8.31.2010

Eyes Pried Open

I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep, and I can’t even blame my babies, who are no longer babies and are sleeping in their own beds in their own room for a good 11 hours each night.
It’s all me, and I can’t sleep. I do everything one is supposed to in order to facilitate and maintain a good night’s sleep, but come 11, 12, 1 o’clock, I can’t sleep.

My body rebels by midnight, becoming restless and heavy and uncoordinated, but still, I can’t sleep.

I try playing solitaire, in bed, on my Blackberry, the beam of light from the screen just narrow enough that I won’t wake my husband, slumbering peacefully out cold beside me. I do this until I literally cannot keep my eyes open, but as soon as I lie down, I am wide awake again.

I can lie in my bed, wishing to be asleep, and my body literally tingles with anxiety. Anxious because I cannot sleep leads to anxious because we lost our nanny; anxious because I miss my children during the day; anxious because my anxiety leads me to scratch at itchy patches on my hands until they bleed. And as the hours tick past, so does coherent thought, and it’s not unusual for me to wake Chris at 3 am because I am no longer anxious about rational or real, but am now convinced that the crack I saw in the kitchen wall means that the floor under my children is about to give way or that the cat is scratching her hind leg because we have bedbugs and I will fly out of bed and turn on the light in order to catch them, but all I catch is a groggy, panicked husband wondering why I had to fly out of bed and turn on the light in the middle of the night.

And he’s good; he’s so good. He tells me to wake him if I can’t sleep or if my legs feel shaky, and he’ll talk me down or massage out the tension until his touch lightens and falls and I realize that he is asleep again but I am not.'

I have seen my naturopath and my doctor about this. I have tinctures and regiments and mantras and exercises that I see through but don’t sleep through. I have little blue pills that I don’t like to take but sometimes I will, and half the time they don’t work either, but make me groggy enough that when I pad down the hall to the bathroom I ricochet off the walls and doorframes and end up with funny bruises on my hips and shins.

Last weekend, I went away with some friends to a beautiful, peaceful lakeside home. We ate too much, drank too much, smoked too much, and I slept. I slept dreamless, until 9:30 each morning. But life is not lived in limitless repose, and I was unable to transfer the momentum of those nights home.

I’m not particularly stressed out during the day. I don’t fight off catastrophic thoughts at 2pm or cry over the upcoming anniversary of my father’s death at 11am. Those thoughts are the company I keep at 3am, no matter how hard I try to head them off with sleep.

I’m hoping that the cooler weather that surely must, has to be on its way will help. I’m hoping that my return to running, although I hate every single bleedin’ second of it, will help. I’m hoping that sorting out our childcare and some other short and long term decisions will help.

Because sleep deprivation sucks, ask any new mother. But sleep deprivation when you don’t even have a baby to make it all worthwhile? Well that’s just downright cruel. I’m just too tired to be angry about it.

***

8.23.2010

Joiner

Send this to 5 friends including me.

You have one hour to forward this message or you will have 5 years of bad luck.

Grab this twibbon if you support women’s rights/animals rights/the long-gun registry/bringing Buffy back/bringing sexy back

Do this today/don’t do this today/wear this today/don’t post that today/show them/show us/show me/ show your/support us/support them/follow us/boycott them.

I’m kind of tired of the internet telling me what to do.

I love that social media and the people using it have become amazing, powerful catalysts for education and change and support, but it is starting to feel like every single day there is new, powerful mandate being unveiled on twitter, on blogs, online. And sometimes I feel like they come with a caveat that if I am not joining, not following, not supporting that mandate, than I temporarily have no place in our community. Sometimes I feel like these movements come with a veiled sense of, either you are with me or you are against me. Sometimes I feel guilt if I don’t join these movements, and resentment if I do.

Since I’m not interested in being passive-aggressive, I’ll give you some examples.

Almost daily, I get a well-meaning email from somebody I love, telling me how much they love me. These emails are often accompanied by photos of kittens, flash animations of grumpy yet sage women rocking in a chair, or a badly photoshopped image of a lamb sleeping with lions or some such crap. So, this email telling me how much I am loved, must be sent back to the person that sent it to me, or else they will, what? Think I don’t love them? Think I don’t love kittens? Think I am godless and heartless and have no time for friendship/beautiful women/strong women/women that only get better with age week?

I never forward these emails on. I appreciate the getting of these emails, but I hate feeling bad that the person that sent it to me is expecting me to reciprocate. Because I always delete these emails. But it’s not because I don’t love the person that sent it to me.

And then I log on to twitter, still feeling bad about the kittens, and find that the next day has been declared ‘Complaint-free Monday’ on Twitter.

It’s a nice, really nice thought. It’s meant to keep everybody’s spirits and hearts and attitudes in the pink.

But I kind of resent it.

Of course – OF COURSE – nobody is forcing hashtags on me, or forcing me to follow the mandate, but, when a hashtag like that comes from a popular, well-respected blogger, it spreads like wildfire and is being declared over and over again in my twitter stream constantly. And it does kind of smack of an almost parental, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,’ kind of vibe.

And to me, that means that I’m going to bum people out if I tweet what I would really like to tweet today, so I’m kind of staying off twitter. Because it’s possible that something I say is going to sound like a complaint, and then someone will undoubtedly remind me that it’s Complaint-free Monday and I only have 140 characters for my kvetching, so I can’t afford a disclaimer in front of every one of my complainy tweets.

And I could use the sympathy of my twitter peeps today. It’s our first day without our nanny, and I miss her and I still feel really sad about some things that happened last week, and I couldn’t sleep last night because I was upset and stressed and things feel worse when you’re stressed and tired, and I just wanted to lay it out there and –yes – fish for some love, because that’s one of the things that twitter is really, really good for.

But I can’t do it today, because even though I’m bummed out, the mandate is not to complain, and it’s a big enough mandate that it’ll be obvious that I’m ignoring it when I tweet, and then it’ll be like I just broke some unwritten rule about internet rules.

Twibbons bug the crap out of me, too. Well, I shouldn’t say that – I have a twibbon on my avatar right now, supporting gay rights. But I didn’t put it there because everybody else in my stream had one and I felt like I needed to prove my solidarity with those that I follow. I put it there because it represents a cause I believe in. But I never mentioned that I put it there, and I never told you that you should put one of your avatar, and it didn’t spread like internet wildfire and I didn’t assume that you don’t support gay rights if you didn’t put one your avatar.

I know nobody is keeping track of whether or not I forwarded an email or complained on twitter or wore a tutu or any of that, but these mandates can feel oppressive. And bossy. And like I’m not a good person if I don’t do them, when the truth is, I simply have my own shit going on, and that the level of my online commitment to these things might have nothing to do with my love/support/encouragement/belief in the awesome things that you are doing.

And this might be my own sense of guilt talking, but sometimes these campaign make me feel like I have been put in a, ‘you’re-either-for-us-or-against-us’ position, and not wanting to choose between the two, I simply choose silence.

And that, I’m quite sure, was not the point at all.

***

8.10.2010

This Would Be a BlogHer '10 Recap if It Wasn't So Long

It’s two days after my return from BlogHer, and I think I have processed about 25% of what I experienced, which, I’m going to hope, is enough to allow me to write compellingly about it.

First, the nutshell: It was amazing. Amazing.

And it was the perfect mix of amazing – amazing people, amazing experience, amazing opportunity.

So, I guess I’ll break it down that way, although really, everything overlaps.
Was it one big bloggy love-in? No. Yes. No. Kind of. Everywhere you looked people were being introduced, reunited or most often, finally putting a face to a twitter handle. Every time I stood still I had the opportunity to shake a hand or give a hug; share a laugh or swap a card. Make no mistake – this is a very social conference, which I guess can be weird for a group of people that prefers to hide behind a screen or an alias. I was in heaven, being a mostly social being, and if you are somebody that I met that thinks they aren’t – you’re wrong. We all have our foibles, our filters, our fears, but I think anybody that goes to BlogHer must be willing to transcend their social anxiety (or just put it out there and not care), or else there’s not really a whole lot of reason to go. So, what I’m saying is, despite the tweets I saw about quickening pulses and popped ativans, y’all did great from where I sat.

I was with my people, you know? (I have a whole ‘nother post on that, my people.)

One other thing I’ll say about going to BlogHer – it’s a seriously good way to pull back the curtain on the personas we assume people live. I was surprised in both directions. Some people that I had judged as opportunistic or egotistical fucking tore my heart apart with their realness, and some people that I thought were totally friendly and egalitarian turned out to be, well, not so much. Or maybe I caught them at the wrong moment. Or misinterpreted what was going on. See why it’s good to share real space with someone? I’m guessing I probably surprised some people as well.

I’m not going to talk about swag, except to say that some of it was useful, and some of it was useless. I didn’t go to any of the private corporate parties, so I kept the crap to a minimum. I don’t mark my self-worth by the number of private invites I got, and even though I know that lots of people only had party passes and therefore had many free hours in the day, I was grossed out that so many of the corporate things overlapped with conference hours. And I think that if you chose to go to a private swag party instead of listening to the closing keynote on Saturday than sister, you missed out, but do what you gotta do.

Disclosure – I was part of the whole Gap Magic thing, because they offered speakers the opportunity to get styled. I went on Thursday, before the conference, and I loved every second of it. Again, my issue is more with the stuff that was going on at the same time as the conference.

As for the experience – Elisa Camahort Page, Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins have built us something unbelievable. BlogHer was whatever you made of it. To me, it was about power. About inspiration. About understanding. About words. I know I’ve said this many times, but I’m a blogger because I’m a writer, and I need a place where my writing can be for me. I write for others on a full-time basis, but I need my outlet, my column in a make-believe magazine where I am writer, editor and publisher. And if you wanted to find inspiring, beautiful, brave wordsmiths, this was the place to be.

I actually only attended one session on Friday, and I found it most helpful. It was in the Job Lab, and recommended ways to merge your online accomplishments with your employable skills to make yourself marketable as a job seeker. I thought it was fantastic, and as someone that has not updated my resume in 10 years, walked away feeling confident, with pages of notes to review.

The rest of the day was spent trying to calm my nerves as the clock ticked down to my time onstage. My chillout regime included picking at my lunch, a fitful nap that was put to an abrupt end by heartburn, some wardrobe insecurity, and a lot of deep breaths.
And then it was 4:15, and I gathered in the Grand Ballroom with my fellow presenters, and we kept each other sane with jokes and high fives and more deep breaths. Finally, we queued behind the stage curtain, and one by one, faced our fears and our audience.

You’ll have to tell me how it went. We couldn’t hear each other reading, being sequestered behind a heavy curtain as they projected their voices in the opposite direction, and when it was my time to read, I went on pure adrenalized auto-pilot. I caught fleeting glimpses – of my peeps up front; my words coming out; I think I even caught a few of you dabbing your eyes, which signified to me that I must be doing my job. Then it was over, and I grinned and took a moment to enjoy the applause and walked backstage, where the camaraderie was palpable. As each reader came backstage, we passed our posts around, reading the words that the audience had just heard, and I was floored by the pieces. They were funny, they were sad, they were smart, they were creative. They were amazing. And then to walk into the gallery, where 90 pieces of art were on display, and there was one – the best one, the most beautiful one – that was inspired by my words, well, I was overwhelmed and I started to cry a little.

The keynote is part of the 75% that I’m still processing. it meant a lot to me.
And that wasn’t even the end of the conference. It was certainly the peak, for me, but there was more.

Day two, I had an adrenaline hangover (sure, let’s go with that) after spending the night first on stage and then at the party and then in the Lower East Side at a hipster bar which was just so much cooler than the hipster bars in Toronto. At breakfast, I listened to the most fucking unbelievable women I have ever heard, describe what it was like to write in a place where you could be killed for what you wrote; where you had to find and trust a man to put your words on the internet because you were not allowed to have words or the internet; to photograph atrocities and humanities caused by war and disaster; to celebrate women and freedom and fight for their continuance in the shadow of a not-forgotten dictatorship.

Then I attended the session with Jory Des Jardins and MomSlant and the Bloggess about crossing lines and white lies and finding boundaries in writing, and holy shit. Those women are pretty awesome, like I had to tell you.

After that, I went to the session on Grief, Loss, Tragedy and Community, and it wrecked me. It wrecked me, and all I had to do was sit in the audience and listen. I wept for an a hour and a half straight, in sadness, in awe, in empathy, and I wondered if I should be there, if I was being a voyeur by being there, but I’m glad I was there, because those stories, heard face to face, are even more powerful than when I had read them. That panel deserved to heard, to tell their stories, face to face, so I am glad I was there. But it wrecked me.

I had to leave the next session on humour writing, and it was hilarious, because it was such a 180 from where I had been 10 minutes earlier, that I couldn’t pay attention. I couldn’t think or talk or absorb what the women on the panel were saying, so I took a nap.

And then it was matzo ball soup and corned beef on rye and pretty dresses and fancy shoes and unicorns and sparkles and dancing and drinking and soul-cleansing fun that lasted well into the wee hours of the night, which is truly the only place that one would ever find a room with two kinds of cheesecake and darth vader and a fiddler on a bed and a dozen women that rock my world.

I heard a lot of people talking about the ‘theme’ of BlogHer – some say it was finding your power; finding your voice; finding your inspiration. For me, BlogHer was an incredibly affirming experience, giving this gold-star junkie the fuel that I seem to run out of so easily when it comes to sustaining my writing; my place in the community.
And it was a weekend away, to recharge, to walk the streets of NYC, to connect with my dad, who I heard in every native accent, to learn things and watch people, god I love watching people, and I didn’t want it to end, until it did, and then I just wanted to be home. Home, with my family, where my family was waiting for my delayed flight, one child groggy with arms open, one asleep, bare bum in the air, head on the couch.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to San Diego next year; I’m too superstitious practical to plan that far in advance, but I’ll tell you, I want to go. I don’t know how the landscape of social media will change in the next year and I’m pretty sure I won’t be asked to grace any stages, but I can tell you this – if you haven’t gone before, because you were scared or worried or shy, go. Just go. Because you will meet so many people. And you will have so much fun. And I promise you I am a bigger dork than you’ll ever be. And because it’s ours, and how many people on the outside truly understand that? And because, quite simply, it’s amazing.

***

8.07.2010

BlogHer Voices of the Year

Last night I had the privilege, honour and knee-knocking thrill to be a Voices of the Year keynote speaker. At BlogHer. In New York City. In front of, oh, about a thousand of my closest friends.

It was amazing.

And so were the 14 other readers (ode to them coming soon)and so were Elisa and Lisa (didn't meet the gorgeous, very pregnant Jory), and so was Eden, who not only made people clap for me, but whose hug and kind words got my knees to stop shakin'.

I had 4 minutes to read, so here's the post, in all of it's verbosity. Go for it. I'm here to make you cry.

***

Miami




They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I was not a trade unionist.
.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time, there was no one left to speak up.

– Pastor Martin Niemoller



"Only one bathroom?" The woman behind me looked ahead, at the half-dozen other passengers waiting for the tiny toilet to be available. I smiled and nodded, raising my eyebrows in a, what can you do? kind of way.

"I should not have had that second coffee,” she said, and we both laughed politely. She looked like any of my great aunts, like my grandmother - soft skin, kind face, a friendly, round body that countless grandbabies had no doubt climbed onto, seeking refuge from scolding parents and advancing siblings. She was shorter than me, and maybe age had done that, but if it had, she was retailiating by maintaining a gravity-defying hairstyle. It looked familiar, kind of like my own mother’s. A Jewish woman’s hair may gray; it may thin, it may even start to fall out. But as long as there are combs and hairspray available, it will be big.

“At least we brought a little snack,’ my line-mate continued, leaning in a bit. “Bagels. We don’t like to eat too many bagels – too fattening.”
She pronounced it, fettning, and I guessed she was Polish. It was a familiar accent; the accent of my people, although there were less and less of my people and their accents around with every passing year.

“We were going to wait until we got to Miami to eat, but oy, abruch! With the security, this plane is so late, and who knows when we’ll get to the restaurant?”
“Yes,” I agreed, “The security check was a bit ridiculous.”
We had been searched. And then metal-detected. And then re-searched. And then they shuffled through every single business card in my wallet, looking for implements of terror, or maybe a good aestitician. They spoke about ten words to me, but they searched.

The woman continued, “In Israel even, the security is not like this. They are smart. They know what to ask, and they know where to look – in your eyes. They don’t care about what is in your pocket-book; they care about what is in here.” She drew circles in the air around my eyes with her finger.
I told her that I knew about Israeli flight security; that I had spent almost a year in Israel on a kibbutz.

Somehow, in the five minutes that we were in line to use the bathroom on a crowded flight, I learned that this woman currently lived near where I had during high-school; that she was on her way to Miami for the winter because her husband couldn’t take the snow, and that she would miss her grandchildren, but maybe they would come for a little visit?

I also learned that she was a Holocaust survivor. That she was Lithuanian. That she had been six years old when she was sent to the camps. That her father and brothers never came out. I was astonished, not because of her footnote-version of her horrifying past – unfortunately, I have heard so many of those stories, told to me by my own relatives – but because I was on my way to Miami with my best friend, to share my birthday with her grandmother, who was turning 94 on the same day. And who was a Lithuanian Holocaust survivor. And if you know how small Lithuania is, and how big the Holocaust was, than you’ll know why I was astonished to meet this woman on a plane to Miami two days before my birthday.

***

We met in Vilna, the ghetto, of course - where else was there to meet someone? We were not allowed to leave, so in ways of romance, you took what you could get. Good thing what I got was so nice!

We wanted to be married, because we heard that they would not separate you if you were married. It was not true of course, like most things we heard. But, we wanted to be married and we were not allowed. If they found out you had been married, they would take you away and kill you. Don't look so surprised! If they found out that you were pregnant, that was even worse, because they would not kill you. They would make you get rid of it. And if it was too late to get rid of it, they made you have the baby, and then they took it... it was better to get rid of it.

But we went to the Rabbi, and he said come back at 5 in the morning. So we met the next day, at the Rabbi’s, and he married us. That was it. We came alone, and we left alone. I went back to my father’s house, and he went back to his. Love, like so many other things, was not allowed for the Jews.

***

“I just saw the lady from the plane!”
We were standing in Aventura Mall, near the entrance to The Cheesecake Factory, and I had managed to weave my way through the throngs of the over-shopped and underfed to be handed my pager and told that it should buzz sometime in the next 45 minutes.

“Really?” Asked Jen, from where she sat on the bench, holding her grandmother, Sarah’s, hand.
I told her it had definitely been her. I had seen her and touched her arm and asked if she remembered me from the flight, which she had. But before I had a chance to further expound on our great coincidence, I was summoned by a snooty, efficient hostess, and my newest friend had been swallowed by the wave of people constantly moving towards free refills of gastronomical mediocrity.

35 minutes later, we were seated, watered and in unanimous agreement that Sarah and the woman from the flight must meet; were meant to meet. I ducked out of our booth and made my way through the narrow aisle, looking for the woman. I found her easily, not quite at the end of the row that we were now seated in. I apologized for interrupting her and her husband’s meal, but her eyes lit up at the sight of me, and she waved me over graciously. I explained how I would really love to introduce her to my friend’s grandmother – not to rush, please enjoy your meal – but since you’ll be passing us on your way out anyway, I’ll wave you over. I asked their names so that I could properly introduce them to Sarah, and said goodbye to Marsha and Fredis for the time being.

***

At the camp, the women went to one side and the men to the other. The mamas held their babies but as long as you could walk, you walked. At first they let the children stay with their mothers. I was a young woman already. My sister Ethel was with me, but only because they didn’t know we were sisters. I had my maiden name on my papers because I wasn’t allowed to tell them that I was married, and Ethel had her husband’s name. Anna too came later to us, but only because she also had a different name, her own husband's name. She found us and they let her stay in our block because they didn’t know we were sisters. If they knew, we would have been separated.

Our step-mother was also with us. But when we were brought to work the next the day, she was not with us. We thought when we got back, where is mama? But they had taken her away while we worked. She was not an old lady, but she was too old for them.

The mamas with the babies too were together, but only for the first night. The next day, the mothers had to go to work. The babies also were not there when they got back.

***

"No, I was from Memel – you know where is Memel?"

Marsha lifted her finger and opened her mouth as if to say something, but paused. After a moment, she spoke. "No. I don't know." Sarah nodded.
"Ah, anyway, that was where I was from. You know Memel?" Sarah pointed an accusing finger at Fredis, Marsha's husband sitting on the other side of the table. Fredis had heavy-lidded eyes and more curly, white hair than you would expect on a man his age.
"Where is it?" Fredis asked, raising his voice over the din of the busy restaurant.
"Memel!" Sarah answered, louder.
"Ah, Memel – sure, sure I know Memel. I also know Klaipeda." His use of the town's German name made Sara purse her lips and furrow her brow in surprise. "You are German?" she asked him.
"No, no, Thanks God, I am not German. I am from Grobina."
"Ah, you are Latvian!" Sarah turned towards me. "He is from 90 kilometres from my home," she proudly stated.
"And your husband?" Fredis asked.
"Sure, sure, we met in the ghetto, in Lithuania."
"Where were you in the camps?" Marsha asked the question as casually as I might ask another mother where her child went to preschool.
"Kaunas," replied Sarah.
"Ah!" Fredis leaned forward, "Me too – 1944! And you?"
"1944 also, and my husband too."

Marsha, Fredis and Sarah sat back and a quiet fell over the group. Strangers mere moments earlier, I saw that underneath the table, Marsha and Sarah were clutching hands.

***

They gave us pills so we shouldn’t have our periods. We shouldn’t have our husbands, our sisters, our children, nothing. Not even our periods. I don’t know what was in those pills, but Anna, my sister Anna, she never had no children, nothing. I had my boys, thanks God, but Anna, nothing. No periods… No food. One slice of bread each day, and if it was moldy, you shouldn’t complain. No warm clothes in the winter, but if you were cold, you shouldn’t complain. No shoes. When we arrived at the camp, there was a pile of shoes ten feet high. I thought, what is that, my God – it was children’s shoes. A pile ten feet high of children’s shoes. My sister never got her period back, but she shouldn’t complain – there was a pile ten feet high of shoes that never got their children back.

***

Fredis leaned in closer to me. “How old is she?” he asked.
“She’ll be 94 tomorrow; that’s why we’re visitng.”
“She is sharp as a tack, no?”
“120 per cent,” Jennifer answered, proudly.
Their conversation drifted from English to Yiddish to German, back to English, and it was hard to hide my emotion at being privy to this reunion of strangers.

After about 15 minutes, our food arrived and Marsha and Fredis got up, not wanting to impose on our meal. Goodbyes were made, but these were not the goodbyes of polite acquaintences, desiring to exit a strange situation in a dignified manner. These were the goodbyes of old friends, of sisters, of people linked by an experience that none of us will ever know, or ever want to know. These were the goodbyes of people who knew what it was like to find out, over and over again, that the last time you saw a person, it would be the last time.

Marsha hugged me and kissed me, and said close in my ear, thank you, and also, treasure her.

Then she looked at me at arm’s length and smiled. She looked at Sarah. “I’m going to go home and cry now,” she said quietly.

I glanced at the plate of food in front of me. Sarah was already nibbling on her child’s-portion grilled cheese sandwich and french fries. On the eve of my 35th birthday, I looked at the woman on the eve of her 94th.

Well, I thought, as I sat down, then I guess I can wait until I get home, too.

* * *