life lessons, travel

WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?

I could not sit still with the book I had brought. It was not the book — the book was excellent, it was the noise bubbling all around me.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my partner realizing that all of this noise was not going to permit me to really dive into my book like I had planned.

The noise, the sounds of children screaming, keyboards tapping, cell phones binging, the girl sitting next to me sniffling and sneezing, intercoms announcing gate changes and flight departures, was everywhere.

Then there was the sounds of everyone’s incessant cell phone streaming. I know there has never been a official code of law on silencing our non stop technology, but it does seem that the basic consideration between each other to respect the boundaries of our neighbors has gone out the window.

I am not sure when this became a thing, to act like you are the only person in the room with your noise producing machines and not allow the person next to you to have a say in the matter. This is what ear phones are for, but in the decline of basic manners, it appears that laziness has done a preemptive strike on even this little luxury of silence.

These days, the stink eye doesn’t even work because people are so engrossed in whatever had gotten their attention they don’t even seem to notice that someone is looking at them vying for just a glimpse of eye contact to hopefully send the message to turn their device OFF.

As I made my way through the alternate universe called the airport, T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, I felt like a voyeur into people’s approach to sitting alone and waiting for their plane. Barely a book opened, there must have been over a quarter million dollars in Apple products just at my gate alone. Does anyone just stare off into space anymore? I didn’t see anyone reading even a magazine or a newspaper, let alone a book. Moms and Dads were sitting next to each other on their own phones while the kids were like separate little addendums waiting for their attention.

I felt like what I imagined it felt like for Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. This was me. I was in a time warp speed ahead gazing mysteriously at what the fuck has happened to humanity and why isn’t anyone else as freaked out as I am?

I started to panic with the anticipation that this noise would be following me on the plane for the next three hours and I realized that my only salvation were the earphones I had mistakenly packed in my suitcase. Said suitcase was now traveling through the underbelly of the airport and the earphones would be meeting me on the other side- after the plane ride. This is when I decided I needed to buy a set of earphones for the plane ride and made my way to the store where it appears someone in the purchasing department understood this as a need for people like me.

I stood in front of the shelves looking at the headphones (almost the same ones that I had in my suitcase that Apple gave me for “free” with my last thousand dollar phone purchase) contemplating my choices. Nothing started at less than 29.99 and they were all crap, not to mention that Apple completely fucked all of us when they switched their adapter so a basic set doesn’t work with our phones anymore unless you buy the adapter for another thirty dollars. I sound cynical and ornery. This is what is happening to me as I watch the demise of humankind’s ability to say hello and look each other in the eye.

As I decided on some Sony noise canceling headphones for 29.99, I couldn’t open the package fast enough and was waiting in line to pay when I heard this small and very confident voice say, “Where are you headed?”

I looked down to attach the sound to the human and lo and behold a seven year old or so little boy had actually asked me a question out of nowhere. Be still my beating heart. I looked up to assess the parental situation thinking I would be seeing some academia type parent buying their son some organic celery sticks from the vegetable fridge. The surprise was the exact opposite.

Block your eyes or skip this next line or two because I am about to make a broad brushstroke stereotype that is not pretty or kind, but it must be said to make the point that I am going to get to at some point here.
This little boy looked like the type of child who may wake up every day and ask the question, “How did I land here? And how are you my parents?”

They looked mismatched. Mom and Dad had an inordinate amount of tattoos, piercings and were dressed in one step up from pajamas. Mom barely said two words when her son approached a complete stranger and I was surprised she wasn’t on her cell phone along with the rest of the look. This little boy, though had a big blast of human curiosity that he bestowed on me and I was all too eager to take his scraps.

“Where are YOU headed?” I asked him with a robust curiosity in return.
“We are headed to Tampa.” He said this with such joy it made me want to sit next to him on the plane and get to know him.
“Me too!” I exclaimed.
“Does this mean I will see you on the plane?” He asked, enthusiastically, with the widest brownest eyes.
“Yes, I think it does,” I confirmed with such jubilee in my voice, it made us both smile in kind.

Mom whisked him away all too fast and I went on to my noise canceling headphones quickly realizing in my haste that I had purchased ones that needed an adapter. Drats no wonder they were only 29.99.

I returned them as quickly as I bought them deciding that the sounds and simmers of our fellow people traveling tonight would be just fine. I am headed on vacation and today is the first day to reintroduce the pleasures of observing human connection.

This is where I am headed young man. Thank you for asking.

grief, life lessons

DEAR MICHAEL ANDREW HOROWITZ

I woke up wide awake at three am blaming it on the very large piece of chocolate chip pie I ate after dinner. Then, after lying there for twenty minutes planning my day ahead, my workout schedule for the rest of the week, and reviewing my remaining appointments before my trip to Florida to see Herbie (who just turned 102 three days ago), I realized that today is November 20th.

November 20th, twenty four years later. The same amount of time from the time we heard Adenocarcinoma of the Lung. Rare. Highly Unusual. Usually Happens To Men in Their Fifties.

You were not fifty. You were twenty four.

And in 1994, we all began our new normal, preparing for the inevitable. There was no hope according to the doctors at the time. It had already metastasized all over your bones causing them to easily shatter just from a random toss of an apple core into a trash barrel.

Hope was in our dreams, my endless reading and nauseating quoting of Louise Hay’s positive thinking affirmations like by chanting them and thinking them I could cure you. Hope was in the endless stream of ideas from well meaning friends and co workers with their remedies and alternative solutions.

There was no chance. You were going to die before you had a chance to grow up. To find your way. To lose your hair. To get married and maybe have children some day. To turn thirty, forty, fifty next year.

We would never have the chance to grow old together, to lose Dad together, to celebrate my son together. We would not be able to mourn the twin towers or share the tragedies of the endless school shootings as concerned humans. We would not celebrate the purchase of my own home that you would have been loved and been so proud of. And if you had children of your own, shipped them off to me to hang out with me in my gardens and the space I so love.

In all of these life points, I am solo and siblingless which is not even a word. But it should be because there is no other word to describe my place as a sibling- minus you. I am not an only child because that omits your brief and poignant presence from my life.

I am without you.

And though my life goes on and there is much to celebrate and feel grateful for, I am stunned by the grief and sadness I can also feel simultaneously. This is the magic power of grief’s force — it simmers and lies in wait and allows periods of joy and happiness the further away it steps away from its beginning.

Then on these days, the birthdays, and the memorial days, the days of Michael applying for jobs and getting ready to graduate college and getting closer by the minute to twenty four, the days I hear about high school friends of yours getting married, buying homes, having children, growing up, working at companies and becoming entrepeneurs, I am reminded, with a force to be reckoned with, that you, my dear brother, as your enlightened and glorious being, are not here and will in fact never be.

I am reminded when I ask someone their age or the year they were born and they say, 49 or 1970 and I look at them and don’t see your aging face, but your youthful one because you never made it to now. I see your dread locked head and those dark brown eyes inhaling pot out of a gigantic water bong that looked like it came from a Hooka bar. And I wait for you to ask me what a hooka bar even is because hooka bars didn’t exist because smoking was still allowed inside many places in 1994. When you were alive.

Pot was the only thing that helped you, but that wasn’t legal in any states yet. Today you would have proudly carried a medical marijuana card. When I got mine during the cancer I had, it was to help me, yes, but it was to honor you too. It was my own twisted way to celebrate with you something that linked us even though it was cancer, weird I know. But I could feel you closer and whatever it takes to feel you closer, I will take. Not the cancer part, the marijuana part, I have my limits here, bro.

I am often surprised that Michael doesn’t actually know you personally, because he has so many mannerisms that are exactly like you, I sometimes I have to remind myself that he is my son, not my brother. His voice, his handwriting, his sharp mind, his laugh, his deep eyes, his expressions all remind me deeply of your existence. I like to think that you had something to do with this. Like it was your mysterious way of letting me know that you were watching. This is comforting even if to some it seems bizarre or wishful. I don’t care. I like the comfort. It feels good instead of sad and I like to feel good instead of sad.

When Michael and the Francis boys were in middle school and decided to record themselves lighting farts with a bic lighter, it didn’t horrify me as much as it should have because this was definitely something you did. Every time I hear Neil Young or Bob Marley or Peter Tosh — every time I see a VW Vanagon or a white guy with dreadlocks, or watch Michael eat chocolate chip cookies, or look at Craig Gurganus surfboard fish art you gave when Dave and I bought our first home, you are standing in front of me smiling.

When I found a tile coaster of a sun in my travels to Italy, I had to buy it because it reminded me of the sun you drew while you were dying. Your dying held on to every scrap of life you could muster. I couldn’t believe how brave and courageous you were at such a young age, but you were an old soul even at your young age. Maybe your dying young outwardly was really because you were old inwardly. Who knows. It doesn’t matter, You are not here. And this is permanent. And incredibly sad.

When Mom sees Michael, she frequently says how much he looks like his dad, almost seeming to want to wish away the parts so obvious in him that are you. I imagine it is so difficult for her to see the vestiges of your being in her grandson. The pain must be far worse than the possibility of joy in the duplication of your essence causing darts of reminders that must shake a mother’s loss. I wish I could talk about this with her and that you and I could talk about the fact that I can’t, but then if we could, none of this would be happening in the first place.

I write about you because I miss you every day. Every day for twenty four years.

It is not the type of missing that has debilitated me; I have moved through grief rather than around it, but there are times I step to its side and take my deep dive into the wallow, the mire, the quicksand of its vigor. More times I forget that that pull is grief all these years later. When a good walk and a good cry would probably be a better solution than a bottle of red and a slice of chocolate chip pie. But I have become much more forgiving of my slides into moments of pie. I have practiced grief and become better at allowing its call when necessary in whatever form it takes to just deal with the sadness at the time.

I am ok. The steps around or through are all ok. Twenty four years later, I have used this time to be more patient with these slides down the rabbit hole knowing that in some ways it is also part of my creative process and healing.
Healing. Heal-ing is a strange word because is implies that there is an end at some point after you have healed. I will never heal. There will never be an ‘e.d.’ after the ‘h.e.a.l’. This would mean that I have missed you Enough. That I am over missing you.

And this would be impossible. And I am more than OK with this. Because on November 20th every year, just like your birthday on October 20th every year, you come to life again because I get to be in the day of you with you how I want to be with you.

While I am alive, I will always do this and I will always remind Michael that today is another excuse to get to remember you. Remembering you is the closest thing I have to having you and if this is all I can have, then it will have to do.

Health, WOMEN'S HEALTH

WASHING MACHINE HEAD

Does your brain ever feel like it is on the spin cycle of a washing machine?
Some people refer to it as “crazy brain,” but I don’t care for that label. My partner refers to it as crawling out of his skin.

There are lots of reasons for this mind twirl. Full moon, mercury retrograde, too much sugar, not enough exercise, too much on my plate, too many lists, too much time on my hands, too much on the computer or on the phone, not enough fresh air, not enough creative output, not enough go within time.

I know myself well. I know that if I miss exercise for a few days, I am not myself and this creates havoc in my thinking. Exercise is the course correction without fail. Every time. An hour at the gym or an hour outside on a brisk walk in the brisk New England November air grounds me like nothing else and it is a habit I seldom break. But when I do, like this past two weeks of over scheduling, I notice fast.

What I notice is that it is hard for me to stay focused, I wake up after going to bed with a concise list and then find myself wandering aimlessly barely able to complete one item. Perhaps this is the result of an entrepreneurial brain; most self starters I know struggle with spinney head. Just too many ideas, too many sticky notes on a wall and this can be a recipe for feelings of overwhelm therefore not getting anything done.

I am the queen of lists and sticky notes. My brain is a busy one and I enjoy its momentum for the most part especially when I use it for the creative force it directs me to. But sometimes, like this past week when I went to a three day conference and I missed exercising for almost a full week with barely a walk, the ramifications are not pretty.

As I drove to the gym for my first 7:00am workout in a few weeks, I already began to feel peaceful. The gym is my therapy space. Not because I am one of those bad ass gym rats pumping iron and walking around with her abs showing, (these days they just show all the time when I sit down and look down and wonder what the hell has happened to my stomach, but more of that in some other self deprecating piece later). Going to the gym is like a community gathering. Most times it is many of the same people, mostly women, but also some men sprinkled throughout, and there is a familiarity, a comfort as we grab our spots on the floor or the cardio equipment.

I have two go to spots I usually take and they are in the front of the room.
I used to be the person who looked for the furthest back corner, the spot completely away from the mirror as I not only didn’t want to see myself in it as I struggled to catch my breath with every screaming beat to the rap music, but I also didn’t want to see everyone else. Back then when I first started dragging myself to the gym, I was always comparing my inadequacy and lack of fitness to all of the other chicks (usually skinny and blonde driving a Range Rover or something) who seemed much more fit than I surely would ever be.

But then something magical happened. I started feeling incredible. Forget about the shape of my body shifting, the discovery of muscles I didn’t know were there, the definition of muscles from the never ending burpees and planks that began rearing their beauty. I had mental clarity like I had never really had before. It was the biggest surprise from the workout and I started to depend on it as my mental equilibrium. And I began making my way to the front of the room, not so much to look in the mirror, but to stand up front and proud of my climb on the fitness confidence ladder.

There is all kinds of proven research on what exercise does for us physically- it lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and a multitude of other lifestyle ailments. I wish that the prescription of exercise would be one of the first courses of action for doctors to give to their patients complaining of anxiety and depression because for me, this has been a game changer for the past ten years. It is seldom that exercise becomes the go to remedy for the many people who struggle with this type of bubbling mind.

Washing machine head, my brain on the spin cycle, goes away from one hour of exercise. It never fails me. I always feel better after I exercise. My mind is clearer, my heart is happier. And this doesn’t have to be from an hour at the gym, it can be a walk on the beach with the wind blowing into my lungs; it is just movement, off the couch, away from my computer, my phone, my desk work and up and out.

No matter how much wine I have had or sweet dives into oblivion and all of its effects on my brain with the fogginess it creates, an hour of movement clears the cobwebs. Exercise saved me when I had breast cancer too. I am convinced that because I went to the gym, my recovery was as strong and solid as it was because of my fitness level before hand.
I used to think, “I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been, why did I get breast cancer twice?” But when I saw my resilience and my fast recovery, I knew I had to shift my thinking to gratitude for the fitness FOR and TOWARDS the recovery.

As a matter of reflection, the gym was part of my recovery because it became a goal for me to get back there as soon as possible. I had missed its silent camaraderie among my fellow gym chicks. We are friendly with each other, saying our morning hellos and our quick goodbyes as we run out to start our days in our sweaty workout clothes, but we don’t spend time chatting. We are all there to feel better. To roll our eyes when Kathy, our fearless trainer, barks another order out at us and says at the same time, “This next move is going to suck.” Yes, she says this and she means it and it does suck. But we all do it because we can.
Because we can. To me this is the significance of exercising regularly.

Because I can.

And as long as I can I will. Missing days makes me miss them now, not the other way around. In the past I would miss them because I didn’t feel like it, these days I only miss them because work or a too jam packed schedule didn’t allow the workout time. I am really going to make a conscious effort to improve that. I may not always be able to get to the actual gym, but there is always a walk on a blustery day to shake the garbled brain to a more serene one, movement is so important as I approach my real life mid fifties.

My partner, who is 72 goes to the gym every day. Every day. I am not kidding. He is my role model and my mentor for gym attendance and its value on the soul. When we went to Quebec a few weeks back, we both didn’t realize the stair factor. If you can’t do stairs, you can’t enjoy Quebec- that should be their tagline because to take the stairs is to really appreciate the landscape. As we blasted up and down the stairs for a solid week, as fit as I am, I still had a quickening of my breath. Not my partner, he flew up the stairs and I didn’t hear one speck of short winded huffing.

If that wasn’t a reminder to me that the gym is fitness security, nothing is. What I love about movement is that there is no time like the present.
All we have is the present.