5 Random Facts About Me

Deborah chose me and I’ll have to be honest — I was excited. In a tingly “you’ve been selected” sorta way. I felt it …well, I won’t tell you where, but it’s the same spot in my body and the same physical sensation I get whenever I’ve decided I’ve been designated special by someone.

Of course, this sensitivity to being chosen also makes me physically vulnerable to the dark side of egocentric arousal — for when someone decides I’m not special (or worse, unremarkable or overrated), the tingly sensation moves down to my lower digestive tract; I spend the next few hours in the bathroom, and … well you can imagine the rest.

Deborah dared me to reveal five random facts about myself. I use the word “dare” lightly because, let’s be honest, if I didn’t enjoy disclosing facts about myself, you and I wouldn’t be enjoying this writer/reader virtual pseudo-relationship. In fact, if I could just eliminate the urge to tell you stuff, I might be able to once and for all walk away from social media.

I could be happy.

But then, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Which leads me to Random Fact #1.

Everyday anxiety is an “organizing principle” in my life. In other words, it has made me who I am today and continues to make me who I am no matter how much yoga I practice, no matter which books I read, how much air I breathe, no matter how slowly or deeply. Anxiety is an essential element of me.

I did not realize there was a name for this condition until I read a passage yesterday about Joan Didion written by Vivian Gornick in her book on writing called The Situation and the Story:

For Joan Didion, ordinary, everyday anxiety is an organizing principle. Out of it she has created a depressed, quivering persona that serves her talent wonderfully … in [her] essays, where a subject beyond the self must be intersected with—migraine headache, the Black Panthers, California and the American Dream—Didion’s gorgeous nerves are brought under brilliant control. It is here, in this form, that her existential nervousness is developed with such artistry that insight transforms, and literature is made through the naked use of the writer’s emotional disability.

Don’t mistake my admission of Random Fact #1 as me comparing myself to successful memoirist and essayist Joan Didion. As if! But out of this I understand that my acid reflux and my artistry, my migraines and my imagination, like Didion’s, go hand and hand. And that I am far, far from alone.

Which leads me to …

Random Fact #2

One of my most notable appearances in the media was in the Associated Press when I was quoted as being a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome. Equally classy, I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as not only suffering from IBS, but also allergies and anxiety. At the time, those interviews seemed like a good idea for the personal brand I was building (as a wellness expert and writer). Now, I’m not so sure.

Random Fact #3

Irritable bowel be damned, I had the pleasure of pooping in the Executive Office building of the White House. I don’t remember a particular poop, but I spent every Wednesday morning between the hours of 4 am  and 9 am at the White House volunteering for the Clinton administration’s Communications Office one semester in 1994; so it’s safe to say I pooped there. Also in the Embassy of Israel where I interned for a semester. And in the Starbucks on K Street.

I was just telling a friend of mine yesterday, in fact, that I had this brilliant idea when I used to live in Manhattan in the late 90s. I wanted to research and publish a Zagat type listing of all the best bathrooms in Manhattan. I zagathad mentally logged most of the cleanest ones in SoHo, where I lived and worked at the time, for my own personal benefit since I never knew where or when I would need quick access to a tidy and private stall. But what if I expanded my research to the entire island? And categorized the lists according to not just cleanliness, but also friendly to, let’s say, hookups? Cleaning up after an accidental coffee spills on the train? Best for vomiting? Ones with condoms? Tampons? Fresh mints? Luxury bathrooms easily accessed in hotel lobbies? Restrooms frequented by celebrities?

I never wrote the book, but it’s on my list of “good ideas that could have made me money if only I wasn’t so lazy.”

Which leads to …

Random Fact #4

I practically invented Facebook. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who knew me in 1999. Especially my parents … because they like to brag about that almost as much as they like to say I was a “White House intern.” Which I wasn’t … I was a “volunteer.” You don’t need to watch Scandal to know that Washington has a hierarchy. A hierarchy, people. That said, I was a volunteer in the White House the same time Monica was an intern.

Back to Facebook and how I missed an opportunity to be a gajillionaire.

In 1999, a half a year or so before the internet bubble burst, I built on my Dell computer and maintained all on my own from my one bedroom apartment on Prince Street a web site called oldcampfriends.com. I came up with the idea because I was obsessed and preoccupied with my overnight camp experience and friends and figured other people were, too. This was before you could Google stalk anyone or pay $9.99 for a dossier on them. It was difficult, still, to track down old friends.

I built it on the old Homestead site builder online software. I created a form that people filled in and submitted. I HAND-FILLED in the information (their names and email addresses) on the profile pages I created for each camp: Camp Wekeela, Camp Wohelo, Pine Forest, Camp Anawana, Camp Ramah New England, Camp Nah-Jee-Way, Che-Na-Wah, Moshava, you name it. Your camp was there. Via oldcampfriends.com you were able to reconnect with your bunkmate, your first kiss, the counselor you always wanted to hook up with but who was too fearful of arrest … Oldcampfriends.com? It took you there.

Coulda been Facebook. Coulda been Facebook.

oldcampfriends screen shot 3

(Those hikers at the top were animated GIFs.)

If oldcampfriends.com leaves any legacy it is to illustrate how impactful the people who have passed through my life have been and continue to be even after they’re gone. It is to show that when you leave me — because leave me you must — you don’t ever really leave.

Random Fact #5

You remain inside me — sometimes as acid reflux, sometimes as tingles that recur when I look at your picture or handle between my thumbs the friendship bracelet you once wove for me in the arts and crafts cabin, or the mixed tape you made me that summer. You remain inside me, as a song or a slow dance or as a scene from a movie we watched together on Betamax in your basement. You remain inside me; sometimes as an eternal punishment, sometimes as an occasional pleasure. You remain.

Random fact: I am forever tagged by you.

You, the people.

==

I tag Sarah, Nina, Judy, Tienne, and Jason.

Writer’s block

I wrote a poem

I wrote a poem

I want to shout it but I won’t

I wrote a poem.

*

I wrote a poem

A simple poem

I ache to cry but hold it back

I wrote a poem.

*

I wrote a poem

Just a poem

It’s not my best, but it’s not half bad

I wrote a poem.

*

I wrote a poem

Thank God, a poem

Was almost sure the well’d dried up

But I wrote a poem.

*

It’s just a poem

I know, a poem

but I dare believe, it’s cleared the way

for another poem.

The clucking sound your tongue makes

Mindfulness is the clucking sound your tongue makes as you’re almost jogging along the paved road that surrounds your community — the view ahead is of the silken skim of the reservoir and the breeze is balanced with the rays of sun peeking in and out from scattered clouds — and you realize that you are alone and that your body today feels whole and that your mind is working in a way that makes you like yourself and you’re laughing for the fourth time remembering that scene in Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and this right now is the life you mean when you say, “I want to live.”

The clucking sound, though, is what awareness sounds like; what stumbling over impermanence sounds like — Because suddenly you remember the last time you said you wanted to live was that time last week with the tingles in your left arm and you cringe because your phone is not in your right pocket and you might be missing the call from school, the call that will certainly ripple the silken skim but without you attending it because your mind now is working in the way that makes you hate yourself and you’re not laughing anymore, in fact, you’ve forgotten Nathan Englander and nothing is funny.

The clucking sound, though, is what awareness sounds like; what stumbling over impermanence sounds like — Because suddenly you realize that impermanence is a most glorious word, the one you’ve been seeking your whole life, the one to describe peace on Earth, peace enough for me. Impermanence is the name of that curved line between yin and yang. It has a name!

Impermanence is the clucking sound marking in between; marking eternal ending and eternal beginning. It’s a spot. It’s a poof. It’s a landing pad where I straddle my legs and press my feet down and wait.

A sip

The other night I made a big bedtime mistake: I ate some feta cheese. I was hungry, and I can’t go to bed hungry, and I figured a snack of fat and protein would be a better bedtime bet than Cocoa Pebbles, which is what I really wanted.

You may have anticipated this, but I didn’t: That night, I was possessed by dreams of excessive thirst. My dreams are often rich and vivid, even moreso when my body needs something in the waking world. My sleeping mind was consumed by an overwhelming need to rinse the thirst from my mouth. I forget now if the dreams were the ones in which I drink from a creek or from a toilet bowl even though I fear the bacteria or the ones in which someone keeps offering me wine when all I want is water. At some point, though, I opened my eyes a crack and saw through the corner of the left one the plastic Playtex sippy cup my son had placed on the bedside table before he fell asleep in between me and my husband.

I reached for it; shook it to see what was left. Estimating only a few drops, I unscrewed the top for I knew that a labored sip through the tiny holes was not going to satisfy me.  I gulped what remained.

And, surprisingly, it was … enough.

Enough to quiet the mind; enough to make it to morning.

It was that satisfied sensation I was reminded of today as the first drops of rain since last spring fell this morning — the first containing any real strength and sustenance, at least.  As I drove up and along the hills of the Lower Galilee, I rolled my window down to let the breeze blow the drops in; to feel them tickle the side of my neck enough to make me shiver. I knew the sun was coming. I could see it ahead of me and to the left near the Bay of Haifa. I knew this wasn’t the downpour we needed. I knew this was only enough for a sip.

But it was … enough.

Not enough. But enough.

The soundtrack of home

I am not a music-while-I-work kinda girl. While writing or editing, music typically gets in my way. Instead of focusing on the project, I’ll often sing along or find my mind wandering back to a time before.

This morning, however, as I sat in front of the screen, I realized I needed music to kickstart my week and opened YouTube whose imaginary panel of advisors recommended a few playlists to me based on my previous choices; but all were from albums I knew would distract me from the careful proofreading I was required to perform.

The last option in the row of recommended playlists was one I haven’t listened to … in almost forever: America’s Greatest Hits.

(courtesy Wikipedia)

(courtesy Wikipedia)

I recognized the album cover as one that used to be among my parents’ combined record collection that moved to the finished basement once they purchased a stereo with a cassette player for the living room. I remember only really discovering these records, though — Kansas, The Eagles, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce — the summer I turned ten and went off to sleepaway camp. Music, from that summer on, became the soundtrack to my memories. Music became longing.

That summer, now that I think about it, was also when I first discovered my own taste for music. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate music before — some of my earliest memories are singing harmonies in the backseat of my father’s car with my brother. But what I remember about discovering the record collection is understanding that music is not just words and melody strung together; it’s a legacy. There was a reason why certain songs ended up sung around a campfire. There was a reason why I laid on my back on the Berber carpet in the basement while Photographs and Memories crackled over the speakers, filling me with a certain sense of sorrow.

The only title familiar to me on America’s Greatest Hits.before I pressed play was “A Horse With No Name.” But as I faced the screen to review the manuscript I was working on and as the album moved along, I found myself humming along knowingly from time to time — curious that I had stumbled upon an album that was both surprisingly and pleasantly familiar, but neutral enough to allow me to stay focused on the task at hand. (Ironic since many of the songs are, indeed, about longing.)

This music, unlike my mixed tapes which seem to always jolt me back, kept me rooted in the present, but still subtly soothed by the comforts of home. Not the home I am often drawn back to — the emotionally-charged home of Milan Kundera or Proust. Home without the overwhelming nostalgia. Without the compelling need to look back.

We remember so little even as we remember it all

I am minorly obsessed with memory. Why we remember. What we remember. How we go about retaining and recalling memories. Which of our senses most trigger memory — is it smell? Is it sound?

I am not as obsessed as I could be. Most of the books I want to read about memory are still holding their place on my “want-to-read” shelf on GoodReads. The closest I do get to studying the topic is scanning every single article Maria Popova posts on the subject on BrainPickings and examining — both critically and creatively — my own memory and others’.

Generally, when I am not worrying about the future, I’m thinking about the past.

Based on conversations with friends, I get the sense that my memory is comparatively vivid and richly detailed. I can remember incidents as far back as age four; I remember the song I slow-danced to with my first camp boyfriend. I remember when I saw Jurassic Park, with whom, and at which theater.

But while I’ve forever prided myself on possessing accurate knowledge of when I did things and how and with whom and in what season and to what soundtrack … I’m beginning to understand just how inaccurate and filled with holes my memory is even in its breadth of knowledge. Moreso, I’ve started to recognize a pattern about what I can remember and what I can’t.

For instance, I remember scene well. My visual memory is stunning. But I get lost trying to conjure up anything physical — pain or pleasure. I remember sound more than smell. I remember color more than texture.

I remember sitting in the backseat of my dad’s green fiat convertible, the top down, the interior beige, my hair blowing back as we all sang — me, my dad, and my brother — at the top of our lungs Little Honda .

First gear, it’s all right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Second gear, I’ll lean right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Third gear, hang on tight (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)

But I can’t remember if it was cold back there or comfortably breezy. What season was it? Early summer? I can’t remember if it was when my dad had a mustache or not. I can’t remember where we were going or what I was wearing.

Likewise, I can recall many a ride shotgun in my high school boyfriend’s used light blue BMW, a hand-me-down from his uncle. I remember the dashboard and pulling a Van Morrison compilation out of a gray canvas cassette holder and pushing it into the tape deck. But I can’t recall more than a handful of kisses — even though I must have kissed him thousands of times during our 10 year on-again off-again relationship.

The list goes on. I remember an Elvis Costello concert in Maryland the summer of 1994 (Crash Test Dummies opened). I remember it because said high school boyfriend had returned from a semester abroad in Israel and this concert was our first attempt at being “just friends.” But until I Googled Elvis Costello Concert Tour 1994, I couldn’t remember a single song on the playlist that night. And when I read the playlist, I still couldn’t recall hearing any of them or cheering for them or singing along.

I remember a fight with my brother in an airport in Denver. I remember he threw a glass rootbeer bottle at me, but I can’t remember over what we disagreed.

Then there was the time I first saw my now-husband. I can picture him sitting in a conference room in the JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was there with a group of 8 or 9 20-somethings to be interviewed for a position to lead a teen tour to Israel. Get this: I remember the lighting in the room. I remember where I sat at the table in comparison to my future-husband. But I don’t remember his voice that day, what he wore, or any interaction we had.

All this matters because as I track down my memories in an attempt to write memoir — really, in an attempt to understand myself and my life — I find my memories with their limited and unreliable perspective are indeed not memories at all.  I find I understand what Oliver Sacks means when he says, our memories are “not fixed or frozen … but transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.”

All this matters because it is via this patched together quiltwork of recall that we assess and reassess the fabric of our lives. Whether or not we are writing memoir.

As I continue to examine my memory and put it through the hard test of being fact-checked, I find myself re-evaluating who I am and how I got this way.

And I remember it all with a grain of salt.

Bring on the Parenting New Year

There’s January 1, there’s Rosh Hashana, there’s Chinese New Year, and then there’s the day or two after Labor Day (or if you live in the South, three weeks before) when parents get the opportunity to finally breathe deep enough again to consider what they want to do differently this year when it comes to raising their kids.

And then there’s the day after that when we’re all hungover from smiling and liking friends’ first day Facebook photos and feeling good about our lives for a second, and decide we’re parenting just fine thank you for much.

But then come the backpacks on the floor. And the bickering in the backseat on the way to ballet. And the globs of toothpaste in the sink.

Sigh. Someone pass me a Bloody Mary, please.

But wait … what if there was a book with easy, practical advice offered by an expert in a package that not only set you up for quick success, but made you laugh along the way?

Well, my dear friends with children between the ages of 4 and 12; have I got the book for you.

GetBehaviorYouWant-BookCheck out The Times of Israel today, which is featuring my author interview and book review of Get the Behavior You Want Without Being the Parent You Hate by Dr. Deborah Gilboa. Then go download the book on September 10 when it goes on sale.

The Immigrant Mother Goes to the Movies

There are days

(like today)

when emails from teachers

with names beginning with

Aleph or Ayin or Chet

or long-winded reminders

via Google group

from neighbors whose

fresh-baked challah

I truly do enjoy

or the main menu

of the University’s

Babylonian student information station

all make me want to

gouge out my eyes

with aluminum skewers

left over from

last weekend’s “al Ha’Esh

or eat Whoppers in front

of the movie Clue –

either of the three versions

released in December 1985.

Basically,

I need my information

spoonfed, please, from

the Confection Stand.

I want each request and update

to melt in my mouth like

candy did once

like Tim Curry

in 1985 before

Rocky Horror Picture Show

before heads went missing

before someone said to me,

No one moved to Israel

because it’s easy.

There are days

(not today) when

I am proud that science

has proven that my brain

works better now that it

needs to decipher whether

my daughter requested

dag or dog for dinner.

But today

I just want to suck it all

through a straw.

 

 

 

 

 

Blink

The first milestone that seemed so far away into the future that hover boards would surely have come and gone by then was 1999, the year my middle brother was slated to graduate college and my baby brother would be bar mitzvahed. I remember giggling along with my parents in 1988 or 89 at the unimaginable idea of Jason in a cap and gown, and baby Josh, who was then still in diapers, grown up enough to not only talk, but sing Torah troupe in front of an audience of kippah-wearing spectators.

As I don’t have to tell you, 1999 has come and gone in the proverbial blink of my hazel green eyes and no hover boards. (Robert Zemeckis was ill-advised, I guess. Or just a hopeful dreamer.)

Jason’s cap has long ago been thrown high into the air and his gown recycled. He’s a successful professional now, married with children. And Baby Josh led the entire morning Shabbat service, squeaky voice and all, and 15 years later is now a freshly-minted lawyer, and recently engaged.

And me?

As much as I sometimes still see myself in my mind’s eye as the girl swiveling in a chair at the kitchen table and laughing in the face of the future, I am somehow here (or there. Whichever one is the future.)

I am a married woman and not only are my own three children all able to ride bikes, dive into the deep end of the pool, and tie their own shoes, but I sent my youngest off today on the bus to her first day of real school.

Annabel_Tekes_Sept2014

It’s a serendipitous junction I’ve arrived at: I just turned 40 last month. This week, I will celebrate the bar mitzvah year of my marriage. And today, all three of my children have officially made it to elementary school.

I blinked, I guess. Again.

Or else this day was so very far away into the future, I never got the chance to imagine it.

After 39

Carl Jung may or may not have said “Life begins at 40,” but a great many people on the internet want to know if it’s true.
I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Just tell me something first: How will I know?
Where shall I look?
What color is a beginning?

Does it smell like Thin Mints?
Does it taste like the Mobil Station near the Woodcrest Shopping Center?

Can I buy two for one and carry them both wrapped up in a paper napkin and stuffed at the bottom of my yellow handbag?

Tell me something.

What makes you think life didn’t begin on the 5th floor of Thurston Hall or on the corner of Prince and Mott or behind the mess hall at Camp Comet?

What makes you think life didn’t begin when you tried on your first bra or learned the meaning of the word lesbian?

It’s possible life really began — if we’re being serious for a moment — the day you understood life on Earth has been destroyed by an asteroid at least four times and will certainly be destroyed by an asteroid again.

It’s entirely possible life began when Stephanie died or when Jodie died or even before them when you were a little girl afraid of the dark and Bruce died and then visited you in your bedroom sometimes at night.

Life begins sometimes in a bowl of fruit. It begins in a pile of leaves left behind last Fall. It begins in a creek bed hidden by shade.

It begins
It begins
It begins

And so, tomorrow, I’ll tell you if life begins at 40,
but only if you tell me first how I will know.

I admit it. I am a bibliophile.

Is our melancholic love of books in the digital age just another reinterpretation of our nostalgia for home?

Today, I opened up a 1983 edition of  Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet (the third book in the A Wrinkle In Time trilogy) and almost tilted over myself.

Okay — that is a tiny exaggeration.  But I wasn’t even able to move past the Table of Contents before I was overcome by a whoosh of emotion rushing through my chest and up into my throat.

“In this fateful hour…”

My pulse turned rapid.

“All Heaven with its power …”

The way I used to feel when a boy I liked was just about to kiss me.

“The sun with its brightness…”

Held my breath. Tried to steady myself.

“The snow with its whiteness…”

Leaned in. Closed my …

The fire with all the strength it hath…”

And took a picture of it on instagram to share with all of you.

 

 

SwiftlyTiltingPlanet

bib·lio·phile   noun \  ˈbi-blē-ə-ˌfī(-ə)l\
: a person who loves or collects books
: me

Approaching Autumn

“How do you call ‘stav” in English, again, mommy?” he asks, as we make our way up the hill.

“Fall,” the bigger one says quickly.

“Or Autumn,” I say.

“Autumn,” he repeats. “Right.”

“Autumn is the fancier version,” says the bigger one.

“Yes, there’s something delicate about the word, Autumn,” I say.

Also, something composed and at ease, I think, and an ache passes through me. I decide to share it.

“You know,” I say, “sometimes you use the word ‘autumn’ when describing a time of your life. As in, ‘the autumn of her life.’  Spring is the beginning. Summer, the season of joy and play. Then Autumn. I think I might be approaching Autumn.”

“No, mom,” says the bigger one. “You’re still in Summer.”

“Really?” I ask. And I mean it.

Tell me, I want to say to him. Tell me how I’m still in Summer.

And he does, without my asking.

“You’re still healthy. You’re still young.” His brother nods.

I don’t correct them. Not out loud. I yearn to, though. To warn them. To make them see.

“You’re definitely not in Autumn yet,” he continues. “Autumn is like 50. At least 50.”

Later, we see an old man cautiously taking on a series of stone steps. He approaches each rise from the right, first with the rubber bottom of his cane; then lifting one leg; then the second.

As we pass this man on the stairs — we going down — I understand that if asked, this man might place me at the crossroads where Spring meets Summer. And I could see how he could see me there. How he’d laugh at me if I asked him “which season,” and respond with something like “youth is wasted on the young.”

My young one looks at me and says in a whisper, “That man is in Winter.” And then louder asks, “What season am I, mommy?”

I look at him and I laugh.

 

 

Hidden Pictures

 

Hidden Pictures

At Jennifer’s First Birthday, 1975

birthday0001

In this big picture, find the locket, the John Lennon spectacles, blue eyeshadow, bangs trimmed straight, August, yellow #5, a red balloon (not to be confused with The Red Balloon), a tray wiped clean, a downward glance, an elephant, love, another elephant, motherhood, hints of a Bubbi in a baby’s breath, a candle blown, “she looks like you Mom,” uncertainty, a glassy iris, love, the end of an exhale, one year, 26, 11 in between days, a hidden picture, gingham.

In this big picture, find

 

 

* * * * **
Happy birthday, Mom.
Hidden Pictures is a trademark of Highlights Kids magazine
.

 

What appeals to me about found poetry

One of the reasons why I love to experiment with “found poetry” is that it allows me to make an artful experience last longer.

I just finished reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” for instance, and was struck often throughout by meaningful gems I wish I could spend more time contemplating.

In the absence of a classroom full of fellow philosophers or a literature professor, I turn to found poetry, otherwise known as “erasure poetry” or “blackout poetry.”

There is no correct way of digging in, but this is how I’ve been doing it with books. (You can also find poetry in songs or in newspaper articles. Why not?)

Instructions for finding poetry:

1. Xerox copy the page of the book or the document that stopped you in your tracks.

kundera metaphors are dangerous

2. Read it over a few times. Perhaps, out loud.

3. Listen.

4. Circle with pencil the words calling out to you.

When you’re certain (or certain enough) you’ve dug out something new or relevant or useful from the beauty or wisdom already expressed by the author, smudge out the words around those in paint or black ink or, like Mary Ruefle, with white out.

5. There. You’ve found something. A poem, perhaps, or an idea or a pathway.

Something.

Like most creative writing, a first draft of a found poem might only be a writing prompt for something more significant.

At the very least, you got to spend more time with beauty or wisdom … and upcycled it into your own life.

 

 

When all else fails, shave your legs

<FOUND POETRY>

Ultra Sensitive
Ultra Sensible
Contents under pressure.

You don’t have to sacrifice
comfort or
closeness.

We recommend       shave gel
like my dad on Saturday
over wet skin
like Bernie at Atlas Paints

You don’t have to sacrifice
comfort or
closeness.

We recommend       shave gel
like the neck of a hairy bear
almost man
who promises the Blair Witch Project
isn’t real

Do not place near
sources of            puncture.

like my husband on Saturday

Keep out of reach

like a chilled river running over a boulder
and I am that boulder with my head bowed down
and 

Glide.