Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Macbethification of America

I've been thinking about some of my favorite recent works of fiction and was surprised, but not really, when I realized that many of them presented a dystopian or simply bleak vision of life in the near-future of the United States of America.

I include in this group Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, Sam Lipsyte's The Ask and my absolute top of the list fave -- Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.

The idea of America going down the tubes -- socially, politically, economically and spiritually -- resounds for me because it is exactly what I believe is happening.

America's economic melt-down is obvious and ubiquitous. With the sore-loserism exhibited by a large faction of the Republican party after Barack Obama's election a new phase in the history of our nation was ushered in, characterized by a shocking lack of civil discourse, insane accusations and, most scarily, the subversion of reality.

The force promoting these behaviors with great zeal is, of course, the so-called Tea Party.

Generally, I try to tune them out because I find the Tea Party spokespeople unspeakably stupid AND shockingly arrogant, a lethal combination. When I am feeling less charitable, I entertain fantasies of their imminent demise through a variety of means -- natural, extraterrestrial, man-made and otherwise.

Because I am so aggravated and unnerved by their disrespect of our president, I try not even to tune into the news but being a gym rat, it is hard to escape their talking heads on CNN and Fox News.

Though I tried valiantly to close my eyes and run to the music of "Stadium Arcadium" last night at the JCC fitness room, the huge television monitor over my head had a report on denials by leaders of the Tea Party that there is a debt crisis currently underway in the US.

While most sane American busy themselves with understanding the dimensions of this crisis, we have Sarah Palin, Herman Cain and others stating that Obama is exaggerating the problem and, in fact, there is not really a problem.

This one took my breath away.

It also put me in mind of the milieu of Macbeth, a world gone awry, a dimension where witches host the evening news, reminding us that we have entered a place where reality is subverted, where fair is foul and foul is fair.

This place also goes by another name.

America. Summer 2011.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Kid You Not

Another day, another revelation.

Instead of merely making a personal choice not to breed, there appears to be a cohesive Child-Free movement that seeks to justify the choice not to have if there was raging opposition to NOT HAVING KIDS, a concerted campaign that sought to force women to open their wombs.

I discovered this demimonde by following a Facebook conversation last week on Lilit Marcus's wall. Lilit is a young writer who has gone public about her decision not to have kids. She feels that having proclaimed herself Child-Free, she is up against a certain amount of prejudice, pressure or simply people who chuckle indulgently, convinced that she is making a premature proclamation and will change her mind in time. (She does appear to be pretty young, perhaps south of 30.)

Checking in throughout the day, I found myself fascinated/horrified by the hatred expressed by those who seem to be less of the Child-Free gang and more of the Anti-Kid society weighing in on Lilit's wall. Evidently, there is a hater branch of this movement consisting of people who actively dislike kids and the adults who have them. They hate the large strollers taking up sidewalk and bar space. They smirk at the smug dumbasses who breed.

Through private message, I shared my surprise with a FB friend of Lilit's whom I didn't personally know but whose incredulous comments I found gutsy. We agreed that something else might be going on for these people than a personal decision not to become parents; we compassionately opined that they might be among the walking wounded. This hunch was confirmed when I started Googling "child-free" and came upon websites hosted by people who seem less than liberated by their decision and more burdened by some heavy-duty emotional issues about becoming parents. Check out Happily Child-Free, which reads as anything but happy; indeed, there is overt hostility towards the act of parenting on that site. The most bizarre page is the one for people who are on the fence about having kids. It provides reasons why NOT to have kids. the bottom of this post I've attached a really unenlightening clip from the Today show, on which Lilit appeared yesterday. Though she is articulate about her stated decision not to have kids, I will bet that more than one viewer might conclude that being Child-Free is not necessarily her final answer. This hunch is based not on the assumption that all women want to or must have children but Lilit's obvious youth. On the show, she says she would love to have a life-long partner, looks forward to marriage. I can't help it, but listening to Lilit -- who has a charming , child-like quality -- the ditty ran through my head, "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage."

Of course, choosing to be Child-Free is a legitimate life choice. I am hard pressed to think of anyone I know (including my parents!!!) who would contest that. Therefore, what struck me as rather silly is the ridiculous teaser question posed by the show, "Is it wrong for women not to have children?"

Shooting kids at a summer camp in Norway is wrong. Kidnapping, murdering and dismembering a kid is wrong.

Not having kids?

I fail to see the moral dimension of this personal decision. But I do think it is wrong to have on a Today show segment an expert who states that being a parent is not a way of being but a role that people can choose not to play.

Correction. Being a parent is not merely a role. That's completely missing the point. Becoming a parent means entering into a lifelong relationship -- one of the deepest, most intense, most passionate, magnificent and sometimes difficult relationships in the entire world.

But then again, there is no way to understand that from the outside looking in.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

It's Electric! Boogie Woogie Woogie Woogie!!!

A pretty crazy thing happened to me this morning in the bungalow.

After getting off of a phone call while fiddling around with wires to figure out why my internet connection had suddenly gone down, a cloud of pale brown smoke suddenly puffed out of my mouth, filling my nostrils with the smell of something burning while a metallic taste filled my mouth.

After which I got disoriented...which might have just been the result of being utterly freaked out by the sight, smell and taste of smoke coming out of my mouth.

As my mind frantically sought to diagnose the situation, my fingers dialed 911.

"I'm not crazy!" I hysterically sought to assure the operator. "But something in me seems to be burning. There is smoke coming out of my mouth! Could there be a fire inside of me??"

Wondering if my youngest son was going to return home to a pile of ashes and bone inside a pair of sneakers, I called HOBB and kept him on the phone while the ambulance arrived. The smell of burning was very pronounced where I was sitting so I went to another room in the bungalow but it remained. Then I stood outside and still smelled something burnt though it was raining outside. HOBB was trying to figure out what was going on with me.

In about 15 minutes, the ambulance came screaming down to the bungalow, by which time I was vacillating between panic, the fear that I might spontaneously combust (that could happen, couldn't it??) and the worry that I would look like a big idiot because nothing was actually the matter with me and I was making everything up.

After checking the bottoms of my feet and palms of my hands for burn marks (there were none) and hearing I had been fiddling with wires, the guys offered the opinion that I had received a mile electric shock and suggested that I go to the hospital to be further checked out. They were about to offer to take me when they got a call from the day camp across the road that a camper had a seizure.

I felt glad that they were able to be of service to someone more severely afflicted than me and rationalized that the true meaning of bringing them to my cabin was so they might help this girl. The bungalow colony owner, Scott, came down to check on me about half an hour later and told me that the burning smell in my nose was likely singed nose hairs. He also advised me to skip the ER visit, stating that I seemed okay to him. Not eager to spend my day traveling there and waiting to be seen, I took Scott's advice as I would my own doctor's.

It is now about six hours later. I still have the smell of burning something in my nostrils and a warm metallic sensation in my mouth. I feel somewhat disoriented, in fact, if I concentrate too much, my brain feels kind of...fried.

After Scott left, I had my drum lesson with Jeff, my fifth, probably my best one yet. I was able to drag really well and got the complicated jazz beat for the first time, the one I was unable to get last time, the one that requires four different motions from all four limbs. I worked on my rock beat, the one with the ghost notes, the one that works as well for "Californication" as it does for the majority of "Otherside." I practiced a couple of fills. I played a couple of RHCP songs perfectly in beat with the music.

As I played, I felt a new mastery and fluidity. I wondered if this was the result of practicing or whether the electric shock had rewired my brain circuitry, giving me enhanced musical abilities. Like some superhero animated by electricity, I closed my eyes and imagined myself newly possessed of super drummer abilities, jolted into greatness, She-Ra, Princess of Percussion.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pup Meets Skunk

Poor Alfie!

He was hiding under my bed at the bungalow when I arrived yesterday, recuperating from the harrowing experience he had the previous night -- his encounter with a skunk.

I knew about it, of course, as Little Babe texted me the previous night. Entering the cabin, I smelled something vile and pungent. The scent increased as I approached the bedroom.

Of course, it was the aftermath of Alfie's skunk-summit.

Poor little blonde Pomeranian! His fur was matted black and he reeked to the high heavens.

Two baths and one shower later, utilizing Palmolive and Pantene ProV alike, his fur is clean, and the skunky scent is subtle.

Now, he slumbers blissfully on the couch.

Tonight, will he relive the surprise assault in his dreams?

And if so, will he remember it in the morning?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Raccoons in the Trash

I wasn't really sleeping so I can't claim that the raccoons rifling through my trash woke me up. Still, once I realized what the knocking sound was on the side of my cabin, I was jolted into complete wakefulness.

On my bed, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians dozed happily, if noisily. Nala, possibly the world's pudgiest Pom, snores. Alfie sleeps as if dead -- silently and in one place -- and then, most adorably, he barks in his sleep. I like to imagine that he is having an adventure dream -- chasing a squirrel, an ice cream truck, saving someone's life by alerting the authorities, being rewarded by a belly rub and large steak.

In the back room, Little Babe and his friend Gabe slept. Finally. They have to be up early for their jobs as counselors at Rosmarins Day Camp. Tomorrow is 80's Dress-Up Day and they have to spend some time putting their outfits together in the morning. Their 7-hour camp day is followed by several hours of hanging out and, in Little Babe's case, music playing. And of course, cyber-socializing through Facebook and texts. Though Little Babe is my third child, I still cannot get over the new reality of adolescent communication, try to imagine what my teen years might have been like if I had access to a smartphone.

Around 10 pm, when I returned from the gym and supermarket, Little Babe commenced making hamburgers. On the counter next to him, his phone kept bleeping and buzzing but he was cool, unconcerned that he was missing the chance to respond ASAP. Believing that he was caught up in the faux-urgent ethos, I volunteered to text whomever it was that Judah was momentarily unable to respond to, worried that he was worried.

Yet my youngest shot me a strange look and returned to his task. He shaped and seasoned the burgers leisurely. When he did pick up the phone, after carefully washing his hands, he read me the dispatches, offering wry commentary, responding even as he read the next text coming in. They were from a girl I had met briefly earlier in the evening. It was a flirtatious exchange, with a quirky twist. The girl was portraying herself as the offspring of two over-protective, possibly psychotic parents, providing examples of the loopy lengths her parents have gone to ensure her safety. She was inventing a persona for herself through the medium of the SMS, something slightly outrageous but not beyond the bounds of credibility. In his responding texts, Little Babe drew her out, sometimes questioning her assertions, other times offering affirmation, steering clear of the acronymic crutches of SMS-speak.

Listening to the banter unfold in real time, I felt like a visitor from Colonial America. Though I actually text with regularity, I've never engaged in anything I might consider a meaningful exchange of ideas or emotions. Also, every time I have a prolonged text conversation, I think to myself, "wow, I'm having a prolonged text conversation."

That was hours ago. Little Babe has gone to bed with his private thoughts about the girl and a stomach full of hamburgers. I retreated to my bedroom to work, to catch up on the various scandals rocking the news world, glibly skipping through half a dozen websites and blogs. Hours passed. Finally, I turned out the light. Shortly thereafter, the raccoons began their rampage through my trash.

By now, the marauders have left, or at least, are quiet. There is the faint smell of skunk in the air. Though they unsettle me, these nighttime creatures have a right to be here, are an integral part of my bungalow summer. I pick up the Pamuk book bedside and ponder reading myself to sleep. But I am deep in thought, unable to lose myself in fiction.

It occurs to me that the nocturnal pests serve as a perfect metaphor for the wretchedness that coexists alongside the idyllic perfection of my personal paradise. In the middle of the night, I ponder the suffering I know about -- strictly secondhand -- and the suffering I may never even hear about. I think about the parents of Leiby Kletzky in their week of shiva, I think of Lauren Spierer's family lying awake at night, wondering where their child is, missing over a month ago from Indiana State University. I think about the Rand family of Manhattan who lost a teenage son in a swimming accident at Cornell University a few weeks ago. I think of Middle Babe's friend Caroline whose mother died of cancer last month. I think about my friend Judy whose 90 year old dad, a Holocaust survivor, just survived heart failure. I think about my own parents in their home in Great Neck, hoping they are comfortable and well. I think of the bereaved and the hungry and the lonely, the names and faces I know as well as those I don't. I think about the neglected and the abused. I think about victims and survivors of acts of God and mankind alike. And then I feel very tired, much as I imagine God does when contemplating the scope of human suffering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Report, Hastily Rendered

I am typing quickly, before anything happens to take my focus away from the task at hand: blogging.

Or that is, completing a blog post.

And posting the damn thing.

You see, I have about 11 drafts for posts, composed over the past month. None were completed.

I am determined that this one will be.

So I am typing fast.

Forgive any typos that might occur.

The reason I have been unable to even finish a blog post is because this summer is freaking awesome.

Freaking. Awesome.

And busy. Insanely so until last week, possibly just as insane by tomorrow but for the past two days, there was time to breathe and most importantly, think.

I am not in Europe. I am not in the Hamptons. I am not anywhere near the Mediterranean. I am up at my beloved bungalow in the lower Catskills, have been here pretty much full time since the end of Little Babe's school one month ago, though we were spending weekends here since Memorial Day. I've been back and forth to our Manhattan apartment (the urban bungalow) and to meetings, parties, events and other happenings in the city, but am frankly trying to avoid doing so because of the shlep. And the weather. I've gotta go in tomorrow and already am strategizing how to stay cool, what to wear, how to avoid my hair frizzing up into a mushroom formation.

It is a hot, hot summer, in fact, I just took a shower break and am typing with wet hair, a fan blowing warm air on me. Did I say my hair was wet? It was. Briefly. It dried in under 2 minutes.

What makes this summer so freaking awesome? Being at the bungalow, of course, facing the woods while I work on my porch, waking up to greet the sweet new day right outside my window, walking Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians along a quiet country road, being in splendid isolation during work hours, getting crazy social the minute my work ends, returning to my porch at midnight to watch the moon high up in the sky, watching the shadows of my porch light dancing on the trees, stepping outside barefoot to feel the already dewy grass beneath my toes.

Our bungalow weekends are especially awesome. Shabbat is NIRVANA. Delicious dinners late on Friday morning on the porch of the bungalow, just the Bungalow Bunch. Walks early Saturday morning with HOBB along Gatehouse Road. Our havurah on Saturdays at noon when we gather to discuss Robert Alter's astonishing work, "The David Story," a guided reading of the David narrative in the biblical books Samuel l and ll. A pot luck lunch after the learning, including kiddush and hamotzi. A Scrabble game with HOBB, conversations with Little Babe and Middle Babe. Lazy afternoons at Walton Lake, a short walk for us through the woods. Nighttime movies, parties or comedy shows at the Rosmarins casino where classic Borscht Belt fare is served weekly. Sunday bike rides, visits to wineries, jam sessions with musician friends, drum lessons (for me!!!), books, newspapers, trashy magazines, visits from city folk, local culture, Shakespeare in the park, drive-in movies in Fair Oak, hours spent sweating at the local gym, fresh salads, ample sunshine, goblets of wine, blessings without end.

In absolute shock, I noted that I graduated from Columbia J School two months ago yesterday. It feels like a century has elapsed. It feels like it happened just last week. It feels like it happened to someone other than me. Seriously, who is that person who wrote an 11,000 word thesis and a 17,000 word book proposal, who read thousands of pages of articles and a dozen or so books, who hung out with people in their 20's, 30's and 40's over coffee, over wine, overnight??

Now, my days are full of writing assignments and consulting projects and I spent the month of June teaching ethical communications for clergy at a seminary in New York City. Thrillingly, I have been asked to return in the fall, when I will also begin a part time gig teaching spiritual autobiography to high school kids and managing a student paper.

By the fall, I'm also hoping to have completed work on two rather ambitious projects. More deets about these when the time comes.

And I have finally moved into the very place I wanted to be vis a vis my PR and marketing work, guiding one important work through its publication and advising on some other projects, all of which feed my soul, all of which put me in direct contact with great people.

There's my drumming, a brand new undertaking, just a month old. I'm already in love, amazed I never thought to do this sooner. The drum sticks feel natural in my hands. Playing percussion helps to make this summer freaking awesome. I had two lessons over the past two days and rented a rehearsal space this morning at a local music store where I banged away to my heart's delight to the songs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I did "Otherside," "Dosed," "Dani California," and "Californication." That's me in the picture on top, jamming with my bungalow friends on Sunday afternoon. That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight.

When I emerged from the studio earlier today, the store owner, Greg, told me I sounded good . I've been smiling ever since, imagining myself playing with the Peppers or as part of a girl group or even a Jewish wedding band. The presence of Little Babe, now 16 and a fabulous musician, helps to fuel my rocker dreams. In the city, we jam on Sunday mornings, me on keyboard, him on electric guitar or bass or cello. Little Babe is a junior counselor this summer at Rosmarins Day Camp. He's up at the bungalow with his good school buddy Gabe, known here as the Italian Stallion...which worries me just a tad. In the morning, before camp, Little Babe plugs in before he brushes his teeth and plays after camp, sometimes well past midnight. Recently, he reconnected with his summer-time childhood friend Chris over music, in fact, I came home from the gym last night to encounter an unrecognizable Chris sitting on our porch. Little Babe plays with my musician friends here on Sunday afternoons, more than holding his own. He's our homegrown superstar. Sharing a bungalow with him is awesomeness in itself.

Anyway, before I write one more word, I am going to press "Publish Post." I have to do this quickly because there is so much more I want to say, how my fitness club in the country has a room called the Cardio Theatre where they are showing "Pulp Fiction" today; how I am reading Orhan Pamuk's "Museum of Innocence," which I heard him read from two years ago at Humboldt University in Berlin. How I've done a couple of flash mob dances, how I'm planning a global musical flash mob event with a group of artist friends in the fall. How I've reconnected with dear old friends, how being 50 is pretty awesome in itself, a time to simply relax into oneself and then push oneself outside of one's comfort zone. It is also a time to step up one's humanitarianism, giving to people and causes who deserve it while pulling the plug on those who really don't.

Big thanks go to Middle Babe, my wise and beautiful daughter, for helping me articulate an understanding of this last point. It is rather profound, having to do with arriving at the realization that some of the people you considered friends don't actually care for you and no effort on your part will change that. Though this sounds depressing, it is actually liberating. Letting go of lousy friends enhances your sense of awesomeness.

There are so many more reasons why things are awesome but unless I post this now, the world won't know even some of them. Besides, the Cardio Theatre won't be playing "Pulp Fiction" all night.