Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Son, The Porn King

As I emerged from the shower the other day, straight into a towel, my 8-year-old accosted me. He had a camera in his hand.

"Come on!" he said. "I just want a picture of you naked..."

"Uh...no?" I said, wrapping the towel close around me, fending him off.

"Please? I just want to take one to show Oscar [his 6-year-old brother] and then we'll laugh and I'll erase it, I swear!"

He looked up at me with his best big-eyed dramatic pleading look, the fake one that lets me know he's lying. With an evil twinkle, in a low tone, as if offstage where those next to him, like me, couldn't hear him, he gave up the real plan.

"Ha ha! Not really, I'm NOT going to erase it, I'm going to make copies, and sell them to my friends for $1!"

Despite my best efforts, I let out a huge appreciative laugh. It was hilarious.

I shook my head. "Still no. I can't support you in this endeavor, my friend, much as I appreciate the entrepreneurship. You'll have to find something else to sell..."

Still laughing, I shooed him out the door to get dressed, locking the door. I wasn't taking any chances.

I was impressed, I have to say. I have to give the kid credit for coming up with such a plan, for knowing at such a young age that sex sells. I'd have given him a gold star if he wasn't already tired of them. The fact that he was willing to sell out his mother for a mere buck, now that's another story, but I did take it as a compliment that he felt, despite his inexperience, that the old nearing-40 bod would be worth even that. I mean, I'm imagining 8-year-olds are not that picky, but still...

If times get tough, it's good to know my son has a back-up plan. He probably knows what his friends are jonesing for better than I do. It scares me more than a little to think how the conversations might go on the playground already, how curious minds begin to move toward thinking about sex, about their desires, about naked bodies.

From what I understand, not all moms walk around in the buff. A lot of people think it's highly improper. A friend recently shared that her 4-year-old was forced to ask her, unfortunately on the subway train, loudly, if she had balls.

"Hasn't he seen you?" I asked, laughing.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "He was starting to grab at me and so, no, I don't get naked in front of him."

"They grab," I said, "but I just say no, that it's inappropriate now, with their mother. I don't want them to make seeing a naked girl such a big mystery, to make it seem like touching other people's bodies is so horrible. It's natural. Someday, with someone else, they'll want to do it and I don't want them to feel bad about wanting to."

I think I might be in the minority about my openness. In fact, I am sometimes shy of sharing that I am not shy in front of my boys, that I don't lock the door when I use the bathroom. Not that it would matter, they are french doors, mostly glass, so the lock is rendered useless. I was lambasted in a writing class for a scene in which my younger son comes in when I am showering and puts his lips to the glass for a kiss. I thought it was beautiful. Some people, the majority, thought it was sick and wrong.

Ah, sigh. We are, so many of us, filled with shame. A great artist shared with me his desire to delve into more sexual themes, but said he was nervous, even as an adult, that his conservative parents might judge.

I shook my head. "Sad that these themes are universal and, yet, people try to pretend they're not."

He agreed, but still. Likely, like a lot of people, he will keep his more prurient work under wraps until his parents are gone. Maybe such work will never see the light of day. I think it's sort of sad. After all, it's a big subject to explore. I am happy that my son feels comfortable sharing with me his thoughts, his jokingly devious plans. I think they are totally normal things to think about, even if I am unwilling to be his subject.

I have encouraged him to understand that sex is something he need not get involved with until years down the road, nice as it is. Down the road, though, he is free to do as he chooses. I will not judge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Remembering True Meaning

We saw it a couple of times over the last few days in Long Island, though, for all we know it was the same car. The bumper sticker said, "Put the Christ back in Christmas!"

Strangely, even though I'm Jewish, I get it. Something about the shopping panic surrounding the holidays this year rang particularly hollow, seemed not quite right given the shape of our country, the inability of some people, a lot of people, to afford basics let alone have many gift-wrapped boxes under a big expensive tree.

I chatted with a woman in my neighborhood, one of the few religious Christians I know, on the train the other day. She apologized for imbuing His name, but talked about how she had made it through all the stresses of the season remembering Jesus's love.

She explained, somewhat defensively, "It makes me feel better."

I smiled. "That's what all religion should do," I said. "That's what it's supposed to be about."

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Capitalism co-opted Christmas and, for many, it no longer makes them feel better. In fact, it can make them feel worse, unable to give as much as they feel they should as, sometimes, they are expected to. The moment after presents are unwrapped, if you're not careful, is one of the worst of the year. Expectations have been built up over a long period and almost nothing in those boxes could live up to what we imagine in our minds, even if it is what we asked for.

My husband's family gift-giving was aptly more restrained than in years' past and no one, except my 2-year-old nephew, devastated only because he loved to unwrap, shed a tear. A few nice, thoughtful gifts were shared and the deal was done. On with our day, with our weekend, with our year.

Yesterday, as I grabbed a few things at T.J. Maxx for my kids and myself, I joked with the young guy behind the counter.

"Happy, now that the holidays are over?"

"Yeah, I guess," he said.

"People are still shopping, but now it's for themselves," I said. "So they're probably happier..." I laughed.

He looked up at me, stopped ringing my purchases. "Yeah!" he said. "They're not yelling at me anymore!" He shook his head, went back to slowly ringing me up, steam practically shooting out of his ears. "Man..."

The bad memories of mean holiday shoppers clearly filled his head.

"Well," I joked, "better to yell at you than someone at home. You can't retaliate."

The girl at the next register, ringing up someone else joined in. "Right. But it gets bad. By the end of the day, we're all yelling at each other, and then we go home and yell at our families..."

I sympathized. "I worked retail, I remember," I said.

The boy looked up at me gratefully. "So, you were miserable once too?"

I laughed. "Well, it's not as bad as waitressing. Then, when you retaliate at people, you don't get paid, they don't tip you."

The girl responded. "I waitress too. It's a nightmare."

"Well," I said, "you do learn a lot about people..."

She scoffed. "Yeah, you learn they're all assholes."

I laughed. "Well, you have to look a bit underneath that..."

She shook her head. "You're too hopeful."

I smiled. "Sweetie, you're a little too young to give up on people," I said.

The boy finished ringing me up finally. "I don't know how I'm going to get through this day," he said, head on the counter.

"Do you drink coffee?" I said.

"No, Red Bull," he said.

"Well, I bet you're looking forward to your Red Bull break?!"

"You don't even know," he said.

I laughed and waved. "We all need something to make us feel better," I said.

As we drove home, the birds flocking together in harmonious clusters against the blue sky, I felt the warm, fuzzy, post-Christmas relief wash over me. It is always nice, every year, to hear store clerks move from "Merry Christmas!" to "Happy New Year!"

I would hope there could be a correction, like with the economy, where we are forced to look at our actions surrounding Christmas anew, start back at the beginning when the tradition first started with meaningful intent for true believers. I guess our best bet is to just make it meaningful for ourselves and our families and friends. And not be mean to strangers in the process. It is among my many New Year's resolutions to be sure...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Shopping, Stars In Hand

I had given myself a short window to do the final pre-Christmas shop. The more time I had, I reasoned, the more I would spend, on myself, on others, just because. I have never in my life gone into a store without having the desire to put everything even mildly of interest to me into a cart and take off for the hills, a Bonnie & Clyde version of Supermarket Sweep. Best to limit my time.

Soho offers the best bang for the buck, downtown Manhattan's closest proximity to a mall. My first stop is always Once Upon A Tart on Sullivan St. I remember the first time I tasted their buttermilk scone. I sat on the front steps and finished it in a minute, then got up and went in for another. It is the thing I missed most about New York City when I moved away for a while.

As the lady behind the counter packed the scone into a bag my eyes got big.

"I dream about these sometimes..." I said. She laughed.

Fortified with a bit of the scone and some espresso, I set out on my mission. I looked in the window of Global Table longingly. There was no one on my list who would want anything there, but I wanted lots of things...I had to stop in.

I looked around and shared my dilemma with the saleswoman.

"When I'm out shopping, I see so much I want..." I said. "That's the problem with this season."

She nodded vehemently. "I hate Christmas," she acknowledged. "I told everybody my budget this year is half of half."

I laughed. She sighed. It was going to be a long day, this day just before Christmas, waiting for people to come in, hoping that they themselves wouldn't have half of half budgets. I gave her a gold star.

"Thank you!" she said enthusiastically, "That is so nice!" She paused, then offered, "You are my first customer of the day. Now, I think it's going to be a great day!"

"Good!" I said. I bought a few stocking stuffers and waved as I walked out, the bell jingling as I shut the door, wishing her a Merry Merry despite it all. Sometimes when our expectations are low, things can only look brighter than we imagine.

Along the way, I hit the M.A.C. store, again for myself, to pick up some makeup I needed, though as I write it I realize "need" is a relative term. A young man was very helpful, patiently explaining to me over and over again a bit of information about my foundation that I didn't trust. He persevered, offered his expert opinion and convinced me. For some reason, being able to trust him made me happy.

"I love this product and I love you!" I said with a burst of good cheer.

He laughed and, when we went to the counter to ring up my purchase, I whipped out the biggest gold star in the pack.

"Oh my God!" he said, "That's awesome! You totally made my day!" he said. He put it right on his chest and showed off to his coworkers whose jealousy, of course, got them their own gold stars, just a wee bit smaller so he would still feel special. They were all smiling and happy. I was smiling and happy too.

As I walked out, off to do my real shopping, the shopping I needed to do for others, I felt great. Presents aside, disseminating gold stars in the stressful last moments before the holiday, gives me the true feeling of giving.

Happy Holidays! Gold star to all of you for all you've done and are doing for others!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Making Prophecies Come True

He was completely earnest as he said it.

"The astrologer, the psychic AND the tarot card reader all said I was going to be successful..." He paused slightly after the words were out, maybe imagining in that moment that his cafe mate might be slightly suspicious.

"There are conditions, of course, but I know it's true, I can feel it. I don't know how I'm going to make money but..."

It took everything I had not to get out of my seat and acknowledge my eavesdropping, give the guy a big gold star. Man, from the sounds of it, from hearing about all the various soothsayers he visited to offer him a bit of hope, he was really, really trying.

I sympathized. It's what we all want, right? To be successful? Not that there is necessarily a definition, but fame and money seem to be leading indicators.

A friend recently wrote on her own blog about her efforts to settle in to her life instead of always feeling that constant need to strive higher, beyond what she has. I commended her for her efforts. It is so hard.

When I got home from the cafe, where I'd resisted copping to overhearing this stranger's hopes and dreams, I opened a fortune cookie left over from the night before's delivery, unable to resist the bit of free hopefulness despite not wanting the cookie. I was not disappointed. As often happens, its message resonated strongly.

"The road to success is always under construction," it said. I laughed. So true. I think that often about completing a project, about the day after completing a project. On to the next thing, that's life. The key is to enjoy the process, enjoy your path.

Something about the day, about the efforts of this man, his waiting patiently for others' words to ring true, about the fortune, about my own efforts or lack thereof, caused me to rearrange my bedroom. Sometimes I resist change even when I'm not satisfied with what I see around me, but, then, I realized, constructing the life we hope for is what we have to do, every day, in little ways, we have to make of it what we want. It's all we can do, right? It is only us who can make positive prophecies come true. If we want something badly enough, we have to build it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

There May Be No Prize, But Still...

Sometimes it seems easier to give up. I gave a gold star today to a man whose job has been extremely challenging. He is trying to open something that was supposed to be opened a long time ago but one or another thing keeps getting in the way, keeps holding up the opening even though the ribbon cutting is so far back it's hard to remember, even though the champagne cork flew in the air like it was a done deal and it was far, far from it.

He looked at me this morning when I asked him about it with such true concern in his eyes.

"I'm trying..." he said. It's all he can do. I gave him a big gold star and he thanked me profusely.

"Now," he said, "I have to try harder!"

I laughed. "That's the hope..."

A lot of people are counting on him, blaming him, questioning him. It is not easy. But, still, he gets up every morning and makes the effort despite knowing that the reward, the end result, may still be a fast-moving target.

Sometimes, certainly, it would be easier to give up. I had a conversation about this with a friend today, about trying in general, with women, with sex. He is almost no longer trying.

"It's been a while," he said, "and, somehow, now, it seems to hard to get back into it, it's like it doesn't seem worth it..."

I nodded. "It's like with anything, you can let yourself get out of the habit, and then you let it go." It is why I try to excercise every day. When, like this past weekend, a few days go by, I begin to panic, like I will let it go for too long like I have in the past and, then, I will then find it far easier not to do anything, to fall back into my lazy ways, to make excuses for why I do not work out, even though I know I feel so much better when I do.

Relationships are just like that. Easy to get into bad habits of not looking for anyone at all if you're single or letting the relationship you're in slip if you are actually in one. It is always just a case of putting in the time, effort and focus necessary to make something work.

"Focus..." my friend said. "But there are so many things to focus on..."

"That's the thing, though," I said. "Somehow, like in yoga, if we can learn to focus on a single thing without thinking about it too much, putting your mind to it in an almost unconscious way, then we can block out everything else, we can really concentrate and accomplish something."

I gave him the example of my own morning workout, when I donned my pink boxing gloves and hit the heavy bag with relish, moving around the bag to the beat of Michael Jackson, hitting out controlled but calm with my eyes closed, letting my body move almost without my trying. It was amazing, cathartic, necessary to getting through the holiday madness.

A man came up to me at the gym, leaned in and smiled and said, "Are you training to be a middle-weight champion?"

I laughed. "Yes," I said, "How am I doing?"

He didn't respond, just smiled and walked away. Odds are I won't be any sort of champion, my efforts will only be appreciated, really, by me, possibly by a few onlookers who can get their aggression out vicariously through my punches. But, hey, trying just for yourself is the best kind of selfish. In the end, it will benefit everyone around you, even if it takes longer than you think it should.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Dose of Comfort at Costco

It hit me yesterday like a ton of bricks, as I looked over at my husband in the car: the point of a relationship is to comfort one another. As my 8-year-old would say, duh!

It seems so simple, that concept, that we should be able to offer solace, a little salve, to those we love in their moments of need, at the times when it all seems too much. Seems basic that, especially in the case of those we choose ourselves to link to, maybe we choose them because they let us comfort them, because we feel comfortable letting them comfort us. But it is no easy thing letting people in to our world, pushing inside others' worlds. It takes a fair bit of trying and sometimes, despite how easy it sounds, it seems impossible, seems easier to try to handle all those thoughts in your head yourself and not let them seep out for others to see.

But I get glimpses into others' worlds, even strangers', if I offer a bit of gentle comfort, a few sympathetic words or even just an understanding look. It is amazing how a little nonjudgmental observation, a little acknowledgment, can help, for a moment at least.

Take, for example, the man behind me in line at Costco the other day. Lines, especially long ones, seem to offer the best opportunity for practicing what I preach, making those little connections with others. After all, none of us in that moment can be anywhere else and, yet, being there is often so frustrating. So easy, then, to be annoyed and angry.

This man was your classic old school Brooklynite, a gruff 65+, bald and brash but with a barely-concealed softer side, I could tell.

"Hey!" he yelled up past me and another waiting customer to the cashier, in the midst of counting her drawer, a necessary if annoying hold-up. He gestured wildly, his expressive right hand suddenly turned into his sidekick. "What's the story?"

She, of course, paid him no heed if even she heard him at all. I, however, chose to defend her.

"What're you going to do?" I said with a smile. "She has to count her drawer?!"

His stance changed slightly, became less aggressive, more compassionate, if only out of guilt. Still, though, he scoffed.

"Yeah? Well, she has only two modes: slow, and slower."

I laughed a little to get him on my side. A joke teller is always looking for a laugh. But, still, I chastised him good-naturedly. "Yeah, well, she can only do what she can do...they're pretty good here."

He was quiet a moment, then he said, "It could be worse..."

I laughed and nodded. "It could always be worse." I took out a big gold star and gave it to him. His whole face lit up, a big smile spread across his face.

"Do I get this for being a good boy?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, "for your patience waiting."

"Thank you, my Dear," he said, placing the star on his chest, "you have a great holiday!"

"You too," I said.

These are the moments I live for, the ones in which someone switches their mode from mad to glad simply after being offered a bit of perspective. I think we all want to get there, to have someone else give this to us, to let them. Sometimes it's hard to get there yourself. That's what friends and family are for. Or, of course, the occasional stranger handing out gold stars.

Friday, December 18, 2009

You Gotta Have Faith

"What's your name?" the barrista at Naidre's asked the woman in front of me in line.

The woman paused, then came out with it, boldly, like an expression of air after holding her breath for a bit: "Faith," she said.

I looked up at her, then, and smiled. It had seemed a statement of belief, one she had had to gather herself before saying, but, really, it was just her given name. Cool.

"I love your name," I said.

"Thank you," she said, rather shyly.

"Do you like it?" I asked, though it was none of my business.

She paused, as she had before offering her name, in thought. "I didn't use to, but I do now. It took me a while."

It made sense. You can't be given faith by anyone else, you have to come to it yourself, and she had. I gave her a gold star happily. It's so important to appreciate who you are.

After eating my soup and drinking my Matte Latte, I moved on to do some errands. Buying a gift at a great store filled with fragile, original things, I noted a child who had been brought in by her mother against her will. You couldn't help but note her, she was crying and whining and throwing herself about a bit. I was scared for the beautiful bowls that were easily within her reach as she flailed. Apparently, the man behind the counter was also. As the woman went to the counter to purchase something, he made sweet-voiced but pointed suggestions.

"Um, you don't want to touch that, honey," and "OH! Her nose is running..."

I laughed to myself as I chose what I wanted to buy, glad my kids, as rambunctious as they are, are beyond the toddler stage and all that brings, glad, too, they weren't with me to get judged.

As I walked to the counter, after the woman and her daughter had departed, I overheard the man behind the counter speaking to his co-worker.

"It's not the kids, it's the parents..." he said.

Now, I know he wasn't talking about me, but I always take comments on parenting personally because I myself have a few disciplining issues, that is to say, I'm terrible at it. I think a lot of parents are. I feel bad for myself and for these other people, even if we are pathetic. It's not an easy job. I think people should know this.

"Do you have kids?" I asked the man, not unkindly.

He stared straight at me, understanding in a second my thinly-veiled judgment of his judgment. Takes one to know one, I always say. He smiled slightly.

"No," he said, "I am a militant homosexual."

Let's just say I was glad I wasn't drinking anything. It was a full head-back guffaw, the kind, these days, that sends my hand straight into my bag like a Pavlovian response.

"That is awesome," I said. "You get a gold star for that. And, you get a big one, the first one in my new pack," I said, handing over the glittery gold.

He was thrilled, and slapped the big gold star right on his chest, showing his co-worker proudly.

He turned back to me. "Really, I'm not that militant, I love kids, I love my nieces and nephews, it's just, this neighborhood..."

I waved him off. "No need to explain. Do you live around here?"

"No, I just work here." He didn't have to add the "thank God," it was implied.

"Hey, look, I'm with you," I said. "But it's harder than it looks I think, especially if you want your kids to be free spirits...I had a lot of ideas of what I was and wasn't going to do before I had kids, but then in reality it's a lot harder.

He nodded. "It's a fine line, I know," he said.

"It is," I said.

I was just glad to have had the discussion, to have some acknowledgment of parents' plight, even though we all see--and even sometimes are--the kind of parents we hate. I guess all I ever try to do in my conversations and gold-star giving is to see the other side, to get others to engage in that process as well. Really, I think, what I'm doing, is trying to have faith in people and to get others to have some as well. Maybe I should change my name...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Someone Other than Me

"Chest Rockwell..." one said, looking up from the register, bright-eyed.

"I'm Sonny," said the other, leaning in with a wide smile, putting on a heavier Southern accent than usual, the one Sonny would have.

"Wow," I said, laughing, "that was fast. You didn't even have to pause to come up with your alter-ego names..."

They both nodded, already back to work. I had suggested to these friends at the diner that they might be featured should my blog turn visual and, in a moment, they had created their characters, their prime-time personas. Nice. I loved that. How often during the day, I wondered, when business got slow, did they slip into these other selves, imagine that they were these people they aspired to be in their minds?

It has always been a popular theme, the alter ego, the persona one would take on if they had super powers or just the power to be something, anything other than hum-drum regular people. Alter egos, you see, are never hum drum. I didn't ask my friends all about "Chest" and "Sonny," but like branded characters companies develop, like Chester the Cheeto and Frosted Flakes' Tony the Tiger, I'm sure they have full-blown character sketches with all their traits, all they would and wouldn't do, all the ways in which they inspire others.

A friend, later in the day, showed me her facebook photo. She had named herself something other than her own name in the photo, looking at it, she looked wistful, like she wanted to crawl into this other character, at least for a while. She had, she said, for a time. She was back now, but it had been nice for a time to step out of herself.

I just shook my head as I listened to her tale. Wow, I thought, it isn't just me. We're all of us totally delusional if we give ourselves the slightest room to be, we fantasize so richly, regardless of our age, about all that might be possible for this yet-untapped self, that person we would be if we could. Part of the beauty of the alter-ego, though, is it never actually has to materialize for it to be useful. It lives in your head as you mop the floor or buy groceries, get dressed in a suit for a big meeting, do the dishes or the diapers or go on a disappointing date. You can even dress the part on certain days, that is the beauty of fashion.

I give a big gold star to anyone who lets their healthy alter-ego rule sometimes. It is a necessity, I think, especially around the holidays. How nice to appear at a family gathering as someone else entirely, even just in your own head?!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Capturing Reality

I had some time to kill in Manhattan yesterday between a doctor's appointment and lunch with a friend. I could shop or...go to a museum. Even though it's the shopping season, maybe because of it, because I have gifts to buy and can't think of what they should be, I went to the Met.

I had seen a photograph when last I was there that had stuck with me, Robert Frank's black-and-white photo of his wife and newborn child. Though the photo was taken in 1951, it looked completely modern to me, everything about it from the denim shirt the woman wore, open to reveal her engorged breast as the baby, satiated, slept just underneath it, to her hair and the scene around her.

I went in to the museum the new sneaky back way I have discovered and straight up to the second floor, to the exhibit of Mr. Frank's work, including his 83 photos capturing "The Americans". In it, like with the photo of his wife, he managed to put together a timeless picture of real life, of what people are up against always, then, now, likely forever. The intro to "The Americans," shot in 1953, speaks of the set of pictures as revealing a people "often plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding consumer culture." Sounds modern to me. The good news, though, is that he also "found new areas of beauty in overlooked corners..." Aah, the silver lining, the saving grace of any and all art: there has to be an upside, a ray of hope.

In a letter requesting a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which he was granted, Mr. Frank wrote that, "My project is bound to be incomplete, but I am sure it will be a vivid and valuable report." He was right.

Aside from jukeboxes now having been replaced by bartenders' iPods, and the simpler styles of cars and televisions, the photos could have been 2009. Unlike so many images we see of the 50s, of flamboyant hair and fashion trends, dramatic moments that place people or things definitively in time, these images transcended the moment to reflect people's larger issues, the ones that will continue to plague generation after generation, issues of failing political systems, false hero worship, unsatisfying jobs, the arrogance of the rich, the apathetic nature of the poor and the consumerism that hog-ties the middle class.

I moved through the photographs and out into 19th Century Paintings. There was Edgar Degas' A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers, 1865. I laughed, as Robert Frank had said he captured the culture of Paris in two subjects: chairs and flowers.

Nothing much changes, I thought, just the players. The night before, hugging me in his hooded towel, Eli had asked, "Why do people and things have to die, Mommy?"

"Yeah!" Oscar agreed with the question, scrubbing at his long soapy locks in the shower.

Hard question. "To make room for new people, new things?" I said, not-quite-definitively.

As I looked at depictions of so many cut flowers in vases, I thought of this. Cut flowers die so quickly it is depressing. I tend these days toward potted plants. They live longer, sometimes, if I'm careful. But there is nothing so beautiful as carefully arranged flowers, picked from who-knows-where, brought together for a fleeting moment of exquisite, breath-taking enjoyment. That is life, brief but beautiful.

I came to see the photographs but also, to visit my friend, Russian author Vsevolod Garshin, whose eyes leap out of the portrait on the wall to grab at my heart. Those eyes reflect what he knew about the brevity of life, of others' and his own. He followed in the footsteps of his father and brother to end his own life, his own auspicious writing career, at 33, over 100 years ago.

I started to feel sad but then I saw a young boy, sketch pad in hand, showing his own art work to his teacher, his own crude rendering of Van Gogh's Two Shoes.

"It's good..." the teacher said, somewhat noncommitally. The boy shrugged, a slight suspicious smile on his lips as he walked away. I approached him.

"Here," I said, and handed him a gold star.

He looked up at me, surprised. "Thanks?!" he said.

Aaaah, the cycle of life, of art, continues, slightly different but, really, the same.

Monday, December 14, 2009

To Commit, Or Not...

It was a simple enough question from the man behind the counter.

“Will that be all for you?”

The man thought, looked back at his son, already halfway through the not-yet-purchased cookie, and answered. “Yes. For now.”

I laughed, having been there many times myself in this bakery, done, “for now,” back in a moment for a second cookie.

“Right, never say never,” I said.

He gestured to his son, “Not with this one…”

“Right,” I said, “I guess in this situation I should have said, ‘never say no, when saying yes can offer you the opportunity to bribe your child…’”

He laughed. I ordered my own two small vanilla cookies for my son and sat down. Within a few moments, the man was back up at the counter for more, and a moment later, so was I.
“Here,” I said, placing one gold star and then another on his jacket as he left the bakery with full hands, “for having to buy more, like I did,” I said.

He laughed as he pushed out the door with his extra cookies, for people they were going to visit. “Thank you!” he said.

I joked, and in this case it was funny, but I thought later how, sometimes, in other situations, this ‘never say never,’ ‘never say no,’ phenomenon is more of a societal ill than laughing matter. It shows both how noncommittal and indulgent we often are. People, including myself, are loathe to say no definitively, since it’s always nice to have the option…Same goes for ‘yes,’ which, frankly, even when people do offer it up, does not mean they are still wholly on the hook. That’s what cell phones are for, last-minute cancellations or change of plans, just in time.

Often the most popular eVite party response, aside from no response at all, is “Maybe.” The fact that there even is this option says quite a bit. But “Maybe” isn’t even as bad as the response I got from a friend one night when I asked him if he was coming to a party I’d invited him to: “I maybe might…” he said.

I laughed. Maybe might? Is that more or less a likelihood than maybe or might on their own, I wondered. Maybe I should have asked him for percentage odds just to figure it. If you’re wondering, he didn’t show and I guess I couldn’t really fault him: he hadn’t, after all, committed.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows this is not a new gripe of mine. Friends in middle school used to offer up a blasé, “I’ll call you!” after school, and then, of course, no call would come through. And, in those days, I might have stayed home just to wait. I was always shocked and my more practical friend would laugh at me.

“They didn’t really mean they’d call, it’s just a saying…” she’d say.

Just a saying. Like ‘never say never…” Important, isn’t it, to keep our options open? I guess it opens some doors, but not deciding, I’ve learned myself, the hard way, often closes doors as well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Classic Films

'Tis the season to sink down on the couch with a blanket and watch a movie. And, for some reason, this year, I decided to return to some old favorites. They did not disappoint.

I picked up Black Stallion to watch with the kids. I remember the cinematography of that film so well from when I was little, remember rushing into the movie theater lobby afterward to buy the movie-version of the classic book, a thin, hard-cover pictorial I studied and studied, wanting to crawl into it, wanting to run on to the beach where Alec rode Black fast and furiously and jump on that horse myself, despite my desparate fear of horses or maybe because of it. My kids were skeptical, as they are with most things I push them toward, but I didn't listen. I wanted them to see those images. And so they did. And they were just as beautiful as I remembered. Even the kids agreed.

"That is a beautiful scene," Eli said, looking up from his Guinness Book of World Records to catch sight of a child roughly his age riding a horse bareback in the water with the setting sun behind.

"Yeah," Oscar agreed.

It is a scary movie, terrifying really at the beginning, but the message is strong and resonant: young Alec is a survivor, tough and strong yet sensitive.

After the kids went to bed, we popped in Saturday Night Fever. My hubby had never seen it, something that shocked me but, as I watched, I realized: I had coveted the movie for the picture it painted of Manhattan and all its infinite possibilities. Since my hubby grew up in Manhattan, he was well aware of those possibilities, they had surrounded him in real life rather than on screen.

Amazingly, much to my surprise, the disco dance film had held up well. Unlike some movies, its message resonates strongly still, the idea of someone wanting to break out of their limited box, to move on, to move up, and the frustrations that ensue when doing so seems impossible.

Horseback riding, dancing, it's all the same, really, all means by which freedom, or at least a feeling of freedom, might be achieved.

As I lay in bed, I thought about it. There are very few themes of films, books or plays, and besting the odds to break out, whether out of a burning ship or an outer borough, is a big one. But it is how much we can feel for the character, relate to his or her story from somewhere deep inside ourselves that makes something a classic, something that sticks with you and makes it worthwhile to return to, to show to your kids. Gold stars to these filmmakers for creating gems that last beyond a single generation. It is not an easy task.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holidays, Rah, Rah!

Every year, I am blindsighted by holiday panic. It creeps up on me, entering my body along with all the usual stresses, invading quietly. All of a sudden, I am nearly paralyzed with indecision, overwhelmed with what to do, for myself, for others, for the universe. I have this moment when I feel amazed that I am in such a dither, where I stop and wonder, 'how did life get so crazy, so much crazier, even, than usual?' And, then, I remember. It is an AHA! moment every year when I realize why I might feel suddenly so much more inadequate even than usual, when I feel even more as if I am well behind where I should be, that I should be doing so much more.

I am, sometimes, a rational person. But the holiday season is the ultimate marketing campaign, one that has worked on people for centuries. Even though I wrote about marketing's insipid ways for a decade, it still works on me. I still find myself standing, dazed and confused, in the middle of a holiday bazaar in Union Square, imagining that life will be as it should only if I buy the perfect, beautiful gifts and put them under a perfectly decorated tree as I bring out a variety of delicious home-baked cookies and egg nog to my guests in front of the fire. It's all wrong, the image. I'm Jewish, I have no tree, no fireplace and egg nog doesn't really do it for me. But, still, this is the kind of pressure that was working on me the other day as I shopped. I got nothing accomplished. I was just acclimating myself to the annual discrepancy between fantasy and reality, to the idea that, indeed, all I could hope for was to share a few small tokens of appreciation and, ideally, time with family and friends this season. The less pressure the better.

Last year, when I ran into the umpteenth woman looking as harried and hazy from holiday stress as I, when I heard the thousandth tale of intended cheer turned to chaos, I laughingly suggested I should set up a booth where I could administer some sort of serum to relieve the stress, to happy the sad. I wasn't yet giving out gold stars. It may not be as effective as some specially-devised holiday serum, but I get a new shipment of stars on Wednesday, mercifully. I'm still considering setting up a therapy booth, like Lucy in Peanuts, though I can't imagine charging even five cents since people's purses are already open far too often this time of year, adding to the stress.

It was so hard to focus the other day on shopping, I just wandered the Union Square bazaar in a daze imagining that if I were to find the perfect gifts, place them under a beautifully decorated tree around which I served home-baked cookies and egg nog to appreciative family and friends around the fire, all would be well. The image just shows how marketing works, how easy it is to succumb to the marketing of the holiday season, even when it doesn't even vaguely apply. I am Jewish, after all, I have no tree and egg nog just doesn't do it for me. Even so, I had to work hard as I meandered around with other freezing, hopeful shoppers, to separate fantasy from reality. I bought nothing, except my favorite sesame chicken salad at Union Square Coffee shop. I contemplated, instead, what I would buy.

I had exactly a few hours yesterday to shop for my kids for Chanukah, just enough. Any more and additional hundreds would have been spent on useless items my marketing-addled mind told me would matter. As it was, my kids loved their gifts, we ate home-made latkas with pork chops (a nod to both Jewish and Wasp roots in our house) and enjoyed one another immensely. I tried not to be too hard on myself that it took 'til 8:00 to serve dinner, that presents weren't wrapped at all let alone beautifully much before then, and that the few paltry decorations I'd picked up at the last minute from the picked-over quarter-aisle the major drug stores devote to Chanukah weren't even put up. Oh well. I'm trying. It's all I can do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


We don't really even understand how judgmental we are of ourselves or others. It is like in Avenue Q, the song that offers insightfully, "We're all just a little bit racist." Sometimes, our own ideas are so deeply ingrained that we don't even notice them, certainly don't question them. Not unless somebody else forces you to, and even then...

I saw Avenue Q last night, finally. It has been running for many years and I have for the last couple at least been meaning to get there as one of its creators is now a friend, lives in my building. I think there was a reason I didn't see it until yesterday. It's messages resonated in a way they might not have before, in perfect tandem with what I am thinking about now as I set upon my own mission, my own purpose.

The idea of one's purpose in life plays large in the modern musical, arguably the first of its genre, which uses puppets and lighthearted tunes to soften the blow, to ease the burden of grappling with The Big Question, the one we are often, many of us, afraid to ask: why am I here anyway??

The central puppet, Princeton, has graduated from college with an English degree and finds himself unemployed and out of sorts. Without a handy job to distract him, the "opportunity," aka free time, to explore what he might really be meant to do is offered. Suffice to say, it is not easy for him to figure. Panic, self-doubt and sexual escapades ensue. Conveniently, it being a play, there are some conclusions drawn, some reasons why, for example, he eschews love to find his higher purpose. It is never quite so simple in real life, though the lessons drawn from such smart art certainly can help.

I was thinking of this when I embarked on a conversation with a gentleman in Parco this morning. I have seen him sitting, reading, there often, but we have never chatted. Today was the day. It turns out he is a professor, of English. I laughed, telling him about the confusion of the Ave Q character after graduating with an English degree and still not knowing what to do. I said I gave people stars, though, just for trying. He seemed to understand, but then, as we talked, he would shake his head at points when I explained the moments a person might feel they deserved a gold star.

"Like after they've done the laundry, and looked around to wonder who's noticed," I said.

He narrowed his eyes, curious. "But is doing laundry really deserving of a reward?"

I laughed. "Yes! It is effort expended, it is not for me or you to judge if it is enough, that is the point!"

He thought about it and nodded. "OK," he said, "Fair enough."

I told him how, yesterday, a parent at my kids' school and a former Peace Corps volunteer, who got a gold star for her heroic efforts running the Book Fair, told a story of living in Ghana where, she said, "It is a big saying there, it is high praise, to say, 'You try!'" She laughed and recounted an instance where she had gone full bore on something only to have a woman walk up to her and say, "You try, Sistah!" Judging the comment by American standards, judging it as an effort unrewarded, unsuccessful, she was at first offended, until she remembered: in Ghana, it meant a job well done.

"It's sad that in this country, we do not see trying as enough. I think people come here to succeed, especially to New York, and they are very hard on themselves," I said to my new friend.

He thought about it and shook his head. "No," he said. "They come here, or did, because there are more jobs. It's not about that idea of 'success,' they just need jobs."

I laughed. It was funny because Ave. Q's theme of higher purpose is, of course, working on a higher plane. Of course, Princeton had parents who floated him money while he searched for greater meaning. He had the luxury. Others have no choice but to get a job that often sucks them of the energy to think about something else. But that something else, that larger possibility lurks there, somewhere, in the back of their minds, I'm convinced of it.

"I think we all work simultaneously on two planes," I said. "Even if we're not consciously thinking about let alone actively working toward Higher Purpose in a tangible way, even if we just move to New York to 'get a job,' there is always the thought in the back of our heads that something will happen, that we will be discovered or that something extraordinary will pop into our lap that gives our lives meaning."

He nodded hesitantly. "I agree with that, I think," he said. I liked him a lot, not just because he agreed with me. Mainly because he was willing and interested in thinking about something in a new way, he was curious. I gave him his gold star happily.

After he left, a new seatmate arrived and we, likewise, discussed the meaning of life, the questions that arise in middle age.

"There are no answers," she said. I nodded.

"All you can do is look at everything and keep asking questions," I said, giving her a gold star for doing just that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


She walked in, totally prepared for the driving rain, in her hooded waterproof poncho and galoshes, water-resistant outer gloves covering her knit ones. But there was nothing she could do about her glasses fogging up when she entered Parco, warm and moist as usual with all the baking being done in back. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how hard you try, I thought. She giggled good-naturedly at her momentary blindness, at the reality that there were likely to be negative affects of the dreary day. She leaned out her cheek for her star appreciatively, having no hands to take it as she held her bag and reached for the knob.

"I needed that," she said.

I laughed. "I noticed," I said.

Sad to say, sometimes nobody notices. Or they notice and don't care. But I love where I live, 'cause I love to notice people. Yesterday, for example, I noticed the graceful dancelike motions of a waiter at the diner I frequent. I laughed as he returned toward me, having swirlingly offered up menus as one might in a movie scene where drama turns suddenly into musical. I mentioned this to him, that I love movie scenes like that, like the one in 500 Days of Summer where he is happy and the whole of the world around him joins in with song and dance.

My friend, the waiter, blushed slightly but nodded.

"I love that kind of shit," he said. "I always imagine what would happen if I just broke out into a musical number."

I laughed. "I knew it," I said, "I could see that..."

He told me, sheepishly in front of his friend who might laugh, that Enchanted was one of his fave movies, Fiddler on The Roof his fave soundtrack. If you saw him, this might surprise you. You cannot know what resonates with a person, though, by how they look. You have to watch them, you have to notice the little things they do.

Funny, we are often so busy thinking about our own selves, that we fail to pay attention to the realities of others' inner lives, the realities of even the most rich and famous, to give people the benefit of the doubt. Every day in Brooklyn, I meet people who have moved here, to this country, to be who they want to be, to find a way to get their unique message out into the world, to take advantage of America's foundation of "freedom" to parlay their inner selves outward.

Last night, I jumped into the corner deli for some salsa for our weekly Family Taco Night. It's always a good night when we have tacos, everyone munching happily, don't ask me why. It was the same for me, growing up. Anyway, I said a hearty hello to the young man working in the store and then complimented him on his pin, the bold, bearded face of a man who obviously inspired him.

"Do you know who it is?" he asked.

I am painfully uneducated on world leaders. He looked like Nostradamus to me...

He laughed. "No. It is Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia." He went on to tell me of Mr. Selassie's reign and his efforts to modernize and globalize the African people, to lead them to peace and prosperity. He was in a reggae band, he told me, was working on so many things outside his job at the deli.

I gave him a gold star. He was thrilled.

"Wow, I haven't been given a gold star since I was in grade school," he said.

I was cheered, not thinking the gold star was given outside the U.S., and he was obviously not from here. He was from the Carribbean, he said, and there, "they gave out gold stars, and silver!"

Today, I received an e-mail from my new friend, telling me he was a poet as well as a musician, sharing with me amazing heartfelt words, a window into his inner self. My favorite line played off a theme I just was discussing yesterday with a Greek friend, the idea that the foundations of this country, because of rather than in spite of its idealism, present a bit of a bait and switch. If I may borrow his line, pay homage to his efforts: "For some reason I feel like a slave in the land of the free and the home of the brave."

We are told, so often, that we are free to do what we want and by so many cultural standards we are. But some days, it is still hard. Despite what you put on, despite how prepared you try to be, despite even your successes, it is still a struggle.

To borrow again, from today's yoga instructor, from a friend's earlier e-mail, from a favorite song lyric refrain, JUST BREATHE! And, of course, don't forget to notice those around you...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Death-Defying Hope

Death is a hard concept to get your head around so, like most difficult things, we tend to avoid it, to push it out of our conscious thoughts. There is nothing we can do about it anyway, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. We can at least look at it, talk about it and feel a little tiny bit less alone in our concern, like in all concerns.

Flying in an airplane just naturally raises one's consciousness about possible death. It seems impossible to fly in a metal contraption thousands of feet in the air and survive. My kids love flying, exhibit no fear. Except, their questions show they are obviously hip to what's happening, to their potential demise if the plane should down.

As we walked on to one of the many planes we flew on recently, Eli asked, loudly, "Why do planes crash, Mommy?"

"Shhhh..." my husband said, then quietly added, "we don't talk about that."

I laughed. Strange that we don't talk about it when everybody is thinking about it, isn't it? But he's right. It's bad form to talk about crashing when you're getting on a plane. But, still, I did explain to Eli when we sat down that there are so many reasons planes crash, usually different ones every time that get studied and studied and studied so it doesn't happen again, which is why it happens so rarely. He loves rare things, he is an odds man, for sure, so the idea cheered him as I knew it would.

"Anyway," I said, "there is nothing that your worrying about it is going to do, so you might as well enjoy."

That is true not just on airplanes but everywhere, right? It is only that airplanes present a seemingly tangible image of a particularly gruesome way to die. But we are forced, usually, many times a day, to consider the possibility of death. Especially those who choose to watch or read the news. I opt out, like last night, in the car on the way home from the airport, listening for two seconds to 1010 Winds, I heard so many disgusting tales of death, I asked the driver politely to turn it down, or off.

It is good to be able to face the truth of one's eventual demise, to help our children grapple with their own concerns, but to fixate on the many horrible ways it happens to others...not my cup of tea. Just like listening to the painful miseries of the rich and famous doesn't float my boat.

Death shouldn't be the elephant in the room. It can be something we laugh about, if we're lucky. Take the other day. I had asked a family friend if she wanted to join us at our hotel with her kids, to swim. Even though it was freezing, the pool was heated, fine for us New Yorkers.

She shook her head. "Too cold," she said, "And, anyway, my waxer died..."

I threw my head back in laughter. I felt a little bad laughing at death but, really, it was a great line, delivered perfectly.

"I'm sorry for your waxer, but is it possible you might replace her, or..."

"Well," she said, shaking her head, "it just happened." She was young, the circumstances were a little strange and my friend was clearly sad about it but, still, she had used it to make a joke. She was dealing with her upset in a healthy way. No surprise, her father is a psychiatrist. I overheard him giving advice to his son-in-law and something occurred to me that I guess should have occurred to me before.

"Psychiatrists are very hopeful people, aren't they?" I asked.

He thought about it for a minute, then looked at me. "Well," he said tentatively, "I hope so." Great, perfect.

"I didn't even mean to say that..." he said. He had just,honestly, felt hopeful. It's all we can hope for, to be hopeful, actually. Death will surely come, there is no denying it. But, in the meantime, there, hopefully, is hope. It is all I can give my children when they ask about their own death and when it will come.

"Hopefully," I say, "you will live a very long life..."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Desire Means Doing, Not Trying

I think a fair amount lately about the idea of conscious unconsciousness. People that I meet who I trust to advise me all advise not to think, just to do, like my headstand teacher. Interestingly, my tarot card today advised the same thing, though phrased it in a different way, a thought-provoking way. It said: "Trying is not needed, only desire to do."

Wait a minute, I thought. I reward people all the time just for trying. What is this idea of not feeling it necessary to try, just desiring to do? Maybe, I thought, it is this same idea of conscious unconsciousness, this idea of not stopping to think and control and thwart intuition. Maybe it is simply important to be aware of desire and then trust that, if you're patient, you will be led down the proper path...Hmmm, interesting. Trying too hard, it turns out, can be a problem.

I have often looked back and realized, only in hindsight, that I got what I desired even though, at the time, I didn't really think, consciously, that I had. I have realized recently that I have designed my life in ways I could not have guessed I had any hand in. But, of course, I did. I just hadn't consciously tried, I had just desired. I feel like we all do that, it's just a question of if we look back and take responsibility, recognize our role in things turning out as they did, as they do.

Today, I gave out a slew of gold stars and my niece gave out a bunch too. It was the Day After, the relaxation after the build up to and completion of the Main Event. I love Day Afters. As my sister pointed out, though, so insightfully, the Day After could not feel so good if you don't have the Day Of. It is like trying to enjoy Apres Ski without skiing, not the same at all.

My immediate family all got the biggest stars for trying, each in their own way, to make it through the events without major mishap. Other family and friends got medium and smaller stars. If I could, I would buy all big stars, but they don't come that way. I have to see if I can special order, but usually I don't give out stars en masse. As I have said, they seem to lose their power that way, except on special occasions, like today, where most of those around me had played a part in the design of my life in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

I never realized, for example, that the friends of my mom's that I most related to were New Yorkers. Only now, talking to them, does it occur to me that it might not be at all coincidental that I ended up in New York, having grown up in a new upstart city but having longed for the kind of roots that these friends talked about having had in New York.

"Funny," I said to an old family friend, now a Colorado resident but a native New Yorker, a one-time Tucsonan, briefly, but long enough to meet my parents, "Saturday Night Fever made me long for community of the kind that Brooklyn has in spades..."

"Oh, yeah, that was filmed in Brooklyn," he said. His wife and I were talking later, and she spoke of the days when she was in Tucson, homesick for New York, and how she watched Jack Lemon in the Out-of-Towners and loved it, how she would try to watch other New York-based movies.

"Not hard, since you realize so many movies are based in New York..." I said.

Between the New York-centric media and entertainment industries and the warmest people I ever knew coming from New York, it is no surprise that I am where I am, that my unconsious brought me to now, to life in Brooklyn.

Now, I don't mean to say that I will stop trying, that anybody should. But, maybe, if we trust ourselves and trust in what feels right, trying won't seem so taxing, so impossibly hard. Maybe our desires will be better fulfilled by relaxing and letting what feels good and nice wash over us and not putting up such a fight.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Maybe It's Nice, Maybe It's Not...

I am in Arizona. It is 3:30 in the morning and I am wide awake, being that it is 5:30in New York, my normal wake-up time. I am happy to be here for my adorable niece, who is so excited for her special day, her shining moment, the day that marks her definitive move toward maturity. When we arrived yesterday, any hassles we'd experienced with the inept security system at the Jet Blue terminal at Kennedy faded when I saw my niece with her hair blown out, looking every bit the big girl her Bat Mitvah shows she is.

"I look too old," she complained when I asked if she was 18 yet...

I laughed. "You don't want to look older?"

"No. I want to look like me."

She is awesome, happy in her own skin, her current self. I am glad I am here to witness it.

The funny thing is, though, much as I'm happy to be here, two back-to-back trips are tough. It seems, though, that I am not allowed to complain. I am lucky. "Must be nice..." everyone has said when I told them I was going away again, to another supposed warm-weather climate (though, strangely, the temperature here is almost the exact same as in New York.)

The other day I gave a gold star to arguably one of my most loyal fans who had abandoned reading the blog after she read that I was in Costa Rica.

"You bitch," she said, only slightly in jest when she saw me on the street the other day. "I can't believe you were in Costa Rica..."

We started chatting about it and I told her about something and then said, "Well, you read about it already..."

She shook her head. "No. I couldn't read after the first one, I was too angry and jealous."

"Nice," I said. What could I say? "Sorry?!" I offered. I gave her a big gold star and tips on where to go when she was able to take herself to Costa Rica.

I thought about it as I walked away, thought about the low numbers on my blog last week as I regaled people with the wonders of my rare luxury adventure. I had pegged it to it being the holidays, but now I wondered: did other people feel similarly angry and jealous? Maybe it was like why I don't read Vanity Fair or Vogue. Sometimes it can feel fun to live vicariously and sometimes it can just remind you where you're not.

The last few days, much as I've tried, as usual, to avoid the media, I have been forced to listen to the disgusting privacy-invading jokes and barbs about Tiger Woods. I was alerted to the story on the day it broke by my father, one of Tiger's biggest fans.

"He didn't do anything, he's squeaky clean," my Dad said. Without knowing anything, I knew that couldn't be true, that the media often lies but that stories are rarely totally fabricated.

"And what if he did cheat on his wife? Why do you care?" I asked. "You like him because he's a good golfer, don't you? What difference does it make what he does?"

My father sighed, loudly, over the phone. "He's a good person, Stephanie."

I laughed. "And he can't be a good person if he cheated on his wife? I don't agree. Life is complicated, and it's none of our business."

The problem is, in our society, we want to have heroes whose lives we hold up as perfect, who we can aspire to be, and we also want to see them fall, to see them punished for the mistakes we, in our own lives, would be punished for on a much smaller scale, in much smaller circles.

I can only imagine, based on my own limited experience with the "Must be nice" comments, how someone like Tiger Woods might feel. Sometimes, it doesn't feel completely nice but you can't complain when you have something enviable, you aren't really allowed because you are lucky.

For Tiger, obviously, despite his beautiful wife and children and money and talent in his chosen field (or the one chosen for him by his father) it isn't enough. All that he has doesn't cut it. That is spoiled, surely, but also reality, and real life is often so different from the pretty pictures others paint of a life they can really know nothing about. We can't understand how it feels from the inside of someone else's mind. Until the tell-all biography...And even then. There is so much behind any behavior we exhibit that we don't even understand ourselves, even when we sit down to try to examine it and share it.

I can only hope, optimistically, that the world moves on to another story and leaves the poor Woods family alone to deal with their personal problems. For they are personal, despite his fame and wealth as probably the most popular golfer ever. And, after all, who are we to judge? We admire these people who get to the top, fighting for what they want, then we are shocked that they go for what they want in every arena of their lives, that they are not satisfied standing still. Tiger gets a gold star, as does his wife, for trying to live their lives under a microscope, for trying to cope with all that they have to cope with while the world tells them they have everything.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oh So Grateful...

I've given out a ton of gold stars over the last two days. I am amazed, back in a heavily populated place, at all the examples I see around me every second of people trying.

I myself have been trying pretty hard, facing off with the fourth load of laundry, an empty fridge and major make-up homework to oversee among the many things I have to do between back-to-back family trips. I leave for Arizona for my niece's Bat Mitzvah on Thursday. I began to lose any sense of renewal vacation had offered, but then, I did handstands.

I had some help. My headstand teacher, formerly referred to here as Saturday Night Fever, showed up yesterday at the gym, just as I needed him, to offer up his inspirational wisdom on what the body can do if the mind lets it.

"You're thinking too much," he said, as I attempted in vain to throw my legs over my head, against the wall, just as I have so many times in yoga class. "Why aren't you doing it? Just decide you're going to do it and do it, with speed, like this," he said, throwing his hands smack against the blue mat and forcing his feet staunchly against the wall, arms and legs strong and straight.

Next thing you know, can't-do thoughts pushed aside, I was upside down, my arms amazingly holding me straight up. I think, in part, I was so grateful for this near-stranger's help and concern, I couldn't possibly let him down. I had to get up, and I did. He got a gold star, of course.

This morning, I went first thing to the mat to make sure I had the guts to do it again, my handstand, unspotted, and I got up on the first try. I was thrilled, grateful anew for my generous trainer and his efforts to help me get over a major lifelong hurdle, to really try my best.

As I worked out in the weight room, I started chatting with a woman, a college professor, it turns out, who was, like me, feeling the strain of the week ahead. For her, grading papers was looming large.

"What do you teach?" I asked.

"English," she said, "a freshman core course at Seton Hall called Journey of Transformation."

"Wow," I said, "that sounds cool. I want to take that class. What's on the syllabus?"

"A mixture of things, from Plato to the Bible to Dante's Divine Comedy..."

She said her students were writing about the career and/or personal transformations of one of a number of people whose stories she had read about whose names she threw into a hat.

"So cool, to have to think about that..." I said.

Transformation, I know firsthand, is a tricky thing, something it is a luxury to be able to spend time thinking about, writing about. I gave the professor a big gold star for helping these freshmen, these young, eager hopefuls she said were "cute, like puppies, and, like puppies, they sometimes pee on you..." Her role in their transformation is no easy feat, for sure, her extended school vacations hard won.

I hit my fave diner for lunch and was met, as usual, with the friendly smile of my friend behind the counter.

"How are you?" I asked, giving his smile straight back.

"Great," he said, "I'm trying to get laid again tonight."

I threw my head back in laughter. "Really?" I said. "Same girl?"

He shook his head, no. This was a different girl, one he had been eyeing for a while and was finally following to a Brazilian Capoeira dance class to prove his affections.

"Wow," I said, "I hope you're good, otherwise it's going to be a deal breaker," I said.

"Oh, I'm good..." he said. "Plus, I think it just looks good that I'm there, trying." He had a point. I always got annoyed at guys who said they couldn't dance or wouldn't. It showed, I thought, a real lack of fun, though I often regretted forcing someone onto the floor who then flopped around next to me for a bit before I finally relented that maybe they were right to have refused...

Either way, this was my friend's plan and he was not to be thwarted, not even by his colleagues making merciless fun of him. We chatted a little about his sincere interest in this girl, beyond just the sex, which, we agreed, is usually pretty bad if you don't connect with someone's personality too. Pretty can only take a girl so far...

"It's hard, though, you know, to get that perfect balance," he said. He looked off then, in thought and added, "But, sometimes, actually, the not-so-pretty ones work harder, actually. They feel they have to, to make up for it, to compete..."

At this, I died laughing, in both surprise and happiness at his candor. "Wow," I said, "In bed, you mean, the unattractive ones are better?"

He looked at me with the "duh" face I get from my kids. "Yeah," he said. "In order to keep you satisfied, they have to go that extra mile..."

"Amazing," I said. Could this be true? "I love talking to men, honestly," I said. "The things you think about it, the theories that you come up with..."

Mr. Trying to Get Laid grabbed his colleague. "Isn't it true, man, that the not-so-pretty-girls have to try harder in bed?"

The guy looked perplexed, as if asked a totally stupid question. "Of course," he said without skipping a beat.

This was too much. I didn't even want to continue, for I cannot help but put myself into any equation I am given and I began to wonder where I fit into all this, where they might classify me...I didn't want to go down that road. That is the danger of being a woman talking to men about women.

As I left them, though, wishing my friend good luck with his dancing and afterward, I began to think about it. As with me and my handstand teacher, maybe it's gratitude that makes people try harder, makes them want to do the job well, makes them have to work harder to transform. Certainly, a girl who has not had a lot of luck in love, for whom chances don't come around that often, would certainly feel grateful to someone who gave her a shot. Harsh as the whole thing had sounded, it made sense.

I smiled to myself as I walked down 8th Ave. Trying is certainly its own reward, even if I'm not there to give out the gold stars.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Can Make a Difference...

I've traded lizards in the bathroom for my regular life. But I am not so bummed as usual after a trip to be back in Brooklyn. I was looking forward, despite my amazing time away, to get back to giving out gold stars. I hadn't brought any for the lizards or the monkeys, would that I had. The monkeys would have liked them I bet.

My opportunity to get back to work arose easily this morning, as a woman sat down across from me in Parco with her beautiful baby dressed cozily in lime green wooly pants and a patterned sweater. I coveted the outfit.

"But, really," I said, "I don't think I could pull off those pants even if I had them...I'm gung ho about a lot of things that might not be age appropriate, but some things, I've discovered sadly, are best left to the little girls!"

The mom was herself stylish in a patterned headscarf and cool booties not dissimilar from her daughter's leather slippers, shoewear she chose purposefully to relieve her bunions, for comfort, but, it seemed, their purple hue didn't hurt. They were fun. I liked them. I liked her. I liked her even more when she told me, appreciatively, that her daughter's pants were made from sweater sleeves someone, not her, had sewn together.

For some reason, the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the pants reminded me of Costa Rica, of the people there who used everything around them to create things of great beauty, among them shell necklaces, rings made of coconut casings, even magnets of angels where the glittery wings were drawn on the backs of beer wrappers. I will think of that beautiful magnet I didn't buy forever, more probably than I would have noticed it on my fridge...

We started talking about Costa Rica and my new friend, an Australian it turns out, was anxious to hear about it, anxious to go if she could find the time and money.

"I know," I said, "I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and now I would think harder about making it there on my own because it is really so amazing."

I asked her what she did. She is, it turns out, a freelance violinist sometime music teacher, although the nursing child on her lap and the older one she had dropped at kindergarten nearby made giving lessons harder.

The musician life is a hard one, I know from many musician friends, but less hard here, in New York with its multitude of opportunities than back home in Australia, she said. She talked with appreciation of her native land, of the great candor of the people, the ease of life, but New York is home because of the music scene and, partly she said, because of a societal phenomenon she noted about Australia where "you cannot move beyond a certain level without people criticizing you, trying to bring you down."

She called it the "Tall Poppy Syndrome."

I laughed. "Isn't that true here, too?" I asked. All you have to do is pick up any tabloid or Star magazine to see how we rake successful people over the coals. It seems everyone wants to make sure their people stay humble, to prevent them from feeling too good. Wikipedia offers that the "Tall Poppy Syndrome" is in fact not unique to Australia, but is a pejorative term used in the UK, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada as well.

No matter who people are, where they are from, there are always many things, cultural or personal, syndromes named or not, that can prevent them from reaching the soaring height of their potential.

I invoked "Walk the Line," arguably one of the best movies ever, which I watched on the plane home last night for the third time. In it, Johnny Cash is portrayed as having felt like a murderer for the death of his brother. But, like most great artists, he was able to turn that feeling into art, into beautiful music, into lyrics that outed his innermost secret prisoner. He wrote as if he was in a literal prison, recorded his most popular album amongst the prisoners there. He had escaped, finally, it seemed, through his love for June Carter, through her love for him, and felt maybe his music could help others.

My musician friend got her star for helping me explore the different ways in which I can offer my own kids the chance to express themselves and their feelings through music, through the often unconcious emotional expression of their fingers. It would be nice if they had some way of escaping anybody who tries to pull a "Tall Poppy" on them, wherever they are.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rafting Through the Past...

Visiting Costa Rica offers a valuable lesson in globalization. The lessons here, unlike in America, are learned very personally. They mean the difference between being able to get a cell phone or not. The centralized government is loathe to give up control of its land, but the decision means that the people here, mostly opportunistic service providers, are often stuck in their rustic open-air homes waiting for phone calls instead of out and about, plying their trade or drumming up business. They are severely limited by their government's decision, by the monopoly it holds over the bulk of major infrastructure. But, our rafting guide pointed out to us in the van across bumpy roads, the electricity might be spotty, but everyone gets it, everyone. With competition would come better service but, as in America, it would come at a price. It would create a set of haves and have-nots. It is what most of the world aspires to, but it is sometimes sad.

We passed a palm tree plantation, which we were told replaced bananas as a cash crop a while back. The palm oil expressed from the little fruits is exported for soaps, makeup and foods, though McDonald's use of it for fries was a debacle, exposed in Supersize Me as not such a healthy thing.

On the way to the rafting, we walked with a friendly Rotweiler through a spice farm, smelling local varieties of cinnamon and mint, vanilla beans, clove. Even our pit stop was exciting, open as the third wall was to the jungle.

We made it to our launch spot and got suited up for our rafting adventure, complete with helmets, clearly to protect us from the large boulders should we fly out of our little rubber raft. The kids started to get slightly nervous as we were instructed on survival tactics including how to grab the rope or how not to panic should we get stuck underneath the boat. Hmmm. Was this too risky an endeavor, we all began to wonder?

The minute we hit the water, though, we knew it was worth it, whatever the risk.

"This is awesome!" Oscar yelled from the back.

"Woo hoo!" Eli yelled as we hit the rapids, got drenched with the whitecaps as he ducked down for safety.

None of us fell out, though we did stop along the way to take a little float down the rapids. It was the only time the rope was necessary. Our navigator, Nacho, was expert at avoiding rocks, guiding us when exactly to paddle out of harm's way. Amazing. A cow watched us from the side of the river and we glided along, flying almost as freely as the baby blue heron we followed.

Eli shook his head at one point, as we compared it to a now-closed water ride at Coney Island. "No," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity..."

I smiled. Hopefully we will have more opportunities to do this but maybe not. It is certainly very special.

Finishing up with the rapids portion, we glided down the river toward the sunny skies ahead, the rains having held off for the first afternoon in months, Nacho told us. We were lucky.

The surrounding setting was spectacular.

"It looks like prehistoric times," Oscar said. And, though we laughed, it seemed almost true. We had heard, in fact, that the sound of the Howler Monkeys, in reverse, was the sound used for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and, looking around, all of a sudden, it seemed we had been placed on the set of Land of the Lost.

I felt sad suddenly, imagining a McDonald's on the corner, a Starbucks where only tin-roofed huts now stand. Globalization, hopefully, will be kept at bay, the economy here kept afloat by catering to those of us enmeshed in the muck of modernity, offering us a bit of the simplicity of the past in the present.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monkey On My Head

The boat ride through the mangroves today was awesome. It seemed, potentially, a fated mission, the van that came to pick us up having gotten stuck in the muck well below our house. Finally having arrived at the little covered boat, the guide and his assistant seemed unable to get the motor started. Impatient New Yorkers that we are, we weren't as relaxed as they seemed to be, these mellow Costa Ricans, but we held our tongues and our reward was final movement down the murky estuary, spotting in the reeds a variety of egrets, crabs, kingfishers and, even, a crocodile.

We had been promised that monkeys would play with us on our boat and the promise was kept. Capuchin monkeys leapt from the trees onto the tin roof of our boat and in at us, searching for the bits of banana the guide carried in his hand, gave to us to feed the hungry happy monkeys. We took turns, those of us that wanted to, starting with Eli, sitting with the monkeys on our head, on our shoulders. I was ready to take one home. They licked their fingers from the banana mush we fed them. They seemed so much like us. I think, though, they are happier here than in Brooklyn, jumping from tree to tree.

The boat went on after the monkeys had receded into the trees, continuing down a narrow path where we followed the ringed kingfisher through the trees, spotted so many red-legged crabs on the mud walls of the narrow channel. The kids were gripped, taking pictures, looking through binoculars, amazed at nature in all its glory. It was quite the show.

We finished up and were treated to another typical Costa Rican lunch of rice and beans and a protein of one's choice. It was only noon but we needed our siesta. Arriving back at home, there were a variety of workers gardening around the pool. We felt bad, the Ugly Americans at play. My sister-in-law spoke to them, offered them drinks and found out they work seven days a week for very little pay. One of them turns 70 tomorrow, works still to keep himself and his family fed. There is no government safety net here, it will be hard for him to get any social

It was a bit of a wake-up call, the harsh reality of what it's really like in a place that, while on vacation, seems blissful and easy. I wished a gold star would help. Maybe the beer did, I don't know.

We went and bought some things at an open-air market, some trinkets, some souvenirs, and we barely haggled. It seemed disgusting somehow to make people offer their hand-made goods for less when so many who have done so little are able to command more. I happily snapped up some local jewelry and t-shirts and such as gifts, buoying the economy as I did. A little green goes a long way toward assuaging guilt.

I Could Just Eat Rice and Beans...

I think, being here in Costa Rica, how easy it would be to slip away from regular life, how easy it would be to just sell everything and come back here to live simply, on rice and beans and plantains and the occasional bit of chicken or beef.

My little one, Oscar, is nervous. I keep mentioning this to him, how we might just stay.

"We are not moving!" he says.

"Why?" I ask.

"Because we like Nick and Tracy so much," he says, imbuing our nice next-door neighbors. Somehow, in our house, they have come to represent all that is good with our neighborhood, with our life. I laughed.

"OK, why else?" I asked.

"Because I'd miss our house, my school, my friends..."

"But we would make new friends," I said. "We could hang out with Elmer, for example," I suggested, referring to the funny young man who had been his "taxi" across the zip line. "We could do the zip line all the time..."

This gave Oscar pause. Maybe the idea of moving here wasn't such a bad one after all.

"OK," he said, "but just for the summer. Or for one month, that's it."

I smiled. "OK," I said, "that's it."

I want my kids to be flexible, more flexible than I was at their age. It's taken me an incredibly long time to feel comfortable outside my comfort zone, to be able to imagine the possibilities outside arm's reach, to be able to get on a plane and get off again somewhere else and not feel completely confused and disoriented.

There are bugs here, ones with strange antennae that are scary for no other reason other than that you don't know what they do, if they're harmful. But we have learned in just a few short days to walk right past them, to ignore them, to ignore the possibility that they could harm us, even if they could. Or, we have even learned to stop and look at them, to appreciate their strange beauty.

We were shown a poison dart frog from Ivan, our Canopy Tour guide for the zip line. He picked up the flourescent-green frog from the forest floor as it attempted to hop away. Eli was amazed, had his hand raised immediately having read of the frog's lethal aspects. But Ivan knew how to hold it, knew that it can only hurt you if you touch it a certain way when you have an open wound. Then, it can put its poison right into your bloodstream, it could possibly kill you.

I feel here that people have so much more to fear than we do back home and yet they are unafraid. The power goes out and they shrug, waiting patiently the minutes or hours it takes for the powers that be to get it back on. They don't know why it goes out, why it goes back on, and, really, it doesn't matter. Maybe they feel, like I used to at the office, that it gives them a necessary break they might not otherwise have taken. Here, though, I'm not sure they need the forced break.

Our contact at the rental office for our house, a former Raiders football player, saw my sister-in-law and I up at the market and offered us a ride home. He stopped, momentarily, at his office.

"I just need to drop off this ice and beer," he said. I love it. Why not drink and work? Why not? It's a nice mellow life here. Tourism abounds, despite the supposedly depressed U.S. economy if not because of it. Latin America is a great place to put it all in perspective, to recognize how little you need, how much you have.

A little cafe up the bumpy unpaved road tells on its menu the "cliche" story of its owners, an American couple who kicked off the shackles of their old life and moved here years ago to roast good coffee and serve it to the mostly American tourists who come to visit Manuel Antonio park. The signs are all in English, offering up crucial information such as how coffee and souvenirs like locally-made soaps can be shipped straight back to the U.S. As I sat at a table speaking rusty Spanish with my El Salvadoran sister-in-law, we were alone among the patrons in our language choice. The staff was local but they do take dollars if one doesn't have local currency, colones.

Six months here, my sister-in-law tells me, and I would be speaking Spanish like a champ. Oscar will not allow me that long, I think. We'll see. He may change his mind after we go rafting or ride horses on the beach...Maybe those things will even edge out the niceness of our Brooklyn neighbors, maybe.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zipping Around Like Monkeys...

I am so proud of my kids, my nephew, my brother-in-law, my husband and myself. I would give us all gold stars if I had them. Today, we all harnessed up, donned helmets and zipped across the rainforest, hundreds of feet in the air, on metal wires, mostly smiling even if we were scared. Amazing. I would have been petrified at 6 or 8, even at my nephew's age, 10. I might even have been petrified myself a few years back, before I decided I needed to learn to be fearless so that might children might also learn, earlier than I did, to do cool things even if they seemed scary.

I love Costa Rica. I'm definitely ready to move here, at least for a time, though my kids are not. They love our neighbors, our friends, our life in Park Slope. So do I, but the pace here, the people, the fresh fruits...I'm sold.

We were awoken, all of us, around 4 a.m., to a sound that seemed like it could be nothing else but some sort of murderous pack of wolves after having finished eating my children. My hubby hopped up, looked out the window.

"I thought I heard something..." he said, half-asleep.

"I heard it too," I said.

"I'm going to check on the children," he said, heading out the door in his underwear. He was back in a second, the sound having sounded again, seemingly right outside our door.

Next thing, our sons had come to us, run down the stairs, deathly afraid in their tree-house of room, open all around except for some screens and a few sliding doors.

The sounds continued, every few minutes for the next couple of hours. We never really went back to sleep. How could we?? Turns out, they were Howler monkeys, known by locals in Costa Rica as Congos because they look like gorillas rather than monkeys. They made up for waking us up in a panic by the show they put on for hours as they jumped around the trees with their babies along with Capuchins and a few Titis.

None of us in the house will soon forget the sound we heard, as if in a nightmare, a sound that resonated like we had died and gone to Hell. It is no surprise that Eli has asked to sleep with me tonight, despite his knowledge that the evil sound came only from the cute jumping monkeys he joyfully watched through the binoculars over the railing of the fourth floor open-air living room.

Hopefully, he will be too tired from the day's activities to worry. I have promised I will now know better than to be afraid and will come and get him should the monkeys make their scary sounds again in the morning. They are starting now, though, before 8:00 p.m. Uh oh. I cannot complain, though. It is amazing to learn about nature firsthand. Even Eli can appreciate it.

He looked at me this morning, wide-eyed, having pulled the binoculars away from his eyes for a moment, away from the monkeys.

"I am learning so much, not even from reading!" he said. Three-dimensional experiences are truly a gift, one I am so happy my children can appreciate, one I appreciate immensely.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Slow as a Sloth

I am writing from Central America, Costa Rica to be exact, Manuel Antonio Park to be exacter. I forgot my gold stars, too bad because there were so many opportunities to reward airport workers, but I didn't think the concept would translate. I don't know if Costa Ricans get gold stars as kids, in school.

Without the stars, I am still trying to be friendly, even to the car rental guys who, after our long flight and long wait at customs yesterday, had clearly lied about having cars with automatic transmissions, then added insult to injury by offering sweetly to give us a 4-wheel-drive for no extra charge. Turns out those are all they really have to traverse these often unpaved mountain roads. When they charged us extra, then, for necessary insurance, I smiled sweetly.

"Really, is there nothing more you can do to make up for the fact that I now have to drive stick-shift, which I haven't done in years?!"

The man behind the counter smiled just as sweetly back. "You see," he said, "we have a monopoly here...so there is nothing I can do..."

I threw my head back and laughed. Awesome. I do love honesty. It would have been a perfect gold star moment. I continued to banter, then, making fun of everything the man said with the response, "Well, you do have a monopoly..." My joking managed to encourage him to bypass the invisible dictator and offer to waive the $5 extra driver charge, which we weren't sure we needed since my husband has never driven stick and was unlikely to learn in this small, mountainous country, especially with me as the teacher.

Turns out, the nearly four-hour drive to our house was not a nightmare as I began to fear as the rental guy walked me around the car showing existing bumps and scrapes and smilingly telling me, Miss Gringa, about the random police blockades, the flashing lights to warn about dangers such as animals in the middle of the road, and the looooong wait should anything actually happen to our car and we should attempt to get help.

Once out of the rental lot, though, imagined fears put aside out of necessity, it was amazing, even despite my burning rubber as I remembered, with some difficulty, the delicate balance of clutch and brake and gas. We saw along our path a rooster, a rainbow, herds of skinny cows and a man sleeping in the dirt right off the road waiting, interminably I guess, for a bus. There were tons of open-air bars promising yummy fruity drinks and stands selling local fruits and veggies. I was ready after a half an hour to give up Brooklyn life for this, for something simpler.

We finally got to the house, an amazing, open-to-the-ocean five floor extravaganza, and the drive seemed even more worth it, so, too, my mother-in-law's months of nervous e-mails as she prepared us and herself for her 70th birthday extravaganza. The place didn't just meet, it exceeded expectations. My father in law was sad to hear I'd forgotten my stars.

"This house," he said, "deserves a gold star."

Definitely. Especially today, in the morning light. I stared behind my mother-in-law at something in the tree and later recognized it as two sloths, embracing. Monkeys danced over our heads, over the little pool, putting on a show we joked came as part of the deluxe package. Lizards live in our bathrooms and, as we sat by the pool, hummingbirds flew about, along with butterflies of various sizes and colors and a red-tailed dragonfly, who circled over me for hours and then, finally, sat on a large leaf right by my head, so close I could see its tail pulsating. Amazing. I'm sold. I am certainly meant to have come here, to this fabulous place. I may never leave, despite the spotty Internet service. My daily blog is harder, but I will try, I will really try.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What You Get When You're Expecting...

Expectations are a dangerous thing in that they mostly require action not from oneself but from an uncontrollable Other. Or, worse, a group of Others. Good luck, I say. I say it many times a day to many people, often in the form of a gold star and, most of all, to myself. It is hard work to give up expecting that someone other than yourself might be able to fill whatever hole you have and, at the same time, hold on to the hope that must accompany forging any relationship, lasting or brief.

The other day, a friend of mine working at a local cafe was in a funk, ready to go home just an hour or two in to a five-hour shift. Bummer. Her spirits were deeply dampened. She had shown me, days earlier, an amazing hand-drawn book she had created to give to a new friend with whom she had shared a special time. The book depicted the two of them connecting. It was beautiful.

"How did your friend like the book?" I asked.

She scoffed. "Fine, I guess. I made another one, for another friend. I don't know why I'm so nice to people...they don't deserve it," she said.

I laughed. "Obviously, you didn't get the reaction you wanted or expected," I said.

"Never," she said.

I couldn't help myself. The therapist just under the surface surfaced.

"Ok," I said. "Now, wait. What's your sign?" I don't know why I asked, I know little about all but a few signs, my own and a few of the people I find myself drawn to. She was a Sagittarius. I had nothing for that, but no matter. I knew from her disappointment some of her defining characteristics.

"Look, you obviously give because you like to. My guess is that you find people again and again who take from you and disappoint you..."

She stared up, thinking, then looked right at me. "You're right," she said. "I always find myself around selfish bastards."

"Exactly," I said, "that's what works for you, for some reason. So get over it...you love making the books, you love giving them. My guess is you wouldn't know what to do with someone who responded the way you say you want someone to anyway."

She laughed. "You're right."

Aah, my favorite words. I gave her a gold star for pondering deeper, looking a little at what her role in a disappointing situation might be. It is, after all, the only role she can control.

Yesterday, I had a similar conversation with a friend whose family is coming apart at the seams. She sighed deeply as she went to sign off on a long conversation about what people were and were not capable of giving.

"It's fine," she said, "I'm done expecting things from people..."

I laughed. The tone in her voice, the deep disappointment, gave her away. She was lying.

"That was half-hearted at best," I said. "But, you know what? You do have to make your peace with the fact that people only can do what they can do..."

"I'm trying," she said, pausing a moment before adding, "I need a gold star!"

I need to put a star on my cell phone, to text them to people in those moments. I did it once for my husband and it was surprisingly effective. I needed one then. I gave her one, verbally. Would that it helped...

It is amazing how many times a day, how many times a week, people shake their head and say, "I'm trying," or even, "It hardly seems worth it to try..."

So often it is in conjunction with what they are doing not being appreciated by others, what others are not doing.

This morning, for example, at Parco, I ran into a great lady, a professor of psychology, headed to work. She has three classes to teach today.

"Yikes," I said, "so are your students enraptured by your lectures?"

She rolled her eyes. "Right. It's a horrible year."

"Oh no!" I said, looking at her with sympathy, "I'm so sorry!"

She met my eyes with her own, filled with gratitude. "Thank you," she said. She needed a little sympathy. Her students are more on the remedial end and, she said, "With the economy being what it is, a lot of people just decide to go to school 'cause..."

Here she trailed off but I nodded in understanding. I've thought a lot lately about the gamble of higher education, the question of whether the investment is sound. The jury is still out. Like with so many things.

"College is like marriage," I said, "very hopeful..."

She laughed and thought about it. "I guess it is..." she said.

"The problem is, though, with both, you only get out what you put in. You can't expect that it's just going to work out because you're in it, you can't expect anybody else to do all the work."

"Exactly," she said. She gratefully accepted her gold star and asked, hopefully, if she was going to be featured on the blog. As this was her expectation, clearly stated, and as her issue was part of a universal one I had been contemplating, I didn't want to disappoint. I didn't want to add to her burden of unfulfilled expectations. That is never my plan.

As I sat in yoga a little while later, though, a message the instructor gave us from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called "Kindness" rang true in my ears, explained a lot about the signifigance and necessity of disappointment. It explained how the emotion it brings is a driving force behind our own positive efforts.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Finding our way to our own kindness, regardless of how it is received, is what, in the end, will save the day, for us. I'm nearly sure of it.