Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Facebook vs. Goldfish

Little Babe finally went to sleep after copyediting his Power Point presentation for Talmud class and synchronizing songs by the Beatles and Green Day with the images.

HOBB returned home after heroically walking Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians in the driving rain. Once he removed his soaking coat and toweled down the miserable pooches, he commenced cleaning the fishtank.

And I, after editing press releases, answering emails and doing my several-times-daily sweep of a dozen or so news sites and blogs, finally turned to Facebook.

Where I read a posting by a friend that made me laugh out loud.

Prompting HOBB to ask what was so funny.

Which prompted me, in turn, to inform him that if he wished to know, he should resubscribe to Facebook.

I was kidding, of course. My husband gave up the Facebook habit after an uneasy year as a subscriber. Too much exposure, he said. Too many old roomates eager to reconnect; too many former students wishing to stay in touch, too many stalkers...or simply people he had no interest in communicating with.

I never argued him out of his decision. Frankly, he's not the Facebook type.

But HOBB took my flippant comment seriously. Watching me avidly click on links to videos and punch in pithy responses, hearing me cackle and talk back to my screen, he informed me that the key choices in life can often be framed as Facebook versus goldfish. I must have looked perplexed, because he rushed to explain:

While he was tending his tank, adding chemicals to the water, scrubbing the sides of glass, moving the gravel around, I was communing with my computer. While he was nurturing another species, I was networking for the sake of...networking.

He didn't begrudge technology or the march of time or our newfangled era of cyber-dependency. But he did choose to be a dissenter every now and then.

To be on Facebook is human, he said.

But to care for goldfish is divine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I am a creature of habit, given to extreme product loyalty.

When I like something, I love it. Eventually, I end up obsessed and dependent.

So when a favorite product is discontinued, I have a melt-down.

And when I say discontinued, I mean OVER. Not hard to find; I'm good at that. If it's hidden, I can find it. If you're hidden, I can find you...and I have. No. I mean absolutely gone - history, archives, toast, finito. The End. Zapped. Powed. Banished from the face of Planet Earth. Not available on E-bay. Not to be found through a posting on Craigslist. Not in a forgotten drawer at any store or in a buried box at a warehouse.

And certainly -- puleeze, do not insult me – not housed at Gone but not Forgotten.

Hello. I checked with them, like, two years ago.

I mean totally used-up as in what happened to the stash I scored after the first wave of the Origins Ginger Glimmer crisis was made known to me. Those 14 tubs that I located at the shop at The Westchester last Chanuka after calling every last store in the Northeastern United States once I heard that the company was discontinuing my favorite body cream????

Gone, baby, gone.

Those Mudd calf-high combat boots I bought at Kohl's three years ago and wore to freaking death?????

Well, if you want a left one only in size 9, you should be able to replace your beloved pair by bidding quickly. Only 19 minutes left. Otherwise, this fine footwear is forever lost to humanity.

I did have a recent discontinuity scare with a favorite tea of mine -- the trippy Lapsang Souchong. (There is a sweet little story concerning how I managed to identify and then locate it in NYC after drinking about 20 cups on a damp and chilly Saturday afternoon in Dublin and then departing to the States without asking the name of the phenomenal smoky drink I had been imbibing all day.) I was recently concerned that Twinings had discontinued production based on my failure to find it in the tea section of Fairway at both the Broadway and Harlem locations.

Trepidation seeping into my soul, I researched the matter and found that Twinings was thankfully still smoking its Lapsang Souchong leaves. Fairway simply stopped carrying the product, possibly because my taste is not shared by many residents of the Upper West Side.

Now, in order to avoid the anxiety-producing empty aisle syndrome, I intend to buy the stuff online.

On a far less frivolous note, I went into an actual panic a couple of months ago when it seemed that my natural thyroid medication had been discontinued; a possibility I had never before considered. After pumping my clueless doctor for clues, I took matters into my own hands and discovered an entire community trying to cope with a sudden shortage of this vital medication - the gold standard of treatment before the synthetics were invented. The experience of joining a fellowship of victims of a discontinued product was edifying. Other people -- far more frantic and radicalized than I -- had already bonded and organized, putting together an underground railroad for this excellent stuff as well as a clearinghouse for information.

Sometimes, discontinuity is a very serious matter.

But more often than not, discontinuity simply illuminates a sensual dependency that one develops for a beloved product, an addiction to a smell, a taste, a look. Oh, the time I have invested in trying to locate lost things; the hope I have nurtured that Origins may reverse their fatwa against Ginger Glimmer -- the most awesome skin product ever: gorgeously golden, spicy fragrant and sparkly -- and start up production ASAP; the pathetic hours I have spent trolling hardcore goth fashion sites looking for combat boots that might fill the void left by the demise of my Mudds, my foolish optimism that Steve Madden or Nine West or Harley Davidson or Aldo or Target or someone might steal Mudd's design and reincarnate these cheapo, cool accoutrements.

I think of myself as a serious person, given to spiritual yearnings.

So, why the stalker-like behavior to uncover a lost booty of body lotion, a crate of smoked leaf tea, those kick-ass combat boots?

Why do I care, indeed, why do I experience something akin to grief at the prospect of a perfect product being forever lost???

This is the stuff of my life, a few of my favorite things, the items that keep me anchored to the here and now. Some of them are silly; others essential. Here are the artifacts of my life, my personal expressions of self, islands of comfort and security -- a familiar smell, taste, style of shoe – the things you will know me by, portals to eternal plenty, perhaps an intimation of einsof, providing reassuring proof that I am alive.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Serendipity on a Sunday

What is the soul of Sunday?

Shabbat comes first, to wipe the slate clean. This one was spent, as it often is, in the warm company of friends and family. There was a crowded table alive with conversation and company, overflowing food platters passed one to the other, strong wine, savory courses, chocolate desserts. There was the leisurely reading of the New York Times on the couch the following morning, the cozy cammaraderie of kiddush at our shul, a lazy lunch of leftovers at home, more reading, a high-spirited Scrabble tournament in the afternoon. There was the strenuous shoveling out of our Honda -- barricaded by walls of snow -- Saturday night; the subsequent drive out to Great Neck to visit MOBB and FOBB (mother and father of Bungalow Babe) with Little Babe and HOBB and Little Babe's electric cello and electric bass and cupcakes and noisemakers to celebrate FOBB's birthday.

And suddenly Sunday happened.

Sunday feels completely different from Saturday. Though I've always wondered if my perception of Sunday is linked to my Sabbath observance, it is possible that Sunday's difference is inherent and not relative. I wouldn't know. I've kept Shabbat my entire life and even when I've refrained from perfect observance, the aura of the day's distinctness remains draped over me like a permanent prayershawl -- a temporal tallit.

Shabbat commands you to refrain from creation. Sunday commands you to create.

Sunday instructs you: Go Forth. Shabbat impels you: Go to Sleep.

My preferred Sundays are constructed like totem poles, monumental, boasting a variety of faces, forming a formidable work of art, leaving you exhilirated and giddy and spent, heartbroken by the time night comes around and the scent of the imminent death of the weekend fills your nostrils.

There were several faces to this Sunday: the gift of fragrant roses, the joy of intense exercise, the necessity of work, the thrill of attending a live literary event featuring a beloved writer friend, a visit to the ICP -- the International Center for Photography in midtown http://www.icp.org/-- to see Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography and Paris. There was a delicious Middle Eastern dinner, swing dance class with HOBB at night and a candlelit adventure back at the urban bungalow for the two of us.

But this Sunday's totem pole bore a special face -- that of serendipitous discovery. Though we came to the ICP for the Paris exhibit (having dutifully read the listings Friday night in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker and NY Times) we found ourselves pulled into the poignant art and biography of Miroslav Tichy, a Czech painter and photographer who lives alone in a rat-infested hovel in the woods, homeless by appearance, a crazy, bearded old man, an exacting visionary, an artist mercifully saved from obscurity.

Tichy's grainy, haunting images cover the carefully curated walls of the ICP's main gallery. They form a perfect contrast to the works of the surrealists in Paris one floor below. They hold you captive, draw you into Tichy's world, orderly and disordered, squalid and solitary and beautiful. They reflect magic and madness. They are the essence of rebellion against the rigors of communism. They are draped in a Sunday shawl, their scent is eternal Sunday afternoon, they present a Sunday face to the public.

What is the soul of Sunday?

The soul of Sunday is Miroslav Tichy, driven to build his own cameras out of found objects, to capture small scenes, gestures and details through his lens, to defy a crushing political regime, to foresake normalcy, surrendering entirely to the impulses of his heart, capitulating completely to the commandment to create art as he saw it, imprisoned by his terrible talent, liberated from temporal constraints and social convention, patiently waiting to be discovered by a grateful public.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Double Self

The sculptures of Viola Frey overwhelmed me today, stalking me through Manhattan's Museum of Art and Design in Columbus Circle, surrounding me in their oversized grandeur and gawky majesty.

Frey's glazed ceramic people are the star attraction of this quirky, creative space, accosting visitors, delighting and deluging their senses, demanding that the fullest attention to be paid.

"Have you ever heard of her?" I asked my friend, an artist, astonished that Frey's name and work was unknown to me, abashed at revealing the depth of my ignorance.

Much to my relief, my friend shook her head.

It was a Sunday of extremes -- extreme cold, extreme wind, extreme sunshine, extreme emotion. Early February already. How did that happen?

After a night of dancing, I had been on the go for hours -- from an 8 am meeting, to a 9:30 workout, to an 11 am brunch with friends. Now, it was midday and I was ambling comfortably through this quaint museum with a friend I had known for nearly twenty years. Dinner and family responsibility was three hours away.

My friend and I met nearly two decades earlier when we were living in Westchester County and the mothers of young children. One of those children is lost; two others were since born. One of us is a Manhattanite, the other a Connecticut homeowner. We know the scaffolding of each others' lives but today, endeavored to learn the interior design. To this end, we traded tales, listening, probing, sometimes challenging the other. We spoke about our work and our professional ambitions. We articulated what we sought in our intimate relationships. We pondered the depth of the chasm between men and women.

We mostly walked and sometimes sat. At one point, we watched a short film about Viola Frey. In it, the artist is captured in the act of creating her inimitable art. She addresses the interviewer, answering questions or speaking spontaneously about her work. Her colleagues talk about her. It is important to note that she died in 2004, at the age of 70. Funny, how we nurture the illusion that the entire span of a human life can be condensed into one museum trip, how we gain a glimpse into the creative mind of Viola Frey through some clunky, colorful statues in a Manhattan museum.

Hours later, it is one comment -- captured in the film -- that stays with me. It belongs to a fellow artist, a woman, who recounts how Viola told her not to get married and certainly not to have children. Having relationships distracted one from devoting oneself to making art, she had warned.

I turned to my friend with raised eyebrows. She shrugged. "It's true, of course."

Of course it's true. It's just hard to admit.

We make decisions about the way we lead our lives. Artists or not, we opt for solitary, single-minded purity or for the messy distraction of relationships that are prone to take us miles and centuries away from our work.

We adapt. We struggle. We compromise. We concede. We conspire. We reach for transcendence.

We each have a single self. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we are able to awaken and animate a double self.