Thursday, May 16, 2013

When inspiration doesn’t strike, it’s time to punch inspiration right in the face!

         We’ve all had moments where we feel stuck… things aren’t going the way we want to and it seems like it’s never going to turn around. As a writer, I fight like hell to get through those moments. Moments where the words don’t come or if they do, they’re not the ones I want.  Working on my latest play has had its highs and lows—the highs of feeling proud to do something outside of my comfort zone and the lows of not knowing if I can actually DO it.

Well, during one of those lows, I found myself venting to my coworker and friend, Monica. I told her that I knew what was wrong with my play—I just didn’t know how to fix it. She suggested taking a break from the play and trying a fun writing exercise to use my imagination in a different way. One of her suggestions was to pick a noun for every letter of the alphabet and then take ten of those nouns and use them in a short story.

At first, I thought, “How is that going to help me?” But at that point I hadn’t written anything in weeks and I was willing to sprint down the street naked if it would help my creative juices start flowing. (Well almost naked – it was January at the time so it was probably too cold for nudity.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover by doing what Monica suggested, I was reminded of why I love writing. It’s fun! Not only that, I get to tell my story, my way!

The wacky story that came out of my writing exercise might not be perfect, but it’s mine and I am so grateful to Ms. Monica Hanofee for pushing me to explore other avenues of creativity outside of my play. She is a courageous, dedicated performer (who has a kick ass voice, by the way: ) and she taught me inspiration doesn’t always strike in the way we’ve decided it should happen.  Sometimes we need to go out and get it wherever we can find it! And if that doesn’t work, smack inspiration right across the face and let it know you’re here and you want to create!

Here are the ten nouns I chose for my short story: Apple, domino, frog, hammock, luau, mountain, pyramid, robot, telephone and watermelon. Enjoy, everyone, and I hope the rest of your week is filled with inspiration!

A Luau in the Middle of Winter

A luau in the middle of winter… in New York City no less? Seriously? And why was I the one assigned to bring a watermelon? Am I reliving my days when I incessantly watched “Dirty Dancing” with my college roommates? I can just see myself now, walking into the apartment as I quip, “I carried a watermelon.” But alas, I doubt there will be anyone as hot as Patrick Swayze to serenade me with “She’s Like the Wind.”

I guess I should be happy to have younger friends that still want to have luaus. My college friends, on the other hand, spend their weekends driving their kids to swim classes, gymnastics, cheerleading… shoot me now. Every time I talk to one of them on the telephone, I get bombarded with “Guess what so-and-so learned to do this week?” YUCK.

So the day of the luau arrives, and I get dressed up in my full Hawaiian regalia. I’m wearing a grass skirt, a bikini top with a lei and my cutest rhinestone flip-flops. This is quite an accomplishment, considering it’s TWENTY degrees outside. The party is on the Lower East Side, aka Hipster Hood.  It’s an older building, and there’s a project across the street. Someone is standing outside yelling up at a window, “Loretta! Loretta! Why don’t you answer me and get your ass down here?” I don’t know who Loretta is, but I wish she would answer him, before he turns around and sees me clicking down the street in my flip-flops holding a gigantic watermelon.

I safely make it to the front door of the building and buzz the apartment. To my dismay, the building is a walk-up and the party is on the fifth floor. By the time I make it to the front door, I feel like I climbed a mountain. I’m getting too old for this shit. Please, someone open the door and hand me a Mai Tai immediately.

The door opens and the apartment is full of fake palm trees and colored lights. There’s even a little kiddie pool in the middle of the room. A part of me wonders if there’s a pig somewhere with an apple stuffed in its mouth. In one corner of the room is a pile of pineapples, mangos, and watermelons in a pyramid-like shape. I dump my coat in the bedroom and return to the living room and deposit my watermelon on the ground. I see my friend Monica, sipping a drink out of a coconut. She’s dressed in a cute halter dress with flowers all over it. Why didn’t I think of that? My grass skirt is itchy and keeps riding up my butt.

Monica comes over and gives me a big hug. “Check them out.” She points to the corner of the room where two people are making out in a hammock. I smile. “Ah, Alassane. To be young.” We laugh. I look around and remark, “Maybe if I kiss one of these frogs, I can turn him into my prince.” And just then, an amazing guy walks out of the kitchen, scruffy and masculine, and definitely not a twenty-something. “Who is that?” I ask Monica. “Oh, that’s Damian. Sarah’s brother.” Sarah was the party host and that’s all I needed to know. I crossed the room, determined to meet this gorgeous God.

Damian is at the punch bowl, filling his cup. I walk over and gently bump into him. This was always my go-to for meeting a guy. I casually remark, “Oh I’m sorry. I must’ve tripped on my flip flop. Are you okay?”  “No worries,” he says. “I’m Dina,” extending my arm. “I’m Damian,” as he shakes my hand. “What a great idea—a luau in the middle of winter!” I enthusiastically say. Damian smirks. “Actually I thought it was kind of dumb, myself, but it’s my sister’s party so what can I do?” Doh. “So you live in New York?” I ask. “No, I live in Chicago.” Well, Chicago and New York aren’t that far apart, I think to myself. Only an hour and a half plane ride, right? “I love Chicago,” I gush. “I went there over the summer and I loved swimming in the ocean and looking up at the skyscrapers at the same time.” “Actually,” Damian says, “It’s a lake, not an ocean.” Doh. “Right—a lake,” I faltered. I felt like an idiot, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Yet. I tell Damian, “Well I had a great time. It’s a beautiful city. Go Cubs!” I try to do one of those girlie giggles, but I sound more like a cackling chicken. I need to get it together and fast! I flash him my biggest smile and say, “Well if you have any free time while you’re in New York, maybe we can meet up for a drink or something.” ‘Uh… yeah… sure,” he mumbles. We stand there, nodding and sipping our drinks. Neither of us says a word. And then, Sarah walks over. “Hey Dina. I guess you’ve met my brother Damian.” “Yes,” I say. “We were just talking about swimming in the lake in Chicago.” “Cool,” Sarah says as she turns to Damian and continues, “Joe’s looking for you. He’s in the kitchen.” “Okay,” Damian replies. He turns to me, “Nice meeting you.” And just like that, he’s gone.

“Your brother is really hot,” I tell Sarah as soon as Damian is out of earshot. “So everyone tells me,” Sarah says. “To me, he’s just a dork.” “Who’s Joe?” I ask. “Damian’s boyfriend. He brought Joe to New York so I could meet him. I think it’s pretty serious.” I stood there like a robot, waiting for someone to push a button and make me do something, say something—anything. Finally, all I could utter was, “Oh.”

I walked back to Monica. “What happened?” she eagerly asks. “Nothing,” I grunt. “Absolutely nothing… Remind me to get my gaydar fixed.” “Oh,” Monica sympathetically responds, as she puts her arm around me. “Your time will come.” “Please,” I say. “If I had a dollar… Well, I should be a millionaire by now. I’m getting out of here.” I turn, and this time my flip-flop really does get stuck, causing me to fall forward and hit a fellow partygoer, who then collides with someone else and so on and so on, until we’re just a bunch of dominoes, falling over one by one. I hit the floor in time to see someone else land face-first in the kiddie pool. Ouch. That had to hurt. My grass skirt was up around my neck, exposing body parts that need not be exposed. What do they say? Pride goes before a fall? Never did the phrase apply so literally, I think.

Note to self: never attend a luau in the winter!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why My Mom Rocks My Universe

            Anyone that knows me is aware of my loathing for what I deem as “Hallmark Holidays.” You know, the days that exist solely to exploit the consumer and make Hallmark millions of dollars in the process—Boss’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day (and I was once a secretary so no knock on my fellow administrators)… you get my point. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are no exceptions to the hatred I feel every time I purchase that dreaded card. I simply resent setting a day aside to honor and appreciate people we should treat with regard on a DAILY basis!

            However, as much as I protest these moneymaking schemes, I absolutely adore my mother. So in honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day madness, I want to pay tribute to a truly amazing woman—Joan Laura aka “mom.” Without further ado, here is the Top Ten List of Why My Mom Rocks My Universe:

10) Bargain hunter – I don’t know if it’s a Jewish thing, a New Yorker thing or just a “Joan Laura” thing, but my mom can smell a sale from 100 miles away. No kidding. And boy does she know how to clip coupons. She even has a mini accordion file where she stores them by category. Many a time, my mom will point at something she's wearing and say, "See this? It was originally $300. You wanna know what I paid for it? $5." And I am not exaggerating. REALLY. Not shockingly, she has passed this desire for the “best deal” onto me. Pay full price for something? I don’t think so. Mom taught me about price adjustments (bringing clothes back with the tags still on if the price goes down), final sale racks (always hidden in the back of the store) and never shopping in an outlet. As she says (imagine the Bronx accent), “What do I need an outlet for when I can get the same price at a department store during a good sale?”

9) Wanted to turn our oven into a planter – Yup, it’s true. She hated cooking so much, she wanted to get rid of the oven and replace it with various flora. (I think she actually knew someone who had done this.) Don’t worry—we still had a toaster oven and a microwave so the family wouldn’t have starved. To this day, she never uses the oven except to cook the turkey on Thanksgiving. Why did this make my list, you ask? Well, I think it takes big brass you-know-what's to admit, as a mother, you abhor cooking to the point you’ve actually contemplated pulling your oven out of the wall! Of course it never happened, but one can always dream. Maybe that’s why I’m the (555) TAKE-OUT queen. Clearly I have the same oven-destruction fantasies as my mom!

8) Follows me around with a vacuum – Neat freak, anyone? My mom is obsessed with cleaning. She used to vacuum and dust the house at 6:00 a.m. everyday before she went to work. (Now that she’s retired, she waits until at least 8:00 a.m.) At one point, we had a chow chow and mom would even follow him around with the vacuum cleaner. You’d never know we had a dog in the house—not a trace of hair anywhere! My friends used to say my house was so clean, you could eat off the floors. And now she’s got me equally manic. I get an almost perverse thrill when I buy cleaning products. My latest excitement came when I purchased that blue to white stuff—the thing that you spray on blue and it turns white when it’s clean. Geez, if I had turned my head for a split second, I would’ve never seen the blue!

7) Tells me when I’m great (and when I’m NOT) – My mom is the epitome of honesty. This isn’t a mom who’s going to sugar coat anything, including whether I should or should not lose weight. (By the way, she thinks I should). But in all honesty—I am her daughter, after all, so I’m honest too—I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ll never forget the time I was in a play I had written and I knew something was off with my performance. Enter my mom, right on cue, into the dressing room during intermission to inform me, “I don’t know who you’re playing, but it’s not the character.” Ouch. The truth can certainly sting sometimes, but it comes from such a loving place that it makes it easier to bear. And when the compliments come—and they do—they are so genuine it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling every time.

6) Rodeo cowgirl behind the wheel – Whoever penned the phrase, “Put the pedal to the metal,” must’ve been talking about my mom. She can maneuver through traffic like something out of an action film sequence. My aunt’s boyfriend is from Florida and I’ll never forget the time he came to visit us “Northerners.” There he was, in the front seat with my mom, holding the “oh shit” handle as if his life depended on it. (Truth be told.. it kind of did.) He was as white as a ghost (hard to be when you’re from South Florida) and frantically kept chanting, “Go faster, Joanie! Go faster, Joanie!” I think that was his petrified attempt at irony. What he was really thinking was, “Please don’t kill me, Joanie! Please don’t kill me, Joanie!” But hey, her aggressive driving skills can come in handy. If you want someone who’s willing to turn around on a highway, use the shoulder of the road as her own personal lane or get right up on someone’s bumper until they change lanes, then my mom’s your gal! (Okay she’s really not that bad… but pretty close!)

5) Always interested in learning new things – My mom was a teacher so I guess this one is no surprise. However, my mom has a natural curiosity about anything and everything that goes beyond her educational background—it’s in her DNA. She reads at least three books a week as well as several newspapers and various health magazines/newsletters. She also listens to NPR every night. Our town librarian said there is no one that takes out as many books as my mom. Heck, she’s even learning to use an iBook and just bought a wireless mouse—not bad for a 73 year old lady! Her hunger for knowledge and personal growth is simply astounding, and a true inspiration to me. 

4) More active than the energizer bunny – No rechargeable batteries needed here. My mom has been known to run through supermarkets while wearing four-inch heels. (Sometimes you gotta run through the aisles to get the buy one, get one free deals—remember the bargain hunter thing?) She also walks on the treadmill every day for an hour and a half. I can’t even keep up with her when she’s walking. She trucks down the block like she has somewhere she has to be—I have no idea where the hell it is—but I’m sprinting like a madwoman to keep up with her! Every time I call her, she’s on her way to do something or meet someone or volunteer at the hospital. She’s full of pep!

3) Makes “Little Mary Sunshine” seem depressed – Don’t know if there really is a Little Mary Sunshine, but we’ve all heard of her. (Apparently it was the title of a musical in 1959.) Anyway, my mom could give Mary a run for her money. My mom wakes up on the “right side of the bed” every single day. I’ve never seen her in a bad mood—something I definitely did not inherit from her. My father passed away in October and despite how difficult it is, she always has a smile on her face and finds the good in every situation. A few years ago, we were sitting at breakfast and talking about happiness and what it means. She sort of looked down, embarrassed, and then sheepishly said, “I’m just happy. If I didn’t have money problems, nothing would bother me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” How crazy is it that she actually thought being happy was something to be ashamed of? She regularly tells me that she wants to live forever—as long as she has a book to read! She is a testament to anyone who’s ever wondered whether life is worth enduring all the trials and tribulations each of us has to face. She proves to me it certainly is. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about how incredibly courageous and optimistic a woman she is.

2) Mothers everyone around her, including me – She’s a Jewish mother for goodness sakes—would you expect anything else? She may call me ten times a day, but if I don’t feel like talking, she understands when I don’t answer the phone OR if I do pick up and tell her I’ll call her back later, she understands that too. She’s chill like that. But it’s not a two-way street. No, my mom will ALWAYS talk to me… even if it’s at 1:00 in the morning (and believe me, I’ve called her that late when I’m about to have a meltdown). My mom will listen to my career ups and downs, my love life issues (or lack thereof), or my ramblings about the meaning of life. She is the best listener and always has a way of talking me down off the metaphorical ledge. And her nurturing skills are not just reserved for me. My mom will nurture anyone… my friends, their friends, strangers she meets on the checkout line… it doesn’t matter. She has a heart bigger than the U.S. of A. and for all of you out there who want some mothering in your lives, I’m willing to share her with you… free of charge. Aren’t you lucky?

And the #1 reason my mom rocks my universe:

1) Loves me unconditionally and more than anyone in the world!

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!!! And to all of us children… maybe we should make our own cards this year and let Hallmark survive without us… 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Is he dead or just sleeping?

         I know that is a harsh beginning, but as New Yorkers, haven’t we all had that moment? That moment where you see someone on a park bench and you have no idea if he/she is alive or dead. Let’s face it… in NYC anything is possible. The person might be in a drunken stupor and passed out. Or he/she might have had a massive heart attack and is unconscious. Or the person may be a sociopath, who is slumped over from his/her latest heroine fix. The problem is, you never know which scenario is the right one. The drunken stupor person probably wants to sleep it off and would prefer you do not bother him/her. The heart attack victim, on the other hand, needs you to do emergency life-saving CPR. Meanwhile, the sociopath drug addict will probably stab you in the eye if you try to help.

            Well, the other day I was at work and found myself staring out the window at a man slumped over on a bench. I called over my coworker and we started watching his movements, or lack thereof. After about thirty seconds, we could see he was breathing and thus fit into the “passed out” category – whether it was from booze or something else altogether. He probably didn’t want to be bothered by me or anyone else, yet I kept thinking, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything? Why is everyone walking past him as if he’s not even there?” I myself didn’t budge. There was still that small part of me that thought if I tried to wake him, he might punch me in the face.

            I am in no way saying New Yorkers don’t help others. I remember a time when I was about to step onto the subway and there was a big gap between the platform and the train car. I lost my balance and my leg went right into the gap. If someone hadn’t grabbed me and lifted me up, I don’t even want to think about what could’ve happened. And it goes both ways. I once stood in the rain at midnight for an hour waiting to give a statement to the police about a car accident I witnessed. I think most of us want to help others. We just don’t want to be killed in the process by the person we’re supposed to be helping!

            It actually calls to mind when my mom was taking a walk in her neighborhood a few years ago. She lives in a very quiet town in suburban, New Jersey. During the walk, she didn’t notice the pavement was pulled up from the ground by the roots of a tree. Her foot caught in the sidewalk, and down she went. She hit her head and was bleeding. As my mom lay stunned on the sidewalk, she remembers seeing someone across the street, working on his car. He saw her too… and did NOTHING. He did not cross the street to check on her, nor did he call out to her to ask if she was all right. Cars drove by as well. Not one person stopped to help her.

The broken sidewalk was outside a greenery, so my mom went inside to speak to a manager. The salesperson said “no one was around” (yeah right) and once again, my mom was disregarded, despite the fact she was bleeding profusely from her head by this point. No offers to call anyone for my mom came either. Finally, she permitted my mom the use of the greenery’s bathroom to “clean herself up.”  Gee, thanks. I think the salesperson only did it because she didn’t want my mom bleeding all over the floor. My mom ultimately walked home a mile by herself, dazed and in shock.

My mom is five feet tall and weighs 90 pounds. She’s no threat to anyone.  I know I’m biased, but she is one of the sweetest and kindest people I know. Why didn’t anyone that day treat her with the same kindness she so willingly gives to others? My mom’s experience is a clear-cut case of a big fail in terms of helping our fellow man—or woman. I know it’s all subjective, but a better line needs to be drawn between helping people in need and just walking by and pretending you didn’t see them.

Which leads me back to the sleeping man on the bench outside my workplace. I’d like to apologize to him for not checking if he was okay.  Sir, I hope you were simply taking an impromptu nap and woke up refreshed, and proceeded to go about the rest of your day.  I will always feel bad that I stood by and did nothing. Clearly I still need to figure out my own lines too.