Monday, February 28, 2011

I made a suicidal white swan food sculpture

Never Done: I made a suicidal white swan out of meringue, sheet candy, and strawberry sauce
Never Done: Got my hair cut for a costume (Oscars Party)

Second time (and Superfine's) a charm. I made a second batch of meringue, and I did four things differently. I waited until it wasn't raining. I beat the egg whites until they formed soft peaks before I started adding in the sugar. I added the sugar in slower. I used Superfine sugar. It came out perfect. Stiff and white and ... perfect. By then I had gotten some pastry bags and tips so I could sculpt my meringue into swans. Or a swan.

I spent way too much time looking at Google images of meringue swans (try it, you might get swept in) but then ultimately, I realized that I didn't want my swan to look beautiful. I wanted my swan to look like it just threw itself off a stage onto a mattress with a shard of mirror cutting into her gut, and a pool of blood emanating from the wound. So after all the careful planning of how to make a beautiful swan, I whipped out a suicidal one in about 30 seconds. I loved her as soon as I made her.

But how to make the mirror shard? The blood was easy -- sauce from any red fruit. (I chose strawberry.) I actually considered using broken mirror, until it came to me. Old fashioned sheet candy. I bought corn syrup for the first time in at least a decade, borrowed a candy thermometer from Melissa, and before I knew it, I had boiling bubbling sugar on the stove. I don't even remember why or when I made candy like this when I was a kid, but it all came back to me, like second nature, especially at the moment that I got to pour the candy onto the buttered cookie sheet. After it cooled, I lifted it off the pan, and broke it into pieces, and one of the formed the perfect shard for the swan's demise.

Meanwhile (the candy takes a while to cool) I got the rest of the house ready for the party, and one by one, eight friends called or texted to say they couldn't make it. (As much as I wish each of them had been there, the nine of us who did watch together used every chair in the apartment, such is urban hosting.) I moved the table, I cleaned the bathroom, I swept the apartment, (I decided not to vacuum the couch, which sheds black and white feathers, so that anyone who would sit there could pull feathers out of their shoulders, like in the Black Swan.) I made hummus, salmon dip, and guacamole, and then it was time to figure out my outfit for the evening.

I usually wear a sea moss green with gold brocade gown my mother had made for herself in the 60s, and go as myself as if I were really at the Oscars, which one year I hope to do. This year I wanted to be more specific, and was thinking about all the gray-haired actresses or characters I could be (or actresses who should be gray-haired by now, but dye.) I was leaning towards Helen Mirren or Helena Bonham Carter as themselves, Melissa Leo in The Fighter (but I hated her performance) or Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right (my new glasses, and I could wear sweats all night) -- or possibly a combination of all three (Annena Leo Mirren, in the gown, some wild red shoes, the glasses, maybe some white face makeup, and a wicked Lowell accent.) But Dana, who came over early to hang out, took a strong stance on behalf of a single look, and she favored Annette Bening's LA soft butch, only she also favored the greeting-the-sperm-donor look, so we chose a white button-up with long cuffs, and my only slacks (black.) But what to do about my hair?

It's a fact that my hair has been feeling a little grown-out and dull lately. And it's also a fact that it's been at a challenging length for working out -- not long enough to put in a pony tail, but still long enough to hang in my face. So I've been thinking about getting it cut again. I wasn't planning on getting it cut super short, but in an instant, I decided it would be completely fun and also a little insane to get a short, choppy Annette Bening haircut for my Oscars costume. So Dana and I walked down to 7th Avenue to see if Melissa at Pamona, who gave me my last hair cut, had a free hour. (Turns out Dana used to get her hair cut at Pamona when she lived in this neighborhood.) Melissa was there, and she had time free, so we took out the photos of Annette, and went for it. There was a point along the way of the hair cut, when it was shorter in the back and sides, and longer in front, when I thought -- you know what? Stop. That looks great. Just like that. But we were in service of a costume and a bold new look, so I let her keep going. As a costume, with the ton of product I let her spray, paste, and smoosh into my hair, it came out pretty good. The problem is that in every day life, because I have a huge cowlick on the right side of my head, and so I look like a lopsided puffball mushroom, even with a moderate amount of product. (I hear it looks pretty cute from behind though.)

So for one night of portrayal of Annette Bening's portrayal of a tightly-wound LA lesbian with a perpetual glass of wine in hand, I get to embark on the process of growing my hair back out, with some weeks or maybe months of looking somewhat goofy. What's interesting to me about this is that I don't really care how I look. I mean, I want to look good. I want to look great. But also, I love the morph and the transformation. I love the ways that process, which is usually so inner, can be physicalized and externalized. I love the discoveries that come every day, millimeter by millimeter, strand by strand.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I watched the Oscar nominated shorts

Never Done: I watched the Academy Award nominated shorts before the Academy Awards

Every year I wish I had taken the time to watch the nominated short films, and every year I make it to the Oscars telecast and still haven't seen them. This year I vowed to see them (before the Oscars) and actually did it.

Regardless of my overall opinion about the films, I found I was inspired by at least one element of each of them. I want to write about the inspiration. Also, I am getting ready for my Oscars Party, and want to take more time today making sheet candy and teasing my hair, and less time writing, so these are going to be short inspirational moments.

The Confession: My least favorite of the bunch (did I not just say that I wasn't going to write about my overall opinion?) this one reminded me most of a Mussar practice. I liked the process a young boy goes through when trying to prepare for his first confession -- looking at a list of sins, and basically worrying that he hasn't committed enough of them. Underneath the dark, unrealistic plot, this is about a boy summing up his ethical life.

Wish 143: Among other things, this film gave me my first experience of tearing up while wearing glasses. The most inspirational part was actually the directorial restraint. It could have been very campy, and it could have been quite dark, but it struck a balance and was actually quite tender. The moment when the call girl shows her scar was probably the turning point for me.

Na Wewe: An extremely high-tension film about false divisions among humans. One of the best-crafted pieces I have ever seen about ethnic cleansing. The inspirational moment? I don't think there is just one. I think it's the message of the whole piece: that national and religious and ethnic borders are fabrications that divide us from our fellow humans.

The Crush: The moment when the boy says to his teacher, "I would have missed the football and taken you for lunch." And then she realizes (even if she doesn't pay attention yet) that a seven-year-old just taught her that she is making a huge mistake.

God of Love: This is a film about a guy deciding to use his natural gift to bring others together, and to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There's a moment when he sees what would work -- what would actually work. It's well before the moment he takes action, but we know he noticed, and we know it's right. And so when he does, when he accepts that he's just trying too hard to make something work that just won't, and when he uses his gift to make something else work that just will, it's one of those cinematic moments that makes me scan my entire life for those moments.

Is this the vaguest post I've ever written? Possibly, and apologies if it is. I'll try to absolve myself by making an Oscars prediction. I think it's a toss-up between The Confession and Na Wewe, and I'll go out on a limb and say the Academy will vote for Na Wewe, although I wish Wish 143 would win.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I made meringues (fail)

Never Done: I made meringues but they didn't come out right

I have a little food sculpture project in mind for my upcoming Oscars party. And my food sculpture relies on being able to make sculpted meringue. Since I've never made any meringue before, I decided to practice, so at the end of a very long day, and a little too late to start with something that takes three hours to bake, I cracked open four eggs and got started. On the one hand, it is super easy to make meringue. You separate the yolks and the whites. (Put aside the yolks to use in something else.) You beat the whites til they are foamy. You add in sugar, slowly, while beating. Beat til it's white, stiff, and satiny. Form into shapes on a buttered and floured cookie pan, and bake low (200F) for 3 hours. Easy peasy, right?

Except ... do you use cream of tartar to help the whites stay stiff? What kind of sugar do you use? Will Confectioner's work? Is Superfine better than regular granulated? Is it going to rain? Because the humidity might could keep the meringue from forming right. What if you want it to be sort of gooey inside? What if you want to make a really big something out of meringue? How long do you bake it in that case? Is it better to beat the whites for as long as possible or as little as possible? I mean, I know I'm not arbitrating the Wisconsin Union bill here, but still, meringue is complicated.

I couldn't get mine stiff. I think I used the wrong sugar. (I used Confectioner's, based on reading several blogs on the topic. But as soon as it failed, I read more blogs, and that's when I realized I should never have used Confectioner's -- it was all about Superfine, which I will try next.) So mine came out thick but definitely not stiff and sculptable. Also, it was sort of rainy out, and Melissa says that her mother says that you just can't meringue if it's humid. I sort of want to tell you what I am sculpting, and I also don't, because I intend the final project to be a spectacular never done before food sculpture that I can write about on Monday.

So let's leave it at this: I made meringues for the first time, and they came out shiny and white and brittle and shapeless, and I am going to try again with Superfine sugar, and hopefully I'll sculpt a funny and disturbing Oscar-themed dessert, and take a great photo of it, and post it here on Monday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I swam at the Prospect Park YMCA

Never Done: Swam at the Prospect Park YMCA

You all know I'm in love with the Armory YMCA, right? Well, it's just 8 blocks away from another, older Y -- the Prospect Park YMCA -- which other people are equally in love with. Among other things, the PPY has a pool, a sauna, and a steam room. (I don't know if you've noticed, but it's fairly common for women's locker rooms to have dry heat, and men's to have steam, which has always seemed to me to be one of the great small injustices of American society.) Well, my Armory Y membership comes with 10 passes/year to the Prospect Park Y, and since I started my triathlon rotation training this week (Bike 2 times a week, Run 2 times a week, Swim 2 times a week, Rest one day) it only made sense to go try it out.

I figured the pre-work hours would be most crowded, so I went on a mid-day break, but it was pretty crowded, with 3-4 people in every little lane. The pool is teensy: 20 yards, three lanes (ostensibly Slow, Medium, and Fast, but really more like Stationary, Intermittent, and Moving Steadily.) Figuring it really was S, M, and F, I slipped into the middle lane, and started off. If I would just skip to the end of the story, which I sometimes like to do when I am reading, I would tell you that I swam 1/2 mile in 25 minutes and got out, took a shower, took a 5-minute steam, and by the time I got back to work, I'd been gone an hour and a half.

If I would tell you the long, slow version, I would tell you all about how warm and thoughtful the pool staff was, and how natural it felt to be back in the water (tshuve) and how I swam 1/4 mile, stretched, and swam another 1/4 mile without stopping -- after not having swum at all since some wonderful ocean swims last summer. I would tell you how, when I got out, the lifeguard called me over and whispered, "You should come between 7:15 and 8AM -- that's the best time." Also, I would tell you about the quality of thinking I do when I'm in the water -- something between letting go of all thought and in the process, coming to my deepest realizations. But most of all, I would tell you about how it felt to swim in a crowded lane, trying to approach it from a Mussar perspective. Just like in most of New York City, all the swimmers in the pool were trying to accomplish something in a paucity of space. To be more specific, we were trying to accomplish individual, personal goals in a small public space. Just like when driving, there are lane sharing conventions when swimming. If there are only two people in the lane, you can split the lane, and just stay on your own side. If there are three or more people, you circle, clockwise. The problem with circling in a 20-yard pool is that if the swimmers are going at significantly different paces, there's really no way to keep moving steadily. In a longer pool, you can touch the foot of the swimmer in front of you and pass them on the left. But in a crowded lane in a short pool, there's usually someone coming toward you, and preventing you from passing.

At first, when I got into the teeny Y pool, I longed for the pools I've known and loved -- 50 meter pools where I've had an entire lane to myself. Then I started thinking about how it would be possible to communicate with a lane full of wet New Yorkers, to try to optimize our collective swimming experience. I tend to rest at the end of each length and wait for the slower swimmers to get as far from me as possible before I start swimming again, so I can have as long a run as possible. Most other people I encounter tend to swim at their own pace, come up on the person in front of them, get frustrated, stop and tread water, or turn around in the middle of the lane and go the other way. I think the most optimal Mussar (balancing out the needs of self and others) thing to do would be for everyone in the lane to find a common pace, and keep it steady -- but that's hard for recreational swimmers to do. It's also hard for New Yorkers to talk to each other in the pool. I think this because I tried it, and the woman I spoke to looked at me blankly, didn't respond, and then ducked under water and kicked off.

Maybe I will eventually figure out how to organize my swim lanes to simultaneously take care of the needs of self and other, but maybe the answer (to swimming and living in New York) is that it's not ideal, but it's good enough. My swim wasn't uninterrupted, and I did get kicked in the head a couple times, but I did get to swim 1/2 mile on my lunch break. And it felt pretty great.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I asked a stranger a question about French language

Never Done: Stopped a stranger on the street and asked him a question about French language

I was walking down 7th Avenue when I heard a French speaking man say loudly, "Si, il y'a!" (Yes, there are!) (Is it too early in this post to put in a parenthetical about the relatively high number of French speakers in Park Slope? And not just from the African diaspora, but also a lot of French national expats.) This guy was outside a boarded-up hookah lounge, talking with two workers about, it seems, renovations to the space. And suddenly I flashed back to a conversation I had had sometime in the last year, when I responded to something using the word "si" meaning "yes" and this person laughed at me, assuming I was confusing my French with my Spanish. But I wasn't. As I tried to explain to them, there are times when you use "si" in French to mean "yes" ... but as soon as I started to explain it, I realized that I knew how to do it right, but I didn't actually why. In other words, I was like a native speaker who had not paid attention in grammar class; I didn't know what rule I was following.

So when I walked past this French man who emphatically exclaimed, "Si, il y'a!" I considered stopping to ask him, but he was clearly in the middle of work, so I walked on. But then I remembered my commitment to the Never Done practice (if I think of it, I should probably do it) and I walked back and waited for him to be done with the guys he was talking with. And then, a little shy, a little sheepish, I asked him (in French) if I could ask him a question about French. And he, a little surprised, and a little awkward, said that yes, he would try.

So I asked Mr. Hookah Lounge renovator my question, "Quand est-ce qu'on peut dire si quand on veut dire oui?" And he took just a second to think, before he said it's when you are actually saying yes but contradicting someone else's negative statement. Like when they say, "She isn't beautiful" (his example) but you think she really is, so you say "Si, elle est belle." Also, if they say something like, "You don't want 8-foot windows?" You can say, "Si" meaning that you do want 8-foot windows. As soon as he explained this, I realized I mostly heard it in political discussions, when one person would argue that, say, unions have lost political relevance, and the other person would respond, "Mais si, les syndicats sont encore important."

We don't have a comparable word for "si" in English. Unless you're six years old and you're on a playground, and someone says "You didn't touch first base." And you say, "Did too!" And they say, "Uh uh!" And you say, "Yuh huh!" And they say, "Mais non!" and you say, "Si!"

Now I wish I could go back to the person who laughed at me and told me I can't use "si" to mean "yes" and say, "Can too!"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I put up art in public places

Never Done: Made art and hung it up for people to see or take

Such a simple thing -- make some art, and put it out in public for everyone to see. It's hard to believe I have never done this, but I can't actually think of a time that I did. Avia and Christian came over for dinner, and my original idea was to do go yarn bombing with Avia, but we were getting together on the late side, so that idea will have to wait to share with a local knitty friend.

Instead, we took out paper, Sharpies, scissors, and whatever magazines I had around (dozens of New Yorkers, New York, and New York Times Magazines, and one Vanity Fair) and we started cutting up images and making simple little collages. Actually, I think the art concept started with my telling the others that Rufus Wainwright and his husband just had a baby, and the mother is Lorca Cohen -- the daughter of Leonard Cohen. (She really is the mother, not just the surrogate or the birth mother; the three of them are all parents, and intend to raise their daughter, Viva Katherine, together.)

Anyhow, I told this news to Avia, who loves Leonard Cohen, and on cue, she swooned. I told her about the deal my friends Karen and Andy have -- a celebrity exclusion, let's call it -- whereby each of them can pre-name one famous person to whom, if they happened to knock on the door and make a carnal offer, it would be OK to say yes. (I believe that you can change celebrities as often as you like, but you can only take the offer of the currently-named celebrity. I also believe that Scarlett Johansson and Johnny Depp have had no recent challengers.)

On the mention of Johnny Depp, our art project was born. Avia took a card, and wrote Johnny Depp Loves You on it, with a big red heart. We each then started making cards with similar messages. Prince Loves You. Lady Gaga is Gaga Over You.

Then I made one that says Alice Walker wrote a book about you, and I decorated it with a little collage made of the color purple. And then I made one that says Oprah thinks you're smart. And Christian dazzled the table with Cezanne Painted Me, Europe Loves You, and the one that melted my heart the most: simply, I Love You.

I had hoped we would all go out together and hang them and photograph them, but it was both late and dark, so we split them up (without looking, so we could neither intentionally choose our own or our favorites) and decided to hang them and photograph them in the morning. To be honest, it was hard to let the art pieces go -- I wanted to chaperone them all into the world. I wasn't very gracious about this either, when I woke up and found that Josh had taken some to put up. I completely understood why he had -- because I hadn't had the time to tell him I hoped we could do it together. It was an opportunity to practice many of the mides (middot) -- patience, order, and equanimity come to mind -- but I don't think I did a good job with any of them. Instead, I can reflect on what was so hard for me, and hopefully be more relaxed the next time.

I feel like the blog has gotten away from a Mussar perspective lately -- and this Never Done activity has brought me back, because it was such a wonderful combination of self and other. I thoroughly enjoyed making the art, and sharing the art making process with others, and being influenced by their ideas (humility.) And when I did go out and chaperone some pieces into the world, putting them up allowed me to think about how others might encounter them and be moved by them. It was both a public gift and also a private gift -- public art speaks to individual people, and so I tried to place them where everyone could see them, but knowing that certain people would relate to them in a special way. The most successful of these was when I hung I Love You on the fire station door frame. I also liked thinking about how they might be left or taken -- that I was giving individuals the opportunity to leave the art there for others, or to take it for themselves. And that it really wasn't up to me to know what was the right thing for any individual to decide to do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I started training for a triathlon

Never Done: Started training for a triathlon
Never Done: Started a public art project

Unofficially, and completely on my own, and based solely on internet research, but still! I read on some beginners triathlon website that you should never increase your distance by more than 10% a week, so I asked Josh if he could make me a chart in Excel that contains a formula that increases a number by 10% until it reaches a particular goal. I asked him to do it for my running, which I can easily do now for 2.2 miles, and I will need to be able to do for 6.2 miles by August. Actually, by well before August, because I need to build in rest days and rest weeks, and also I will want to get to my goal early and then slowly increase my speed and also my intensity (hills, etc.) So he made me a great 10% increase Excel sheet. Actually, since I have plenty of time, he also did one for me that increases by 5% a week, and by 7% a week, and I chose the 7% increase because it still gives me a full 10 weeks to train at my goal distance.

So then I took the chart he made, and I duplicated it, and I changed the starting and ending distances for my biking and my swimming goals. My swimming doesn't look like it will be a problem (pu pu pu) but the biking looks both tedious and ominous to me. At the moment I am sticking with my goal of doing an Olympic distance triathlon, which is 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run. 40K is a long bike ride. I've done long bike rides before -- I've ridden days and days on bikes, with heavy panniers and everything, and I have been a bike commuter, 20-3o minutes at a time -- but unlike swimming and running, I have never raced a bike, and I tend to walk up hills.

On paper, I started off conservatively -- starting myself at 5K. Then I went to the gym to do my first biking workout, and I completed 5K in 15 minutes, so I programmed in another 15 minutes, with more hills, and ended up doing another 6K. So on my first official training day, I did 11K on the bike, which seems like maybe the 40K won't be as hard as I thought. Unless the time limits are strict. Because if I did 11K in 30 minutes (on an exercise bike without real hills, winds, and other riders all around me) then it's gonna take me almost 2 hours to do the 40K race. And I have no idea if they let you take 2 hours to do the biking portion of the race. (I've been trying to figure this out. I see cut-off times on some races, and I assume there are cut-off times in the NYC race, because they would need to re-open the roads at some point, but I don't see it written out officially.)

Anyhow, I did my first bike workout, and I had a good sweat, and then I came home and re-did my training calendar, starting with 11K instead of 5K, and that means I should hit my 40K goal with 11 weeks remaining for increasing speed and difficulty. But then how to deal with the tedium, and the 30 minute time limit on the exercise bikes at the YMCA? I could ride 8 times around Prospect Park, but .... meh. If I lived somewhere beautiful like where I grew up, I would just go out and ride, like I did when I was a kid, all over town. Anyhow, just saying, this is the part of the training that sounds less than exciting to me. Suggestions welcome! Also, while I haven't done this yet, I assume I should actually train for distances slightly over the race distances so the race distances might seem, dare I say it, easier.

The next thing I have to research is triathlon nutrition. I assume it's basically good nutrition -- drink lots of water, eat whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables and lean protein, etc. But I also assume there's stuff I don't know about when to eat what so you have the most available energy. I'm still planning to train with a team, who will presumably help me with all this information, but I also like the process of learning it on my own. Most of all, I feel excited about the possibility of building the kind of physical strength necessary to complete a race of this magnitude.

And one other thing. Josh and I had a wonderful evening with Avia and Christian. We had dinner at our apartment, and then we started a little public art project which will go public today, and I'll write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I saw Dan Bern at the Highline Ballroom

Never Done: Was present for the first time Kathleen met Phil
Never Done: Went to the Highline Ballroom

Technically if I am there when someone else does something they have never done, it is also something I have never done, but I admit it's something of a stretch. But since I'm just a wee bit invested in all things Kathleen and Dana, I am going to count this one. Kathleen and Dana and Josh and I all met Dana's dad Phil for tea and coffee at the Tea Lounge. Three quarters of the times I have met Phil have been at the Tea Lounge (and the fourth was at a barbecue at Lois's house in Canarsie) so that wasn't new. It has always delighted me how Dana and Phil share a coffee on their dates, and since Dana gave up drinking coffee 10 weeks ago, they each got their own drinks, so that was new to me. But more importantly, it was the first time one of them met the other one's Important Biological Family Member. And I got to be there. It was actually really wonderful. I got to watch as Dana's dad slowly shifted his focus from the people he knew better over to Kathleen, and I could see Kathleen, by being her warm, and engaging self, helped the shift happen, and I could see how much Phil liked her. It was actually an amazing process to be present for.

Phil was telling us some stories about the neighborhood he grew up in, and he mentioned this smart kid named Joe Flom, who went to Townsend Harris High School (which is where my dad went, which fed directly into City College, which is the only reason he got a college education and became the scientist he became) and then (we are back to Joe) to Harvard Law. He went on to tell lots of old friends success stories, and at some point, Kathleen mentioned the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which is about the fact that individual successful people tend to have gotten a particular kind of institutional support at a young age that helped them become successful. And then she started to wonder if Joe Flom had in fact been in Outliers. She looked him up on her Blackberry, and then I happened to have my iPad, on which I had read Outliers, and so I looked up Joe Flom in Outliers, and .... yes! An entire chapter! From which I read a few paragraphs. Really, how could Phil not love Kathleen???

From there, Josh and I left for a show I have been excited about since three months ago, when I bought tickets to see Dan Bern perform at the Highline Ballroom. This was a perfect Never Done/Tshuve event. I have seen Dan perform many times, although it's been years, but I have never been to the Highline. We got there early to get a good table (they often cover the dance floor with tables) but by the time we got there, there was already a line down the block. We fell in line, but I soon spotted Betsy, who I had just met for the first time earlier in the week, and went up to talk with her. Before long, she invited us to stand with her, and we agreed to share a table with her and her college roommate if it made more sense than getting two.

In the end, we shared more than a table. We shared coconut shrimp, and Scrabble, and stories. But most of all, we shared a love of Dan Bern's music, and it was very sweet to get to know them in this context. Now, I'd never heard Dan play with a band before, and I was skeptical. I wanted to hear Dan, not some band. But as it turned out, Common Rotation was fantastic: laid back instrumentals, melodic, and well-mixed. They weren't as interesting lyrically as Dan is (and careened precariously close to misogyny on one song) but once Dan came out on stage and Common Rotation backed him on his songs, it made for a perfect musical meld.

I am tempted to tell you his entire set list, but maybe all I need to do is tell you that I am tempted to do that, and that will tell you everything you really need to know about how I feel about Dan Bern. He's one of those song writers who writes songs that relate to our lives. If you're Jewish, or you love baseball, or have a sister (and love baseball) or you think about world politics and narrative storytelling, he writes songs for that will make you think more broadly and also feel more deeply, which is the whole point of art, right?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I met Lucia Leandro

Never Done: Met Lucia Leandro

At a home-cooked, sit-down, birthday dinner party for 18. That Nina cooked. And Donna and Erica hosted. And Ariel and Lucia Leandro decorated. And Mickey supported in more ways than I actually know. And which was wonderful.

It had been a long time coming for me to meet Lucia Leandro, whom I had heard about for a long time, and had even seen on PieTube, which was Mich's and my nickname for the web stream of Pieathon, which I wrote about last November. Lucia Leandro was one of Nina's support team, and we were introduced by Ariel and Rachel, and I could see them all on the video stream, so I knew what Lucia Leandro looks like, but to them, I was just a chat session. So when I walked into the sit-down dinner party for 18 space, and looked around the room, and said hi to my friends, and then spotted Lucia Leandro, I knew just who he was, but he didn't know who I was. I love those moments -- on the brink of new connection. Anything could happen. And then ... it does.

So I told him who I was, and we started to gab, and I don't know how this happened so quickly, but we started talking about how at his old workplace, on lunch break during the World Cup, he and his co-workers would take the soccer player cards and categorize them by hotness. And then they would sub-categorize them by who looks like Jesus. Of course I loved this, and it led me to ask him where he used to work, which turned out to be the Arcus Foundation, which is, according to Lucia Leandro, and taken (by me) directly from their website, "a leading global foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues. Specifically, Arcus works to advance LGBT equality, as well as to conserve and protect the great apes."

I know a foundation created by a sole individual with wealth when I see one. I didn't work in development for nothing. There's some guy, and I am guessing it's a guy, who has a lot of money, and he is probably gay, and he cares a lot about the protection of the great apes. And he starts a foundation to support both of his passions. His friends love him and make fun of him. His staff has to figure out how to promote the dual mission without offending anyone. And everyone is slightly uncomfortable almost all of the time. I don't know how to describe my brain activity when he told me about the foundation other to say it was akin to watching someone else's life flash before my eyes. I just got it, but also, I was having a visceral experience that I couldn't immediately place. Until I could.

I was sitting with Jesse in the Longacre Theater in 2004, watching a Broadway production of a play by Mark Medoff, called Prymate -- about scientific experimentation, human-animal relationships, HIV/AIDS, hearing loss/deafness, and sexual aggression. More specifically, it's about the relationship between a gorilla who has been the subject of scientific experimentation, and a deaf-mute linguist who works with autistic children. But I'm skirting around the real issues. In the production, the scientist was played by a blond actress, and the gorilla was played by an gay, African-American actor. And the play was ridiculous.

Casting a black man to play a gorilla on Broadway is bold. I'll tell you what's even more bold; the actor (Andre De Shields) played the role with brilliant physicality and stunning emotional commitment. So while on the one hand, the play had me squirming in my seat, on the other hand, the performance had me riveted. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling of sitting in that theater, mouth agape, unable to reconcile the conflicted thoughts and feelings pulsing through my brain and body.

And what a delight to meet someone with whom I can talk and laugh about Prymate, seven years later. I have a feeling that Lucia Leandro and I will always have a special bond.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I can see nearly now

Never Done: Got rad new wear-all-the-time glasses

They look great from the outside looking in, but so far they are terribly confusing from the inside looking out. I can sort of read with them. I can sort of see far with them. I can barely use the computer with them. The point, of course, is for me to seamlessly do all three. I was ready for how there would be little strata of vision, like sedimentary rock, and how I'd have to gently move my head up and down to find the right spot for the job. What I wasn't prepared for is how there would ALSO be a big bite out of each side, like two big bites, and how I can't ever move my head or eyes from side to side, and how even if I find the one teeny tiny place where I can see a three inch square of the screen, I still can't actually see it clearly.

Sometimes getting older sucks.

And it's hard to relate to the younger me who, when I had 20-20 vision, wanted glasses because I felt like I was missing out on a fashion opportunity. Which, let's face it, I was. But you know what else I was missing out on? Not being able to see. Pushing my glasses up off my nose. (I know, I have to go back to the store to get them adjusted.) Young men who don't yet need progressive lenses telling me how easy it is to adjust to them. Typos. Lots of typos. Not visual typos, because I don't look at the keyboard when I type, but something cognitive that comes from having a confused and wiggly visual experience. I keep inverting letters, and typing entirely wrong words. Like when I just went back to re-read this paragraph, I found I had written "mission out on" instead of "missing out on."

Supposedly my eyes will adjust to this. Supposedly, I should be able to sit in a meeting and read something, and then look up and see who I am talking to, without taking glasses my glasses off. Supposedly, I should also be able to work at the computer, and then check a hand-written note, and then look across the room at, I don't know, the Old Spice man riding a horse, and all of it will be clear. And supposedly, if I practice every day, starting first thing in the morning when my eyes are supposedly fresh, my eyes will supposedly get used to being trapped in a fun house mirror.

I think this one's gonna take the mides (middot) of patience and equanimity. Also maybe it would be good if we could place an ethical value on vanity, because I'm sure to be more motivated to stumble through my day in a confused blur if enough people tell me how great I look.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I called PropArt

Never Done: Called a prop shop

I guess it's the nature of work that it should be somewhat repetitive, because how else are we going to become good at it? And even if that's an inept generalization, my personal truth is that it is a rare day that I get to do something for work that I've never done before. But ... I am producing a 30-second spot to counter a 30-second spot made by some anti-immigrant bigots, and I need someone to build some props. Hello PropArt! Where have you been all my life? Oh, right there on St. Marks near Vanderbilt, in Brooklyn? Seriously, right there?

"Hi, I need a McMansion, an SUV, a yacht, and a private jet, all releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere." "We could laser cut that out of plexiglass, paint it gray, and put it on simple pedestal stands." I mean, that's not literally how the conversation went, but it's close enough. SOMETIMES MY JOB IS FUN!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I might do a triathlon

Never Done: Attended a Team in Training orientation

I'm a bit worried I'll be a giant cliché if I do an endurance sport event during my Never Done year, and a bit worried that I'd be missing a giant opportunity if I don't do one. And since the spirit of Never Done is to actually do it if I've never done it, then I guess I have to risk being a cliché.

I think I am going to train for a triathlon.

When Claire ran the Boston Marathon, she trained with Team in Training, and raised money that went directly to research and cure for leukemia and lymphoma. She also got superb training, and finished her very first marathon in just under 4 1/2 hours, and never even got sore afterwards. (OK, so I shouldn't compare myself to Claire. Got it.) I was there to support her, and I wept all day long, watching people reach for, and in most cases achieve this massive physical feat.

Here's what would make this very personal for me. My mom died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma almost three years ago. She had excellent medical care, and she was in otherwise (aside from the cancer) excellent health, and they still could not cure her. It's not like it's gonna make it all better if I complete a triathlon, but 75% of the money I would raise would go directly to research and cure for blood cancers (and the other 25% goes to the coaching and other race-related expenses I would incur.) At least I'd be doing something, and that might help me feel a little less powerless about her death.

Another thing that would make it personal is that Tonia's mom has a leukemia now; she's always been a pillar of physical health and strength, and is doing surprisingly well, given the amount of chemotherapy she has had recently, but it's also been kicking her ass. (Both the cancer and the chemo) and I would love to do this event with her in my mind. (And believe me, she is a good person to have in your mind when you are engaged in a physically challenging activity.)

Another thing is that I have always wanted to do a triathlon, but I've been hurt for so long that it's just never made sense to me. I tore my ACL, both menisci and a tendon in my knee when I was 15, and have had seven arthroscopic surgeries and one reconstruction done. On top of that, I had a car accident and then a carpentry accident that have left me with two herniated discs. In other words, it wouldn't take running a marathon to make me sore; I am sore when I get out of bed in the morning (and sometimes, you could define "sore" as "paralyzed with pain.") Still, I have always wanted to do this.

When I looked through the options of endurance events, and saw that the marathons and half marathons and century rides and hikes and triathlons, I was immediately drawn to two events: A 3-day hike through Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon, and the South Maui triathlon. (Never been to either place!) In my heart though, I knew that the hike wouldn't give me the same overall sense of accomplishment that the triathlon would -- I've done big hikes before, so this would be more of a great opportunity to hike somewhere stunning, but it wouldn't be the big Never Done activity that a triathlon would be. I emailed the contact guy for the New York chapter, and I found out that the New York chapter is not training for Maui, but I could train for (wait for it, wait for it) the New York triathlon in August!

Eww. A triathlon in New York City in August? That does not sound ideal. In fact, it sounds smelly and hot and muggy. A bike ride up and down the West Side Highway vs a bike ride along the Maui coastline. Hmmmm. And yet it has its advantages. I would have a huge support network to cheer me on, and I could try out parts of the course in advance. My fundraising goal would be smaller, because I wouldn't be raising airfare and bike shipping and other destination event-related costs.

The big thing though, aside from destination or olfactory concerns, is really my body's physical limitations. On the one hand, I am a strong, athletic person. A have done a two-mile open water swim before. I wasn't fast, and I had to stop to rest sometimes, but I didn't even train for it. I think that with proper training, I would be just fine to do a 1.5K (.93 mile) swim. I have taken long bike trips before -- traveling 80 miles a day, carrying all my gear. That was 20 years ago. I am no longer a stalwart biker. I walk up hills, and get insanely tired when I don't. A 40K (24.8 mile) bike ride would kick my ass if I did it today, but I don't think the training would hurt my knee or my back too badly. Then there's the 10K (6.2 mile) run. In some ways, this is the most native to me, and the one that would hurt the most. I love to run, and there have been times when I could run for an hour without stopping. These days I run on a track or a treadmill, and I wouldn't actually call it running, but jogging. I jog about a 13 minute mile, which would be 75 minutes if I could keep that pace after swimming and biking in the middle of August in New York.

What, am I insane? Or am I doing what people do when they want to feel expansive and push through real or imagined limitations?

The reason I went to the Team in Training open house was to talk with their trainers. I set up an appointment for when there would be a coach who is also a physical therapist there, to talk honestly about my injuries and abilities. Instead, when I got there, there was just a marathon coach, who was in his 20s, and his expertise was that he has run 5 marathons. He was sweet, he was enthusiastic, and he was even empathetic -- he told me that his girlfriend has a bulging disc in her neck and she becomes paralyzed with pain, and that he himself broke a rib and that it looks to him that she's in worse shape than he is. But he was 28 (I'm guessing) and gung-ho, and kept saying "Oh, the coaches will work with you." But I had gone in specifically to talk with someone with that level of expertise before I sign up to do this, and I know myself well enough to know that I really do need help, expertise, and someone to tell me how it could be possible to train me through my injuries, to know this could really work.

While that doesn't inspire confidence, and it makes me think that Team in Training's excellent training is geared to people who are beginners and not to people with special needs, I don't want to let their limitations become mine. Luckily for me, my cousin Kenny is both a triathlete and a physical therapist, so I will call him up today and ask him if I'm out of my league here, or if it is actually possible that I could complete a triathlon. If I do it, will you come?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I gave custom M&M's for Valentines Day

Never Done: Gave custom M&M's for Valentine's Day (and then forgot to write about it on Valentine's day)

I totally meant to write about this for Valentine's day, and I promise I did some other thing I have never done yesterday (went to Nikki's apartment for the first time, got my first burger at Melt, had my first North Slope Jake Gyllenhaal siting) but I really wanted to write this one up, even though I'm a day late with it.

My dad loved Valentine's Day, and always gave my mother, my sister, and me Valentine's Day cards. If you knew my dad (the pragmatist, the scientist, the logician) then this is probably surprising to you, but if you knew him well, you also knew that he could also be quite tender and loving, and in some cases, sentimental. And he liked giving Valentines. We were a pretty non-Hallmark kind of family, so his cards were usually quirky, and sometimes hand made. I used to love to make Valentine's Day cards -- collaged with beautiful paper, ribbon, and beads, and sometimes I would sew them with gold thread.

This year I got inspired to do something completely different -- to be honest, I think I was inspired by an online ad -- and I went to the M&M's website and custom ordered two sets of candies. I ordered one set for my oldest and bestest friends (Claire, Tonia, and Karen) and the other set for Josh. When you go on the website, you first get to pick the colors you want (up to three) and then you get to choose your personalized message or image (up to four) and then you get to choose your packaging. It was very easy to pick out the messages for Claire, Tonia, and Karen. We have a language of affection that we've used since Claire's younger sister Emily could talk. Emily had seizures when she was little, and ended up with brain damage and extremely stunted language, although she is still a wonderful communicator, and much of what she talks about is what she loves and who she loves. (She loves James Taylor, she loves to play Uno, and she loves her family and friends.) She often says "I want you" which comes out sounding like "I wut you" and usually means "I love you." To get someone's attention, she will often say, "I tell you something" or "Talk to you" which comes out sounding like "Tell you sumpin" or "Tuppa you." These phrases are now deeply ingrained in my speech, having known and loved (and been loved by) Emily since she was born -- and they are, as I said, the language of affection among Claire, Tonia, Karen, and me. So it was easy to know what to put on those M&M's.

Coming up with what to put on Josh's was a little tougher, but I settled on the Yiddish love phrases ikh hob dikh lib, the eponymous ziskayt, and dzhash'n dzheni. (I love you, sweetness, Josh 'n Jenny.) Then I added a heart image to each order.

Sweet and simple, right? Definitely sweet, but not so simple. Because I actually found it embarrassing to give these gifts. I knew I wanted to, but I was embarrassed by the ... what? commercialism of it all. First there's the commercialism of the holiday, and then there's the commercialism of chocolate, and then there's the commercialism of M&M's themselves. And yet ... they looked so pretty (I chose silver, electric green, and light blue) and they made me smile, and I was pretty sure they were going to make all my loved ones smile. So what was I to do? Isn't a little embarrassment worth all that smiling? I thought so.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Family Dinner

Never Done: Ate at Enzo's Brick Oven Pizza

It's three blocks away. I walk past it every time I return my car to its home in Karen and Todd's driveway, and every time I go to the post office, and every time I go do basically anything in Windsor Terrace, which is also three blocks away. And yet after living here for 4 months, I had not gone in. And then I did. And it was good.

I ordered a Puttanesca pizza to take home for me and Josh -- olives, capers, garlic, spinach, mozzarella. Anchovies optional. I opted against. (Call me picky, but I am not fond of hairy food.) And as I sat there waiting for it to come out, I noticed what a family place it is -- a single mom with a huge glass of sangria, her kids getting up to go look at the beautiful eel in the fish tank; the waiters completely relaxed with the gay family with the baby; big plates of pasta and other homey Italian food .... It reminded me of the one restaurant near where I grew up. It's no longer there (but there are others now) and I don't remember it's name, but it was an Italian place in either Bolton or Clinton, MA, and I used to order cheese ravioli.

Mostly, growing up, we ate dinner at home. My mom was a great cook, and my dad liked to cook when he was around (although his dishes were complex and took forever and thus weren't well geared towards hungry kids.) My sister and I both learned to cook when we were quite young, and were responsible for making our own school lunches when we were still in elementary school. (My mom didn't like mornings.) But as I was saying, usually we ate dinner at home. We went to restaurants if there was an occasion, like if we were in Boston for something else. I never really thought about it at the time, but my dad must have eaten his lunch every day at restaurants, and I would be surprised if they didn't include a martini or two. In some ways it was very Mad Men, even though it was far from New York. But he was still a New Yorker at heart and soul, and his work brought him into worlds I could never have imagined, even if I had known what he was really doing. The more I think about it, the more I know there was a martini or two at lunch. No wonder he wasn't hungry when he got home, and wanted to do other stuff before dinner. And no wonder my mom wanted to feed us kids early - and move on with the evening and progress into the night. But they compromised, and found some magic hour that seems to have been tolerable for everyone.

I don't really have family dinner in my life now. Josh and I sometimes eat together, and we sometimes don't. We sometimes have other people over, and we sometimes go out. There's very little ritual or stability around dinner time, and I don't think I miss that. But sitting in Enzo's waiting for the pizza, I realized I will want to create a stable dinner culture for a child who comes into my life. I won't want it to be inflexible, but I'd like there to be some there there. Something usual from which we can depart when we want to. In other words: family dinner. Sometimes taking these smaller Never Done opportunities bring me the largest shifts of consciousness.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I finally watched Battlestar Gallactica

Never Done: Watched Battlestar Gallactica, the miniseries

I might be late to the party, but that doesn't mean I'm not thoroughly obsessed with Starbuck. Why is she so cocky? Is she or isn't she (a dyke)? How the hell did her plane not break into bits when she flew it at full speed into Apollo's in order to save him? Or at least why didn't she get whiplash when she did it?

And why does she clash so much with Tigh? And what is his story, anyway? Why does he drink so much? What's up with his wife? Did Starbuck sleep with her or something?

And a million other things I don't understand. Is Earth real? If it is, is it still unpopulated? If the crew finds it, will they become Earth's first people? Is this all a creation myth?

Let me say right now, after having just watched the miniseries and nothing else, and having done a good job of not reading spoilers (with one exception about Sharon and adoption, but that was unintentional, and before I knew I would be hooked) ... so let me say right now, if this is all a creation myth, and at the end they find Earth and populate it for the first time, that is fracking brilliant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I met L

Never Done: Met L

On the down side, Josh has been so sick with bronchitis that we had to miss his mom's 90th birthday party in Potomac. On the upside, we (mostly Josh) made her a super sweet art project, photographed it, and emailed it to Josh's niece-in-law along with a letter. The art project was a little mosaic of a duck with a green umbrella.

Here is the story of the duck: Josh's mom (Tsip) loved her first day of kindergarten because she learned how to draw a duck with a green umbrella. On the second day the teacher said, "Today we're going to play with blocks." Tsip raised her hand and said, "I don't want to play with blocks. I want to learn to draw!" But the teacher repeated, "Today we are going to play with blocks." So Tsip raised her hand again and asked to go to the bathroom. When she received permission, little Tsip walked right past the bathroom, and straight home. When the school called her mom in for a conference, they strongly suggested that Tsip wasn't mature enough to start school yet. So she got another year at home with her mom, during which time her mom taught her how to embroider and do other needle crafts.

She became a wonderful artist; she studied at the Art Students League after she got out of high school, and she went on to be a leading figure in the revived art of Jewish paper cut, and also a painter, stained glass, and mosaic artist. We had the idea for the duck mosaic before we knew we couldn't make it to her party, but once it fell through, it became a consolation for our absence.

Another consolation for our absence is that I was able to go to the teenager panel of our adoption classes. One of the ten mandatory classes is a panel of teens who are paid to be experts, and to tell us what it is like to live in the foster care system. The woman leading our sessions has been telling us about one child (L) who she thinks might be good for us, but she had told us she wouldn't be able to bring him to this panel, and in fact, he wasn't there when it started. But four of the teens I met the last time were there, and another seven I had never met. Most of these youth live in an LGBT group home, and ranged in ages from 15-19. I cannot tell you how smart these youth are. And funny. And honest. One of them said, "I hate to break it to you, but teenager fun isn't the same as adult fun. I mean, I'll take a walk in the park with you if you want, but I'm not gonna pretend it's fun!" Another one, when we were having a "boo in the room" conversation, after a prospective parent had said there is no way anybody is going to have anybody over in their room, said, "You know, we are all sexual beings. At least, I am. I am 17 years old, and I have a steady boo. And we are going to find somewhere to go. I would think you would rather we be safe, under your roof, than out in a club somewhere." What I loved most about that moment was that one of the parents looked at him, and said, "You know, you're right. That's a really persuasive argument." And just like that, the whole point of the panel was validated: we were there to learn from them.

It just so happens that this week's mide (middah) is Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone. (Yes, I completed my first cycle through all the mides (middot) and am back to the beginning again.) Not all the teens show their wisdom as easily as the boy I quoted above, but they were all consistently good at reminding us that humility would be a useful tool to being a good parent.

Once the panel was already underway, a beautiful, littler boy, all wrapped up in a down jacket, arrived and slouched into a seat near the door. Our group leader caught my eye and discreetly pointed to him, and mouthed his name. So this was the boy she has in mind for us. He barely said a word the whole time he was there, and when he did, he mumbled it, facing the other direction. I think our group leader has thought of him for us because he's out already at the age of thirteen, and she knows we would love to parent a younger LGBT child. I couldn't pick much of the personality she had described to me -- talkative, funny, and wry -- and yet, through his sullen presentation, I could see a glint in his eye, and a little wry smile. But afterwards, when he was talking with a girl (R) who lives with him at the RTC (residential treatment center, where these kids are essentially being "treated" for being homeless, but really, it's a new word for an orphanage -- a big institution where foster kids live) he was animated and engaged. I spoke with them both -- I remembered R, who I had liked a great deal the last time we met. She asked me if I was done with my classes yet, and I told her I was, but that I wasn't certified yet until I got a bigger apartment. She looked me in the eye and said, "Remember me." I told her I would.

Later, when I spoke with our group leader, she told me L has the flu, and that is why he was so quiet on the panel, and she also said that she knows someone who is probably taking R. I felt my heart sink a little -- I had remembered her very well, as a matter of fact, and had thought she might be my kid. But then the sinking was immediately replaced with delight that someone is stepping up to take her, and with the sudden understanding of what the leaders have been trying to teach us for months now: that it doesn't really matter which child you get. If what you want to be is a parent, then it's about your making an unconditional commitment to a child -- any child -- and it will be tough, and it will take patience, and that's what parenting is.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who knew that a change of heart could be as silent as freshly fallen snow?

Never Done: Went to Friday night services at Kolot Chayeinu.

Just as I'm getting ready to move out of the neighborhood (unless someone can help me find a big, affordable place nearby, really soon!) I finally went to Friday evening services at Kolot Chayeinu, just around the corner. I've been thinking about what it would mean to be a member of a congregation for some time, and it's actually on my Never Done list. I have never joined, because I so rarely prioritize actually going. Case in point, I have lived in NYC since 2002, and this is the first time I ever went to services aside from Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.

I went because Mich mentioned that she was going, and it was easy to join her. I'd been wanting to go, but had let little things keep me away -- like many of the Friday evening services are ostensibly for people in their 20s and 30s, but then after one night I had decided not to go because of that, a friend of mine in her 40s told me she had been the night before. So when Mich mentioned she was going, and I had the time suddenly free from a canceled trip, I went for it.

We arrived with a woman who had never been to Kolot Chayeinu at all before -- a psychotherapist who works with troubled adolescents. (I should have gotten her card.) The door was locked, and we thought we might be early, until we realized the services were being held downstairs. When we entered downstairs, we realized we were actually late; a dozen people were already sitting together around a table, eating cookies, drinking wine, and engaged in text study. A dozen people in the their 20s and 30s, I might add -- and I was flushed with a sense of belonging when I realized that I knew all but one of them.

We were welcomed over to join the study -- which was about what it means to take leadership into our hands, with a study on the word "ordain" and an attempt at discussion about mass popular protests in Egypt forcing Mubarak to step down from leadership. Since we got there late, it's hard to know how the rest of the text study had gone, but the part I was there for was an awkward and earnest exploration. Still, it was good to be there, and to be urged to think about leadership in a spiritual context.

I didn't know how the rest of the evening was going to go -- assumed the whole service was going to be this text study -- but then it suddenly wrapped up when Mollie the student, soon-to-be-ordained rabbi said that the woman leading services was on her way, and going to be late, and that we should start by lighting candles. And that was the first in a long series of insider/outside moments. On the one hand, I'm an insider, because I know most of the people there. On the other hand, I'm an outsider, because some of the people I know, people I have met probably a dozen times, once for an hour-long, personal conversation in a sukke, come up to me during the ritualized greet-each-other time, and introduce themselves. I try to handle it with a mixture of grace and firmness, saying that we have met before, and reminding them of my name. I try not to take it personally, and try to be thoughtful as I go up to other people to introduce myself.

Once the service starts (it isn't an all-night text study -- it's a singing service led by Shira Kline) I'm both an insider -- sitting between friends, smiling at others across the room, and an outsider -- usually lost, rarely able to find where we are in the siddur (prayer book), partly because Shira is pretty lax about saying where we are, and partly because it seems like most people know the songs and the prayers and the way these Friday evenings flow. I do what I usually do in this situation -- I try to figure out where we are, and then I stop worrying about it, and get involved in the text at my own pace, according to my own interest. But most of all, I try to notice if it's useful to be there, and if I am enjoying myself. I think it is, but I still wish for a stronger guide through the service. But that would take away some of Shira's magic, which seems to be a combination of her lovely voice, her unvarnished and beaming smile, and her free-flowing interaction with the text and music. On the one hand, I don't want to cage this bird, and on the other hand, I can't find the page we're on.

And then I come upon a phrase in the text that I love: Who knew that a change of heart could be as silent as freshly fallen snow? I have no idea if we had come to that page as a group, or if I had just found it on my own, but I love it, and I stay with it for a while, thinking about the changes my heart needs to make, and whether they could come so gently. And I'm glad I am in shul, midst the music and midst my community, and I am glad I found my place in the service.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I went to Brooklyn General Store

Never Done: Went to Brooklyn General Store

I had a tough day. Still fighting off the bug that knocked Josh out, I had too much to get done in the hours I had, and as soon as I got a handle on my workload, more was added on. People needed things from me, as they should -- not strange or unreasonable things -- just things they needed, and things I had to do. At the same time, lots is going by the wayside -- like the gym. I went one day this week, but then I got a work phone call while I was on the elliptical machine, and I took it, and my workout ended after 15 minutes. The rest of the week I didn't even make it there. Last night it was 11 PM before I ate dinner. I haven't had quality time with Josh, although I have been nursing him through his bronchitis with miso soup and encouraging him to stay in bed and watch TV shows like Giant Squid: Caught on Camera. And to top it off, a big gig I was expecting fell through at the end of 2010, so I'm in a push for new writing, video production, event planning, creative organizing, or other freelance work (in case you know of anything.)

There have been times in my life when I valued being over-scheduled -- kept myself busy on purpose, kept emotions at bay, and wore my scribbled calendar like a badge of pride. Now I try hard to build in down-time, time for enough exercise and rest, and time to say yes to spontaneous invitations. Even when the invitations come from myself. I had a meeting, and then I had a gap before my next appointment. I have been wanting to get to a yarn store for some time, so I could buy soft wool to make a scarf for Josh's mom's 90th birthday. I let it go too long -- her birthday is in two days -- but I did recognize the opportunity, and I asked myself out for a foray to the Brooklyn General Store, which I have been meaning to get to for years.

It's spacious and has a lot of wood bins and shelves, so it actually feels like a general store. And I know from general stores; I grew up with one. While the general store I grew up with was more ... general than this one (it sold products from milk to Silly Putty to BandAids to nails) the Brooklyn General Store is general in a crafty way, selling a wide variety of yarn, fabric, and notions. I went straight to the back, where they had a sale bin, where I found tons of super soft merino, marked down 30% to $5.00 a skein.

I wanted to disappear into a the portal, dig my hands into all the bins, design dozens of new projects, drink hot cocoa, sit in front of the fireplace and knit, and never come back out into the snow, the wind chill, and the stress. Instead, I chose a saturated indigo with a contrasting white, and found a new needle gauge, paid for it all, held the door for a stroller mom, and went back out into the real world, just in time to hear Mubarak's non-resignation speech on the car radio.

My troubles suddenly put into perspective, I drove to my next appointment, and imagined knitting a giant scarf to unite, inspire, and comfort all the protesters in the streets of Egypt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I walked between the subway cars while the train was moving

Never Done: Walked from subway car to another subway car while the train was moving

Almost all the cars were fairly empty, so I just got on the car that arrived closest to where I was standing. I noticed the yukky smell right away, but thought it was just the smell of winter. But then as I went to choose my seat, I realized it was a particularly yukky smell, and it was probably the smell of someone's poo, although there was no-one near me who seemed very pooey. I walked to the other end of the car, and that's where I saw the pooey person -- a middle aged man, who couldn't stop scratching himself. I know that can be a sign of crack addiction, but I don't know what else it could be a sign of -- like potentially a mental illness?

So what do you do when you don't want to smell poo, but you also don't want to be another person who ignores the drug addicted and/or mentally ill people in our midst? I guess it's one thing if the person is asking for some help. This person wasn't, and he was big, and he wasn't completely in control of himself, and he smelled like poo. I decided to go to the next car. But I didn't feel 100% great about it. It certainly took care of my needs, but I don't think it did anything to try to understand his burden.

I was going to wait til the next stop, and then just go out and go back in. But I recognized the Never Done opportunity of walking between cars while the train was still moving -- the same thing the mechanized voices tell us not to do. It turns out to be incredibly easy and not even a little bit freaky -- there's a big platform to stand on, and it's easy to open the doors. It's not that I thought it was going to be so hard; it's just that when you've never done something, you don't know.

So the next car smelled fine, and I sat down and took out my book (The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman) and I started to read. One stop, two stops, and suddenly things started to smell a little pooey again. I looked up and I looked around, and there was the scratching man, sitting in the same place on this car as he was sitting on the other car. Hmmm, so sometimes the burdens of others follow you around to remind you you didn't deal with them. Now, his out-of-control scratching was releasing coins from his pockets, which were falling on the floor. My stop was coming right up, and so I decided to do one little thing. As I went to the door, I picked up his coins and I handed them to him, and I got off the train. It was a tiny thing, but it was a connection.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wrestling with Angels

Never Done: Saw Angels in America: Part Two: Perestroika

And was transported. If you'll remember, I felt distanced from Part One: Millennium Approaches. It felt small and un-epic. But from the moment the world's oldest living Bolshevik took the podium in Part Two: Perestroika, I was drawn in. I don't know what the difference was. It could have been that I was sitting further back in the house, and had more perspective on the set. Or that the new cast had a week to solidify. Or that I had already re-entered the emotional lives of the characters (even though I tend to carry those emotional lives with me the way I carry the lives of other great literary characters, like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, or Celie from The Color Purple) and the emotional reality of the mid-80's.

There is so much more to say about this, but I am afraid I have to set this aside for now and come back to expand on it later. I have too much work to do, and got too little sleep, and Josh is quite sick, and I am a little sick (turns out that's why I wasn't up for video games on Sunday) and although I want to write about what it means to stay still, and to refuse a prophecy, and who are the Angels in America now, and how much Lynne McCollough's portrayal of Hannah Pitt, once she had become a smart-dressing New York lady, reminded me of my aunt Julie, who also comes from a Mormon family, and was mostly raised near New York, and is a very smart dresser, and how close this association made me feel to Hannah, who is not usually the character I feel closest to in Angels in America and how part of that closeness might also be that I am now nearer to Hanna's age than to any of the other characters in the play .... but instead of writing about all that, I must get to work.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I can see clearly now

Never Done: Had a complete eye exam

I had 20/20 vision my whole life until I turned 40. I tried to get glasses a couple of years ago, but it didn't work out for me at all, and I had to return them. For the past couple years I've been wearing drug store readers, and oy, are my eyes tired. (Get it? Get it? I just flew in from LA and oy are my arms tired...)

For my birthday, Josh gave me $100, a couple coupons for his time, and the phone number for his ophthalmologist. So for the first time ever, I had my retinas scanned and my eyeballs photographed (my optic nerve is quite well, thank you. And yours?) and I now am the proud possessor of two prescriptions (one for progressives and one for readers) and clear instructions for what kinds of frames will work best for the former. (Ones with a lot of vertical height, especially below the eye.)

So now comes the daunting fashion opportunity; picking out frames. I have a pair of gorgeous frames already that I can use for the readers, but I need some help picking out my big ones. (Paul, if you're reading this, you're on the short list. Got any plans to visit NYC soon?) Everyone else -- send ideas for what you think would look good on me, OK? I'm thinking a shade of blue, to go with my silvery tresses. What do you think?

Monday, February 7, 2011


Never Done: Watched the entire Superbowl

Can I be a slacker for NOT playing video games? I finally made a date to play Xbox with Lucas, but by the time late Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was deep under my covers, groggy from an impromptu nap, and not able to motivate myself to go out again. You know I had to be tired, because not only was I gonna get to hang out with Lucas, but I was also going to get to hang out with Andy and Jesse, who are my longest and bestest friends in NY, and Andy was going to give me dinner, and Jesse was going to give me books and CDs about musicals that he's been saving for me.

Instead, I stayed home, popped in an Oscar-nominated movie I thought I hadn't seen yet, and settled in on the couch. Except that the first shot looked very familiar, and by 20 seconds in, I realized I had already seen it. And didn't like it. Five bucks if you can figure out which movie I could have seen, not remembered I saw, and put on my Netflix queue of Oscar-nominees I thought I hadn't seen in the theater.

So what was a sluggish, DVD-less girl to do? I actually watched the entire Superbowl. For the first time ever. No party, no bacon explosion, and not even any team allegiance, but I watched the Superbowl. Sure, I paid a lot more attention to the commercials (One Epic Ride, Release the Hounds) than I did the game play, but I got behind the Steelers in the second half because I love competition, and I love the promise of a comeback.

And I also love those televised moments that were so important when I was growing up (tshuve) -- before DVDs and DVR -- when it's on, it's on, and everyone's watching. Well, I know not everyone is watching, but if you want to see it, you're watching it at the same time as everyone else. The Wizard of Oz, the State of the Union address, the moon landing. (Really, who would DVR the moon landing?) And while watching the Superbowl didn't have the depth of meaning for me that any of those other televised events had, I did feel connected to friends and strangers, and I value being in on the shared cultural reference of it all, most delightfully to an editor's daughter, the Black Eyed Peas half-time show fiasco: WHERE IS THE LO\E? (For those of you who missed it, the right hand horizontal of the V was missing from their illuminated stage design.) Here, I'll show it to you, and now you are in on the biggest editorial glitch of Superbowl XL\.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I entered the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest

Never Done: Entered the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest
Never Done: Completed GPS/MAPP (Group Preparation and Selection/Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) class

One of my goals for this year is to be a finalist in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. Since one of the most useful rules I've ever learned about writing comedy is that it's about quantity, not quality, I generated 10 potential captions, not worrying about whether or not they were funny, and then chose one direction, and worked at it until I couldn't figure out how to make it any funnier, and then took the plunge and submitted it.

I think what I submitted falls short, but a journey of a thousand miles ... you know. And also, there is something liberating about clicking on the "submit" button without worrying too much about the outcome. The stakes are low, another opportunity will come along next week, and perfection is not always the goal.

Meanwhile, speaking about perfection and the goal, I completed GPS/MAPP class -- and got a certificate and everything, with my names spelled wrong (Levinson) and everything. The organization that did the training -- You Gotta Believe! -- links to an Adopt US Kids ad campaign that says: "You don't need to be perfect to be a perfect parent. Because kids in foster care don't need perfection; they need you." So here I go, taking the final steps (finish writing the 20-page Family Information Form, get a bigger apartment) toward the bank of the river, so I can jump off and get swept downstream with all the other imperfect parents.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mama said there'll be days like like this

Never Done: Saw a new counselor
Never Done: Saw an apartment being rented by someone who sells Nazi memorabilia
Never Done: Bowled 100

Some days you wake up singing the blues and you go to sleep singing the blues. Other days it's more a Shirelle's song -- when you start the day emailing with a guy who sells pristine sheets of Nazi stamps, and then meet with a new therapist, and end up bowling with friends at Chelsea Piers. Mama said there'll be days like like this. "There'll be days like this," my mama said. (My mama was sarcastic, and so am I.)

Yesterday I wrote about the mide (middah) of Separation -- well, mostly I shared what Alissa Wise has written about separation -- and today I want to write more personally, and try to be open about my Never Done and the Mussar process, but without over-sharing. Inspired by my Mussar Va'ad's initial conversation about Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships, I sought out a new therapist, and met with her for the first time. We all have our Achilles heels, and mine, for better or for worse, is in this realm. What happened (and this does feel quite vulnerable to write about) is that I noticed I have been having a hard time controlling my eating. I've had one eating disorder or another (overeating and undereating) for as long as I can remember -- although I've done a really good job of managing the behavior for probably 20 years, and I've felt blissfully free from its pulls for about five years. But like most addictions, you can manage the behavior and still have difficulties, pulls, and unresolved issues that will pop up when things get tough. Or maybe they pop up, like an old friend, to help you notice that things are tough. That's what happened for me. I noticed (through my Mussar journaling practice) that I was struggling, in a way I hadn't needed to for years, to eat in a healthy way. Once I noticed that I hadn't conquered this as thoroughly as I'd thought, I was able to notice that I've never actually gotten help for this from anyone who has special training and expertise in the field. Instead, I've done it with an enormous amount of personal grit, determination, and decisiveness. And speaking of Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation, as soon as I figured this out, I went to my health insurance provider list, found someone who specializes in eating disorders, sexual assault, and sexual identity, and called her. I don't plan to write about the counseling process, but after some careful consideration, I want to be open about my decision to tackle this behemoth, for the first time, with specialized help.

OK, breathe. And moving on ... I found an apartment listing on Craigslist, which I've been mostly avoiding, but this one seemed to have potential, because it was both a three-bedroom apartment and also a mixed-use storefront, all for a reasonable price. When I set up a time to go see it, I Googled the name and email address of the landlord as a safety precaution, because I knew I was going alone. First hit: he runs a store called Collect-a-thon, which sells (among many other things) Nazi memorabilia. You'd think if I was running a Google check as a safety precaution, that would make me pass on the apartment, but I am fascinated with people who are fascinated with Nazis, so I kept the appointment. Keeping the appointment meant emailing with the guy several times throughout the day, because other of my appointments canceled; he was extremely responsive on email, but he never gave me a phone number. When I showed up at the apartment at 4, after agreeing on the time less than an hour earlier, he wasn't there. The building was open, so I went in, and up the filthy stairs, and knocked on the door to the apartment. A nice guy opened, told me he knew Robert was supposed to be showing me the apartment, but that he wasn't around, and didn't know when he would be. But he offered to show me the place anyway. Now, I have been watching Veronica Mars (TV show about a teenage detective) lately before bedtime, and I often wonder -- for all the times she's been beaten up, sexually assaulted, and almost killed, why does she still go into empty buildings, and worse yet, un-empty buildings, with no fear. And yet there I was, like Veronica, completely comfortable going into this skanky apartment, without the landlord, with a guy I don't know anything about. The fact is, the guy wasn't skanky at all -- just the apartment was. And when I got inside, there were six other people in there: his kids, a young woman, a young guy playing video games, and an old man napping. It didn't take me long to realize this was not my new home, so as much as I wanted to meet the Nazi collector, I didn't stick around.

I later got a message from him that said he had been at the health food store when I was there, and got back 20 minutes later, despite the fact that we had an appointment. And I thought Nazi's were punctual. (Josh points out that Hitler was a vegetarian.)

From there it was a quick jaunt to Crown Heights to pick up this week's soup swap soup (German winter cabbage caraway soup, with dumplings) from Benjy, and off to go bowling at Chelsea Piers. I had given Josh a Groupon for bowling a couple months ago, and he invited Serena and Graciana bowling. Normally this wouldn't have made it into my Never Done blog, except that I won for the first time in my life, and I also bowled (exactly) 100 for the first time. I don't know what it was, but I was bowling some serious strikes and spares and 7s, 8s, and 9s. (Mixed in with some gutter balls, for old times sake. Tshuve.) I think I was in a pretty zen space about bowling. When it was working well, it felt very controlled and mechanical. I would take a deep breath, tighten my abs to protect my back, focus on the center of the lane, take three steps and ..........................................$@#$%^&*@#!!!

Which felt like a perfect ending to an intense day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I finally took a Zumba class

Never Done: Took a Zumba class

This time for real. Maybe you remember that the last time I tried to take a Zumba class, the teacher was a sub, and she was actually teaching her own improvised Cuban dance class to Zumba music, and all the regulars were grumbling "that's not Zumba" and crashing into each other, and I left early and ran on the treadmill and had some realization about decisiveness. Well, this time there was a real Zumba teacher, and she was wearing a hot pink t-shirt that said Zumba instructor and everything. I jest, but she was great. She didn't say a word the whole class, but her physical communication quotient was extremely high. She moved clearly, with athleticism and grace, and always took the time to indicate where she was going next.

And I did a pretty good job following her. Every now and then she did a sequence I couldn't do (my knee doesn't bend all the way, so sometimes I had to stay more upright than her) or one I couldn't follow (I couldn't always see her from where I was) but I never felt bad about it. I just caught up when I could, and got those hips wiggling with the best of the Zumbies. (I just made that up.)

Basically, Zumba is a dance class, which is why their motto is "Ditch the workout! Join the party!" I can't say that it felt like a party, but I did have a good time. I love dance classes, particularly the way that physical memory kicks in, and reminds you how to separate your hips from your waist, or your knee from your thigh. (After all these years, I still have a hard time separating my torso from my waist. Maybe one day I'll get there.) Hmmm, interesting. This week's mide (middah) is Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships. I know that's a different kind of separation from separation of the torso from the waist, but still, dance and sex are certainly related activities. At least in Borsht belt routines.

Typically in Mussar, Separation is about the separation of the self from lewd thoughts, and from forbidden, unhealthy, or unsanctified sexual relationships. Rabbi Alissa Wise approaches the mide of separation differently from how it's traditionally interpreted, writing:

For some of us, we need to be separated from pain and hurt around our sexuality or sexual identities. Maybe we have been victims of sexual assault, maybe we have been targets of homophobia, maybe we have internalized messages about sexism or misogyny, maybe our gender identities has been rendered invisible
by a rigid gender binary. For others of us, we are still searching for our sexuality and our own desires and wants. Some of us need to be separated from the confusion caused by messages and images of sexual objectification of women, by the pervasiveness of sexual violence in our culture and media, by ideas of masculinity that are too violent, of femininity that are too submissive, or of our culture's fear of gender non-conformity. Some of us need to be separated from feeling disconnected or embarrassed about our sexual desires.

Some of us need to be separated from actual relationships in our lives that aren't serving us. Relationships where we lose our desires and ourselves. Where we prioritize another's needs over ours, or where we prioritize our own needs over another's. Relationships where we are subjected to harsh judgment or criticism, or where we are being emotionally, physically or sexually abused. We need to be separated from being lied to be our partners, or from breaking our partners' confidence by having intimate or sexual connections with other people outside of agreed upon understandings of non-monogamy.

Some of us need to be separated from our own tendencies to hurt people we are close to, from our own patterns of manipulation and aggression with those we love and are intimate with.

We are all sexual beings, and our sexual needs and desires are real and often powerful. We need to attend to them just as carefully and thoroughly as we do any other aspect of our lives.

I understand if it feels like I took a sharp left turn in this post, when I connected the separation of the hips from the waist to the separation of the human from our full sexuality, but it's often hard to bring up the topic of sex. Why should it be any less awkward in a blog? And now that I've blurted it out, maybe I'll find it easier to write about the hip wiggling we do when we're not wearing any Zumba brand cargo pants.