Family, Letting Go, Love, Making Friends, Memory, Modern Life, Relationships

Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

Books, Childhood, Writing

From the eyes of Mrs. Murry

Meg’s mother picked up the pair of brown tortoise shell reading glasses from the top of the bedroom dresser. She gently put them on and leaned in to study her face in the reflection. Cocking her head to the right, she removed the pair, placed the chewed earpiece in her mouth, and sucked the grooves in between the teeth marks. Only then did she notice the smudge on the lens. Instinctively, she reached for a tissue to wipe it away, but a second later reconsidered. It might be — most likely would be — the closest she’d ever come again to holding her husband’s hand.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

= = =

This was the result of an exercise I took part in yesterday at The International Creative Writing Conference at Bar Ilan University, sponsored by the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program. Part of a hybrid literature workshop with Marcela Sulak and Xu Xi, participants were invited to be inspired by the technique used in Jenny Boully’s Not Merely Because of the Unknown that was Stalking Towards Them. Consider the perspective of a secondary character in a book you love. Write a scene from that perspective. This was spontaneous and fun for me — considering A Wrinkle in Time from Mrs. Murry’s point of view.

If it sounds fun to you, too; try it! And post a linkback in the comments below.

Childhood, Family, Love, Memory, Writing

Blogger challenge: My ideal hours would be …

Sitting on the carpet combing tracks down your long brown hair with a blue-handled brush —

Sitting on the carpet across from your wrinkled hands shuffling cards for a game of Gin —

Sitting on the carpet with my knees tucked inside my nightgown, mouth cartoon-like forming the words,

“Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya.”

Little you giggling —

Sitting on the carpet by the sliding glass door where the morning sun warms me like a cat napping.

You there, reading the Wednesday paper on Sunday, butt up in the air. You there, coming in from the market with bunches of brown paper bags, no handles, filled with Pepsi Free and Herr’s potato chips.

You. You. You.

*

Lying in bed on the top bunk in a wood cabin in Maine, you pushing my mattress up with your feet.

Lying in bed in the dark before midnight, phone between my pillow and my ear, you strumming the opening chords to “I Will.”

Lying in bed next to you watching Clueless, high on the Percoset you crushed into my black tea with honey —

Lying in bed just after the kids fall asleep, but just before I’m too tired to talk about my day … and yours.

You there, looking over at me, wondering what to do next. You there, proposing a back rub.

You. You. You.

*

You, your back to me, dancing drunk to Blues Traveler.

You, your back to me, roller blading down F Street.

You, your back to me, stir frying chicken strips in Teriyaki sauce, Billie Holiday singing “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

You, your back to me, on the beach behind Dolphinarium, music too fast for slow dancing.

You there.

*

You on your belly, too old anymore for Playmobil, for running over Roman soldiers with a Greek chariot —

You in the winter sun, face painted like an 18th century whore, dancing with ten other five year olds to “Gangnam Style.”

You leaning down, button nose towards the purple poppy, sniffing it the same way your father did when I fell in love with him.

You, head of curls on my lap, breathing with ease once again. You there, scent like shampoo.

You there. You. You. You.

= = = =

This post is in response to a Blogger Challenge proposed by friend Kronfusion. For more posts on #idealhours, check out the hashtag on Twitter.

Community, Letting Go, Love, Memory, Writing

Tell me a secret I don’t already know

Almost as much as I am fascinated by memory and by man’s search for meaning, I am insanely curious about secrets. I’m fascinated by why we keep secrets, and what happens when they’re exposed.

But I am also very, very afraid of them.

Not just mine. And what may happen if and when they are revealed.

But yours.

Your secrets scare me, too.

I’m deathly afraid of the unknown.

Of the uncertainty of what you might someday show or tell me.

Will it hurt me? Change my beliefs about you? About people? Will your secrets make me sick to my stomach?

Knowing how scared I am of your secrets makes me desperately want to keep mine safe from view.

* * *

What I mean by secrets:

The things we think at 3 am

The feelings we feel, but hardly ever show or share

The desires we have that we’re certain we’d be tarred and feathered for if we were found out.

All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.

This is what I think will happen when I think about sharing my own secrets. And maybe I’m right. Certainly some of them, if shared, would bring about moderate to severe consequences.

But not all of them. Some would liberate me. I just know it.

And yet, I keep silent.

* * *

I’ve had conversations with friends, acquaintances who insist they have no secrets. As if the keeping of secrets is scandalous in and of itself.

They insist even harder when I push them that their boyfriend/spouse/partner certainly keeps secrets. No way, many of my friends have said to me.

“He’s a regular guy. What secrets could he possibly have?”

I try not to smile an arrogant smile. Though sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll argue the point.

We all have secrets. 

Especially the regular guys.

Not all our secrets are Melrose Place-worthy; not all of them would necessarily damage our reputation; or disrupt our lives if revealed. But they are secrets nonetheless, and they weigh on us.

Some are low-spoken whispers in the inner ear:

“You’re stupid.”

“This will never work.”

“You’re doomed.”

“He doesn’t really love you. He never did.”

“If she really knew, she’d never speak to me again.”

Some secrets are roadblocks. Others are dams holding back figurative flood waters.

Some secrets are background noise. Garbled truths we never quite admit to, but haunt us.

Some are stories we’ve told ourselves so long we no longer recognize them as secrets. We believe they are real.

Everyone knows already, we think to ourselves. Why bother sharing them?

But they don’t know.

Or they do, but they need you to say it out loud.

“Nothing,” writes Paul Tournier, “makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

* * *

The best of what’s been written on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by drug overdose was Tom Junod’s op-ed in Esquire magazine. In trying to capture what drew us all into Hoffman’s character roles, Junod writes:

He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose, I was sick to my stomach. His secret made me sick. I won’t deny it.

The thought of him there in the bathroom. The thought of his wife; his children left behind. The shame. All the shame.

But within hours, my sick turned to compassion. To understanding. To love for someone I never knew.

Secrets are funny creatures. They soften and sweeten us in a way.

Not all of them, but maybe most of them.

Allowed into the light, liberated secrets prove not to be little monsters. But offspring of the human condition.

More commonplace than we realize.

In fact, there is a gift in the reveal of secrets. For sharing them shows others they’re not alone in their suffering.

* * *

This is what I do here, with you.

I liberate my secrets … a little.

I do it under my own name — on purpose.

I dare myself.

I work my “brave muscle.”

And most days, you are kind in return.

Proving my hypothesis. Allowing me to creep closer to freedom.

I hope I offer you some relief in return.

I hope you feel a little less alone.

Uncategorized

Dance as a writing prompt?

My new friend Miriam is a long-time professional dancer and choreographer. I met her in a writing workshop at Bar Ilan University and have enjoyed hearing her tales of dance, particularly those she found herself in while living in far-flung areas of the world foreign to me.

But yesterday, Miriam surprised me even more when she led our group in a movement exercise designed to be used as a writing prompt.

Movement as a writing prompt?

While I’ve sometimes walked around outdoors as a way to move past writer’s block, I never would have guessed that following simple guided instructions on how to move in space would bring such a wealth of content to the surface …and so quickly.

The experience for me was remarkable. While in it, I was singularly focused on following Miriam’s instructions. But as it turned out, my body’s movement allowed my mind to relax … and open up to new ideas.

In the final of three exercises, Miriam instructed us through a series of varying movements during which we were to write our name in the air. For the final movement, however, we were to present ourselves to the group, then write our name in the air.

jen

I noticed a grave difference between how I felt when I moved independent of the group and wrote my name in the air, and how I felt presenting my name inside and to the group. The difference was physical. An ease that accompanied my independent movements … a stiffness that showed up once I faced the group.

This physical discomfort stirred inside my creative space afterwards, when we sat down for ten minutes to write.

And it was this discomfort that became a poem that I dare to share with you…

The Group.

Take care with my bare heart …

With the me out there.

===

 

Me Alone Meets Me Out There

Will I always be two Mes?

The Me alone and the Me out there?

When I am Me alone, fast or slow, I am me.

Giggly, thoughtful, silly me.

When I am Me out there, within without, I am not me.

I am a stilted lilted version of me.

A me wrapped in bubble wrap.

A me on display.

I am cute, a hoot, but not a whole

Me.

I wish the two Mes would meet one day

On the street, on the stage,

in the office, on the page

And decide to become one.

The Me alone

and the Me out there.

Easy peasy pair.

==

(All content, including poetry, is original — unless otherwise noted — and copyright Jen Maidenberg.)

Work, Writing

Genius in a bottle

I hit my head this morning. Hard. On the corner of the stackable washer/dryer in the very tight space that is my bathroom/laundry room.

After the stars stopped spinning, I waited.

What was I waiting for?

A stroke of genius.

My flux capacitor.

The only thing that came was a golf ball size lump on my forehead.

Lucky enough, I’ve remained conscious since and can see straight enough to write this post.

But sadly, my knock on the head didn’t wake up any sleeping idea.

Except this one …

Not only are we always half expecting that one day our great idea will come to us, but

we are also always half expecting it will come to us quite by accident.

 

 

Letting Go

How peeling eggs turned me into Ralph Macchio

I think the majority of the world falls into two camps.

People who don’t mind peeling eggs. And people who hate it with all their might.

Peeling eggs, for me, is torture.

It’s a slow torture, too.

It’s painful to my senses. The uneven, unexpected cracks that may or may not lace the eggs once they come out of the pot. The stretch of the skin as you pull off the hard, cracked outer shell.  The rubbery touch and feel of the skin beneath. All the small left over pieces that you can’t easily scrape off your fingertip.

I can hardly stand it.

What I like even less about peeling eggs is the amount of time it takes, and the fact that each egg must be peeled slowly and with care. This isn’t so bad if you want just one egg, but becomes more of a nuisance if you need to make egg salad …and much more of a pain if you are making egg salad for a party of 10 or 15 people.

That’s a lot of eggs to peel.

But what I like even LESS is when a piece of shell pulls off with it some of the meat of the egg white.

Grrrr… and you’re left with a very deformed, less than perfect, certainly not whole, egg.

As a borderline perfectionist, this truly is almost more than I can bear.

But I bear it.

Over the years, I have been given a few tips on how to peel eggs easier. (“Wait til they’ve cooled. Do it quick while they’re still hot. Crack a hole on each end and blow into it first.”)

No matter what the technique, it still is a process I wish I didn’t have to go through.

But I do it anyway.

Mindfulness comes in handy in these situations, I have found.

Unless you don’t mind chomping on shells, peeling eggs requires extraordinary presence and patience.  You need both hands to peel and you need a careful eye to search and find the leftover pieces of shell on the egg.

You need to be with the egg.

You can’t be typing a text to your husband or responding to an email from your boss.

You can’t be changing the baby’s diaper or sitting on the toilet.

You can’t speed through it — unless you don’t mind peeling half the egg off with the shell.

And you can’t do it in front of the TV or in the dark in bed.

And if you hate peeling eggs as much as I do — you tolerate all this in the hopes that the ends will justify the means. BUT, at the same time, you are required to completely give up expectations of the outcome.

You need to be okay with the mauled, ugly egg, for instance — or you’ll be boiling and peeling eggs all day long, over and over again.

I was peeling eggs semi-mindfully today — and by semi-mindfully, I mean my emotional state was somewhere between pulling out my hair and poking out my eyes — when my 6 year old son came over and asked if he could help.

I almost said, “Thank GOD!” and ran away.

Instead, I sat with him and patiently showed him how to peel an egg. I taught him the steps, instructed him on how to peel the shell completely, and coached him on letting go of the need for the egg to be perfect.

As I heard my voice out loud, guiding him on concepts I still myself need coaching on, I suddenly got the epiphany of  “peeling the eggs”

Do you hear Mr. Miyagi’s voice the way I do?

He’s saying:

“Peel the eggs eggs

Peel the eggs

Peel the eggs …

No, no look here.

Slowly, slowly.

Peel the eggs

Peel the eggs

Peel the eggs.

Very good, Jenny San.

Don’t forget to breathe…

Peel the eggs,

Peel the eggs.”

Health, Love, Mindfulness, Relationships, Spirituality

Unconventional workout

I started running.

Yup.

I’m a runner.

A short-distance, short-time runner.

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.

For now.

Maybe it’s not enough for everyone, but it’s enough for me.

For now.

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.

Ahh….

But I think I could add a third element to my personalized workout:

Gratitude.

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.

If it’s that easy to love life, why wouldn’t I?

Want to join me?

Food, Religion, Spirituality

The beet goes on

I thought the most interesting thing about today would be the beet.

I pulled four beets from the vegetable drawer because I knew if I didn’t do something with them today they’d go bad tomorrow.

I have a strange relationship with beets.

I want to love them.

I want to savor them like my friend Allison, who once said to me,

“Mmmm…I love beets.”

But I can’t. I just can’t. At best, I can tolerate beets when they’re roasted just so and soaked in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But beets are so incredibly beautiful that I will wash them and peel them and slice them and stand over them in wonderous amazement even if I won’t eat them.

dancing beet

The red pink of beets should not exist in nature.

It should be synthetic, it is so beautiful.

The spiral designs inside a beet, however, should exist in nature.

Beet innards are exactly the kinds of puzzles that nature produces and we call God.

I love beets, but I can’t eat them.

After the beets, I tried to take a nap.

Two of my kids were sleeping: one sprawled on the couch in a beet-colored dress with wrinkled flowers on the strap and the other with his head hanging off the bottom bunk.

He fell asleep in the middle of a tantrum while I tried to soothe him with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 1, page 1.

There was a knock at the door.

It was Nachum.

Looking for my son.

I knew it was Nachum because I heard his fingers drumming on the metal railing outside.

I liked that I knew it was Nachum and didn’t mind so much that he was rousing me from my almost nap.

My son was not at home. He was at a basketball game with his dad.

I told this to Nachum. He turned around and left as quickly as he came.

I tried to take a nap.

There was a knock at the door.

It was not Nachum, but a man whose name should have been Nachum.

He was in a rumpled white button down shirt and black pants.

He had a long black beard, too.

He might have had a black yarmulke but I didn’t notice when he turned to walk away.

I was too busy remembering his smile.

I gave him 20 shekels and he was happy.

I was happy, too.

So happy, I stopped trying to take a nap.

= = =

(This post was written in less than 15 minutes. Wanna take on the Friday 15-minute challenge? Write today for 15 minutes and leave a link to your post in the comments below and tag your post 15-minute Friday.)

Letting Go, Love, Mindfulness, Writing

Easily attached

The best thing I never bought was this orange comb-brush.

my orange brush

How do I know?

Because I’ve had it now for more than 30 years.

I got it as a party favor at a girl’s sleepover party when I was six.

It’s traveled with me through 4 schools, 10 or so homes, and at least 100 handbags and backpacks.

It survived our Wheaton terrier — the one we had for less than a year — whose teeth marks are forever indented on its frame.

It survived at least two perms.

And it survived Israeli lice.

If this orange comb-brush could talk, it would say:

“You should have waited til after the bubble burst to buy a house.”

It’s a wise comb-brush.

About 15 years or so ago, I lost the orange comb-brush for a while.

I looked everywhere for it. Under the driver’s seat of my Nissan NX, inside eight or so Le Sport Sacs, behind the toilets and underneath the sinks of everyone I knew. I couldn’t find it.

Finally, I understood. It was really gone.

And so I bought the purple comb-brush. I carried it around with me for over a year until one day I found the orange comb-brush in a drawer inside my parent’s house.

I was elated. But also eerily aware that as happy as I was, I would have been perfectly okay had I never found the orange-comb brush.

I was okay.

Without the orange comb-brush.

Today, I still have both brushes. The orange returned to its rightful place in my handbag, while the purple spends most of its time lying next to my kids’ bathroom sink narrowly escaping Israeli lice.

I will never give up that orange comb-brush willingly. But I will be okay if it’s once again lost.

And while I thought for a long time, I would never feel as attached to the purple comb-brush as I did to the orange one, I notice my attachment shifting, my affinity for it growing. I see it in my memories and look for it when it’s missing.

It’s the purple comb-brush that I use to braid my daughter’s hair.

It’s the purple comb-brush that greets me in the evening as I turn off the lights to the bathroom and wipe down their crusty toothpaste from the sink.

And when three teeth from the purple comb-brush melted after someone accidentally left it on top of the toaster oven, I was really bummed.

But I kept the brush. Even though it’s deformed and not quite as useful, we still use it.

Osho writes that “attachment brings misery, unattachment brings blissfulness,” which sounds harsh except he softens his admonition with a dose of compassionate, measured reality:

“So use things, but don’t be used by them. Live life but don’t be lived by it. Possess things, but don’t be possessed by them. Have things — that’s not a problem. I am not for renunciation. Enjoy everything that life gives, but always remain free.”

And it’s this balance — between the bliss of having and the misery of not; between the misery of having and the bliss of not — that I seek.

I found it in that moment when I realized I didn’t miss the orange comb-brush so bad after all … but I was still happy to have her around again.

And the moment that I realized the purple comb-brush wasn’t just a meaningless replacement; that things change and people grow and new memories form …and new loves appear where there was once only plastic.

Food, Mindfulness, Writing

Writing prompts change the world

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.

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?

One morning, I birthed Mushroom Butt . And now he exists.

This is what’s amazing about writing prompts.

And about writing.

This ability to birth something or someone anew.

There are writing prompts everywhere masquerading as boring nothingness.

But once you name them as writing prompts, someone or something exists where there was previously nothing and no one.

And the list of possibilities for their adventures becomes endless…