Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Miscellaneous stuff

Lucy, my wonderful beagle: the vet we went to the other day said, don't bother doing surgery on the hematoma in her ear. She's too old and better to see if it goes away on its own. She did a series of blood and urine tests to see if Lucy has Cushing's disease or diabetes and the results were both negative, although there is a kind of diabetes that they can't really test for, so we're going to watch her and see how she's doing. Her symptoms are drinking water all day long and peeing often and occasionally in the house (which she has never done in her life.)

Oscars: I enjoyed the presentation of the best actor and supporting actor awards. It was fun to see the past winners, although Goldie's breasts were hanging out of her gown, what was she thinking? It would be nice if they gave awards for more important things and if these actors stopped talking about "how lucky they are to do what they love" (and make so much money doing it.) It's very very annoying.

President Obama's speech: He's an amazing speaker, he cheered me up although I have no idea how he's going to accomplish all that he's talking about. I just like him and I have to believe that some of it is possible.

I went to a workshop yesterday about helping people learn public speaking and it was interesting. I'm going to see where it leads.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The invisible war

Please, if you haven't read Bob Herbert's op-ed column in the Times yet today about what's been happening to women and girls in the Congo since the 1990's, please take the time to read it.

Here's the link:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fridays at 9 am

Sixteen years ago, a group of eight mothers decided to start playing tennis Monday mornings at 10 am at the courts on top of Bowlmor Lanes in Greenwich Village. We knew each other from the neighborhood, from our kids’ pre-schools, from hours of hanging out at the playgrounds and from playdates our kids shared. We talked about our families, politics, our work. We hung out at the water park, stayed late on hot summer nights, ordered pizzas, played with the kids. It was a wonderful time of our lives.

Only four women of that original group of eight continued playing tennis and a few years later the day was switched to Fridays at nine. We eventually added a fifth player, and now we are up to seven women who take turns playing – four or five weeks on, then a few weeks off.
Most of us don’t see each other too often off the court. Occasionally there’s a party or a fund-raiser, or a screening or opening of someone’s work. There are two sisters – one of them is our organizer, she does our Excel spread sheet every year to set up our schedule, the other one books the court . They are both excellent tennis players and someone once said to me, “You have the nerve to get on the court with those two?” I do. It's hard.

What I find fascinating about tennis is how psychological it is. The actual playing is easy – somedays you’re better than other days, but the hard part is not letting your feelings get in the way of your game. Listening to the voice in your head say, “This is humiliating! I can’t do anything right” does not help your game. I’ve tried all kinds of tricks to help me shut up that voice. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The tricks include trying to pretend that I am Serena Williams or Derek Jeter (okay, weird, I know). Or saying the serenity prayer, over and over...or pretending that my eyes are laser beams, focused on the tennis balls.

Over the years one of our players has had two serious medical issues to deal with. The first one turned out to be a large infection, which resembled a cluster of grapes – that no doctor could find or diagnose. Her husband, who’s a heart surgeon, eventually tracked down a doctor in Chicago who understood the condition and did the surgery. She was sick for a long time and she couldn’t play tennis for the better part of a year. A couple of years later, she had breast cancer and that kept her away for almost another year.

One woman’s daughter dropped out of high school, got a GED and this year, at 22, she enrolled in the Culinary Institute and just became an intern at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan.

There were the years many of us had horrible perimenopausal symptoms and we spent almost as much time complaining about hot flashes and sleepless nights as we did serving and lobbing.

When my mother was on hospice care, twice, my friends listened willingly and offered comfort, advice and support.

We all lived in downtown Manhattan and after 9/11 one of our group had to move out of her loft for several months, it was so filled with dust and debris.

There have been no divorces since we started playing sixteen years ago and everyone is in some kind of relationship – not all great, but workable.

During our time at the tennis courts on top of the bowling alley (they closed them about ten years ago), we always played next to a foursome who were all in their 60’s and 70’s. One of them had Alzheimer’s and hardly played, but he was there on the court every week for years, until he died.

I like tennis quite a bit, but honestly, waking up early on Friday mornings, racing to a packed subway just to play tennis wouldn’t do anything for me, if I didn’t have that group of women to play with. I hope we can continue playing tennis together for at least another sixteen years.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Smug gloriousness

Well, I don't know about you, but I have found my optimistic attitude fairly annoying lately. A little smug. For the first winter in I don't know how long, so far I haven't been hit with my usual Seasonal Affect Disorder symptoms, which usually include not wanting to get out of bed. Ever. I have been exercising every day, I meditate, do my spiritual reading, reach out to friends, keep looking for work and I've been writing. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours walking in Central Park, which was so beautiful. I am grateful for so much in my life. I also generally do well in a crisis and right now, we have a huge crisis, worldwide -- on our hands -- so big it's impossible to really grasp. But if I limit the amount of time I spend watching the news, or even listening to NPR, and I mostly read my favorite op ed writers: Krugman, Collins, Dowd, Rich, Herbert, a few editorials, letters to the editors, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, so far it I can handle it. So far.

Yesterday I read Pema Chodron and this is one of the quotes from "Start From Where You Are."

"Gloriousness and wretchedness

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness -- life's painful aspect -- softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you haven't got anything to lose -- you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together."

My beloved dog, Lucy, who is about to turn 13, has another hematoma in her ear. She had two surgeries last year to remove hematomas in each of her ears. The surgeries cost around $750. We can't afford to keep doing them. As I write this, sitting on our bed, Lucy is sleeping on Steve's pillow. (I'm about to change the sheets.) I love this dog.

This is a difficult time. But I guess it's just life. Maybe it's like a hangover from a really wild party.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I think I've been abducted by aliens

It's February 14th, 2009. Two years ago I spent this entire day stuck on a Jet Blue plane, sitting on a runway at JFK in an ice storm. We boarded the plane bound for Los Angeles at 6:30 am and they let us off the plane at 4 pm. You do the math. It was a long day.

The following day I arrived at the Jet Blue terminal at 8 am and sat in a crowded terminal waiting for pilots and crews to arrive so that planes could take off. We finally boarded a flight at 3:30 pm.

We've had approximately seven weeks of winter already and I haven't contemplated buying a ticket to some island in the Caribbean, never to be seen again. My normal bout of Seasonal Affect Disorder has not far. And we have only five weeks left until the start of spring.

The country is a mess, the world is in crisis, a plane crashed yesterday in Buffalo, I could go on and on, but I won't. There are plenty of personal issues that keep me awake at night. Despite the lack of sleep, I still feel optimistic. Maybe it's simply because George Bush and Dick Cheney have left Washington. Yay!!! Truthfully, although I think he was a lazy and terrible President, I can't hate George. Dick, I hate.

Anyway, as I was saying, I am feeling relatively optimistic and maybe it's because I added caffeine to my diet again. Life is short, have a cup of coffee. Or tea. Whatever you like.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Winter rolls on

For someone who starts worrying about winter in September, obsessing over how I'm going to get through four months of cold weather without getting depressed or having cabin fever, I have to say that so far it's been an interesting winter. I guess the tremendous excitement and anticipation of the inauguration carried most of us through the end of last year through late January. And the inauguration definitely surpassed my expectations.

As far as what President Obama is going to do for the four years, I guess we're just going to have to see how it goes. I'm not going to judge his administration for at least twelve months. (Although according to Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times today, this stimulus package he and the Republicans in Congress have bargained over is not going to be effective at all.)

In spite of that - besides enjoying the snowstorms and the warm days (which we may be experiencing this entire week) - I've been busy having some interesting adventures. I spent one full day working on a documentary that a friend of mine is directing about envy. She asked Matt Hoverman, my monologue coach, to bring together a group of performers he's worked with, to create a ninety section monologue about some experience they've had with envy in their life. We developed the pieces with a partner (I was lucky to work with Matt's wife Katie, who is a wonderful actor and writer), and then we all performed them for the camera and each other. It was challenging and fun. And painful. Who wants to look at envy? Who doesn't experience it? As a friend of mine said, when I told her what we were doing, "I feel envy almost every day."

And then the following night, a group of women I met during my Mama Gena experience all came together to take a dance class with a guy named Alex Tschassov, who moved here from Russia seventeen years ago and was in the film "Mad Hot Ballroom." (Which was about the young kids from NYC who study ballroom dance in their schools.) He and his wife Sally taught thirty-five of us, all standing in a large circle, the basic steps for several dances: the meringue, the waltz, the fox trot, tango, salsa. And then we had a gorgeous demonstration by the most beautiful young couple who dance together professionally and are also a couple. They were amazing. Then Alex brought in ten male dancers and for an hour, so we each had an opportunity to practice all the dances we learned.

What I learned was that I was great at the meringue, which simply requires moving one's hips and taking small steps to the side. No problem. Loved it. But all the basic steps I could easily do while standing in the circle, were much more difficult when someone was leading me. Especially the salsa, which was too fast and I had a really hard time keeping up. The dancer we all liked best was a small, dark haired young man named Xavier from Bolivia. Whenever we danced with Xavier, it seemed easier to follow. It's my job to call Xavier and see if we can get some more lessons from him.

This past weekend I went on a winter retreat to Connecticut with my Unity gang, and that was great. We stay in West Cornwall, at the Trinity Conference Center, which sits along the banks of the Housatonic River. We did a lot of meditation, talking, writing, and eating. It was perfect! For exercise, I walked in the woods and played ping pong with my friend, Helene. I hadn't had any sugar for about a month before I went on the retreat, so I allowed myself dessert at every meal and every break. I think I've had enough and I'll be heading to the gym this morning.

On the way home, about ten of us were waiting for the train, and someone asked a woman named Sheila Barash (who I've known a bit for over two years) where she grew up. She said, "Long Island." And I was immediately curious, since I grew up on Long Island.

"Where exactly?"

"Old Bethpage, Plainview, that area."

"That's where I grew up. Where did you go to high school?"

"John F. Kennedy High."

"That's where I went to school!" Sheila graduated a year ahead of me and we knew all the same people. And now I am convinced that I have early Alzheimers, but since she didn't remember me either, what difference does it make? Coincidentally, half my high school discovered me on Facebook last week, so it's been rather intense, catching up with people in cyberspace and now in person.

When I returned last night I emailed my old boyfriend Warren, who had a band in high school called "The Lost Chords" that I know Sheila. He said, "She was the Grace Slick of our high school." I have heard Sheila sing recently and she still has a beautiful voice.

So after all those adventures I'm happy to be home, except now I have to work on gathering all my tax information.

I think I'll call Xavier.