Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Women's Group

About ten years ago, a few women in New York City decided that they would get together once a week and call themselves "The Women's Group." They met in a parenting workshop led by Nancy Samalin, author of several books about raising kids. ("Loving Your Child Is Not Enough," "Loving Without Spoiling" are two of them.)

The women (I believe there were around five or six of them) began meeting at each other's homes and talking about their kids, their relationships, work, parents, health, whatever was on their minds. Over the years, a few women have come and gone, but there remains a core of three women: Jennifer, Heather and Annette. Two others, Mia and myself, starting coming a little over three years ago. Mia's taking a hiatus (we hope she will come back). We meet every other week now on Mondays at 2 pm - since we are all rather busy (typical New Yorkers). For the last five years they've had a Women's Group retreat on Fire Island at Heather's lovely summer home.

So for the past three days we sat around the pool, swam, ate, played games, read, walked on the beach, and TALKED. A lot. You would think that we might have run out of topics, but then you would be someone who doesn't know the Women's Group. We never run out of topics.

This September, the two youngest of our kids are going off to college. One just graduated from college and has returned home to pursue his career as an actor/writer. Two of the kids are taking a different route - Zoe is home this year and will be taking classes in New York City and Jen's daughter is out in Los Angeles, pursuing her passion, acting, and will be studying out there. There are also numerous step-children and older kids who are well established in their lives.

Over the past ten years all the women have had serious life challenges and I guess the best part of the group is that they've always been there to listen.

Having launched our kids into the world, it feels like it's time for us to pursue our own passions, whatever they may be. (I see books, book tours, a thriving art gallery, world travel, performances, advanced yoga and computer studies, new love, health, long lives, good works, and God knows what else, in our future.)

And I just love the fact that we will be there for each other, listening, offering support and suggestions, empathizing, crying, worrying, and occasionally yelling, every other Monday at 2.

This morning, I read about Bodhichitta: a Sanskrit word that means "noble or awakened heart." I will write more about that tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Back Down to Earth

As I was sitting in my meditation this morning (it was a short one) I kept coming back to why it's so hard to sustain good feelings. At least it is for me. I did read in the New York Times several years ago that when something really good happens, the euphoria generally lasts for around 24 hours and when something bad happens, those feelings can last for weeks. Months.

So yesterday I was high until I started feeling fatigued and then doubt started creeping in about my monologue performance. "Did it really go well? Were people just laughing to be polite?" I tried to analyze the comments I got: "I loved it when you really let yourself go." Did that mean that the person hated the rest of it? "You're such natural." What exactly does that mean? Who knows? I got many compliments, but what about people who didn't come up to me? Did they hate it?

You know what I realized? It doesn't really matter what those people think because you can't please everyone. William Styron said you're dead if everyone likes your work!

Anyway, I think that we all tend to be self-critical (unless you're a jerk like Donald Trump) and that those feelings of inadequacy always come up. According to Buddhist beliefs, I think you're supposed to just make friends with those negative feelings and not judge them or yourself. So I'm trying. Really hard.

I also realized that most of the sadness I am feeling is about my friend L. I saw her briefly yesterday. She was planning to come to the monologue night and at the last minute she called to say she was just feeling too shitty. She's on heavy duty chemo and she has been for a long time. She's suffered through more physical and emotional pain than any person should have to and although she probably only weighs about a hundred pounds, she is the strongest, most resilient person I've ever known.

I didn't even like her much at first, I thought no one could be that nice. But she truly is the kindest, funniest, most loving and generous person I know. I just pray that she can keep her voice and her life.

I love her a lot.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Had the Time of My Life!

Remember that song from "Dirty Dancing?" (Which reminds me that Patrick Swayze, who had pancreatic cancer, is in complete remission! Which is great!)

Anyway, I did truly have the time of my life last night, the night of our monologue show. It felt like that jump off the stage that Baby (Jennifer Grey) made right into Patrick Swayze's arms. My jump felt like it went right into the arms of the audience. It only took me fifty plus years to find the thing that I love to do more than anything, stand up in front of an audience and act and do accents (not so well), and play different characters and most of all, make people laugh. That was....beyond awesome.

It wasn't even scary. I just got up there and looked at the front row, which was filled with my daughter and my friends and I was off to the races (as Matt, my fantastic teacher, would say.)

I am so grateful to the people who came and I'm glad that some people couldn't come because there will be another show. Soon! I promise. I'm not giving this up so fast. This is what I want to do and I will somehow figure out a way to accomplish it. And earn a good living. And travel. From my lips...

I was thrilled that my daughter Zoe was there. To see her laughing and really enjoying herself -- that was the coup de grace. (sp?) As Jake's mom used to say, "Love you madly, Zoe!"

I have to thank Matt Hoverman, for his incredible workshop. He is truly a gifted teacher, director and human being and he deserves to have all his shows produced all over the world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting There

Kind of excited, a little nervous, mostly happy about tonight. In the scheme of things, this is so insignificant really...but my hope is that I can make people laugh, and also tell them a few things they may not have known. I think that the gift of laughter is truly one of the most valuable gifts you can give a person. I hope people laugh! I invited some great laughers. (And I'm paying them too.)

I'm also excited that Zoe is going to be there. She is the greatest blessing in my life and I am thrilled that she can see her old mom get up and try something new. I guess it shows her that you are truly never too old to take a risk and follow a dream.

I'll write tomorrow about how it went. Right now I'm going to take a walk, listen to some peaceful music, read some Pema Chodron, get a massage later (a treat), and then get to the (little) theater.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Countdown to the Reading

An acquaintance wrote me an email today and said, "I didn't even know you acted." And I wrote back, "Neither did I." So I guess you wouldn't call it acting, what I'm going to be doing tomorrow night, so much as playing.

Lower your expectations, is what I'm trying to say.

The odd thing is that I'm not that scared. Yet. Tomorrow afternoon, I'm sure I will be booking a flight out of the country. Where should I go? Somewhere no one knows me. Which is pretty much anywhere. I'm going to be saying, "What the ?!?!! was I thinking??!!" And then I will probably pop a quarter of something, like a Klonipin or a Xanax. Someone suggested a beta blocker, but I have never tried that and it scares me to try anything new. So I googled beta blocker and it mentioned the word epinephrine and that really scared me. I once had a shot that had epinephrine in it and I felt really weird.

So drugs, meditation, praying and if all else fails, a ticket to Bangkok. Or Buenos Aires. Oh - how about New Zealand - no, it's winter there. Forget that.

I'll keep you posted. (Literally.) Thanks for your good thoughts!

And I am so proud of my partners in the reading, they are all terrific.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Morning, So Many Thoughts

Okay, so it's Monday morning and I have been trying to take the weekend off so that I might have something to write about on Monday. I have a lot to write about.

First of all, in my last post I think I sounded a bit smug. I've been doing less thinking and more meditating, trying to be in the moment, so I'm feeling much happier, etc. etc. As if I have the secret to life.

Then yesterday, I was reading "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron and I read about the idea that we never really have it together because that would be death. I'm not explaining it well, but it started with one of the Buddhist teachers asking his students, "What do you do when things are unbearable?" And they didn't know what to say, they are supposed to have a meditation practice, to be able to cope, but they all admitted that they fall apart, they forget about their practice, and become totally habitual in their actions.

Later in the chapter, she says most of us talk about having a good life because we think we've finally gotten it together. We feel that we're a good person, we are peaceful, we are in a good place, etc. We think that if "we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that's death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feelings confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn't have any fresh air...."

"Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we're going to have an experience we can't control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we're going to find out we have cancer, a brick is going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head. someone's going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit..."

"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest."

"Rather than trying to get rid of something or buying into a dualistic sense of being attacked, we take the opportunity to see how we close down when we're squeezed. This is how we open our hearts. It is how we awaken our intelligence and connect with true buddha nature."

So anyway, I wanted to share that. I could go on, but I don't want to be too morbid this morning. It's summer, and it's a beautiful (hot) day, and I'm grateful for so many good things in my life. Zoe and I did see "Mamma Mia" (the film), which I am embarrassed to admit and it was pretty bad. But I adore Colin Firth (there will never be a better Darcy, he's played that character several times now) and everyone in the (terrible) film was having fun, so we did too. Did I say I love Colin Firth?

Steve's still in Spain, hanging around, talking and drinking until 2 am, playing his guitar. At least that was what he was doing in Jerez de la Frontera. Now he's in Utrera is going to have a big meeting on Wednesday about his photography project, photos of the gypsies that were taken in the late 60's and early 70's. He's also curious about living in Spain and is trying to get a feel for what it would be like.

I also saw the documentary "Darfur Now" and really recommend it. It explains what's been happening in the Darfur region (it would be as if our government handed out guns and knives to gangs and asked them to go out and murder and rape people and burn down their homes randomly in cities and towns all over the country.)

The film focuses on six very dedicated people. Ocampo, who's leading a criminal investigation at the International Criminal Court. He has charged three high ranking government officials with war crimes, including the President of Sudan. (These guys can't leave the country or they will be arrested.) Ocampo is certain that they will face trial eventually. The other main players in the film are: Don Cheadle, who co-authored a book called "Darfur Now" and is very involved, an aide worker on the ground, a leader at one of the large refugee camps, a woman who joined the rebels after losing her baby, and a young Californian who's started an organization and was successful in getting a law passed in California to stop indirect funding of the Janjaweed, the government funded militia.

Now the question is: how to help?

And then, in the background, are my nerves about the reading this Wednesday night. Mostly I feel pretty relaxed, but then occasionally I get anxious and can't believe I actually signed on to do this.

It's going to be great. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a reading of a short piece which will hopefully be enjoyed by the people who are there. And if Meryl Streep can sing "Dancing Queen" I can surely perform a twenty minute monologue.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ruminator vs. Meditator

I was reading an article somewhere, I think it was "O" magazine, and the author mentioned that she was a ruminator. I have been a ruminator all of my life... imagining everything that could go wrong, obsessing about the past, anxious about the future, writing scenes in my mind about some encounter or event.

I've also been a bit of a risk taker, so all that ruminating isn't about what to have for breakfast. But ultimately, I've come to realize that it was silly and useless to think that much.

For example, I would worry about winter, because I don't love it. Cold weather is tough for me. And then I would worry about March. I would make lists at the end of February about what I was worrying about in the coming month. Spring break, which occasionally meant getting on an airplane. Zoe's birthday, March 17th (what kind of party? present? theme? I stink at kid's birthday parties.) Mondays were always cause for concern. And vacations. And certain phone calls. And confrontations. And on and on the list goes.

I'm quite sure that even in the womb I was busy..."Oh, who's she yelling at now? Is she smoking? Oh, goodie, here comes the caffeine!"

Then recently, just since this past February in fact, I started a meditation practice. And from that "practice" one interesting result seems to be that I spend less time ruminating (and worrying) and more time breathing and staying in the moment. I have slips, many, in fact. But overall, if I take the time to be still and pay attention to the breath, sometimes more than once a day, I find that I am...well, happier.

Now some people are naturally like this, relaxed about life, and probably don't ever need to meditate. I don't know too many, but I'm sure they exist. Given how much there is to worry about in these times, it's almost impossible not to. Four more years of Republicans in power? HELP! Disease. Global warming. Wars. The economy. Hunger. Tainted fruits and vegetables. Etc. etc. etc. STOP!

So all of that brings me back to the breath, to being in the moment, to being grateful for right now. For the quiet. "Monkey mind" is the term that Buddhists use to describe that constant ruminator that lives inside us.



Thursday, July 17, 2008


...up since five a.m. I love sitting here by the window, meditating, but I can't seem to stay awake.

I keep thinking of the Lovin' Spoonful's song from the last century, oh so many years ago..."Summer In the City." I wonder if they're on You Tube?

It's hot, really hot. I got a haircut yesterday and wandered around the East Village for awhile, trying to kill time before an event I had to go to. Later, as I was walking home, a man was sitting on his front stoop and we started talking about the heat, and the summer. Turns out we were neighbors in SoHo for many years and he invited me in to see his house, which was gorgeous. It's on South Portland Avenue, the street that Time Out New York called "The Best Block in NYC." (For various reasons, it's beautiful, it's convenient to subways, restaurants, a wonderful park, etc.) His name is Harvey and he has a 29 year-old daughter who also went to Hampshire College, where Zoe went this past year. I told him about her experience living in New Zealand and he said that he and his wife love New Zealand and were going back there in a few months, renting an RV and driving around the country. That sounds great! I guess he was a little lonely yesterday and wanted some company.

Steve arrived in Spain. His 6:30 p.m. flight was canceled, so he switched to a 9:30 flight, which left at 11:30. He arrived in London, went through customs, had to take a bus to another airport and finally arrived about 24 hours after he left. Traveling these days is quite a challenge.

One week from today my monologue performance will be history. I'm trying to enjoy this time and to have faith that I can do this...and not panic. It's just a reading. I hope that people get something out of it, a few laughs and some good information.

And now I would like to go back to bed and continue reading "Oblomov" a classic Russian novel from the mid-1800's about a guy who never wants to leave his bed. I think he's basically meditating, all the time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Minding Their Own Business

Yesterday I spoke to two friends of mine who are mothers. Their "kids" are eighteen and twenty something. We all seem to be having the same problem... keeping our opinions to ourselves.

One friend, we'll call her Sally, is watching her eighteen year-old son spend most of his summer on the computer playing games. He's going to college in the fall. He worked hard throughout high school and will be going to an excellent college -- but right now he's not feeling well. They are making the rounds of doctors and it appears that his illness may be stress-related, but he's sure it's something serious. She tries talking with him, but they always seem to end up in an argument. He feels judged for spending so much time on the computer and even though she doesn't say much, he complains that the look on her face shows her disapproval.

And then another friend, Deb, has a daughter who's in her twenties (we'll call her Sarah). After graduating from college, Sarah has held a series of jobs and isn't quite sure what she wants to do.

Yesterday Sarah was driving down from San Francisco to L.A. and she stopped to visit a friend in city along the way. She spoke to Deb about how much she liked this city and was thinking of staying there and Deb said, "That's such an expensive city! How can you afford to live there?" Sarah said, "You always do that to me. You always criticize everything I want to do!"

As Deb said to me later on, "I loved being a mom when they were little. It was so easy when they were six."

It is hard being a parent now. It's also hard being a kid.

After I posted this, I was reading the New York Times and saw a very sad story about parents who had lost young children in suicide bombings in Iraq. I think it's important that we remember how fortunate we are in this country and how difficult life is for so many on this planet. One billion people have no access to clean water, no money, very little food, and go to sleep each night worrying about their safety. Maybe we should stop worrying so much about our kids and their futures and put our energy into making this world a better place for everyone. Somehow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Older You Get

From an article in The Washington Post. Getting older may make you happier!

"Several studies have produced a stream of evidence that…happens to overturn one of the most stubborn American stereotypes: the belief that this is a land whose gifts, charms and joys flow mostly to young people. The studies show that when you check on how happy people are at various ages, the elderly generally come out ahead."

And furthermore:

"Dr. Smith found that older people reported a larger number of health problems but tended to report far fewer difficulties overall — fewer financial, interpersonal and crime problems. The younger adults, Smith said, had less trouble with their health but had many more of the other kinds of predicaments, and those, in the long run, tended to trump their better health."

“It is counter to most people’s expectations,” Dr. Smith said. “People would expect it to be in the opposite direction — you start off by saying older people have illnesses, deaths of spouses — they must be less happy.”

Something to look forward to!

Oy Vey

Well, after almost eight years of the Bush/Cheney presidency we are so screwed. How do I count the ways? You know them, I don't have to remind you. So screwed. Right now we're in the economic mess and it is scary. I know that the Federal Reserve has billions of dollars, but how far can that go? And what happens when it's all gone? Anyway, you didn't come here to read my analysis of the economy, which is good because as I recall I got a C in economics.

Steve is leaving tonight for two weeks in Spain, just as the euro hit an all-time high against the dollar. Zoe and I will be on our own, just like we used to be when Steve was on the road all the time. We called ourselves the dynamic duo and we enjoyed our time together. That was before she hit puberty.

ME: Want to go to a movie?
ZOE: I'm sleeping.
ME: It's four o'clock in the afternoon
ZOE: I was up all night.

But Mamma Mia is opening this weekend and we have to go. We saw the play about a month and a half after 9/11 and it was such a relief to laugh and listen to music and be in a theater again. I do remember that when we came back after the intermission the orchestra hit such a loud booming note that the entire audience jumped a foot out of their seats in fear. It was a good release though and the evening reminded us that we could still have a good time at the theater.

This morning I had such a wonderful meditation. I don't know why sometimes it just feels so peaceful and easy. Maybe because it's a really beautiful summer day and I'm sitting near a window and feeling the breeze. I think that most days what I love about meditation is that it's my quiet time and stress seems to fall away...but sometimes I feel a sense of euphoria, which is what I felt today. And then I read the NY Times.

Maybe I should start a day count until Inauguration Day?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Depression, Part II

I wrote last Saturday about Dick Cavett's piece in the NY Times about depression and as I was skimming through some of the many comments, one of them stayed with me. So I wanted to share the suggestions this writer had, since I've adopted many of them myself and they are so simple:

1. Exercise, very important. Every day, if possible.
2. Get some sun and if you can't, take Vitamin D or fish oil. (Very good for you.) Also 5HTP. I have no idea what it is, but I've read that it's a great natural antidepressant.
3. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. (Except champagne, for a special occasion, if you drink alcohol at all.)
4. Be of service to someone else, daily.
5. Take a few minutes to meditate or just pay attention to your breathing.
6. Remember you are only one person in 6 billion on this planet. So don't take yourself so seriously.
7. Enjoy art and nature. And food. Don't forget good food...but not too much sugar, if possible.
8. Swim...or float, whenever you can. Just get in some water, even if it's just in a bathtub.

Introspective? Who me?

This morning I received an email from my former next door neighbor Susie (I was Rhoda to her Mary when I lived at the Harper House in Los Angeles many years ago.) She said I was perhaps the most introspective person she knows. I don't think I'm the most introspective person I know, but maybe I should try to not be so self-absorbed.

So...I'll give it try. It's rainy here today in Brooklyn. Early this morning, I listened to the rain and it sounded so wonderful. We've had many days of sunshine so the rain is a welcome change.

Last night Steve and I went out to dinner and had Middle Eastern food. I ordered a combination plate with things I can't spell beyond Hummus, but they were all good and Steve had a shish kabob with rice and salad.

Then we came home and watched that new HBO series about Iraq that had hundreds of jeeps moving through the desert, some good looking actors (all guys - I didn't see a single woman - perhaps because they were marines). I fell asleep though as we were watching it.

I also met last night with a friend, Maggie, who wants to sell her apartment. I work in real estate and although it's a difficult time right now, I hope we can get her a good price for the apartment and find her a great little house with a nice garden somewhere in Brooklyn.

I would like to spend more time thinking about peace in the world, how to solve disease and hunger, but I don't know what to do about those problems.

Steve is leaving tomorrow night for Spain. He will be there for two weeks and Zoe and I will be here together, which should be nice, if our schedules intersect at all.

For breakfast I will be having oatmeal and watching the rain. Although right now it's not raining, so I will be watching it not rain.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cavett on Depression

I just finished reading two articles Dick Cavett wrote in the NY Times about depression. They are on the Times' front page on-line and are definitely worth reading. If you know anyone who's ever been seriously depressed, you might want to send it along.

Having been through some bouts of depression myself, it was interesting to read his columns and some of the more than 600 responses from readers.

I am feeling a bit blue these days, but fortunately, it feels fairly mild. I keep up with exercise and meditation and they both seem to help. But life is difficult and there are disappointments and losses. And I've spent a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes these past few years.

I also read that Tom Stoppard is feeling completely blocked, not knowing which crisis in the world he wants to write about. There are too many, he said, and he doesn't know which one to start with...or something like that.

One thing that helps is having a sense of humor. I knew I was depressed when I couldn't find anything to laugh about. I have to acknowledge Martin Short for making me laugh one day when I was feeling completely hopeless. Thanks, Martin! I have no memory of what you said, but I remember laughing and feeling so much better.

Today I rode my bike to my grandfather's old block in Bedford Stuyvesant. I'd write the name of the block, but it's hard to spell, I'll give it a try: Koscuisko, or something like that. His house is gone, but four houses (including his) were torn down years ago and they never built anything on the empty lots. His old garden is still there and it's become a lovely place where people in the neighborhood can get together and hang out and barbecue. They're starting to know me, since I like to ride my bike there sometimes.

I remember so many summer days when we would drive to Brooklyn to see my grandfather. All the aunts and uncles and my cousins would come too and we would all sit in his backyard, which was filled with beautiful trees and grapevines. Those are good memories, I loved coming to Brooklyn when I was growing up, especially in the summer.

My mother told me yesterday that my grandfather was never very happy and that he was often angry. I know that depression has been in my family and I'm grateful for all the advances in therapy and medication. I'm not taking any medications right now, but I have in the past and they really did help.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Eight Worldy Dharmas

Today I just have to talk about "When Things Fall Apart" again. (Pema Chodron.) Yesterday turned out to be a rough day. I was in physical pain from the trainer who came into my office on Wednesday and I did just a few too many squats and leg lifts, so I couldn't walk very well. I find that whenever I don't feel very well, I can't really cope when I start to feel blue.

And then there's the political sadness, i.e. the passage of the wire tapping bill which was pretty much everyone, including Obama and Clinton. And the stock market, and people losing jobs, and the mortgage mess, and the environment, and Iraq and all the wars around the world, and so many horrors that we can't even imagine. Basically, pretty much everything was getting to me yesterday.

So I went into the park with my two wonderful dogs, Lucy and Lola, and slowly sat down on my little blanket because I could hardly bend. I looked up at the trees and the sky and it was truly a perfect summer day. And normally I would be so happy on a day like yesterday, but I wasn't and I couldn't seem to get out of it. So I had "When Things Fall Apart" and the chapter I was up to was "Eight Worldly Dharmas" - which are basically four pairs of opposites - four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don't like and try to avoid. These are: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace and praise and blame - and "the basic message is that when we are caught up in the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer.

"We can already see that many of our mood swings are related to how we interpret what happens. Words are spoken, letters are received, phone calls are made, food is eaten, things appear or don't appear."

I realized that a conversation I had with my sister about my mother, which was designed to make me feel guilty, was probably what set me off. And everything else was icing on the cake of misery.

"We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure, so we can stop endlessly grasping. Then somehow our questions get bigger and our inquisitiveness more vast. We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart. We want to know about gain so we might understand other people when they are delighted or when they get arrogant and puffed up and carried away."

"We start understanding that, just like us, other people also keep getting hooked by hope and fear. Everywhere we go, we see the misery that comes from buying into the eight worldly dharmas. It's also pretty obvious that people need help and there's no way to benefit anybody unless we start with ourselves....."

"... but it's not just for ourselves. It's for our companions, our children, our bosses -- it's for the whole human dilemma."

I can't say that I immediately felt better after reading this, but I didn't feel so alone. I looked around at the other people in the park and wondered what attachments they were feeling and what disappointments. And then I got an ice cream cone and went out last night to be with other people. And then I felt quite a bit better.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Monologue Time Is Getting Near

On July 23rd I will be performing my first monologue with four other women. I woke up this morning at around 2 a.m. and started to worry, so I went into Zoe's room (since she's awake most of the night these days) and we talked for awhile.

I'm excited and scared. I think that's appropriate. I never could have imagined that I'd be doing this.

It's a perfect, beautiful summer day, so I'm headed up to Central Park to take a long walk and then to work.

Tomorrow I am going to visit my mother, who doesn't sound so good.

I think I'll just say I'm grateful for this day and end there. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sinking, but in a good way

This morning I got up early and walked the dogs through Fort Greene Park and it was beautiful out. I ran into an old friend who I haven't seen in awhile and we talked about our kids, what they were doing. One of her daughters just got married, her son is a musician touring in Europe. And then the conversation turned to parents, in-laws. Her husband is on a plane this morning to Florida, where he will have to talk to his father about moving his mother, who is blind and has dementia, to a full-care facility. The cost of having full-time aides is more than they can afford, but the father is not going to want to move his wife and it's going to be difficult. I told her that Steve's dad had just died and about my mother, who's still hanging in there. And it became quite a depressing conversation, about getting old and dying and I better stop right here before you get depressed too.

So I came back feeling very bad. My headache's back, I made my little cup of tea, I wanted to try to escape these feelings and I needed something to read or do - so I sat down in my mediation spot and I picked up "When Things Fall Apart" - Pema Chodron again and this is what I read:

"Ye tang che means totally tired out. We night say 'totally fed up.' It describes the feeling of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope - that there's something better to be, that there's someone better to be - we will never relax with where we are or who we are."

I thought that was interesting but I wasn't sold. I had to read the entire chapter for it to make any sense. It has to do with the fear of death, that that is what we ultimately all fear. That's true, I guess - who isn't afraid of death? And then towards the end of the chapter:

"Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time - that is the basic message."

So then I sat for my meditation, not for too long, and as I was sitting and breathing, I could feel myself relaxing with the feelings. Not fighting them. Not resisting, literally sinking into them. The headache is a bit better too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I Want My Cup of Coffee

Last night was a little stressful. It was very hot and muggy and Steve wanted the air conditioner on, which is loud and I find that I don't sleep well when it's on. And then at around 2 a.m. I went into Zoe's room (because she is usually awake at that hour) and started to nag her about making an appointment for an upper G.I. She's been complaining about stomach problems and feeling a tightness in her throat and the doctor says it's possible she has an ulcer. So, at 2 a.m. our conversation went like this:

ME: I think it's important for you to make this appointment and go. Soon.
ZOE: Are you kidding me? It's two o'clock on the morning.
ME: I know, I can't sleep thinking about you and worrying...
ZOE: Mom! Stop it, okay? Not now.
ME: I'll make the appointment and you will go.
ZOE: Go away.

That didn't go so well.

And then I woke up needing some caffeine, but I can't really drink it. I have been slipping it back in again after giving it up a few months ago, but as much as I love coffee, tea, chocolate and anything with caffeine in it, I get headaches and can't seem to handle it anymore. Organic white tea seems to work, it has a small amount of caffeine, only 15 mgs compared to a cup of coffee which averages about 150 mgs. I was up to the equivalent of about three cups of coffee a day and getting headaches all the time, needing Excedrin, which has 65 mgs of caffeine per tablet. There was an article in National Geographic several years ago about caffeine and how it's the number one most addictive psychoactive drug. (Avoid diet sodas by the way...aspartame is terrible.) Anyway, I'm on my fourth day of cutting way back and I feel lethargic and still have some headaches, but I'm hoping by the end of the week I will feel better. And I will make an appointment for Zoe.

Two quick readings this morning: one is from "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron.
"Well-being of mind is like a mountain lake without ripples. When the lake has no ripples, everything in the lake can be seen. When the water is all churned up, nothing can be seen. The still lake without ripples is like our mind at ease, so full of unlimited friendliness for all the junk at the bottom of the lake that we don't feel the need to churn up the waters, just to avoid looking at what's there."
"This is the liberation that naturally arises when we are completely here, without anxiety about imperfection."

And about money, from "The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity" by Catherine Ponder: "Since it is the law of mind action that you attract whatever you appreciate and repel whatever you depreciate, money responds accordingly. If you think favorable about money, you multiply and increase it in your midst; whereas, if you criticize and condemn it in any form, either your own money or another's, you dissipate and repel it from you."

Just a few thoughts to consider.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


This is going to be a short one. This morning as I was waiting for my tea to steep, I was looking through the Times and saw an obituary of Michael Turner, 37, a successful cartoonist, "creator of superheroines," a very handsome man. I always feel so sad when I see an obit of someone so young. He died of complications from treatment of bone cancer (I assume you want to know). It always seems so unfair.

As I was thinking about him and about people's lives ending way too soon, I remembered a moment from my retreat that moved me and reminded me about being in the moment and enjoying life as it is today. My friend Bill, a wonderful singer, performed one of my favorite songs from my 20's, at a time when I felt that life was really hard sometimes and very lonely. I would listen to this song and feel much better.

It's James Taylor's song, "The Secret of Life" and I will include it here shortly.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Post Retreat

I just returned from five days in Connecticut, at a retreat which was about happiness. I don't recall the official title, but five days in the woods with a bunch of wonderful people, a river to swim in, good food and lots of singing, meditation and dancing is my kind of thing. It's not for everyone and a year ago, I never would have imagined going on any kind of retreat. I didn't really know what a retreat was, but now you could call me up and invite me on one and I'd be packed in ten minutes and out the door.

This retreat was about remembering what you are passionate about and trying to find ways to make that a priority in your life. Whatever the passion is: yoga, knitting, feeding the world, singing, writing, performing, ice skating, dancing, your partner, painting, teaching, traveling, cooking, working with animals, whatever. For some people it was surprising to see what they felt most passionate about. For some it was scary.

The highlights for me were: an early morning dance class that got me out of bed at 6 am and dancing by 7 am, Paulette Pope's meditations, a daily river swim/water aerobics gathering with my friends Helene and Karen, which then led to singing "Proud Mary" with Tim and many other songs, performing (as a back-up singer) "We Are the World" and "New York, New York" in a show, being asked to meet with our meditation partners and then told by Paul Tenaglia, our retreat leader, to dance. And a few good desserts, particularly the ice cream bars.

Anyway, I'm back in Brooklyn now with Zoe and Steve. Last night they went to a really great 4th of July party where Zoe danced. To African drums. In the rain.