Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Body. Myself.

Don't know much about designer shoes.

Don't care much about designer bags.

Feel the same about designer threads though I am passionate about clothing in general, just immune to the allure of labels, in fact, downright snarky about status-driven acquisitiveness.

But I am obsessed by the notion of a designer body, the idea that through exercise and diet and perhaps some tailoring, one's God-given form can be changed and even perfected.

I am obsessed with the concept of an ideal body despite my upbringing which stressed good values and inner beauty, which cautioned against the trap of superficial appeal, which scorned that which was only skin-deep.

Since I was small, I had a body consciousness which compelled me to wish to remake my physical self into something better even as my parents and my education required me to perfect my heart, my mind and my soul.

It was not that I wished to be altogether different; just improved. Me 2.0.

At rare and fleeting moments, I have experienced the triumph of having achieved this goal. Three times -- for stretches of several months apiece -- I also experienced the joy of my body's perfect biological capacity, the miraculous way it swelled with life.

I felt so rich and whole and holy when I was expecting. My big belly silenced my life-long critique of my butt and the tops of my thighs. It eclipsed all my imperfections.

Sometimes I think that it is a good thing that my daily life is full to overflowing with projects and work and concerns and meetings and assignments and tasks and responsibilities, making it impossible to dwell on body-related issues.

Other times I wonder if my body-focus is about something else entirely, a displaced spiritual quest, an essential sadness, a feeling of personal inadequacy, a vestige of the adopted kid I once was and always will be.

I do notice that after days that are especially stressful, my favorite activity, after the gym, is to Google plastic surgery procedures and websites, losing myself in a fantasy land of perfection, of Cinderella-like transformation where the good doctor is Prince Charming. Tonight, for instance, I spent over an hour looking at a procedure called Vaser Lipsosuction, avidly scanning Before and After photos, practically drooling with absorption.

What a fantasy it is...the prospect of melting away the middle-aged belly roll that my devoted workouts cannot budge, firming up those increasingly problematic upper thighs that no stair master can tame, lifting the brows that are gently sloping downward -- weary of holding an interested expression, which they have done, admirably, for decades -- asserting breasts that have settled into a a conciliatory posture.

I've noticed that the stress that drives me to the plastic surgery websites relates to a feeling that something vital has been taken from me. Preparing to enter the cyber portal, I am empty, drained, possibly pillaged.

The prospect of a perfected body restores that which was taken from me.

Other women shop for designer shoes, still others handbags and clothing.

For me, the designer body is what I really want, my legs, my butt, my breasts, my brow made to look just as they do in my dreams, as if I had created them myself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sadness in the Cyber-Age

Though our means of communication and information-gathering have exceeded the futuristic visions we may have harbored just a few decades earlier, the human heart has not evolved beyond its primitive form.

Which is why it is disconcerting to experience intense sadness and pain at a time where it seems that we should have figured out the technology to avoid doing so.

I suppose the technology does exist, in the form of emotion-blocking medications...or even street drugs, if one so wishes.

The technology is there in the bottle of booze or in escapist pursuits.

I could go that route now. I have gone there before.

For now, I prefer proactive endeavors, like exercise and listening to good music. A skeptic about prayer in my adult life, I even talk to God in my heart of hearts, returning to a ritual of my childhood. Are you there God? It's me. I lift my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come?

I try even to solve the problem, try to gather up the shards of the vessel that has been shattered, thinking that just enough care and compassion will allow me to glue the brokenness together.

What I am blindsided by is the discovery that the vessel is only one of several items that have been broken.

What I am taken aback by is the bracing reality that there is no reality when it comes to bruised hearts.

And what bruises my own heart is the revelation that underlying the bedrock of my own reality is a fault line, entirely man-made.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Maurice Sendak Made Me a Better Mother

News of Maurice Sendak's death yesterday morning reached me, ticker-tape-style, on the homepage of the Huffington Post.

Overwhelmed with sorrow, I called Big Babe in Berlin.

"I'm so sad," he said, by way of introduction. "I just heard that Maurice Sendak died."

"That's why I'm calling," I said, dissolving into tears.

"Did u hear Maurice Sendak died?" I texted Middle Babe at work immediately after I hung up with her older brother.

"Ya so sad," she texted right back, adding a frowning emoticon.

Rather than interrupting Little Babe during the school day, I hit him with the news when I returned from work. He was playing Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" in his room.

Little Babe stood with his electric guitar slung across his hips, looking stricken. "That's terrible," he said, pausing to absorb the information.

More than any other picture book (and there were scores) that I read to my three children, "Where the Wild Things Are" occupied its own place. I read it so constantly that I think I can still recite it by heart, so many years later. Though "Wild Things" was published when I was three years old, it somehow eluded my notice until I was a young mother. Charged with my own children to educate and captivate, I fell upon it as a beloved book of my own, delighting in my discovery.

In my rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" the Wild Rumpus had a song -- the most famous riff from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" -- namely the melody known as the "Can Can." When I reached the prose-free middle pages, which depicted the Wild Things dancing crazily yet devotionally as at some underworld Shabbaton, I would sing the "Can Can," tilting and shaking the book all the while.

I have no idea just why I deemed Offenbach an appropriate Wild Rumpus soundtrack but it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that I shared my rendition with my children's friends and the various children whose parties I performed at as Shira the Drama Lady, a long-ago persona, a weekend identity I slipped into while wearing a fairy princess outfit and body glitter and carrying a magic wand.

There is so much to say about the multiple ways in which Maurice Sendak changed the world -- through his psychological insights, his art, his subversive views on what children's literature should be, his skillful blending of the gleeful and the grotesque.

For me, the essential legacy of Maurice Sendak was his ability to capture the magical thinking of a small child, who -- while exiled to his room by his mother -- escaped his punishment and powerlessness by building a boat to a fantastical, faraway land entirely within his own mind. The essential spirituality of this great artist is contained in the book's reassuring conclusion: Max, the King of all Wild Things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all, so he sailed back into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him.

And it was still hot.

Here is a way-weird, cynical hipster rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" by Christopher Walken:

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Is This the Little Boy at Play?

Admission ticket. Check.
Number 2 pencils. Check.
Water bottles. Check.
Advil. Check.
Diet Pepsi with caffeine. Check.
Bagel with Cream Cheese. Check.

Here is Little Babe, walking to the Ramaz Upper School to take the SATs. He is walking west on E78th Street, from Park Avenue where HOBB and I just dropped him off. The time is 7:44 a.m. Two seconds after I took this picture, he plugged in his iPod earbuds. Five seconds later, a hand reached around and a yarmulke was placed atop his head.

On the way to Ramaz, to keep the adrenaline flowing, we listened to Van Halen, The Police and Rush. We arrived at our destination as "Tom Sawyer" was playing.

This is my youngest child, the curly-haired moppet morphed into a dedicated rock musician without losing one ounce of his innate sweetness, no matter how hard he rocks the cynical vibe.

This is the step before that major step: the leave-taking.

"Are you sure you want to come along?" asked HOBB, skeptical, for I teach Sunday mornings.

I directed an incredulous, acid-infused glare toward my husband. After nearly 28 years of parenting, he has to ask?

I wouldn't miss this moment for anything.

Good luck, Little Babe and to all the Sunday SAT test-takers.

Good luck, young men and women who worry that this test means everything.

I wish for you the insight of Little Babe, which is that while there is the goal of getting a good score on a standardized test and the goal of building a good life, the relationship between the two is entirely unknowable.