Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent - What to give up? How about the ways we think.

I was raised a Christian and figured, since that is what I got when I was born, it was as good as any other religion, so I have, throughout the years, returned to it. Had I been born into a Buddhist family, I'm sure that would have been perfectly fine, too. One of the more meaningful seasons for me is Easter, especially the idea of Lent. But I have come to see it in a new way in the past several years.

When I was little, Lent meant giving up something you enjoyed - like candy. Even though I didn't eat much candy or drink pop as a kid, you were asked to give up a "vice" - something not so good for you. As an adult, it might be drinking, or candy, again, or soda, or cigarettes, overeating, or swearing. I never really did any of it with much gusto, but a seed was planted that seemed to withstand the ravages of time, waiting for just the right conditions - soil, water and light - to appear. Finally, I hit on the vice I needed to give up.

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that I could actually give up a way of thinking. Not a material vice, but a mental one, a psychological one. For example, if your habit is to be self-critical, what if you gave that up for Lent? If it is to criticize your children or your partner, what if you gave that up for Lent? If you are a procrastinator, what if you gave that up for Lent? If it is to be pushy and bossy, what if you gave that up?

For me, I had a tendency to be fearful - especially about about my work, my ability to work and create a successful business. I was also incredibly fearful of flying. I could be afraid I wouldn't have enough money. I could attach my fear to almost anything. You can do the same with anger or depression or anxiety. So, a few years ago, I started giving up fear for Lent. For forty days and forty nights, you become absurdly aware of how much time you spend running that habit.

And day by day, Lent by Lent, year by year, it began to leave, to pack its lonely bags. Hasta luego. No fun hanging out with me anymore. I had no use for it. Once in awhile, it growls at me, wonders if I want to come out to play. Sometimes, sure, I take the bait. But mostly, I see it for what it is - a really bad habit. One that I do not miss.

Year after year, those habits of the mind are worse for us than all the candy we ever collected at Halloween. So, I'm sticking with fear again this year. And heading out to slay a few more dragons.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 favorite activity?

I know that I wrote just a few days ago about my favorite activity - reading. And, how utterly delighted I was to find out that is my husband's favorite activity, too! But, we may have found an activity we like even more than reading.

We have discovered, in the past few days, that we are very, very good at it. And you know how you like things you are good at. We even think this could be an Olympic Event and we would like to enter it. It would be a marathon event.

It is....drum roll....


Yes, we love sleeping. We are pretty good at it. We have our moments when we wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep as fast as we would like, but, generally, we can pack a full 10 hours of being in bed. Seriously. Especially me.

Lee has to get up at 6:30. But I don't. I can sleep in at least another hour.

Let's take last night as an example. We were both really tired - and we both had a book to read, so we crawled in bed at 8:19. Yes, you read that right. 8:19.

I knew that I would read for an hour or so, which I did. I shut off the light around 9:15. Lee was sound asleep. We both woke up around mindnight. I got water, went to the bathroom, he checked his email. I got back in bed and read a couple of chapters and lights off again by 1:00 at the latest. And I sleep like a baby until 7:15.

So, that means I was in bed for 11 hours last night! This is such good news. Tonight I heard that adding one hour of sleep can make a huge difference in your health and prevent heart attacks.

Suffice it to say, Lee and I are very good at sleep. (Of course, I must say I have a very good mattress, good sheets and feather pillows and a down comforter and that all makes a big difference. I cannot sleep at all in hotels on crappy sheets with bad pillows.) In fact, he is keeping track of his sleep for his accupuncturist on his iphone. It is just awesome. He puts it next to him and it can tell when he is in deep sleep and light sleep and then, even awake! I will see if I can upload it here, but if I can't you can check it out - sleep monitor as an iphone app. What technology can do these days!

Anyway, be looking for Lee and me in the Olympics once they add Sleeping as a marathon event. We are in training.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Favorite Activity in Spare Time?

What is yours? Do tell!

I have not been sleeping well at night. I was involved in a writer's conference this past weekend and, really, it was just 2 days of auditions and my mind is a pinwheel caught in a hurricane. Well, I haven't done an audition since my 20's (okay, I guess I have applied for a job or two, which is, of course, an audition.) But, as in theatre....that kind of audition. The New York Writer's Workshop sponsored a Pitch Conference this past weekend. You pay money to go and pitch your book idea. It is rather terrifying. But, we had lots of support and plenty of female bonding and it was quite worthwhile. I actually learned a mountain of things about agents, and editors, and pitches and proposals.

I am working on a memoir - that's really all I have to say about it now. And I am inspired to work very, very hard in the next few weeks. Because, I know, that is what a writer has to do.

But...anyway....when I don't sleep, I read. Now, I read anyway. I love to read. I read about a book each week. But, when I am not sleeping, I can read a book in 2 -3 days. So, since I am not sleeping, I am flying through books. I have to change the line item in my budget because I am hitting my local bookseller every few days for a new read.

I just read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls in three nights. I cannot believe how long it took me to pick that book up. What? It's been on the NY Times bestseller list for 3 years? Well, it is very, very good. And makes me truly appreciate my dull, but loving parents.

I am also reading Them by Francine de Plessix Gray. Great historical biography / memoir - Europe early 20th Century - into World War II - then an emigration to New York in the 1940's. Fabulous!

Anyway, the point of this is that last night at 2:00 a.m when I was getting ready to turn off the light after reading for the past 2 hours (this after sleeping from 9 - 12), I thought..."Is there anything I enjoy more than reading?" I really enjoy cooking. I like walking. I love looking at my magazines. Of course, I love talking to Lee more than almost anything in life. But, as a solo activity....reading wins, hands down.

So, tonight...talking to Lee...I asked him, "What do you enjoy doing more than anything else in your free time?" (Besides making love with moi, of course.)His answer?

"Well, I love reading."

We are a match. I am so happy to know that.

Happy Valentine's a day late.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Blizzard of 2010: Central Park

Lee in Central Park.

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.

Lee kissing someone's snow girl.

Leaning on the lamp.

Caught. Red-handed. Smiling. In New York.

The Museum under the influence of the snow gods.

I don't even know what to say about this.

"Listen to the laughter in Central Park." Lee said to me about only an hour ago. "Wanting to be like children."

On that rare occasion , the gods put on a majestic ballet. Here are the sights in Central Park, 8:00 p.m. on February 10, during the blizzard of 2010. Pure alchemy when I recall the pinks and yellows of spring, the cool greens of summer and the burnished reds of autumn.

Children on sleds and snowboards, Sisyphys pushing that snowball up the hill, dogs in their snow gear. Lee held on to me. His Fryes were too slippery for the snow. I couldn't have been happier.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A review of "Just Kids" - Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe's Deep Friendship

It was the late 60's. You could be homeless in New York and not be weird. Patti Smith was that. I don't really get it because I'm a farm girl from Iowa who was terrified of going to Iowa City for college .... I couldn't imagine going to New York City then. (But, she was a New Jersey girl and ggod at following her heart.)

She met Robert Mapplethorpe in a Brooklyn flat the first day she was there but didn't get his name. Quite coincidentally (especially in NY) she ran into him a couple of months later in the East Village and recognized him, so she stopped him on the street. They had an immediate connection and became friends, soulmates, lovers, and muses for each other.

If you want a great history of New York in the late 60's and early 70's -- stories that include Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Sam Shepard, Dylan, Andy Warhol, Dali, and people I whose names still mean nothing to me -- this is a book for you. I like the narrative, but I rather wanted a bit more juice, more feeling. I do think it gets stronger as she gets closer to the end - when he dies. It is incredibly touching and makes you believe in the concept of soulmates.

If you like music, culture, art and were ever a hippie or thinking of being one -- this is a book for you. I sort of hung out on the fringe of hippeville in Iowa City, but still find it interesting. I had friends dropping acid while I cooked. I was way too scared to try it. (Oddly, Smith is very much the same - not interested in drugs much at all, while Mapplethorpe drops acid to go meet her parents because it relaxes him!) Give me a nice glass of wine. Even a joint a couple of times a week back then, a little Joni Mitchell. Anyway, you'll get heroin, hustling, homosexuality and the loft scene in New York in the 60's where there were no toilets. You peeed in a cup. Everyone lived like this in her world, it seemed.

The biggest surprise???? That Patti Smith had a relationship with Sam Shepard- she didn't know who he was when she met him. He was brilliant and gorgeous - then, too. A good combination. And seemed like a good enough guy. Lucky her.

Pick it up. It's a quick read and great party conversation...

Saturday, February 6, 2010


David at the Accedemia in Florence, Italy.

I am writing a memoir. It's a lot of work and involves lots of insecure moments wondering "Why are you doing this? You are not really a writer." But, like in a yoga class, I observe the thought and let it go when I can.

Anyway...the book is about being a late bloomer. I didn't really know what I wanted to be or do until I was in my 50's and I didn't find the love of my life until I was in my 40's. It involves a lot of looking back at how I was raised - on a farm in Iowa - in a very naive, innocent way. This was both wonderful and problematic. It was the wellspring that fed my artistic imagination, but it was also the ball and chain that kept me making choices that were safe. I was very happy as a big fish in a small pond. I was terrified of anything else.

I never traveled. I left Iowa three times before I was 22. Once I went to Milwaukee to visit relatives. A second time I went to Minnesota to ice fish with my grandparents. Alecia's big trip was to Disneyland with my family in a camper when I was twelve. My father had won a trip or, trust me, we never would have gone.

I did not leave this country until I was 53 years old. I was a big baby about flying - especially across the ocean, so I just avoided it, but I could feel my life shrinking. So, as you might know from a previous post on my fear of flying, I got a prescription for Xanax and took the leap and ended up in Florence, Italy for a month. In Florence, Lee and I enrolled in a course called "History of Renaissance Art" offered by the British Institute of Florence. Well, it knocked our socks off and, especially, I will never, every forget the first time I saw the David and Michelangelo's Slaves, all at the Accademia. a parent, I fight tooth and nail to give my children the confidence to travel, to move away from home, to explore the world. I was never, ever given this gift. (And I still will tell you I had wonderful parents.) I am the father who wanted to be the quarterback but never made it, I am the sagging ballerina who wanted to dance the role of the Swan and only made the corps. I pushed, kicked and cajoled my children into trying new things. And, lo and behold, they did it.

Zan went to Paris at nineteen for a semester abroad. I was too poor at the time to visit him, but lived vicariously through him - at this time, in 2005, I still had not been to Europe. Isabelle is now spending an entire school year in Madrid. I talk to her by skype about four times a week, maybe more. I am so happy, I am like a jumping bean when I think of what they, especially she (as a young woman) is learning about navigating the world.

So, this week, I had a little epiphany, a moment when I realized how profoundly travel and living in another culture (including "other cultures" in the US - look at the differences between the South, the Midwest, California, Colorado, New York and Texas!!!!!) informs who you are, fills in the cracks, allows for fluency in the languages of a culture - let alone fluency in another literal language, which she now has. Here's the little story:

When I was in Italy (now it has been three different trips to Florence) I always, always go see the David and the Slaves at the Accademia. I love them both so much I would like to eat them! Well, Isabelle was in Florence over her winter break with friends. I told her she had to go see the David, of course. So, she did (and who wouldn't?) After her trip,we were chatting about that experience.

"It was the best art I saw on the whole trip. (She had been to Rome, to the Uffizzi in Florence and to Venice.) It was so cool, Mom, because it was a show of a modern photographer. I forget his name. Robert? He photographs men."

I interrupted. "Mapplethorpe? Robert Mapplethorpe?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that's it. Anyway, it was so cool - it just rocked. You thought you were just seeing this photography exhibit, then, suddenly, you enter into this great hall and there is the David and you don't expect it. It was gorgeous how they played off each other."

I was tingling. I knew very little about Robert Mapplethorpe. I knew that much of Mapplethorpe's work was homo-erotic. That's about all I knew. I couldn't claim to know his oeuvre. But, I kind of got the connection she was describing. And was so happy that, for Izzy, a young modern woman of 20, she was able to make a connection with the 16th Century work of Michelangelo through a 20th Century photographer (who was really my contemporary, born in 1946.)

This week I began reading Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, about her life in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe. And, what do you know?????? He was obsessed with Michelangelo! He was especially obsessed with the Slaves sculptures (which were also my favorite), the sculptures meant for the Pope, which were never finished, and are so starkly revealing in that state. They seem ultimately modern. He plastered their walls with images of the Slaves sculptures.

So I am so excited to learn this, I email Izzy. Today we discussed the whole darn thing. The amazing connection between Mapplethorpe and Michelangelo and the amazing fact that I read about it.

I know this is really a little thing. But there was not the remotest possibility that my own mother and I could have had this conversation when I was 20 or 30 or 40 or 50. She has never traveled to Europe - only to Canada. This happened because I transcended the boundaries that shackled me as a young woman and because I did not pass them on to my daughter as a legacy. Just this simple fact that we had both stood, in our own time, in the same room in Florence, looking up at the David, soaring to the heavens. That we could talk about it. That we understood the connection between Mapplethorpe and Michelangelo. I wanted to weep. Those moments when the electric current of life sparks between you is both tender and magnificent. I don't know if Izzy saw it, but it was a watershed moment for me. I imagine she is taking it for granted at this point. But, to me, it is a miracle and a gift and takes great courage to leave the nest and I want to be sure that she understands both the risks she is taking and the privilege it affords. To our children, that they may not be afraid.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh, ugh, winter.

Do you especially love the color of the snow where it meets the road?

There is no hope for cars. I haven't washed mine since November. You should see the inside. A puddle of muck has moved into my driver's side floor mat.

Here is what it looks like where I live in Minnesota. When I flew in on Monday from New York, I really thought I might have been landing in Siberia. It was barren, white, icy and snow was blowing. There was almost no traffic on the roads. A battalion of the Army's cargo planes, looking like dinosaurs, greeted me on landing. It was like the USSR in 1965. Creepy.

I arrived home and climbed over a mountain of ice and snow to get to my sidewalk with my bags, huffing, puffing and cursing. Fully comparing the sidewalks of Minneapolis to the sidewalks of New York which are maintained impeccably. They are always dry. Leave it to the doormen.

So, I've been really crabby. I get up. I slather on ridiculous amounts of oil and cream on my parched and cracking face. I shower only every other day as I feel like I might just break like brittle if I dry out my skin any more than it is. I slide into jeans, snowboots, my Northface and wrap my face in a big old scarf, pull on my Tibetan cap and head out to warm up the car...for 20 minutes. I head back inside to wait for this to happen.

I'm sleeping 10 hours a night wrapped (thank god) in cashmere pants my sister gave me and a holey old cashmere sweater. (Remember I sleep alone in Minneapolis.) I tuck in with my tea, my book and my down. It is just freezing and a bit lonely.

In this mood, I am eating junk. Wine, coffee, cheese, crackers, olives, finger food. Whatever is easy. I am not cooking. But...I went to my acupuncturist today and he gently pointed out that most health matters (my really tender lower back) can be addressed by diet. So...after an out of this body acupuncture experience, I headed home to wine, crackers, cheese AND homemade vegetable soup. Such a winter treat. Here is the recipe, in case you are interested....with visuals!

Vegetable Soup

Pour Olive oil into a soup pan so that it just covers the bottom of the pan.
Heat on low.

Add 1 diced onion.
Add 2 -3 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed. (Use as much as you like garlic.)
Saute garlic and onion for 5 minutes or so until soft. Watch heat so it doesn't burn.

Add vegetables one at a time, chopping into bite size pieces. I like my pieces on the large side. Here, I used:

2 heads broccoli
4 red potatoes, unpeeled.
5 carrots
Cauliflower - 1/4 head
Green pepper - 1/2 diced

Add a few shakes of red (cayenne) pepper, salt, black pepper, some oregano (if you like.)

I saute this in the oil. You may want to add more oil. Lynne Rossetto Kasper says that you will have more flavor if you take this step - sauteing the veggies before you add liquid.

After 5 - 8 minutes, add enough organic chicken broth to cover the veggies. In this case, it took the whole carton (4 cups.)

Cook 10 minutes.

Add 2/3 large can (about a cup +) of Organic Crushed Muir Glen tomatoes (or your favorite.)

Stir - add a few more if you like a really tomato-y soup.

Cook 15 - 25 minutes. Test for flavor and add salt, pepper, whatever you like. Just keep the heat on low or you will overcook the veggies. They can get soggy.

Other things to add:

Green Beans
Kidney Beans

Stay warm. Stay cozy. I'm going to hibernate.