Love, Relationships

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.

 

 

 

Family, Memory, Uncategorized, Writing

Photographic memory

I love photography even though I’ve never been as good at the art as I might have liked; might have been. I’m grateful — seriously, grateful — to Instagram, for allowing me an outlet for the scenes I capture in my mind’s eye and feel compelled to share, but hardly ever render to my satisfaction on a traditional camera.

I took photography as an elective in high school — learned how to develop my own film (not very well), and presumably how to properly use a camera. Whatever I learned there didn’t stick, however, and now I find more pleasure in photography as a researcher than as a voyeur. Although I imagine there is an element of voyeurism to my research, as well.

I love the evidence photography provides. I love the secrets revealed. I love the accidental body of information that corroborates or undermines the collective or individual stories we tell ourselves.

As I dig up old photographs in my cardboard boxes, or in the basement storage room of my mother’s house, I’m getting an education on the people I love … and who loved me. But almost as often as questions are answered or light is shed; there are mysteries. There are, in those photographs, chapters to the stories of my life that were never told to me.

On a recent trip to New Jersey to visit my family, I discovered a photo album my mother acquired when my Bubbi died a couple of years ago. The album chronicled a European trip — the only one, I think — my grandmother took with her aunt when she was in her late forties or early fifties.

Aunt Edna (L) and Bubbi
Aunt Edna (L) and Bubbi

Though I can’t be sure, I imagine this trip must have been monumental for my grandmother, who grew up poor in the Midwest; who was a small school girl when she was forced to care for her ill mother and eventually watch her die; who was shifted from relative to relative as her father journeyed from town to town for business. Her Aunt Edna (her mother’s sister) never married, and was very generous to my grandmother over the years (it’s believed Aunt Edna made a small fortune by investing early in Xerox). The two were very fond of each other. Beyond that, and beyond the little I know about Aunt Edna (she was a school teacher and an author), I don’t know much more about the intricacies of their relationship. I do remember my Bubbi, in her younger days, often going out west to Indiana to visit Aunt Edna. I also remember once meeting Aunt Edna myself in the lobby of the hotel in Philadelphia for which my grandmother worked for many years: She was perched on a velvet-lined settee and looked like an Aunt Edna.  She called me Jennifer, as did most of my grandparents’ friends.

The pages of the photo album my Bubbi created are filled mostly by blurry, over-exposed shots of the landscape, of the sites, of the Coliseum, Venice, the streets of Paris, and presumably, the Alps. There are only three photographs of Bubbi in the album and four or five of Aunt Edna. There is one of somebody’s hand — opening up a compact, perhaps? Getting ready to put on lipstick? — as the other snapped a shot of windmills out the window of a tour bus.

bubbi in europe windmills

There are no captions. No notes on the backs of the matte photographs. No written word at all. There are a few blank postcards — one with a watercolor of Buckingham Palace; another from an Italian resort.

What do I learn about my Bubbi from this album? Other than the fact that she was more traveled than I thought, I am presented with more questions than answers.

Did she slide the photos in under the cellophane and never look at them again?

Did she take the album out, every year on her birthday, reminisce and long for a different sort of life?

Was she grateful for this trip? Satisfied? Or did it only give her a taste for more?

I knew my Bubbi pretty well as far as Bubbis and granddaughters go. I took an interest in her life while she was still with it enough to recall it. But she never told me about the trip to Europe she once took with Aunt Edna. Never recalled the windmills or the Hotel Napoleon or the view from the Spanish Steps.

Of course, there are so many stories we never share; never tell. Not even the ones we love. Not even the ones who ask.

In fact, it’s often the stories closest to our hearts we keep for ourselves.

=== === ===

 

If you liked this post, you might also like this one; also about Bubbi and about photographic evidence.

 

 

 

Books, Childhood, Memory, Mindfulness, Music, Parenting, Poetry, Relationships, Writing

My memory waited 14 years for this photo to catch up

annabel guitar may 2014

“We took our coffee into the living room. He stood at the stereo and asked if I had any requests. ‘Something Blue-ish,’ I said.

While he flipped through his records, he told me about the time he’d asked his daughter for requests; she was about three at the time and cranky after a nap, going down the stairs one at a time on her butt. He imitated her saying, ‘No music, Daddy.’

‘I told her we had to listen to something,’ he said. ‘And she languorously put her hair on top of her head and like a world-weary nightclub singer said, ‘Coltrane then.'”

The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Banks

 

Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships, Writing

The wail

As the two-minute siren commemorating Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen) began its descent, a poem began to rise.

Please take a few minutes to travel over to the Times of Israel, where it’s posted.

the half mast flag on hannaton

Uncategorized

123 days

There are 123 days left until 40.

1 – 2 – 3

and like that I will be

Over the Hill.

Which hill?

The hill there

footsteps away?

The Tel?

Tell me.

Tel Hannaton through fence, by Jen Maidenberg
Tel Hannaton through fence, by Jen Maidenberg

It’s a curious time.

This tick tocking of clock

measured quietly

uncertain

alone

without labels I’ve grown accustomed to

a “Jean Val Jean” moment in time, says my husband.

“Who am I?”

1-2-3 and I will be 40.

Over the Hill.

Not Under it.

A blessing

Not dead becomes a blessing when

1-2-3

one is 40.

Remember when dead was unimaginable, unthinkable?

When youth was a fortress of solitude with its fangs sunk into the taut skin of our necks?

Sure, there was always AIDS hanging over our upper middle class halos.

And a little bit of cancer.

But now there is cancer

of everything.

It ate away at the fangs of youth — replaced them

Sunk into Breast. Stomach. Skin.

Now, there is the echo of anomaly

Brain. Lung. Ovary.

“What’s that?”

A tag. A growth. A lump.

1-2-3 and you become

Much too aware.

Too much care taken in the shower

soaping up lathering up the sides of once-breasts

Too much care taken in the reflection

smoothing sprouting silver down

Too much care taken in front of a lens

facing right, facing left, facing the side with less shadows.

Filter me.

1 – 2 -3 until 40.

Over Under but what about

On the Other Side

Kibbutz House by Jen Maidenberg
Kibbutz House by Jen Maidenberg

I hold out hope

that walking through the door of 40

is like opening the front door of the Gale farm

after a wicked storm.

1-2-3

technicolor works its magic

and life becomes more richly lived

in never before seen hues of

yellow green and blue.

* * *

 

Like my filtered photographs of Israel? Follow me on instagram for more. 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams, Letting Go, Mindfulness, Writing

Art of attraction

Art begets art, don’t you think?

Of course, we may disagree on the definition of art. But I find the more I notice, the more I notice.

The more I write, the more I photograph, the more I dream.

The more I read, the more I feel, the more I write.

When you open up — even just a little — to noticing and noting, you are actually working your art muscle.

What I say is not new. It’s not an original thought. Many more experienced at attracting art have said it before I just did.

But I notice it happening to me.

I see poetry in my photographs, and color in my poems. The art of one lends itself to the other, and suddenly I feel as if I am getting somewhere.

swoosh

It’s not that I am a constant rushing stream of good art. Some of it is just purge.

Pages filled with strike outs.

I look like this sometimes.

selfie beat poet

But then I laugh at myself. At my #selfie.

And I share it with you.

And my nervous heart strengthens a bit when you laugh along with me… in the knowing fully that you understand I’m half joking.

* * *

There’s something that gets in my way, though.

Thinking. Too much thinking. About getting somewhere with my art.

This, too, I notice.

It’s like that moment when I realize I am lucid dreaming and I know if I think too hard about it, I will wake up. So I try not to think — just breathe, I say — but this in itself is thinking.

POP!

Out of the dream.

Or, more simply, it’s like losing your cross-eyed stare once you finally become aware of the 3D image in a Magic Eye design. I see it! You cry. Then,

POP!

Back to staring at blurry peacock feathers.

What’s the real magic trick?

Minding your thinking, I suppose.

Noticing it, yes, but allowing thoughts to float away as easily as the 3D Magic Eye design.

Blur it away on purpose.

Master this, and become a Master.

Climate Changes, Community, Culture, Environment, Family, Living in Community

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.

Politics, Relationships, Religion

The dichotomy of a bug

Lately, I find myself seduced by bugs.

bug
Photo by Jen Maidenberg

On the one hand, they’re so, so ugly.

So disgusting.

I don’t want them anywhere near me.

And yet, I can’t get close enough.

I want to examine them. Study their intricacies. See how they’re made. Gaze into their eyes.

I’m fascinated by their beauty. By the very clear and intentional design of their wings, their backs, their stingers.

Who made bugs so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

I often ask myself the same question about religion:

Who made religion so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

Who made it so I could find solace and comfort in prayer and community, while at the same time feel so ashamed at the behavior of  my community leaders and fellow members?

Who made religion so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?

Who made it so I could be so energized and enlightened by religious texts, and so confused and hurt by their antiquated, yet still upheld laws?

Who?

Who made it so beautiful?

Photo by Jen Maidenberg
Photo by Jen Maidenberg

So ugly?

At the same time?

And, perhaps the better question is why…

What purpose does this dichotomy serve?

Family, Love, Mindfulness, Parenting

My life in pictures

When I was a girl, I imagined my life a movie.

In fact, I have a few distinct memories of moments in which I felt very present to the experience of being watched.

This makes me sound crazy. Paranoid. Egotistical.

I know.

But, nonetheless, every once in a while I’d be walking down the street with a friend or engaged in a song and dance with my brother, and suddenly sense an observer.

I’d look around. Nobody was there.

Over time, I resolved this to be an inexplicable sensation I labeled, “My life in pictures.”

Now, as an observant adult, as a mindful lifer, as a humbled human being awed by her children, terrified by her own mortality…I find I am a member of the audience, instead; with one greasy hand inside the popcorn box and the other gripping the side of the aisle seat wondering…

How will it all end?

Meanwhile, I’m also the excited, but cautious cinematographer.

Struck breathless by extraordinarily poignant scenes

moti penina piano

Obsessed with capturing light

lights tangled

and angles

boys in the grass

Wondering all the time if other people can see what I see…

If other people feel the love and the loss inside a half-eaten cupcake

cupcake

Or the extraordinary sadness of a broken plate

plate

I sometimes watch my husband chase the children and know that once there was someone who watched me.

Someone is still watching.

A critic, a fan, or just a curious spectator of my life in pictures.

Letting Go, Living in Community, Love, Making Friends, Mindfulness, Relationships, Spirituality

Life is hard work and other things that make me feel tired, but alive

I am struck by the pictures my friend Holly is sending back to us from Hong Kong and Vietnam.

See more http://instagram.com/theculturemom
See more http://instagram.com/theculturemom

She’s feeding her wanderlust with banana pancakes, dim sum, and gorgeous panoramas, while feeding our desire for travel photography “porn.”

I love instagram.

Almost in the same moment that the drool drips down my chin,  while mesmerized by the lush green mountain ranges and Buddha statues, I long for the eyes through which I saw Israel in the first months I lived here.

The virgin immigrant eyes.

The virgin immigrant heart that burst with joy each and every day…at the beauty of this land; in curious awe of her people.

Cochav Hayarden, March 2012
Cochav Hayarden, March 2012

When we first made Aliyah,  every drive was emotionally equivalent to a stroll through an art museum; every hike through a national park was a new adventure in a foreign land.

Every day I would find myself saying out loud: “Do I really live here?”

And I meant it in the same way a mother whispers over her newborn baby, “Are you really mine?”

Two years after making Aliyah, I find that my eyes and my heart are still capable of wonder.

But  it’s an experience that does not come as naturally and as automatic as before.

I need, instead, to make those moments happen.

And that takes a lot of work on my part.

I need to see the trash fire in Kfar Manda

smoke in kfar manda

— and turn my anger into compassion, and then activism.

And that’s really hard.

It’s much easier to be angry.  To rant. To shake my head.

I need to remember, in a moment I feel frustrated by my community, when I am outraged by their seeming indifference to the trash that peppers our fields

how grateful I am for my community.

How my community supports me.

How my community allows me the freedom to be a Jew in Progress. To be curious. To be a novice at living in this country.

Acknowledging my community as a gift, however, is really hard work when I am stuck in a moment of discontent.

It’s much easier for me to assume. To judge. To wish myself away from here.

It’s really hard work — and a huge emotional commitment — to be present in your life all the time.

To notice. To stop. To redirect. To be who you want to be, not your raw-emotion-of-the-moment.

It’s exhausting — living your best life.

It’s much easier to feel alive when you are on vacation — separate from the drudgery that often clouds your intentions.

It’s much easier to feel alive when you are first in love; experiencing a newness; your senses overwhelmed by glorious colors and smells.

I recognize this.

And I acknowledge that some days I am too tired to live my best life.

But on the alternate days — the ones in which I work hard for happiness, the ones in which I allow my heart to be open and my mind to be free — I find beauty that surpasses any landscape, any painting, any colorful market scene.

A vacation awaits me.

In my regular boring life.

And yours.

Community, Family, Living in Community, Love

A woman on the brink of death

(This was originally posted on the Times of Israel)

Sometimes I imagine I am a woman on her death bed.

How else to explain the sense of wonder I have the minute I pull out of my driveway each morning to head to work?

Before I even leave the boundaries of my small community in Northern Israel, my head turns from side to side looking out the car window for a sign of nature’s wonder.

Morning light breaking through a stunning cloud formation overhead.

cloud formation

The sun rising over the Eshkol Reservoir.

sun over eshkol

The first kalanit popping up in the fields lining the road into our neighborhood.

kalanit

Who else does this but a woman about to die?

Sometimes I catch myself imagining I am her — a woman on her death bed.

I am paralyzed. Frightened.

Could it be true?

What if it was?

And then I laugh with the realization that it is true.

We all are.

We are born to die.

And as much as we fear it, we spend our lives rushing towards it…towards death.

Rushing through breakfast; pushing the kids out the door; grabbing three different bags – a laptop bag, a lunch bag, a pocketbook – and throwing them into the back seat. We drink a to-go cup of coffee on the way. We turn on the radio and scan the words for news. News that will help us make decisions; make us feel right; make us feel wrong.

Get us there quicker.

We breeze by our coworkers; we tweet through our days. Our fingers sore from scrolling, from typing, from pointing.

Who else but a woman about to die notices the teeny tiny wren perched on the tallest branch of a pine tree across the street from the entrance to Rafael?

Who else catches through her passenger side window the hearty laugh of a teenage girl in a bronze glittery head scarf waiting for the bus to Karmiel?

Who else but a woman on the brink of demise notices the blend of hope and fear on the faces of the black men – the ones standing on the side of the kikar at the entrance to Kfar Manda — as she passes them during rush hour?

Who else but a woman about to die?

We characterize our behavior as “living,” but really we are rushing towards death. Getting there quicker, richer, righter.

Until we stop.

And in the moment we stop – in the slow minutes spent behind a tractor trailer chugging up a hill, for instance – we slow down death.

We drink in life.

Drink it in.

annabel bowling