Thursday, October 29, 2015

When I'm out in the street, I walk the way I wanna walk

I was reading a book in which the protagonist found self-awareness (and self-forgiveness and really, his ultimate self) through, among other things, focusing every day on six core needs:  physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and sexual.

And while the demons he needed to slay are much more intense than mine - he had a seriously fucked up childhood and spent chunks of his life engaging in incredibly soul-crushing, destructive behaviors - his path resonated with me.  Do I attend to these needs?

For me, some of them are interconnected.

I get plenty of exercise, plus many of my hobbies and favorite pursuits are physical - skiing, hiking, running around outside with the kids, surfing when I'm at the beach.

And except for my solo workouts at 5:30 in the morning, those physical pursuits are social.  Sometimes I ski alone, but my best ski days are often with friends or family.  I do big hikes with my friend Christin.   Plus I have a solid group of friends that I love and make an effort to spend time with.

My job is fairly intellectual, plus I'm always in the middle of a book, so I think I'm OK there.

Emotionally, I'm always working on letting myself feel what I'm feeling without letting it overwhelm me, and lately I feel like I've gotten better at it.  There have been some things in my life that have been major stressors lately, but attending to other core needs (doing a hard workout when I'm feeling overly anxious, hanging with friends who make me happy, that sort of thing) have helped me work through them.  This one will always be a work in progress, but I feel like I'm making a solid effort.

Sexually... well.  We'll see.

The one that really got me thinking was the spiritual need.  Though there are definitely lessons and principles in Judaism that I appreciate and internalize, I'm not really religious at all.  And I sometimes wonder what it even means to be "spiritual" - according to, it relates to or affects the human spirit or soul, rather than the physical or material.  Which can still be confusing and amorphous.  But I've also seen other explanations that emphasize a search for inner peace with yourself and your place in the world, and achieving love and respect for yourself and really, love and respect for everybody.

Those are certainly not things that I have understood or even worked towards during many parts of my life.  But being in an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship for years, going through a divorce, experiencing the death of a beloved child, figuring out how to function in the face of all that - it's forced me to approach life in a more focused way, and to do everything I can to shed old baggage and seek peace and beauty and love in the here and now.

And walking has been a huge part of that.

It's been a year since I started walking to work, as a part of healing after Emma died, and really, as a part of a daily meditation of sorts. As a daily act of spirituality, I guess.

At first, there were so many different routes - different streets on which to head north, different streets to head west, that it was all new and exciting.  I could take 12th Avenue, through Cheesman Park and through a largely residential area, with lots of interesting old houses and funky apartment buildings with charming names like the Rob Roy or the BluEtte or the Malden Arms.  I can admire people's flower gardens and look at pretty trees.

I could take 13th or 14th Avenues, both of which are slightly more commercial than 12th, with cool coffee shops and urban schools and mechanic's garages.  I can cut north past St. John's Cathedral, which is beautiful.

But after doing it for a year, I find myself gravitating to Colfax Avenue more and more.  Colfax is a little bit rough and dirty and gritty.  It's got liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries and bakeries and homeless shelters and bodegas and art galleries and dive bars and not-so-dive bars and pubs.  Thrift stores and head shops.  Tattoo parlors and natural grocery stores and a cathedral.  The state capitol building with its magnificent gold dome and used book stores and music venues.  People going to work and people who are a little bit out there.

A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

Given the choice between hanging out on Colfax and hanging out in a place like Cherry Creek, with it's chi-chi boutiques and plastic people, I'll take Colfax every time.  Maybe it's the same reason I love big, noisy, chaotic cities like New Delhi or Bangkok - to me, it represents life and humanity, in all of its forms.  It's interesting and real.

And walking it every day, it gives me a sense of connection to the world, a sense of calmness and peace  - ironically, for all of its craziness, it fills me with love.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

You're the soul of me (wonder number eight)

Dear Zekey,

Yesterday you turned eight years old.  You were with your dad this weekend, so I didn't get to wake you up with hugs and kisses, but I saw you at your birthday party and stole a couple of minutes to tell you how much I love you and to tell you the story of the day you were born.

dressed as a vampire at your Halloween-themed birthday party, whacking at the pinata
It seems a lifetime ago that I was at Kapiolani, laboring and waiting for you to make your appearance. And I guess it was - so much has happened since then.  Everything about my life has changed, and you have changed along with it.

You continue to remind me of your Uncle Sam as a little boy - thoughtful, sensitive, a tad self-righteous, exhibiting both left-brained and right-brained tendencies.  You ask interesting questions and force me to look at the world in a new way.

You continue to grow bigger and stronger, and to exhibit more and more of your dad's strength and athleticism.  You have developed a bit of an obsession with obtaining six-pack abs, which I find hilarious.  You excel at soccer and flag football and you crawl around the monkey bars with incredible dexterity and flexibility.  You jump off of high surfaces and bounce around and have more energy than I can comprehend.

One of the characteristics that I have noticed increasingly is your earnestness. You take people at face value and absorb the messages and lessons of your teachers with great seriousness. I see other kids your age who are already a little bit jaded, but you still have a certain innocence about you that I find so endearing.  If I utter a curse word, you scold me and insist that children shouldn't hear such things.

This year, when you started second grade, I would ask you how your day at school went and what you were learning, and you would tell me about the "character trait of the week."

"This week I'm learning about determination, Mama."

"And what does determination mean?"

"It means you keep trying at something and don't give up.  So I've been trying to practice determination."

So sweet.  So earnest.

And yet, you have an endless fascination with talking about butts and farts and penises and vaginas. You are increasingly curious about women, often figuring out how to google "boobs" and then looking on the internet at images you shouldn't be looking at.

This past year hasn't been easy for you and Josie.  I will always feel guilty about putting you through the trauma and forced changes of divorce, even though the divorce was necessary for everyone.  But through getting adjusted to splitting time between Daddy and me, and getting adjusted to new living situations, you have shown such remarkable grace and resiliency.  You remain loving and optimistic and able to see the good in people and situations.  You set an example that I try to emulate.

You remain a mama's boy, for which I am so grateful.  I know that we're getting closer to the age at which you will start to pull away from me and try to figure out how to seek your own path.  But for now, you still greet me with hugs and kisses, you still want to sit on me when we're watching a movie, you still want to lie in bed with me and snuggle me as close as you can.

Bedtime with you is one of my favorite rituals.  I put you and Josie in your bunks, and we talk and I sing or play soft music for you.  Every night, you ask me to rub your back.  So I will stand there in the dark, rubbing your back and singing to you, feeling you relax and hearing your breathing get slow and heavy.  And just before you drop off, you say, "I love you, Mama."

And I love you, my sweetest boy.  So, so much.

Love love love,


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Southern exposure

I feel like I spend a lot of time exposing myself to strangers.

Well, not a *lot* of time, I guess.  Certainly not in proportion to my time generally.  I wear clothes to work and to take the kids to school and to the grocery store.  When I walk up to the market to get popcorn for movie night, I'm generally covered up.  So in terms of naked-time percentages, the actual amount of time is probably very small.

But still.

Between my regularly scheduled massages and bikini waxes, the occasional facial (which involves a partial massage, so I take off my clothes for that as well), the one time I got a spray tan because I didn't want to go to the beach looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost - let's just say that I'm not fazed by walking into a business establishment and disrobing for a total stranger.

It's a lot of naked.

The massages are relatively benign.  I mean, yes, I'm naked under the sheet, but the sheet is there for a reason.  Although I've been going to the same massage guy for so long, and we're so friendly and comfortable with each other, that I think we've both gotten a little blasé about sheet placement. What's crazy is that I don't see it as a big deal.  It's just more nakedness.

The most extreme example (other than the OB/GYN, who will literally sit with her face 12 inches from my naked crotch, while I've got my feet up in stirrups) is the bikini wax experience.  For this one, I am totally naked from the waist down while a 24-year-old cutie from New Mexico tells me about her latest crush on a guy who's trying to become an MMA fighter - it's kind of serious because she's added him to her Snapchat, y'all. Meanwhile, she's got her (latex-gloved) hands right in my ladyparts, applying hot wax and then ripping it off, moving things around...  It's ridiculously intimate, and yet she and I chat as if she's not doing anything more than filing my nails.

My sense is that this is something women experience and are inured to much more than men. Between the gynecologist and the obstetrician and all of the various beauty and grooming treatments we subject ourselves to, we get pretty used to having to drop trou and lie back and think of England while someone we are neither related to nor having sex with pokes around the undercarriage.

Men, on the other hand, might get the occasional "turn your head and cough" treatment, plus whatever happens when you're having your prostate checked.

But it's definitely not on the same level.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

A friend and I were recently talking about friendships and love affairs, and whether you can ever truly know someone.  Oftentimes, when you hear on the news about heinous crimes being committed, there's that neighbor or even the family member who insists that there's no way the perpetrator could have done it - that they knew him and that it was impossible that he or she could have done something so heinous or evil.

But it most cases, they were conspicuously wrong.  People reveal what they want to reveal, and it's never everything.

It always makes me wonder what it even means to know someone.  Is it knowing about them, or knowing things that they've done?  I think that can be part of it, but there are also plenty of people who I think know me fairly well, but who will never know about certain events in my life because I will never tell them to anyone.  But that doesn't mean that they don't know me, have a good sense of me, or appreciate my good qualities and bad qualities.  It doesn't mean they can't predict, to a certain extent, how I will react to or feel about a certain situation, or read me when I'm not being particularly forthcoming.

My mother, for example, can start a conversation with me on the phone in which I will go through the  routine how-are-yous, and without me saying another word, she can immediately tell if there's something wrong or if I'm exuberantly happy or something in between. Of course, you would expect that if anyone knows you, it's going to be your mother.  But that's not the case for everyone.

Is knowing someone knowing how they grew up and what they like or dislike, and how those things shaped them? Knowing their strengths and weaknesses?  Knowing their approach to life?  Having a sense of their soul, if such a thing exists?

It's unanswerable questions like these that kept me from being a philosophy major in college.  I can't stand endless consideration of questions that ultimately have no resolution - it's just mental masturbation to me.  I like answers and certainty, or at least I can appreciate that a question has an answer, even if I don't personally know it.

There was a relatively recent article in the New York Times that someone sent me about an old psychological study in which strangers discussed a series of increasingly personal questions designed to foster closeness by having each person expose their vulnerabilities to the other.  According to the study and its characterization by various articles, going through the 36 questions can make total strangers fall in love, though the skeptic in me calls bullshit on that. 

It's still fascinating, though.  And suggests to me that truly getting to know someone is just a matter of timing, luck, wanting to know them, and making an effort.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

We're gonna have a good day, and all my homies gonna ride today, and all these mommies look fly today, and all we wanna do is get by today

Stress and depression and physical malaise are like a self-fulfilling prophesy.  You feel down and you lose motivation to do anything so you stop doing anything and then you feel lethargic and shitty and soft and that makes you feel worse and you continue to do nothing and it just builds upon itself and it totally sucks.

And you've been down the road a million goddamn times.  Through the troughs and the valleys, and the attendant characterizations of each.  You know that part of pulling yourself out of the abyss is to simply decide to do it, and then taking steps to move your body and eat decent food and get outside and look up at the sky.  You know that just as the descent builds on itself, so does the ascent - you feel a little better so that makes you want to keep doing the good things that are helping, which makes you feel better, and you continue to gain momentum, and on and on.

But even with that experience and knowledge - the ability to have that intellectual conversation with yourself in which you tell yourself that you KNOW that these are the things you need to do, so why don't you just DO them -- when you're down in that hole, it's hard to hear anything but the voices that tell you you're worthless and a loser and ugly and gross, so why bother?

And yet.

At a certain point, you start to claw your way out because the alternative is unacceptable.  And the progress is of the stop-and-start variety, because there are still stressors in your life causing little hiccups and keeping your cortisol levels elevated.  But you respond well to structure and routine, so you stick to your program, checking days off the calendar, one by one.

Then, at some point, there's a discernible shift.  

You realize that you're surviving the seemingly unsurvivable.  And the other woman in your children's lives recognizes that maybe she didn't make things so easy early on, and she apologizes and is gracious and now you're almost friends. And you put on pants that you bought for work a few months ago and realize they're hanging off of you, because you've stuck to exercising and eating well, and now it shows.  You feel pretty, which makes other people think so too. You walk around smiling, and people smile back.

You bound out of bed with incredible energy, and find joy in every old song that comes on the radio, and walk to work to the beat of the music, swinging your hips a little more than usual.  You wish you could bottle this feeling, because it's fucking amazing.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The one that got away

From the old pictures, I can see that he was a handsome young man.  Tall, clear-eyed, with a kind face.  A good athlete, particularly adept at tennis.  Smart, with an aptitude for math and sciences.

The picture of potential.  

He did well at college and had friends and girlfriends.  Despite having grown up in a somewhat dysfunctional family, with a mother who was uninterested and unloving and selfish and who, by all accounts, fit the DSM criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, he displayed less of the meanness and depressiveness that ran on his mother's side, and more of the sweetness and benevolence of his father.  

In his early 20s, he had adventures in Europe with friends.  He wore the customary red neckerchief to run with the bulls in Pamplona.  In an age before cellphones, he and his buddies wandered on their own and then reconnected by having faith in the inexorable pull of every major foreign city's American Express office, where they always found each other again.

He lived with a certain verve.

At some point in his late 20s, he married a woman, because it was time to get married.  She must have held a certain exotic appeal for him - he was always drawn to Latin American women - but that appeal wore off quickly.  

He ran a successful business and made money, which she promptly spent on frivolity - expensive European cars that she would insist on sending back to Europe to be serviced, high end designer couture purchased from Nieman Marcus, jewelry.  He made more money, she spent more money. Notwithstanding this apparently high standard of living, no one ever goes to their house because she is a hoarder.  She feigns depth by adopting different religions and different names to go with them, but at bottom, she is shallow and silly and mean.

To the outside world, they demonstrate no love or passion or even interest in each other.  They coexist on small talk.

They had one daughter who, despite being educated in an expensive Swiss boarding school (at her mother's insistence), has never shown any drive or motivation to do anything beyond work a series of administrative jobs in plastic surgery practices.  

He has no grandchildren, and thus has nothing to add while he watches and listens to his siblings and cousins rave about theirs.

For as long as I have known him, he has shown none of the verve of his youth - he is  physically soft, weak-chinned, socially awkward, nonconfrontational to the point of allowing others to bully him a little bit.  In family gatherings, he is overwhelmed by his louder, more assertive siblings, who, over the years, have encouraged him to leave his wife.  But he never did or could.

I'm reminded of Tony Soprano's description of his mother's effect on his father - that she wore him down to a little nub.  

My brother points out that if you stop talking and listen, you can learn all sorts of interesting things.  

And so we ask him about his life and he talks and we listen.  

We listen to him describe a great love he had for a young woman he was with when he was 25 and she was 18.  She was an exchange student from South America, and by all accounts, was beautiful and lovely and sweet.  He was in love, and would have married her had she stayed in the United States, but she was young and heading back to her home country for school.  

Before she went back, her school group took a trip to Washington, DC, to see the nation's capitol. She called him and said, come down and spend the weekend.  Meet me at the Washington Monument.

He caught a flight.  He waited for her at the Washington Monument.  She surprised him by coming up behind him and throwing her arms around him.  His description of this incident makes it clear that it was one of the most blissful moments of his life.

She returned home and eventually married and became a psychologist.  She has children and grandchildren.

But she has kept in touch over 50 years.  First through letters, and then through email.  She emails him every year on his birthday, and always has kind, fond words for him.

About 25 years ago, when he was traveling on business, he reconnected with her.  The feelings and chemistry were there.  He tells us that he tried to make love with her, but was so nervous and overwhelmed by the situation that he couldn't do it.

Our eyes bug out upon hearing this extraordinarily personal, intimate revelation.  But he seems impervious to embarrassment about it.  As if he's so beaten down, what's one more thing?  It is heartbreaking on so many levels.

Today is his 77th birthday.  He will experience the flush of joy that accompanies the annual missive representing everything he wanted but never got.

And then he will continue with the life he has.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach

These days, I have a feeling of momentum.

For a few years, at least, it seems like it's been one trauma or stressor after another, whether it was my marriage ending or financial woes or bouts of depression or custody drama.  And, of course, Emma's death overshadowing all of it.  It's been relentless and awful.

But the craziness of the summer is resolved. I'm feeling great physically. The kids are beautiful and healthy and loving life.

While I won't ever get over Emma's death, surviving the "year of firsts," as crushing as it was, means that I know can survive going forward.

The worst that could happen did happen, and we're all still alive, and perhaps distilled down to our purer essences.  Cleansed by the fire, which, at least for me, burned away any capacity for bullshit or any desire to carry around the baggage of pettiness or silly power struggles or superficial judgment.  I want to love and enjoy my children and love and enjoy my friends and love and enjoy my life.  I have no patience for meanness or rudeness or snobbery.

I was talking with a friend about this, and he said, "but what about when life creeps in?  How do you sustain that when the mundane irritations and frustrations of life get in the way?"

My brother asked a similar question the other day - even when things are going well, he's always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Optimism as a weltanschauung is not something that comes naturally to him.  As he said, "I can't help it.  I'm a Jew."

I obviously don't profess to have all the answers.  I only know what I can tolerate and what I can't, and how I want to feel at the end of each day.  But in the face of these questions, my response was that all you can do is try, every day, to be deliberately and conspicuously kind to people.  To seek out and appreciate beauty in the ordinary.

You just have to work the muscle every day, and then hope for the best.

It can be spending time outside, looking at the sky and documenting something beautiful or unusual or interesting.

It can be making the decision to be polite to telemarketers or customer service reps, even when they piss you off.

It can be walking late at night down a dark street, holding hands and stealing kisses, a little drunk on bourbon and the heady prospect of something new and exciting, and stopping to admire a gorgeous tree with twinkly stars visible through its branches.

You hold on to the happiness of the moment, appreciating the wonder of the world around you.

And you keep holding on to those moments, every day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Love and football

The irony of moving around from country to country as a kid is that it left me feeling like I had great experiences in various locations, but not much in the way of a strong sense of place.  As much as I love the way I grew up and wouldn't change it for anything, I'm always a little envious of people who Are From Somewhere - they grew up there, maybe they went away to college but they came back, they're settled in a place that is intimately familiar to them, they have family there. There is a physical place that is home to them and a part of them.

But when people ask me where I'm from, the answer isn't a place.  It's a description of the way I grew up.

I don't feel like I'm really from anywhere.  I was born in Cyprus, but I haven't been there since I was two years old and I don't remember it at all.  Greek was my first language, but I couldn't tell you a single word in Greek right now.  It's not where I'm from.  Same with pretty much every other place I lived.  I'm not from Venezuela.  I'm not from Israel. I'm not from India.

I loved India, and I would love to go back, but it wouldn't be the same without the people I experienced it with.  It's those people that feel like home to me, whether we're at the embassy compound playing pool between classes or whether we're in a generic hotel ballroom in Crystal City, Virginia. But I'm not from India.

Same with northern Virginia.  I lived there for a few years in elementary school and then later in high school for a short time, and it's been my parents' home base for 30 years.  I have great friends there, and I like going back.  I bought my plane tickets to take the kids to my parents' house for the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Virginia with the family, which always makes me happy.  But I'm not from there.

In a weird twist, if there's any place that I associate with a familial home, it would be Detroit.  I never lived there - I lived in East Lansing, Michigan for a year when I was seven - but Detroit was where my grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins were.  When I flew back to Denver after my Grandpa Leo's funeral, it was the strangest feeling that I was leaving a place to which I felt incredibly strong ties, but which I didn't really ever have any cause to go back to.

In addition to the family ties to Detroit itself, my family has strong ties to the University of Michigan. Particularly its football team.  Both my parents graduated from there, as did uncles and aunts and cousins.  I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't know the words to Hail to the Victors, or when I didn't cheer along with my parents and brothers for the Maize and Blue. We were such superfans that when we were stationed in Israel, my dad got one of his buddies at an Israeli TV station to pull the satellite feed for the Rose Bowl when Michigan was in it, and let us come to the TV station to watch the game in the middle of the fucking night.  And I was happy to go.  It was Michigan football, after all.  Playing in the freaking Rose Bowl.  Of course we were going to be there.

Yet, for all my Michigan fandom, I've never been to a game in Michigan Stadium, a place of legend that holds 115,000 people and is the second largest stadium in the world.  Well, that all changes this weekend, when my wonderful, generous father is taking my brothers and me to Ann Arbor to see the Michigan-Northwestern game.  We will have quality time and recharge our familial batteries and, we're hoping, watch a rejuvenated Michigan team play balls-out and beat Northwestern.  I love being with my father.  I love being with my brothers. For all the physical distance between us, we feel incredibly connected.  I would do anything for them.  They are home to me.

So for a weekend, this place I have never been to, with its ties to football and family, will feel like home, because that's how it works for me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

But as I walked through the foggy streets alone, it turned out to be the luckiest day I've known

One of the things that kind of cracks me up about Colorado is that there is no gradual change of seasons.  It changes in a day, and that's it.  Last year, the weather was lovely and temperate and then one Monday in early November, all of a sudden it was 10 degrees out and it was winter.  Done and done.

Same this past weekend.  It's been warm and sunny and beautiful, and then on Friday Mother Nature decided it was fall, and so it was.  Chilly and windy and foggy.

I love fog.  There's something protective and ethereal and mysterious about it.  Wide open blue skies are beautiful, but they don't provide for any hiding places.  But in the fog, your little secrets feel safe.

A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

Friday, October 02, 2015

Adventures in Online Dating: "Yikes" Edition; or, From the "How Not To Proceed" file

I've been writing quite a bit about this stuff, but it's on my mind, because suddenly I'm communicating with a bunch of guys and going out on a number of dates.

Setting aside the "isn't this a gas" aspect of having crazy or funny stories to tell, the communications I get increasingly remind me that for some people, online dating creates a scenario in which reading someone's dating profile leads to wish fulfillment fantasies that usually (if not always) bear no relationship to reality.  It can be a dangerous game - you interact with someone online and build them up in your mind before you've met them, filling in the gaps in what you know about them with what you want those gaps to be, and then you've become infatuated with a unicorn.  A phantom.  A reverie.  And it never ends well.

This is why I approach it extremely cautiously, assuming nothing, expecting the worst.  When I go on a first date, I'm hopeful, but I expect nothing.  That way I can be pleasantly surprised if he isn't a total troll.

It's also why, if I'm making the first move and reaching out to a guy after reading his profile, I am the embodiment of chill.  An initial message will never be any more provocative than, "Hey SoAndSo, you have an great profile. I dig your picture on the summit of Longs Peak. And I'm also a huge Michael Chabon fan - what's your favorite book of his?  Cheers, W."

Friendly, indicative that I've paid attention and actually read his profile, but casual and breezy enough that I don't come off like a crazy-ass stalker type.

Which is why it's a little bit alarming - and a lot sad - when I receive this message from a 61-year-old guy (well outside my stated age range).  I've excerpted portions of it, but beyond that, I've left the language and punctuation intact:
our words are defination of what is inside us , from your words i have a positive feelings about you, you will bring out the best in me, i see us together for ever , i dont speak when i am not sure, we have a lot of people who's words cant holds waters but for me my words are my bounds, we have to commit to each other and give in everything that we make us strike a spark and live happily.  ... I know what my heart tells me and I am not in a rush, i saw a lot of other people here but my instincts tells me you are a great, good hearted and the best woman any man can have as a mate. We're all human and not perfect but you appear to be different from the heart. Since i've spent the night dreaming about you, i want to spend the day cuddling up with you. 
A)  What. The. Fuck.

B)  Oh, honey.  No.  Just no.