Friday, January 22, 2010

Do I Dare?

In late 2009 I started helping out a Long Island charity run by Mary, the sister of my college roommate. Helping might be too strong a word but I did a bit here and a bit there. The organization is called Operation Hearts and Home and they provide aid to orphaned children in various parts of the world.

Right now their focus is on Ethiopia and trying to help three orphanages that are housing older children who are unlikely to be adopted. Instead, they want to prepare them to become independent adults by providing an education and materials needed to get that education like financial aid, school supplies, and shoes, because you can't go to school without shoes.

Last Thanksgiving, Mary called to say a volunteer going on a trip with her to Ethiopia had dropped out for medical reasons. She wanted to know if I could go in her place. I jumped at the chance but we couldn't make it happen. The other volunteer's ticket was non-transferrable (of course) and I didn't have the $2,000 it was now going to cost to go at the last minute.

The Thanksgiving trip was designed to make preparations for a second trip Mary was planning for this February when she would be bringing a group of volunteers with her. She wanted to make sure their housing and transportation were organized. Also she was trying to get materials together to do various improvement projects for the orphanages.

All along Mary has been sending me updates about the February trip. She organized a group airfare that was about $1000 cheaper. She sent lists of what the kids needed and asked me to forward to my network. Then she called me yesterday and left a long message about some options to help me pay for the still very expensive trip. I could find a rich corporate sponsor who needed a tax write-off. (I'm not sure there are any rich corporate sponsors left.) I could pay for part of the ticket and she would try to help me find the rest. She would pay me to write during the trip, as there would also be a photographer in the group.

There a million reasons why I shouldn't go to Ethiopia in February. It's next month for one thing. It doesn't make much sense financially for me. The trip is over my son's February break and Valentine's day. I'll be leaving my family for ten days. Yada yada yada.

On the other hand, there was a time when I would've said screw it, I'm going. My mom and I used to travel together when I was in college and when I got out. She'd say, "Hey want to go to Egypt then we could meet some of my friends in India?" I'd say "Sure! Just tell me when."

We had big adventures. In Egypt we took a tour with a crazy group of Americans, Brits, a New Zealander and a rather dour Canadian who took an immediate dislike to me because I didn't know where Banff was. I probably couldn't have pointed out Toronto or Vancouver either but I can now.

Egypt was so fun but everyone got sick. Everyone. I think it was the boat trip down the Nile. One morning I saw one of the crew dipping the tea kettle in the Nile. I was a kid. I didn't really put two and two together. The New Zealander was so ill he fainted on the toilet and smashed his nose on the sink. My mom and I repeatedly had to go outside potty, not number 1. I lost 15 pounds in a week and a half. But I saw the Pyramids. I saw the Nile and Karnak and Cairo. Incredible things.

India was another matter. We were meeting a friend of my mother's who had a daughter studying there. The friend is Jonathan Demme's mother-in-law coincidentally. We actually recovered physically in India although at that point I was pretty much on a strict diet of dal--smushed up lentils. India was out of this world. So beautiful and colorful but so poor. Where Egypt, at that point, welcomed Americans and our music, culture, movies. In India multiple people asked to take a picture of me. I was an alien to them.

We spent too much time in Srinagar on a houseboat on Dal Lake. It was freezing. We burned our books to stoke the fire. My mother tried to teach me how to play bridge. Famed LA divorce attorney Melvin Belli stayed on the same boat. In their guestbook he wrote, "Quoth the raven, Nevermore." The houseboat owner, Mohammed, didn't get it, but we sure did.

The thing is, I did it. We did it. We didn't stop to think about the dangers or lack of medical facilities or any of that. We just went.

I'm not like that anymore. Or I haven't been. I'm always talking myself out of even little adventures like going to hear a lecture in the City.

At Tulane, I had a professor who taught Yeats and other poets. Mainly Irish poets and writers. He was Professor Finneran after all. By the way Professor Finneran, nobody wears a blazer with elbow patches in New Orleans. Anyway we dissected T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Even then as young as I was, this poem frightened me. I could feel the life draining out of this man as he grew old. I could see how much routine and the pressures of society can turn you into a coward. I particularly loved this stanza:
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces
that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Do I dare? Do I dare? That's the question right? Can I pick up and go to Ethiopia in three weeks? Should I?

Totally along the lines of Eliot and equally profound, one of my favorite movies as a teenager was The Breakfast Club by the great John Hughes who died unexpectedly last year. Ally Sheedy's character says at one point, "When you grow up, your heart dies." Told you it was profound.
Here's to hoping my heart won't die and maybe I'll find my mojo in Ethiopia.

And on a lighter note, another fave John Hughes film was Sixteen Candles. Click to see the memorable "No more yanky my wanky" scene.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nudie Pictures

This weekend I was thinking about my friend Peggy and this little girl she used to babysit when we were in high school in the 06880. The girl's name was Shannon but we called her Shamu (not a whale reference, just a nickname). She was adorable. Her tongue stuck out just a little. I don't remember why.

One day we took Shamu to Compo Beach. At the end of the day we brought her into the changing room to get cleaned up. Even with two of us watching one small child, Shamu managed to get away. She made it out of the changing rooms and started running down the beach. I actually heard someone yell, "Naked running baby. Naked running baby." Sorry Shamu's mother if you ever find this post.

We caught up with her before she made it to Norwalk and brought Shannon home safely later that day.

I was thinking about how cute a naked baby is and how comfortable pretty much all kids are with nudity while they're still young. My son was literally a nudist until a few years ago. Suddenly. I have to close my eyes, turn my head, close the door. I understand. He's growing up and he certainly doesn't want his mother to see his prized possession.

My husband wants a nude photo of me. This is pretty much the most terrifying request my husband has ever made. I'm pretty sure I was a nudie just like my son, but now I don't even own a full-length mirror. I think my body is holding its own but things are rearranging themselves without my permission.

On Saturday morning I was getting dressed and my husband snuck up behind me with his tricky iPhone camera / spy gear. I managed to grab a pair of jeans to hide behind but he took a photo just the same. I threatened to mess with his stuff if he didn't delete the photo but he wasn't having it. He didn't even fall for it hours later when I asked if I could borrow his phone.

Later he showed me the photo and the thing is, I was sort of shocked that I looked pretty good. Granted the parts I managed to cover up would've been the worst of it.

I was wondering how we go from gleefully running naked toward a crowd of beachgoers to my cowering in the corner of the bedroom shielding myself with a pair of jeans. "Naked running baby. Naked running baby."

NB My husband and I exchanged the following messages as he was riding the train into the City:

I'm looking at your nudie pic . . .
Don't show anyone!
Too late, my 2 seat mates love your hair! JK! LOL!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oy is it 2010 Already?

I've been lamenting my never-changing blog. That same old one staring me in the face day after day. Not writing has given me the opportunity to discover some other great blogs out there in the blog-o-world. Some of my new finds are:

All very different. All terrific. So many others out there too. Pauline who writes about Pirates. You might think, hey pirates...doesn't seem like there'd be enough material what with pirates being pretty rare and all, except those guys off the coast of Somalia. But she's doing it, and it's a pleasure to read. Some of them crack me up, like the Bloggess' rants about her husband who must have the patience of Job. Some of them are heartbreaking like Sweet and Salty dealing with the death of her son.

What's amazing to me is how much we're all pouring out onto the page. And how sort of calming that is to me. I'm not alone because I know The Lady of the House is feeling just as crazed as I am after a day stuck at home with the kids. I loved Suzanne's most recent Blogworthy? Noepe's always posting interesting links. And though I know we pulled different levers on voting day, I have to say he consistently uncovers articles that make me think about the status quo. Hard to be Both she's an old friend and a writer, writer. She's been so encouraging.

Too many good writers. I think that's the trouble. I started to get intimidated. I was reading The Bloggess' comments and the comment writers are funnier than me. What to do with all these writers and why should I even bother? I don't even have a focus. I'm just throwing shit out there to see what sticks.

Growing up my mom was a writer, still is. She was just voted--you guessed it--a top blogger in Savannah. My brother is a writer. I'm surrounded. And they were both writer, writers. Published journalists with a byline getting paid to write.

So for a long time I ran from writing. I wrote in secret in journals. I wrote stories that I never shared. I just found a bunch of stories I wrote when I was living in DC working at The Washington Post, not as a writer, as a researcher. I wrote quite a bit then now that I look back on it. Particularly in light of the fact that I was sharing a one bedroom apartment with a Miss Shaughnessy and a Miss Mulderrig, one of whom worked at the Dubliner, my home away from home. Also the Tune Inn. Spent a great deal of time at the Tune Inn.

The reason I started blogging in the first place was to find a way to express myself, my crazy thoughts, my uncertainty. Is this all there is? That's how I started this decade. I was thinking, "Is this all there is?" I don't know. The older I get, the more I feel time flies. On the other hand, the older I get, the more I understand the continuum. When I turned 40 I promised myself I would focus on writing. A few years later, I decided I'd better be more specific. So I'm righting the ship, it's just going to take awhile.

My blog is where I go to write about what I want. To say whatever I want. It doesn't begin with the words, "For Immediate Release". It's just me, my kid stories, making fun of my husband, writing about whatever strikes my fancy. So screw it. I'm back. I'm writing. I get very nice comments from people who read my blog, thank you very much. But I needed to remember what is important and that is blogging makes ME feel better.

My Old Blog is here in case you didn't know.