Friday, April 5, 2013

12 Days of Spring Break in Haiku (MB)

I lied about writing my next blog post about "everything I need to know I learned from Downton Abbey".  That is/was a great idea but unfortunately the moment passed.  Winter was a great time to be inspired by Downton, but spring may actually be arriving now and it's time to turn my attention to the other long-awaited historic TV pleasure, Mad Men.

Instead, I have a simple reflection on our much-needed Spring Break trip last week (plus).  Here goes.

Day 1:

Comfy on highway
Blackberry still buzzing but
Quiet by Pittsburgh

Day 2:

Finally slept; now --
Sun on Capitol Hill for
Collins wedding fun

Day 3:

Precious and subtle;
Son and daughter, with our clan
In D.C.'s riches

Day 4:

Cousins, kin; we love
That in this big cold city
We are everywhere

Day 5:

Nieces and nephews
Fresh, demanding; fleeting times
Today, back on road

Day 6:

Nana, Mads in back
Peter, shotgun; we stop to
Walk Williamsburg, scan Norfolk

Day 7:

Beach motel, fresh air
Vast seascapes, golf for Peter
Happy fish dinner

Day 8:

Tunes through rich coast lands
Drop Nana with Papa; slip
in stop with old friends

Day 9:

Wake in the mountains
Many memories, echos
Growing parents, kids

Day 10:

We all hike to top
Blue Mountain, huddle, safe perch
End day with art, eggs

Day 11:

Lazy Easter morn
Kids: treats, play; moms: coffee, talk
We take off again

Day 12:

Louisville bridges --
Listen to Opening Day
Home, little snow left

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Catching Up (MB)

Dear, Dear Abby:

You are back in L.A. now with your boys after having been here in Wisconsin with us for 2 plus weeks.  We got to catch up in person some, although not enough for my taste.  I was largely to blame for this.  Catching up with a dear friend during the holiday season and end-of-year at work is a challenge, come to find out.

In any case, I owed you some "catching up" long before you arrived . .  you've now provided a couple really well-done posts that I thoroughly enjoyed, and that brought me a little closer to you even before you arrived here, and I have failed to respond timely.

Life for me has been rich and busy, and that is largely why I haven't written.  I'm not sure if either of us really has really gotten a good survey of the full panoply of stuff we're both dealing with, in our recent visit or through this blog.  I think we've had a lot of miscellaneous snacks from the Abby and Mary Beth vending machines as opposed to the full multi-course meal of Abby or Mary Beth cuisine.  The snacks are a lot better than going hungry but there are still gaps in my understanding of all you do each day and are thinking about over there, as was illuminated by all the new territory we just started dipping into when we were speaking in person in Madison over the last couple of weeks.  Similarly, my life is so full of so many things that I can scarcely do them credit to any one other person.  My kids are well aware of the tidbits from home like running laundry, my latest homecooked meal, my enthusiastic Christmas cookie baking, and my best attempts to getting some modest holiday shopping done and a holiday card out to loved ones.  My co-workers know of the long to-do list at the office and the challenge to meet budget at the non-profit this year. My clients know about those end of year goals of getting documents signed.  My sisters know something of the extended family goings-on.  My neighbors and friends know of the planning to get kids out to the ski hill (which by the way apparently requires about 25 emails. . . . would you like to develop an online business product with me that would serve parents hustling kids in carpools to do fun and necessary things?).  You get the point.  Many spheres of activity, and much going on in each.  Same for you.  The blog doesn't make the cut sometimes.

I do have some reflections on 2012, and 2013.  It is, after all, that time of year.  We must seize the opportunity (however arbitrary it is) to allow ourselves a chance to reflect, re-boot, and feel fresh again.  I know it works for me, however fleetingly.

2012 was a year of things being harder than we thought.  Almost everyone near and dear to me went through a lot of hard work and toil and demands for patience and persistence, even if they began the year thinking there was not a huge challenge on their plate.  It was a year of understanding that these bogs we wade through, slowly, can actually be the paths we must take to move forward.  However, in contrast, for me, a major lesson was that if the bog becomes too cumbersome and you no longer feel that you're covering ground, there's a chance you've burdened yourself with something unnecessary and stifling.  I learned a lot about my capacity for worry this year.  I also learned a lot about my passion for what really, really matters.  My grandma passing away jolted me into clarity around the issue of authenticity.  We can dream up narratives about ourselves, and sometimes we must, just to keep going and have some fun and stick with our plan and vision for the future.  The key is that the narrative really must be real and true to whatever you really are and what you really, really believe.  I think if we can all arrive at a narrative, a character sketch, a self-awareness about what we really do like and believe, that is based on honesty about ourselves to ourselves, we can all become our own greatest selves.  If you feel like you're plodding through a bog you probably haven't re-evaluated your authentic narrative in a while.  It may be hard to face the revision that needs to be made.

I read the book Good to Great this past summer.  There are lots of catchy themes and terms that I can drop (and will, more than likely) from that book, and they are indeed fairly useful, I reckon.  One thing the author talks about is that in good businesses someone figured out to get the right people "on the bus" before you really take it anywhere.  This is all a metaphor for building a team with the right people for your business endeavor.

I hold a similar concept and metaphor dear on the issue of proceeding forward with one's personal narrative.   I use a boat as opposed to a bus.  It must be the Mississippi River heritage in me.  It goes like this.  By our age, you probably know the essential key things that really matter and make you happy.  They can be as important and understood as your children and parents and dear friends, or simple and of an accessory nature, like good books or yoga or baseball.  I think if you know you have the essential components -- big and small -- that serve you, truly matter to you, bring you joy and satisfaction, in your boat, you're halfway there.  Then, you set your boat to sail forward and let the currents and winds blow you a little.  If the boat is moving forward, and you're not stuck in the bog, trudging and dragging, then you're probably on track and being true.  If you get stuck, you might need to unload something or just let go of some assumptions about the direction you're supposed to be headed in.  I think if you just know what's supposed to be in your boat, though, and follow the current -- consistently paddling, mind you (my midwestern self will never accept that one can just sit back and float) -- everything should work out.

This leads me to take issue with your last post which focused in part on your love affair with the "ideas stage".  You may have a lot of ideas that haven't fully come to fruition, but you're the best I know about being honest about what's in your boat and being willing to throw some new things in and throw them out.  You are also very willing to go with the current. In the course of all that you get some great ideas.  They reflect these things you care about (what's in your boat) and your experiences as you continue down the river.  You may well wish to gain focus in seeing some of these ideas through -- that's all fine and good and a great resolution for the new year.  From what I saw when you visited, you've led a hell of an expedition down the river with all sorts of good things big and small in your boat (from all the "little" passionate interests of the Shotwell clan to the Shotwell boys themselves who are remarkable).  I don't see you getting stuck in the bog too often. I think when the idea that's meant to take form is ripe and ready, your expedition will lead you to it.  Don't try too hard, and for heaven's sake, don't get all cynical with yourself about not having developed "the big one" into action yet.  I got a good feeling about this year, and I'm pretty sure you're right on track.

Downton Abbey Season 3 is about to come on Wisconsin Public Television.  I would be revealing how dreadfully pathetic I truly am if I tried to articulate how excited I am.  I love that we connected on this shared obsession when you were home.

My next blog post will be: "Everything I Need to Know about Life I Learned from Downton Abbey."  Seriously.  It's half-written.  Don't beat me to it.

Peace and Love and Happy Paddling.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Got a Download

I love this youtube clip so much.  Please watch it if you haven't already.

It's about New Age stuff and it's funny.  

As you know, I spend much of my freetime doing yoga and exploring various facets of New Age lifestyle.  Since moving to California, I have cleansed, taken a vow of silence, dropped shaman medicine, met with mystics, sought daily guidance from both Angel and Faerie cards, burned sage, and wrapped myself in a daily yoga routine more immersive than any I have tried before.  Certainly, I am a cult candidate personality, always searching and highly suggestive to stories of bliss and transformation.  But every time I think I am getting closer to some spiritual truth about the world, an inner (persistent) snarky voice turns on and I make jokes in my mind.  I miss funny shit when I hang out with mystics.  They rarely laugh at themselves.

I remember the one and only yoga retreat I went on a few years ago.  Worst one week mind behavior ever.  I could barely contain my mirth at dinner when every single conversation revolved around raw food and who was and wasn't eating sugar and wheat.  Gag me.  I couldn't stop myself.  The chef served pasta one night and I ate three plates just to stuff the void.  During the week I started writing a screenplay in my mind. While I was supposed to be cleansing myself of fear and anxiety, an action spoof was basically writing itself.  In the end, I never committed the story to paper, but believe me, the plot was flushed out.  As a pitch:  a remote yoga retreat in Mexico is taken hostage by a local drug cartel and spa victims are forced to choose between passive yogic behavior (standing on their heads all day and hunger strikes) or taking up arms against the rebels and fighting for freedom.  Gweneth Paltrow was going to play lead with Madonna as the aging grande dame of the yoga retreat.

Anyway, this morning I was at my yoga class and I got a download.  Just to flush out this experience for you, I will add some details about my current yoga obsession.  Mysore yoga is my new practice.  I love it because the practice is demanding and has the potential to calm my mind.  It's hard because I'm physically not very good at it and I feel constantly humbled by yogis who have been doing the practice for many years.  Ashtanga practiced in the mysore tradition is a set routine where everyone works at their own pace.  You get to do more parts of the routine when you are ready.  (Frank was excited to hear about this part because he wanted to know if it felt like leveling up in a video game.  Pretty much actually.)  Mysore teachers do not lead the class, but move around the room giving adjustments and helping students learn new poses when appropriate.  I am just starting my practice, so quite often I am in a simple head to knee pose while on the mat next to me someone is doing this kind of crazy, beautiful thing.  You are not supposed to compare yourself to anyone else.  You are not supposed to be competitive with yourself.  The practice is supposed to be very zen like, "just breathe and practice and all things are coming".  That kind of thing.  Ashtanga yogis wear this shirt that says, "One lifetime is not enough".  And I really believe in the message.  And my body is changing and I feel great.  But my mind is tricky. 

Today someone was jumping back and forth over themselves in a backbend flipover and he fell.  Just the other day I had heard this same guy say how discipline came easy to him, how he approached his practice just like he approaches everything in life.  He was basically bragging about his deep focus abilities to someone who expressed awe and amazement at his physical mastery of the ashtanga poses. When he fell today I experienced the best case of schadenfreude ever in a yoga room.  I loved that he fell.  His ego is too huge.  He brags about finding it easy to focus.  What?  Fucking yoga asshole.

This is what my mind started doing:  first, I realized it's really fun to see yogis fall down; while also recognizing that no matter how much we want to believe in a noncompetitive yoga spirit, the shit is awesome athletically and you can definitely see when someone is winning and when they are not; and finally, how cool it would be to see yogis do reality television.  I have been watching a lot of reality television lately so this leap made total sense to me.

I started making yoga reality t.v. pitches in my mind.  I don't know yet if the final pitch should be Yoga Island (a Survivor style reality show where a bunch of yogis are put on an island and teamed up and given challenges, voting each other off one by one over a series of weeks); or Stretched (a Chopped style show where each week four yogis compete against each other to win prize money to open up their own yoga studio); or maybe Project Yoga (a Project Runway derivative where young yoga hopefuls are guided by experts to see who has what it takes to be the next yoga superstar; or lastly, Yoga with the Stars (a Dancing with the Stars style show where semi-celebrities are teamed up with yoga masters to see who has what it takes to become a yoga master?  Why don't these shows exist?  I want to watch them.  Can you imagine how fun it would be to see yogis acting bitchy and stressed and voting each other off week by week while trying to stay zen and eat healthy?  All of this came rushing to me while I am backbending and trying to breathe and clear my mind. I got a download.

This is how my mind works.  I seem to read a lot and get ideas and then move on to the next idea without a lot of action.  I can make connections between things and my own train of thought is amusing and satisfying but....I am a wanderer.

I am constantly given the gift of ideas and I don't know the first thing about the discipline of putting ideas to paper or networking the shit out of an idea to get it made or published or realized.

That is why I go to the mat every day and pray I will learn what it means to focus.  This is why I hate people who claim that focus is easy.  And I wouldn't want to have a beer with one.

I appreciate this place to write it down.  MB, I am trying to stop living just in my head and make goals and act on my ideas.  I am also watching Project Runway and Chopped and cleaning up after three kids.  I think the idea of yoga reality tv is a good one.  I should type "how to pitch a reality tv show" into ehow.  I should have written down that awesome yoga retreat screenplay.  Truth?  I am often most content with the idea phase.  And I spend most of my time trying to do backbends.

Love and miss you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Making Movies

Henry has been filming a movie over the past three weeks.  The movie is called Broken Horses and he plays the younger version of the main character (played by Christopher Marquette). His father gets shot, he is manipulated by a cartel type thug, and kills someone all in the first ten minutes.  The director is Indian (Vinod Vishnu Chopra) and has wanted to make a  Hollywood film for a long time.  This is his baby.  He has poured his heart and soul into the project and I hope it's going to be quite something.  Think No Country for Old Men meets Alpha Dog?  The bad guy is Vincent d'Onofrio, and when Henry acted with him I was freaking out over his mad skills.  In every take he pulled out something new, like a jigsaw puzzle of intensity. Vincent is a method actor, which means he totally stays in character for the duration of the filming.  He drives a pick-up truck to shoots and sits by himself a lot brooding.  Remember Full Metal Jacket?  sheesh.  It's pretty amazing for Henry to act in a scene with someone like that.

Henry dyed his hair dark brown to look more like the main character, and he wears dark contacts too.  I hardly recognize him.  His agent and manager both like the new look, so I wonder if he will be dying his roots for awhile?  I continue to lighten my own hair, trying to recapture the golden locks of my youth, so I know it's no picnic the price we pay for fake color.  Seems like a lot of upkeep for a young teen.  On set Henry has his own personal contact attendant.  She just follows him about and puts eye drops in his eyes.  He also has a set teacher, make up technician, wardrobe assistant, and a hair stylist to attend to his every need.  Henry also has a stand in double for when the shot needs to be set up and he wants to sit down and rest.  Poor kid. 

It's weird to see so many people circling Henry.  He's my kid but I feel underfoot.  Everyone is really nice about it, but it's obvious that I am most useful when least involved.  Mostly I try to keep him in my sights, but also stay out of the whirlwind.  I grab him snacks and hot tea and all that, and keep track of his book.  Being a stagemom is really a social game.  Mostly everyone wants me to not make waves, but they also want me to keep the crazy set teacher and any other (much crazier) moms out of their hair.  So I am stuck talking all day with an uber Mormon stagemom who used to sing high soprano on Broadway and can still do the splits (just ask her) and the set teacher who was a college football quarterback, turned Days of Our Lives actor, turned rock and roll star, turned set teacher.  Never have I been through a weirder election cycle than listening to the conservative Mormon mom talk politics with the school of hard rock teacher.  Good stuff.

The movie is being shot about an hour North of Los Angeles in hills that make me think of Steinbeck's East of Eden, with all the California reverie and then some.  The days have been perfect with black crows and golden tumbleweed.  Just like a dream (or a movie).  Go figure.  There are several experts on set who specialize in dust.  I am not kidding.  They hold bags of dust in front of giant fans and give the landscape that certain haze where fantasy and reality disintegrate.

My little boy walks toward camera.  He has a dust halo.  He looks taller somehow and strange in his dark hair.  Several dozen professionals close around him.  My eyes burn and I wonder if it is the dust or tears.  This is what we came for.  The Mormon mom is saying something again and I nod before I even know what she needs.  Yes.  I want to go and get some tea.  I heard they just put out banana bread... 

Rereading your last post I wonder why I can't use the time on set to write lists and make my own goals about the future.  I don't know.  I feel like I should be able to do that, but even my book remains unopened most of the time.  The last month I have been living and breathing my kid's dream, and I want to be present with Henry before his reality changes.  It is impossible to think that he will change entirely, but it is also certain he has found the world he wants to live in and that stagemoms are only welcome for a limited amount of time.  I am savoring this window into what it means to be an actor and make movies.  It seems like a good life.  They all eat very well and tell stories with a purse of gold.  If dust gets in their eyes, a friendly assistant will saline solution away the irritation.  Problem solved.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dear Abby (and Crys) -- Good Advice from My Straighttalkin' Sisters (MB)

I've got an embarrassment of riches when it comes to amazing people -- friends, family, and colleagues -- in my life.  But I must admit there are only a few who I consistently go to for advice and who readily dish it to me straight.  I have a big mouth and strong ideas in any given moment, so it takes a certain willingness to risk adversity to truly give me advice.  I get this; there are many, many loved ones who could probably impart great knowledge on me and perhaps I am just too damn stubborn or unreceptive for that to work.

You, Abby, and my friend Crystal who is in NC, are the two straight-talkin' sisters who are usually able to break through and really nudge me in a direction I need to go in, through the simple exchange of seeking (me) and providing (you) advice.  You've met Crystal briefly, I know, because I recall when she was in Madison one hot summer you were up in your single window air-conditioned bedroom upstairs in your big house on Jenifer Street, and you were very pregnant with Charlie, and she and I came up to check on you in your state of keeping cool and waiting it out.

You and I had the chance to have a very long check-in by phone last Sunday, and it was great.  The longest conversation, to be sure, that we've had since you left for CA.  You got to fill me in on many details of your exciting developments out there (which I will leave you to explore in your own posts), and I was in great need of advice.  In fact, much of our conversation could be appropriately nicknamed a "Dear Abby" discussion.

I have been thinking about the very meaningful advice you gave me in that conversation, and generally, and I wanted to capture some of it in writing.  My mind also wanders to some consistent advice Crystal has given me over the years, most of which actually overlaps perfectly with yours, albeit phrased differently based on your different styles and experiences.  Without further adieu, here's the condensed treatise of big picture advice from my straighttalkin' sisters, Ab and Crys.  It's applicable to everyone, and I hope others will take it to heart too:

1.  Seek something extraordinary; don't settle for ordinary.  This particular point is made by example by both you and Crystal; but it often comes through in advice from you both when I am moaning about some challenge I've encountered (or continue to encounter) in my particular brand of living.  For you, I think this is an issue of making things interesting and fun.  Your perspective is -- isn't the most fun way to live to do something original?  For Crystal, it derives from some more traditional spiritual teachings and the like, I do believe.  Her verbiage for it would be something to the effect of "you have one precious life, make the most of it, live abundantly. . . ."  I'm sure the two of you have your moments when the hum-drum and challenges start to drift you away from this theory, but you consistently articulate it when I'm the one drifting.

2.  Surround yourself with the right elements to find the extraordinary; be aware of the way your context affects you.  This is really useful advice, and I would say I hear your voice, Ab, when I think of this one.  What you have told me is to be conscious of the way spending time with people makes me feel.  Who makes you feel good, and who's got that magic that helps you remember not to settle?  Crystal went on vacation recently and came back talking about how the getting away reminds you of how big the world is out there and puts your day-to-day norm and the culture and community you're in back in perspective.  You and I talked a lot on Sunday on the impact of Madison, the east side of Madison, regions, and communities may have, for better or for worse, on our own ability to think creatively and live the way we want to. . . .the important thing that I take away from all this is to be conscious about individuals, environment, and community so that you take full advantage of all you can in your immediate surroundings -- but, also make wise choices about the influences that, if allowed in, create the backdrop to what you're trying to do with your own unique life.

3.  Don't compare yourself to others; they are not you, and you may not actually want the same things as them, despite the temptation to believe you seek the dominant paradigm.  This goes along a bit with #2, but it deserves its own spot in the list.  You are in L.A. doing all sorts of funky new things, and I gather you currently have a perch in the world that evades destructive comparisons with some other "norm" or dominant paradigm.  But in the midwest, in almost every other place and time, even when you are the most open minded person in the world, there's always that risk of feeling that your unique path doesn't measure up to some other norm.  At moments when I needed it, you and Crystal have both astutely urged me to get away from all that.  Crystal's always helpful in reminding me that my timing is a little funny.  I may not be where I want to get to in some areas of my life but I've been raising kids since I was 20 and will be an empty nester when I'm 40, for example.  Your point from Sunday went something like "I don't think you WANT what most people have, MB!"  And you're right.  I don't want what most people have, and it's key to have a very personal unique approach and dream --  but, there's still a whole world of opportunity to self-destructively attempt to measure one's own progress along some dominant track or trajectory, and not against one's own personal unique track.  Well, to hell with that. 

4.  It's totally OK to do whatever it takes to enjoy, savor, and experience to the fullest, being a mom -- even at the cost of other things (because being a mom is one of the coolest things you can do!).  One time you said to me "I guess I just really like being a mom and having kids -- I mean, it's pretty much the most fun thing you can do."  Again, the "maximum fun"(this is another podcast reference, right?) underpinnings of your philosophy come through.  Crystal and I bonded originally over being young moms in college at the same time and really enjoying the mom thing.  I think all three of us have carved out creative ways to get the most out of our years with kids at home, and this raises all sorts of interesting questions about career, self-care, finding time for your own interests (or even remembering what they are), and relationships, to name a few.  I believe it's fair to say all three of us, on our own terms, have been challenged by some of these questions.  I have always gotten great reinforcement from both of you that letting the mom experience take the front seat is a perfectly OK way to go; the rest will come, and you'll never regret this prioritization.

5.  If you know you want something, come out and say it to yourself, write it down, put it out there.  How are you supposed to get it if you don't put words to it and pursue it actively?  This is classic, and both you and Crystal have separately suggested this (and I have done it) at various points.  Crystal talks in terms of "manifesto" -- write down what you actually want (deciding ends up being the hardest part, come to find out).  You have recently pointed out that I should get the big goals down on paper quick so I can stay focused on what it is I'm exactly trying to do, so I don't get all jammed up on the details.  I've got them up on the wall, with a card I got from Crystal with the Thoreau quote "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you've imagined."

6.  Know your worth, in every situation.  Ah yes, this is really an Abby thing.  This one's all about the economics of relationships and what one has to offer.  No relationship -- personal, professional, familial, is totally perfect or pure; there are exchanges that occur, and they matter.  You've always been one to point out that it's okay to understand what you have to offer others and what they have to offer you. This understanding helps through the tougher moments, when pure fraternity just won't be enough get you through a tough moment gracefully, and won't be enough to convince the other person to do what you think is right by you. Having a clear understanding of the exchanges that are going on in our relationships, and the value of everyone's contributions, can help us find the right approach and face things with a little more practical spirit, when emotions might otherwise blow things up.

7.  Do the stuff that makes you feel good and affirms your authentic, soulful self.  Otherwise finding the extraordinary, surrounding yourself with the right elements, being an awesome mom, knowing what you want, and knowing your worth is going to be impossible.  Crystal talks about the metaphor of those standard airplane safety instructions of putting the oxygen mask on the adult first, before helping minor children -- you're better for your kids and as a caretaker and a boss, etc, if you yourself are doing well and taken care of.  She's pulled this one out on me before when I was a bit burned out and out of touch with the little things that delight me like travel, books, music.  You reminded me when we talked on Sunday to sing, escape into a good book, and do the things that bring me "flow".  We have long referred to this concept casually after reading the pop psych works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (here's a link to his 2004 TED talk on "Flow -- the secret of happiness":  I very much buy this theory but haven't been a very devout subscriber.  The idea is that by regularly doing things that require or lead to total focus and absorbtion and application of skill, and that give you immediate satisfaction and engagement, you become a happier healthier person overall.  I do think we live in a world where way too much time can be spent stuck in a car, on the phone with the cell phone company, passively attending to some office-style work task, etc.  Then you make a great baked good or dig in the garden for a while or spend an entire day putting a boat in the water and paddling down a river or write something for several hours that requires your full mental attention, and you realize -- wow! -- that felt good; I focused on something entirely and fully!  To take this even a step further, focusing on the things that are our very personal, soulful "flow" activities, really does get you back in touch with your real self.  That getting in touch with yourself thing helps infinitely with authentically following all of the outstanding advice on this entire list. . . .

Dear Abby, thanks for all the advice.  Remember it all for yourself, too. . . . I'm going to be reminding my other sage friend Crystal of the same. . . . . here's to maximum fun and abundant unique lives. . .

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Response, and the Week (MB)

Great to hear back from you, Abby -- and to hear all about your new life in L.A.  So much richness, goodness, positive content in what you've said about it and what you've found in your willingness to jump off the cliff and not be sure what you would find on the other side.  As it should be.

I have had a hell of a week, in my own little quaint way.  I want to acknowledge so much about what you have shared and what is on my mind and going on in the world from this vantage point but I fear that there just isn't time, and won't be time soon, so I've decided to hop on the blog and respond quickly and just enough to make sure we keep this going.

Regarding one specific element of your last post -- don't feel badly for Mads.  She is so good, and so going through a very needed analysis of the differences between our life and others', and the choices that have brought us to this point.  It would be very 10th rate if a 12-year-old able bodied independent thinking young lady did not question the distinct contrast between the "other normal" and our (actually very "outlier") normal.  And the girl looks good and likes good stuff.  This is the 7th grade version of all that she has always been and always will be.  Just this weekend we were with my sister Julie who reminded us of how when Madeline was a kindergartner she emerged from her bedroom with an old knit poncho that she had discovered from my childhood clothing collection (saved by my mom), with funky tight/leggings, and galoshes or some such when this would have actually been a look on the Sunday Times Style Page but all of her contemporaries in school were probably wearing standard cutesy fare from Target or the Children's Place.  I can't wait to see where she goes with that.

Last Sunday night, I along with the rest of Wisconsin watched as the temporary refs in the Packers Seahawks game made a devastatingly determining bad call and, along with the whole of Wisconsin, went to bed after turning my TV off, nothing left to do, dejected and having to face the week.  But, Monday morning came with lots of entertaining commentary about said call and the implications of the referee/NFL labor dispute.  The trees on the side streets in our neighborhood were showing signs of rapid change.  Two-tone trees everywhere, with half of actual leaves, or half of actual trees, in two distinct colors.  Chartreuse and magenta.  Blaze orange and yellow.  The drought has brought us brilliance in the new season.

I worked as usual this week.  Some of the poignant moments included during bail hearings in the County Jail to see what was going to happen with a kid served by the organization I direct.  I made some very memorable observations in that setting.  One case included multiple family members arrested in one bust of a home for child abuse.  An entire gallery of family members filled the viewing area, separated by glass from the Commissioner and the detained loved ones.  This family settled into those seats, spanning in age from infant to grandma, and watched the bail hearings transpire.  If you watched them from the side you would have thought they were watching a very intense movie.  I can't do justice to the scenario I wish to describe here.  After it was said and done I turned to the foster parent I was sitting near and simply said "Humanity."  He nodded, slowly.  This was the guy that saw me on the street headed into the hearing and said, "what are you playing lawyer today or somethin'?"  (He had only seen me in jeans in more informal settings previously).  I said to him, "what are you going hunting or somethin'?"  He was wearing a full body camouflage jumpsuit, biker gloves, and a bluetooth headset.  He laughed and said "Nah, this is just what I wear to make sure people know there's crazy black man on the prowl."  This guy and I are building rapport.

Less poignant moments included attending to the full panoply of responsibilities that fall on me with the organization I direct.  These include basic compliance filings, planning special events, overseeing staff and programming, paying bills, organizing what's happening with the Board, writing grants, doing outreach presentations, etc.  On some weeks, this list kind of buries me psychologically.  But when I really get a kink going in my neck is when there's a kid like this one that was in the bail hearing and there are no easy solutions.

I also did some work for my law practice this week and have been on a bit of a kick to market a little more.  I need to build up the amount of work I do from my practice.  It just pays more, and the non-profit job tends to have the ability to take over my life.  Conscious effort will be required to make the slow shift.  I have a few fun lawyerly tasks on my plate right now through my practice that include helping a lady get out of a lease in an apartment infested with bedbugs, helping an inventor navigate the world of nondisclosure agreements with companies looking at his product, finishing some corporate restructuring for a couple business clients, and helping my usual tax-exempt organization clients with their contracts, governance, etc.  It's a nice mix, and because my rates are low, I still do it at a fairly non-stressful pace.  Or, should I say, I keep my rates very low to be able to do it at a non-stressful pace.  But perhaps I am discovering that I must take things to the next (stressful) level.

My mom responsibilities this week were quite upbeat and positive.  I've come to really appreciate a week during which there are no major disputes or logistic fiascos.  There was some pretty quality periodic tables studying.  Everybody got up in the morning without much trouble, and they actually ate the breakfasts I presented.  My only heavy hitting night of driving was to get Mads to a gymnastics class, rush to present at a work event, and drive all the way back out to get her.  But all went off without a hitch, and in fact there was a Fresh Air interview with Mindy Kaling on one leg of the drive -- score.  (Her new show airs right before Henry's -- nice -- I hope you get to meet her on Fox grounds)  There was one emergency call to arrive at middle school before a volleyball game started to sign a permission slip that got lost in the shuffle (so so not my fault, mind you -- somebody else dropped the ball on that one).  All other rides, activities, and plans basically went as they were supposed to.  That's something to give thanks for.

There was a lot of family and Sconnie love this week.  Have you noticed a trend here?  My attention is focused on family and my homeland, and this seems right and good in the general order of this life of mine.  Or should I say, I must make right and good in the general order of this life of mine, and so my attention is focused on family and my homeland.  Either way, it's working.

Tuesday my Peter got to miss school and go to the Ryder Cup in the Chicago area with my Dad.  He saw his idols up close, practicing -- Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, others -- and he also got to see many other illustrious folks doing the celebrity tournament, including Bill Murray and Justin Timberlake.  He texted me from the course "Mom, u r going to love me!" and I texted "Rory?"  Sure enough, he came home with a Rory autograph.  Rory's my favorite.  As my dad says, imagine being Irish, 24, and maybe the best golfer in the world.  What I love is he's just so cute and relatively unassuming about it all in interviews.  I know it won't last, but the last couple years it's been pretty fun.  His mom must still be pissing her pants. That night when we got home Peter was up in my room watching the highlights (our downstairs TV is on the fritz).  He let me sit next to him on the bed and we watched together for an hour.  He announced that he would like to stay back the upcoming weekend to make sure he was able to golf in one of the remaining tournaments of his fall club golf schedule.  He is inspired.  And, I just keep thinking of him and my dad walking out there all day, having the time of their lives, and this thought brings me as much joy as anything I can imagine.

My sister and her beautiful bouncing (literally bouncing) baby boy rode the train from Chicago to Columbus, Wisconsin on Thursday and I busted out from Madeline's volleyball game like a bat out of hell to pick them up.  When I pulled onto the dirt entryway to the Amtrak station, there they were, standing under a gazebo, her bouncing him in a Baby Bjorn.  What a sight!  She came and stayed with us and next day we loaded up for our weekend in La Crosse -- Oktoberfest.  You know all about this, Ab.  We still talk about the year you and the boys came with us.  There were some good stories from that year which I will not get into just now.

By 5:30 the next morning, sister Julie and I were up and getting ready to go run the half marathon on the Oktoberfest Maple Leaf parade route.  We did pretty well considering we were more just "doing it to do it".  We definitely recounted some stories from the Whistlestop.  I should thank you at this point because you talked me into that first half marathon up north in the damn freezing snow and cold on October 6th or some such, and since then I've done about 6 or 7 half marathons, and they're about the only thing that really gets me to be honest about some decent workouts.  The fear of suffering through one, untrained, I mean.  So I sign up for one here and there and it keeps me decent about exercise.

The rest of the day was grand.  We were all out on the parade route -- again, many, many cousins and family members in full force for the local holiday.  Town shut down, over 100,000 people in the streets drinking, partying, celebrating.  My mom and dad in their dirndls and leiderhosen (they are now a part of the Oktoberfest Royal Family -- oh far more than I can explain here.  Suffice it to say, big big La Crosse tradition).  Bloody Marys and beers and all the kids and a three hour long parade, and just downright widespread all ages revelry in the streets.  Mads got to go out to the festgrounds with her teen cousins, and I proceeded to the bars and outdoor music with my childless cousins.  My sister Julie and her husband Mark (longtime all day Oktoberfest partiers) went home with their baby.  My how time has changed things.  I got to rock it to some cover band music, do the Cupid Shuffle, see a guy who superglued a black mustache to his face, bump into some high school homecoming and prom dates, and tromp down the deserted parade route -- beers in hand -- with a posse of my cousins and their significant others and a few others that joined the tribe for the day. . . you get the idea. There was an incident of possibly losing an aunt of ours at a bar, but we are hoping that no news is good news and all is well.   In the background of all of this, glimpses of the marshes and bluffs -- bathed in rich color --  of La Crosse.

At the beer tents at the festgrounds, a monumental thing happened to me, Ab.  I was jammin with my cousins, happily buzzed on Miller Lite, and this college student -- young and fresh -- ran up to me pointedly like he had been waiting a while to do it, and said: "I just wanted to tell you how hot I think you are for how old you are."  And I said "for how old I am?"  And he looked shocked, and he backtracked a bit and said, "no, I mean, you're not even 40, right?"  And I said "No, I am not forty," and then he explained, "look I don't mean anything bad, I'm trying to tell you I think you are super hot," blah blah blah and I realized poor kid meant well and I should take a damn compliment.  We high fived and got through the whole thing with appreciation and whatnot.  But.  I will never forget that moment.  Time is of the essence, Ab.

I was at my parents' house with Madeline in tow by 7 p.m. at which point we piled on the snacks and food and I was asleep in my chair by halftime of the Badgers game against Nebraska.  It's a good thing, too, because the game went downhill from there and I am not sorry I missed it.  We are having a tough sports moment in Wisconsin, but we must not despair or give up.

Today, we got to sing happy birthday to my nephew, take a walk on a gorgeous fall day, and get in a few more laughs before it was time for me and Mads to hit the road back for our Peter and real life back in Madison.  On the drive home we pointed out patches of trees that were particularly brilliant.  The two tone seems to be fading; it seems the peak of the season, and its vibrant color may be here, or almost here.  When we pulled into the driveway of our barn red house on Mifflin Street, the yard was covered in yellow leaves that were not there when we had left on Friday.

I walked in to pop on the Packers game and the Saints promptly scored on us to take the lead.  However, as I wrap up here, it appears the Pack has the ball with about 2 minutes left, and the lead.  The Brewers were knocked out of the Wild Card race today, but had a run there at the end.  So, there's some silver lining in all that is not stellar about this fall and Wisconsin sports.

I reunited with Peter after our weekend apart.  He had a good golf weekend and is looking ahead to some playoffs around the corner.  He also had some social updates, about which he was pretty darn forthcoming, one of which was that he is going to Homecoming with a senior.  OK.  That really puts my little tantrum about a college guy thinking I'm hot "for how old" I am in perspective.  Theoretically that poor guy was 3 years older than my kid's date to Homecoming.  I think the moral of the story is time is moving damn fast, and I'd better get up to speed.

I'm off to cook dinner and hope to get in some work tonight.  We shall see.  Either way, it's time to start another week.  But also keep thinking of the longer season at hand.  We are expecting a full moon tonight and I am expecting to go into winter better than ever.

Miss miss miss you.  Wish I could package up a breath of this fall air and its crispness, all the colors in our field of vision, and a bit of this killer caramel apple with peanuts I ungracefully ate on the parade route yesterday, and send it all to you.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lala Land

My long writing pause is over...

The details seem to be holding me back.  Suffice it to say:  we moved to Los Angeles and are living a new LA lifestyle; Frank started a different job (at ehow, and he likes it); the kids are in LA public school (Charlie started kindergarten with grace); Henry continues to follow his acting dreams (but now from the center of the beast); and I am happy and filled with excitement about it all.  phew.

It has been a big summer of changes.

We live in an old Spanish style home from the 1930s.  We are renting the duplex, of which we get the bottom half, in an old Jewish neighborhood called Pico/Robertson right next to Beverly Hills in West LA.  My favorite part about the home are all the old tiles and high arching ceilings.  I have a princess bathroom covered floor to ceiling with golden yellow tiles.  I am bathed in nostalgia.  The plaster in my home is embellished with fleur de lys patterns just raised from the surface like a secret braille code.  I can trace the decorative veins with my fingers and imagine a message whispered about old Hollywood.

I feel like wearing dresses and shaving my legs more.  That's what pretty architecture does for me.  LA makes me feel like trying harder at glamour.  I guess that's why the city gets a bad rap generally, but I find it all a breath of fresh air.  I keep wearing these long lazy all in one knit dresses and appreciating how my smooth legs rub freely next to each other letting in the breeze.  I love the weather and the heat and the sweat of it all.  I am overcome with gratefulness that I found my way to this climate.

There is a tree hanging heavy over the street filled with guavas, my very favorite fruit.  I used to eat guavas with my mom by the dozens in Mexico and they just don't travel well.  I rarely saw edible ones in the Midwest.  Now I can pick one on the way to school in the morning with my boys.  Yes!  The kids walk to school.  I know that Los Angeles does have more driving, but fortunately my neighborhood is pretty walkable.

My home is surrounded by Jewish delis, bakeries and grocery stores.  I have become a Kosher meat enthusiast and of course appreciate the hell out of every babushka grandmother I pass on the street.  The entire neighborhood shuts down on Friday evening and doesn't reopen until late on Saturday night.  I find myself drawn to hoard groceries on Friday morning (when the bakery is best) and nod knowingly at everyone in line, as if I know the first thing about what happens inside our local Kabbalah center. 

I live on a very busy street called Olympic.  Some people refer to it as the wormhole of LA because you can zoom from one side of the city to another avoiding freeways if you're lucky.  It means traffic sounds wash over me like white noise at all hours of the day.  My nod to budgeting in LA, because certainly rental costs are crazy (especially when multiple bedrooms are needed), was to give up the ideal of a quiet street.  We have no yard.  My three boys climb the interior of our walls, hanging from door jambs, kick punching and pillow fighting more than ever before.  I try to "run them" at one of our local parks on a daily basis, but it's not ideal.  Having a yard and children in LA is a sure sign of being extremely lucky or extremely wealthy.  Last weekend I went to open houses just to see what the market looks like and realized that contentment will not come from that exercise.

I have been thinking much more like a mystic lately.   I enjoy lots of funny special potions and energizers and toners and tonics and horoscopes and spiritual texts and much more than ever before.  I can't write about it really.  I always think the explaining is the part where I giggle and role my eyes and lose it.  I find it impossible.  But that's also why I love it.  I have been searching for things that surprise and challenge me beyond words and reason and I am finding it.  Have you ever read Franny and Zooey by Salinger?  I just read it and wanted to cry.  So many of the things I have been thinking about are in there and said better than I ever could.

I don't know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all if it doesn't make you happy.


My god, there's absolutely nothing tenth-rate about you, and yet you're up to your neck at this moment in tenth rate thinking.


She said she knew she was able to fly because when she came down she always had dust on her fingers from touching the light bulbs.

sigh.  I just loved the book.   I have been reading a lot.  I also finished A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book which I can't recommend enough.  Lots of fairy thinking and Victorian parents gone awry...

More on potions.  I have something I put in my smoothie every morning called Bag of Tricks.  I got it at the farmer's market.  Slightly chai spiced with cardamom and clove, the list of hormone balancing, stress relieving ingredients boggles the mind.  I find myself saying yes every morning to a bag of tricks.  And why not?  It makes me happy, and I find myself less and less sure these days what type of thinking can be is classified first rate as opposed to tenth.

Jimmy and Charlie are going to a public school in our neighborhood.  Jimmy was voted class representative for the fifth grade last week.  He is the only white kid in his class and I was worried about him fitting in, especially because I remember fifth grade in Madison being full of unfettered testosterone and cliquish behavior.  But Jimmy has taken it all in stride.  When he got out of school on election day we were standing on the yard and four young boys ran up to Jimmy and told him they had voted for him.  My Jimmy was beaming and so proud.  One of the kids told me that our family must be related to Albert Einstein because Jimmy is so smart.  The boys seemed generally in awe of Jimmy's powers of intellect, and these are fifth grade boys!  Giving Jimmy their vote of confidence (and friendship) and thinking he's cool for being smart.  what?  I was so overwhelmed.

I expected bullies and Jimmy was instead welcomed and embraced.  For example, Jimmy sort of sucks at basketball, and yet he likes to play.  These boys all let him play and be awkward without judgement.  Unexpected gift.  Right here in LAUSD. I hope Jimmy can take this experience and move beyond racism.  These kids from different backgrounds are all just trying to have fun and enjoy fifth grade and love being friends with Jimmy.  I hope it sinks in deep.  I really do.  I was so negative about all of it before, and just got blindsided by my own racism and lack of faith.   Really opens me up.

Henry has also been getting lots of gifts lately.  Great teachers and group classes at places like The Groundlings.  Live comedy every weekend.  He keeps getting really close on big auditions and I feel a shift happening for him.  Something is going to hit soon I think.  He has a lot of people pulling for him.  People on his side.  I can't believe that only a year ago I felt like he was an outsider.  A teacher of his called a casting director the other day to recommend Henry for a role in an independent movie and tomorrow he will meet the director.  It's working.  We haven't made it all the way up the ladder, of course, but I just feel like he is living the dream already.  Also, something that makes me happy is Henry comes to yoga with me every morning.  He is my yoga partner.  I never thought but it's true.

I am wearing down but not without a quick commentary about fashion and quality (for dear Mads).  I remember my father (who made his money in the fashion world selling high end shoes and independent labels in his twenties) absolutely hated taking me to the mall when I was young.  He dreaded it because, "the mall sells bad soulless fashion."  "The mall is shit," he would tell me and make fun of the cheap China made clothes from Limited Express.   One year he proposed to give me twice as much spending money if we shopped at independent boutiques in Minneapolis instead of the Bloomington Mall.  I was fifteen or sixteen.  He showed me around Saint Anthonys on the Main (which I remember seeming totally exotic and fancy) and he patiently (glibbly?) took the time to point out quality fabrics and sewing details and fashion trends that weren't in the mall yet.  I traced the quality seams with my fingers and grooved out on the fancy fabrics.  And I remember being really turned on.  There was a difference that I could feel -- an energy and intention that felt like soul.  And that's when I decided I wanted to dress differently than other girls in my class.  It's when I became a snob and a seeker, for better or for worse, and stopped shopping at malls.  I remember I could only afford two sweaters and one pair of pants, and I wore the shit out of those clothes, because they were my personal epiphany, all through sophomore year.  For me in my life,  I have decided to spend twice as much money on fewer quality clothes.  Clothes that are different and well made and make me feel special, or conversely, now that I am set free from Mall shopping, I can fucking wear thrift store treasure whenever I want, because I can't be fooled.  I know what I like.  It's a great feeling to step outside suburban thin drywall (mall soul suck) to find yourself delighted by cracked plaster, antique tiles, and vintage fashion finds mere pennies on the dime.  Is this first or tenth rate thinking?  I don't know but I come by it honestly.   There was nothing sadder to me than watching East side Madison parents shuttle kids back and forth from the mall.  It made me want to hug my crazy daddy and thank him for all his influence.  It makes me sad to think of Maddie coveting cardboard houses, but I have great hope for her later teen years.  Maybe we can take her out shopping next year when you visit LA and totally blow her mind?  or show her the houses of Beverly Hills...

there are so many times i realize that twice as much is not really enough and quality and consumption and attachment to all that i just said is super silly...

Well, from sunny LA, I remain your friend trying to find bliss from inside the bubble.

Miss you.