Sunday, November 30, 2014
I have a friend (I'll call her Sabrina) who is no slouch. She earned an BS in Mathematics and a PhD in Biological Psychology at the University of Chicago. Sabrina is one of the country's leading experts on shift work, human circadian jet lag, sleep, and circadian rhythms. She may know more about circadian rhythms than the majority of us combined, but her knowledge of rhythms in general has proved sorely lacking.
Until last night.
As a guest at an annual Thanksgiving dinner that traditionally progresses into a raucous dance party, Sabrina shocked us all when she donned a long, black wig that had been plopped on top of an African sculpture, and bounded onto the dance floor. There, she pranced and shimmied and shook to the music like she'd been dancing with abandon her entire life.
Her husband of some 32 years had never seen her shake her booty in the over three decades they'd been a married couple. He's a quiet, undemonstrative kind of guy who sat there with a slight grin on his face, the only sign of his approving amusement.
"Grab your camera," I yelled to my husband. "Sabrina is wearing a wig and dancing!"
Alan did as he was told, grabbed his cell phone, and stood in amazement. Sabrina was an academic who liked her alcohol on the week ends but had never once gotten off her duff to dance, not even a little boogie down the hallway when she was sure no one was watching.
The wig was magic. It gave her cover. Like an actress assuming a role very different from her natural personality, Sabrina became a newly-invented person Whatever fear she'd had about displaying this playful, rhythmic part of herself melted like the ice cream on top of the pumpkin pie. For over an hour, Sabrina danced in the living room, sashayed around the dining room table, returned to the make-shift dance area to sometimes partner with another dancer or to boogie by herself.
Several times, she tired, removed the wig, and sat back down.
After a brief rest during which we encouraged her to get up and back on the dance floor, she jumped out her chair, replaced the long, black wig or chose instead a white out-of-control Afro, and hit the dance floor.
"Alan," I yelled. "She's at it again."
Alan ran back to the living room, and the two of us stood there mesmerized as we watched our friend whom we thought we knew emerge from her self-imposed cocoon.
Sabrina held onto the Afro wig throughout the rest of the evening. She carried it everywhere.
At the end of the evening when Sabrina and her husband bundled up in their winter coats and hats, our host and owner of the wig offered it to Sabrina. "I'd like you to have the wig."
"No, that's okay," said Sabrina. "Save it for next Thanksgiving."
Was she going to wait a whole year before letting go? Was she going to retreat to her studious life in which she spent hours and hours researching and writing grants? Would she travel the world to speak at conferences and never show her love of other kinds of rhythms?
It seemed so.
And while I honored her decision, it seemed a damn shame.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Rhoda, her white fluffy bangs covering the top rims of her glasses, bent over me and tweaked the arrangement of my bolsters, blocks, and blanket. It was a somewhat complicated design— one I’d not seen before. The one bolster I’d put horizontally across my yoga mat wasn’t quite low enough to support the bolster that balanced on top and ran parallel to my spine. The two blocks on either side of the mat on which I was to place my hands as I might on the arms of a lounge chair failed to (support) my wrists, an apparent essential in the pose. Once the props and I were resituated, Rhoda walked to the prop room and returned with an eye mask filled with malleable flax seed that, once placed, molded over my forehead, eyes, and upper cheek bones like one of those bean bag chairs so trendy in the 1970s.
“I’ll guide you through to begin,” Rhoda said. “Then you can continue on your own.”
I didn’t like guided meditation. (I still don’t). I wanted to do my own thing which usually meant repeating the mantra I’d been given after taking a transcendental meditation class soon after my first seizure. It didn’t matter that over the years I’d bastardized the two supposedly sacred words chosen just for me and repeated over and over two sounds that changed from one session to the next. Marahirsi Mahesh Yogi would not have been pleased.
That day, I gave in to Rhoda’s soothing but strong guidance as she encouraged relaxing every part of my body from my feet to my belly, from my chest to my third eye, the spot above the forehead believed to be the link between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Now, I’m not sure I understand exactly what the means but often when I close my eyes, focus on my third eye, and concentrate on the in and out of my breathing, I see vivid purple which, I’m told is a “spiritual” color and, as it turns out, my mother’s favorite. Whenever I “see” purple, I visualize her purple bedspread, purple stripes in the matching sofa fabric, the purple placements on the oak table, the purple bath towels, the bathroom rugs, and, most vividly, the purple silk pajamas my mother wore the day she died. Now more than six years after her death, I’m convinced that she’s still hovering about, keeping an eye on me just as I imagined she would after noticing that half-opened eye of hers that wouldn’t close.
Enveloped in purple and open to silence and thoughts, I flashed to the evenings long ago when, before going to sleep, I would bury my head in my pillow and “see” all colors, designs, and little people. All these years later, I don’t remember much about these little people. It doesn’t matter. These special friends were my secret and not to be shared. They made me feel special. They provided something I could count on night after night. They lulled me to sleep. I imagine shrinks could have a field day analyzing what holes in my life I was trying to fill or from what traumas I was trying to escape. So, let them have their fun. As far as I see it, my night visions fueled a vivid imagination that has served me well.
And now all has come full circle. I’m a sixty-nine-year-old student of yoga who lies on two purple bolsters with an eye mask over my eyes instead of a pillow and reconnects to a peace and sense of wonder that was me then and me now.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Okay, with my tail between my legs, I fess up: I'm an HGTV addict. When politics get too upsetting (and there's a lot of upset these days), I flip to "The Property Brothers." When the weather is gloomy and I want to feel better, I switch to "Love It or List It" where the ground is often covered in snow (It's Canada, after all) and the hosts and homeowners are usually bundled up against the cold. If I need another escape to the promise of warmer weather, "Beachfront Bargains" gives me hope that I, too, might be able to afford digs on a sandy beach somewhere in the southern U.S. (Though as someone who overdosed on sun as a young girl, the beach thing is probably not a good idea.)
My husband is ashamed that his wife is addicted. He is convinced that I've lost it and need treatment or an intervention. He catches me at all times day and night sitting in front of the TV, absorbed in the tearing out of kitchen cabinets and counters, knocking down interior walls, redoing en suite bathrooms. I've added "open concept" to my everyday vocabulary and bemoan the fact that our 1864 home doesn't quite qualify. We actually have walls and doors and can close off our kitchen from the living and dining rooms. I'm convinced that no one will want to buy our house.
There's something weird about my addiction to "Love It or List It." I secretly hope that the homebuyers will decide to sell their home in favor of the new one that David has shown them. (Maybe it's my penchant for rooting for the underdog. After all, who wants to go through the hassle of moving when the neighborhood is in your desired location, it's a 10-minute drive to work, and the school system is one of the best? David has an uphill battle.) Now, I do get sick of his standard patter that never seems to change: "And here we have your lovely 4-piece bathroom." "And step into your new man cave." OR "I have one more listing to show you, and it's yours."
Yes, the format can get old but, like all addictions, I'm hooked and can't stop myself from watching. Maybe it's the voyeur in me: The need to vicariously stick my nose into the homes of strangers. Perhaps the addiction stems from seeing in reality what I cannot have and doing what I can to stem the pain. I'm not sure but, for me (and, it seems for many of my closeted HDTV addicts), HDTV makes my trying times a bit more tolerable.
Oh, and did I mention that my husband is a cooking show and Anthony Bourdain addict?
Unique, often humorous take on life experiences and events from award-winning author and journalist, Jane Leder. The 60 something survivor of the 1960s (Whew!) rarely considers herself too seriously and encourages readers to "Take her advice because she's not using it."
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
How many photos of dogs licking their owners, sunsets, babies, leaves/trees/flowers, graduates, inane comments about a great meal, a "friend's" vacation, putrid writing . . . Ughs, LOLs, and any other insufferable posts can a person stand? I, for one, am done with Facebook!
I really don't care how many people give a thumb's up to one of my posts. I wouldn't have bothered posting, if I thought it wasn't worth reading. And I don't base my worth as a person on the number of "friends" who actually spend a minute of their time posting back.
Like cell phone messages, texts, Instagrams and, I'm sure, countless other social media platforms out there, Facebook is an addiction. While not necessarily bad for your physical health like drugs and alcohol, Facebook can be just as tempting as, say, gambling. (In fact, I know a few folks who ARE addicted to gambling apps.)
The average attention span of Facebook devotees has to be less than the time it takes to click on an icon of a thumb or to write a one or two sentence post, many of which I might add, make little sense or are rife with grammatical/spelling errors.
It's true that Twitter Tweets are limited to 140 characters but, in my mind, many of the potential tweeters have a message worth sending and spend a bit more time crafting their messages to fit the word limit while saying something of value. (Of course, there are many exceptions. Yesterday I gained a follower [don't ask me why] from a woman who specializes in blow jobs.)
And for marketing and PR, nothing works as well as Twitter. People actually read the links you provide, click on your links, retweet to others if they find your information worthwhile, or contact you directly. I tried my hand at promoting my new eBook about youth suicide (http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Serious-Youth-Suicide-Prevention-ebook/dp/B00KUQRCZU/ref=asap_B001HD19ZY_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416318701&sr=1-1) on Facebook. Maybe my "friends" were put off by the lengthy link. Maybe they don't read books. Maybe they don't give a damn about young people taking their own lives. Or perhaps they could care less about being "friendly" and supporting me and my work.
Whatever the case, my Google Analytics and Bublish.com analytics (a great site, by the way, for promoting eBooks) proved my point: Few Facebook "friends" bothered to check out/read/buy my book.
Now I know prospective book agents and publishers want writers to have what they call a "platform," a term I suppose creates an image of a diver bounding off of a diving board or platform . And from this "platform" (all these Facebook "friends," Twitter blokes, blog and web site devotees), there is surely a built-in audience for buying books, if not for ignoring books and watching them take a dive.
I've resisted developing my platform. I'm a believer in the quality of a book making all the difference. And, of course, marketing and PR. There are so many online options out there that, with a little money, an author can get a heck of a lot of visibility. And despite what they say about the demise of book tours, media appearances, book signings and the like, I talk to plenty of authors who are still out there in the real versus virtual world.
But if "Platform is the Thing," then I'll hold my nose and do what I can to amass as many online "friends" who might buy my books.
But I'll be darned if I'll use Facebook to up the ante.
Monday, November 17, 2014
By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.)
James Atlas, New York Times Sunday Review
Okay, so I was rather late coming to the party. I mean, just about everyone I know (make that almost every woman I know) has been or is currently a member of a book club.
It took until two weeks ago before I joined up.
So, what's so odd about that?
Well, I'm in my late 60s, earned a master's degree in American literature, taught high school English for five years (And, yes, my classes read a lot of books!), authored several books of my own, and recently reviewed books for two major publications.
Still, there was something about book clubs that just didn't call my name. Maybe I pictured a gaggle of women getting together and gabbing about everything except books.
Maybe joining a club harked back to high school when I pledged a sorority and got kicked out of the National Honor Society as a result. Something about being a member of a group not open to anyone who wanted to join.
Or maybe I didn't think switching from teacher to student would live up to my high expectations.
Now, I'm a firm believer in fortuitous events. Things happen for a reason. An example: I'd been curious about meditation but never took it up until my sister suggested it might be a good way to center myself after my first seizure. She was right.
Another example: I wrote a personal piece about how my dance teacher had helped me "find" my spine. The day the piece was published in the Chicago Reader, I fortuitously met the features editor for the Chicago Sun-Times which, at the time, gave the then coveted Chicago Tribune a run for its money. The editor had read my article that very day and suggested I query her with other ideas. I went on to write several feature pieces for the Sun-Times.
That was fortuitous.
When a woman in my yoga class mentioned that she wouldn't be in class the following Tuesday because her book club met the first Tuesday of every month, I was intrigued.
"Where does the club meet?"
"We switch houses every month."
I'd always loved seeing the insides of other houses.
"Who chooses the book?"
"We have a professional leader who gives us a potential list, and the group makes the final decision."
A professional leader? Hmmm . . .
"And what do you pay this leader?"
"I'll have to check. It's not cheap but it's worth it."
So without further adieu, I went to my first book club as a visitor and then decided to sign on the dotted line.
A month later, I was ready to go. I'd read Alice Monroe's Dear Life: Stories and labored through the seemingly unending process of taking notes on an iPad.
Judy, the group leader, held up the book before beginning the discussion. The cover didn't look familiar.
"So," she said. "What are your first impressions of Alice McDermott's writing?"
Alice McDermott? She must have been distracted.
"As you know, Someone won the National Book Award.
I felt sick to my stomach. "Alice McDermott?" I said.
She pointed to the book cover.
"Oh, my God. I read the wrong book!"
So, I sat like one of the many guys in my high school class who never did their homework and understood for the first time how lousy it feels to sit in on a discussion when you have absolutely nothing to say.