Putting out fires at almost 40

Honesty bursts forth from me in fits, in starts.

This is 40.

This may not be 40 for you.

I realize, for you, this may be 43. Or 38. or 67.

I don’t know if it’s temporal, situational, or hormonal, this shift.

It certainly resembles the week leading up to my period with its moodiness, its gentle swaying between certainty and confusion.

There are moments, for instance, when I can’t speak anything but the absolute truth; even when I know it will hurt, even if I know I will pay.

There are moments, too, when I slip into a dark tunnel, the Hadron collider of womanhood: understanding that I can’t have both what I want and what I imagined I wanted years ago. They can’t live together in my world of almost 40. They will combust there together and set me on fire.

The kind of fire that burns people.

I can’t stretch my arm far enough down to reach the me who slipped behind the back of the sofa. She’s choking on dust bunnies down there, but I can’t reach her.

I almost don’t even want to.

“Sorry!” I yell to her; the one who dreamed of lots of babies. I leave her with the dust bunnies, and run off instead to play Hickory Dickory Dock.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Husband Envy

It’s not the first time I daydreamed I was

Nicole Krauss, authoress

all-around good

woman good Jewish but not so Jewish

writer I could aspire towards

and as a matter of curiosity

exactly one day

(perhaps only hours!)

older than I.

But today most of all

when I learned husband

Jonathan

Safran

Foer

(even his name sounds groovy out loud with line breaks forcing teeth against my lips)

cuts up old books to make

new books

Fresh! Magical!

I thought I couldn’t stand to

be me another day

I just want to be Nicole Krauss

just to be married to a man

who thinks up cutting up

old books to make new ones

who writes books called

Extremely Loud

Incredibly Close

and then writes a book

about not Eating Animals

because sometimes he

doesn’t eat them

out of kindness or conviction

and then – to top it all off with an all-natural maraschino cherry –

lives in Park Slope and wears

smart but sexy glasses.

I imagine him sitting there

next to her

at a wooden desk in their house in Brooklyn

(the desk was his

found at an antiques shop in New Paltz)

separating their two laptops is an

antique robin blue typewriter

maybe even with Hebrew letters like

the one I drooled over but

didn’t haggle over

(4000 shekels!)

in the artist’s colony in the Golan Heights.

There is an imposed silence every week day

in Chez Safran Foer Krauss

from 8 am to 12:45 for

Writing Time.

They write and write and write

while sipping organic espresso

a matter that is serious to both of them

but they’re considering giving up

because of stomachaches.

On Wednesdays they listen to

Van Morrison for inspiration.

On Fridays he makes her a spinach and goat cheese omelette

and takes out the recyclables

and this is their life

I imagine

unless one of their kids is sick –

then she is downstairs

on the couch watching

Phineas and Ferb and

gritting her teeth in

frustrated agony

the way writers who are also

mothers grit their teeth.

She considers calling the nanny

but she won’t while he is upstairs cutting up

old books

to make new books

new stories.

She’ll wait.

Or that’s what I’d do.

Wait and wait and wait

and grit teeth

until Wednesday when the fever breaks

and she takes

her laptop

to the café down the corner

and stays there

til the sun goes down

til closing time

so he can sing the kids to sleep

and she can see if her Wikipedia page

is longer than his or

for once write a novel on the napkins

like she’s wanted to for

the last three years

and glue them together

with Juicy Fruit gum.

Fresh! Magical!

Sometimes, she writes

in her journal

how she wishes the internet would break

so she could start over

and find the wooden desk

in New Paltz first.

Or marry a carpenter.

And this is when

I understand why

she is keeping her name

and writing poetry again

and practicing the Law of Attraction

on the door to the cafe

daydreaming it’s a portal

to that kibbutz she volunteered on

in the summer of 1990-something

a kibbutz in the Lower Galilee

a lemon tree in the front yard

that looks remarkably

like the one I see

through my bathroom window.

While we’re at it, let’s blame menopause and extramarital affairs on Gwyneth

“Ever since Gwyneth Paltrow became famous in her early 20s, she has made women feel bad about themselves…” begins Jessica Grose’s article in Slate this week.

Ouch.

This makes me want to write something along the lines of how ever since Jessica Grose starting writing articles in Slate she’s made celebrities feel bad about themselves.

Except I don’t know Jessica Grose.

I don’t know anything about her.

In fact, while I may have read her articles on Slate before, I don’t remember any in particular.

It’s not a jab. It’s just to illustrate how little I know her.

Which is why I can’t imagine laying blame on her for feeling bad about myself.

What has Jessica Grose done to make me feel like an unattentive mother, unaffectionate wife, less-than-compelling blogger?

(Oops. Did I just overshare?)

It’s not that I don’t get the point — how the media, let’s say, perpetuates an unattainable image of women or mothers. But blaming the media is very different from pinpointing one particular celebrity, especially one who actually has made it a point to do GOOD in the world.

It’s mind boggling to me. I feel compelled to defend Gwyneth, except I don’t know her.

But what I do know is that Grose’s article didn’t inspire in me a feeling of comraderie.

It made me feel sad for Grose. And for women who truly ascribe their feelings of inadequacy to female celebrities.

The accusations against Gwyneth, in particular, continue throughout Grose’s entire piece, which was sparked by the recent announcement of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s split. Grose shames Gwyneth (not Martin, by the way, but Gwyneth) for how she chose to announce her separation. The language she chose to use. The means by which she communicated it.

As if getting a divorce and having to actually ANNOUNCE it wasn’t bad enough.

“Underneath that psychobabble,” Grose writes, taking issue with the phrasing “Conscious Uncoupling,” “is the message that goes along with all Goop productions: Even Gwyneth’s separation is better than yours…”

Is that what’s underneath the “psychobabble?” Really?

I didn’t get that at all. Perhaps if I was in the middle of a messy divorce, I’d be envious of couples who seem outwardly to be approaching separation maturely.

My response? I actually considered for a minute or two that Paltrus mag cheatingow and Martin might be trailblazers.  Better coverage of “conscious” uncoupling than the ugly divorces we normally expect from Hollywood.

Unless, of course, we want celebrities to feel heartbreak and pain because it makes us feel a little better about our own.

The truth is finally spoken out loud at the end of the article when Grose writes of Gwyneth and another celebrity mother, “Their stories are meant to make mere mortals feel inadequate.”

Huh?

I may be susceptible to the “new-agey psychobabble” Grose mocks (I used to be on Goop’s mailing list), but I am under the impression that Gwyneth Paltrow is as mortal as the rest of us are. Maybe even moreso, since she is living her life on a worldwide stage.

Could be that I was won over by the restaurant scene in Notting Hill

but I operate on the assumption that even famous actresses feel shame, anxiety, humiliation, fear. I don’t see any reason to perpetuate the stereotype that they don’t.

My takeaway from Grose’s article is not an urge to join a rallying cry for honesty in media. It’s not a desire to band together as “normal moms” with limited budgets to spread rage about the injustice of personal trainers or nannies or vegan chefs.

I just feel sad.

For women who feel so disconnected from themselves that they have to look to others as perpetrators of their unhappiness.

Women who feel compelled to publicly shame other women, through blogs or through gossip.

And for this reason, I almost didn’t write this blog. I worried that by writing this post I was doing the exact same thing Grose was with her piece on Paltrow.

And then I remembered intention.

And how intention, God willing, often shines through, even when the language we are using may be misconstrued as branding, marketing, or public relations spin.

Gwyneth’s intention — even though I don’t know her personally — came through loud and clear to me in the quotes attributed to her yesterday.

She’s not looking to hurt or attack anyone. She’s not looking to rebrand marriage or divorce or motherhood.

She just thinks before she speaks.

Before she acts.

That’s what came through to me.

She thinks before she speaks.

And this is a brand I’m happy to be an early adopter of.