The Man burns in 16 days!!!

“THE MAN BURNS IN 16 DAYS!!”

SIXTEEN DAYS!!

We’ve been preparing for this “camping” trip since we bought the tickets in March.

It’s interesting how many people here in the Midwest have never heard of Burning Man. Growing up in Southern California, it’s as well-known as Vegas and Tijuana. (I’m sure you’ve heard of Vegas…Tijuana is a well-visited tourist trap on the border of San Diego and Mexico). Those that have heard of BM usually have the same reaction that I did initially–“isn’t that a hippie festival with lots of sex and drugs??” Just like the evening news shows only what’s most shocking to get your attention, the perception of the 7-day event has gotten boiled down to frivolousness.

It all started over an alcohol-infused July 4th party at a friend’s a year ago. We’re a fun group of over-grown middle-aged teenagers, and we were discussing our bucket lists. It was fascinating to hear how different each of our lists were. We decided right then and there that we would not only write down the #1 bucket list item on each of our lists, but that we would, in solidarity, do everything possible to help one another make their number one bucket list dream come true. Mine is learning to scuba dive; another’s is singing karaoke in a crowded bar; another’s is running a half-marathon; and so on. And my husband’s was “attend Burning Man.” We went around the group one-by-one, describing our choices and what they meant to us and why they were important to us.

I am a firm believer in validating people’s feelings and experiences, mostly because mine weren’t growing up. Years of therapy have made me aware of how necessary it is to validate one another on this planet. I have taken to heart each of my friends’ bucket list choices but unfortunately, we have not progressed to crossing any of the choices off any of our lists as of yet.

We are about to cross off a big one–I’m attending Burning Man with my husband next week!

In the five months that have transpired since we purchased the tickets (which, by the way, are incredibly expensive and almost impossible to get–30,000 tickets sold out in 35 minutes this past March) I have watched countless YouTube videos and read even more articles on “Surviving Burning Man” than my teenage daughter has watched episodes of “Futurama”. My emotions about BM continue to see-saw between utter panic and unbridled excitement. It’s a bigger-than-life adventure, and if you Google anything about BM, watch the videos of the art.

The biggest problem for me when people ask me “what’s Burning Man?” is trying to describe it. It’s not a festival. It’s not a sex-and-drug hippie free-for-all. What it is is hard to describe, and since I haven’t gone yet, the best I can do is explain that it is a camping trip like no other.

It takes place in a remote area somewhere in Nevada. People come from all over the planet to create a man-made city called Black Rock City that exists only one week a year. It is a journey of self-reliance, as there are no trees, no stores, nothing to buy or rent. You set up your camp and bring everything you need to survive in the harsh atmosphere of the “Playa”–the surface of the campground is a powdery dust made of alkaline and the temps reach in the hundreds during the day and dip to the fifties at night. Each person is recommended to bring a gallon and a half of water to drink a day–that’s about 20 gallons for the two of us–not to mention food for seven days. There’s no campfires allowed, and the most important of the 10 Principles of Burning Man are “leave no trace”. There are no trash cans.

The emphasis is on giving and participating. It’s not something you just go to and sit and watch. “Radical inclusion” is what it’s called, and my gift will be free life-coaching advice. Kind of like a Lucy from Peanuts giving psychiatric help for five cents. She’s no more qualified than I am but I’m planning on getting my certificate this fall.

All I know is, after hundreds of hours of Googling and YouTubing, it’s what you make of it. Burning Man is an ideology of leaving behind all competition, technology, and conveniences for one week to reconnect with your soul and your fellow man. I think of it like a shortened “Alone” (the History Channel series) but more fun and I won’t have to scavenge for any limpets.

The “man” in Burning Man is a gigantic effigy that stands for whatever you want it to stand for. To me, it means something similar to what Jack Black as Dewy Finn refers to in “School of Rock”: “…the world is run by The Man. The Man, oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall….M.s Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the Amazon, he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock-n-roll, but guess what oh no, the Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul!”

The night before the final day, the Man at Burning Man is set ablaze. And whatever that means to each of us who will be present to see it destroyed will have an emotional reaction that I imagine will be indescribable. I can’t wait. It’s at the end of the event for good reason.

The following day, the Temple burns. The Temple is also constructed to be destroyed. People visit the Temple as pilgrimage for many reasons, such as pray for lost loved ones or to seek forgiveness for transgressions. Thousands and thousands of notes are written and left inside the Temple and on Sunday, the last day, the entire enormous structure is lit afire. I’ve heard that it is just as emotional as burning the Man.

Aw we continue to pack and gather up everything we’re going to need to survive not only a week in the desert but about 30 hours in the car each way, I have moments of sheer panic as well as excitement. I’m not a fan of port-a-potties but hey, it beats pooping in the bushes, so there’s that. I look forward to time alone with my husband on the road trip of a lifetime. We are two weeks away from becoming empty-nesters, and frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for us to go on this journey.

And yes, there will be AMAZING art, there will be music, there will be people who take drugs (unfortunately)and there will probably be half-naked people.
But that’s missing the point. For a princess like me who doesn’t really like camping at all, even with modern conveniences like having a shower nearby, this will be the ultimate test of my mettle. How flexible will I be, how resilient? How will I cope with all the challenges of self-reliance? I’ve heard that emotional breakdowns are common on the Playa and I’m already planning mine. I need to think ahead how I will handle the hard things. I already know there will be lots of fun things to do–making friends, visiting the different camps that offer everything from bracelet-making to “free hugs” to the infamous orgy-dome. With 61 pages of themes to choose from, if anything, we will have an intense case of FOMO because a week isn’t long enough to do and see everything.

Black Rock City will be an experience like no other, and I’ve heard that it’s so amazing people actually have a hard time transitioning back into mainstream society once it’s over. For all I know, I will be one of those people.

Having an open mind and a positive attitude is the most important thing I need to remember to bring to Burning Man. It’s as important as bringing enough food and water.

I plan on leaving my laptop at home and allowing myself to be in the present. I plan to write more on here when we return of course, and share my experiences with you. But for one week, there will be no cell phones, no TV, no news, no contact with the outside world whatsoever.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

Feel free to visit these sites to get you started. Maybe BM should be on YOUR bucket list!!!

burningman.org

Sex and Death

When you heard rockstar Chris Cornell died with a “band” around his neck, did you immediately think what I did? That he didn’t commit suicide but rather died accidentally performing auto-erotic asphyxiation?

Oh come on now. Admit it, you did think of it.

And if society did its job, you felt guilty about it. Because “oh my god what would people think if he died masturbating??” So along with the media, you jumped on the suicide bandwagon, even though everything (so far) pointing to intentional suicide is negligible. Why is that?

Because as a friend told me last week that “it would be too embarrassing for the family if the truth got out that he died jerking off.”

So, if that’s what really happened in that room that night, it’s better to cover it up and lie about it because accidentally dying by masturbation is so much worse than
purposefully strangling yourself to end your life.

I beg to differ.

His wife has publicly “adamantly” stated that he was NOT depressed or suicidal. Family representatives called his death “sudden and unexpected.” In tandem, the “cause of death has been determined as hanging by suicide” was declared by the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, pending further investigation and toxicology reports.

I’ve lost someone to suicide, and I can attest that I would’ve much rather had my brother die in the midst of an orgasm than having shot himself in the face, which is what he did. His death was also “sudden and unexpected”, but the evidence proved it was indeed suicide. We can’t know yet whether or not Cornell intended to die that night, we have only the facts that he died with an elastic band around his neck and that he was alone. Everything else is speculative at this point, unless and until toxicology reports help paint a clearer picture of what happened in that Detroit hotel room that night.

To me, dying by auto-erotic asphyxiation is no different than dying in a car crash, accidental fall, or work-place injury. It is no different than if a man keels over from a heart attack during sex with his wife. People die accidentally all the time. Around 117,000 a year according to statistics.

When a person intentionally dies at their own hands, the pain they were trying to escape from is immediately transferred to their surviving loved ones. I know. I’ve been there. Suddenly, all you feel is pain. Their pain is gone, and yours has just begun.

The shock of finding out that the person you loved was so distraught that they saw no hope at all is overwhelming. The realization and hopelessness of not having “been there” to help prevent it “if only we knew.” The helpless feelings that will never go away. The nightmares of their last moments inflicting a most gruesome act upon themselves. The unanswerable questions of “why” that will never go away. These are burdens bestowed upon the grieving thanks to the selfishness of the act of suicide.

The underground buzz is that Cornell may have actually accidentally died from erotic asphyxiation. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Cornell was a good husband and father. He wasn’t with another woman (if he HAD been he might be alive today). He was alone in his room. He’d just had an amazing concert in front of over 5000 people. Maybe he wanted to masturbate when he got back to his room. And maybe being a sober addict, he needed an extreme form of stimulation due to fallen dopamine levels. We don’t know. I’m not attempting to solve his death here. I’m just frustrated that we seem to feel way more comfortable believing a man was psychologically unbalanced or mentally ill than died having a little unsafe sex. Why isn’t the media blasting PSA’s about the need to always make sure you have a “spotter” if you’re into AEA? Why are there only more postings of the suicide hotline and tips for managing your depression? In this sexually crazed society that contradicts itself with sexual images fucking everywhere, wouldn’t it be prudent to at least acknowledge what we’re all really thinking? It’s called “the elephant in the room” for a reason.

If Chris Cornell died by AEA, he wouldn’t be the first rockstar or celebrity to do so. Michael Hutchence of the successful 80’s band INXS as well as David Carradine and Robin Williams. By the way, it’s important to note that the cause of death in Hutchence’s case was covered up for years as a suicide, only to be admitted as AEA by his mother years later.

I’m disturbed that I live in a world that is so repressed that it collectively believes a self-inflicted intentional death due to a person in utter despair is more readily accepted than an unintentional death due to a person in a sexually euphoric act. Why does there have to be pathology? Why do we always have to place a judgement on everything? We “understand” that Cornell might’ve been depressed and had a “good reason” to end his life that night, and as long as the media perpetuates this theory, we will run with it. We can all “understand” that as a sober addict, he may have “fallen off the wagon” and “didn’t mean to die.” We can also “understand” that depression is a serious mental illness that often leads to suicide.

But why can’t we “understand” that some people get a kick out of auto-erotic asphyxiation and sometimes it goes awry and that person stops breathing, simple as that? People bristle at any sexual act that doesn’t take place within the confines of a one-man, one-woman marital bed. Holy guacamole should a little kink be the cause of a rockstars’ untimely death! And God forbid that at that moment of suffocation, he was orgasming? Say your Hail Mary’s just for thinking such a thing!

We can’t “understand” because we’ve been brainwashed not to. We’d rather leave his mourners with the belief that he was a true rockstar, the kind that make mythical legends. A tortured soul to the very end. Romantic.

This is sick thinking. There’s nothing romantic about suicide. But if we’re going to romanticize Cornell’s death, why can’t it be “romantic” that he was making love to himself and accidentally died? Why is this so hard for us to wrap our heads around?

Chris Cornell’s state of mind that night prior to his death is being analyzed and combed through as if it were lice on a child’s head, picked off and examined one by one. We will never know the answers, no matter how much forensic evidence reveals.

I truly believe his wife and children would benefit more if they were left with thoughts of his last moments as those of pure pleasure than of despair and heartbreak. They wouldn’t go on living broken themselves, torturing themselves forever how it was their fault, that somehow they failed him in his darkest hour.

Because sometimes, shit just happens.

13 Things You Can Do Right Now

If you haven’t spent 13 hours watching “13 Reason Why”, this blog post is for you.

And if you HAVE watched it, this is also for you.

Because I’m a grown up, I wasn’t able to binge-watch it like my teenage daughter did. But I knew I HAD to watch it in its entirety for three reasons–namely, it’s the most talked-about show right now, SOOOO talked about I got an email from my daughter’s school principal about their concerns about the show, and I lost my older brother to suicide 19 years ago.

I HAD to see this show. I had to see it for myself. I wasn’t content to let other’s opinions of it define its meaning for me. I had to watch every minute (without looking at my phone the way I often do while I’m watching TV) and missing a single word or eye-roll or nuanced glance. This show is apparently THAT important.

It took me a little over two weeks to watch it all. When I got to the penultimate episode, I knew the punchline would be huge, so I waited a couple days until I had complete and uninterrupted privacy to watch the final episode.

It did not disappoint.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”, a teenage girl in her junior year of high school experiences a series of unfortunate events as well as the usual teen angst (first job, being a new driver, problems making and keeping friends, high school, dating and boys) over the course of about six months that leave her feeling as though life is not worth living anymore, and chronicles her “13 reasons why” she feels this way in a series of 13 audiotapes she very methodically recorded and distributed prior to her actually committing suicide. Each tape focuses on a particular person in her social circle and she “talks” to each of them one-by-one. As these targeted folk listen to “their tape”–(“I’m number 11”, teen Clay Jensen fearfully admits), each person hears her voice from the grave holding them accountable for their part in “making her do it.” And one-by-one, we see how this information wounds them.

She’s dead and gone, and so many people are left suffering. This is where Season 2 will most likely pick up. Could they have stopped her? Would she be alive today had X-happened or not happened? Why didn’t she say something? How could I not know she was in so much pain? What kind of a lousy friend/boyfriend/sister/brother/spouse/mother/father/teacher AM I?? What could I have done differently? AM I responsible for their death? Is it true it’s my fault? If I wasn’t alive would they be alive now? The regrets of the living are too numerous to list. I KNOW EXACTLY HOW THEY FEEL. THE GUILT AND PAIN AND SHAME OF FEELING THAT YOU ‘DIDN’T SEE IT COMING’. THE HOPELESSNESS THAT THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT NOW. YOU CAN’T HELP THEM. MAYBE YOU COULD’VE WHEN THEY WERE ALIVE, AND THAT WILL TORMENT YOU FOREVER.

The show does an outstanding job of showing how deeply affected these kids and other assorted people (teachers, the principal, parents, etc.) are by what their fellow student did. SO affected, in fact, that the series cliffhanger ends with the character Alex (who’s mentioned on one of the tapes) apparently so distraught he shoots himself in the head.

Aside from the trail of broken hearts and souls left in the wake of the tornado that is suicide, it’s really important that you know that there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from killing themselves. It is a huge disservice to send a message that “if only” you did this or did that, that that person would be alive today.

Many people have claimed the show “glamorizes” suicide. If you haven’t sat through the final episode and shook with horror and disbelief watching “Hannah” take the razor blade she stole from her parents’ little mom & pop store and slowly rip the flesh on her arm, all the while shuddering and screaming out in pain as she does so, and then repeats it on the other arm, immediately bleeding to death; then seeing her mother finding her and holding her in her arms, pathetically,heart-wrenchingly begging, “you’re going to be okay baby” as I began sobbing myself, then yes, you go ahead and think that. There’s nothing glamorous about this at all. Trust me. It was more disturbing than anything I’ve ever witnessed.

The show does an amazing job of showing us how teenagers think differently than we adults do due to the fact that the pre-frontal cortex in their brain is still developing. This is the part of the brain that “gets” that actions have consequences, sometimes irreversible ones. Being a parent myself, I somewhat jokingly told both my kids when they were that age (one still is), “I will be your pre-frontal cortex for you. Yours in still under construction.” I have had numerous conversations with my teens that I understand they are going to make mistakes, hell, as their parent, I myself am making mistakes constantly and hope they don’t end up on some therapist’s couch someday about them. I tell them my role now is to help make sure they don’t make the “big” ones. The irreversible ones. Pregnancy, STD’s, DUI’s, drug and alcohol related anything. And yes, suicide has been discussed prior to this show. Having lost their uncle to suicide was something that has been discussed since they were very young.

I didn’t want them to know about their uncle, because as the show states in the commentary at the end, ironically, once a suicide has occurred, it is 50% more likely to occur within the radius of people most closely affected by that suicide. Hence, in the show, “Alex” has apparently succumbed to an attempt. Why would that be?? Mostly, because now it is an option.

It’s a lousy fucking option.

I began to feel that suicide is a selfish, chicken-shit way to deal with your problems. Yeah, go kill yourself and throw all of it on everyone who cares about you. Now your problems are OUR problems. Thanks a lot. The show does a great job of showing how “Hannah” does exactly that. And let me tell you, if the show continues to be written as well a it has, the grieving should next move into the grief phase of “anger”. Oh, I was so angry at my brother for killing himself. What an asshole. REALLY???!! Suicide?? What a sissy. How dare you!! Look what you did to Mom!! Look what you did to Dad!!Look what you did to ME! Look what you did to your brothers! Your nephew will never get to know you! I think I spent at least three or four years thinking my big brother was nothing more than an asshole for killing himself. I am still angry at him. His nephew is graduating college! The niece you never met is graduating high school!! WHERE ARE YOU GLENN?? WHY AREN’T YOU HERE FOR THIS!!?? YOU’D BE SO PROUD OF THEM!! The anger is always there below the sadness. The injustice of it all.

“Hannah” did not have thirteen reasons to justify taking her own life. If you haven’t watched the series you might be inclined to believe that’s the point of the show. It is not. The point is that thirteen people mistreated her in a variety of ways, and she felt unable to cope with the things that happened to her. She desperately looked for a way to climb out from her dark hole. She CHOSE to use what I call a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem.

Because that’s what it is. A “temporary problem.”

I’ll tell you one reason why “Hannah” chose to kill herself. She’d lost hope that her life would ever be any different. She truly believed—as many teens do—that her problems were NOT temporary. We grownups have the gift of experience and age to see that she is so young and has her whole life ahead of her. There’s life after high school!!! Most of us barely keep in touch with the people we went to high school with. If only she could see that!! I believe she didn’t see it because along the line, a variety of people did not validate her feelings. Teens feel that parents, teachers, even their friends “won’t understand”. I see why they might feel that way.

We parents especially have a way of belittling our teens’ problems because one, we are older and “know” that they’re temporary problems and two, their unhappiness makes us extremely uncomfortable. We do them a huge disservice every time we metaphorically pat them on their heads and tell them they’re going to be okay. How diminishing it that! If your teen is holed up in her room because her boyfriend dumped her, she’s hurting every bit as much (if not MORE so) than you would be if your boyfriend dumped you. Teens feel everything more intensified than adults do. The pressures of grades, social media, you name it, it’s harder to be a teen these days. (It always has been, but we didn’t have cell phones and social media). Cyber-bullying is a REAL THING. Navigating a life seen through a constant social media lens has got to be difficult to say the least. We can’t possibly know how it feels to have to sit in class day after day with people we wouldn’t have anything to do with once the bell rings at 3:00 o’clock but thanks to social media, there is no “end-of-the-day” bell. Kids comment publicly their likes and dislikes and everything they do and think is fodder for public discourse. How any teen can keep a good sense of self-esteem in today’s world is really a marvel. Our teens are like salmon, swimming upstream constantly. Think of how tiring that would get. It’s not hard to imagine a few wanting to just give up and float to the bottom.

In the Netflix show, the first episode shows how Hannah’s helicopter mom grabs her phone and talks to the boy she’s talking to to make sure it’s “appropriate”. Of course “Hannah” lies to her mom. This scene bothered me in so many ways but the gist of it is, we parents feel so helpless. Teens lie. How can you know when they’re telling the truth? We can’t bear to believe “our kid” would lie. And they’re good liars. And for the most part, they ARE “”good” kids. We walk a delicate line between giving them the privacy they crave and invading it to keep them safe. We try so hard to do right by our teens. Often, we fail.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is the realization that you once began so close–aside from having that child inside of me (you don’t get much closer than that!)–I remember not even being able to go to the bathroom without a child with me, sometimes, holding one on my lap. You go from knowing everything they’re doing 24/7, every morsel that goes in their mouths to everyone who has contact with them daily, to knowing only what they want you to know.

What was also missing for “Hannah” was truly knowing her worth. Not only had she lost hope that her situation would ever get any better, she lost her sense of worth. She was unable to see that she wouldn’t always be 17, and that the “world was her oyster.” She felt no one cared about her anymore, and she stopped caring about herself. The things that happened to her made her doubt her own self-worth. It’s often heard that the suicidal tend to believe others will be “better off” without them. To the non-suicidal person, this sounds crazy.

I firmly believe that anyone who’s suicidal is clinically depressed. Contemplating suicide is not done lightly or off-handedly. It is usually the culmination of many things, as “Hannah” expressed, that “just add up”. Suicidal people aren’t thinking clearly. They’re thinking from their pain. Have you ever tried to have a rational conversation with someone who’s had too much too drink? Whatever you say is not being heard clearly. I believe that’s the same with someone who’s suicidal. You can talk all you want about having “something to live for”, “don’t do this to me”, “it will be all okay”, but the messages aren’t getting through.

Especially if you’re not aware that they’re “drunk” (suicidal) in the first place.

Sometimes we can’t know what we can’t know.

But we can live our lives better. Like “Clay” says at the end of the series, “we have to do better.” He’s absolutely right. We HAVE to do better.

We have a responsibility as a society to treat each other better and to give a shit about one another. Yes, we as parents have a responsibility to try to be good parents. Yes, we as friends and co-workers and relatives and spouses we have a responsibility to be kind and loving in our daily lives. We as human beings have a responsibility to not put others down, and live by the Golden Rule. We live in a bullying society fueled by impossibly ridiculous standards we think we need to live by. The pressure to conform is not confined to the high school years, and anyone who dares to live outside the proscribed lines is considered open season to pick on.

I beg each and every one of you reading this to start paying closer attention to one another. If your teen/friend/mom/sister/brother/co-worker expresses a negative emotion, don’t invalidate how they feel and blithely say things will be better. They may not think so. Eye contact, a caring hand on a shoulder, a smile that says “I care” go a long way. If you see someone being mistreated, DO SOMETHING.

We need to hold our teens when they’re sad, not give them a pep talk. This is dismissive and invalidating and frankly insulting. Give them your attention when they’re talking to you. Validate them as human beings independent of you and remind them that they’re capable and know what’s best for themselves. There’s a delicate balance between knowing when to step in (“do I call the friends’ mom?” “Do I call the principal/teacher?”) and micromanaging their lives. Ask your teen what they need. Do they just need to vent? You know how good it feels to be able to just dump your shitty day on someone who will let you get it all out without offering solutions. This is called “active listening.” We need to know when we’ve made them feel inadequate. We can unknowingly send the message that they are incapable of knowing how they feel and need someone to make their decisions for them. This is crippling.

You were 17 years old once. Try to remember how insecure you felt. Remember the pimples, the self-absorption that comes from the embarrassing physical changes in your body. Try to remember how it felt to not be invited to prom, or a party, or sit alone at lunch. Try to remember how it felt to be ignored or belittled by your parents and boys you liked that always liked your best friend. Magnify that by a million, because your teens don’t get to leave everything in the classroom like we did. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook all recording it all for posterity. The double-edged sword of technology.

Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling. You know your kid better than anyone. Pay attention. It’s been said that 90% of all communication is non-verbal. I think we parents are guilty of seeing what we want to see sometimes. I know I’ve been guilty of it myself. I shudder to think how inadequate a parent I’ve been at times, caught up in my own drama and life and adult problems. I hope my kids know that they are truly loved for who they are, good grades and successes notwithstanding. As the amazing human beings they are. I hope they know that the world is already a better place just because they’re in it. They don’t have to “do” anything to have earned that. Whatever accomplishments they aspire to is whipped cream on the proverbial hot fudge sundae.

It doesn’t end when they turn 18. My brother was 40 years old when he gave up on life.

“When you know better, you do better.”—Maya Angelous

Now go out and do better!!!!!

Rub a dub dubb thanks for the grub

It didn’t happen often, and if it did it was usually a family of four or more and it was usually Sunday Brunch. I’d be walking at my usual brisk pace, glancing at all my tables checking on them one-by-one, every one at a different stage of their meal. Of the usual five tables I would have, one might be finishing dessert, one might be eating their salads waiting for their entrees, another might be waiting to order, one might be waiting for me to bring them the extra ranch on the side I’d forgotten, and one might have just been seated. Then came the crucial two-minute window check after a table had received their food to make sure everything was cooked to their satisfaction…… and WHOOPS!!!! I’d come to a screeching halt mid-sentence, “How’s everthi…..” when I’d see bowed heads and quiet chatter. I’d spin around and walk away as quickly as I got there. I learned it’s not polite to interrupt people when they’re praying.

I have never been one to thank a God for my food. I always thought it was a bit silly. I’d snidely wonder if they were praying they wouldn’t get food poisoning. And the fact that it wasn’t very common also made it seem that much more fringe behavior. Just like seeing a mom who’s breastfeeding her baby, many diners squirm seeing other diners pray. I don’t know why, but for some reason it makes people uncomfortable. At least in California. And honestly, I’ve been in Wisconsin now for almost seven years and I dine out a lot and have NEVER seen anyone praying over their food.

I really hadn’t given this whole “thanking” for our food business a thought until I saw an episode of the History Channel’s show, “Alone” recently. The ten contestants– whom are highly trained survivalists–are dropped off three and a half miles away from one another to survive as long as they can with minimal possessions in extremely remote areas. The contestant who “taps out” last wins a half a million dollars. The areas in Patagonia where they’re living is so remote there is no human population at all. They are completely and utterly ALONE as the moniker attests.

Maybe you’ve seen the show. If not, I’m sure you’ve seen the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway”, where he’s marooned on a desert island after the plane he’s in crashes and he’s the only survivor. Tom Hanks’s character Chuck Noland survived four years: the contestants on the current “Alone Season 3” have managed to survive 73 days thus far. The season finale is tonight and I couldn’t be more on edge and excited.

In “Castaway”, Chuck Noland is suddenly catapulted into this crazy situation. And that is the biggest difference between the movie and the reality show (other than the obvious). Tom Hanks’ character got on a plane as a passenger. He had not signed up for this adventure; rather it was thrust upon him. He opened boxes of cargo from the FedEx plane that he’d been on and found at the crash site and MacGyver’d his way to four years of survival until he was rescued. The “Alone” contestants CHOSE to be stranded on their desert isle. They have a walkie-talkie at their side 24/7 whenever they feel they can’t handle it anymore. There wouldn’t have been a movie had Chuck Noland been able to “tap out”.

I had never heard of a “highly trained survivalist” until I saw this show. And as a huge fan, I’ve watched all three seasons now, and I know I wouldn’t last longer than a week. I couldn’t catch my own fish and even if I could there’s no way I could bash its head with a rock to stop it from being alive, gut it, and then cook it. If there’s “roe” in the belly of the fish, I’ve watched contestants just take an index finger and scoop it out and shove it into their mouths. So disgusting. And lest you think, “well, I’d just eat plants”, if you’ve watched as many episodes as I have, you would learn that there isn’t enough protein in plants to survive in the wild. I have learned a lot about nutrition! It’s animal protein that allows these contestants to go the distance. The half-million-dollar carrot is a huge motivator.

So is survival, as demonstrated in the Tom Hanks fictional version. He’s trying to stay alive long enough to be rescued; these are contestants whose version of survival is equated with “becoming rich”. Not quite the same thing.

UNTIL TRUE STARVATION SET IN. It becomes less about a monetary prize and more about not dying.

My heart swelled and I burst into tears witnessing a contestant become extremely emotional watching Episode 6 a few weeks back. Carleigh, a 29-year old female survivalist from Alaska–whom I’ve been rooting for–was having trouble catching fish. The temperatures had dropped significantly, and she had suffered many failed attempts. She was, as all the contestants were, literally starving. In the episode, she walks out in her layers and layers of protective clothing for the umpteenth time to the rocky area where she puts her line once again into the freezing water, trying not to fall in because that would cause hypothermia instantly. Fragile and weak from starvation, she mumbles how desperate she is to catch a fish. It’s the only protein available and she hadn’t caught any in over a week. If she doesn’t catch a fish “today”, she will have to “tap out” and go home. And that is the LAST thing she wants to do. She’s gone this long–73 days–and mentally she’s handling the cold and isolation quite well otherwise. She’s just, well, starving to death.

And to her and our delight, she catches a large fish that appears to be a trout. She is SO grateful, she bursts into tears. She crouches down on the rocks and sobs, holding the fish up lovingly to the camera and says through her tears, “I am so thankful for this fish.” It is sunset, and it’s the first night in weeks she won’t have to go to bed hungry. She tells the fish how beautiful it is, and thanks the fish.

I have to admit, that one scene had a profound impact on me, so much so I had to share it with you. I joke from week to week that I wouldn’t last a week out there; the only thing I’d be good at would be talking to myself. And it made me question when was the last time I was truly grateful for the food I eat? When was the last time I closed my eyes and held my food in my hands lovingly and even took a second to think of how it got to my plate?

I’m not a vegetarian (even though I don’t eat red meat) and I feel ashamed now that I have never thanked the chicken or pig or turkey for giving its life for my consumption. And I’ve always said if I had to catch it and kill it myself there’s no way I could do it. When our food comes packaged so cleanly and sanitized it’s easy to forget it was a living breathing animal. I’m not the only one who doesn’t really take a moment to think about how it got there. There would be no obesity, gluttony or eating disorders if we all stopped and considered how our food gets to our tables.

As I eagerly await tonight’s season finale, I take away a feeling of gratitude that I live in a world of abundance and I’ve been lucky enough not to have been born into poverty. Many will go to bed tonight hungry. I’ve got enough food in my house to last me months if I stopped going to the store. I probably throw out more uneaten food than homeless people eat. It’s so wrong, and today it stops.

We need to close our eyes and bow our heads and thank the animal for giving its life for us. And don’t forget to thank the plants too.

I Resolve to………

I’ve always been one of those people who makes new year’s resolutions. I know, I know, you don’t, and most people stop making them after a lifetime of failing at keeping the ones they’ve made. But for me, there’s something about a fresh new year that fills me with hope and energy and the motivation to change things in my life that aren’t working for me.

From the word “resolutions” is the root word “to resolve”. Dictionary.com defines resolve as “1. to find a solution to a problem and 2. to decide firmly on a course of action.” Since resolutions tend to be little more than empty promises we make to ourselves, I take the definition to heart. But before a solution can be found and before a course of action can take place, the first thing that has to happen is a long hard look at oneself.

One year, I made a resolution to answer my phone every single time it rang. It’s crazy to think that the girl who had to have her own pink Princess phone at age 16 and got yelled at by her mother to “get off the phone!” more times than I can count hates to talk on the phone now. I had a really bad habit of looking at my phone and thinking, “UGH I’ll call them back later” and of course, never call them back. Unless it was a family member or my BFF, I would always let it go to voicemail. Or, in the olden days, the answering machine. And I would say now, years later, it’s still a challenge to me to just answer and deal with the person I don’t want to talk to. It gets it over with instead of churning inside me all day that “I need to call X back.” Procrastination is a whole other subject.

I’m also a chronically late person. I absolutely abhor this about myself, and for many years, felt completely unable to change until I was diagnosed with Adult ADHD last year. Suddenly, my whole life made sense to me. I realized that my concept of time really WAS different from most people’s. I joke that if I say I’ll be ready to go somewhere in 10 minutes, I’ll add, “ten minutes in football time” which gives me an out. Being on time is one of the hardest things for me to do, and it’s something I struggle with daily. I can get so wrapped up in an activity and forget completely anything else going on around me. I never once forgot to pick up my kids from school, but just ask them, and they’ll tell you how more than once they were the last kid still standing waiting for their parent to pick them up. Humbling.

There’s a misconception that resolutions are like watering your houseplants–tend to them once or twice a week and you’re golden. Au contrare my friend, resolutions are more like walking around with a paper cut that never heals. It’s constantly there to annoy you and remind you you’re a bit of a wanker.

I think through my resolution thoroughly, and I don’t always start exactly on January 1st. I get myself mentally prepared before I make any physical changes.
In trying to be on time, I walked myself mentally through how that may feel. Last year I let everyone know my resolution was to stop being late. I apologized to those who were affected most by it, and let them know I was going to take responsibility and accountability for my lateness. I was shocked to see how much it affected my loved ones. And here I thought it was a victim-less crime to show up 5-10 minutes late all the time.

I asked myself tough questions. “How does being late affect the people around me? Do they even notice??” (Um, yep). “How would being on time be an improvement for ME?” And “how does being late affect my life negatively?” And then further, “WHY am I always late?” and “What steps do I need to take to be on time?” And lastly, “What does being on time feel like?” vs. being late? These are hard questions that all had to get answered in my head before I could even embark on making any physical changes.

I didn’t realize when I vowed to “stop being late” that I honestly did not know when I was really supposed to show up!!I went too far at first and was chronically early. That was a mistake! Because it gave credence to my lateness. If I showed up to tennis early, the courts were still being played on, and I just sat there and waited for them to finish. To me, this was a colossal waste of time. I hated feeling self-conscious getting to a restaurant 15 minutes early and sitting alone. I couldn’t see any benefit to being early.

But I learned that there are degrees of “on-time-ness.” I watched the people around me for clues. It seemed that a five-minute window of earliness is most acceptable. Any earlier than that, well, you’re just a goody-two-shoes. Same with the five-minute late window. Any later than that, you’re just an inconsiderate louse.

I wish I could say I’m “fixed” and I’m now never late. Far from the truth, I’m disappointed to admit. It’s an on-going challenge. I would say that at least I’m more aware of why I behave the way I do, even if I have difficulty changing. I understand how my ADHD affects my thinking and actions and overcoming those mental challenges are difficult but I won’t allow myself to make excuses. If you are one of those people whose been irritated with me for showing up late, please know I’ve already beaten myself up over it.

The thing is, people do what works. Most of the time I’m only a few minutes late, and nobody really notices(I tell myself). There’s a payoff with everything that we do. So, how does being late benefit me?? THAT’S a hard one to answer. Since I honestly can’t find a single reason that being late is a good thing, why do I keep doing it??? Dr. Phil says people that are late are rude and attention-seeking, as in, “the party don’t start til I get there.” Could that really be ME?? That’s a hard truth to face. Am I acting out subconsciously?? ME???!! RUDE??!!! BRING ME A KNIFE WITH WHICH TO STAB MYSELF IN THE EYE!!!!

And that’s what keeping resolutions feels like. It’s facing the darkest parts of ourselves, the unlovable parts of ourselves. It’s seeing ourselves from a distance, and not liking what we see, and having the courage to admit our less-than attractive qualities out loud, and not just saying, “Love me or leave me, it’s just who I am” but saying, “Yikes, you love me despite this annoying thing about me?? Thank you! I will work to change it!!!!”

I’ve seen people laugh at hearing someone say they’ve made resolutions. I beg you to have compassion, and instead offer your encouragement. We all know how it feels to fail at something, which is why most of you scoff at making resolutions. It’s a fact that gyms fill up in January and empty out sooner than June. We’ve all been there, so don’t kick a friend when he’s down. Applaud him when he’s successful and hold his hand when he falls. It takes courage and hard work to change. Keeping resolutions is two-steps forward, three-steps back much of the time until the new habits settle in.

I know you’re dying to know what my resolution for 2017 is, but I haven’t nailed it down yet. I’m trying to distinguish goals from resolutions, because to me they’re very different. I have a goal to write more often and actually finish a book, but to me, that’s not a resolution. Also, I have a continuous goal to “get more organized” but to call it a resolution is inaccurate. I delve into my character, who I am vs. who I want to be, and that’s where I find it.

I’ll get back to you on that.

Use your voice and make a choice

Never in a million years did I think I’d find myself standing in line on a breezy evening to see Donald Trump, but alas, there I was. Tickets were free, and like the game shows I used to work on at CBS Studios in Hollywood, admission was first-come-first-served and more tickets than available space had been given out.

We arrived two hours early assuming that was plenty enough time. We were quite surprised to see the line was at least 500+ people ahead of us, and snaked around the parking lot into a muddy field my heels later sunk into. There were helicopters hovering above us–one a news copter covering the story and the other were police. There were armed guards peering out of every window of the facility watching us, and many more bullet-proof vested officers surrounding the entrances. A half-dozen protestors were calmly waving signs and were cordoned off away from the rest of the crowd. As we drove into the parking lot initially, I told my teenage daughter that I would’ve felt more comfortable if she’d let me out right there so I could join them!

I felt traitorous standing among such a large group of people I vehemently disagreed with, most of whom were wearing various Trump-supported T-shirts, ball caps and pins. There was a smattering of opportunists who walked up and down the seemingly never-ending line peddling homemade pins and T-shirts, my favorite of which were the ones that said simply, “I’m Deplorable”, in reference to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Cinton’s verbal attack on half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” I liked their sense of humor about it.  I had to chuckle.

Being at the Trump rally felt a lot like an out-of-body experience. I was incognito; definitely #NotAFan. I was accompanying my teenage daughter whom I presume must be in her rebellion phase. Not old enough to vote yet, but extremely passionate in her support for the Republican candidate. When she expressed her desire to attend the rally, I jumped at the chance to go with her, mostly because I feared for her safety. And seeing all the armed guards surrounding us, my worries seemed justified.

My daughter and I have had hours and hours of in-depth and lively discussions regarding this presidential campaign, and let me tell you, this 17-year-old is incredibly informed. Encouraged by curiousity and a global events class in school, she’s spent hours thoroughly reading all the candidates websites (how many of us have done so??) and contrasting and comparing them.  She is well-versed in the origins of ISIS and even I didn’t know what the acronym ISIS and its counterpart ISIL (used by Obama) stood for until she told me.  (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic State of Irag and the Levant). Do you know what the Levant is?? I did not. She explained to me “the whole group of countries ISIS occupies including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Isarel and Jordan.”

She and I have sat together and watched both the presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate, grabbing the remote constantly to stop and pause it so we could both defend our candidate and simultaneously grab our phones to fact-check as they slugged it out against one another. Thankfully, she and I are much more civil to one another!

She and I may disagree on the candidates’ stances, but one thing I can say about her is she does her research. She is well aware of the media bias, and takes everything the talking heads on TV say at face value. She is a master fact-checker. She knows the Constitution inside and out, and understands how the government works. She is highly frustrated with her friends that have turned eighteen and are apathetic and don’t plan on voting because they “don’t like either of them.” She preaches how important it is to have a voice and make a choice, as whomever is elected will make decisions that will affect our lives in many ways for many years, namely, as I pointed out to her, as they will most importantly be nominating justices to our Supreme Court. She cannot fathom someone having an opportunity to affect the outcome and not giving a damn.

We were about a hundred or so people back from the front of the line when we saw the crowd start to turn around and come back towards us. Their disappointed faces expressed what we feared, and that was that the venue had reached capacity and we weren’t going to be getting in. There was no big announcement, no “Thank you for coming and we are sorry we can’t accommodate you all. We hope you’ll remember to vote for Mr. Trump and here’s a free pin for your time” on a bullhorn as I’d have thought would be nice, considering we’d been there over 2-1/2 hours in the cold. But nope. Nothing. And thankfully, as calmly as we’d all stood there, we’d begun to turn around and head back for our cars. It was at this point that I realized there must’ve been at least 600-700 people still behind us in line! I later heard on the news there were actually over a thousand of us turned away.

I heard yesterday that Trump was so pleased with the turn-out of supporters for him that he is returning for another rally somewhere in Wisconsin. My daughter explained to me how Wisconsin is a “swing” state, and typically votes Democratic, but if Trump can get the ten electoral votes here, it would be the first time since 1984 thanks to Ronald Reagan. And it’s no coincidence I told her, that Trump and his VP running mate Pence blurt out Reagan’s name at every opportunity.

If Hillary had come to Wisconsin, my daughter said she’d “absolutely go” with me. And actually, the day after the Trump rally, Anne Holton, wife of VP nominee Tim Kaine, was in Milwaukee at a Clinton supporter event. I signed us both up, but we decided not to go because it just didn’t sound interesting to hear the VP nominee’s wife talk, and my daughter would’ve missed an entire day of school.  I admire my daughter for her open-mindedness and willingness to learn as much as she can about both sides.

Truth is, one of these two nominees WILL become our next President, regardless of how we grunt and groan about the two choices it’s boiled down to now. Four years will come and go, and what about the next election? If you feel disenfranchised, I urge you to get behind a political party or candidate you believe in, or work to change the system. You have more power than you think.

Will I got to the next rally with her if it’s nearby?

You betcha.

 

 

 

You can’t make me!

Growing up the only Jewish girl in my neighborhood, certain times of the year were always very upsetting for me. Back then, it was “Christmas vacation” not “Winter Break” as it’s called now (thankfully!) and it was “Easter break” not “Spring Break”. So when my friends begged me to go to church with them and “be saved”, I enthusicastically went along. Of course, there was a cute boy involved.

I was about fifteen years old, awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin and unfortunately, not very versed in Judaism. My parents raised us “just Jewish enough” to make it extremely difficult to go from “Jesus was a carpenter and that’s all” to “Jesus is the son of God”, but not Jewish enough to be able to defend those beliefs. We never went to synagogue, even though my grandfather spoke fluent Hebrew. We did however celebrate all the Jewish holidays, and I loved Passover because I got to drink Manischewitz Concord Grape wine. I never had a Christmas tree, never dyed eggs at Easter nor believed in Santa Claus.

I don’t remember how I got to the church that night because we were all too young to drive.  NO WAY would my mom have let me go to church! It was a weeknight, so I’m sure I told her I was going to a school-related function. This was when the “born again” Christian movement had quite a stronghold, and again, I felt left out. I was very excited to become “saved” and knew if I could just believe, I’d finally fit in somewhere.

I felt like I was cheating on my religion just sitting there. I was so uncomfortable. It’s like I had a crush on a new boy but hadn’t yet broken up with the current one. What if someone saw me? My secret would be out. What was a good Jewish girl doing in an evangelical Christian church??? It was a risk I was willing to take. My friends all had shiny happy faces, eager to see their friend “saved”. I had no idea what I needed to do to get there, but I was very willing.

The preacher, or whatever he was called, got up and spoke. I don’t have any recollection of what he said beyond calling those of us who had not yet accepted Jesus into our hearts to come forward and kneel, and ask forgiveness for our sins. Do WHAT???!! Get up and stumble across a dozen knees saying “excuse me” like I was in a ballpark to get a hotdog? Go up in front of hundreds of people and be noticed?! And have my sins on display for everyone to cluck their tongues at?? And as I sat there, starting to feel nauseated and embarrassed, my friends nodding and elbowing me to “go on, go up and get saved!!” I realized I didn’t have any sins I needed to be forgiven for, except maybe lying to my mom where I was. I felt ridiculous and frightened.

They were the tensest moments of my young life. I was trying SO hard to feel something. I didn’t. I didn’t feel Jesus, I didn’t feel like I needed saving. I was so frustrated with myself. What was wrong with me??? I couldn’t do anything right.

I froze in my seat, and despite the elbowings and encouraging faces of the cute boy and my friends, I couldn’t move. I stayed in my seat, and fought the impulse to just go with it to fit in. I just couldn’t do it, no matter how badly I thought I wanted it. My feet wouldn’t budge. It would’ve been disingenuous, and even at the ripe old age of 15, I couldn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t. It was a long ride home, my friends disappointed and worried about me because they wouldn’t see me in heaven after all. I just shrugged my shoulders.

I don’t think I ever confessed to my parents about that night, but if I had, I’m sure they’d have been proud of me for standing up for myself, especially in the face of peer disapproval. For a teenager, fitting in is paramount, and we are all biologically designed to seek connection.

But we shouldn’t have to abandon ourselves to be accepted.  Those “friends” weren’t friends–I soon learned they were sent by their church to proselytize and get new members. I saw how they left me alone after that and went after other kids instead.

And I realized that being different was okay. I tried to change, I tried to drink the Kool-Aid. I had the cup in my hand–it was up to my lips, but I just couldn’t do it.

To thine own self be true.