Not Bad at All

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The crumbling gingerbread house is barely hanging in there on the dining room table, next to my menorah from Hebrew school graduation. The fake log made of coffee grounds is fake crackling in the fireplace. The cranky child is finally asleep. The PMS tea is steeping. The computer paper snowflakes are clothes-pinned to the barn lights. The tree is my best one yet; really, it is. Our house guest walked into the house this evening, looked at it and just said, “Thank you.” I shed a little tear.

The world is quiet, save the soft churning of the dishwasher and the washing machine. Which is to say: quiet enough. It’s never quite the Hallmark card/Pinterest board/Barbie Dream House, is it? But it’s still pretty great.

The thing that comes to mind are Snoopy’s words of wisdom from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (Yes, I played Snoopy in summer camp. Of course I did. Rachel Weintraub, witness!):

Not bad. It’s not bad at all.

Love you all tonight. I’m sure that’s a song, too.

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Bodies in Motion

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This holiday was more stressful than usual, for no particular reason. Sure there were work deadlines and money hemorrhages and family drama and too much food and too little sleep, but there always are. So why this year did I feel so shut down? Even my latkes sucked this year, and my latkes NEVER suck. I found myself curled in a ball on the upstairs couch more often than I would have liked.

When I begin to get overwhelmed and anxious, I react by trying to control the situation. I have multiple to-do lists, color coded, on different sized note pads and post-its. I’m sure if I get to the end of the to-do list, I will find…freedom. Aaahh. Spaciousness. Wide sky. I’m convinced that if I just throw myself with enough gusto into doing doing doing, I will round a corner one day and see the finish line. I will run through the ribbon with my arms held high in a victory pose and then (and only then) will I feel at peace.

I’m not sure why I persist in this delusion, when it has never once worked.

In service of this unrealistic goal. I employ generous measures of self-denial. The first form this denial takes is neglect of my physical self– rejection of my body and its needs. I don’t eat or I mindlessly eat too much. I don’t exercise, because I don’t have time. I don’t stretch and my old back injury acts up, so I take more and more ibuprofen and muscle relaxers and “power through.” The ibuprofen upsets my stomach, so I scarf antacids by the handful. I don’t sleep well because I can’t stop running through the list in my mind.

The plan the whole time is that, when I reach this mythical finish line, I will “take better care of myself.”

Perhaps you have such a plan. Perhaps you imagine the finish line is January 1, and you can abuse yourself in a method of your choosing until then, when things will finally change, like, forever after.

Except they won’t, and you know it. When I began to face the truth– that my resolutions almost always crumbled before January 15 rolled around– I stopped making them. Now, I try to see the New Year as a useful marking of time rather than a clean slate. Because I have come to believe there is no such thing.

My body is the scene of more that one crime in this lifetime. Crimes done to me and crimes I’ve committed against myself. I have legitimate reasons for wanting to shut it off at the slightest provocation. I resent my body and its annoying needs, its troublesome memories and emotions, its alarming register of the passing years. But I have learned time and time again that it is my only way back to feeling grounded and present in the world.

I went to an exercise class on Christmas Eve (dreaded because I had played truant for so long). I went for a long walk, when I had absolutely no time to do so. I began rolling out of bed into a yoga pose or two. Slowly, I started to feel a bit less like a walking to-do list and more like a human inhabitant of this earth.

So again, I go back to the beginning. I go back to my body. Not one day a year, but every day. Each morning, I must choose to say, Hello, Body! I know you, house of all I’ve witnessed and thought and experienced in this lifetime. I see you, you have carried me this far. I feel you, and you are not half bad.

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A Very Tango Christmas

I’m squinting at the screen through puffy eyes and a bad hotel coffee headache, overlooking the marina at Shelter Island in San Diego. For my Christmas present, Scott not only bought me new sparkly red tango shoes, he also sent me out of town for the weekend to dance in them. I’m rooming with my tango guru Jamie Rose and in between hours upon hours of dancing a day, we’ve been eating Godiva chocolates, taking baths and listening to Deepak Chopra meditations (I know, moms, please don’t hate me). I can’t believe that a mere few days ago I was in full-tilt Christmasville. It’s a different world.

On Christmas morning, I made epic latkes and we had T’s aunties over for breakfast. The day was an explosion of robot godzillas and mechanical zombie bugs and dance parties on the bed. Later, we watched Nightmare Before Christmas (T’s choice), ate Chinese food and had a massive meltdown, but nothing unexpected. Two days later I still felt hungover as I left a house littered with the aftermath- fire hazard Christmas tree needles ground into the carpet, discarded ribbons intertwined with the dust bunnies in the corner of the living room, toys with no place to go living on top of the coffee table.

A side note: if you’re looking to make latkes, I highly recommend Tina Wasserman’s tutorial. She has some handy tricks. My latkes were the best ever (just look at ’em). Scott kind of has a crush on Tina. I know this because he watched 20 minutes of youtube latke tips with me and there is no other possible explanation.

I nearly had an anxiety attack from the guilt as I was packing for San Diego. I’ve gone out of town plenty of times for work, but I’ve never left T for the weekend for fun. Scott reassured me that I would almost certainly find a way to make the weekend into work, seeing as I don’t really do fun all that well. Or rather I don’t really do anything all that well if I’m not writing about it. I feel unmoored if I don’t have a secret purpose in any given scenario- a reason to take constant notes in my head.

Tango is actually a great remedy for this. Even if I do run back to my room and journal about my experiences after class, I can’t (as I often do elsewhere in life) write in my head as I’m dancing. Tango takes a tremendous amount of focus. You can’t be anywhere else but in your body or you’ll step all over your partner and dance like Frankenstein. I danced with an interesting mathematician yesterday, who told me that tango’s biggest gift to him was that it gives him a space in his life that he’s more than just a big walking, talking brain- he actually has a body.

As the New Year approaches, I’m reflecting on my hopes and goals for 2013. I always try to avoid New Year’s resolutions, because they seem to be just another big stick to beat myself with- a list of all the ways I can’t stand myself. But this seems a worthy goal: to spend more time fully in my body instead of stuck in my brain chatter. Back to it!

Letting it Fall Out Your Feet

I recently told a friend a trick I invented as a teenager, and it worked so well for him that I felt inspired to share it. I’m not sure why I’ve kept it to myself all these years. It has something to do with my worry that it’ll lose all its secret power. But I’ve decided to believe that’s not how the universe works. And now, I’ve officially given it way too much of a buildup. You’ll probably all be like- DUH, everyone knows that one.

As a teenager, I had a problem with inappropriate giggling and/or weeping (still do, sometimes). This was a problem for me as a soon-to-be star of stage and screen, but also in AP History class (the French Revolution is no laughing matter), synagogue, delivering my grandmother’s eulogy etc.

I came up with this: if I’m ever in front of an audience and I feel an inappropriate urge to cry, I let the tears fall out my feet. The ground can take it. It’s big.

I use it less in real life than I do on stage. In my real life, I’m fortunate to have plenty of space for inappropriate emotional outbursts. It’s not like I spend my days in corporate board meetings (though I imagine that would be a great place to use this).

But when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, I was completely unhinged. I felt like I had a responsibility to protect my son from not only the horrific story but also from the emotional fallout. It’s not that I don’t want T to see me having difficult emotions- he sees me sad and mad plenty, believe me. It’s just that I didn’t have any context to offer him and I thought it would be confusing and worrisome. Really, what I wanted was to be present and grateful, not to veer off into some anxiety spiral. So every time I would look at him and the horrific slideshow would start to flash before my eyes, I let the tears fall out my feet. I did it about twenty times a day for a couple of days until my anxiety stabilized a bit.

A friend of mine told me that whenever she has paralyzing mom anxiety, she sings. I use that too, now. We all develop our own personal little language with the world around us- ways we ask for help, ways we get through the day. This is one of mine. Hope your days have been merry and bright, and if by chance you still feel an uncontrollable urge to cry, try letting it fall out your feet.