Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fall back into possibility

I'm hungry. I crave autumn colors, sharp breezes, the touch of flannel, the memory of leaves burning. Here in Florida, we have a break in the muddy air, the hint of an echo of fall. It isn't enough, like that first pistachio nut. But for this short period of time my brain fog lifts. I produce. I decide to mark the time, take the Jewish holidays off. It's New Year once again. Back in my columnist days at the Asbury Park Press, these are my thoughts:

I’m feeling rather mellow and philosophical lately, finding it very hard to concentrate and almost impossible to access my normal caustic style. I suspect the reason is the New Year that is upon us.

New year? Yup. New year. For me, September, and not January, ushers in a fresh new year. I still get the urge to buy notebooks, pens and new shoes as August winds to a close.

Summer is timeless. Its sights, sounds and smells are those of eternal childhood – the smell of damp wood at the boardwalk, the grit of sand in a wet bathing suit, the aroma of freshly mowed grass and the song of the ice cream trucks. Even the games of summer, such as baseball, are outside of time.

The summers of my childhood were spent in the deep green of the Catskill Mountains , NY, amid the numerous bungalow colonies that dotted the landscape in the 1950s and ‘60s. As soon as school was out each year, we packed up and left suburban Long Island for “the country.”

It was a world in which well-oiled women roasted in the sun on chaise lounges and children spent their time at day camp, braiding lariats, fighting color wars or treading water in a pool to graduate from minnow to shark.

It was a world without men from Monday through Friday. In those days before central air conditioning, men parked their families in the cool mountains and stayed behind in the city working, making the trip north each weekend. And from Friday to Sunday evening, the adults partied at the casinos (as they were called) or at poolside.

Summer is a time out from life. They don’t call them the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” for nothing. We live summer in the present, in seemingly never-ending daylight, talking about doing this or that “after the summer is over.”

With Labor Day all that ends. Life returns with a vengeance. It’s back to school, the stiffness of real shoes and the smell of new books. Games of football, basketball and the like are defined by time. Notebooks are empty. Everything is before us. Anything is possible.

I realize this is a rhythm established in childhood (and often continued into parenthood), as our lives are geared to each school term. But it runs much deeper than that – at least for me.

January 1 may be the official start of a new year, but aside from the calendar (and all those resolutions notwithstanding), nothing changes. Winter just closes in.

Ah, but the fall. With September comes a perceptible change in weather patterns. The air itself is clearer and sharper. Food tastes better. Vitality returns. With the impending winter, time takes on urgency, poignancy.

Many folks think of September as an ending —and end to warmth, an end to freedom. But for me it’s a beginning, the beginning of clarity, of production—both in the air and in my own thoughts.

Here at the Jersey Shore, September also means the beaches, cafes and highways return to us. Favorite restaurants are once again accessible.

Fall is also the time Jews celebrate the New Year. Rosh Hashanah can even coincide with Labor Day. This two-day holiday marks the start of what is called the High Holy
Days, ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and atonement.

I am not a religious person and was not raised in an observant home. Yet, this is one time I think we Jews got it right. (Unlike that business of reading back to front and starting our days at sundown.) Even the most casually observant of us tends to honor this time, and not with noisemakers and hangovers.

Yes, there is a lushness and abundance about the harvest that makes it a great time to welcome a new year. But more than that, the shortening of the days and the sharpening of our senses moves us naturally into a period of reflection and examination necessary to lead a rich and meaningful life. More than crops are harvested each year, and seeds planted bring forth more than nourishment for the body.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I interrupt this blog...

to catch my breath. I'm a bit winded, having spent the better part of 2 weeks sprinting like a broken field runner. Why? I've been trying to avoid the chunks of the financial sky that's falling. Evidently, Chicken Little is correct once again. It's not exactly the sky that's falling but the stock market. And the beat goes on. The collapsing economic dominoes (I don't understood that game. Do you?) add to an escalating pundit hysteria. Oh my, Oh my, it's the Second Coming of The Great Depression! If they don't shut up, they will induce enough fear to bring it on. Can one of you psychics please channel FDR?

I pass a week ago last Monday in blissful ignorance, going about my errands, unaware I am suppose to be clutching my chest in dread. A former journalist and news junkie, I have stopped watching news broadcasts except an occasional Jim Lehr and yes, the Daily Show. I no longer subscribe to newspapers or news magazines.

Of course, bad news will out.

OK, so I trip over it, maybe on TV or the car radio. I ask myself: Is there anything I can do about this? If the answer is in the negative, I do my best to release it and move on. (It's one of those times when having absolutely no investment portfolio is a silent blessing) I don't watch the shows, read the paper or engage in conversation on the subject. I will wallow no more.

Take the weather channel--please (couldn't resist, sorry), which runs neck in neck with the news channels as purveyors of the Most Awful, speakers in superlatives of doom. When I first moved down 7 years ago to Florida, (also known as the"what's the weather state") I fell into that addiction, and ended up paralyzed with fear.

I have since resigned as a "weather warrior". I now limit watching to the local forecast and an brief look at weather patterns. I don't allow myself to get sucked into the whirlwind of doom--be it flood, hurricane, tornado et al. Not to mention monitoring those darn millibars.

A final note. Please don't bother to phone this "Pollyanna" to bring her "back to reality." Those who have tried are chuckling. You see, my answering machine instructs callers to leave only "good news."

What can I say? This girl just wants'ta feel good. Over and out.

Monday, September 15, 2008


September 14

It’s been an intense afternoon. Noodling around on the couch, as I am want to do on the first day of my “weekend,” I flip on PBS to find it’s Pledge Week. Oh goody! No, I REALLY mean oh, goody. I love it when they dig out the good stuff again, and am usually not bothered by the intermittent begging. Since I often donate, my conscience is clear, and I burn the time by channel surfing or getting to a chore or two.

Anyhow, this time I toggle between the two PBS local stations and am riveted. One is showing Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” among his best work which I forget I own. The other is the late Randy Pausch’s much lauded “The Last Lecture,” which is infinitely better than his bestselling book of the same name. Both works are well known to me, but the juxtaposition increases the impact exponentially.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume these two men are from opposite ends of the spectrum, albeit both brilliant PhDs and potent salesmen for the best of all lives. (Even though Pausch’s mother introduces him, as the “kind of doctor who doesn’t help people.”) Pausch, a brash extraordinarily popular computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, is 47 at the time of his lecture. He is in the last throes of his battle with pancreatic cancer and dies in July. Steeped in popular culture, Pausch lives in a world of virtual reality that I find hard to comprehend. Dyer, old enough to have been his father, is from the humanities and is often thought of--incorrectly I think—as a new ager.

But as I flip back & forth, I am struck by the incredible synchronicity between them. Too many, in fact, for me to list. Here are several paraphrased examples:

Dyer: Albert Einstein said the most important decision any of us has to make is whether we live in a friendly or unfriendly world.
Pausch: You have to decide if you are a Tigger or an Eeyore.

Pausch: As you get older, you will find enabling the dreams of others even more fun.
Dyer: As a child, I earned a few pennies helping old ladies out with their groceries. And I’m still just helping old ladies out with their groceries. Find a way to serve.

Pausch: You can't control the cards you're dealt, just how you play the hand.
Dyer: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

The more attention I pay to the two programs, what they are saying becomes secondary to how they are living. There is something rare at work. A buzz, an energy, drawing people to them. Yes, both are passionate, genuine and have the gift of reducing complex dry ideas to juicy enticing morsels we commoners gobble up. They also seamlessly bridge disciplines such as art/science, science/philosphy.

But it’s much more than that.

The are what the great psychologist Abraham Maslow would call self-actualizing people. Those few among us who “must be what they can be.” These are the engines driving our world.

I have been privileged to know two such people in my life. More about them coming up next.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The return of Abbie

Abbie arrives after work Saturday, and I sense a little "click," as a missing piece of my personal puzzle falls into place. My young friend Hope--who will not eat or wear anything animal--has taken superb, loving care of my cat for the past 2 months while I roam. In her honor, I've decided to post Abbie's chapter in Just Between Us, my latest book in progress. Enjoy.

I must at this time introduce Abbie, my companion and counselor since I read all my writing to her first. Abbie, now 13, all but rolls her eyes when I relate the story of our early life together. Growing up, we have two calico cats in succession, both from the same mother—and both named Snowball. OK, so we're a little short in the imagination department.

After my dad’s unexpected death, I think my mom might enjoy the company of another calico and bring her two tiny sisters from which to choose. She declines, and I can't bring myself to part with either one. Since I am in no position to name any babies after my dad, as is Jewish custom, I name my baby cats after him: “Abigale (Abbie) and Rose (Rosie)”. This is what I wrote back then.

What remains
I’m writing this with a ball of fur tickling my nose. Abbie, one of my two 8-week-old calico kittens, is fascinated by the computer. She climbs up onto my shoulder, which would be kind of nice, except she insists on constantly walking by my face. Maybe I should be grateful that her sister, Rosie, is a tad more aloof, as she is quite a bit pudgier with longer hair and would make seeing the screen even more difficult.

The little girls have been living here for two weeks and I’m not exactly sure why, except that it feels right. I was half-musing about getting a pet when I chanced upon this litter. The two calicos were impossible to resist, even for someone who is allergic to cats.

Rosie is straight off a greeting card. Playful and plump, with rabbit like silky hair and a round, pushed-in face, she is the picture-perfect kitty. Wiry Abbie is slighter with pointed features and shorter fur. Although not as conventionally beautiful, she is the one I connect with immediately—maybe because she resembles Snowball, the small calico I
had in my youth.

Abbie seems to think she’s a puppy. She cries if you leave the room, waits by the bathroom door for you to come out and complains if she is not picked up and played with. She likes to be cradled like an infant and is not above muzzling your mouth and

Sitting on a couch, Rosie might well curl up alongside me for a nap. But Abbie insists on sleeping curled up by my face, softly purring into my ear. It’s really a delightful sensation and has the effect on my psyche of waves lapping a beach. Now I understand why therapists say pets add to one’s mental—and possible physical—health.

I took them both with the intention of giving one away, but after seeing them together for a few days, I didn’t have the heart to break up the duo. So here I sit, a middle-age woman who can barely afford to feed herself taking on the expense and responsibility of two animals—just when I was freeing myself from the care and feeding of my own offspring.

I guess it’s time to face the truth. I’m well along that path of becoming one of those eccentric old ladies living with cats. Oh, well.

Just like a pair of small children, they have turned this house upside down. Nothing is safe. They climb and wrestle on every couch and bookshelf, disconnecting the fax machine and teaching the answering machine to do bizarre tricks by scampering across its buttons. At night, they push open the bedroom door, romping across the bed and making it impossible to sleep.

And the decisions: to feed wet or dry food, to cover or not cover the litter box, to spay or not to spay, to keep them indoors or allow them to roam?

Working from home can be a solitary business, sometimes too much so. It’s certainly hard to feel alone, though, with the patter of eight little paws chasing up and down the stairs. I find myself sitting quietly and watching them at play, the way you do with young children. It’s possible to lose oneself for a short period of time, which is akin to meditation. Not having had a pet since childhood, I had forgotten the pleasures.

In the intervening years, I had focused on the expense and work of caring for an additional creature. Frankly, I’ve had my hands full trying to raise two little humans.
But as trying as youngsters can be, caring for them when they are small is very intimate. There is all that hugging and touching involved in day-today life. As they grow, the need sharply diminishes and then almost disappears.

Children grow and leave; partners, parents and siblings age and die. However, the need to touch and be touched, to feel the warmth and live vibrations of another living being, live on. And one cannot always depend on another human to fill that hunger. Pets, I posit, are Mother Nature’s way of ensuring her children are never alone.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Meet Kona

Kona behind bars

Kona and friends. She is
a Jackchi--Jack Russell Terrier/Chihuahua.

Kona (my friend just returned from a Hawaiian trip) lives in Point Pleasant, NJ, with my bestest friend Carol's family. She is a rescued dog, and one of the cutest I've ever seen.
Ok.. so I think little Kona should pursue a modeling career. What do you think?????