Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gone, Baby Gone

No, we did not find my flying board.
Someone else got to Big Mama Wave first.
So now I'm in the market for something new.
Either an exact (or semi-exact) replacement or an upgrade.
It doesn't look like Costco is currently manufacturing this beauty - a 6'9" foam board called a Wavestorm - so I can buy one used on Craigs List or inherit/buy one from a friend or acquaintance.

I also just got a posting from the 310 Surf Chicks about getting this cute girly board used for $200. It's called a Surf Betty. Isn't she...feminine? I'm just not sure I want to graduate from foam to fiberglass yet. The difference? Balance, weight and the pain/injury factor if I hit myself in the head with it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lost My Board?

There's really more to say today than can be crammed into one measly blog, so I'll give you some bullet points. But first... Look at that rad picture a nice lady named Nisa took of me on the beach last night. Sweet.

Now for the bullet points:

1) Was gonna buy myself a waterproof watch for Christmas. Then discovered that my favorite watch ever - a red-faced Swiss Army Victorinox from the Sundance Catalog - is waterproof. Presto! Surfing Watch achieved!

2) Got booties: My BFF M.M. bought these superb round toe Infiniti bamboo fiber booties for me as a birthday gift. It took many trips to get them, but get them I finally did.

3) Took the booties for a spin at sunset last night. Made me realize how much I tolerate being uncomfortable and then wondered where else in my life am I doing the equivalent of surfing in bitterly cold water without my booties?

4) Went out again just before sunset tonight and it was ecstasy, booties and all. Caught the best ride of my surfing life so far. Not feeling cold may make a huge difference.

5) The water was silver blue glass under the setting sun and the waves were 0-1 feet. That means small - really small. But perfect for me.

6) In my post-surfing ecstatic bliss,  I watched the final light of dusk before driving home.

7) Without strapping my board to my car.

8) And heard it fly off the roof as I rode home on the 10 Freeway.

9) Yep. Lost my board.

10) Um huh. Brian's on his way right now to check if it's still there. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 10, 2010

White Out

Driving to the beach this morning, I didn't think too much of the fog that was rolling in. There's often more fog as you go west from Culver City. Arriving at the beach, I still wasn't concerned.

Walking down the hill from my car, I felt the familiar strengthening feeling I get when my legs are doing what I'm telling them to do - not what they want to do, not what they're used to doing. Going surfing is still not routine. Especially lately, with the colds, and the cold, I'm making myself go when it would be a lot cozier to stay under the blankets. And the results have been so mixed, I don't exactly jump out of bed to hit the 55 degree water.

So I walked - only to find myself enveloped in the thickest fog I've ever experienced in my life. Since I haven't yet worked up a system whereby I bring a camera to the beach while I hit the waves, you'll have to take my word for it. This was a white out. I could see the water rolling up onto the sand, a few yards beyond that and then...nothing. Or nearly nothing.

After watching a fellow surfer run straight in, I saw three other guys out there. Through the haze, I could even see them go for some waves. But I could hardly see the waves. I hesitated. I hate backing off from things because I'm scared, but honestly, the lack of visibility scared me.  What if something happened? I could quietly sink into oblivion when help might have been feet away.  Never mind the pummeling I would undoubtedly take by waves I never saw coming.

It took me a while to distinguish between prudence and terror.  Sure, Eddie would have gone - those four guys went. But then I realized that in addition to my fears, real and imagined, was actual inexperience.   Without anyone to egg me on, without anyone to coach me, or even without anyone to brave the unknown alongside me - I turned around.

It put me in one hell of a bad mood to have walked away from what otherwise might have been perfectly good waves, but I have PMS and had just gotten a parking ticket, so I might have been in a bad mood anyway. And there's always another wave. Or so they say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Surfing the Chakras

Today was one of those days when everything seemed to be going not-my-way: when it looked like I was trapped by circumstances.  Today was one of those days when all I could see was that I'm
home-schooling a seven year old, day-caring a two year old, not making enough money and feeling the creativity and life drained out of me minute-by-minute while A.X. refused to nap. Today was one of those days when I really needed to do some yoga.

Fortunately, nap was achieved and I got on the mat. What I did was a twenty-minute Chakra Balancing Yoga class I downloaded from . (, by the way, has changed my yoga practice and, I do not lie, my life.  I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who can't get out of the house to do yoga.)

What did I get from today's practice?

Firstly, Chakra Balancing is a great thing to do when you're stressed. Secondly,  my Red, Yellow, Purple and White Chakras seem to be going strong, but my Orange, Green and Blue Chakras? Not so much. In short, while I'm expressing a strong will and being intuitively plugged in, I'm feeling sensually/creatively deprived and my heart's not very open. A pretty accurate diagnosis.

Time to start remembering I am more than my circumstances. And opening my heart.

Lots of pictures and more about chakras  here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back in the water?

Not quite yet, but I should be getting there as soon as this afternoon or tomorrow morning. After I drop by Rider Shack to get those booties. But even before booties - an update on how the past month has slipped away with no surfing, lots and lots of prayer, and even more love.

On November 12, while enduring my semi-regular bout of early winter-ish bronchitis, I turned 41. 

For Thanksgiving week, we traveled to Seattle to visit my Mom and briefly considered buying the foreclosure next door. The pluses - low cost of living, lots of green, lots of espresso and lots of museums where Brian could work. The minuses -  no surfing (at least nearby), very little sunshine and no community.

Also, my Mom's in the midst of applying for a job that would relocate her to San Diego. So pray she gets it - not only would we be somewhat reunited, but there would be lots of opportunities to surf San Diego County.

Now we're back, my health is better and the water temperature is almost ten degrees lower than it was in October. Which leads me back to those booties...

And one more thing. I've missed the water.

In the past, I would have called it quits after failing to fulfill my dream of regularly surfing for this long. But I'm not giving up. It's that simple.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The "Pray" is Back...

There hasn't been much surf in the last two weeks, just a whole lot of respiratory crap and what have you. But there has been some yoga, and today...the pray.

A teacher I know has said, "the mind is a dangerous place, you don't want to go in there alone." And then there are the Buddhists who call it a great cart, but a terrible horse.

Prayer (and meditation) is a way to retrain the tracks on which a mind runs. For all my years, those tracks, when otherwise unoccupied with work, achievement, entertainment, etc., exclusively ran along lines something like this:

One day my life will look like X.
And I will be happy because X.
But right now, I'm a failure because X.
And on and on.

We all get the picture. To call it monkey mind is probably a discredit to monkeys.

But after prayer, after continually practicing prayer, meditation, various methods of personal transformation and now, yes, surfing, the broken record sometimes sounds like this...

X is a blessing.
X is a challenge.
I love my mother.
I give my life for the greater good.
I promise to get out of my own way, so that spirit can act through me.
All is well.

Sometimes it sounds like this. Not all the time. Sometimes.
But sometimes is good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Surfing with Family is a Mixed Bag

My seven year old daughter has a skin condition. It makes things painful for her that are not painful for other people. It makes things frightening for her that are not frightening for other people. Like sand. Like sun. Like the beach.

As excited as I was to finally have a dual family surf session, during which I would watch the kids while my friend G surfed, and he would watch them while I surfed - Trinity was...unexcited. Full of dread. Overcome with anxiety. Miserable.

I soldiered forward. On my back, a bulging pack full of diapers, wipes and assorted child needs. Over my shoulder, a pouch full of snacks. From one arm hung an unwieldy beach bag holding water bottles, towels and a wetsuit. Under the other, a large blue surfboard. Big Mama Wave.  The triumph was carrying all this baggage while safely directing the children across the road, across the bike path and towards the water.

The defeat? Trinity wouldn't step off the boardwalk onto the sand.

The triumph? I set us up on the beach without losing it.

The defeat? Trinity still wouldn't step off the boardwalk onto the sand.

The triumph? Ultimately, I carried her, legs wrapped tightly around my waist, to a cool spot beneath a lifeguard station.

The defeat? No sitting beneath lifeguard stations.

And on and on and on.

The ultimate triumph? Family surfing day happened.  I paddled out, enjoyed the gentle rise and fall of the waves, caught a few, wiped out a few. Got wet, got cool, got healed.

I've been trying hard lately: to breathe deep, to stay calm, to not lose it. After surfing, I don't even have to try.

It was low tide by the time I made it to the water. G said it was hardly worth going out. I disagree.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rained Out on a Beautiful Day

I was awakened in the middle of the night, which was really early morning, by an unrecognizable sound. It was so battering, clattering and loud, I thought someone, or something, was beating rhythmically on tin drums.  And it made me mad.

Because I'm a mother who's a surfer, I've made the promise that I will never knowingly endanger myself to surf. Which means being strict about not surfing after any goddamned rainstorms because of the sickly toxic urban runoff on my local beach.

So I took it personally, okay?

How could it not have rained for so damned long and now that I care, now that I've actually started to dread rain - which I used to love so much - can a rainstorm come - in the middle of the night, between two perfectly sunny days - and rain out my surf plans?

For crying out loud.  Or, as my friend Tom in Chicago used to say, "Krikey!"

What with the husband needing space and lots of time to work things out, the two year old needing to nurse all the freakin' time and sleeping in the holy marital bed, and the older one not wanting to do math and maybe having Celiac disease and itching and sneezing and being sickly with diarrhea almost every single day, surfing is really, really good for my state of mind. When I do it.

In fact, the real wonder is how I went so long not surfing. I must have been crazy.

Heh, heh. Maybe I was.

My husband would not disagree.

Monday, October 25, 2010

She Surfs, She Sits, She Doesn't Go

The buddies and I went out Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.: all of us, I think, leaving our families blissfully asleep while we went out to catch some Santa Monica waves.

The air was super cold but the water - super warm. That was a very pleasant surprise, especially compared to life at home: which this week had been filled with many unpleasant surprises. Husband was having an existential/marital crisis of unprecedented darkness and I had been spending much of my energy and attention holding things together and not making them worse by having fits or screaming my head off in fear and exasperation.

I was tired and a little disoriented on the way to the beach; there was some very ordinary confusion about parking lots, dollar bills versus quarters and whether I should get my caffeine infusion before or after our session  (I was also on the first day of my period: a detail from which I shielded the guys). But I was nearly ecstatic to walk into the ocean with my board and all that was quickly forgotten.

Kind of. I caught some good waves on my knees, which is how I'm taking them these days. Rather than focusing on the full standing balance, I'm focusing on the novel act of...focusing. Turns out I've spent my life focused on the tip of my nose rather than what's in front of me, and there is an entire chapter of an entire book to be devoted to that metaphor.

Nevertheless, after only about twenty minutes I felt fatigued and not interested in surfing. Instead, I was interested in sitting on my board and looking at the ocean. My identity, the new "surfer mama" identity I've created, was like "NO! You must surf! You must show the buddies that you can do it! You must go!" As they say: "Eddie would go!"

But I didn't go. My identity wanted to show off. But transformation, which is what this is really about, is not about identity. It's about transcending identity to come from something deeper. Call it "capital 'S' Self," call if "soul," call it what you like. But what it said to me on Sunday was this: "You've been working really hard all week to keep it together. You've been doing a lot. Take some time to yourself. Sit a while. Look at the waves. Rest. You are going to need it."

So I did. And it was good.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Caught Inside

Anyone who knows me well may know that, under pressure, I can become extremely high-strung. Historically, my way of dealing with stress has not been to withdraw or take a soothing bath, but to lash out  at those nearest and dearest to me.  It was at a most chronically stressed and destructively high-strung part of my life that someone first suggested to me the wisdom of spending more time at the beach and in the water.

When I began my surfing odyssey roughly five months ago, it never occurred to me that this too could become one of the most stressful periods of my adult life.

The waves of my personal life keep crashing on me. The term “caught inside” refers to those times when a surfer can’t get past the white water to smoother water in order to catch a wave.

Caught inside, you’re unable to ride anything, and most able to get your ass kicked. In the best circumstances, you can get back to shore and wait for a lull before paddling out. But sometimes you’re caught in such a way that you are not only wiped out by one strong wave, but unable to catch your breath before another one rides in and slams you back down. Even if you’re not a surfer, this may have happened to you on a day of particularly strong waves at the beach. Without expecting it, a set rolled in, with too little time between waves for you to escape.

So what do you do? Hold your breath and dive under when you can. Relax. Surrender. Whatever you do – you don’t fight. Fighting only exhausts you, depleting you of the energy necessary to possibly save your own life.

I don’t blame the ocean when she rises up against my expectations and slaps me around a bit. It’s her nature. Right now, on dry land, I’m working on bringing that equanimity to the waves that surround me  – waves of another person’s secret anger, resentment, bitterness and long-held grudges.

I don't want to over-stretch the metaphor. Or over-simplify the complicated.  I'll just say that it's gotten very sharky out here. So please, pray for us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Surfing is a Lot Like Knitting

I'd been feeling a little blue and discouraged from not having been in the water for almost three weeks. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get back in again. My goal in becoming a surfer is to create a habit that I can't break. But this far in, it still takes considerable effort to load up the car early in the morning and head down to the beach by myself. And between last month's heat wave,  rain storms and  sick family, it was a habit easily broken. 

But thanks to the generosity of my good friend A, on Wednesday I ended up taking my second surf lesson in a month.  In fact, knowing that two of my good friends were going to be surfing with me, I was able to arrange childcare wonders that I barely knew were possible.

My instructor was Das Jesson from Islands Surf Camp, a very cool guy - sweet, patient, enthusiastic and with a contagious love for surfing. And Das turned me on to something about surfing that had eluded me until know.

Surfing is a lot like knitting.

When I've taught knitting, one thing I've always told my pupils - echoed eloquently by the great knitting authority Elizabeth Zimmerman - is that there is no right way to knit. Provided you start with needles and yarn and end with...something're knitting. How you get from point A to point B is your own business.

I'd been trying to surf the right way. And failing again and again. In fact, so far, my surf odyssey has been a great education in patience and being bad at something. But Das took a look at what I could do and helped me find my own, distinctly personal, way of getting from point A - lying prone - to point B - standing on my board.

Of course, everything I'd learned so far also came into play: knowing the waves, looking ahead, letting go. I justt took Das to provide the missing ingredient: "Let's face it" he said "you're not getting on the Pro Tour anytime soon. It doesn't matter how you get up there. Just have fun. That's what you're here for."

I'm not gonna be on the Pro Tour! I don't have to do it right! I just have to have fun! I've got needles! I've got yarn! I've got a surf board!

I'm CEO - Bitch!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bootie Call

My most awesome friend, MM, read my post about going into that super cold water earlier in September and immediately offered to buy me  a pair of surf booties as an early birthday present (November 12! Mark your calendars!). So today we met up at the very groovy Rider Shack in Mar Vista to get them. When they were all out of my size (out of all warm booties period) I was ready to go get an espresso at a nearby cafe. But, being an unstoppable woman, MM was not deterred and we headed next to The Sport Chalet in Marina del Rey.

As a budget-conscious, stay-at-home Mom, I don't go out bootie shopping very much - or clothes shopping, or shopping for anything other than groceries, in fact. But I LOVE shopping, and I LOVE clothes. So The Sport Chalet was awesome, if only to see all the prettily colored fleece hoodies and surfer girl gear.  And yet, what did they not have? Booties in my size.

What they did have was a sales-guy named Dylan who was available to answer this pressing question:
"Am I lame for waiting the recommended three days to get back in the ocean after a rainstorm?"
"Three days?" answers Dylan. He won't go in less than seven days after a storm like we had last week.
 Seven days.

And then he tells us  a couple of gruesome anecdotes about impatient Angelenos who did not wait long enough: anecdotes involving things like, oh, typhoid (!) and necrotizing fasciitis. Is there an extreme enough exclamation when faced with something like  necrotizing fasciitis? Ouch? Gross? Disgusting? Oh no? None of these capture the horror and revulsion that flesh-eating bacteria truly inspires.

So I didn't get my booties. But I got some words of wisdom. Was this of the "Surfing sucks, don't try it" school of advice? I don't think so. Because he did tell me that if I HAD to go, I should at least go north to Malibu. That way I would escape the Los Angeles sewer system swill that would eat my flesh, or at least put me at risk of a sinus infection, if I did choose to surf my usual beach tomorrow morning as planned.

But I think I will go swimming. In a pool. Instead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

This Week's Challenge...

...The Common Cold.

I went out last weekend, excited to practice what I'd learned during my lesson. But I had a cold and, by Sunday, could barely bring myself to enter the water. Which I did anyway. Immediately, I got slammed down hard and had to admit that surfing is neither for the faint of heart nor the low of energy.

As much of a physical challenge as it is to be sick, the bigger challenge is always mental. Am I lazy? A quitter? Not committed?  These questions always threaten to add insult to injury. With no coach to tell me if I'm well enough/not well enough, it's entirely up to me to determine how much or how little to exert. And it's a tempting and well-worn habit to question my own judgment.

Today I still have a cold. Instead of pushing/punishing myself further, I went swimming. It's been so hot that I've been swimming all week with the kids,  but today was the first time I went alone. As much as I love water, I've never thought much of swimming. I've found it boring and monotonous, useful but thoroughly unexciting. I like it better now. Especially with my eyes closed. In the early morning. With almost no one around. And gorgeous cotton puffy clouds up above.

Plus I met another surfer in the pool: a Japanese American guy named Nori (like the seaweed). We talked surf spots. Every surfer I meet makes disparaging comments about my usual spot  - the Venice Pier.  It's a "short ride." It "closes down fast." And it's not the easiest spot to learn, because you either catch a wave or you miss it - with not a lot of time in between. Yadda yadda. Over time, I don't doubt, I will be changing regular surf spots. It's only a matter of time.

Nori got out of the pool before I did. My immediate reaction was to use it as proof that I'm tougher than he is. But then it occurred to me that if he'd stayed in longer than I had, I would have put myself down over it. And I would have been the same person, the same swimmer, the same surfer, either way. So I gave it up.  It was nice to swim and it didn't mean a damn thing about me. Tough? Lazy? Quitter? Not committed?

That shit is starting to matter less and less to me. Thank God.

And Thank Gaius Maecenas. He invented the heated pool.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Home in the World

Earlier this year, Brian and I were planning a move. We'd been in the same one-bedroom apartment for seven years. Where we'd once been two, we now were four. It was more than a bit of a squeeze.  With the freedom to move wherever we wanted, I daydreamed about moving to the beach.  But Brian, who hates unnecessary driving, vetoed moving anywhere that would make his daily commute too inconvenient. Marina del Rey was out of the question. So, rather than moving to the beach, we moved around the corner from where we'd been living all along - not a bad commute at all. For him.

Not long after the move, I was walking along the sand and it occurred to me. Whether or not we actually live here as a family, I thought, this can still be my home. And so I declared silently to myself - with no one to hear but invisible ears - I'm  home.

I never felt at home in the world. I never felt at home with either of my extended families. Too Jewish. Too suburban. Too Puerto Rican. Too ghetto. Not at home with my peers, my school, my work.

But I was always at home by the water, in the water. I just didn't know it. Like Dorothy after a whirlwind and a concussion - there's no place like home. Knowing where home is makes it much easier to be everywhere else.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Letting Go

I don't think of myself as a fearful person. I've done many things I consider courageous. If I can dare myself to so something, even if it takes a while, eventually I'll do it.  But then there are those things I'm afraid of, that I'm SO afraid of, I don't even let myself know I'm afraid.

I had a really illuminating lesson on Sunday morning with Amanda from the 310 Surf Chics of L.A. At 8 a.m., the beach was completely socked in by fog. Yards away from the Santa Monica Pier, I could see only a faintly colored blur where the Ferris Wheel would normally be. But while the amusement park rides were barely visible, I was there because I wanted to be seen. I hadn't been improving on my own in the water and I needed a skilled observer to show me what I couldn't see. 

So what did she see?

Comfortable in the water. Check. Comfortable on my board. Check. Able to follow directions? Catch a wave? Pop up on land to a squat from a prone position? Check. Able to let go of the board in the water? Unfortunately not.

Visualize a surfer. Grace and speed combine in one smooth movement from prone to standing as a wave gains power beneath her. Arms outstretched, she's balanced and powerful. Unless she's still holding on to her board for dear life.

I knew there was something "wrong" with my arms. I'd just thought maybe they were too short. Why else couldn't I get my legs through them when I tried to stand up? They're not too short. They were just rigidly gripping the sides of Big Mama Wave.

As Trinity said, "If a surfer doesn't let go of her board, she's gonna fall over." Actually, what she said was a lot more complicated than that, but that was the main idea. Trinity's watched "Barbie and a Mermaid's Tale" a lot lately - featuring Barbie as a surfer who also happens to be a Mermaid  - and she's considering herself something of an expert on girl-surfing these days.

But I digress.

Amanda could tell me again and again to let go. And I could tell myself.  I'm falling into the water every time I take off anyway, so what am I afraid of?  It doesn't really make sense. But there it is.

The biggest flaw in my technique?  Sub-conscious. Pre-verbal. Lizard-brained. Paralyzing. Terror.

I know I'll get over it. What I can't get over is how oblivious I've been to my own arms.

And so I conclude, it really pays to ask someone trustworthy, now and then, to point out that thing everyone else can  see but is totally invisible to you. Especially if it's something that's really important to you.

Like surfing is to me :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Looking for a Reason

It was wintry cold when I got to the beach yesterday morning. So cold, my feet cramped up when I stepped into the water. Colder than usual for September - generally one of the hotter months of the year. But hot never came to Southern California this I got cold instead. It was enough to make me reconsider - more deeply than ever before - that I may not have what it takes for this surfing thing.

Surfing in the summer, no problem. Even in the fog, it's still pretty warm. But surfing in the winter - I've heard the waves are better, but the weather? Not so much.

I have no need, like I once did, to prove myself macho and capable of "taking it like a man". Though I'm not always completely sure what it "means" to be a woman,  it definitely doesn't mean I have to prove to all the men that I'm as "tough" as they are. I kept standing there. Looking for a reason. To go in. Or to stay out.

I stood on the brink for a long time. If I can stay in for thirty minutes, I told myself, that'll be enough. I went in. Not to impress anyone. It just would have felt wrong to turn around and go home. 

In the water, I remembered a dream I'd had the night before. I stood in front of a mirror in a dance studio, practicing in pointe shoes. A master dancer stood outside the studio door. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't control a wobble in my ankle. I didn't want her to see my imperfect technique. I wanted to figure it out on my own.

I've figured out quite a bit during the last few weeks and months of surfing alone. I'm much more comfortable in the water. I understand waves and currents and tides with a new acuity. But there are vast imperfections I still can't figure out. The master stands outside the door. Let her in. Using the seventy-five dollars I'd squirreled away for "something special," I've scheduled a lesson for tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Saturday afternoon, I left a party mid-swing, picked up my surf gear at home and went to the beach. The conditions were terrible. I arrived at the lowest point of low tide. The water was barely a foot deep for yards, and the waves were but tiny little rippling mounds on the surface.

Feeling philosophical, I channeled my disappointment into a blog entry - which disappeared into the virtual ethers when seemingly both Blogger and my computer crashed. Then I was a little less philosophical. I got less philosophical when I didn't make it to the beach at all on Sunday.

I am becoming a "surfer." When I'm not in the waves, I'm either imagining that I am or planning when I next will be. This is not bad. Happiness is only four miles away on any given morning. That, in itself, is cause for happiness. Because I have so much more genuine happiness occurring, as well as more happiness to look forward to, I am, in general, happier.

And I know for a fact, I would not be homeschooling if I didn't have "Big Mama Wave" in my garage. Life would be too much "them" and not enough "me."

Which brings me to some more observations and questions about balance and other things. In the Surf movie "Sprout," the filmmakers visit board maker Tom Wegener and his family in Australia. Master craftsman Tom met his wife Margie when she was a morning radio DJ. She interviewed him for her station. It was love at first sight. Ten years and two kids later, they're still in love; we see a sweet and affectionate kiss. And then we see Margie - hanging up the laundry. Yes, we do.

Here's the observation: someone has to do the laundry, right?

Here's the question: what if a woman's life is shaped not only by her individual drive to be self-expressed, but by an inevitable, inescapable duty and responsibility towards the continuation of human life on planet earth and this includes - maybe - sometimes - in some situations - a lot of cooking, cleaning and doing laundry?

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Might be self-evident to some people. To me, this comes as a shocking possibility.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Balancing Acts

As of last week, I am officially a home-schooler. Or, as of the moment I returned the call from La Ballona Elementary School and told the secretary that my daughter wouldn't be attending second grade. "Good luck" she said, when I shared my plan. Then I was officially a home-schooler.

Two weeks into being entirely responsible for the education for another human being, I am conscious that the discussion around education in contemporary society is based in anxiety. Anxiety about the future. Anxiety about the fact that the United States/the American Dream is not what it once was. Anxiety about how to survive. About how to live. About what a person needs to thrive. Anxiety about the absences or flaws in one's own life that one doesn't want to pass on to the next generation.

I am guilty of all of this.

I surf many mind-waves in the course of the average day. I take a deep breath and visualize a wave rolling up beneath my board, catching that wave and speeding towards shore with the force of the tide beneath me. During the good moments of teaching, my children are the wave and I can catch their force and ride it, too, in the right direction. Being with children, like being with water, is about being present.

But as a surfing instructor laid it out for me one day; surfing is a balance between surrender and the aggressive attack of something larger and more powerful than one's self. And such it is with children as well.

The unending question then, for both water and little humans, is when to be present and go with the flow and when to bring certainty, force and intention? When do I discipline my daughter to sit up straight, brush her teeth and do the things she doesn't want to do but are important, i.e. math? When do I nurture her inclination to dawdle around tree roots and speak in a quiet voice to insects and fish?

Which will help her more to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world? How do I get this thing to balance?

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Take Requests

A friend recently asked me to recommend some books that had an influence on my spiritual development over the years.

Nothing immediately came to mind, other than the book that is most blowing my mind right now: "Raising your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. If you've got a child, or know a child, who seems unusually difficult but is really just extra sensitive, persistent, intense and slow to adapt, this book is for you. It may very well set your spirit at ease, as it has mine, and so, though it is technically a parenting book, it is also certainly a spiritual text.

Otherwise, these items came to mind as having had an early and profound influence on my journey:

"The Seven Story Mountain" by Thomas Merton
A Columbia University student, and carousing literary star in the making, finds the Catholic church and becomes a monk. He even gets a girl pregnant, though he leaves that part out. A compelling story of redemption, I first read this when I a senior in college, kept breaking up with my boyfriend and was longing for a more spiritually authentic life.

"Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook" by Ram Dass
There was a time when I didn't know how to meditate, when I didn't even know what meditation was. Amazing! This book was my introduction and a very useful one at that. I gave away my original copy to a friend, but I still remember it fondly. Anything by Ram Dass is entertaining, instructive and profound, whether you're reading his books or listening to him on audiotape. As he would say, he's not a guru, just a very human teacher.

“New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton
My copy of this book lacks a front and a back cover. It is underlined and notated like crazy. Each chapter is around ten pages long and gives the reader something to think, pray and wonder about. Chapter headings include "What is contemplation?", "What contemplation is not", "Integrity" and "Faith." This stuff never gets old.

"The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley
Huxley compares the words of mystics from the world over, finding commonalities in faith and insight. I read and reread it through college and graduate school and its pages, too, are covered with notations. It’s not an easy read and it surprises me today that I got so much out of it when I was so young. I may have been smarter then than I am now.

"Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" by Philip K. Dick
For those not familiar with Philip K. Dick's novels, but familiar with the movies inspired by them, these are not action stories. (This is a major pet peeve of mine about which I will say no more right now.) That said, this is a novel about lost identities, lost love, and the mysteries of our shared and un/shared realities.

These five books laid a foundation for the spiritual development of my early-adult years, and I will share many more in the future.  What books/works of art have inspired you over the years, and how did they relate to your circumstances at at the time?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Life in the slow lane

I went out twice this weekend and I can feel the progress being made. On Saturday I was having trouble popping up. Every time I caught a wave, I only made it to my knees. One of my mom/surf companions told me she'd practiced in slow motion til she got it right. On Sunday that's what I did. Took it really slow. Not only did I improve my technique but I realized how habitual it is for me to move quickly and how unnecessary that is. Slowing down caused me to have fun, to laugh more in the water and to have a better time in general.

On the waves isn't the only place I've been slowing down. Since starting to surf, I've also started taking some time during the afternoon to lay on my bed while the kids do something else. I don't read, I don't nap, I just lay there laying there. And then I make it through the day. I haven't had my own personal meltdown in months. I've come close, but there's been no blowing of mom's stack in recent memory. This is particularly impressive considering that, almost exactly a year ago, my temper had gotten so bad I feared I was a danger to my family.

We consulted a family therapist. Before dealing with any family, he said, he had to deal with the mom. After a few weeks, this is basically what he told me:

"You're a mom and nothing you've told me is out of the ordinary for a mom. You're a talented woman, a smart woman, but all you do all day is take care of your family. You need to do more."

And then he asked "If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?"

And I said "Writing a book."

And he said "Don't come back until you've started writing."

And that was it. I'd been hoping for a more exotic diagnosis than "stay-at-home mom" but there it was. So I started writing.

And surfing.

And sleep training one of my kids for the first time since becoming a parent. Because I can't get up and surf dawn patrol if I have a toddler sleeping next to me, attached at the nipple and hysterically crying the moment I step out of bed, now can I? That would wake everyone up. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I received some beautiful feedback from my last post. I only wish I/people could figure out a simple/foolproof way to use the Blogger comments feature, so that I wasn't the only one in on the conversation. 

To summarize briefly:  my movie-going companion was inspired to go wind-surfing for the first time in, I think, a long time. She is also starting a blog. Another friend wrote that drumming is his way of connecting to something bigger.  And Brian, my surfing instructor/husband clarified this weekend that he too is simultaneously seeking to "find himself" and claim a distinct spiritual path.

This made me wonder:

Is there a difference between cultivating joy and pursuing a spiritual path? Between "finding oneself" and finding the divine?

What is a spiritual journey in the first place? And what are the spiritual traveler's equivalents to a ticket, a backpack, a map and a good pair of walking shoes?

Does the spiritual "journey" ever end? What is gained at the conclusion of a spiritual "quest"? And isn't every "path," ultimately a spiritual one?

I am, of course, not the inventor of these questions. If I were, well, at the very least there would be no such thing as The University of Chicago Divinity School - of which I am a graduate. And about which I will be very tactful and say very little.

I will say this...the spiritual endeavor ("endeavor" being one of my favorite words and "endeavors" being some of my favorite things) is all about the discovery of these questions and not necessarily the finding of definitive answers. Or rather, while we may find answers that suit us for a while, if we are alive, we may find, equally, that the answers change with time and mileage.

I am not a newbie to the spiritual questing thing. It may have taken decades for me to give a name to the way in which I live my life - my "lifestyle" - but it has always been characterized by an overwhelming drive for wisdom of a deep, enduring and useful kind. 

In its current manifestation,  my spiritual quest is not only about surfing and water spirits, and it is not about writing for my own amusement. It is also about sharing my experiences with the intention that each failure, success and musing may touch someone and inspire him or her to ask and seek answers to their own authentic questions.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Surf, Eat, Pray, Love, Whatever...

I haven't been posting much lately.  What I have been doing is nitpicking myself like crazy over tone and content and, in the process, forgetting why I started this project in the first place.  Today I went to see Eat, Love, Pray and, thankfully, was reminded.

Modern life (at least here in L.A.) is a post-apocalyptic, globally warmed, technological ordeal - definitely not nurturing to spiritual equanimity, restful contemplation or, dare I say it, bliss. Add parenting to the mix, and it presents a recipe for rampant mental dis-ease, and a deep, deep cultural appetite for anti-depressants and other mood stabilizers/enhancers.

Admittedly, there are those of us who are blessed enough, through our own determination, inheritances, or luck, to be daily "living the dream." But for those of us stuck managing the crap that passes for daily life in a constant struggle to just get by...the desire for escape can be a pretty constant thing.

In fact, after watching Eat, Pray, Love, my viewing companion, an astute, married, mother of two,  asked: "Doesn't everyone want to run away? Like all the time?” Then added indignantly “But you can't just do that! Not with kids."

Which is why I started this particular project. Julie Powell hated her government job and needed some meaning in her life - so she found Julia Child. Divorced and at loose ends, Elizabeth Gilbert found meditation and Bali. But neither of them had to do their thing while simultaneously nursing, changing diapers, scheduling playdates, home schooling and generally caring for a family. By omitting just those particular tasks from their daily to-do lists, in fact, they gave themselves quite a transformational leg up on us equally desperate and spiritually thirsty  breeders.

That said…

I started surfing as a personal quest. I started surfing because I was going to go even more crazy than I already was if I didn't do...something. I started surfing because I looked at Elizabeth Gilbert with envy but didn’t feel desperate enough to abandon my family. I  started surfing because it seemed, and still seems, kind of impossible -  just the kind of thing that could prompt a profound spiritual transformation.

I started surfing because I wanted other people to know that just because you’re married and have children, or are imprisoned, or disabled, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own spiritual quest right in your own backyard. Elizabeth traveled because she was already a world traveler. Julie - already a cook. Surfing is not a possibility for everyone, but for me…the Pacific Ocean is four miles from my driveway. 

Everyone has something.

Life is full of easy excuses for not finding oneself, for not finding bliss. And instead of looking within themselves, a lot of people are conveniently pointing fingers at Elizabeth Gilbert and the impossibility of her journey for the average person. But as Andrew O’Hehir said in his review of the movie for

 "Eat, Pray, Love" is a minor and superficial summer diversion that offers female viewers not much more than a two-hour escape fantasy, but that's not a crime. The fact that we find it almost impossible to talk seriously about the pervasive emotional or spiritual or psychological yearning that a story like this represents -- that's a bigger problem.”

So I’m here to talk about the yearning - and about the journey: its despair, its highs, its lows. I've been wondering which areas of my life are off limits to this adventure, but I see now that it’s all of the piece.  I started surfing because I sensed that there was no area of my life that it wouldn't impact and I think I was right about that.

I started surfing because I thought it would make me instantly mellower and more happy. In that I was wrong. Since surfing, I'm perhaps even more disgruntled than I was before. 

But therein lies the tale.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I am surfing...

I am praying. I am loving.
I am writing. I am reading. A lot.

I just finished Shaun Tomson's book "Surfer's Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life."

As a human being, Shaun Tomson doesn't floor me the way Gerry Lopez does, but humility isn't really his thing the way it is for Gerry. When Gerry Lopez tells a story, he's so authentically present to every detail, every person, every other point of view, everything, period - that he disappears and  what's left is a simple truth. Shaun's book feels more about Shaun. But that's okay. He was world champion many times - and he has valuable lessons to impart.

At the beach yesterday, I focused on Lesson 8" "I will always ride into shore." It was tempting for me to ignore this lesson because I don't do much "riding" still. But the deeper meaning Shaun gives to this lesson is the importance of doing complete work. If you go surfing, finish strong, surf out. Don't let your session fade away and just decide you're gonna paddle in for whatever reason. Wait for that last wave and give it your all, even though you're leaving for home.

So I did it. I waited for that last wave. It was a tiny little thing. Just right for me. And it delivered me right to the shore, like a cute little wet-suited package.


Friday, August 6, 2010

The Mamas Surf and The Mamas Sit

In the past year or so, I've noticed something.

If I've committed to something and am in the car, on my way to doing it, and I start thinking that I want to turn back and go home - I'm doing the right thing.

If I start thinking there's nothing in it for me, the reverse will be true.

And if I suspect an upcoming experience will be boring and pointless, most likely it will be very important and fulfilling.

The reverse of that quiet inner voice of intuition - it's the booming and convincing voice of self-sabotage. Why that is I can't say.

I can only say that I dragged my feet to the beach on Friday for the kick-off meeting of surf mamas at Venice Beach and considered blowing it off continually - until I got there. And then I was very happy I went.

Four moms showed up, and one dad. Plus three little girls and Ashton. Two moms brought their boards and it was clear - this thing is gonna work.

There's even a picture.


Monday, August 2, 2010


I’ve been watching surf videos but not enjoying them as much as I’d expected. While they're certainly easy on the eyes, there isn’t much connection between the pro surfing onscreen and surfing as I've experienced it so far. Because most shots depict surfers already upright on their boards, there are few visual cues as to how they got up there in the first place.

And, right now, getting up there in the first place is what I'm all about.

Fortunately, this weekend, our good friends were staying over and agreed to watch the kids while Brian took me to the beach for an actual, bona fide, one-on-one, 8:30-in-the-morning-before-the- wind-blows-out-the-waves, lesson.

With a divine and glassy surf before us,  Brian worked with me for about forty minutes on the proper way to go from lying on my stomach to standing on my board.  

If there's anything I can't stand, it's doing something wrong and not knowing exactly how I'm doing it wrong. From dancing, I know that, without feedback from someone more experienced, a beginner at anything can get stuck developing bad habits.  And given the clumsiness of my previous attempts at standing on my board, I've known I was doing something very, very wrong.

It turns out I was habitually shifting my weight to the rear. Popping up this way on a board that’s about to barrel down the face of a cresting wave automatically throws a person off-balance and “over the falls.” It took a lot of tries but, ultimately, I got the correct position with my weight on the front foot. As soon as I did, my body felt much more “surfer-like” – as if there was an invisible template carved by millions of surfers over time and I’d finally made the fit.

Surfboards are a lot more wobbly than they look, so popping up in the water is obviously a greater challenge than on dry sand.   

There is, however, a sensation of solidity that occurs when you’re in the right position to catch a wave that makes it easier to pop up at that moment than at any other time. The mush of the water’s surface disappears and it feels almost as if you’re on solid ground – but better. The force of the wave pushes you upwards, encouraging you to stand and practically doing half the work for you.  The wobbliness disappears and the potential materializes, even for me, even if only for a moment, for oneness between rider and board.

That said, I still haven’t made it all the way up - but I did make it to my knees, which is more upright than I’d gotten before.

Monday, July 26, 2010


It's been exactly a month since Trinity lost her footing and almost drowned in the pool. Later that day, my mother-in-law gave me a reading with Doreen Virtue's Ascended Master cards.

From the readings, I remember two things; the final card indicated the importance of Crystals in my life and, above all else, I am being guided by Mother Mary.

Since then, the lovely Mama who has taken over leadership of my Surfing Meetup is named  Crystal  AND I have developed a practice of praying to Mother Mary. I've also been wearing the Mary and Jesus medal my mother gave me a while ago. Mary faces outward, so when I kiss my medal (which I do surprisingly often), I am kissing her sweet face.

Though I have an affinity for a few things Catholic (i.e. Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila and, now, Mother Mary), I am, in no way, a Catholic.  It is, therefore, an utterly unprecedented result of surfing that I am now wearing a Catholic Mary and Jesus medal and praying to Mother Mary every night as I put Ashton to sleep in his own little bed.

According to the Catholics, there are five main kinds of prayer - Adoration, Expiation, Love, Petition and Thanksgiving - and all five have been passing my lips in the last month. Without my telling you, you can probably guess which prayer the serious mystics and theologians have least regard for:

Adoration (with a little petition thrown in ) - Mother Mary, Mother Mary, Mother Mary, your compassion is so great, your grace so beautiful, your love so unending. Let your heart shine in mine, let your spirit illuminate my spirit. 

Expiation (also with a little petition thrown in) - Mother Mary, Mother Mary, Mother Mary, I am so sorry that I am impatient, quick to anger, and so resistant to seeing the blessings in my life. Please forgive me and make me feel whole, so that love guides my every thought, word and action.

Love - an act of charity is a prayer of love. This week I gave five dollars to a guy who said he'd run out of gas. Did he really? That's not my business, Mother Mary would say. So would Caroline Myss, by the way. Check out Invisible Acts of Power, if you're curious about the prayer that is generosity.

Petition - Mother Mary, Mother Mary, Mother Mary. I want to surf. I want to write my book. I want to be happy. I want red curtains and a coordinated bedroom set. Please, Mother Mary, please light the way so I can experience those things in life I want. Please Mother Mary, give me an understanding of desire, give me the experience of wanting without guilt or shame. Please give me the experience of achieving what I desire. Please Mother Mary. Please. Please. Please.

Thanksgiving - Mother Mary, I have so much gratitude for your blessings and your grace. Thank you so much for listening to my prayers. Thank you for my beautiful life, for my beautiful children and my beautiful husband. For all that we have and strive to share. Thank you Mother Mary for all the blessings and graces to which I am blind, but which you know so well. Thank you, Mother Mary. Thank you for everything.

And thank you, dear readers, and to all a good night.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Repeat: Community organizing is not surfing...

Starting a business about surfing is not surfing. Spending hours writing and responding to emails about surfing  is not surfing. Organizing a Meetup group about surfing is not surfing...

My pride is a little wounded. I had what I thought was a great idea. Get moms together. Swap hours babysitting. Be a leader. Maybe even make some money doing it. Hey, it would be like being a professional surfer. I'd go to the beach and come back not only with sand in my pockets, but money too. What could be wrong with that?

My spirit guides did not like the idea.

For some reason, I thought that maybe if I committed myself in a little deeper, they'd see the wisdom in it. They'd change their tune and start cheering from the celestial bleachers. But no... Their displeasure only got louder.  Then, when I told my husband and friends, they said things like "I'm with the spirit guides. They have a point." 

These people who love me know this: it's far easier for me to over-commit and use it as an excuse for not doing well, than to stay the course and do the one thing I originally intended to do.

So while it felt brilliant and new and maybe like "the great idea that will make me a million" -  organizing moms to surf and babysit on the beach was more like everything else I've ever stretched myself too thin to do. A good idea, maybe, but not for me.

So, simplicity wins the day.

As does the realization that, until now, I'd never learned the important skill of  gracefully withdrawing when I was in over my head.  Last night, after making this momentous decision, I dreamed I was crying with joy. I stood on the beach at the Jersey Shore saying "I just love it here so much."

Some time recently I said "all I want is to surf, write my book and educate my children."  And, I confess, I haven't been in the water for two weeks. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So Much to Say

My experiences with water and surfing have been so varied and intense lately, I’ve found it unusually hard to express myself in writing. My book about surfing hums along, but encapsulating it in concise blog posts has gotten increasingly difficult.

Do I write about what I've been learning about water? Do I write about how I’ve become enthralled with Gerry Lopez’s book “Surf Is Where You Find It”? Discuss the relative merits of the seemingly countless surf videos I’ve been watching? As an avid movie fan, I can say,  nothing beats Jack Johnson’s “Thicker Than Water”.

Then there are my solitary adventures late at night in front of the computer, exploring the world of surfing and mommy blogs. Except for here, by the way, those twain never do meet. The blogosphere is a big place and while I'm learning about channels and tides, I'm also learning about monetization and RSS feeds.

Going into this endeavor, my intentions were many, not the least of which was to transform my life – and yes, my life already feels transformed.

This morning, I met with a seasoned surf instructor to work out the details for a proposed childcare/mama’s surf lesson swap I’m designing. Some moms surf, some watch the kids. Other moms surf, other moms watch. Period. Very simple. We’ll see who shows up. A friend turned me on to a networking site designed around this very concept but, unlike my idea, that one doesn't come with lessons (

I’ve become a go-to source for absolute beginners. People refer their surfer-wannabe friends and family members to me. Which is ironic. I do not know how to surf. But one friend said to me “If you can do it, then so can I.” It was meant well, though, she remarked, it could have been taken otherwise.

Other moms want to surf – if not for those darn kids! And yet, I wouldn’t be here if not for them. I would be somewhere. But not here. Happy Birthday Ashton. You’re two today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My favorite instructor

Went out a few times last week. Did a lot of falling on my butt. But realized something really great. I love my instructor. I really do. He's patient and has a lot of wisdom about the whole surfing experience. He grew up on the beach and, in fact, is teaching me to surf the way he learned, way back when he was nine.

The other day, he showed me how to shove my board across the water, run to catch up with it and jump on it while it's still moving. This is how he learned to balance on a board. And so did I, that day.

He's also had a typically zen approach to what I've thought was my slow progress. In his eyes, there's no way I won't become the surfer I want to be. It might take months. It might take years. But since all I need is time, and all I have is time, there's no doubt it'll eventually happen. You can't rush these things and as long as I keep getting to the beach, strapping the board atop my wagon, I will improve, little by little. And, in fact, sometimes I may even make great leaps. As long as I don't quit. And he told me, point blank, he won't let me do that.

So, here's to my surfing instructor. Isn't he handsome? He even stayed home with the kids this weekend while I went to Santa Barbara and partied. I love you, honey.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mom surfs! At Mother’s Beach!

Originally the plan was for three families to get together at the beach in Marina del Rey. At the last minute, one family canceled, leaving me with one other mom and four kids. It wasn't looking good for me to get any time in the waves.

Brian, life-long Westsider, suggested Mother's Beach. I could take the board out in the shallow water, practice standing up, and watch the kids at the same time. Sort of.

I was dubious. But I knew enough to agree that, these days, just putting my board on the rack is a victory for my surfing commitment. So my friend Alicia and me packed the cars with kids and equipment and headed to LA's calmest and little-kid-friendliest beach.

After snacking, lunching, baby minding and some iced mocha drinking, I made it to the water. Initially, practice did not make perfect. Popping up from a paddling position still threw me off balance and onto my ass. Standing up directly onto the board? That worked better. And I figured out a few things - bend the knees and look straight ahead, not down.

After a few rounds of that, I WAS able to pop up from the paddling position. A triumph. I cheered. The kids cheered. Ashton cheered. "Mama surfs!" In fact, mama did surf. It was the world's tiniest wave, but I surfed it to shore. Standing up.

I spent the rest of the time taking the kids out on my board. I dragged them around by the leash. Trinity paddled. Wyett and Ashton posed like little Big-Wave men. It felt like the most natural thing in the world and took me completely by surprise. Me, mom, Jes, channeling surf-camp-counselor-for-kids and loving it. It was great.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

After shocks...

I was just sitting there. Then I dove into a pool in the blink of an eye and hauled her out, like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. She's fine. I'm still a little dazed.

On a daily basis, I am hard on myself. Even in the most invisible ways. I "strive" not to be. I know the value of being self-accepting and self-loving. But I forget all the time. And yet, there's no way I could criticize my behavior on Saturday. In fact, I've had to acknowledge myself for having done the right thing - which feels strange and unfamiliar. Parenting is usually so filled with doubt.

The only lingering question I've had is "was she really drowning?"

Then I read this. Please read it too. It's an article about what drowning looks like. It doesn't look like it does in the movies - there is no shouting, no flailing arms. It's more surreal, quiet and simple than that. There is no talking. There is no splashing. Just a little bobbing. And some strange seeming head movements. It can happen while you're watching, because it may look like nothing is happening at all.

Yes, she really was drowning. And I saved her. Thank me. And thank Mother Mary, to whom I've lately been offering many thanks and just as many requests.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I have ads on my blog now. It's called "monetization." If this annoys you, I apologize. I'm experimenting with the cost/benefit analysis. We shall see.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Mystery of Water

Yesterday, Brian, his sister Lila and his Mom were hanging in the house while Trinity and I played in the pool. We were spending the day at the home of Lila's friend in Escondido.

Five years ago, Trinity was learning to swim at our local Culver City pool. Midway through the summer, she developed chronic rashes for the first time and swimming in chlorinated pools became a no-no. Any contact between her skin and water was painful for months, and it took years for her to become enthusiastic again about baths, pools or the ocean.

Last summer, she was learning to swim again after all those years. And yesterday was the first time she'd gotten in the water in months. And she almost drowned.

I was sitting on a pool chair, wrapped in a towel. She was hopping around in the shallow end, testing herself to see how far she could go. And she went too far.

I've wondered, in the past, how quickly I would act if one of my children was in danger. Yesterday, I got an answer. I dove in, still wrapped in a towel, and hauled her out. The part that surprised me the most was how completely my body remembered the life-saving training I'd had to take when I was at camp almost thirty years ago - and how completely I remembered that the most important thing is to avoid being dragged down by the person you're saving.

The mystery of water? Thirty seconds after it happened, we were safe.

Something similar happened last summer. The day we returned from vacation, Ashton fell in a bathtub full of water. Both times I was left appreciating the fragility and beauty of my children's lives, and grateful I was there for them.

But otherwise, I have no profound words of wisdom from the experience. Perhaps just that life goes on - crisis averted. Thank God.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Open letter to Disney...

Dear folks at Disney,

You rule. I was just at your place today - at one of those anonymous looking buildings in Glendale where the Imagineers toil, creating incredible inventions to inspire fun and good times. This is where the happiness is created: the happiness that happens at The Happiest Place(s) on earth.

Trinity and a bunch of kids were busy testing a new invention for you while I took a look around. Every single person who walked through those doors was simultaneously brilliant looking, absolutely creative AND probably drives a Prius. And something occurred to me.

If anyone can fix that hole in the Gulf, YOU GUYS CAN DO IT!

So come on, Disney people. I know you're just like me. You went to good schools, you're artsy, you have kids (or are planning on having them) and you've been trained by the Disney machine to be outrageously inventive. I know, because I once worked for an Imagineer and he blew my mind every single day.

Those government people are blowing it. Never mind the ones over at BP. Too much bureaucracy. Too much to lose. But you - video game designers, computer generated animators, amusement park ride engineers, editors, designers, illustrators, professional inventors and software peeps - YOU CAN DO IT!

I know you can be heroes. So take me up on my challenge. Get playing! That's how the genius happens.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Saltwater on the Brain

Saturday morning I was dying to get out, but I didn't make it to the beach until late afternoon. The sun was starting to go down and I was having some doubts. Even after Brian and I packed the kids into the surf wagon and drove west, it felt like it wasn't going to happen.

Arriving at the beach, I was not encouraged. Wind was whipping every which way and the beach was one set of crumbly whitecaps after another. The surf did not look kind, or blissful or welcoming. There was no one else in, and I felt like a fool, both stupid and courageous, as I pulled on my wet suit while every one else walked past me: leaving the beach.

I stood at the edge of the water, board under one arm. I stared out at the horizon. I imagined I looked as if I was constructing a strategy for riding in the stormy peaks, but really I was thinking "Oh shit." I walked in.

As soon as I did, it felt good to be enveloped by the swooshing tide. I wondered where this wet suit had been all my life and how I could have gone this long without it.

I also thought that waves without a board are like peanut butter without jelly, shoes without laces, me without you. Sex without the lube. I've been body surfing my whole life, from New Jersey to Puerto Rico to Florida to L.A., and I've just been wasting my time. Waves without a board! There's no way to engage, no way to use one's feel for the timing, the size or the rhythm of the swells. I may have been wasting my time - but no longer!

I paddled in - a salmon upstream. Ridiculous. Waves pummeled my face, some I swam over, some I dove under. Wave after wave after wave after wave, few really deserving of the name "wave" since they were really just the water's natural reaction to all that wind.

Fortunately, there was one other surfer south of me. He wasn't paddling. Instead he stood chest high in his short sleeved spring suit watching the water. Whenever he saw a wave he liked coming his way, he would turn around and catch it . Thanks to that guy's example, I saved myself a lot of breath and effort and stopped trying to swim against the tide. And I caught two waves.

The first one left me with a runaway smile so wide across my face, I couldn't stop it even when I tried. The second one... Well, without even time to consider popping up, the force of the water shot me forward across the top of my board like a freakin' torpedo and, whoosh, I was under.

It was dark and still and perfectly calm. I was under so long, I had time to be surprised at how blissful I felt. Everything was perfectly slow and I hadn't a fear in the world. Every wipe-out should be like this, I thought, and decided to come up for air.

Not long after that, I came ashore. I hadn't been in long. But I got extra points for having gone in at all. When I got out, my head was full of saltwater. But the runaway smile was still there.

Afterwards, one of the best parts was peeling off my suit and putting my board back on the rack. I felt like a surfer and as if no one who walked by could know that I hadn't known what the hell I was doing and that this was only my fourth "first time ever."

It was great. And I've still got the saltwater in my head as a congested souvenir.

p.s. as soon as I get my camera back up and running, I promise, KT, there WILL be pictures.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beginners Mind

Just did my daily yoga session which now concludes with some practice pop-ups as recommended by my buddy Rich. I'm still in that stuck place not getting out as much as I'd like, but there's light at the end of this short tunnel.

I've been reading a book called Surf Divas, written by two sisters who run Surf Diva Surf School in San Diego. It's cute and sweet and encouraging of all sisters to get down and learn to surf. Of course, it's also geared towards sisters who want to pick up cute guys and go shopping. I don't really relate to that these days but each surfer chick her own, right?

The more I tell people about my fledgling attempts to ride the waves, the more I hear from other people, women especially, how they are dying to learn to surf and want to come out with me. From what I am learning, it's the eternal irony. On the one hand, it's great to turn people on to surfing. On the other hand, there are only so many waves and breaks, and the more people out there, the fewer waves there are for each person (or so it seems?). Hence those bumper stickers you may have seen that say "Surfing Sucks, Don't Try It."

As soon as I moved to LA in 1997, I expressed the desire to surf to some locals. One, a female friend who grew up near a heavy local scene in the South Bay, warned me that I'd get my ass kicked if I even tried surfing locally. Another, a smoking hot writer/surfer dude friend of mine, warned me that surfing was definitely not for girls and that I'd never be strong enough to do it. ("Surfing Sucks, Don't Try It.")

As luck had it, though, an old friend from the east coast had moved to the Bay Area and become a NorCal surfer (where the water is COLD). Crazy! He's a Jew from the Upper West Side. If he could surf, damn it, then so could I. My first year in LA, he came for a visit with two surfing friends and they took me out in Malibu.

Three things stand out from the experience.
1) I wasn't wearing waterproof sunscreen. It got in my eyes and I was blinded by stinging pain. 2) I peed in his friend's wetsuit and worried about it all afternoon.
3) I caught a wave.

Oh, and one more of his friends was a girl. Take that, LA surfer dude!

Then during Labor Day Weekend of 2007, I got to go out again at a friend's beach house in Carpinteria. I spent so much time paddling, though, that when it came time to pop up, my arms were limp from exhaustion. Ah, well. I was excited enough to promise myself I'd spend the summer of 2008 learning to surf.


So here I am, making up for lost time. But just today, when I was practicing my amateur pop-ups, I had this thought - I've been doing yoga for 21 years.

I'm not a yoga instructor and I'm not a yoga champion. But I've got a pretty good Warrior 2, and my Lotus pose is sweet. I can lay down my mat pretty much anywhere and anytime and do some sun salutations. Yoga is as much a part of me as cooking and working and writing and everything else I've been doing since I was 19 and becoming an adult.

And yet, I still remember one of my first yoga classes. It was not pretty (like the eggplant parmigiana I baked for my boyfriend in 1990). But I didn't focus on how good or bad I (or it) was. I just liked it. I liked how it made me feel during my practice and especially afterwards. I liked going to yoga class with friends and having a good meal afterwards. And, back when I was a regular at Bryan Kest's Power Yoga Studio in Santa Moncia, I liked standing in line on Santa Monica Boulevard, waiting for the previous class to get out.

So, yeah, I'm a beginner and remembering why, so often, I avoid doing anything I'm not already good at. But I'm also experiencing the wonder of doing something new that I'm not already good that. As the famous Zen Monk Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi wrote: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few".

So here's to possibilities.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Heroine's Journey

It’s just occurring to me what I’m really up to.

I declared it at the beginning of this adventure, but the challenge is just hitting me now. I’m married. I’m the mother of two young children. I don’t have “help.” And I’m claiming some time for myself. I’m claiming a portion of life that’s not about being a wife or a mom, but about being human.

I’ve been struggling the last few days - berating myself for how “slowly” my progress as a newbie-surfer seems to be going. Planning my daughter’s seventh birthday festivities and dealing with a teething toddler who gnaws on me all night can make surfing seem irrelevant and the ocean seem very far away.

Which reminds me that Elizabeth Gilbert’s adventures in “Eat, Pray, Love” touched the nerve they did because they fulfilled such a common fantasy. Cut loose by divorce and heartbreak, untethered by responsibility and commitment, the author was free to seek herself and her spirit.

But I am tethered.

Before the delusion of surfing entered my life, I was writing a different book all together. Inspired not by a woman who got an advance to eat gelato and fall in love, but by men like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi - I was writing a prison memoir. Stuck in a cell, they managed to cultivate love, passion and spirit not despite their circumstances but because of them. Stuck in my metaphorical cell, perhaps I could do the same.

(Note: Before I go any further, let me say that I may be a drama queen for complaining about being a mother. And if so, so be it - you can stop reading here.)

As a writer and a thinker (and a spiritual person having a human experience) I have struggled to recognize myself in the vast majority of what I read about motherhood. I appreciate the humor and camaraderie of some mommy-blogs (ie. FreeRangeKids and Laundry For Six ), occasionally enjoy the spirituality of those wacky Christian-home-schoolers and respect that Ayelet Waldman named her parenting memoir “Bad Mother.” But nothing I’ve read has captured my existential agony while simultaneously celebrating the possibility of spiritual liberation inherent in it.

And yet…a couple of weeks ago, Brian showed me a document compiled by some women at the Mount Saint Mary’s College English Department. It’s a chart comparing the hero’s journey as lived by a man and as lived by a woman. And what do you know? They entitled Part 1 “Imprisonment in a domestic environment.”

Which made me think, drama queen or not, I may be on to something. After all, if a woman must be imprisoned in order to become a heroine, then she can't even start on her journey until she names her cage. So whether I'm hammering my way out using my surfboard as a pick axe, or simply meditating on the oneness while confined to close quarters, this must be the journey, and I must be a heroine in the making.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glutton for Punishment?

Yesterday I realized I was tired. I thought something was wrong. I felt depressed and void of energy. It took some explaining to my mother-in-law Doris to realize that I’m just a wee bit exhausted.

Simultaneous to my declaration of a year of surf and ocean worship has come the choice to home school Trinity for second grade. This has brought an entirely new learning curve into my life at the moment I thought I could exhale and do some learning just for me. I’ve tried to avoid changing Trinity’s school for two years. Her school has offered a lot, and she hasn’t totally hated it. But there have been some problems that have not been going away: that her teacher informed me were getting worse. A couple of weeks ago, we finally had to admit the shit had hit the fan.

This is not a small decision, but it’s been supported by a child psychologist we really like. We went to her, somewhat desperate, but finally feeling smart about asking a professional to help us determine whether our daughter is troubled or just trying to tell us something. Before the first meeting was over, I’d made peace with the fact that Trinity is gifted and needs an enriched environment. I immediately started looking into schools with gifted programs only to discover that it was too late in the year to register her anywhere for September: hence the plan to home school for one year in preparation for third grade in a new school.

It’s been scary, exciting, daunting. It’s felt courageous and possibly foolish. And yet, I have to say, when I look over my entire life, “courageous and possibly foolish” has characterized a lot of what I’ve done over the years. Taking the subway an hour each way to go to high school downtown when I could have gone to an excellent school in my own neighborhood. Being raised in the Bronx and going to a swanky college. Moving from Chicago to LA with nothing but a Visa card and a Toyota Corolla.

Maybe “foolish” isn’t even the right word. Maybe what has characterized some of my most exciting adventures has been a great expenditure of energy. I have not taken the path of least resistance but rather the path that has required the most of me. Time and again, I have made the uneasy choice that has caused me to curse and shout and want to quit. I've made the choice that has stretched me to my limits, broken me down and put me back together in a new and (I hope) improved way.

Independent filmmaker - check. Marriage to spiritual artist guy – check. Home birth - check. Stay-at-home-parent - check. Put child on gluten-free, dairy-free diet. Raise family on one modest income. Drive thirty year old car. Learn to surf at forty. Home school second grader with toddler underfoot.

All while being an extremely serious person who often thinks that something has gone very, very wrong and who can have a very hard time laughing at the absurdity of it all. You could say I’m a glutton for punishment. Or that my life has never been boring.

But here's something I haven't mentioned before - I've been closely reading my cards this whole time. And they, the cards and hence the spirits, say go, go, go!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Learning Curve

I didn’t blog last week. I got self-conscious because I’ve only gone surfing once so far, and didn’t even catch a wave. All I did was paddle out to the line-up and pray nobody was mean to me. Still, it felt like a big accomplishment.

I got my period the next day, for the first time in two and a half years. I got self-conscious writing about that too. Truthfully, I did write about it. I just didn’t post it. I was afraid it would make me seem too feminist-goddessy. In fact, after it happened, I had to admit that I am feminist-goddessy – as are all women – and that was so potentially life-altering, I’m still in denial about it.

All in all, in not posting to this blog last week, I realized how many layers there are to this project/ blog/ baby-book I’m gestating. Yes, it’s about surfing. So there’s that to write about: the culture and sport, the people, the history, the art. And it’s about Prayer. And it’s about Love. But it’s also about the process of learning something new, and overcoming all those awkward self-conscious moments of being completely inexperienced and clumsy and having no idea what I’m doing.

Like a child, I had the idea that I could say I was going to start surfing and presto, I’d be a surfer. And then, there I was, with a board and a suit, realizing that a. I didn’t know how to load my surfboard “Big Mama Wave” onto the rack that Brian installed for me and b. I was afraid to drive the 1980 Mercedes diesel surf wagon.

So, Saturday, feeling overwhelmed, rushed and unlikely to get to the beach, Brian gave me a lesson in putting the board on the rack. It wasn’t hard at all. There was just the matter of first tossing bungee-cord #1 over the roof and pulling it over to the other side, and then doing the same with bungee-cord #2.

Kind of.

Bungee-cord #1 is not as wide as the roof, so I had to stretch really hard to reach it until Brian invented my bungee-cord-reacher: a piece of orange ribbon, attached to bungee-cord #1, that reaches across the whole length of the roof and is easy to grab. Bungee-cord #2, on the other hand, was much wider than the roof. After experimenting with wrapping the excess around the board, and then wrapping it around the rack, Brian cut it so it matched #1. And that was Saturday’s surf lesson.

That and driving the surf wagon around the corner to The Metro Diner where I ordered a double espresso.

The surf wagon, aka “Smoky” is old and beat up and lacks an accelerator pedal. To gas it up, you have to press your foot on a metal rod sticking up from the floor. I used to drive this car every day. It was our bio-diesel machine, back when bio-diesel looked like a plausible option. It’s smelly and kind of gross, but that’s good because I’m not too worried about getting it filled with sand and beach water. Unfortunately, however, unless we convert it to vegetable oil (for about six hundred dollars) it’s not environmentally friendly. Vegetable oil conversion is on the wish list. As are automatic windows that work and a new toddler seat, so I don’t have to switch Ashton’s big-ass seat from the Honda to the wagon every time I want to go surfing. And then switch it back.

In my fantasies, I live in an apartment or a house right on the sand. I look out my window and see the waves coming in. I grab my board while the kids are still asleep and run across the beach into the water as the sun rises. For now, the reality is far different.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My first Surf movie...

It's a rainy day, so Ashton and I canceled our trip to the park to meet some local Moms I connected with on, by the way,is awesome. One of the best uses of the internet.

Last week, I'd gotten "Heart," my first Surf DVD, from Netflix. I'd put it on twice before today, but kept getting interrupted by children. Big surprise. Before sending it back, mostly unwatched, I thought I'd try again. I spread toys all over the living room floor for Ashton, and started to watch. Toys didn't interest him for long, but waves did, so he snuggled on my lap, and we watched it together. Nice. Much nicer than yesterday. Especially since he eventually started nursing and fell asleep. Yay, nap time!

This wasn't really my first surf DVD, entirely. About ten years ago, I used to edit extreme sports DVDs, and cut a lot of surf footage. Editing extreme sports videos was my favorite job ever, besides waitressing, and it turned me on to mountain biking. Which turned me on to my husband we are, ten years later. I haven't mountain biked in almost seven years, I have two kids, and I'm watching a surf DVD.

So here's the scoop on "Heart." A bunch of women take a surfing trip around Australia. Some ride long boards. Some ride short boards. Some ride both. Most are blonde. Except Prue Jeffries, who is the most excellent rider of them all. Yay, brunettes. I thought I might be biased due to her dark hair, but when I looked her up on the web, I discovered that, alas, Prue is normally blonde too. And she's still my new favorite surfer. My favorite surfer used to be Laird Hamilton, but that's like saying your favorite cyclist is Lance Armstrong.

A little more about Laird, though. He cried in the footage I edited. Yes, a giant, thick necked, big wave surfer, was crying on-camera in footage I cut. BECAUSE HE LOVED HIS WIFE AND BABY SO MUCH! Okay, so he's not just a great surfer. He seems like a great guy.

But about Prue...When she surfs, she uses her whole body magnificently, winding up her back arm to give her momentum every time she carves a wave. Awesome core strength, something to shoot for - a beautiful image to keep in my head. The other women were all good, though I wasn't into the nose riding, which is when the surfer balances on the tip of a long board. Maybe over time, I'll come round, but I prefer watching short boarding. It's fast, curvy and exciting. Like a sports car.

The women in "Heart" drive around in an RV, do laundry, drink coffee, and surf. At the end, one of them says she loved the trip because she spends most of her time around guys. Strangely enough, one of the women at my surf-yoga class two weeks ago said the exact same thing about being with the 310 Surf Chics.

And stranger still perhaps - SEVENTY women have RSVPd for the 310 Surf Chics Beginner Surf on Sunday. A LOT of women want to go surfing with other women. It's not just me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Conditions

Conditions have been windy on the beach lately.

My fantasy (which is so convincing I keep thinking it’s a plan) is that I’ll find something to do that’s so perfect, i.e. surfing, it will completely eliminate having to be with children who are having temper tantrums, meltdowns, or who are just plain crying. Seven years into it, I keep thinking there’s a way to avoid the hard parts of being a parent. But no. Which is why, today, I was reminded why this blog is called “Surf, Pray, Love.” When I’m not surfing - which right now is all the time - I’m doing a lot of praying.

“Praying”, in this case, means that I’m getting connected to something far larger than myself. I’m calling on that larger thing to envelope and contain me, so that my actions are driven not by the petty concerns of “me” - wanting control, quiet, whatever - but by that far larger, far more compassionate and loving something.

This morning, I thought I was taking Ashton to the beach. But we weren’t getting much farther than our parking spot near the shore of Venice’s Grand Canal. I could surrender to that. “It’s good enough,” I thought, “to be by this algae-filled water. I don’t have to control everything. I can let go”. There were pigeons - then a duck - then two beautiful snowy white egrets (or herons, I can’t always tell which is which). But Ashton kept getting too close to the water and almost falling in. Which wasn’t a good time for me. So I put him in the stroller and walked to the boardwalk. And he screamed…and screamed …and screamed.

My first reaction when confronted by a screaming almost-two-year-old, is to scream right back: either at the toddler or at no one in particular. I did that a lot the first time around. It felt like a natural protective mechanism: not a parenting mechanism, but an urge towards self-defense. A tantrum can be a violent thing, and, coming of age in The Bronx, I learned to protect myself early in life.

But I didn’t scream. I walked back to the car not screaming. When I put Ashton in his seat, he said “It’s naptime.”

I surfed the waves of his intense emotions. With the help of prayer, I’d surfed mine. I’d prayed. I’d found Love.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thanks to my anonymous benefactor for the Body Glove wetsuit.

At the beach this morning, I watched a surfer wipe out painfully. Standing on his board, he tumbled headfirst in an awkward somersault over the front of his board. From my spot on the sand, I thought it was really ugly, exactly something I wouldn’t enjoy. Like flipping over the handlebars on a mountain bike.

When I got home, I did yoga and then my spirit traveled to the River Niger, where it often goes for relief and sustenance.

The river spirits are different from the ocean spirits, calming and purifying rather than exhilarating and enlivening. Near the shore, a man sits on the ground under a saggy canvas lean-to. He is a skinny black man with very dark skin. He looks like an ebony statue coated with dust. His tent is cool and I am always damp from swimming when I visit him. He shows me a fish flailing out of water. It suffocates in the air, out of its comfort zone and desperate to return to the familiar.

This morning, the cell phone got shut off. Other expenses press down as well. There are choices to be made: between kids’ shoes and auto repairs, and honesty and pretending that, financially, everything is a-ok. I have been here, in a multitude of ways, many times before. Cliche alert: Financial desperation fits me like an old shoe.

On the road to her dreams, every heroine encounters a sign that announces in large letters: “Make U-Turn Here.”

Below those words, in lines of smaller print, it continues: “You are not one of the people who is allowed to be happy. You are one of the people who must scrape and suffer and watch others have fun.” As if it were an eye chart, the words diminish in size: “You are in danger. If you continue on this path, you will lose everything you cherish: security, stability, your home, your family. You will lose the love of everyone you care about. Do not continue. If you are wise, you will make this U-Turn and let everything return to the way it was.” Today that sign would emphasize: “Get an office job. Cell phone bills are very important.”

In the past I have stopped to read this sign, and I have heeded its warnings. I have been courageous, but only up to a point. Honestly, who wants to lose everything she cherishes? Cell phone bills are important. Today, however, there is more than a sign on a desolate road. There is a man, and a fish, and the river and the beach.

When we promise to do something for others, when we promise to do something for the sake of something greater then ourselves (like humanity, like the ocean, like the planet), the hardest part is making the promise in the first place – and then keeping it. The hardest part is not coming up with the money to make ends meet, the hardest part is having faith.

I am the fish out of water. But it's not really me. It's the me I was before today. I am not alone and I can ask for help every step of the way. I don’t have to figure this out all on my own.