better than" is completely rooted in classism, and that because of that, my brand allegiance to Crest is rooted in classism. Because right, I didn't say this yet -- even though I can't remember anyone outright dissing Colgate (or Aim, or Aquafresh) toothpaste, I thought it was "weird" when other people bought those brands. The part I don't understand is how this actually functions. As far as I know, Crest isn't more expensive or more elitist than Colgate. It isn't marketed to middle and upper class people. I am pretty sure that Colgate use crosses all class boundaries. So other than the fact that I grew up in an environment that promoted "better than" thinking, why did I inherit this Crest bias?
If any readers are market theorists, I'd love to know more about the factors that go into this phenomenon.

In the meantime, since I am committed to eradicating classism, I bought
Colgate toothpaste. And it turns out I like it better than Crest. Go figure.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Escape from New York

Never Done: easy out of NYC

I only have a short minute to write this, and I hope I will get to come back in later to expand, but as Josh and I were leaving New York, at 8 PM on Saturday night, we cruised down 7th Avenue, and merged with no drama into the Holland Tunnel, and I murmered, "I've never seen so little traffic getting into the tunnel." And Josh said, "Barukh ata Adenai..." and together we said the Shehekhianu for the smooth escape from New York.

Then the entire trip to visit his mom in Potomac, Maryland was equally smooth -- normally a 5 hour trip, in just under 4 hours, singing as many television theme songs as we could think of along the way.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The America I want to live in

Never Done: Saw Prince with someone who had never seen Prince before
Never Done: Met Karen
Tshuve: Saw Prince

Once you set out to do one thing every day you've never done before, you either have to stop planning activities you have done before, or find ways to justify saying you've never done them before. OK, not really true. There are other options. You can pack more into your already full life. You can choose to write about small moments that are, actually, things you have never done before, but nothing you'd normally write home about. Or, you can find ways to justify saying you've never done them before.

I have seen Prince before. More than once. More than twice. More than three times. The best time was in Portland, OR when I was still a member of one of his fan clubs, and so I got to see his sound check, and his show, and then go to a small after show at a small club, deep into the night. That was his One Night Alone tour, which was solo piano and voice. The show itself, on
April 29, 2002 at the Schnitz (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) was stunning. Solo piano and voice. If my iPod had grooves, I would have worn the tracks of that recording out by now, listening to Prince croon Here on Earth and A Case of U. I had never heard him play piano, unvarnished, before, and hearing him then brought me over to some other side I didn't even know I wasn't yet on -- the side of Prince playing the piano. The side of, "Oh, he is an astonishingly talented musician, not just a great guitarist, songwriter, and performer." Later that night, at the small after show, I was standing literally at the stage, looking up at Prince, who was standing above me, wail on his guitar and play all his old favorites, when I got an urge to reach out and Touch. His. Shoe. It was a shiny silver platform boot. It was inches away from me. It was by all rights off limits to me. And it was irresistible. I touched it. And as soon as I did, one of his bodyguards hit my arm away. Hard. Prince didn't even notice. Just kept playing.

But that was years ago, and this is now, and by the time I tried to buy tickets to see him at Madison Square Garden, they were sold out, so I bought tickets in Jersey, at the Izod Center, formerly the Meadowlands. I have been to the Meadowlands once before. In fact, I went to the Meadowlands for its very first (and second, and if I remember correctly, third) shows -- Bruce Springsteen, in July 1981, a month after I graduated from high school. I drove down from Massachusetts with my cousin Kenny, and we spent a few days with his college roommate. I think we had bought tickets to the first show in advance, and then stayed and bought scalped tickets the next two nights. I remember tailgating in the hot summer parking lot, and I remember being inside the stadium for the shows, but truthfully, I can't differentiate between those Boss shows and the dozen others I probably saw during that decade. Mostly what lasted was the bonding between me and my closest in age cousin -- a bonding that turned out to be made from some pretty strong adhesive.

But again, this is about Prince, right?

The last time I saw Prince, I saw him in Madison Square Garden with Tracey. When I saw the tickets were going on sale this time, I texted Tracey and found out that she had tickets to Jersey, so I bought mine for the same night. I bought two, on faith that someone would want to come with me. I was very happy when Nikki said she wanted to come, because she is an incredibly enthusiastic, fun, and insightful person to spend time with. Plus, Nikki had never seen Prince. Our day got more twisted around than either of us could have imagined. After careful planning that took into consideration our work schedules, coop shifts, Friday night bridge and tunnel traffic, public transportation vs the car, and Nikki's amazing purple duct tape dress she made for her birthday weekend, we settled on a plan to leave in the mid-afternoon, in the car, to avoid traffic, and get time together, and dinner, before the show. And then her close friend's mom died, and Nikki had to juggle life with death, and come up with a new plan. I won't go into those details, but I do want to write about one particular touching moment this change provided, between me and a man I don't know. I ended up driving, and Nikki ended up taking the bus from Port Authority. When I arrived at the Izod Center, alone in the car, the man who pointed me to the right parking area said to me, "You're alone for the show?" I said I was meeting a friend, and he followed up, "I just want you to have a good time." I thanked him, and told him that I was definitely going to have a good time. And started singing the 1986 song Kiss to myself, as I drove into the parking structure.

When I parked, Tracey texted me that she and Karen were already there. We found each other pretty easily, and hung out for about an hour, until people started to want the seats I was perching in near them. Even though we don't see each other often enough, Tracey is one of my deepest NYC friends. We met at a playwriting retreat in 2003, and have been close ever since. Somehow though, it took several years for me to meet her (wonderful) partner Karen. And then Prince brought us together!!

Does it seem like I've been writing for a long time and not even writing about Prince? It feels that way to me. And I don't even have that much time left today to write. (That was a warning that this might peter out unsatisfactorily at some point.) The thing I love most of all about being at a Prince show is that it feels like I am in the America I want to live in. Prince brings together the most diverse crowd I know -- no matter what our race, age, sexual orientation, gender. He is so packed with charisma, musical talent, and sex appeal that he gets us all. Nikki told me that she knew a handful of straight men who seriously questioned their sexual identities because of feelings they had towards Prince.

Yes, Nikki showed up! After Cassandra Wilson's opening set, and in the middle of Maceo Parker's, Nikki finally arrived on the bus from Port Authority, somehow magically at the gate closest to our seats. She had had time to go home and change, and was resplendently decked out in her hand-made lace-up-the-back purple duct tape dress. (I will post a photo of this tomorrow, after it debuts at her birthday party tonight.) Now, when Nikki said she was going to make a purple duct tape dress, I got very excited about making a purple duct tape suit. Making something wearable out of duct tape is on my Never Done list, but it's always felt quite daunting. So truth be told, I made not one, but two duct tape outfits this week, but neither of them really came out well. I made a long sleeveless lapelled vest, but it came out very boxy, and I need to cut it and re-structure it to fit me better. And I made a dress, but it came out way too tight, and I need to cut it and re-structure it to fit me better. In the end, I wore corduroys and and a sweater to the show.

Speaking of outfits, finally Prince came out. His first outfit was a black suit with gold lapels and gold stripes down the sides of his legs. His second was a gold ruffled button-up shirt, and gold pants, with high-heeled gold shoes. He stayed in gold the rest of the night, changing to a gold-sequined turtle neck. The rest of his band was dressed in black and silver. Each of them would have turned heads if they had been alone on the street, but in the presence of Prince, they somehow faded to the background, even when they were center stage.

The sound sucked. It was by far the worst sound I've ever heard for a Prince show. I couldn't make out the words -- even to the songs I knew, and the instruments were indecipherable and often distorted -- not on purpose. I guess I can put this on my list of things I've never done: gone to a Prince show where the sound sucked. And since the point of a Prince show is to hear his music, and since I have heard him play exquisitely in small venues, and also exquisitely in huge venues, this was a real drag. OK, that's not the only point of a Prince show. The other point is to be together with all these people who love him, and to be in the presence of such a precise, disciplined, and communicative performer. The man was playing, with sucky sound, to a stadium full of people he doesn't know, and still he communicated quite personally to each of us.

I should say, it didn't all suck. I loved his ballad rendition of Little Red Corvette, and I was as delighted as everyone else when he dropped purple confetti down on all of us while singing Take Me With You. At one point during the show, I turned to Nikki and asked her why men don't identify as femme. Because Prince is such a femme! She told me that she has asked some guys about this, and they feel like it's a gendered distinction -- that men can be queens, but not femmes. Just then, the Jumbotron showed a close-up of Prince's hand, elegantly poised with a giant bird-shaped diamond ring on his pinky. He is such a femme. I've always taken him to be quite straight, and when for fun, I just googled "Is Prince gay?" to see what I would come up with, I immediately got a wonderful hit on a chat site: "Prince is not gay. He just has a small woman living inside him." My point exactly!

I could go on forever, and I need to wrap this up. Since I always try to bring this back to something having to do with my Mussar year, and since the entire point of my Mussar year is that I am middle aged, and I want my life to feel expansive, and not shrinking, I would like to point out that Prince is 52 years old, and the musicians on his stage all appear to be between 45 and 65. It was without argument, a middle aged show. And let me be clear about something. These people are hot. And talented. And hot.

We should all be so hot and talented and successful at 52. And hot.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Loop, Whorl and Arch

Never Done: Got fingerprinted

I must have been fingerprinted before -- maybe in high school while studying forensics? Did we study forensics in high school? Do I remember anything we learned in high school? But I digress. And so quickly after starting this post! It was definitely the first time I had prints taken electronically, and I think it was the first time I had them taken outside of the classroom. Although I was arrested in college, and charged with illegal sale of alcohol to minors, but I wasn't printed. (It's a long story, and one that seems like it should be told in relation to another Never Done activity, not this one. If we get to the end of the project and I still haven't written about it, someone should remind me and I'll do it then.) Also, another digression: how can I write a post about fingerprinting without mentioning that my bestest friend in Portland is a fingerprint ID tech for the Police bureau. She's also a wonderful artist and crafts person who doesn't feel very bonded, shall we say, with the Portland Police bureau, and doesn't always like to say where she works. So I always encourage her to say she's a print maker. It's not a lie.

So I was fingerprinted. Electronically. For the adoption process. At a place called, ridiculously, L-1 Identity Solutions. Doesn't that sound like it's straight out of a Robert Ludlum novel? Their website says "With the trust and confidence in individual identities provided by L-1, governments and businesses around the world are better protecting the public against terrorism, crime, and theft fostered by fraudulent ID." Great. Just great. I do understand why New York State wants to find out if I have a criminal record, if they re going to entrust a child to me, and I can scarcely imagine another bureaucratic situation in which I'd feel as relaxed and positive about getting fingerprinted.

But here's the thing. It wasn't all positive. Josh and I arrived at 9:30, when we had an appointment, and were greeted by a smiling young black woman. Before she got a chance to ask us anything, her boss (a white guy) asked us our last names, and when he didn't find us in the computer, he asked us if we were being printed with ink or electronically. We had no idea, so he asked to see our paperwork. We showed it to him, and he still couldn't find us in the computer, but could see that we needed electronic printing, and told us to go sit in a row of chairs. We went over, and I smiled and said good morning to an Asian woman who was sitting there waiting. (In case you are wondering, there is a reason I am identifying everyone by race.) Within 30 seconds -- literally before I had a chance to sit down, he called us over to get printed. First me, and then Josh -- with two different women -- a Latina and an African American. He told me to sit down and pointed to a chair at a desk, so I sat there. When the woman came over to print me, she asked me to move to the other chair -- I was in hers. I apologized as I moved, and she said kindly, "It's just a chair." My printing went mostly fine. The machine kept rejecting my prints, and she had to press my fingers down harder on the glass before the machine would accept them. But she got them all, handed me a receipt, and told me that was all.

But I was holding two forms that needed the signature and date of the person who printed me, and so I handed them to her, and asked her to sign them. She froze, and again showed me the receipt, and told me it was all I needed. By now, I'd seen her boss blustering around the office, annoyed and everywhere. Most noticeably, I had heard him yelling at the Asian woman who was waiting when we arrived. "Your name is not in the computer. Do you understand me? Am I not clear?" "Yes, she replied." "You don't have to talk loud just because your name is not in the computer!" In case you were wondering, he was the one talking loud. And also, remember how he treated me and Josh when we weren't in the computer? "Come on in! Have a chair! We'll be right with you!"

So when my fingerprinter told me I needed to ask him about the form, I imagined it was going to cause another blustery show. But instead, he looked at the form, and told her that yes, this was a new thing they had to do, and to please sign it.

Just then, 18 (I counted) Asian people came in. The boss got agitated started telling people to be orderly, get in line, and wait their turn. (They were actually already doing all those things.) And then he turned to me with a big smile and said, "You got here just in time." I felt pulled in two distinct directions. I wanted to leave, to get the hell away from him, to get on with my day, and to get back to work, because that is after all why I had scheduled the earliest possible appointment. At the same time, I wanted to stay, to try to be a more positive force for this group of people who I expected were about to have a much less welcoming experience than I had just had. And this, I believe is, the heart of the Mussar practice -- how do we balance out conflicting concerns? Our material concerns (get to work) with our spiritual concerns (care for others, interrupt racism)? The yetzer hore vs the yetzer tov. How often do we stop to notice these conflicting concerns? Sometimes it's super complicated to figure out, but in this situation, it didn't take me long to notice that I was probably not the best person for the job -- that there were three kind women of color who worked there, who were already treating this group of people thoughtfully and professionally. In fact, things would probably go quite weirdly if I would stick around once my appointment was over. So I gathered up my papers, and my two forms of ID, and my big down coat, and I thanked my printer, and I excused myself for breaking through the line, and I left Identity Solutions, with a little bit more trust and confidence in my own individual identity than I had going in.

And one step further through the adoption process (yet still pretty close to the beginning.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Get paid to do what I really love

Never Done: Cirque du Soleil

I have never seen Cirque du Soleil. A Groupon came through to see their children's show, Wintuk. Wintuk did not look like it was going to be good, but I have never seen Cirque du Soleil. (I have seen some other amazing French circus troupe, in France, but I don't remember their name.) I decided to go, just for the Never Done experience, and I regretted it (well, I didn't regret it -- I realized how little I would enjoy it) as soon as I arrived. The lobby was corporate. The hallway leading to the lobby was reminiscent of the corridors between airport gates. The hallway leading from the first lobby to the second lobby was corporate steel blue/gray with plastic Wintuk-logo cups filled with "Slushies for the show!" "Popcorn for the show!" "Slushies for the show!" "Popcorn for the show!" -- as the (probably) minimum-wage vendors had to shout out to the mostly foreign tourists waiting to go into the theater. I had brought Franzen's Freedom, so I hunkered down and read until they let us in. (This was the best part of the evening.)

The scene didn't get any more inspired once inside the theater (steel blue/gray corporate feel with low ceiling covered with white lights) nor, truly, once the show began. Ostensibly, a little blue is searching for snow. In reality, each scene demonstrates/highlights a solo performance of a different circus art (juggling, jump roping, stunt bicycling, tight rope walking, rollerblading) and every now and then the kid says something about wishing there were snow. But he's not on a journey, there are no defined characters, and there's not even really any spectacle. I left after a half hour.

The only thing that kept me engaged while I was there, and on the way home, was thinking about my own life, my own past. When I was younger, as I have written before, what I best liked to do with my time was jump rope, walk on stilts, ride a unicycle, hoola hoop, juggle, balance and log walk around on big thick cardboard tube, do gymnastics, and other similar physical endeavors. Had anyone been paying attention, it would have been clear that I was destined to be a circus artist. It feels embarrassing to admit this, but I actually mean that. I've never quite found my work niche -- have had a ton of different jobs -- but have rarely felt so purely interested in anything as I've felt when engaging in focused, repetitive physical feats. There's nothing like the focused exhilaration of juggling three balls, and someone passing you a fourth, and you being able to integrate it into your pattern, and then adding balls til there are six, which you then juggle and pass back and forth with someone else.

Here are the paid jobs I had while I was still in high school:
Lawnmower and landscaper
Painting and odd jobs
Vender at a fruit and vegetable stand
Piano teacher
Sports stringer for regional newspaper
Ice cream scooper and grill cook at Friendly's restaurant
Ice cream scooper at candy store
Clerk at a 24-hour convenience store
Live-in nanny

Here are the jobs I had between high school and college (I took time off):
Personal chef
Home care attendant for someone with Alzheimers
Clerk at a computer store
Clerk at a book store

Here are the jobs I had while in college (including the summers):
Live art model
Busker (street singer)
Sous chef
Room cleaner at hotel
Cook and occasional performer at a dinner theater
Pie baker

Here are the jobs I've had since leaving college: Family planning counselor
Co-director of rape crisis center
Movie projectionist (and everything else needed to be done -- sell tickets, make popcorn, clean up, etc)
Waitress, cook, and eventual co-owner of a café
French translator and interpreter
Carpenter's laborer
Carpenter's apprentice
Singer and musician in Zimbabwean marimba band
Diversity trainer
Residential remodeler and contractor
Program coordinator for immigrant rights and labor organization
Development director for same immigrant rights and labor organization
Creative organizer with economic justice organization
Freelance creative organizer
Creative organizing trainer
Grant administrator with social justice foundation
After school theater program teacher
Music reviewer (newspaper)
Fundraiser and event planner for Jewish social justice organization
University adjunct professor
Yiddish theater teacher
Documentary filmmaker

I think that's everything. It's possible that I left some stuff out. I have done a ton of stuff for work, which is a sign to me that I have never loved any one thing long enough to really identify with it. Of course, I left off all my non-paid work, which includes most of the radical social justice, anti-racist, and anti-fascist work I've done over the years (and which I have really identified with.) But did you notice what isn't on the list? All that stuff I loved the most: jump roping, stilt walking, unicycle riding, hoola hooping, juggling, balancing, and gymnastics. Maybe I should make a show, or a little spectacle, or join someone else's, and see what it's like to get paid to do what I really love.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sometimes a parrot isn't a bird

Never Done: Consulted a psychic

I'm a skeptic, but I'm a curious skeptic. I pass by street psychics all the time and wonder what it would be like to go talk with one. More than anything else, I think it's a vague sense of embarrassment that has kept me from going in. Having a Never Done list and a public Never Done project is a great way to work around mild embarrassment though, and so I did a little internet research to see who would be a good person to go see, and I found great reviews for Gemma Deller.

The first thing that happened is that I worked straight though my appointment with her. When she sent me an email asking me where I was, I realized I had messed up the time. She was nice to me about it and we rescheduled for later in the day. When I told her (via email) that I'm usually hyper-organized, and don't miss appointments, she wrote back, "
yes... I know... I had already picked up your energy... it's all good." Which felt to my skeptic self a predictable thing for her to write. Still, I was looking forward to the session with a genuinely open mind.

The first thing that she asked when I got there was, "Are you a writer?" I said yes, knowing that that's one of the easiest things to find out about me on a Google search, and also knowing that it is possible that she has real abilities to tell things about people. I made a decision right then not to worry about any of that, and to just be in the moment, and to accept and engage with the her and experience respectfully and open-heartedly. And I guess I'll ask you to do the same as you read this.

She channeled both my parents -- and said they were great communicators, and that she liked them a lot. She/they talked about themselves, my sister, and me, and urged me not to worry about whether or not I am good enough (at what?) -- because the answer is yes. She mentioned that I would, or should, or might travel to Spain in June, and that "I should document it." Then she said she suddenly heard the phrase, "Monkeys at the zoo." This didn't mean anything to me, and I said so. She said not to worry if something like this didn't mean anything, but to write it down, because it would be common for it to make sense at some later time.

Skipping ahead past some other stuff (I'm cherry picking the most specific and interesting stuff for this post) she asked if I'd recently had a falling out with someone. I couldn't think of a falling out specifically, but I did think of a discomfort with a particular person that was raising questions for me about how I should engage with them. Gemma said, "Their name is something like xxx, or xxy." The second name she mentioned was the (uncommon) name of the person I am feeling uncomfortable with. I have to admit, I was a little shaken and surprised by this. She went on to say that this is not a bad person, but that if I give too much they will take too much, and that it's a good opportunity for me to work on boundaries. That I should not get muscled by their mouth -- that I need to speak my piece too. That I should hold on for a while, that this will work out.

The experience of listening to a psychic talk is fascinating. You can't help but impose your own thoughts and experience on what you are hearing, especially when there's a hook like a person's uncommon name. At the same time, you want to be careful not to impose too much of your own experience onto what you are hearing. At the same time, you want to keep your own perspective, and be open to your own interpretations of what you are hearing, and figure out your own responses. For example: Gemma said that I should hold on for a while, that this will all work out. That's open for interpretation, right? It could mean that I should keep things the same with the person I'm uncomfortable with, but it could mean that I'm supposed to hold on by putting the breaks on a little, and that things will work out by changing. In other words, I don't feel like I should necessarily take a literal approach to everything she told me, but use it as a guide to discover what makes sense to me.

But let me go on, because amid the love life perspective and the career perspective and the parenting perspective she offered, something strange happened. She said that out of the blue, my mother said, "Parrot." This didn't mean anything to me, and I said so. To which the
psychic said that my mother said, "Ask your sister."

I thought to myself, "My sister and I are really not in that kind of casual touch -- as much as I would love us to be." But I didn't say that aloud, and just wrote it down like she had told me to earlier when there was something that didn't mean anything to me.

That night, I had just finished a project when the phone rang, and it was my sister calling. I asked her what was up, and she said it would freak me out a little but everything was OK. And then she told me that my cousin Kenny's wife Gwen had breast cancer, and had recently had a double mastectomy. Let me back this up a little. Yesterday I got an email from my uncle Steve telling everyone what time to show up for Christmas, and to try to incorporate pink into the presents -- even if it was just the wrapping paper -- for breast cancer awareness. I wondered why, and put it on a list to call him to check in, and forwarded the email to my sister to see if she knew what was up with that, and to Josh just to show him, and then went on with my day. When my sister got Steve's email, she picked up the phone and called, and reached our aunt Julie, who let her know what has been going on. She also found out that Kenny and Gwen had been posting her progress and process on Facebook (which hadn't posted his updates in my news feed.) So when I got off the phone with my sister, I went to Kenny and Gwen's Facebook pages, and saw the whole story of her diagnosis and surgery and healing, and even a couple photos. And then I noticed that on her page, under her photo, it says this:

Maiden Name: Gwen Snyder, previous married name: Parrott

Which of course I knew, but was not thinking about when the psychic said that my mom had said "Parrot" and "ask your sister." Crazy, right?

I've been thinking about how to look at this experience through a Mussar lens. The first thought I had was the mide (middah) Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone.
In this situation, I have the opportunity to seek wisdom from Gemma, from my deceased parents; from my sister; and from Gwen, who sought wisdom from her physical therapy colleagues who recommended a different course of treatment (bilateral mastectomy) than her doctor had originally recommended (lumpectomy and radiation) which ended up being a great decision, because they found a second, more pernicious, tumor that hadn't shown up on her mammograms, would have gone undetected, and could have spread. (I am so glad she listened to her friends, and that her doctor listened to her.)

Also, ultimately, humility means that I get to seek wisdom from myself -- starting with not letting a little embarrassment keep me from doing things I'm actually want to do.