Monday, January 31, 2011

I broke my lease

Never Done: I broke my lease

Josh and I told our landlords we have to break our lease. I've done a lot of things with leases (ie., negotiated short leases when I knew I couldn't commit to long ones, and gotten sublettors even when I wasn't supposed to) but I've never broken a lease. I was nervous -- really nervous -- because of all ironies, I love this apartment, and my landlords, and I finally, finally feel like I have a home in Brooklyn, and I didn't want my landlords to think otherwise. The problem is that in order to move to the next phase of adoption (the home study) we need to have a place with a private room for the child. And nobody can walk through anyone's private space to get to essential space like the kitchen or bathroom.

So we went upstairs, and I took a deep breath, and I told them what's going on. And they were incredibly sweet about it. They both got teary eyed when we told them what we are doing, and they told us we are brave and there's a place for us in heaven, and Melissa told us that twenty years ago she used to be a foster mother for babies who were in between their birth mothers and adoptive mothers -- she would have them for about 3 weeks. Larry said that he can't think of a better reason to break a lease, and that he'll be sad to see us go.

It was an transformational moment. What I feared might be confrontational and adversarial turned into a conversation that might actually draw us closer together, thanks I think to our honesty, and to their humanity.

Now we need to find tenants to live in this wonderful apartment. Does anyone need a one bedroom floor-through in the south slope, 1/2 block from the park? Basement access with laundry and storage, and a private entrance with beautiful built-ins. Another small room with shelves that leads out to the back yard. Pets welcome.

Oh, and the landlords are very cool.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I went a day without saying something negative or pessimistic

Never Done: I went a day without saying something negative or pessimistic

Except that one time the following sentence slipped out: "That's ridiculous." I had just heard a story about a family that hid the fact from their son that he was adopted, and before I knew it, I said that aloud, full of judgment. But the rest of the day I totally did it. It wasn't too difficult, but it took a high level of awareness. For instance, when I was talking about a job I am applying for, I almost said that I'm unlikely to get it, but caught myself. And after seeing a highly praised, highly hyped, underwhelming movie, I was reduced to talking about the cinematography. And early in the day, I wanted to discuss with one person the pros and cons of revealing something to someone else, but I wasn't sure if talking through the cons was negative or pessimistic, so I opted for not having the strategic discussion. I wasn't sure that was useful, but it was interesting to notice how it felt to just not say it. (It felt incomplete, but I'm not sure it was less useful than talking through the potential negatives, because they might be obvious and not really need to be illuminated. On the other hand, they might not be obvious, and I might have chosen to under-strategize and under-communicate, neither of which are particularly helpful.)

One of the strangest parts of the day was that I had barely slept the night before -- I had gone to bed at 11PM, but had lain awake until almost 3AM, and I chose not to talk about that with anyone, because I couldn't imagine talking about it without sounding, and being, negative or pessimistic. And you know what? People who know me well could tell I was very tired, so it's not like I needed to tell them. And if people couldn't tell, I realized it didn't really matter all that much. And that, I think, is the power of the practice. People don't really need to hear me complain, and the things I want to complain about really might not matter all that much.

I think the hardest part of the experiment (I can say what was hard because the experiment is over) was that I felt like I went through the day without my old friend, sarcasm. Like I was stripped of one of my most essential personality traits. Like I wasn't being my genuine self. Like I couldn't be funny. Because I think my humor is often fast humor -- humor that takes a certain level of quick ignition, and this practice slowed me down, and required me to think over every statement, and blanded me out.

So it seems like a continuation of the practice of Silence: Think before speaking, right?

As I write about it, I realize it would be interesting to continue the practice while also reaching for my quick wit, and while noticing if there is place for sarcasm in a day without pessimism.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Everything bad is good for you

Never Done: Randomly met the author I've most relied on to validate my midlife career change

At the food coop.

Packing apricots into little plastic bags.

I knew that my food coop mate is married to an author, and I knew that he had most recently written a book about innovation, which I once tried to find at the local book store but since I didn't have his name, and I was asking one of the less experienced people at the store, we didn't come up with it from just the word "innovation" and my saying that he's a local author who had done many readings in the store -- which now that I know the title (Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation) I find ridiculous.

I had been looking forward to seeing all my coop shift mates, since we hadn't seen each other since late November (many of us missed our New Year's eve shift) but Alexa, Lucy, and Rose weren't there, and instead there was a room full of subs along with me and Justine. Nice, smart, friendly subs. Subs I enjoyed talking with. One of whom turned out to be Steven Johnson. Which you knew already because I already told you about Where Good Ideas Come From, but put yourself in my shoes. You're hanging out for hours in a chilly room, packing dried fruits, nuts, and candy into little bags, and you're shooting the shit with the other people in the room. If you don't already know each other, then all you know you have in common is that you (probably) live in Brooklyn, and you are members of the Park Slope Food Coop. So you slowly find your way to points of common interest. You move in and out of conversations with the people packaging cheese and olives, and the people packaging tea and spices. You overhear someone talking about "lunch freedom" at public middle schools, and you jump into a conversation about good TV shows. You realize that one of the subs is the husband of a wonderful playwright and TV writer friend, and you start talking with him and another guy. You discover you have a connection to NYU. The other guy went to Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and then taught in the department. They ask if I'm writing plays. I say I'm more writing screenplays and I mention my new web series. The other guy asks particularly smart questions about this. We find out he's a writer when he talks about questions of creative license in regards to the treatment of a book of his that was optioned.

Hey, this is what it's like down in food processing.

More and more of the room's attention turns to him as he talks about the optioned book, The Ghost Map, which is about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, and how one physician, John Snow, deduced that cholera is water born and not air born -- and in doing so, changed science, cities, and the modern world. People started to ask him what else he had written. Among other books, he mentioned a book called Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter.

Wait, what? I love that book. No, seriously, I love that book. It came out the year I came out of grad school, with an MFA in dramatic writing, and hopes and goals of being paid to write for the big and small screens. Having left the non profit social justice world for the world of film and television, I was feeling a little vulnerable. Vulnerable that I wouldn't actually get paid work, and vulnerable that if I did, that that I'd end up writing for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (which I did try to write for, which I would have been thrilled to have done, but which would have made me feel like I was less of a contributor to society than if I was still, for example, working with low-wage, immigrant workers.)

And then I read Steven's book, which proposes that as TV, video games, and film evolve, the level and complexity of their narratives also evolve, giving us, the viewer and the player, more opportunities for cognitive development and narrative engagement than ever before. (I wish my books weren't in storage, or else I'd go to the source and give you some quotes. Or at least filch some blurb language.) But really, you should go read it, and I'll stick to the part that's most important to me: this book made validated my career choice, and also made me more open-minded about video games. I have several young friends who are extremely into video games, and I don't think I would have respected their interest if it weren't for this book.

From a mussar perspective, I think this one falls under the category of Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone, including the guy sitting next to you, packing apricots into little plastic bags, and including fourteen year-old gamers.


Also, I feel like I should tell you in advance what my next post will be about. I am going to try to go an entire day without saying anything negative or pessimistic, which although I probably did it as a very little child, I have probably never done it in, say, the past 45 years.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Elemental, my dear Watson!

Never Done: Urban driveway shoveling
Never Done: Saw 127 hours
Tshuve: Snow, snow, snow

I have forgotten lately to write about tshuve (return), and have been focusing solely on Never Done. But I've been doing lots of old familiar things, like go to sleep, and eat, and wake up, and go to sleep, and eat and wake up again. And work. And go to the gym. Although for a while there I didn't but now I am again, and it feels great, as usual. But since I haven't written about tshuve for a little while, here's a reminder -- that it seems to me that a life focused solely on things I've never done would get frantic and untethered. So I think it's important to balance it out with the return to the familiar and reliable things in our life. Like my friend Eric, who keeps visiting New York, and with whom I have been able to spend more time in this past year than I have in our whole 20 years of being friends. That kind of tethering. Or like a winter with five collective feet of snow, as demonstrated by this Shaq-o-meter. A winter that when I go outside, I see that familiar milky blue sky, and the trees covered in clumps of white. A winter like the winters I grew up with, when we borrowed forts into snow banks and sledded down the back yard hill.

And shoveled. I spent a lot of time shoveling when I was a kid (and an adult) in New England. Since moving to NYC though, I don't get much opportunity to shovel. My landlord actually snowblows the path from our door to the street, as well as the sidewalk in front of our house. But I have a car, and it's parked in Karen and Todd's driveway, and they have shoveled it out from every big storm this year, so I decided to get over there early and do the deed. The deed turned out to be fairly monumental. The new snow was light and fluffy. The old snow underneath was actually ice. And the snow that the plow had plowed three feet into the driveway was heavy slush. Air is lighter than water. Ice is heavier than air. I know, it's all obvious. But when you are shoveling it up and tossing it onto a 5 foot high pile of snow, it all feels so elemental. My muscles can pick up 10 inches of new snow at a time, and 6 inches of slush. I just don't get that kind of elemental physical work on a daily basis in the city, and I really welcomed it.

Twelve hours later, I went to see the movie 127 Hours, about Aron Ralston, who was hiking alone in Utah, when he fell and trapped his hand under a boulder for five days, and eventually amputated his own arm with a dull tool, and survived. Talk about elemental -- the film, which is visually stunning, is all about water, rock, and blood. A far cry from the inspirational story of one woman's struggle to shovel a Brooklyn driveway, but a visceral bookend to my morning nonetheless.

Before


During


After

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All that clarity and yet so little clarity

Never Done: Broke up with a film project

I haven't yet had a chance this week to write about this week's mide (middah): Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently. As a new blanket of new snow covers the city (or at least my block, as can be seen out my windows) in calm, I have my chance.

I broke up with a film project, by calm and thoughtful email exchange. It was a mutual break up. It was the first film project I ever broke up with. I am surprised to notice that I don't feel upset about it.

The challenging nature of the project required me to repeatedly clarify what I wanted for myself, and what I wanted for each of the other collaborators, and what I thought the other collaborators wanted for themselves. The mussar practice and va'ad (council) helped me enormously to continually think about the others, their legitimate concerns, and their likely burdens, while also doing the same for myself. And while things were difficult from the start, I was also clear why I was committed to sticking with it, and I was clear about what I could contribute and why I was valuable to the project, and I was clear about what I couldn't contribute. All that clarity! And yet, so little clarity. It's amazing how sometimes we think we are communicating so well, only to find out that we've remained a mystery.

Each week, the mides (middot) have helped me act ethically, each coming from sometimes radically new angles to give surprisingly consistent perspective. (Surprisingly in context of how different it is to approach one situation by considering the ethics of, say, frugality and cleanliness.) But last week's mide -- Silence: Reflect before speaking -- turns out to be an invaluable component of and precursor to Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently. Because I don't think you can be wise without reflection, and I don't think you can state things gently without first having gone through a period of silence and reflection.

And so with the help of this practice, I was able to think this through, talk it over, listen carefully, gain perspective, and ultimately feel confident that we all made a thoughtful and calm decision. Do I wish it could have been different? Absolutely. Do I regret any of the time we spent together? Not at all. Do I still have the benefit of my clarity? I do, actually, and I hope I can use it to support the project, and the people involved in the project, from outside the project.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I walked a mile in another man's glittery suit

Never Done: Wore Taylor Mac's clothes to dinner

I went to an industry screening of The King's Speech, after which the screenwriter David Seidler spoke. David Seidler is 74, and has been working for many, many years without ever getting his breakout film. Until now. He went to Hollywood at the age of 40, when, as he puts it, most sane people are leaving Hollywood, and after writing Tucker, imagined he could write anything he wanted. He didn't count on Tucker bombing. But by then he had started working on this screenplay about King George VI and his stutter, or as they say in England, his stammer. Seidler was also a stutterer, and had been deeply inspired to overcome his by listening to the king's speeches during WWII. So he started the screenplay about 30 years ago, but wanted Queen Elizabeth's permission. The Queen wrote to him that she would prefer that the film would not be produced within her lifetime, as the events were still painful. He thought to himself, "Well, she's 75 years old, how long can she live, really?" 25 years later, he was still waiting, and writing, and rewriting. When the Queen Mother died in 2002, the film finally moved forward. (Note to self: that is patience.)

One of the great benefits of living in New York, and working in my industry is that I get to go to things like this -- free screenings and productions where I get to listen to artists talk about their work. Sometimes I take it for granted, but more often I think they take it for granted. Seidler treated the event with great respect -- possibly because he doesn't take his career for granted -- and possibly because he had just that morning received his first Oscar nomination.

Jennifer Ehle, on the other hand, who is most famous in my book for playing Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC mini series of Pride and Prejudice, which I watched dozens of times with my mother in her last years, was annoyingly self-referential and elusive, and I believe has no more place in this post other than serving as a jumping off point to what came next.

I ducked out of the Q and A once the attention had turned to Jennifer, and I checked in with Taylor, with whom I had a date. I had suggested we go into Union Square and give flowers away to strangers, or set up an advice booth. Instead, he made a reservation (his treat!) at the Union Square Café and asked me to meet him at his apartment first. When I got there, he looked over my "outfit" of jeans and snow shoes, and said, "Well, I've seen people get in there in jeans. You'll probably be OK. It's usually the men they ask to leave, anyway." I thought for a second, and then realized he must have a wardrobe full of beautiful dresses -- so I asked if I could put on something of his. He took me right to the closet and held up the beautiful green and teal sparkly suit his sister made for him to wear to the Obie's -- and laughed. "You could wear this!" And so I did.

When we walked into the restaurant, I felt like we were walking into a black and white movie, only I was colorized. The entire color scheme of the cafe, including that of the customers, is subdued. The servers wear light blue and white pinstriped button-down shirts, and dark pants. The customers wear black, white, and tan. The walls are beige, the tablecloths are white, the chairs are dark. The entire décor is designed not to offend. And then I walked in, wearing an oversized glittery suit, and a silent rush of excitement swept through the restaurant. People stared but pretended they weren't. It was easy to tell that people were just a little bit scared -- maybe because they thought I must be Important, and maybe because they were being busted out of their comfort zone, but it was also easy to tell that people were relieved and welcomed the influx of color and energy to the room.

I also noticed that I was completely comfortable. I was much more interested in my time together with Taylor (who is about to go on tour for 4 months, and so we really wanted a good catch up) than my outfit or the other people in the room. But at the same time, I was aware that I meant something to the other people in the room, and that it was mostly positive. When our server came over, she immediately complimented my outfit, and said something about it being a welcome change, and that it added needed color to the room. OK, so I had been right about people feeling relief. When we placed our orders, she recommended a salad made from cara cara oranges, with fennel vinaigrette, fresh mint, and shavings of ricotta salata. While it sounded wonderful, both Taylor and I really wanted greens, so we both ordered bibb lettuce salads. When she brought the salads, she also brought an order of the oranges for us, and said, "Because I can." When she left, Taylor laughed, and told me that it is not uncommon to get free stuff in exchange for bringing joy into the room.

So I hereby promise to dance more on subway platforms, and wear more fabulous outfits, and generally bring more visual delight into the world, all while making sure I am comfortable with myself, and not annoying to others.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's my F train and I'll dance if I want to

Never Done: Danced on the subway platform

I had been sitting at my desk all day, and I was finally out, and waiting for the F train to arrive, and I was listening to Hair on my iPod, and I started to mouth the words to Donna, and before I knew it I was tapping my foot and wishing I could groove out. Then it occurred to me: I could groove out. Really, what was stopping me? I felt like dancing, the platform was pretty empty -- it's not like it was going to hurt anyone. So I did it. I full-out danced my way through Donna, Hashish, Sodomy, Colored Spade, Manchester England, I'm Black, and Ain't Got No before the train came (remember, it was the F train, so I got in a lot of dancing) -- and the only thing that happened was that a couple people smiled at me. That, and I felt transformed. Transformed in the moment by the dancing, but also transformed in a bigger way -- by not caring, and not even looking to see, what people thought. Maybe now I'll become one of those annoying people who does yoga in airports.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I went to Di Fara Pizza

Never Done: Went to Di Fara Pizza

I have been meaning to go to Di Fara for six years -- ever since my (gorgeous and talented) friend David told me it's the best pizza in New York. We were on a writing retreat in Florida at the time, and David was missing all things New York, so I didn't immediately catch on to the significance of Di Fara, but when we got back to New York and he still talked about it, it went on my list of things to do. But I didn't. I was actually not living in New York at that time -- I was exiled in Jersey -- but I came to Brooklyn enough that I could have driven to Midwood to eat a slice. But I didn't. And then I moved back to Brooklyn 18 months ago, and I have meant to go -- I really have -- but I can't even tell you the last time I was even in Midwood. Yes I can, and it was before I moved to New York, probably 15 years ago, when I was visiting my friend Carol's parents on East 18th Street, a mere 3 1/2 blocks from Di Fara, and yet I had no idea what I was near.

But a day came when I was taking the car out on errands in Ditmas Park, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, and Flatbush, so I decided to build the schedule around finally going to Di Fara. I looked up their hours, I had a light breakfast, and started out on my errands. As the morning drew on, my anticipation built. I'm not a huge pizza eater -- I eat maybe a dozen slices a year. Not even. So the fact that I was getting excited about pizza is saying something.

When the time came, I cruised down Coney Island Avenue, and then swung over on Avenue J. I found street parking on a side street, even with all the snow, and hopped out into the cold. Some random website had guided me to pair my slice with Krusovice beer from the supermarket across the street, but I didn't even get that far, because .... Di Fara was closed. I had checked the hours, and they said 12 to 4:30, and 6-9PM. But the gates were down, and the sign on the door said 1-4:30, and 6-9PM. It was 12:15, and the day was all planned out, so there was nothing to do but walk away and squeeze in another errand before my next appointment.

Lately I've been feeling a little guilty about my Never Done year -- which is to say I've been relying a little heavily on trusting that a Never Done moment will pop up during my day, rather than setting out with a firm plan. But I'm not going to feel guilty any more, but rather accept whatever works. And make plans to go back to Di Fara.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I got a henna tattoo of a friend's face by a man dressed up as a creek

Never Done: Got a henna tattoo of a friend's face by a man dressed up as a creek

I went to see Taylor Mac's new play, A Walk Across America for Mother Earth, and during the intermission, he had three participatory activities, and in the hopes that something would be something I'd never done, and I could write about it, and also in the general spirit of community building that Taylor works so hard to create in his theater, I did all three. 1) I got my photo taken with me holding a protest sign (We're here! We're queer! And we're not going shopping!") which someone is going to Photoshop onto a background and email to me, and 2) I ate popcorn with nutritional yeast on it (which I have done many, many times, but never as a recreational activity in a theater intermission,) and 3) I got a henna tattoo on my arm. By a man dressed up as a creek. His name was Alex Franz Zehetbauer, and he played a creek in the play, in a gorgeous costume made by Machine Dazzle. And when he asked me what I would like as a tattoo, I said I'd like him to make his depiction of Taylor Mac. He started, and then got called to sing an intermission song, so he wiped it off, and jumped on a makeshift stage, sang his song, and came back to me with renewed focus and creativity. He drew two glamour eyes with big long lashes, and a full mouth with a sweet smile. It was (is) a wonderful, wonderful portrait of Taylor, and whats more, while he drew it, we were drawn together under the paper, balloon, and fabric canopy of his creek costume, in an intimate moment while he drew our friend on my arm. Which is precisely what Taylor does best. He gives people opportunities to connect in safe little zany ways. And when we do, we're forever changed, and connected. Which is what happened for him when he went on the walk that inspired this play, although I'm not sure all the opportunities were safe, but they did connect him with people, and they did teach him to tell himself the truth, and they did change him forever.

That was a natural end to the post, but it's not the real end. Because Taylor's play made me remember (tshuve) a time in my life when I was also walking across America. Only I was hitchhiking across Britain, going from music festival to music festival with the Green Roadshow, which was the traveling contingent of the Green Party. We set up an environmental bookstore, and a steam sauna, and someone had a wind energy display, and my friends Loppy and Sheena and I had a little alternative tea house, where we served all sorts of herbal teas, and our motto was "We don't serve proper tea, 'cause proper tea is theft." It was a thrilling and heady time for me. It was 1985, and I was 22, and I was far from home, and I was started to define myself by what I didn't want to be (as were many of the characters in Taylor's play) and by what I did want to be, and I was falling in love with a woman for the first time, but it was unrequited (she was in love with a man) and I was smoking too much hash, and I was playing chess with the Pogues, and I was playing a lot of music, and I was busking (playing music for money) on the streets in between festivals, and doing anti-apartheid street theater, and I was on the inside, and that mattered to me -- not a paying customer, not a consumer of the festival, but providing something, a service to the people, camping and caravanning and muddy and at Glastonbury, Glastonbury! And also, I wasn't on the inside at all, because the people I was with were not taking me with them from festival to festival, but letting me hitchhike on my own, which was not safe, and which ... was not safe. Men I hitched rides with tried to hurt me. More than once. Even when I finally told my friends I needed help, and couldn't hitch alone any more, and someone found me a ride with a family, the guy in the family brought his wife and kid home, and then was taking me to the train, and stopped the car and tried to hurt me. I got away from him, but ended up on the road again, alone, and when the next car came by, I was too scared to get in, but I took the next ride, and that guy drove to a bar, got drinks, and drove me in the wrong direction and also tried to hurt me, but his pants were literally down at his ankles, and mine were on properly, which made it much easier for me to run, so I grabbed my bag and I ran, but I left my wonderful musical instrument from Greece that I had so loved playing, and I left some other stuff that I used to miss, but can't any more remember, and I got away safely, and walked a very long way in the dark, and finally came to a place where I used a pay phone and called my friend in London and said I was done. I had been on the road for about two months, living this alternative, radical, environmental, "community" life, and I wanted it to be right for me. I wanted it to be everything I believed in. But I was unsafe, and I finally admitted it, and I left -- first the Green Roadshow, and then the country. The only thing I remember doing when I got to London was going to a tea house and having "proper tea" -- black tea with milk and sugar. I remember that I savored it.

I was quite taken with the deep parallels between my 1985 journey and Taylor's play about his 1992 journey. The character Taylor plays admits toward the end of the march that he ate meat -- something I wouldn't do for another 2 years -- but for ideological little me, drinking tea was just as transgressive. It wasn't always safe for his characters, just like it wasn't always safe for me, but it taught me to tell myself the truth, and it did change me forever. A part of me is still the ideologue I was back then, so when Taylor creates a lobby full of radical love and connection, I say yes to his invitations, and I stand inches away from the glitter on Alex the creek's cheeks while he imagines Taylor on my arm, and now we'll always have those moments together, even after the henna fades.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

I saw past the blemish to the beauty

Never Done: Saw a staged reading of a new opera of Enemies, A Love Story, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with a new libretto by Nahma Sandrow

This is the second time in as many months that I have written that the thing I had never done before was to see a world premiere of a work that Nahma either translated or wrote, which has a lot more to say about what Nahma is out there accomplishing than what I am, except that I think that supporting and learning from our colleagues (Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone) is a vital part of the creative process. Really. I once took a master class in acting from Marian Seldes in which she spent as much time (literally) teaching about how to be a good audience member as she taught how to be a good actor. I will probably never forget her modeling how to sit in the audience, leaning slightly forward, in rapt attention -- her point being that the job of the audience member is to give as much attention and energy to the actor as the actor is giving to the audience. Her class reminded me that my friend Barbara teaches first graders how to listen, and they practice sitting across from each other making encouraging sounds like, "mhmm" and "oh." (I found this out because when I still lived in Portland I used to go help her take her class apart at the end of the year, and I found a piece of butcher paper with an illustrated three-step tutorial on how to be a good listener.)

This being New York, and the theater community being small, I later found myself in audiences with Marian, where I saw that she does, in fact, sit perfectly still -- fidgetless -- and completely attentive, with an interested look on her face. Unlike Edward Albee, who sat behind me recently during a Public Theater production that I thought was well above average, and also both politically and emotionally ambitious, and also had one of the best raised poor characters I've ever seen on stage, and he alternately slept and complained through the first act, and then didn't come back for the second. I myself usually fall somewhat in between. I aspire to be like Seldes, but I sometimes fight back the sleep, and sometimes I succumb.

I think I was a good (which as I think about it, means that I was an ethical) audience member at Enemies. I wasn't as still as Marian suggests, because I was still fighting off a sore throat, and needed to sip tea, and once to unwrap a vitamin C throat lozenge. But I paid close attention, and I gave the actors my energy and attention. And here's the thing: it wasn't necessarily so easy to do, because even though I was super interested in the libretto and the plotting, and even though a couple of the singers were wonderful, the guy who played the main character swallowed his words, making it really difficult to understand, and the music was ... well the music was ... well the music was ... I hated the music. There, I said it. I hated the music. It made me want to act out. It made me want to whisper judgmental things to the people I was with. But I didn't. (Unless I am right now. Which I am a little worried that I might be.) Instead, I sat and paid attention to the parts I was far more interested in, which took at least five mides (middot) to accomplish: patience, equanimity, humility, decisiveness, silence, and calmness. And diligence too. In the end, I think everyone was the better for it, but I know I was.

I live with someone who does this extremely well -- he sees right past the blemish to the beauty, whereas my mind tends to get stuck at the blemish. (There are some downsides to this -- cleanliness and order are not his strong suits, but they are mine.) I've been trying to get better at seeing the past the blemish to the beauty for years, and have started to see some real progress recently. I'll take my experience at Enemies as a success, and will keep building from there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An old haircut for a new day

Never Done/tshuve: Got a 30's haircut for my late 40's.

I've never been one to get a haircut and keep it for years, but for a few years in my 30's I wore my hair like this: chin-length in front, razor cut and jaggedy around the ears and back. Since then, I've let it grow shoulder-length and longer, and just once, when I was growing out the hair dye, I cut it very short. I don't mean to sound vain, but I think it's looked good pretty much all these different ways. Except when it was mullet-like in my young 20's and bleached out in my 40's when I was trying to wean off the hair dye, but instead got a Japanese pop star yellow that I ended up coloring over and THEN growing out. But the cuts were good.

I recently grew it quite long, and then got what I hoped was going to be a shaggy Patti Smith-type punkish hair cut, and at first it looked great. Really great. Long, layered, shaggy. But it grew out fast, and I ended up throwing it into a scrunched pony tail all the time, which just looked bland and vaguely matronly to me. So I got it cut. I was going to get it cut on my 48th birthday, but I didn't get it together. I had a 15 minute consultation with the woman who cut it -- Melissa from Pomona. We talked about how to cut gray hair (no razors!), how my wavy hair flips out funny if it's cut too short on the sides, why short short bangs would not work with my front cowlick, and how I wanted her to pretend that my white pieces are colors she just dyed into my hair, and then cut around them to expose them. We considered shoulder-length and shorter. We talked about my pronounced jaw line. I felt that for the first time ever, I had effectively communicated to a new hair cutter -- that she listened and understood and contributed, and that I wasn't rushed or afraid of using too much of her time, and that we were actually on the same page.

And we were. She did a great job. She loved finding the white white pieces and exposing them. She cut a good six inches off, and I didn't end up with nightmares later. (I usually get haircut nightmares after a haircut.) She styled it in a way that had me freaked out, but I came home and stuck my head under the shower, and re-styled it, and it looked great. And it feels many pounds lighter, even though I imagine my hair weighed scarcely 3 ounces. (That is a total guess.)

I wonder if the way I've been practicing and reflecting on the mide (middah) of Silence: think before speaking helped me take my time to talk with Melissa, and I wonder how much our good communication was because Melissa is a good listener, and I wonder how much the two things go hand in hand, which is what I like to think is the case. In any case, I am happy to have an old haircut for a new day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I read a friend's new TV pilot

Never Done: Read a friend's new TV pilot

OK, this is technically a cheat. The pilot arrived in my inbox at 12:02 AM, when I was, on my new sleep regimen, heading to bed, so I really only read the first ten pages, and put it aside, hoping I would wake up in the night and not be able to sleep, but I didn't (which is actually good, because I am fighting off a cold) so I was left hanging, ten pages in, already with two major twists in the action and a deep dive into topics very dear to my heart: racism and white supremacy.

I care about both these topics and this writer so much that a couple months ago, I introduced the writer to an old (and trusted) friend of mine who is a leading thinker, researcher, and organizer in the field (and one of the smartest people I know) and they completely hit it off, and this other friend was invaluable in the plotting of this pilot, and last night all three of us, plus the writer's partner, had a celebratory dinner together at a fancy little restaurant.

I can't wait to read the rest of the pilot, and better yet (pu pu pu) see it picked up and produced, with all of us together on the writing team. Just putting it out there.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I started writing a web series

Never Done: Started writing a web series

And by writing, I mean I figured out what I want to write -- the main character, the other characters, the first season story arc. I've been brainstorming unsatisfying story ideas for a web series for months now, and you know what finally did it for me? Susan Miller has a new web series coming out -- while she already has a successful web series going; and I thought to myself, if she can write two, I can write one.

And then it happened while I was lifting weights at the gym (increased weights, by the way -- I increased everything by 5 pounds again.) I got my idea, came home, and wrote it down. You'll have to trust me on this one. I'm not going to go public with the idea until I get a little further along.

Wow, I just realized how perfectly that decision fits with this week's mide (middah) -- (I swear I didn't plan this) -- Silence: Think before speaking. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin of Satanov, who wrote the Mussar text Cheshbon HaNefesh, posed the question: "Before you open your mouth, be silent and reflect: 'What benefit will my speech bring me or others?'" Of all the mides (middot) it is possible that I have the toughest time with this one. Sometimes I just blurt things out. And then, in an attempt not to, sometimes I become tongue tied and mute.

The idea is to have thoughtful silence, not terrified I'll put my foot in it silence. Sacred silence. The ultimate purity in speech. Protection for wisdom. That kind of silence.

I almost shared my nascent web series ideas here, but then on impulse stopped, in some form of self-protection. Now that I'm thinking about the mide of silence, I'd like to think of it as protection of wisdom, not protection of self. Maybe that shift of focus will help me when I need to take a breath, wait, and think before speaking. We can only hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Readier and readier

Never Done: Hosted a Living Room Adoption Film Festival

When I started Google searching films about adoption, the same ones kept popping up on the list: Secrets and Lies, My Own Private Idaho, Mommie Dearest. I adore the first two, and I've only ever seen clips from the third, but none of them was exactly what I was hoping to see at the festival. I wanted to see films that would scare me straight out of wanting to adopt a messed-up "older" child. I chose three.

Mother and Child: written and directed by the extremely talented Rodrigo Garcia, with an amazing cast (Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Shareeka Epps, and Cherry Jones as a Catholic nun in an adoption agency) playing characters whose lives intersect, all around themes of parenthood and adoption.

Lost and Delirious: Canadian lesbian boarding school adoption genre piece, complete with pillow fights, spiked punch, Shakespeare quotes, fencing, falcon training, the wise Native American man, closeted lesbian teachers, and tragic lesbian suicide. One of the main characters was adopted, and struggles so much against abandonment that it ends up pushing her over the edge. I watched it thinking, "OK, so what if she was my kid? What would I want for her? What would I do for her?" Also, I was completely distracted throughout this entire film because the girl she is in love with is played by Jessica Paré -- who plays Megan Calvet, Don Draper's secretary turned fiancée on Mad Men.

Second Best: William Hurt plays a lonely village postal worker (in England) who fosters and then adopts a troubled 10-year-old boy who reveres his messed-up outlaw incarcerated birth father. This film was the most realistic, I believe, in terms of the process one goes through in order to foster then adopt. Starting with a home visit, and then weekend visits, and then fostering, and then adopting -- all while unilaterally deciding to parent this child through his outbursts, regression, and self-harm.

I loved watching these films in community, with Josh, Heath, Abigail, Alex, and Beatrice. They all (the films, not the friends) made me cry, and they all made me realize that I am growing readier and readier through this process of adoption preparation. Which is to say that when one of my friends said she was afraid that James (the boy in Second Best) was a ticking time bomb, I realized that I was not afraid that he was; I knew he was. I knew he was going to tick and go off many times before his adolescence was over, and that it was just what William Hurt was going to expect, and stay steady for. And by extension, it is just what I will need to expect and stay steady for.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It felt so wrong and it felt to right

Never Done: Saw a movie written and directed by Jeff Lipsky
Never Done: Left during the talk-back

It's always strange to leave something special out of the blog just because I've done it before. Because I know there are some friends who are tracking my days in a sort of social way, and if I just go ahead and write about the movie I saw without mentioning that I got to spend most of the day in Manhattan with my uncle, aunt, and cousin, then it seems weird. Especially when in truth, I did a couple things I've never done before. Like leave my iPhone on a barstool (I had not been drinking) and walk out of the restaurant. And get all the way downtown before noticing it. And only noticing it because my uncle teased me, and wanted to know why I wasn't wearing the gloves they had just given me -- the gloves with little patches on the thumb and first finger, to allow me to use my iPhone without freezing off my fingers. So I put on the gloves, and then after a little while wondered why I didn't have my iPhone in my pocket. So I took off my backpack, and rifled through it, and it didn't take long to realize I had left it at the restaurant. Which I have never done before. But Leigh called, and they had it, and although the maitre d' was disapproving of me, or just looked disapproving in general, I did get it back without further incident.

The other thing I'd never done was bring snacks to a football watching gathering. I've barely even watched football. But the Jets Patriots game was on, and my uncle is a Pats fan, and didn't really want to watch the game in a New York bar, so we decided to watch it in the hotel. I don't like to miss an opportunity to accessorize a gathering, so I brought beer and chips. Only I brought a bottle of fancy oatmeal stout, mango and coconut chips. (Also, I brought Ben and Jerry's coffee ice cream, which is the only thing I knew for sure would be a hit with my family.) The fruit chips were good! But sadly, the Patriots weren't, and were losing 3-7 when I left, and ultimately lost, 21-28.

All that before I went to pick up my repaired MacBook Pro, on which I now type, at the Apple Store. I choose to say no more about that, except that I am relieved to have my baby back.

All that before I went to the Angelika to see a new movie by Jeff Lipsky, called Twelve Thirty, which Steven Holden loved up in the New York Times. Jeff is a friend, and I am extremely happy for him, but I don't want to talk about the movie. I want to talk about the talk-back, and how the Mussar mide (middah) of Diligence: Always find something to do helped me to leave before it was done, to honor a commitment I made to myself about getting enough sleep. I am a super light sleeper: easily woken up, and chronically tired. The past weeks I've been even more chronically tired than usual, and have finally figured out how to get onto a sleeping schedule that has been helping. Encouraged by my friend Sherry's blog in which she writes about sleep hygiene, which as I understand it, includes always going to bed at the same time and always waking up at the same time, I have started to try to go to bed at 11, and make sure the lights are out by 11:30 or 12. I used to get up without an alarm, and usually woke up at 6 AM, no matter when I went to sleep. Then I started sleeping in if I wasn't rested, which I took as a good sign that I'd become more flexible. Since I started taking thyroid medicine which I have to take at the same time every day, I started setting the alarm for 7 AM, and on the nights I can't sleep, rolling over and going back to sleep, anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, which has been delicious but ultimately bad or me, because once I sleep in til 9 AM, it makes it harder for me to be ready to go to sleep at 11 PM. I think this is precisely the point of sleep hygiene.

My new goal is to get up at 7 every day, after 7-8 hours of sleep. There are a few hidden discoveries in that statement. One is that I am now acknowledging that I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, whereas for years I got by on 5 or 6. The other is that I need to get to bed before midnight, because if I blow past the point when I'm tired and ready for bed, I get to a point when I'm wired and can't sleep. (I'm finding this a little boring, and thinking that it might be a little boring to read, and wondering when I'm going to get to my point.) Let me get to my point. You might remember that when my Mussar group first discussed Diligence: Always find something to do, that Alissa mentioned that for busy, over-programmed people, "something to do" could well be self-care. And you might also remember that I wrote that the one down-side of my Mussar practice of Never Done has been that I am extremely tired, because I have to fit both a new thing and a blog writing practice into my days now. So I decided to be diligent about getting enough sleep.

So there I was, in the Angelika theater, after watching Twelve Thirty, participating in a robust talk-back that Jeff himself was leading, and it was getting later, and later, and later. The film had ended at 9:15PM, and it was almost 10PM, and I realized that I had to make an uncomfortable choice: stay in the theater out of respect for a friend and fellow filmmaker, or leave in the middle of the talk-back to honor my commitment to myself. Normally I would stay. This time I got up and left. It felt so wrong, and it felt so right. I got home by 10:45, in time to get to bed by 11PM. Shehekhianu.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I competed in a ping pong tournament

Never Done: "Competed" in a ping pong tournament
Never Done: Walked to Golden Fest

I'm not saying it was the most competitive ping pong tournament ever, but I did sign up, and I did play in the inaugural Park Slope Armory YMCA ping pong tournament. God, it was cute. They put 6 tables in the middle of the gym, where the basketball courts are, and they put notes up asking the basketball players to be gracious and let the ping pong players have the courts for a couple hours. They had three divisions: family, novice, and intermediate. When I was signing up, and trying to place myself, I explained that I am by no means pro, but that I can have a pretty long volley, and I can hit low and hard, but that I am not very good at putting spin on the ball. And that I am competitive. Then I confounded them by asking if there was doubles. "If you want doubles, you should play at the family table." That sounded fun but uncompetitive to me, so I clarified, and they suggested I play at the novice table. Again I checked -- but they thought that would be the best place for me, and they agreed that if I was too intermediate for the novices that they would just bump in into the next level. So I signed up, and I signed Josh up, and I checked with Rimma and Pat to see if they wanted me to sign them up (they didn't.)

I was excited. Competition! But when Josh and I showed up at the gym, we saw the sweetest scene ever. Six tables: two family tables, as promised, with adults and children playing together. Two novice tables, one of which had an amazing game between a three-year old and his dad. The three year-old would hit the ball, and no matter where it went (usually it went nowhere near the table) he would randomly and delightedly announce his score for that hit. "Twenty six!" "Fourteen!" Meanwhile, his dad ran all over the courts retrieving the balls. The other novice table was a couple adults mildly lobbing the ball back and forth. And then there were the intermediate tables, which we soon learned were the only tables actually in the competition. And there wasn't any room for us at those tables -- they had been all signed up for. Alas, we weren't in official competition. Not to mention that even though I had purposely signed us up for our own slots so we could play other people, they put us together and whispered conspiratorially that we could play for the whole half hour that way.

So we did. We played two games, to twenty-one, and Josh beat me both times. We had some great volleys, and I had some great shots, but Josh knows how to put spin on the ball, and it did me in. The other thing that did me in was my concentration. Because while we were playing, there were little kids running around with soccer balls, sometimes hurling themselves at the table, or at each other in the general direction of the table. It did occur to me that concentration would make a great mide (middah) -- and that if I ever make up my own, the way Stosh did once, I would put it on the list. Maybe like this: Concentration: Pay attention to what what you pay attention to.

When we were done, two delightful things happened. One: the organizers came over and asked if I wanted to be in competition at the tougher tables. Someone had advanced, and someone had dropped out, and they needed a competitor. After watching the guys play though, I knew it would be a very uneven match. They weren't even smiling while they played. Total concentration, lots of spin. I declined. Two: a woman told us that she had been watching us and that we were REALLY GOOD. "Oh no, it was nothing. Just a little something I picked up when I was in fourth grade." No, you were REALLY GOOD! We ended up talking with her, then her husband, and then her two little sons, for a while. Each of them was more unbearably good looking and friendly than the next, and when they commented on Josh's Toronto Jewish Film Festival shirt, we found out that they are Canadian, and that she is going to start taking her younger son to Shake, Shimmy, and Story, or whatever that class that I sometimes take Tabitha to is called. I felt like I made my first neighborhood mommy friend, and I don't even change the diapers!

OK, jump ahead several hours. Zlatne Uste Golden Festival is an amazing festival of Balkan music, dance, food, and culture that takes place every year on my birthday weekend. I have been going for years -- and as long as I've been going it's been in a school up in Inwood. This year it moved to the aptly named Grand Prospect Hall, a mere ten minute walk from my apartment!

There is so much I could say about Golden Festival, but I think what I would most like to say is that thanks to the organizers, once again I found myself face to face with the reality that I have deep community here, some of whom I have known for twenty years, and some of whom are much more recent friends. Dancing to Albanian urban folk music on a dance floor packed with hundreds of people, from authentic music and dance nerds to (I'm not saying they're necessarily inauthentic) Brooklyn hipsters, I found myself feeling central, surrounded, and connected. It was wonderful to see you:

Daniel
Jay
Zara
Dara
Marty
Liz
Tracy
Rena
Beatrice
Vivian
Esther
Abigail
Sarah
Matthew
Leslie
Jerry
Michael
Raif
Avi
Sally
Russ
Janet
Shira
Itzik
Emily
Adam
Perl
Hannah
Eve
Lauren
Beth
Carol
Zev
Basya
Pete
Ethel

And then I got to walk home!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I made borsht

Never Done: I made borsht

I never liked borsht. I tried it hot, I tried it cold. I tried it home made, I tried it bottled. I tried it with sour cream, and without. I didn't like borsht. Then Sally, who is a spectacular cook, made it for dinner when I was in Portland, and I loved it. Loved it like it I wished I had a bigger appetite, so I could have had seconds. Loved it like I asked for the recipe. Which she gave me. Which I quadrupled. Which I made for Brooklyn Soup Swap. Which took forever. Which came out great. Which looks gorgeous in the glass jars. Which I served at a potluck with fellow swappers Mich, Abigail, and Melissa, and with guest slurpers Josh and Jane, who I've just met for the first time, who designs toys, and has an Etsy store called Hazel Village, and who brought a gaze of empty raccoon kits she had sewn, and stuffed them after dinner while I sewed some more flaxseed lavender bags. (Yes, I just wrote "a gaze of empty raccoon kits" -- a phrase for which I had to look up not one but two words. A group of raccoons is called either a nursery or a gaze, and baby raccoons are kits.) But this is about borsht.

Here's how I made it. I cleaned 16 beets, and rubbed them with oil, and put them into a roasting pan and baked them at 350 for what was supposed to be an hour. Only I left them in for 2 hours, because they were not at all soft after 1 hour. In a big soup pot, I melted two sticks of butter over high heat, and sautéed 8 diced onions until soft, and then added 20 cloves of diced garlic, 6 sliced carrots, and four sliced parsnips. I lowered the heat, and let those vegetables get soft. Then I added two 15 oz boxes of chopped tomatoes, 16 cups of vegetable broth, 8 tablespoons of honey, and I was supposed to add 8 bay leaves, 4 teaspoons of dry oregano, and 4 teaspoons of dry basil. Only I didn't have any bay leaf or basil, so I used 8 teaspoons of herbes de Provence instead, which means there was some rosemary in there too, and some thyme, and probably some savory as well. I brought all that to a boil, and then let it simmer while I peeled the cooled beets, and julienned them. Which is the part that took forever, and was also the most satisfying part -- knowing how well these little strips of beets would fit onto a spoon, and knowing how tender they would become. Then I added the beets to the soup, and was supposed to simmer it for 30 minutes, but mine needed about an hour to get the beets soft. Then I added a lot of salt, and waited for it to cool down enough to spoon into Ball Mason jars.

It came out great. As good as Sally's even, which is something of a full circle, because it was Sally's mother Lily who taught me how to make matse balls almost 20 years ago. Lily is a wonderful cook and seamstress from Japan, where she learned to make matse ball soup in her post-graduate home ec studies. It always delighted us both that my very authentic and fluffy matse balls are courtesy of the Japanese educational system. And now Sally's gone and taught me how to make borsht. What's next? Will Mayumi (Sally's daughter, who is also a good young cook who made lychee sorbet by simply blending lychees and ice) teach me how to make kreplakh, which I tried to make once, and which came out like with meat wrapped in in glue? (If she is going to, she's going to have to do it soon, because Mich and Abigail and I talked about having a kreplakh party, and I bet between us, we will unlock the secrets of the Jewish dumpling.) Or pickle my own herring?

But I think it's different. I don't think there's a trick to making borsht, the way there's a trick to getting matse balls light and fluffy, or ungummy kreplakh. I think my rite of passage isn't so much that I made borsht, but that I liked it. That I can hold my head up high now, proud and Jewy, and ask for seconds of the sweet red soup of the Slavs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ready to be 48. Bring it.

Never Done: Turned 48

This whole Never Done project is really thanks to the fact that I just turned 48. 48 seems so close to 50, you know? And I wanted to feel prepared for 50 -- not just have it show up on my doorstep and freak me out.

In general, I think the project is going well. On the downside, I am more tired than usual, because in addition to finding new things to do every day, I also need a good hour or more a day to write this blog. But on the upside, I am doing things I've never done before, and discovering what I like and what I don't. (I love the soup swap, and today's my day to cook soup, and tomorrow I'll be writing about it; I don't particularly love the draping class. I like it, but unless something really comes into focus for me, I don't think I'm going to be buying a dress form and pursuing this as a life passion.) More importantly, I think that the basic idea -- to choose one thing to do every day, and to override the "Should I? Shouldn't I" questions that would otherwise waste my time and paralyze me, and to seek meaning in the practice, has been fruitful. And the deeper idea for me, to expand my life as I head toward and into the second demi-century, has been as well. Hey, I have a Groupon for hot air ballooning later in the year!

So it was my birthday, and I decided to spend it doing things I wanted to do. This is interesting when you are thinking about Diligence: Always find something to do. Because when the world is your oyster (or your lobster roll) what do you actually want? When you take work and your other usual defaults off the table, how do you really enjoy spending your time? I decided that I wanted to do things that I enjoy, and also that I wanted to do things for people I love. So after cheesecake for breakfast with Josh, and then a second round with Dana, I spent the morning sewing presents for people. I made some microwavable flaxseed lavender bags for Karen and Josh, and I started a surprise sewing project for another friend, but it's a surprise so I'm not saying what or who.

I wanted to make myself a skirt, but I got flummoxed by downloadable patterns, so instead I spread out lots of fabric on the floor and pictured myself wearing a skirt made from different combinations.

I planned to finally take a Zumba class, but when I got to the gym it was the same (bad) teacher I had the other time -- the one who the other people in the class said was teaching faux Zumba, so I lifted weights instead, which felt metaphorically excellent (power... the metaphor is power) for me on my 48th.

I tried to Facetime chat (never done) with Karen, but I was out in the gym and then out on the street, and it turns out you need to be connected to WiFi, so we just talked instead.

I wanted to get a haircut, and I actually found a someone I think will be great, but she didn't have time, so I made an appointment for next week.

I got very tired (had a bad night of sleep the night before) and tried to take a nap but couldn't quite, so instead I indulged in an episode from Season 2 of Veronica Mars (thank you Alex for turning me on to this guilty pleasure!)

I took a 40 minute walk through the cold park and down to BAM to see True Grit, and Josh joined me there. I really loved this movie, and (SPOILER ALERT) am still grappling with the end. The frame. The way that we see what has become of this spunky intelligent girl -- that it's so unsettling, that she's lost her spunk. Was it just hard prairie living? Was it that once you taste that level of adventure and revenge nothing else compares? Thematically, I respect the Coen Brothers for hitting us with the epilogue, because it reminds us that the fun, and often hilarious romp we had just seen was actually about killing and revenge, and that many people's lives were deeply unsettled. Discuss please.

And finally, Josh and I met Patricia and Serena and Graciana for lobster rolls (my treat) at Luke's Lobster which is a terrible place to have a birthday gathering because it is to tiny, and a wonderful place to have a birthday gathering because the lobster rolls are SO GOOD. And because Luke is a Mainer, and his dad used to be a lobsterman, and Luke's donates some of its profits to the Maine Lobstermen's Association. And because the lobster rolls are SO GOOD.

And really finally, I got to bed before midnight, and slept for a delicious 8 hours, and woke up ready to be 48. Bring it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cake for breakfast

Never Done: Made my own birthday cake

When I was growing up, my family's birthday tradition was to have cake and presents at breakfast, before going to school. I love that my parents let us have cake for breakfast, and I also love that they let us have presents when we woke up, because really, who wants to wait? As soon as I was old enough to choose, I chose cheesecake with raspberries on top. We grew amazing raspberries, and would freeze bags and bags of them in the summer, and one bag would always be reserved for my January birthday cake.

It's one of those traditions that I have kept up -- as often as I could, asking friends or partners to make me a cheesecake for breakfast. This year I decided I want to have a low-key birthday celebration, spent doing things I like to do. I love to cook, I love to bake, and I love to multitask. So this year I decided to bake my own cheesecake in the middle of a work day. So while I was on a phone call, I scooped out two pounds of ricotta into a metal bowl, and smoothed it with a spatula to get out the air bubbles, and I blended in 1/3 cup of flour and 3/4 cup maple sugar, and then one by one I stirred in 6 beaten eggs (I beat them before the phone call) and then added in cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and lemon rind, and poured it all into a springform pan that Abigail left at my house (thanks!) and she will get back this weekend, and set it in the oven to bake at 300F. (Now you know my recipe.) That all took just 10 minutes.

It needed to bake for minimum 90 minutes (ended up taking longer because the pan was 8 inch instead of 9 inch) so when I got off the phone, I decided to slip in a trip to the gym, which I hadn't made time for since before the New Year!

I think I should mention that this week's mide (middah) is Diligence: Always find something to do. While I am typically very good at finding something to do, I also have let some things, like go to the gym, slip off my plate lately because I have been quite busy. At this week's Mussar va'ad (Mussar study group) Alissa mentioned that she thinks that for busy, over-programmed people, it can be as useful to think of "something to do" as resting or self-care as it is to think about it as work or our traditional notions of productivity. So in the midst of a day in which I revised a screenplay treatment, did production work on two documentaries and a short video spot, and had a meeting with my sister, I am glad to say that the Mussar practice helped me get back to the gym.

When I got back, the cake was still jiggly in the middle, so I let it stay in the oven while I showered and got on the phone with my sister. We had an extremely productive meeting, during which I checked the cake from time to time, and finally took it out after it had been baking for a full two hours. And then it sat on the counter cooling for the rest of my work day, smelling wonderful and building my anticipation for my birthday, which I am going to start out by eating cheesecake for breakfast.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

David Trager, z"l

Never Done: went to shiva for David Trager, z"l

I wish there were more Republicans like David Trager: firm of his convictions, fair and caring.

Given the recent assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in which six people were killed, including John Roll, who was, like David Trager, a federal judge, and in which twenty people, including Giffords were injured -- given the right-wing environment that not only tolerates but actually condones that kind of violence, I wish there were many, many, many more Republicans like David Trager: firm of convictions, fair, and caring.

May his memory be a blessing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You don't need references to get drunk and knocked up

Never Done: Asked for adoption references

I need four people to tell the bureaucrats of NYC that I would be a good parent. The reference form asks them to state that I have the following characteristics:

Moral character
Mature judgement
Ability to manage financial resources
Capacity to develop meaningful relationships with children

I feel pretty good about my prospects. I asked four people/couples yesterday, and three already said yes. I made a list (I swear I am not sucking up by saying this -- it is truly true) of the parents I most admire and have most learned from, and it was a long list, so I started winnowing it down with criteria like, do they have a four-week old infant? Yes? Then I won't ask them right now. Also, I chose one from New York, one from New England, one from Portland, and one from Chicago, which although it's not on my list of places I think about living, it is the United Airlines hub that gets me from one place to the other. Also, I asked one person who has known me my whole life, one person who has known me since I was a teenager, a couple who've known me for 20 years, and another who has known me for 15. Some are Jewish, some are not; some are Chicano/a, some are not; some are gay, some are not. I am so all about diversity, and I hope the state of New York appreciates that about me.

I am not particularly nervous to ask people to recommend me (I feel pretty confident about my capacity to develop meaningful relationships with children) but I do still find it strange that, as many people have pointed out, you don't need references to get drunk and knocked up. And you don't have to take classes if you're birthing your own babies. Not that I'm complaining. I am actually learning a ton in the classes, and I think the references will probably help my friends and family become even more invested in my choice. Hey wait, I bet the bureaucrats of NYC thought of that!

Sarcasm aside, I really appreciate that my friends and family are writing these recommendations for me, and I feel the process inching along, getting more real with every step.

Monday, January 10, 2011

One degree of separation from Michael Jackson

Never done: Met Sarah, Andy, Jay, and Peter, and saw a rough cut of a film that no-one but the filmmakers have ever seen before

For the past six months or so, Josh has been editing a film about the god-like violinist Jascha Heifetz. For the past six months, the writer on the project, Sarah, has been asking to meet me. Finally, the day came when they had a rough cut together, and needed some outside eyes to give them feedback, and they invited me into the editing room, along with two extremely accomplished violinists, Andy and Jay, and the film's producer/director, Peter.

I love, love, love, love, love getting to tell other people what isn't (and is) working with their movie. Especially when I do not have to figure out how to fix it. I know that sounds a little sadistic, but I actually mean it in the most generous possible way. I love taking that time to help midwife a piece of art, and I love coming in cold, with beginner's mind, and paying attention to what does and doesn't interest me, what is confusing, and what story is -- and isn't -- being told.

The only thing that was off about this screening is that the two violinists were introduced as such -- this one is a famous, but now injured and retired virtuoso, and this other one is a famous violinist who plays in the house band on Prairie Home Companion, and has also played with Itzhak Perlman, Placido Domingo, Michael Jackson, and as written on his bio, the Native American occupying force on Alcatraz. I was introduced as Josh's companion. Nice.

But as it turned out, Andy and Jay were two of the most respectful and down-to-earth famous violinists I've ever critiqued a film with. (Yes, and the first.) I loved the way our three sensibilities wove together, and I loved listening to the ways that they watched the film. They said things like, "You should hold that shot until he hits the E chord in The Girl With the Flaxen Hair." And, "You had a theme from Porgy and Bess playing under a scene from the 1920's, but it wasn't composed until 1935." One of them, and I'll leave it to your imaginations which one, also said, "It's about a fucking violinist, let him play the fucking violin!"

Meanwhile, I was giving notes like, "I feel like the story really starts at minute 11, when we first learn that his father never approved of anything he did," and "The first-person narration is confusing, especially if you aren't going chronologically," and "If you're going to mention suicide, you can't toss it away so quickly. If we know why, we can better empathize with him."

And what happened, and what makes me think that Andy and Jay are such mentshes, is that we all listened to one another, and usually agreed with one another, and definitely respected one another's opinions. So even though as far as they were concerned I could have known as much about story structure as I knew about natural language programming (which my sister knows a lot about) they didn't act like it, and that is a quality I respect more than almost any other. In our Mussar practice, it's Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone.

This experience reminded me that we can learn as much when someone else models ethical behavior as when we ourselves model it. And what I learned, and hope I never forget it, is that if you're making a movie about a fucking violinist, let him play the fucking violin!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A rabbi to call my own

Never Done: wrote a recommendation for the Rabbinate

My friend A wants to be a rabbi, and asked me to write him a recommendation. I have written recommendations before, but usually for playwrights or filmmakers. This was the first time I felt like I needed someone to write me a recommendation in order for me to write a recommendation. I was honored, truly, to be asked, and a little fearful that I wouldn't have the Right Stuff to write the rabbi rec.

Until I started, and it pretty much wrote itself. Because A will make a wonderful rabbi, and all I had to do is tell them why.

I've never had a rabbi to call my own (it sounds like I am asking for a puppy) -- but I have worked closely with many in my political work, and also have attended plenty of synagogues -- some even as a repeat visitor -- but never found a congregational home. For me the dichotomy has always been politics vs spirituality vs music vs social compatibility. The times I've found my social and social justice peers, I've usually found the music to be far, far removed from what I would call deep, traditional, or beautiful. Simple folk guitars and modern Hebraicized songs that don't move me the way a traditional liturgy does. And the time I did find a traditional liturgy sung by a wonderful cantor it was in an orthodox shul with extreme right wing Zionist politics.

Also, as I have written more than once here, I don't believe in God, and I have not found a good substitution for all the god words we hear in synagogue. So, whatever. I'm like most of the Jews I know -- I haven't found the absolutely perfect place for all my picky little needs. But you know what? It doesn't really matter, because what I've come to understand is that I belong in all these places, even if they're not perfect. Because you know what else? I'm not perfect either. But I have absorbed a lot from being in all those Jewish spaces I've occupied -- political, spiritual, social -- and as it turns out, I have opinions about what makes a wonderful rabbi, and I trust and respect my opinions. So I wrote A a great recommendation. er zol vern a groyser rov. (He should become a great rabbi.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I held the subway doors

Never Done: Held the train doors

It was icy out so it took just a spec longer to get to the subway than usual. That plus all the clocks in the apartment are set for different times, and I was going by the one that read the earliest -- the one I could see from my office -- and when I went into the bedroom to get a sweater, I saw it was already time to go. So when we got to turnstile above the F train, it was just pulling into the station. I tried to swipe Josh in by swiping twice in a row which usually works, but it didn't this time, and so I ran down, and he came through after me, and I got to the platform just as the ding ding was ringing, and the doors started to close, and he was still on the stairs, and I got on, and put my body between the doors, and I held the doors and didn't freak out.

If you grew up where I grew up you would have never told this story. You would have told a story more like this: It was icy out so I put on my ice skates and went ice skating on the pond. I skated for a long time and then I got cold and came home and made hot chocolate.

But really, I have tried to hold the doors before and other passengers had to step in to help me out. Once I left Josh standing on the subway platform because I freaked out and failed. So I'm actually quite proud that I did this, and that nobody got hurt. But here's the thing. The subway announcements all say that holding the doors is bad. That it delays the train for others. So ... from a Mussar framework, did I do the right thing? Was my need to hold the door for Josh justified, given that it could have caused delays for others? I am tempted to say yes, because after all nothing did go wrong, and I did not cause delays for others. But what if I had? What was so important that we couldn't have waited for the next train? The honest truth is nothing. We were going to a show (The Negro Problem at Joe's Pub) and when we got there, we waited outside in line for about 1/2 hour. Granted, we got better seats than we would have if we would have been later, but we still would have gotten in, and we still would have seen a great show.

On the other hand, it's good to overcome our fears, right? And to become more physically daring -- especially women, especially as we get older? And the chances that I was going to break the subway door were really very slim. That reminds me of a story my mom used to tell. When she was in grade school, girls used to lock the bathroom stalls from the inside, and climb out, leaving them locked. They usually did this in teams of two, so one person could be on the lookout for teachers. One time my mom, a socially awkward child who had skipped ahead two grades, so was also two years younger than everyone else, decided to lock a stall and climb out, but she did it alone, and a teacher came in, and the teacher paraded her around the entire school, saying, "This is the student who has been locking the bathroom stalls."

Damn, I'm glad I didn't break the subway door.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Be careful with everyone's money

Never Done: Went to the Celiac Center

After months on the waiting list, I finally had my first appointment at the Celiac Center. My doctor was an hour late seeing me (I read the New Yorker cover to cover for the first time in months and once again realized how un-funny I find Patricia Marx) but the doctor was focused and attentive and kind when she did see me. She asked a bunch of questions, did a physical exam, and drew blood; I didn't learn much -- the real information will come once the lab results start to come back -- but I felt like I was in the good hands of someone who has a broad knowledge of celiac and also the potentially related issues (thyroid, iron) I'm trying to solve.

This week's mide (middah) is Frugality: Be careful with your money. When I got done with my appointment, Dr. Lewis asked me if my insurance requires that she send to a particular lab. I found her question unusually thoughtful for a New York doctor. When I didn't know the answer, she asked Yvonne, her administrator, to check for me. Then, when Yvonne was helping me make ancillary appointments (endocrinologist, bone density test) she called my insurance company back to make sure she was clear on what they would and wouldn't cover. This all made me think about frugality a little more broadly than the way the mide is framed, and I decided to re-write it: Be careful with everyone's money. Maybe the big banks could take a lesson from these two women who have their hands full with their patients' medical needs, but who still take the time to guard other people's money. And if the big banks won't, then I will.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pin by pin: I took a draping class

Never Done: Took a draping class

When I was in middle school, or maybe it was high school, we alternated metal shop and wood shop and cooking and sewing (home ec.) I liked all of it, but the teachers didn't all like me. Specifically, my sewing teacher used to make me face the wall because I talked too much, but the injustice of this was that I was usually talking with the home ec assistant, who was assisting me! Nonetheless, I didn't learn too well facing the wall, and consequently, I never excelled at sewing. Adding to my troubles was that our sewing machine at home was old, and the bobbin was forever tangling and causing me great frustration. I was good at needle crafts though -- embroidery especially -- so I was pretty good at hand sewing, and I stuck to that for years.

A few months after my mother died, I got a real hankering to sew. I'm not sure where it came from, because she wasn't a big sewer, but I followed the impulse, and went to a going-out-of-business sale in Auburn Maine, and bought myself a Project Runway Limited Edition Brother sewing machine. (It's pink!) The first thing I sewed was a gorgeous apron for my oldest friend, Claire. The kind of apron you're supposed to wear over jeans or a skirt, not the kind of apron you're supposed to cook in. It was reversible, with three complimentary fabrics, and I used interfacing and everything. After that I made some handbags (I still owe on to Robin and one to Leigh and I feel incredibly guilty about this) and a bunch of flax seed bags to heat up in the microwave, and even more balsam bags that just smell nice, and some feather pillows, and I have a pattern for a shirt that I haven't made yet because I don't know if it's going to fit me at the waist and I don't really know how to adapt it for myself.

And that's what leads me to this post. About a month ago, a Groupon came through for a class at the Textile Arts Center. I was super interested in haberdashery and shoemaking (who wouldn't be?) but the Groupon didn't cover those classes. So I looked through their offerings, and chose a class in draping -- so I can learn how to make clothes to fit me. My first class was very sweet, like an episode of Project Runway for beginners, with one ringer thrown in. Jamie is the teacher -- a former public policy wonk who was headed for a legal career when she threw it all in, left California, and came to NYC to design and sew; Jeannie -- a 50-something writer and copy editor who kept saying that she is behind the times because her phone doesn't take pictures; Janet -- a retired special educator from Teaneck with whom, I later found out, I share mutual friends; Beth -- a science teacher in a school in Bushwick who runs a sewing and knitting club; and Chris -- our ringer -- a Chelsea designer and filmmaker who used to work for a punk designer, so he "learned to do everything wrong" but seems to know how to do everything pretty right. And me.

Jamie started out with the basics -- the parts of the dress form, selvage, warp, weft, cross grain, straight grain. How to tear muslin. How to block muslin. (You drape muslin on the dress form to make your pattern.) After we took measurements of the dress form, we started marking up our muslin with a pencil. Since muslin is a somewhat loose weave, it's hard to make smooth rounded shapes on it -- the pencil tends to catch, and curves turn into angles. When it came time to mark the side seam on my muslin, Jamie suggested we just write SS -- and so I tried, only it came out angular, looking like the Schutzstaffel insignia, and I actually let out a little freaked-out yelp and then a laugh. Quickly I tried to erase it, and then I rewrote over it: Side Seam, still angular and messy, but at least not fascist.

It turns out I am pretty good at draping and smoothing and pinning muslin. I kept thinking about my years doing carpentry -- which is basically the same thing, only with stiffer and heavier materials. But you measure, you do math, you cut, you figure out how it will all fit together, and sometimes you have to take it apart. When I became a carpenter in my late 20's, I did it because I wanted to become more physically capable in the world -- as a way to combat internalized sexism. It turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I ever made, because I learned that every project. no matter how daunting, is accomplished step by step -- just like Anne Lamott teaches in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird. So there I was, once again, probably the least experienced sewer in the class, but with years of trying new things under my belt, and I just reminded myself that this will be step by step, bird by bird, pin by pin. And one day I will make myself a wonderful dress that I design myself. And somewhere inside, I might have to hide an SS, just to make myself laugh.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Olive Kitteridge

Never Done: Finished Olive Kitteridge

Josh has been wanting me to read the Nobel Prize-winning novel Soul Mountain for about 6 years now, and I finally brought it with me on vacation, determined to read it. I had tried once before, and found it dense and difficult, with more description and inner narrative than I usually like, and so I eventually put it down. Apparently there is an image on the very last page that he hoped I would get to, because he adored it. I suggested I just read the last page, but he found that unbearable to think about, and I, out of respect, actually didn't go reds the back page, even though it would have been in my nature to do so. Finally, after a realization I had that if I want to read the last page first, for any reason, it's a completely valid approach, I told Josh that I wanted him to tell me what is on the last page. And he did, and it's an image of god. God as a frog, with one eye always open and one eye constantly blinking. A beautiful image, for sure, and probably the best image of God I have ever heard, which is a lot coming from an atheist like me. So, as I said, I packed the book on vacation, and I started it on the way to the airport. I read the Forward, which I had not read the first time, and I understood why it is so inward and metaphoric (it has to do with the author Gao Xingjian's experience coming out of the Cultural Revolution.) I was also extremely moved by his writing story -- he destroyed hundreds of stories, essays, plays, and poems, and still went on to amazing prolificity. I know that's not a word, but he was incredibly prolific.

So I had the book with me, but as soon as I got to the airport and saw a book store, I lost my resolve to read Nobel Prize-winning Chinese fiction, and was seduced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American fiction. I bought myself a copy of Elizabeth Strout's
Olive Kitteridge, and became immediately engrossed in the tales from the fictional small coastal town of Crosby, Maine. It reminded me of when I was young and moved to Maine, and it reminded me of when I got older and visited Maine, and it reminded me of my friends who live there now, and it reminded me of what I think about when I think about living there again. It was foggy and slow, and old timers lived alongside newcomers, sometimes with grace and delight, and sometimes with a gulf of misunderstanding. When I lived there in the late 1980's, my mother used to say, "Jenny doesn't live in Maine; she lives in alternative Maine." She was partly right (I did live in a yurt on five acres of land that we rented for $50/month, and I did work at an art house movie theater, and belong to a food coop, and spend time on womyn's land) but the part she missed is the part where my neighbors and I shoveled each other out, and I worked at Family Planning and helped women of all types and ages with their reproductive health, and we all walked on the same trails, and swam in the same lakes, and ate at the same diners. So when I read in Olive Kitteridge that when Harmon first sees Nina, the anorexic girl whose boyfriend steals tubing from his hardware store to make a bong, and his reaction is that he loves young people, I smiled at how right Strout got it, and that in her dark, sad book in which people struggle with change, she offered this vision of hope.