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.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September (MB)

Today is the first really chilly fall-like day this season here in Madison.  It really feels like you might be sorry if you left the house without a substantial hoodie or closed-toe shoes.  Up until now, we’ve been having the most glorious September you could ever imagine.  Well, I guess the way I’ve framed that is very colored by my personal preferences; I just ran into somebody who was raving about how refreshing today felt.

Me, I’m a lover of warm weather, and with this brisk day I deeply sense the encroaching limitations of deep fall and winter and, for that matter, much of the spring  – on hours of light, on our ability to go out without dressing in layers, on our energy as we slightly hibernate, on our activities and on the ability to see green life in our midst.  So for me, those warm bright blue days in the 70s and low 80s, with white puffy clouds and a slight breeze, through about, say, yesterday, were perfect in the most pure aesthetic way.  But they were also an extension of freedom.  I was still bombing around in my flip-flops and not caring whether the kids were properly dressed (at least in the weather sense) when they left for school.

And yes, from a social perspective, fall has already long since begun.  We were at the Willy Street Fair briefly this weekend – the last festival of the season; Peter and I went to the Badgers game on Saturday which was like a cornucopia of blissed out traditional fall Wisconsin fun.  Kids have been in school several weeks now.  There have been football game Fridays, Spanish quizzes, lengthy pre-calc assignments, and seemingly already countless packed lunches.  It’s going to be a good year, I keep telling the kids.  10th and 7th grade. . . . 10th is the year I started really deviating; 7th is the year all other parents around here seem to think must be endured by plugging one’s nose and waiting it out. Notwithstanding those somewhat superficial associations I may have with the particular grades, I’m convinced we are going to have a great year.
We definitely had a great summer.  We stuck close to home as you know.  A big summer trip really wasn’t an option, and this scenario really opened up some quality of living here in Madison and in Wisconsin in general that it’s easy to miss out on when you are cramming all of your vacation days and expenditures and “family time” into one big trip.  We had a lot of family goings-on in the early part of the summer, as you might imagine, after my grandma’s funeral.  My grandma’s passing at the very beginning of the summer really put a focus on things.  I have spent a lot of time this summer thinking about what matters in life, to be honest.  That my summer was already planned to be close to home fit well with that thought process.  We spent time with my sisters and their families, we got good slow time in La Crosse and the surrounding (gorgeous – only discovering how gorgeous 35 years after being born there) area with my parents.  We went to the famous Madison Saturday Farmer’s Market (8 blocks from our house but easy to miss when the travel plans and pace get going) many times, we went camping and fished and watched the Brewers and went to the State Fair for the first time.  We golfed and paddled and spent time with the many, many cousins.  We were really good Wisconsinites this summer.  We even had some poison ivy in the family, to prove it.

This summer we also had some interesting encounters with some new elements for our little family.  For one thing, we had a 100 year drought here.  It was kind of scary.  The resilient Midwestern earth was a scorched wasteland.  People were freaked out.  My garden died almost completely (partly because I just gave up after a point.  And, for the record, as bad of a gardener as I am, I have never had a garden do this poorly).  People around here started talking about this being the “new normal”.  I have a client that does work on climate change issues, and those folks are basically like, this is Exhibit A to what’s really going down.  I suppose I’m now about to commit the common sin of simply recognizing that it was freaky and glossing over, moving on.  I promise to ride my bike and burn less gas and buy less meat and . . . . really, I will, but that’s a whole other blog post and for now I’m trying to squeeze out this re-cap of some other summer stuff.

As for another new element for us this summer -- as you know, the beau has bought a large house in the old, distinguished, monied neighborhood of Maple Bluff.  Now, mind you – he seized on a deal that landed him there.  Not that he’s not doing well for himself, but it’s a little bit “there goes the neighborhood” that we’re even up there, you know?  Anyway, this summer that included some tennis and pool time at the country club, some neighborhood gatherings that look NOTHING like the block parties and house parties we used to rock back in the day on the near east side, dear Abby.  I got to throw some backyard parties to get everyone else that always invites me and the kids over back (I don’t even try in our little old house anymore, but the Maple Bluff backyard is perfect!)  We did some house-sitting for extended periods while beau was out of town, and you hear birds and see chipmunks when you get up in the morning, as opposed to my (still lovely) city dwelling which seems constantly bombarded with the sounds of sirens, people in the street fighting, and general traffic noise.  I know, I know – you live in L.A., and you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about – Madison?  Yes, actually.  Really.

So we hung out some up in Maple Bluff and at first this seemed like it would be an illustrious fun adventure for the summer.  With complete open-mindedness and a slight hint of excitement that maybe I could play-act or be the outlier or just adjust to belonging in that world TOO, I was rather looking forward to a potential extended adventure in this somewhat cloistered, aesthetically gorgeous new slice of Madison.  But, true confessions: it didn’t take long for me to honestly realize and feel that it’s just not my scene.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  I mean the natural features can’t be beat.  But you have to drive up and down a hill to even so much as get a newspaper, and, maybe I need more time, but I just didn’t feel the vibe of the people all that much.  I guess for now I think there’s nothing about that world that’s all that enticing to me now that I’ve seen it.  I guess if I happen to get to enjoy it and be invited “in”, I’ll continue to enjoy it as possible. 

I know you know all about needing an escape or theoretical “other world” from the world we usually dwell in. How many years did we gather around the kitchen table in a neighborhood in Madison that people engineer their lives around getting to live in, and both talk about our respective (imagined or real) next moves, steps to get out, etc. Now you’ve really made yours. Me, not so much – well, or at least not in the last 7 years or so, after all the international adventuring stopped and I had to get to work here. I guess Maple Bluff was a little escape for me, and in the end it was kind of like a vacation to a place that’s really pretty and you have really good memories of, but you’re not exactly planning to move there.

Peter and Madeline both shared in the Maple Bluff experience, became occasional country club dwellers, and also ran into a few new elements of their own . . . Peter was a caddy, so got to see what being a service provider was all about, and what making money of his own was all about, which I think made a pretty big impression on him, actually.  He’s already talking about maybe we can’t take a vacation next summer because he’s going to have a job (I’m convincing him every job permits time off).  Madeline is on a full-fledged campaign that this virtuous city-living in an old house in an eclectic neighborhood is total CRAP and we should have long ago moved to where her cousins live in Holmen, Wisconsin, where everyone has brand new houses with fresh carpet that are three times as big as ours but cost about the same amount (she actually knows this; I’m not kidding – the kid reviews house listings online to verify the basis of her arguments).  She reminds me that their schools have enough money that they don’t need to have PTG fundraisers, and they have brand new gym equipment, and the people there are not all hippies who don’t let their kids shop at the mall, etc, etc.  You get the point.  The girl is on to the very significant impact a very well-intentioned decision made eleven years ago to live on Madison’s East Side and raise these children in this accepting, progressive community (or as it is thought of by some, anyway) has had on, well, everything in her world.  And, she’s not so sure she appreciates the woodwork of our 110 year old rental home or her ability to bike to school along the river path or the summer festivals in our neighborhood or that any other factor really outweighs her interest in fresh construction, a finished basement, and a posse of girlfriends with good make-up and hair.

Speaking of moves, you are now in L.A.  Frank has a new job, Henry’s climbing the ladder of his Hollywood acting career, Jimmy seems to have found some things to get excited about there (although, more information, please), and Charlie has started kindergarten (!).  I feel like maybe you could write all day and I’d still need to see this all with my own eyes.  However, I really wouldn’t know since you haven’t written (aw, snap! – just kidding).  Anyway, we must, must get out there next summer.  Tell us more in the meantime – please!
I guess on my side of this blog, and in my little family, we’ve all done a little digging in on where we’re from, where we are and where we really want to be (all things being equal).   There’s been some slow and steady realization of what sheer goodness, albeit not glitzy, we come from and have before us here in Wisconsin with our big crazy extended family.  There’s been some reckoning with the truly specific and odd combination of factors that make up our life on the Isthmus in Madison.  And then, there’s been that healthy dose of escapism too, especially for Mads.  Although I must admit that observing Peter taking driver’s education and working this summer, and now starting Year 2 of high school, my new thing is a combination of the real deal AND escape, which is – in a few years the whole game changes again for me.  Maddy and I will be sending our Peter off to college in less than 3 years, and if the past is any gauge. . . I’d better hold on because it’ll be here soon.  What will that next chapter be like for all of us?  For now, I’m trying to use the awareness that it’ll come one day to slow me down here today and here with what I’ve got and make sure I’m doing right by it and planning for the future but not letting myself get too bogged down with work and planning and stress to savor and enjoy and again, do it right and not frenetically.  It’s really really hard to do that, and it’s so cliché to even say it that I don’t want to even say it.  But, that’s what I got.  I did a good job at points this summer, and I’m trying to carry that forward.  Work is full of challenges but very very good, I am earning, I am making progress on goals with various things, and I am really trying to be thoughtful about these kids and who they are and what they need and want and how I play into that.  I know I can’t hold on to notions of control, but I still have a pretty big job in the whole process.

September’s always that time when you can see things visibly changing, you hold on a little to the freedom and warmth of summer, you enjoy the freshness in the air but note with some pause the pending changes. . .l what’s September like for you? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy, Happy Birthday!! (MB)

Dear Abby:

Happy, Happy Birthday to YOU!  We thought we might be celebrating together this year, here in Madison, but alas, it did not come together.  When I woke up this morning I thought of you and our original plans but I actually thought it might be okay we didn't get together because I don't think I could have sustained hosting or preparing for a party today!

I just came off a whirlwind couple of weeks after my grandma's funeral.  The kids got out of school, which as you know changes everything, we were on the road for Father's Day and partying it up in La Crosse with a bunch of cousins and relatives for high school graduations and Father's Day festivities, and then my sweetest ever 20-year-old cousin came to stay most of last week because she had to have oral surgery (and recover) here in Madison.  By Saturday night she was ready for salsa dancing so I had my first out-til-3 a.m. night in as long as I can remember this past weekend.  Sunday and Monday after, my sister Anna and her little girls were here.  So today, I'm celebrating in a way that works in the context of all that's been going on.  Ran this morning, had an abbreviated but otherwise normal work day -- with added awesome treats of flowers and cards and gifts from colleagues (so sweet!) -- now grabbing a little "me" time to catch up on emails and random work stuff at a coffee shop before a quick swim and a cookout with the beau and kids.

What are you doing today?  I hope it's good to you, whatever it is.  I fear that Frank's work schedule will not let up too much, but I hope you either get some Abby time or family time or date night time or whatever trips your trigger.

Someone reminded me today that I am now old enough to be the President.  That's a little scary.  Does this magical age really mean I'm that mature?  (Then again, looking around at elected officials, perhaps any assumption of maturity is misled; but at a minimum our founders thought 35 was a relevant benchmark).

I do feel as if 35 is an age you kind of can't deny is up there enough that any mistakes excused by youthfulness are no longer possible (for other reasons, sure, but. . . .).  On the up side, I think I've got a pretty good vantage point on drama and distraction and I'm ready to be pretty real with myself about what matters, being present, focusing on the task at hand, etc. -- a la recent posts.  Do you feel that way?

I guess there are still a lot of question marks and mysteries about the world around us and ourselves; thank goodness, otherwise life would be pretty boring.  But, the core stuff seems pretty settled.  And therefore tolerance for BS pretty low, which can be a good and bad thing.  I guess as long as you couple that with a healthy dose of compassion it's okay.

This morning Peter and I were up together getting him ready to go to a golf tournament, and I said in my pre-coffee haze: "Yep, I guess I'm gettin' pretty old, Peter."  And he says, "Aw Mom; I think you're just looking at it all wrong.  What you should be thinking is you're 35 and you have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, and a whole life ahead of you."  Deep, sweet thoughts from my teenager.  I cherish that one.

I miss ya, Ab.  Would've been fun to party for the birthdays.  But have a drink for me and spend some time this birthday week thinking about our next little reunion and what that should look like.  Miss you madly, actually, and your boys.  Would be cool to be around the long kitchen table with y'all tonight.  We need to make that happen. 

You're gorgeous, smart as hell, and full of adventure.  I hope you feel all of that today and are getting some good feedback from those around you.  Love!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Being Present (MB)

It means a lot, a real lot, to me that you read my amazing grandma's obituary and cried, and you captured something important in your reflections.  What she did with what she had -- be fully, without abandon, in the life she led -- is really, really what it is all about.

I have had a chance to write about her at some length in these last weeks, and maybe I will send you, privately, the essay that I sent for a family collection of stories and reflections that my aunt was putting together for her for her birthday in July.  My grandma didn't get to see the final collection but the stories were already coming in when she was getting more and more worn down, so they just started reading them to her instead, mine included.

My hesitation to post that essay here goes along with one of my planned blog posts: "Dignity and Decorum in the Post-Digital Age."  I've been thinking about how we manage this blog and stay authentic and interesting while not turning into hated assholes who only have each other by the end of it all because everybody's so appalled by all we wrote.  Anyway, I think we'll figure it out. 

For now, I have nothing too philosophical or composed to say. 

But your timing on saying something about "Being Present" was impeccable.  Madeline was just yelling at me in the grocery store parking lot for losing my phone in my purse and then proceeding to take a work call and send a text and -- well, you get it.

I have also failed Peter miserably this week by not "Being Present" with him as he works his way through Round 2 High School Finals.  I am so thinking about the things he forgot or didn't quite put the effort in on and so thinking about the end game that I am just acting like a huge psychobitch narrating and nagging in my own little sphere as he, young man, truly approaches a new task and tries to figure it out.  I haven't been present for that process.  Enough, anyway.

Tonight is different.  We are here and Mads is playing her lovely piano recital song.  Peter and his friends were here working on a group project and I had some nice moments with everybody.  Now he's just walked in with a new haircut I sent him off for on his own.  He looks all tall and grown up.  We've got a little Brewers Cubs in the background and soon Recall Election results.  Say what you will about your exhaustion with the politics of Madison, but there is so much energy surrounding that today you almost can't NOT be present in the moment of it and the kids and I are all captivated along with the rest of Wisconsin (and some of the world).

Another sweetness tonight -- a work colleague stopped by with gorgeous salad, homemade mac n cheese, bread, and amazing brownies -- her condolences.  That just made me bubble over with appreciation.  People who care and food to match.  Meanwhile my family home in La Crosse is overflowing with that -- and my sisters are there already with their babies.  I am still here Being Present with the kids and the last week of school.  We'll be headed for services and the weekend in La Crosse on Friday.  I'm going without plan or agenda and will absorb and be still.

When we're old ladies we'll be making sure we both stay healthy and enjoy being sassy with an excuse.  We'll have the occasional howling laugh around the dining room table but if we have to stay in touch by late-night blog so our days can be spent rocking babies and going to grandkids' school concerts and teaching our kids and their spouses recipes from our past, so be it.

Peace and Presence be with you, Ab.  Let's do this thing, this one thing it's really all about.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Sorry to hear about your grandma.  She was awe inspiring.

My fetish for a particular grandma ideal is alive and well.  I still sometimes poke through thrift stores searching for the remnants of an age gone by.  Aprons.  Lace.  Quilts.  Cookie cutters.  Canning jars.  I know it's all bullshit but I can't help myself.

In sunny San Diego the thrifting is not as good.  Most of the grandma transplants inhabit second life mobile homes and prefer yoga and beach walking to caring for grandbabies.  They don't bake and might even be vegans!  Do they visit their grandchildren on the holidays or host them here for a visit to the beach?  Where would the children sleep in the mobile trailers?  The image confuses me -- the lack of coziness painful.

My own grandmothers are nothing like the story book version in my head.  My Grandma Helen cooks with Campbells soup and reads bad romance novels.  She doesn't like to sew and is luke warm on nurturing in general.  I love her fiercely but would never ask her for a favor.  My Grandma Lorraine lives in an Arizona trailer park that allows two weekends a year for children to visit the premises.  She likes shuffle board and gambling.  We never visit.  Going back a generation I remember my Great Grandma Mildred smoking long brown Moore cigarettes and drinking luke warm coffee well into her hundreds.  She could garden and can with the best of 'em but failed to take an interest in anything I ever did.  It stings a bit.  The gap between what I wanted and what I got.

The complete indifference my parents display for my own children slips the ideal further afield.  Somehow I know they feel it, their total failure to connect with what is right in front of them, the distance much further than a life across the country.  My parents (and in laws) continuously check in on  facebook or cspan for meaning while spending time together.  (And that generation says we are addicted to social media.)  They don't twitter but somehow they are staring at a screen while grandchildren take their first steps or try to show them a drawing.  They are absent even when present.  I want to shake them but somehow together we find solace in taking photos of memories for facebook.

Their visits feel like poking at a wound.  The vague memory of a mother and a giant 1980s mobile phone and an empty fridge.  Something about that. 

Right now I am teaching Charlie about eye contact.  Really I am trying to teach him about being present, about paying attention to who is there at the moment.  It occurs to me that my own behavior needs tweaking.  I turn off my phone.  I watch myself.

 Almost nothing else is possible if you really want to be present for your kids.  Not really.  None of us can multitask.  I am particularly bad at it.

You sure as hell can't quilt or bake or make jelly or any of those storybook grandma things I find appealing. It doesn't matter if it's facebook or lace making.  Not really.  We all want desperately to escape.  I struggle.  I have stopped thrifting.  I try to only write at night or do yoga before the kids awake.

And in regards to your last post...  maybe I am an entrepreneur or maybe an artist or maybe a fill in the blank.  It doesn't matter to me really.  Yes money needs to come in the house to survive, but beyond that I don't care much.  My path is to try and be an attentive mom.  That's all.  I want to be the kind of parent (and grandparent) who is around and useful and can make eye contact.  This may sound easy and simplistic, and god love the people who find this so, but for me it means unlearning generations of failure and neglect.  It means giving up on storybook idealism.   I want to undo the cycle.  I just do.  And it's crazy hard.

I cried when I read your grandmother's obituary.  I was going to put a link here on the blog but I thought maybe you should decide if that's appropriate.  I cried particularly here,

Marilyn loved babies. Nothing delighted her as much as rocking, reading to, and caring
for the babies in her family. She never forgot a grandchild’s birthday and attended many of their
performances, school and sporting events. 
Now that's a good thing to have written about you at the end of the day.  That's the best.

I will report that attentiveness has gotten easier since moving to San Diego.  I find it much simpler to focus in on family without all the distractions of an extended community.  Maybe this has more to say about my own introverted qualities, but I definitely find more delight in parenting outside of the hubbub of Madison and other adult friendships.  I was interested in your Grandma Marilyn's experience being so very different from my own.  She found community and nurturing synonymous.  How lucky.  Perhaps this is where some of your own instincts arise MB?

I have found myself at many parks with Charlie over the past year.  The mom groups seated together on the grass always interest me because they resemble the old me, the Madison me.  The moms sort of ignore their kids, talking fast with their girlfriends (sometimes about their own kids who are present), desperate it seems to communicate all the minutia of their lives.  Their general repose is the opposite of what I want.  It is delightful to be at a park with your child.  It is delightful to talk with friends.  It is really hard to do both things at once delightfully.  The distraction of friendships is the same as looking away at your phone.  It is trying to be absent and present at the same time.  It seems impossible even though I did it through ten years of parenting.  I am happy that I have had this last year with Charlie to show him my best self.  I believe I will be working on all this for a lifetime.

Please slap me if when I am an old grandma I have moved away from my children to an ashram or some such bullshit. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Think We Are Entrepreneurs (MB)

I haven't historically been that into Myers Briggs types.  Similar to my reaction to horoscopes and signs of the Zodiac, I gobble up fun insights and true-ringing characterizations that can come from these types of things, but I never think to ask people what type or sign they are, and I haven't memorized much at all about various types or characteristics in either case.  I do realize Myers Briggs and the Zodiac are completely different.  I only compare because of my very amateur knowledge of both. 

I took the Myers Briggs test as you requested, and I am an ENFJ.  I am not sure about this.  I think I took the test years ago and put in a bunch of different answers -- still honest, mind you, but I think I am a changing person.  But I do admit I think I got the same result.  I think being an ENFJ feels like pressure.  (I am a tired ENFJ, okay!)  I often ruminate on the fact that I'm NOT as giving or empathetic as I would like to be.  So, I'm not sure if I'm the best ENFJ around.  Well, I guess that's obvious, considering Abraham Lincoln was an ENFJ. 
Here are the parts I like about your INFJ profile description, Ab: 
"The INFJ individual is gifted in ways that other types are not. Life is not necessarily easy for the INFJ, but they are capable of great depth of feeling and personal achievement."
". . . they have very high expectations of themselves, and frequently of their families. They don't believe in compromising their ideals."

The part about your description I do NOT agree with, at least as it pertains to you, is: "They are not good at dealing with minutia or very detailed tasks."
I believe I have observed you organize about four (4) large Rubbermaid containers full of legos for an entire day, and have also seen an entire felted vegetable set you created for Charlie, complete with realistic stems and seed stitches.  I would say you have a gift for (creative) minutia.

I think in your passionate and frank last post, regarding your dream, you talk about uncertainties, but they are not really uncertainties about your dream. Thing is, you articulate gloriously what your dream is:  

"My dream is not a destination but a style of living. I want to keep things simple and graceful."
". . . To find beauty and magic in all the little things. . ."
". . .  to live effortlessly. . . "
". . . [for] my kids to have time to figure out what's interesting to them. . . "

I spent last night working on some things at home and intermittently weeping over the loss of a community member here in Madison who died of colon cancer.  I didn't even know she had colon cancer.  She was a mom a bit older than us, with kids about the same age as Peter and Henry.  She had gone back to law school as a non-traditional student and was kicking ass all over the place, involved in stuff, engaged.  And within a year and half from diagnosis she was gone.  We can set dreams to the highest hilt, to the most detailed degree, but life is more powerful than us.  But, we can't live limiting ourselves, cowering in the looming possibility that life won't let us play out our dreams, either.  It seems we must set our dreams in a way that simultaneously allows us the greatest possibility to run our lives out for the full long haul, actualized, fulfilled, contributing, and positive, while not compromising the days between, should -- God forbid -- life have different plans for us. 

It's a much more true-to-life description to say your dream is to live gracefully and effortlessly, and for your kids to find their own passions, than to say you hope to sack away a million bucks by the time you're fifty (50) or that you want to build a house in Mexico or that you want to start your own art gallery or pilates studio or whatever.  You have a good chance of realizing your dream and being sure your dream is accurately what you want under this approach.

In short, contrary to the title of your last post, I think you DO have a clue what your dream is, I think it is a good one, and I think you might be getting to it.  But I think, like me, you get jammed up on all the uncertainties and steps and drudgery and decisions to be made on the actual path of moving forward on this dream.  Your last post focuses a lot on jobs and identities defined by jobs, and making money.  To me, these acts -- the work we do and how we pay the bills -- these are the steps we take to realize our dreams.  But they're not our dreams. 

Remember that epic emotion ballad by the Verve "Bittersweet Symphony"?  Here, you can watch them play it in Glastonbury (another story, but I camped there once when I was pregnant with Peter and got to go to the famed tor and medieval fountain of youth that brings pilgrammages of readers of The Mists of Avalon there):  Anyway, as a young person I was extremely moved by the inherent, deep, universal-feeling sound and sentiment of this song.  But I was always confused by the line "try to make ends meet, you're a slave to money, then you die."  Now, say what you will about the extremely melodramatic nature of that line, and whether a bunch of world-famous UK singers can pull off singing it, but now that I'm older, I kind of smile when I hear it because sometimes life CAN slightly feel like that.  I mean for those of us without a trust fund, aren't we bascially always thinking about how we're going to make the money we need, and doesn't that issue have at least the power and potential to really have us by the balls?  This is a part of the paralysis we can feel about our dreams when what we're really stuck on is the steps we're taking to get there.

It sounds like the question of "what you're doing" is making you sweat when you're answering the question of "what's your dream." But I think I have a solution for that -- for both of us.

Here is the part I like about my profile description, Ab:
"Many ENFJs have tremendous entrepreneurial ability."

I like this part best because I often feel that if I could just put all my good ENFJ intentions out in the world in my own format, under my own vision, and according to my own principles, I'm fairly certain I could be very successful in creating some great stuff. It's all the damn rules and unavoidable conflicting responsibilities that get in the way!  I, too, am hung up on the steps of getting to the dream, instead of the dream.  In an effortless world where all things fall into place, I have a dream (or 100!), and I'm certain I could reach the dream famously.

I guess what we both need to work on is not only answering the question "what's your dream?" in a way that contemplates all the uncertainties of life, but also answering the question "what are you going to do about it?" And your last post certainly also explores the question of "how do I define what I'm doing now?"  You have your ample share of variety and breadth in the various professions and experiments and accomplishments you have taken on, from artist to pilates instructor to baker to illustrator to home renovator to host of art club and so many things I can't do justice here.  I've already articulated through this blog and otherwise that I believe in your primary profession -- MOM -- you kick serious ass.  But, through all of those accomplishments and roles, you're left feeling empty about that one, consistent role that others seem to have.  Some people can define themselves as writers or teachers or doctors or artists.  Although I may be defined often as a lawyer, single mom, non-profit Executive, etc., even I feel this same anxiety about not being quite able to put my finger on whether any of those roles should really define me, whether any of them can properly encapsulate the dream I would like to live, if only these pesky daily responsibilities and money-making and dish-washing and negotiating-the-phone bill could get out of my way.  The roles we've played are steps toward the dream, but they're not the dream.  Maybe we should forget about defining who-we-are and what-we-do and just get down to business on the dream, but I fear we humans have a gluttonous desire for definitions (at least I do).  I want to give things a name, and have a clear response when asked (even if only by myself) what the hell I am doing.

I think if we must define who we are and what we do in a universal sense, in a way that can carry the dream forward for each of us, I suggest we think about it like this:

"We are entrepreneurs".  Here is a nice thorough wiki post about the full meaning and history of the word and concept:

I'll let you take a look and consider all the ways this word might apply to what you have been doing, what you are doing, and similarly, what I'm up to -- not only in the work force, but as moms, seekers, lovers of life, and artists.  The Webster definitition of the word goes something like this: "one who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business or enterprise."

Our enterprise is the dream; and we are certainly doing nothing if not organizing, managing, and assuming risk related to that enterprise.  You have fairly well defined your enterprise, your dream, as I've summarized above.  I still need to work on how to explain my dream.  It's in there somewhere but I'll get it out in a future post.  For now, if we wish to seek comfort in a definition about who-we-are and what-we-do, I'm inclined to embrace the term "entrepreneur", an all-encompassing definition of all the steps we're taking, things we're learning, and progress we're making on the dream, rather than try to pinpoint what role or act or creation or single profession that could possibly define us or what we do.

I think Penelope Trunk, fellow former Madison resident (who -- fun fact --  lived in the house that my family lived in while I was in law school, after we moved out), acquaintance of yours, and source of much good blogging entertainment for both of us, would approve (PS I just looked at her blog again and was reminded: she is OUTRAGEOUS!).

And, I do believe "entrepreneur" might fit for both INFJ and ENFJ.  But I welcome your thoughts.
With total appreciation.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Don't Have a Clue What My Dream Is

Do you geek out on Myers Briggs types Mary Beth?  I am an INFJ, which is just to say, that I am intuitive and introverted.  I have a hard time explaining myself but feel and judge things constantly and intensely.  It has given me great solace as an adult to understand why my motivations are different from other peoples.  INFJs make bad employees and tend to devalue money.  INFJs are creative and good at meeting their own needs.  INFJs need to trust their own instincts.  You should take the test here.  I wonder what type you are?

I have spent a lot of time not understanding my own motivations but trusting my gut.  Quite often I feel lost when I compare myself with other people.  Now I learn that INFJs are only one percent of the population.  Go figure.

So you asked me about my dreams?  Somehow the question makes me nervous and sweaty.  I feel like I have to explain myself.  I'm an INFJ.  Right?  To me this means that I will continue to try and order my dreams around strong ideals and intuition.  I will get lost and actually that's ok with me.  I will always be creative.  I will focus on process more than destination. It means I don't know.

I have tried being an art historian.  A baker.  An arts educator.  A Pilates instructor.  A seller of fine fabrics.  An artist.  A blogger.  A waitress.  A stagemom


It always goes something like this.........

When I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to do.  Then I attended a lecture given by a beautiful woman in the dark.  She flashed sultry images like some sort of fever dream.  Fleshy Rubens nudes made me want to lick something.  All my muscles relaxed.  I decided a major in art history was the most sensual thing I could possibly do with my life.

But later, when I try to turn art history into a job, everything seems hopeless.  At The Art Institute of Chicago crabby women scuttle around frowning about grants and docents.  In graduate school professors make art theory sound like some sort of political diatribe.  Tension crackles through hunched shoulders.  Overly clever words beg for relief.  I am in the wrong place.  Change scene.

I have changed scene my fair share of times.  I think this seems lucky.

Mary Beth, I want to tell you all these stutter steps are totally fine with me and make perfect sense.  That would be my 1A.M. lie in the mirror.  What's the point?  Self doubt sinks in constantly.  I feel like I should pursue a practical thing like nursing and help take some pressure off Frank.  Currently my sweet workaholic husband is having a meltdown over his job.  He feels the corporate suck.  He would like a break.  Talk about drawing a bad hand.  I was hoping if Frank liked his work I could fly under the radar.  No such luck.

I often believe I am a huge fraud at 1A.M.  Really.  And selfish.

I like to write and I want to tell you that my dream is to be a writer.  I have no clue.  It sounds weird to say it.  But I do write.  I also draw.  Does this mean I should be an illustrator?  It just doesn't follow in my brain.  I recently had a friend who was making a line of herbal essences with animal themes.  She needed images for all the little bottles.  I drew her the animals.  She loved them and couldn't believe I could draw like that.  I laughed because I can't believe it's anything special.  People can't draw animals?  Why?  It's really just that my skills don't seem to equal cash money.  

Money is an issue for me currently.  I feel guilty about not earning any.  It helps that we don't have a mortgage anymore.  I am slowly getting rid of things.  I want to live more and more monastic.  I have realized that in order to not value money you have to live cheap.  This is not easy in California.  In California children are luxury items because rent goes up by a grand with each extra bedroom.  Why can't we all just sleep together I wonder?  The older children cringe.

I haven't been spending hardly any money lately.

My favorite place in Los Angeles is called Clementines.  I go there every Saturday and buy myself a special pastry and tea.  I try not to blanch at the $10 price tag.  Last week I was in line behind a beautiful California style family with two kids and they were ordering food for the entire weekend for pickup.  They were using Clementines like a grocery store.  They left with almost $400 dollars worth of seasonal soups and breads and little delights for their weekend.  Done.  I wanted to tear my eyes out -- not because I thought they were silly, but because I wanted to be them and I hated myself for it.  When I sat down I made myself pause and feel super grateful for my ten dollar afternoon tea.  It really was enough.

My dream is to transcend. To find beauty and magic in all the little things.  To stop asking myself such hard questions about what I'm going to be when I grow up as if I'm ever going to come up with the answer to that riddle.

I just want to live effortlessly, you know?  This may sound like Zen spiritual mumbo jumbo, but I can't really put it any other way.  My dream is not a destination but a style of living.  I want to keep things simple and graceful.  Everything I have ever pursued has been about grace and a real aversion to struggle.  I can't compare myself with the Beverly Hills types, but I certainly admire their taste.  I hope taste isn't just about money.  I don't think it is.

On the subject of education, we all need to bring more grace to the table, right?  We are all losing it.  Fear reigns supreme.  The expectations we place on our kids are crazy unreal.  There are Mandarin lessons being taught after school all over the place.  Private tutors galore.  Are there high school classes that aren't advanced placement?  I know of two month SAT prep classes over the summer.  Two months.  These kids are getting perfect scores on the SAT after taking these classes.  So then what is the value of the test?  Do all college bound kids need to take these courses just to keep up?   Kids need to read before entering kindergarten.  Really?  Shit.  I better get Charlie to work.   There is this huge inflation bubble hanging over higher education that could burst at any moment.  I used to be the person thinking that we were not doing enough.  I know.  I have changed my mind.  Now I just think kids need to find themselves outside of school.  And forget about concepts like permanence and financial aid.  I don't even think that home school is necessarily the answer for everyone (especially not for extroverts), but I think that having time and fluid expectations will ease the pain.

And kids should not look stressed out. We need our kids to look beautiful and lithe, otherwise who will?  I am so happy to hear that Peter is six feet tall.  Amazing.

I just want my kids to have time to figure out what's interesting to them.  Time to figure out self worth and style beyond grades and transcripts.  I am not signing them up for enrichment classes or telling them what classes to take.   Jimmy is going back to public school next year.  If we move to LA they will all be in the craziest public school system in the country --- LAUSDgasp.  This should be some awesome new material for our blog at the very least.  The bottom line is I'm not a tiger mom.  I just can't fake it.

I also want to respect my kids if they don't have dreams or ambitions that are traditionally predictable.  The Myers Briggs test can also be taken by children (after a certain age of course).  If you have a kid like me, there's no education formula obviously. Remember in college I just wanted to lick things and look at sexy Rubens nudes.  Do I want to pay for that fun if one of my kids is an INFJ?  I think in the future any INFJ child-o-mine will be encouraged to follow their intuition outside of the bounds of traditional education.

More later.  Miss you.