learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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growing up, learning

My Best Blogpost EVER!!!

 

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How did we get to this point, where everything is absolutes and superlatives? “The Best Trumpeter/Guacamole/Fill-In-The-Blank”??  “The Worst Comedian/TV Show/Things-In-The-World“??  Hype has gotten way out of hand, and while I’d like to blame certain über-judgemental politicians, I know that this trend to compare, pick apart and find fault with everyone else predates “The Donald”.  (Like for 50 years now!!)

Admittedly, it’s human nature to notice differences in quality, but was it always so vicious? We grew up with Montgomery Ward’s and  Sear’s Good – Better – Best!  – and I kinda miss it, that tolerance for “pretty good” – you sorta knew where you stood and what to expect when UPS dropped off the package. When did it become okay to trash everyone else’s efforts in order to establish one’s own superiority? How can Kobe Bryant be “arguably the best player of his generation” while Michael Jordan is “the greatest basketball player of all time” ?  Couldn’t we just enjoy watching magnificent athletes make amazing shots without the constant chatter of pundits announcing THIS one is so much better than THAT one?

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It took me many years and a lot of soul-searching to feel alright about being a black-thumbed gardener, a lousy bowler, a mediocre pool player and a less-than-stellar cook – to get to the point where I could perform those functions and actually enjoy doing so. (Why? Maybe because my parents didn’t believe in the “learning curve” – at least not so I could tell; we were taught that you either “got it!” and were brilliant right out of the box, or you should hang it up, like the old one-liner: “if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you!”)

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Or maybe because the deck’s been stacked – the media has decided to turn us against ourselves and one another because there’s profit to be made. Never mind how unhappy it makes most of us; it’s in somebody’s intere$t to turn everything from singing and dancing to driving a big rig thru the snowy tundra to getting married to surviving on a desert island into a competition. They’re using manufactured dissatisfaction to get us to buy whatever it is they’re selling but don’t have enough confidence to offer it without the hoopla of hyperbole.

Which means, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth buying.

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No, thanks! Not for me!

 

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learning

Blogwatch 2/19/16

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Since the desert only looks like this at certain times of the day, sometimes I spend time reading other people’s blogs!

a few online posts that interested me this week:

Because of Toni Morrison, I will never be a writer – too late!  You’re already a writer!  🙂

Guess I’m right (write?) and it’s a good idea to turn on the Idea Lamp: Why Rituals Make You Productive, Creative

A couple decades ago Mark and I signed up for the Flash Forward Institute, a month-long industry networking program that promised a year’s worth of career progress within 30 days time – and while it was not quite as miraculous as advertised, it DID make a difference, along the lines of what’s suggested HERE and HERE

I remember being fairly young (early teens) when I first experienced that “mental math” of figuring out whether my life was in danger merely for being born female. That was 50+ years ago and I honestly thought we as a society would have gotten past this sexism nonsense by now. This piece in Medium perfectly captures why my terror persists – To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

and this post really hit a nerve with “finger-sized bruises” under long sleeves — that was the first clue I had 45+ years ago that the boyfriend I’d thought was okay was actually an abusing sociopath who stalks me to this day. The Story I’d Hope For You

 

 

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learning

The Idea Lamp is lit

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Bubble lights for bubbling-up ideas!

The Muse needs to be cultivated and cherished. Creative urges can’t be taken for granted without repercussions and the chance that we’ll forget our original ideas/ideals. I think it’s important we feed our souls with stuff we find personally enlightening – we ignore our creative impulses at our own peril.

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Himalayan lamp adds salty energy

A few years ago I purchased a Himalayan salt lamp, plugged it in at a corner of my office and then never turned it on.

Recently I relocated it to the top of my desk and every time I turn it on, it’s like smiling at myself — a tip of the hat to whatever creative ideas may be percolating — an acknowledgement that I DO actually believe in myself and may even have something to say.

Apparently I’m not alone: http://goingreno.com/2016/01/08/diy-travel-candle/

IMO, whatever symbol or talisman fires our imagination, we’re wise to turn it on – because you never know where you’ll find your next bright idea!

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learning

Be It Ever So Humble

I’d grown up as a “renter”, so it felt natural to move around Manhattan in the 1970s, back when it was actually  possible to move from apartment to apartment pretty much on a whim.  And I found something to love about each place I lived;  the coziness of my first basement studio apartment at 7th Ave. and 21st Street…

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the convenience of living in midtown, behind the Stage Deli…

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that summer on West 81st Street, sharing an apartment with my older sister, next to a gospel church (Sundays were boisterous!!)…

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then back to midtown at the Whitby on West 45th Street…

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and my “deluxe apartment in the sky” (26th floor!) on the Gold Coast in Chicago.

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Apartment living continued after we got married and Mark showed me how to turn our midtown flat into a HOME, customizing the space to our needs; something we did at every location we moved to thereafter. There was the Mar Vista apartment, where the banjo player from Shakey’s Pizza practiced every day the exact same songs with the exact same mistakes… the lovely Kings Road apartment, where carpenter ants perfumed the air and sometimes put on an interior aerial act… the luxurious Walton Place apartment in Chicago (with the wife-beating police captain living across the hall! – see  House of Hate! )…. and the apartment on Division St. we viewed and rented on a Sunday morning, which turned out to be the only time of the week when it was peaceful…

a 100-year old two-flat across from Wrightwood Park, which had Pepto-Bismol pink walls and ceiling when we moved in…

We scraped wallpaper, put in new phone and electric lines, painted, carpeted, installed insulation, theatrical curtains, kitchen cabinets and new light fixtures – we even put in a door to close off the den at one apartment!

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– a whole lot of stuff you’re not supposed to do unless you actually  own the place! We made it ours for as long as we lived there, and left every place in better shape than when we’d moved in.

But the biggest thrill was finding and moving to our own house in Van Nuys. Ever the renter, my dad disparaged it sight unseen as “a tract home” – (which I suppose it was, since it was built on a tract!?) – but it had been designed and built in the 50s by a film studio architect and had some unique features.

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It might not have looked like much from the street, but inside it was great! The ¾” solid mahogany paneling made the acoustics in the living room perfect for recording.

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We each had our own office…

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no office is complete without a schnauzer secretary!

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LOOKIT that tiny antique Macintosh SE on the desk!

and turned the dining room into the control room for our studio.

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Of course, we had to paint over the “baby’s room” theme and polka dot filigree in the offices – and that “ducks around the ceiling” motif in the dining room/studio had to go!

When you’re used to apartment living, the sheer amount of space in a house can be impressive; there was room to store everything – and a place to hang everything! – including the “Rose and Valerie Stained Glass Art Gallery” in the entry way.

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In the back yard was a Japanese garden, complete with a bridge over the koi pond, a gazebo and a pool house to hold anything that wouldn’t fit in the plentiful closets in the house.

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There was even a basketball hoop for impromptu pickup games with our more athletic schnauzers!

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The first couple years we had the “mortgage from hell” with a 2% interest hike every 6 months, so we did all the yard work ourselves to economize. Once we refi-ed, we could afford Julio, who came with his crew every week and turned our ⅓ acre into a lovely private park!

The rose garden bloomed!

The glads were glad!

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The apricots ripened!

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The ficus grew TALL!

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And the orange tree in the front yard produced the sweetest fruit!

In October 1995 I wrote 2 new Christmas songs and we began holding annual holiday song parties, inviting our friends to sing and play their latest creations! It was terrific fun to see so much talent right in our livingroom!

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the amazingly talented Randy Crenshaw!

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PepperJay.com & cowriter Leslie Brenner

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So many guests came one year that Justin Wilde (AKA Mr. Christmas) sat on the floor! – See christmassongs.com

Between solo performances, everyone sang from the caroling books we’d assembled. BTW, Here are demo videos to my 2 original songs…

We had many adventures and recorded lots of great music in the 10½ years we lived there. We also changed and improved a lot of stuff, upgrading the electrical panel, phone lines, HVAC, appliances, flooring, water filtration, plumbing pipes and fixtures – as well as cosmetic items like paint and track lighting.  The kitchen got a complete makeover, including a new wall as well as cabinet resurfacing…

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as did both bathrooms. As much as we’d loved it initially, after we’d invested so much time, energy and money, we adored our Van Nuys home!

Alas, it is no more. As it turned out, none of our rehabbing mattered to the people who bought it; they demolished the entire house, only retaining what was legally necessary to build on the property. Once again the 3 most important factors in real estate came into play:

  1. Location!
  2. Location!
  3. Location!

 

 

 

 

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learning, self-acceptance

GroupOn, GroupOff

It’s been well established that I LOVE a bargain, so naturally my curiosity is piqued by GroupOn and Living Social offers, which allow people to treat themselves in a fashion they can’t normally afford. Over the years I’ve tried a 2-hr. pool/billiards+drink deal (FUN!), a whole body seaweed wrap (MESSY!), acupuncture, facials, massages, new-to-me restaurants, carpet cleaning services, haircuts, hypnosis, dental cleanings, and I’ve purchased a battery-run skin brush, some Bed-Of-Nails acupressure pillows, gifts for loved ones… you get the picture. A few didn’t work out at all: Biosphere II, a shish-kabob restaurant (I hadn’t bothered to check the Yelp reviews) and the Tequila Factory – WAY the heck out of town on the Native American reservation inside the smoky casino – and unexpectedly closed when we finally got there!

The worst was the Air Duct cleaning offer, where 2 young guys showed up; one who began tramping around the house looking at the ceiling (casing the house??) while the other had me pinned in the kitchen with a bait-&-switch, since he had no intention of providing the service I’d paid for. I felt vulnerable with the dogs penned up across the house in my office and Mark away on business, and truly breathed a sigh of relief when the duo finally departed.  (I was able to get a refund from Living Social but the experience was a bit harrowing.)

One day I decided to treat myself, so I bought a $35 Groupon offer for an ionic foot bath

 

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with reflexology treatment and heaven knows what else. I’d been curious about this procedure since Mark has had such good results with using Kinoki pads every night and Ionic foot baths are supposed to be like Kinoki pads on steroids.

Dee was 10 minutes late for our appointment but then she gave me a complete tour of the facilities. I began to feel a bit hinky about things when she proudly showed off ALL of the “toys” she has for various treatments – from the Chi Machine
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to the SoQi bed
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to the DermaKinetics machine

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to the infra-red sauna…

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gizmo after gizmo, room after room for all the various treatment modalities she espouses. Dee personally provides facials, massages, BioTouch, EFT, ear coning, anti-aging LED light therapy, dermal rolling, aromatherapy, microdermabrasion, micro planing, galvanic current, wraps, peels; you-name-it, she does it!  (Made me think of the old saying, let’s just throw enough $%&T at the wall and maybe something will stick?)

She sat me in an electric massage chair (you know, where bars and rollers in the back move up and down and around), placed an infrared belt on my stomach, gave me a cup of alkalinized water and put my feet in the tub of warm water.  She told me NOT to wiggle my toes so that she could diagnose my ailments from the murky water when we were done. Then she proceeded to educate me about weight loss and why diets don’t work (hint: it’s because you don’t DETOX at the same time, so the toxins have nowhere to go, so you regain the lost weight to contain the toxins, so that your body will stay in “balance.” And all this time I thought it was due to going back to your previous way of eating that had got you fat in the first place?) After 45 minutes or so, the water looked like a very ugly, scummy pond, with slime floating on the top. Dee observed that the GREEN scum indicated that my liver was detoxing and the PURPLE scum had come from my pancreas and the BROWN from my gallbladder.  (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my gallbladder had been removed 15 years before.)

After cleaning the scum off, my feet got to soak in some nice clean water, got rubbed for 5 minutes each with her specially homemade scrub, and then dried and powdered with her special magic powder.  All this while she explained how I’d need at least 10 sessions more of this treatment, (5 weeks at 2x/week), to see any real change. She also talked about the wonders of ISAGENIX, which I recalled is a MLM (multi-level marketing) diet-shake company.   Hmmmm….

When I got home, I flashed back to an experience I’d had 21 years ago, right after Mark and I moved back to L.A.  We’d met a composer and his wife, who had been inordinately friendly to me – as in, she was my NEW BEST FRIEND!!!  I found out why after meeting with her for what was supposed to be a coffee date but which turned out to be a MLM telephone company meeting 30 miles away with a whole slew of her fellow salespeople.  When I told her that I’d switch to her phone company but had no intention of imposing on my friends and family to get them to do likewise… pffft!  That was the end of our budding friendship!

Dee gave me the exact same vibe.

So – anybody want to hazard a guess on whether I’ll ever return for my much needed, very-expensive detoxing ala dear Dee?

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

The Bumpy Road to New York

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I left the house while it was still dark, telling my half-asleep mother that I was headed “to the library” when she asked where I was going.  After hoofing it 2 miles to the Hartford train station, I bought a ticket and just… went! At 14, I was too afraid to explore much of anywhere once I got to Grand Central Station, but I DID make it across 42nd Street it to the Library, so I hadn’t been exactly lying.

Train to NYC! New York, New Haven & Hartford

I think my folks understood – they’d always had a yen for New York – the theaters, the museums, the glamour – New York had it all!  There honestly wasn’t any other place to be as far as they were concerned – witness that they both retired to Manhattan in their 50s and breathed their lasts there 20+/- years later.

So as soon as I’d graduated, that’s where I needed to go. I didn’t have a job lined up or money in the bank, so I temped for Kelly Girl that summer and saved my sheckels while calling and sending out resumes and cover letters to every company listed under “Music” in the NY Yellow Pages. At the end of the summer, finally a job offer appeared: librarian at E.B. Marks Music on West 50th Street, a company that published some of my teacher Hale Smith’s compositions. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me and I was SO grateful to finally have a MUSIC JOB in NEW YORK!

I got the idea of living in an office from my dad, who had camped out in a friend’s NY office while trying to break in to TV sketch writing a decade earlier. I think he may have lasted 10 days before he threw in the towel and returned to Hartford; he said he’d gotten lonely and missed us too much, but I always suspected that when the Big Apple didn’t greet him with open arms, he became discouraged and felt too old to be couch surfing and taking Marine baths in the sink instead of showering at home.

Dad had always advocated living within walking distance of one’s employment, so when I was offered the job in August of 1972, I figured that the small 2-room office on the 11th floor of the Ed Sullivan Building on 53rd and Broadway would be perfect! It was only $110/month, in a 24-hour building, so I could come and go whenever I wanted. The ladies’ room was across the hall, so I planned to join the YWCA 3 blocks south on 8th Ave and get in a daily swim (so virtuous!) before showering and strolling over to my job, thereby expediting both exercise AND personal hygiene!

And so the family helped move me and my earthly possessions (2 suitcases of clothes and a trunk full of music scores, LPs and stereo equipment) into my new office-home. Some voiced concern over the fact there was no kitchen, bath or furniture, but I had a hotpot, I’d packed a pillow and envisioned no problem sleeping on the carpeted floor, so… no worries!

The first few days were pretty uneventful. So what if the doorman looked at me a little strangely as I exited the building just as everyone else was entering each morning?!  It was Autumn In New York!! I was a bit lonely, I didn’t have a phone and since my salary was only $100/week ($77.50 after taxes!), entertainment and dining options were extremely limited. But I had my hotpot and my stereo and the commute to work was sure easy!

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My good friends Peter and Cathy were getting married on Labor Day, so I dressed and got ready to take the train up to Stratford that morning, only to find that I’d been LOCKED IN! I hadn’t anticipated that this being a national holiday, my 24-hour building was closed and I could not get out!  I panicked until I managed to locate a janitor to unlock the door and fortunately, he was there when I returned late that night. But I began to feel a little less confident in my choice of housing.

After a few days, the daily swims became less frequent – not just because I wasn’t that interested in swimming, but… I began to feel a bit too vulnerable stripping down every day in front of strange women, some of whom seemed a bit overly interested in my body!? –  wouldn’t a Marine bath do for today? (and tomorrow, maybe?  and even the next day?)  So much for my athletic exploits at the Y!

Every day the walls of my office-home moved in a little closer; each weeknight the cleaning lady would unlock and open my office door, waking me in the wee hours to empty the trash — it always surprised us both. And the sideward glances from the doorman were getting more pronounced every morning.

After subsisting on instant cocoa, fruit and sandwiches for a week, I knew I needed to find a real apartment with a real bed, a real bathroom and a real kitchen with a refrigerator and stove – even if that meant dealing with roommates and having to take the subway. I asked around at work and was told about some affordable places in the East Village which turned out to be so rugged on the outside, I never rang the doorbell to even see the inside!  Then I applied to a real estate company that didn’t have any places I could afford but who wound up wanting to sublet my office in the Ed Sullivan Building.

So after 2 weeks of office-living, I moved for a week to a cheap hotel on West 112th Street where I had my first encounter with cockroaches. Then, knowing of my plight, Hale Smith’s wonderful wife Juanita put me in touch with a woman she worked with at the U.N. who needed a roommate for her Riverside Drive apartment at 125th Street. While  I could no longer walk to work, it was SO nice to have an actual BED to sleep in, not just a pillow on the floor!

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Riverside Drive at 125th Street – thank you, Juanita!!  🙂

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