Thursday, June 30, 2011

I attended a live radio broadcast at the WNYC Greene Space

Never Done: I attended a live radio broadcast at the WNYC Greene Space

It was the 100th birthday of Bernard Herrmann, the iconic film composer whose career started with Citizen Kane and ended with Taxi Driver, and the WNYC Greene Space curated a panel with conductor John Mauceri, Bernard's daughter the writer Dorothy Herrmann, film director Josh Waletzky, composer Rob Schwimmer, and film composer Michael Giacchino -- for a celebratory panel discussion, with film clips and piano and theramin demonstrations. (Josh was on the panel because he made a documentary film about Bernard Herrmann, called Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann.)

Isn't it great that there's a sound-proof room where 80 people will gather to listen to five people tell stories about one great artist? And that this is happening, in different ways, all over the world at the same time? By that I mean that while we were gathering to pay homage to the greatest film composer of all times, it seems likely that somewhere in the world people gathered to hear a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, and somewhere else a horticulturalist, and a criminologist, and a puppet master. We go through portals into spaces where we get to let go of our daily mundanity and drop into the quirky or the sublime. We are called together through brochures, websites, and word of mouth -- and we form transitory armies of common interest -- stitched together for an evening or a year, deepened, expanded, and ever-changed by the live performance of a theramin.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I got a parking ticket dismissed in Brooklyn Parking Violation Adjudication

Never Done: I got a parking ticket dismissed in Brooklyn Parking Violation Adjudication

One day last week I forgot to move my car for street cleaning. I realized it about 20 minutes too late, while I was on a phone meeting, and by the time I went outside, I had already gotten a $45 ticket. I brought it inside, and stuck it in my bill pile, and didn't haul it back out until I paid bills this week. But when I looked at it, I noticed something odd. It was written to my car's license plate, but in the state of Minnesota, not Maine (where my car is registered.) As in, the officer abbreviated Maine by writing MN, whereas it should be abbreviated ME.

Someone had just told me that all you have to do to get a ticket reduced in NYC is to show up at parking violation court, and that if you take the time to go before a judge, that you have the chance to get it dismissed. I decided to go down and try my luck. I'd never been to parking violation court before (nor have I been to traffic court) and was curious to see the process and culture. Also, I felt I had a legitimate reason to go before a judge -- to show them that the ticket was not written correctly. Now, I'm not saying that I was going to say the ticket wasn't deserved, or that the car isn't mine -- just that the ticket was written incorrectly. I had no idea what would come from this, but I hoped it would get dismissed.

So I went on down to the Brooklyn Municipal Building, and found the right room, which was, strangely, in the Business Center. I thought I was in the wrong place, because it looked sort of like the DMV -- you take a number, and then wait in plastic chairs til you get called up to one of many windows. After about 15 minutes, my number B333 got called to Window 19, and I handed a man my ticket and license, and he said, "$32 or judge?" I couldn't quite hear him, so I asked him to repeat himself. "$32 or judge?" So it was true! Just like that, I had the chance at a $13 ticket reduction. But I wanted the full experience, so I said, "Judge! I want to dispute it." He stapled some stuff together and handed it back to me, merely saying, "Window #17."

Off I went to the man at Window 17, who I then thought might be the judge, but he just glanced at my papers, and told me to come back behind the glass and around a corner, where I found some more plastic chairs, and a half dozen men sitting behind mahogany desks. I sat on a plastic chair and settled in for what I assumed would be quite a wait, but 30 seconds later, a man showed up from some other section and asked if I was next. As I followed him, he told me his name, (we'll call him Judge A) and took my ticket and ID, and asked me to sit.

So this wasn't an open court, like small claims court, where people watch each other's appeals. It was just me and Judge A with a desk between us. He asked me to raise my right hand and swear to tell the truth, and I made a conscious ethical decision to do so -- even if it meant I would lose my case. He looked at my ticket and said for the record, "This is a ticket for a car with Minnesota plate number XXXXX" and I said, "Actually, that's why I'm here. The car has Maine plates." He saw that I was holding my registration and asked if that was my evidence, and I said it was. He took it, and looked for where it said Maine, and then asked me to point it out for him, which I did. "Hmmm," he said. "OK. So you are claiming that the ticket is invalid because the officer wrote Minnesota instead of Maine?" "Correct," I said, as I suddenly became sad that the officer who wrote the ticket didn't know his state abbreviations, and I wondered if I was maybe taking advantage of a failing in the New York public school system. But before I had time to think about it too hard, Judge A got up and took my evidence to photocopy it, and when he returned he handed me my license and registration told me to go wait back at Window 17.

I thanked Judge A and he told me to take care, and I went back out to the main waiting room. I was pretty sure I had just won. At least I hadn't lied; I had barely spoken. When I got to the man at Window 17, he asked my name and number, "Jane Levison, B 333" -- and he officiously handed me a paper, indicating that I was free to go. But just as I was about to leave, he suddenly burst into a wide smile and sing-songed, "And Jane, his wife!" -- and made big jazz hands at the end. I had no idea what this reference was - the Jetsons? A mis-remembering of Gilligan's Island (The professor and his wife)? Something about Tarzan? I smiled back, laughed a little like I knew what was going on, took my paper, and got out of there. Case dismissed in under 30 minutes.

When I got out on the street, I looked at the paper, and I noticed two things. First, the decision:

Mis-description as to State. Dismissed, but not on the merits of the case. Summons Dismissed.

Second, right next to my address, which I corrected for them so I know it is current information, my car information:

Plate ID: XXXXX State: MN

I have a feeling this is the beginning of a long story.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I started taking Prednisone

Never Done: I started taking Prednisone

For all of you have been following my asthma with baited breath (so to speak) -- or who haven't seen me this week -- I have developed a deep cough that sounds an awful lot like a smoker's cough. On the one hand, I'm the picture of health with muscles that are literally bulging out of my upper arms and lower legs, and on the other hand I can barely get through a good laugh -- or a night's sleep -- without, well you know know without what.

So I decided to take the lung doctor's prescription for Prednisone, to try to reduce the inflammation in my lungs. I feel a little sheepish about writing about yet another health-related thing for this blog, but I have not, in fact, ever taken a steroid before, and it's actually given me something to write about. They tell you to take it early in the day because it can give you the jitters, and put you on edge and make it hard to sleep. Great. I'm sure everyone around me will be delighted about this development.

It raises an interesting question: do we have an ethical responsibility to tell people when we are doing something that is good for us but could negatively affect them? Certainly it makes sense to tell the people close to us, but what about the people not so close to us? Here's a little story.

In the middle of the day I did get jittery -- very jittery. Couldn't hold a pen jittery. Legs jittering jittery. Agitated and indecisive and just out of sorts. I was tempted to skip swim practice, because it felt like maybe not the right thing to do with a bad cough, but it also seemed like the perfect thing to do for the jitters. So I went, but 15 minutes into the practice, I was super annoyed that the pool was crowded, that people were touching my feet, that a (slightly inept) teammate kept kicking me in the head. I mean, this is always annoying to me, but usually I just go with the flow, and keep swimming. This time however, I hopped out of the pool to give myself a break. My coach Molly asked me if I was OK, and I told her I was, but that I was getting kicked more than usual, so she helped me find an emptier place in the snake of swimmers. I put in another ten minutes of crowded swimming, and then someone swam up on top of me. I lifted my head, saw a green cap, and made a mental note to have words after practice. But then instead of keeping swimming, I just got out at the end of the lane. I didn't have the patience for the crowd, and instinctively understood that I was better off just getting out.

Molly asked me what was up, and I told her some guy with a green cap swam on top of me and I was just too frustrated to keep swimming, and that I was going to go to the Y to swim solo. She said, "He probably did that on purpose. To simulate race conditions." I told her that why some teammate took it upon himself to simulate race conditions was beyond me, and that I was just gonna go. She told me that actually, it was our head coach, and that she'd let him know it was freaking some people out.

I went and took a shower, and thought about how it really doesn't simulate race conditions to swim on top of someone in a pool. Because in a race, you can just stop and let the faster swimmer go past, but in a practice, if you stop, there are 25 people in a 3-foot wide lane behind you. I also thought about how good it felt to be out of the crowd of people, in an empty locker room. And that's when I realized that I was under the influence of drugs -- that I was not just reacting to the pokes and the kicks, but that I and my steroids were reacting to the pokes and the kicks. Oh, duh.

Just then, Molly came in to check on me. To make a long story short, I told her about the asthma, and she told me to slow down. Rest. She told me that I am muscularly fit enough to do the triathlon tomorrow if I had to. She told me that I don't need to be training 5-6 days a week -- that I could get by on 3-4 days a week if more is wearing me down. She gave me the name of her pulmonologist, and she reminded me that stress flares up asthma, and over-training is stressful. She told me to take a couple days off, and to get as much sleep as I can.

She went back to coaching, and I went home to eat dinner, and that's when I started thinking about our responsibilities to each other. Had I been over-careful and told Molly in advance, "Hey, you know, I'm taking some steroids, so if I'm a little edgy, just ignore it, ok?" -- then chances are that she wouldn't have followed me into the locker room, and wouldn't have listened to me enough to find out that I actually needed some deeper help than I was getting. And in that way, my impulse to take care of others might have actually gotten in the way of letting someone else take care of me. Now, if I had gotten out of the pool and yelled at someone, or stayed in the pool and started kicking back -- I'm thinking those actions wouldn't have had the same positive result as getting out and talking reasonably. So as usual, there's a balance to be struck when thinking about questions of responsibility to self and other, even for those of us who tend to err too far on one side or the other. As my mother loved to say, "moderation in all things, including moderation."

Monday, June 27, 2011

I spent (Gay) Pride at the (gay) beach

Never Done: I spent (Gay) Pride at the (gay) beach

For years I've attended Pride celebrations, and for years I've felt like they lacked authenticity. I think there's something about the level of organization it takes to assemble thousands of people into essentially a long line that breaks my spirit a little bit, and then when thousands more people line up to watch, it starts to feel like we're on display in a giant urban terrarium, rather than taking over the streets in an assertion of cultural and political presence.

This year, with the passage of marriage equality in the New York senate, I was more inclined to go celebrate -- particularly to support the steadfast vision and hard work of my friend Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom To Marry. But I had already made plans with friends to avoid the island for an adjacent island: Long Island -- and to spend the day at Riis Beach. (First with a stop at Rockaway Taco, which I had never done, which I can't evaluate because we waited to eat our food until we got to the beach, at which point it the tortillas had stiffened up because the tacos were no longer hot. The grapefruit and pineapple ices I tried while standing in line for tacos were glorious though, and worth returning for.)

So about a dozen of my friends and I joined about 3 dozen of my acquaintances at the beach, to celebrate Pride by celebrating community. In the past, one of the things I loved about queer community is that it tended to be clothing-optional space. In recent years, I haven't actually loved that so much, but hadn't taken the time to articulate why. Upon reflection and discussion, I realized it's that the judgment and competition and admiration of youth that permeate New York culture even make their way into New York queer culture, so I just don't feel the kind of freedom from fashion that I have felt in the past, at women's music festivals for example, or just on remote beaches with friends. Also, I find bathing fashion to be even more challenging than street fashion -- bikini or full-piece? Function or fashion? I like a bikini to sunbathe in, but I don't like a bikini for swimming. Top or topless? Print or solid? Do I want attention for how I look or do I want to blend in? If I could find a bathing suit that I thought was truly good-looking, I think I would love the attention, the way I do when I wear a particularly beautiful dress, but mostly all the suits I see are either ugly sports prints or ugly tropical prints. Where is the good beach fashion?

And then I discovered something. I brought my wetsuit to the beach to get an open water practice in -- and people loved seeing me in my wetsuit. They wanted to touch it, to look at it, to see me swim in it. And suddenly thing that is for me 100% about function was being transformed into fashion -- even being reframed as sexy -- and I noticed that I didn't mind the attention, because it was organic -- not about my body, but about my actions. That sexy is what we do, and not what we look like. That's a sex appeal I can get behind! That's Lori Petty in Point Break. That's transforming normative culture into radical culture. That's the pride I came out into, and the pride I was delighted to rediscover at the beach.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I met Harry Belafonte at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

Never Done: I went to the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

It's strange that I've never before gone to the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival -- it's a film festival with my name written all over it. When my friend P invited me out Saturday night, and I looked at the lineup, I immediately homed in on a film about Harry Belafonte's 60+ years of music and intense, thoughtful, engaged, global political activism: Sing Your Song. The problem was, lots of other people had also homed in on that film -- it was already sold out. But P knew someone who works for HRW, who told her there was a chance she might be able to get her some tickets, and that we should go early and wait in the standby line, and see whether or not she could score us some tickets.

We showed up over an hour early, and there were already 25 people in line ahead of us. The man right in front of us told us that he'd tried to get tickets three weeks ago, when they first went on sale, and that it was already sold out. He also let us know (in the course of conversation -- not just randomly) that he's not jaded, and that he works hard to remain un-jaded while still living in cynical New York. (He hails from Jamaica.) The man who came to line just was also not a native New Yorker (he comes from Belize) and in addition to being particularly knowledgeable about Harry Belafonte, was also interested in black film. It was one of those times, the four of us in this line waiting for a movie we didn't know if we'd get to see, that I felt that a film festival line made a city smaller, and brought together four people who were surprisingly well-suited to hang out together for an hour.

And then our free tickets came through, and we promised to save them seats in case they got in, and we parted ways. (One of them got in and joined us -- ironically, the unjaded one did not get a ticket, and left before finding out that there were at least 10 empty seats in the house, some of them right next to us, despite the fact that only a few people were admitted from the standby line.)

But all of this is side story compared to the main event of the evening: the film about Harry Belafonte, and Harry himself, who was interviewed after the screening by Amy Goodman. The film will screen on HBO in the Fall, so you will have a chance to see it then. It's too long (although maybe HBO will require a more concise cut) but it spends its time well: detailing Belafonte's incredible career, not only as a singer, but as a human rights activist and political advisor. He's been everywhere -- with MLK, in Ethiopia, Haiti, South Africa, Cuba -- and now that I think about it, probably the best argument for cutting the film down is to avoid Forrest Gump references. But Belafonte is no simpleton (like Gump) -- but is instead an astute political thinker with unflagging moral character.

He was red baited, CIA and FBI infiltrated by his own psychoanalyst, and yet talk about not becoming jaded. At 83, he is still an unflagging voice for social justice -- always lending his celebrity, his money, and just as importantly his political analysis wherever he sees it could have an impact. In the post-screening interview, Amy Goodman asked him about his connections with Paul Robeson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, A. Philip Randolph's influence over Teddy Roosevelt, and and finally -- whether he thought it would be possible to similarly influence Obama, and whether he (Belafonte) intends to do it.

His answer was riveting. He said that he thought that it's more possible to influence Obama than any other president in history, but that at the same time he is deeply disappointed in Obama -- that he sees no evidence of his moral courage. And yet, Belafonte has not given up on him. Thinks he's reachable. Thinks that he needs people to show him that you can't yield morality to political pragmatism and still maintain a reputation as someone who cares about humanity.

My takeaway from the evening was Belafonte's commitment, hope, persistence, and lack of jaded cynicism. I hope that whenever I think I should yield my morality to political pragmatism, that I can remember his example, and sing out on the side of justice.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I ordered dinner with GrubHub

Never Done: I ordered dinner with GrubHub

I spent some time today thinking about all the things I've done this year, and how many of them I've come to integrate into my life. Every week I have a quart of homemade soup in my fridge. (This week promises to be either strawberry soup or gazpacho.) I've discovered that I am a pretty good shopper if I just don't try the clothes on in the store. (99% of the time, they fit when I get them home -- I must have a pretty good eye.) I'm obsessed with Battlestar Gallactica. I fell in love with food sculpture, and can barely wait for next Chanukah, so I can make more food menorahs. And maybe most importantly, I run my shortcomings through an ethical framework on a daily basis. Then there are things I've tried this year that I don't intend to keep trying. I gave a cat Prozac. I took a draping class. Even though I am consumed (literally -- I still seem to have the consumption, only without the weight loss) with triathlon training, I can barely wait for the triathlon to arrive so I can stop training for it!

One of the things I tried this year is to download iPhone apps when I want to, even if they cost money. And as a result of that, I ordered take-out dinner using GrubHub -- which is an application that knows all the food delivery places that will deliver to your location at the time you are looking for some delivery. Now, I say this as if I order delivery all the time, when in fact I rarely do. I'm more of a cook for myself kind of person. But I was hungry, and I knew there wasn't much food in the house, and I wasn't going to get home til about 6, which isn't that late, but it is late if you're already hungry and there's not that much food in the house. Plus, if you're already thinking about how you have to get up at 6 the next morning for a 2 1/2 hour triathlon training that you're not enthusiastic about but you're trying to summon enthusiasm because that's your mussar practice this week, and also about the vaguely inappropriate thing that happened at the doctor's office earlier and how you're going to balance out getting good medical attention with speaking up and saying that it was inappropriate. If you're thinking about all that, and hungry and there's not much food in the house, then it seems like it's maybe a good night to order take-out.

But if you don't do that very often, and you don't really know where to order from, what do you do? You go to GrubHub, and you type in Indian, or Pasta, or Organic, and you get a list of nearby places that cook the food you want that are available to deliver. And their menus. So when you're standing in the pharmacy waiting for your prescription to be filled, you can order dinner and you can know that it will arrive to your home just after you do.

Oh, thank you, modern amenities! You bring convenience and wonderment and coconut shrimp to the end of my weariest days.

Also, thank you Marriage Equality visioneers, activists, senators, and volunteers. I wrote this post before I stayed up watching the NY Senate live feed (never done) and before we won marriage equality in New York state.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I forgot what my Never Done activity was

Never Done: I forgot what my Never Done activity was

I literally can't remember. I know I did it. It was one of the kind that sneaks up on me. I remember that because I had two others planned (go to Fairway -- can you believe I have never been? -- and eat street meat) which I ended up not doing because this other thing happened. I remember thinking about how to write about it, because I think it was a little delicate and extra personal. And for the life of me, I cannot remember what it is. I started not remembering what it was last night before going to sleep, and when I woke up still not remembering what it was, it occurred to me that this is, in and of itself, a Never Done activity.

Not sure what else to say about that new and embarrassing level of obliqueness. In other news, I have completed 3/4 of my Never Done year!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I made up a new mide (middah)

Never Done: I made up a new mide (middah)

If you've been following this blog for a long time, you know that the heart of the Mussar practice is to meditate, write, and reflect upon thirteen mides (middot) -- which are ethical principles -- that help us to live an ethical life. They are:

Humility: seek wisdom from everybody
Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief
Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential
Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true
Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation
Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space
Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time
Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others
Frugality: Be careful with your money
Diligence: Always find something to do
Silence: Reflect before speaking
Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently
Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships

My Mussar va'ad (group) has found that as comprehensive as these mides are, sometimes we yearn for something else to help guide us, so we decided that when we finished a complete cycle of the original thirteen, we would make some up before starting the next cycle. The group came up with great ideas:

Enthusiasm
Hope
Delight
Flexibility
Play
(Ethical thinking around) Attachment
Trust
Neediness

Yes, Neediness. That one was mine. Ew, right? Neediness sounds so unattractive and ... needy. Do we really want to pursue it as an ethical value? When I brought it up, a shudder went through the group, and people started coming up with other ways to frame it. Ways like Reliance and Interdependence. Which I thought were both wonderful ethical values in their own right, and also thoughtful reinterpretations of Neediness ... but they don't home right in on the thing that I'm going for: the value of having, knowing, and communicating one's needs.

I'm not real good at that. I have a tendency to take care of everyone else's needs before (or instead of) mine, and then feel bad when people don't take mine into consideration the way I wish they would. As I'm sure you can imagine (or maybe have experienced) that's not a great formula for interpersonal bliss. So instead of running from neediness, I am getting ready to embrace it -- hopefully in the literal, and not the cloying sense of the word. I expect it will be a fascinating and uncomfortable exploration.

But first, a week of ENTHUSIASM!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Skyped with France

Never Done: I Skyped with France

OK, not with the entire nation of France (as my friend Andrew pointed out, that would mean I would have had 62 million little windows open on my screen) -- but with one particular French person who is incredibly important to me.

I was an AFS exchange student in La Ciotat, France in 1981-1982. The year was some kind of a miracle for me -- I was placed in three separate wonderful families (all three were close friends, and they decided to divide up the year and share me) in a stunning working class riviera town in the south of France. As much as I loved all three families, I formed a special bond with my first -- the Ventadoux family. The parents -- Mady and Michel -- were math and physics professors in Marseilles. They had three kids -- Yvon, Sylvie, and Corinne. When I was there, Yvon had just left for university, and Sissou and Coco were in their last year of high school. I joined them. I spent the year studying philosophy, playing music, swimming and snorkeling in the Mediterranean, discussing French (and global) politics, riding on the back of fast motorcycles, and much, much more.

When it came time to leave La Ciotat, my broken heart made a little more whole when Michel and Mady and Sissou and Coco came to visit my family in Massachusetts and Maine. In fact, they arrived in New England just after I did -- and I remember thinking I didn't know how I could have handled the transition without them. I stayed in really close touch with them for years. Letters, phone calls, and even a couple of visits. Then as I got older and busier, I started writing less often. I still thought about them all the time, but I didn't write -- or call -- as much. I got to see them once in 1984, and then again in 1997, and then another decade and a half went by, and Josh and I went to visit them last summer. Walking into their house was like walking home. The cool tile Mediterranean floors, the shutters to keep out the heat of the day, the smell of the ocean combined with the dry pine trees, lavender, and wild fennel. People kept urging us to tour around -- to go to other cities -- but we were completely content right there, visiting with Mady and Michel, and walking down to swim in the sea.

We ate long late lunches and discussed the general strike over pension cuts. We played music, and went on long walks into the hills. We visited with old friends and just stayed home together. They fell in love with Josh and Josh fell in love with them and I basked in my incredible fortune -- that not only did I get extra sets of parents, but that I love all of them so much. When the time came, it was incredibly sad to leave, and I vowed to stay in much closer touch. I wrote a few times, and then I wrote less often, and then we said we might Skype, and then we didn't, and then I realized that an entire year had gone by since we were there, and we hadn't spoke the whole time. I felt awful. I felt like I had really let them down. I felt like it would be hard to pick up a conversation after so much time, because you know how it's easier to be in touch with someone you're already in touch with?

And then I decided to just face my guilt and take responsibility for being in touch. I set aside a big chunk of time, and I wrote a full, newsy letter, and I suggested we try to Skype together, which Mady was really into last summer, and which I at the time hadn't even tried. She wrote back and caught me up on everyone and told me she wasn't sure she remembered how to Skype, but that I should try to call her. I felt reassured -- she hadn't been waiting by the computer for 6 months! And then just as I was about to write her back with a question about what she'd written, my Skype video rang, and there she was!

I mean, really -- there she was. In the light blue room I have known for 30 years, with the afternoon summer sunlight pushing in through the closed curtains. With her gorgeous smile and chipped tooth. There she was, and we started to talk, and sure it was a little awkward at first, but that's how it is getting back in touch after a long time -- and in French, no less. But Mady, in her wonderful mathematician's way of making order out of the world, brought us right together when she said Enfin, l'Amerique, c'est pas loin. (It turns out that America isn't so far away.) And you know what? Neither is France.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I played an outdoor piano

Never Done: I played an outdoor piano

Oh, I thought this was going to be an entirely happy story. Sing For Life Pop Up Pianos put pianos in outdoor public spaces for the public to play. Happy story! Happy story! Happy story! And partially it was. I went to find one -- chose a grand piano at Grand Army Plaza -- and when I arrived there there were three boys working out one song, over and over again. I asked them if I could take their photo for my blog (yes) and then I sat down and listened to them for about 15 minutes. Eventually some littler kids came along and wanted to play, and I asked the bigger boys if they'd switch out for the littler ones, which they easily did. But the littler kids got shy and wanted me to play first -- so I sat down at the collaged piano and began to play. I found I was a little self-conscious, and kept looking down at the keys, but then realized that there wasn't a lot of point in playing an outdoor piano if I'm not going to just be free and look out into the world.

So I did my best to throw out expectations about what a great pianist I was supposed to have been (12 years of lessons as a kid and yet more as an adult) and lift my head up and gaze out at the Grand Army arch, and play. And you know what? The more I enjoyed myself, the better I played, and the better I played, the more people stopped by to listen, and the more people stopped by to listen, the more self conscious I became, and the more self conscious I became the worse I played, and the worse I played the more I got to remind myself that this was for me and my own enjoyment, and the cycle started all over again.

I played for a while, and then someone else came up and wanted to play, so I gave her the piano seat and went on my way. When I got home later and looked up more about the street piano project, I found this NY Times article which makes it clear that the idea was the work of Luke Jerram, a British artist whose exhibit, Play Me I'm Yours, appeared in NYC last summer -- and that this year, Sing For Life appears to have appropriated Luke's idea and moved on without him, without even giving him credit. Really? This is how an arts organization treats an artist? Really? Can't we do better than that?

This week's mide (middah) is Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships, and lest you think that was a non-sequitorial leap, I would propose that the relationship between an artist and their art is an intimate one -- and deserving of respect. I would also propose that the relationship between an artist and an arts organization is an intimate one, and fraught with issues of power and money and creativity -- issues that make it even more important that respect is prioritized. So what do we do, as citizens of New York, with Luke's free pianos dotting the streets without Luke receiving credit? Another sticker project? (art is real work) A letter-writing campaign? Maybe someone could write a song that credits Luke with the idea, and stick it in the songbooks that are attached to all the pianos -- and then organize a Luke Jerram support sing-a-long.

Any of this could happen. If you're inspired to do something, please let me know. Maybe I'll say you can take my idea and run with it, but it would be nice to be asked.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I had a Brooklyn barbeque

Never Done:

I had it all planned out. I had never been to the Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival, and I was going to go for the very first time. Friends were playing both days, and one of my favorite singer songwriters --who I've never seen perform live -- was also playing. There were volunteer opportunities, and there were even tickets on TDF. And then Sunday came along, and all I wanted to do was sleep in. Which would have worked, had the fire alarm battery not chosen 7:30 AM to give up the ghost -- and wake me out of a sound sleep with its insistent chirp.

So I got up and blogged, and I dragged myself to spin class, and I came home and cleaned up the piles of papers and wetsuits and dirty dishes cluttering up the apartment, and at some point during the day I remembered that we had a big package of merguez sausage in the fridge that wanted to be grilled up, and on a whim Josh and I invited friends over for an impromptu barbeque.

I invited friends I've known for 20 years and friends I've known for 3 months. Some knew each other already, and most didn't. And except that it was hard for some of my friends to find parking, and then they had to wend their ways through the bedroom to get out to the back yard, it felt like one of my Portland gatherings -- relaxed and open and intergenerational and sometimes awkward (but usually not) and throwing people together who have heard about each other over the years and seeing what it's like when they get a chance to meet.

One of my favorite parts of the party was a chess lesson I received from a 5-year-old, that started with the following instruction: It's very important that you don't drop the pieces over the side of the stairs and into the bushes. But if you do, it's OK, because we can climb down and get them. Even if you happen to drop them into the neighbor's yard. But that's not ever going to happen in a tournament. A tournament is like a big room where everyone plays for serious. OK? You understand? He went on to become quite disappointed in some of my pathetic moves that resulted in great loss on both sides. When I defended my moves by saying that chess is a game of war, and that war has casualties, he got quite serious and told me that I was wrong, and that I needed to learn how to play better, and that he would have made better choices. And I'm sure he would have.

Another moment I loved was when my friend Ken, who is visiting from the West Coast, and whom I have not seen since I moved to New York 9 years ago, asked me if I could show him around my favorite parts of New York while he's here -- show him what makes me stay. I thought about that for a second, and then I realized I didn't actually need to go anywhere to show him why I stay in Brooklyn, and I pointed at my friend sitting next to me. And then at his partner and son. Ken got it right away.

And then I did too. I looked around this party, completely content to be in the company of old friends and new, basking in the presence of the reasons I stay in New York.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All Coney all the time

Never Done: I started and ended my day at Coney Island

It was a weird, long day. I got up very early to swim and run (triathlon training) at Coney Island, which was going to be perfectly timed with my all-day mentorship training with You Gotta Believe, which I thought was also going to be on Coney Island, but ended up in Manhattan (so I missed the Mermaid Parade for the 11th year in a row) and then just as the training was ending, I got a text from friends that they had extra tickets to the Brooklyn Cyclones home opener, so I went back home, showered off the ocean salt and the sweat, and hopped the F train back to the southern climes of Brooklyn, and got there just in time to see a few stray mermaids wandering the streets after the parade had ended -- and also just in time to watch a ballgame -- and postgame fireworks with Mickey and Nina and Josh.

You know that thing that happens in New York, when you feel like a neighborhood is someone else's, and then suddenly you get one point of reference for it, and then another, and then another, and then suddenly you notice that it's yours too? Within one week, I've ridden the Wonder Wheel, swum in the ocean, run on the boardwalk, Google mapped the You Gotta Believe offices, and gone to a Cyclones game.

Coney, you're mine, all mine, all mine, all mine.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I attended services at CBST

Never Done: I attended services at CBST

I had a tough two days from a time perspective. On Thursday, I arrived to an appointment in Manhattan -- an appointment I had to cancel another appointment for -- only to find out that the person I was meeting wasn't there to meet with me. It was due to a sudden and significant family illness, so of course I understood, but it did mean that I lost 4 hours from my work day and I missed fitting in a triathlon training workout for the day. The following day, I arrived at a follow-up doctor's appointment with the lung doctor, and the office was locked. I called the answering service and found the doctor had left 3 hours earlier. Once again, I lost hours -- not just the travel time, but on both days it didn't make sense for me to go all the way back to Brooklyn because I had commitments in Manhattan later that day.

I tried to be diligent; I tried to be patient; I tried to remember how much I wanted to do the things that came later (in both cases, I really did want to do them) but ultimately I just ended up frustrated. I hadn't brought a book or computer; I couldn't get a date with friends; I didn't have a way to go for a swim, bike, or run; and perhaps most frustrating of all: my battery on my cell phone never lasts through the day, so I couldn't even make any of the dozens of phone calls that I owe friends and family. You get it, right? Not the end of the world, but frustrating. Also, did I mention it was raining?

By the time I got to Friday night services at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) I was ready for a break between the week and shabes. CBST is the largest LGBTQ synagogue in the world. When it started in 1973, the congregation met largely in secret, to protect the members who were not able to be out. Now it's grown to such prominence that it's about to buy a $7 million building. This trajectory makes me incredibly happy.

I went to services because my good friend Alex, who has been the social justice coordinator at CBST for the past 2 years, is leaving for rabbinical school. I think it's a little sad that I've been meaning to go for years, and it took a goodbye to get me there. But I am so glad I went. It's a deeply musical services, with readings and rabbinic talking interspersed. One of the first things the rabbi said was that she always urges people to stay as connected and central as they can. If you know a song, sing along. If you don't, then hum, or sing lalala. Don't stay apart from the rest of us. I found this to be incredibly moving, because both Jews and LGBTQ people have been so marginalized from society that we've developed tendencies to marginalize ourselves. I loved that she reached out to bring us in to the center, and I found that I remembered that she'd asked that of us, and again and again was able to join in with everyone.

The congregation was starting to celebrate Pride, and had invited Gilbert Baker to be the guest speaker. Gilbert created the rainbow flag, the symbol of the LGBTQ community, in 1978. A Methodist from Kansas, he let us know that this was the first time he'd attended Jewish services. (I said a silent Shehekhianu for him.) He then told us that he used to dream, like Dorothy, of somewhere over the rainbow, where it would be safe for him to be gay without being pathologized, and that in fact, the Wizard of Oz was the inspiration for the rainbow flag. Listening to him, I remembered a story that my friend E told me once. She is a lesbian who lives in Mississippi and was training to become a paramedic. Her study partner was a young man who had had little to no exposure to gay community. For weeks and months they studied together, and the young man didn't ask anything about her life. Until one night, when he sheepishly said,
E, can I, um, ask you something?" E said yes. After a significant pause he finally asked, "Is it true that y'all have your own flag?"

I have always loved this story of a young man trying to figure out who is the other, and how to connect to us. (If we have our own flag, does that make us a nation? Could he possibly move there?) After services I thought about how the rabbi urged us not to stay apart, and so I went up to Gilbert and I told him this story. He listened thoughtfully, and then broke into a giant smile when I came to the end. And that's how a queer New York congregation built community between a Kansas Methodist vexillographer with a couple of gentile Mississippi paramedics. Omeyn.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test

Never Done: I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test

I finally took the Myers-Briggs Indicator Test. And I'm apparently an ENFP:

Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns you see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on your ability to improvise and your verbal fluency.

Please discuss.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I rode a Ferris wheel

Never Done: I rode a Ferris wheel

And not just any Ferris wheel -- the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island. Actually, it was my very first carnival ride, and I went because Abigail, Mich, and I were celebrating Mich's last night in Brooklyn. I just stumbled over the word celebrate, because I don't want to make it sound like I'm excited that Mich is leaving town. So I looked up the word in Miriam Webster's dictionary, which includes the following definitions:

To perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites

To honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business

To mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine

To observe a notable occasion with festivities

And I can now confidently say that we were celebrating Mich's last night in Brooklyn with a spin around the Wonder Wheel. I even remembered to say the Shehekhianu as we ascended, and as all of Coney Island, and then the Atlantic Ocean, and then all of Brooklyn and even Manhattan came into view. For me personally, aside from the celebratory nature of the outing, the thing that made a big impression on me was how, after a lifetime of not riding a carnival ride, it was so easy to climb into a little cage, shut the door, and put my life in the hands of a couple gruff carnies who were also smoking and eating their dinners at the same time as presumably running the machinery that was simultaneously entertaining me and keeping me alive. Surprisingly easy!

Once I crossed the threshold (climbed into the little cage) I just gave myself over to the experience, and enjoyed my time with my friends. Partly this was about Patience: Don't aggravate a situation with wasted grief (why worry when everything is actually going fine?) and partly it was about focusing as much on the group experience as my individual experience, and partly it was that once we were at the Wonder Wheel, it just didn't feel scary. Maybe it helped that we could easily look over and compare it to rides in the Scream Zone. Rides that none of us had any interest in riding. Rides that made our slow steady tour look like a stroll in the park. And maybe it helped that thousands and thousands of people had ridden the Wonder Wheel before us, presumably without getting hurt. And maybe it actually helped that the carnies seemed so bored.

But ultimately what interested me the most was to think of our ride as a metaphor for Mich's journey. It will probably be scary to get in the car and set out, but not that scary. And ultimately we all know that it's actually safe, and will bring her to new heights, and give her new perspective, and will be best when shared with good friends.







Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I caught a shopkeeper in the act of racial profiling

Never Done: I caught a shopkeeper in the act of racial profiling

I've been trying on clothes lately, trying to find a couple items to build up a more robust and potentially professional wardrobe. I set out for one particular boutique in Red Hook, where I hoped to find a dress by a local designer I like, but when I got there there was literally a GON FISHIN' sign on the door. How quaint. How un-helpful! So I decided to try my luck in random boutiques on Smith Street, which I'd heard might have some potential.

I tried on a dress in the first store I went into -- Smith and Butler -- and although I loved the cut, I didn't love the pastel fabric. Also, I didn't love the fact that she had a super-slimming mirror in the women's dressing room, so I asked the shopkeeper if she had any other mirrors, and she sent me down some stairs to the men's department. Men, I guess, don't want to look too skinny. And I prefer seeing myself looking as close to how I really look as possible. And I liked how I looked.

So I went back up to ask her if she had the dress in any other fabric, and she said she didn't, but when she told me the designer was from Sweden, I did warm up to the pastel a little bit. (I am a shamless Swedophile.) But just then, two black guys came into the store. I only caught a glimpse of them, but I heard them talk about wanting nice jeans. They headed straight to the back of the store -- to the men's department where I had just been -- and the shopkeeper said to me, "Excuse me, I have to follow them. I mean, you understand. I have to follow them."

That made me curious to get a better look at the guys -- were they teenagers or older? Did they look like they were there to shop or steal? Did they seem threatening in any way? So I followed a bit, and got a better look, and what I saw was two men in their late 20s, early 30s, who totally looked to me like they were there to shop for nice jeans. Not that I can tell everything from a quick look, but that's what it looked like to me: they seemed like customers.

I went back in the dressing room and took off the dress because there was no way I was going to buy something from this shopkeeper. (I also took a photo of the dress so I could try to find it elsewhere.) Then I went to talk with her about what she'd done, but there were now other customers in the store as well as the two men, so I slipped out. But it felt wrong, and I knew I had to go back in and talk with her. But first I went to to a couple other stores (and found some good clothes in one of them) and while in there, I asked the other shopkeepers if they had ideas of what might be effective. Neither had good ideas, but one of them told me that if her employees were doing that, she would want to know.

Then my friend Claire called, and I asked her what she would do. Her thought was to ask the woman what she was thinking, which made sense to me. In fact, when I used to do diversity trainings and taught people about interrupting racism, we often suggested a three-step process.

1. Validate them in some way
2. Ask them why they think the way they do
3. Give correct information

So I went back in. I looked around to make sure there was nobody in the store, so that I wouldn't embarrass her in front of a customer. I asked her if I could talk with her for a minute and she said yes. I told her I thought her store was lovely (actually I thought it was strange. It had a motorcycle in it.) and then I asked her if she had had a big problem with shoplifting in her store. She said yes she had, that "they" come in and steal and that she's had to put in security cameras. I asked her if what made her think that the men who came in were shoplifters, and she said "they" steal from her all the time, and that when three of them come in, it's a real red flag for her.

So by now you've noticed that I am putting the word "they" in quotation marks. It's because she kept using the word, and to me it just reeked of a euphemism for young black men. Also, she called them three, when there were really only two, which to me indicated that she felt that the two men were a greater threat than they actually were. So I asked her if she knew the men who had come in (because she had said that they steal from her all the time.) And she said no. And I asked her if she follows groups of young women when they come in the store, and she got flustered. So I decided to move to the "give correct information" phase of our conversation, and I told her that many young black men had let me know how difficult it is for them to be suspected and followed in stores, and that the TWO men in the store earlier had struck me as customers, not shoplifters.

To this she responded that I didn't understand how hard it is to be a woman working alone in a store. I didn't tell her that actually I did know, although it is true that I have never been a woman working alone in a fancy New York boutique. Instead, I told her that she had lost my sale because of what happened earlier, and that I wouldn't be coming back in her store. "That's your decision." And I wished her luck, and told her I hoped she'd think about what I'd said, and I left.

I didn't end up feeling like I was terribly effective. So on the way home, I devised a little creative action. I think I'll make some stickers that say "We prosecute racial profilers" and stick them up ... where? In dressing rooms? On offending boutiques' doors?

Who's in?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I had a job interview with a certain New York institution

Never Done: I had a job interview with a certain New York institution

For the first few years I lived in New York, I felt small. I couldn't picture myself having an impact on the city as a whole, the way I had easily done in Portland and in smaller places I'd lived. And what's more -- beyond not being to imagine that I could, I couldn't imagine that I would want to. But gradually I've become more rooted and effective here, and gradually my sense of my place in New York has grown as well.

This will be a very short post, because I'm not ready to reveal what the organization -- or the job -- is, but I'd like it, I'd be good at it, and if they choose me, I would have a larger purview in New York City than I could have ever imagined when I was a little kid running around apple orchards.

Send good wishes! If I get the job, I promise to use it for the global good!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I did that embarrassing thing my grandmother used to do

Never Done: I did that embarrassing thing my grandmother used to do

I remember when I was a kid and we would go out for lunch or dinner at Howard Johnsons with my grandmother, and she would order coffee. Because she knew what was coming. My grandmother would ask the waitress if it was a fresh pot. The waitress would say yes. She would bring the coffee. My grandmother would taste it and call the waitress back because it wasn't hot enough. The waitress would bring a new, presumably hotter cup. My grandmother would taste it, and say it was too strong, and ask for an ice cube to water it down. Then she would taste it again, and ... you guessed it: it was too cold again.

Can you picture how this was for the rest of us? How we would cringe, and apologize behind my grandmother's back? How my mother would try to persuade my grandmother not to -- just not to -- and how my grandmother just didn't seem to be able to stop herself?

Well, I was her today. Sort of. Some friend and I stopped for ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery, whose name is inspired by the Walt Whitman quote: I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine. The flavor selection was gorgeous, and I asked for tastes of three flavors: root beer, maple bacon, and chocolate stout. Right off the bat, I didn't love the root beer, the stout was wonderful, and the maple bacon base was lovely, but there was no bacon in my little bite. So I asked for another, so I could tell if I'd like it. The next taste came with one little piece of bacon, and I really liked the combination, and ordered a small cup. When my cup came and I started to eat, there was so much bacon in each bite that it was just overwhelming. (And I was using one of those little tasting spoons -- not a full-sized plastic spoon.) My friend immediately started to figure out how to share hers with me, but my mind was going in another direction: I was trying to screw up the courage to ask her for a new cup.

It wasn't easy -- a voice in my head told me that TWO tastes should have been enough for me to know whether I would like it. That I shouldn't cause trouble. That I should offer to pay for the second cup. That it would embarrass my friend. But another voice in my head told me it's not good to eat something I don't like, and that it's OK to ask for what I want, and that I am not likely to become my grandmother because of all the years I worked in food service. So I screwed up my courage and I asked. The scooper went to ask the owner, and they conferred for so long that I decided to offer to pay for the new cup. When she came back, I preempted her by making my offer, but she had come back to say it was fine to switch. I wanted to protest, but quickly realized that would be even more neurotic than just thanking her and choosing a new flavor, which is the path I chose.

It was pretty painless (at least it was for me) I think in part because I was practicing the mide (middah) of Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently. (In this case, the words of the wise were stated gently by and to myself, which is often harder than stating them to someone else.) And I suppose it was also made relatively painless because I was essentially rewarded with wonderful chocolate stout ice cream and a date with friends. Hopefully it was made relatively painless for those around me because I only ate one bacon-filled bite before returning it. And also because I tipped 50%.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I toured the Lesbian Herstory Archives

Never Done: I toured The Lesbian Herstory Archives

One of the highlights of Brooklyn Pride is that The Lesbian Herstory Archives opens up for a book sale. I went for the first time last year -- rummaged around the books for a little bit, and looked at beautiful original photographs of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, taken by Angela Jiminez who had recently published a book of documentary photography called Welcome Home.

This year I went again -- with a gaggle of friends -- and lucked into a tour of the upstairs of the archives. Files and boxes and closets and rooms full of papers and other ephemera. Archives and memorabilia of both individuals and organizations. And I had a kind of realization that is not uncommon to me: it took getting in the room and seeing it to understand the meaning and importance of the archive. In fact, it took one specific thing in the room itself: a box labeled Lesbian Avengers.

I was at the first Dyke March in at the LGBT March on Washington in 1993 (created and organized by the Lesbian Avengers) and as I remembered that and dozens more marches and actions and music festivals and my involvement with womyn's land and Ladies Against Women,
suddenly I realized that all the groups and activities I've been involved in over my life add up to archive-worthy history. And that without the archive, our history would be an assortment of individual and collective memories, but not a collection -- not a searchable archive -- not an institutionalized part of history that students and scholars and artists can use to further document, comment upon, and contextualize our lives.

There is so much more to say about this, and yet every time I write a sentence, I erase it because I basically keep writing the same thing over and over again. Our lives are important; our history is important; our lives are important; our history is important. So I think what I want to do here is to thank and appreciate Joan Nestle and Deb Edel and the other founders of the Archive for the vision to create the archive and to them and all the women who built it and maintained it over all these years. Thank you for creating an institution based on the mide (middah) of Humility: Seek wisdom from others.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I went to a goodbye party for a friend who's leaving New York City

Never Done: I went to a goodbye party for a friend who's leaving New York City

I'm the one who's supposed to leave. I'm the one who's not from here. I'm the one who's supposed to make the hard decision and have a yard sale and pack up all the rest and hit the road. When I had to get a criminal clearance in order to adopt, I had to fill in a form with 28 years of past addresses. Guess how many times I moved in 28 years? 28. But from birth to age 18, I lived in one place. The house my parents bought in 1961, when my sister was a year old, two years before I was born.

Since then I've lived in France, Maine, Sri Lanka, England, California, Oregon, New Jersey and New York -- with lots of stops back in Massachusetts and lots of smaller moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, house to house, and apartment to apartment. When I moved to NYC 9 years ago, I did not think I was making a permanent move. I thought I was coming for grad school and then hightailing it back to Portland. But that's not what happened. As much as I complain about it here (the stenches, the expenses, the crowds, the limitations of housing) I still find enough reasons to stay, and those reasons mostly have names and faces and big hearts and creative minds and amazing senses of humor and big smarts and all together they form my community, and my NY family of choice. (I still love and miss my communities and families in New England and Portland and elsewhere, and when I threaten to leave New York, I'm running to something at least as much as I'm running from.)

And now one of my New York people -- one of them I feel closest to -- is leaving. She too has been complaining about NYC for as long as she's been here, and she's finally making the break. At her goodbye party she said it's really hard to leave New York, even if you complain about it all the time. But she screwed up her courage, and she's doing it. I want to be happy for her, and I actually am, but my happiness is in a great deal of conflict with my awareness of the gaping hole she's going to leave behind.

So this is what it's like to be on the other side. I mean, I understood that this is what it's like, but this is what it feels like. There's nothing like a move away from close people to focus on the Mussar practice of balancing the burden of the self vs the burden of the other. It could be so easy to remind my friend, and remind her again, how much I'm going to miss her -- and I think some of that is good, because it lets her know how much I love spending time with her. But I know from personal experience that it also can feel awful -- like the choice to leave is intentionally geared to hurt those you're leaving, or like the pain is so great that the friendship will forever be tinged (or doused) with the guilt of it. So every time I've felt like telling her how much I'm going to miss her, I've instead asked myself, "What is her burden?" And when I think I have a good sense of what it might be, I try to tell her something that balances what I think is best for both of us.

Also, I'm totally taking the cute summer hat she's giving away. I shouldn't get nothing out of this.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I walked on the new section of the High Line

Never Done: I walked on the brand new section of the High Line

Today's Never Done blog post was going to be about my first ever Lobster Roll Rumble, but then it turned out the tickets cost well over $100, and so my friend Barbara and I decided to have our own lobster roll rumble, and get a Lobster Place lobster roll from Chelsea Market (which I've never done, being primarily a fan of Luke's) and take it up to the High Line for a picnic.

We both invited our partners (I got to meet Art for the first time) and met at the market just as the winds were blustering up and blowing in a storm. The rain and thunder and lightning came as soon as we got our meals, so the four of us hunkered down inside to eat and talk, and hoped that the storm would abate. Which it did. And just as we took a detour away from the High Line for the lobster roll, so will my story. Its hard to imagine I'll ever meet a lobster roll I don't like, and this one was no exception, but it's currently ranked third (of three) in my New York Lobster Roll rating chart, behind Luke's (currently placed #1) and Red Hook Lobster Pound, which actually has a truck at the new beer and food truck garden called the Lot on 30th, under the new northern end of the High Line. The Lobster Place roll had a good amount of meat, a little too much mayo for my taste, and nothing else special going on. No special spices, no celery or onion, no pickle. But like I said, it's not like I'd kick it out of bed. (Well maybe I would, because that sounds messy.)

So yes, the rain and thunder and lightning did abate enough for us to go up to the High Line -- as long as we didn't mind getting mildly wet and mildly electrocuted. And I'm telling you, just one step up there at dusk, in the drizzle, lush with plantings, lit at leaf level, and suddenly I felt transported to a cleaner, calmer (inner and outer) world. There's something about the High Line's interaction of plants with human-made elements that makes me think of Portland, OR. It's a clean and modern aesthetic -- new design, not old design. And yet it interacts with both old and new architecture -- as you walk along it, you see old brick buildings with faded painted signs, and you see new glass buildings with rippled metal siding. Last night there was supposed to be a Trisha Brown dance performance, but I guess a little thunder and lightning scared them off.

I was wearing a new pair of sandals that I didn't want to get wet and stretched out, so I kicked them off and took in the park barefoot. I got to walk on an incredibly soft new lawn, and over a cool, long stone pathway. It hurt a little to walk on the metal grating elevated path, but I tried to focus on the light and the rain and the foliage and the light -- all of which I found completely transporting. The High Line is like ... what's it like? It's like a trip out of the city, a calm road to a kinder, prettier place -- a place where I can go barefoot at night! A place where people get gently brushed by dripping leaves instead of jostled and groped by rushing commuters. The High Line is my urban Shangri-La. I should go more often. It turns me into a much more pleasant New Yorker. Thank you, Barbara, for suggesting it.

(And I just found out the Luke's won the fan favorite, and Mary's Fish Camp won the lobster jury award. Who wants to go to Mary's?)



Thursday, June 9, 2011

I went to a 2nd grade opera

Never Done: I went to a 2nd grade opera

About six months ago, Josh and I were approached to make a documentary film about a Brooklyn school that pairs up with the Metropolitan Opera Guild to create and perform original operas. This was right up our alley, and we were super interested in it, but it turned out there was no money for the project, and our days of taking jobs with no money are over. But one of the teachers is our neighbor Jimmy, and so even though we didn't get to make the film, we did get progress reports in the evenings as we all put our garbage and recycling out.

The show this year was retelling of classic fairy tales, like Jack and the Empire State Building (featuring my favorite lyric of all time: Fee Fi Fo Forker. I smell the meat of a New Yorker!), and Peter and the Frying Pan (featuring Captain Cook in a chef's hat), and Little Red Apple (who catches a cab to bring her grandmother some hot pizza, but the cab driver really likes apples...) But my plot favorite was The Three Little Pigs, in which the Big Bad Wolf just wanted to borrow sugar so he could make a birthday cake for his mom, and when the pigs said they weren't home, sang Why are people so mean? and then his allergies made him sneeze and accidentally blow the houses over, and then the cops came and wouldn't accept his apology and in the end he decided that next time he would just bake a sugarless cake. Really, how can any of us compete with 2nd grade imaginations?

It was so hot in the auditorium that the wooden chair combined with my body sweat and stained my new sundress. (I came home and washed it and it's OK!) But people were just sweltering in there, and yet completely focused on the performances. I for one had almost no negative mind chatter -- it was pretty much all an experience of sheer delight. I'm not sure what other ethical lessons I learned from being there except maybe that I kept my commitment to going. Right before hand, I was completely busy with something else, and it was incredibly hot out, and I almost opted to get in the shower and stay home to finish my work. But I took the break to do something delightful and still had time to finish my work when I got back. Balance, balance, balance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Went to Don't Tell Mama (and heard Karen T sing)

Never Done: I Went to Don't Tell Mama (and heard Karen T sing)

My thinking about the mide (middah) if Silence: Reflect before speaking has been developing all week, and reached new level of insight at a cabaret class performance at Don't Tell Mama. I went to hear my friend Karen sing a set of 3 songs, along with five of her classmates who also each sang sets of 3 songs. During the first four performances (Karen sang fifth) my mind was aflutter with judgment. Judgment about people's voices, their song choices, their outfits, their stage patter. I was aware enough of my judgmental thoughts to keep my facial expressions neutral to positive -- and I certainly didn't lean over to my friends give voice to any of my negative thoughts. But I was thinking them, and at some point I realized that they were loud, and that I was not controlling them, and that the mide of silence could be well applied to my own thoughts before I even get to my own speech.

What's really going on when my mind is fixating on the tone of pink on a woman's dress? Is it trying to distract itself from the shrill quality of her voice? Or the sustained flat notes? I know that sounds catty and judgmental, but it's actually a real question -- am I trying to stop focusing on one negative thing -- about singing -- by focusing on a different negative thing? What if I would instead focus on what a sweet and supportive crowd it is, or her pretty cheekbones? Would that perhaps make me less uncomfortable about the weaknesses in her performance? All this was going on in my mind when my friend Karen took the stage.

And as soon as she did, my mind chatter stopped. Karen was riveting. Her first few notes were easy and confident, and as they grew into a soulful rendition of Good Mother -- a 1994 hit by Candian singer-songwriter Jann Arden I somehow had never heard. Either it was her grounded charisma combined with her fluid yet strong voice combined with her transcendent song choice (Strange Fruit and Love is a Battlefield) and her patter about the nexus of race, enslavement and Red Lobster that chased the negative chatter right out of my head, or it was because (and I understand that this is ethically problematic) I care about Karen more than I care about the other singers. I guess either way, what I'm saying is that I was experiencing something more interesting and more important than the inner critic -- love and friendship and genuine involvement in the performance -- and it just silenced my mind.

So how do we silence the mind when it's louder than its surroundings? I'm thinking probably a practice of mindful appreciation, like I alluded to earlier. If the voice is flat, can I appreciate the song? If the song is dull, can I appreciate the dress? If the dress is garish, can I appreciate the intention behind wearing the garish dress, or the progress I assume the singer has made, or the lights, or the heymish and supportive atmosphere in the room? In other words, I think there is always something positive to pay attention to, and I think that with practice, I should be able to raise the volume on that voice, and mute the judgmental chatter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I spent 15 minutes following Twitter

Never Done: I spent 15 minutes following Twitter

And I concluded that I should follow more people and then do it again. (I put "follow" in italics to indicate that I meant Twitter follow and not just randomly follow.)

Here are the reasons why I wanted to spend some time on Twitter. I have been thinking a lot about how Egyptians used Twitter to bring about radical change, and how it's been used as a political news source and a rallying tool across the world. I have a Twitter account, and a couple weeks ago I started tweeting my daily Never Done blog post titles, and I follow some people, but until today I actually never took the time to look to see how people actually follow Twitter -- where and how tweets come in. It seems important to me to understand how one of the most significant social networks of our times works. I mean, what if we were suddenly engaged in a revolution? I'd want to know where to go to topple some statues!

The other thing that happened is that Anthony Weiner admitted he did in fact tweet lewd (are there any other kind?) photos of his cock to a student. And I just wanted to see -- why would someone tweet a cock shot? I thought Twitter was by nature a public social media forum, so this made me realize there must be a private message function like there is on Facebook.

And as I trolled Twitter and watched the tweets roll in, I started thinking about this week's mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking (or tweeting.) I think a lot about what I write in these blog posts, since they go out publicly, and I have in fact once written something I later regretted. (I guess one regret out of 260 posts is actually doing pretty well.) Where I have a harder time with the Silence practice is when I am actually speaking. I have a tendency to blurt things out when I am socially off-balance. I did it just yesterday, despite the fact that all week long I've been thinking, reading, and writing about Silence. I think what happens is that once I realize I would be better off not saying something, I've already given some signals (usually preamble) that I'm about to say something, and then it feels really socially awkward to stop. But I actually think (just realizing this now as I write) that this is the path I should follow; the next time I realize I am about to say something I might not want to, I should just stop and face the awkward social silence.

Maybe Anthony Weiner and millions of other Tweeters would like to try the same.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I completed a triathlon

Never Done: I completed a (sprint) triathlon

Back in March when I signed up for the
Flat as a Pancake Triathlon, it sounded like a piece of cake, ehem, so to speak. 1/4 mile swim? No problem! 12 mile bike ride on a flat course? I can do that. 5K run? At the time I wasn't already running 5K, but it was within sight. The whole thing seemed completely within my reach. Since then I've trained hard , and my muscles have gotten stronger, and I've learned about triathlon culture and nutrition and gear, and yet somehow the prospect of doing the event got more and more daunting. I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

But let me take a step back. I've been training now for 12 weeks, and I have 10 weeks left before the big New York Triathlon. I'm turning down dates with friends so I can get to bed early so I can get up early to go out and ride or run. And while I'm out there training, I'm not really enjoying myself because I have whatever I have (exercise induced asthma?) that's making it so hard for me to breathe right. I don't mean to complain -- this is something I am choosing to do -- but I do want to be honest in my evaluation of what I've chosen. I think that at this point, if I were just doing this as a solo pursuit, I would probably stop. But I'm not really doing it for me. I am doing it as a part of Team in Training (that link is my personal fundraising page) as a fundraiser for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and so I'm motivated by something outside of my own enjoyment. Many of you know that my mom died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and also right now the 4-year-old grandson of one of my family's closest friends is going through intense treatment for Burkitt's lymphoma. I think about him and his family a lot while I'm out there on the road, and as off as it might sound (I don't usually go for out-of-context comparisons) I think that he can endure the treatments he's going through, then I can ride harder and longer around the park. But the part that's harder for me to come to terms with is that my friends and family are taking a hit -- a hit they didn't choose. I've not been as available as usual for the past 3 months, and it's not going to be getting better til after August 7, at which point I intend to hibernate on a remote island with a steady supply of fresh juices and leg massages. (I don't actually intend to do that. I intend to fantasize about doing that.)

Speaking of leg massages, as you know, I got one in preparation for the Pancake triathlon, and except for left calf cramping on the final stretch of the run, my legs held out fine. The end of the story is that I did the whole race, and I was neither the slowest person in the triathlon nor in my age group. (Not that it would have mattered if I had been...) My muscles felt toned and strong, and I had all the right equipment, and I felt that I knew how to perform in all three sports. But my breath left me again. It is the strangest thing, because it's not about over-exertion because it starts as soon as I start to exercise. It doesn't wait for me to going hard; it just preemptively keeps me from going hard.

The water temperature was 60 degrees in Raritan Bay, so that probably sent my lungs into protective mode pretty quickly. I wasn't wearing a wetsuit, but I had made an excellent decision in deciding to buy a neoprine rash guard (tight long sleeved shirt made out of insulated floaty stuff) that spared me all the wetsuit freak-out I experienced in the water a week ago. The water didn't feel all that cold to me, and I certainly wasn't exerting myself too hard in 10 minutes of swimming really quite slowly, but I just had a really hard time getting enough air. I mean, is this anxiety instead of exercise-induced asthma? A lung doctor had me run up and down his stairway 6 times last week, and then listened to my lungs and heard a tell-tale wheeze, so he thinks it's the latter. But could it also be the former? Or does EIA feel like anxiety? I did my best to push these thoughts from my mind as I swam 1/4 mile in the ocean, and ran to the transition area to put on my biking gear and go.

Everything about the day was a surprise to me; I did better at biking, which I consider to be my weak sport, than I did at anything else. I rode steadily, I was able to push a little, I was able to focus on spinning my legs faster than usual (you're supposed to spin them as fast as you want to run, so it will feel somewhat normal to get off a bike and start running) and I wasn't too winded. Also, I was in the last wave of athletes to enter the water (women over 40) so that meant that by the time I got to the final lap of biking, I was one of the final people on the road -- so I had plenty of space around me, and plenty of time to notice the place where it smelled lovely like a claredendron tree, and the old man smoking a cigar near the baseball field, to wave at all the cops guarding the closed-off streets. (Since I was frequently the only cyclist going around the lap turn, the photographer got lots of action shots of me that I imagine will be up on their website soon.)

Finally I got off the bike and I got on my own two legs, and that's where my breath just completely failed me, right from the start. I took, literally, a dozen easy steps and I was breathing like I had already run a hard mile. So ducked into the port-o-potty to pee, thinking the minute would help my breath get more steady, and it calmed right down, but as soon as I started to run again, it was the same story. So I ran a really slow 5K -- 36 minutes, which included several stops to bring my breathing down so I could start running again. I was able to push for the last 50 yards, avoiding tripping over a little dog -- and its leash that was stretched across the track to the finish line, with Josh and Kelley and Aleza cheering me on at the end, gulping for breath as I finished. And then as quickly as my breathing had become labored, it came back to normal within a couple minutes of finishing. And then we ate pancakes. (The course is flat as a pancake and then they serve pancakes.)

For those of you who like hard statistical data, here's my results page.

The swimming pace just seems random to me -- I can swim 1/4 mile in a pool in 8 minutes at a moderate pace, but that's just totally different from swimming in cold choppy water with other people swimming up on top of you. I usually ride the hilly 3.6 mile loop around Prospect Park in 15 minutes, so I thought it made some sense that I rode the flat 4 miles loops in something close to that. And I can run 4 hilly miles in 36 minutes, so I should be able to run a flat 5K in closer to 30 minutes -- but I have no idea what would be normal for me after swimming and biking.

It's hard not to get into a game of comparisons -- comparing my performance against my own performance under different circumstances, and against other people in my age group, or even out of my age group. I raced with two friends who are 30. When I got home, I compared my times to theirs (my swim was a minute faster than one and 10 seconds slower than the other; my bike was 2 minutes faster than one and 4 minutes slower than the other; my run was 12 minutes slower than one and 4 minutes slower than the other.) But what does this mean? Maybe I've trained longer or have a faster bike or learned how to swim younger or shouldn't have stopped to pee during the run. Maybe they got less sleep than I did, or entered the race with completely different goals than I did. And yet, I am still fighting off a little bit of gloating (which I think is problematic ethically) that I am 18 years older than them, and performed as well or better than them in most areas. I also think it's ethically problematic when I console myself that my friend did such a great run by reminding myself that she's 18 years younger. Because I think that negates all the hard work she puts into getting in that kind of shape. Just because she's 30 doesn't guarantee that she can run 5K in 28 minutes.

I started out this post writing about enjoyment, and I've come to comparison, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Because really, what kills enjoyment more than comparison? This isn't as fun as I hoped it was going to be. She's not as good in this movie as she was in her last movie. I used to look great in that dress. I thought (puff, puff, puff) this running (puff puff puff) was going to be easier (puff) than this (puff puff.) Ass opposed to perhaps (not that this is a comparison) staying in the present, and noticing that I am still running, and the ocean is beautiful, and an hour ago I was in it, and now I am running alongside it, and people are cheering for me, and I am having a hard time breathing but it's OK if I need to stop and catch my breath, and I'm learning a lot about my abilities and limitations, and that's a cute dog but it shouldn't be in the middle of the course -- better not trip over its leash. Oh wow, I did it! I finished a sprint triathlon in an hour and forty two minutes.





Sunday, June 5, 2011

I applied for a writing job at About.com

Never Done: I applied for a writing job at About.com

A good friend of mine writes for About.com, and she says that it compensates her fairly well. She has a good, evergreen topic to write about -- one that holds both her own interest, and the ongoing interest of her readers. Since I've been blogging daily, it occurs to me that I've been honing my short and quick writing skills, and that I really enjoy writing like this, and that I would love to be paid for it. So every day now for about a month, I look at About.com to see what topics are up for grabs.

Even though I feel like I know about a lot of things, I rarely see a topic that I think is right for me. Right now, for example, they are looking for people to write about The Young and the Restless, Vintage Clothing, Annuities, Tires and Wheels, Baltimore, and Jeans and Denim. I mean, I've worn a lot of jeans and denim in my day, but write about it on a regular basis? I don't see it.

I keep waiting for Soup, or Home Cooking, or Gluten-free Cooking, or Low-cost Adventures, or How to Give Great Presents, or Adapting to City Living, or Adapting to Country Living, or First-Time Triathlete, or Adopting Older Children .... but instead, I've just kept coming up against Bankruptcy, Cincinnati, Urology, and Mobile Homes.

Until now, when they posted Disability and Immigration Issues. OK! Two topics I know quite a lot about! One of which I've written quite a lot about! When I went to look at what About.com writes about immigration, I found something quite interesting: the writing is liberal to progressive, and the comments are reactionary. (The anti-immigrant "environmental" group NumbersUSA posts on their comments with some frequency.) This tells me that the anti-immigrant forces routinely troll the site and counter-post, making About.com either an actual forum for debate, or just a forum for argument and a free platform for messaging. Oooh, that makes me want to get the job writing about Immigration Issues.

So I applied (for both) and now I wait for them to review my application, as per this nice auto-generated note:
Thanks for applying. We have received your application to be an About.com Guide for Disability. We have many open topics right now so, while we strive to review all applications as quickly as possible, it may take a long time for you to receive a response. Please do not resubmit your application until you receive a response from us, because that will only delay us further. We look forward to reading your application soon.

OK, I can wait. And in the meantime, I will keep checking the site every day to see if they post a job writing about the Red Sox, or Documentary Film, or Community Building through Ice Cream.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I got a sports massage

Never Done: I got a sports massage

I haven't had a massage in at least 9 years, which is as long as I've lived in New York. I'm not sure when before that I had one, so it might be a full decade since I've gotten a massage. And I've never gotten a sports massage before, which as far as I can tell is like a regular massage, only with intense and specific stretching, and intense and specific massaging of certain muscles areas, i.e., my left leg.

A few months back I read a wonderful book by Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It's one of those wonderful books that is ostensibly about running but is also about writing. (Sometimes they're books about writing which are really about something else, like alcoholism or tenaciousness.) In one passage of WITAWITAR, Murakami describes the way his muscles have cramped into hard stones, and the weekly 90-minute massages that keep him going. He says they hurt so much that he sweats through his clothes. And he says it's worth it. When I read that, I made a mental note that I was going to get a sports massage. I was going to pay someone to kneed my knotted muscles. I was going to see if it would make a difference when I run, if maybe my left leg would cramp up less.

So I did what any modern amateur athlete would do; I googled "Brooklyn sports massage" and the third hit was for a woman who works 1/2 block away from my apartment in a pilates and spinning studio in which my landlord is a partial owner. I read her online reviews; they were great; I booked a massage with Karen Clifton Mahoney for after work Friday. She's good. She's really good. The first thing I noticed is that she's emotionally mature -- which you would think should be a quality of any massage therapist, but it's not always. She neither projects a great deal of either woowoo sanctity around the massage process nor does she bring the interaction to a chatty place. She's straightforward and confident and talented, with strong hands, knowledge, and probably the highest level of responsive listening I've ever encountered in a massage therapist. I feel like I'm writing her a recommendation, and I suppose I am.

The job of a massage therapist is so strange in that she has to make thing hurt to make things better. Maybe -- to a lesser extent -- like the job of a dentist, which I remember being told has the highest suicide rate of any profession, because of all the time they spend seeing that they inflict pain and bring up fear. How does she know how much pain is too much? Does she have to rely solely on what I say, or does she go more by how my body reacts. And if so, how does she balance that out against what I say if there's a conflict?

I had some other thoughts about self and other while I was on the table. What does it mean to pay someone to rub down your body? Is she as genuinely interested in my knotted muscles as I am? Does she enjoy her job? Am I giving her enough feedback? If I don't feel like talking, is that more of a burden for her than if I want to talk and she doesn't? Why does therapeutic massage feel like more of an indulgence than, say, acupuncture? That's a lot of chatter for my once-a-decade massage, and so I did my best to quiet it, and to go on the working assumption that Karen does like her job, and that I could assume that if she needed anything different (like me to talk more) then she could tell me, and that therapeutic massage feels more indulgent than acupuncture because it feels a hell of a lot better. I also went on the assumption that it is good for us to take care of ourselves, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable to indulge.

Then when I came home and looked again at her website, I found this quote attributed to the Buddha: “To keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” And in a flash I realized that, of course, we do have an obligation to take care of ourselves, so that we can be powerful and effective in the world.