Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ah -- the actor's life

I had lunch with Ben today. He picked me up at my office parking lot, and he drove us to one of our favorite restaurants, Havana Mania. The food is Cuban, and it’s delicious. I always get the same thing – the chicken salad. Though today it was different – tomatoes and less onions – the taste was wonderful.

Ben looks good. He was proud of the haircut he got yesterday at Super Cuts for only $17. He’s confident about the prospect of a couple of acting projects coming to fruition. So he is all smiles. We don’t talk about anything too personal – mostly about family and work and movies and the superficiality of Facebook (after all, not everything is poetry), and our mutual Facebook friends, but it’s all good. He’s a grownup now, and he needs his privacy. I respect that. If I pried too much I’m sure it would drive him away.

I just want success for him so badly it almost hurts. Like the poem I wrote a few years ago after looking at his new headshots on my computer – one shot better than the other. After all, he’s a great subject for a photographer. His face will make the photographer look good rather than vice versa.

Here’s the poem:

Twelve Hundred Head Shots

I scroll through them
one by one.
Each a full-face shot
in black and white.
His clothes change – tee-shirts,
dress shirt, tie and suit jacket,
a sweater slung over his shoulders,
a shirt with open collar and loose hanging tie.
But the poses repeat again and again.

First his face is serious, eyes slightly squinting,
looking dark and foreboding,
His hair is slicked back
not a one out of place.
This guy means business or he’s got a gun.
Next he shows a little half smile,
long dimples on the sides of his mouth
but no teeth.
Full, dark brows frame deep, friendly eyes
that reflect the light of day.
Finally he smiles wide
showing teeth, dimples,
and little crow’s feet
around the eyes. His jaw is long,
square, honest.
This is a guy
you can trust to be your friend
for life.

When this young son of mine
played tournament tennis as a boy
I sat on the sidelines at every match
with all my fingers crossed and my legs crossed
and my arm crossed
as if my body language and my wishing
could win him the point.

Now I click through the head shots
and wonder which one, which look, which outfit
will get him a part on a TV series
as a smart aleck lawyer or sinister gangster
or a part in a movie as the leading man’s sidekick
or better yet, the role perfect for the Tyrone Power,
Laurence Harvey,or Montgomery Clift type
that his new manager says he is –
the role that will find us both sitting together
at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
on Academy Awards night.
He in his Hugo Boss tux,
I in my long Armani gown
waiting, holding hands,
squeezing them together until they hurt,
until his name is called
and he goes up on stage to accept his prize.

So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed now that his projects will be successful, and he can afford a haircut in a real salon – maybe where other stars get their hair done.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm passing the purple hat

In keeping with the friends theme, a friend sent the following to me yesterday -- in honor of women's history month and in memory of Erma Bombeck who lost her fight with cancer.

(written after she found out she was dying from cancer).

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you's' More 'I'm sorry's.'

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it .. . live it and never give it back. STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!!

Don't worry about who doesn't like you, who has more, or who's doing what. Instead, let's cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A bucket list item failure

Nurturing my friends was definitely on my bucket list when I started this blog. And I haven't been successful at fulfilling this goal. I seem to be a failure both on the give and take sides. I don’t call and make dates with people enough, and when I do I give up after the first sign that connecting could be difficult.

My Thursday’s horoscope reminded me how important it is to nurture friendships, and how I’ve been a failure at it. I let work get in the way most of the time. Geography is also an issue. Some of my friends live on the other side of the city, and with my work schedule, I don’t want to or am too tired to take the time to fight the traffic for a lunch date. I also get bent out of shape if they won't make the trip to where I live once in a while. Right now I find myself at an impasse with a couple of people because they refuse to meet in my territory. As much as I want to see them and talk to them, I haven’t seen them in way too long.

Well, this piece has changed my mind. I’m going to contact them and get our friendships back on track.

Here's what the horoscope said:

"Take the time today to think about your friends. When was the last time you checked in with everybody and found out what is new in their life? Your friendships require effort to stay healthy, so make some dates with your favorite people for lunch, coffee, brunch, or maybe just a walk around the block. Impromptu socializing just isn't realistic sometimes, so plan ahead and show them that you want to make room in your life for them. They'll love to hear from you."

This is so true. Our lives are way too complicated these days to let nature take its course. We need to take the lead and proactively make things happen.

And, hopefully, keep our friends!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More poems post no. 1 -- it's about time

It's time to post some poems -- both old and new. This one came from an exercise at a UCLA class called "Misbehaving Poems." But, no worries. You had to be there!

Beware. More to follow.

Star Fishing

Today I want to tell you about variable stars.
They intrigue me because they change.
They change in brightness.
Some repeat cycles with almost clocklike precision
others change irregularly.
Some require only hours or days
to return to their starting brightness.
Others require years to change.
Yet, whether they change imperceptibly or violently
all variable stars change.

The most spectacular variable is the Nova.
It can get up to 200,000 times brighter than the Sun.
But, alas, it is temporary.
It periodically blows off a tiny percent of the Sun’s mass
at speeds up to 600 miles a second
until it loses too much mass to continue.
Whereas Supernovas brighten up to 10 billion times
the Sun’s brightness for a few days
and then fade away forever.

One more thing.
Variable stars change their brightness by pulsating
ever expanding and contracting
like a balloon,
They repeat their brightness cycles
from one day to hundreds of days
and are hundreds of times more luminous
than the Sun.

Well, that’s it.
Now go out into your yard
lean back in your recliner
gaze up into that black starry sky
and see if you can find your own variable star
amidst the 8000 stars visible to the naked eye.
See if you can catch its luminosity.
Surely you can.
Surely you can.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

They're back!

And, just in time for the onset of Spring, our gorgeous clivia are back. It makes me smile when I walk up to my front door and see them in full bloom. And, like all things their time here is fleeting. So, I must enjoy them fully now.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Health Miles Step Fest Challenge – just a matter of perspective

In the end I came in number 443 out of the 4023 participants in the challenge. Here’s some other statistics.

I had a total of 446,799 steps recorded on my pedometer for the challenge period from February 16 to March 18. That means I did an average of 14,413 steps every day for 31 days. Not the 15,000 or more I originally planned to do, but close. I lost a little steam – and interest – toward the finish line.

However, there were 77 participants who did the maximum of 30,000 steps a day for 31 days for a total of 930,000 steps for the challenge duration. Like I said at the outset I could never compete with that. Nor would I want to. How does anyone amass 30,000 steps every day for 31 days in a row? It’s mind boggling.

On the other end of the spectrum were about 150 folks who never took one step – or at least didn’t record any into the challenge database. So, it is all a matter of perspective.

443 out of 4023 is not bad for an old lady like me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I lied

I went back to my dermatologist and got shot up again. I know I said I wouldn’t do anymore as a way to save money, but I lied. I gave in to botox a couple of weeks ago and was persuaded to try another hit of Rystalane since it was offered at half price if I could find a friend to do it too. Well, my doc even found me the friend. However, I’m not sure of the effects of the Rystalane – injected into the lines from my mouth down into my chin and around my lips. All I know is, right now I’m still very black and blue – four days later. It’s not a pretty sight.

Magic Potion

I see deep furrows in my face
over my eyes, across my forehead,
from my nostrils, down into my chin.
They look like scars, my niece says
like her daddy has around his mouth.
Mine are the scars of age
earned through years of child rearing
work, parent care, long hours,
sleepless nights and family tragedies.
But, I’ll not let them be.
My needle-wielding dermatologist
injects each line with a magic potion
that will give me an illusion of youth
for another few months or so.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A glue that really sticks

On March 11 42 years ago, Bob and I fell in love forever and irrevocably. And I know this is true just from the look in his eyes. Sure we have our differences. But in the long run they don’t matter. What matters is that after all these 42 years we are still together and as much in love as on that first night.

So, I wonder now what has been the glue that has kept us together. Is it that we were both married before? We had practice runs, so to speak. Is it that Bob and I sowed all our wild oats while we were in between marriages? Is it because we were both older when we tied the proverbial knot? (We got married three years after we fell in love. Our 39th wedding anniversary will be in May.) All of these things I suppose are true, but not unusual by any means.

At the outset, we certainly had a lot going against us. Both of our sets of parents objected. Mine because Bob isn’t Jewish and has never had any intention of converting; his because they still were in love with his former wife. We had absolutely no money between us on our wedding day. He was paying alimony to his first wife and paying off a loan for an investment he had made. I had recently been laid of from my job of seven years. And, initially we lived in Riverside where I spent much of my time at home alone and depressed. It was there that I had my first panic attacks and my second miscarriage (my first was during my former marriage). I often tell people that these times were so hard that we had to use my unemployment checks to pay for our weekly groceries, and our once in a while going out for dinner treat was Taco Bell. So, certainly we didn’t get off to a very good start. But, as a result we learned to cope with the many hardships and disasters the next 42 years would bring us.

But, I won’t enumerate those. I’ve written about those to death already. This post is about the glue that has kept us together.

Maybe it’s just the obvious. Love. And I shouldn’t look for anything more concrete than that. I certainly know what it looks like when I look into his face. I wonder if he sees the same thing in mine. I hope so, though I know I’ve been much less able to express and show my love than he.

I also think it’s in the way we give each other space and accommodate each other’s needs – without a hint of jealousy. Early on he came willingly along in my desire to have children. And he agreed to raise them in my faith, because he wasn’t as ingrained in his as I. Now, he gives me space to exercise and write and go off for days to writing workshops while I never complain about his golf dates or his dinners out with friends. We are independent, yet we spend an enormous amount of time together. In the last several years we’ve worked together many times, and even that doesn’t get in our way. Even at those times, we know to give each other space. I regularly tell people who ask where he is at work that I have no idea. I don’t keep his work schedule, and he doesn’t keep mine.

So, there’s another answer. Respect. We respect each other’s time and expertise. We joke about it, but Bob really has been an advocate for the advancement of women in our society. He’s never denigrated my place in the home or at work.
Another is sharing. When we first had children and I was mostly at home – except for working part time as a real estate agent, he and I created a sharing style. We agreed that what he and I did during the day was equal, and when we were home we would share in the work of our children and home.

Another thing that has mattered in our lives is that each of us has brought in an income. His has always been more than mine, but I’ve certainly contributed my share. And we are both mindful of spending and saving, so we have the same values. Sure he complains when I buy an outfit I don’t really need, and I complain that he spends too much money on wine, but in the long run we’re equally responsible – and generous with each other.

So, here’s the list I came up with:
No jealousy
Same values

These are the components of the glue that has kept us going these 42 years. And, I suspect they’ll keep us together many more.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A new poem

Okay. I haven't posted a poem in a while. I wrote this one a few weeks ago -- triggered by a totally unnecessary medical exam. I had the exam -- just like I did many years ago -- to placate my doctors' sometimes more than necessary thoroughness. And, of course, just as I knew all along, all was well. Unfortunately, the exam dredged up old, sad memories.

Out of Control

My mind takes me
to far away places.
I have no control over it.
I’m right here
at home, it’s 2009,
and I can’t stop
thinking about the last time,
way back in September, 1999,
I saw my homeopathic MD.
He came up in a conversation yesterday,
and before I know it I’m having lunch
with Yael (she was Jenna then)
at the Farm in Beverly Hills.
We are sharing a brownie
and I’m telling her how worried
about Paul I am.
She assures me he’ll be all right,
and the next day
she is at my front door,
carrying her dress
for his funeral in her bag,
hugging me as if she could
squeeze the pain out of me.
And now, I’m in the shower,
the hot water
runs down over me.
I’m crying, covering my eyes
with my hands,
as if to blind myself from these
visions, shaking,
I miss them both.
Paul because he is dead
and Yael because
she is out of my life
for reasons of her own.

Diverting the old dreaded feeling

When the first word you think of upon wakening is "dread," when you're feeling so down about what's happening to our country and our ecomonmy you wake up in pure fright with a pit deep in your stomach, it's definitely time to go out among em and find as many diversions as possible. Well, that was me this weekend, and divert I did.

Yesterday we saw/heard the LA Opera’s production of Wagner’s "Das Rheingold." This was probably the opera’s most creative productions ever. The set, the costumes, the acting, the colors, the whimsy were like ear and mind candy. I wasn’t sure at first whether to like it or not. And in the end, I knew I loved it. I wanted more. Now though I want to see this same opera as it was intended by Wagner. I guess I’ll have to wait to see a more classic version in Vienna or Berlin or Munich.

By contrast we saw “Pippin” on Saturday night at the Mark Taper Forum. It was awful. There was not one memorable song in the production, the singing and dancing were mediocre, the people were mostly unattractive and plain, and though this was a modern production, it just didn’t come off. What a colossal waste of time -- except for the diversion factor. I generally love the theater and will give most productions the benefit of the doubt. But, this production of "Pippin" just didn’t cut it. However, it did have one redeeming feature. It was a performance by and for the deaf so the characters were played by deaf and a hearing actors in most cases. That aspect gave this play at least a glimmer of interest.

Then to end the weekend, I did some brain rot in front of the TV and watched "Positively, Maybe," a movie that's cute, predictable, and just that, brain rot. But, it was just what I needed to round out my need for diversions.

Got any diversion ideas out there? Bring them on, PLEASE!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The women in my life (and a few good men) - Part 6

Teachers, Writing Coaches, Mentors

I must first mention a few school teachers. They are: Mr. E. who made me love writing so much that right there in his 7th grade class I decided I wanted to study journalism (and I actually did); Mrs. R. who instilled in me the importance of reading and looking deep within the words for their meaning; and of course Dr. RRB, my high school journalism teacher and our high school newspaper advisor, who is still in my life today. He taught me to ask the hard questions and to be persistent in getting the answers. He also was a stickler for accuracy and meticulousness – traits very much within me now.

Those people were the precursors. Now for those who have had the most influence on my present-day writing.

Ellen – I don’t know what initially drew me to Ellen in the mid 90s. Perhaps it was the title of her workshop, “Writing About Our Lives,” and that she was holding that workshop at Esalen in Big Sur – one of my favorite places on earth. But, as soon as I experienced her warmth and openness I knew she was a person I would return to again and again. Now I mostly attend the poetry workshops she leads with Dorianne and Joseph*. I’m planning on going to Big Sur in July for another one. (*Joseph deserves a footnote. He had the patience to edit my poetry manuscript and as a result two poems have been recently published and another accepted for publication. I thank him for that.)

Jack is definitely one of the few good men. He showed me how to find my writing voice and change it at will. He also gave me permission to write my long sad sorry of Paul. What he didn’t warn me about was that few people would really care to read it.

Maureen taught me that in memoir writing there is something called the unreliable truth. There is my truth, your truth, and his truth, but my truth may not be the same as the others. When I write memoir I write my truth – the only truth I know.

Lollie read every word of my memoir first chapter by chapter and then front to back, helping along way with her insights, edits, and literary expertise. As a result I have a cohesive and clear manuscript ready for any agent out there who wants to take a look at it.

Barbara is a recent addition to my teacher list. I spent four days with her at a UCLA workshop recently and found her advice and wisdom about writing and marketing memoir so valuable. Her generosity is profound.

Of course there have been others – the wonderful high school teacher who encouraged my love of poetry, my college journalism professors, instructors at UCLA extension, including Suzanne who taught the first poetry writing class I ever attended. Over the years I’ve learned a wealth of writing tips from these very generous and caring people – all successful writers in their own right.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Walking the walk

I’ve been a walking fool lately. I said I wouldn’t enter any more Health Miles challenges and of course I did the first chance I got. What is it with me? I get my usual 12,000 steps a day whether I’m in a challenge or not what with my usual morning workouts and normal walking throughout the day, so why do I enter and try to rack up more steps on my pedometer? And I know full well that I’ll never get enough steps in a day to even get close to winning. The winners – and there are many of them – all do the maximum allowed which is 30,000 steps a day for 30 days. And since there is more than one winner they are entered in a drawing to see who winds up winning the big bucks.

So what’s in it for me? I won’t win. I’ll end up with about 400,000 steps for the 30 days – worth three entries in the loser’s drawing. And the chance of winning that drawing is slim to none. Well, for sure, I’ll get a t-shirt. But, you guessed it, I won’t even wear that. It will go straight into my giveaway bag. I always hate the t-shirts that come with these challenge events.

But, I don’t hate the walking and I always love the personal challenge.

This time I’ve been walking in a variety of venues. Besides my once a week big, long walk from my house to the beach and back – a walk that takes me about an hour and a half, I’ve been walking around my local mall. I worked off-site for the last couple of weeks in a high rise building near the mall, so I would at least walk over there after work – and sometimes for a short pick-me-up walk mid-day. Believe me a little walk is way better than taking a 15-minute nap. I also park as far away from wherever I’m going every chance I get. Even today, in between the endless meetings, I did a walk-about my office building – up and down the hall a few times.

Now, you’d think with all that extra walking I’ve been doing in the last couple of weeks – I’m averaging about 15,000 steps a day – I’d have lost a couple of pounds. But, no. I’m gaining instead. Well, only time will tell. The challenge has 15 days to go. Maybe the pounds will go by the end.

Yes, you’re right. The whole thing probably makes no sense at all. But, I know it’s all about walking. I like to walk, it perks me up in the middle of the day, and it gets me to places I don’t normally go. I’m not totally out of my mind. I’m just walking the walk.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another kind of writing workshop

Last Saturday (February 21) I took my next door neighbor, recently diagnosed with cancer, to The Wellness Community in Redondo Beach for a morning of guided journal writing. I had taken a writing workshop with the leader just a few weeks before so I figured this was a good time to introduce my neighbor to TWC and to be in a safe writing space. I hadn't been to the facility for quite some time but knew it well -- as its first Development Director and then member of the Board of Directors.

Little did I know what a confront the session would be for me.

The leader designed the workshop for cancer patients and their families, and since I'm not either, my first thought was I need to get out of here -- and fast. The morning looked like it was going to be way more heavy than I was prepared for. Plus the writing prompts came on fast and furiously -- we wrote five minutes on eight different topics.

But, I stuck it out -- I wrote a little bit about cancer in my life, but mostly about how I was affected by my son's mental illness and death. I was able to turn the prompts around as they related to my life. Here's some samples:

2. What I’ve learned or not Learned from Being Around Cancer
My brother, the guy I always looked up to, the guy who was my role model, was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1980s. in those days lung cancer was a death sentence – less than 10% survival rate. But, after the doctors took part of his lung my brother was pronounced cancer free, and he went on his way. Well, you guessed it. The doctors were wrong and the less than two years later the cancer recurred and this time it was inoperable. Still he wasn’t daunted. He took the heavy doses of radiation and experimental interferon for a year, all the while working full time and doing the traveling his job required. He never gave up. He never believed the cancer would kill him. He never thought the doctors would find anything wrong at any of his 6-month check ups. And, he was right. He lived for 20 years after his diagnosis. His optimism was my lesson.

4. Having Gone Through Hell or Going Though Hell
it was just an ordinary morning. I wasn’t working full-time then, so I lazed around in bed ready the paper. Then I went down to the laundry room to fold some clotheres. The door to the bathroom – next to the laundry room – was closed, and I thought Paul was in there getting ready for work. But 20 minutes later I realized there was no sound coming from in there. I looked in his room. It was empty and dark. I looked in the garage, and his car was still there. I was too nervous to try the bathroom door, so with my heart beating so hard I felt it would break my chest, I went upstairs to tell my husband that something was very wrong downstairs. He went down and called out to Paul. Paul, open the door. Nothing. No answer. He tried the bathroom door. It was locked so he went to the garage and got a screwdriver to open it. Bob opened the door and went inside, closing the door quickly behind him. I waited on the stairs. Bob came out. His face was red, his body was shaking. He took me in his arms. Paul is dead, he said. Call 911.

6. What Has Been Lost/Found in My Life
It’s interesting how a loss can turn out to be a gift. When my son died I thought it was all over, that I had nothing more to live for. Not even my husband or surviving son made me feel like going on. Then I found writing and used it as a way to get my feelings and story out. I found empathetic teachers and listeners who never told me stop with all the gory details already. I found the gift of writing and its healing quality after the loss of my son.

8. What Music Helps Me
The Dixie Chicks – their openness and optimism and the proof that girls can make it
Neil Young – he has a soothing voice and his old guitar
Barbara Streisand – the singer I grew up with, she brings back good memories of Broadway tunes that I used to know by heart
Leonard Cohen – his poetry inspires
Some more old friends, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez – they give me hope that there is life after 60
Songs to walk and exercise with from Billy Joel, the opera, Italian lessons, Enya – it just depends on my mood
But, I avoid jazz. It brings back too much sadness and memories of Paul, my lost jazzman.

So, it goes to show -- take every opportunity to write your story. You never know how it will turn out. Plus, my neighbor did some pretty good writing too.