How perfect!—my daughter writes a post about being on the road and my thoughts turn to coming home.
It happens every year. Thanksgiving rolls around, she lives in L.A., I picture her here, the sleepy hamlet of Katonah, NY.
No secret that air travel—even without the added stresses of uncooperative weather—is a nightmare during prime-time holidays. We talk about how nice it would be to spend Thanksgiving together again. Immediately the memories kick in: our first Thanksgiving in the new house years ago, the dog settled on the kitchen floor staring up at the turkey being carved. Body language says it all. Any scrap will do.
With so many people booking flights home, planes completely full, you’d think air fares could be cheaper, not sky high. But commerce is never about heart. And coming home is never just about money. We pull out the rationalization card—there are 365 days to the year, you can visit anytime, why put so much emphasis on one day? We remind ourselves that life choices sometimes bring complications. What we think of as ‘home,’ for all the memories and comforts it encompasses, is never the same once we leave it. Sure, there’s always evidence of our presence, even in reconfigured rooms. But sometimes the very quality of what felt good and safe—in my case, a solid middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood where doors could be left open during the day—gives way to a gradual deterioration. Home is tinged with sadness. What was, no longer is. You can’t go home again.
For my daughter, three thousand miles away, coming home brings some pampering, yes, and favorite meals cooked by mama, and cozying up to the television as a family. But each visit is a reminder of what’s missing (the dog barking at animals on the TV screen or in a game of catch-me-if-you-can or curled in her bed, a ghost now) and every Thanksgiving recalls that first one in a house that is every bit a home, my husband’s gift for designing space all the feng shui needed. A wall removed here, an architectural column added there, and voilà—the living room/dining room/kitchen takes on a loft-like feel, a place meant for friends and family to gather.
This year there were nine of us around the table. At its center was a menorah, which my husband lit as I served latkes. Gold-foiled chocolate Chanukah gelt dotted the tablecloth like confetti. One friend brought vodka (my request) to go with the latkes. I like the sound of it, I told him, vodka and latkes. Just as I like the sound of Thanksgivvukah—the rare convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah that last occurred in 1888 and won’t occur again until 2070. When the sun and moon cross paths we have an eclipse. When the 2013 solar (Gregorian) calendar marks a feast of thanks on the very same day the 5774 lunar (Jewish) calendar marks a festival of light, everything shines a little more brightly. Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with remembrance.
We held up our glasses to someone with us in spirit, seven years gone now, her husband reminded us. She was the one who started our Thanksgiving-with-friends tradition, all of us living in the city at the time. We began alternating when I moved to the big exurban house. I assumed the mantle when breast cancer made her too weak to cook. When a link is broken, we do our best to hold together the chain. Some Thanksgivings we spend together, some we don’t. This one was as perfect as it gets. Despite (or because of) telling myself I was letting go of perfection this year, the turkey was brown and crisp and juicy.
So instead of picturing my daughter scrambling to the airport to come home, I content myself with texts from her (when she’s in the passenger seat) en route to Davis, CA, with her boyfriend, where she would spend turkey day with her grandmother/aunt/uncle/cousin. It warms my heart, really. If only I could get past that little ache, the passing years, the letting go, the nostalgia for that thing called family gatherings in a time when generational distance from the fold is more the norm than the exception.
If there is light in your heart, you will find your way Home—
Even if Rumi had in mind something beyond walls and hearths, feasts and comforts, his words have a way of speaking to the moment, and the times in which we live: maybe you don’t have to be fully engaged in a spiritual life to long for the spirit of home. We do the best we can. Realities of modern living make us seek something as close to home (metaphorically) as possible when holidays roll around. We have home pages, homing devices, movies that tell us there’s no place like it. All Dorothy had to do was click her heels three times. All E.T. wanted to do was make a very long-distance phone call.
How can I help but smile? The same Sufi mystic who has me ruminating about home reminds me, in another poem: Personality is a small dog trying to get the soul to play.
As the world turns, so do blogs evolve. That ‘spin’ Sara Dolin (yes, my daughter) brought to my blog in September apparently set the wheels in motion for an idea she came up with: how about we do a mother/daughter blog? Rather than reinventing the wheel (i.e., start a new blog), we’ll be alternating posts here, with some regularity, and with the goal of keeping a thematic thread to them. So there you have it—a woman who will be singing Beatles’ songs all day on her 64th birthday (a few weeks from now) in a blog duet of sorts with her 27-year-old daughter, who brings a different kind of music to her mother’s life.
Who knows where this road will lead?
I first read On the Road when I was 17. Coincidentally, I was on the road at the time as well, having just taken a bus trip to Maine, followed by a ferry trip to Nantucket (okay so road and water trip). I was probably too young to grasp the full meaning and context of it (and have since re-read it several times), but one thing I took away was a desire to be on the road . . . see the world . . . see the country.
My wanderlust has taken me to the far reaches of the planet, from Middle Earth to the Middle East, and all the natural wonders that I’ve seen filled me with a desire to see what my great country has to offer me. I mean it’s totally crazy how different the terrain in New York is from California, and there’s so much in the middle! To say that I’ve been waiting for the right time to drive across the country since I was 17 is an understatement. Finally, almost exactly ten years later, I got my chance.
After five years of living in Los Angeles, one of my good friends decided to move back to New York. Being on a “work hiatus,” I decided it was now or never for me, and took the risk of the job phone calls I might miss to finally do something I have been wanting to do for so long.
We left on October 1st. The first two full days of our trip were planned around seeing the national parks of southern Utah, and a visit to the Grand Canyon, because I mean, hello, it’s a cross-country road trip, isn’t the Grand Canyon an essential stop? Well, the House Republicans dragged their feet until the late hours of September 30th. While we hoped they would come to an agreement to keep the government open (not just for selfish reasons; it’s really kind of pathetic how many people had to go without pay for almost three weeks because of childish antics), we ended up having to change around the first few days of our trip. Regardless, it was wonderful.
New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee—I put aside all the stereotypes I had of every place, and was met with the warmest of welcomes by everyone, from friends to strangers we met in state parks. I couldn’t believe how kind strangers could be, especially when I was a stranger in a strange land! I expected hostility because of where I was from, but everyone had a story to share. I ate a pound of BBQ meat in Texas, tacos through the Southwest, ended up with my head in a garbage can and subsequently a toilet on Bourbon Street (that’s the only way to do it, right?), all while being forced to listen to Katy Perry’s “Roar” on the radio at least five times a day because it was #1 on the Billboard charts at the time. I can say I was probably the youngest visitor to Graceland in the group that I walked around with, but met some very colorful people while doing so.
I may not have many ideals in common with Republicans in New Mexico (seriously, they had a billboard on a major state freeway that said “Worst President Ever”), but one thing I share in common with everyone in my country is pride — pride from where I come from. Every single person I met was so proud to show me their city or their state or their park or whatever they had to offer. They weren’t ashamed to share with me the history of the blood we Americans have on our hands from the Navajo at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and instead were proud to share the stories they learned so that we all can be aware of our past as a nation and learn from it and move forward. They were proud of their cut of brisket and chicken fried steak (ew).
“Together we stand, divided we fall,” sings Pink Floyd in a popular song from The Wall. Seeing an expanse of terrain and people over ten days really makes you question why we’re all so divided when we’re living in the land of opportunity with common goals and dreams. It makes you wonder if you just talk to the people who you think are different, will you realize that we’re really all just the same?
I have a theory about space: the less room you have, the more efficient you are with it, everything in its place. With more space comes a mushrooming mentality, a catalyst for clutter. The mind can’t help itself. Space, psychological as well as physical, begs to be filled if not imagined. Beyond what we perceive with the naked eye are the mysteries and magic of outer space, popularized in movies like Gravity, the visually stunning if overrated Sandra Bullock/George Clooney box-off hit. For a price, even you, too, will soon be able to hop a balloon into the stratosphere.
A house, if you’re lucky, really is a home. In Gaston Bachelard’s profound and beautiful book, The Poetics of Space, he writes: “ . . . thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”
An entire past comes to dwell in a new house.
I grew up in a small apartment, two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen with just enough room for my mother to do her magic (not a second thought to the washing machine crammed into an eight-by-ten space). Brooklyn in the 1950s/60s was a great place to live, and a housing project designed to bring middle-income families to a developing neighborhood was just the thing. Instant community. Doors you didn’t need to lock, except at night. I shared a room with my brother until those pre-teen years crept up on us and my parents decided the sofabed in the living room was good enough for them. An accordion door afforded some semblance of privacy.
Oh, heaven, a room of my own! Only just as I’m getting settled in, guess who moves in with us? Oh, Grandma (otherwise known as Bubby), what an unrelenting snore you have! Trundle bed, sharing a room—you get the picture. Not that I didn’t love her.
* * *
My grandparents had had a candy store that would become my uncle’s after my grandfather died. The candy store was a storefront in a building where my cousins lived, down the street from Macy’s on Flatbush Avenue. My mother often helped out on Saturdays, and one of my favorite things to do (when I wasn’t scooping out ice cream or making egg creams) was to wander on over to Macy’s, two departments in particular: the furniture department—comfy couches and chairs in my land of make-believe living rooms—had me in its thrall. And the toy department (duh), especially at holiday time. I had thing for Lionel train sets.
Saturdays sometimes had my cousins and me off to the movies, the Loew’s Kings Theater within walking distance. Majestic may be a word lost on a young girl, but even then I sensed it. The Ladies’ Room, with its privately grand sitting area set apart from the bathroom stalls, was where I held court, imaginary as it was. I could be a princess there. Or just a girl longing for space.
Is it irony, or destiny, that had me falling in love with (and eventually marrying) a man whose sense of space was as spare as mine was cluttered? An interior designer when I met him, he had a subliminal effect on me: often, after spending a night at his modernist, exquisitely designed East Side studio apartment, I’d find myself discarding a thing or two from West Side studio, cozy as it was choked with chochkes, books, records, you name it. A spinette piano, to boot.
The house we now live in is nothing if not a reflection of his vision. Lots of deconstruction and reconstruction when we first bought it, followed by an addition years later, largely to accommodate a business run from home. The girl who grew up in a small Brooklyn apartment, who has already felt as if she’s died and gone to Heaven, had a request: could we work a walk-in closet into the plans? Nothing too big. No point in too small. Just right, as it turns out, at six by ten. No more storing shoes in boxes hidden beneath shirts and pants doubled up on hangers. No more stuffing a new tee-shirt into an already filled-to-the-brim drawer. Nor is it lost on me that the closet is almost the same in size as the kitchen of my childhood.
So today—like magic—I’m standing on the new deck off my colorful kitchen (a replacement/redesign of the preexisting one weakened by years of weathering), a sense of wonder at how what was now is gone and what is quickly feels as if it were always here.
I have room for a Lionel train set, too. If only I can figure out where to put it.
The transition from one season to the next is always a reminder of something fluid, even elusive. Sure you wake one day and the calendar tells you it’s autumn, this year’s arrival last week still in the afterglow of the Harvest Moon. But it’s not as if you haven’t already sensed it, the shifting light, the shortening of days. It’s a lot like the space between breaths that sometimes becomes the focal point during meditation. If you pay attention, breathing in can only become breathing out. And vice versa.
So it goes with the slipping of summer into autumn. By late August there’s a diminished vibrancy to the lush green of the leaves; mid-September the ache kicks in, that fading to yellow, a reminder that leaves may be dying but we still have that riot of red and orange, yellow and brown against that seasonal golden light to look forward to. A quote I came across the other day by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang sums up so eloquently the way I feel:
“I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.”
It’s a busy time for chipmunks and squirrels, I’ve noticed, a kind of rush hour as they scamper and scurry back and forth, in and out, so much to hoard. It’s a noisy season, too, lawnmowers still cutting the last bits of summer grass before the leaf blowers take over. Who needs an alarm clock in the morning when you have crows?
A few weeks ago, Labor Day to be exact, I was sitting on my deck, early morning. Sipping coffee and reading. Something made me stop. Look up.
More often than not what distracts me is something I see or hear: a squirrel doing acrobatics across tree branches. A majestic hawk circling the sky. A woodpecker rat-tat-tatting. Deer passing through my yard. A tree being trimmed.
On that particular day, the memory still vivid, it was the complete absence of usual morning sounds that enveloped me.
Not a crow caw-caw-cawing.
Not a car thrumming down the road.
Not a dog barking.
Nada, when it came to sound.
That I could be so caught up in its absence was a curious reminder, ironic as it seems, that I’m not alone. “The world is too much with us,” wrote Wordsworth, and that was way before technology wreaked havoc on our neurology: Being present to the moment is a far cry from the beeping urgency of text messages. The immediacy of sending e-mails brings an expectation of response in a timely fashion, the question being: whose time frame is it anyway?
Years ago I read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle, drawn to the title. At the very beginning she writes:
“I like hanging sheets on lines under the apple trees—the birds like it, too. I enjoy going out to the incinerator after dark and watching the flames; my bad feelings burn away with the trash. But the house is still visible, and I can hear the sounds from within; often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”
The quiet a writer needs to do her work was at the heart of a conversation between novelist/filmmaker/Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki and editor/novelist Carole DeSanti, hosted by WNBA-NYC. “Real creative work comes from a quiet place,” said DeSanti. We may need the noise, that “conversation with the world,” as Ozeki put it, at the start of a project. “But at the end I need quiet to dig in.”
“Silence is an endangered species,” says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in an interview with Krista Tippett that begs to be listened to. “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything,” he explains, taking listeners on a virtual hike through the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park to what he calls One Square Inch of Silence. It’s through silence that we regain the power to listen.
“Now we will all count to twelve/and we will all keep still. . . .” begins a Pablo Neruda poem that Jewish-Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein is said to carry with her everywhere she goes. Listen to her recite it. Or read it here.
The poem, a favorite of mine, is called “Keeping Quiet.”
My daughter calls me, no Talmudic issue, a simple statement: I don’t know if I’m feeling services this year. I can relate. I myself feel a little like a wandering Jew, not sure where my spiritual affiliation belongs. Call me a seeker. Call me a ‘Jubu’ (i.e., that charming acronym denoting those of us entrenched in the culture of Judaism but exploring/embracing Buddhist ways).
Call me a woman who cannot let Yom Kippur pass without spending some time in a synagogue. What’s the point in fasting, I ask myself, if not to be part of the ritualistic bigger picture? Even crammed into a sanctuary that swells during the holidays, I’m a part of a ritual that connects me to something beyond myself. The Yizkor service in memory of those gone from this world is just one reason to be there, the irony being that what takes the edge off hunger of a physical kind has me hungering for something else.
Just last week a New York Times article re: bringing more meaning and less over-the-top partying to that rite-of-passage known as Bar/Bat Mitzvah struck a chord. How do we keep traditions alive, without too much diluting of them? With each generation further from the fold, how do we celebrate without the ache of what’s gone?
So when my daughter tells me about this thing she’s thinking about doing, Spin-A-Gogue, I laugh out loud, only in L.A. “I’d go with you if I lived out there,” I tell her. “Just for the experience.” Not that she needed my blessing. Only one more thing, I said. If you do go, you have to write about it for my blog. She asked if I was paying , at least for the class. So here it is, a guest blog post. My daughter’s spin on spinning in the Jewish New Year.
Take it away, Sara Dolin.
Man, did the Jewish holidays come up fast this year, am I right? Like usually you say “oh they feel early” or “oh they feel late” but this is like early, early, like still recuperating from Labor Day hot dogs early.
Los Angeles is full of “High Holiday Jews” (like me), and there’s no shortage of places to go—some free, some that make you pay for holiday services. A little Jewish guilt, even 3,000 mile from family, goes a long way. Some years I’ve gone to services with friends feeling the same guilt, some years work has been too busy for me to feel okay about taking off. This year, I was too distracted by life to make plans.
Having spent the better part of the summer hobbling around on crutches (first in a cast, then a walking boot) because of a fractured ankle, the past few weeks of my life have been spent making up for lost time. I was an avid exerciser before injuring myself, so getting emails from all the studios that I would spin at or work out at over the summer was pretty torturous for a girl who had a hard time just taking a shower. This one really got my attention:
“Party like it’s 5774! We’re celebrating the Jewish New Year with Adam Goldstein at the Spin-A-Gogue on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Ride to the best hits from Jewish artists.”
I knew the class had to be fun, because Adam is a great and energetic teacher. I thought about it: Be a good (holiday) Jew, and go to The Laugh Factory (hahaha I’m not kidding) or the Chai Center on Rosh Hashanah. Or mark the Jewish New Year by bringing myself back to something I’ve missed more than anything.
Growing up, going to temple on the High Holidays was not so much about the religious aspect as it was about seeing your friends from Hebrew School and gathering with families you grew up with. It was a community. You knew exactly who you would see every year.
In spin classes like those offered at Flywheel or Soul Cycle, you’re in a dark, windowless room, with yes, some air circulation, but more importantly a lot of sweat. You’re riding as a pack. Sometimes a teacher will tell you to turn to the person next to you and hi-five them or say something inspirational like “you’re beautiful!” and you buy into it, because the energy is there and you’re feeling it.
Since you’re in the dark, you can also choose to ride solo, which I where I am these days, at the back of the room, because I can’t keep up with everyone the way I used to. Not yet, anyway. It’s not all bad, though, because riding solo is a time to reflect on my personal and physical goals. Spinning has been there to help me work through stress or whatever I’m dealing with in life. It was hard for me to not have an outlet like that this summer, so now it’s more important than ever.
If I was expecting to spin to Mandy Patinkin or Matisyahu, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any artist with a family member who is Jewish clearly qualifies for the song list. And anyone in the class with me has to be smiling about why we’re here.
Spin is my community, it’s my time for reflection. How about I start the New Year spinning in the dark to Pink, Lenny Kravitz, Adam Lambert and Adam Levine, not alone, not with my family, but with other nomads looking for a little something more from life like me.
Years ago, en route from New York to Japan, I spent a night in Anchorage. It was January; the early-morning landscape when I woke up and looked out the hotel window had me thinking I was on the dark side of the moon. I can’t recall if it was the turbulence as we approached Alaska—the worst I’d ever experienced—or an engine problem that had us in an unanticipated layover but I do recall a conversation with myself: Continue in this state of high anxiety, hands gripping the armrests, or turn on another switch in the brain, take a few deep breaths, ride it out. Bring a different, calmer, energy into the aircraft. Can’t hurt—right? Might even help.
To admit to myself, back when I was young and twentyish and working for a travel magazine, that I don’t like flying never crossed my mind. So what if I had to fly to Honolulu and back to NYC within three days (nothing like a Mai Tai send-off on the return)? Didn’t I fly to Portugal (first class)? Didn’t I make sure to spend a night up at Machu Picchu when I was sent on assignment to Lima?
Now I can say it: there’s nothing to like about flying, especially these days, what with long security lines and delayed flights more the norm than the exception. Sure, I love the places I don’t otherwise get to go; it’s the getting there that gives me pause. By the time you board, you may have already eaten the food that was supposed to get you through the flight. And, no, there’s nothing wrong with your seat—it’s just a little less padded and less pitched than it used to be. All in the interest of cramming more seats into the cabin.
Yes, misery loves company. And my particular misery is not so easily steadied with a few deep breaths in a jam-packed plane. A glass of wine goes a long way.
A few weeks ago, a visit with my daughter, southern California. On the plane, about to taxi to the runway at JFK, glitch #1: Apparently there’s no running water on the plane, a situation that takes about forty-five minutes to rectify. When we arrive in Los Angeles, glitch #2: the chain that secures the aircraft to the jet bridge at the gate is broken. No disembarking until that’s fixed.
Last week, a flight to Sacramento with my husband. A beautiful night for flying, a (mostly) smooth flight. Anytime we hit a pocket of turbulence, I remind myself I’ve been here before. I don’t want/need to understand its cause, I just want it to pass quickly. I have my distractions: books on my iPad, music on my iPhone. Before I know it, we’re getting ready to land. Why, then, do I feel an odd sensation of up up up? Am I supposed to feel reassured when that honeyed voice of the captain tells us the aircraft ahead of us was a little slow in landing and federal regulations require a certain distance between our aircraft and the one in front us?
Now comes the kicker, my flight back home, a red-eye with a female captain at the helm (not a big deal except that it’s a first for me). We’re at the back of the plane and sitting behind us is a boy who I figure to be eight or nine years old. Talking in a boyish, loud voice that has me worrying I may never shut my eyes. I don’t (yet) know whether he’s a child traveling by himself or with a companion. All I know is that he’s much too chatty for a midnight flight. I’ve already drank as much wine as I can for the night. And his talk talk talk has me in a state of quiet alarm:
“I’ve flown 94 times. First time I was two weeks old.”
“Have you ever been in a plane crash? I was in one. Over water. We had to go down a chute. We survived.” He says this all in a matter-of-fact way, just another Disney ride, thrills and chills. A man across aisle looks at me, and smiles when I remark, “Borderline cute.” A woman two aisles down gets the flight attendant’s attention, asks her to please say something to the boy.
Fortunately he sleeps most of flight.
I don’t sleep a wink.
No sooner does night become day than I hear his voice.
“I can’t wait to see my dad.” As soon as we’re on the ground he’s on the phone with mom. “We landed, you know, when you’re in the plane on the runway and they say you can turn on your cell phones. The girl sitting near me is also flying by herself. I love you, too.”
Then comes the call to dad, picking him up at the airport. “We’re on the runway. Can’t wait to see you.”
I stand up, take a minute to get a good look at him, ask him about his flight. He has an engaging smile. tells me he’s nine years old and that he’s flown 24 times. It’s possible that I misheard him earlier and/or he exaggerated when he was talking to the girl sitting next to him.
I do not ask about the plane crash.
We live in a culture that glorifies the same things it trivializes. Back in May 2010, Vanity Fair ran a profile of Christian Louboutin, “The Godfather of Sole.” No surprise to see the roster of rock stars and royalty for whom a pair of his artful shoes is pocket change. Danielle Steele, according to the article, has 6,000 pairs. That Toni Morrison owns (at least) one pair brought a big smile to this writer’s heart.
From Cinderella’s glass slipper to Dorothy’s ruby red pair, shoes are nothing if not symbolic of everything from the psychological and historical to the erotic and obsessive. In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim tells of those not-for-popular-consumption versions of Cinderella in which the stepsisters engage in foot mutilation, hoping to make the shoe fit. These days we have foot surgeons. I don’t know any women who would go to the extremes of shortening a toe or two, but bunion surgery is something more than one friend of mine has had or contemplates.
More to the point, a man engaged in an 11-hour filibuster would have to be wearing some pretty fancy (out-of-character) footwear for it to garner any attention at all and, even then, it would not hold a candle to what the pair of pink sneakers worn by Wendy Davis has come to embody. Yes, we pay a great deal of attention to what women in the public eye wear. We home in on the pearl necklace, the tailored jacket, the pin on a lapel. Image is everything. We play down what remains hidden. Tweeting about pink sneakers is sexier than tweeting about the back brace Senator Davis wore so she wouldn’t have to lean on anything as she stood her ground.
God really is in the details. A pair of shoes says as much about the woman wearing them as it does about the world in which she lives. What makes this story such a timeless one (albeit with a 21st century spin) is the way it meshes the political with the personal and turns a pair of sneakers into a symbol of solidarity for pro-choice supporters. Within days of Wendy Davis’s extraordinary filibuster, those pink running shoes (Mizuno Wave Rider 16) became the best-selling shoes on Amazon. (Never mind that Mizuno President Robert Puccini is an RNC supporter). Even if the mock reviews on Amazon try a little too hard, who can resist the obvious allusions shoes give rise to: comfortable ones like these truly are made for walking. Easy to picture thousands of women kicking ass in them, standing up for a right as inalienable as it gets. Or pounding the pavement for their hero if she makes that leap into the Texas gubernatorial race. So pretty in pink.
Once upon a time, as an ancient tale about the origin of shoes goes, there was a princess who stubbed her toe on a root sticking out of the ground while she was walking. To keep this from happening to anyone else in the kingdom, the princess wanted the prime minister to issue an edict declaring that all roads be paved in leather. The savvy prime minister knew there was nothing the king wouldn’t do for his daughter so he came up with a plan that would satisfy the princess without bankrupting the kingdom, namely, cutting and shaping pieces of leather that could be fitted to the foot.
And so it was—form and function laced into the fashioning of shoes, sensible ones at that. It’s a curious, rich, fascinating story that shoes can tell, one worthy of a museum. If you build it they will come, and, indeed they do to the Bata Shoe Museum in downtown Toronto. There’s no old woman living inside of this stylized shoebox made of limestone, glass, and steel and designed by Raymond Moriyama, but it is a treasure trove of footwear through the ages. Its most recent exhibition just happens to explore the rise of sneaker culture.
In the grand scheme of memorable moments, riding a two-wheeler for the first time is the gold standard, the one that puts me in a place and time against which so much else is measured. I can see the bike (blue and white), myself in the seat. The focus, the balance, the breeze. The closest thing to flying. As a metaphor, “like riding a bike” encompasses that thing once learned and never forgotten. Leave it to Albert Einstein to bring even another dimension with his quote: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Recently, it hit me, a revelation of sorts: there’s no riding that bike without someone running alongside, holding on to the seat. Until the moment of letting go. Trust is a good thing. We ride, we fall, we get back on.
There’s an innocence to it all, and it goes with the territory of summertime, freewheelin’ days, school’s out, the light in the sky at 8 p.m. always a wonder. Innocence slips, experience brings caution. And if we’re lucky, every summer brings it all back home, the moments missed but never lost to us. In that jigsaw of life, there is a striving toward order, making the pieces fit.
The art of the jigsaw begins with a frame. Four corners to anchor the picture that will take shape. In that jigsaw of our lives, we have four seasons that, before we gave names to them, were a driving force all their own. These days we have Thanksgiving to define autumn, Christmas/Chanukah to define winter, July 4th to define summertime, give it an anchor. Celebrate. Dance to the music.
Not that I’m complaining. Seeing fireworks always makes me feel like a kid again. And the sound and light show I’m treated to each year since I’ve been spending the 4th with friends at their lake house is as good as it gets. This year brought the added pleasure of my two dearest long-time friends visiting for the holiday. We partied, went to movies—the exquisitely nuanced Fill the Void and quietly powerful The Attack. Both had their poignant and haunting moments. Each, in its own way, was a reminder of the complexities of personal/cultural identity in the Middle East. Both had love at their core: sometimes it opens our eyes, sometimes it blinds us. Yes, we did a little shopping, too. And (duh) we talked.
Sunday, friends gone, I ease back into routines. First some cleaning up, then a few sun salutations in the bright and airy guest room that doubles as my personal yoga studio. The phone rings. Sometimes, when I’m near the end of my practice, I’ll run down to answer it. This time I let it ring. Five times. I figure my husband is either outside or napping. Whoever called will call back.
It’s near dinnertime, another phone call, during which the power goes out. There’s only so much stress the utilities grid can handle in a heat wave. My husband and I decide to skip the not-yet-made salad and head out, hopeful that this is not a widespread outage, three of four hours if I were to wager. I turn off my cell phone to conserve battery power and we head down to a favorite Mexican restaurant. A little tequila always does the trick. Back in the car after dinner, I turn on my phone, a text from my daughter: Call me as soon as you get this. I broke my ankle. By my calculation that would have been the phone call earlier in the day that I missed.
It’s a sunny Father’s Day and my husband (thousands of miles from his daughter) is busy making the hill next to our house beautiful. Planting. Weeding. Watering. I’m on the deck watching. In the background is the perfect CD for the moment, Keith Jarrett, Bye Bye Blackbird. The title song is one I can never listen to without seeing/hearing my father, onstage at a wedding or a bar mitzvah when the band took a break, a drink or two to loosen him (not that he needed it), microphone in hand.
In the way that real life becomes the stuff of fiction, I used his love of singing (and a young daughter’s reaction to it) as the premise of a story. What better way to celebrate the day than to post a link to My Father’s Voice.
And speaking of fiction, another story of mine recently placed third in the Women’s National Book Association 2013 Writing Contest. What makes this all the more gratifying is that it was the first of what’s to become an annual contest.
Unlike the fictional father in the story, mine was a gambling man, and it’s taken me many years to recognize what I have of his, namely the gambling spirit of a writer. At the same time, I hear my mother’s voice as well: you live long enough you see everything.