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 hey...to 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 thing...one 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.