Sunday, September 30, 2012

I went to a party on moving day

The movers showed up at 7:45 in the morning instead of 8:30, as they had said they would. That 45 minutes was the difference, if you must know, between (and I am searching for an appropriate metaphor here – contemplating my existence and not. I did not. Talk about starting out the day in whatever the opposite is of pure, selfish enjoyment.

Instead, I hurried to load my car with all my delicates – the stuff you just have to carry yourself, even if you have a great moving crew – as we did. (Movers, Not Shakers.) When I finished, they guys, in a carefully orchestrated whoosh, emptied first the boxes and then the furniture, and then the piano out to their truck. Not before asking Josh to play the piano though, and one of the guys showing us YouTube videos of him playing Arabic drum. The guys, by the way, were Uzbekistani Muslims, who were speaking Russian, Farsi, Hebrew, and Arabic – and whose all live within blocks of where we’re moving in, and whose second jobs tend to be in kitchens with Chassidic Jews. We found out this last part when one of them sang us a Yiddish song he learned from a guy in the kitchen. And if that’s not a Brooklyn story, I don’t know what is.

And here’s another. As soon as – and I literally mean as soon as – we turned onto our new block, I spied a friend who lives in Fort Greene with his son, coming back from a soccer game at the Parade Grounds, which is a ½ block from our new place. Now this isn’t any guy. This is one of my favorite people I’ve met through Josh, from his Yiddish secular summer camp days. And he and his family offered that we could move to the rental in their house in Fort Greene, which was more than tempting, because their place is beautiful, and living in a house with them would be dreamy. But the place was just a spec smaller than the one we finally got, and the rent was Fort Greene higher, and there was no parking and no garden across the street, so we gave up the dream of getting to see them all the time, and moved to Ditmas Park. And then as soon as – and I literally mean as soon as – we turned onto our new block, there he was with his son, coming back from playing soccer at the Parade Grounds. And guess where they had parked their car? In front of – and I literally mean in front of – our new apartment. And so it looks like, thanks to Saturday morning soccer, we’ll get to see him after all. Life is so interesting sometimes. Closed doors, opened doors, cause, effect. And all that shit.

Then the movers showed up and they filled the apartment with boxes and furniture, and we paid them in cash, and then they left the heavy lifting to us. Well, to me. Josh still has a five-pound limit to what he can lift, post surgery, so he’s been hoisting the bureaucratic heft (Verizon, Con Ed, National Grid) while I hoist the actual boxes. So I unwrapped a few chairs for us to sit on, and a table for us to put things on, and then I went up and set up and made the beds.  (Wait, did I just use the plural form of the the word bed?  I think I did. Wait, are there two bedrooms in this apartment? I think there are.) So I set up and made the beds, so I’d know that whatever else happened throughout the day, I could comfortably crash at the end of it. And I unpacked clothes into my giant closet, and then instead of doing what I usually would do on a moving day – move in – I took a shower, got dressed nice, and went to Manhattan for a party. Because even though it was moving day, every fiber of my soul wanted to go to this party.
It was not just any party. It was a surprise party that has been 6 months in the planning. A surprise party for Josh’s best friend Lee, who is a magnificent film sound mixer, and the warmest, funniest, mentshiest mentsh of all mentshes. A surprise party for which Lee’s friend and colleague Larry produced a film featuring Lee’s family, friends and colleagues, including people like Mike Leigh, Woody Allen, Julie Taymor, Barbara Koppel, and dozens of other directors and sound editors who, like Josh (who was also in the film) have mixed their films with Lee. It was not just any party. It was a party for someone so easy to love, so deeply kind and so profoundly warm, that it was easy to clean up from move-in day, ignore my aching – and I literally mean aching – feet, and celebrate this man.

And so I discovered that pure, selfish enjoyment can sometimes be in service to others – which should be an interesting nuance to explore over the year. (At least, I hope it’s nuance and not a slippery slope.) It brought me great joy to be in a room full of people who love this man as much as I do.

Extra bonus: one of Lee’s friends is friends with Roz Chast, who made a wonderful cartoon of Lee. (A guy sitting on his couch, and the coffee table is a mixing console, and the caption says: "Nerd in his natural habitat.") When I turned 25, and lived in a yurt in central Maine, a friend asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said I wanted to meet Roz Chast. I had never been to NYC, and had no connection to anyone who would have been able to introduce us. But I did have balls, so I called 411 and asked the operator for her number. And to my vast surprise, I got it. And I called her. And she answered. And she was super nice to me, and even chatted for a while, and thanked me for the letting her know how much I appreciated her work. Well guess who was at the party? And guess who I finally got to meet? She didn’t remember our phone call, but she chatted with me just as graciously as she did 25 years ago. And on the way home, I got to thinking about how I made that phone call back in 1988 out of pure, selfish, enjoyment.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We'll run till we drop, baby we'll never go back...

I spent all day and much of the night moving. After two years, we finally emptied out our storage locker in Secaucus, NJ, and said forever goodbye to the Jersey years. As we drove across Patterson Plank road -- out of Secaucus, and into Union City -- I asked Josh to find some YouTube videos of Springsteen so I could bond with the thing I most love about Jersey, as we got the hell out of that place that made me so unhappy. Born To Run, Thunder Road, The River -- all these songs about getting the hell out of Jersey -- and I started to cry listening to the momentum and drive in his music, and the sweet and powerful wail of Clarence's sax.

I asked myself if this was for my pure and selfish enjoyment, and I decided that it was not -- because we were driving through Jersey at the time, so I kept a lookout all day long for another opportunity. It didn't come til I was home, achy, sweaty, dirty, and ready for a shower. Instead of a shower though, I  drew a bath, closed the door, lit a candle, and played more Springsteen. Just me and the Boss -- achy and sore and sweaty. I played a bunch of songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, and remembered what it was like when I first saw one of his live shows, and thought about how many of my friends saw his stadium shows this summer, and how sad I was to miss them but how happy I was that all these friends got to spend time in the Boss's incredible energy, and I remembered what it was like when my cousin Kenny and I drove to Jersey in 1981 when Springsteen opened the Meadowlands and we bought scalped tickets all three nights, but mostly I soaked and listened and smiled. I did it. It took til 10 PM, but I found something to do, just for my own, sheer enjoyment.

And for a self-revealing extra bonus to you readers, I used this as my high school year book quote:

I stood stone-like at midnight suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and come out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd but when they said "Sit down," I stood up.
Oooh, growin' up.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Pure selfish enjoyment

I spent yom kippur reading a self-help book. It's not what I planned to do, but the cantor at the shul I went to for kol nidre said some offensive things about Arabs and Muslims, and I walked out. That made it so that I didn't spend erev yom kippur in the kind of self-reflective accounting I usually do, going over those words again and again and again, remembering the ways I had acted less than ethically. And so when it came time to go to the beach the next day (as we salty New England Jews have sometimes been known to do on yom kippur) I was in a different reflective place than I had expected to be.

I decided that I wanted to tackle the indecision that has plagued me over the past years. I had a book with me that I bought two or three years ago, on a topic that I've been needing to address for at least that long. And without going into too many of the personal details (it is a SELF help book, after all) I used it as my makhzor (prayer book) all day long. I fasted, I went for beautiful walks, I made it to the beach for a couple hours in the afternoon, and I worked my way though the entire book. And I learned too incredibly useful things about myself. 1) I am pretty terrible at knowing what my bottom line is -- and if I do know, somewhere deep inside, what my bottom line is, I'm pretty terrible at actually letting it be my bottom line. Another way of putting this is that I'm quite excellent at seeing things from another point of view, reconsidering the factors -- and living with and in situations that I don't have the firmness to change.

The other thing I learned sounds like it comes straight out of reading a self-help book, but who am I to argue with the messenger? 2) I'm not so good at doing things that are just for me. I put other people and other responsibilities first, and even if I do know what I really want to do, what would bring me joy, I often feel bad saying so. When I do say so, I often do it in that way people who are bad at doing it do -- awkward!

And that's the genesis of my new year's practice. I'm going to do (at least) one thing every day that is just for my own pure, selfish enjoyment.  I'm nervous that it will be hard to find those things in the city, since the things that I tend to enjoy with such clarity are out in nature, but I am counting on the fact that losing myself in a great novel, going to a play, or watching a movie or an excellent TV show are pretty reliable sources of enjoyment for me. I'm also nervous that it's going to be a very awkward year. But that's why these things are practices, because they require practice.

In the mussar practice, we do a daily, ethical accounting and evaluation of our actions towards others, and towards ourselves. I've listened to myself over the past 2 years with my mussar vaad (group) and while I've not been (by any means) perfectly ethical to others, I have again and again had a difficult time putting myself, my goals, my dreams, and my projects first -- even for 30 minutes a day.

So welcome to my new year's practice. The first thing I did was take a walk to a beautiful cove. I had already cleaned the house and packed the car for the long drive from Maine to New York, and it had taken longer than I had hoped it would, and I was aware that if I waited any longer, it would probably put me right in the middle of New Haven AND New York traffic, but it was the first day of my practice, so I took the walk.

And you know what? I didn't run into horrible traffic. (Just normal New York area 6 PM traffic.) So part of the lesson is really going to be about living in the moment, and not worrying (or one could call it obsessing) about what might come up in the future.

And as it happened, later in the day I got another chance to learn that lesson. When I got home, I learned that my dear dear dear friend Lori passed away during the day. When I got the news, I felt my heart start to break, and then I felt it go numb. My impulse was to just finish up the work I was in the middle of (packing the apartment to move the next morning.) But then I remembered what matters (it matters not to go numb) and I invited Josh out for a walk. We found our way to a wine bar, where we split a half-glass of wine (neither one of us wanted more than a ritual sip) and toasted Lori and talked about, among other things, the importance of doing things that bring us pure, selfish joy.