Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Perfect Storm

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There’s a storm comin… yeah, they say it’s a killer hurricane called Sandy, but it’s also an election that’s going to decide the fate of the country, and there’s also a battle for the soul of my son.  Perhaps that’s a little overdramatic on all fronts, but that’s how I perceive it right now. It’s kind of a perfect storm in my own mind, actually…

Let’s start with the election. It’s topical, it’s on everyone’s mind here in the United States, or at least it’s on everyone’s TV and in many of our inboxes. Personally, I feel as though I’ve been getting spammed like crazy by the democratic party, even though I support its candidates. There’s a desperation to these missives that’s been filling me with anxiety, even as I realize they are designed to spur me into action. Yes, I’ve clicked donate more than a few times, succumbing to the relatively painless gesture of giving $5 here, $6 there. I feel as though it’s the least I can do. For even though I realize that our political system is rife with the corruption of big money’s influence, I am frightened by the embedded belief of the benefits of unfettered capitalism combined with an increasingly dangerous influence of the religious right that characterizes today’s version of the Republican party.

Here’s something I shared on Facebook recently that articulates my position:
I object to the notion that free market and business models are the answers to everything. I believe there are certain things that benefit all of us that it’s good for people to contribute to – like public television, like roads and bridges, like police and fire departments, like public parks and other natural landmarks and treasures. And yes, Medicare and other publicly funded insurance programs, social security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other safety net programs. Because they’re not defined by the people who abuse them. They are defined by the overwhelming good they do for the people who need them. And it’s bullshit to reject that. Because everyone has needed or knows someone who has needed help at one point or another. It’s hypocritical and mean and short sighted to think that any of us is immune from ever needing that kind of assistance. Relying on churches and charities and the kindness of strangers isn’t enough.

That’s why I reject the idea that less government is the answer. People who are so busy trashing government conveniently forget the ways they benefit from government programs and services on a daily basis, which are not run by monsters, but are run by other human beings, many of whom are also trying to make a difference and help other people as they do their jobs. And, the fact is, as much as anyone would like to miscast the idea as socialism or communism or some other ridiculous notion that is code for, I don’t want anyone taking something away from me, we ARE all in this together. We share the planet, we share our communities and we have to live together and help each other. And I’m sick of the idea of privatizing every damn thing in the world as an answer to our problems. We are better than that, and humanity deserves more compassion and creativity from all of us. ALL of us.

Which makes a great segue to the next part of this essay. My son. His mind is being taken over by video games. Or more accurately at the moment, I-phone apps. I had resisted the call of the hand held gaming device for over three years. Back when he was six, I told my son, you can have a DS when you’re eight. Well, his eighth birthday showed up and I was not ready to let his attention be stolen by a portable hypnotizing machine. Gifts in the form of a Wii, and later a secondhand I-phone came to him from an uncle, and I let them lie fallow for as long as I could. The Wii remained un-hooked up for over a year, until an older cousin finally did us the favor of connecting it. Still, the phone remained hidden away in a dresser drawer. The drumbeat grew louder, and the pressure mounted as children in every sphere of my son’s life continued to acquire one device or another.

Finally, at the age of nine and a half, when even his six-year-old next door neighbor received an old I-pod Touch from her older brother, it seemed that my insistence on keeping him hands free was bordering on deprivation. I gave in. I activated the old I-phone so that he could download some inexpensive games on it, and participate more fully in the ongoing conversation about Fruit Ninja, Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Radiant, Flick Home Run and Slender-Man.

Within seconds of acquisition, I realized that I was going to have to inject and enforce some major limits into our new normal. Absolutely no gaming before all homework and chores were completed to my complete satisfaction, strict time limits on game play, and close monitoring of where the device was being used, including no bringing it to school, etc. This was going to take some real effort on my part.

Sadly, I realized we had entered a world of electronic enhancement of the worst aspects of my son’s personality (emblematic of most kids his age) – a tendency to want to do fun things instead of work, fulfillment of instant gratification in favor of long term goal achievement, and a desire to connect with friends over the coolest, latest thing, as opposed to doing anything your parents tell you to do. In short, I was screwed.

Within the first week, I witnessed him rushing through haphazardly completed homework and household chores, so that he could get back to his little charged up friend, dazed responses to my questions whenever I tried to talk to him as he played, almost losing the phone at a crowded Halloween party (that would have been it) and a reversion to old patterns of behavior that he knew were not acceptable in my eyes. After several days of this, losing patience with him over yet another transgression, I took it out of his hand, angrily slammed it down on the table, and cracked the casing.

There’s a lesson in all this. You can’t piss mommy off endlessly and expect nothing to give. Talking had not worked, yelling had become too exhausting, and I don’t do spanking, so the anger was finally directed at the object of my frustration. Somehow, there’s a lesson in this consequence.

That was last night. Today is better. We’re both cooled off a bit. In fact, we had a nice evening of cuddling together in front of an old episode of Once Upon a Time (love it) and just enjoying each other’s company. And although it seemed at first that the games would no longer work properly, today things seem to be back to normal, or at least at an acceptable level. It’s a mixed blessing. I almost wish the damn thing had broken down completely.

Which brings me to the final leg of this essay. The storm. It’s almost upon us. The mayor has ordered the transit system shut down as of 7pm this evening, school is cancelled for tomorrow, the supermarket shelves are rapidly emptying, if not already emptied, and the winds are starting to pick up. I have one more meeting this afternoon, then it’s home to hunker down and await the inevitable loss of electricity and hopefully nothing worse. I already survived a tree toppling onto my house during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, so I know it can get bad. I also know that when nature stops us in our tracks, we have nothing else to do but slow down, get quiet and be with one another.

Sure, we’ll fill up the gas tank and charge the phones and clear the porch of all things likely to become projectiles in high wind, cook up some soup and perhaps rely on the stocked up crackers, peanut butter, canned food, water and candles, and then prepare to hunker down and make the best of it.

What will come out of all this upheaval? When the winds die down and the waters recede, what will be left and what will be our next steps? Do we really need a disaster like this to get us thinking about what’s important to us? What does it take to make us understand our true, human connections to one another? How do we maintain that contact, past the divisiveness of the elections, the ongoing isolation we feel as we get caught up in our own electronic devices, the anxiety over our own safety and security in the face of increasing uncertainty over, well… everything?

Can you feel this? Everything is changing. Everything. Get ready people.
Photo courtesy of NASA

Lillian and Me

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One of my favorite writers is Lillian Ann Slugocki. Full disclosure – she’s also a friend, and we’ve worked together to promote her latest book, The Blue Hours. So yeah, I love her work because I know her, and I helped her with some late stage edits, so I feel really connected to the piece, as though there’s a little bit of me in there, too… but beyond that, and before that, I loved her work. Before I even met her. She wrote some unbelievably raw material in a book called The Erotica Project, along with writer Erin Cressida Wilson who was an old college buddy. Yeah, again… the personal connection.

But over and above and besides that, I love her work because Lillian is fearless. Not in life! God no… who the hell is fearless in life??  That doesn’t really exist. We’re all afraid of one thing or another or many things at once. I’m talking about in the words she commits to on paper. The prose she signs her name to, and puts out there for all the world to see. She talks about things that I want to articulate, things I know and feel and have experienced or would like to experience or am afraid to experience. She goes there. Past thoughts of judgement, past ideas of who she “should” be or what she should or should not be allowed to say. She doesn’t give a shit.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
I have staggered into my writing, unsteady, lurching forward and then cowering in anxiety and paralysis. I have choked it down, then spit it out, laughed and cried it into existing, and then, once emptied of my words, shaken with the emptiness of expectation. I care so much about what you might think that I have to will myself to not care, just to protect my heart. I am not afraid to say this anymore, because honestly, I want to care less, and maybe this will help.

I want to write about things that make you uncomfortable. I have written stories that make ME uncomfortable. I’ve heard it said that if you aren’t making someone uncomfortable, you’re not really writing. Well then. I guess it’s going to be a battle between fear and discomfort. Which one wins??

I write a lot. All the time. In fact, I’ve begun to develop some chronic discomfort in my lower back and groin from sitting, cross legged in front of the computer for hours at a time. Curse my natural flexibility! It’s not working in my favor right now. I’m stretching out muscles that should not be stretched so much, in service of stretching others that have lied taut for too long. I am still trying to find the balance. My body is confused by the rapid unraveling of my mind’s freedom. I’m in transition.

I write different things for work than I do in my blog, and in the secret notebooks I keep near my bed. I joined a private fiction site where I share fragments of stories with writers much more accomplished (read: published) than me. I gladly accept the random bits of praise that come my way, and I dutifully read the works of the other writers, offering my generous comments whenever it feels genuine. I want to be a good community member. I want to be part of the club. I want to be – no wait, I AM a writer, too. We just talk to one another, because this is so.

The walls between my different kinds of writing are coming down. All of my identities are merging into one self which is me. Complicated, putting my issues out there for all to see. Turning a smart phrase on behalf of clients on the one hand, opening up my heart and sharing my fears, fantasies and visions on the other. Turning the difficult thoughts and feelings into characters and situations several steps removed from real life, in order to make them into stories I can view with some degree of perspective. I just want to create journeys. I am preparing myself to put more of my work on the line and receive not only the praise but the criticism of many sets of eyes.

I see my future, and it contains me, writing, afraid but doing it anyway. No wait. That’s my present. It’s already happening.

Photo courtesy of Eric D. Weiss

Slender fears, shadowy memories, hidden treasures

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Earlier tonight my 9-year-old son, who is obsessed with video games, told me about a new one called Slender-Man. He described it as a man with a blank face who chases you and when he catches up to you, he grabs your face off. Honestly, without knowing any more than just those few, bare facts, I was entirely creeped out, and even as I’m writing this, I’m getting chills up and down my spine.

So of course I had to investigate it. It’s possible that what I imagine is much worse than the reality, although a cursory investigation revealed something reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. I remember seeing that movie, and it was damn scary.

I think it’s the idea of a blank face and the sudden reaching out and grabbing my own face off… conjures up thoughts of stifled screams and anonymous threats coming out of the dark. That’s enough to scare the shit out of anyone, don’t you think? Stimulates some primal fright gland. Early morning nightmares of epic proportions – the kind that have you waking up shaking and crying and grabbing for your mommy, teddy, nearest warm body, pillow, whatever!

I remember the nightmare years of my childhood. Literally, nightmares every night. Skeletons, gorillas and shadowy figures, tickling me, hovering over me, doing other, worse things to me. Lying in bed, afraid to go to sleep, afraid to stay awake, afraid of being afraid. Dreams were also a playground for my imagination – an opportunity to experiment with flying, discover hidden treasure, explore forbidden sexual acts and other untoward behavior. I learned to hope for the best before dropping off to sleep, and how to wake myself up by prying my eyelids open when scary things began to happen.

slender-man nightmare pic

There are places I’ve visited over and over again in my dreams – hotels, shopping centers, school buildings, big houses that may have been owned by me, and neighborhoods of homes turned inside out on rolling hills, with rooms of furniture on full display outside, on their front lawns, and then cityscapes filled with tall skyscrapers, and (in an eerie premonition of 9-11) strange aircraft swooping down far too close over our heads, and giant buildings toppling over all around me. Dark, foreboding submarines hovering at an ominous distance under the murky waters where I floated, unprotected in the deep.

Life has often felt overwhelming like that. Long periods of time watching my parents succumb to their respective bouts of depression, and later, prolonged illnesses and finally death… decades partnering with my husband as he battled his own chronic and ultimately fatal illness. The grooves of forbearance worn so deep, until I’ve forgotten how to tell how I’m feeling, what I need or want.

Sometimes we merely reproduce our past – painful and unproductive as it may be, we continue the ancient patterns, unless something forces us to change, unless… are you tired of it? Have you had enough? What if you just decided to do something different?

When I look past the storm of memory, I see an entirely different future – a place where the shadows don’t reach nearly as far, and possibility looms large and evident. Where I jump head first into deep water, because I just want to be wet. It’s getting late, and maybe we’ll connect if I stop caring what you think.

Because the more times you get hurt, your world starts to shrink with caution – maybe, just in case, what if, might happen, watch out, hesitate, be careful… oh my, I’m reeling with doubt and confusion, and I crave the certainty of my bravado, consequences be damned!

Better stuff

And really, don’t you just want to go out of your mind? Literally, get out of your mind, and lose yourself in a whirly, swirly world of pleasure and feeling good, loved, cherished, adored, cradled, comforted, held and kissed and caressed, and all manners of pleasured?

Oh shit. I do.

Who doesn’t?

Fear be damned.

Washing Away Fear

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Warm water is so soothing on my hands…. I have grown to love washing my dishes. I haven’t had a dishwasher since i was a kid living at home. Maybe once or twice in random dwellings since then, but never for an extended period of time, and certainly not in the last 25 years. (And yes, it’s still amazing to me that I can say the last 25 years and be talking about only half of my life.) The water calms me. The gradual clearing of the surfaces of all grease, grime, dried particles of food, leaving only smoothness, and that sound and feel of squeaky clean. It soothes my spirit.

Yesterday morning I awoke from a very disturbing dream. I was in the subway tunnels with (my good friend and writing partner) Lillian, and suddenly a woman with a familiar face came up to me and said “hi.” With a deep sigh, she leaned her elbow on the railing next to me and looked up at me with a mournful expression in her eyes. I recognized her instantly, and turned my gaze to Lillian, who of course did not know her.  Damn, I could not remember her name.

Knowing that I needed to introduce them to one another, I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.” She looked at me, shattered, and did not reply. I said, “Are you going to tell me your name?” At that point she started to unravel, her eyes filling with tears, and her lip quivering. She just could not believe that I didn’t remember. I said, “Well, if you aren’t going to tell me who you are, I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

As we walked away, I heard the sound of the woman wailing, and I said to Lillian,”C’mon let’s get out of here,” and started flying down the stairs, two or three at a time, her voice getting louder in the distance. When I looked over my shoulder, I realized that I had lost Lillian, and that’s when I woke up.

Who was that woman, whose fate seemed to rest in my hands? How could my inability to remember her name render her that undone?

I wonder if this is some kind of metaphor… you think?

My brain has become very crowded with the thoughts of past, present and future. I am trying to keep them straight, but they seem to converge on me with ruthless intensity, without regard for my schedule. I have a list. They ignore it. I have priorities, some defined by me, some defined by others. They don’t care. Half the time I’m not sure who’s driving the train, me or the others, but somehow I manage to guide us through the tunnels and overpasses and curves and straightaways. Despite all the noise.

I try not to get too caught up in this notion of “my path.” Even though I know we’re all ultimately alone, and we have to figure out which way we’re going, it seems so narcissistic to make that the sole focus. I try to divide my time and energy between thinking about my own goals and desires and contributing to the lives of others – my son, my boyfriend, my sisters and the rest of my family, my friends and colleagues, and other people in the world who could benefit from my energy focused in their direction. In other words, I try to be helpful. And yet, I know that I ultimately come back to me.

And yesterday, I started off feeling very scared. Frightened of things that are happening in my body that I don’t understand – strange aches and burning sensations that have been plaguing me lately. In my mind I don’t believe it is very serious, but still, I have been so scared, and not wanting to embrace that fear. There is the idea that we create our own reality, and I don’t want to carve out an ominous future, so I’m trying to stay positive… but for me, that often entails cutting off from myself, and when that happens, my boyfriend says I disappear (he is right) and then that relationship comes into question and I lose a prime source of support. So I have no choice, really, but to be with this fear.

Something is burning inside me. I don’t know what it is. It’s hotter than warm water on my hands. It’s as frightening as forgetting who I am. It’s related to leaving my past behind and moving into the future. Yet confronting it has me racing down deeper into the depths of who I am. It’s not an original story. We all have to go it alone, ultimately. Yet there is something in the sharing of it that makes it a little easier to handle…

Perhaps you can relate.

Dreams of a Better Life in Action All Around Me

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Yesterday I saw a new project launch on Indiegogo that is showing how a cool fashion accessory can be leveraged to support amazing causes. Then last night I saw a show that reminded me that it’s hip to be socially conscious. A branded watch, and a rock musical. They couldn’t be more different from one another, but each in their own way is illustrating the power of love and idealism in a time of fear and cynicism.

Let’s start with the 1Face Watch. The brainchild of Fam Mirza, Creative Director of the branding and design firm Mirza Minds, this sleek and stylish watch is sold in six different colors, each one corresponding to a different charity. Priced at $40 each, they are very affordable, and purchasing them either singly or in groups corresponds to different charity metrics. For example,three blue watches will result in the purchase of a charcoal efficient stove for a family in Haiti via The Adventure Project, while 14 pink watches provides a mammogram for a woman in need courtesy of the National Breast Cancer Foundation. You can find all the details on their indiegogo fundraising page, where over 250 funders have already pledged their support!

The design of the watch cleverly expresses the essence of the project in so many ways. When not showing the time with its illuminated LED panel, the face of the watch appears as a mirror, reflecting back the wearer’s own face. What a beautiful symbol for the fact that each of the purchasers wears one of the faces of change, in that we are all contributors. Also, the simplicity of the design reflects how easy it can really be to help, if we create the right structure to house our intention.  Another similar project I recently wrote about is called Champagne (v.) for a cause, the live event series of a new company called Wine Awesomeness. They, too partner up with a variety of charities at their different events to show that you can have a good time and still support good works around the world.  I LOVE it.

In the musical Barcode, creators Mike Blaxill and Debbie Andrews have written a rock musical around the simple idea that the unstoppable urge for freedom and the expression of love will ultimately win out over corporate dominance of our lives. Clearly in line with the Occupy movement, the show reflects the sentiments of those who would break out of the regimented existence that our increasingly corporate world has attempted to create. Fortunately, there will always be artists and rebels who refuse to be subjugated by the overwhelming demands of a purely for-profit society.

As director Johanna McKeon pointed out, “It’s a happy show.” Indeed it is, and its anti-corporate theme lives very comfortably inside the basement theater of Bowery Electric, where the cast is performing the last night of their 3-night run tonight. Perhaps it’s not easy to visualize this play inhabiting the same house as staged recreations of Disney animated films, but it could definitely fill a good sized off-Broadway theater. Especially with songs that contain such anthem-like qualities as “Is It,” “1961” and “We Believe in Love.” I still believe in love, and good strong harmonies, smart lyrics and a witty script. Sounds like a successful musical to me!

I do a lot of writing about a lot of things, much of it related to business and commercial ventures. When I can put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in service of something that is about a deeper sense of connection to ourselves, our communities and the world around us, then I get powered up in a whole different way. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me going.

And when it comes to music, it’s also the kind of stuff that will keep me dreaming. As Debbie sings in the song 1961, reminiscing about the pre-GPS days, remember when “you could still get lost if you wanted to.” Yeah, I need to get lost like this more often…