Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monet at the Mall

Paintings by Marsha Heller

Once upon a recent time, on a wondrous spring day in New Jersey, for some unfathomable reason everyone headed to the mall. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to spend a Saturday inside shuffling in circles when one could be outside riding a bike. But apparently every teenager, mom with a baby and stroller, and guy with nothing else to do thought the mall was the place to be. It may have been March, but at the mall, it was Christmas.
            Now why, might you ask, would I—an avid mall hater—even know this? Obviously, because I was there, too. But I was there because my computer needed a new battery, not because I wanted to be "cool" or required a designer pocketbook (I can honestly say that I’ve never owned one).
            Unfortunately, on that particular Saturday, I was unaware that the new Ipod 2 had just come out, so the Apple store was packed. And even though there were about 500 sales clerks servicing the three thousand people squeezed into the store, it still took me a while to get the battery and flee. As I was exiting the mall, it occurred to me that I could stop in and pick up some supplements at the vitamin store, but that would mean I’d have to wend my way through even more teenagers and strollers. Despite my yogic breathing, I could feel a panic attack coming on, so I stumbled to my car as fast as I could (which was not very fast, considering all the adolescents, strollers, and new mothers I had to fight off).
            Later in the day, I realized that I had to go to yet another mall to attend an opening of new works by Marsha Heller,  a wonderful artist I’ve known for many years. Thankfully, this particular mall  (a little more upscale) was not as crowded as the first, though it was still pretty jam-packed. Inside the art gallery, however, the mood changed immediately. The lighting was soft. The paintings—impressionistic landscapes--were colorful, lush, and uplifting. On a side table were grapes, cheeses, and wines. A CD player wafted classical music. Was it possible, I wondered, that I was really at a mall?
At the risk of sounding cranky or old-fashioned, it seems to me that if more malls offered the art gallery option, there’d be a lot less angst on the planet. And innocent people who just needed to pick up a computer battery or a bottle of B Complex could brave the terrors of the mall without fear, knowing that after battling for parking, wending through strollers and lanky gangs of fourteen-year-olds, being assaulted by rock and rap music blasting from the depths of those stores that sell hip clothing and are as dark and dank as prehistoric caves, surviving the stench of the perfume and make up aisles and the raucous sounds and irritating aromas of the food court, you could –if you should so choose—reward yourself with a little visit to an art gallery. There, a lovely artist would welcome you with wine, cheese, and beautiful paintings.
Now that, in my opinion, is worth a trip to the mall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My the Moon

© Kurt/

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “supermoon” that made its dramatic appearance this weekend. Some have connected the supermoon to potential disasters—more earthquakes, tsunamis, and certainly more people driving recklessly.  I admit it’s a scientific fact that the moon’s magnetic pull is stronger as it comes closer to the earth. But I still find it difficult to imagine the moon as a menacing force. For one thing, my yoga studies have taught me that in times of the full moon the potential for healing is greater. And then there’s that guy up there, who’s always been my friend.
            Let’s just say that when I was a kid, we were a little bit moon crazy in my house.  My father often lifted me up onto his shoulders and stepped outside on the porch so that I could say goodnight to the moon before I reluctantly went to bed. Saying goodnight to the “man in the moon” was a ritual that signaled that yes, it really was bedtime (it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the book, Goodnight Moon, and read it to my children). On cold nights we’d search for the bright winter moon through the windows. Much ado was made about the friendly nature of the moon; certainly it was nothing to be afraid of. (Recently, my college-aged son played me a video clip of a Conan O’Brien show featuring a doctored photo of the moon with Charlie Sheen’s face on it. Now that was scary.)
My dad also had a habit of insisting that the moon was made of green cheese. As a child, I always found this a lot harder to swallow than the idea that there really was a man up there. When my father died 23 years ago, I bought myself a pair of sterling silver moon earrings in his memory.  I still think of him every time I wear them.
So, grim predictions notwithstanding, I’m going to stick with my vision of the moon as my father introduced it: a mysterious, unknowable, but friendly sphere. A beautiful white orb, a healing, hypnotic enigma that can inspire us to live more fully, to begin anew, to take life in cycles and steps, and to know that we will one day wane even as we wax, and that we will one day wax even though we are waning: A friend, an observer, an advisor, a brilliant reflection of our lives hanging right over our heads, eternally.
Yes, I’m a romantic when it comes to the beautiful moon. And I don’t see that there’s any other way to be.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Word by Word

My favorite book about writing (and probably just about every other writer’s, too) is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  In it, she talks about everything important to writers, including how to build up your confidence and keep plugging away, even in the face of challenge, failure, and rejection. The title actually refers to a paper her brother was writing in school; the project seemed impossible, but the father advised his son just to tackle it bird by bird. The approach seems to work well with anything in life, which is why Lamott’s book is so popular even with non-writers.
            I’ve been writing for decades, but not until recently have I fully understood the power of words to harm or heal. I have often referred to myself as a  “wordsmith.” Sometimes, when helping someone else write, I’ve called myself a “word doctor.” Some writers take on ghostwriting jobs for people who are so afraid of words they literally quake with fear at the thought of writing--or who are simply so busy and important that they don't have the time to tell their own story.  “Writer’s block” is a common ailment among people who pen (or keyboard) for a living. Having “words” with someone isn’t a good sign; nor is (usually), “I’d like to have a word with you.” Words can embolden us (my best friend shares the tale of her son’s first encounter with bullies and the choice words @#!%**!! she taught him to use to defend himself); they may be ennobling (or ignoble). They can also make us laugh (maybe the Senate needs Al Franken, but his books are hilarious).
            Words can cause tears (for me, usually the worst flooding comes when unkind words are uttered by someone I care deeply about, but tears can also erupt if the check-out lady at the store snaps needlessly). Words of praise make us glow. In times of crisis (as in the tsunami and earthquake) we feel “at a loss” for words, and yet hearing “I’m sorry” or “I’m thinking of or praying for you” helps soothe pain.
            We all know how important words are when raising children; there’s no shortage of folks who’ve been messed up by parents who’ve said the wrong words at the wrong time. We all know that words—once voiced aloud—are impossible to erase, and may take years to forget.
             So what am I saying here? Simply that words are important. I may jest about what I do sometimes (after all, to make a buck I’ve been known to write about some pretty mundane topics) but the words that we write and say do impact others, sometimes in ways we could never even imagine. Thinking about words while writing this blog has made me realize two things: I really want to re-read some of the classics, and savor the word stew of the Brontes, Austin, even tackle Middlemarch and Portrait of a Lady again.
And I really want to remember, every time I open my mouth to speak or pick up my pen to write, that words do matter. Not just those who write for a living, but everyone has the power to choose words that will harm or words that will add to the stockpile of goodness, laughter, and light in the world.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I Once Was Lost...

But now I’m found. No, I’m not talking about religious matters. I mean I was quite literally and frequently lost, because—unlike some folks, who seem to know exactly when to hang a right or left and at which stop sign—I have the tendency, especially when driving a car, to head in exactly the opposite direction that I should.
            Enter the GPS navigation system, which I finally received as a gift last year. This little device has “completely changed my life!” No longer must I take copious notes every time I plan a trip, nor do I need to endlessly stop at stinky gas stations for directions, nor do I have to pull over at every corner to puzzle over crinkly, musty old maps that are impossibly difficult to re-fold once you’ve opened them. Nor do I have to nod and smile while someone explains how to get some place, as if I’m not going to forget everything they’ve just said as soon as I slip behind the wheel.
            What incredible freedom! Now, when I enter my car, I simply plug in this little box and away I go. Yes, I realize that occasionally these systems screw up, or take you into potentially dangerous neighborhoods. But they can also get you out of them—just listen to the voice and follow the directions, or if you wish, barrel on in any direction and the voice will say (if rather defiantly), “Re-calculating.
            Most likely you’re not as impressed with the GPS as I am, because most likely you’ve never had a debilitating fear of driving. But for those kindred spirits out there who know what I’m talking about because you’ve “been there,” not having to worry about getting lost is a godsend. It’s also a time-saver, because there’s no need to waste precious moments fretting, frowning, and crinkling maps.
            Yes, I know there are many more exciting inventions like the iPad, the BlackBerry and the banana holder (or even the modern washing machine—I actually remember when my mom had to manually transfer the laundry from the washing bin to the spin cycle!).  But I’ll still cast my vote for my GPS: Not having to worry about where you’re going or how you’re going to get there is truly liberating.
Now, if I could just get my internal GPS to work as well: Should I quit that one tedious writing job or keep at it? Is it time to get rid of the bangs? Should I stop hanging around with that rather negative friend? I know! I’m going to eat that piece of cheesecake!

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Army of Women Studies:

According to Army of Women,
"African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than Caucasian women, even though fewer African American women are getting breast cancer each year and screening use has improved. This difference has gotten worse over the past 20 years. " New research studies are being conducted, and AOW needs your help. Pass this on if you can. Thanks!
The Gap Study: Designed to gather the information needed to better understand the differences in breast cancer treatment experiences between Black/African American Women and White/European American Women. The researchers want to know more about how to improve the survival rates of women with breast cancer.
Learn more and sign up for The Gap Study at:
Project CARE Study: This study is evaluating a stress management, relaxation skills training, and breast cancer education program for Black/African-American women with breast cancer. It is being conducted by researchers at the University of Miami who are interested in evaluating what effect this program has on quality of life.
Learn more and sign up for the Project CARE Study at:
Jewels in Our Genes Study: The research team is studying why some African American families have multiple cases of breast cancer. This will help to better understand if there are undiscovered genes unique to African Americans that may predict early breast cancer risk. 

Learn more and sign up for the Jewels in our Genes Study at: