Don’t Mess With My People

This morning, with everyone in my community milling around getting ready for the first Passover seder, I’m going to my local JCC (Jewish Community Center) to work out in the first time in forever. Why? Because I want to make a statement: Don’t mess with my people!

Yesterday’s news of the horrific shootings at the Kansas City JCC and Jewish assisted living facility nearby, leaves us breathless and disgusted. But sadly, not surprised. Video showed the suspect – the biggest loser of them all – sitting in the back of a police patrol car and shouting, “Heil Hitler.” We’ve seen people like him before. We hear about their hate crimes almost daily still, 69 years after WWII ended and their cowardly brain-washer killed himself.

In all, the gunman shot at five people, none of whom he’s believed to have known. He killed three. A grandfather and his grandson. A woman. Turns out they were not all Jewish. 

When I pull into the JCC parking lot, I will see the boy, his grandfather and that woman in my minds eye. When I pant, sweat, and feel like croaking on the elliptical, I will go even faster in fury, unable to keep the murderer out of my mind. When I leave my community center, I will smile and wish the employes who work there a peaceful and meaningful holiday, because even if this tragedy did not happen here, we know in our hearts it might as well have.

We can only begin to imagine what Passover (and Easter) will be like for the families who have been affected by these devastating losses. The traditional passover meal question asked by the youngest child around the table, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” takes on a whole other meaning in light of such immediate tragedy.

Tonight when we talk about the meaning of freedom, I will make sure to remind my kids to use their freedom of speech to speak up against hatred and intolerance.

speak up

 

 

The Facebook Birthday Wish-Frenzy

I rarely step out of bed in the morning feeling grouchy, but today it’s happening. The Facebook birthday wish frenzy is getting ridiculous. I’m one known to chipperly get my kids up on dreary mornings, turn on music, light candles, make us breakfast and exclaim encouraging words. I look for the sunrise to bless and announce another day of opportunities. And that’s normal for during the week around here. But today that’s just ruined and so not happening. I’m feeling annoyed. That’s my status, if you should care.

It’s 7am, the sun is not shining despite the forecast, and I have just realized I came late to my mother’s Facebook birthday wish bash.

I hardly ever think of Facebook as a burden, or dumb, although I do occasionally say it is a potential downright waste of time. I admit this by now antiquated blue and white social networking website has become my default choice of down-time, rather than, say, TV for example. I’ve even been dubbed by some similarly aged friends who couldn’t be bothered as a total Facebooker-hooker with my frequent turning of tricks. But the ease and dare I say pressure of wishing everyone and their cousin (fine, mine, too) “Happy Birthday” on Facebook is getting to me.

FB-Notifications

Aside from reminding me I am a mormon for having forgotten it’s my mother’s birthday until the I see the 9 million other people having posted greetings before me on her timeline, (never mind the 6 hr time-lag; she’s in Spain and I’m in the US; I’m her daughter!), I am feeling the accumulated pressure of all the friends’ birthdays I chose to ignore by not clicking my way onto their timelines, helping them feel like the center of the universe for a few precious cyber space nano-seconds. Whatever that is.

The solution here is simple, and I know it: stop checking Facebook before I get out of bed in the morning (the horror!); and when I do go on at the two designated times during the day I will allot myself (to wean me from behaving like an addicted lab-rat running back and forth to the divinely but arbitrarily drug laden food dish 600 times an hour looking for “the” stimulus), simply notice all the reminders of birthday wishes, be happy for them and for all the posting friends, and then step away from the car, eh, I mean screen. How zen.

Just like I know I should floss daily, eat less, exercise more and drink water.

Only water.

Incidentally, as I type these last words, the sun is rising in the horizon and I’m thinking my mom’s feeling happy being remembered by people who care from all over the world on her birthday, Facebook and all.

And I haven’t even stepped out of bed yet.

Facebook Birthdays

To Share in the Shearing

A good friend of mine has cancer.  She recently asked me to take her to the hairdresser to have her hair shaved off, or what remained of it. After weeks of chemo treatment, and as the poison is hard at work in the fight, she seems to take the many side effects in stride. The pragmatist that she is –  both down to earth and far from vain –  the hair loss thing is the least of her troubles. “I cover my head now mostly for other people’s sake,” she said with a smiling but tired face the first time I saw her wearing a colorful knit hat, made by a friend, enveloping her balding head. She was sprawled on the couch under a cozy blanket, pellet stove going, with yet another friend visiting. She doesn’t have to say it. We all know she has bad days, followed by awful days, and then a few decent days; maybe even a good afternoon here and there.

The day of the scheduled “shearing” I know she rallies to find the energy, since she told me the night had been restless and spent partially on the loo – her body telling her the new anti-nausea drug did not go over as well as hoped. Comfortably installed in the barber’s chair, the clippers turned on to make that familiar buzzing sound (I have three boys, I know this sound but with such other associations), the hairdresser is herself a cancer survivor and handles the situation with such grace I feel I am observing an angel at work. Her hands running swiftly and gently over my friend’s head, she speaks candidly and quietly about her own ordeal from hair diva to hairless warrior. Just quietly enough for it to be a private conversation, but loud enough to include me, as I sit in a chair on the side watching the remaining thin locks gently fall from my brave friend’s now well defined round fuzzy head and down to the floor. They agree it feels better like this. Bald. Honest.

Bald is beautiful

It just so happens that there is a wig store next door, five feet away. “Will you get a wig?” the hairdresser asks after telling the newly hairless warrior her new ‘do is on the house. “I wasn’t planning on it,” my friend replies, looking at her, then me, seeming perfectly open to any and all suggestions. “Your insurances covers a chunk, so why not see if you find one you like?” the pro offers, adding that she herself found it had come in handy on what might have been called “bad hair days” other times, but now were just days when it would be ok with some hair. Sure enough, after a brief visit next door and some fun modeling of every style from “your husband might like this long blonde one”(coming from me), to “absolutely not,” and “no, no, no, this one makes me look like so and so”(coming from her), the perfect fit finally found its new owner and we stepped out into the warm spring afternoon, mission completed. She even got some colorful bandana head wraps for balmy summer days, thanks to the owner of the wig-salon’s deft insurance knowledge and helpfulness; another lovely spirit so obviously sensitive to the her clientele’s situation.

Wigs

Thinking all this shearing sharing and wig-sampling might have exhausted the now hairy warrior, I ask if she feels like some lunch or if she is totally pooped after our successful hit on hairdo-row. “They fill me up on drugs to counter the horrible feelings caused by the chemo, but some times even these ‘good’ drugs make me feel terrible,” she offers with a sigh. “But today, I think some soup would be good. I feel like Thai.” I pull away from the curb and gladly head toward my favorite Thai place a few blocks down, and we start to compare notes on different Thai restaurants in town, getting our shared foodie palates into an excitable mode. Smacking our lips, we decide to hold off with the pedicures until next week.

One day at a time, of counting the blessings of such simple things as being able to enjoy a hot bowl of soup, of perhaps sleeping comfortably through the night, and feeling the longed for warmth of the spring sun while sharing a laugh or two with a good friend. Of course, I too count those blessings with my friend, being privileged to have shared such a meaningful afternoon, otherwise just a regular spring day.

Thai soup

 

 

I Was on Fire

Have you ever been “on” for a job, project, or event, and while engaging with your audience (of one or many) realize you are on fire? I don’t mean the accidental, literal, “oh shit my shirt caught on fire! Help! I’m going to die!” kind of realization, but the sort that invites you to recognize, in delightful albeit brief, fleeting moments of pure presence, there is a sort of combustion going on, of magnificent, sparking energy between your mind (your knowledge), your body (the way you move and interact) and the other participants. And although you were perhaps a bit worried (in some other chemically unpleasant place different from the fabulous fire site) while waiting to go on/in/up, you now notice you are on some mind-blowing auto-pilot, where all your bullet points and plans simply vanish into the thin air, as the magic takes over and you hear yourself think: I got this. I love this. Shit, I’m on fire!

On Fire

The other night as I was speaking at an annual film festival at a local college, this happened to me, and it was almost, dear I say, an out of body experience. These are clearly other chemicals at work now (yay, yummy ones: endorphins!) than the pre-show worry ones, and the lingering feeling of euphoria for hours later is truly something to behold. It’s the same high that happens when I teach a really good class. I realize that the precious present (the now and the gift) of that dynamite moment is all about connecting with others, and what a marvelous experience it is when you know you’ve managed to connect. The associations of bright light, heat, and smoke that the state of being on fire necessarily brings are of course not actually real, but in their own right practically palpable. When your inner world successfully connects with the outer world around you, there’s all that. Schwing.

My elixir might be just this. All the reading, research, thinking and planning I do on topics that interest me is my alchemy, where I am the practitioner of a kind of transformation of matter – but theoretical matter, to convert it into a magical potion. And when I am able to share this offering, in all its fully present enthusiasm, life and work makes a lot of sense, because it feels right.

So, c’mon baby, just light my fire.

On Fire II

A Ritual: Butt in Chair

The greatest challenge for a writer can be just getting her rear in the chair. And staying there. Without letting herself be distracted by all sorts of easy, at the fingertips fun stuff, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even emails. Anything else but hunkering down and getting to work on the current project at hand, or worse yet, the new project.

Heck, I’ll even joyfully empty the dishwasher, fold laundry or pay bills rather than get my butt in the chair, unplug, and simply write. It’s a common malady.

Today I woke up and decided to begin – again – to take my vocation more seriously. I love Mondays for this reason, they make me feel like the whole world is in on helping me rally to get a new start. The saying “onward and forward!” has more oomph to it on a Monday morning. Somehow.

After a shower, a healthy breakfast, I resolve to get my yoga mat from my car to do some stretches during the day when I need a break. Not open Facebook, not begin the emailing craze; the emails certainly don’t go anywhere. I light the tea light nestled in my favorite small Gustav Klimt glass holder and place it on my desk next to my computer. I think of my writer friend in Paris who with the same candle flickering next to her, urges me on: “Write!” she tells me, “write all those stories you have inside you!”

On my way to the bathroom to dry my hair I gather up weeks worth of NYTimes Book Reviews, and decide to stop reading about books, and instead read more books, and write more stories.

And then, finally, I sit down and think, “Here I am. Let the faucet open” as my fingers run over the keyboard.

Writing

Happy?

Happiness is serious business. Last week in Norway, eating fermented trout and tasting various micro-brewed organic beers with good friends; definitely high happy factor here. This week in the US, dealing with my teen’s suspended driver’s license, and the debacle of practical and emotional issues surrounding this lovely event; not very happy, no.

The International Day of Happiness, established by the United Nations General Assembly (why so serious?) in 2012, is a day celebrated annually on March 20th (I say mark your calendar!). This got me thinking about how many people generally are not happy, since the world needs ONE specific day to remind us to that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.” Also, I think of all the people who have “grouchy” as their modus operandi - as their habit - or who just tend to focus on the bad around them and in them, instead of the good. How much I dislike meeting folks like that.

Then I realize that sometimes, just some of the time, when I momentarily have a lapse, that’s me. Argh…

What is happiness? What does it mean to feel happy? According to the website This Emotional Life, happiness is “thought of as the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” Oh boy, do I have abundant happiness in my life. And good reasons to be happy.

Happy Thankful People

Realizing how many sad souls around the world have few reasons to be happy on a daily basis, yet find it in themselves, I hear myself sigh. I see them sing, smile and dance in the various videos posted from around the world on International Happiness Day.

Happiness is serious business. I say, make it yours.

Create your own happiness by making someone else happy. But don’t wait until next year!

 

Happy People

Godiva by the Gate

Here I am, sitting by the gate about to board the plane to Oslo from New York, enjoying a Godiva chocolate, making some last minute phone calls and feeling good about traveling light.

Next to me is a mother giving her small son an infusion – it appears from his baldness he may have cancer or a significant medical condition- and it knocks the breath out of me. Keeping her hands busy with tubes and clips, she smiles, chats with who might be her husband, and the little boy starts to sing. He plays with his truck.

I swallow the sweetness of the luxurious chocolate. Think of my three healthy teenage sons, whose early childhoods knew only typical growing pains and the occasional run to the ER for a stitch or three.

A deep surge of gratitude and humility makes me feel strangely present in my body, anchored in a material reality of the seat by the gate, but also in the gift of this suspended moment in time.

The rows of my seat are called to board, and I fish out the little card from my wallet with the Jewish traditional travel prayer. I whisper it to myself. That the boy, his family, and I should reach our destination in life, joy and peace.

Because I take nothing for granted.

I'm Grateful for

The Glorious Galosh

When was the last time you considered a galosh? Well, I have a good one for you. I’ll never again dismiss this strange looking rubbery thingy one might think was solely created for dandies who can’t take on a puddle or some mud like a man. Oh no, not me. I recently had a chance encounter with a glorious galosh.

What a fabulous way to start a day: with a robust hour walk in my neighborhood park on a crisp, cool winter morning, the sky’s blue and I’m feelin’ good. Until the entire sole of my left Nike hiking boot just peels all the way back and disengages from my boot, leaving me limping and cursing and wondering how on earth I was going to make the mile walk home.

IMG_3127

My initial reaction was to prompt myself to act like a survivalist, thinking: “I can handle this, be creative! Tie up the boot sole with some..(looking around the park surroundings) — vine, or, or,…snow?” as I frantically searched my pockets for that pice of string or elastic I always seem to find floating around when I don’t need it.

Nothing.

Instead, I started pathetically limping and inching my way toward the main entrance of the park, scheming what I’d do when I made it to the Pond House Café, the park jewel, about 200 yards in, where I would ask for some duct tape or string.

And there, in the snow bank, like manna from heaven, I noticed something black and rubbery, whose shape I vaguely recognized as that of a good old fashioned galosh. I looked at it in disbelief. I had to restrain myself from not looking heavenward. A nifty, waterproof, shoe-covering device, available, just for me!? Just now? Really? And the amazing thing was, it fit, although it was the wrong foot. This is no small feat (read feet if you must) as I also go by the endearing, lady like name of Bigfoot (thanks dad).

IMG_3124

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I gingerly, sort of, clunked my way home with my broken hiking boot safely nestled into the glorious galosh. Later that night over dinner, telling my sons about the importance of never underestimating the value of the chance encounters life presents you with – even with inanimate objects – my youngest son blurts out: “Wait, where did you find the galosh? I put it there the other day when I was sledding with my friends. I saw something black sticking up in the snow, and I pulled it out, and left it on the top of the snow pile in case somebody was looking for it.”

Indeed, somebody was looking for it; or perhaps it was looking for somebody. And it turned out to be me, this time. The lost object my son randomly had found one week before me, touched and though about, became the glorious galosh that saved my walk, and made me smile. Twice.

Pass it on, they say.

Way, I say.

IMG_3125

Announcing the Express Window!

It takes a good friend to tell you the truth, even if she knows it might sting. One morning Anne said to me “I love your blog and reading your stories, but the problem is I often open them and begin to read, only to realize I don’t have time to finish. They are a little long.” She has a full life – kids, job, dogs, home, pet rats – you know, the usual.

So, because I don’t just write to humor myself, I decided to take the challenge: write shorter posts (some of the time) so that readers dealing with lives interrupted (like most of us do…) might read them too.

Short & Sweet II

I am happy to announce the opening of The Viking Jewess “Express Window” – a place to stop by for a quicker read; curiosities from an ex-pat’s observations in life with the same wit, edge and insight you enjoy in the longer stories, but here they’re short and sweet. These posts will have “EW” noted in the header to signal you’re in for a quickie.

Those who know me, appreciate how revolutionary it will be for me to execute the less is more dictum; it may breed some renegade and subversive writing, which could be an adventure onto itself.

Hemingway’s Four Famous Tips on Writing will come in handy here:

1. Use short sentences. (Ha ha!!!)

2. Use short first paragraphs. (Check.)

3. Use vigorous English. (A work in progress, eternally…)

4. Be positive, not negative. (Shit, really!?)

In 1934, he also confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,…I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Just keeping things in perspective here.

So, next time you’re online, stop by the Express Window for 300 words or less.

I promise.

Who knows, maybe I’ll graduate to Twitter next?

Short-and-Sweet

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

I believe in miracles, do you?

Miracles do happen. Every day. Some big, some small, and some matter more to us than others. Last night it was announced that my town’s only family owned kosher market, The Crown, will be saved by the valiant efforts of local investors with a heart. This means that my friend who’s moving back north from Florida will be able to have her much craved for famous Crown tuna salad again, my boys can still have their yummy bagels, and I can still kibbetz (chat) with some of my all-time favorite store folks. Phew.

Once I got over the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) – which all happened within a turbulent period of a couple of days – I was exhausted, but I had a feeling something good was going to come of this. It was too good of a place, too meaningful of a thing, to just vanish into thin air.

As they used to say in France when they still had monarchy:

“The king is dead. Long live the king!”

We’ll just replace king with The Crown. Totally works.

Crown

So, now that this roller coaster ride is over, or at least that part of it, let’s board the radio-car ride, because it’s time for the ideas to be bounced around to find the best operating solution for the Crown to move forward in good, robust health.

I raise my cup of tea with honey to The Crown’s future health!

L’chaim l’Crown! - To the Crown’s life!

On this lovely occasion, some might get nostalgic with this one: “If only you believe in miracles, like I believe, we’d get by…”