The internet, while seemingly a solution to the problem of the environmental impact of paper, is in fact turning me into a murderer.
For the past decade, I’ve been an obnoxiously devoted supporter of replacing paper with screens.
I’ve forsaken writing, receiving, and hoarding handwritten letters in exchange for emails. I’ve replaced the amusing 20 minutes I used to spend browsing the greeting card aisles of the Hallmark store in exchange for working too hard on a mildly humorous Facebook birthday greeting. I’ve even given up one of my greatest pleasures — lounging in a hot bath with a paperback — because now I read on Kindle and I’m too afraid of electrocution to bring my IPAD within five feet of a pool of water.
Did Al Gore, when he created the internet, carelessly forget about this thing called evolution that has now made it literally impossible for me to read on screen anything longer than 300 words?!
Yes. I admit it. I cannot read on screen anything longer than six paragraphs. All those articles I share on Twitter? Only read the first 300 words. Skimmed the rest. Occasionally I will force myself to read an entire 1000-word post of a good friend first by leaning in (thank you Sheryl Sandberg) and then by literally hugging the monitor close to my face, forcing my mind to process each and every word.
When I really need to read something I don’t want to read — because for some reason, people keep writing ARTICLES, CONTRACTS, and DOCUMENTS longer than 300 words and I am professionally bound to edit and/or respond to those documents — I print them out on paper. I have to. Otherwise, I black out and find myself mindlessly scrolling Pinterest.
Yes, tree killing is coming back. Watch. You’ll see. You and me — we’re headed towards a killing spree.
After half a lifetime of thinking it was either a special power possessed by only a select few, or a strange sensory birth defect that generally didn’t interfere with my life, I discovered it was a thing.
Not all words, and not all the time — only particular words and only really when I pay attention to it.
Months of the year, for instance, each appear as a particular color when I visualize them in my mind. So detailed, in fact, that June and July are both red, but different shades.
All the letters of the English alphabet are colored, too, but strangely, not the Hebrew alphabet. Some letters are (Aleph is white like “A”), and some aren’t. If I were a neurologist, I’d probably study that, but I’m not. I’m just the handicapped super hero with a colorful dictionary in her mind.
What’s particularly interesting to me, though, is how words can change color when they are paired with another.
Prickly is white. But pear is yellow. Prickly pear is white. Why?
I have no idea.
Home is red. But go is green. Go home is “green.” Does my mind automatically prefer the verb? Does the adjective always dominate?
Fear is a word whose color I’d like to change.
If I could somehow convert fear from that rusty-tinted brown orange to a vibrant hot pink with purple polka dots, I somehow believe that my perception of fear might change, too.
Can you really be terrified of a word that is hot pink with purple polka dots?
What if, indeed, the secret power of synesthesia is the ability to use color to change the way you perceive ?
Change the color of a word in order to manipulate your world?
But some nights — especially Thursday nights (the Israeli equivalent of Friday night) — I’d rather be out at a swanky city bar with friends on my way to a Friday morning hangover than hovering over the bathtub trying to convince a screaming five year old that I have not even put shampoo in her hair yet, let alone allow it to stream into her eyeballs.
On nights like these, I am thankful for my remaining sense of humor.
So I could finish washing the dishes in peace, I told my daughter she could go to her room and pick out five Playmobil figures to bring in the bath with her.
(Washing the dishes in peace is my sad sorry pleasure on this particular Thursday night.)
When I met her in the bathroom, this is what I found.
When I was a little girl, I would swing high on the swings next to Rachel or Lisa or Debbie who would be fisting two Twizzlers while simultaneously reaching with their feet for the moon.
Rachel or Lisa or Debbie would say, “I love Twizzlers so much.”
And I would say snidely, “If you love them so much, why don’t you marry them?”
There is a period between the ages of 6 and 7 in which this is the response to pretty much any sentence containing the word, “love.”
And while it’s easy to shrug this off as an immature, but age appropriate reaction to the word “love,” I’d also like to suggest that it also demonstrates a need for a word or expression that illustrates how one can love something inanimate so very, very much.
Is that really love?
Or is it something else?
I need a word for when I want to make out with good writing.
Last night, I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s short story collection, “After the Quake.”
As I do when I finish all of Murakami’s work, I sat in bed and absorbed the final words of the penultimate sentence in the book.
His writing does that to me.
It makes me want to bathe in it.
Soak up every last character description; every musing; every carefully thought-out analogy or metaphor.
In this particular instance, I was so grateful to Murakami because I have been struggling with a particular element in my own writing — how to describe the way music makes me feel. How to show, and not tell, how a character may be transported back in time in an instant at the first note of a song or by the tapping of certain keys on a piano.
Music plays this very role for the main character, Satsuki, in Murakami’s story, “Thailand.” A driver who picks her up at the airport slips a cassette tape into the car stereo and in an instant Satsuki recognizes the jazz tune “with some emotion” from a record her father used to play over and over as a child.
I read the passages on this page three or four times. The first time, as an engaged reader, but the following times as a student of the craft.
How does he do it, that genius, Murakami? What words does he use that don’t sound trite?
And how does he keep the reader’s interest when the reader does not know the music that he is describing?
I struggle with this a lot — how can a reader reading about Van Morrison appreciate Van Morrison if she has never heard him?
Right now, if I could aspire to any writing, it would be to Murakami’s. He is the moon I want to reach with my feet. He is the Twizzlers I want to double fist.
In order to be adequately prepared for a colonoscopy, you need to get to a point at which your poop looks like pee.
It’s the one time in your life when yellow liquid shooting out forcefully from your butt is a WIN!
I share this with you not to gross you out to the point of leaving my blog never to return, but in order to do my part towards colon cancer awareness and, like Katie Couric (although not as gracefully) to show that colonoscopies are not as bad as they sound.
I’ll let you know on Saturday if that’s true or not since I’m heading in for my first one tomorrow.
And yes, the prep towards colonoscopy involves a lot — yes, a lot — of poop.
And no, poop blogs are not as popular as mommy blogs or political blogs, but since this is a personal blog, I decided I couldn’t receive full penetration by a camera attached to a long tube without sharing the experience with all of you.
I won’t be instagramming my IV insertion (since it’s usually a long and painful process for a nurse to find my veins), or tweeting my ease into sedative-induced slumber (because if the IV found its way in, it means it’s time to finally relax), but I do hope to encourage a few folks who have been putting off their recommended colonoscopy appointments by detailing how “not-so-bad” my experience was.
My grandmother died of stomach cancer.
I was 12 when she died, but I vividly remember her wasting away in the months prior.
I remember what my grandmother looked like before — alive, full-busted and round. And what my grandmother looked like after — suffering, yellow and skeletal.
All my life, I have been troubled by a sensitive stomach and by these images of my grandmother, and if a colonoscopy can somehow alert me to pre-cancerous polyps, I think it’s well-worth the poop.
Wish me luck.
I completed the procedure this morning after the moderately challenging prep and happy to report clean results. I will say this — reading message boards about the prep before doing actual prep (drinking a laxative mix that makes you go for 24 hours straight) scared me into thinking the prep would be much worse than it was. It wasn’t that bad. Of course, this coming from a lifelong sufferer of IBS who is not stranger to spending 24 hours on the toilet.
Bottom line: Colonscopy is a lot scarier in your mind than in reality. Get it done. I’m not scheduled for another one for 10 more years. Woohoo!
One of my dear friends turned 40 today. She was the first of my group of childhood friends to get her driver’s license, the downside of which, I said to her today, is that she also is the first of our group of friends to hit middle age.
Of course, none of that statement is true.
Our friends — the ones who celebrated her 17th birthday years ago — are now scattered around the world, and some are no more our friends than the random stranger from Kenya who friend requested me yesterday on Facebook.
And, what really is “middle age?”
Is it literally the day you turn 40 — is that truly the middle of your life?
I feel as if I passed middle age long ago. Could be that my opinion will change, but I measure time as BC (before children) and WMBBTS (when my boobs began to sag).
So I pretty much hit middle age 10 years ago.
Contemplating my friend’s birthday and hearing a familiar voice in the back of my mind, I searched YouTube for the last scene of one of my favorite childhood movies — Stand By Me.
Somehow — and I am constantly amazed at how prescient I was of the nostalgic longing that accompanies aging — 12-year-old me was certain that grown Gordie’s words in the closing scene of the film were, and would remain, poignantly, heart-breakingly true.
It’s Richard Dreyfuss’ voice I heard this morning and whose voice I hear from time to time when I consider the impact my friends from childhood had (and continue to have) on the creation that is grownup me:
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve…. Jesus does anybody?”
Grown Gordie’s son enters the study to find his father staring at the computer. The kids ask Gordie to hurry up and they roll their eyes when he (for the umpteenth time) tells them “Okay, I’ll be right there” and continues to stare at the computer monitor.
The son turns to his friend and says:
“My dad’s weird. He gets like that when he’s writing.”
I laughed, too, when I watched the scene today. I know well the “like that” of which his son speaks.
I know it as this feeling, this presence that soars into my heart when I finally grasp one of my life’s great truths — like the incomparable experience of knowing someone when you were 12 — and when I am able to transform this truth into words.
And share them.
When I can nod my head along with the cosmic consciousness in understanding.
And know for certain that you, the reader, will understand it too.
Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee, an anthroposophic community with a unique approach to intentional living, and Israel’s largest producer of organic food.
Before we made Aliyah I first learned of Harduf from my (now) friend Haviva’s article in Zeek about local, organic living in the Galilee. At the time, I was running my own consulting business in New Jersey, the main focus of which was on educational and marketing efforts in the area of holistic health and green living. When we started researching communities in which to live I looked into the possibility of moving to Harduf.
I reached out via their Hebrew web site, but received no response. And when I asked our Nefesh B’ Nefesh regional Aliyah consultant her opinion on whether she thought Harduf was a good fit for our family, she advised against it, indicating it wasn’t the best place for new immigrants unless we were all very focused on living the “hardcore anthroposophic” life.
This was wise advice.
It wouldn’t have been a good fit for our family.
But, wow, it would have been a good fit for me — in another life. And sometimes I wish we lived there.
The beautiful campus is set upon a hill which overlooks in the distance the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean sea. The residents, in the 30 or so years they have built up the kibbutz have put obvious effort into making the explorer’s experience of their home one peppered with wonder and teeming with vitality.
Harduf is itself alive.
I don’t live there, but I am lucky enough to live very close — just a 15 minute drive away. Recently, I joined the health clinic there (the physician, an M.D., is trained in both conventional medicine and anthroposophic medicine, which emphasizes homeopathy over medication.) So I’ve been spending more time there and try to build in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to wander every time I have to go there.
This morning, I brought my two youngest children over to Harduf to walk through the gardens, smell and touch the fruit trees, wander through shaded paths that lead to unexpected structures, and play on their gorgeous playground, a wonderland of thoughtful planning and handiwork.
It was a two-hour slice of heaven.
Only after playing on the playground for an hour and on our way out to the restaurant and store that is open on Shabbat did I see this sign:
The sign basically says, “Entrance to the park is forbidden to non-residents of Harduf. The use of the playground is for children supervised by parents.”
The sign was new. It wasn’t there the last time we visited.
Still the new immigrant, I couldn’t pass by the sign without a thought, leaving the rule following to others. I’m still very American, and I felt bad for a minute that we had unknowingly defied the sign.
But only for a minute.
Soon after, I was angry. Insulted.
Telling non-residents to “Keep Out!”
How could this be?
I quickly snapped a photo of the sign and ushered my kids out.
I silently generated all sorts of indignant responses to this sign:
“Oh, they’re happy to have my business at the organic vegetable market or at the restaurant, but they aren’t willing to open their playground to me and my kids?”
“What if I was a tourist? Or a visitor to one of the families who lived here? How rude!”
“Would we ever put up a sign in Hannaton telling people who didn’t live there that our playground was off limits?”
I took the kids to the restaurant, which has a quaint little gift shop inside and we browsed for a bit.
As I approached the cash register to pay, I saw the owner of the restaurant and a long time Harduf resident, Jutka, there. I don’t know Jutka well: I’ve just had a few conversations with her a couple of times that I’ve been in the restaurant. (Jutka is also the author of this family-friendly vegetarian cookbook.)
I asked her in Hebrew about the sign at the playground, “Why is the playground off-limits to outsiders?”
She grumbled in response, “It’s for security reasons.”
She didn’t mean security in the traditional Israeli way, I quickly learned. The signs weren’t a warning to unfriendly neighbors, people who might want to hurt us. Those “security risks” don’t pay attention to signs.
What I understood from her was the signs were to protect Harduf from lawsuits. They were placed there to inform people of their personal liability.
She didn’t mention specifics, but I wondered if something had happened to spark this decision.
I told her I was disappointed and a little hurt to come upon the sign. I told her that I consider Harduf a paradise, and was taken aback to see such a harsh statement at the entrance to a park I love so much.
She sighed. I understood from this and her from eyes that she’s proud of the paradise she’s helped built, but she said,
“Even in this paradise, there are reasons to be concerned. Even in Gan Eden, there was the serpent,”
Jutka said this with a sly smile. (Jutka is someone I’d like to get to know better some day.)
I breathed in deeply and nodded, her words hitting me. Even in paradise there are problems to solve; hard decisions to be made. And Harduf is no exception.
Suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore — it helped that Jutka invited us to be her guest at the playground, should anyone ask — but I was a bit disheartened: Reality bursting my bubble once again.
I shook it off — and instead accessed the gratitude I had felt for the few hours on Harduf before I discovered the sign.
“You can sense the spirit here, can’t you?” Jutka asked.
“For years and years, I thought that stories were just practice, till I got time to write a novel,” she told The New Yorker in 2012. “Then I found that they were all I could do, and so I faced that. I suppose that my trying to get so much into stories has been a compensation.”
Your words in The New Yorker were exactly what I needed to read right now, as a writer and as a human being:
As a writer who wishes to breathe life into the characters who infiltrate my dreams, but doesn’t yet know exactly what those characters really want or where they are going. As a woman who yearns to give life to ideas stirring inside my heart — but often lacks the time or the energy. As a human being who is constantly wondering what in this life is practice and what is for real.
Thank you for writing real women, real marriage, real life … in a way that allows the reader to envision the beauty that exists even in those very real, raw circumstances.
I’ll be honest. I’ve only read Runaway, and selected short stories of yours, but you’ve always been a writer I’ve wanted to read more of.
And I love your name.
It’s a name that deserves celebrity.
I love that you’re Canadian, and that my Canadian best friend loves your writing, and that those two things together make me want to read more of your stories.
I love that your first collection was only published when you were 37. It offers this exhausted and overwhelmed 38 year old mother of three a glimmer of hope.
I love that you’ve lived to be 82, and I wonder if you always knew that you would live this long or if you always thought, like I do, that you were only one year away from dying — a victim of a tragic disease or an automobile accident.
Too bad. So sad. No book for you.
I wonder when your heart stops breaking. Does it?
I wonder when you run out of vivid memories to weave into your stories.
I wonder when you stop caring what people think and just write what you must so that a weight is lifted from your shoulders, and you can move on.
I love that picture of you — the one in which you’re sitting on the edge of the railroad track in The New York Times’ MICHIKO KAKUTANI article. You look defiant, brave, and yet serene.
I wonder what takes more courage? Writing your truth or having it read by others?
Or sitting on the edge of a railroad track?
I win too, from this celebrated win of yours, Alice Munro. Through getting to know you better, I am reminded that writing about what you know is enough.
Writing about relationships, memory, your life in your town. It’s enough.
I don’t need to fabricate tales of magic and mystery. I don’t need to create a romance that is one for the ages.
My life alone offers enough content for me to mine — life itself is a gift to any attentive writer.
What would you say, Alice Munro?
To a grown woman who still imagines herself a girl?
To a writer who still imagines herself on the slow road to a Nobel Prize in literature?
What would you say?
Would you say,
Would you say,
“It was all worth it?”
“It doesn’t mean a thing?”
Oh, Alice Munro. You’ve taught me a thing or two just by winning a damn award.
Getting old is better than being dead, you said, to the New York Times reporter.
“I’ve done what I wanted to do,” you said. “And that makes me feel fairly content.”
Three people, in as many months, have told me their creative efforts are “just for fun.”
This was in the context of showing me their wares — a brilliantly crocheted flower vase or a cat carrying-case re-purposed from a plastic water jug — and me remarking astoundedly, “This is fantastic. Are you selling them?”
Each smiled and said matter-of-fact, “No. It’s just a hobby. It’s just for fun.”
Once, I had a creative hobby that was just for fun. Once.
I used to be a scrapbooker.
<Pause for effect>
Yes, for about two years, I scrapbooked. I even had a scrapbooking friend — Debbie — who took me to a midnight scrapbooking event at a local crafts store in Tucson.
It was pretty much what you imagine.
Then I had kids, and unlike many moms who go scrapbooking crazy after birthing photogenic children, I just went plain crazy. Said craziness left me no time for cutting decorative borders and captioning weekends spent at the Jersey Shore.
My one creative hobby since then, which has only increased over the years since my day work has become more marketing focused, is creative writing.
In the last two years, especially, I have become a pretty serious creative writer and even started this year submitting some of my pieces to literary publications. No published pieces as a result of those submissions… yet.
So when each of those above-mentioned creative types told me they weren’t selling their pieces — not at a crafts fair, not to fancy shmancy boutiques on the lower east side of some city — I was taken aback; impressed, actually.
And I wondered.
Would it be possible for me to write … just for fun?
Without any expectations?
Of course, I do this already.
There are pieces (many) I have written that are sitting in a file somewhere, on a floppy disk in WordPerfect 2.0, that will never see the light of day, let alone end up in a literary journal. There are drafts of posts I don’t have the heart to delete sitting in limbo in a folder on the backend of this blog. There are starts of stories I never felt compelled to finish.
Were those all “just for fun?”
Before I get too didactic, let me clarify that I’m talking about the process, here. The intention.
Can I really write just for fun? Without the hope that what I write will become more than just an exercise,; will become
The one that gets noticed?
The one that hits the right chord with the right person?
The one that gets me the top literary agent?
The one that enters me into the roster of authors that appear in a Prentice Hall Language Arts textbook?
The one that ends up sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard wrapped in a gorgeous cover with my name on it?
If “just for fun” means the same as, “for the sake of my sanity,” then yes, I write just for fun.
Or if “just for fun” means “I self-laughed a lot when I read my own blog post back to myself” then yes, I write just for fun.
But, more than anything, I write so that I will be read.
The reading by others is what makes my writing fun. This I know.