Totally awesome redefined

I’m a girl who grew up in the totally awesome eighties, so it’s taken time for me to integrate the word awesome into my system with an emphasis on awe. But as I am awakening more to the magic in my life and in the world around me, I’m finding it necessary to rethink, “awesome.”

I processed this realization as I watched a trailer of an upcoming film in which astronauts describe what many of them say was the life-changing experience of viewing Earth from space.  Shuttle/ISS Astronaut Nicole Stott (who looks more or less my generation) says, “Awe is one of those words that you have a better understanding of once you see [what the planet looks like.]  I felt like using the word awesome was totally appropriate.”

(OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.)

Listening to the interviews with the astronauts, combined with commentary from philosophers, made me think that a trip to space would be a suitable prerequisite for all youth entering adulthood. What if, instead of going to college or the military, human beings first shot up to space, gazed out at our collectiveness on this planet, and wrote a poem or a song? What if they curated a photo exhibit or painted a picture or choreographed a dance or just simply wept with understanding and wrote an essay called, “What I did on my summer vacation in space?”

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell may have been the most impacted by his experience viewing our civilization from above. Back on Earth, he later formed a non-profit institute that researches meditation, consciousness, and human potential. Mitchell says in the film trailer:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon].   But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

I highly recommend watching this powerful trailer and then letting me know what was awe-inspiring for you today. For me, it was a dream I had last night that came true a little today; it was a work opportunity that appeared at the perfect time; it was a song I hadn’t heard in 18 years but appropriately so since it only suited me today.

Some say there was a shift in consciousness that took place in 1968 once humans got a glimpse of the planet from space. And that this shift is ongoing today.

“This view of the Earth from space — the whole earth perspective — is the true symbol of this age and i believe what will happen is there is going to be a greater interest in communicating this idea because, after all, it’s key to our survival. We have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t.”  — Frank White, author, The Overview Effect

 

 

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What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world

Short Fiction

When I imagine the end of the world, I am alone at the edge of a cliff. It’s evening and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is playing on a box radio I looted from my neighbor’s basement.

If it were a movie, I’d be gazing out over the city lights of Los Angeles just as the electricity went out, as one by one the skyscrapers lost power, and the city fell dark.

A blazing comet approaches.

Or a neon green burst of light from beyond the reaches of time.

Or a giant tidal wave shimmies up the coast.

If it were a movie, my heart would swell as I accepted my fate. I would open my arms and embrace humanity’s extinction for I knew I had lived life to its fullest.

But it’s not a movie.

It’s my real life.

In which almost every day is the end of the world.

* * *

 

I have a disease without a name.

If it had a name, it would be called something like redemptionitis or zombisteria or hypotrychtapocalypse.

The closest anyone has ever come to labelling my disease was in the years leading up to the much-publicized end of the Mayan Calendar in December 2012.

Doomsday Phobia, they called it.

Anyone who stocked their basements with toilet paper and canned sardines in preparation for Armageddon; anyone who hoarded books of medicinal herbs or learned how to forage for mushrooms in a weekend workshop held in the back woods of Westchester County, NY; anyone who stocked in the back of the medicine cabinet antibiotics from their child’s most recent prescription for strep throat: We were all quietly laughed at and labeled “preppers.”

Back when it was cute, the way a touch of crazy is cute, as long as it doesn’t lead to a shootout in a movie theater.

Back then, I wondered to myself if I was on a CIA watch list. Did they suspect me? A suburban New Jersey mom of two? A college educated professional with a real job and a real paycheck?

I certainly didn’t fit the profile.

I wore Ann Taylor suits and took the NJ Transit train every day from the suburbs into the city where I walked six blocks to my midtown workplace. In our open floor plan, I had the closest thing to an office – a transparent cube looking out over the East River, made from glass walls so others could look in. It was called the Rainbow Fish Bowl because of the stickers my daughter once placed on the sliding glass door. Every other Friday, I got a pedicure at Trudy’s Green Nails on Lexington Avenue. I was in a book club. I volunteered at the preschool. People liked me.

Each day, I put effort into smiling at my coworkers as if life wasn’t about to abruptly end by Avian Bird Flu.  I’d make jokes over the phone with the sales consultants who’d ask me if I thought wheatgrass was gluten free. I played along. Drank Nespresso in the coffee room with the writers; made snide remarks with the editors about our wacky advertisers; especially the ones who placed ads offering organic MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) purported to last 15 years. Secretly, I wondered if it made sense to pay for organic canned food when the cans were probably lined with BPA.

Could my coworkers view my computer monitor, however, they would have noticed I spent half the day reading headlines on alternative news web sites, corresponding in code with people named “Zen Grower” about the latest UFO sighting over New Mexico or the best price on bulk dehydrated food. I read blogs from people living in half-completed bunkers in the mountains of West Virginia; with strangers supposedly privy to knowledge that was never reported on CNN.  “The ‘Illuminati’ kills scientists, you know,” wrote Jade, my telepathic friend. She communicates with an alien race who is trying to save us from another alien race who’s been trying to destroy us since the Revolutionary War. “All war,” says Jade, “is the fault of the Reptilians.”

I would search “new world order Russian scientists reveal underwater pyramid” and “fourth dimensional beings plot to reprogram our brains” because I knew the search results would give me the intel I required to plan. And I planned. I had one to-do list that included vaccinations, playdates, and dentist appointments. Another to-do list for the end of the world.

My day job, I guess, was a ruse.

It was a way to satisfy my compulsion and still remain a member of society. Or so says Dr. Solomon. I saw it as a healthy way to educate myself on tactics I would surely need for the post-apocalyptic world I was certain was looming. Easily-learned skills like:

  • Reiki for when we no longer had the option to see surgeons for bone breaks or muscle sprains;
  • Acupressure, which I would use in the place of the anti-inflammatories we so depended on in the Before Times for headaches and menstrual cramps;
  • Nutritional supplements and herbal teas — like Chia and Flax seeds; dandelion and feverfew — I’d grow in a rooftop urban garden, where I’d herd my children before the Flood.

Back then, I was Advertising Director of a major national healthy living magazine. I courted and secured advertisers from multiple sectors: home and garden, health and wellness, exercise and fitness, diet and nutrition. And, of course, our bestsellers: classifieds from personal vegan chefs, Hindu tantric sex practitioners and Henna artists.

I was really good at my job. I was good at selling ads because I really believed all of the service providers and multi-level marketing professionals.  When they heard acknowledgment and acceptance in my voice over the phone, they eagerly placed half or more of their advertising budget in my hands.

I understood them, after all. Their fears. Their hopes. I knew intimately what it felt like to want to survive, but more so to want to be listened to and believed.

In my own experience, though, there were therapies and products that worked, and those that didn’t. Quackery, some might say. Except in my business, we never use the word quackery. This would alienate the chiropractors and homeopaths who placed half-page color ads for their self-published e-books.

Reiki, for instance, didn’t cure me of recurring yeast infections, as promised. But my Thursday afternoon sessions with Liane, the psychic massage therapist did help identify a sugar addiction. She also told me I had powers like hers; that I could, if I wanted to, study to be a healer.

She was right. I am a sugar addict. But she was also wrong. I can’t seem to heal anyone.

I kept seeing Liane on a regular basis and even believed most of the stories she would tell me: How her client was miraculously cured from testicular cancer by shiatsu and a six-week juice fast. How her deep tissue hot stone massage helped a couple overcome infertility. How the couple now had triplets – all girls.

I believed Liane. Except for that one time she told me that my migraines were the key to time travel, and that I should stop taking the Relert when the auras came on. I also believed the magazine readers who emailed testimony after testimony to our editorial staff profusely thanking us for publishing stories that changed their lives.  I believed the clippable lists we elegantly designed for ease-of-use, like “Pema Chodron’s Top 5 Mantras for Mindful Sex.”

I believed we were helping people.

I believed the jacket copy on the bestseller of contributing editor, celebrity physician Dr. Joel Willey– a book I personally reviewed for the magazine last December — promising increased sexual desire and stamina for peri-menopausal women by switching to a vegan, carbohydrate-free, anti-inflammatory diet.

I believed it all.

Which, apparently, is a symptom of my disease.

I have a disease without a name; without a designation, but with a host of exhibiting symptoms that collectively, for the past fifteen years, I called “conscious living,” but collectively make up a manilla folder of evidence against me, sitting on an antique desk in Dr. Solomon’s office.

All these “symptoms,” which were formerly advantageous qualities on a resume when applying for a job at a natural healthy living magazine, are now being offered up as evidence of my insanity. My inability to continue as a functioning member of society.

My disease is without a name. It’s as lonely as a woman standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the world to end.

But, as it turns out, no name is necessary.

* * *

 

This work of fiction is an excerpt from an original short story by Jen Maidenberg, “What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world.”

This is best use of social media for social good I’ve seen in a long time

#Litterati

 


 
And I'm playing in Israel.
I hope you join us.

An imaginable future

When we first moved to Israel, I felt uncomfortable sitting on buses and in cafes.

I would casually look around, trying to avoid notice, to see if there were any suspicious people or packages about; not sure, exactly, what my reaction would be if I spotted one.

Over time I have found myself less and less suspicious. More at ease in public places, as it so happens, but still not at ease.

“At ease” is not a behavior I was born with — or maybe I was — and was just spooked one too many times by a mischievous friend or traumatized by too many VC Andrews novels.

The world, for me, has almost always been a scary place.

And I have almost always been easily startled.

While here in Israel, I cautiously scan the room for bombs; in the States, I cautiously scanned darkened evening streets for rapists and quiet alleys for thugs. I walked quickly through empty hallways and avoided elevators with lone men. I double and triple locked my doors, and was known to sometimes sleep with the lights on. Especially the night after The Blair Witch Project.

I remember being in a bar watching a band perform in New York City once, in the months just before 9/11 but fresh enough after Columbine to still be jumpy, and leaping off my seat at the sound of a small explosion in the back of the room. Someone’s hair had caught fire accidentally on the tea light candle intended for atmosphere, and instead of atmosphere we were treated to dramatic special effects.

After I caught my breath, I laughed out loud at my reaction, but internally asked myself what I had been so concerned about. What immediate danger did I think the noise indicated?

A gun shot?

An explosion?

A brawl?

It’s the first time I remember my unease extending from mild anxiety to a heightened concern for my immediate well-being and the well-being of others.

From then and there, unfortunately, my unease has only become gradually uneasier.

And not because my anxiety has worsened, and not because I moved to Israel.

In fact, my anxiety has significantly improved in the last decade since I started acknowledging it and paying attention to it and using focused breathing, meditation and mindfulness.

Moving to the slow-paced countryside of Israel, in some ways, has helped, too.

But no matter how significantly my anxiety has improved, the world hasn’t. Since 9/11, the way I see it, we have been witness to more violent crimes like those in Aurora and Newtown and Boston and have experienced the communal aftermath of incomprehensible tragedies like Katrina and Sandy and are becoming more and more awakened to the devastation of our planet and the resources we have taken advantage of all our lives.

And suddenly I am no longer a minor statistic in a clinical journal.

It’s not just me and my world viewed through an anxiety-colored lens.

The world itself has become anxiety-colored. The world itself is on edge.

I watched this video of grown men jumping out of their seats; seemingly reaching to hug each other at the sound of thunder booming loudly over Yankee Stadium during a rain delay.

At first, I giggled. It was cute. Funny.

And then I paused, and realized, it wasn’t funny at all.

Grown men — baseball players, even, symbols of fearlessness and recklessness — jumping out of their seats at the sound of a …

Boom!

We are living in a world in which we are now, clearly, all easily startled.

scaredy cats

I know I’m not the first to make the claim that the world is growing bleaker and blacker.

There are voices much louder than mine that have come before.

And even though my voice is not the first.

There is always a glimmer of hope it can become one of the last.

The year I was born poet and activist Shel Silverstein wrote:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

(Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein)

Those children are now grown.

Those children are now us.

And it’s indeed possible we have come to where the sidewalk ends.

And we need to choose in which direction we will continue.

We may continue to jump at loud noises, and then numb ourselves to an unacknowledged shared pain.

Self-medicating with food, technology, entertainment, drink, drugs, sex, consumerism, waste, whatever — silently signing the same consent form to ignore, to waive liability.

Or we may create together a world in which we can imagine its future.

A future not out of a dystopian film, but one lined with the vibrant green grass of my childhood memories and narrated by Shel Silverstein.

I want a future lined with colorful sunsets for my children to fall in love under.

And I want to hear thunder… and scream,

then giggle.

Knowing my fears are only imagined.