The Best of Intentions

I wish writing were more like eating. Why is it so easy to eat when I’m not even hungry, but not easy to write when I’m not inspired?

It is effortless for me to make excuses for not writing in a more disciplined fashion. I have a creative, high-energy job that is very much the product of  my imagination, the good fortune of having like-minded business partners, hard work, and sheer luck. There are days when I am perfectly fine getting up from my desk at 8:30 pm. It doesn’t matter that it’s too late to cook when I get home, because I can stand in front of the refrigerator peeling off a layer of fresh mozzarella and grab a fistful of cherry tomatoes while my husband brushes his teeth. The working woman’s instant pizza.

Of course there is a choice to be made after I gulp down my Euro supper: I can write, read, watch TV, or pull out my laptop. Here’s how I would like my evenings to unfold when I get home from work:

  1. Stretch for 10 minutes
  2. Meditate for 15 minutes
  3. Cook dinner 7:00-7:30 pm
  4. Finish eating by 8:30 pm
  5. Write two pages of anything from 8:30 to 9:30 pm
  6. Catch up on my pile of  New Yorker magazines from 9:30-10:30 pm
  7. Check email, Twitter, and Facebook 10:30-11:00 pm
  8. Watch Charlie Rose from 11:00 pm-12:00 am
  9. Read from 12:00 am -1:00 am
  10. Sleep until 7:30 am

Part of my excuse cycle is my odd sleeping pattern. This past year I have found staying up late to be very relaxing. It is a time when I can freely communicate with my business partner (via iChat) without anyone hearing our conversation, watch “Entourage” reruns and “International House Hunters” debating whether we should move to Europe or Mexico, all while darting between the New York Times, Paris Match, The Nation, and other assorted Web sites. I often turn out the lights around 2:00 am, wake up at 8:30 am, feel exhausted by 7:00 pm, and would rather make a salad and talk to my husband than write.

One of the most prolific phases in my writing life was when I used to “temp” in-between lackluster jobs. I would write the most florid poetry while my supervisor thought I was correcting PowerPoint slides. I knocked off a screenplay, several short stories, and a TV sitcom treatment entitled “Pastrami University” as I answered phones and pretended to be focused. Looking back, a failed romance and the absence of a fully engaged career provided the motivation and time to write so furiously.

Now it is 12:20 am as I finish this post. My husband is asleep and Saturday Night Live beckons. I’ve written approximately 440 words and that will have to suffice until tomorrow.

 

 

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Wordchef

I’ve been feeling rather frustrated with myself that I haven’t been writing, blogging, or reading lately.

Part of the problem is the weather. It’s winter, and I just want to jump into my Land’s End red fleece robe the minute I come home. The other issue is simply distraction. This season, my number one distraction is playing Words with Friends (WFF). I realize that this is a lame excuse, but for me it has been as relaxing as an after dinner cigarette. But there is a co-pay. For months I couldn’t wait until Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard was released, and now that I have it on my Kindle, I’m only at 2% completion because of WFF.

However, an unexpected bit of inspiration came upon me after reading Luisa Weiss’ latest piece on her wonderful blog, The Wednesday Chef. So I’m back and ready to re-connect and share the three fairly interesting events that have occurred since my last post. They are as follows:

I somehow managed to get it together enough to write another piece for the HuffingtonPost, References for a Rabbi? . I’m now considering writing something on mothers-in-law, which could be a very controversial event in our family should that go forward. The other day I was lamenting that I haven’t kept a list of all the inappropriate things that my mother-in-law has said and done over the last decade. She is so amazingly good at topping herself. Each new emotional tsunami washes away the reconstructed remanent from the previous natural disaster, and we are left to focus on attending to our immediate survival needs.

The second sort of big thing that happened was that I was on The Daily Show  (segment begins at 11:25 on time code). There was a posting on our town website that invited people to contact them if they had any interesting stories reflecting their experience with the post office. So one night I dashed off a quick email to the producer and he responded saying that they were interested in coming out to shoot a segment with me. I didn’t come off as badly as I thought I might. The inside of our house looked pretty swell and Wyatt Cenac and the crew were a great deal of fun. It was the first (and hopefully last) time that I was referred to as ” a middle-aged suburban wigger mom.”

The third happening is the procurement of my new standing mixer, a shiny Kitchen Aid Pro 600. I have wanted one for a very long time, even though I am more of a cook than a baker. When I was younger, the Kitchen Aid symbolized something grown-up; a right of passage that somehow eluded me. Now I feel like I have crossed the threshold and plan on christening it tomorrow when I make a banana cake.

Speaking of cooking, this has been the second main distracton along with WFF. I’ve been obsessed with making caponata, the wonderfully savory, jammy, Sicilian eggplant dish. It won’t be easy, but I am really going to try to spend as much time wording as I do cooking.

Wish me luck!

 

 

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What a Week!

This week has been pretty swell. My Huffington Post blog http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debra-weiner/how-to-recognize-your-fut_b_933090.html garnered over 1,000 comments and 3,701 “likes.”

I’m off to Las Vegas for the next ten days for the PAINWeek 2011 national conference. While LV doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as Rome or Berlin, it is a fun place to people watch, eat good food, and drink over-priced martinis. I will be posting a Part 2 to the mensch/shmuck blog, but not until I’ve had several of the aforementioned beverages and logged at least two days at the cabana.

Ciao!

 

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Distinguishing the Schmuck from the Mensch (Part 1)

The best way to avoid divorce, even before you get married, is to understand the difference between a shmuck and a mensch and how the former can often impersonate the latter and wreak unnecessary havoc in your life.

There are many colorful and descriptive words that have become part of the American dating lexicon, and in my opinion, these two are among the best. Just as the word pesto triggers an aromatic burst of basil, mensch evokes someone of character, integrity, and selflessness. Schmuck, on the hand, screams
self-absorbed, opportunistic, and unresolved mother issues.

Divorced women are particularly vulnerable. On the one hand, a failed marriage can heighten awareness to negative traits and stave off an unsuccessful coupling. On the other hand, a divorce can leave you craving the affirmation that comes with dating an emotionally available person who appreciates and enjoys being with you.

Here is how this misconception can evolve:

You have recently returned from a fabulous Caribbean vacation with your two best friends. You were able to finish reading the new Jodi Picoult novel, and there was the perfect ratio of beach to bar time. You chatted up a diverse group of men: Europeans who seemed unaffected by the looming debt crisis, and hedge fund managers who held on to their BlackBerry® like a pack of cigarettes.  But, there was one guy who stood out, who wasn’t texting or checking his voice mail. In fact, like you, he spent a good deal of time reading—an actual book. You walked by his cabana several times to see if you could catch the title. It was Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which made you feel good, because you love that book, and you assume that anyone reading it has a strong personal vision.

On the third night you talked to him at the pool bar, and you found out that he is a physical therapist who works at a famous rehab institution. This means that he works with people who are physically and emotionally vulnerable, and that made you feel safe. The following days and nights were magical. He told you that he would like to spend a year in the French countryside, preferably closer to Avignon than St. Tropez, but he’s deferred it because his widowed mother recently had a hip replacement, and he wants to make sure she’s back on her feet before he leaves the country for an extended period of time.

The next month is bliss. You share your respective bucket lists and discover that you both want to visit the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and the Rodin museum in Paris.

You cannot believe your luck and how present he is. How he actually listens to you and remembers that you don’t like cilantro but adore capers and pink peppercorns. You are touched by his use of the word “our” when he refers to getting milk for “our” coffee, and when looking for a parking spot for “our” car.
Just recently you were discussing how much the two of you wanted to watch the film “Inception” and he said “make sure to add it to ‘our’ queue.”
You are ready to start naming your children.

Then one day you are at his apartment, and he plays back a message on speakerphone. You hear a woman’s voice and she is saying something like “are we still going sailing next weekend?” and then the room starts spinning. But you have had a few years of therapy, and you know it isn’t cool to attack him with your insecurities so you wait until later to calmly ask him if this is a monogamous relationship.

He seems baffled by the question and asks what has brought this on, and for the next twenty minutes you are unable to let him finish a sentence. He starts saying “Here’s the thing…” and you cut him off sharply stating “You are using me, aren’t you? I can see why you haven’t been in a relationship for the last three years!” He realizes that your petals are folding, and says “The truth is that I do have very strong feelings for you, and it is making me apprehensive. So yes, I have been seeing other women, but not seriously.”

You can relate to his anxiety and appreciate his honesty, so you feel better now. Over the next few weeks you regain your equilibrium and return to your Pilates class. You have bought tickets to a concert in the park for next Saturday, and he suddenly remembers that he forgot to mention that he is going rock climbing with the guys for a long weekend.

This is the beginning of him creating real distance in the relationship. There are more examples of this along with a general lack of courtesy—like showing up late but not bothering to call. The level of commitment goes down little by little, and you start to feel sad and unsafe. What held so much promise now seems dangerous and duplicitous and reminds you of all of the issues that you grappled with in your former marriage.

How did this happen when the beginning seemed so positive and reassuring?

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Avocado

Immune to peer pressure,

nothing pushes your ripening cycle.

Not the frantic hands of harried housewives,

the ticking recipe card,

or seasonal demand.

 

You are worth the wait,

for what is more precious

than to feel your flesh loosen

from its snug parka?

What is more delicious than your preference

for being tossed with tears and lemon?

 

How can anyone resist disrobing

your buttery perfection

and swallowing you whole?

 

I sleep with your pit under my pillow,

and live to consume and return you

to the underworld.

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The Film Version

I just had a rather cosmic moment. While perusing the Huffington Post Web site I came across a promo video with Nora Eprhon talking about a new HP feature entitled “Breakovers” which is the product of a break-up catalyzing a major make-over. As many of my friends are aware, ever since the manuscript migrated from Word to In-Design, I’ve imagined Nora Ephron directing the film version of the book, with Patricia Clarkson playing the therapist.

The film adaptation would be based on the “The Arthur Files” section of the book and would chronicle the evolution and dissolution of the relationship between ARTHUR WEISS, the burly, bearded, lapsed Orthodox-Jew, and ABBY MARCUS, the half-Jewish “kosher shiksa.”

Despite sharing a similar map of the world, ARTHUR and ABBY’s relationship is complicated by his previous five years of celibacy and inability to detach from his controlling-but-beautiful, Hungarian-speaking mother, ESME. While ARTHUR is smart, sarcastic, and funny, he is held captive by his anger at not having been born to upper-West Side, Reformed Jewish parents, versus immigrant, Orthodox parents who landed in Borough Park, Brooklyn. A doctor by training—a medical writer by choice—and a Kung-Fu master in his dreams, he wants to move beyond his pharmaceutical company clients and become a serious author; a cross between Philip Roth and Isaac Bashevis-Singer.

The “recognition” process and the significant themes discussed in the book (such as boundaries, conflict avoidance, rationalization) are addressed through ARTHUR’s ongoing ambivalence toward his family, his desire to create a life with ABBY—and ABBY’S sessions with HANNAH. There, she grapples to understand his contradictory behavior, along with her growing attraction to DARIUS, an art director who she works with at Angst Jetzt—an online magazine for “people who prize gray matter.” A Web site that bridges graphic design with Jungian perspectives.

The turning point in their relationship is a histrionic Passover Seder where ARTHUR chooses to unleash his discomfort about his pedigree and his fear of being swallowed up by partnership in front of ABBY’s family—who are horrified by his crass remarks and disregard for the traditions of the occasion.

Things devolve from there, and ABBY finds herself moving toward DARIUS, who seems to be everything that ARTHUR is not: someone with self-esteem who is emotionally available.

If I were the casting agent and not the writer, I would choose Zach Galafanakis as ARTHUR, and  Rebecca Hall as ABBY. While I’m open to suggestions regarding the two leads, Patricia Clarkson is not negotiable.

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Der Unbekannte

I never would have known

from your dark turtlenecks

and ebony car

and bat-like exits

that you would be the type

to tuck me in and fold the laundry

without me having to ask.

I never would have known

from your short sentences

that you’d know so many

seven letter words

and know exactly when

to use the x to seal my fate

and dispel my projections.

I never would have guessed

from your sleepy posture

that your laugh could startle the cats

and wake the dogs and

that you could perfectly slice a pear

and place it on the plate as precisely

as you cut angles for crown molding.

I never would have guessed

at how effortless it is

to begin each day

and end each night

with the same amount of syllables

spilling onto the flannel and books

of a life well-lived.

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Legacies

Legacies

“I am basically dark and cynical” he said

as he shaved off his beard with

a twisted staple, a tuft of cream cheese,

an afterthought to soften the scrub.

 

“I would save my mother before my wife” he said

as he stepped into his ski boots and

took off for Finland—but not before he

he unplugged every wire and cable from the power strips.

 

“Things must end badly or they don’t end at all” he said

as he wrote his acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize and

packed his Astroglide inside his woolen socks, just before

he ate the last bit of Kimchee left in the fridge.

 

“I’ve been frying bacon since I was three” he said

and he never caught fire or slipped off of the stool

as he scrambled his eggs while his mother mothered strippers

and gangsters and left him liverwurst for dessert.

 

“I’m too fragmented to love and will only leave splinters” he said

as he pressed his suit, polished his shoes, and steamed his heart

before writing out checks for every subscription a year before they expire,

in case he does before they do.

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Abraxas NYC

Vile blueberries

sleep beside mustard covered glass

withering with despair over the detritus of lost dreams

and splintered bridges with seams torn asunder by fear, accusation, projection

and the knowing that it is too often too easy  to be alone in a city

where polite vomit is a clue to ATM receipts

where taxis sail to Harlem—the last stop before Heaven

where you can’t use your Metro card after dark.

All this she said, as she crumpled her dirty tissue

into her pocket but not before

wiping it clean with the Truth

of her own withholding.

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Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive

We pursue or dismiss romantic possibilities based on our evaluation if someone can give us what we want. In my opinion, we usually do get what we want, even if we think otherwise.

A long time ago I was involved with someone who gave me exactly what I wanted at the time: a narcissistic safari. He was a writer and NPR commentator who was very funny, smart, and predictably self-absorbed.  I had just landed a VP position, had a brand-new iMac, a cool apartment, and was eager to plunge into the world of JDate.

Then, I was an Internet novice with an AOL email address who was the perfect quarry for a literary AIM addict. One night I was sitting at my computer and an instant message popped up. I was startled, and it never occurred to me to not respond. Before I knew it we were “talking” for over an hour. I told him that one of my favorite quotes was “marriage is one long conversation” to which he replied, “that’s my favorite too!” And I believed him.

This was a very exciting interlude in my life and it was a great deal of fun to listen to his recounting of his interviews with celebrities. One of my favorites was his recollection of Sammy Davis Jr., who, in the middle of the interview, growled “I like you kid…you know why? Because have a real ‘fuck you’ attitude. But remember kid…you need ‘fuck you money’ to go with it.”

While it didn’t go the distance, I remember him fondly. Looking back, I realize that he was a male Fran Lebowitz, with a little Oscar Levant thrown in for good measure.

So what did I want then? Another only child with an extensive vocabulary who was emotionally unavailable and familiar with Leo Rosten. But, instead of enjoying the pastrami, I lamented that there wasn’t enough salad.

One of the many joys of not being 30 is realizing that in this life we get heads or tails, not both. And that for better or worse, we cannot get anything other than heads or tails.

 

 

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