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 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 I was young. There was the ability to breastfeed and stay up nights and work throughout my children's 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. 

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