“My Grandmother Fell” Club

When my cousin called me this morning I was sure she wanted to discuss the Chanukah dinner we were tentatively planning for when my sister comes to town in two weeks. Turns out she was calling to tell my grandmother fell. The home health aid arrived in the morning as scheduled and when my grandmother didn’t answer the door, the aid called the agency, who called 911, who arrived and broke down the door and found my grandmother on the floor. She was the living example of the commercial we grew up with: “I’ve fallen and couldn’t get up.”

We don’t know yet how long she had been there or what caused the fall. I don’t know if they knocked the door down by cutting it, pounding it in, or by busting through the door knob, but all of these inconsequential thoughts come flooding at once. What came out of my mouth was, “Why didn’t the home heath aid just call 9-1-1 herself?” and as I say it I realize it’s irrelevant. “Never mind,” I quickly attempt a retraction, and ask if my grandmother knows what happened, or where she is and if she recognizes my cousin.

My grandmother has two children: my mother and her brother, my uncle (my cousin’s father). Ironically both my mother and my uncle are out of town until Friday so my aunt and cousin are at the hospital with my grandmother.

“How bad is it?” I ask. “I mean, seriously, it’s me. Is this a “bruised and sprained situation” or the “check into the hospital never to check out” scenario?”

My cousin says she doesn’t know anything yet. She said they are performing x-rays and blood work and my grandmother has not allowed CT-Scans and MRIs. My grandmother was moaning, complaining about pain in her legs and back and they got her some morphine. 

My grandmother, 87, has been living on her own for the last two and a half years since my grandfather died after 61 years of marriage. This is proof of what the family had suspected for the last year: she can’t continue to live on her own despite how fiercely she wants to hang onto the reins controlling her life. She wants to continue to live in the same apartment she shared with my grandfather for the whole 40 years she’s lived in America.

“What the fuck, 2016?” I think to myself. I only have 25 days left to write and every day and just when I think I have something poignant from my history to hash up, Life, just like the card game War, slams down the ace every fucking time.

I don’t have to write about my grandmother falling. I don’t have to annotate the knot I’m feeling in my stomach. My plan for writing every day this year was to squeeze my brain enough so all the stories of the past ooze out, eliminating the clutter from the annals of my memory. I didn’t intend on documenting so much of the present. Yet, as life throws me the “doozy of the day,” I take to the keyboard to immortalize the experience in words, expelling them onto paper so they won’t rattle around as a distraction.

So now I’ve formed this habit? When I’m angry life has wasted my time with its tragedies and errors, I write it down as if my pen has any weight against the Almighty. 

“I’m the Human Version of the Pop-Up Video” Club

I’ve recently realized that I’m the human version of the VH1 pop-up video. This thought dawned on me when I found myself whispering “extra or background information” into my son’s ear in the middle of watching Moana. Talking during a movie, sacrilegious, I know, but I really thought I was adding to his experience, just like a video thought bubble.

This blasphemous cinema behavior got me thinking about other times I might exhibit this questionable behavior. There are the movies and TV shows at home, of course, when I, usually in command of the remote control, pause at my discretion to inform other watchers (husband, son or daughter) of something related to the plot, show, actor, actor’s girlfriend or children, or occasionally have nothing to do with the show at all. Sometimes I inadvertently need to deliver this information in the middle of a crucial scene where I’ll pause mid-word because it has suddenly struck my fancy to discuss next week’s play rehearsal schedule or ask my husband if we remembered to add “return grout” to the Home Depot list.

Likewise, in the car, mid-soundtrack or chorus, I’m the first one to pause (once or a dozen times) to discuss something.

The thing is, I value the human dialogue above all else and merely use the media as background noise or conversation starters. What’s the point of looking at a field of tulips in Amsterdam if you can’t turn to the person next to you to say, “Isn’t that the most fucking beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

The constant interrupting is a souvenir of my “old” habit of interrupting conversations, which I did entirely out of well-intending reasons. I never meant to imply my comments trumped whoever was speaking, I purely struggle with vocal restraint. (Think Kristen Wiig’s ‘surprise character’ from Saturday Night Live.) My patience is immature and when I think of something pseudo-interesting to say, I tend to blurt it out right away. PS: I also hate surprises.

The other night at dinner, we put on the Moana soundtrack for entrainment, and the music ignited conversation about the movie: where it took place, how many years ago, from which Disney universe did it evolve, and my son, my disciple, demonstrated that he too had inherited the “pop-up bubble” gene. He paused almost every song to provide pop-up insight. I could tell my husband and daughter were annoyed that he kept stopping the song in the middle of the crescendo, but I totally got it, dude. When the thought strikes, pop!

“I’m a Good Gift-Giver” Club

I’ve always praised myself for being an extraordinary gift giver. From the time I was eight years old, I would save up my birthday and holiday money and use it to buy presents for my parents and sister. I valued the fact that it was MY OWN MONEY I was choosing to use to buy them something rather than myself. A martyr for no reason, or else the attention I garnered from giving a generous gift was more valuable than something tangible I could have bought myself. I also discovered early on, if I was spending my own money, no one else can tell me what to do with it.

The things I saved up for months to buy are the ones I savor most in the memory banks. The silver and gold Seiko watch I gave my mother in third grade; the sewing machine in fourth grade. Being a good gift giver defined me. I gave each part of the present detailed thought: the actual thing, the wrapping, the card, the envelope, the way I write the person’s name on the envelope. It all comes with a piece of my heart attached.

In the Russian culture, even for kids, birthday and holiday presents were customarily cash, brought inside a plain envelope, sometimes with an unsigned card, never sealed, and usually ended up in my father’s inside pocket because why would a little girl need cash when she got everything she needed from her doting parents. Rarely did anyone bring a toy, game, or even an article of clothing – and if they did, I still remember it (monetary value irrelevant).

Around age ten I asked my parents to stop giving me cash because it felt so impersonal. I wanted something they contemplated and planned and executed, not some green paper shoved in an envelope.

One year our relatives from Louisville came and brought me a rose-colored Polo shirt. I had never owned anything like this but she told me to wear it with the collar up because Kentucky fashion was coming to New York!

By the middle of sixth grade, I had made only three good friends at my immigrant public school in Queens. That’s when my parents moved me, in March of my “senior” elementary school year, to my new intermediate school in Staten Island. When my three friends finally came to visit, (ONCE), they bought me Starship’s We Built This City on cassette tape. Up until that point, I had never felt so included in a group. The fact they actually combined their funds and considered my likes blew my mind.

In high school, I had one best friend and we only gave each other birthday and holiday presents and since neither of us had boyfriends, we channeled the gifts we would have given them onto each other. We would get each other joke books, silver jewelry, sweaters from Benneton, Broadway show tickets and as we got older the stakes grew; fancy dinners and once she got me a helicopter ride around NYC.

When I was sixteen, my parents and grandparents chipped in to get me a Sony camcorder, which I desperately wanted. They sent me on a scavenger hunt around the house where I followed clues written in English with broken Russian spelling and I had never been so excited in my life; every Christmas morning fantasy scenario at once.

On our first Chanukah as a couple, my husband, on his way to visit his family in Kansas City, stopped the taxi at my house on the way to the airport to deliver eight gifts, wrapped in newspaper, for me to open while he was away. Elliot Smith CDs, a heart waffle maker, a silver necklace I later wore only when I dressed up to do face painting.

This year my sister printed every single blog I wrote (this is 339 if you’re keeping track) and bound it in a handmade book wrapped in black and white velvet damask fabric, secured with silver grommets.

These are the things I will take to the grave because they have become a part of me as much as it has for the people who gave them to me. The idea that someone spent their ticking time on conjuring a perfect present for me overwhelms me to this day. It is the same reason my engagement story meant so much more to me than the actual diamond ring (although I love my bling bling). It is the same reason a hand-written, well-articulated card means so much to me. I know how much I treasure the words I string together to deliver to someone; I’m happy to be on the receiving end.

While I’ve proudly worn my “Great Gift Giver” badge, crown, and sash, I’ve also often secretly felt let down by others. Not because they didn’t get me an expensive gift, but because they didn’t give it enough thought – and I’m one who even doles out partial credit for effort! (Sometimes I feel disappointed that maybe I’m just not worth the effort.)

I’ve been told many times that I’m impossible (really impossible) to buy gifts for – not because I’m one of those people who has everything, but because I’m particular about, well just about everything. So instead of a Barney Stinson-like “challenge accepted” attitude, people rather have me pick it out or buy it for myself. In the last decade, my mother even stopped giving me a card and just tells me to buy something for myself on her credit card. What’s better than that?

Nowadays my father gives me cash for my birthday and I’ve stopped trying to guess what he wants for father’s day or his birthday so I give him cash back. Last time I saved the $100 bill he gave me and put it back into an envelope for him. Who are we playing this monetary chess game for? It felt fake and fruitless; a sort of invisible present.

Many years ago my sister wisely said to me, “You don’t give gifts hoping to get anything in return. You give them expecting nothing back.” So I went back to OK-ing the cash gifts from my parents, but with a broke artist husband, two deserving kids and three adorable cats, rarely do I spend it on myself.

“My Daughter is the Only Jew in Her Class” Club

My daughter came home from school the Monday after Thanksgiving to find her classroom delightfully decorated by her teacher, whom she adores. There was a Christmas tree, garlands, stuffed Santas, snowmen, and reindeer, and Christmas gel stickers adorning the windows. “What do you want for Christmas?” was the talk of the day and on our walk home, my daughter admitted she felt “uncomfortable” because no one else celebrated Chanukah. (She was the only one to raise her hand when they asked if anyone observed.)

Christmas trees, community tree lightings, Rockefeller Christmas tree, stores restaurants bedecked with evergreen needles topped with a star or else baby Jesus and trimmings grace front lawns, garlands wrap banisters, ornaments in every shape, size and color hang on railings, doorways and trees. The Christmas spirit explodes on the scene like a tidal wave and tries to rake in as much moolah as it can in its wake.

Only if you’re a Jewish kid witnessing this glitterati holiday world replete with Santa, elves, and toys galore, are you made to feel like a Christmas’ Cinderella.

Chanukah, which isn’t even a religious holiday is definitely not the Jewish Christmas it has been made to be. It is a Jewish celebration which happens to land closest to Christmas, like other pagan holidays pre-religion set around solstice time. Because the Jewish calendar fluctuates each year, as opposed to the western calendar, Chanukah is also not on a stagnant day, so while occasionally it may fall around Christmas (like this year), other years, it jumps around the month of December as Christmas’ pathetic shadow or less potent pre-show.

It has ironically never bothered me much despite the fact that my parents came to the United States so I can have the freedom to be a Jew. This life move has inadvertently created a subtle hovering pressure on me through my life. While I felt compelled to proudly declare my religion, I felt conflicted as I was raised with my father telling me he doesn’t believe in god because he believes “we are an alien experiment gone wrong” and my mother saying she doesn’t believe in God because it was “beat out of her.” My paradox went further and here are some of the reasons:

  • I love Chrismas songs. In junior high school, I joined the chorus and for the holiday season, we learned dozens of Chrismas songs (and two token Chanukah songs) and would sing them at  our school assembly, at the mall, at the Pan Am building (now the MetLife building), and even once at Carnegie Hall. I love the music and the feelings (not of Jesus, specifically) which come along with it.
  • I love the holiday smells. The pine tree fragrance and the cinnamon mixed with nutmeg is a recipe for winter warmth and joy. The aroma is the best part to me so the idea of a fake tree is ridiculous and I wonder if a fake tree also negates some of the symbolism.
  • In the former Soviet Union, they put up trees for New Year’s rather than for Christmas or Chanukah. It was called a “yawlka,” and had no religious connotation. It was winter season and it was decorated. My father would describe from his childhood mandarin oranges, small candies and the garlands of chestnuts. This is the tradition with which my parents grew up and before we left the Soviet Union, there was a black and white picture with me in front of a tree every year. It had nothing to do with American Christmas or Jesus, but when we arrived here, it was considered sacrilegious for Jews to put up a Christmas tree. Over the years, this attitude has loosened and people happily put up “Chanukah bushes.” Also, Christmas has long ago gone the extreme commercialism route, over-shooting religion by miles, and it’s become a part of the American culture as much as it is part of the Christian one. Religious activists, the same people who rally over what color coffee cup Starbucks has during December, began plastering the phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season” in case any of us jumped on the Christmas bandwagon looking for a pine tree with a present sans the church.
  • From the time I landed in New York City, fresh from the Soviet communist send-off, I never felt antisemitism. Thrust into a multicultural city, at the very crux of the melting pot, I happily attended a mostly immigrant school and never thought otherwise. Some kids had Christmas trees and some had menorahs and we all got presents. In fact, Jewish kids got gifts for eight nights rather than the one night of Chrismas and still the red and green trumped the blue and white. It didn’t matter to my family that we were the underdog; at least we were allowed to cheer. At least in America, we were allowed to wear gold stars of Davids around our necks and light our menorahs in the windows. Who cares if we were the secondary holiday when we came from a country where it was illegal to celebrate all together? Forget happy festivities like Chanukah, in the Soviet Union, my parents weren’t allowed to get married under a chuppah, as customary for Jewish couples. None of the life cycle events could be celebrated under the banner of the Jewish religion.

My husband, on the other hand, feels directly opposite of me. He cringes at our Jewish friends who get “Chanukah bushes.” For him, it’s the equivalent of hanging a cross around their necks or on their door instead of a mezuzah. How can we as Jews be the ones to wipe away our own cultures, minimizing them, discounting them as not being as “fun” as other religions? My husband tells out kids “Chanukah was created out of trying to preserve our religious freedoms, Santa came from Coca-Cola–how can we compete?”

My husband grew up in the heartland of America: Kansas City, MO. When he first told me where he was from, my reaction was, “There are Jews in Kansas?” and he came at me like a bull telling me about the close-knit, HUGE Jewish population in Kansas City (about 20,000). He explained how he went to Hebrew school three times a week until he graduated high school, after which he spent six weeks traveling through Israel with the other kids who spent their lives up until that point, in the Hebrew ward. (Note: I never went to Hebrew school; not even a trial class.) He was even in a Jewish Boy Scout Troop that would occasionally be asked to “show their horns” while camping in rural Missouri.

When my husband was in the first grade, the same age as my daughter, he was upset because his school was dressed up for the holidays but excluded any Chanukah decorations. Typical for the rest of the country and the area schools, they decked the halls with boughs of holly, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. My husband was distraught and told his mother, who marched him in to talk to the principal about it. The principal shrugged and said they didn’t have any Chanukah decorations. He brushed them off suggesting they make their own Chanukah decorations and hang them around the school. Undeterred, that’s exactly what they did. They worked for a week with paint, paper and safety scissors (1977: pre-glitter and foam sticker days) to create Chanukah ornamentation to hang around the school. 

Fast forward many years and now we’re raising our kids in Fort Lee, NJ, a predominantly Korean neighborhood, and my daughter attends the local public school, where she finds herself to be the only Jew in her class. On the way to school days after her teacher decorated the room in red and green, my daughter expressed concern that the topic of what people would be getting for Christmas might come up again. I suggested she talk about what she will get for Chanukah. Her face sunk and she sadly confessed she felt alienated because no one knows what Chanukah is. I sent an email to the teacher asking if my daughter can bring in her own Chanukah decorations. I told her we’d be happy to come and hang them and while I was sending the email, I had a thought. Why stop at decorations?

I suggested to the teacher that my husband and I host a Chanukah party. We’d read a Chanukah book to the kids, show them how to light a menorah, and teach them how to play dreidel. We’d eat latkes, applesauce, jelly donuts (Israeli tradition), and gold chocolate coins (gelt) and the kids can decorate their own foam sticker menorah (hail foam sticker and boxed crafts).

My daughter was ecstatic. Not so much about the party, but to be able to share the fun, joy, goodness and celebration that comes with HER holiday, the Festival of Lights. I think she wants to not only showcase it but reinforce for herself, that her religion is not secondary or inferior or less fun. The clown daddy and I will come in and show the kids that we don’t need to create a Jewish version of the Christian traditions to feel adequate or celebratory. We don’t need a Chanukah bush, blue and white candy canes, a Hanukkah Harry, or even the male or female version of the Elf on the Shelf, Mensch on the Bench or Hannah the Hannukah Hero

We need education, love, inclusion and maybe a non-religious incantation of Kumbaya so we can all link hands, and play a secular game of Hokey Pokey and channel the Coca-Cola commercial from the 70s when all we wanted to do was “buy the world a home and furnish it with love, grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves … teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…What the world wants today is the real thing.” 

“My Husband, My Editor” Club

When I decided to write every single day for a year, my husband was my biggest cheerleader even though he was inadvertently forced to take on this project with me. Every single day (usually night; minutes shy of midnight), he reads over my autobiographic essays, searching for typos, inconsistencies, and misguided T.M.I., before I hit the blue PUBLISH button. 

This project was my Queen Mary and he was its anchor; invisible but keeping the whole project from floating away or outright capsizing.

Did you ever have a good fight with your husband? One of those PMS-intensified blowouts when maybe you call him a baby or lazy or call his mother (or dead grandmother) a cunt? (Not my proudest moment.) Well, I’ve had days like that (at least once a month) and for the last 337 days, no matter how we end our day, I still had to give my husband a vulnerable essay to edit, including this one.

After any of those arguments, he could have gotten back at me with a red pen, but he didn’t. Not once. He didn’t have any interest in making me look bad any more than I had in minimizing how much I loved him on paper. My husband and I had an instant connection and partnership. Our fast-talking, brash, sarcastic styles feed well off each other. 

We joke about “taking our show on the road,” kind of like George Burns and Gracie Allen, only my husband is the REAL comedian (OK clown, but seriously, is there a difference?) and I’m his deadpan sidekick. I hope we will evolve into a powerful literary couple in 2017, as we vow to work on our romantic comedy screenplay. Before we know it, we can be like Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne or else like Burt Reynolds and Goldie Haun in Best Friends.

When we went on a two-week Hawaiian vacation, I brought my laptop because my project didn’t take a hiatus and my husband, in turn, didn’t either. Before bed each night, the laptop would be propped up in front of him, and he would be forced to end his day (or disrupt his day) with one of my essays. As much as I love to think of myself as oozing positivity or making the best of things, my instinct is to find flaws and imperfections and think of how things and people can do it differently. I am the life consultant no one hired and I spew my findings without request. Translation: Not always the easiest to live with.

The truth is he IS my dream come true. It is he who forced me to own up to who I was (A WRITER), it is HE who kept holding a mirror up when I would feel confused about who I was and what I was supposed to do, it is still HE who reads every single word I write and makes sure I am coherent and don’t make myself look like too much of an asshole. My husband was there to make dinner, even if it was peanut butter and jelly and ice cream with cereal on the couch after the kids went to bed and my husband made my daughter lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY THIS YEAR. You’d think I was the best wife in the world, speaking of him so profoundly, but he has to wait to read it in words because even though I will never admit it again, I’m a passive-aggressive writer. 

I don’t give relationship advice. OK, I do, but I do it subtly. (Not really). My number one healthy relationship must is to SLEEP NAKED (Insert apology here to 14-year-old son who is reading). I’ve been doing it for 23 years and don’t ever plan to stop. My second piece of advice is, give your significant other an autobiographical essay about you to read every single night for a year.

Even science verifies the old adage, “don’t go to bed angry,” and this project has 100% guaranteed it. No matter what either of us feels at the end of the night, the project is bigger than both of us and we honor the year-long commitment. He’s my coach, my cheerleader, my confidant, and always my clown. (And he held other roles which didn’t begin with the letter ‘c’, such as a therapist, lover, best friend, masseuse, photographer, and chauffeur. Crap, that’s another c.)

Obviously, I’ll dedicate my first book to him, but I think *he’s going to want to see some buckeroos to back those hard-earned editing hours. Amiright?

*editor’s note: When Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” he didn’t follow it up with “So make lots of cash.”

“Stage Mother” Club

Earlier this year I began watching one of my favorite shows, So You Think You Can Dance  and realized they threw a monkey wrench in the traditional format, and in lieu of 18-30-year-olds, this was So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation featuring 8-13 years old dancers.

Initially, I thought this would be great to watch with my six-year-old daughter who loves to dance, only I quickly saw this show was a shortcut to waterworks. I abandoned the season after the auditions because I was never in the mood to cry for an hour. Witnessing the tremendous artistry, performance, and perseverance these kids left on the stage was mind blowing. What got me most was the parents.

They’d sit backstage and I could feel them not breathing. I could see them clenching their fists, watching every jump, twist, leap across the stage because they had it memorized along with their children. They sat at the end of their seat and prayed silently to their dance gods that their son or daughter would land each step. When the audition was over, they would breathe again, often with tears in their eyes because they knew how much their child wanted this, and how hard they rehearsed for this, and how much passion and guts they exhibited and they’re still kids.

Now my son wants to be an actor and just finished a major role in his first high school play. There’s even a two-page spread in the school newspaper dedicated to the production. (Yes, his first clipping.) As soon as I arrived at his show, I got butterflies. I sat in the audience, a few feet from the performers I sensed my son’s energy. I wanted to go up and hug him, hold him and try to convey how proud I was no matter what he did. I was proud because he loved something so much and worked so hard on it. Because he put his passion and his heart and soul into it. Because he took criticism, which is difficult for any human, let alone a teenage boy, and adjusted based on the criticism, and had a better performance. Because he supported his castmates and was a true team member. Because he helped construct and take pride in the Broadway-worthy set. Because he memorized hundreds of words written by a British author twenty years ago and brought them alive.

I weep for these young performers the same way I wept at my son’s track meets. I want them to linger in the innocence of childhood a bit more but they’re all so competitive and striving to do so much. To grow up quicker, to act like adults, to take on more responsibility.

Yesterday my son had a monologue reading in that same black box theatre, only this time he did the Matt Damon “Why Wouldn’t I work for the NSA” monologue from Good Will Hunting

Once again, as soon as he took his seat on stage, my heart began beating off kilter and my breath was erratic. He seemed confident and not nervous at all, but I didn’t exhale once during his three-minute speech. I knew the lines by heart and awaited each word as he uttered it, praying to the acting gods that he wouldn’t screw up, and if he did, that he’d recover flawlessly, like a professional and not get flustered.

He killed it! (I’m not biased.)

I’ve filed away his first clipping, the one which mentions “the choreography in {my son’s} scenes was excellent, and the combination of his forwardness and the girl’s vulnerability resonated effectively.”

I texted the review to my son, who hadn’t seen it.

“Any criticism?” he asked.

“None!” I said. “Of course not!”

“I Make Lists” Club

I’ve made lists my whole life and it wasn’t because I mimicked my mother doing it. In fact, my quest for an organized life – from drawers and closets to bills and computer files and photos is a perpetual, organic, never-ending feat. Life is the queen of dispensing out things to add to the “Things to Do List,” and reality is, I have it easy.

Can I imagine the “Things to Do Lists” of days past?

Chop the tree for wood, make a fire, kill a chicken for dinner, grow the vegetables, grow tea leaves, get water from a well, deliver a baby with just hot water…

My lists are easier. They involve very little heavy lifting or interacting with harsh weather or fighting bears in the snow. Mine deal with “pursuing my dream” and “publishing my book” and all that difficult stuff which happens from typing a lot of tiny buttons on my computer for many days in a row. I also have to do a lot of driving here and there and back again and this is all done in my large, comfortable automatic car with heated seats and auto defrost. I never have to MacGyver the windshield wipers, they totally work with the push of a button. I can even talk on the phone and listen to Pandora in my comfy ride, all hands-free. I can park without turning my neck because I have a rear view camera. My life is tough.

Last week I thought about the list of “Things to Do” in my father’s head because he’s not a list-making man. He had to find a funeral home pick up his sister’s body, find a cemetery, arrange a burial, find a place to eat lunch at afterwards, and call friends and family to tell them his sister was dead. He has to grieve for the rest of his life, and for now, this trumps every other item on his list.

These are the kinds of things life puts on our lists whether we want to or not. I don’t put “grieve” on the top of my list, but for the last few days, I’ve accomplished little else. I carry on doing things like driving my son to school and putting tiles on my kitchen walls and calling LG to complain about not having enough gas coming out of the burners

My lists are a snapshot in time; a day of my life and what chores hijacked my time. Sometimes I find old lists in notebooks and think, “I finally got around to that,” or else, “There’s something that never got crossed off the list” and it faded away, old ink on weathered paper.

Recently I’ve developed several lists based on the topics. Here are the current lists in my rotation:

  • Things to do to finish up the kitchen list
  • Things to do to finish up the master bathroom
  • Things I need to get for Mackenzie
  • Things I need to get for Jake
  • Doctor / Dentist appointments
  • Receipts Due to State Farm
  • Work Things to Do
  • Gifts for the Holidays
  • Grocery List
  • List of Things to Return (to Costco, Home Depot)
  • Things to Get at Home Depot
  • Article Ideas List
  • Books to Read List
  • Songs to Download List
  • Movies to borrow from the library (because I’m clearly 85 years old)
  • Audio Books to borrow from the library (see previous parenthetical)
  • Post Office – Mail Bryan’s gift, Ilan’s gift, Reena’s shoes
  • Misc that doesn’t fit on other lists … the Homestead application (whatever that is, deadlines today), order school photos, sign my daughter up for baseball (trend de jour), call Lumber Liquidators to complain about shitty floor

Also, at the bottom of every list: WRITE

“Not Worth Calling Customer Service” Club

Yesterday I used my new range for the first time. I cut up my onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, had water boiling for pasta, and began to use a second burner to sauté meticulously sliced and diced vegetables. Only I noticed when I turned on the second burner, the first one’s flame decreased by half. When I turned on the third burner, all three flames dwindled. When all four burners were lit, I had barely a candle-sized flame.

“Of course,” I thought, “par for the course of the post-flood renovation which never ends.

I find the number to call my range manufacturer and after five minutes of computerized prompts and five more minutes of waiting, a recording tells me it’s higher than normal call volume and would I consider calling back later.

I finally get someone on the phone. I explain my situation; she has a very heavy accent and is reading scripted responses to my questions. Except the responses don’t solve my problem.

“Model number? Natural gas or liquid propane? Let’s check here to see what can be done…I think you can adjust the burners with a flat screwdriver. Or else it is the pressure of the gas.” 

She is reading the Troubleshooting page from the instructional manual, which I had finished reading cover to cover before I called.

In the time I wasted on the phone with the customer service representative, (18 minutes 46 seconds) I had enough time to try three different screwdrivers to attempt to adjust the flame. I realized my first suspicion was correct: we don’t have enough gas coming out. I was still on hold because my last question was “are you sure there’s no switch regulating the flow of gas?”

While on hold, I get frustrated at the time I’m wasting and lack of better muzak. “I could have done so much in this time,” I think. “I could have written my piece for the day (number 334 if you’re keeping track).” 

Not to discount multitasking; in the hold time, I emptied the dishwasher, made an egg and cheese sandwich (on toasted bread), ate said sandwich, replied to a work email, and watched one of my cats (my least favorite, if forced to pick) sit on the top of the new custom wooden dining room chair until it tipped over and cracked in half.

Sorry, Husband, who is my editor, and finding out this way.

This is why I don’t call customer service. It never works. You never call a number and get a pleasant representative who has the answer to your question. They spew follow up questions and statements and suspicions and lots of typing and holding and then referrals elsewhere.

This is why it’s better to just deal with an insufficient gas flow. Maybe there’s a grand reason for it all.  Maybe I’ll create a television series on one-burner wonders? Think of the angle there – a whole cookbook, a YouTube channel, a show on the Food Network – all based on one-flame creations. Camping will go to “glamping gourmet” in just one burner. Tailgaters will revel in their new found inspiration. Don’t let that small NYC kitchen with one burner slow you down from hosting Thanksgiving dinner!

How much inconvenience will we deal with before we call customer service?

12 years ago I bought a Samsung 40” LCD screen TV. My family still has and uses this as our primary television. But it has a little glitch; a personality trait as we call it. Sometimes, randomly, the sound goes out. We have to turn the TV off and on to restore sound. This is no problem in the age of DVRs. The sound dies, someone utters a loud “Augh,” we hit pause, turn the TV off and back on and we carry on. 

At first, I tried to call Circuit City, the retailer from whom I purchased the television, but they had gone out of business and I really didn’t have the desire to hunt someone to fix it, etc. The inconvenience of the flaw was less than the headache of calling customer service. There must be a ratio or formula in there somewhere to determine when it’s worth voluntarily entering the first ring of hell. 

In life, we tend to adjust to inconveniences and annoyances because they’re less bothersome than fixing them. But in the long run, is it worth it?

“Measure a Year in Words” Club

If you told someone they would have to write 34 essays in a row, they might seem intimidated. Even a writer might break a sweat, but for me, 34 left seems doable, the almost home stretch. I am at mile 23.9 of a 26.2 marathon. Maybe I’m not relaxing, but I’m thinking beyond just finishing, I’m thinking of the type of finish.

Obviously, I’m looking at the project differently with 34 essays to go rather than 365. I’ve got experience, I’ve flexed the muscle so it flows easier; I’ve set precedent.

Also, there is an economics factor with words. The more words I write, the less I value any one word or phrase. Editing and taking notes and critiques became a lot easier when I had to learn to swallow my pride back in early January. My husband reads my work every single night (sometimes just shy of midnight, after waking him gently) and it’s inadvertently become his 365 editing project. It’s a little like having your dad teach you to drive a stick shift, everyone gets a lesson and takes the ride.

I have mixed feelings about the remaining project. For me, it was a monumental year but I wonder if 2016 was really just like any other year only seeming more special by having to write every single day. Despite my original intention of wanting to dip into history to tell an autobiographical story about the human condition using examples from my life (the daily goal of each piece), life forced its subject matter into my project like a noisy neighbor whose racket provoked me to write about them.

As the project flips the calendar to the last month, and my word count tally turns to 227,405 (I keep a running tally spreadsheet), I stare at the thousands of words of a year and think of my first favorite musical before Hamilton, Rent and its trademark song, Seasons of Love and add my own verse:

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Moments so dear

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

How Do You Measure – Measure A Year?

In Daylights – In Sunsets

In Midnights – In Cups Of Coffee

In Inches – In Miles

In Laughter – In Strife

In – Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

How Do You Measure A Year In The Life?

How About Words?

How About Words?

How About Words?

Measure In Words

(and Love).

In Truth That She Learned

Or In Times That He Cried

In Bridges He Burned

Or The Way That She Died

It’s Time Now – To Sing Out

Though The Story Never Ends

Let’s Celebrate

Remember A Year In The Life Of Friends

Remember the Love

Remember the Love

Remember the Love

Measure In Love

Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love

You know that love is a gift from up above

Share love, give love, spread love

Measure, measure your life in love.

“Grieving” Club

Grief is such that it lodges itself in your throat until you either have to swallow hard or cry it out. The problem with the crying route is it is like disengaging a cork which is clogging up a hole in a pipe, and when unplugged, a deluge explodes from within. Once you let one cry out, the others topple out uncontrollably. Crying only makes me think of more reasons why I will miss my dear aunt.

I will never get another card with her perfect Russian-schooled cursive handwriting. I will miss her face. Her white skin with more wrinkles than her young age deserved. Her green eyes; sparkling with kindness. She was my second mother for the four years she lived in our house with us. She was the only one to come with me to my wedding dress fitting. She was there the day both my babies were born. She was a saint before she died; what does that make her after death?

I want to write about something else. I have just over a month left in my 365 project. I’m supposed to be shaping it all up in a neat bow and crafting paragraphs about lessons learned and planning my steps forward. I’m supposed to be focused on my book publication and getting an agent and really, I’m supposed to care deeply about getting to the fireworks ending of my project and instead life has swept the leg out from underneath me.

I didn’t think her death would hit me as hard as it has. I knew the ritual of the funeral would be a tear-fest and maybe there would be a few consequent sobbing showers, but somehow every song makes me miss her, everything I’m seeing is from her eyes and how she would think about it all. It wasn’t always this way, but for now, she’s all I can think about and all I can write about. It’s every grief stage and it’s cliche and I know it will pass but I could only be right here, right now.

Earlier today Pandora served up one of my favorite gypsy punk bands: Diego’s Umbrella. They played their version of Hava Nagila and it was as if I was socked in the gut; my insides turned and I bawled like a baby knowing my aunt would never dance another hora with us.

Ironically she is in my life in these last few days more than she was physically in the last few years. In death, she has become just what they said: everywhere. This realization is profound and painful at the same time. She is in the clouds and in my vintage typewriter on my desk and in the soft sweater I wear; because I hate itchy ones, just like her. She was my hypochondria soul mate and now I’m left feeling crazy without her validation.

There is nothing we can do to give death the middle finger other than live – out loud and with intention – on the borrowed time we have.