Sunday, January 30, 2011

Morton and Marcie

My Cousin Morton passed into spirit this past week. I don’t know exactly how old he was. Probably in his upper 80s. His father Izzie and my grandfather Sidney emigrated to America from Galicia in Poland in 1915. Each of the brothers had two sons. Morton was the oldest of the boys. He had a challenging childhood because his mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized so he and his little brother were shuttled around to the homes of various relatives while he was growing up. My grandmother cared for them a lot of the time. Morton attributed his stint in the army to guiding him to his lifetime vocation as a psychiatrist. He was the head psychiatrist at Coney Island Hospital for many years and then he and his wife decided to “make aliyah” (which is the Jewish idiomatic expression for moving to Israel). They sold their house on Long Island and moved to Jerusalem with their two children. A few years later, they decided to move back. Coney Island Hospital took Morton back as the head psychiatrist. That shows you how good he was at what he did. He and his wife always made me laugh with their terrific sense of humor. I don’t know whether it was true or not, but my image of them is that they were people who were not afraid to shoot the moon or embark on an adventure. His wife Marcie is still living, so I shouldn’t say “was.”

Marcie has always been one of my favorite relatives. She was a feminist way ahead of the curve. She got an education and worked at an interesting job that allowed her to travel in foreign countries. She remained single on into her older twenties, which was quite unusual for a young lady in the Jewish community in those days. She told me that her family was worried that an independent woman such as she would never land a husband. She had an uncle who took her to lunch every week and asked her to let him pay for her to get a nose job. She kept declining his offer. Marcie told me the story on more than one occasion of how her mother would say to her, “If you don’t watch out, you’ll wind up married to a bum.” Marcie would shrug after she said that and, with a twinkle in her eye, she would say, “So look who I wound up with? A bum!” That bum, the head psychiatrist at Coney Island Hospital. Morton.

Their two children grew up to be very successful. Their son is a nationally recognized cardiologist and their daughter is an attorney. They have four beautiful grandchildren. Coming from very humble beginnings and a challenging childhood, Cousin Morton made something of his life. He was a good guy and I will miss him.

Note: Just to set the record straight, I had a long and excellent conversation last week with the couple who gives the Fabri Prize and it looks like things are going to work out just fine with my book. They are simply switching publishers for it. That was a relief.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Amy's Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Week

If your house is a “no-whining zone” then you should skip this week’s blog. I had a miserable week and I want to vent, thank you very much.

I took my cats to the vet for their annual shots and check-up, which I absolutely hate because I can’t explain to them why they are being tortured. I finished putting together my tax information for my accountant, which I absolutely hate because I’m horrible with finances and reviewing my tenuous financial situation always makes me feel like a completely inadequate failure. I had a heart-to-heart with my AAA insurance agent and discovered that if I don’t start paying more into my permanent life insurance policy it will disappear in five years, which is a magic trick that befuddles me. Why is it called permanent insurance? I now have to pay more every month to keep it going. Since I don’t have anything of value to leave my children, the life insurance policy is important. (I mortgaged the house to buy Boardwalk, in a universe where Boardwalk equals college tuition. So my children inherit a house owned by the credit union.)

Then I went to the periodontist as recommended by my dentist. For nearly two hours I had everything about my mouth measured and duly noted, including depth measures of every tooth, how far I can open my mouth measured with a ruler, fingers stuck in my ears to feel how my jaws move, and having my taste buds individually counted. I was asked if I grind my teeth in my sleep. How should I know? I’m asleep. By the end of this performance, I had a whopping headache. The periodontist informed me that I need to have gum surgery and that I should come back in a month to receive his full assessment, to include, I’m sure, how much it will cost me. I am livid, since I have spent my entire life taking excellent care of my teeth, which look fine, but apparently are not. No fair.

The last straw was a call from my so-called publisher. While I was out having my annual mammogram (which is a laugh a minute), the publisher left me a lengthy voice message. Let me backtrack here for one second. I have been in contract negotiations with the publisher for the past month. Last week he emailed me that he would forward a revised contract for me to review and if it looked good then I could sign it when I meet with him next week while I am in the Bay Area on other business. (No contract appeared.) I was to receive half of my advance at the signing. So. Phone message. He regrets to be the harbinger of disappointing news, but his publishing company is not going to publish the winner of the Fabri Prize anymore (that’s me) and he is transitioning out of that role. The prize committee is searching for another publisher. They still intend to publish my book as the prizewinner. But they apparently do not have a publisher on board to do it. I paid a consultant $112 to review that contract and give me advice. My cousin, who is an intellectual property lawyer, took time out of his busy day to review the contract and give me advice on what is now a dead contract. I will have to start from scratch with a new publisher at an as-yet unidentified point in time, which I do hope arrives, but there are no guarantees.

Apart from the fact that I am dreadfully disappointed about the probable postponement of publication of my book, and am left wondering if in fact it will ever be published at all because I have no ink on a contract, I was depending on that advance next week to help me through the end of slow-season for grant writing. I have a vet bill to pay. I owe taxes. I have to have gum surgery. And I still owe three more payments on my son’s college tuition for this year. Peace of mind shot to hell. No fair.

Then I got an email yesterday that a friend’s dog, who was a sweetheart, was to be put down yesterday morning. She had a long and illustrious life. Sixteen years old. A well-loved doggie. Not fair that dogs have such a short life span.

And to top it off, last night , just as I was about to kiss this week good-bye and go to bed, my cats found a mouse in the kitchen. I hate mice. We have not had any mice since we moved off the Ranch. First time. This is a stucco house that defies every attempt at hammering a nail into it, and somehow a mouse found a way in? Can mice chew through rock? Since there were no remnants of mouse in the kitchen this morning, I am to assume that there is a dead mouse somewhere in my house. I will figure out where in a few days when it starts to smell. Now I must add the cost of an exterminator to my list of upcoming expenses that I can’t pay.

Today is the beginning of a new week. Perhaps I’ll go out to the garden and putter. I’ll call my lovely children and have a chat. I’ll watch the football championships with my adoring husband in my comfortable home with my youngish and healthy cats purring in my lap. I’ll make a nice dinner and count my blessings. Because I would hate to squander a beautiful day, a privileged life. I am reading Greg Mortneson’s Stones Into Schools and I am in the middle of the section about the 2005 Pakistan Earthquake that destroyed the Kashmir. Thousands buried alive and crushed, mostly schoolchildren who were inside school buildings. Villages leveled. That is really not fair.

Yesterday my friend Phyllee gave me a card to put on my desk. It says “Expect Miracles.” There are truly many others who need a miracle far more than I, but I have faith that there are enough miracles to go around. I pray for the strength to continue to recognize my good fortune and in light of that to allow life’s losses and disappointments to pass through and empty down the drain of time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pruning Helmet

I love pruning my fruit trees and I don’t care who knows it. Yes, I am a gardening geek. (I reckon eventually Judd Apatow will come up with a trendy catchy label for gardening geeks and it will go viral and then I’ll refer to myself as that, whatever it is. A gardeneek or something.) Last year I took a class in pruning at Mendocino College and my lovely husband gave me a pruning ladder for Christmas. Good to go! I pruned all my trees myself, and I only fell off the ladder once. Blame that fall on my nemesis, the large and defiant apple tree. Fortunately, I was so relaxed that I landed like a linebacker and bounced right back up—wasn’t even sore the next day.

So this year, that pesky apple tree got me again. I was ducking under a low branch, walking on the ground mind you, and a pointy branchlet cut the top of my head. Those head wounds bleed like the dickens. I dripped blood through the garage and up the stairs into the house, where I grabbed an old rag in the laundry room and pressed it against the cut. It was only a flesh wound, nothing serious. It stopped bleeding pretty quickly. But it was enough excitement to rouse the Jewish mother lurking just below the surface in my not-so-Jewish husband. He immediately remembered that I had fallen off the ladder last year and he insisted that I wear a helmet to finish pruning that apple tree.

I began to protest. But I stopped short when I recalled all the years that my husband forced my teen sons to wear helmets to ride their skateboards down the street (so I realized it was a losing battle) and I recalled all the bike helmets I had bought for my grown-up children in the hope that they might wear them when riding their bicycles (gosh, I’m remembering a lot—maybe that gingko is working). I even remembered that one of said unused bike helmets still resides in my garage. I know how much I worry about my children riding their bikes without a helmet. It would not be fair to make my husband worry about me up in the tree. So I obediently fetched that bike helmet in the garage and wore it to finish pruning the apple tree. The things we do for love.

[I was prepared to blog today about the shootings in Tucson and about King Day. But President Obama said it all pretty much in his brilliant speech at the memorial. And his very presence as the prez is a tribute to Dr. King every day. I'm not needed to weigh in on these topics.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bad at Shoes

I am shoe-style impaired. I go from UGG boots in the winter to flip-flops for the rest of the year and then back to UGGs when it gets too cold to wear flip-flops. I have worn UGGs since way back before they were fashionable. They were even clunkier back then. Sometimes I wear my Birkenstock’s for in-between weather. I like footwear that feels like I’m not wearing anything on my feet.

In the 1980s, when I decided to get out of technical theater and find a desk job as a writer, I went on a job interview at a publishing company. At that time I was intimidated by footwear and didn’t think I had enough money to buy fashionable shoes. I went out and bought one pair of plain black flats to wear to the interview. My feet hated them, but they looked presentable. As I waited to be interviewed, I snuck peeks at the shoes worn by the three secretaries in the office. They were out of my league when it came to shoe styles. I wondered how they could afford such fancy shoes on secretary salaries. Then, as if I had conjured the conversation with my thoughts, they began discussing their shoes. As it turned out, all three of them bought their shoes at thrift shops. None of those fancy shoes cost more than three dollars, which was less than I had paid for my black flats.

A few months ago, I went to meet the CEO of a company to discuss my involvement with them as a grant writer. Corporate is not my usual stomping ground. I was self-conscious about wearing something appropriate. I bought a pair of black, open-toed flats at Payless Shoes. Unfortunately, I tried them on in the store with thick socks and when I went on the interview I wore nylons. The shoes wouldn’t stay on my feet; but I didn’t discover this until I changed out of my flip-flops in my car in the parking lot. I figured I could manage if I walked slowly and didn’t move around much while at the office. The CEO and I hit it off fabulously and he hired me for a part-time job on the spot. When it came time for me to leave, he said he wanted to walk me out to my car. I panicked. I wondered if the deal would be off if he saw that I couldn’t keep my shoes on. It took all my concentration to make it across the parking lot without losing one of them. He must have wondered why I walked so slowly.

It’s a good thing I work at home, because my usual work footwear is bedroom slippers in the winter and nothing in the summer. I’m getting better. In October, I bought a stylish pair of low-top black fake-leather boots (sort of Peter Pan boots) that are all-purpose and look terrific. On the same shopping jaunt I picked up a couple of pairs of dress-up shoes, flats with sequins (one pair black, one pair royal blue) and I wore one of them for New Year’s Eve and danced in them and lo and behold they were comfortable. So perhaps, at this late stage in my life, I am coming to terms with my shoe fashion impairment. My new low black boots even passed the scrutiny of my stylish daughter. Her stamp of approval makes me feel as though I have arrived.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pause to Notice the Miraculous

In my first blog of the new year, I want to pause for a moment to reflect on one of the many miracles that tend to slip past in the hurry and scurry of the everyday. The Chinese call the years when one is raising children and managing a busy household (not to mention working fulltime) the “years of rice and salt.” They are the years between childhood wonder and the reflections of elderhood. And they can rush by too quickly if we don’t take the time to reflect, recognize, and appreciate what we are seeing as it appears in our line of vision.

Our friends Jan and Mark drove up from the Bay Area to be with us for the New Year. Their two grown daughters, Cat and Liz, came with them. I have not seen Cat since she went away to college, five years ago. I have known Jan and Mark throughout our rice and salt years. We had been friends for quite some time before Cat was born and I saw Cat right after she came home from the hospital, which was an event of significance because Cat was born 10 weeks early. At birth she weighed less than a bottle of ketchup. When Mark called to tell us she had been born, my heart sunk. I wondered if she would live. But Jan and Mark recognized Cat’s remarkable spirit from the moment they laid eyes on her and never waivered in their faith that she would keep breathing in that incubator, that she would live, grow, be smart and capable, and flourish. And she did all that. She’s a vivacious, brilliant, funny, sparkly, red-headed, 20-something aspiring screenwriter who kept us laughing at breakfast on New Year’s Day with her original sense of humor and skill at storytelling.

Seeing Cat at the New Year gave me pause as I remembered what she looked like when I first laid eyes on her. Of course every person is a miracle, and who am I to say that one may be more of a miracle than another. But say I will. I know that Jan reads my blog—so hats off to you Jan (and Mark). Job well done. You recognized that miracle the instant you saw it. Not everyone does.