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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
As we enter the period before Passover, I’m thinking about how eat, what we what, with whom we eat and why. I am meditating on freedom and gratitude.
No, actually, I am not.
I’m thinking about the store-bought chocolate chip cookie I just ate.
For breakfast. (Actually, I had a vegetable wrap first. The cookie was for dessert. Breakfast dessert.)
As I ate the cookie with deep pleasure, I thought to myself.
This is happiness.
Of course, there are chemical reasons why the cookie made me so happy; the main one being white sugar in abundance.
This I know.
And this I shrugged off.
Instead of acknowledging the sugar and the wheat and the likelihood that both would incite the candida surely camping out in my gut or inflame the inner lining of my intestines, I ate another cookie.
I think it was even better than the first.
I’m thinking about eating another one.
But first I’m blogging: To clear my proverbial throat because what I want to say is unclear right now.
What I want to say is that I spent the last two decades a bit too food-focused.
Not without good reason.
I believe, firmly, that food can be harmful. I believe that food is a direct or indirect cause of chronic illness. I believe food is addictive. Food is a commodity that corporations use to control people. Food has been made an idol that we in the #firstworld worship.
I believe food may be used to heal if used properly, but has become deified also by wellness professionals (especially those with books or vitamins to sell) in the guise of healthy living. So many of us are self medicating with chia and gobi and wheatgrass in the same way people are self medicating with xanax and marijuana and vodka on frozen lemon juice ice cubes with mitz petel (I call it “the Hannaton.” It’s amazing and totally gets me through the homework to bedtime madness.)
I consider myself a food activist, and yet I question my focused attention on food.
I question my focus.
I question it.
It’s important to question our obsessions.
For even those of us with good intentions, food has become an obsession.
And I question that.
This is what I want to say.
It’s important to have passion.
It’s important to be mindful about our behavior and
conscious about the consequences.
It’s important to support causes.
And it’s important to share ideas — loudly and powerfully.
But it’s equally important to question our motives.
And the returns on our investment.
I spent three years dairy free. I didn’t eat a drop of cow product. I read labels religiously. My motive, at first, was to nurse my son so he wouldn’t have bloody poop. After I weaned him, I kept it up because I noticed I didn’t have as much mucus in my life. And as anyone who has a lot of mucus in their life knows, mucus-free lives are happier lives. And probably less-likely-to-have-stomach-cancer lives.
Since moving to Israel three years ago, however, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to not eat dairy. Let’s put it this way. Dairy has re-entered my life with a passion. And the passion is called “bulgarit.”
We had to make an adjustment to our lifestyle. No longer was there a Whole Foods nearby to offer us 15 different varieties of gluten free bread. No longer did we have the budget to spend on those items even if there was one nearby. No longer could I find grass-fed beef. No longer could I feed myself and my kids turkey bacon for breakfast anymore. (Ironically, there is pork bacon in Israel but no turkey bacon.) Nut and seed butters are not an option for us. Therefore, the dairy. Oh, the dairy.
My point is: As my life changed, so did my diet. And so did my relationship to food. At first, this created enormous upset in me. For a good year living here, I lived with anger, resentment, and disappointment — all related to food.
I still carry some of that. I carry it on Shabbat when I go to kiddush at our community synagogue and my nut allergic son always ALWAYS hides on the playground because kiddush is not safe for him. I carry it with me in restaurants, on the rare occasion we go out, and realize there is nothing on the menu for my kids because everything comes with sesame or nuts. I carry it with me when I see the planes flying overhead spraying the beautiful vegetable fields with pesticide. I carry it with me when I hear about childhood cancer and in the back of my mind I know it’s because of the water pollution and the air pollution and the planes that fly by.
The activist in me is not dead.
She lives … but a little more quietly.
A little less all-consuming.
She allows chocolate chip cookies…for breakfast.
* * *
When I started to give up my commitment to food a little, I started to notice some things.
There is something inside activism that is closely connected to anger.
There is something inside healthy that is closely connected to unhealthy.
And there is something inside not eating that is closely connected to desperately needing to be full.
For a big part of food activism — if we look deeply and honestly — is about controlling a life that is terrifying. It’s about trying to be certain in a world that is only certain in its uncertainty.
I still believe in activism. And I believe in sharing information.
But sometimes all we have is what makes us happy in this very moment.
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!
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.
In a discussion with my mother last week, I explained to her with confidence that a group of people were surely talking about me when I left the room.
“How exactly do you know that?” she asked me.
“I just do,” I replied.
“How?” she pressed.
I explained to her that in the same way she is brilliant when it comes to data analysis or number crunching, I know people and their behavior.
It’s not my paranoia, it’s my specialty.
This is why I excel in marketing and branding — you need to be hyper sensitively tuned in to emotions and able to anticipate reactions in order to predict trends and behavior.
I like to tell people — because it’s true and a little self-deprecation is still attractive on a 39 year old who looks 34 — that I am a trend spotter, not a trendsetter.
I spotted the name Hannah, and sock monkeys, and gluten free all before they became Average Joe household-familiar trends.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
The bad part about being a trend spotter, much in the same way that it’s bad to be psychic — people tend to think you’re crazy until the moment after the trend hits the Today Show.
They either don’t listen to you or roll their eyes or … talk about you behind your back, often and with more eye rolling.
The worst part? I receive little to no vindication years later when the trend is obvious. Most people, except for my cousin Jami, have all forgotten by then that crazy Jen suggested years ago that probiotics were the key to fighting depression.
As for my digital detox, I was a little late on the uptake this time.
Only days after I finished my detox — which included the elimination of my smartphone and all computer-related activities for 2 1/2 weeks except for checking personal email once a week and Facebook on my birthday — someone sent me this smart and poignant short film about our cultural obsession with digital connection. The same day, as I returned to Twitter activity, this article from Fast Company appeared in my feed about “slow design” and mentions the digital detox trend. (Not to mention silent meditation retreats — something I’ve been doing, writing about, and suffering ridicule for over the last two years! )
Maybe my trend spotting eye has blurred in my old age, or maybe — like the rest of the world — I am too tired and over-stimulated to be spotting much of anything save for my second cup of espresso.
If digital detox has become a trend before I spotted it, so be it.
It’s good for us.
We need it.
And we need it fast.
More and more I am hearing from my friends or seeing evidence on the social media networks I somehow feel compelled to follow even though I am getting more and more tired of the content, that —
life is too fast and too hard to keep up with
Just yesterday, my poor friend on Facebook posted an urgent plea for advice:
How do you all do it? She wanted to know.
How do you all keep up with everything? Work, kids, marital bliss, friends, community, world news?
How do you all do it?
I could hear the defeated sigh that followed the last question mark.
We don’t, was my answer.
We’re suffering, I told her.
I hoped to offer her some solace, some comfort. Misery, after all, loves company.
But I don’t know how much relief company will bring. In this case, the more we see others faking it, the more “less than” we feel. And it’s so easy to fake it. It’s so easy to distract yourself from your pain and discontent.
Until it’s not.
During my own digital detox, which took place during a family vacation, I become hyper aware — just like the girl in the video — of all that goes on, and all that is ignored, around me.
I also became acutely aware and appreciative of my own presence in my own life.
It took only 48 hours of being off Facebook to be so thankful to be off Facebook.
To be relieved.
It took less time for me to be thankful to be off Twitter.
To not know what was going on in the news.
To not have to be witty or responsive.
To tune out the latest trends.
To tune out other people, and the details of their lives.
This may sound mean or psychopathic. Or at the very least, depressive.
Maybe it is.
But if it is, it’s a cultural disease that most of us are severely suffering from.
Most of us just don’t know it — or acknowledge it – yet. OR we’re still convincing ourselves that information access trumps burn out.
Or we think there is no way out.
The symptoms of our cultural disease come out in little ways, like my friend’s Facebook plea, or in a whispered coffee chat between young mothers, or in a verbal spar between embarrassed male colleagues, both overtired and fearful that they will never be able to catch up on their emails or please neither their bosses nor their wives.
My heart hurts for those men, and
I mourn the loss of my freedom.
Because that is what digital detox is — a gateway drug to freedom.
It’s just too expensive for my pocketbook right now and not trendy enough to be available to the masses.
I’m waiting, though.
I’m watching the Today Show headlines on Twitter, and waiting.
Because years ago, back when people were complaining that $5.99/pound was too much to be paying for apples, I was secretly shopping organic at Wild Oats in Tucson, Arizona, waiting for Walmart to catch up.
And hoping for a trend to hit.
Hoping that I wasn’t mistaken and hoping I wasn’t alone.
Aliyah is the Hebrew word used when a Jew moves from somewhere outside Israel to Israel. If you have been to a synagogue on Saturday, you might have heard the word also used to reference someone being called up to the Torah for a blessing. The word aliyah literally translates as elevation or ‘going up.’
My going up was from New Jersey.
Depending on how much of a Jersey fan you are, you might not have difficulty seeing how moving to Israel from New Jersey was ‘elevating.’ (I’m staying out of that debate.)
On the other hand, depending on how much of a fan of Israel you are, you might have a lot of difficulty understanding why my husband and I picked up our three young children and moved here. (I’m staying out of that debate, too.)
We are reasonably observant moderate Jews from New Jersey, emphasis on the word reasonable.
This — reasonableness — is what Israel, and the world that talks about Israel, needs more of. So, you can say, we’re contributing to that cause. When I blog from Israel, I hope to share stories that most people outside of Israel never hear. The stories of the people who live here: Our daily lives, minus the conflict, minus the politics, minus the fear.
I don’t blog often about what I do during the day when I’m not blogging. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for an investment group that invests in and develops start-up companies.
A lot of new olim (immigrants) try to break into high tech when they move here because a) it’s a great marketplace for English speakers and b) Start-up Nation is where it’s at.
Not me, though.
That wasn’t my plan at all.
My plan was to move here, get adjusted, learn Hebrew, grow an organic garden, and write a few freelance articles for The Jerusalem Post.
However, a few months after landing here a job opened up at a nearby company and the job description basically described me. My husband encouraged me to apply for the job. I did. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 1/2 years all day, 5 days a week — helping grow start-up companies.
I never write about my job because it’s not what I think about when I am not working. I like to leave my work at work.
Mindfulness, and all.
But last night, something incredible happened that is still with me today.
Two companies who I’ve worked with — portfolio companies of my employer, The Trendlines Group — won awards for best start-ups of the year. Out of dozens that were eligible, the award was offered to three companies, and two of the companies were from our group.
That in and of itself is something to take pride in — companies who I’ve worked with are now award-winning companies. But my greater pride comes from the types of technologies the companies are developing. One, Sol Chip, has created a tiny chip that harvests energy from the sun in a way that’s going to change how we use electricity everywhere from offices to farms. The other, ApiFix, has revolutionized treatment for adolescent scoliosis. It’s literally going to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young girls with severe curvature of the spine.
These are the kinds of companies Trendlines invests in — companies really poised to improve the human condition.
These are the kinds of ideas and technologies that come out of Israel.
Not just technologies that help you find your way from the bar to the post office.
But technologies that will save your life some day. If not yours, than your child’s or your neighbor’s.
Technologies that will one day be used not just in Israel, but everywhere.
Even in countries that are anti-Israel.
This. Is. Quite. A. Story.
And so, I blog about it.
You see: The Israel story — and my story living here — is even more complex than you ever thought.
When I moved to Israel, I braced myself for potential backlash from friends who, for reasons of politics or ignorance, might see my move to Israel as a statement, or worse, as a mistake.
But that didn’t happen.
What did happen was a door opened.
I got to be a part of an Israel that people who live outside Israel hardly ever see.
And I got to be someone who shares that story.
So, thank you.
Thank you for reading.
And thank you for letting me be a reasonable voice in a very noisy, and complex world.
For almost a month, I have been running for 15 minutes every day except for Shabbat.
That’s it. 15 minutes.
And it works. I finally found an exercise regimen that works.
Maybe it’s not enough for everyone, but it’s enough for me.
I’ve also committed to writing more.
Tiny tidbits here and there.
A blog or the start of a new short story or a poem for fun spurred by a random writing prompt.
I find, the more I write, the more I write.
And the better I feel.
So between the running and the writing, my physical and emotional health seems to be on the up and up.
I know because my hormones say so.
They say so by being quiet when they are normally loud.
Quiet hormones. Quiet head.
But I think I could add a third element to my personalized workout:
Gratitude, as we know, is such an energy boost. It’s a life lifter.
When we feel gratitude — the day after a violent stomach bug, or the minute after you avoided a tragedy or danger, or simple moments of love between you and your spouse or your child or your cat — we love life.
In the very moment we feel gratitude, we love life.
And loving life is all any of us ever want. It’s why we exercise. It’s why we write.
It’s why we exist at all — to love life.
So, I’m going to try to add 15 minutes of gratitude to my daily workout regimen.
I’m watching my 10 year old son move in and out of a sleep much lighter than I wish; his breath too rapid for my comfort.
So am I.
The muscles in my neck are tight. So are his.
I realize just now my jaw is clenched. His knees move back and forth; the rapid shaking an effort to release his fear and pain.
He’s home sick today.
I’m home sick today.
But his sick is of the variety that comes and goes. And while it seems as if it will never pass — especially when you are in the throes of throwing your insides up — it will, God willing, pass.
But my sick is different.
It’s not viral.
It’s not contagious.
And I can’t be sure it will ever pass.
My sick is a panic turned into a tension turning into an ache.
When my son was little, I remember remarking what a trooper he was when he was sick. The mess was often minimal — even as a toddler he would make it just in time to vomit into the toilet; he’d hardly ever cry after — and his needs were easy to address.
I would ask him, “What do you need?” And he’d say:
More water in my sippy cup.
Some toast with jam.
A new Wiggles video.
He knew he was sick. But he knew he would feel better. We told him so, after all.
But my son is older now. And his simple desire to feel better has turned into grief that the world has inflicted such suffering on him and the anxious worry that he will never feel better again.
“Why me?” my son shouts with a burst of sudden energy.
I don’t know how to help him.
I sit next to him as he finally closes his eyes and he lets me smooth his hair off his forehead and lets his head rest on the back of my palm.
I count the freckles on his right cheek.
1 – 2 – 3 – 8 – 12 … when did he get so many freckles?
I remember we used to count them one-by-one in the bath and I’d point out when there was a new one.
But that was years ago.
Years before the lump that sits in my throat. The lump that will surely turn to tears in
My son is older now.
It’s no surprise to me.
I saw it coming.
But still I am sick with motherhood
The kind of motherhood you catch when your child suddenly becomes more than a child and his needs more than a child’s needs.
The kind of sick you feel when you realize that slowly, slowly your power to heal weakens.
And he will soon need to learn how to heal on his own.
A few years ago, I took a brief, but fantastic memoir writing course with poet and writing professor, Chloe Yelena Miller. It was in this course I was first introduced to the concept of writing from a prompt.
Wow, how I loved this exercise.
Not all writing prompts work for all people — and it could be the ones that Chloe chose resonated with me personally — but, regardless, I had a lot a fun with them.
I wrote one piece about my childhood stuffed dog/bear, Floppy.
I wrote one piece about my ex-boyfriend’s family beach house.
I wrote another about a long-kept secret.
What exactly do I love about writing prompts? I’m not sure.
But I think it has to do with looking at life differently. From a different angle. Upside down. Inside out.
To see people and things in a way they’ve never been observed before. To imagine them in a purpose or a place they’re unused to.
Today, my writing prompt was Mr. Mushroom Butt.
While slicing vegetables for my breakfast stir fry, I couldn’t help but notice the cute little butt in one of my deformed mushrooms.
In an instant, I could imagine the yellow peppers as arms and legs. And hurried to arrange them and photograph the scene before it disappeared from my imagination or I got too hungry not to eat it.
The Sad and Sorry End to Mushroom Butt was born from my breakfast.
A story was born … a character, a fractured fairytale. And who knows what else? A film? A line of toys? A breakfast cereal?
3. For fun: Walk around and say “today fucking sucks” out loud. This especially works if you never ever use the word fuck in your daily vocabulary. It works exceptionally well for individuals who never read anything that has the word “fuck” in it because they think it weakens or degrades the message.
There is nothing that brings you back to the present like walking around your house in sweatpants and a ponytail shouting “Today fucking sucks.” It often works quicker than choosing to let go or sitting in meditative prayer.
And frankly, we imperfect human beings sometimes need to acknowledge the fucking sucky in the world, the sucky in today, the sucky in ourselves, the sucky in other people, and in our relationships.
When we also acknowledge its immediacy, however, we mindfully frame the suckiness.
As in: Today sucks. This moment fucking sucks.
Try it with a friend: It might make your day a little less sucky.
(And if that doesn’t work, play this Pink song at the the maximum volume and scream along like a 12 year old at a bat mitzvah.)