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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is Surf, Pray, Love?

In 2005, I was suffering from the lingering effects of post-partum-depression and post-traumatic-stress-disorder brought on by a really long and trying labor and childbirth two years earlier. Despite continual personal and cultural assurances that I should have been happy with my beautiful and healthy baby girl, I was not - happy. Profoundly not happy. Eyeing-the-bottle-of-Vicodin-in-the-bathroom not happy. There was so little of me left, I could hardly believe I was walking around.

I was stressed. I was depressed. And I was having strange experiences - as if invisible people were throwing things at me: like puffs of cotton, or dandelion fluff. I heard the voice of a man who had recently died talking to me in my head. And I inadvertently exorcised a ghost from my office at work.

I met some shamans and they performed what is called a “soul retrieval.” It was intended to be very helpful and it was. Its effects went beyond what therapy ever could have provided though, afterwards, I did begin seeing a therapist and that too was very helpful. In fact, I began seeing a therapist and I began seeing a shaman. And then I went to the shaman’s shaman. And this is what he said:

“I can’t do anything for you. Only the ocean can help you. You must go to the beach – as often as you can.” The water spirits, he said, they would help me.

Did the water spirits help? Of course they did.

They’d been helping me my whole life, only I’d never thought to call them that. I’d always loved the beach. My first screenplay was about the beach. I’d made a beautiful short film about my childhood summers on the Jersey Shore. I’d always dreamed of living by the ocean, and had moved to Santa Monica three years after arriving in Los Angeles. Going to the ocean, as often as I could, was not a hardship.

And life went on. I recovered, entirely, from the PPD and the PTSD and I joyfully gave birth to my second child. And I never forgot that, for me, when all else fails, the water spirits have the answer - or the healing, or the peace, or maybe just the love, that I need.

Like millions of people around the world, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love.” It spoke to me: as a woman, as a seeker and as a human being. But, you know, it kind of fell short in speaking to me as a wife and a mother who works hard at my marriage, raising two kids and making ends meet. “Eat, Pray, Love” was the tale of a spiritual journey dependent on a kind freedom and financial independence that is, frankly, entirely foreign to my post-childbirth life. And yet, spiritual journey is available to all human beings, all the time, if they have the courage and faith to look for it.

“Surf, Pray, Love” is my spiritual journey. A year’s journey among the water spirits: exploring the beach, the ocean and the people I meet along the way. It’s a journey that began as a child, that began again when I met a shaman from Africa, and begins again now, as I learn to surf and re-align my life along the tide schedules and those ever changing rhythms called “today’s conditions.”

I've been dreaming of surfing for months. The water spirits have been calling me. I started out thinking I was doing this for me. But given what's happened to the ocean in the last month, I now choose to believe that I am also doing this for her.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Will the money really follow?

May 13, 2010

I may have found the wetsuit I’ve been looking for on Craig’s List for sixty dollars. It’s a Body Glove 3/4 size 11. Of course, I don’t seem to have sixty dollars to pay for a wetsuit right now. I have sixty dollars for groceries. For phone bills. For auto insurance. But for a wetsuit?

Finances are very tight in this family and an enormous component of this project is to demonstrate my commitment to creating a rewarding life for my family by pursuing a dream. I’ve always heard that if I do what I love, the money will follow. I’ve even said it to other people. But I’ve never believed it. Not really. Not in a “pay for the wetsuit instead of the phone bills” kind of way.

Last night I had a dream I was doing some kind of water training. I was practicing diving under waves that would otherwise knock me down. I wasn’t on a board. I was in the water. Treading or standing, I’m not sure. Over and over, I would watch a wave approach and then dive under to avoid getting tumbled. My coach was an older, almost portly, football-coach type guy: a balding white man. All business. Shirtless.

After a few rounds of this drill, the next practice was to keep my head down, facing away from the waves, and dive under without seeing the wave first. The purpose was to be prepared before the wave hit. It made sense in the dream, now not so much. Facing away from the crests of giant waves, they would wash over me without my knowing when they would hit. It was suspenseful, scary and I was so apprehensive it was hard not to sneak a peak at what was heading my way. I think the exercise was about mastering surprise and always being ready/prepared.

In another part of the dream, I was pregnant and already showing. It was too late for an abortion. How hadn’t I noticed? I remembered having unprotected sex with Brian, but it had only been a few nights earlier and I was already so pregnant. I wasn’t exactly happy but I was resigned: gearing up to take a deep breath (!) and do it - have another child.

Maybe it's this project. It's too late to turn back. Because I want it to be too late. I'm tired of quitting things that go to slow, that get too hard, that don't look like they're paying off. I'm tired of being that person who has a believable excuse for every unfulfilled dream.