Monday, April 28, 2014

Old Stories

I'm visiting my grandmother in St. Louis. She's moved into a long term care facility, but one that is more like a hotel - she gets meals downstairs in the dining room, but also has a full kitchen if she'd like to cook instead of dine; there are many activities that she can do that are organized; there's a fitness center and specialists. It's quite nice.  She moved to have more social interaction, as she is 95 and found that her social circle was shrinking, and due to a recent fall she's not going outside as much.  She uses a walker (is it still called a walker if it's on wheels?), and that limits her somewhat, but she still has all her faculties. 

We spoke about what we usually do: philosophies, how to live life, how we gain meaning from life, and how the past shapes us and what we can do to unlearn it.

During lunch yesterday we were interrupted by Mrs. O'Brien, who was passing slowly by.  She was a nun she told us, and ended up married. She's from Wisconsin. Apparently her son helped build the place, and when her husband died, he packed her suitcases, and all her things and put her up in St. Louis. She said she never imagined she'd not live in the house he built, or that it would be the last time she saw it; she didn't even know what he was doing when he packed all her clothes in front of her.  She said she only had a picture of the house to remind her, her only memento of it.  

When she left, my grandmother said it was kind of me to listen to all of her story. I thought it was interesting, but apparently she tells it somewhat often.  My grandmother said there is a fair amount of dementia, so it has been an adjustment hearing people tell the same stories over and over.  She said we all have a narrative, and a lot of the people just tell their story to anyone.  They will tell it, for instance, to someone they've never met having lunch with someone else. They have a need to say who they are, and tell you what their life was.

Last week in LA, I stage managed an event that was hosted by two younger people who are youtube stars. Apparently, they have a large online presence.  Instead of going to the reception they were invited to before the event, they stayed in the dressing room and had a conversation with each other and one other friend while someone filmed them. In fact, they were being filmed most of the time. 

It's somewhat the same action. Interestingly, they came across as a little self-obsessed, where Mrs. O'Brien did not. She seemed to be telling her story to make sense of it, though, and somewhat to get me on her side - knowing that it would sound flabbergasting to me, too.  I didn't find it off-putting, and unlike the youngsters, it didn't feel performed. 

Once again, I don't know what the point of this, but it's fascinating how we reveal ourselves, especially now when there are many available avenues to do it.  The event was about creating community through online interaction, though in the case of the two hosts it felt it was at the price of real connection in real time.  Real connection and community in real time, though, as my grandmother explained, can be just as tricky to find.

Friday, April 18, 2014


I was off today. Good Friday.  It started with a hike up Runyon Canyon in the gray morning. I was at a loss for what to do most of the day. I took a voice lesson, and remembered how vulnerable it is to sing.

I slipped in my shower, making the mistake of getting out while the water was running to get a new bar of soap. I banged up my shin, and got a rush of adrenaline enough to give me a headache.

An art show at the Brewery of the Stations of the Cross. The artist, from his explanation, is very Christian. Large photos that had been manipulated in different ways, with layers of paint and laquer. There was a woman playing Jewish liturgical music on an old piano. She had a beautiful alto voice that quieted the room.  A man petted an Italian Greyhound, which immediately made the surroundings look like the subject of a painting. I thought about the stories we tell ourselves, and the ramifications they have.

At Sunset and Cesar Chavez a little dog ran away from its owners. The cars were stopped for the road being blocked by a traffic officer, and in the midst of trying to turn all stopped for a tiny gray dog running into headlights.  Its owner tried to make himself large, or head off the animal, by putting his arms out to his side and charging. The dog was scared further.  Finally, he was scooped up. The couple laughed and picked up their other dog.  Having to circle around the block, I saw them at the next corner waiting for light while a man played the saxophone.

On main street a woman held a baby on a balcony while a man smoked. The door to their small apartment was open, the lights on and a curtain blew in the breeze. It looked like a room in a motel.

A round woman in a little black dress laughed and flirted with a man outside a club.

Outside the Tacozone truck, a man screamed at all the passersby that something was going to happen to them.  A boy walked up to the truck with his mother. She asked him if wanted a quesedilla of queso or pollo, and he said pollo. She had surprise in her voice, but not on her face.

I thought again about my ex-boyfriend - how when I taught him to dance he was grinning so hard it made my heart burst. I wished I could make him smile like that always. Sometimes you can't keep it inside.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

What I shouldn't be doing

I spoke with my 95 year-old grandmother the other day, and mentioned that my mother asked how my romantic life was.  I told her I had only broken up with my boyfriend a scant two months ago, and that wasn't enough time.

"How long are you going to mourn that?" she asked. I laughed, but she was serious. I told her I didn't feel like dating.  She asked if sometimes you don't take the action first and the feeling follows. She's an emotional ninja.  And wise. She had just been watching Eckhart Tolle and Oprah in conversation.

I've been taking some action. I don't feel like it. But she's right, if I waited for the feeling to happen first, I'd pretty much never do anything. I have a fair amount of experience of that in this area. It's a mass of doubt, and looking at online dating sites makes me sad and anxious.  Maybe it's not really time yet.

I don't know if mourning is the right word. I think maybe healing is. I'm surprised how hard this has hit me. I initiated it, and I think it's right for both of us, but like anything else I may not know that for another decade.  Regret is so much easier than looking forward.  At the moment, it's the lazy choice. As the song says, breaking up is hard to do. This one has been the hardest so far. Kinda makes me want to stop trying altogether.

So I have some coffee dates set up. I'm asking questions. I'm listening and responding. I'm remembering that I learned I get to have an opinion about whether I want to date someone, not just worry what he thinks about me - that never turns out well.  I'm taking the action. I'm hoping the feelings will follow.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Story of the Jews

I have watched the first two episodes of Simon Schama's The Story of the Jews on PBS.  Completely fascinating. I bought the book, too.

I had no idea that the Exodus story happened around 1245 BCE, so the books of the Torah were set down later than I thought.  There is so much to tell in a more than 3,000 year history, obviously, but I'm  amazed at how much historians have learned.

I've always found the construction of religion fascinating. This particular story is one that shaped our world.  It's also always interesting to learn more about my own ancestors.  I find that impulse, the one to organize around an idea of God, fascinating. Independent of belief, it's the action that fascinates me.  How we as Jews have survived this long is quite incredible. The story makes you wonder if we weren't in diaspora, would we have survived as long. Has the adversity actually shaped tradition, and made people hold fast to the identity?  I can't answer that, of course, but having a link to those traditions, and seeing where they come from, is mighty powerful.

Funnily enough, after drafting this I read this philosophical discussion in the New York Times, titled Is Belief a Jewish Notion?, which explorers some of these ideas.  I find it very interesting - the practice and belief vs. the idea and the definition.