Monday, December 28, 2009

To the New Decade

Cuz we're all sick of the last one.

FD likes to go over the events of the year in December, has been obsessing about this for about a week. Between the two of us, without a blog to record them (for this is not that kind of blog), we try to remember what has happened to us and to the people we know. It's a long list of remembers.

I've just come from my mother's house, refreshed from a nap on her sofa. The day has started, as usual, at nine in the office, but I cut my afternoon hours to go to the funeral of a close friend, an expected passing. In our community it is tradition, following the service, to follow the mais, the dead person, to the grave, literally walk behind the casket. These days bodies are flown to different destinations, different cities, even countries. So we walk behind the hearse in the cold, the rain, whatever the weather, to say goodbye.

Our friend wasn't a rabbi, he was just a regular guy, but special of course, to us.

The rabbis of two synagogues eulogized David, spoke of his faith and acceptance of disease, this gorgeous, positive man, his sweet-disposition, how he and his family moved to Chicago thirteen years ago. He helped build two synagogues, two renovations of older buildings, one edifice now more beautiful than the next.

The rabbis of each shul claim him. It wasn't with money, although I could be wrong, but surely with time, that he gave of himself. Everything takes time, all worthy projects. They speak of him in one of the new synagogues, and after the speeches, we follow our friend, on foot, to the next.

It's really cold, and me being a cold kind of person anyway, cold-intolerant, wearing a short, fall jacket, could easily opt out of the march down the busy street, but it doesn't feel like an option. Maybe reading the stories from the Holocaust, the survivor tales, has changed me. I make an association, cold is an obstacle, nothing more or less, and of course, this isn't Poland, dead of winter, 1942. And that awful awareness of the elements and the coldness of death, too, disappear.

I meet up with FD at the destination, and he greets me with, "I felt I had to walk, even though it's really cold; that it was an honor to accompany him." Right there with you, dear.

We walk together to the car in no particular hurry and he continues, "Let's stay together the whole day. I won't go back to the office. I'll go with you, wherever you're going." He knows that I'm picking up my mother, taking her to visit my father in the hospital, but there are errands, things to do. The day is full like every other day.

"Sometimes," he says, as we buckle ourselves in, "I think you don't need this kind of thing as much as me, just being together, that I'm not so necessary."

Such bait. I reassure, explain that this isn't so, and why. You might call this emotional intimacy.

We swing over to the grocery store to pick up an anniversary cake for my parents. I blank on the year, how long they're married, but have the number 64 in my head (wrong), so I tell the woman behind the counter, "Just write on the cake . . ."
Mom & Dad, 64?
FD picks up champagne and sparkling grape juice, not sure if they'll let my father have a little champagne or not, and flowers, tulips. I pick out some cards, one from us, one from my mother to my father, forgetting to buy one from my father to my mother. Neither of them is in a position to buy the other anything.

We pick up Mom at her house. She's waiting at the front door. She doesn't know we're going to have a little party in the hospital room to celebrate her anniversary. FD and I are very excited.

Dad is sitting up in a chair, dressed. His hair is getting kind of long, in the hospital eight days. He's happy for the company but short of breath, six words to a breath, at most, sounds a little like the Godfather. He suggests, as we begin to sign the cards in front of him, that we get some post-its, write on these so we can recycle the cards.

You see, everyone's green these days.

But the cards are good, spot on, and we save them, so we sign them and hand them over. We don't stay long because he has work to do, it is time for rehab and if he isn't rehabbed, then what is he doing here, anyway? We want to keep him out of the hospital, but we're in no hurry. Every new decision is stressful. It's hard on my mother to shlep here every day. And she's lonely living without him, vulnerable, too.

It isn't easy staying awake on the drive back to the house, but I can't say this, of course. I flop on her sofa, asleep before I've even closed my eyes. While I nap she brushes off an old winter dress coat of hers because I've complained about being cold in my jacket, and haven't bought a new coat for myself in twenty years.

I wake up in a start and eventually ask FD. "What must it be like for her to see me age like this, crash on her couch like I just did? I was out for an hour!"

"We see our kids getting older," he philosophizes.

Not the same. Anyway. We start recollecting, without a blog, the year.

There have been other friends who are now gone, young people, at least we think so, one who left us at 50, suffering in silence, telling no one about her disease. A teacher. We call teachers in our community, stars. These are our stars. We lost a star.

Only about five weeks ago we lost another dear friend to a heart attack, 62. Playing raquetball. We escorted his body to the cargo hangar at the airport; he had a ticket to Israel for burial in the holy land. His mother, already there, reportedly said,
"I can accept it. I just can't believe it."

The week after that we heard that yet another member of the community had passed away in Spain, and the Spanish authorities want to embalm the body, not a Jewish tradition, unless the community, the family, comes up with $70,000 for transport on a private jet. Somehow this money is found. But an important person talks to another important person and the commercial airliner takes the body, as is.

And so it goes. Two of my uncles leave us, one younger than my father, one older.

People lose jobs, people lose lives, and we understand that 25% of all Americans are in danger of losing their homes. We watch, experience these statistics like everyone else, and worry.

Meanwhile, (K"H*) my brother-in-law has a new lease on life, a new kidney, not an easy find in your sixties, and my father, although gasping for breath, has a fistula and with the help of dialysis, could live for many more years. My grandson, an infant, has a heart that is whole. The surgeon who sewed it up is a doctor without borders who does this surgery on 13 year olds in impoverished villages, children who have not, until their surgery, lived a not-blue day in their lives.

We've had many new babies in the family, and marriages.

We have this idea, in my culture, that it's all decided, everything that happens to everyone in the world is decided on the Jewish New Year, a holiday that rolls around in September or October, depending upon the lunar cycle. We take off time for the holidays, look deeply into ourselves, our behavior, the things we've done, that which we haven't done, and we apologize, mainly to one another, for our greatest deficits, which we feel are communal, social. Then, ten days later, we fast for twenty-five hours, face our King, own up to our garbage, vow to do better, and hope for the best.

But since everyone else reviews their year at the end of December, some of us do this, too. We look back to look forward, as the snow falls and the temperatures drop into the single digits.

And it's New Years.

To you and yours, may it be happy, healthy, safe, and full of love,


*K"H means, basically, the evil eye should leave you alone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Julie and Julia

It's raining in California. Raining for days and days. Who knew it did this? The first day it stopped after a few hours, embarrassed. The kids got home from school all excited just as the sun came out.

"Bubbie, come outside! A rainbow!"

Even the rainbows, dear friends, are better in California. Imagine, all across the sky, all the colors of the . . .

But I live in Chicago, and I work in Chicago, and on Monday, all things being equal, I'll be back on United returning home to Chicago. My patients know that this hasn't been a vacation, not in the usual sense of the word, and my parents, the flip side of the sandwich, understand. Sometimes you go where you're needed most.

Anyway. This run to the west coast is keeping me busy, care-taking a little, baby-sitting some, car-pooling, playing catch, eating more than usual, playing a lot of SORRY (I'm learning to hate this game, am thinking when they knock off my piece they should say SORRY and mean it).

"Bubbie! Let's play hide and seek!"


"I'll hide, you seek."

"Okay. But wait. First you have to tell me where you're hiding."

He wasn't born yesterday.

Somehow the days fly by when you're up for the 5'oclock shift. Morning hours are best for me, is the truth, and it seems same goes for the little guy, 8 months old. We g-vid FD (some say Skype, as in Kleenex, as opposed to tissues), munch on bananas, throw a few Cheerios on the floor.

Babies make blogging impossible. I can barely get the coffee made. No idea how you Mommy Bloggers do it. Hats off, or is that, shoes.

Last night we sent the male gendered (except for the one under one) out to see Cirque du Soleil, free tickets, gratis their aunt and uncle. Under such circumstances, house to ourselves, infant asleep, 45 minutes for sure, no make that an hour, we had the DVDR warmed up and popcorn popped, the type you pop in oil, a real pot, no pre-bagged microwave weirdness, please. Tonight's pick, Julie and Julia. Empath Daught has read the book,* but all I know is that this is a true story and that Julie Powell blogs and whips up Julia Child recipes.

A film about a blogger and food. We're there, right?

Meryl Streep, Amy Adams. Pretty fabulous, is all I can say. So much cooking, whipping, melting, chopping. Blogging. It made me miss this, blogging, blogging like old times, every day, or almost every day. Watching Julie blog makes me miss the process, the writing, the obsessing about it.

You know how it is, your mind wanders to what you'll write about, in my case whether or not it will be about therapy, or me, my life, FD, maybe some shtuss in the news (shtuss rhymes with "moose", Yiddish for stupidity or foolishness) or an opinion I just have to share, some bias, or rant, maybe a book, a film. Could I get back to this every day?

Nah. Not for a while. But I can see it happening someday.

(Risk of spoiler coming up if you haven't seen Julie and Julia.)

As much as this ridiculousness, the blogging, has the power to take over, become central in our lives, what we look forward to above all else, the pastime of pastimes, make that the mother of all pastimes, it doesn't have to take us from our real face to face relationships, assuming we're lucky enough to have these. It really shouldn't.

Sure, it's important to put our deep thoughts out there, and it's not narcissistic, despite what people think, rather writing in this venue is a craft, an amusement, and definitely therapeutic. Associated with relationship destruction, too? Shouldn't be.

Thousands of great writers with terrific blogs, none so incredible, so interesting, so important that writing and publishing can't wait. If the loved ones are grumbling, not feeling the love, then this should be a red flag, if there is such a thing, about the place of blogging in our lives.

You know we can be hypo-manic (or hypo-caffeinic) when it comes to this. Who are we kidding. We'll get up early tomorrow, or stay up late tonight, or pop out of bed at three a.m. It can wait until then. Those of us who read online are a patient, loving lot. We'll wait our turn.

And every good draft is better with a little editing the next day, imho.

Thanks Colombia Pictures and Nora Ephron for a wonderful film, and to Julie Powell, for your book and blog, and to Julia Child. We watched her all the time when I was a kid. Save the liver, don't throw it away. Thanks because there's nothing better than watching a terrific chick flick with your daughter and your grandson (she let him stay up late), almost nothing. The guys, for those to whom this applies, have their equivalents-- football, the Bourne Identity, Ultimatum, whatever blast 'em up thing it is they prefer to watch.

Throughout the movie the baby kept saying,
"Am I ever going to get to eat that stuff she makes? She's amazing, isn't she? It's the teeth. The teeth. When do I get these? They seem so useful."
To think I introduced him to butter just the other day, so ironic.

Needless to say, it may be difficult to get his parents to trust me alone with him again any time soon.


* Julie Powell has a new book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession . She talks about it 0n DoubleX

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Richmond Gang Rape

National Public Radio's Richard Gonzales tells us that he grew up in Richmond, California. He and the other citizens of Richmond are finding it hard to believe that a 16 year old girl could be gang raped at the local high school at Homecoming.

Homecoming is supposed to be fun. The home team is going to win! Today's story:

The city of Richmond, Calif., continues to wrestle with the effects of a brutal attack on a teenage girl who was gang-raped at her high school. Some of the suspects in the case may enter their pleas in court Tuesday. At least 20 people saw the October incident but did not intervene.

Instead they took pictures.


The home-town journalist rightly blames poverty, the loss of new jobs in an industrial town that succumbed to crack cocaine in the eighties and hasn't exactly bounced back. Yet optimism had returned. Indeed, this "rough place" launched several kids each year to college, despite rising unemployment. It's hard to study when you've lost your home, a nice home. Like everywhere else, foreclosures are rife in Richmond.

The guidance counselor:
"The dehumanizing actions of these young men is frightening. Where was their humanity?"
A student tells us that she walked into the bathroom to find a naked girl. CNN reported the crime last October.
As many as 10 people were involved in the assault in a dimly lighted back alley at the school, while another 10 people watched without calling 911 to report it according to police.
Hundreds at the school condemned the attack on their schoolmate, steamed that outsiders recommended a quarantine be placed on the school. A senior:
"This happens everywhere, why single us out?"
Oy vey. She's right. Don't single out this school. Single out every school. Start teaching our children right from wrong, that sex is something that can be lawful, or not. There's a lot to know when it comes to sex, like it requires informed consent.

A rape crisis worker tells us that to rape you have to "other-ize" distance yourself sufficiently to detach, not care. In other words, de-empathize.
"Where there's no hope, empathy is hard to find."
I don't know, maybe. No doubt depression contributes to insularity, apathy. But nobody's tested those ten boys for depression. What you're going to find is anger, is my guess, and objectification.

What's objectification? Objectification is taking the human out of the body, seeing the body as a source of pleasure, like food. It is an object to be beat on, like the dog, on a bad day, or to be punished, like a kid who has acted out. When parents beat their children they are objectifying them, denying their humanity. You hurt? I don't care.

Rape is all about this. I don't care. You are here for me, nothing's going to stop me. One blogger writes a post Why Men Rape tells us the following
Sociologists have discussed women as objects, commodities to be bought or stolen—the pornographication of women, a process by which men relate to women as pornea, a Greek word for whores.

This perception of a woman’s body as property or a commodity is grounded not just historically, but in contemporary metaphors, language, and common slang for sex. Like:

Sex is a hunt, a conquest: I’m going to go out and get a piece of ass.

Sex is instruction: I know how to show a woman a good time.

A review of the literature into the etiology of rape indicates that overall, men who rape have rape supportive attitudes, misinterpret social clues, and blame the victim.

Younger offenders learn from their families, peers, or the media that their role in a relationship is to take the initiative in sexual relationships. This is called the dominance theory.
There's more. It's way down on the side-bar.

So sure, poverty contributes something to this mix. But I wouldn't overdo it. It's less about not having money, more about having human decency, understanding female sexuality, and knowing, really knowing, that you have no right, even if you think you love her or she loves you, you have no right to take her sexually, not without her full, informed consent.


Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts