Moving On

The count down has begun to my moving day. This feels both exhilarating and overwhelming, and even a tad surreal. But I’ve always tried to be the kind of person who looks at change whether willed, natural or unexpected, as a positive and necessary thing. If there is to be life, there has to be change. I can’t say I have lived my life so far avoiding leaps into change and difference: moving from one continent to another, converting from one religion to another, going from single to married to single again; these have all been huge emotional movements above and beyond the more natural but no less grand events such as motherhood, degree-begetting and, alas, “THE change,” (the latter making every day potentially but unpredictably a hot and flashy experience, mid-summer aisde). In less than one week I’m heading north to Maine, but first the journey goes to Israel to write, do research and learn more Hebrew, a dream I’ve had since my early days as a Jewess.

I’m basically an empty nester now, all three sons having graduated from high school and moving on with their life plans, leaving me able to imagine a different dailiness than the one I have lived for the past 28 years in my safe and pretty privileged Connecticut suburb. This is where I moved as a newlywed, raised my children, and experienced an extraordinary Jewish community that I was in many small ways part of building. It’s also where I have lived through the painful process of separation and divorce, and the odd but convenient last few years of living in a condo ten doors down from the large house where I had raised my kids, and where their father still lives with our boys’ step-mom. Both the children and we parents shared the ease of this proximity, since there was no need for the adults to drive the kids to mom or dad’s house, and the kids could just stroll down the street to either home, to fetch a schoolbook or that favorite pair of jeans left behind. The oddity came with remaining so close, too close, to the place and the person I was no longer connected to in that intimate and familiar way; the nooks and crannies of the big, old house, and the movements, habits and sounds of the guy whom I had lived with since I was 19 years old.

But if there is one advantage to being an adjunct professor it is that, professionally, there are no ties, and although the adjunct may be poor as a pauper, she is free as a bird. The other day I was sitting at my kitchen counter, having written out a check for a bill needing to be mailed, and realized that the roll of colorful return address labels I ordered when I first moved into my new condo, over six years ago, is almost empty. While tugging at the now tiny roll nestled inside the clear acrylic dispenser holding the labels, I thought, what a coincidence. Or, good timing! There’s a time to nest, and a time to fly.

I won’t be able to order new address labels yet, since I’m going to live a bit of a vagabond life for a while, but shedding the ties associated with regular suburban living will also mean fewer of those kinds of bills to pay. Away goes the mortgage, the condo fees, the massive property taxes, the utility bills, the JCC membership…Uprooting, even when it doesn’t happen often, is never easy, but it can feel both liberating and destabilizing.

Leaving the place called home, however, has never meant severing the ties to the heart. Although I left Oslo, Norway, 32 years ago this month, my friendships from growing up there remain among my most dear ones. And now, after 28 years in my second hometown, it is not with glee or carefreeness that I up and go. As much as I feel the change that lies ahead is a necessary and a good one for my growth as an individual, a significant piece of my heart will always linger here, among the special relationships and places I have been so lucky to know and love.

Change

 

 

 

Red: The Color of Change, Passion and Life

Update on my watch color dilemma: After much deliberation and agony carefully deciding between purple, orange or lime green (you may have read about my colorful and emotional associations in my last blog, Seeing Time in Colors: On Turning 50,  and you might think I was forced to choose between eternal emotional stress or institutionalization – both real options I must refuse) – I am glad to report that I am the proud owner of a sleek, bold RED watch. I am still in shock.

What happened? The fools sent me the WRONG one! No, actually, I must have clicked on the “wrong” button as I feverishly, finally, had made my decision, and in this fervor, my subconscious must have laughed out loud and navigated my fingertip a nano-inch to the right. Or left. No matter, red it is. And it looks and feels great!

And I have a theory as to why I am now walking around happily strutting my RED watch, steeling furtive glances in its general direction even when I know what time it is. Dang, it’s good looking. And it has no baggage of my ponderous color obsessions! That’s the theory. I know, I’m not prone to the scientific method, but it does seem beyond coincidence that in the deepest, instinctive part of my kishkes I knew it as a matter of survival and I had to choose a different color all together. Get rid of the baggage! It’s the New Year, for heaven sakes!

It stand on its own; it is bright, assertive, sexy, and packs a punch: pow-wow! Like a wallop of love that’s meant to be, of lust, of romance, of the stuff that pumps energy into life. I can live with that.

Now, when I begin to feel a little shvach or weak during the Yom Kippur fast next week, I can simply glance down on my vibrant, life-affirming watch and get the koach (strength) to make it to the end.

And then new life can begin again; a fresh start as we enter the year 5776!

L’chaim!

(Oh, and if you wonder, it was orange that lost it to red.)

Seeing Time in Colors: On Turning 50

There it is, I’m turning 50 in a few days. That’s a lot of years to have lived a mostly blessed life, and, although a recent FB test I’d like to curse claims I will only live to 65 – or was it 67?– I plan and hope to be just about half way through my life’s journey. Perhaps it’s myself I should blame for having been suckered into taking the stupid “How Old Will You Get?” quiz and not the quiz itself. Hmm.

When I turned 40, I celebrated with a huge birthday bash: a sit-down dinner for 40 marvelous girlfriends, a super-long beautifully decorated table set up in our cleared-out living room for the occasion. The evening was not just grand, but meaningful as well. In addition to a constant flow of the then newly popular pink libation known as Cosmopolitan, bar tendered and generously poured by my at the time husband and his at the time best friend – the only males present aside from my 3 sons – it was the flowing of all the abundant words of inspiration, friendship and gratitude that left me in awe. The combination of extreme happiness, multiple Cosmos and beautiful speeches and toasts is about as good a time as anyone can have.

Much has changed since then. I am no longer married to that fun and larger-than-life husband, I no longer live in that gracious ginormous home where guests and parties made so much sense; my boys are mostly all grown up, and life has been marked by – enriched by – what Dante names traviamento, moments of getting lost. Friendships have waxed and waned, money has come and gone (mostly gone “whooozz”), and I am at the brink of a new dawn, a new leg of the journey. The empty nester. The midlife re-configuration. Being in love. The appropriation of the 50+ right to say “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” more often, and to stop feeling guilty about…so much. So much.

“What would you like for your 50th birthday gift?” my mom and sister asked me a while back. Old habits made me think about objects. Gorgeous bohemian tchotchkes that would beautify me or my home that they could send me in the mail. However, new habits made me think about an experience and time. With them. So, we are meeting up in Iceland for a long week-end – a sort of half-way point between Norway and the U.S East Coast, to relish in each other “while we have us” as my dad used to say.

Despite all of my existentially profound talk of more lofty goals and ethics than the lowly accumulation of earthly goods, the fact is that my watch is broken, and I could use a new one. My boyfriend has generously offered to bestow me with one, and the model I covet, yes covet, is a pricey, sleek steel Scandinavian design with a colorful face. The problem is, I can’t decide on what color. I can easily imagine each vibrant, inspirational shade look fabulous on my wrist, but alas, I can’t have them all and will have to choose one. Woe is me.

The good news is I have managed to narrow it down to three: Purple – the hue of a perfect, voluptious eggplant, or aubergine, one of my favorite foods and colors; orange – the tint of the brightest, happiest and most productive day; lime green – the hue of a cool spring morning, crisp, fresh and full of hope. The bad news is, each color brings with it all sorts of associations. I used to joke with my ex, the accountant, that he saw the world exclusively in a relationship of numbers and percentages, whereas I understood it through a lens of intense color awareness, symphonies or cacophonies alike.

With purple comes the memory of the loving home where I raised my boys and lived as a married woman, where I had sought to bohemian-ize the stately foyer and main stairway walls by painting them in a luscious Benjamin Moore purple – was it “exotic purple” or “purplicious”? – a color that was painted over by my ex’s new partner – and so, do I want to carry with me, like a shackle on my wrist, a reminder of what could no longer be, of loss and change and inevitability?

With orange I see the inspiration of creativity and the feeling I have when I must write the next word, and the next and the next until they pour out of me like molten lava to form another idea and paragraph that give my life energy and purpose. But with this commitment to letting go also comes the danger of too much, of exploding emotions and a more rapid heartbeat. Of loosing control. Do I want the visual, ticking reminder of how I feel too often inside, when my emotions get the better of me, like licking, greedy flames consuming my ability to be rational and calm?

With lime green, that delightful and tranquil stop on the color palette that beckons me to rest for a while, to stop worrying and allow myself to be carried along without so much effort; as if I had checked in to a sanatorium somewhere in the Swiss Alps, where a nurse wearing a crisp and white uniform addresses me in compassionate whispers with a strange but soothing accent, bringing me my medicine and tea on a tray while I sit in a teak chaise long on the sprawling lawn, overlooking the orchard and the blue mountains in the distance. Nodding off, letting a pain-free life pass by. Do I want to cast furtive glances at the time that remains, the time that has passed, the time of the present, feeling the detached coolness of this inviting hue of hospital-ity?

My broken watch is beside me on the counter. It’s strong steel rim and band, unproblematic white face with several fine hairline cracks, arms that aren’t quite in synch with passing time anymore. They seem to lag, to be heavy, to be lacking some energy despite the battery that works just fine. Like its owner, age is having its effects on some of the mechanics, but it still shines at me with a seeming timeless willingness to keep trying. To keep going. To keep doing its job. I think I’ll take it back again to the jeweler and ask her to take another look.

New Year Resolution? Compost and Compassion!

It’s the Jewish New Year (5775 for those counting or curious) and I say BRING IT ON!

Bring on the giddy renewal of a new year, and all the hopes and dreams it can and should hold.

What happened right before Rosh Hashanah makes me believe that change is always possible, and that love, compassion and small efforts are really the key ingredients to making hearts sing.

What happened was so small, yet brought me to tears: For the first time since I became Jewish, some 26 years ago, my non-Jewish mother (in Norway) texted me: “L’Shanah Tovah! Hugs to all from Mormor!” Now THAT is just special when your Norwegian speaking mom makes the effort to send a greeting in Hebrew: Imagine the auto correct texting battle on her iPhone in Oslo. Not that she hasn’t supported my choices in life; not that she isn’t aware of the various Jewish Holidays, but that small effort made a huge difference in how I was able to enter the holiday period with what felt like a lifted spirit.

It’s the small things that matter. I will bring this memory with me into the new year, and with more compassion toward others and even myself, I hope to bring on some small but meaningful changes.

Shanah tovah

***

And the compost, you ask?

As I was cooking up a storm for the various meals I was hosting for the holidays, I looked at the ever growing mounds of vegetable and fruit peels, cores and ends in my sink and decided to no longer toss all these goodies in the trash or down the garbage disposal. Finally – after how many years of serious meal preparations? and a constant nagging feeling that it is just wrong to throw it all in the garbage – an internal voice said “If not now, when?”

My friend has a big compost unit in his garden, and I have now seen the magic in action and up close; how the “gold” is produced over time. I simply could not bring myself to throw all the stuff away, although my old muscle memory made fun of my newfound idealism, and I had to more than once pick stuff back out of the trash to put it in the compost pile. Old habits die hard. But they can be “finished off” with a small effort.

So I say Compost and Compassion; my two invigorating buzz words for this New Year of 5775.

Compost

It’s All in the Name

Reading the “About Me” part of my blog, my youngest son asked, “Aren’t you going to give them your name?” He has a point.

Whats-my-name-81444320611_xlarge

I know that I like to know the name of people I engage with, especially because even if I don’t know them personally I like to envision them, and for some reason, when I know their name, it helps me somehow have an idea about them, at least in my imagination. Which is of course kind of absurd, since Bubba does not have to be a big, jolly fella, nor Hildegard necessarily a rosy cheeked blond farm frau from Germany. But let’s be real, a name helps create a connection of sorts.

The story of how we get our names, or how we choose or change them, should we so be inclined, or lucky, or both, can add a layer to the complexity (read: interesting narrative) of who we are, and allow us to imagine or understand others in a more “contextual” way. For everyone has many layers of (con)texts embedded in their identity; a multitude of fibers, threads and colors contributing to the unique fabric of their being. In the end, a name tells a story of its own. When I have a new group of students, I usually give them an assignment the first day of class to post a short paragraph about their first name on our course blog. This is actually just a trick to help me remember 38 new names and faces with greater ease, since I tend to build stories around most things and humans I encounter. And if the student doesn’t know about how or why they were given their unique name (most are bearers of fascinating small tales about how names are bestowed in their families, and happy for the opportunity to share this piece of family tidbit with their new peers), I invite them to share anything they may have on their mind, about their name. This too, can be quite telling and entertaining, and it creates a connection.

So my name is Nina Boug Lichtenstein, née Boug Kristiansen.

When I grew up I used to dislike my common first name, and fantasized about a more exotic name like Anastasia or Isabelle. There were four Ninas in my school alone and it was definitely a popular name in the 1960s Oslo. Had I known then what I know now about my first name, I might have felt differently. Some of the meanings for Nina in various cultures are: “God was gracious or God has shown favor”(Hebrew), “nice” (Persian), “beautiful eyes”(Hindi), “mother” (Swahili), “strong or mighty”(Native American), “friend” (Arabic), “flower” (Old Greek) and “fire” (Quechua – the people and culture of the Central Andes in South America). Wow. I never knew that until recently.

And I feel better already. Talk about a name with good vibes! I wonder if my parents knew these meanings for my name when they chose it for me. Had they intended these strong attributes for me, as they gave me that first “selective” piece of personal identity? I really do believe in the power of intentions…

In the middle of my identity nomenclature there is Boug (my mother’s maiden name) which I decided to keep when I got married. Boug apparently is a derivative of the French bourg meaning “town” – you may recognize a term such as “bourgmeister” which is German for the mayor of the town. If my parentage hailed from a venerable mayoral family or were just simply “townsfolk” vs. farmers I have yet to find out, but what is clear here, is that the pure blood viking-idea is not in my gene pool (not that there ever was one, or that it was important). Explorers! Travelers and boarder crossers going way back and in all ways. Yup; that’s the genetics I’m carrying. That sounds more like it.

Then there is my maiden name Kristiansen, which I have thought about taking back now that I am divorced, to honor my father who recently died. Kristiansen. I’m The Viking Jewess. I hope you see the irony here. That is Kristiansen as in “son of Kristian” or rather, “of the Christian” (as opposed to “the heathen,” I suppose) according to the Scandinavian tradition of naming. While I did not undergo gender-reassignment surgery (as it is now called) and was never anybody’s son, I did shed my initially State imposed Christian religious belonging. My father, a self-proclaimed agnostic who had withdrawn his membership from the Norwegian State Church (and who took care of the paperwork for me when I decided to do the same) was born into this very common last name, and my grandmother once told me she had wanted to change it, but found the bureaucratic paper-mill overwhelming and so resigned her dreams of a more distinctive last name.

I have now carried the last name Lichtenstein for over 25 years, and I must say it has until recently been a pleasure. I did not mind changing my last name when I married at 23, since just before exchanging vows I had made another significant commitment: to be a Jew and live a life according to Jewish traditions. Somehow, that didn’t seem to fit so well with the last name I imported from Norway. This was engraved in my experience every time I met a new Jewish person and introduced myself – hyper-sensitive as I was about my difference –  culminating on the very day of my conversion, when three stern faced orthodox rabbis sat facing me and my Christian name came up, again and again, like lashes in an inquisition. Morbid exaggeration and reversed imagery aside, it just felt so humiliating, and I somehow imagine it would have been different if my maiden name had been Hansen or Arnesen.

I came to know and love the long-winded Lichtenstein name along with my ever evolving new identity. Spelling it out in almost a melodic manner for every clerk, salesperson or professor who looked like a question mark when I said my name, I adapted quickly. And how many times have perfect strangers not loudly associated my married last name with an entire country, or tiny principality if they are savvy enough to know the difference, and how many times have I answered “No, not quite like the country” or “Yes, like the country” depending on my mood and energy. At times it felt regal, especially in Norway, where it’s pronounced in a way that on a good day can give it an aura of lost grandeur and princely mystique. Not to mention the occasional association with the artist Roy Lichtenstein here in the States. People actually would ask me if we were related. I wish.

Deconstructing Lich

Deconstructing Nina Lichtenstein

About 20 years into my marriage, the Mr. and Mrs. Lichtenstein that we were became Mr. and Dr. Lichtenstein. Joining the two other doctors in the family, my father in law, a DDS specializing in oral surgery, and a sister in law with a PH.D in anthropology, this new, tiny, appendage to my name was hard earned. Eventually came my divorce, and swiftly enter from stage left a new Mrs. Lichtenstein, and here we are.

While enjoying a hike in the woods of Norway with my three sons last summer, I again brought up the topic of me thinking about changing my last name, something they had not been too receptive to last time I tried to air the possibility, and so I had just dropped it. “But why, mamma? You are a Lichtenstein!” they seemed to exclaim in emphatic unison. Yes, I said, it’s true I’ve been a Lichtenstein since the day I married your pappa and decided to take his name for that reason, but now we are not married anymore, and there is a new Mrs. Lichtenstein. Silence. Until the oldest, about to be a freshman in college reasonably offered: “That’s a good point” and the other two mumbled their acquiescence.

As much as divorce can be about loss and things ending, it is also about new beginnings. So, rather than answering the question, “what’s my name?” I sip my coffee and ponder: “what will my name be?” Or even more deeply: “What can my story become?” Being and becoming. As French philosopher Gilles Deleuze posited (as he, in turn was elaborating on Nietzsche’s philosophy), human reality is more about a constant becoming, not a static being. Being in a process, then, seems to at once welcome the idea of “I am” (“I exist” – a concept I like to admit and enjoy for now) to include the more open ended notion of “I am becoming.”

Perhaps all the empty spaces don’t have to filled in right away…

Hello Name