Friday, May 29, 2009

On Misogyny and Mother-Hating

This is the deal: we all have issues with our mothers. I don't care how seemingly perfect, fabulous, sweet, loving, giving, caring she was, she did something along the way, likely not on purpose, that scarred you, that you're angry about whether or not you admit it. I feel this with much certainty. It is the first topic most therapists will move toward at the beginning of seeing a new patient. It is important.

Yesterday, I happily handed a gold star to a barrista at yet another Brooklyn coffee shop I frequent, this one more to buy mugs and ground espresso for home as it has no place to sit. I was rummaging through the basket of used books for sale when I came upon a title that intrigued me, Danielle Crittenden's What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us...The barrista looked at the book and then rolled her eyes. "What they didn't tell us...that's a lot!" she said dramatically in her best Brooklynese smoker's rasp, joking but angry. I laughed. "Right? Those bitches," I joked back. My openness to the joke and addition to it gave her carte blanche to break into a full stand-up comedy routine on mothers, one that began with how much bigger this small paperback book should be if it really told everything our mothers didn't tell us. She leaned way over, hand stretched down as if holding an enormous, back-breakingly heavy book and regaled me with her hilarious vitriol. Included in her rant was information about how clueless her mother had been about her being a lesbian. She earned her gold star. She should go into comedy, she's great.

Wiping away the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, I walked out of the store and began to look at the book and to think about my memoir class where women of various ages have weighed in on their choices, their mother's choices and the men in their lives and men, of various ages, have weighed in on business and sex and, oh, a little, maybe, on their mothers. Reading one 70+ man's story of his youth, it was obvious that he took out his sublimated anger on his mother on other women in his life, on teachers and lovers. I thought to myself that he was a misogynist, though I might not have said it straight to him had he not raked me over the coals for how he viewed my actions in a story of my own. As it was, I went off, telling him all I saw in the subtext of his piece, that he better deal with the anger he had toward his mother or else it would corrode every relationship in his life. I was breathless when I finished the rant. It wasn't nice, but my writing teacher said later that it was not undeserved. "He had really pushed your buttons," she said in excuse of me. I appreciated it.

In the man's next story, that he turned in to the class Tuesday, there was a cover sheet noting that my comments had a "profound impact" on him and he called my his "furious Muse." Nice. Just call me FM for short. He said he thought long and hard about the women in his life in regard to his feelings about his mother. Amen. I think that's what we all need to do.

I guess I talk about misogyny a lot lately because I talk about relationships a lot and, as a heterosexual, I think mostly about my relationships with men. Looking back at past lovers and at my husband, I am always trying to figure how their view of their mothers--that primary, opinion-shaping female relationship in their lives--and the anger I assume they had in one way, shape or form, affected or affects how they view and act toward me. I am selfish that way. I talk, mostly, about how I feel, mostly because even that is so hard to do. If I focus on how men's views are shaped by their fathers, it too leads back to the mother relationship, the one their father had with their grandmother. It all comes back to the mother. As a mother, how I wish that wasn't true. I pray for the future girlfriends or wives of my two precious boys. God help them. My older son, Eli, might not have one, though. He said recently, at 7, that he didn't want a girlfriend. Why? "They talk too much, and get in your way," he reasoned, judging--of course--on his dear old Mom. Misogyny lives, in my own house. I must try to persuade him: not all women talk this much. It may be too late. He may not believe it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The cafe this morning was filled with past gold star recipients. It is beginning to feel like a club, one created organically rather than one in which people pay to have their ass kissed. I love it. There is no better way to start the day, in my mind, than with good strong coffee and a sea of faces with whom you have connected and are likely to again, imminently if you so choose.

I chatted first with the therapist and her antiques-dealer husband, mostly responding to his comment to me that I was argumentative, after I had ribbed him in line. For the record, I do say provocative things, but not necessarily on purpose. I say what I think. What comes out is only provocative when the listener doesn't want to think about what I think about. People who don't know me may not be aware of this trait in me, and, in getting sucked in to my world unwittingly, like in a line for coffee, for example, might be surprised by my wicked ways. But anyone who has known me for even a little bit of time knows that to ask me a question is to get a real answer, what I really think, not, usually, what I stop to measure and rephrase in a way the particular listener might be able to handle. Good or bad, it is what it is.

My architect friend at the cafe knows this well, is on to me and tries to keep me honest when he believes I go too far. Today, I was talking to him of my new ability to focus, which has helped me over hurdles I thought I couldn't clear, like headstands and skipping stones and, I dare say, keeping my marriage alive, and well.

"When you focus," I said, "you can do anything you want to do."

"Well," he said, shaking his head, "probably not anything. But that's you. You make broad, sweeping statements that couldn't be true just to prove your point, to be provocative. I, on the other hand, hedge." He called himself a realist then, I think, or a pragmatist, I can't remember. Either way, I told him it was a cop-out.

"The problem with hedging," I said, "is that then you can always give yourself the out. If you tell yourself you can do it, no matter what it is, if you don't give yourself the option, you'll do it."

I gave him the example of my husband, putting up the tent for my son's birthday last week. He started to get nervous that he couldn't do it and said something along those lines. But it was the night before eight 8-year-olds had been promised they could sleep in a tent in my living room. Not doing it was not an option. Instead of getting angry, like I usually would when he cowered in the face of a physical task, I told him just that. "It's not an option. You have to do it, so you will," I said. He rose to the occasion and did it, as I knew he could, and he felt great, like we all do when we do something we almost bowed out of out of fear. Like I did when I taught Eli to ski when it scared the shit out of me to even try.

The architect looked down, in thought, and nodded, gesturing to his little angel, a dead ringer for a young Shirley Temple. He told me how he prompts her often to do things when she thinks she can't. "Right," I said. "You can't hedge with kids, can you? You have to tell them they can do anything they set their mind to, right?" He had to agree.

I don't rest until I bring him around to my way of thinking, my truth, THE truth...Ha! I can tell just by his body language that sometimes he wishes he had skipped stopping by the cafe where he is sure to see me, to be dragged into controversy even before finishing his first cup of coffee. Sorry:(

I myself needed a little respite from me, a little yoga. As I headed out, Super Super was heading in. I was so tempted to stay and chat, but I was bound and determined to show off my headstand in class. Even our brief conversation was cathartic, though. A woman trying to get by us on the sidewalk with her stroller was clearly annoyed, as if her rights trumped ours, and we just looked at each other and laughed.

I told him of an incident yesterday where, coming up the stairs at the Y, I remembered something and said aloud, "Shoot!" A woman ahead of me, carrying a small child, turned around angrily and demanded, "Be careful with your mouth, there's a baby here..." I was perplexed. First of all, I'd said "shoot," which I reiterated to her. "Oh," she said, "I thought you said s-h-i-t." As if whatever word I used was any of her business, as if she had the right or the capability to control the world around her and her precious progeny.

There is nothing I hate more than people who think everything revolves around them and theirs. Super Super agreed wholeheartedly. I had the inclination, I told him, to shout out every foul-mouthed word I knew, just because I could and she couldn't stop me, but I kept it in, lucky for her. See, I don't actually go looking for arguments. They, so often, find me. And sometimes I refrain from engaging. Not often, but sometimes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Take a Hike

Getting geared up, literally, for my 8-year-old's Campout birthday party last Friday, I hit the five-and-dimes. I am all about the theme and I have learned to start late in order to spend less. Given weeks of planning, I could spend thousands, picking up anything that might fit in and be fun. It's a problem. I'm sure there is a group therapy session for this kind of thing, maybe Themaholics Anonymous?

As it was, I did pretty well, restraining myself somewhat, mostly out of sheer time constraint. It was two hours til party time. We had turned our living room into a campground, my trusty husband putting his summer camp skills to work pitching the tent the kids would sleep in with gift ribbon from the rafters. We had picked up cool camoflauge canvas hats for partygoers online, along with little plastic bug catchers for our trip into Prospect Park after school. I picked up some fanny packs to fill with trail snacks and a flashlight, and bought some water bottles the kids could sling across themselves for hydration on the hot spring day. Hot dogs, Doritos and S'more fixins would suffice for our cookout.

Having broken our camera some time back, I decided to spring for a new one and jumped into Radio Shack in a hurry. Chatting with the staff, giving out gold stars to them for their help, I mentioned I was going on a hike with my son and some of his friends for his birthday, and one young guy noted, with sheer sadness in his eyes, "I've never been on a hike." I went with my immediate, crazy instinct: "Come with us!" I said. I could actually have used the help. He didn't bat an eye, "Aaah, bummer. I have to work." He sounded seriously disappointed.

"Another time, then," I said. "Give me your name and number and I'll call can help me corral the boys, bring some of your friends," I said. Sometimes I think people will look at me strangely, balk at my enthusiasm for them when they don't even know me. But it rarely happens. Mostly, people are psyched to get the attention, to think that someone actually cares, if only a little bit. In this case, truly, as in others, I cared a lot. Radio Shack Wannabe Ranger quickly dashed off his name and number with the full expectation that I will call, and I will. I've even thought there must be some way to rig a slapdash summer program that pairs these older urban teens with my kids and their friends, some barter deal that would benefit everyone. I'm going to work on it. There are so many urban kids who never get off the streets and onto a dirt path in their everyday, who never get lost in the woods, even those minutes away in Prospect Park. It is a crying shame. I know this to be true, but even more so after the success of my son's party.

Those 10 crazy boys bonded in those urban woods, all wearing their uniform of hat, fanny pack and water bottle. It was, truly, like a military operation. I was shocked. I knew I had to corral them somehow, but I never thought that putting them in formation to gather their gear, suiting them up and heading out in a line would really work. I guess the military is on to something, who knew? I've always been anti-uniform myself, but I may be a convert after this. My hubby and I both donned the silly hats too as we headed down the sidewalk toward the park, singing army tunes and catching stares and smiles, not caring.

"Isn't this kind of embarrassing?" one kid asked. "Nope," said my husband. The kids loved running through the fields to catch butterflies, walking up the tree-lined path to its end, where they found a stick structure they were convinced was built by Indians. There they spent a good long while digging under logs to find bugs. They also had to find the perfect sticks to roast marshmallows. We explored out-of-the-way areas where you couldn't even tell you were in an urban park. Apparently, you can camp overnight in Prospect Park, but we'd already pitched the tent inside. Instead, we found an open barbecue, lit up the coals and made hot dogs as the kids explored the hidden forest nearby.

It was like Lord of the Flies when they returned from their adventure, having gone further than we realized and loved it. Each boy was dirtier than the next. It was awesome. They felt free. Woods are magical, dark and deep, Robert Frost reminds us of that. We have to remind ourselves of this often in the city. We have to get off the streets and play in nature, even close in. Inward Bound, my husband calls my new camp idea. I love it.

The beauty, too, is that after five hours in the park and a quick locker-room-style shower, even a pack of 8-year-old boys have little fight left in them. One swift threat around 11:15 that parents would be called to pull their sons out of the tent and home did the trick. They were out, doubtless dreaming of those delicious s'mores. Note to city dwellers: gas stoves work just fine for roasting marshmallows, in a pinch. Better, though, to do it outside, if you can.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time for Disciples

The word of the star is spreading. I have my disciples. The new religion has begun. At least, that's what it feels like. Today, I decided. This isn't just a passing whim, a funny way to pass the time. This is real. People need this. It is no small thing, a gold star.

We are all of us wounded children. I know it sounds pathetic, trite even, but it's true. It's what makes parenting so hard. No matter how hard you try, no matter how you might arm them, your children will come away with war wounds. We all do. Sometimes we can figure out ourselves or with the help of others how to fix those wounds, to patch them up and move on. Sometimes, hopefully, we can laugh at ourselves, at how we cling to those gaping gashes inside us instead of giving them no mind. Either way, they are there, nearly from the beginning, in one way or the other.

My morning started next to the cutest little girl, clad in a bright rainbow-striped sundress just like my favorite dress when I was a kid, with a polka-dot headband and a little bright blue fabric purse strung across her. She sat like a little adult at the table with her father, having a muffin and chatting amiably about issues she was having with a friend. He was encouraging her to just be herself, not to worry about anyone else. She couldn't have been more than 5, was probably younger. She looked over at me at one point, and I couldn't help but reach out.

"You're fabulous," I said to her. "Love the dress, love the heaband, love the purse. You couldn't be cuter." She just smiled, shyly.

"She made that purse, with her mother," her father said, proudly.

"Wow," I said, "you sew?" She nodded.

"I have something for you," I said, and pulled out from my purse the biggest gold star I had.

As she took it, something came over her. She looked at it, then up at me, screwed up her eyes in slight confusion but in clear, overwhelming gratitude, and, in an instant, she had scooted over close to me on the bench and was hugging me, hard and appreciatively. She placed her gold star proudly on her chest as she scooted back to her position across from her father.

I was blown away by her reaction. I am always a little blown away by how much people acknowledge they need the stars, each in their own way, but this was of a different stripe. I found out why after she left. Her parents recently split up. It is so hard to be in the midst of a dying relationship, especially when you have no part in any decisions that get made. Hopefully, her whole family can all go forward better than before. She is trying, so hard. She is so cheery in every way, in her manner of dress, in her warmth, in her spirit. She will be just fine.

We all find our ways to move forward. After the little girl left with a sweet wave and a warning from her father not to hug strangers when he wasn't around (a comment I found a bit sad), I was joined by two fabulous ladies; my poet friend, who is now proudly published, and my performance artist friend, whose one-woman show, when it's done, will put the Vagina Monologues to shame. We met as we'd sorta kinda planned, the kind of plan I love when it works out. We each tell our sad stories of woe and laugh uproariously at the unbelievable details, some more harrowing than others, all real and remembered and looming in the way we live our every day. We could write a book together, easily, some people next to us said so. It would be amazing.

Today, somehow, we got on the subject of pets and how we'd fared with them. The poet declared, brilliant in her delivery as usual, that, "I had a fish. It committed suicide." Her fish had literally tried to free itself again and again from its bowl, a lethal act she had tried, in vain, to prevent numerous times. She did what she could, but "It didn't want to live with me," she said, shaking back and forth the new, brave rasta dreads hanging behind her headband.

I declared that I was the meanest mom in the world because I went into the pet store preparing my children for the eventual death of the damn fish I acquiesced to buy after wimping out on a hamster that could easily end up in my hamper or the lizard that I would have to feed live crickets. Sorry, no live food. Especially since I hear crickets in the home don't even chirp. When the fish, Kirby, did die after only a few days, the kids shrugged as he was flushed into the New York sewer system with barely a see ya. Too blase perhaps? Am I teaching them too much detachment? Or is it just that I don't think a fish really matters? Hard to know what lessons they'll learn.

The performance artist just pursed her lips, closed her eyes in homage to her greatness and gestured to her fine self with both hands. We knew what was coming. "I kept a fish alive, for three years," she said. The details are fuzzy to me, as usual, 'cause I am usually laughing too hard to hear them. This is why she kills.

After coffee, headed to the gym, I stopped the Music Matters man, opening his small store, to inquire if they carried Saturday Night Fever CDs. I am finally willing to concede that I will never get around to finding and installing a record player to play the album I bought on the street, the one that looks exactly like the one I danced to in my living room so happily for years. He said, sadly, no, but agreed after I asked that it was a great album, which I appreciated. He said he could order it but apologized. With the holiday coming, it wouldn't be here for a bit, til at least Wednesday. I laughed. "I haven't danced to it since probably the 8th grade. I think I can wait a few more days," I said, as I reached into my bag to get him a gold star.

"Oh, just four years ago?" he said. I didn't understand at first, then gratefully acknowledged the compliment. "Thanks for that," I said, and gave him his gold star.

Walking on, I saw a man carrying an amazing piece of salvaged-wood furniture. "Wow, what's that?" I said. "I love it." He turned it around to show me. It was a little side table made from a Canada Dry case dated 1959 and legs in my perfect milk-paint green of old that used to be part of a banister in an old house in Greenwich Village. I had just been writing about my mom's Italian twin friends, Jean and Joan, who lived in Tucson but recreated their Greenwich Village past through salvage placed in their desert abodes, like the old New York Public Library card catalog that acted as Joan's kitchen counter. I loved this connection to that memory.

The man was clearly pleased I had stopped him, that I appreciated his piece. "I made it. I love it. My wife hates it. I am bringing it to my storage space. It's going to go into the cabin I buy in the woods someday," he said.

"Are you a carpenter?" I asked, hopeful.

"Yes," he said.

"That's my dream job!" I said. "Can I come watch you? Be your apprentice?" I was only half joking. He looked scared.

"Ummm, sure?" he said. What could he say? I took his number, told him again how much I loved the piece and talked with him about it, how cool it was. I would have bought it, but it wasn't for sale. He loved it. He could picture it clearly in his mind, in a little corner of his dream home.

I'm sorry this is rambling on. There is so much to write about. Looking for receivers, I am open to the world and the amazing people in it. I am conscious of how hard everyone is working in their way.

At the drugstore, I gave a star to Elsie's Mom for many reasons including that she, like me, is known often by association with her progeny. It is a great thing to be linked with fabulous young beings, I do not mind it, but it does still negate one's own identity. Elsie's mom had been waiting eagerly for her gold star since I mentioned to her on a day I didn't have them that she deserved one. She is the opening scene in the documentary I want to make on motherhood because she captured it perfectly. When I asked her one day at the gym what was new she plastered a huge smile across her face, cheeks overly up, and said, loudly, articulate, deadpan, "You know. School...laundry..."

The words and their delivery were perfect. They said it all. Laundry is a universal. All you have to do is mention it and even the most passive go passionate. When I had mentioned to her how I had replayed this perfect scene for others so many times since she'd said it, she shook her head. "Did we know?" she asked. "No," I said. "And if anybody had tried to tell us, we wouldn't have understood anyway. We would have done it anyway."

My friend at the window at the gym, given his gold star finally cause I saw him, so cute, kissing his girlfriend and canoodling sweetly on a picnic bench in the park, was wearing it proudly on his nametag and asked for two more, which I happily gave without asking why and heard him give away to others. I promised to bring him some to give out at his window.

"I'm sure you come across a lot of people who need them," I said.

"Oh, yeah," he said. Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Nearly every day, I learn to define a word anew, to truly understand it as I think it must have been meant. Today's word is divine because, by my own judgmental account, this day was truly that, in all senses, theological and theoretical.

But words, even one so powerful as divine, cannot describe my joy in having found in a single morning the time to revel in so many real, genuine emotions. I first visited my children's classrooms, eschewing the prescribed math games in favor of viewing with awe their amazing artistic endeavors. They are an inspiration to me in my own sometimes fearful efforts. Reading my 8-year-old's poem about butterflies blew me away. I am so happy that he, like me, like my husband, finds words and ways of using them so entertaining and fun. I think it will serve him well. I can only hope it will be a help for him and his little brother, who is likewise beginning to find the power of words, reading and writing them, and putting his great observation skills to work in his drawing. It is amazing to see how much they already know, how enthusiastic they are about all they have to learn.

I, too, am enthusiastic. There are so many people to learn from! The lovely barrista in Parco the other day asked me, as she happily saw me hand out yet another gold star in front of her, "Who gives you your gold star?"

I laughed and gestured to the gardener getting over his loss who had inspired me, who had received his star that day, and to her, who long ago received hers for all her hard work and her enthusiasm about my project. "All my peeps..." I said. My response was said slightly in jest, but that is truly the answer. I am so grateful to all the people who are willing to talk to me, to let me learn from their own stories in order to figure my own.

I appreciated seeing the gardener again this morning. His story so moved me and his smile is so warm and familiar. And I was anxious to get an invitation to see his indigenous forest, for which he just got a literal ton of dirt delivered. Cool.

"See?" I said, "what I get from giving out the gold star is sometimes being able to hang out with some of my recipients later!"

The theme of giving and receiving looms large on my blog, in life. It is what it's all about, I think. My Building Superintendent friend showed up today, a joy as usual, and I told him I had used a line of his, given him credit. He had suggested an interesting possibility, days before, when we were talking about the problems I often have with parents who don't give enough, at least in some important ways.

"They had you, it's their responsibility to take care of you..." I said, emphatic.

"But what if," he said, closing his eyes as if in deep prayer, "it is that you were placed here to take care of them? Just a thought...We don't really know why we're here, do we?"

Wow. I loved it. It was such a cool idea, one we often don't want to imagine because of guilt or anger, depending on which side we fall, which side we're talking about if we are both parent and child. You mean, kids have a responsibility too? Maybe an enormous one? It makes so much sense, though. Since we don't really have the answers to why we were put on this earth, we might as well explore all the options.

The truth, though, I often think, is that the best parent/child relationship, the best relationship, period, is one that balances giving and receiving. We must both be completely engaged and involved, back and forth, in order to avoid succumbing to the anger of disengaged love, of love lost, of just plain loss.

We talked today, Super Super and I, about how hard it can be to give out gold stars, how at the beginning I thought people might look at me like I was crazy, like I had three heads.

He went to pinch my cheeks then, and scrinched up his own face, "But you're so cute...who wouldn't take a gold star from you?" he asked.

I laughed. "Thanks," I said. "My husband said that the other day, that he thinks it's because I'm attractive that people will take the gold star. Could that be true?"

I have thought many times that I might not have had the guts to do this project before I started working out so much, before I started dying my hair and spending the time to blow dry it, before I began donning the clothes that made me feel good instead of those I thought others would approve of.

In Super Super's divinely-shaped belief system, he believes that maybe I was put here to bless other people's lives, even in this small way, and that, quite possibly, the powers that be had put me in a package and with a personality by which people could receive that message.

I laughed uproariously at the thought. To think that my oft-admired ass is divinely inspired, likewise my tits. Now that is funny.

Getting to the gym seemed more crucial than ever after this conversation. As I went in to the downstairs gym, the men's locker room with weights, I was met with confirmation of Super Super's theory from my Italian admirer who called out to me his new nickname, C.I.A., or "Cast-iron Ass". I had to laugh. He works so hard to come up with these names to make me laugh, I have to give it to him. Then, I was greeted by the man who had so impressed me the day before with his handstand and strong walk around the room on his hands that I had been forced to comment. When I told him I so desired to get over my fear of throwing my legs up into the air into a handstand or even a headstand, even just along the wall, he offered, sweetly, to teach me. I almost said no, afraid, but then I stood up straighter and agreed. It has been a major goal for me since starting yoga and there was no time like the present, right? What was I waiting for?

I went with my new teacher, a character straight out of Saturday Night Fever--one of my all-time favorite movies by the way--and within minutes, with his great patience and encouragement and expertise and my willingness to learn, I was doing it. Wow. Amazing. The blood rushed to my head and I felt incredibly accomplished. I did a few headstands, then even a few spotted handstands. I was so tired. It was mentally and physically exhausting and exhilerating. We walked back into the weight room/locker room to jeers from the guys. But I didn't care. He had helped me. Helping me had, likely, helped him. He fully deserved his gold star. When next I see him, I'll have to tell him I did it on my own today. But maybe I won't see this phantom Saturday Night Fever saviour...Maybe he was divined just for this lesson. Who knows. These days, I'll believe almost anything.

P.S. Remind me next time to tell you about my chat with Ms. Love, my tantric sex consultant friend who, it turns out, is also a "fire artist," aka fire eater/flame thrower. So cool. Love her, love the name, love her bravery. So many people to learn from, my head is in a spin.

Monday, May 18, 2009


My carpenter fantasy came true today, albeit with pressed board rather than real wood. Either way, I helped build something with a real hammer and nails. It seems to be standing, at least a few hours in. It was a great way to start the week. Monday mornings should be about accomplishing something right off the bat, to start out feeling useful, like there really was a reason to get out of bed and out of the house much as you'd liked to have stay under the covers, inside.

I stared at the many components and contents of the cardboard box with the school librarian, who I help out as part of the PTA, who has become a friend. We were both afraid, daunted by the task of putting together this little shelving unit, of focusing so early in the morning, first thing. Really, we had both put it off for a week, who am I kidding? Doing things you don't want to do is always daunting, you will always put it off as long as possible. But it is my job. My son Oscar disses me all the time for having quit my real job, is so proud that I "work" at the school. I can't disappoint him. Or my friend, the librarian, who needs me for moral and physical support as she tries to do three jobs, like most people in the public school system.

"Ok," I said, feeling like I did when my son Eli demanded that I, not a paid instructor, teach him to ski. "I can do this. We can do this." And we did. Roughly 45 satisfying minutes later, it was done. Not perfectly, as we learned some lessons too late along the way, but pressboard is forgiving, luckily, and the expectations for this item were low given its shockingly bad quality. Mission accomplished! Hopefully it will not be one of the many examples of taxpayer money gone to waste. Hopefully it will help the awesome librarian be more awesome.

I whistled as I walked to the cafe, feeling deserving of my morning coffee and moment's rest before the gym. As I sat, enjoying the cool air, listening to my iPod, reading a fellow student's memoir for class tomorrow, I felt a tap. The stranger next to me was alerting me that my phone was ringing its porn-sounding "Rough" ring, annoying him I'm sure.

"Thanks!" I said, "Sorry!"

"No problem," he said, clearly meaning it. I noticed he was drinking out of an artsy, homey mug, not the white Chinette of the cafe.

"Cool mug," I said. "Did you bring that from home?"

"Yeah," he said. "In case I don't finish, I don't want to have to use paper."

It launched us into a discussion about staying or going, being relaxed or in a rush. For a long time, I told him, I hadn't felt like I'd had coffee unless it was in a paper cup, even if I was staying. It was an on-the-go mindset. Now, I'm the opposite. We both agreed that the best thing is probably having the flexibility of spirit to handle both well, to rush when you need to rush, rest when you have the time to rest. It would be the best of both worlds. It is something we're both striving for.

He is building an urban forest in his backyard, around the corner from the cafe. He has suffered a major loss recently, of his mother, and is intent on growing things, on seizing life. He is studying and learning all about trees. He loves it. He is communing with the earth and it is making him feel, if not better, at least at peace in moments, I imagine. It is giving him much-needed solace and clarity at a time when it would be all too easy to give himself over to fear and panic. I gave him his gold star happily. He is working hard. I hope for him that his garden grows. I need one of my own. Today, I'll have to settle for building a pressboard shelf. It feels like enough. For now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three Gold Stars

I gave away three gold stars today, all to one family. I had to. A toddler was actually prodding her mother to move faster. Rarely do you see that. It was a nice shift. "I know, I know," the woman said, as she started to move past the real estate listings that had engaged her, down the sidewalk to follow her pigtailed little girl, pushing her baby in the stroller. "Mommy's always distracted..." They each got a star and I heard the little prodder already planning where she would put it. She knew exactly what to do, where to go. She wanted to get there. And fast. I recognized myself in her but also in her mother.

I love distracted people. I'm highly distracted and distractable myself. Today, for example, I have done nothing but talk to people, in cafes, at the gym, on the street. It's because I have to write and I'm scared. Not writing for this blog (which is, by the way, another distraction) but for my memoir class, which reamed me last night both for being too honest and not being honest enough, for making them think about things they didn't want to and for not letting them in enough to know what I wanted them to. Hmmm. Confusing. Which is why I'm distracting myself today, talking, talking, talking, trying to figure before I try again. "You're halfway there," my teacher told me, encouraging. I guess, looked at that way, I've done some of the work. But there is still so much to do. It's not easy, writing. Better avoided much of the time if you want to get the laundry done and dinner on the table.

My Italian admirer at the gym, where I spent much of my morning trying to escape, made me feel better about it all and gave me the idea for my cover should the Gold Star project ever be turned in to a book. As I walked in to the weight room and, seeing him, waved, he yelled over to me across a crowd of guys, "I still have my gold star. I meant to bring it in, for you."

"Aaah, that would have been nice," I said. "I need it today."

He then shouted out, "I had a dream about you last night," he said. "You were wearing only three gold stars...strategically placed, of course."

I had to give it to him. It was funny. I kept thinking about it all through my workout and laughing. After last night's difficulty, I needed some good light relief. It's just a three gold star kind of day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back on the Wagon

I got back on the wagon last week and gave away stars again. It felt great, better even than I remembered. The surprise with which people meet their stars gives me a little thrill every time. Young or old, it doesn't matter. A little puffy, glittery gold star offers something special, no one can deny. I guess some people might deny, but I haven't encountered any of them lately.

In line for coffee early in the week, a little blonde curly-haired boy was making cute expressive faces at a man ahead of him. The man was making faces back, had probably started the game, I surmised. "Are you his father?" I asked, as they looked alike but I had seen the man come in alone. "No," the man said, "although he looks like my son."

I took out a gold star to give to the boy, for being so fun and funny with a stranger, and, as I handed it to him, he handed me his chewed-up cracker bit in exchange. He couldn't have been more than three, but apparently he had learned early that you don't get something for nothing.

"That's okay," I said, trying to hand back the cracker. But he wouldn't take it.

"It's okay," his mom piped in, "you can keep your cracker..."

He wouldn't, though. He had the star, I was to have the cracker. I placed the cracker back in his bowl. I hope neither of us has anything communicable, but, I thought, c'est la vie if we do. Sometimes things get passed around when you share with your community.

"That's a sign of early graciousness," I said to his mother about her son's need to exchange the star for something of his own. She smiled.

"Thanks," she said.

On my way out, I gave a gold star to the man who'd been standing in line, for his own little blonde boy, or for himself.

When I walked down into the subway station, got to the turnstile, I saw a man, dressed in civilian garb, not an MTA uniform, enter through the gate with a key. He just looked like a regular guy headed to the city for work, he just happened to be lucky enough to have a key. The idea made me laugh as I, stupidly, paid the fare. I should have a key, I thought, everyone should.

Though I hadn't asked, my laugh made the man explain. "I work here," he said.

"I figured," I said, "It just makes so much sense, to have a key."

He nodded. "I know," he said. "It makes it so much easier." He walked down the stairs going the other direction before I could give him a star. Too bad.

For some reason, it was hilarious. We should all have keys to the subway. Life should be made easier. If only.

The next day, a woman sat next to me at a table at Parco. She felt guilty taking up a whole table for two when she was just one. I told her not to worry. If someone else wanted to sit with her, she could let them, and anyway, she was deserving on her own to sit where she wanted. "You're right," she said. "I need room to write."

She took out a handful of postcards and began to fill them out. I was envious. I can't remember the last time I wrote a postcard. I was supposed to have written them as part of an exercise I did for The Artist's Way, but instead I chickened out and sent notes on Facebook. I told this woman that I admired her, that I had gone the more modern route recently and regretted it.

"I don't even have a lot of people's real addresses," I said.

"I know," she said, "people say 'Oh, you're going to send snail mail..."

"See?!" I said, "we even have a pejorative term for it, 'snail mail.' It's so sad!!"

"It is," she said, and went back to writing postcards.

As I walked out, I took my gold stars out and gave her one.

"Wow," she said in thanks, "you just keep those in your purse? That's cool!"

"Yep," I said. "Bye!" I waved to her and to my friend behind the counter who stood there clapping her hands together in excitement. She loves it when I give out my gold stars. I do too.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gold Star 4 Me

OK, I'll come clean: I haven't given a gold star away for at least a week. I was hoarding them myself, too inwardly-focused to give much of anything I had away.

I went back to my childhood home, to Tucson, Arizona, and, before my friend who is getting married in July arrived for a weekend bachelorette along with other of our gang from high school, I had some time to reflect in the desert sun, to stare at the still, awe-inspiring mountain vistas, to take in the sweet musky smell of mesquite, to contemplate how I came to be at all, let alone how I came to be this old.

I feel like the same little girl who wobbled her banana-seat bike into the cactus more times than I care to count, who hated getting dust in her toes as she hiked in the desert. I can ride a bike now, though I rarely do, and I don't give a rat's ass about dust in my toes, I like it actually. But I am that same girl.

I took a long hike in Sabino Canyon by myself, alone there, I think, for the first time ever though I went to that park, part of the Coronado National Forest, quite often as a kid. I grew up five minutes away.

As I meandered nearly four miles up into the foothills, I stepped off the road often, through the dry brush, onto little sandy beaches where ducks and little fish and dragonflies played in the shallow waters that remained from the run-off of the mountain's late winter snows. Someone had spelled out F-I-S-H in one stream with big rocks and a single Converse high-top, the shoe used in the display out of comedy or necessity, it wasn't clear. I sat at many of the pebble and concrete picnic tables set solidly into the dirt, wondering which one had hosted me and my friends at my 12th birthday party, a party captured in my mind as distinctly as the photograph of it in my scrapbook.

I love the desert now, though I didn't always appreciate its peacefulness. I'm not sure I would appreciate it now, either, if I lived there. The mountains, as I look at them for too long, seem lifeless, imposing rather than empowering. It is too quiet. Even as I enjoy my solitude, I do so because I know it is a respite from cacaphonous New York, where I happily make my home.

It is good to go back to where you're from, to recognize what it gave you and what it didn't, to see that making other choices that fit you and your desires better is what it's all about.

I would have given a gold star to Andy, the waiter by the pool at La Paloma, where I stayed. He was deep in the midst of his search for himself, for a home. He hailed from Texas, but he had lived since leaving there in San Francisco, in Chicago and, now, in Tucson, a town he labeled cool because of its "Resorty artsy fartsy feel..." He wanted to go East next, was thinking of joining the military and heading to Cape May, New Jersey. We talked for a long time, the resort hit by hard economic times and so too his tip possibilities that would have had him working harder.

My Dad, a talker like me, a connector, joined us after a bit and tried to offer Andy a way out of the service industry with a new multi-level marketing scheme he's trying, a travel business. I had warned Andy that my crazy Dad was coming. Like most people do, though, he liked my Dad. He would have to make his own call about his sales pitch, about going to a meeting touting how to get rich quick. Where once my Dad's sales pitches might have perturbed me, I had separated myself. I am an adult, a person in my own right, not to be confused with a limb or extension of my parents. It is a hard road to learning that lesson. It takes a lifetime of trying, I think.

When I got back to my room after my hike the next day, Andy had sent over a cowboy hat filled with shot glasses and mini bottles of tequila, with chips and salsa and, along with that, two bottles of water and two bottles of Corona. A note said how much he had enjoyed talking with me and my Dad, and offered up his assistance if I should need anything else. It was so nice. I never saw him again during my stay to thank him or give him a gold star. It was nice to be the receiver.