Life’s Small Rewards

It’s been months, if not years, since my last entry. My silence, the result of dramatic changes in my personal and profesional life, was also time to reflect on what this blog should be about…what I’m trying to say, really? Yes, I traveled 3,000 miles from the west coast, a move that sometimes felt as momentous as Alice’s twirl down the rabbit hole, but what does that mean ultimately? I guess these four years have provided me with time to figure out how all of this has affected my life, my family, but more importantly, my work. How my unhappiness in LA was really the result of place and not just my own fragile pysche and mental imbalance. Some here in the city might argue not much has changed, although I do appear to be of a sunnier disposition here.

However, the most dramatic change has been the publication of my novel–yes, I was one of those writers with the proverbial novel in his/her desk drawer. This has changed my life in profound ways, something I am still grappling to come to terms with. The second change, even more important, is that my new book I am writing is set in Los Angeles, a city I could never write about when I lived there. Funny, how that is.

All I can say is that my life has changed. I do find myself zipping around the city, sometimes half-crazed with too much to do. Yet, my general sense of self has shifted. There’s something when you understand that something within you has shifted in the best way, just enough to make one of those life-altering differences. And for that, I am eternally grateful to the Gods above.

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Afternoon Prayer

The East Village is the place where Japanese ramen restaurants now proliferates, the city’s inhabitants having discovered the snack food as its new passion. It is an area of the city where the young come seeking themselves and where others live in resignation in their walk up apartments. It is a part of the city where the cutting edge restaurant sits alongside the tarnished, former, new business. This constant friction between hope and hopelessness casts a unique pall on this part of the city.

It is on the corner of 12th and 1st Avenue that a nondescript building offers sanctuary to those from far away lands–home to a mosque. I had walked past this particular squat building many times before. I’d noticed the Arabic writing of the small sign, but never thought much about the significance of what this building must mean to so many others in this city, particularly those who toil away their days traversing the wide boulevards inside yellow cars.

I find myself walking down to the East Village with greater frequency, the closer our imminent move becomes. It is as if I want to savor in the griminess, hopefulness, and idosyncratic youthfulness of this part of the city that had served as home our first two years. True, my move is a mere 60 blocks north, yet the short distance offers a gulf that is breathtakingly daunting. So, it was that I had been walking along these dirty streets that I noticed a long line of yellow cabs double parked on 1st Avenue.

Parked CabsI couldn’t imagine why there were so many idle cabs. It wasn’t until I got to the corner of 12th and 1st that the mystery was solved.

Afternoon PrayersIt was obviously time for the noon prayers. Men were lined along the sidewalk, the inside obviously filled to capacity. They sat shoeless, some even washing their hands, neck, and face from a water bottle in their car. The incongruity of seeing such a public display of devotion was incredibly moving. These men were not the least bit self-conscious as they sat and bowed on this busy sidewalk.

PrayingI knew I was  gawking. But it was with awe, shock, but also a bit of envy that I stared at these men. How wonderful it must be to be so tightly wound around one’s faith that such a break in the middle of the day is as every day as getting coffee from the corner Dunkin Donut. I walked away, each step making me glance back at the group. As I walked up 1st Avenue, I noticed other men rushing down the street, obviously late for this prayer.

I know it would be impossible for me to see such a sight in our new neighborhood. The reality of this made me just a tad wistful, as if this move was about much more than mere bigger living space and better neighborhood.

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Springtime–New York Style

Spring keeps her constant teasing of this city’s winter-weary citizens. One day is warm enough to let you believe all those winter coats can be put away in storage, all such hopes quickly upended as the next day turns out chillier and more biting, as much from the temperatures as the unexpectedness of such a change.

Fall and Spring, the two most glorious seasons here, is when the city seems dressed in its most magnificent finery.

There is nothing quite like this picture

There is nothing quite like this picture

I found myself on the Southern edge of Central Park, having a few appointments in the area. Walking along the park’s edge, past the sidewalks lined with the horse-drawn carriages, made me reminisce back to our numerous visits to the city. These trips had been fraught with tension as my husband did his best to allay my fears that moving back East was not all illusion, as I had become to believe. During these unhappy trips, we stayed a few blocks from the Southern entrance to the park, so my son and I had easy access to the greenery. I still remember the fold-up stroller that I pushed as my son and I made our way through the throngs of people to the oasis in the middle of this city. Once, feeling especially happy, he and I even taken a carriage ride around the park.

Carriage, anyone?On this day Mother Nature was doing her darnedest to tease us that spring was around the proverbial corner. The city seemed more alive as people and tourists basked in the glow of the sunny day. As I made my way toward 5th Avenue, my attention was caught by the loud music coming from the square across from the Apple Store. Perhaps it was the weather, but I was feeling unusually leisurely, so much so I found myself on the crowd’s edge.

New York's Beat BoysNew York City’s own Beat Boys were out, their boom box blasting, their white bucket on the ready. This group is of particular interest for our family since my son was one of the few to purchase their DVD, which got watched over and over again for a year. All of this resulted in our son dropping to the ground and spinning on his back like a throwback from some Run DMC video, all a source of delight for those who happened to see, and a source of chagrin for his parents.

80's Anyone?I found myself clapping with the other gawkers, each of us smiling, and sometimes even clapping.

Olympics--UrbanStyleIt was as the music changed and each member of the troupe got an opportunity to their ‘thang’ that I finally turned my attention to those around me. There were the usual European suspects, although the numbers of Scandinavians, Germans, Irish, and English are down, all a result of the global economic downturn. There were the salespeople from the numerous high end stores on 5th, so undeniably ahead of the masses in their fashion, every bit of their outfit screaming so next season. There were the occasional men in suits, their usual single-mindedness diverted by the warm sun, the crowd, and the music. But the family that so beautifully encapsulated the idiosyncrasy, humor, and subversiveness of this city is below:

Clash of cultures, only as this city can do it

Only in this city! Only in this city!

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New Sports, New Adventures

Future Sabre Fencer

Future Sabre Fencer

Our son is now fencing. I am still in disbelief as I write this. The irony is that my introduction to fencing came via an ex, who was an All-American Sabre fencer at an Ivy League University. This arcane sport took over my world during our years together as I became a Fencing Spouse. After the break-up I ran as far away as I could from this sport that dominates in Ivy Towers, running as far as to the Pacific Ocean, if truth be told. So, given my history with this sport, why would I encourage my son to take it up, you might ask? A question which I don’t have an answer for except to say that parenthood forces you to reconsider so many long-held fast rules and dictum.

My reintroduction to the sport came through a friend, whose daughter is a fencer. When she first mentioned it, I immediately recoiled since I haven’t separated the sport from that infamous ex. But the more she talked it up, I realized that I had to at least explore the possibility that my son may want to do this. So, when I brought it up, surprise, surprise, the little boy immediately said, yes! Why would he not since it involves swords?

After his initial lessons with the two time Olympian, I relented and agreed that he could continue. What has been eye-opening is that this fencing club seems evenly split between African-American and Asian-American fencers. How or why it is we have found ourselves in this particular club still makes me shake my head in wonder. So, instead of a fencing spouse, I have now become a fencing parent. Funny how life has a way of bringing things full circle.

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The City is a-Ch-Ch-Changing

Budget Crisis!

Budget Crisis!

This surreal site is what I encountered as I walked home from a quick trip to the heart of the East Village. The site of these police officers atop these beautiful mares made me whip out my handy blackberry to snap this photo. I thought there was no way I would ever see such a site again, hence, my need to capture it for posterity sake. Well, lo and behold, little did I realize that this may be a routine sighting since I saw two such police officers just a few days ago.

The changing landscape of the city can be witnessed each time I go out to take care of whatever errand is on hand for the day. You can’t help but notice the number of shuttered businesses, the number of for lease signs in previously occupied spaces, each failed American Dream puncturing another hole into the pysche of this city.

I spoke to a friend in Los Angeles, who said that people there were going about their lives as business as usual, which didn’t surprise me since the only way to live there is to perpetually be shielded inside the bubble of your design. Such obliviousness is impossible here since lives are meant to careen into one another expectedly and unexpectedly.

As we ready to make a move, one that will take us uptown, a part of me is the tiniest bit relieved in knowing that our new abode will be more establishment and less cutting edge. I realize that living on the edge is all well and good when the city is flush and drunk with possibility, but trickier when it is teetering on the precipice of a free fall where the end is not within in any of out sights.

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Third Generation Bibliophile

My son, thus far, loves books. His biggest disappointment has been in his inability to read on his own just yet, although that seems to be changing daily. His love of books warms this mother’s heart since, well, books are what rescued her and continues to do so even in this late stage of life.

Books, books, and more books

Books, books, and more books

Every morning I find the floor around his bed littered with books he had gotten off his bookshelf and had browsed through before falling asleep. The stack above is what I found the other morning. His love of books is an emotional connection I hope never wanes in spite of the competing static of video games, after school team sports, and chasing after the opposite sex.

By the public school standards, he was slow in learning to read–not by my standards, I might stress. Despite the school’s push for him to be reading better at their arbitrarily set standard, I pushed back against all of this by trying to make sure the school’s pressure was not getting in the way of his love of books and reading. It has been a challenge, I might say, since public schools seem intent on sucking the joy out of such a joyful and life- enhancing experience. Those state mandated tests must be passed, so fostering passion and love instead of meeting targets is what becomes paramount.

What affirms my belief that he will be a life long reader is that he is surrounded by books (and more so once all of my books come out of their long exile and storage) and two parents who read constantly. Unfortunately for all those smug parents, you know the types who like to boast about their little genius reading the New York Times, whose kids may be reading now may not end up as life-long readers. I find the bragging about Little Johnny or Little Jessica’s extraordinary reading talents really masks these parents unease that their child may not be readers at the end of the day, none of which is a surprise since you quickly realize that the parents themselves don’t read a lick beyond the quickest appraisal of their local newspaper or perhaps the Wall Street Journal. With that said, there are those mothers, who started reading books again after a long, very long absence of reading, since they are now a member of some suburban book club or such. I’ve walked into too many homes where books are rarely seen, although there were a few houses in LA where books were merely decoration for a library or study–you know the type where there was obviously a flurry to purchase a small collection of canonical works in bound leather, none most likely read or even opened. For these same families that see books as accessory, well, Little Johnny or Little Jessica will also view them as artifacts to merely decorate a shelf.

So, as my son makes his way through “Lord of the Rings” with his father and The Magic Tree House series with me, I can be somewhat reassured that he will read well into his adulthood, thus carrying on the family tradition of becoming a full-fledged a bibliophile.

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Yearning for Spring

Yearning for Spring

Yearning for Spring

In Los Angeles the reminder of spring came when Trader Joe’s would put out  little bunches of daffodils. Since the weather was consistently warm, I sought out such tangible markers for seasonal changes. So, yes, despite the 70 something temperatures I knew it was fall when pumpkins would arrive at all the grocery stores.

The Trader Joe’s here has been selling tulips and daffodils, teasing us with the possibility of spring, despite the cold, brisk air outside. Although spring is technically some days away, I brought home these beautiful, cheery flowers to brighten up what had been a long, long, long winter.

This simple arrangement infused me with the possibility of those days when the sun warms your cheeks and the city comes alive as young girls show their pale wintry legs. After this gloomy winter, both metaphorically and pyschologically, we are all in need of such light heartedness.

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