Monthly Archives: December 2010

Sad

I am sad. It’s not easy to say why– I guess I don’t completely know why.  It really isn’t because anything bad or sad is actually happening, now.  Ends of years, ends of vacations, not an end yet to particular uncertainties of my life right now.  I am sad.  I am actually a very hopeful person in many ways, but I wish I was one of those people whose default is buoyant!, cheerful!

We travelled– the three of us– to NYC to be with two sets of friends who live in different neighborhoods in Manhattan.  We traveled on Christmas and returned yesterday. The snow that fell in the form of a driving storm on Sunday in New York was the main event in many ways and many of the things we wanted to do were closed on Monday when we wanted to do them, and sold out on Tuesday when we (and a million other visitors to NYC) were able to move about more easily.

We missed the Tenement Museum and some other things we hoped to do.  When we walked past Rockefeller Center to see the ice skaters, snow was being whipped by 45-mile-an-hour winds into our faces and clothes and instead of idyllic, hip skaters, the rink held a huge snow moving machine, clearing the snow off the ice. But if the skaters had been there we’d have been blinded by the blowing snow anyway, so it didn’t really matter.  It wasn’t a moment that really invited you to hang around.

My daughter and I each acquired a good pair of great looking and very serviceable snow boots in New York City.  And our friends fed us delicious meals– one Indian meal and one Mediterranean meal of fish cooked in a clay pot with potatoes, peppers and kalamata olives.

On Tuesday with the snow high and the temperature low, but the sun blazing, absolutely blazing, in the sky, I took a long, kind of epic and magical walk by myself from Canal Street where the J train let me off through Chinatown to the part of the Lower East Side that is not Chinatown. At the end of the long walk to the museum, I learned that there were no tickets left for the Tenement Museum tours.  But I felt in many ways– that the long walk through Chinatown had been my tour of immigrant life in NYC.  It was really an amazing walk full of young Chinese people with some extreme and interesting haircuts, headphones and messenger bags.  Speaking Chinese, not surprisingly.  (Were they Chinese heritage? born in China?  I do not know.  I wish I knew.)  I cannot completely say why the walk amazed me, but it did.

Our day did end with tickets to a Broadway show and we saw, for the second time, the musical, In the Heights, which blew me away for the second time.  Seeing it with my daughter blew me away too.  She could only be described as rapt through the performance, following every line, every dance move, taking in every costume and mannerism and joke.  I will post about this in greater detail at least one more time, and post the surprise of the evening– but for now I will say that this time around, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Abuela Claudia character and her resemblance to my great grandmother, Rose, who was, like Abuela Claudia, a domestic worker.  My Great grandmother Rose did domestic work until she was in her 80’s and was alive until I was 17.

We are glad to be home, but as I said, I am sad– though there is plenty of promise in the coming year.  I will push myself to write my way through the year to come, even more than I have this year, sad or not.

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A Conversation with My Father– life and a short story.

“A Conversation with My Father” is the name of one of my favorite short stories by Grace Paley.  I admit there are many of her stories and poems that could be called favorites.   I miss her as time goes by.  Three and a half years since her death?  I cannot quite count.  We (my partner and I) sat Shiva (the Jewish custom of sitting at the home of a family in mourning– to pray, to console, to keep company and share time and food together) last night with a good friend whose father just died at age 93.

It was a sad thing and an ok thing– my friend really at peace with how her father died, and with the goodness of his life and with the ways she had found to be with him shortly before his death– to say goodbye.  She is wildly organized and a major planner in ways I am not, and I could not help but notice that his death happened in a very orderly way–which suited her well and I am guessing him too– with time to think through how she wanted her last times with him to be.  And by her account, it was a peaceful death.  I was honored to sit Shiva with my friend, her partner, our Rabbi and my friend’s family and many other friends.  I say honored, not because I wouldn’t expect to be there, but because I find it an honor to be part of this kind of intimate and important moment in people’s lives– even these very painful moments.

My partner and I stayed late to do clean-up which was a lovely time to talk to them, to put our bodies to the task of simple work as a way to help and to show our caring and respect.

It has been a hard couple of weeks on the circle-of-life front; two very important friends in our lives–  diagnosed with cancer.  The young daughter (not yet 3 years old) of another very close friend is in the hospital for illness related to my young friend’s serious disability.  My friend (the little girl’s mom) called us at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday from the pediatric intensive care unit and I was there by 7:45.  A funny story which maybe I will recount later about claiming to be the girl’s grandmother– so they wouldn’t give me any flack about going into the unit before visiting hours made for that poignant contrast between grief and humor, worry and brazen-ness– and I carried the taste of that contrast with me as I sat with my friends and their daughter for many hours on Saturday.

And a couple of weeks before that, I learned that the adult son of a friend– a close former colleague from a job I loved, also has cancer; in his case a more advanced cancer.  I cannot help but think over and over about what this must be like for my friend, as a mother.

Today I paused long enough to download and listen to the reading that the link below will lead you to.  It is a link sent to me by one of my two good friends recently diagnosed.  I always loved this story, which is about a Jewish father near the end of his life and his daughter.  It’s a sweet and cranky conversation that reflects their differing perspectives, their values and good-natured tensions in their relationship coming out of these differences.  Although my differences with my father never seemed funny to me in this way, it is a conversation which I think I had often with my own father, but in a different, somewhat more antagonistic form, about different points of view across generations.

The story is about the fact that one’s own perspective, one’s own history is always injected into any telling, recounting.  One of the things I loved about Grace was that she was adamant about her views– no pushover.  But her writing often leaves me wondering– who was right here and who is missing the boat?  It is never so clear in her stories, as it feels to us when we are in the midst of such a difference with someone.  The story is the story of the significance of telling.

Like my last week or two, in this very short story lives the pain and sharp grief of lives, the roaring belly-shaking humor of life, the wry, dry humor of life and my love of literature– all distilled into a very few pages.  This story is one of my favorites of Grace Paley.  You can hear the story prior to the commentary in about eight minutes.  I don’t know the writer who is the reader in this recording, but I love especially that Grace’s unmistakable Bronx voice is read with the nuance and meaning just perfect–but by a reader from a very different background, a woman of color reader/writer– who has a gorgeous Scottish accent.  Grace would have loved this reading and so do I.

A Conversation With My Father

p.s. on Happy Hanukah, no apologies.

After all those words on the above-named entry, I forgot to write the thing that set the post in motion. It was my daughter, this morning, after a quick Hanukah dance before school, who said “can you post videos on your blog?” “Yes. I can.” “Can you post something Jewish on your blog?” “Of course– I do post many Jewish things on my blog– Jewish things are great things to post!” “So,” she said, gathering steam behind her idea– her quick-working brain in motion, “So you should post that song on your blog.” she recommended matter-of-factly. And so I did.

Happy Hanukah, no apologies.

Being a mother–not the work of it specifically, but the thinking I have done over and over about who I want to be as a mother and who I want my daughter, in all the complexity of her life, to have the chance to be as a girl and later as a woman, has provided many things.  Mothering, I think, is not the only thread that has led me to this place, but it has helped create a certain stark clarity.  It has offered me significant incentive/opportunity to grow further into being myself. Among other things I am less, and less assimilated as a Jew.  I am not going to write, right here, about what I think assimilation means or how I ended up that way.  Nor will I get into rankings of how assimilated I am or am not, or was or was not as a younger person and how that stacks up against other versions of assimilation.  (But I’d say, as shorthand, that I think that in the US, many?  most? Jewish families assimilated or pushed to do so, in the years following the Holocaust– for many obvious reasons.  Some were more intentional than others, some were more successful than others at the self-erasure that is what assimilation is, but it happened very widely.)

Simply put, less assimilated mostly means that more of my mind is on our Jewish way of doing things; the way I was raised as a Jew; the way my father and mother were raised, what other Jews– younger and older are doing.  Which means less of my mind is on passing within a culture (Christian) not my own.  It’s not an angry or defiant thing; it just is.  My daughter attends a school where things are opposite of her life at home; she is in the majority as a Latina and vastly in the minority as a Jew.  Lately, I can see before my eyes, that she is claiming a stronger and stronger understanding of herself as a young person of color, and a stronger and stronger understanding and love of herself as a Jewish girl.  Cool, very, very cool.

All that is (350 words worth of ) background for just this;  Christmas is almost upon us and for most of 25 years– I have been a working person at Christmas time.  This year I am not.  Unexpectedly, I feel a great burden lifted.  There is, for me, no office Christmas party to navigate, clear the calendar for, dress up for, bring traditional food to…  There is no office party that goes by the name of “Holiday” party, but is really a Christmas party.  I am not explaining to anyone that no, Hanukah is not “our Christmas”– it just happens to fall at the same time of year and if we followed a Jewish calendar we’d have our big office party after breaking fast for Yom Kippur, or maybe at Simchat Torah.  I am not anyone’s secret Santa.

I feel– well — stunningly free in some way.  We are not free of the shopping part–still caught in that for reasons of advertising that seeps in and snares us and for love.  Family, including my  partner’s family are Christmas-celebrating Christians as are friends we love very much.   And even the shopping, though objectionable for many reasons, is a totally different thing.  I buy birthday presents for people when it isn’t my birthday– but I’m not expected to pretend that it is my birthday party too.  I am just enjoying being Jewish at this time.  Including Hanukah– which as I said, is not our version of Christmas.  Here is what we are rockin’ out to.  Mornings. Evenings.  My beautiful oldest nephew, I., a tall Jewish boy with a full teen life, called to tell us to find this and listen.  I’m trying to figure out how to get this on my Ipod.  I know many of you will have found this already, but go ahead, enjoy these beautiful Jewish young men from Yeshiva University.  Their humor, imagination, Jewishness, beautiful voices and rocking rhythm.  And when you do, think of us– we’re probably listening and dancing around the house.

In Praise of brevity. Prose mother haikus, coming soon.

I have always thought I could never be a novelist because I don’t have an attention span long enough to write one thing over such a long time, in so many words.  Yet, I have learned things as I’ve worked at this blog.  Writing in this techno age, I have information about my own work here.  I am not particularly adept at the short blog post.  Or maybe adept isn’t the right word.  I just don’t seem to be able to do them.  These blog posts are very consistently about 900-1400 words.  Longer, I think, than is the convention in this form.  You, reading this can’t see, but I can see this as I write on this blog site.  A few shorter and a few longer, but pretty consistently within that range.

I have looked closely at the work of other writers whose work I am moved by and whose writing  and minds, I admire.  I do not want to reduce something so devastating and profound as the death of a child to a word count– but a year or more ago, I studied the work of several women bloggers very closely.  This wasn’t a class or tutorial– I just did it.  I often hold in my mind, the fact that Vicki Forman wrote a beautiful and detailed farewell two and half years ago– to her almost 8-year-old son, Evan, who died– and to her Special Needs Mama column in the online zine– Literary Mama, in a piece called Saying Goodbye.  It is about 630 vivid and heartbreaking words.  I’m at 206 right here.

There are pieces in my mind that I want to write– really so as not to forget.  Whether there is deeper meaning to these things, I do not know.  But at least they will probably be shorter.  My practice at being succinct.  And I think I will tag each of them– mother haiku:______.  For example I want to write a piece about sticks– my daughter’s interest in, collecting of, and keeping sticks.  I want to write about the things I find in her pockets, backpack.  I want to write about — the old plastic vegetables I was aways trying to keep together, but that she liked to put in her purses and play strollers.  The fight against and ultimately the fight to embrace, as a parent– clutter, noise, interruption, speed, motion, and so many things out of the boundaries of a rigid adult world.

I’m right over 400 words here– so I should give this a rest now.  Then I should start writing.  And then stop writing.  Soon.

Practice

For an open person, which I consider myself, I am feeling the limits of my willingness to bare my soul.  These days, I move through many feelings in the course of a day, a week.  I am reflecting on who I am, what I have done in my life, what has given me satisfaction and what has not.  What matters to me.  The job I have lost was not a good place for me to be– almost ever for the time I was there– though I can see that I learned and got to do some very interesting things there. It’s a gift, really, to have this time with my daughter, my partner, to have studied so intensely for my Bat Mitzvah, to get to put my mind on this reflection.

I am thinking of my own life and about the invisible threads around my life and each of our lives.  What did my class background teach me about who I could be–what would be valuable things to do and what would not have been acceptable?  I think that for a Jewish girl born 10 years after the end of the Holocaust– I am coming to understand how heavily fears and worries about security were passed down to me and how intensely these shaped my thoughts about what I could and would do– work-wise.  Would I have been a poet had there been no Holocaust?  A teacher?  A weaver?  I don’t know.

I am struggling to write.  My days are full of so many personal thoughts and feelings and I find myself pressed am up against a spot where I am not sure how deeply and how personally, I want to share– yet those personal thoughts and feelings are so much of what there is to share at this time– more so than at other times.  I pulled out the computer and I sat down this afternoon– because I want to practice, practice, practice.  So that is just what this post is– practice.  Practice trying to say things when I’m not sure what to say.  Practice keeping going.  Practice.

Our 4th and 5th grade girls started basketball season in the past five weeks.  My partner is coaching again, and there were three weeks of practice and then a game, their first, last Tuesday.  This year, my daughter is on the team.  She wasn’t old enough last year, but she is now.  It’s a big deal for her and a big deal for me.  I never played organized sports of any kind.  Many, many fears– feelings of not being good enough, asthma, the fact that I was a slow runner and (I know I said it already) many fears, shame, embarrassment and a very strong feeling of not wanting those struggles to show openly– all of that kept me from playing sports.

As I watch girls now, and have watched for many years, I regret that there was no one to help me back then– to be kind and understanding about the weight of the fears that stood between me and sports, but who would have lovingly insisted that I not give up.  Not giving up seems to be a key theme that I am exploring in this interesting time in my life having lost a job as a 50+ -year-old woman.  How does one not give up?  Can you go back and fight to rework– emotionally– the places where you already did give up?  I cannot go back and be a grade school or high school girl again playing basketball.  But maybe I can undo the spot of giving up–way back then.

The game on Tuesday was interesting and complex too.  I really wish I could wave a wand and do away with the vicious competition in our world– the assumption that competition, rather than learning, cooperation– is the “way of the world” and that young people had better get used to it.  There are several very skilled 5th grade girls on our team.  There are several 4th grade girls who have clearly never played this game recently and are obviously just learning– my daughter among them.  There was a huge set of issues around race and class that played out in the gym that I will not write about here.

What I will say is this.  Because it is our news and because it has bigger meaning.  My daughter got to play on Tuesday.  In a gym, with shouting parents, a referee, and a team, also a team of young girls, who they didn’t know.

I watched her and saw her, then myself at her age, then her again, more clearly. We have things in common– she is timid in certain ways.  She gets embarrassed easily and that line between embarrassment (the kind you can laugh at) and humiliation (the kind you can sob about) is a very thin one–too easily crossed.  (By too easily, I mean, I feel for her, I hurt for her– not that she is too sensitive or too anything.)

But she is definitely not me.  First of all she is, simply, not me.  Then there is the fact that she is on the team.  And she played.  With four teammates, five opposing players and that gym full of shouting parents, sisters and brothers and coaches. She often didn’t know where she belonged on the floor and you could see her waffling between wanting to fight for the ball and hoping it wouldn’t come her way– but she played and she laughed and she ran and she got right in front of the opposing players and defended– just like you’re supposed to.  I could tell she was scared– but she did it.  They happened to win.  And I know you’re not supposed to say this, but this year I hope they don’t win every game as they did last year– I wish they would just ditch so much of the competition all together.  But in any case she played her first game–though I never have.  I too am getting ready.  Practicing.

Busy

I am still unemployed.   I am moving from fear to enjoyment, trying to find my way through an interesting kind of freedom.  I don’t have hours of so-called “free time” on my hands– first of all, no involved parent does.

I am pondering, for the long haul and daily.  What do I really want to do with my days on this planet?  The Bat Mitzvah is over, the semester of auditing my law school class on Juvenile Justice and Special Education is over.  I am doing all kinds of things, things I must do, a few that I just want to do, but the days go like a roller coaster.  Faster and faster, with a feeling at times, of less and less control over them.

I am not writing as much as I’d hoped to.  I am definitely not writing as much as I want to. I want to be doing this work of writing regularly. Very, very regularly.  A sister blogger, working parent is predictably (she has just been moving through this trajectory for more than a year) working toward a book proposal.  And here I am, two weeks and three days between blog postings.

But the other day– exactly one day after my most recent (it was not recent) blog post, I was driving from grocery store to school– huge rush, very late, to get my daughter and I heard this short column read aloud by Andrei Codrescu, on NPR.  I’ve provided a link to the text but if you can figure out how to hear him, it is well worth it.  He has a marvelous reading voice.  I laughed out loud and nodded, all alone in the car, as I listened to him.  I may even have said, “Aha!”.  Now I see.  I may need to find a more or less regular job, because as things are going right now, I do not have the time not to.