Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Horizons

It's here! My copy of Horizons just arrived with my first-ever article in print, a reprint of It's Shabbat as they chose to title it in their issue. Kind of cool to stroke the ego a little.

Speaking of the ego, I have to protect it a little too sometimes. One of the things that came to me on the camping trip was a new tool I want to try using to help me this year. I have two envelopes taped to my desk. The one on the left says "Useful - even if difficult - criticism to help me grow." Below it I drew a flower. On the right is an envelope that says "Other people's baggage - nothing to do with me." There I drew a lion in a cage. I'm not sure why I chose that. I think it represents the way the words people say sometimes coop themselves up inside me and go around and around and around. Already someone said something obnoxious today. I've decided it can go in the envelope in the right. Hopefully that will help me forget about it.



I have a completely different energy now with the school year really getting going. I feel like I don't want to stop working until I pass out. I know that I need to take some deep breaths and come back to myself - also eat dinner, take a short walk - or I'll start burning out in the first few weeks!

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Broken-ness and Children

Just came back from that wonderful class that I wrote about in Car Irony. Tonight at one point we talked about how broken-ness leads to opening up the heart and making a person whole. The text we read talked about how it is important to go into that feeling of broken-ness.

I tend to try to facilitate that with people when they are sad. With adults it often helps because by agreeing with their sad feelings or broken-ness I am validating their feelings rather than trying to convince them to be happy right away (although often perhaps they'd prefer that).

But I'm not always sure the right thing to do with kids.

I remember a time when I was taking care of a very young child, too young to speak much. Her mother left her with me without saying goodbye. I knew the child would be in my care for several hours and I was angry with the parent for leaving her in a state in which she so clearly was upset. (This was not your average cry-when-mom-leaves. This sounded to me like a cry of someone who was seriously missing a feeling of security in her life.) So I held her for a long time and kept repeating that yes, mommy was gone but that she would be back and talked about the things we would do that day until she returned.

It was fairly useless. She just kept crying and exhausting herself. Someone else finally came in and gave the kid a piece of candy. She brightened up right away.

What am I to do with that? If she could be comforted so quickly by sweets... was my approach wrong? Was I wrong to be angry at the parent? I wanted to be honest with the child and not, as you might say, sugar-coat her pain. But are their times when we need to be comforted by things that petty?

I remember once when a friend in college had a breakup and all of her girlfriends showed up with an ice cream tub and lots of spoons. I guess sometimes Ben & Jerry's is the best you can do for yourself. But even at those times, when people indulge in food because times are hard, the food is an EXPRESSION of the pain. It's not just a distraction of the experience, but a kind of sad celebration. Alcohol is often used for that too.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fabulous camping trip!

Just got back from the wonderful camping trip to North-South Lake. I have so much to say but will hopefully be inspired to write most of it after my friend who I camped with sends me photos and videos from our trip.

But briefly, it poured rain as we drove up (I from NJ, she from MA) on Sunday. Cleared up just in time for us to put up the tent. Monday was magnificent weather-wise. We hiked in the morning and canoed in the afternoon... yes, even with me pregnant. Tuesday morning we got soaked to the skin but still went hiking again. In the AM I woke up when it was just drizzling and foggy and took my yoga mat to the lake. The mist was so thick I could barely see in front of me and I had this wonderful idea that I might watch the fog gently lift just as I meditated my mind clear for the day too. In fact I just got rained on, but had the delightful image of opening my eyes from a deep thinking and seeing a family of ducks travelling by in the water.

We talked a lot during the trip about how it may be next year with an additional little person with us. I'm so excited that this may be possible.

As I said in a previous post, a lot of people said to me before the trip, "I just hope you won't be uncomfortable!"

My response to that now is that, truthfully, real life is generally more uncomfortable to me than sleeping in a tent on the ground.

I was so happy this whole trip. I often forget just what a great friend I have out in MA (I'll call her Emarcy here, a code name). I forget in my everyday worries and occasional loneliness, that I have this friend who I trust completely and with whom I feel so safe and relaxed and in love with the world.

Even though the trip was short, I feel I have enthusiasm and clarity to take me into the work of the year that I restart tomorrow with a full day of meetings and setting up my classroom. It was hard to leave the woods and my friend, but I'm energized now.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Last trip!

Last week I went to Niagara Falls with U. Now I'm off to go CAMPING with one of my best friends. We went to college together and she now lives in MA. When I moved out to NJ she said, "Now that we live on the same side of the country, let's try to go camping every summer."

We said that before I was pregnant. Naturally, everyone keeps telling me I'm crazy to go out there now. They seem to be worried I'll be uncomfortable. But my love of dirt and woods makes up for it. I'm absolutely thrilled. My only concern is whether I'll be able to sit comfortably. We're each bringing a folding chair for me to see which will be the best. Having this Yaris means I can load as much junk as I want into the back. Generally I like to at least try to go minimal on trips, but I don't mind WAY overdoing it this time.

So already the question is on my mind... will I be able to take a baby to do this next year? I would absolutely love to. I have camped with a baby before, though the family it belonged to was much more experienced at camping.

Truthfully, since U. and I have been together I've wondered wistfully if when we had kids would be able to take them camping, simply because I don't feel safe going alone and U. is not interested at all. But that's what friends are for, and now I'm proving it can be done!

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Friday, August 25, 2006

A new political experience

The mayor of Englewood just knocked on my door, asked me to vote for him, gave me a t-shirt and wished me a Good Shabbos.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Niagara Falls

Our short trip to the falls was great. 7 hours there on Sunday, all day there Monday, and 7 hours back on Tuesday. However short, it was refreshing. Fun to be in Canada again too. We got picked up an artichoke dip at the store that we used to eat in Vancouver.

On Monday, our only real day there, we visited the falls for a few hours in the morning and then hit a wax museum. That's what you'll see in these pictures. Please note that the first photo should be at the bottom of the page but I don't want to fix it now. Consider it a preview.

We also enjoyed a little swimming at the hotel and rented a video on U's laptop in the hotel room. (Yeah, we're real nighttime party owls!)

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Joy

Something's going very right today.

I just had a short but very nice meditation. I'm feeling great today... partly I'm sure because yesterday I had Shabbos lunch with some awesome people who I think can really be my friends (and they might even read about me saying that on here!) and also because U. and I head to Niagara Falls today.

But I think it's more than that... no need to dissect. In any case, as I was meditating, I heard a radio outside. I usually find it irritating and distracting to hear that during meditation, but today I felt like I could use joy to be deliberately naive, in a way, and let irritations fall to the wayside. I've worked before with the idea of rising above the world when it is a difficult place and I've seen people just seem blissfully ignorant of what's around them. The challenge I think is to remain blissfully joyful, and still have room for heartbreak of all the real pain in the world.

What I want to eliminate, though, more than anything, are the everyday anxieties. I read somewhere yesterday (although I can't place where or find the quotation) that anxiety over the little things in life cause the biggest obstacles to our relationship with G-d. I also heard on Friday on NPR (sadly I can't find this interview right now either) a man who I think has compiled a book of doctor's diaries during wartime. He, himself, says he feels more alive when in the midst of fighting death in war, and hates the every day anxieties of civilian life like losing car keys. I have to say, I too gravitate sometimes for that crisis mode of living because it eliminates a lot of the daily worries.

The way that normally translates for me is by working in chaotic kid environments in which everything is very immediate. The annoying thing is that in order to be in that wonderful environment, there needs to be a lot of planning first which, for me, creates anxiety.

Anyway, not today.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

You have WHAT in there?

Today was the second to last day of backyard camp. In a very sweet moment one of these precious two-year olds was flopping around on my lap, bumping into me uncomfortably now and then. Another adult who was present remarked on how this was a little bit of a problem.

So I turned to the boy and said, "I need you to be a little more gentle. Do you know why?"

He shook his head no.

When I whispered, "There's a baby in my belly," he gave one of the biggest double-takes I'd ever seen. Absolute shock! Another boy was listening to the conversation and they both stared at me wide-eyed, open-mouthed, mute and absolutely adorable.

Finally they asked if they could see it. I said no, it was hiding and that it would be hiding for a long long time.

One of the other children, only partially understanding the conversation said, "baby" and these two boys ran to the neck of my dress and pointed down it, "It's in there!!!" they shouted.

Oh my gosh! I hope they don't think I ATE it!

I told both of their moms later who laughed and reassured me that it was fine that I told them.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Car irony

So last night I posted about the "spiritual" Namaste car.

Let me add to the irony.

I'm now attending a Wednesday night class at my shul. I really love the class. It's based on going through the text of Conscious Community which so far is an awesome book about staying aware of G-d's presence despite the distractions of the material world. This was written by a Chassidic rabbi who I believe later ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto.

At our first meeting, which was last week, I brought up the distractions of buildings, clothing and cars. Then this week I had to miss most of class because I was taking a test drive on our new car! (Had to work around U's schedule.)

The good news is that it is a car that is relatively environmentally responsible as well as affordable and not too show-offy. (Except of course that I'm SO EXCITED about it, so I guess it is show-offy.) We're getting a silver Yaris lift-back which gets almost 40 mpg!

So does a car like this merit a Namaste license plate?

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Namaste?

I just saw a very shiny and new-looking car with a fancy license plate that says "Namaste." I don't mean to say that the person who happens to be driving that very nice looking car is not a spiritual person, but to buy a fancy license plate to broadcast it to the world seems counterintuitive.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Comments on the article

I have to admit, I really do get a kick out of these brief phases of praise and fame that come with publication of an article. The very best is when someone I didn't notify about the articles comes across them naturally because they subscribe to Aish. Thank you all so far for the warm reception of my work.

Some of my favorite comments from people so far include:

- It made me cry. I'm not sure if that's good to say or not.

and

- When we met you mentioned you were a writer, but now I see you meant it. (This person is one of those who found my article without my telling her about it.)

I'm still toying with whether or not I could do some other writing about finding spiritual paths without having to write about cancer. More about coping with every day (which is something at which I often have to work rather hard!)

Yeah, with school about to start and a baby coming. Great idea!

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Publishing news

Two bits of news in the world of me being a published author:

1. It's Still Shabbat is about to be reprinted in the next issue of Horizons published by Targum Press. This will be my first ever appearance in hard copy. I'm not 100% which issue will have it, but if you want to know, tell me, and I'll pass it on once I receive my sample copy.

2. Bigger news. My third article has just appeared on Aish with the title A Year Of Memory.

I have to say, that of the three articles published on Aish, this one feels the weirdest to me, or at least right now. (Maybe it always feels weird.) This article feels different to me for a number of reasons. I'll try not to editorialize too much and let you make your own judgment, but with It's Still Shabbat and Now She Could Fill My Heart I had more specific lessons I wanted to teach about attitude towards people or holiness. In this piece, it's more of an exploration of a form in writing. I hope only that the way I approached the holidays in this piece can be a model for other people to approach the same holidays with their own interpretation based on their own life events, both large and small.

But on another note, even though this article is about memory, it feels weird to still be publishing about cancer three years after the fact. I'd like to go somewhere with my other work too although I find it much harder to sell and to find the time to work on. I've been working for a while on a poem about just that. Here is the the current draft:

Cancer Sells

Long ago my body
rid itself of cancer cells.
But the problem is
cancer sells.

20 years a writer,
3 years a survivor
and it’s the latter
that gets published.

Back in college
before any crises
a muse
perched herself on my desk
garbed in irony and wit.

After the cancer
she wrapped herself
in faith and healing.

But now,
with good health
and an 8-4 schedule,
I can no longer justify
dressing her in self-pity
or obsession.

The sun is shining
and I am glad.
But every poet
has seen and said
that before.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

School year approaches...

Had a meeting tonight with my assistant and the other teacher with whom we will be sharing a room...

Times like this make me feel so totally NOT-type A. I feel like my mind is a cluttered desk.

I think I like myself overall better than I like anyone else, but I certainly get embarassed at my less-organized thought processes when I'm around others who seem to have those skills down better.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Home repair completion

Just a follow-up on my Home repair... Did the classic throwing into air of hands and hired a professional to come take a look at our fridge. He was impressed with U.'s work on the gasket and just used a blow dryer to shape it a bit. He then told us what else the fridge needs. (A piece of wood under the front to angle it backwards, and a day's worth of defrosting.) And that was it! Glad it's done.

My dad's a little disappointed we didn't finish it ourselves, but I'm quite pleased with what we accomplished including the fact that I initiated the process at all!

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An Inconvenient Truth

I'm going to make this quick as I decided that THIS HOUR I'M GOING TO SPEND TIME ON MY WRITING. (Nothing fancy. I'm in the midst of compiling every decent poem I've ever written into a personal anthology in the hopes of picking up some good patterns to eventually publish a chapbook... eventually is the word.)

So I mentioned that on Sunday we saw a movie. It was An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore movie about global warming.

Just a few thoughts:

1. At times it seemed too biographical. That's too easy a way to alienate Republican viewers.

2. Critics have said that Al Gore exaggerates too many things in the movie. For example, I heard one person on NPR say that when we see how the earth would flood if certain glaciers melt, it "appeared" to this critic that New York would be flooded within a matter of just a few years or even less. I completely disagree with that criticism. The movie was quite clear with its statistics of what exactly we do and don't know with precise numbers.

3. The movie was somewhat boring, to its credit. It would have been very easy to play some convenient emotional wildcards to really upset people. These were kept to a noticeable minimum. Hurricane Katrina was one devastating event that was mentioned, but its screen time was kept minimal. Also, there is a scene in which an animated polar bear is shown out of breath and swimming for miles, desparately looking for a piece of ice strong enough to support its weight. This image absolutely broke my heart, but again, was just an animation. More photos of devastation and sadness, though powerful, would have manipulated. Mr. (was-almost-president) Gore respected his audience enough to speak to us intelligently rather than push our buttons.

(I must add, though I prefer to keep it separate from the movie, that U. and I had a very gratifiying conversation afterwards about how much we appreciated being respected in that way, and that we had never known true condescension for the current presidency. "If there's a TERRORIST of course we've got to GET HIM. DUH!" A made-up quote, but I think a decent illustration nonetheless.)

4. Finally, I feel I do quite a lot already, pretty much everything I can, do be environmentally prudent. I did resent a little the "inspiration" at the end of, "Are you ready to CHANGE?" However, I do feel inspired to try again and increase environmental awareness in the school.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

24 weeks

24 weeks pregnant today which means in a week I'll be enterring the 6th month.

Had a bit of a meltdown tonight of the I-don't-think-I-can-do-this variety.

With the summer almost over, school about to start again, the fact that I've done barely any writing lately even with my supposed freetime,* recent feelings that I'm not good at my job and finally, the invevitability of trying to continue my life but with an addition of a needy baby, I'm scared. How will I ever find time to do the things I need and want to do again?

(*I have to keep reminding myself that despite the fact that this is summer "vacation" I have been working about 25 hours/week.)

All this started manifesting itself with a quick unscheduled detour to the Nature Center this afternoon. (I watched the polywogs.) Then, this evening, though I'd told myself I would write, I took a spontaneous and necessary trip to Ben & Jerry's. While there I called a friend who asked me how I'm doing with the pregnancy and I gradually started feeling worse and worse until I came home and had a full-blown meltdown.

That's why I'm writing this over an hour past my "bedtime."

A helpful memory right now:

Before I was offered my first teaching job, I had a similar meltdown and told U. I didn't think I could be a full-time teacher. He said that the alternative, not getting a job, would probably be far worse.

I think the same applies now. I don't know at all yet how I'm going to make this work, but the alternative isn't good. So I have no choice but to have faith in myself and wait to see what happens. Besides, above where I say, "How will I ever find time to do the things I need and want to do again?" I guess that being a mother is just another thing I need and want. Maybe I'll hire a cleaning person.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Home repair

A tisket
a tasket
we're fixing
our fridge gasket.

Shortly after we moved in a year ago we complained to our landlord that the fridge door wasn't closing properly and that circulation in the fridge was bad as a result. In other words, stuff at the front of the fridge sometimes is warm. Stuff at the back gets frozen. And often the door just turns out to have not been closed fully.

His solution was to jerk on the door a little and say it was fine.

So after a year's worth of our complaining to each other about it, I finally decided to do something and ordered new gaskets. The instructions were useless and I couldn't do it right until U. wandered in and figured out a trick to getting it to stay. (We just did the freezer today.)

I was frustrated I couldn't do it myself, but glad one of us found a way to do it.

And of course there was that conversation of, "Why didn't we just hire someone to do this?" Grrrrrr.

And finally we decided it wasn't just the gasket either, but that the door is kind of hung on crooked.

Whatever. It's working now. Frustrating so far, but I think we're almost done. Just still need to do the fridge portion. I tend not to finish jobs once I've started them if I take a break. Oh well. Gotta go to bed.

Also saw a movie today, but hopefully I'll write about that tomorrow.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Got my voice back

No, I didn't actually lose my voice. In fact, the sickness I talked about two entries ago went away very quickly. Not worrying about it, resting a lot and not having to be at my regular job seems to really help!

I mean something else in my title about the voice... bear with me.

I always call my parents on Fridays before Shabbat and my dad remarked today that I sound really good. He also remarked that he got caught up on my blog recently and that I sounded really unhappy. It's true. I was. But I think I've found a good solution for now.

Tisha B'Av was yesterday and the night before.

(Quick note: I did fast the whole 25 hours except that I drank lots of water. I did very very well until afterwards. Once I'd eaten I almost fainted, but now I'm fine.)

On Tisha B'Av night I found myself, as always on this day, feeling very sad but not necessarily about the loss of the temple. I found myself tapping into the sadness I've had lately which is basically loneliness, yearning to be with people, and yet impatient with the people around me and at the same time fearful of rejection. I felt the resentment that has been building from living in a wealthy community and from having a hard year at my job and from not having close friends yet here and more.

So as I was feeling that sadness I tried to open up to and find how it could connect to Tisha B'Av, and what I found was that I've let myself become poisoned by negative feelings and that those feelings are separating me from people. In other, words, I've stopped loving the Jews around me. This is exactly what they say caused the destruction of the second Temple.

In addition, there are so many others out there who feel the same, and meanwhile Israel is in a major crisis.

So I resolved that I wanted to purify that negativity, that that is the one thing I could do right now to help both me and, in a mystical kind of way, the whole Jewish people. (If everyone works on themselves, we can't help but grow stronger and more graceful.)

It's not an easy process and I fully expect it to take, not just Tisha B'Av, but all the time leading up to Yom Kippur and then again and again for the rest of my life to fulfill. But I worked on it hard yesterday. I meditated intently once and I set an alarm on my watch to go off on the hour, and every time I did, there was a phrase I said to myself to remind me. I took a few seconds each hour to just check my heart and my thoughts and see what was there.

Then, ironically, I found myself doing something that almost seemed contrary...

See, lately I have been keeping silent about a lot of things. In my summer job I often don't speak up to the people who are working for me to let them know what needs to be done and. I don't want to "boss them around," but then I lie awake at night getting upset about things they didn't do. I've also had some other confusing interactions with people recently and have been afraid to talk to them for fear of offending or making myself look bad. Finally, there is a person whose words I often read into and who frequently says things that anger me.

Well, yesterday and today I began speaking up to all of those people. I'm becoming clearer with my assistants. I apologized to someone on the phone in the hopes of clarifying a misunderstanding. I confronted someone who said something to me that I found inappropriate and I received an appropriate reply.

None of this was easy, but it was easier than I expected. Now I feel great and I LIKE all these people so much more today!

Now, if we can just stop this war...

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