Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting it On

It was my first drum lesson in over six months and I was frantically rushing through Times Square in an iridescent turquoise dress that looked like it was made from extra fabric from a child's mermaid costume, drum sticks poking out of my handbag.

As is my habit, I was late. "U No Me," I had texted Mike, my drum teacher, as I was running to the 2 train at W72nd Street. "B there in 10." By which I meant: 15 minutes.

I started the day by arriving late to my 8 a.m. JNF breakfast, which was a bit of a mystery since I was actually awake well before dawn, due to my jet lag.

Ten hours later, dressed in my mermaid dress, I careened past bodegas and the Garment Center Congregation (what?? a shul right next to my drum studio??), literally sprinting into the new location of Funkadelic Studios, which had been my musical home away from home last year.

Aside from my travel and work schedule, I think that part of what kept me away was the childish fear that I would hate the new setting of Funkadelic.

Shouting out quick hi's to the staff who yelled back, "Good to see you!" I found rehearsal room #7.  My teacher Mike Shapiro was waiting for me, playing drums.

Screeching my greeting and apologies and sheer joy at our reunion, I picked up my sticks and approached the drum kit.

Instantly, the half-year gulf closed.

Sitting on my throne, I reverted back into my drummer girl self, gazing with reverence at the instruments before me as if they were vats of glittering jewels.

"Show me what you got," requested Mike.

After a brief moment of terror that I had forgotten everything, I was back in business. Mike plugged in my iPod. I played Tom Petty. Mike plugged in his iPod. I played more Tom Petty.

Then Mike said, "let's get it on" and changed the music.

I sinceeeeerly tried...

My adolescence came flooding back to me.

Mike showed me how to adapt the beat I had just played previously, making it cool and super funky.

Mike played air guitar.

We sang along with Marvin Gaye.

Theeeere is nothing wrooong with me....

I kept the beat.

After it was over, he high-fived me.

"That was cool," he said. "Man, you were in the pocket."

And that, in the world of drummers, is as good as it gets.

Yeah. I got it on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seize the (Birth) Day!

In celebration of my 53rd Birthday, here is my bracha (blessing) for those of my vintage...or really any vintage. May you:
  • Embrace the awesomeness of being your particular age, with everything that comes with it.
  • Pause to acknowledge that you have been on this planet for a significant period of time, maybe not along the continuum of history but along the timeline of other people's lives
  • Take chances.
  • Allow yourself to feel truly wise every once in a while.
  • Not be afraid of hard work. Nothing of value is achieved easily.
  • Agitate for positive change.
  • Live with your eyes, mind, arms and heart wide open.
  • Believe in the power of fun.
  • Opt for joy.
  • Make peace when you can and with whom you can.
  • Be smart enough to live according to solid values.
  • Give up silly or shallow pursuits.
  • Don't waste your energies on fruitless endeavors.
  • Read all the books you wish you had read.
  • See all the films you wish you had seen.
  • Travel as you can afford to.
  • Dance.
  • Sing.
  • Celebrate.
  • Snuggle.
  • Explore.
  • Party on!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All About Me (An Expose, as Per Your Request)

I was raised on inherently Jewish ideals and values:
  • Kol Yisrael areivim ze l'ze: all Jews are responsible one for another
  • Clal Yisrael: all Jews are part of one fellowship
  • Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice shalt thou pursue
  • Hochay'ach tochi'ach et ameetecha: Thou shalt rebuke thy fellow
  • Lo alecha ha'melacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben choree l'hivatel mee'menu: It is not up to you to complete the task but neither are you exempt from taking part in it
  • Im ayn ani li, mee li? Uk'she ani l'atzmee ma ani? If I am not for myself, who will be, but if I am only for myself, what am I?
Undergirding these and countless other ideologies was the central understanding that human beings were put on this planet l'takayn olam b'malchut sha-dai. To fix the world for the Kingdom of God.

I could go through my twelve years of Jewish Day School education and pull out the ideas and teaching of those who influenced me, including Martin Buber, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Moses Maimonides, Nechama Leibowitz, Yehuda Amichai, the poet Rachel, Chaim Potok, Milton Steinberg, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Kafka, Hannah Senesh, Kings David and Solomon, the writers of Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), Shlomo Carlebach, Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Erica Jong, Judy Blume, Nora Ephron, the liturgists and composers of our prayers and hymns.

I could attempt to compile a list of all that I've read and studied, the 40-plus times I've been to Israel, my summers spent at Jewish summer camps (Massad, Ramah, Moshava, Cejwin...and others), and my A-list Jewish credentials: I am the daughter, granddaughter and niece of prominent rabbis. I know how to read Torah, in fact, I do read Torah periodically at synagogue.

But for those angry folks who have recently called for an "expose" of me based on my activistic work on a recent case involving the effort to help an Orthodox victim publicize her plight, I offer this pithy Q and A with myself in order to help you in your investigations.

As my personal work ethic is complete transparency, I present this interview, which is intended to reveal all the juicy revelations you are surely hoping to uncover. I believe that coupled with Googling me in order to read my press releases and published writings online, you will be able to answer the question posed by one of those who wrote -- most elegantly -- in a recent comment thread of a blog notable for its hysteria and vitriol: "Who is this Dicker?"

Q: Who is this Dicker?
A: Ah, I'm so glad that you asked! I am an almost 53 year old woman who lives in NYC and works as a writer and communications consultant.

Q: Is this Dicker a frum Jew?
A: By your definitions, probably not. By my definitions, hell yes!!! I keep Shabbat and kashrut and holidays. My life is Gd-centered. I am a passionate Zionist. My life's work is motivated by mitzvot (good deeds) and the task of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Q: But we heard this Dicker is a Conservative Jew! We published the finding that her father is a Conservative rabbi!
A: Yes! You did a good job investigating me! My dad was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary and served as a respected pulpit rabbi for 21 years. He then became a clinical psychologist. But once a rabbi, always a rabbi. And once the daughter of a Conservative rabbi, always the daughter of a Conservative rabbi.

Q: We heard this Dicker eats treyf!!!! An article about her in the Forward states that she once bought Irish Cheddar cheese at Zabar's for her oldest son who lives in Berlin. What kind of Jew eats such chazarei (literally pig-food)?
A: Hmmm. You are probably unaware that the recent requirements for kosher cheese are a bit more than a century old. Once upon a time, all Jews ate all cheese unless it was laced with chunks of ham. Let's be real: cheddar cheese is hardly a cheeseburger. But since you asked -- and to lay matters on the table -- I'm quite sure that my concept of kashrut differs from yours. And I'm sure that yours differs from other Jews. But no. I do not eat anything from a pig.

Q: We heard this Dicker hates Orthodox Jews! Why would she engage in a campaign of such lashon hara (evil words, aka gossip) against Orthodox Jews????
A: As I'm married to an Orthodox Jew, it would be hard for me to hate Orthodox Jews. My kids probably affiliate as Modern Orthodox and I love them. I do not hate my husband. I love my husband, though I'm pretty sure you would consider him as treyf (unkosher) as you seem to consider me. He wrote a book a couple of decades ago where he candidly articulated his struggles to live a religious life and be a journalist. It was a bestseller.

I have friends in various Chabad communities and, believe it or not, in Kiryas Joel. I have friends who live in contested territories in Israel. I have female friends who cover their hair. I have male friends whose tzitzit dangle from their shirts. I have neo-haredi relatives.

But let's discuss those charges of lashon hara. Since when is working to reverse injustice considered lashon hara? I believe that the term lashon hara is misappropriated by those that do not want their own evil deeds revealed...or the evil deeds of those near and dear to them. This is a very subjective term.

And incidentally, the work I do is not against anybody. It is for the purpose of repairing the world. In other words, I believe in humankind partnering with Hashem to fix that which is broken in the world.

Q:What other terrible projects is this Dicker behind? What other damage has she done to the Jewish People?
A: I am a writer who has worked professionally as a publicist for over 20 years. Google will be very instructive in revealing my work to you. I have been writing personal essays and feature articles for the better part of 35 years. I operate in full transparency; indeed, I am proud of my work and whom I have promoted. Among my past and present clients:
  • The Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
  • The Yeshiva University Museum
  • Neshama Carlebach
  • Yossi Klein Halevi
  • Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
  • The Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
  • The Rabbinical Assembly
  • The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • American Hebrew Academy
  • Magen Tzedek
While this list is a fraction of what I have done, I include these to give you an idea of the scope of my projects across the denominational divide, though I've consulted on literally dozens of projects, some in the realm of political life.

I have also done pro bono projects on behalf of worthy causes.

I've worked with artists, writers, filmmakers, schools, cultural initiatives and social activism.

I do not discriminate by denomination. I will work with Jews of all affiliations.

The only people I do not work with are haters, liars, thieves and lunatics.

Q: We've seen pictures of this Dicker online. She is not dressed modestly! She does not cover her head!  She wears sleeveless dresses and Doc Marten hiking boots. Who is she to work with frum Jews?
A: It is true that I dress differently from ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Q: What else is this Dicker up to?
A: Glad you asked! I like to swing dance, which I sure is considered treyf by you, but that's fine. I have plenty of partners. I even wrote an article for the NYTimes about swing dance in NYC. I like to travel and do so often for my work. I am a champion Scrabble player and am currently writing a book on the utility of Scrabble in marriage with my husband. I have two adorable dogs. I am blessed with wonderful friends and family. My Facebook page is public so you can cyber-stalk me if you wish. I have a new cool business called The Wedding Kvetchers. I hope you will Like it on Facebook. I am the architect of Flashmobs. I am a performer. I play the drums. Oh, and I like to sing in karaoke bars with friends, though I KNOW you are against that because you believe that a woman's voice cannot be heard in public.

So maybe that's what your suspicion of me is all about.

I am a woman who has raised her voice in public to address social injustice perpetrated in the name of Judaism. I believe that Judaism is the most brilliant, compassionate and humanistic religion on the planet. I am offended by acts of injustice in the name of the Torah. My belief of Gd is that of a personal, caring Master of the Universe.

Yes, I have spoken out. Not for the cause of lashon hara but for tzedek, perhaps even tikkun olam.

So, I hope you have a better idea of who I am. I could write so much more -- indeed, what a rare an indulgent pleasure to write about myself!! -- but I'm on my way to the gym, another thing I really like to do. I hope you do, too! I think that spending an hour or so on the treadmill or elliptical trainer might help you think about such values as Clal Yisrael and tikkun olam.
                                  #                          #                          #
PS: I took this selfie aboard the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul two weeks ago. I thought that a personally-penned expose of myself should include a self-taken photograph.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Integrity

When I made the decision, nearly 20 years ago, to veer from my childhood ambition of being a full-time writer in order to toil in the groves of public relations, my action was informed by the most practical of considerations:

As the mother of children I wished to raise and educate Jewishly, I needed to have a steady income.

As a freelance writer raising small kids, I had an integrated and organic -- if hectic -- lifestyle, chasing down feature stories that compelled me by day, being with my children on weekends and after school, writing late into the night.

For the New York Times's Westchester Weekly section, I wrote feature articles about the first female rabbi in the county; the battle of anti-floridationists; the struggle of midwives to gain delivery privileges in area hospitals; the muralist Alton Tobey; the comedian Marc Weiner; the herbalist Andrea Candee; a campaign to stop smoking in county high schools; the effect of homelessness on children.

For Jewish newspapers, I penned first-person columns about my family life and profiled famous people, such as Abba Eban, for Jewish magazines.

And I wrote a novel, never published in its entirely (though a chapter was published as a short story): Revelations of a Rabbi's Daughter.

My decision to halt personal publication was made in the middle of the Westchester night, sitting on the counter of our beloved Tudor home in New Rochelle, which we had just decided to sell.

It was done with stoic certainty but it was hardly easy.

The sad reality was that two writers with kids in Jewish Day School could not afford the mortgage of a home we had bought right before the real estate market crash of 1987.

We were house poor, but we were also poor poor, owing to my freelance income. Those Times articles, no matter how compelling, paid bubkes, and the Jewish publications paid even worse.

A family in the Greater New York area who aspired to a Jewishly robust life needed to earn more money than we were making.

So I hopped over the invisible yet tangible fence separating journalism and public relations, never abandoning my writing self or sensibility, never forsaking my dreams, committed to working only on projects that compelled me.

For twenty years, I have done exactly that.

Yes, there have been moments of sadness that I have not given myself the time to write a second novel (though I have written numerous novellas and short stories) and I have railed against the high cost of Jewish education that forced me to leave my truest calling behind...or at least back burner it for two decades.

However, an awareness has been growing in me over the past year that perhaps the sacrifice I made was not completely sacrificial.

Perhaps my work in public relations -- first as an employee of non-profit institutions I revere and since 2002, as a consultant to countless causes, individuals and organizations I admire -- is also a calling of sorts.

Looking back at the successful promotion of people, places and things that are near and dear to me, my decision is looking less and less like a concession or compromise or pragmatic solution to being broke.

I have worked on important books and with important thinkers.

I have drawn audiences to important films and art exhibitions.

Devoted to the vision of Conservative Judaism, I have helped to reverse the narrative of decline surrounding this centrist approach to Jewish life.

In particular, involved as I am now with a high profile case involving the injustice of Agunah -- the chained woman whose ex-husband refuses to grant her a Get, Jewish writ of divorce -- I feel a sense of serenity and even good fortune.

It is becoming clear to me that the work I have done is not just about getting my clients' name into the paper but about changing things: people's minds; injustice; the social landscape.

Life unfolds in mysterious ways and the entire canvas is often hidden from view. I've been guilty of gazing only at fragments and corners, feeling restless and sad. I have regarded that which has preoccupied me chiefly as my failure to fulfill my truest calling.

But on this erev Shabbat, as I get a jump on a day that ends at 4:19 p.m. I have a rare feeling of peace about the non-journalistic work I have done. The wide canvas is revealed to me, perhaps only momentarily, and I see a marvelous mosaic, a body of work, something rich and meaningful.

And that feeling of completion acts as a comforting muse, inspiring the books and stories and articles that have waited patiently in the wings of my soul, waiting to be written.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Terrorized by Twitter: A True Story

Someone I know, let's call him Al, is not a comfortable consumer of social media. Al is on record as disliking social media so much that he once used a naughty verb in an Ivy League graduate school classroom to suggest what his students should do to social media. 

Heck, in many ways, Al is not really an entirely comfortable citizen of the 21st Century.

Though Al is a prominent individual, communicates via email, owns an iPhone and surfs the Web with the rest of 'em, Facebook makes him frantic, Twitter terrifies him and don't even mention any of the other, newfangled products of our cyber age.

The other day, Al was fiddling with his iPhone whilst bored and accidentally sent out an invitation to his entire contact list (hundreds, maybe thousands...all over the world, including other very prominent individuals) to follow him on Twitter.

The problem was: though he had a Twitter account, he had never sent a tweet in his life. An intern once set it up for him so he could follow other people's postings. Which he did about once every four and a half months.

Further, the problem was: Al was now suddenly flooded by responses from the hundreds if not thousands of those he had invited to follow him in Twitter. Some were delighted to find him Tweeting. Others demurred, sending a polite negatory RSVP. Still others used this occasion to catch up with him.

The even further problem was: Al had no idea how to stem the tide of well-wishers, enthusiasts, regretfuls and others who were suddenly expecting him to expound in 140 characters or less about current events, promote himself, post photos of his Pomeranians, twerk or otherwise.

And the even, even further problem was that Al soon learned that those he invited were being pecked to death by the Twitter bird who would evidently not rest until they either accepted or denied his request to have them follow him.

Al was haunted, hunted and helpless to stop the madness. The emails kept pouring in. Al answered those he could. This Twitter nightmare afflicted Al for two weeks at which point he turned to a social media savvy gal for help.

Five minutes later, his account was deactivated.

First, he had to jump through about 4 million hoops to assure the cybergods that he really, truly, honestly did wish to depart the Twittersphere.

Al really, truly, honestly did. He pressed the really, truly, honestly final deactivation key.

And now, Al is once again a free bird.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Drop Off


Over the nearly twenty years that I have labored in the groves of public relations and promotion, I have been struck by the magical confluence that often occurs between projects I represent and my own life.

A psychologist, or simply an observer of life, might demystify this observation somewhat, pointing out that I am likely drawn to people who, and projects that, mirror my own affinities or my life itself.

Still, I was quite unprepared for the outsize case of goosebumps and outbreak of gulping sobs that overtook me when my funny and profoundly soulful client Rabbi Bob Alper sent me a chapter from a previous book of his... with the suggestion that I seek to get it republished in this Back-to-School season as it depicts the emotional impact of a parent dropping his child off at college for the first time.

The chapter is entitled Departures, and reading it ruined me for hours...if not days as I was in my own Countdown to College mode, getting Little Babe ready for move-in day at Muhlenberg College. It originally appeared in Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This: The Holiness of Little Daily Dramaspublished by Liguori Publications in 1996. 

Now, having dropped off Little Babe in a scene of farewell that neatly echoes the abrupt one described by Bob in his chapter (that's my youngest son in our rented minivan, pictured above, on the NJ Turnpike this past Friday morning, en route to Muhlenberg. You can see how traumatized he is to be heading to college. Not.), I have read and re-read Departures, finding solace, fellowship and great insight in his depiction of a parent's stunned leave-taking from their cool-as-a-cucumber, college-bound child.


Thank you, Bob. In the spirit of paying it forward, I am reprinting (with Bob's permission!) Departures.   It is my gift for parents everywhere in this Back-to-School season. From day care through pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and college, the approach of the new school year is always bittersweet.


And if you like Departures, check out Bob Alper's newest book is Thanks. I Needed That. It is a touching, transcendent and readable collection of uplifting, inspiring essays; a one-stop-shopping site for the Jewish High Holiday season and beyond. 

DEPARTURES
When I was a smart young rabbi and knew quite a lot, I created worship services for little children, adapted baby naming ceremonies, and lectured to new mommies and daddies about how to raise their children Jewishly.

Now I'm a not-as-smart middle aged rabbi who wishes that somewhere, a more enthusiastic middle-aged colleague would create a life-cycle ceremony that addresses events I find myself going through: kids leaving home.

Sometimes it feels as if Judaism, and probably most other organized religions, guide and nurture us through the many stages of parenting, from birth rituals and the beginnings of religious education right on through the agony of adolescence.  But suddenly it seems as if we parents are on our own at the parting, the moment when our children embark on the step that, for most, changes their status in our homes from resident to visitor.

Whether it's college, a job, the armed services, there comes that moment, and for parents the experience is often similar.

When I went off to Lehigh University in the fall of 1962, my parents drove me to campus, six hours from home.  We unloaded my stuff, made the uncomfortable introductions with my roommates and the fearsome dorm counselor, and then my parents gracefully took their leave.  About three decades later my mother confessed that after they exited the campus they pulled the car over to the side of the street, turned off the engine, and cried.

On a whitewater rafting trip in Idaho I became friendly with a fellow from Oregon named Patrick Michael Sean O'Halloran.  He told me that when he entered college in 1961 his Irish Catholic parents drove him to the California campus.  They unloaded the car quickly, and he was pleased that they departed soon after.  A few miles into the trip home, Pat only recently learned, his parents pulled into a highway rest area, turned off the engine, and cried.

There must be a better way to launch children into their independence. 

Some of life's major events are marked by a very discernible occurrence, the instant of birth being the most clear.  Other events are spread out over time:  the transition from babyhood to personhood, for example, or the passage through adolescence, which for some takes an entire decade.  Even a wedding, though it has its prime moment, is diffused over the months of preparation and the hours of ceremonial festivities.

But that leave-taking comes upon us abruptly, sometimes with no forethought or preparation, and certainly without ritual to help us endure.  It may happen in this way because our children are focused on what lies ahead, and we parents are equally invested in avoiding thinking about what their loss...and that is the key word...what their loss will mean to us, to our home, to our relationships.  And so we all conspire to avoid thinking about what is about to happen.

I remember how our son left home. 

Zack's departure was more complex than the norm.  Our family was in a state of very happy transition, about to realize a long-held "impossible" dream of leaving our Philadelphia suburb and moving to Vermont.  It was the end of June, and Sherri had already gone north to start her new job.  Jessie had begun her final year at summer camp.  Zack and I remained at the house. 

I packed, while Zack celebrated his graduation from high school with a round of farewell parties.  His plan was to spend the summer working at the New Jersey shore, living in a 2-bedroom "genteel poverty" flat with a group of between three and eight other kids.  At the end of August he would continue on to college in North Carolina.

At that time Zack was driving a 1984 Volvo sedan.  I bought it new, thinking that it was the kind of car that I could use, then pass on to Sherri, and later, perhaps, even to the kids.  At 124,000 miles it came into Zack's possession, and on that June day it was packed to the ceiling with all that was important to its owner.

"Gotta split, Dad.  Josh is waiting at his house and we're going to drive down to the shore together.  Bye."

"Bye."  Is that how childhood ends?  "Bye?"  Just like that? 

As I headed out to the driveway I started to think of a stroll I'd taken 18 years earlier, down a hospital corridor that connected the delivery room with the nursery.  Beside me a nurse guided a bassinet which contained a brand new person.  And the novel thought kept racing through my mind, I'm taking a walk with my son.  With my son! 

The screen door slammed behind me, a needed shock to my system that reminded me to stop being so damn lugubrious.  After all, Zack was about to grab his independence.  We raised him in that direction.  He's just doing his job of separating, and he's doing it well.  And besides, I would visit him at the shore in a few weeks.

But still... But still...

I walked over to the car.  Looked it over, inspected the tires and rearranged a piece of clothing that had gotten stuck in the door.

"Really, Dad.  I've gotta go.  Josh is waiting."

We gave each other a hug and a kiss.   One of us had tears in his eyes and even down his cheeks, while the other gently broke away, started the car, and backed out of the driveway.

Zack paused in the road to shift gears.  Then he slowly drove to the foot of our hill, towards the intersection where he would turn right and disappear from sight.  I stood alone, watching as he edged away.  A blurry maroon object growing smaller and smaller.  A car, and my son, leaving his childhood home.  Leaving his childhood.  Forever. 

And then my vision cleared slightly.  I noticed that the old car's tailpipe was loose, sort of hanging by one clip.  The forward thrust of the car made it flutter up and down, so gently, almost in slow motion. 

It was phallic. 

And it was waving to me.

That was probably the most highly charged, symbol-laden experience of my life, and I still have no idea exactly what the symbolism meant. 

But I remember that wave.

       *                                               *                                               *

Four years later and it was Jessie's turn.  By now the old Volvo had been handed to the youngest Alper, and with 187,000 miles on the odometer it was about to head towards another college.  Jessie had blossomed into a free-thinking, independent, self-assured young woman, and since I could not guard or protect her any longer, I channeled some of my paternal caring into her car.  At least I could feel useful during the countdown days before she, too, drove away.  

They say history repeats itself.  Ecclesiastes reminds us that there's nothing new under the sun.  Yup.

Before it could pass the Vermont State inspection and the more stringent Robert Alper inspection, the Volvo needed the following: Four new tires.  Rear brakes.  Shocks.  Struts.  One headlamp. A rear muffler.

And a tailpipe.

A few weeks later a caravan comprised of two cars, two parents, one freshwoman, and one dog named Gideon drove the 2 1/2 hours south to Jessie's new college.  A sensitively prepared schedule suggested we arrive around noon, help our child settle in, and join the president, faculty, and freshman class for a late afternoon reception.  Then we were equally sensitively urged to LEAVE.  Which we did.

By 6:30 we found ourselves on the Taconic Parkway heading north.  One empty car, two parents, and a dog.  No radio.  No conversation. 

A few minutes into the trip a wave of righteous canine indignation overcame the dog when he realized that someone was occupying his seat next to the driver, his beloved master.  Giddy was insistent, and Sherri in no mood to argue.  She spent the entire trip home with a fifty-five-pound dog sitting in her lap.  It provided needed diversion.

Later that night, after the answering machine was tended and the mail sorted, after the car was cleaned out and the throw rug Jessie decided she really didn't need was wrapped and placed in the cellar, I walked into her room and sat alone on the bench next to her picnic-table desk.  The room had a sudden neatness about it that I knew I'd hate.  I looked around at the hat collection, the posters on the walls, the rejected CDs and the cluttered high school notebooks strewn across the closet shelf. 

I thought about the events of the day, thought how happy I was for her, and how proud.  And also how sad, how selfishly sad I felt at her departure.
 
Sherri called out to find me, then came up to Jessie's room where she quietly joined me on the bench.   We sat in silence for a while, just looking around.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pivot Point

Just before the summer -- at a rehearsal dinner for the wedding of dear friends -- I was asked how I felt about "having had children so young."

The query came courtesy of someone I do not consider a friend but whose social circle certainly overlaps with my own. I have nothing against this person -- a woman -- but no particular fondness for her either.

The question arrived early in the meal, spring-loaded, as if the asker had harbored it for a long time. It flew out of her mouth like a long-stored rocket...and landed in my lap, impossible to ignore.

At least 10 years my senior, the woman also has children, but mine are older. My eldest -- Big Babe -- just turned 29. Her youngest is still in high school...or elementary school, I'm not really sure.

I became a mother just shy of 24. She was pushing 40.

Now, at 52, I am becoming an empty nester as Little Babe prepares to leave for college. It hadn't happened at the time, but as of the writing of this blog, Middle Babe is engaged to marry her Gentleman Caller.

Wow. I thought, sipping my glass of Pinot Noir. Haven't heard something like that in a while. Long ago, I used to get variations on that question from the still-single peers of my husband. They were always delivered with the hint of a sneer.

What a peculiar question to pose, I thought, especially on this occasion. Would I ask this woman (or anyone) how she felt "having her kids so old?"

At 52, I'm at a pivot point, packing my youngest kid off for Muhlenberg College, posting Facebook pictures with my daughter's engagement ring and the super-romantic way her Gentleman Caller proposed.

At 52, my after-hours social and cultural life is richer than it has ever been, a counter-balance to my varied and busy work life.

At this age, with my love of dancing, singing and adventure, I've emerged as a born-again party girl.

But man, have I put in time over the past nearly three decades of being a mommy! Without resentment (really and truly) I spent hours in playgrounds, parks, libraries, museums and children's movies. Joyfully, I read zillions of books, cooked innumerable meals, packed untold bags of snacks, bought shoes and clothes and diapers of all sizes. I have toilet trained and taught to walk and talk. I have eaten baby food in an effort to entice. I have breastfed for a total of six years. I have attended first and last days of school. And parent-teacher conferences! And tedious performances by my talented kids.

I have stayed up nights and talked through heartache.

I have advocated for, and intervened.

I have challenged doctors and experts and authority figures. And mostly prevailed.

I have edited and tutored and studied with.

I have reread classic works of literature.

I have climbed jungle gyms to retrieve terrified toddlers from high bars. I have waded in baby pools. I have sat on beaches watching little ones play in the waves. I have been peed upon. I have been thrown up on. I have endured dizzying rides at amusement parks; then again, even the Flying Dumbo ride seems scary to me.

I have staged birthday parties and b'nai mitzvah. And partied with my kids like it's 1999, which once it actually was.

I have conducted Back-to-School shopping expeditions...most impressively in the days when we had no money.

I have buckled baby seats and toddler seats and airline seats.

I have lifted toilet seats.

I have spent the equivalent of years in disgusting bathrooms in supermarkets, gas stations, department stores and once, a funeral home with a wake in progress.

Open casket.

We found that out when we couldn't find our way back to the front door except through the parlor where the wake was going on.

For the better part of two decades I never had more than a glass of wine at a time or hard liquor (that started changing about ten years ago) and aside from some hash biscotti and the stray joint at a smattering of parties and a sojourn in Amsterdam and New Year's Eve in Berlin and some crazy events in the mid-80's when Big Babe was tiny, I have done virtually no recreational drugs since my adolescence.

How do I feel about giving the "best years" of my life to these endeavors and others that are forgotten?

Delighted. Honored. Happy. Blessed.

My kids have been part of my adulthood...right from the beginning. I have been able to parent with energy and flexibility and creativity.

When Big Babe was a toddler, I would turn on MTV and watch the great music videos with him. We have pictures of the two of us jumping on the bed together. I was a Mommy who loved Duran Duran and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and The Talking Heads and I shared that with my kid. We had adventures together, in matching denim jackets. I hated the concept of bedtime for my boy, so his early childhood featured experiences that most kids of older parents (or more conventional parents) never have.

Working as a freelance writer, I had loads of elasticity in my schedule. Short of money for babysitters, I sometimes took Big Babe with me on assignment.

When Middle Babe arrived four years after her brother, I was still in my twenties, living in a beautiful old house in Westchester. We were still kind of broke. Middle Babe became Big Babe's sidekick and the adventures continued, with with a car and a backyard. HOBB would often come home at night wondering where his family was. We were at the movies and late night at the library and friends' homes. We were out having fun. All of us, probably me most of all.

And even when my youngest was born seven years after his sister our family environment was unconventional though by this point my work life was more structured, something I rebelled against. Being broke was no longer an option with three kids and Jewish Day School so I changed my professional life, becoming a publicist, writing on the side, publishing when I could. Several years into my career as a publicist, I started my own business.

I had flexibility once again...but was busy all the time. I worked around the clock and on weekends and on vacation and at parties.

There is no point in denying the sacrifice that went into raising my family. I would have preferred to remain a full-time writer. Money has always been a struggle. I was more stressed out than I would have liked to be. For years, I hardly had enough time for friends.

This is simply the truth.

But other blessings came along the way. I traveled a lot, sometimes with my family, other times alone. I gained expertise and access. I have been at the hub of many exciting social and cultural happenings. I have encountered extraordinary people. I earned a graduate degree along the way. I built a business. I learned a heck of a lot.

And there have been three remarkable new souls in my life, from the moment of my young adulthood. Three now-grown human beings whom I adore and enjoy -- the loves of my life.

If I count the love of my husband/friend/helpmate who shared the incredible journey every step of the way, the blessings are quadrupled.

I suppose that what I did is front-load the work of raising a family.

Now I can party.

Sitting at my friends' wedding rehearsal dinner at the beginning of this pivot point in my life -- my baby soon to leave for college, my daughter a few months before her engagement, my eldest just a year and change away from 30 -- I abandoned the training in self-effacing graciousness I received from my mother and responded frankly to this odd query -- how did I feel about having had my children "so young?"

I hate to gloat, I said, taking note of the weary bags beneath her expectant eyes, but I'm pretty damn happy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Love is a Hamburger...or The View from Mt. Fuji


This has been an unusually eventful week.

Earlier this evening I arrived home after a five-day trip to Japan, which took me to Mt. Fuji and Tokyo with Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson for the 9th Annual Symphony of Peace Prayers conference, a global gathering of peace activists and religious leaders.

To say that my Japanese adventure was extraordinary is an understatement. I spent several days in the company of remarkable people of various faith communities who had gathered to create momentum for the prospect of peace in our lifetime. I heard their life stories and their life's work. We shared meals and programs and bus rides and a large-scale public event this past Sunday where Neshama offered her prayer for peace -- songs by her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach -- her husky/sweet voice filling the open field, drizzling down like honey on the thousands of people who had gathered for the event, faces and palms uplifted.

The multiple gifts of Japan overwhelmed me. In particular, I was touched deeply by the grace, hospitality and warmth of the Japanese people. The patience I saw reflected in the postures of the assembled on the grass of the Mt. Fuji Sanctuary was a lesson for this antsy New Yorker.

While deeply stirring, the program was overly long. Looking across the field, I was impressed by the ability of the Japanese to be fully present even as I was agitated. They had come to receive a blessing. They accepted it in its fullness.

Though the trip was filled with encounter groups and discussions, I was also able to eke out time for solitary exploration, walking in the misty early morning in the Mt. Fuji region, exploring Tokyo by myself on my final day in Japan.

Even when I crave solo adventure, I often have to overcome an initial resistance to setting out on my own in an unfamiliar setting. Perhaps my reticence is rooted in safety concerns. On this trip, as always, I delayed my departure a bit -- both in the Mt. Fuji region and in Tokyo -- finding activities to do, such as answering non-urgent emails from the safety of my hotel room, but was immediately rewarded for my spunk within seconds of setting out on my own.

Hitting the trail in the Japanese mountains, I filled my lungs with the sweet fresh air and my ears with the songs of unfamiliar birds. Walking along a road, I passed a steady stream of Japanese hikers, running slowly but steadily uphill. Many were not young. We bowed to each other as we passed.

Having glimpsed Mt. Fuji between the trees in the early morning hours, I now have a new understanding of the concept of awe-inspiring.

Personified as "shy" because of the overcast skies in the region, Fuji put me in mind of Mount Sinai. Even to look at the photo I took during my morning walk revives that sense of wonder I felt when the mountain unexpectedly came into view.

The Sinai-ness of Mt. Fuji moves me deeply for I arrived in Japan on the heels of the festival of Shavuot, still touched by revelation and Moses's ascent up the mountain to commune with God and the Children of Israel assembled fearfully below.

As for my Tokyo journey...I had a moment of sheer panic standing in the Shinagawa train station just shy of 9 am. All around me, Japanese people strode in business attire and businesslike pursuit while I stared at the multiple gates, entrances, subway lines and options.

What if I get lost and miss my limousine ride to Narita Airport, I thought. What if I miss my plane back to New York? It was certainly a possibility.

But my craving for the experience of walking through downtown Tokyo drowned out my reticence and I soon figured out how to buy a 160 yen ticket to Shibuya...and was on my way, riding the subway, exploring the streets and shops and singing at a karaoke club and buying a pastry and soaking in the sights and smells of this sweetly kinetic city.

Since landing at Newark around 4 this afternoon I went through various phases of exhaustion but valiantly pushed through in an effort to obliterate my jetlag.

Now, well after midnight, I am astonished to find myself wide awake.

But not really.

My mind is racing.

And my soul is restless.

So much has happened over this past week that I require consciousness.

Indeed, what jolted me out of bed (where I had retired in a reasonable quest to fall asleep two hours ago) was the sudden realization that exactly one week ago TO THE HOUR I had stood on the stage at the JCC in Manhattan's all-night Tikkun Leil Shavuot -- a festival of teaching and culture that honors the Jewish tradition of staying awake to study Torah on the first night of Shavuot -- performing the World Premiere of my one-woman show, The Rabbi's Girl Presents: Songs of Religion and Rebellion.

My performance was ambitious and experimental, messy and magical, the first public presentation of a concept I hope to perfect and produce in many venues around the country and even the world.

I am a writer -- not an actor -- and am filled with retrospective awe and horror that I had the nerve to perform an autobiographical show, with songs and dance, in the middle of the night on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

My audience was robust...and kind. I saw people smiling and laughing and clapping hands. Some even got up to dance with me.

From the vantage point of a week, I am incredulous that people came to see me sing, dance and tell my story -- of growing up religious in an age of rebellion, a rabbi's girl in the 1970's.

The following morning I awoke to equal parts relief and giddy joy. In truth, I had been in a state of semi-hysteria prior to taking the stage.

A large part of the hysteria came from the realization that shortly after my show I would be heading to Japan.

And now this extraordinary week has come to a close.

The performance is past. I am back from Japan, sitting in my dark living room as if I had never been gone, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians at my feet.

I am dazzled and dazed by what has taken place within these past seven days.

Yet, a side effect of solo travel when you are part of a family unit is the rough re-entry.

Telling the Three Babes about my adventure -- Big Babe and Middle Babe by phone; Little Babe at home -- filled me with a peculiar melancholy and I realized I missed my family on my trip.

Having an adventure of this magnitude without them made me feel oddly alone, though my very aloneness was exhilarating...most of the time.

But HOBB made me hamburgers for dinner, heeding my one complaint about Japan: as a kosher observer who doesn't eat white rice and avoids MSG, I found very little to eat during my journey.

"What is your dream dinner?" HOBB asked when I called him early this morning from my room at the Tokyo Prince Hotel where I was cranky and uncaffeinated and procrastinating about setting out to explore the city.

I hardly had to think.

"Hamburgers," I replied. "With Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard."

And that is exactly how HOBB welcomed me home -- preparing large and juicy hamburgers, a delicious, white-rice and MSG-free vegetable and tofu stir-fry and decorating the table with the largest bottle of Gulden's mustard I had ever seen to ease my bumpy return into the atmosphere of my family, which is two seasons away from becoming an empty nest, which is morphing into a new entity I have never really known -- a universe of just me and HOBB with beloved but grown children who have embarked on their own journeys and now come home just to visit.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mad Men, Mortality and Morality

I had a novel reaction after watching last night's Mad Men episode, meaning that I had a thought that was new to me, though not necessarily unique.

Watching the show's characters react to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I realized that I have lived a certain amount of years and that I am a long way from the millennium into which I was born.

I felt my age, in starkly temporal terms, and thought of how my life has intersected with world-changing events.

I felt rooted along the continuum of human history, leaving a footprint at a particular moment.

At the same time, I acknowledged that I belong to something larger than the present.

And in so doing, reached beyond my life span, thinking of my legacy.

Two years past the fifty mark, I thought of that great expanse beyond the parameters of my own life and wondered how what was happening now would appear to denizens of the future.

I was grateful for this Mad Men episode in which neither Don nor Pete nor anyone else betrayed their spouse. I was relieved that Joan's bosomy bitchiness was constrained. I was annoyed at the (once-again) cliched portrayal of Ginsberg's meddling yet good-hearted, Yiddish-inflected immigrant father.  I found myself nastily hoping that Don's crucifix-wearing Jewish doctor's wife mistress Sylvia would get killed in a race riot in Washington, DC after Dr. King's assassination.

I'm not certain what the writers of Mad Men want us to think of their characters. While the show has entertained me -- and previously even charmed me -- I find myself lately wishing to bolt from the America it depicts.

Several seasons in, the characters have grown shallow, dismayingly selfish and graspingly ambitious.

After some sparky, creative campaigns and empire-building, the tensions, transactions and dramas of the advertising world now seem especially inconsequential. Watching the mad men and women at work, I am filled with despair. Even the admirable Peggy seems a slave to a soulless system.

Is that the point? 

Maybe I am spoiled by the moral absolutism of Carrie Mathison from Homeland, which I began watching obsessively with HOBB a month ago, pigging out sometimes on double episodes in order to get catch up with Season Three. Even with her insane and unethical entanglement with Nicholas Brody, the woman is driven by a grand and greatly important ambition. She is heroic in her own deeply flawed way because she has a purity of purpose.

Mad Men has no such character. I pinned my hopes on Ginsberg for a while, but he has become generic and undistinguished after a few chutzpah-fueled outbursts last season. Right now, Trudy Campbell, who threw her cheating husband out of the house, seems to be the only one with backbone and integrity.

But I know it's unfair to compare Mad Men to Homeland.

Stalking terrorists is a far more noble pursuit than selling ketchup, shtupping your neighbor's wife or bossing around terrified underlings at your workplace.

And despite the precious, intellectual scribblings about the show's subtext -- especially regarding the season premiere's numerous allusions to Dante's Inferno -- the dark broodings of Don Draper do not count for anything transcendent. A season back he held some promise but now, who really cares about this lying, hypocritical monster?

Instead, the America that Don Draper is building together with Roger Sterling and company is the America that 21st Century madmen are hellbent on destroying. I can see how the Sodom and Gemorrah-like morals of Madison Avenue, as depicted on Mad Men, justify America's designation as Big Satan in the minds of religious extremists and ideological purists.

It's not such a stretch from Mad Men to Homeland, after all.

Knowing the seismic events that ushered in the new millennium, I keep wanting to encounter a character in Mad Men who is capable of seeing beyond him or herself into the near future and understand something critical about the time in which they are living, have a meta-moment about the consumerism they are aiding and abetting, see the impact that the world-shaking events of their day will have on those of us living in the 21st Century, send us a message from the late 1960's in America.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Walk in the Park. Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed...as a Dominatrix.

I left my sneakers in the gym yesterday so when I got dressed for a morning walk with HOBB through Morningside and Central Parks, I had no choice but to wear my Doc Martens.

"You look like a German dominatrix," HOBB observed when I emerged from our bedroom wearing running shorts and black hiking boots.

Checking my reflection in the mirror, I had to agree. Partially. Leather was needed to complete the look. So I grabbed my sleeveless faux leather motorcycle vest from H&M.

"I actually think I look more like a gay guy circa 1985," I opined, presenting my complete outfit.

HOBB rolled his eyes and seemed to reconsider whether he wanted to be seen with me in public.

The thing about Manhattan is that no matter how extreme your outfit, you tend to blend into the general landscape. Last week, when I was bolting through Times Square, the sight of The Naked Cowboy -- in his signature tightie-whities -- seemed as tame as the giant plushies that have taken over that part of town.

Faces lifted towards the sun, we walked east through Morningside Park, which might as well have been a lovely Dutch village, with all its tulips and daffodils. We proceeded into Central Park, filled with runners, bicyclists and a police investigation. Heading toward the reservoir, we began discussing plans for upcoming dinner parties.

A disagreement ensued.

As I remarked to a friend yesterday, of the two imperfect states of being -- singledom and marriage, by which I mean a committed partnership -- marriage is the less imperfect.

Nevertheless, it should not be confused with a relationship of eternal harmony.

Constructive arguments are an essential component of good communication.

Some relationships that appear admirably peaceful are actually parve and devoid of passion.

I admit I am a warrior, hard-wired to fight for what I believe in.

Yet, if I go too far, I shape-shift into a dominatrix, whipping things back into shape, restoring the integrity of the life-long partnership that is perfect in its very imperfection.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Healing in the Age of Breaking News

Last Monday, I got to physical therapy just as the Boston Marathon bombing story hit the airwaves. 

I know, because the super-sized flat screen TV against the 5th Avenue wall of the therapy studio was on, bringing us the story live from Copley Square, in all its drama and chaos.

Between my massage, my recuperative exercises and heat therapy, I learned the facts -- one, no, two explosions took place at the finish line, people were injured, no idea how many, white smoke, an elderly runner was filmed falling down as he ran, footage of people running past the site of the bombing, confused and scared.

By the time I left, two fatalities were confirmed. Authorities were in a complete fog about the perpetrators.

On Friday, I arrived for my morning appointment to learn that one of the now-identified suspects -- brothers from Chechnya!! --  was dead, the other on the loose and the city of Boston on lockdown. At the end of the week, three were dead, with nearly two hundred wounded, many with lost limbs.

At yesterday's appointment, I watched legal experts discuss the possible progress and outcome of a trial for surviving Boston Bomber Dzohkhar Tsarnaev.

I also learned that officials had uncovered an Al Qaeda plot to blow up a passenger train from Canada to the United States.

As I work to strengthen my core and build up the muscles of my back to support my curving spine, I wonder if my hard and focused work is an exercise in futility.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dark Side of the Rainbow. Sunday Edition.


Little Babe was awake at 9 this morning, an unusual event for a Sunday morning.

In the time-honored custom of American adolescents, my youngest child tends to sleep in on weekend mornings, but today he was hunched over his laptop in a posture of intense alertness as I shuffled, zombie-like, into the kitchen in search of my Zabar's Dark Espresso blend.

"Hey, Mom. I downloaded Dark Side of the Rainbow," he informed me. "You gotta see this. It'll blow your mind."

Dark Side of the Rainbow is a pop culture phenomenon, a "wacky coincidence," according to Little Babe, of synchronicity that results from the creative coupling of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon album and The Wizard of Oz.

When Little Babe first explained Dark Side of the Rainbow to me, I had a vague notion of a stoner experience invented by teenage boys, a musical-cinematic pairing that would likely have as much appeal as, say, Cheetos and red wine.

Indeed, when I mentioned it to a group of twenty-something lads at Funkadelic Studios last night (I had come with my drum sticks for their twice-monthly Open Jam), they nodded sagely. 

One guy said something about dropping acid to enhance the experience.

Another described it as "far out."

I tried not to smirk, so as not to sully my image as a rocker chick, that is, morph back into the very thing that I am -- a mom of people their very age.

So this morning, when Little Babe offered to show it to me pre-caffeine, I was disinclined to believe that Dark Side of the Rainbow would have any appeal.

However, his desire to share this cultural find with me was so sincere that I relented, settling down next to him at the dining room table with my coffee mug in hand.

"Check it," he said, pressing play.

Within moments, the haunting Pink Floyd music I first fell in love with at his age animated The Wizard of Oz in a marvelous, magical way, replacing the dialogue, giving the film an eerie, hallucinogenic quality. Without its original score, The Wizard of Oz became a disturbing dreamscape, evoking the sensibility of Maurice Sendak.

Serving as curator, Little Babe showed me key scenes, cutting to incidents of especial coincidence, showing how here the lyrics perfectly illustrated the action on the screen, how there, the music fit the mood, how everywhere The Dark Side of the Moon served as midrash for the MGM movie.

His tour was a great success. I sat transfixed to the computer screen, witness to a fascinating, if strange, artistic collaboration across decades and genres, something providential, if not intentional.

Shortly, Little Babe had to finish a school paper so I dove into my day -- one of my favorite kinds of days -- filled with too many things and plenty of wacky coincidences: a conference call with a favorite client about a forthcoming trip to Japan; vigorous morning exercise; a trip to a used book and record shop on West 72nd Street to buy a turntable for Little Babe who has become a vinyl enthusiast; a visit to my 35th High School Reunion (cue to the years of my most intense Floyd fandom); an Earth Day fair in Union Square where a cover band was playing The Wall just as I showed up; an extraordinary Ballroom dance workshop in the Flatiron district where the instructor channeled me, stating that the key to successful dance partnership was being Picasso-like, with both eyes on one side of the face; a late afternoon walk and sunbath with HOBB along the High Line; a leisurely bus ride up 10th Avenue on the M11; delicious Shabbat leftovers for dinner back home; old episodes of Homeland; an attempt to watch the new episode of MadMen before our television set lost sound.

I was uplifted by the group goodheartedness that accompanies the arrival of a bonafide (if chilly) spring day in this winter-weary city, the collective gratitude for the gift of sunshine, the thrilling, thrashing multi-media symphony of sounds and smells and attitudes and offerings and hassles and spectacles and excessive everything.

Today, there was the marvelous too-muchness of Manhattan.

Because I crave too-muchness, I am often at one with this city, deliberately designing days that are full-unto-bursting, reaching for excess of emotion and sensory overload.

Living according to the credo that to feel properly is to feel deeply, I aspire to be overwhelmed and enveloped. I know that I should also pursue serenity and sometimes I do, but my default mode is the extreme.

When I first experienced it this morning, I was seduced by Dark Side of the Rainbow, for what it does is utterly overload one's sense receptors. It also messes with one's mind, producing a rush like that of revelation. 

Conceptually, Dark Side of the Rainbow is completely contemporary, though it was produced in the late 90's. It is a multi-media mash-up, about ten years ahead of its time.

I have repeatedly marveled at the extent to which my sensibilities have been shaped by each of my children. Big Babe has sent me books and operas and films and Middle Babe has been a personal guru on the zeitgeist of her generation. Little Babe fuses the music of my adolescence with his own, expanding my oeuvre and appreciation. I see this upward vertical influence as a unique feature of my generation, stemming from a new and widespread willingness of adults to listen to the younger generation. It didn't happen when I was a kid; my parents would not have cared to listen with me to The Dark Side of the Moon when I stumbled onto it as an awestruck young teen. 

Dashing and dipping into today's offerings, I heard Pink Floyd's music in my head, animating the drama around me, providing midrash, rooting me to my past, linking me to Little Babe, giving me far-out insights and a mind-blowing sense of synesthetic wholeness.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why We Need Homeland

Last night, as tonight, in an effort to tune out the awful images and heartbreaking story coming out of Boston, I snuggled up to HOBB on our dog-chewed black leather couch and lost myself in the final episodes of Season 1 of Homeland.

As I posted yesterday on Facebook, I was deeply unsettled to see the depiction of a suicide bomber's vest -- loaded with ball bearings to inflict maximum damage on the human body -- on the penultimate episode of the season.

The architecture of the bomb on Homeland was just too eerily similar to what had happened that day in Boston and, for several instants, the escapism factor of this drama was compromised by its too-immediate imitation of life.

Indeed, as I watched the season finale tonight, I had to ask myself just why Homeland, which is a nail-bitingly suspenseful show about terror, betrayal and ambiguity, is such a huge hit in post 9/11 America.

Homeland presents the very stuff of our waking nightmares, the questions we have, our suspicions and (for many of us) barely-articulated critiques of our government's activities, actions and policies during the administrations of George W. Bush.

Homeland shows the ugly and the vulnerable in our heroes and ordinary citizens; it allows us to smoosh the black and white hues of absolutist American ideals so as to create a palate of innumerable shades of grey.

It makes me proud and disturbed about my country.

But I know the answer even as I ask the question because Homeland functions as all art does, permitting us to interpret reality, providing us with a portal for filtering experience. Homeland curates the mess of contemporary life. It manages our fear, or focuses it on Carrie and Brody and Saul. It permits us to create galleries of grey awareness.

Homeland is as part of the zeitgeist as Girls, another compelling and disturbing (if also funny) show whose first season I recently completed watching.

What both have in common -- aside from sharp writing and plot development -- is their message to Americans:

You are being screwed in ways you cannot even begin to understand.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Night of A Thousand Blog Posts

began this blog post the very same way I step onto a scale: grimacing, hand covering my eyes.

It's the number I'm afraid of, of course. 

In this case the date of the previous post. 

So long ago. So far away.

And yet, so thematically linked to what I wish to write about tonight.

This post contains the granules of a great many posts that were thought or spoken or left unsaid over the past four months of Bungalow Babe radio silence.

Some of these stillborn posts were spoken in locker rooms or on buses or on phone calls or in emails or around the Shabbat Table or in shul.

Others were said to friends and sympathetic strangers met at Starbucks or Fairway or on line for the bathroom at a movie. Or to a random person on the #1 train or the flight to Tel Aviv who liked my Doc Martens or my fedora or my dress or my necklace.

It doesn't take a lot for me to open up.

Contained here are the seeds of a thousand posts or more during a season of transition; meshes of my heretofore undocumented months: 

My end-of-December trip to Israel for SOBB's (Sister of Bungalow Babe) 50th Birthday and subsequent adventures in the Holy Land; the milestone of Middle Babe starting a job and moving out of the Urban Bungalow and into a place of her own;  the intensity of Little Babe's college application process -- trips and applications submitted at deadline, his initial deferral at the college that won his heart, the nail-biting weeks after petitioning the administration, his eventual admission, our relief and celebration, the mind-blowing fact of my youngest going off to college; a new deeply intimate phase of friendship for HOBB and me, including trips -- an exquisitely romantic getaway to Cancun, Mexico, weekend travel to Durham, NC, relaxing Shabbat weekends and the usual whirlwind of parties; a trip to Boca Raton, Florida to visit my parents with SOBB; monologues and open mic and karaoke performances and swing dance and all kinds of joyous movement; drum lessons and building up the courage to show up with my sticks and play with the guys at Funkadelic Studio's Open Jam night; shows and movies and Sunday afternoons at museums and precious time with family and friends and epic Skype conversations with Big Babe in Berlin; and the reading of Anna Karenina (and several other books while I was reading it); and the intense but deeply satisfying experience of hosting my extended family for Passover, sleepovers and all; and visits to the gym and too much red wine and coffee and chocolate and work and mischief and the stuff of life and getting pissed about middle age weight gain and taking note of (but not action against) new lines in my face, and the joy of weddings and the shock of terrible, terrible tragedy and untimely death and the gift of ideas that create brushfires in my mind and causes that ignite my soul and songs that make me happy to be alive and not enough sleep and sweet passion at stolen moments.

And so much more.

Oh. I wrote a play during this time.

And then a second one, based on the first one, which will be performed in Manhattan this May.

I articulated a new focus of my work: performance.

And created several performance-based works. 

Some of which I will be staging in the coming months.

I experienced -- more than once, more than twice, often, in fact -- ecstatic religious experience, a way in which to be fully Jewish, engaging my body, my spirit and my mind at Romemu. I have called myself a Romemoonie to HOBB who does not quite share this religious passion of mine, whose spiritual home is elsewhere.

For Passover, I had the extraordinary privilege of hosting my parents and brothers' family. I did not take for granted my ability to handle the strenuous preparations for the holiday, together with HOBB. I realized that I am lucky to understand the meaning behind the rituals of this nation-making festival. 

Together with my table of intimate guests, I fulfilled the mitzvah of seeing myself as personally having been liberated from Egypt, a transformative journey I have undergone since early childhood.

With no apology to my children, I have embraced the arrival of the empty nest -- and with it, time to sink deeply into friendships, to explore my own passions and step far outside my comfort zone. Last month, a woman at a dinner party -- about ten years my senior -- asked how I felt about having had children "so early" when she had not. (The woman in question had actually given birth at the tail end of her fertility.)

I got the sense the woman wished to hear bleats of regret...."if only I had waited!"... but it took everything in me not to gloat.

My children's respective childhoods were magical realms in which I played king and queen, wizard and court jester and princess and dragon-slayer. Yes, I sunk deeply and happily into the role of mom at an age deemed "early" by the standards of Manhattan's Upper West Side and I wouldn't have traded my adventures for anything. 

Man, did we have fun, me and my brood, whose respective births spanned eleven years! There was the luxury of time... as I was young. There was a lack of parental neurosis...as I was young. There was the ability to breastfeed and stay up nights and work throughout my children's childhoods...as I was young. 

From the MTV-watching 23-year-old freelance journalist I was when Big Babe was born to the 27-year-old columnist and writer I was when Middle Babe was born to the 34-year-old full time public relations professional I was at the time of Little Babe's arrival to the 52-year-old writer, performer and promoter of cool causes that I am today, it's been a high-speed ride, sometimes by the seat of my pants. 

I improvised a lot.

I operated from intuition.

Yes, I became a mother when I was young -- too young to be cranky. Or a diva. Or bitter. Or pissy. 

I was fully immersed in the marvelous mash-up of my life, starring in a great piece of performance art: the raising of my three remarkable kids.

Emerging into the spring time of Little Babe's senior year of High School, the full impact of this transition is upon me. Big Babe and Middle Babe are in graduate school and Little Babe heads off to college at the end of August.

All three of the Babes have significant others in their lives.

I am awed at the arrival of this moment.

Shehechiyanu, v'kiyamanu, v'higianu la'zman ha-zeh.*

This summary was written in a rush because it was lived in a rush of great chaos and joy and laughter and sometimes anger. It was written by moonlight as my days are full unto bursting. There was frustration and sadness at the discovery of an internal wound -- a physical deformity, my twisted spine. 

But there was mostly wonder and laughter and tremendous gratitude for the blessing of being awake to the gift tucked inside the struggle and the push-back of life and challenging circumstance. 

"I don't know why, but I have often have to fight for what is important to me," I told HOBB today, as we walked down Broadway, bound for the Museum of Modern Art. The midday sun was high overhead. It was almost possible to believe that the brisk day had suddenly become spring-like. "It has turned me into a warrior," I said.

My last post, four months ago, was about recognizing myself as a Picasso Woman -- a physical description with deep metaphorical meaning. I thought about my revelation as I stood, earlier today, in front of Picabia's La Source, an homage to Picasso's rose period at the Inventing Abstraction exhibition at MOMA. In the planes of the giant canvas I saw myself moving and bending, dancing into and away from a definition of what it means to be whole.

La Source seemed to me like a huge field for the game of midlife Hide 'n Seek. Pondering the painting, I sought myself therein. I hid from myself. I discovered myself.

I laid claim to the abstraction I had invented for myself, the identity of Picasso Woman. 

I owned it again.

This post, containing a thousand posts, is about the winter of this woman whom I first came to fully inhabit at autumn's end.

Picasso Woman's first season was like a great opening at an art museum: filled with dazzle and people and food and laughter and wine. And oohs and ahhs. And sparkling reviews.

Gathering courage, she/I remove our hand and look at the number we were afraid to see and realize it is not shameful. December 19, 2012. Perhaps it was important to preserve that particular post, to ponder it and plumb its manifold meanings. 

In a rush of sun-warmed inspiration, beyond the boundary of midnight, I reflect back to the beginning of this long and arduous New York City winter, recalling the very moment I felt the sharp pain in my back...and knew that it was the source of a realization that would change my life. 

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*The blessing one recites at having arrived at a momentous occasion.