Snapshot of NYC on a Rainy Day

Driving rains, warm spring temperatures, buffeted around on the train platform, an umbrella turns inside out.

A doctor’s appointment, supplements, trek to Argo Tea, Greek yogurt with honey + hot chai tea, reading Writer’s Digest magazine, waiting for Avi.

Dogwood blossoms dress Fashion Avenue, naked in the rain showers, dropping white petals on bubblegum-blackened sidewalks.

Creaking bathroom doors, steamed milk squealing into life, loud conversations shouted into cell phones. The front door lags open for its ghosts guests. Maybe they hear the wooing of the steamed milk machines and mistake it for the Great Ghost Council calling them in for their annual meeting.  Sad sirens glide past the coffee shop window, dying with the last breath of its horn.

A man in a hoodie pushes a store cart, top to bottom things covered in plastic bags. TD Bank greening supports dogwood boughs for a hint of spring green not yet appearing on its branches. A young man carries a limping umbrella, as if past its youthful prime. A middle-aged man with bags under his eyes cups his coffee in one hand while slicking back his wet, straight hair with the other.

A see-through plastic domed umbrella with thick red trim all around is a moving half bubble, the above water version of a marine shuttle that goes underwater to observe the tropical fish. NYC is world’s tropic fish – all species and stripes moving in groups up and down the stream, criss-crossing in patterns of personal mayhem.

Teeming with life. In a fishbowl.

Puffer fish bankers boasting of sales closed and commissions earned. Land sharkes parked in lined pods. Cabs are the rulers of the sea-roads, swerving in and out of each other’s path, paying attention and speeding ahead while trying to assert power in a more subtle way – by intimidation of presence, not teeth.

The Sickness of Anticipation

This morning, I woke up knowing that today would be the first of two days of prep for my colonoscopy on Wednesday. For two days, I will be drinking. A lot. And not the kind of drinking that I want to be doing.

The only food-like substance that will pass these lips is jello. Also in my armory are chicken broth, apple and orange juices, water, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, Gatorade, and Life Savers. Not that I plan on eating the sugar. I think I’ve gotten that covered elsewhere.

I put in call to clarify today’s instructions and make sure I hadn’t screwed things up by taking Pepto last night or Vitamin E on Friday. Once I got the go ahead, I went shopping with my honey to pick up the magnesium citrate, Miralax, and Ducolax that I will need. Oh and a package of baby wipes and A&D ointment. This is gonna be some party.

We got home from shopping with the foodstuffs and colonoscopy prep materials, and I feel like I’ve been gathering the supplies together to make a home-made bomb that I will soon be strapping on for the least fun ride I could possibly hope to be on.

For lunch, I decide to have broth and try out the “island pineapple” jello. I haven’t made jello since I was a child. After I learned about vegetarianism, the thought of gelatin freaked me out. Not even Bill Cosby could tempt me to eat that stuff again. Back then, Bill was Mr. Cliff Huxtable, the father of your friend whom you could trust.

When I opened the package, the sugary pineapple smell surprised me with its intensity. In short order, I had a cup of boiling water stirred in with the gelatin after which I added a cup of cold water and stuck it in the fridge. Mmmm…. jello dinner.

At around 3:15pm, I took the magnesium citrate prep that I had chilled and poured it into a tom collins glass. Over 30 minutes, I drank the so-tart-my-eyes-are-tearing grape liquid. Artificial, overly sweet grapiness at its best. Or worst. Either way. The grape is so intense I feel like it’s left it’s DNA print on my tongue.

This I followed with 2 glasses of water, a glass of iced coffee, and 2 glasses of apple juice. Grape taste DNA refuses to be evicted. Afterwards, I feel bloated like a dead whale’s body decaying on the beach. Now, about four hours later, I am waiting for the magnesium citrate prep to take effect. I fear that I will not be going to sleep for a while once things “kick in.”

The effectiveness of the magnesium citrate prep feels like an IED that I’ve detonated, but one that is taking a really long time to go off. The bloating wears off and a rumbling works its way through my colon. I estimate that the prep has made its way into my descending colon. If I’m right, I’ll be forced to spend time in the bathroom right about when I would normally fall asleep and for at least a couple of hours.

But who knows? My body is notoriously slow at moving things through. My husband Mark and I could eat the same spicy meal, and, whereas he’s on the toilet within 4-6 hours expelling the spice, I don’t have to visit the toilet gods until the next day.

Maybe the toilet gods will take pity on me, let me get to sleep tonight, and then sleep through the night. Maybe my alarm clock will be my body propelling out of bed, mostly asleep, and into the bathroom as a rousing antidote to my phone alarm clock.

Those options both sound so exciting that I simply do not know which one I’d rather choose! (And if you don’t read that dripping heavily with sarcasm, there is no hope for you).

25 Tips from The Procrastination Station

Some days, like yesterday, I am super productive. I make a decision to write, sit down, hand-write a page or two, and then work on my story. On blog post days, I write my blog and/or just it if I’ve been writing for the duration).

And then there are the other days, like today. Writing can feel like a great adventure, or it can feel like you have to sit down and study for that economics exam you’ve been dreading. (And I dreaded Economics when I took it in business school, especially microeconomics. But that’s a story for another blog post).

Right! Back to writing about not writing. Or The Many Ways in Which I Try to Avoid Writing. This is the work I have chosen to do, and there I am, trying to avoid it like I’m trying to avoid the common cold.

Writing is a recursive vocation. You can write about writing, as numerous authors have done. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I am currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, another writer on writing, the writing life, and how to be a better writer. Usually, it starts with the advice to sit down. And write.

Below are some of the ways I have strived to not write:

  1. Tell myself, “I’ll do it later.”
  2. I have to write long-hand first.
  3. “Ooh, darn. A hang nail. Let me clip that.”
  4. Pet my cat Normie.
  5. Play with Normie.
  6. Pet my cat Gwenny.
  7. Play with Gwenny.
  8. Pet Normie and Gwenny at the same time.
  9. Ditto playing with the cats.
  10. Take a picture of Normie. Upload it to Instagram. Check Facebook for comments.
  11. Ditto with Gwenny.
  12. Read useless, infuriarating, not-relevant-to-my-work articles on Facebook.
  13. Ditto Twitter….
  14. CNN…
  15. Foxnews…
  16. Slate…
  17. HuffPo…
  18. Raw Story…
  19. Yahoo News…
  20. and Jezebel.
  21. Check email frequently.
  22. Go downstairs to tell my mother some funny thing that Normie did.
  23. Go downstairs to find my cat Normie because I need to pet him for the Nth time.
  24. Take a walk.
  25. Eat a snack.

Eventually, though, I have to sit down and write so that I can tick another day off my writing accountability counter. My blog post makes this possible on Mondays and Thursdays, but I try to do more than just the minimum.

Not only is writing a recursive vocation, it also happens to be the writer’s antidote to procrastination. Once you start writing, it makes you want to do more. On days like today, starting really is the hardest part.

Achievement Unlocked: Baby Squirrel Rescue

As the weather near 70 degrees on Friday, I decided to go for a walk around a park instead of going to the gym. I put my earbuds in and listened to music as I walked down Carnation Avenue. I usually walk down to Raff Avenue, around the Centennial Gardens & Bird Sanctuary, up Floral Parkway, and turn back onto Carnation. When I got to Floral Parkway, I decided to turn right instead and go around the gardens the other way.

I walked on the brick walkway with the gardens and sanctuary on my left. As I approached the entrance, I noticed a woman walking along the path towards me. As we were passing, a number of birds eating at the bird feeders caught my eye, and I turned my head left to watch them. As I stood there, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned to see the woman pointing and looking towards the ground. Looking back up at us was a baby squirrel about a foot away. She looked like a much smaller version of a full grown squirrel.

As I aww’d over her, the baby squirrel reached out her right paw into the air towards the woman in a gesture that seemed to say, “Please help me.” That motion touched my heart. As we started discussing whether the mother was around or could we see a nest, the baby came over to my right sneaker. First, she sat on my foot. Then she stood on her hind legs and hugged my pant leg, while looking right up at me with her two big black eyes. I felt rooted to the spot. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to finish my walk or do anything else other than try and rescue this baby.

You know when something is so heartbreakingly adorable that your heart feels like it’s being crushed and you want to cry? That’s how I felt. After fretting a bit about not having a box or a car, I called my sister M to ask her to help me figure out what to do or where I could bring the squirrel. She sister looked online and read me some information about orphaned baby squirrels.

As we talked, I noticed a box sitting under some bushes a few feet away from where the woman and I stood. It was a Nike shoe box with a Saltine cracker and one acorn inside. My sister read that putting food in a box with the baby squirrel was a way to tide it over until it could be reuinted with the mother. If the squirrel is young and approaching people, then it means that the mother or the nest has been unavailable for some time and that the baby is desperately seeking help. That did it for me.

I gave my fleece vest jacket to the woman and asked her to see if she could get the squirrel off my pant leg. I wasn’t afraid of being bitten, but I didn’t want to hold her, either. She was able to gently nudge the baby off my leg, and the little squirrel sat in my vest looking cozy. When she began to nuzzle the fleece, I took this as another sign that she needed nourishment. The lady was also able to get the squirrel into the Nike box, and I held her in there while I talked to my sister. We got off the phone so that Madeline could call Volunteers for Wildlife, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center on Long Island.

While I waited for her to call me back, two boys around 10 years old came over and asked me what was in the box, so I told them the story. The baby tried to poke her head through the holes at either end of the box, but she could only fit her nose, whiskers, and paws through the hole. Her claws looked like little razor blades. At first, she got angry at being held in the box. She also made some of the cutest noises – little growls, reassuring sounds in her belly, and high-pitched whistles that sounded like bird call. When she cried out for his mother, my heart broke all over again.

I was already walking home with box hands clutching the box when my sister called back. She caught a volunteer just as A, a volunteer, was about to leave for the day. However, A said I could bring the squirrel over to her house in Westbury that evening. Once I arrived home, I retrieved a sash from one of my robes and tied it around the box to secure it during the car ride. I picked up my bag and water bottle, and I drove to A’s house with the squirrel in the box on the passenger seat. I drove slowly, made sure to leave a lot of space between me and the next car, braked gently, and held my hand on the box. I gently shook the box a couple of times because the squirrel had stopped scrambling around and was very quiet.

An easy 20 minutes later, I pulled up in front of A’s house and texted her to let her know I was there. I handed over the baby squirrel and she gave me a piece of paper with the squirrel’s assigned number and the rescue group’s email address. She said they would take pictures and put it up on their website and that I could find the squirrel by her assigned number. When I left her house, I was high on the excitement and satisfaction of having helped a baby squirrel get the care she needed.

After I told my husband Mark about the rescue, I cried thinking about the way the baby squirrel reached out towards the other woman. This action in particular symbolizes the baby squirrel’s attempts to get help from the only adults it could find: us. That little thing prompted a thought flash to occur to me that hasn’t happened in a long time: What’s the difference between a squirrel I rescue and a chicken I eat? Maybe I should try to be vegetarian again. 

In my 20’s, I was a vegetarian for about five years. When I went off the pill, my desire to eat meat returned so I began eating meat again. I have been mostly comfortable with that decision, but events sometimes make me question that. Studying Buddhism and wanting to follow the Five Precepts for Lay People was one reason. Still, I ate meat. I think that the difference this time is that I had an emotional experience in my interaction with the squirrel, whereas studying Buddhism was a more intellectual exercise.

When I stopped eating meat full stop in my 20’s, the transition was hard, and I am not sure I ate well enough. I still struggle with eating enough nutrients. Certainly, there were not as many vegetarian options or sources of vegetarian protein. I’m not sure I could go vegetarian all at once again, nor would I want to. I think some meal planning is in order to make sure I get enough nutrients. Maybe even a visit to a nutritionist. But I can start by striving to minimize the meat I eat to once a day while I do research and maybe even go to a nutritionist.

I think that’s a good place to start.

Throw Back Thursday: Summer Camp

I remember sitting in front of the TV watching an advertisement for Young People’s Day Camp (YPDC). Pictures of children swimming and playing games accompanied by music and a floating, yellow smiling balloon. The camp looked like a lot of fun, and I asked my mom if they could send me to summer camp. I was happily surprised when I found out I was going to summer camp!

The next year, my best friend K who lived across the street came to summer camp with me. Instead of YPDC, we went to Sand and Sea Day Camp. K and I would wait on the steps of her apartment building. Most mornings, we played cards, like Go Fish, Rummy, War, or Uno. I seem to remember playing a lot of Rummy. I remember being fascinated and frustrated with Rubik’s cube. Weaving bracelets with colorful plastic strands was also popular with the girls in the camp.

Our driver, Pete, a lanky camp counselor with dark hair and an Adam’s apple, would pick up kids in his station wagon before driving us all to our morning destination, usually either Eisenhower Park or Jones Beach. We listened to a lot of rock and rock and New Wave music on our rides to and from camp. I remember Angel, a younger boy, with light brown skin and blue eyes. The difference was striking, and he was also a cutie pie. I remember holding hands with another boy, Chris, with whom I had a mutual crush.

 

For part of the summer, the camp was divided into two teams: red and white. We competed against each other in races and other camp competitions. I remember picnicking on scrubby sandy dirt, sitting in the searing hot sun, walking barefoot on concrete sidewalks that roasted your feet, swimming in the Atlantic ocean and in pools, and making friends.

I also remember the bully who picked me, another girl named Randy. Randy was part of a three-girl popular clique at the camp that included Lisa and Kim. Randy was athletic, Lisa was large and loud, and Kim comported around a rather large bust and wore braces. All three were attractive, and I was simultaneously jealous and afraid of them.

I remember being teased and taunted by Randy. I hated confrontation, and still do, but once in a while I defended myself. One day at a pool, Randy threw my cards into the pool or onto the very wet ground. Without thinking, I angrily grabbed my book and thwacked Randy over the head with it. She was stunned not only that I hit her, but that I had stood up for myself at all.

By the time I turned 16, I was no longer interested in camp. I was not interested in becoming a counselor in training (CIT) and felt like I was too old for camp, as if summer, sun, ice cream, swimming, and friendship were things I would ever grow out of.

3 Lessons on A Writing Life

Today I celebrate two accomplishments: the seven year anniversary of my blog and 30 continual days of writing! Woo-hoo! I am beyond thrilled, especially at the 30 days. Along the way I have learned three lessons on how to make the writing life work for me.

Prioritizing My Writing

If you want to be a writer, then you have to make time to write. The time of day doesn’t really matter. I’m not even sure it matters how much writing that you do. However, if you put off the writing until evening, then you run the risk of getting squeezed into crunch time. Unexpected crises could mean that you don’t write until very late, your writing is not up to par, or you lose on sleep. I can write under stress if needed, but I can’t do that on a regular basis. The earlier you write, the better you’ll be. Why? Becausee you might end up writing more than you had anticipated and that’s better that not having the time to write at all.

Creating Accountability

I printed out an accountability calendar. What is an accountability calendar? It’s a calendar for the sole purpose of marking off the completion of a task that I wish to complete every day. For my writing to improve, I need to write every day, even if it’s just a little bit. This is what creates the habit of writing. Take advantage of all the different kinds of writing you can do on any topic that interests you.

Another important piece to the accountability calendar is that it is adjacent to my desk. I can’t sit down without noticing it. I like seeing the uninterrupted days of writing where I can’t miss it. If it weren’t there, I would forget how many days I would be at it. The calendar is like my drill seargent. I’m not going to get away with excuses or lack of performance with the searg staring at me, insisting I meet my commitments.

Setting Attainable Goals

The last time I tried to write daily, I had a list of writing goals that I wanted to meet every day. First, I would do my minimum three pages of morning writing. Then, I would do practice writing. If it was Monday or Thursday, I would write in my blog. Finally, I would work on my stories. Before long, I was feeling overwhelmed and gave it up.

This time, I gave myself a smaller goal set: Write every day, even if it’s only one page of morning writing. Mondays and Thursdays I write in my blog. The rest of the days I try to work on my memoir or whatever story I am writing. I have discovered that the minimum of 1 page of morning writing is easily attainable. As a result, I feel like I have achieved an accomplishment and that alone gives me the encouragement and enthusiasm to keep on writing.

The next time I want to begin any new habit, I’m going to ensure that I prioritize, make myself accountable, and set achievable goals to bolster my confidence and enthusiasm. I highly recommend it!

The Empty Room

I wonder what it would be like to have a soothing peace fill the inside instead of this dreadful pain that I feel. I am not good at knowing exactly what to do with that space. It’s as if I have bought a house, but I have no possessions. I own no furniture that requires me to measure doorways and openings, fretting about how it will all fit. I have no books to rearrange on shelves. No memories to hang on the walls.

Sunlight pours into the room with bright white walls, hardwood floors gleaming their oak honey back in. All my desires for decor and children echo in that space that can never be nor will be filled. Or so it seems.

A longing within me desires to fill the sun room with colors and chaos. A voice from deep within whispers that, no matter the accent pillows nor throw rugs, no matter the sofas nor desks, no matter the clothing nor tchotchkes, the room will continue to be as it is, hollow and bare, but looking quite bright and inviting from the outside.

I suspect, tho I am loathe to admit, that any attempts by me to fill the space will fail miserably. I will turn away to get the coffee off the stove. I will go away for but a few minutes at most, and I will return to the room that stands just as empty and shiny as it ever was. I will be frightened, confused. How can it be that this room that I have just finished decorating, stuffed with unsorted stuffed animals and books and music CDs, is empty as if I never touched it? The room retains its friendly demeanor, looking right back at me as if to say in a nonplussed tone, “What?”

“As if you don’t know!” will come my reply, but the room has nothing more to say. No further conversation in which I am permitted to make my arguments and win against the room. Its emptiness does not wish to have a discussion with me, although I will keep on trying to engage its attention. I fail miserably every time. Who really wants to have a room that they cannot use?

“You must do something,” the logic in my mind tries to goad me. But how is it possible to have a tug of war when the other side refuses to pick up the rope, to engage in a battle of wills? I have listened the to Commander’s logic and have attempted a variety of ways to pressgang the empty, resistant, unifillable room into standing down, to surrender itself to being filled. Isn’t the passive feminine supposed to cave to the masculine dictator of logic and allow the invasion forces to penetrate, to conquer, to humiliate and dominate?

Instead, the room resists all my therapy tricks, all the German code false starts, all the bulldozers and the bullies. A tsunami could hit the exterior walls and not even a hairline crack would appear. The room feels inviolate for it will neither bend nor break. Would an earthquake shake it up, loosen the dirt underneath and around the foundation, and bring down the house?

I tiptoe around the landlines, the mounds of unhealed moments in my life that, if I were to step on them, would shake me violently, rattle my eyes in their sockets, and blur my vision. As I back away from the explosives, my vision clears. I am no longer afraid. Neither am I moving forward.

The empty room presses in the sore spots that linger deeply inside when I think of what my life could be like. The fulfillment I crave. Tasks finished. Books written. Money and self-sufficiency won. That ever-moving goal where I imagine a personal nirvana where I can find a kind of permanent peace. In the meantime, pain lives on within, unkissable and unsatisfying.

I compare myself to other people. They are ahead of me, better than me, find reaching their goals easier, are more persistent, more talented, more worthy and worthwhile, and better than I am in their lives than I can ever be in every possible way.

I throw all these fatty, heavy feelings into the room. They stick to the walls, melding with the paint, as the room gains weight. Like a glue, the room sits in my landscape and refuses to move. The glue eventually fades, but the pain stays and the room remains empty, despite all my best efforts to fill it with good things. My values, hopes, and dreams. My daring and courage. My persistence and my will. My strengths and my vulnerabilities. I give it everything in the hopes that it will be satisfied by something, anything.

After all this time, I think that maybe what the room wants me to do, most of all, is to sit there without trying to change it or myself. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Stop trying to change everything inside the room and the room itself. Maybe the room wants a sole, whole occupant. Only by sitting and listening without doing will the room be complete and, maybe, me along with it.