29 August 2009

Woodstock

I saw the new Ang Lee film "Taking Woodstock" last night. Hard to believe it is 40 years, then again, everything these days seems so far in the past and hard to believe.

I wasn't there. I had moved to California [the first time] in June of that year so I watched with fascination as the phenomenon took on a life of its own. For those too young to remember, that was also the summer of the Mets and also the summer of the moon walk, a remarkable year 1969. The film does a good job capturing that moment. Peace love and music for three days. Seems so foreign a possibility now, but no less remarkable then I suppose.

I confess, I wouldn't have gone if I had been still in New York. I was, and likely remain, too uptight for that sort of happening. I never liked crowds. I never liked drugs nor being around druggies. And yet, looking back, like the protagonist of the film, I might have come out of a life-long shell if I had gone. I might have had a truly transformative experience, which otherwise took me years to achieve and is thus hardly transformative - I never morphed, I evolved.

Still, as my older daughter likes to remind me, we need to get out of our comfort zones now and then. Change, I've always believed, has to be facilitated - it doesn't happen to us. We have to make change in order to achieve change. That's what Laguna Beach was about for me, a decision I have never once regretted for a moment, despite still longing for the near and dear.

We need change - each of us needs change now and then, and the world we inhabit, that is seriously in need of change, but I echo our leader. Another reason today to be thinking about Ted Kennedy who devoted his life to change for those he believed most in need of a voice for change. A complex man of many flaws and who, I believed, suffered severely for the stresses placed upon him from the get-go, he found change in himself over time and surely made change his priority - a priority served as much by persistence as passion.

Sometimes persistence is everything. Sometimes simply an attitude adjustment. Usually both. The lessons of Woodstock and Kennedy, among others. I would like to see on my headstone [metaphorically speaking as I intend to be cremated] merely this: She always tried to do better. To do better requires change. We do need to shake off the familiar at times and take on the new. What might we find as we turn that corner?

Yet, on a sultry summer day like today, I would rather sit on the back patio immersed in the gorgeous book I am reading, the third of the divine Italian writer Erri de Luca. Change will have to wait at least another day.

23 August 2009

Sundays

A journalist needs a hook but blogs are different and are meant to be spontaneous. I prefer theme and metaphor but not sure what I will say today, an ordinary Sunday. I saw Time Traveler's Wife last night. I had a hard time with the book, overly complex and circular, but I appreciated the sentiment and the focus on the wife's journey, a life-long love affair without tether. Truly day to day. The movie is more linear in presentation, and the focus seems to me to be more the traveler, his lonely journey, with only the connection to his wife to tether him to himself. Interesting concept. How many men see themselves as part of the whole of their marriage? How many see themselves through their wives' eyes? The film lacked the punch of the book, a common refrain, but pleasant and frankly Eric Bana in the buff is reason enough.

Last week I read the soon to be published "Homer and Langley" by E. L. Doctorow, one of the best, which fictionalized the lives of the Colyer brothers of New York City who lived increasingly reclusive and ultimately paranoid lives, sadly exiling themselves from even the few people who populated their worlds and withdrew into a private lonely world from which they never emerged. So sad, exquisitely told.

Today I drift. A frequent phenomena of Sundays. Yes, I start Sundays with a walk or Pilates class, and a reading of the New York Times, ritual more than schedule. I often clean. I do laundry if it hasn't been done on Saturday, which it was this week. I check email. I join a new MeetUp group [ex-east Coasters, mostly New Yorkers, what a fun idea.] I finish up last week's New Yorker, making me almost caught up [the stories remain folded down for late nights.] I will soon start reading a new novel, always a special moment. Ah, what to choose.

The sun is shining brightly today. I should set my face in that direction for a while, get a bit of color. I look a little pale these days, not sure why. I have spoken with a few East Coast friends, another week-end ritual. They are well, busy, productive, thoughtful. My daughters are busy and well, perhaps Dana and I will find time for a phone chat today. Later this afternoon, I will attend a wine tasting/art show benefit for Breast Cancer Angels, who helped, among many others, my friend/artist Sue Thompson pay her bills and navigate her way through treatment, and thankfully, she is well past it all and painting her best work.

I will return to bury myself in a book or perhaps a DVD, a makeshift dinner and an hour with 60 Minutes. And when I chronicle the meanderings of an ordinary Sunday, I see it is filled with connections - friends and family, passions and pastimes. I am not so much flaneur as tethered to the comforts of a life largely filled, even in these quiet moments, with good things and good people, albeit often from a distance.

And therein lies the theme - we enjoy the pleasures of connection, to each other, to our passions and longings, and to the sheer delight and privelege of a lazy Sunday. Cheers...

16 August 2009

And now a brief pause for politics

I began writing, and remain committed to, a blog that chronicles personal change, but I must deviate this morning to vent my rage, and concern, over the extremists that threaten our world. Read at your own emotional peril.

I awakened Saturday morning early to take a long walk, longer than usual because that is what makes week-end mornings wonderful, and drove to Crystal Cove, a ruggedly beautiful spot between Laguna and Newport, for a roughly 5-mile walk above the beach that always soothes. A little more than an hour later I returned to an iced tea and light breakfast and the pleasure of a new novel, yet to be published, by the divine E. L. Doctorow, and even in those few first pages I can report that it is, in fact, divine, so far. Feeling righteous and rested, I stopped at Trader Joe's for the requisite fruits and vegetables that fill my fridge, and always enjoy the pleasant ambiance there, only to emerge to be verbally assaulted by two young men who asked me this: Do you want to help us stop Obama, the new Hitler?

No, I said, but even in my rage, I refused to engage them, as I know there is no talking to people with fanatical misguided viewpoints, although I suppose I reneged on my obligation as a citizen to try to alter their view. I couldn't do it. Shaken so suddenly and painfully from my morning reverie, I was too angry to speak, and have learned over the years to withhold comment when angry, preferring to wait until a calmer more balanced commentary might unfold. Instead, I drove away and called a sympathetic friend to vent.

Ironic, in the worst way, that they invoke the monster that used the politics of fear to manipulate the masses to his end... seems to me, these otherwise ordinary well-dressed politico's are the Nazi's. I know, when I am rational, that extremists get attention, especially in our 24-7 news world. I know they are misinformed and misguided more than evil, or so I want to believe. I know that perhaps deep down they are terrified of what they do not understand or what they have been led to believe, or merely terrified by the deeply held beliefs indoctrinated in them likely much of their lives by those infused with hate. I know they do not represent the majority, but I also see a country increasingly misled by deliberate misinformation and dictated by fear and thus, I too am frightened by the potential sabotage of our future beyond what we have already lost in the years lost to the conservative core.

I am a moderate. I am not the liberal many believe me to be because I vote Democrat and work for the disenfranchised. I believe in taking responsibility for one's life but also for the lives of those less fortunate. I believe in help rather than scorn and encouragement rather than abandonment. I believe in the common good beyond any individual, but in the preservation of individual rights. I believe that only if we nurture and protect the children, all the children, do we have any chance of a better world, but as children follow what they see, there will always be extremists, of all types, and they will always color the debate and inhibit change. Thus, after the vent, I cry, as I often do, when inhumanity invades my space with its ugly face.

Is it possible to request political asylum in France?

06 August 2009

Oceans

A 16-year old girl, niece of a colleague, arrived for a week’s vacation with an equally adorable South Dakota friend in tow, and when I asked if they had ever been to California they replied no, they’ve never even seen an ocean.

I cannot imagine a landlocked life. Growing up in NYC, the Atlantic Ocean was never far. Although I had to take long hot subway train rides to Coney Island or Jones Beach in Brooklyn, or occasionally the family drove to Orchard Beach in the south Bronx, the Atlantic Ocean always beckoned. Summer was beach season. We never had access to a pool and when, as an older child, I spent summers at a camp upstate, I discovered the pleasures of boating and swimming on a lake, but the ocean remained my touchpoint for summer living. The only other water source in summer was a hydrant unplugged, a city kids version of waves.

We visited my aunt every summer in Virginia or we met half-way in Rehoboth Beach, Maryland. And when I grew up and moved to Connecticut, I picked a town on the Long Island Sound, an extension of the Atlantic as deep and profound as the ocean itself, but with gentler waves, and began regular sojourns to Cape Cod or the Rhode Island and Jersey shores, as the Atlantic held its sway up and down the coast and always welcomed visitors longing for the soothing steady rush of waves rolling to shore.

I cannot imagine life without the ocean, although I rarely go into the water these days. The Pacific is always colder and the riptide [which a friend recently explained is different from the undertow we were warned to watch for by our ever-protective parents] is often at a powerful pitch and I no longer feel quite so brave as when I was a girl, jumping giant waves and waiting with great expectation to crash within and come up gasping for air, a water-logged roller coaster.

But wait. What if one grew up with giant trees and forest terrain bordered by creeks or rivers, or flat lands punctuated by lakes or ponds suitable for swimming? Perhaps the ocean might seem too vast, monotone and oppressive. Waves unsettling. Is the ocean uniformly embraced by virtue of its majesty?

Apparently so. The mid-western girls flung themselves into rolling churning froth and loved every minute of it. As if the ocean is home to us all, home to the amoeba’s that gave birth to us and thus a collective womb.

Swimming in the ocean is only one of its pleasures. I regularly walk along the beach and dig my toes into the moist sand at water’s edge. I sit in a striped beach chair and read, distracted pleasantly by children and dogs and families enjoying Oceanside life. On a sunset walk early in my life in Laguna Beach, I stood at the edge of one of the many streets that end at the beach, watching surfers catch the swell, when all of a sudden they all stopped and sat on the boards facing the sun as if sculptures of themselves, and I thought it might be some sort of homage to the end of day, when a school of Dolphins passed by and I realized the surfers were giving them right of way. One of the many wonderful moments only found at the ocean.

When friends remind me that I could live ever so much more cheaply inland, I am reminded that the ocean is my ballast and today, I am also reminded of how blessed I have been to be so close all the days of my life, a blessing never to be taken for granted, and always top of mind in this place where the Pacific is southwestern wallpaper, always there for the taking for anyone and everyone, including teenagers from South Dakota on a holiday they will likely never forget.

A note from Wikipedia. The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. Its name is derived from the Latin name Mare Pacificum, "peaceful sea", bestowed upon it by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. It extends from the Arctic in the north to Antarctica in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east. At 169.2 million square kilometres (65.3 million square miles) in area, this largest division of the World Ocean – and, in turn, the hydrosphere – covers about 46% of the Earth's water surface and about 32% of its total surface area, making it larger than all of the Earth's land area combined.[1] The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, with two exceptions: the Gal├ípagos and Gilbert Islands are deemed wholly within the South Pacific.[2] The Mariana Trench in the western North Pacific is the deepest point in the Pacific and in the world, reaching a depth of 10,911 metres (35,798 ft).[3]

01 August 2009

The best moments

Think about the moments you were most happy. An event, a period of time, a phase of your life. These moments mark our passages. Markers on the continuum of our own lives. They define us.

I think back to my fifth birthday, which I do not remember at all, but I have an old film of it, and I see happiness on my face. I have been perched on a chair at the head of a kitchen table, surrounded by my extended family, my chubby tan little body capped by sun bleached hair, even a few curls there, rarely seen again, where I preside over the lighting of birthday candles and the opening of presents. There is glee in my eyes, the one and only feature of my face that remains largely the same. My mother is especially beautiful that day, tanned and freckled skin exposed by a sundress, and healthy - perhaps the last time in my life as she was diagnosed soon after with the disease that would define and ultimately rob her life.

I leap forward not to my wedding day, which was marked more by nerves and uncertainty than joy, but to a belated scuba diving honeymoon where we finally relaxed into matrimony and where my first daughter was conceived, and subsequently the utter joy of that pregnancy, filled with the delight of possibilities, an effort, the first really of my life, to be truly healthy, and the rewards of thicker hair and brighter skin and a joyful outlook, only now and then marred by the anxiety that would come to plague the early years of motherhood. Fast forward to the birth of the second daughter, and the happiness, not only to have another healthy child, but to begin to be a better mother, always easier the second time.

The first publication of written words. The completion of a degree and then another, although these were more relief and satisfaction perhaps than happiness. Moments on the beach, at family gatherings, with friends. Rare but heavenly moments where my husband and I were in sync and taking such pleasure in love.

Maple Avenue. At last, having released the ballast of the big house in the back country, Rusty’s dream house, we move to the 150 year-old Greek revival on the busy in-town street, with wonderfully tall ceilings and chestnut floorboards and five carved mantles over working fireplaces, and the sheer treasure of owning and inhabiting a house filled with history. I drove down to Maple Avenue the morning before we closed, 5:00 AM, a rare quiet time in town, and stared at the house from across the street, knowing in the deepest part of me that the house and I were meant to be. My house, my home, the address of which remains with me as my internet moniker, where holiday parties became tradition and church bells chimed the passing of each day and the first novels were written in the front parlor, while children grew and flew and, sadly, romance was lost, but a self discovered.

Meandering through bookstores, especially the great ones, these are always happy moments. Working at bookstores. Discovering new places. Time with children, with the dearest of friends. A great play or film. A great book. Long afternoons on the beach. These moments of happiness, constant but fleeting, punctuate a life.

The first moments in Laguna Beach, the neon sign marking a new life. The move. The first year of discovery, the year of making friends. The early blogs so filled with delight at everything from views to foliage to the familiar detritus of a walk to town.

I look back at my life and see what made me happy and seek more of that going forward. The best part of life, the looking forward, is now largely past – love, marriage, children, career, personal development – but the pleasure of all that stays with me. None of it has to do with work or money or status. Only moments of joy and contentment. That’s all there is and that perhaps is the essence of happiness, if one is so lucky as I to have had so many moments.