Thursday, April 30, 2009

Staying present

Well, so far this has been a very interesting week. Monday, my husband Steve and I told our 21 year-old daughter that we were separating. Today is Thursday and it appears that we are all absorbing it in our own ways. I can't speak for my husband and my daughter, but my experience has been feeling very much in the moment, sometimes emotional, sometimes scared and amazed at how much support is coming my way.

Yesterday morning, I had that "knot in your stomach" feeling and I thought to myself, "Oh, I know this feeling. It's not good, but it doesn't last forever."

And between the swine flu and the economic fears and not knowing what's going to happen in the future, I do occasionally feel like crawling into bed, but honestly, not that much.

Yesterday, I went to the gym and did the elliptical trainer and then Steve (why did he have to be named Steve?) worked with me. To my friends who love yoga - I will do my best to get back to it. I love it too. I did realize how much I hate doing sit-ups and the plank, and squats, but I do like the massage Steve gives me after the work-out. It's very gentle and relaxing.

After the gym, I went to visit my mother. For anyone who's never read this blog, my mother is a character. She's 95, lives in a nursing home, is not looking too good (she was a very attractive woman), and she continues to flirt with any man (no matter his age) and curse anyone who annoys her. Anyway, I told her about what was happening and she said, "Oh, that is so hard. I pity you. But if you're not happy, you need to do what you want." Or something like that. She also said, "I lost a really good man." Which is rather ironic given that she spent, literally, every moment of their fifty-two year marriage yelling at him.

Later on I ran into a friend and said something like "...Well, we're living parallel lives that don't ever seem to intersect anymore. And he's very isolated and I feel very lonely..." And she continued, "Yes! Us too! And we have completely different world views and he won't even consider going to therapy, not alone, or with me and right now he's out of town and I am thrilled! It's like all the negative energy left the apartment and I feel free!" And then she expressed her fear of leaving him, worried that she would become a bag lady. This woman is a very successful author who is about to embark on a book tour. I have to admit, I have that fear too. But I figure if all else fails, I'll become a nanny, since I love babies.

My mood got dark later in the afternoon and I was able to cry with another friend. I think the good news is, feeling the feelings really does help, despite the recent studies that say maybe it's over-rated. For me, it helps. And then one more friend - who's dealing with hot flashes and sadness, so we had the perimenopause conversation. I told her about my play "Scrambled Eggs" and we laughed a lot and by the end of the day I felt pretty happy.

Last night, I caught up with "American Idol" (I do like to watch the last few weeks) and "In Treatment" (Gabriel Byrne...are you really as empathetic as you seem? Nah, you're just a good actor.) I watched the episode with Mia again - Hope Davis is amazing. I have met the writer of Hope's storyline a few times, Jacqueline Reingold, and she is a fantastic writer. I also love Alison Pill.

Steve went out last night to visit his young Chilean friend Oscar and when I woke up around one a.m., he hadn't come home yet. I have to admit that freaked me out a bit. And I broke down and took a sleeping pill, so I wouldn't have to hear him when he came home. He arrived home ten minutes later and told me that he'd been with a group of Oscar's friends having a very intense discussion and all I will say about that is, when he woke up this morning at seven thirty, he looked like he had a pretty intense hangover and immediately went back to bed. We're all doing the best we can.

I just got out of the shower, did a few yoga stretches and had a few more thoughts to share.
One is that I don't actually love yoga - I have a love/hate relationship with it, as I do most physical activity. Love when I've done it, don't love every moment of doing it.

Two: I spent my day yesterday giving and receiving and it felt great. I spoke to my friend O who is dealing with her treatment for lymphoma and she is handling a very difficult time. She says that every day her friends call and check in on her and that she is also so grateful for their support.

And my final thought: I'm going to look at a studio apartment tomorrow and I realized that I love the idea of paring down to the basics. I don't need a lot of room - I need a room of my own.

My horoscope for today:

You and your friends and allies are working in perfect harmony today and any project you work on jointly should work out really well, especially if you're leading the way and keeping everyone informed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dancing day two

My chest feels a bit tight and it feels like I'm riding on a roller coaster, but basically we're all doing okay.

This morning I got an email from a friend who left her marriage eight years ago and moved to Manhattan to start a new life. She said, "...and you're feeling up and down...yep! That's the way of, grief, exuberance, guilt, sadness, fear, and for them, Robin, because you are being surrounded by them."

Finding a place to live is going to be challenging, but I talked to a guy in my workshop at TAI and he rents out a beautiful big bedroom in his apartment on 117th Street and Central Park West just north of the park. He produces dance companies tours and is on the road a lot. According to his lease there are no pets allowed, but he said there are plenty of dogs in the building, so he's going to check into it. I would love to explore that neighborhood. We may have to split up the dogs, which would be very difficult. But two dogs makes finding a place harder.

I went to a surprise party last night for my dear friend Bella. (I doubt she's ever surprised anymore because she and her husband throw these parties for each other almost every year.) Anyway, at the party were several mothers I knew when Zoe was in elementary and middle school. It was interesting to talk with them about what they are doing with their lives now and how their relationships are going. One woman travels all over the world for her work and she says she loves her life, but is quite happy to rarely see her husband. She said he is always complaining about his health (and he's a doctor). Honest. Another spends half her time in California, also away from her spouse. And a third is quite thrilled with her life. She and her husband both became yoga enthusiasts and she teaches yoga. They also love to tango. I think I need to take some dance lessons, so I'm going to check into the studio she goes to. She said it can be very frustrating, when you don't get asked to dance and that might be a problem (flashbacks of junior high school.) But I'm putting dance classes on my to do list.

The party was a good distraction. I was thinking of not going, but my friend reminded me that you have to stick to your first commitments. I was so glad I went - Bella's store is gorgeous and will be opening soon. Fleurs Bella, 11th Street between University Place and Broadway. She is a genius.

Today I'm going to the gym for a personal training session (I got a good deal for five sessions) and then I'm going to see my mother. It's going to be a bumpy day!

Monday, April 27, 2009

In praise of sisterhood

I just want to say that somehow in the past six months, it feels like my life has changed dramatically in one significant way: my connection to women.

It's not that I haven't always appreciated and loved my women friends and respected their strength, it just feels that I am less afraid to really trust them. My relationships with women have sometimes had an underlying sense of competition, which I guess comes from my childhood with my sister. Recently though, I am so grateful for all the love and support I've been getting from women and I guess those feelings are changing.

Isn't interesting that no matter how old you get, you can always grow and improve.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Susan Boyle a day

I just have to say that I have probably looked at the You Tube video of Susan Boyle at least ten times in the past ten days and I think that I should look at it every day. It just makes me so happy and so emotional. I love her. And I love the judges, I love that the videos have been viewed over fifty million times and I love that talent really does will out. (The exact quote was by Freddy Mercury: "talent will out, my dears.")

I love that it's never too late to go after your dreams.

I wish I could sing well, but I am grateful for whatever talents I do have. And I am happy that You Tube exists and we were able to see that amazing clip. And I love that no matter how many times I see it, it still makes me happy.

And I also have to add that today was the most beautiful, perfect day. I took a long walk through the city and saw cherry blossoms along with many other blossoming trees. And I had a delicious bittersweet chocolate ice cream cone and a really lovely day with friends. This week I have to get over to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to see the cherry blossoms and lilacs.

I love this time of year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loneliness of modern life

This morning I went searching in my drawer for one of those toothpick kind of things, the ones I got when I had to wear braces. These little picks attach to long handles and look like little pipe cleaners. Well, I didn't find the small plastic case they come in, which annoyed me, but I did find the following note, written in my handwriting (I don't remember writing it) and I don't even know who wrote it, but it sounds very much like Pema Chodron to me:

"When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this."

I had that chance this very morning and after reading that paragraph, I felt quite a bit better.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One day at a time

This post will be intentionally vague, because I can't really express everything that I'm feeling.

I just want to say that after having that wonderful trip to Spain, it feels like we are back in the same situation and it doesn't feel particularly good. So - it may be time to think about making some changes. And it's scary and it's also exciting.

I loved the article in today's NY Times about the benefits of friends for our health. We've all known that for years, but it's also good to have that reinforced. My friends are high on my gratitude list. I don't know what I would do without them. And I hope they feel that way about me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recovery from envy

Recovery from envy: turn it over. You can call it what you will...praying, letting go, whatever you want, but it works.

When I went to bed the other night that I was feeling so much envy and desire for a Ho-Ho from Bucheron Bakery and I woke up at 3:30 am because Lucy (the beagle) had to pee and was wandering around nervously. I got dressed and took her out and she peed around four times. We think that she may have diabetes incipitis (sp?) and she needs more antibiotics because she still has a UTI. Anyway, that's not the point of the story. The point is that I could not fall back to sleep and it was a miserable night.

All I could do is think what a failure my life has been, terrible mother, terrible writer, terrible wife, person, etc. etc. Stinking thinking, monkey mind, call it what you will, it was out of control.

So when I woke up a little voice said, "Read Eckhardt Tolle" and so I picked up "A New Earth" and the first chapter is all about flowers and rocks and something else...and it's about seeing the ego, the externals, the stinking thinking, which is dysfunction - it's called dukkha in Buddhism, sin in Christianity and something else in Hinduism. And it means suffering essentially, failing to live a higher life. I'm rushing here. It's that we as human beings focus on the externals, money, success, consumerism, rather than the internal, the human, the important parts of who we are, and in that I'm not so horrible. Really. I'm not.

So now I feel better and the thing that I was envious about is actually moving in a new direction. Whether it works out or not (I will let you know), but I feel much better and I'm off to enjoy a beautiful spring day and I hope, wherever you live, it's a wonderful day (rain or shine.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The color green

When I start to feel envy, I know I'm in trouble. I have never quite figured out a way to feel it and move on. But it's one of those lessons I'm working on.

Also being in the moment. I find that difficult too.

What else?

Sugar. I have a hard time resisting sweets. I can be pretty good for awhile, but then I discover something like a fake Ho-Ho at Bucheron Bakery in the AOL Time Warner Center and I dream about it. It looks like a Ho-Ho, rolled chocolate cake with whipped cream and a chocolate coating on the outside shaped in a log. I bought one about a month ago and shared it with Zoe and I haven't been back, but today I was downstairs at Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center and I thought about it. And now that I'm feeling envy, I really want that Ho-Ho.

Why is envy so tough? You're in high school and someone's dating the guy you have a crush on. You get older and someone gets a job you want, or a beautiful apartment, or goes on a wonderful adventure, or has a huge success, or their kid does really well. Compare and despair is a phrase I've heard. I rarely let myself go there, but right now I'm feeling it.

I have a number of interesting things going on in my life right now and I'm very excited about them. I just had a wonderful vacation in Spain. I also have a number of friends who are dealing with serious health issues. Where do I get off feeling envy?

And then there's the frenemy situation on Facebook...someone I'd like to delete from my list. But I've known her for a hundred years and I wish good things for her, I just don't want to see or hear about her. Do I press delete and get rid of the problem, or will I then wonder what is going on with her and have no way to spy. And honestly, I haven't gone out of my way to spy, but every once in awhile I see her update and it annoys me.

Ah, life is complicated. And I am shallow, superficial and small-minded. I pray for enlightenment. I pray for Pema Chodron to read my blog and tell me what to do.

Pema, are you out there?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Life lag Part II

I do want to add to the former post - that although according to Pema Chodron we are supposed to accept ourselves the way we are - I do also know that she believes that we need to be mindful of what we put out into the world too. In one of her most recent books "Practicing Peace in Times of War" she talks about how we need to consider all our acts and to try not to put aggression and hostility out into the world.

This really hit home for me this past week. While Steve and I were in Spain, I found almost nothing to be mad about. I was quite happily drinking beer and eating tapas and the subways in Madrid come right on time (with those screens that tell you exactly when they are coming, which I love) and no one, not one person was nasty on the whole trip. And Steve and I got along quite well.

But within twenty-four hours of returning home, I was my normal shrewish self and I acted out with Steve about a stupid cake for a seder. So, although it's important to accept ourselves for who we are, it's also important not to indulge our bad behavior either. I find that when I am annoyed about something, I can be a bit snarky (and a bit like my mother) and I'm finding that pretty unacceptable these days.

I am a work in progress.

Life lag

The jet lag is over now. According to Jane Brody, it takes one day for every hour of time difference (east to west) and a day and a half for every hour (west to east). So on Monday, my jet lag was officially over. (Spain is six hours ahead.) But getting back into life, back into writing, looking for work, dealing with two dogs with health issues, and marriage, and the news (it was wonderful to avoid the news - all I heard was about Michelle Obama "hugging" Queen Elizabeth.)

Steve has a cold, Zoe is not too happy we're home and there have been some tense moments. I visited my friend O (along with seven other friends). O is dealing with lymphoma and chemo. Another friend is having a really tough time with major financial burdens. And I am a little annoyed at the unfairness of life.

I took out my introduction to Pema Chodron, "The Wisdom of No Escape" and read the following... "But loving-kindness - maitri - toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest."

By the way, if you're on Facebook, I posted a lot of photos of the trip. I'll try to post some here too, but it may take me a little more time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It was fantastico!

I got over the difficulties I was feeling about having fun (while the world is such a mess and so many people are suffering) and my trip to Spain was one of the best travel experiences of my life. Madrid, Segovia and Jerez were wonderful and I'd love to go back to all of those cities someday.

But I have to say, when we left Jerez to drive through the White Towns and spend a night in Ronda, I was amazed at how absolutely gorgeous Spain is. Andalucia - the mountains, the olive groves, the gorgeous cities built onto cliffs, the farms, it's all so dramatic and beautiful. We took a road from Zahara, which turned out to be one of the steepest mountain roads I've ever been on - and honestly, I was a bit nervous. It zig-zagged back and forth and you'd look straight up and think, "shit, we're going up THERE?" We drove up the mountain on a narrow road with small cement blocks at the edge to keep you from driving off -- and I was actually kind of terrified. I just wanting to get to the other side of the mountain -- and then we found out the road was closed near the top and had to go back down! There was actually a sign that Steve saw that said something like "road cut 3 km" but he decided to go anyway and it turned out to be 13 kms, not 3.

We survived and afterward we had a very delicious lunch in Zahara (garbanzo bean and potato soup, albondigas and a lamb stew) and we drove an easier route to Ronda, which is truly spectacular. It's built on a cliff, over a gorge, and looks out at the most spectacular views you can imagine. (It's also where they used to toss political prisoners during the Spanish Civil War. Horrible.)

We stayed at the same hotel Rilke lived in when he wrote "The Spanish Trilogy" which I never read, but I did love "Letters to a Young Poet." His room is still intact, on the third floor. The hotel is the Reina Victoria and the gardens and the views are stunning. I will add some photos as soon as Steve finishes working on them. I didn't bring my camera this trip because when you have Steve with you, it's hard to think about taking photos. Seeing the trip through his eyes is really interesting.

We wandered around Ronda and had a delicious goat cheese, pine nuts and spinach salad (with some kind of amazing crust on top of the goat cheese) for dinner, along with the ever present olives and a kind of fish croquet, along with one of the best red wines I've ever tasted. (And not expensive.)

After Ronda we got back in the car and continued driving through the mountains and stopped in Moron de la Frontera. Steve lived in Moron over thirty years ago and learned how to play flamenco from Diego del Gastor, one of Spain's most respected guitarists. We stopped in a pena (a flamenco club) because Steve had a photo of Diego he wanted to drop off with the owner. After we visited, we took a walk through town. I was thinking, wouldn't it be great to meet Paco del Gastor (Diego's nephew) and sure enough a few minutes later, I spotted him walking towards us with his grandson, Diegito, his protege. The only thing better would be to hear Paco play. He is a truly great guitarist.

We got back on the road and stopped in Utrera, where we had lunch at the home of a publisher and Steve's partner in his flamenco project, Ignacio. Ignacio and his wife, Carmen were home and Carmen made us a delicious lunch. They spoke almost no English and I speak almost no Spanish. Steve translated and somehow we had a great time. Carmen served us a kind of fish paste that comes in a log and she cut up into little rounds and then put on mayonnaise. It actually tasted pretty good, although I have no idea what it really was. Then she served a pimento or pepper salad, and two kinds of fish stews, one was tuna and the other was shark, I believe, but she called it "dog fish." The best part was dessert. It was called leche frita and she took it from the freezer, fried the small pieces in a pan and then rolled them in sugar. They had a crust on the outside and inside there was a vanilla, lemony firm custard. They gave me the leftovers of the dessert, so I was quite happy.

And then we raced off to Sevilla and that was the high point of the trip.

We met Steve's friends Richard and Andrea on Friday afternoon in a beautiful outdoor cafe. They had sailed across the Atlantic in a sailboat last year and are now living in Spain, on the coast. Steve met Richard over thirty years ago in California. Richard plays guitar and sings and he's a bit of a novelty in Spain. We stayed at Richard's daughter's in-laws' home. One of their homes. Think lifestyles of the rich and famous...think palacio with something like twelve bedrooms and forty or fifty rooms..think enormous interior garden filled with huge plants and Roman columns, several large roof decks, antiques everywhere.

The owners came down on the fast train from Madrid late Friday night and couldn't have been more hospitable and welcoming. And they spoke almost no English, so it was difficult to communicate, but it was still fun. We had breakfast with Maru and Enrique every morning and spent some time during the trip with them too.

The high point was on Saturday night. We went to a flamenco concert and Pepe Torres, who is also from Moron and a great nephew of Diego's, was one of the dancers. Steve has become friendly with Pepe, who is also a member of a group called "Son de la Fontera" - one of the most popular groups in Spain. They have played all over the world and Pepe is a phenomenal dancer. Andrea calls him the "Fred Astaire of flamenco." He also sings and plays guitar brilliantly and he is a wonderful person. The concert had five women dancers (if you want to see real attitude and power, watch a great female flamenco dancer). There were two male dancers, Pepe and another guy, and several guitarists and singers. This particular show generally sends really excellent artists off to Madrid, where they sometimes become stars and form their own companies.

After the concert, we met Pepe for a drink (he drank Coke - he had one more show to do that night.) His wonderful wife Sarah met us there too and then we went to the other side of town (the Macarena - don't blame me if you start singing that song, I did.) We went to a bar that one of Sarah's friends works at. Richard brought his guitar and he and Steve played and sang and then around one a.m. Pepe arrived and he played and sang too. Andrea danced with one of the women patrons and I think that everyone in the bar was shocked at how great Steve and Richard were. When Pepe came, I could see how much he appreciated hearing Steve play the guitar - since he never knew his great uncle, Diego, and Steve learned so much from Diego. It was really eye opening for me and I was very proud of Steve. And I stayed up till almost three a.m. and enjoyed every minute of it.

The other highlights were going to the Alcazar in Sevilla, a magnificent royal residence that I can't even begin to describe, except to say that the buildings and the gardens are spectacular. And the cathedral in Sevilla is the third largest in the world, and the largest Gothic building, a wonder of architecture.

And then there was the first two nights of Semana Santa, a celebration that goes on for the week before Easter all over Spain. Every night, long processions of people dressed in what can only be described as a Ku Klux Klan type of costume (I guess the Klan stole it from them) but in all different colors with hoods that go up to a huge point. They also carry enormous long candles and give out candy to the kids and there's incense and enormous floats with the Last Supper and other scenes, and forty or so men are underneath the floats carrying these heavy things for miles (they switch off somehow.) All you can see is their feet. And there are bands and singers and people come from all over Spain to see this spectacle in every city and town.

What I loved most about Spain, besides how beautiful the country is, is how friendly most everyone was and what a strong sense of family and community exists there. The nightlife is so different than it is here in the states - the restaurants and bars are bright and packed and people stay out till late at night, talking and laughing and drinking. But I never saw anyone drunk, anywhere we went. In the south they still close the shops mid-day for a few hours and take siestas. The food is delicious - are the ingrediants just fresher? My favorite tapas were grilled squid, rounds of bread with a paste made of tomatoes and on top, anchovies and a kind of sardine, jamon (ham, like nothing we have here) and a million kinds of olives.

Oh, I almost forgot. One of the reasons Steve was in Spain was to see a flamenco photography show at the contemporary museum in Sevilla that had the work of eighty-six photographers, including Steve. His photos were two of the best! The show may come to NYC, I will keep you posted.

Steve's flamenco photography project will be opening in Sevilla on September 18, 2009. I definitely hope I can go.

While we were away, Lucy got sick again and had another serious urinary tract infection. Zoe handled it. And on the way home on the plane, I watched "Marley and Me" which was a silly movie, but at the end Marley (the dog) dies and I sobbed along with everyone else on the plane.

I had twelve fantastic days and I am so grateful for that experience.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jerez de la Frontera

I´m at an internet cafe in Jerez, Andalucia, which is in the south of Spain. It´s difficult typing on a Spanish computer, so please forgive any typos, lack of caps, etc. It´s gorgeous here, the streets are ancient, beautiful, with cobble stones and people strolling everywhere. I arrived last Friday in Madrid, which was a bit overwhelming at first, but I managed to find my way alone on the excellent subways. I will say that my idea of putting fun on my list is not easy for me, since I almost never drink alcohol, I try to watch what I eat and get plenty of exercise. Since we´ve been here I´ve been drinking beer, wine, sherry (that made me the most drunk). I´ve eaten chorizo, ham, pork, steak, eggs, desserts and I have to say that the food here hardly resembles anything I eat at home. Is everything fresher? Whatever the reason, it´s delicious.

We went to Segovia on Saturday to visit friends of Steve´s and Segovia is a gorgeous city. We went out at night to a bar and restaurant a few miles out of the city and the castle and cathedral on the hills were lit up and stunning. I will add some photos as soon as I can figure out how to do it.

It´s been very interesting meeting all the friends Steve has had for years - Gines and Vicky in Segovia (and their cute beagle, Sparky, who made me miss Lucy and Lola.) We met a curator one night in Madrid who had had a few too many drinks, so that was challenging. Steve couldn´t understand a word she said, but I did pretty well. Last night we met Steve´s friend Norman, an American who recently moved to Jerez after twenty years in Madrid and today we had lunch with Estella (she´s from the Bronx). She recently published a book about the origins of flamenco. Each meeting generally lasts about three hours and includes a great deal of eating and drinking. I was feeling a bit stuffed every day, so I´ve cut back on the alcohol and food consumption, but it is a very interesting way of life. Work is generally considered something that is done a few months a year and hopefully doesn´t get in the way of socializing. As an American, I feel a little guilty. I read the Times on-line and worry about everything that´s happening in the world, even though I know that I put fun on my list and for the next six days I should just have another tapas and a beer.

More to follow. Tomorrow we go to the White Towns in the mountains. We are spending the night in Ronda. This is all a dream for me, having never been to Spain before. Friday through Tuesday we will be in Sevilla. I feel very lucky. Spain is muy fantastico!