Monthly Archives: December 2014

What I finally found the courage to throw away

 

I spent good money on it. It was a special deal. Organic. Super-size pack. I dreamed of all the pleasure and wellness it would bring me, day by day.

It was more than four years ago, which I can only calculate because I can see in my mind’s eye having the big cardboard box of it in the apartment I haven’t lived in for over four years.

At some point, I tossed the cardboard box the fruity green Whole Foods tea came in, and I transferred the remaining plastic packets of tea bags into my catch-all tea box … where they’ve sat. And sat. And sat.

Unopened. For four years.

And last night, looking at them, trying to fit my Triple Echinacea tea into the box (stocking up for winter sniffle season!), I thought: Hmm, these are taking up a lot of space. 

And I thought: Maybe I’ll use them though. They’re still sealed in the plastic packets. Maybe I’ll want them this season. Maybe I’ll have a guest over who wants them. 

Gnawing away at my stomach, as my hand held them mid-air, frozen, was this feeling: It would be such a waste to throw them away. 

20141211-103633-38193731.jpgThen I had that vision of my old apartment, with a four years younger me, trying the tea I was so excited about, and not, to be honest, really loving the flavor. A little too fruity, a little artificial tasting. I hadn’t wanted another cup in four years. I hadn’t opened the packet to serve it to a guest. It was time to let go.

And then I remembered my loophole: my compost! Also known as the you-don’t-have-to-eat-that-shriveled-orange exemption, or the those-herbs-have-seen-better-days bin. 

Into the salad container in the freezer they go, like a limbo for sad produce and onion skins. And like that, years of letting this little mistake, this guilt-clutter, this biodegradable depravity, weigh me down like so many organic cement blocks, came to an end.

Back to the earth you go, poor little tea bags. May you come back as cherry tomatoes.

 

Was Susan Sontag the Last Public Intellectual? Nancy Kates on Making ‘Regarding Susan Sontag’

Please oh please let this documentary end up on HBO Go…

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Trying to capture the range and brilliance of the late Susan Sontag, perhaps our most illuminating public intellectual, is a heady task, but documentarian Nancy Kates does a wonderful job of it in her documentary Regarding Susan Sontag. I went into this movie seeing Sontag as an idea, a voice on a page, and I came out of it with far more clarity about who Sontag was as a woman. Not just the quick-witted, sharp-barbed thinker who was able to clarify and elucidate our greatest achievements and most horrifying fears; she was, above all, a person, with all that entails — difficult and prickly, brave and curious, maddening and enlightening. Regarding Susan Sontag premieres on HBO Monday, December 8, and I took the chance to talk to Kates about how the documentary came together.

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On Turning Down Reading Invites: What’s a Writer’s Time Worth?

It’s not like I’m being asked to do out-of-town speaking engagements, but I like to prepare for the problems of my aspirational future today. I found this a useful reminder of a question I’m often grappling with—what’s my time worth, to who or what do I owe my time, and what uses of my time will make my own life best and honor my most important commitments and relationships? Phew! And, just as important, is Lev Raphael’s suggestion of what to say when you’re thinking “Gosh, what can I say when I don’t have to but just really want to say no?”

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Lev Raphael Lev Raphael

A guest post from Lev Raphael:

Years ago, when I was speaking on a panel at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, I met the writer Evelyn Torton Beck, who was personable, wise, and funny.  She was the first author to talk to me about accurately assessing what my time was worth when I was invited to speak out of town.

It’s not just the day you’re there, she said, if it’s only a day.  It’s the day before, getting ready, and then at least one day of re-entry into your regular schedule, sometimes more, depending on how complicated your visit was.

I’d never thought of doing a gig in those terms and it was immensely helpful.  Like the time I was invited to speak in San Francisco, and the speaker’s fee was good.  But that’s as far as it went: they weren’t even offering to cover hotel…

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bulbs

Autumn In The Garden Of The Winter Of Our Discontent

It’s December. October was really the time to put my summer vegetable garden to bed, really. To pull out the dying tomato vines, the bitter overgrown lettuce plants, the fall peas I planted that didn’t really grow in time to produce any peas. But, that didn’t happen. Who can even remember why?

So for the past week I was checking the forecast, hoping for a mild enough, dry December day where I could get to my plot and at the very least plant the bulbs I went on a shopping spree buying. Thursday it was! Low forties, no rain on the forecast, and I was going to steal a chunk of my freelancer’s lunch hour to get in, drop some bulbs, and get out.

Of course, the ground was cold and wet from all the earlier rain, and it soaked right through my gloves, and my jacket kept dragging in the dirt, and gross half-rotted fallen tomatoes were scattered around like tiny boobytraps. But, I persevered!

I just hope I did it right. Five inches down? Three? Oh who can remember! Here’s a photo of my Gypsy Princess hyacinth, Mount Hood daffodil, and Angelique, Sun Parrot, Black Parrot, and Lilac Perfection tulip bulbs all nestled in nice and cozy. (So I can refer back to this later and see where the heck I put them and if they all grew!)
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That took long enough that I didn’t really have time to deal with all the dead or going-to-freeze-and-die-soon plants still in the ground, so … I just left them. But I still seemed to have un-picked carrots with healthy green leaves coming out of the soil, so I pulled them all up at once for my final harvest of the season. Pretty great because one of these is actually the biggest carrot I grew all year (maybe it needed five months to fully develop? What the heck variety did I plant?). And just one weird carrot grew a crazy beard of roots. So, that’s cool.

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But back indoors, cozy and warm, are these amaryllis bulbs. They’ve been in my apartment, un-potted, for so long that they’ve started to sprout shoots anyway, even with no soil or water. Damn! That must be a good sign, right?

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What I Wish I’d Said To The Man Who Offered Me A Prayer

Would you like a prayer for anything today, ma’am? 

No thank you, I said. We wished each other a good day with a smile apiece and I dashed down into the subway station. I believe in saying no to everyone (except those people collecting signatures to get a candidate on a ballot). But, having worked these grueling street gigs before, I never ignore the person or withhold a smile.

On this morning, though, I was almost-late for a client meeting. When I flicked my eyes at the red fabric banners held up between what looked like white PVC pipes, I saw ‘Prayer Station’ in large white letters. Oh boy, I thought to myself, the evangelists are here! If I’d had extra time I would’ve walked to a different subway entrance.

As I caught my breath on the platform, waiting for my train, I wondered whose format was he using: Which church bought the red apron he wore, printed the flyers in his pockets? I smiled imagining the conversation I might have instigated. I’m pretty sure those weren’t going to be neutral, platform-agnostic, open-source-type prayers.

I sat down on the scratched-up wooden station bench, and a lump formed in my throat. It was a lovely thought, the prayer offering. A free magic service. How wonderful and beautiful and healing it could be to offer poems to subway riders. I pictured myself on that hot street corner, poems in hand. Pen ready for service. It’d be no different. A fragment of belief, a flash of communion with the deeper and higher and interconnected world.

And it hit me: A prayer for peace! I would desperately like to suggest he pray for peace in the Middle East. But I missed my chance. Now I felt regretful—was that crazy?

Who knows what these prayers do—they certainly haven’t ended the violence yet—but in a world so raw and rough, can prayers or poems really be superfluous? As a poet, I believe I’m obligated to believe in their magic and necessity. (Or at least in their possibility—even nuns and rabbis wrestle with belief.) So in his way, that young man got me to make my prayer, my wish. And I hope in this moment the feeling of a poem or a prayer grasps you, and you allow it to stay for a moment.

We are human beings, inventors of new forms of beauty and wonder. We conjured the sonnet and the prayer from nothing. That in itself seems worthy of a moment of thanks.


A note: This morning run-in happened in July, when every morning had new and horrible headlines about Israel and the Palestinians. It was a summer of terrible news and feelings of helplessness, and unfortunately, the need for words and deeds is no less urgent this fall. 

Bonus: If you feel hungry for some feelings and don’t see them anywhere inside yourself, let me invite you to check out Poetry’s app, a beautiful little gem to keep in your pocket. When you open it, you hit the Spin button and two wheels spin past each other, matching moods and subjects and generating a list of poems to explore.

2014 Was — Secretly — the Year of the Jewish Woman

I’m not sure what to make of Gaby Hoffman’s “Honorary Jewess Triple Crown,” but I’ll take any opportunity to reiterate and celebrate how fantastic Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are, and what a radical (double meaning intended) movie Obvious Child was.

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Jewish women have generally done well in America. From Emma Goldman to Erica Jong, Susan Sontag to Pink, they have broadened our cultural horizons. Sure, they are often portrayed in the media as JAPs (Jewish-American Princesses), like Cher in Clueless and Fran on The Nanny — or else, god help us, as the overbearing mother or background sister to a creep like Portnoy. But who isn’t stereotyped on the big screen? At such a tiny percentage of the population, it’s impressive Jewish women make an impact at all.

2014 has been different, though. 2014 was the year that Jewish women got their hands on the wheel – not the mainstream-media wheel, exactly, but still, the wheel of a perfectly functional, increasingly visible car — and drove off in a new direction, with all the exhilaration (but, thankfully, none of the impending doom) of Thelma and Louise, as Harvey Keitel’s police…

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2014’s Gender-Equitable ‘NY Times’ Year-End Book List Shows How Far We’ve Come in Just a Few Years

Something else to be thankful for — and motivated by — this season!

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When I was an earnest early-20-something, I used to angrily count the gender ratio of the New York Times Book Review‘s annual “100 Notable Books” list, always sure that it would be far from 50-50. My scornful prediction inevitably proven right, I would immediately take to the keyboard and rant about it on my personal Blogspot blog.

So much has changed in a few short years! Now I’m a jaded early-30-something, and Blogspot rants have been replaced by a whole new generation of earnest 20-somethings on Tumblr. And also, far more significantly, the New York Times Book Review has actually made progress on gender.

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