Friday, October 14, 2016

dear jon

Dear Jonathon Safran Foer,
I'm sorry, but we have to break up. I've tried and tried again.  You write well, you really do.  At two paragraphs in, I had such high hopes that I was recommending your latest book to a friend. Your story lines could be compelling or at least mostly interesting. But your dialogue is just so very precocious.  It's as if you want us all never to forget for a moment that you are SO smart.  Jonathon, people simply don't talk like that.  I've been in the company of very smart people having very clever conversations and still not experienced the kind of dialogue that happens over and over again in your books. Your ten year olds talk like world-savvy intellectuals and your adults never stammer or fail to have the perfect overly-intellligent comeback at the tip of their tongue.  Never, ever, do they suffer from l'esprit d'scalier.  I throw this french phrase out there because, yes, Jonathon Safran Foer, I am able to carry on an intelligent conversation with the odd foreign phrase thrown in when appropriate.  But every single time?  Surely I'm not the only one who suffers from an occasional case of "staircase wit" and misses the perfect comeback.  I get that writers can write like that, one clever line followed by an even more clever line, over and over again for an entire conversation, but this is not how people talk and after awhile I just find it annoying.  I can never forget for a second that I am reading made up dialogue, that your book is peopled with characters in a book rather than real people.  I like to be carried away by a book, not constantly brought back to the fact that I'm reading a book.  Or, as in the case of your book at times, feeling as if I'm reading something written by someone trying to impress his teacher. . 

I'm one third of my way into the second book of yours I've read (I did finish the first one, but I was younger then and felt like I had more time left to live) and I simply can't go on with it.  Maybe I sound petty.  I knew a man, once, who tried to talk like this, but it was his way of making sure everyone thought he was very smart.  He couldn't just let down and have a normal conversation.  He had to impress.  He had to drop names and dates and facts and snippets of memorized poetry.  His insecurity was palpable.  Not saying you are insecure, Jonathon Safran Foer, but the way you write your characters *feels* like you need us to know how very clever and smart you are.  I completely believe that you are clever and smart, so there is no need for you to shove that in my face in your next book. Not that I've decided whether or not I shall endeavor to read your next book. 

That is all.  I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me.  I've found another book.

Friday, October 07, 2016

feet on the ground

More than three years since I've blogged.  Three years in which my feet have carried me all over the world while my head has been, just, I don't know, somewhere else.  Maybe I'm being hard on myself, but it feels like I've spent a long time with my head up my own ass.  I have had time to think and meditate, to love and miss, to despise, fear, mourn, and yes, at moments, to feel out-of-this-world joy. But until now, I've not been able to write about any of it, and some of the time I took for all that brooding feels very selfish in hindsight.  Maybe I'm able to, now, write about some of it and break out of my own head space.  I have to make a start and then we'll see.

This has definitely been the strangest and most change-ful three years of my life.  There have been amazing adventures, alone and with my loved ones.  I saw Turkey and Israel. I walked the Via Dolorosa and prayed at the Western Wall.  I drank wine in Spain and Pisco in Peru, endless beers in tiny bars in Hell's Kitchen and SoHo, and in NoLita...well, nevermind.  Things happen.  I've run in grand old parks in Madrid and my beloved Central Park. I've run through the Andes and the San de Cristo's in Colorado, and so so many miles through the woods of my hilly home turf. (Running has saved me.  It's no less dramatic than that. It has been a lifeline of normal in a world that felt mad at times.) My son got married to his long-time love.  Wow.  And my stepson gave me a grandson.  Again, tears and joy, on that day and every day since he was born.  And so much laughter.

Then came the bad and ugly and terrible--who would we be without the tragedies of our lives?  Maybe happier but less appreciative of our happiness.  That statement doesn't make anything better, even if it's true.  I hardly remember who I was before Lee died because his death colors the way I see things in my life.  I don't mean that in a doom and gloom way, not that it makes everything gray.  But it has changed my lens.  I think it is that I try to "see" for both myself and Lee. "Try" isn't even the right word.  It feels necessary. Everything has two aspects: how I see it and how I think Lee would see it.  Quite often the way he saw things would just piss me the hell off, but that was Lee, and I still need that "Lee-ness" to exist in the world, whether or not I agreed with him. I think I will always need it to exist because of the tragedy of his death at 59 when there was so much left to live for.

On any given moment of any day, I can transport myself back to that moment.  That very most horrible moment.  And not just that moment but every minute and hour of the many months leading up to that moment.  Often I am transported completely unbidden.  It happens and I am strangled and blind-sided with the pain of it.  Occasionally, I go back to that moment on purpose because I need to for some reason I can't explain.  I need to remember every one of those minutes as much as I need to try to picture and feel and remember the good ones, because there are too many hours and days and months when we stumbled through life together NOT appreciating, not seeing, not feeling, and those are just gone.  Dear god, how much time we waste not noticing.  If nothing else, I have learned this.  If I learn nothing else in all of my life, I have learned this.  I know Lee and I would agree, though, on the lens through which we see our grandson.  When I beam at that wonderful small human, I beam for both of us. For him, especially, I want to try to keep alive all the possible "Lee-ness" I can.

And that is all I can write about for now.  My feet feel (mostly) back on the ground.  I am surviving and starting to feel life come back into my extremities instead of being balled up in a knot in my stomach.  There are adventures coming.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Archimedes supposedly yelled, "Eureka!" while lying in a tub of water and happening upon the principle of buoyancy.  Eureka!  Just like that, he understood why things float.  Even things that seem solid and grounded are often floating, unobservable to the naked eye.  The earth's crust.  Icebergs.  Happy women. Yes, sometimes I am floating, even when no one is aware. The ten percent of me you see is the tip of the iceberg deceptively looking like the whole kit-n-caboodle, while the other ninety percent of me is below the surface.  Happiness is bubbling up from deep inside me, detectable only, maybe, in the curl of my lips. I sometimes find myself bobbing in a whole wide warm ocean of happiness and in danger of floating completely away. 

Like Archimedes, I have hit upon the laws that govern my personal buoyancy: when I can forget myself, or what I think of as "self"--a body and a brain, the tip of the iceberg.  When I can let go of the demands of my physical body and stem the constant chatter of my brain which insists on looking in at me from the outside and judging, worrying, planning.  When I am completely and utterly in the present, only in *this* excrutiatingly perfect moment.  As cliche as that sounds, as many times as I have read it and thought about it, it is only when I experience it that I begin to grasp the concept of "be here now."  I can intellectualize it, but I can only fully understand the phenomenon at a cellular level when my head shuts down and my soul takes over.  At that time, I'm no longer Ego, that chattering monkey on my back, that constant observer, commentator, judge.  I am not thinking at all.  I am not Julie.  I am not a mother, lover, programmer, runner.  My thighs are not fat, my wallet is not thin, I am not too much or too little of anything.  I am just joy.  I am an experience.  And it is only afterwards, when I am reflecting on why I felt so content, floating, peaceful, buoyant, that I get it.  I understand what was going on.  Eureka. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

a visit home

This weekend I traveled to the wide spot in the road called Otwell where much of my family lives, and where I lived for many of my kid years. Every Sunday, for a hundred years or so, I occupied a pew at the Otwell United Methodist church, sitting next to my beloved grandma Taylor.  I spent what sometimes felt like endless hours staring at the stained glass window in the picture above. The sermon would get boring, I would get twitchy, my grandma would give me half a stick of juicy fruit gum and something to draw on. Sometimes I would fall asleep against her, and sometimes I would just look at the window. It became as familiar to me, in every detail, as the cracks in my bedroom wall. I especially loved the colors of the sky and rocks and water. My adult brand of spirituality was sending out shoots and roots, even then. There were certain hymns, too, that echoed the picture in the window and spoke deeply to me.

This is my father's world, I rest me in the thought,
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
His hands the wonders wrought.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my sooooooul...........

I would really belt out these parts, no doubt entertaining every person around me with my seven year old gusto.  I can still hear my grandmother singing them next to me, or singing them quietly as she worked at home. I didn't yet wrestle with the idea of god as a father rather than a mother, god as a man up in the sky versus god as...everything.  I understood why we were singing about rocks and trees and mountain grandeur because I loved the outdoors.  I am still happiest when I'm in a woods or sitting on the side of a mountain or high up in a fire tower looking out over the rolling hills.  As an adult, I've thought many times, that *this* is where I feel closest to whatever spirit dust or star stuff we are made of.  Our childhood, for the most part, was spent in the outdoors, on a very loose tether. Lots of freedom, running wild like dirty, little, barefoot animals. Even reading, which I loved, was done mostly outdoors, under a tree on a blanket spread on the ground, on a porch swing, or on one of my grandmas red metal porch chairs that I could make gently, meditatively bounce.

In any case, I could believe in a god who created the grasses of the field and the birds of the sky, the water and the rocks and the wind.  I could relate to those songs and understand the feeling of god whispering to me through the leaves of the trees. Even at a young age, though, I got really stuck on the idea of a wrathful god who killed babies and sent plagues and destined people to burn in hell for all eternity for some screw up here or there. What kid wanted to think about a god who wanted people to kill a lamb in sacrifice, much less one's kid?  Yuck.  The stained-glass version of Jesus gently carrying the baby lamb and enjoying the slippery feeling of bare feet on mossy rocks seemed more likely.

As an adult, I have been told that I cannot pick and choose the parts I like in a religious belief, and toss the rest. And yet I see no compelling reason why I shouldn't listen to my heart when it comes to what seems loving and Christlike or Buddhalike or Mohammed-like.  Why I shouldn't accept the parts that are echoed in the beauty and sense of all of the natural world--not all things fair, but all things in balance-- and reject the things that seem hateful and dark. I've never found a convincing reason why I cannot embrace the gentle (albeit overly caucasion) Jesus in the window,  and still reject the dogma and ritual and judgment and hellfire.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

down dog

This photo is not me.  I don't know what I look like in down dog, although I spend a good portion of my life in this position.  I know that when I'm in yoga class I try to really listen, take the small adjustments to heart, and work at externally rotating this and internally rotating that to get the most out of each posture.  And when I'm doing my practice at home, I try to stay aware of all of these things, try to turn on the inner teacher voice and not just buzz through a practice on auto pilot. The times I am most tuned in are the times I feel the most calm and powerful.  Yes, calm--little miss story-writing, future-tripping, worry-warting, kid-stressing, job-freaking me.  And powerful.  Love the powerful part, too.

Just in the past two months--after faithfully practicing in class once a week for over two years, and practicing at home once or twice a week for much longer than that--a few things clicked into place for me in a big way.  Wow.  It's amazing when that happens.  When you get so deep into something that years later you realize that it all goes so much *deeper*, that you will always, ALWAYS, be learning something.  It's that way with anything we truly commit to, right?  Whatever we commit to--art, running, relationships, yoga--it all goes so much deeper.  How exciting that I will continue to make new discoveries, that I will see bulbs light up and hear those cosmic clicks in my head or in my heart or my body five years from now, and ten years from now, and when I'm 80. I love the thought of spending the rest of my life fully expecting and experiencing those little epiphanies. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I just want to remind you that you are enough, just as you are.  There is no need to change anything about yourself to impress me.  These skins we cover ourselves in--distractions that are not truly part of our nature or our core selves--these skins are not opaque enough to hide behind other than to the casual observer.  You may be mollified by the fact that there are lots of casual observers who will only see you at skin deep.  Will only, ever, perhaps by choice, see you at that shallow level.  But make no mistake, I am not a casual observer.  When I look at you, it's more like listening.  It's more like feeling, processing, breathing you in.  Behind what we make ourselves out to be, behind the script we memorize and recite aloud, even to ourselves, even when no one else can hear and it doesn't matter, is the shining light of the person we really are, the person that someone, somewhere, sometime is destined to love deeply, unconditionally, and always.  I think about these things, when I'm feeling like I'm faking some part of myself to build myself up or just to get through.  Not faking so much as...trying too hard?  Not trusting that *I* am enough?  Not loving myself enough? I think about this and ask myself, will my true love see beyond my exterior and recognize me?   

Friday, January 18, 2013

making space: friday

Last night I furiously cleaned the kitchen because I have some women friends coming over and I know that women notice things like clean kitchens.  I actually love a clean kitchen, but during the work week I really have to let go of a lot of my expectations in that regard.  I try to keep up on the dishes and sort of swab the decks, but stuff builds up on the counters, in the cabinets, on every available surface.  Paperwork, boxes of cereal which don't make it back into the pantry, piles of fruit that are left out so that we will remember to eat them, bags of split peas and rice and other bulk items that don't have a good place to go.  So it is mostly clean (please keep this in mind if you eat at my house) but things just get very junked up, and I prefer things to look clean and clear.  I like, in general, an open expanse of counter space, table space, surfaces gleaming without clutter.  Not that we don't have plenty of it around, but I would prefer no small items cluttering up surfaces. My mother is a collector of small items, and her house is beautiful, but I simply can't deal with too many things on surfaces.

So I cleaned and I scrubbed--stove, counters, around the sink.  I removed clutter from the cabinets, appropriately storing them or throwing out.  I then attacked the things that were just sitting around on the floor.  The bread machine, for instance.  I use it very occasionally.  I want it easily available in the hopes of using it more, but I don't think it needs to sit in the floor.  To make cabinet space for it, I had to do a major clearing out and re-organizing of stuff.  I just dug in and did it, and I managed to get the bread machine (not a small item) into the cabinet.  This, I felt, was a truly major feat of making space.  Before I went to bed last night, I took one more look at the kitchen.  It was gleaming and quite a bit more clutter free.  This made me so happy that I am re-inspired to keep going with this goal of getting rid of something every day.  The internal work continues as well.  Things are churning and changing beneath the calm surface.