Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Gap, Revealed



     I looked over from the line I was standing in at The Gap in midtown and started to laugh.

     "Wow," I said, turning to the young woman behind me and pointing out to her the scantily-clad mannequin to our left. "I noticed fashion was getting a little more risque, but I think this might be stretching it..."

     "Did they do that on purpose?" she wondered.

     "I don't know, can't really tell these days, what with some of the outfits the ladies are wearing, the over-the-knee boots and knee socks, short skirts...Maybe they've finally decided to just be honest, to offer up a little window into what people really hope to get out of wearing some of these sexier styles."

     The girl nodded but looked a little scared at my rant. Right then, as we continued to stare at the headless vixen with the perfect pecs and the beckoning open zipper, a woman (the young woman's mother, it turned out,) came alongside the mannequin with a shocked expression and tugged a bit at her cardigan to try to cover her exposed breasts.

    I lost it. It was hilarious, perfect. The woman came toward me shaking her head. "What if a man was up here?" she asked, mortified.

     I laughed. "You mean men haven't seen that before?" I asked.

     By this point, I was up at the cashier, who had already alerted her manager to the issue of the half-dressed mannequin. Apparently, it was not on purpose. The manager, I daresay, was not at all amused as she ran over to button up the sales-figure's figure behind closed material. I had placed a gold star on the babe's plastic breast that might be there still, a reminder of what people are so often TRYING to do by dressing well...The Gap is, I guess, supposed to be more subtle in its marketing.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Joys of Childbirth


I was eavesdropping. I make no apologies anymore in cafes, when I pipe in to other people's private conversations. If I have something valuable to say (the decision of whether or not it's valuable made, of course, by me) I say it.

When Riannon Price rubbed her belly and began to discuss the many variables inherent in giving birth, I had to speak across Naidre's to add my twenty-two cents.

"You just have to relax and let nature take it's course, you have to visualize the baby," I said. "We are meant to do this, and the only thing that creates a problem is if we clench and are nervous. It's amazing, enjoy it."

She looked at me then, skeptical. "I'm not sure I want the epidural..." she said.

I laughed. "Luckily, with my first, I had a doctor who had just had her third child, she came in and said not 'if' but 'when.' I got it, and it was great, it helped me relax. I had no qualms with the second one."

Rhiannon has the usual concerns, about doctors giving a c-section to speed things up, about the potentially scary side-effects of the epidural. It's not that these things aren't ever issues, but together, in aggregrate, if you focus on them, they add to the already fearsome prospect of parenting. The worry over things you can't necessarily control will definitely be a problem, while these other things are mere possibilities.

I loved giving birth, both times. My pregnancies were not without scares (all false alarms from diagnostic tests delivered in the hope of helping but that proved only harmful in the end) and my deliveries too were not without their panic moments. But the beautiful, magical idea that I could bring a new baby into the world trumped all of that, as it should.

Rhiannon seemed calm, with a beautiful smile. I have no doubt she will be able to put all her concerns aside and deliver her baby with great aplomb, even, maybe, enjoy the process.

"It's nice to hear someone be positive..." Rhiannon said. It's true, most people focus on the pain.

I waved off the slim memory of pain. "You're bringing a person into the world, what else matters?" I said. "Plus, what no one tells you is that the pain subsides during contractions, you get a little rest!"

I gave her a gold star and the recommendation to drink a glass of wine before labor, to get the epidural if she wanted it or needed it. I passed along the great wisdom of a Lamaze coach  who dressed-down a control-freak Dad, concerned that his wife's use of drugs would harm HIS baby.

"'For as long as women have been having babies, people have found what they can to ease the pain,' she said, 'Indians used peyote...'"

Whatever it takes to relax and enjoy (within reason, of course,) Rhiannon should do. It is, after all, the greatest gift to be able to give the gift of life! It can be, and should be, fun.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Doing What We Want


Jeremy is an old soul in a young man's body, clad as he often is in a cardigan, listening to Fleetwood Mac, a great band who broke up long before he was born. He actually eschews Facebook in favor of face to face friends.

I visit Parco often just to engage the bearded twenty-something in conversation, to feel better and more hopeful about the future of our youth. I quiz him sometimes, like the other day.

"So," I said as I sidled up for my long-shot double espresso, "do you do everything your doctor says?"

He paused in the midst of the pour. "Well," he said, "yeah..." He shrugged then. "Well, except for the smoking."

I doubled over and danced up and down. Thank goodness the little cafe was empty.

"That's amazing," I said, "hilarious."

It turns out for all the great wisdom Jeremy has offered up, I had never given him a star. I was glad. This was a perfect moment.

The truth is, no one does much they don't want to do, even when it comes to potentially helping their own health. It is hard to change habits, especially habits we have in spite of what common sentiment might say, in spite of what even "statistics" tell us might shave years off our lives. The truth, which Jeremy knows well, is that no one, not even one's trusted doctor, knows very much for sure. Smoking gives some people lung cancer, while others get off scot free. We have to debate these decisions for ourselves, weigh what matters to us in the moment with potential unproveable longterm affects.

Gold star to Jeremy for being a free thinker, for making a choice for himself that others might judge harshly. He has that right. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Truth and Nothing But

She walked up to the front desk at the Prospect Park Y to turn in a check she'd found for $300, a check for someone else.

"How are you?" one of the cleaning staff asked.

"Shitty," she said.

I doubled over.

"I love that!" I said. "People never say that."

She smiled slightly as she handed the found check over. It was obvious she could have used the money herself.

"What can I say," she said, shrugging her shoulders, resigned and proud at the same time, "I'm honest. I tell the truth."

As I reached for my gold stars, there was a commotion among the ladies who worked there who had gathered round.

"It's the gold star lady!" they said.

I handed one to Miss Shitty first, for her honesty, then handed them around to the staff so that no one would feel left out. It is the holidays after all, and they do work hard. Plus, I love to be generous and stars are a cheap way to make someone's day!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reinvention


During the dog days of winter, it is our furry friends who stand, sadly, out in the cold, shivering on their little paws.

In front of Parco, though, Nora Fish's dogs look enviably warm and toasty. They are clad in fabulous sweaters the likes of which I wouldn't mind for myself in a slightly different shape.

Nora, a freelance graphic designer, has had so many comments and compliments on the sweaters as she meanders around the neighborhood, that she has decided to build a business to sell them. Tootaloops already has six orders!

It is a reinvention of sorts for her or at least an interesting addition to her current creative endeavors, a necessity in this economy and in life in general. When things get boring, try your hand at something new. Nora is an inspiration in this regard, and for that I gave her a gold star.

E-mail nvfish@earthlink.net for one of Nora's awesome sweaters.

Monday, December 13, 2010

License to be Bold, At Any Age

Across from me on the subway were three older ladies. One wore a purple hat and red gloves, the other two both wore red hats and red scarves.

Was it red or purple that those ladies that travel together in the same bold, life-affirming, I’m-still-kicking-and-I’m-cooler-than-you color wear, I wondered, looking down at my own long purple scarf.

"Are you part of that red hat group, or purple?" I leaned across to ask.

They looked at each other and laughed. No, it was purely by accident that they all wore red and purple, they weren't part of the Red Hat Society, though they knew of it.

"There's a group of Loise’s too who travel around together," one said with a shrug, cocking her purple cap with eyes closed against the ridiculousness of it all.

"I guess sharing a name is as good a reason as any to hang out with people," I said with a sarcastic laugh.

I gave these ladies gold stars and they were excited, though they declined when I asked them if I could take their picture. They wanted no publicity for being their bold selves. They were doing it only for themselves, for one another, for people who mattered in their lives. I loved it.

There is something about being able to pull off bold colors, to wear them proudly like a badge of courage amidst the New York City crowds. It marks a bravery we hopefully find in youth but that, often, doesn't come except with age if at all.

There is a poem by Brit Jenny Joseph, from 1961, when she was 30, that inspired the Red Hat Society's development and their mission to, among other things, "celebrate life...forge solid friendship...explore new interests...fulfill potential...and lead healthy lifestyles." No small order.


Jenny Joseph


Ms. Joseph's words are words to live by, at any age:

Warning:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple



With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.


And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves


And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.




I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired


And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells


And run my stick along the public railings


And make up for the sobriety of my youth.




I shall go out in my slippers in the rain


And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens


And learn to spit.




You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat


And eat three pounds of sausages at a go


Or only bread and pickles for a week


And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.




But now we must have clothes that keep us dry


And pay our rent and not swear in the street


And set a good example for the children.


We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.




But maybe I ought to practice a little now?


So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised


When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.




Thank you Ms. Joseph! Gold star for trying to inspire yourself and others. Hopefully, you still seize life in the same manner, whether you wear red and purple or not.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Art Basel Inspiration

Days after my return from Miami, my slight tan faded in the distance, I am still figuring why it is that I want, no NEED to return to Art Basel every year.

Aside from the blue sky and sunshine we saw before heading in to the vast climate-controlled art collections, the experience offered inspiration in spades, direct signs of the incredible efforts of artists of all kinds, new and old, creators of all kinds that aim to raise our consciousness and our spirits in all sorts of ways. I could have given away thousands of gold stars and might, should have if I wasn't so busy taking it all in.

I did, of course, give away a bunch.
Regina Kravitz got a gold star for her amazing zippered hat.

"It's a Kokin hat," she said, imbuing the name of a designer I am too clueless to have heard of.

"Well, it's awesome," I said.

We talked about how the people-watching, the fashion show as we rested our eyes from the visual art on display, was almost as scintillating as the show itself. Turns out, Ms. Kravitz is a clothing designer, something that didn't surprise me at all given her great personal style. She is starting a new line for her RIK designs, "relaxed spa-like clothes," she said. I will definitely be on the lookout.

It is not an easy industry, "impossible," she said. "I should be Diane Von Furstenberg but..."

But...it's so hard to figure a way to the top of the heap. She stays on top of the latest ways of self-promotion, the social networks and such. She is on the circuit, she is out and about looking stylish, which is in and of itself great marketing! Based on her personal look, I am totally tempted to buy her new clothes or take advantage of her styling services.

My friend Miok and I met artist Per Adolfsen at the bar of the Raleigh. The Dane was in fine form and we got a glimpse of his art on his Blackberry, which didn't quite do it justice. The next day, we visited it in person at the booth of the Dusseldorf-based gallery, Schuebbe Projects, that is representing him.



"I love it!" I said.

He smiled. "But you have to say that, no?"

I laughed. Per does not pull punches, he's straight up. That's why I like him. "It's true, I do, but I actually mean it."

Per has only been painting for a few years but he is already commanding a pretty penny for his pieces. The one on display is going, if it goes, for $16,500.

I love the swirling chaos of them, love swirls in general both for their freedom of movement and their metaphor. As Per describes his thinking, a window into why his paintbrush goes where it goes, "I paint things out of order, chaos. Things don't make sense. We can't control life, or always put things together by making systems."

Gold star for bucking systems, for being bold in one's brush strokes, in life. Per gave a big smile and slapped his gold star straight on. He is a star in the making.

Xiliary Twil, from the St. Helena, CA-based office of gallery Caldwell Snyder got a star for her sunny demeanor, something that shone out in the art she stood by (in more ways than one) of rising art star Paul Balmer.






I could have stood all day in front of the bright cityscape of a fantastical landscape, lived happily in its midst.

"It could be anywhere you want it to be," Xiliary said.

"Excellent, I get to use my imagination," I said.

Too often, we expect to be told what something is, given someone else's opinion instead of being asked what we think, what we want something to be.

I loved Xiliary's side pony and told her so. "I think the side pony is totally back," I said.

She nodded in agreement. "I might do Princess Leah too..."

Absolutely. Now is a time of whimsy and fantasy, a time for make-believe worlds the likes of which Paul Balmer creates with his brilliant hand.



I was blown away by the energetic drawings behind Andrea Zieher of ZieherSmith gallery. She introduced me, sadly, only in spirit, to artist Eddie Martinez and his amazing work.



"He never stops painting, it just needs to come out," she explained.

Staring, mesmerized at the magical depictions of daily objects reimagined, I nodded. "I can see that."

In an interviewwith Mr. Martinez in a little book that Andrea gave me (even before I gave her her gold star!), he said one of his inspirations was Hockney because, he said, "he just always goes for it, whatever he's doing...he's still just fucking doing it every day."

I love that, I'm going to use it, give Eddie a gold star for the phrase if ever I should have the luck to meet him: just fucking do it, every day!



Monday, December 6, 2010

The Forms of Fine Art.

 

Gold stars go out to the gorgeous female form. Artist after artist from Picasso to even more modern portrayers, try to do it justice, to offer up literal or figurative meaning to the mother sex in all types of media.

At Art Basel in Miami Beach this past week, in a city known for its Double-D mammaries, even on store mannequins, breasts and the women attached to them played a front-and-center role. (Pun intended.)

Thousands of gallery owners in town from all over the world for the United States' signature annual art fair, offered up their best booby depictions in booths spread out across convention halls, hotel rooms and massive mobile tents. It is only fitting that it take place in the city that, pound for pound, probably puts the most skin on display, at least when weather permits.  

Below is a sampling of the great works...








Ouch...











The prices, mostly, were well beyond my range, in the thousands if not hundreds of thousands or beyond. Mostly, I didn't even ask, but this tile below caught my eye.



"How much is it?" I asked tentatively.

"It's 40," the woman seated in the gallery's booth offered. "This is the artist, Yves Martin," she said, gesturing toward a man who nodded at me with pride.

"Uh," I said, looking at Yves, having made this mistake before, "Forty...?"

They laughed. "Forty dollars," he said.

I offered up cash, straight to the painter, and the piece was mine. Victory. I had made a purchase. I was the last of the really big spenders in support of artists and their rendering of human life givers in their infinite beauty.

The tile, along with the string bikini I bought for myself--shameful at 40, I know--both offer homage to the body, imperfections and all. Of the latter I will provide no photos, though, just a gold star to myself, for trying!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coffee and Concern


As I waited in line at the Juan Valdez in Cafe at the American Airlines terminal of JFK, I listened to the young lady behind the counter advising an airport worker, a man, about his health. He just shook his head.

"Are you sayin' my doctors are lyin'?" he asked her, clearly annoyed. She shrugged. Her instincts and nursing school experience told her maybe they were wrong, maybe he should try something else, I couldn't exactly understand what.

She kept on him as she counted out his change. As she handed it to him, she looked at him intently.

"Are you going to quit smoking?" she demanded.

He just stuck his hand out for the change and remained silent, his face a bit red out of exasperation as he walked away.

I smiled at her and lifted my glasses as I walked up. "Are you married to that man?" I asked. The exchange sounded familiar, demands made, frustration on both sides.

She laughed. "No, she is," she said, pointing to her co-worker. "Nah, just kiddin'."

"So, you're just trying to help him?" I said.

She nodded. "Trying..." she said.

 "Well," I said, "men don't usually listen. The only reason I'm still married to my husband after almost 15 years is that he will often just admit that he's an idiot," I said.

I got the laughs I was looking for from the ladies right on cue. There is no faster way to bond with women than to talk about how dumb men can be, how far superior the female sex is as species.

"And that man?" I said, "The one you were trying to help? You know how long we would last? About two seconds. He clearly doesn't listen even though if he did it would probably help."

The ladies nodded in agreement, still laughing. None of them were married and they were impressed I had been with my husband for 15 years.

I shrugged. "It's not easy," I said. "Communication in general is hard."

"My friend said if she got married again, she would only do it for money," one of them said.

Funny, I was actually purchasing a copy of Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Lisa Scottoline's "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog." It seemed apropos to the conversation, not even on purpose.

I gave Tamika, Melissa and Morgan gold stars. As they posed happily for their picture, I laughed.

"You look like you should form a girl band," I said. I wished them much luck in their relationships, and they wished me luck in mine.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Lucky Spot


I smiled at the man as I rushed down 15th St., late as usual, whistling. He stood by his car, paced a bit back and forth, ready to burst.

I slowed as he began to speak to me. "I got it, right away, for the first time!" he said excitedly as he gestured at his car. His enthusiasm was infectious. I had to stop.

"Got what?" I asked.

"A parking space! Right here! Right where I want to park! Without driving around for half an hour!"

I laughed. Only in New York would such a thing be met by such excitement, such glee, would such a thing as a good parking space be the thing you needed to flag down a stranger to share. There was only one thing to do. Despite running late, I had to give Jim Green a gold star. I mean, day in and day out, the man has set out hopefully to find the perfect spot.

He has been patient, but patience begins to wear thin without reward. And then one day, one fine day, his dream comes true: he glides in to the perfect spot without even a second thought, without worry or a search. Such luck must have been divined, otherworldly, worthy--of course--of a star.

Mr. Green put the star right on his lucky car and posed for a pic. He had time to spare to get to his job as a coach at Prospect Park Tennis Center a few blocks away, through the park.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"My brain is the key that sets me free," said Harry Houdini, the great turn-of-the-century escape artist and magician.

Thousands gathered wherever Houdini performed to get a glimpse of a man who truly believed he had the power to emerge unscathed from nearly any situation, certainly situations far more scary and dangerous than the everyday scenarios regular people face, even in the hardest of times.

At the Jewish Museum exhibit we visited last week, it became clear that what Houdini's daring stunts offered up in spades was hope. His successful escape from handcuffs, ropes, chains or water-filled tanks, was a metaphor that even poor immigrant Jews, like himself, had the ability to free themselves from the shackles that bound.

As the curator of the exhibit offered, "Houdini's metamorphosis was his own, from foreign immigrant to native star..." His story, as well as his performances, provided much-needed relief and inspiration for the crowds of fans who watched his every move with baited breath.

A gold star goes out to Houdini for giving thousands a reason to believe they could do it if they tried.

The spirit of his message, of the power of belief, lives on in so many places we visited over the Thanksgiving weekend. It resides in plays like Neil LaBute's The Break of Noon, which offered up the message of one man's soul-saving belief that he had been spared from a killing spree in order to spread the message from God about goodness. It rests too in more crowd-pleasing shows like Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, which, beyond the sexy, magically-moving-in-unison legs of the Rockettes, hard hits with the mantra that the holiday season, hell, life itself, will be bright because of the power in all of us to believe in the magic of Santa and the saving grace of Jesus.

As he read R. Crumb's graphic novel version of The Book of Genesis, my son Eli asked why they refer to what he has learned in Hebrew School as the Torah as the Old Testament, why people needed something else. The weekend's lessons loomed large.

"People always need something new to believe in, they always need a story of hope," I said. It is a lesson I will teach, and learn, again and again and again in so many ways.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Power of Public Art

Jim Power has been doing public art in the East Village for more than two decades without pay. He has covered more than 80 poles with beautiful mosaic, "more than two miles of mosaic trail," he says. Sitting with his dog, Jesse Jane, with her beautiful mosaic collar, and his mosaic-covered cane, he continued to sit amongst the crowds and practice his craft.

"It's beautiful," I said, as I put money in his tip jar by Union Square. "And for enjoying something in New York, you must pay..."

He shook his head in disagreement. "Not always," he said.

Mr. Power has given his life to offer free art, so it stands to reason he would not agree. As my mother and I stood talking to him, a crowd had gathered, a sightseeing group from all over the world led by a guide who chatted with Jim, asked him what was new.

What's new is that Jim is finally asking for funds. He has started an e-mail writing campaign to get something back for all he has put in, to finally, maybe, reap the benefits now that Wikipedia has named the area the East Village where his art resides officially The Mosaic Trail.

To help Jim, you can e-mail mlinahan@council.nyc.gov. In addition to $5, I gave him a gold star and he put it on his hat, covered with a variety of other signs and symbols.

"I got a promotion!" he said, giving himself and me a big thumbs up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Service with a Smile, Rewarded

The new guy at Naidre's, Gatlin Hardy, always has a smile when I walk in. He seems genuinely pleased and upbeat, always ready for an amiable chat. When I complimented him on his attitude, he just laughed.

"It's what got me fired from my last job," he said. "They didn't like it. The guy said, 'You laugh too much, and you spend too much time with the customers.' I reacted poorly when he said that, I guess. I laughed."

His reaction was perfect, I thought, perfectly worthy of a gold star. He has found a place that allows him to his be his playful fun self instead of just a productive robot.

"I love that you guys are all so chatty, always willing to go there. And I don't even mind if it means I sometimes have to wait..." I said.

Gatlin nodded. "The regulars feel that way," he said.

I laughed. I could recall a variety of non-regulars impatiently waiting behind me as I caught up with one or another of the boys behind the counter. "I have seen some people who come in and get frustrated and walk out," I said.

Naidre's would not be the place for someone in a hurry. I never used to go there in the days I had to rush into the city for work, in the days I had only the desire but not the time to stop and make friends with baristas. I think of that often, that different pace, that different priority. It is what makes me loath to be too busy. It is so important to take the time to tune in to the people you encounter, to allow them a moment to tune in to you. I have found that a good laugh goes a long way, farther even than a latte maybe, toward making a good morning. To help someone do that, to do that yourself, should be raise-worthy, gold star-worthy, certainly not a fireable offense.
 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

THE SOCIALIST SENSIBILITY OF STAY-AT-HOME MOMS


Tamar is a painter. She is also a mother and a wife. Being all three is a challenge.

"You sound just like me," I said as she explained how she had given up her studio when she had kids, how she found it hard now to structure the time she had in between pick up and drop off to do her own thing.

"Maybe if I had to, if I needed the money..." she said. But, like me, Tamar has a husband whose job covers the bills. As a result, she lacks the direct motivation to make something out of her art as she once did.

It is, of course, a lucky position to find oneself in, not having to work to pay the bills. But with it comes a certain pressure all its own, the need to drive oneself, to be productive, without necessity. It is a conversation I have had often about the sad necessity of capitalism, why socialism sometimes does not suffice. My Swedish exchange student boyfriend in high school taught me that lesson well. We each believed in the greatness of the other's system. Maybe it's that no one thing works, that we must mix it up in order to appreciate the finer benefits of both.

Either way, Tamar and I headed to yoga together to get centered and focused on the day ahead, on keeping things in perspective about our work and ourselves in order that our children might be able to do the same. She had moved the gold star I had given her from her forehead to her jacket, sadly. I believe it often requires a third eye, a sixth sense, to figure the way forward.

WATCH ME ON FOX & FRIENDS TOMORROW, SUNDAY,  AT 8:20 EST AS I TAKE ON A MOM WHO IS FIGHTING AGAINST SLEEPOVERS WITH SCARY STATISTICS ON SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND MOLESTATION!!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Midtown Madness

They step, stone-faced, onto the escalator, hoards of them, out of the E train up toward the exit into Midtown on the East side of Manhattan. People touch each other, but only by accident and such touches are often met with snarls, to which the offender might offer only a defensive apology. It is rush hour after all, not easy to stay to oneself in such crowded environs, although everyone is attempting it.

Would that I could brighten the mood, give gold stars to everyone. But I myself get trapped into the me mindset, the attempt to keep hold of my own psyche as I head into an office where things have to get done, productivity is crucial. A transition is necessary, a need to get out of oneself and focus on external tasks.

I am only going in to Midtown once a week, to help a friend, and yet the weight of that one day, the effort it takes to mold myself once again into the conformity of the mass mentality and then break out of it again is a challenge.

Lunch in Midtown is always interesting. The cashiers at the salad/sandwich/soup cafes are like automatons, trained to move as fast as humanly possible with as little emotion as possible. There is no time for chat.

"How are you?" I asked the girl who grabbed my food and flew fast and furiously to ring me up though there was no line behind me.

The question startled her. "I'm fine, how are you?" she asked, looking up at me for the first time.

"I'm good," I said. "Hungry. Excited for my salad."

She looked at my salad, then, really looked at it. "Oh, what did you put in?"

"Curry chicken," I said. "Doesn't it look good?"

"Yes," she said. She was a human. I had surmised it all along.

The line had begun to form so I paid and thanked her and moved off to dig for a gold star. I stepped back, moving around the next customer she was helping, and handed it to the cashier, whose face, which had fallen into expressionlessness once again, shifted into a huge smile.

She looked at me then with great appreciation. "Thank you so much," she said.

"You're welcome," I said. "Have a great day."

A little human interaction might have actually helped improve this girl's day. It must be hard, I always think, to stand in a place where people can so obviously see you and yet rarely be seen at all. People are busy, moving fast, caught in their own mental swirls. But to step out of oneself, into the world of someone else, if only briefly, to connect over something totally trivial even, is crucial.

I am happy to be viewing Midtown with a new lens, to bring to it my stars so that I can remind myself and others that we are all aligned, if even for just for brief moments.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Moveable Plan


I am not in the practice, typically, of awarding gold stars to inanimate objects. But, walking around the West Village yesterday, before wandering into Grey Dog's Coffee on Bleecker, I saw this sign in the window of an antiques store and I thought it (and the person behind it) deserved a BIG gold star.

I loved this sign for its refreshing honesty and humor, for its heart. We try to pin everything down to specifics, specific times, specific places, specific tasks. Everyone wants to know exactly when, how, who. Wouldn't it be nice sometimes just to be flexible and slightly vague? To open when you felt like it, when you really felt excited about being in the shop, when you were really mentally there? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to be there when you didn't really feel like being there?

The sign made me laugh and I instantly liked the person who put it there. Would that I might catch them sometime actually in the shop!

I had given my first gold star of the day to a Dad I knew in the neighborhood, a writer, who had shaken his head in sheer frustration when I saw him on the train platform.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a good day when the dog pooped in the house, when I spilled my coffee," he said. "Aaah, Mondays."

I gave him the biggest gold star I had and he did seem to brighten a bit as he put it on his hand. But, maybe, just maybe, if he had such a sign to put up in the window of his office, maybe if he had the out not to go when the stars weren't aligned, to crawl back into bed and go later if at all...

The perfect thing, really, is a basic plan with built-in flexibility. I made a new friend at Grey Dog's, a man whose great task it is to put on big events like the city's Halloween Parade and the Family Reunion after the New York City Marathon. Lewis Siris, president of PublicWorks, Inc., knows well the nature of having to try to run things like clockwork but, also, how to step back and cede control to the universe.

Talking to him about this idea, for which I gave him a gold star, I quoted a friend who said recently, "You can plan the picnic, but you can't control the rain..."

He just stared at me, hard. "Oh, right!" I said, laughing. "You know that all too well!"

He shrugged. "People still show up, with umbrellas," he said. "There's nothing you can do."

I laughed. "Woodstock was a big washout, wasn't it?"

He nodded, lost then in a moment of nostalgia. "I was there..."

My mother always uses the line, "Man proposes, God disposes." Whether you believe in God or not, it is sheer hubris (or folly to non-believers) to think you will always know what will happen or where you will be when. You just have to relax and roll with it.

I said to Lewis how I always pictured the model Petra Nemcova during the tsunami, clinging to a tree.

"All you can really do is hold on," I said.

Lewis laughed. "Write about that," he said. 

And so I did.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lotto' Hope

I heard something flutter to the ground as I opened my book on the subway. Looking down, there was some kind of paper, and I leaned over to pick it up. It was a lottery ticket. It was definitely not mine. I am not a participant in this particular form of trying. But, under the transitive property of trash pickup, once it's in your hand, putting it back down is littering. That's what I tell my children, so I must follow the rule myself as well.

I put the scratched-off lottery ticket in my book as a bookmark without looking at it. A moment later, an older man sitting just over from where I was standing called out to me.

"I think that's mine..." he said.

I apologized, handing the ticket back to him, feeling guilty all of a sudden even though I'd thought I was being a good samaritan.

"Is it a winner?" I asked.

The woman sitting next to him, maybe his wife, maybe a friend, said supportively but somewhat suspiciously, "He thinks so."

He smiled at me with his few-toothed smile. "It's $50 I think..." he said.

"Wow," I said, laughing, "and to think I picked it up and didn't know. What if it turned out to be even more, turned out to be millions, and I had just stolen it and put it in my book? Sorry about that."

He leaned on his cane, slowly masticating a bite of the sandwich they were sharing around with his gums.

I handed them both gold stars. "For trying..."I said.

The woman barely looked at me, grasping at the star greedily. "Thank you, thank you so much," she said as she quickly worked to put it in a safe place. She turned to her gentleman friend, admonishing him for not taking better care of his star.

"She gave that to you for good luck," she said. "Put it in your pocket, put it somewhere...we need all the luck we can get."

I hoped, then, that she hadn't heard me say the stars were for trying. I amended.

"They are for good luck," I said in agreement, slightly under my breath. I'm not sure she heard me.  I was long gone from the equation. In some ways, more than many, they were already lucky: they had hope, in spades. It showed on their faces as they stared longingly at their lottery tickets. I was happy to have given them even more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jazz for the Next Generation


Sunday in New York City, what to do. There is so much on offer that sometimes we do nothing. But my kids are both music enthusiasts, learning piano better by the week, and I have been remiss at bringing them to see much live music, concentrated as it often is in dark bars long after their bedtime.

I had heard tell of jazz brunches around the city and, after a bit of an Internet search, focused on my mission enough to patiently sort through the various and sundry offerings, I found a good one. The Jazz Standard every Sunday features an ensemble of talented kid musicians as part of a Youth Orchestra directed by conductor David O'Rourke. The $5 per person suggested donation goes to support the Jazz
Standard Discovery Program, which connects New York City School children to the jazz art form.

The trip was a huge success. Taking the train into the city from Park Slope is itself an adventure, one my kids need to do more so as not to become afraid of the big bad city that abuts our little leafy neighborhood. We walked through the fancy new Italian food court, Eataly, and across Madison Square Park with its bubble-making man and public art installation, "Scattered Light", to the Jazz Standard.

As we ordered barbecue from Blue Smoke upstairs, we were front and center for a jazz master class as Mr. O'Rourke coached the kids to pay attention to their own playing and to the playing of the musicians around them. Jazz is a lesson in collaboration but also one's own singled-out efforts in such a great way.

After a bit, the actual performance started and the kids were amazing, confident and clear and strong. Any awkwardness these adolescents felt in other situations was erased as they put their minds and mouths and fingers to work for our great benefit. It was awesome to see the next generation continue what is a music form many often worry is dying. I wished I had brought enough gold stars to give them all. Next time. We'll definitely go back before too long.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Trying to Name It

I sit in the corner at Parco and chat with whoever comes in who is willing. Often, as I'm chatting, other people will be compelled to pipe in and there grows a full-blown salon, homegrown, right in the tiny cafe with its pictureless gold gilt frames.

The other day, I began talking to a woman I know, a fellow mother, about the difficulty I have trying to help my little one, Oscar, navigate his need for physical and emotional contact while staying on the right side of the rules.

"The teacher talked to me after the second day of kindergarten, concerned, that Oscar  was hugging all the girls. It didn't bother her, she said, but she was worried that the other mothers would complain..." I said, still struck by this two years after the fact. "Funny, none of the mothers did complain. They all wanted playdates. But still... Should I have told him not to hug?"

Another woman next to me, at the little high counter, nodded. "I had the same thing with my son," she said understandingly.

We began talking at length about the need for kids--and adults--to express themselves, and the difficulty of doing so openly and still functioning politely in society. I told her of my recent article openly discussing my mid-life dissillusionment and the outrage at my disclosure that divorce is on the table among a whole host of other options.

She shared with me some of her own personal details openly and was very calm and rational about issues I find often send other people packing.

"What do you do?" I asked suspiciously. She laughed.

"I am a marriage and family therapist."

How did I know? I introduced myself and took her card. Michelle Sheridan-Milovanski, Peace of Mind Counseling. "When you're ready for a change," her card offers. Parco always delivers.

While some therapists stay quiet, Michelle struck me as a real straight shooter.

"I talk about all the crap and name it," she said. In her practice and with her own family, she offered, she has a "willingness to look at the real human condition."

I gave Michelle a gold star and she boldly placed it on her cheek. Clearly, she is brave, an important attribute in anyone who sits where she does, in a position of power, helping people with the difficult process of naming what they might want and maybe even having the guts to go for it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gold Star for Giving


I was being cheap. Candy is expensive, and I know how much of it kids in Park Slope gather on Halloween. Within minutes, my kids take a quick easy walk around our courtyard and their bags are full. It took me hours of ringing doorbells, walking up to strange doors and having the nerve to say "trick-or-treat" to strangers to get even a fraction of their haul on the cactus-lined streets of Tucson, Arizona. Yes, that's right, I'll admit it: I'm jealous and a little bitter.

So it was, then, that I found myself at CVS reluctantly picking up a bag of candy then, realistically, a second. I shrugged at the people snatching up bags around me, feeling the need to defend the second bag, mostly to myself.

"Kids in Park Slope are..."

Someone jumped in to fill in the blank. "Hungry?" they said.

I laughed. "Greedy!"

My little candy-lover, Oscar, had already picked up a third bag, a package of Jolly Rancher fruit chews, and added it to our basket. "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaase?!" he begged with his eyes big and round. He knows I am a sucker, likely to overcompensate for my moments of begrudging. Just for fun, we perused the candy aisle to see what else we could see, to figure if our fast choices were good ones.

It was then that I spotted Marty, with a shopping cart full of candy. I eyed my own meager offerings and felt guilty.

"Wow," I said, "You're generous!"

He smiled a big smile down at the many bags of candy he was buying. I could almost picture him giving it out generously, personally to every kid.

"It's the only way to be..." he said.

We chatted a bit, Marty Glucksman and I. Turns out he is in the business of being generous, giving people rides (albeit for some cash) as the owner of All Seasons Car & Limo Service, 718/369-1234.

I had no stars on me, but I told him I owed him one and I always make good on my promises.

"I need one," Marty said longingly. "I never got gold stars in school. I was not a good student."

It made me sad that there is ever a ranking of who deserves gold stars and who doesn't, that Marty might once have felt passed over, even though he is so clearly deserving, so clearly good at rewarding others. I'm glad Marty will soon, finally, after all these years, get a big gold star!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Talents Abound If We Try


I am always impressed with patience, as it is a virtue I sometimes lack, especially with my children. This mom was incredibly patient as she worked tirelessly to create a likeness of her daughter's little stuffed animal, Pinky. Little Coco was a taskmaster, as are all small bright children who know their own mind. Christine studied the image, tweaking it here and there with her pen like an artist hard at work on a masterpiece. Finally, she looked up at me and, seeing me smile, said with great surprise.

"I didn't know I could draw!"

I laughed and nodded in recognition. "My husband said the same thing, a few years ago when he 'copied' some images of SpongeBob for one of our kids' birthdays," I said. "He is really good, takes drawing classes and everything now, and he never knew. I always find it amazing what we find in ourselves after we have kids, when we are forced to do things for them that we might never have believed we could do."

Christine nodded, still amazed at her newly discovered ability. "I always thought I couldn't draw at all, I always said I couldn't."

"My father is an artist," I said, "and he always says 'anyone can draw...' We are just, usually, often, afraid to try."

Discovering latent talents is a gift. I gave Christine a gold star for her efforts, and one to cute Coco for hers. Our children have so much to teach us about trying new things, things we are sure we can't do, especially those who won't take no for an answer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trying to Talk About Mental Health


In his work as a rock-climbing instructor, Philippe Fontilea saw a lot of kids with issues they were too afraid to acknowledge. Finally, last summer, he decided. "Change was going to happen," he said. "Everything that was happening didn't work, and this works."

And so was born Lets: Let's Erase The Stigma, a non-profit dedicated to erasing the stigma of mental illness by funding and developing educational programs, mentoring opportunities and research among high school and college-aged kids.

"We've all experienced it in some way," Philippe explains on his website, http://www.letserasethestigma.org/. "A grandmother with Alzheimer's. A cousin with depression. A younger brother with Autism. Or even you. We see it, but many of us don't know how or even want to help. The way mental illness has been portrayed in the media, arts, and literature (think: Psycho, Silence of the Lambs), there is no question as to why people fear or deny their given situation. The social stigma against mental illness has become so prevalent that even those suffering from it deny their condition or refuse treatment."

I met Philippe in his booth at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Annual Meeting. Posing as a psychiatrist (not really, just as a member of the media), I met so many people trying, like Philippe, to institute preventative measures to ensure the overall health of kids in our communities, including the crucial area of health that often gets overlooked.

"Rather than wait until it's a crisis, let's talk about it," Philippe suggested. He is talking about it and establishing clubs in his hometown of L.A. in addition to New York and Washington, D.C. this year. And that's why I gave him a gold star.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Help Build Community One Gold Star At a Time!

I got an e-mail from a woman last week who reached out to tell me about where I might find puffy glittery gold stars similar to the kind I had written a while back were being discontinued. She had gone looking for them herself and found them, and me.

"Today was the sort of day where I needed a gold star, as did about everyone in my office," Elizabeth Livermore wrote from her perch as an office assistant in Washington, D.C.

I was filled with joy upon receiving her e-mail. I have been waiting for a while to have help doling out stars, help recognizing people and rewarding them in this great but seemingly insignificant way, a way I see as increasingly crucial as lack of faith in ourselves and the world around us grows in spades and with it our anxieties.

Elizabeth has herself ordered a slew of gold star stickers "to dole out to people here in the D.C. area, where far too often people are driven by money and politics," she wrote. "Just wait til I catch a man in a business suit giving up a seat on the Metro and ending up with a gold star sticker to wear to work!"

I sent Elizabeth a virtual gold star and asked if I could share her story, if she wanted to share her experiences of giving out gold stars--including to those unwitting businessmen--when she gets them. She agreed to both and I can't wait to feature her commentary on giving out stars in the nation's capitol.

It is not necessarily easy to get up the gumption to give, to leave oneself open to the judgment or mockery of others. But I think Elizabeth and anyone else who takes the time out to reward someone for their efforts with a gold star will be surprised at the amazing response, the enthusiasm and graciousness with which the star (and the person offering it) is met.

At Jaya Yoga this month, the theme is Sangha, a Sanskrit word for community. Today, in class, our fearless instructor Judy spoke of the strength we need to find in ourselves in order to be open to the various communities we weave in and out of, from our offices to our schools to our religious organizations to the neighborhood cafes we frequent. "You need to have strong backs to have soft fronts," she advised.

I work so hard to find that strength in myself to remain open and love to hear stories of others' efforts. The aim, of course, is to build community, one glittery gold star at a time.

If you'd like to receive an e-mail version of my blog or find out how to give out gold stars in your community, e-mail me at stephsthompson@gmail.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

Big Eyes on the World

I couldn't stop staring.

"I'm sorry," I said to the little baby girl's mother behind me in line at Parco, "she's just so amazing. Do you just stare at her all the time?"

The mother smiled and nodded. "She is incredible, everything is new to her."

Her big brown eyes stared out at me from below her knit cap, stared out then at her fingers and their movements, at the glass case in front of her housing all those yummy things she had yet to try.

I shook my head. "What's the line, when we stop finding everything a wonder?"

"Hopefully there isn't one, hopefully never..." the wondrous baby's mother said.

"I agree. It is sometimes a bit harder, though, we have to remember to do it amidst everything else."

Gold stars to maintaining a child-like wonder, to seeing everything old as new again even if it's not. Try.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Helping Conquer Fear

Sometimes, the biggest success is inspiring other people to succeed.

This year, I am coordinating the Second Grade Swim program at the YMCA for my sons' school. Despite an hour and a half in cold over-chlorinated water, it is easily my favorite thing all week. I find it amazing to figure tactics to get kids who are scared to swim to be less afraid, to help their tense little bodies loosen and relax and enjoy the water. I love being their biggest cheerleader.

It is for both safety and sanity that kids should learn to swim. Floating in water, that feeling of weightlessness if you allow it, is amazing. It is only the gravity of fear that will keep them down.

This week, I focused on one little boy from the special needs class who, with a smile on his sweet dimpled face, nods no whenever first asked to do something. But I just smile and gently prod him.

He has been afraid for the last few weeks to put his face in the water. He watched enviously as other kids dipped down and back up, but, still, he was scared. Bobbing in the water, I started coaxing him, showing him how he could do it just so fast he wouldn't even know he was doing it. Over and over again, I dipped face first into the water, fast, blowing bubbles like a fool to show him how easy it was. He laughed at my silly antics and, sure enough, did it himself a minute later. All of a sudden, he was a show-off, putting his face down in the water again and again, amazed at his own ability.

My heart soared. His success was greater than anything I could do myself. To help a kid have confidence in himself, in his ability to do something he is deathly afraid of? That is the best reward. I wanted to give him a gold star but it seemed unfair to all the other kids, also trying their very best. I told him, though, that he won most improved for the day and gave him a big high-five. His little smile was my gold star.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trying to Keep Native Culture Alive: Angela


Angela was filled with pride as she addressed my son's fourth-grade class at the National Museum of the American Indian. She shared with us a beautiful hand-loomed Treaty Belt whose symbols offered up the laws set up by her Haudenosaunee people hundreds of years ago. But then her pride turned slightly to anger as she told a story of when she was six, picking blueberries with her mother and brother on native lands protected for them under long-ago treaties.

She told of coming out of the woods to find a policeman, a modern-day law enforcer, who didn't subscribe to the native treaty, who told them they had no rights to the berries. "We poured them on his feet and ran," she said.

Battles over berries and other things picked and fished and hunted on lands protected for Angela's people according to their tradition are being fought every day, in tribal courts all over, she said.

It is not an easy thing, balancing history and tradition with modern ways that render the rules of a beautiful culture moot. I gave Angela a gold star for trying, for teaching us with her personal story about the ongoing struggles in our midst.

Angela took the star proudly, being, as she is, from a culture of symbols. She felt acknowledged by the star and by the picture I took of her holding the many handcrafted items of her beloved heritage. As she offered her e-mail so I would send her a copy, she acknowledged her personal struggle to reconcile tradition with living in modern America.

She was married to a Jew for 27 years but recently divorced. "It was difficult," she said. "The Haudenosaunee is a matriarchal tradition, egalitarian..." Now, she is "trying to live as traditional a life as possible, my mother's way." I wish her much luck.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trying Not To Get Robbed



Sometimes, to be effective, you have to get creative.

I walked into a vintage store, Exquisite Costume, on Broome St., to find a 60s disco outfit to go with the afro I picked up at Party City for Halloween. Full disclosure: I have always been envious of ladies who sport afros, so I am finally going to fulfill my dream.

The clothes are beautiful, truly exquisite and bold, but a little pricey for a one-time wear item. As I looked around, I caught sight of a sign. It said, "Fashionable girls don't steal."

I laughed and said aloud to the owner, Stacy, and her friend Aaron, "That's awesome."

She nodded. "It really works, actually. No New York girl wants to be unfashionable."

Aaron agreed, and then she looked at him, struck with another idea. "We could put a sign in the dressing room that says, 'Skinny girls don't steal...' I think it would work."

Nice. I gave them both gold stars. "For trying not to get robbed..." I said.

I bought a blue shiny shoulder-padded jumpsuit in the $20 bin. Perfect.

Sometimes we can forget this when tackling a serious problem, but humor and a little creativity can take you a long way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Communities Call For TMI

A friend who had moved to a new city after fulfilling a major wanderlust called me one day, frustrated.

"I know everything about everyone, even stuff I don't want to know!" she complained.

I laughed. Sitting as a do at cafes, wandering around talking honestly and openly with my neighbors and randoms passing through, I knew exactly what she meant. Sometimes knowing things about people does create a sense of responsibility we'd rather not have, it makes us look at our own lives in a way we'd often rather not.

"I hate to break it to you," I said, "but that's called 'community.'"

I have recently shared what many feel is far too much in my column for The Brooklyn Paper, but I am steadfast (as is my husband) that being open about our issues, first off with each other and then with others so they might not feel so alone, is crucial. I have always been deemed, "the one who says what everyone is thinking but doesn't say...", a trait that has left me out dangling on a limb many times. But I am convinced that TMI, if there is such a thing, is what is called for now in our era of TLRI, or Too Little Real Information.

There is a danger in our communities that people are walking around in a daze, not acknowledging even to themselves what they think, let alone reaching out so that others might help and support. But, in sharing myself, I hear so many amazing people's stories every day, stories of painful divorces that lead to awesome self-discoveries, stories of people speaking honestly within their marriages about the challenges so that they might move forward in something other than misery, people goosing themselves to make difficult changes in the hopes of finding more fulfillment.

Yesterday, I began singing to myself, out of nowhere, "The Rainbow Connection," from the Muppets and I turned to the woman walking next to me on the sidewalk to share with her this random fact, to wonder why this song of all others.

Broken out of her solitude by some crazy lady, she shrugged. "I guess it's just that kind of day...a Muppet kind of day. Maybe you're feeling Fozzie, maybe Oscar the Grouch..."

I laughed. "He did to an amazing job, Jim Henson, at capturing different moods with his characters, didn't he, at capturing all the people in a community?"

I introduced myself to the woman, Leslie, and gave her a gold star, just for engaging.



We are all here together after all. There is no reason to pretend we don't see one another, to not smile and chat about whatever might be on our minds. Try it. It's amazing what can happen.

 If you want to be sent GoldStar4Trying via e-mail, please send along your e-mail address to stephsthompson@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Bravery

I couldn't have made a better choice of where to spend my 40th birthday. This past weekend, I joined together with a group of warm, lovely people, trying hard each in their own way, in their own lives, to find peace and joy and happiness. They are brave souls, both the students and the teachers of the Memoir as Buddhist Practice workshop at the beautiful Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Amazingly, sitting cross-legged on cushions, all were willing to open up to total strangers about their greatest hopes and dreams, their tragic sorrows, who they thought they were and are, and who they might want to be.

I gave them each gold stars, which seemed not nearly enough. I wanted to give them what they wanted, their sought-after babies, their children lost to suicide, their parents long deceased. We all seemed, in our faces and in our voices, in our acknowledgment of one another, to want that. It is lovely to look around a room and see a sea of faces all wanting for you what you want, all rooting for you. It is, unfortunately, all too rare.



Leaving Omega and its warmth (despite the freezing temperatures in my tent cabin) would have been a challenge had it not been for the arrival of my smiling husband and children, who came to scoop me up before I could decide to stay forever.

"Will she be different Daddy?" my son had asked my husband nervously. Apparently, my husband thinks I did come out a bit different. "More you..." he said. That is perfect. I can only be me, it is all I can really strive to be.

We went from the Omega campus straight to Hyde Park. In a continued best-birthday-ever weekend, we traveled to the home of my childhood idols, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.



I could barely believe my luck when the tour guide offered up that we had arrived on what would have been Eleanor's 110th birthday. She is a Libra like me, and the difference she made in people's lives through her brave writing and communications with all people, both powerful and common, is truly an inspiration.

It was after 40 that Eleanor broke off from what others wanted her to do and found her own strength and voice. I give her, posthumously, a big gold star. Would that I could have had an audience with the great lady, but at least I have access to her great thinking in quotes, like this one I shall leave you with:

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.
We do not have to become heroes overnight.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trying to Get Past Prison...

I barely heard him over the sounds of Kate Nash in my one working headphone ear, but somehow the voice broke through, sure and strong.

"Ya know the first thing I did when I got out of being locked up after 4 1/2 years? I spent a few months with my kids." He shook his umbrella for emphasis at his friend and then continued. "And you know where I was New Year's Eve? That's right, with my Grandma, 'cause that's important, that's where I should be, while I still have time to spend with her."

I took out my working earpiece and reached in my bag. If ever there was a time for a star, it was this one.

"I couldn't help but overhear, and I wanted to give you a gold star, for trying. I'm sure it's hard..." I said.

Isiayah leaned over and took his star gratefully. "Thanks!" he said with a big smile.

"What about me?" his friend asked.

I took out another star and handed it over to Malcolm. "Absolutely...it was just his story I heard," I explained. "I'm sure you're trying too."

The two men happily posed for a pic amidst the flourescent lighting of the F train as if they had received an Oscar.



Recognition of the efforts of the formerly incarcerated is likely far from common. More likely they get a kick in the teeth. Isiayah basically said as much as he went back to advising his friend, clearly a fellow former inmate.

"You've got to come out and make something of yourself," Isiayah coaxed. "I'm not going to lie to you, it will be bad, but it will get a little better, slowly." He paused then and shook his head. "It took me 8 months, but I finally got a job. And you have to try to stay away from the drugs 'cause that's what will put you right back in. It's hard to stop cause that's what we know, that's what we're accustomed to. It's hard to stop, but it's also easy: you just stop."

Malcolm was listening, hard, and nodding. He needed all the help he could get. I can only imagine how demoralizing it is to have all the cards stacked against you, to try in the face of so many closed doors, so much judgment and prejudice, when it is so hard under the best of circumstances to "make something" of oneself.

I waved to my new friends as they hopped off the train at Jay Street to pursue their various endeavors. I'll keep my fingers crossed that they can stay clean, stay out of jail and that people on the outside will give them both second chances, let them try, hard as it is, to change their habits. I pray they have the presence of mind to feel proud of themselves for trying.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Discovering Yourself


I walked in to Naidre's and saw John helping someone in front of me, looking all serious. Now, he often acts like a hard case to crack, but I have managed, in the months that I have had the privilege to know him, to mostly make John smile, to harass him enough that he eventually is forced to laugh.

I told him as much when it was my turn to order. He immediately smiled, which made me smile in turn.

"See, there it is...now you're showing the dimples," I said.

He was all of a sudden back to serious. "I DON'T have dimples..." he said.

"I think you do," I said.

He shook his head, no, definitively no. Despite a co-worker having said the same thing, despite it being true, it was impossible that he should have dimples. Why? Simple: "My brother has dimples, and I always thought people who had dimples were dipshits..." he said, wide-eyed and serious.

I threw back my head in laughter. When I recovered, I looked at him sympathetically. "Wow, sorry," I said. "How old are you?" (I can ask this question still of people I know to be at least a decade my younger.)

"I'm 22," he said, looking perplexed, not understanding why it mattered. So I explained.

"It must be hard, at 22, to discover something new about yourself, to discover, in this case, that maybe you're a dipshit..."

Out came the wry smile, the dimples John can't really help but show. I pulled out a gold star and gave it to him, taking a number of pics to see if I could capture the denied dimples, harassing him as usual for my own entertainment and, I'd like to think, his.

I placated him with the notion that I, at 40 just this week, am still discovering things about myself that I have long denied, making realizations that I may be all kinds of things I don't want to cop to, have all kinds of attributes I don't want to acknowledge.

"You have to make your peace with who you are, even if it turns out you're a dipshit..." I ribbed him.

I jested but I think it's true. There is so much to know about oneself, so much one realizes as time ticks on. Sometimes there are things, positive or negative, that seem so obvious to others that we just cannot see, that we don't want to see. But it's important to accept ourselves despite the strange notions we might have built up in our minds about others who posess those same qualities. Shine thy mirror on thyself, I say, and try, try hard, to like what you see!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Einstein's Theory of a Good Life


I often wonder what the key is to life. I sit in cafes or on sidewalk benches (like now, in front of BookCourt in Cobble Hill) hoping to glean good advice or even just glimpse bits and pieces of what others do for clues on what to do myself. I have taken, lately, to reading (or at least scanning) big biographies of genius thinkers, writers, artists, the great minds, in hopes that the ways they chose to live might provide some salient insights.

Last night, flipping through Walter Isaacson's tome about Einstein, borrowed from my father-in-law, I came upon a bit of advice Einstein gave to his troubled son and thought it worth sharing.

"People who live in society, enjoy looking into each other's eyes, who share their troubles, who focus their efforts on what is important to them and find this joyful -- these people lead a full life."

I agree wholeheartedly. I have, even without knowing Einstein's urging to do so, been doing this. I look into people's eyes every day, many times a day, I make a point of it in recent years, putting my own insecurity aside to really see others. Often, of course, such eye contact leads to a gold star giveaway.

Take yesterday, for example. Checking out Eli's many books at the Brooklyn Library at Grand Army Plaza, I smiled at the man behind the counter. I thought he had some new device that would allow him to check out all the books in one fell swoop.

He laughed. "No," he said, "if it were that easy I'd be out of a job..."

"True," I said, "so I guess we can be thankful modern technology isn't better than it is..."

I gave him a gold star for doing the job that we still, mercifully, need done by a human.

"Wow," he said, taking it gratefully, "I need to get my girlfriend some of these so that she can give me gold stars when I do something good!"

I smiled. "Yes. Or maybe you should give them to her when she does nice things...See, it can work both ways!"

Sharing, recognition, focus...these are the important things, the keys to life, if only we can keep them in mind.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding What You Need From Your Neighbors...

I am looking for a web designer. I could, of course, go through normal channels, post something on Craigslist, look online...but, no. I have this idea of serendipity, of things happening by seeming "chance" only because they're supposed to.

So, instead of more active endeavors this morning, I sat in Parco. Sometimes, it turns out the person next to me can offer up what I'm looking for, whatever it might be. Not today. The girl sitting next to me shook her head when I asked her if by any chance she was a web designer or knew of any...

"Amazingly, I don't," she said. "I should, but I don't."

I thanked her for her effort to help, and headed out the door to yoga thinking, still, that there must be some way to find a web designer easily, today.

"Excuse me," I said, walking up alongside two young bearded gentlemen. The beards offered better odds, I thought, that they might know web designers or even be web designers. I didn't beat around the bush, I just asked them, point blank:

"Are either of you web designers?"

They seemed only slightly surprised to be asked the question but, alas, they both shook their heads, no.

"But we know a million..." one said.

"I figured," I said, explaining my facial-hair theory. Even before they knew they'd receive gold stars in exchange, Anthony and Dave graciously offered to take my information and pass it along to one or several of their million or so web-designer friends.



"See," I said, "I write a lot about trying to build community, and part of building community is talking to people who live around you to find what you need."

My new friends, clad in their gold stars, agreed. We'll see what happens. Hopefully, I can find exactly what I'm looking for just by stopping strangers on the street and putting them on the case. It should be just that easy, especially in Brooklyn.