Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gloat-Free Zone

For a second straight year, here in New Jersey, we’ve had a challenging winter.  It’s only February so it’s hard to say what the rest of the season will be like.  And who really puts stock in a rodent that emerges from a hole to a flurry of flash bulbs?  I recall last year at this time, it seemed we had a snowstorm at least every week and most of our lives were disrupted in ways large and small.  I still chuckle thinking about going to visit a girlfriend in Connecticut and one of the highways had only one lane open because of a snowstorm earlier in the week.  Our patience and driving skills were put to the test last year in a major way.

This year, we’ve had a few small snow events, including a storm that was expected to yield up to 30 inches of snow never quite materialized.  Temperatures are rougher this winter than the snowstorms.

I am not a winter person.  I stop exercising outside when the temps go below 45 degrees.  Life became more tolerable for me about ten years ago when I started wearing a hat and bought my first down jacket.  Every couple of years, I buy a new one (always in brown to lift my spirits above all the black clothing in the dreary winter) and it has cut down on the cold blowing through my body.  I may not be a fan of the cold, but I absolutely love snow.  When a snowstorm is predicted to occur overnight, sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m anticipating what it might look like in the morning.  Snow also changes up our routines and sometimes allows us to leave work early or hang out with our honey on the couch.  And before the snow blowers start up, the quiet hush of silence is peaceful.

What has bothered me this year more than any other year is not the winter itself.  It’s all the gloating.  As a frequent user of social media, the onslaught of photos of thermometers in warmer climates bugs me.  Not because I am necessarily jealous.  Living in the northeast, we get fabulous seasons so even if winter feels interminable sometimes, the probability is rather high that we will experience the joy of basking in the sun on the beach in July.  The photos of thermometers aren’t “oh hey, look at our weather” it feels like “hey stupid New Jersey person, look how much better it is to live in [your warmer location here].”

It’s not a popular opinion among people, but I happen to love living in New Jersey.  It’s comical to say so now that I’ve lived here for nearly fifteen years, but as a college student in Pennsylvania, the New Jersey kids seemed so much more sophisticated than I was.  They shopped at the Garden State Plaza and it was so easy for them to hop on the train and go “into The City” to “go see a show”.  I’ve lived a few other places in the Northeast and New Jersey felt like home immediately.  Not only is our proximity to “The City” and “The Shore” a great perk, but I have also found the people to be warm, passionate, bossy, mostly kind, and assertive.  I’ve made friends more easily here than anywhere I’ve lived, other than the chunk of pals I’m still tight with from grade school in Wilkes-Barre.

So you live in [your warmer location here] while I live in what you might think is a pit of disgusting gray slush and a thermometer making another descent into single-digits.  There’s no reason to gloat.  This weather creates hardships for people who have to work outdoors, people with health problems, or those who might be struggling to afford their heating costs.  And while you are having a drought, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, you will not see me rubbing it in your face.

I wouldn’t trade my Garden State for 365 days of sunshine.  Not yet anyway.  (Besides, my Eastern-European complexion could never handle it.)  If a fabulous opportunity were to come my way to move elsewhere, maybe I’d consider it.  But the crazy weather gives us New Jerseyans something to talk about and bond over.  We all have stories about our year-round weather events:  snow shoveling mishaps, traffic delays, and tales of surviving Hurricane Sandy without heat and electricity.

So whether you like me or not, New Jersey, you’ve got me.  Winter, spring, summer, or fall.

Throwing My Weight Around

This week, I learned about 29 year-old Tess Holliday, a model who became part of the roster at a London agency.  I bet it happens pretty often if you follow the modeling business, but she made news because she happens to weigh more than the other plus-size women Milk Management represents.

Ms. Holliday is beautiful by any standard, just like every woman is beautiful in her own way.  Her size neither diminishes nor increases her worth.

beauty-guru-tess-munster_7

What has churned around in my head is that all the stories mention her weight.  If she were your run-of-the-mill 120 pound model, would anyone pay attention? The media has also run with her story because of the zippy hashtag for Ms. Holliday’s beauty movement:  #Effyourbeautystandards.

I get the hostility.  The media is saturated by underweight women and thinness has been pervasive of what constitutes beauty, even though the average woman is a size 12.

The message of effing the beauty standards is well-received by girls and women who have endured snide commentary about their bodies from all sorts of people.  As a result of this seemingly positive message, they may post pictures of themselves on social media, articulating the confidence they may have once lacked.  Movements like Ms. Holliday’s have given people who once felt voiceless a forum to express themselves.

I happen to carry around the sort of dull pain that inspired me to hop on the bandwagon of a movement like this in the late 90s.  Poor body image was a lifelong struggle for me.  Peeling back the layers, I recall a visit to my pediatrician, who told my mother that her three year-old daughter needed to lose weight.  To encourage weight loss, he recommended hot tea and a lock on the refrigerator.  (She refused to lock the fridge, but I clearly remember the tea and I still avoid unflavored tea because of this.)  I am not certain whether my memory of this appointment is actual or crafted through the memory of my mother’s relating it to me.  But my life is saturated with memories of crying on scales or in fitting rooms or countless situations where I believed I was less than because I weighed more than other people.

I stuck with the fat acceptance movement for a few years.  I read magazines with positive messages about our bodies and tried to convince myself that I could just buy the next size up.  Over the next decade, I continued gaining weight despite regular workouts.  I was unable to admit to myself that I rarely said no to a cheeseburger and I never met a candy bar I didn’t like.  In fairness to women who are genuinely pleased with their bodies, I bet there are women who do indeed take good care of themselves.  And I applaud them for their ability to accept themselves no matter what they look like.

I was not strong enough to continue deceiving myself that I was happy with my appearance.  It took me a few years, but I lost a sizable amount of weight, most of which I have kept off for over six years.

Beauty movements like these may be truly helpful for girls and women who have been tormented about their appearance.  But I am put off by the thread of hostility concealed beneath a pro-body message.  Using the polite abbreviation for the F-word is not the tone of “hey girls, aren’t we beautiful?”  It feels like a big middle finger in my face.  Would I be perceived as a traitor to the body acceptance movement because of the changes I made to my life?  If you are indeed happy and healthy at whatever weight you are, have at it.  I personally was miserable.  I am by no means thin and I’m always trying to lose ten pounds – not because society is telling me to or because I hate my body.  For me, losing weight and learning to love the beauty in all its shapes and sizes has made me a less miserable human being.  Overcoming the shackles of my own unhappiness has led me to experience life in ways I never thought were possible for me.

I’ve been churning about this video in the last week.  I might write more about it another time.  This is a message that I am thrilled to throw my weight behind:

 

 

The Giving Tree

Leaving the gym the other day, I plucked an ornament from the Giving Tree standing in the lobby.  Each ornament lists the types of gifts a needy person would like to receive with some information like age or size.  One in particular stood out and I tucked it into my bag.

Girl, age 14. Size XL.  Workout clothes, hair bands.

I’m not a super-generous giver of my time nor my treasure.  Sure, I kick a couple of bucks here or there to charities.  Because I dial up Wikipedia pretty frequently, I just sent them some money for the first time.

The Giving Tree is something that I buy for every year, though.  So at least I have one thing I do a year.  And it’s nowhere near enough.

I went to Target yesterday to pick up the gifts for this fourteen year-old girl and I have to admit, my heart broke a little bit every time I thought about her.  I stressed about whether she would like what I bought her.  Having been a size XL (and various other sizes above and below that), I have experienced the disappointment of receiving a gift of clothing that did not fit my thighs or had an unflattering pattern.  I was less concerned about the hair bands, but then I thought, maybe if I knew what kind of hair this girl had, I could buy her something even more special.

I cannot know what the home life of this young woman is.  I don’t know if she has a loving mom or dad or if she has enough to eat.  I don’t know if this will be the only gift she will be receiving.  Although I don’t know this girl, I do know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of charity.  Life got rough for me as an adolescent, after my parents split up.  And though my parents both worked, complications existed whereby there was often something lacking.

If you’ve never had to do so, accepting meals through the Free Lunch program as a student of a Catholic high school is no picnic.  The little golden tickets you received from your homeroom teacher every week were hard to accept when some of your classmates went on frequent ski trips or their parents drove them a hundred miles each way to Philadelphia for weekly piano lessons.  No one had ever said anything to me directly about them, but adolescent awkwardness planted that seed in my head that everything I did felt like it was under a huge spotlight that seemed to magnify my every move.

I was no charity case necessarily, but without the generosity of teachers who knew my difficulties, I would not have been able to see Les Miserables with other students in the drama club.  Nor would I have been able to cover the expenses involved in attending various choral competitions.  Until now, I had forgotten that the school even generously covered the fees involved in sending out my college applications.

And if you think skipping off to college led me to a life of financial security, guess again.  Because that is a whole other story in itself.

I bet Girl, Age 14 lives in a world different from the one I grew up in, but she is more like me than she could realize right now.  And may never realize.  Maybe in her mind, she assumes the person who picked out the black and neon hair bands and the purple workout shirt is some rich lady driving a Benz.  I mean, this tree is located in the Summit YMCA after all.

I think, for me, it’s time to get on the stick.  I’ve made excuses for not volunteering or contributing more.  But I have more to give back than I think.  We all do.  And there’s a whole world out there that has needs that cannot be met without help… from someone like me who has been helped so much along the way.

Pas de deux thee to the Ballet!

I’ve been a weekend subscriber to the New York Times for about five years now.  I’ve always enjoyed reading a newspaper, even though times have changed. Skimming the Times online, I really miss those clunky advertisements for old-lady orthopedic shoes or the obituaries about all sorts of people who must have been a hoot to know.  Depending on what life is like, sometimes the papers tend to pile up on the shelf under the coffee table and I make a ritual of putting them into chronological order and reading them section by section, usually saving the Book Review or the Magazine section for later.

But, I have to admit.  The New York Times makes me feel dumb.

When the paper thumps against the door in the morning, she already has internalized the unspoken understanding we have.  Yes.  The paper is a she.  Kind of a know-it-all and definitely way smarter than I am.  And she knows it.  No lady who can pull off wearing a blue polyethelene bag everyday when she arrives would be the kind of girl to fade into the wallpaper.  My New York Times is no “gray lady”.  She is electric and she wants you to know it.

Recently I’ve felt a deep attraction to ballet.  The concept of dance has always intrigued me, but I’ve never made an effort to see a performance.  Having frugal tendencies, I’ve always feared that I would shell out a ton of cash for a performance and then fall asleep like I did the last time I saw The Nutcracker over twenty years ago.

Maybe the passage of time has made me more curious and open-minded to take in new things.  I linger on all the articles I come across in the Times about dance.  I study the pictures, the forms of the body and the sinewy leg muscles that I have desired my whole life.  I ask myself what this art form is saying.  What could this be telling me about the world that visual art or music is unable to communicate?

An article I found very enjoyable recently was about a 47 year-old woman who is about to retire from the New York City Ballet.  Plenty of people are mentioned in the article, but with the understanding that the reader knows exactly who they are.  I only recognize a couple of the names (Millepied is married to some famous actress with dark hair and I was first introduced to Baryshnikov when I saw him in the video for “Say You, Say Me”), but I imagine that sophisticated New Yorkers know who they are by mere mention of their last names.   Ballet feels like a world so far removed from my own that I don’t mind wondering who half these people are.  It thrills me to sit out in the suburbs on my couch and stick my sturdy Ukrainian nose into the business of this mysterious world.

This lackadaisical attitude shifts when it comes to articles about music.  I can’t even read the advertisements for Lincoln Center without flying into a guilt-filled pity party.  It’s rare for me to see an article about a performance by the New York Philharmonic, drive right in, and consume it with glee.   Every sentence ends with a reflex statement I hear said, in my head, in my own voice:  I don’t know what that means.  With ballet, I have no frame of reference, except for the couple of months I took ballet in the church basement as a little girl.  An institution of higher learning gave me a music degree and I should at least have some idea of what is going on at the New York Philharmonic, right?

Music has been both a joy and a lifelong struggle for me.  I have always felt pulled toward music and started taking piano lessons the year after the ballet teacher packed up and left town.  I’ve been fortunate to make a living as a musician off and on for several years.  And I always say that one of the few places that I completely lose all sense of time is when I’m singing with an ensemble.  Music matters to my soul, like it does for probably almost every human being on the planet.  But I’ve been caught in this middle place between being truly in love and striving to improve my own practice of it.

Reading the music articles in the paper feel like all the times I felt like I didn’t know what in the world I was doing in music – as a youngster, a student, and as an adult.  What business did I have taking lessons or declaring music as my major?  Reading about music baffles me because I never understood how music could be described by words, only by the burning fire I feel in my gut when something I hear or play just feels right.  I’ve struggled with the rudiments of learning technique and the repetitive execution of scales and Hanon exercises because I simply didn’t feel anything. And writing countless papers on music history in college and getting average grades always seemed like pushing a boulder up a hill.

And that is where the joy of this newfound love of ballet comes in.  There is no middle place about it.  Dance is completely foreign to me, other than what I learn when I take the shiny plastic overcoat off the newspaper every weekend.  A few more weeks of reading ballet articles on the sly and I think I better buy myself some tickets.  I think I’ll stay away from The Nutcracker to be on the safe side.

Sing Along with Sweaty Mitch Miller

This post contains mild profanity.

A friend of mine from high school, also in his early 40s, recently mentioned that his wife’s cousins, who were visiting for the weekend, never heard the song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”.  They made a joke about Meatloaf, and segued into an “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” comment.  My friend and his wife dug through their CD’s to play that song for a laugh, but they could only find the Bat out of Hell album, which the cousins never heard of.  It was as if sweaty 70s Meatloaf never existed.

Sweaty Meatloaf

My friend related this story on Facebook and it generated numerous comments from the 40-something crowd.  Most were pretty good-natured, but these sorts of comments graze right around the perimeter of fuddy-duddiness.  Some of us are facing the reality that middle-age is a millimeter closer than it was last year, and even though I hope to never say it (or believe it), expressing “I’m so old” has become a more frequent statement among our peer group these days.

As time goes by, I have been surprised that I have a decreased interest in popular culture.  Last year watching the MTV video awards, I had to Google Ariana Grande and just realized the other day that Chris Pratt has apparently been “a thing” for the last few years and I never really knew who he was.  People around my age and older sometimes look at whatever is going on in pop culture right now and simply write it off as “crap”.  And truly, sometimes it is.  I mean, how is it possible that the Kardashians and Justin Bieber are still drawing crowds?  But, in fairness, I am really trying to be open-minded.  Every generation has their artistic expression, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.  Just because we might not like it doesn’t automatically classify it in the “crap” bin.

At some point toward the end of my high school years, Aerosmith released a song called “The Other Side” that I couldn’t get enough of.  I loved that song and played it over and over and over again. One of my mother’s boyfriends mocked me mercilessly because, to him, it was crap.  It wasn’t the highest quality music, but it was what was popular in 1990.  He insisted that because I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about music and I always thought that was unfair.  What he didn’t realize was that I already knew all the Aerosmith classics by then as well as some of their songs that weren’t even hits.  Because he lived through the original Aerosmith, he naturally dismissed anything that seemed to be of low quality solely because it was new.  He hated anything that was new and current.  Except for the Traveling Wilburys.  God help you if you said one wrong thing about the Wilburys.

My friend’s Meatloaf story got me thinking about how any generation develops an appreciation of music – not just the current popular stuff, but also of the music that came before.  My parents always played records and 8-tracks on the massive TV console – TV in the center, record player on the left, radio and 8-track on the right – in our living room.  We consumed a steady diet of our parents’ music:  Chicago (that heavy brassy stuff with lots of moaning trombones playing glissando), Barry Manilow (the 8-track that changed right in the middle of the Chopin part of “Could It Be Magic”), Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix.  I remember so fondly putting the needle down on the revolving turntable, the static so satisfying when the needle made contact, and then sitting down on the carpet with my head placed next to the speaker, drawn into the pictures on the albums.  One that really sucked me in was the image of the Rolling Stones pressed against glass on the covers of Through the Past Darkly.  There was a poem inside the album cover written by Brian Jones that I found sad, only to learn later that he had died in a drowning accident a couple of years earlier.

Older siblings also influence our exposure to what we hear.  Somewhere around the time I received First Holy Communion, Cheech and Chong’s movie Up in Smoke came out and my 11 year-old brother acquired a cassette tape containing the legendary skit The Finkelstein Shit Kid.  We played it over and over again, roaring with laughter.  I could still recite it by heart at the drop of a hat, thirty-five years later.   You get a goddamn job before sundown.  Or we’re shipping you off to military school,  etc.  Please tell me if you know any seven year-old child who could recite the Finkelstein Shit Kid from memory because her parents definitely should be reported to the authorities.

So if parents are the primary musical influence in a child’s life, what will happen when Mom or Dad are born in a time when only clean-cut, short-haired, ballad-crooning Meatloaf only existed?  And then in a few generations, folks wouldn’t have first-hand memories of any Meatloaf, because by that time, everyone will be vegetarian.  A parallel for me is my exposure to Mitch Miller.  My grandmother, who was born before WWI, played his records and I was shocked when I realized that many people my own age have never heard of him.  My mother certainly never played any Mitch Miller in our home.  In 1999, there was an Amazon Christmas commercial in the style of “Sing Along with Mitch” and I found that most of the people I knew at the time didn’t get the reference.  If a Sweaty Mitch Miller existed, certainly, he has long been forgotten.

In terms of how children today develop an understanding of music, I don’t think anything is necessarily bad.  Just different.  Those of us who grew up listening to records tend to see the past through a soft-focus lens.  I don’t begrudge younger people for their music or the technology they use to access it.  It will be interesting to see how those born in the mid-2010s romanticize their consumption of music when they get to be on the cusp of middle-age.  Will they get a tear in the eye recalling the time they bought Taylor Swift’s twentieth album on ITunes?  (Sigh…she sang so longingly about knitting an afghan with a dozen cats on her lap…and that duet with the 128 year-old Tony Bennett was simply breathtaking…)

Developing technologies and the passage of time will alter our consumption of music and our tastes, just like it has since my grandmother bought her first Mitch Miller record.  Fortunately, we live in an age where we can see Mitch and Sweaty Meatloaf by way of a few keystrokes.

Let’s Just Be

What is it about us that we are often looking ahead?  I don’t necessarily mean that in a “preparedness” sort of way.  We can look back at any number of destructive weather patterns many of us have experienced to see that we all live at different degrees of readiness.

What I mean is that, why can’t we be happy in the now?  Why must we always be looking ahead?

Can we possibly be happy with here and now?

As a participant in social media, I’ve noticed (and heck, I’m guilty of it from time-to-time) that folks seem to get easily riled up about what’s coming next.

There seem to be two camps of people:  those who truly look forward to the next season and those who simply cannot cope with the fact that it’s out there.  The latter are the people who practically get the vapors when the first Christmas commercial airs (OK, in fairness, I did post a status about seeing the first Christmas commercial last year on Labor Day.).  It’s not only about Christmas.  The vapors can strike individuals under a variety of conditions:  the first time they need to scrape their windshields, when they first turn on the air conditioner, the second they see an advertisement for a pumpkin spice latte during the summer, the moment they see bathing suits hanging in Target in January, and so on.

It seems that so many people are aggravated by seeing Christmas decorations in August or school supplies even before the kiddos have gotten out for summer break, but from the retailer’s perspective, I imagine the stuff wouldn’t be out unless consumers were buying it.  I would also guess that for the people who work in retail, they spend summers putting together all the Christmas displays.  Working as a church musician isn’t much different;  Advent and Christmas plans are in progress by August.

I’ve noticed the holiday merchandise in the stores more this year because I spent more time than usual shopping for craft supplies for our recent wedding.  It doesn’t bother me too much. As someone who shops almost exclusively in Target, I know exactly which areas of the store have the seasonal merchandise so if I don’t need a light-up reindeer in August, I simply turn down the next aisle.

I’m also not much of a decorator.  I don’t fancy the set-up and take-down of decorations nor am I particularly diligent about dusting.  Plus, storing decorations in an already cramped apartment can be an issue.  But a few weeks ago, in early August, Sam and I were in a grocery store and noticed that the fall decorations were out.  Initially, we said, “wow…fall stuff” and had no other feelings about it.  My eyes settled on a silly looking ceramic turkey/votive candle combo that I had to have.  That and a bag of candy corn.   More than anything, I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to have that turkey.  We got home and put it on top of the piano as if it were full-on October.  I love the thing.  It’s adorable and it makes me smile, even though my ideal world would be basking in the sun in 90-degree weather every day of the year.  I don’t like the cold too much, but I love that little turkey.

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Surely there are people who are merely observing when they say, “wow…fall stuff”, but there are some downright nutso people who are exclamation-pointing all over the place that there is a light-up reindeer!  In Target!  On August 30th!!!!!  [Insert various peeved-looking emoji here.]

It’s kind of too much, all the exclamation pointing.  Here’s an idea.  Tomorrow is Labor Day.  Yes, school goes back in a few days for many people and things get back to its autumnal pace.  Probably in a month, we’ll need a little jacket.  But we have tomorrow.  Let’s just enjoy that day and not jump the gun.  We don’t need to rush out and buy a pumpkin spice latte even though Starbucks has PSL embossed on signs all over their establishment.  We don’t need Christmas wrap or snow boots.  Let’s just enjoy where we are, what we have, with the people we have around us, or with the books we have or the animals we have or whatever. Let’s pull back on the reins of always jumping the gun.  Let’s just be.

 

 

 

 

It Keeps You Runnin’

I’ve always wanted to be an athlete.

Maybe, more accurately, I wanted to be something other than fat.

Running became a part of my life a little over a decade ago when I was a student in a masters program.  And yes, I was fat at the time.

I don’t know how much overlap there is between these two conditions – of wanting to be an athlete and wanting to be something other than fat.  To my younger self, people who were athletic in nature appeared to be a lot more fun than the rumpled, chafing self that I was for most of my life.  Girls who played sports were usually tall, had thighs that never rubbed together, had boyfriends, and were able to wear their hair in a ponytail and manage to keep all the hair in said ponytail, no matter how much energy they exerted.

I didn’t really know athletic people until I got to high school.  Sports were less widely played in elementary school then and the only thing available to us was intramural basketball as well as varsity teams who played other schools.  (I played intramural basketball for one season in fifth grade and it was embarrassing.  I was on a team called the Suns.  We played on Friday nights in the gym of a local public school.  The highlight of those games was buying ink pens out of a vending machine there because we never saw something so fantastic before.  I scored only one basket all season, during our last game.)  In school there was no physical education requirement nor did we have a space for physical activity, unless you counted the asphalt parking lot we had recess in, with its death-trap merry-go-round and the obligatory Our Lady of Fatima grotto, surrounded by two concrete kneelers, way in the back.

Although I had watched some ice-skating and gymnastics during prior Olympics, the first women’s sports drama that mesmerized me was during the 1984 Summer Olympics.  The year of Mary Lou Retton and Joan Benoit and the high drama of Mary Decker being carried off the track by her boyfriend after a suspicious fall during a race.  I don’t know what this says about my perception of my own feminism (or lack thereof?), but I don’t remember being excited about them being powerful women athletes.  I just remember thinking, wow, they’re not fat and they are sure getting a lot of attention.

Maybe that’s part of what also fell into the stew of my own identity of being female and having a serious weight problem as a child.  By the time I turned twelve that summer, I already had a whole slew of items bubbling around in that stew:  the knowledge that a pediatrician told my mother to put a lock on our refrigerator when I was five, suffering the mortification of being weighed by the school nurse annually in front of my peers, seeing a picture of myself as preschooler in a bikini and counting the tiny fat rolls on my stomach that looked like a pack of hot dogs.

Girls today seem to be so in tune with how great it is to be a girl and sports seem so focused on their gender.  I’m not sufficiently informed about feminist issues to comprehend all the factors at play with how all these things affect our self-image as women.  At the time, it didn’t matter to me that Mary Lou Retton was a girl;  my 12 year-old brain realized that I also had brown hair and maybe if I took the town bus to the mall and used my allowance for a haircut like hers, maybe I would feel like I mattered.  I surely could not articulate it at the time, but I probably wanted to feel like I mattered to boys and also to some of the girls who began turning into mean, cliquey girls.  And in terms of feeling like I mattered, I don’t necessarily think it was big, bad society’s fault that I felt on the fringe.  I think I just felt like a 12 year-old girl.  With a weight issue.

After a few moderately successful attempts to lose weight, I managed to lose – and keep off almost all of it for over six years – sixty pounds.  Because I never lost the image of Joan Benoit or Mary Decker or all the ladies I watched every year in the Boston Marathon, I kept running.  Losing a significant amount of weight changed my life in so many positive ways and I continue to make an effort to keep myself at a weight that feels comfortable for me.  In addition to avoiding some foods that used to be a problem for me, I work out frequently.

I’m not sure what the emotional repercussions will be in the future, but recently a doctor told me to stop running due to some pretty ugly arthritis in my knees.  So many thoughts have passed through my head since hearing this news, including hopes of striving across longer finish lines than I currently do, knowing I’m not meant to cross them now.

There are many great things about not being twelve anymore.  My worth is not wrapped up in whether my ponytail is intact or that I can get a cute haircut if I want.  My worth is also not tied up in the identity I’ve created as an athlete.  I’m pretty sure I’ll still be crossing finish lines, even if they are only figurative.  Or who knows.  I may not have the image of Joan Benoit or Mary Decker as my models, but I’ll always have Diana Nyad!  Time to advance beyond the doggy paddle.

 

 

Think of Laura

It’s been three years since my beautiful friend Laura passed away.  I think about her every single day.  She was an extraordinary human being, inside and out.

News of her passing reached me two days after she died, through a Facebook message I received after playing organ at one of two Confirmation Masses. It sounds melodramatic, but it really floored me.  How could this happen?  While her youngest son was still a toddler, she received a shocking diagnosis and radical measures were taken.  She and her family moved forward and she rarely spoke to me about it after the immediate crisis was averted.  When she passed away, I had not spoken to her for some time and that sadness will linger with me. Our lives had taken the types of turns that cause people to fall out of touch.  Her sons were involved in a lot of activities and we were both busy with work and our other activities.  She wasn’t much of an emailer and keeping in touch on the telephone was a challenge.  I had also been struggling with issues in my marriage that I was embarrassed to share because I never wanted her to be disappointed in me.

I knew Laura a little bit when I was a freshman and she was a junior, but it wasn’t until the next year that we became close friends.  I don’t exactly remember a defining moment when we started hanging out, but it involved one of the many musical activities we were part of.  Laura was like a big sister and I was so flattered that she wanted to be my friend because I was only a sophomore.  We shared a love for piano, sappy 70s love songs, plays on words, and singing alto.  She was a fantastic listener and her intelligence blew me away.  When she was named salutatorian of her graduating class, I was in the auditorium while she practiced her speech.  The teacher who was coaching her suggested that she remove the word “integral” from her speech and for some reason, the slightest bit of criticism of her speech aggravated me.  How dare she tell Laura to take out the word “integral”!  Who did this lady think she was?

Laura was my first friend who had a driver’s license and during my sophomore year, we put so many miles on her parents’ car driving by the homes of the various boys we had crushes on, developing theories of what the families inside might be doing.  The radio was always on and we were lucky it actually had FM.  Laura and I bonded over our love for cheesy love songs.  Barbra Streisand, Frankie Valli, Barry Manilow – all kinds of schlock and sap.  Laura had a thing for the song “He Ain’t Heavy;  He’s My Brother” and we leapt for the joy when one of us figured out the intro to the Nilsson song “Without You” on the piano in the music room in high school.  For my sixteenth birthday, Laura gave me a book called “Songs of the 70s” that contained some of our favorites.  We were awestruck that the music for “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb was completely identical to the song on the radio.  We also had a collection of choral pieces that we “forgot” to turn in at the end of the school year that I kept in a tote that she dubbed “The Bag O’Music”.  Over the years when we would get together, I lugged the bag along and we sang for hours at the piano.

The day of her wake took place on my 39th birthday.  A cluster of us joined the hundreds of people who waited in the line around the block for hours to pay our respects.  Afterward, a dozen or so of us ended up at Chili’s, one of many places I hung out with Laura, and we talked and cried and laughed for hours.  The funeral the next day is something that is still hard for me to think about.  In the afternoon, I returned to the hotel and waited until other friends were finished working so we could get together.  A sappy song entered my mind that I never thought much about.

Think of Laura but laugh don’t cry

I know she’d want it that way

When you think of Laura laugh don’t cry

I know she’d want it that way

 

A friend of a friend, a friend till the end

That’s the kind of girl she was

Taken away so young

Taken away without a warning

I quickly looked it up online and listened to it.  And I listened to it probably a dozen times in a row.

Laura and I shared loads of memories over the course of a twenty-three year friendship and I can’t imagine putting them all in writing.  So many of them are the mysterious glue of inside jokes and song lyrics and silliness that means little to anyone else.  My loss is nothing compared to what her children, husband, sisters, and parents experienced.  I will never forget her presence in my life and I feel it every time I hear one of those sappy love songs.

I know she’d want it that way.

 

 

 

 

Bryan Adams’ Apple

Sometimes the right song pops up on a playlist just when you need to hear it.  For me today, that song is a simple, unsophisticated ballad by Bryan Adams from over 30 years ago, when I was a plump, book-wormy, sixth-grade girl who took every opportunity to kneel down on the cranberry wall-to-wall carpeting in the family room in front of the Kenmore stereo, tethered by enormous headphones.

My father came home one evening carrying a copy of Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife” album.  Yes.  A record.  A round disc, about 12 inches in diameter, with grooves in it where a needle is placed and sound comes out as it revolves on a turntable.  It was a borrowed copy, but I never knew how he came to get it.  My dad often visited the library on Mondays and Thursday evenings, when they were open late, and usually returned with armloads of historical tomes that would make good doorstops.  Only on rare occasions would he come home with records and this might have been one of those times.  I also was never sure why he brought home this particular album.  I owned a few albums by Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar and even though I had seen a few Bryan Adams videos on MTV (I remember one of them involved Bryan Adams cutting an apple with a paring knife and then a girl dove into a swimming pool without water), I was not particularly drawn into his music.  (By the time the “Reckless” album came out a couple of years later…when I was, ahem, beginning to mature, Bryan Adams became a bigger deal for me.  But that’s probably a completely other story.)

Adams Apple

The last track on the “Cuts Like a Knife” album is a short, three-minute ballad called “The Best Was Yet to Come”.  A couple of chords are sustained on a keyboard and the vocals come right in.  Bryan sings (after “Summer of ‘69”, when I fell in love with his raspy voice and rugged Canadianism, I decided we could be on a first-name basis) the first verse:

Just a small-town girl in the city lights

The best was yet to come

Then lonely days turn to endless nights

The best was yet to come.

 Most adults refer to their childhoods as hard.  Reasonably successful or attractive people tell massive sob stories about being tormented by pimples or boredom or their 17-mile walk both ways uphill to go to school.  My upbringing was nowhere near perfect.  Like most normal folks, there were family issues, occasional money woes, and sure, as an adult, I’ve needed the assistance of a therapist to resolve some issues.  I was fortunate that I can count on one hand the times I had been taunted by neighborhood kids (a pack of them once gathered in someone’s yard and chanted together “Ew!  It’s Christine!” over and over as I walked down the street) and by a classmate I had a crush on who called me “Tank”.

Even though these slights were minor compared to those of others, I still felt like an oddball.  I loved to read and was often ashamed that I also carried armloads of books home from the library.  Going to the library was one of the bonding experiences I shared with my dad.  One time in the car, I good-naturedly mocked him for having a biography of Winston Churchill and, in a tone I can hear as if it were yesterday, he mocked me right back, “You got Queen Victoria!”  I didn’t feel comfortable revealing my sick obsession with books until I was an adult.

I believe that my reading habits were partially responsible for developing ideas of how my future would look, but television also played a major role.  We watched a fair amount of cartoons as kids, but my parents were not necessarily child-friendly kind of parents.  We watched shows that adults in the 70s were watching, like All in the Family, Odd Couple re-runs, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart Show.  As time went by, fantasies about my future developed into a lifelong desire to leave my birthplace.  A desire to bust out of there.  To be like Mary Richards and live in a tidy apartment with a big C on the wall (I bought one a few years ago) and be a strong professional woman.  Doing what, I never really knew…but I had to just pack up and get to where the action was.  To live where I could see sparkling lights at night and hear trains hustling people around and feel the rush of the daily grind.  My mind was full of images of the life I wanted…The outdoor scenes of Times Square and Central Park from The Odd Couple;  Mary Tyler Moore stopping in the middle of a bustling Minneapolis intersection to whip her hat skyward;  the swell of “How Deep Is Your Love” at the end of Saturday Night Fever as scenes of Manhattan at sunrise fill the screen.

So as a dreamy young girl, this Bryan Adams song was like a gift.  It spoke of city lights and loneliness, things I both yearned for and experienced, respectively.  It fostered in me a sense of “yeah, I’m gonna make it” and “I can do anything I put my mind to” – sentiments that were not expressed by my parents, but that I called upon deep inside myself.  Self-doubt has often traveled with me, but somehow, the big picture of watching home get smaller from the rear-view mirror was always the goal.  Packing a U-Haul and towing my car behind it for five hours to get to Pittsburgh the summer I turned twenty-one was a really nutso thing to do, but it got me away from where I felt like I never truly belonged.  Twists and turns accompanied me along every journey and between home and the handful of cities I’ve called home these last twenty-odd years.

Sitting still has always been difficult for me, especially mentally and emotionally, and I don’t tolerate stagnancy or passivity in myself or others very well.  I’m sensitive to the most miniscule alteration in my emotional barometer and in those closest to me.  How can I improve?  What is lacking in me?  Am I using my energies in the best way possible?  Maybe it’s yet another birthday on the horizon or it’s the spring showers affecting me.  Being in this space right now and hearing this song are like being tapped on the shoulder.  Hey, the shoulder tapper says, don’t forget about that small-town girl in the city lights.  It sounds so idiotic, but it reminds me to consider where I’m at and that deep down, I’m proud of where I come from.  I’m pretty happy in this part of the world, but maybe it’s time to address the feeling of pushing an ever-enlarging rock up a hill on a regular basis in some areas of my life.

On an unrelated note, and to put this post to bed…Two summers ago, my beau and I took the train to Montreal for vacation.  On the trip home, we noticed two men traveling together, one of whom strongly resembled Bryan Adams.  It made no logical sense for someone of Bryan’s ilk traveling in steerage with the rest of us, but we chuckled between ourselves about Bryan Adams sitting a few rows ahead of us during the 12-hour ride and it still comes up on occasion.  Let’s imagine it really was Bryan Adams and I told him how much that song meant.  He would have thought me a complete Froot Loop.  Which isn’t far from the truth, I guess.

 

 

Look, Ma, No Shiner!

What a relief to wake up this morning without a shiner like I did on Easter morning, sometime in the early 80s, when I was in the fourth grade.  Technically, I woke up with it on Holy Saturday, but it was still there on Easter Sunday.

Sleepwalking was once a problem for me. I haven’t done it much in recent years, but as a child, it was a regular occurrence.  Most of the time, I didn’t remember doing it until my mom told me in the morning.  It usually involved just getting out of bed and wandering around, except for a couple of occasions where I tried to leave the house and another time when I turned the thermostat up as high as it would go.

Even though we weren’t a particularly religious family, we were very connected to the Catholic elementary school we attended.  On Good Friday every year, the eighth grade performed Living Stations, a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I’ve attended several of these over the years and in comparison, ours were pretty low-tech by comparison.  I mean, we didn’t know it at the time.  As kids, we idolized the “big kids” who got to be the readers or portrayed various characters wearing costumes. We were awestruck watching Simon barrel out into the aisle to help Jesus carry the cross and to see the image of Jesus’ face on the cloth that Veronica carried.  When Jesus was on the cross, he refused to drink the liquid from the sponge on the popsicle stick that was offered to him.  And when Jesus died, the storm that occurred was portrayed by the flashing on and off of the church lights, the sound of the switches of the circuit breakers audibly clicking throughout.  On top of that, someone in the sacristy shook a sheet of metal to create the sound of thunder.  This was not seen;  we learned these secrets around the time you figured out the truth about the Easter bunny.  In our version of the Stations of the Cross at St. Aloysius, Jesus also rose from the dead at the end.  Two of the prettiest girls were usually angels, emerging from the sacristy in white garments wearing a ring of Christmas garland on their heads and carrying a plastic Easter lily while the Hallelujah chorus played.

The year I was in fourth grade, we attended because my brother was in the Living Stations as part of the eighth grade class.  I don’t remember details and I’m sure it was a nice production.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened.  I guess we probably ate dinner and eventually went to sleep.  In our living room was a marble-top wooden coffee table in the shape of an oval.  There was usually nothing on the table aside from a Polish crystal candy dish with a lid on top.  When the lid was removed to get a piece of candy, it made a heavy pinging sound if it made contact with the sides.  I was roused from sleep by that sound, in the middle of a sleepwalking episode. It turns out, for some mysterious reason, I had been banging my head on the marble table top, hearing the clanging of the candy dish in my head.  I’m uncertain whether the clanging woke me up or if I was discovered making this racket.

In the morning, I had a shiner.  It was never called a “black eye” by my family.  Did “shiner” somehow have more class than “black eye”?  This morning as I participated in Easter Sunday Mass, I realized that there are no pictures of me with a shiner for Easter.  Could it be that my family was embarrassed by my appearance and thus, could not risk sending a photo of me with a shiner out to be developed, out of fear that they might be reported to the authorities?  I remember attending Mass on Easter and remember what I was wearing (a shirt emblazoned with Blueberry Muffin, part of the Strawberry Shortcake cast of characters, on the front).  And I remember that my parents dropped my brother and me off at church, maybe because they didn’t want to be seen with a black-eyed offspring.

Fortunately this morning, I rose bright and early after playing organ at a two-hour Easter Vigil Mass to return to church and do it all over again (three more times, to be exact).  I was very relieved to have appeared at Mass with the eyes of a healthy, 40-something year-woman, with their age-appropriate puffiness and creases due to joyful times laughing and smiling.  Hopefully, the days of sleepwalking – and shiners – are behind me.