Witchful thinking

Even though I can’t situate them on a timeline, these are details I have assembled:

1. I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond after I read the Meg mystery books, but before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2. Before any book, my parents rented for me Escape from Witch Mountain on betamax from the video rental store on Haddonfield-Berlin road.

3. I tried to check out a book once on witchcraft from the Camden County library, but there were none to borrow. No how-to, no expose, no empty slot on the shelf, no card inside a drawer marked Wa – Wi.

4. Once, I was a witch for Halloween. It was the year my parents threw me a Halloween party. This year may have been 1980. It was a popular year for the witch because Maddie Schwartz arrived wearing the same molded mask and plastic yellow trash-bag apron tied around her neck. For the record, when I picture the witch’s face mask, warts and all, it looks less like a woman and more like a man. This is, at least partly, due to a photograph of my father wearing my witch’s mask, and the girls at the party laughing.

5. In the same living room in which my mother set up a folding table to hold the cheese curls and the candy corn at the Halloween party, there was a love seat behind which I hid every year during the holiday broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. I crouched down behind the love seat as the Wicked Witch of the West screamed at me from atop an abandoned cabin in a forest.

6. I wanted, when I was a girl, to meet a real witch, but a nice one. Not so nice like Glenda, more like Samantha, nice, but naughty.

7. Once, I sat in the attic bedroom of my camp friend Hope and, for the first time, met another girl who also secretly wanted to be a witch, or more specifically, wanted to practice witchcraft.

8. The Craft came out a few years too late, but I still watched it.  A few years too late, Willow and Tara made implied love during the Buffy musical, but I still watched that, too.

9. When I still lived in New Jersey, I interviewed a witch for a local newspaper called Patch.com. She called herself a Wiccan and though I may have even asked her at the time, “Why Wiccan and not witch?” I could not explain to you now the difference. I met her at the store she owned in Montclair called Mystic Spirit. At the end of the interview, asthmatic from the incense, I left both longing to be and thankful I was not a Wiccan.

10. There is not one how-to book of spells in my collection, even though once I bought a how-to book of spells from Urban Outfitters and gave it to my friend Susan for her birthday. It might have been Karin I gave the book to. It was someone, a woman who was my friend when I lived in New York, a woman who was my friend with a birthday in June.

Is it witchcraft when you a fold a piece of paper, and then fold it again, and then write numbers on the folds and wishes beneath them?

Is it witchcraft when you settle in at night and chant for health and wealth and love and ease?

Is it witchcraft when you listen to prayers sung in harmony in the hopes you will be transported out and above your self so you may have a better view of your life? A better understanding of what it is to be you?

I watch a clip on YouTube. Tia is still beautiful and Tony is still creepy, and I still, in a way, want to be a witch. And I still in a way, am frightened by the possibility I already am one.

“Come to think of it,” says Tony to his sister Tia before he begins to play the harmonica that will make the marionettes dance. “You can do a lot of things I can’t. Like working locks, and the way you can talk to me without moving your mouth.

Maybe it’s because you’re a girl.”

Maybe.

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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

My bowel, ever irritable, offered me the distinct honor of pooping in the Executive Office building of the White House where I volunteered every Wednesday morning between the hours of 4 am  and 9 am for the Clinton administration’s Communications Office one semester in 1994. 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.

I know what I know if you know what I mean

I am a reformed know-it-all.

I used to roll around in knowledge like a warm Dunkin Donut munchkin in powdered sugar. I wanted to be covered in it and then I wanted you to lick me.

Because I knew something. And if I knew it, you should know it, too. Then all our lives would be better.

My knowing has always been a well-intentioned sort.

It didn’t matter what the knowing was: At some points in my life, the knowing was boys. At others, it was Judaism or organized religion. At another junction, it was true love. And at yet another, it was friendship.

I knew what I knew and knowing it made me right. Being right made me feel safe. Not just on-the-surface safe — not the kind of safe we feel when we double-lock our doors or put on seat belts. No, a kind of subconscious, impregnable bubble of well-being that convinced me I knew people and I knew the world and I knew what should be done to make things right or better or good.

Then, something happened. Someone convinced me that there were things I didn’t know. Not only that, someone convinced me there were things I could never know — like what it was like to live during the French Revolution or what it felt like to be in the 2004 tsunami — no matter how much studying I did; no matter how much learning; no matter, even, how much listening. Some things are just unknowable because they are unique experiences. Even if, God forbid, I one day faced a tsunami, it would never be the 2004 tsunami. No matter how many videos on YouTube I watch, I am still an observer.  No matter how many poignant blogs I read, I am still only a participant in my own experience. And so therefore, there is a distinction to be made between what I know and what I know.

Once I knew this — once I knew this — I looked at life very differently. My experience of life and people changed when I understood “I know what I know” and when I accepted “I know there are things I will never know.”

There are things I cannot possibly know no matter how loving, how compassionate, how empathetic, how caring, how interested, how hungry I am. And this matters because it impacts my point of view, it affects how I see the world, people, opportunities, challenges, and risks.

My life changed because I stepped out towards life then as a curious observer; the kind of curious observer we are all born as and remain until life teaches us over and over again to be afraid.

Afraid of being out of control.

Afraid of being in danger.

Afraid of looking stupid.

Afraid of being stupid.

Afraid of being unloved.

Afraid of being unloveable.

You know the list … it’s longer than this.

This isn’t to say I am always acting as the curious observer. Today, for instance, as a man walked out into the street directly in front of my moving car, I thought immediately, “idiot!” But the curious observer now sits in the passenger seat and says, “maybe he had a belly ache and was rushing to the bathroom.” What she doesn’t say, but I know is, “Remember when you did that once?”

The thing is: the frightened know-it-all is constantly whispering from the passenger seat. Remnants of her will float up from deep inside me as ego-scented vibrational waves. Usually this happens when I am on social media or in heated conversations with my husband or my mother. The frightened know-it-all is sensitive to emotions, especially rejection and accusation. She is reactive, especially when under duress. She is only, after all, trying to keep me safe.

But she no longer can hang out there ruling like a queen bee on the playground of my life, one that is indeed filled with mines, but probably less dangerous than I perceive. The curious observer is there, too, asking questions; waiting for answers before stepping out.

 

A date with Haifa

Yesterday I took my husband to the ER for symptoms he has been suffering for over a week. Fortunately he was released at the end of a very long day and evening with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Serious, but not as serious as we thought, and treatable with antibiotics. And so … relief.

We both hate the hospital. I suppose most people do. Worse than the fear of germs for me, though, is the overwhelm I experience in the middle of all that humanity.

I’m a Real Emotional Girl.

As much as my sensitivity allows me to understand and connect deeply to people, it also is able to submerge me beneath a deluge of compassion.

I may drown there.

The ill. The ones who are afraid for the ill. The ones who care for the ill. The ones who pray for the ill. The ones who clean the toilets, the floors. The ones who secure the entrances. The ones who drive the ambulances. The ones who are too young to be there. Too old to be there. The ones who moan in pain. The ones who moan with grief. The ones too weak to moan.

Through an invisible intravenous line, they enter me.

It’s rough.

For a while there in curtained off section #17, I wrote poems and jotted down notes for story ideas. Tried to read a few pages of the book I brought with me. Scrolled social media for updates on the three kidnapped boys. Then my husband told me to leave.

“Go get lunch,” he said. But he meant, “Leave here since you are able.”

I never walk around Haifa. Never; except from my parked car to the ER or from my parked car to a doctor’s office and once from my parked car to get my Israeli driver’s license.

In fact, I have never walked around Haifa for fun. Even though I live only a short drive away, I end up in Israel’s city by the bay for appointments or by surprise. And not the kind of surprise you look forward to.

I’ve never explored Haifa even though the views are known to be incredible.

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Without much hesitation, I did as my husband instructed. I knew I could use some fresh air, especially since an orderly had just rolled in a new elderly patient who looked as if she was on her way to meet the Maker.

I walked down quiet Smolenskin Street where I had parked the car, past old-school Israeli apartment buildings, some with beautiful gardens.

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

and momentarily felt uplifted. I traveled by foot up to Horev Street where I got an hafooch and a cheese croissant at Roladin. I hadn’t had much of an appetite all day. I think the worry finally hit my belly.

I wandered in and out of a few shops, met a Tarot teacher, spotted a Tibetan bowl I liked (hint hint: possibly a birthday present for me!), discovered the Rabbi Yosef Dana steps

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

And, most unexpectedly, stumbled upon a small shop inside a mall on the corner of Horev and Gat, a small corner of which was stocked with used books. A whole shelf full of English titles! From Umberto Eco to VC Andrews.

used book store in haifa

I was in the middle of debating whether or not to buy Paul Auster’s Oracle Night when my husband called asking me to return to the hospital. I quickly paid for the book based solely on the jacket cover copy and the title (I’m a sucker that way for marketing). Only when I got back to his bedside did I read the first line of the book in a bit of astonishment:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore.”

It stopped me. Compelled me to look over at my husband with a bit of concern. I’m susceptible to coincidence that way in the same way I’m sensitive to the swarm of human emotions.

But he looked okay. Better, even. I wrote a note to myself: Sometimes all is well. Sometimes all is now. Sometimes all is here.

What I meant was: Sometimes if it looks like it’s going to be okay, it actually is.  No matter what upset is happening inside the region of your heart.

My husband further allayed my concerns by sitting up and chatting a bit with a me for the first time in a week.

When the doctor came by with a diagnosis (not as severe as we feared) and with a release form to leave the ER, I turned with relief to my husband and smirked, “Thanks, hun. That was the best date I’ve been on in a long time.”  My husband gave me a half smile. He knew what I meant. He’s sensitive that way.