2/8 – Prayer

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As part of this Year of Mercy, today is the Marian Jubilee, a Feast of Mary, Mother of Mercy. We can listen to the Pope’s homilies,.both for last night’s vigil and this morning’s liturgy in St.Peter’s Square.

I know that I’ve been looking at more ways to find and to show mercy and one of those has been to pray to Mary.

Prayer was never something that I was comfortable doing growing up. We were religious in the sense that we followed the traditions abd celebrated the holidays; we observed Passover and Yom Kippur. My parents lit yartzeit candles for their parents, and now I light them for mine.

I didn’t pray as much as talk to G-d when I needed to say somethihng or meditate on something or to ask for help or guidance.

I was really shown how little I actually prayed when I didn’t know how to express myself during a National Day of Prayer after 9/11. I went to a local temple with my four year old, and they didn’t know why I was there, and I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed. I sat with my son, and we muddled through, not knowing what to do or how to say it, but trying to do it anyway.

In starting my journey through the Catholic Church, I still didn’t know what to pray for; or how. There is a moment of silent prayer during the mass – well, several moments – and I never know what I should pray for. It feels weird to pray for people. I don’t know why that is…was.

In those prayers of the faithful I had my faithful trio of prayers, mostly for myself to get through another week, waiting for the anti-depressants to kick in or the talk therapy to take effect.

Patience.

Strength.

Courage.

I found Mary, Untier of Knots, and that really spoke to me. I was excited to find out that this was Pope Francis’ favorite devotional.It made siense in my life too – all these knots of crap happening, and I could slowly, methodically untie them, like Mary does in the painting and on the prayer card.

I began to say the rosary. I found it comforting, and deliberate.

I think I identify with her as a parent, and I try to emulate her unending patience and mercy for those around her, a perfect example depsite what was done to her son. She is full of forgiveness and accepting of G-d’s will.

Find your own prayers that work in your life, both in their substnace and the time to include them in your meditations.​ I will continue to try and do this in my prayer life.

50-21 – Miracle on Ice

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​1980. US Olympic Men’s Hockey Team. The Miracle on Ice. Jim Craig wrapped in the American flag, looking for his father in the crowd, tears falling on his cheeks. Al Michaels screaming, “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!”

The late ’70s, early 1980s were the heights of the Cold War. In 1969, we’d won the space race with the first men landing on the moon. Nuclear armament was at its pinnacle until START treaties and talk of Star Wars, which while mocked was a real defense initiative against the Soviet Union.

Today they are Russia, and a half dozen or so other republics, but in the 1980s they were the USSR – the United Socialist Soviet Republic. The Iron Curtain was firmly in place.

Defections from communist countries was happening so often it became a TV trope playing itself out on television from Murder, She Wrote to Mission: Impossible, MacGuyver, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, and The West Wing. Russian spies were everywhere too, including our televisions on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Remington Steele, Murder, She Wrote, and of course, Get Smart. It was all around us and television and pop culture reflected that.

In school, we continued to have drills in case the Russians sent their missiles to bomb us. I’m still not sure how lining up in the hallway or crowding under our desks in the classrooms were supposed to keep us from spontaneously combusting if it did happen.

We couldn’t travel to Soviet bloc countries, including Cuba, a mere 90 miles away from our border. Cubans climbed aboard dangerous boats and attempted to find a new life here. If you could reach the beach of southern Florida, you could be an American, but instead often ended up drowned or sent back.

Not to forget that at the time of the Winter Olympics, President Jimmy Carter was considering a boycott of the Summer Olympics that was to be held in Moscow later in the year. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and they were not happy with our threat of a boycott. [We did end up boycotting, and our teams could not go to the Summer Olympics in Moscow, including one of my high school teachers who had been training for competition.]

This was the world we lived in when the world came to the village of Lake Placid, New York for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.

The Russian Olympians were a powerhouse. They were amateurs in the sense that they didn’t get paid in the traditional sense, but they lived better than most Russians and several were full time military. They didn’t work apart from training and they trained with state of the art  equipment and in arenas, and on the world stage they were the best. At pretty much everything.

Our hockey team was a ragtag bunch of scrappy college students and true amateurs (average age 22, the youngest team up until that point) mostly led by the plain-spoken, dour looking Herb Brooks, but Herb Brooks had something else. He had sayings, motivationals that were sometimes cliche, and sometimes corny, and for a long time after 1980, I compiled a list of them that is long since lost. Luckily, Wikipedia kept track:

Brooksisms

Brooks’ original expressions were known by his players as “Brooksisms.” According to Olympians John Harrington, Dave Silk, and Mike Eruzione, these are a few. [Herb Brooks]

“You’re playing worse and worse every day and right now you’re playing like it’s next month.”

“You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon.”

“Boys, I’m asking you to go to the well again.”

“You look like you have a five pound fart on your head.”

“You guys are getting bent over and they’re not using Vaseline.”

“You look like a monkey tryin’ to hump a football!”

“You’re looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back. I look for these players to play hard, to play smart, and to represent their country.”

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

“You know, Willy Wonka said it best: we are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

“This team isn’t talented enough to win on talent alone.”

“If you lose this game you’ll take it to your grave … your fucking grave.”

“You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”[14]

“Write your own book instead of reading someone else’s book about success.”[5]

“Boys, in the front of the net it’s a bloody nose alley.”

“Don’t dump the puck in. That went out with short pants.”

“Throw the puck back and weave, weave, weave. But don’t just weave for the sake of weaving.”

“Let’s be idealistic, but let’s also be practical.”

“You guys don’t want to work during the game?”

“The legs feed the wolf.”

“We walked up to the tiger, looked him straight in his eye, and spat in it.”

“Tonight.”

“Again.”

He pushed this team, and while they weren’t expected to do great, they were still our team.

We watched them beat one team, and then another. When they were matched up against the Soviet team, we knew it was over. We skated a good fight, but we were done. The Soviets had beaten them in exhibition a few weeks earlier by a score of 10-3.

I was huddled around my basement television, lying down on my grandmother’s half green velvet sofa, my legs hung over the single armrest, just like I’d watched baseball the summers before and after.

I know I drifted off to sleep, but woke for the final moments of the game.

Do you believe in miracles?

After this moment, we all did.

We beat the Russians! We beat the Russians!

Not they; WE.

The college trained, Herb Brooks led, no names who became household names had beat what the world called a professional amateur team, the Soviets, who lost at nothing. They had won the gold medal in hockey for six of the seven most recent Olympics. We won.

Most people forget that this game wasn’t for the gold medal. The US Hockey Team still had to go on to beat Finland in the finals, which they did, to win the Gold. But somehow, this was better than the Gold.

This….was amazing.

50-20 – Temple

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I recently found myself in Temple for my friends’ daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.It is at once familiar and strange to me. As a child, I went to shul or school twice a week, but there were no services with them. It was the learning of the language, the history, the tradition, and I loved it. I went with my cousins who were my best friends and neighbors. When we all moved, they to Florida, we to Long Island, I went to a more religious center that I did not like, but was lucky enough to find my old teacher, Mr. Baran and went back to the traditional school that I loved so much.

This recent time in Temple was more enriched by my attending Catholic Mass than any other thing I can think of. I suddenly understood some of the ritual that was never explained to me as a child.

When the Cantor sang, Oh-ya-say-Shalom-bin-romav, I began to sing along. I was amazed to discover that I knew every word, and wished that the song would go on forever because it brought me to a childhood place that I thought was lost.

It reminded me of the High Holidays in Queens. The High Holiday services required tickets. All of us children were left in the parking lot while our parents went in to pray at the multi-hour service. I was one of the older kids at seven or eight.

We stayed on the warm asphalt, playing jump rope and hopscotch in our Saturday best. For a long time I thought  I made up this memory, but in talking to my cousins recently they remember it exactly the way that I do, so it must have happened. We were left to our own devices and on occasion someone would come out from the temple and shush us. We had the foresight to look chagrined, but as soon as the doors closed again, we went right back to our playing, eventually getting loud enough for someone else to come out and chastise us.

It was like that every year until we moved.

50-19 – Ghost Stories

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​As skeptical and full of cynicism as I am, I still believe things. While it’s still in the mainstream, I don’t need to see G-d to know He exists, but I also believe in other spirits. I’ve seen them and felt them, and unexplained things are unexplained for a reason. Sometimes, it just is.

One of the reasons I never watched The X-Files or came so late to Supernatural and hated The Twilight Zone is how much of it I believe can be reality. The supernatural and unexplained aspects of shows like that, of seeing things in the corner of your eyes, of hearing things that others don’t – I could never accept it as fiction because I’m a believer in those spirits and happenings. Some of those types of stories are just too real. For me, there is no suspension of disbelief; my disbelief is already suspended and I clutch one hand to my armrest, and one over my eyes with barely separated fingers.

The first experience that I can recall was as a child visiting the Jenny Wade house in Gettysburg. Jenny Wade was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. A bullet propelled through her street facing closed door and hit her, killing her instantly while she was kneading bread. As a child, there was a mannequin of a soldier in the kitchen that told her story. They projected a talking face onto the mannequin that creeped me the fuck out. Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t a ghost or ghostly figure, but it was still scary for me. The promotion of the house was that the walls could talk as the only eyewitness to the death.

I visited there again with my husband and later on with my kids when they were younger, and I remember a distinct feeling of not being alone in the cold cellar of the house. The simple act of opening the doors tilted and facing outside, and descending down the stone steps left a profound feeling.

Gettysburg is full of spirits, though. Out of all my encounters, three have taken place in Gettysburg or areas of the Civil War battles. I distinctly remember waking up to find a soldier in a Civil War era uniform standing at the edge of my hotel room bed. I still get shivers when I picture him; like now.

The third time, my husband took my son exploring some of the gravestones on the Battlefield while I stayed in the car with the two younger kids, and I could feel it all around me – the unrest.

I think of all the battles we’ve experienced as a country, the Civil War has the most unrest, the most restless, the most tragic spirits still roaming about.

Once, after college, I was driving my car and was stopped at a red light. I think I drifted off to sleep. My foot stayed on the brake and there was no one behind me to honk, but when the light turned green or just after, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It just nudged me and I was awake. I’m not sure, but it felt like my grandmother. She had recently died, and of course, no one was in the car with me.

In 2010, I kept a dream journal on post-it notes. I had been having odd dreams, and so I kept track of them at that time. I didn’t discover it until several years later, but one of those dreams was of my friend getting shot. When I looked at the date, it was exactly one year before he was actually shot by a mutual friend’s ex. That definitely gave me pause.

That mutual friend was murdered, and a few of us, some who knew her and some who didn’t, drank a variety of teas and wrote or journaled about them and/or our friend, B. There were five different varieties of tea that we were all sharing at different times and in different places, and I could definitely feel her presence during those tea drinking moments, and while journaling about them. She was very present for about a year after she died; maybe a bit longer than a year, but it was palpable, almost a tangible feeling of her spirit, encouraging me to taste the tea with all my senses and keep writing about the feelings. Her spiritual presence was one of the many influences on this blog coming together more consistently.

There have been others, including the moment that my belief in Jesus Christ came upon me in cliched and literal glowing white light and sudden understanding, but other than that the other moments were much less, just there nudging me forward, sometimes a comfort and sometimes a question, but my mind and my heart are both open to these and other encounters.

Writing Tips: A Writing Tool Kit That Really Works

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​This is the sort of thing/organizer that I’ve been looking for for what seems like forever. I’m calling it my Writer’s Tool Kit (or Writer’s First Aid Kit), and it’s something that I’ve tried to put together for the last several years. I’ve gone through a plethora of messenger bags, re-purposed makeup bags, pencil cases, pouches, diaper bags, organizers, and all the other items you’d find in the accessory, stationery, and cosmetic departments at a Target or comparable big box store.

I’ve also tried LL Bean, Lands’ End, Eddie Bauer, Baggellini, and no-name brands on the internet and so far nothing has worked. 

Oh, it works for a little while, but then I need something extra and the entire thing ends up in a mess on the floor with me wearing my frustration face. Even now, I’ve forgotten my earphones. They must have fallen off of my nightstand, and in my hurry to get out the door I forgot they weren’t in my purse where they usually live.

I have been using a small messenger bag that I found on Amazon, and I really love it. It’s the right size, has a decent number of organizational pockets (although the pencil slip could be longer) and it’s big enough to carry all my needs, whether I want to overstuff it, or to use it simply as an oversized pocketbook for my wallet, Kindle, and cell phone. At the moment, though I’m using a separate purse along with the messenger bag.

One problem with my bag is that there is no padding so consequently my keyboard is not protected. I’ve been using a padded tablet case to carry it and protect it, but it’s hard to get in and out of the center portion of the messenger bag; the zipper isn’t wide enough.

On Pinterest, they keep promoting a pin “just for me” from the Mocchi site. It is exactly what I wanted. Slender, large enough for my Kindle and possibly my keyboard, slip pockets for papers, perhaps a notepad, and zipper pockets for post-it notes and stamps. It even comes in my color: green. On the bad side, it costs around $60 before the tax and the shipping and handling.

That is way out of my league.

And it still wouldn’t be perfect.

That’s the way it’s been every time. Until now.

Continue reading

50-18 – TV Writers…Writers on TV

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​Before I thought, or accepted that I was a serious writer with something to say, I read ferociously. I also watched television with the same zeal. I could literally sit down and watch the last fifteen minutes of a two hour television movie and be completely engrossed in it. I loved all genres then. We only had six, maybe seven broadcast channels, assuming the winds were right and the aerial was in its proper position. And of course, the only one who knew whether the aerial was positioned right was the aerial itself. It was never in the same position twice.

Our televisions went from huge hunks of furniture to little tiny ones that I could bring to college and get one station in black and white, and now they’ve returned to huge wall hangings, mounted like a movie theatre.

One of the things that never left me from my childhood was noticing and watching all of the writers that appeared on television. I don’t mean the people who wrote the shows or the books that the shows were based on, but the characters who were writers.

I grew up wanting to be a lawyer – slash – private investigator – slash – reporter. I always had a notebook with me, jotting down things I’d see on the street, the way the colors hit the water or the street sign or the sound made when a car drives through a puddle. I don’t know why I needed this information, but I did and I would have it when I did need it.

When I went to my first therapy appointment, I noticed that the therapist had a print of a Renoir hanging on the waiting room wall. In my head, in my best Remington Steele accent, I said, “The wall safe is always behind the Renoir. Where’s the Renoir?”

In the writing in my head, I would insert myself into whatever the storyline was, sometimes more than one, and I would be the journalist or writer, much like Richard Castle who the police or PI couldn’t solve the case without. It gave me the chance to be a recurring, supporting character which is something I probably am in my own real life story, never the main character.

I know a lot of my love for journalism came from the movie, All the President’s Men. I was young and impressionable at a time that journalists were revered, both in real life: Woodward & Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and in fiction as well:

Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote

Ian Stark from Stark Raving Mad

Billie Newman from Lou Grant – my favorite of favorites

Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane of the Superman Adventures

Jake Sisko of Deep Space Nine

Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond

Oscar Madison, another sportswriter from The Odd Couple

Murphy Brown – news writer and reporter

Chuck Shurley, aka Carver Edlund of Supernatural

Iris West of The Flash

Todd Manning of One Life to Live

John-Boy Walton of The Waltons

Richard Castle of Castle

Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza of Seinfeld

Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City

Maya of Just Shoot Me

Rob Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show 

Phoebe Halliwell of Charmed

And those are just off the top of my head.

Today, I have more respect for the real writers and the current ones who inspire me include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Glass, Robbie Thompson, Bernard Cornwell, and Sharon Kay Penman. They are who I go back to time and again because they are just that good. Not to leave out Wil Wheaton who is truly an inspiration and one of the main catalysts to my beginning this blog. Watching him navigate through his own freelance career, adjusting to the markets and changing, rebooting his life, but always writing and contributing; being his own boss, but also his own motivation. Writer and artist, Norman Reedus who inspires me to break out of my comfort zone and experiment with my art. 

To call myself a writer, I belong to a family of writers, both fictional and real, and each one gives me something, and that makes me better.