The long and the short of it

Don’t have to be a writer to know we belong to a storytelling species. Conversation is just a prelude, the entry point to an anecdote begging to be shared. I’m not prone to especially long-winded anecdotes, but even I can get carried away.

“The long and the short of it,” I’ll say, reaching the moment when, in my mind at least, it’s time to wrap it up, reduce everything I’ve said to a pithy thought.

“Too late,” says my brother-in-law, as gregarious a guy as it gets. I laugh. I finish my thought, and I actually thank him for that gotcha moment. If I haven’t stopped using that phrase entirely, suffice it to say (oops) I use it minimally.

A few years back my sister-in-law teased me about another apparently pet phrase. “That hit the spot,” I would say after a meal or a snack I enjoyed. Her intention wasn’t to embarrass me but she certainly got me thinking. Sure it makes a point in a lip-smacking kind of way. But what, really, is the point?

I see it so clearly now, those idioms uttered almost reflexively, filler phrases, or maybe a kind of self-commentary, in our storytelling selves. Heaven forbid we should stop and take a breath, think about what we’re saying. Let the shared moment be just that.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” Tracy Cochran reminds us in a wonderful essay that casts a welcome light on the meaning of resistance, not to mention what it takes to go inside ourselves, find that quiet place of no words.

As a writer, I relish what it takes to fine-tune a story or essay. But the spoken word is a whole other ball of wax, as it should be. In the best of all possible worlds (oops), people would do a little more self-editing when they speak. In the real world, we just can’t help ourselves. Joel Saltzman tells us, If You Can Talk, You Can Write, and there is some truth to that. It comes down to listening, really listening, to what someone is saying in a conversation. And listening to yourself.

Last week I listened to an inner voice egging me on, just do it. Broken Pencil, a site I like, put out a reminder re: the deadline for its annual Indie Writers’ Deathmatch*.

The more I wrestled with the idea of submitting a story, the more taken I was with the mixed metaphor.  I looked through stories of mine not yet published, and it jumped out at me, a title as tongue-in-cheek as it gets, and the right word count, to boot: “My Dog Is Ruining My Life.”

Unseemly? Or gutsy? You tell me.

Sara photo 2

It’s a test, every step of the way. We wake up, tune in to the world at large (which feels more and more like a cross between The Twilight Zone and 1984), cry and/or rant, join up with the forces of resistance for solidarity and strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We step back into our caves, steady ourselves with routine, do whatever is needed when the triple whammy—doubt/disappointment/despair—hits hard and threatens to throw us completely off course. The message might be retreat and reflect, always a good thing. Until one day we see, with a little more clarity, that fuzzy line between the tenacity that keeps us doing what feeds our spirit and the leaps of faith that play their part in how it all turns out. Time to get back on the horse. Maybe even go down a different road.

The long and the short of it (can’t help myself, can I?): we choose our challenges, take satisfaction in the winnowing process that has made us one of the chosen, then consider how, for all our best intentions and efforts,  the chips have a way of falling where they may.

*N.B.: Yes, my story was selected as one of the sixteen and rest assured you will receive a gentle plea next week when the voting begins.

 

 

 

 

The minor fall/the major lift

Ask a writer why she writes and she’s bound to say it has something to do with her love of the places reading has always taken her. Stories are what we live by. Great writers tell them in ways that move us with profound insights—not to mention unforgettable characters. Then there’s the music of words into phrases/phrases into sentences/sentences into paragraphs.

Maybe the music that infuses my day-to-day existence is a setup for some other vocation I’m intended for in a future life. Who knows?   In this life I have my CDs and LPs, playlists and radio to get me through each day. And my piano. Lately it’s one song I’m needing to have my fingers know by heart.img_0560

God knows it’s a song I’ve listened to more times than I can count—in all its glorious, aching, ultimately simple incarnations.

Hallelujah.

With the year just days from disappearing, the surreal results of the election are, alas, indelibly linked in my brain with Leonard Cohen’s death a day before and Kate McKinnon’s moving, brave Hillary-at-the-piano rendition of his song on SNL a few days later.

Hallelujah.

However many times it comes up in liturgy as an expression of joyful praise of God is no match for the understated power it takes on in Leonard Cohen’s hymn of longing and loss. I may hear more of the minor fall than the major lift when I listen, but how can I help smiling at his wry, deft touch?

There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
Now you never show that to me, do you?

51gtdeoragl-_sx325_bo1204203200_The history of the song—the changes in lyrics by LC himself and other singing artists who have covered it—makes it all the more a hymn for the times in which we live. Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken, a virtual ode to the song, is filled with illuminating tidbits: its musicality may have been the prime reason k.d. lang included it in Hymns of the 49th Parallel, but she came to see it as “a song for meditating, for pondering bigger issues, moral issues.”

The dust may never truly settle on how our presidential election played out, but as I sift through it, the anger at learning there was very serious foul play gives way to a very deep distress at something women of a certain age, like me, feel ever so acutely.

An accomplished, extremely bright woman loses out to an incompetent, boorish, completely unprepared boy for the most important job on the planet.

Why does this have echoes of an old high school scenario, even if the consequences are galaxies greater?

Princess Leia dies at 60, her mother a day later. Big fans, like my daughter, worry about what will happen to Carrie’s dog, with his famous tongue.640_debbie_reynolds_daughtercarrie-fisher-9

Prince is gone.

David Bowie is dead.

Sharon Jones. Leon Russell. Gwen Ifill.

Gloria Naylor. Elie Wiesel.

And Leonard Cohen.

On some levels, maybe it’s true, we’ve come a long way, baby. But after the forward movement, how do we live with those two steps (if not more) backward? We build ourselves up, make language our own, call ourselves bitches with all the connotations of kick-ass strength.

But when a man uses the word, it’s as ugly as it ever was.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I envied anyone who had anyplace to be on a regular schedule. Comfort in commiseration. Yes, I have my husband to listen to me bitch and cry since we both work at home but the freedom of days with routines of my own making, mostly a gift, had me lost at sea. Miserable. I could not even sit down to write. Weeks later I can—with a quiet determination to remain in retreat (not to be confused with denial). There is no denying what I feel deprived of, as a woman who was so sure that finally, after all these years, the bright girl was going to best the jerk. The symbolism is huge. I may still suffer from disbelief.

And even though it all went wrong—big-time—I can’t bring myself to that place of looki51ehslyjvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ng at what was in an attempt to come to grips with what is. Survival (again, not denial) has me reading exquisite fiction sparked by the spirit of creativity and resilience instead of pundits analyzing how what didn’t seem possible came to be.

Hallelujah. Hillary.

It pleases my poetic heart to place these words side by side, even if the Hallelujah at my fingertips is not the joyful one I thought I’d be singing.

 

One year ends/another begins

Barely a week into December and already my thoughts are turning to the New Year. Can’t say I feel its approach with a sense of the promise I was counting on. But a certain resolve has crept in. Never one to rush time, I can’t help seeing the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year as packaged and pressure-sealed—even as I relish time spent with family and friends in the spirit of it all. Short of a humbug frame of mind, the waning days of 2016 have me wanting them gone. ASAP.

One of the many lasting impressions I took away from a Toni Morrison/Paris Review interview I first read many years ago was the discovery that she wakes before dawn to start her writing. A habit begun out of necessity when her children were young gave rise to a ritual: a cup of coffee made while it’s still dark and sipped as she watches the light come. “Light is the signal in the transition,” she says. “It’s not being in the light. It’s being there before it arrives.”

Until you do that—watch the light arrive—even once, night and day are entities unto themselves (i.e., you look up at the night sky, stars twinkling/ you wake up and they’re gone). All it takes is one all-nighter to grasp the subtlety, light gradually encroaching, for it to dawn on you—the stars never really disappear, they’re simply outshone by a far brighter one.

Metaphor aside, we are our own stars, the constellations we belong to a mix of circumstance and choice. I was a daughter when my parents were alive. I am a sister/sister-in-law/cousin/aunt/wife/mother/friend/writer. The unconscious, in all its wisdom and mystery, gives me no room to deliberate in rattling off these roles of mine. If the whole truly is greater than the sum of my parts, it’s that singular one (last in the list, with neither least nor best qualifiers) that allows me to step outside of my own story, stand back/observe/try to make sense of the world.

Again, the inimitable Toni Morrison to the rescue. The time is Christmas 2004, and in the very first paragraphs of an essay that appeared in the 150th anniversary of The Nation, she writes of an “extremely dark mood” precipitated by the reelection of George W. Bush. She has trouble writing, feels almost paralyzed, something she’s never before experienced. A friend insists no no no, times of dread are exactly when artists need to get to work, after which she writes:

“I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.”

The wisdom of the greats indeed feeds me.

It was the 7th of December, 1993, that Toni Morrison delivered her utterly eloquent lecture/speech on accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. The heart of it is a parable of sorts that speaks to the complexities of language and the consequences of its manipulation when we don’t pay attention to what we’re really hearing/reading. Elections, alas, are won on the bastardization of language. On the 10th of December, 2016, a master of more than language will not be there to deliver his acceptance speech. We can speculate forever on Dylan’s silence and evasiveness, but truth be known, his words are needed more than ever. Can’t ask for much more than Patti Smith as a pinch hitter of sorts. Turns out she’ll be singing a song of his at the ceremony.

I’m writing as day gives way to night and a different light, deferential in a way, fills the sky. If I seem to be channeling my literary/music heroes, it’s out of need, not grandiosity.img_4876 The freshness of winter—trees stripped of leaves, a touch of snow on the lawn—is the starkest reminder I have that there’s no hiding from oneself and regeneration is a given. Climate change naysayers may never see the forest for the trees.img_4874

Bruce Springsteen, in his very telling memoir, writes, “In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.”

“The year 2017 may be a time for some stepping back, doing things a little differently. For one thing, no more news—real, fake, Facebook, or otherwise—until I’ve had a (reasonably) productive work morning. For a time I tried clearing the fluff out first—check email, say hello on Facebook, read the headline news—and there’s something to be said for that strategy. Except when what passes through a newsfeed clouds my brain, messes with the synapses. (Just seeing the face of he who shall remain nameless makes me physically ill.)

img_4882A tree is uprooted, it falls against another that keeps it from completely tumbling. Hermits are a rare breed but they do exist. More of us, thankfully, fall into the “No man is an island” trope given to us by the great metaphysical poet John Donne. If there’s any hope these days, it’s in the broader view, more encompassing. For all the disappointment, I remind myself that it took a wise woman to remind us it takes a village.

November 18th 2016

Thirty-two years ago today I got married. I was three weeks away from turning 35. My husband likes to joke that I had the date chosen when I proposed a few months earlier but that’s not quite the case. Here’s the way it played out:

We met in 1982, and I confess to having had that ‘this is the one’ feeling from the start. Old loves always keep a place in your heart—just play the song(s) you listened to when you were a teenager in love, or in your twenties and in love, and you know what I mean. But this love had something about it that spelled Let’s Stay Together.

So, a few months shy of the two-year marker in relationship I kind of suggest maybe it’s time we do something. He says, “you mean like get married?” I nod. Then I go into the bathroom and throw up. No joke. That would have been June. No hurry to set a date but I did want to get married in 1984. Do something life-affirming in a year forever marked as an ominous one. November (wedding) in New York had a nice ring to it.

A month and half ago my daughter proposeengagement-bells-fbs to her boyfriend, who puts the heartfelt and humorous touch to it all on Facebook.

Fortunately, instead of experiencing her mother’s OMG I-did-it anxiety, she gets a very special pair of shoes. He gets himself a wedding band from Tiffany. The engagement ring was a given, and I get the pleasure of delivering it when we’re all together for Thanksgiving. There’s a spirit to stones, and this one started out as a pendant my mother wore, then gave to me at a time when I was suffering. Now it gets to sparkle on my daughter’s hand in a time of joy. My mother is long gone, but I can feel her kvelling.

‘Sparkle’ is not a word that readily comes to mind these day. ‘Struggle’ would be more like it. To hear those two words juxtaposed against each other puts me in a poetic mindset.

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me . . .

Actually it’s Pema Chodron I look to but we’re talking metaphor here. And if I can’t let it be, the least I can do is be with my struggles.

I struggle with even looking at news headlines. All those polls I’ve neurotically counted on during past election cycles! How could they get it so wrong this time around? Who needs explanations in hindsight? Why bother listening to the chatter of projections re: what to expect from the new administration? It’s the wise Buddhists who remind us there is only the moment, here and now. Things change, times change, often in the most unexpected ways. So why the delusion of thinking there’s reassurance in knowing what’s ahead?

I struggle with a sense of purpose gone awry when political/global anxieties fuel personal ones. So I hole myself up in the room I call my treehouse, watching Justin Timberlake in concert. Can’t say I’m a big fan, but he makes me smile, and he is a standout from those early boy groups my daughter and her friends were enthralled with, and this wonderful big TV has me going for the sight and sound spectacle it was meant for. Can I do this for the next four years?jt-on-tv

I struggle with groundlessness When Things Fall Apart, and look to the spirit of Pema Chodron’s guiding words re: being Comfortable with Uncertainty.

I struggle with what failure means, both on the personal front and the systemic one.

My reputation for being optimistic is not serving me well, even as I’m reminded this is no time to hide my head in the sand. Poetry is apparently going viral in the wake of deep disillusionment/shock/anger. Joshua Rothman tells readers How to Restore Your Faith in Democracy. Michael Moore gives us a Morning After To-Do List, Rebecca Solnit writes about How to Survive a Disaster, the Huffington Post offers up 18 Compassionate Poems to Help you Weather Uncertain Times, and the story that grips me most?

Death Valley Is Alive

I go back to Andrienne Rich, What Is Found There: “The impulse to enter, with other humans, through language, into the order and disorder of the world, is poetic at its root as surely as it is political at its root.” adrienne-rich

When do I stop moaning and groaning? Watching Samantha Bee helps a lot. Even Bill Maher, whom I avoided in the aftermath of the election, elicits a cynical smile. Then there’s SNL rising to the occasion, Kate McKinnon at the piano with a resonant Hallelujah to remind us of all that we lost last week, and Dave Chapelle to remind us of how much we’ve missed him.

Besides, don’t I have a wedding to plan? The wedding date is yet to be set, the venue not yet finalized but my daughter thinks the first dance with her husband might be to Hallelujah. Of course, I best her.

Go for Dance Me to the End of Love.

dbld-wedding-day

wedding-dance

Dispatches from the desert #2

In terms of memory banks (we’re not talking the tech variety here), I’m more than a millionaire. Make all the jokes you want about the aging process and slowing synapses, but when it comes to moments I know will demand recall with a smile, I’m the first to quip: “Put it in the memory bank.”

Case in point: Back in May I was lucky to get tickets to that monumental Coachella concert know as Desert Trip. Okay, luck is a relative concept (considering the price of tickets and the bots who take all the pleasure out of online ticket buying) but a line-up the likes of which is not likely to ever happen again got this rock ‘n’ roll heart very pumped up: Bob Dylan/The Rolling Stones, Neil Young/Paul McCartney, The Who/Roger Waters. Knowing I’d be sharing the experience with my daughter, her boyfriend (now fiancé), and a high school friend I hadn’t seen since we graduated heightened the anticipation.img_0004

In the wink of an eye, September rolls around and the buzz, turned down to a slow simmer during the intervening months, is back big-time: tickets arrive, this is really happening, will I need a fleece jacket for October nights in the desert?

So happens that on the very first night of Rosh Hashanah, just days before I would head out to California, my daughter and her boyfriend decide it’s time to commit to that next big relationship step. No rush re: planning a wedding, but the timing of their engagement makes my visit a gift on more levels than one.That vault in the memory bank I go to every September/October when those Days of Awe roll around now holds new treasures forever linked to a very particular pocket of time.

desert-trip-diningWe say it again and again—how quickly time moves!—and here I am, more than a week since my visit, organizing memories into a time piece, my head filled with desert dust still churning itself into a daily sound and light show: I’m tangled up in blue, or driving in my car/when a man comes on the radio, or asking, Tommy can you hear me? Don’t even get me started on that full moon rising or the eerie dark side of it. . . .

img_0014

Day #1: Bob Dylan comes onto the stage in darkness, and leaves in darkness, no communication (other than his brilliant music) with the audience. Who cares, really? It’s Dylan, and his singing voice will forever play second fiddle to that musical/literary thing we call Voice. Act #2, The Rolling Stones, rock it from the start, Mick Jagger promising no old age jokes, even as he says, “Welcome to the Palm Springs retirement home for aging English rockers.” Keith Richards makes a point of paying some homage to Dylan. And collectively they pay homage to the Beatles with a cover of “Come Together.” Not the first time I’ve seen The Stones, which makes me qualified to say that Mick still has the strut and the voice.

 

Day #2: Neil Young, with a fantastic band and voice suited to a moon in the desert, opens with “After the Gold Rush, “followed by “Heart of Gold.” neil-youngMaybe I do in fact die and go to heaven when he sings “Harvest Moon” but more to the point, he brings a subtle political tone to the show, with a teepee on stage and songs about Mother Earth and a not-so-subtle allusion to everything I’m here to forget: “Come back tomorrow night,” he says. “Roger is going to build a wall and make Mexico great again.” To admit that his set would be my favorite misses the point that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts in this historical musical event. To see/hear Sir Paul cast a nostalgic net with unsurpassed charm is a rueful reminder that you’re only as old as you feel—which makes today feel like an exuberant yesterday when Neil Young joins him for very hot rendition of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”

sir-paul-and-neil

Day #3: Back in my college days, The Who did a run of Tommy for several days at the Fillmore East, one of the few concerts in my lifetime of concert going that I could not snag a ticket to. All of which makes it all the exciting to hear snippets from that extraordinary album, and more. The decibel level is noticeably higher when they get rolling, and, even if it’s a reach for Roger Daltrey to hit some of the notes in the group’s greatest hits, there’s a synergy between him and Pete Townsend that transcends the public acrimony between them. They know why they’re here, they acknowledge the fans who still come out for them after all these years, they pay tribute to the band members no longer with them. And they play their hearts out.

the-who

No small irony that the closer here tonight is a key player in another band I rue never having seen. The sensurround/Roger Waters experience begins even before he takes to the stage. There’s a rumbling, unidentifiable sound that has this East Coast girl thinking earthquake?—until the sound and light Pink Floyd experience takes hold and I’m transported to another planet.bob-dylan

Not an easy task, returning to earth, but the exciting news that Bob the troubadour is now Bob the Nobel Laureate goes a very long way toward helping me bring it all back home. Come on, Bob, your fans are all-forgiving, even amused, at your take-me-as-I-am onstage persona, but is it really possible that receiving the most prominent literature prize in the world leaves you speechless?paul-mccartneyroger-daltrey

Dispatches (soon to come) from the desert

Good things come in the most unexpected packages—

Two weeks ago my UPS delivery man hands me a package, no recognizable return address on the shipping label. I’m baffled, not that I don’t love a surprise.   But when that big brown truck barrels up my driveway, more often than not I can pretty much guess what’s in it for me. UPS tracking is a beautiful thing and I’d been alerted, via email, that something special was on its way.

Humor me, please. I’m a sucker for a great rock show, and when tickets went on sale in May for that mega Coachella festival in California known as Desert Trip, I managed to get ahead of the bots and scalpers. Anticipation tells me it’s a long, long time from May to September; yet somehow as the moment of arrival gets close it feels as if time has moved with the speed of a bullet train. Today those tickets would finally be in my hands and I can be forgiven for expecting a simple flat envelope with the passes inside. Clearly I was wrong.

img_4623-copy

A three-day festival featuring the Rolling Stones/Bob Dylan, Neil Young/Paul McCartney, Roger Waters/The Who is a big deal and I don’t care if they call it Boomer-Chella or Oldchella or just good old rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s clear, from even the delivery of the passes, that a lot of thought (possibly over-the-top) has gone into this.

I open the box, the passes and wristbands jump out. There’s more, though, and I lift the insert. Voilà—my very own ViewMaster, the pièce de resistance in a boxful of memorabilia before the event has even taken place.
img_4626-copy

Yes, it’s a carefully orchestrated/marketed event. But the spirit behind it counts for a lot. I was in Europe the summer of Woodstock, and even if the Desert Trip stars are in the twilight of their performing career or maybe because of it, you can count on some good old-fashioned dispatches from me.

In the meantime, there’s been the distraction of a presidential election that has gone from sublime to ridiculous to surreal and raised anxiety levels to new heights. Even at the worst moments I have managed to keep the faith that Hillary will prevail. That’s the realist, not the optimist in me, speaking. As we move into the final stretch, my own anxiety drops just a bit as I see a woman in a red suit handle herself with such aplomb before an audience of millions. There really is no contest here, and any sensible person sees it. But this country, alas, is clearly divided between the camps of sense and senselessness.

Awesome may be a word suited to rock concerts, but awe is world into itself, and to be in awe of the woman most likely to succeed as Madam President puts me in a good frame of mind for my upcoming trip—which just happens to come smack in the middle of the ten-day period known as Days of Awe in the Jewish calendar. There’s every reason to get a sense of grounding this time of year. For one thing, there’s that back-to-school mindset, so ingrained and so in tune with seasonal change. The air gets cool, leaves start to fall, a sense of hunkering down can’t help but take hold. Those of us brought up in reasonably traditional households have the added fact of the Jewish New Year. There’s this big, big book, we’re told, and in those ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God is watching very closely, giving us every chance to reflect, repent, do good deeds before deciding what the next year will bring.

I do my best.

I honor my parents’ spirit by attending services, notably Tashlich (when we cast off sins) and Yizkor (when we honor the memory of loved ones no longer with us).

I take time to reflect on my life, a very blessed one indeed.

I channel my mother by cooking brisket, and more, for the friends and family who will come for dinner. Chopping onions is not the only thing that brings tears to my eyes.

And this year, I go to the desert, if not with ancestors, at least with kindred spirits—my daughter, her boyfriend, and to bring it full circle, a dear high school friend who happens to live in Palm Desert. We lost touch over the years, and since reconnecting via Facebook, we’ve made up for some lost time via texts, emails, phone conversations. And just the other day I get a surprise package from her via USPS, the goodies she’s been gathering, just a glimpse into all the things to do/places to see in that valley where I picture a sublime sunset setting the stage for pure satisfaction.

 

img_4647

 

 

Bliss

The first days of September invariably have me feeling a little blue. What is in fact a gradual diminishing of summer green hits sharply with the reminder that this is what leaves do before they disappear from trees. Within weeks they’ll start dropping with a fury as the glorious riot of red/orange/yellow takes hold and with it the reminder that the gift of autumn is in fact a dying.   These are the moments in-between, always the most unsettling until I give in to them, love the day for what it is without rueful thoughts of what is no more or anticipation of what’s still to come.

Easier said than done.

Everything in its time, even if it feels as if the things we want most seem to take forever.

This summer brought a break from routine, always a good thing even if it puts me a little out of sorts.

I read, and listened to, Pema Chodron, more and more a guiding light to a way of being I long for. When she sounds the note on what she calls ‘positive groundlessness,’ I consider the possibility that that there is no ease without fully surrendering to discomfort.

I learned to ease my grip on a kickboard so that I might experience some semblance of buoyancy as my body flounders with a little more fluency in a swimming pool.

I was lifted (possibly into the stratosphere) by Bruce Springsteen when he performed for nearly four hours at the Meadowlands. Not the first time I’ve seen him, but synchronicity was in the air for one more time. My daughter would be in for a visit, my best friend/concert buddy thought we needed to see him again. In his home state, to boot. And two days before my daughter’s birthday.

Which brings me to that thing called bliss, something I imagine as only possible when the noise—inside my head and outside—frees me of all distraction. Say the word to yourself, it slips through your teeth, unlike ‘blues,’ with its stickiness. That’s not to say it’s a momentary state, gone in flash. But without being fully present to the moment, there is no bliss.

I can readily go down the list of great concert moments in my life, alternately with my daughter and my friend, but the ties that bound bruce-blissus in an outdoor concert on a beautiful summer night made this one especially joyful. And even if I can’t pinpoint the moment it hit me, that higher level of joy I think of as bliss was made manifest in the expression on Springsteen’s face, thanks to those larger-than-life monitors.

“I’m always in search of something, in search of losing myself in the music,” he says in an interview in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. There is no one who plays to his fans, for his fans, like Bruce. Who else would sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” with a fan, in August?

And just when he had you thinking he was done, taking on the body posture of James Brown as he staggers from the stage, cape and all (this one of course embossed with “The Boss”), he was back.

If I had trouble containing myself when he sang “Sherry Darling” early in the set, I could have died and gone to heaven when he gave “Jersey Girl” pride of place as a second encore, ending the show with fireworks. More to the point, from start to finish—including my dear, dear friend figuring out the sanest parking scenario and my daughter the designated driver getting us there and back like a pro—it was as seamless a night as possible.

I have lots of reason to feel blessed, even if true bliss still feels like something a little out of reach. Maybe it comes in degrees. Or maybe, like every other concept that evolves with time, we need to take a second look at it. The other day my daughter sent a link to an article she said I had to read immediately. I was in the car, and I had to wait, and the wait was oh-so-worth it. If the headline—I’m an Adult Woman, and I Call My Mother Three Times a Day—had me smiling, the writer got me with, “The timeless truth is that I constantly call my mom because she’s my best friend.” I don’t know if that’s such a good thing but she’s right on when she says, “Unlike friends, moms are more open to venting, bragging, and utterly boring calls, too.”

Bliss? I get echoes of it when I listen to Todd Norian during a meditation.

And I envision its cousin, buoyancy, when I practice my kicks and strokes in the swimming pool.

Then I remind myself of that feeling we all share and Albert King sings about so well.

 

Nemo and Bambi and all the rest of us

If there’s a thread to my latest blog posts, I have nothing but that mysterious thing we call the unconscious to blame (maybe ‘credit’ is a better word than blame).

The other night I watched Finding Nemo, a refresher of sorts to get me ready for Finding Dory. Like all movies I’ve seen before, it’s the details I forgot, lines striking a fresh note, that ring out:

Fish are friends, not food.

When life gets you down, just keep swimming.

Ironic, indeed, since I recently decided to learn how to swim without feeling dead in the water. You would think that a woman with a longtime exercise regimen that has gone from running (including a marathon) to bicycling/walking/yoga (and now encompasses a combination of it all) would find herself a natural at this thing called swimming.

Doesn’t quite work that way. Sure, I have the endurance, but the coordination required to make staying afloat as pleasurable and seamless as it should be escapes me. Don’t even get me started on my fear of being in deep water. In my world (almost) everything is metaphor, and water has it all. Think about what it means to be in over your head. Buoyancy is never to be taken for granted. Fluidity? That’s just a start.

But thoughts take second place to the act here. I am, in astrological terms, a fire sign (Sagittarius) and even if I count on my other-worldly brother to keep me updated on how the stars are aligning for (or against) me in any given month, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sense the power of water over fire. So it is with a mix of trepidation and pride that I take this plunge. There’s so much to be learned about myself, how can I help but keep a diary of my weekly lessons? In time, I’ll pull it together into a finely honed piece that has a ring to it: Learning to swim at 66. God is in the details, but I would hate to bore anyone with too many of them.

bambiToday on my morning walk, Bambi looked as if she wanted to run right up to me, but some uncertainty, not to mention the way she sensed Mama cautiously staring my way, stopped her in her tracks. They were both pretty close, and oh-so-trusting.   I would guess that the most threatening thing about me is the baseball cap I wear, a present from my daughter: Women who behave rarely make history.

If I feel a little like Nemo, lost in the ocean with his mismatched fins, I can forgive myself the facile analogy. His trial by water, coupled with Bambi’s trial by fire, has me viewing the darkness in Disney/Pixar in a new light.

How do we regain any sense of innocence lost when tragedy continues to bombard us? Nemo’s father does not even want to let him go to school in a movie that predates Sandy Hook by nine years.

Built into the classic hero’s journey are obstacles—how else does she/he learn and grow? But these days have me feeling we’re in a collective trial by fire, on the national and international front. I find myself thinking, a lot, about the brilliance and wit and pathos Frank Capra brought to movies with an undercurrent of troubled times. Meet John Doe is especially on my mind, what with a hero who runs from the media machinations and political connivance that created him, only to find he can’t run from the authentic, galvanizing movement he created.

If movies ostensibly for children strike a chord reminding me (us) that we have to find our own way in the world, could Meet John Doe, with its message of transcending despair, go a long way toward reminding us that we’re really not in this alone?

Everyone has an opinion/we all want to be heard.

A recent piece on Vox by Ezra Klein re: Hillary Clinton made it so clear that one of her strengths is LISTENING to people, and not, like her presumptive opponent, spouting and shooting from the hip. So here’s what I’m thinking: maybe we can shift the political conversation from the demoralizing, nauseating negativity dominating it by sharing talking points that speak to our favorite candidate’s strengths, not the other one’s weaknesses. I’ll begin right here/right now.

Speaking of women making history . . .Baseball cap