Looking back and thinking forward

Month: September, 2007

Where I blog


Ronni Bennett got me to thinking about where I blog. As I was photographing my space, I found myself looking from many different angles at the area where I sit down to commune with the Blogosphere. I realized the environment of my study is about connection, interaction, and relationships with people, plants or animals. For example, can you see the toy mice waiting for Ada to join me on my desk? They are on top of a little blanket my mother gave me the last time I was visiting her in Israel. It has become Ada’s favorite place to sit. The cat sitter recently told me when I returned from a trip out West, that Ada sits there when I am away. Each morning she and I bat the mice back and forth to each other in a "welcome-back-and-good-morning" type game to get the day started. Facing me on the wall are photographs of pets who have died, favorite postcards and some sayings that inspire and fill me with hope. Alongside the large window where I look out at the woods of Fairmount Park and especially at the huge old oak tree, there are an abundance of Christmas cacti and violets that I have grown from their own saplings and cuttings over the years. In a month or so they will all be blooming in a chorus of color, a celebration of the space they occupy. Plants have accompanied me all my life. I acquired a love of them from my mother – directly and completely. I have always marveled at how she is able to turn any environment into an interesting, exotic and beautiful growing space. And I have always adored the ways she talks about each plant. She knows their habits, likes, dislikes, and is always amazed and intrigued by what they do and how they grow.

I discovered blogging almost three years ago when we relocated to Philadelphia and, as many of you know, it has been my main source of social connection and interaction. In addition, it has been a looking glass into my psyche helping me uncover uncomfortable aspects of myself as I share them with supportive readers, some who have become what I consider to be close friends, more intimate than most because they have read my writings about my deepest and most difficult feelings. Recently, Ronni wrote a piece about the changing blogosphere and social connection waning through other ad-filled social media sites. Her insightful post, along with taking pictures and reflecting on "where I blog," brought me back ever so lovingly to my Mining Nuggets, this blog, which was born out of the ancient pains and tribulations of my first ever site: Tamarika: In and Out of Confidence.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Be back soon

Strategies for endurance

Quote of the day:

I love the dark hours of my being. / My mind deepens into them. / There I can find, as in old letters, / the days of my life, already lived, / and held like a legend, and understood. Rilke

On the drive home from work last night I heard Phillip Roth talking to Terry Gross. I was particularly struck by their discussion about developing strategies for endurance as we grow older. While I have not reached the honorable age of the character in his latest novel, I too am resigning myself to losing the younger me and finding ways to accept the challenging changes as they unfold.

I laughed at myself this morning as I reflected on my doctor’s follow-up visit yesterday. Feeling emotionally contained and stoic as I jumped up onto his examining table I found myself blurting out uncontrollably, "Please don’t be alarmed by the condition of my toes. My feet were rather battered up this summer from a one hundred mile hike I completed in England." Needless to say, the doctor was not even entertaining the notion of examining my feet. He was an ob/gyn. Once those words had escaped my lips and were hanging out there, I continued, puzzled by my own outburst, "How strange. One never really knows where the shame will creep in … does one?" My voice trailed off and he smiled kindly saying something about he would never have noticed my toes in the first place. The day had proceeded with meetings and classes well into the night and concluded as I drove home exhausted and fell into bed.

This morning, I took my coffee out to the patio and reflected on my visit with the doctor. Blocking the anxiety of follow-up diagnosis and news I had focused my attention on my one or two bruised toe-nails instead of the matter at hand.

I suppose shame and fear accompany one another closely at times.


The beneficent old oak tree is raining acorns on the roof, in the garden, all over the grass and even in the bird bath Tom bought me for my birthday two years ago. Squirrels and chipmunks have been busy for days, scurrying and scuttling around collecting, eating, burrowing, and hiding the nuts. Ada and I sit and watch from the window. At times she clucks and chirps but mostly we sit together in silence, still as a Sphinx just being together, observing, eyes darting from side to side, turning our heads as if in one synchronized movement. I follow her lead for she notices the tiniest movement from the smallest corner of her eye.

Lately, my dreams have been about traveling along a rough and rocky terrain, sometimes dangerously high and narrow and at others through interesting swamps and forests. In an old white pick-up truck and also by train. And I am never driving. Always a passenger, tossed back and forth, with no control of where we are headed or how we will get there. I am always interested in the view and sometimes feel helpless and scared. People around me are in charge of the drive and I am not comfortable because as much as I depend on them and need them to steer the course, I do not always trust that they know what they are doing. I awake pensive, and wander around pouring my coffee, opening blinds, preparing for the day almost as if in a trance.

Autumn is always a reflective time for me anyway. Living in the woods with the huge old oak tree as my partner and all the animals and birds coming and going, I can’t help but feel the seasons deeply in my bones. As plants and trees shed and prepare themselves for the long sleep, I find myself reviewing the past year and looking towards new and different times ahead. And I feel as if I am heading into some interesting, and, perhaps, scary territory.

I just hope I get to steer the course from time to time. But for that I guess I will need to take some action and, even, reach for the wheel. Or, perhaps I might learn to sit back, relax, and trust that the drivers know what they are doing.

Family ties

I awoke this morning realizing that I have my family back. It was a gentle feeling, kind and warm, and very, very peaceful. For the past, many years since I emigrated to the United States and left the family behind, I have been prodding, prying, exploring, delving, and probing deep into those dark shadowy places of my mind to uncover how I came to be who I am today. It was painful. No doubt about it. Confronting unrealistic expectations, uncovering my own story, finding my voice. I fought, cried, kicked and screamed within and without. But in the end was face to face with my self, over and over again. For awhile I pushed all my family members back, withdrew and shut myself out. I simply had to stand alone in order to discover where I began and where each person ended for me. Who was who, why was why, what was what.

These past two weeks, during the illness, my sisters and mother have rallied around me, calling from Israel and England every day to make sure I was all right, and give me comfort from afar. It was amazing for me. Each time I thanked them profusely they would say, "Well, what did you expect?" Each day as I was feeling afraid or sore they would offer to come out to help me and every time they did that I felt safer and safer, stronger and stronger. I realized they are there for me, for each other. They always have been. In my emotional turmoil and self exploration I have been pushing them away with outlandish expectations and blame for my own shortcomings and transgressions. Indeed, in the past, I might not have embraced those calls with the love and gratitude that I did recently. In fact, I realize that I am finally allowing them back in, allowing myself to be a part of my large, diverse, interesting, humorous, fun-loving, complex, loving family.

Of course, all of us have shortcomings. None of us are perfect. We have all done things to each other intentionally and unintentionally that have been hurtful, excluding, or unfair. But, in the end, we are a family and through my mother’s strength and determination, even though some of us are flung far and wide throughout the world, we are all in this together.

Tears fall like rain as I write this. Tears of relief and gratitude for the way they hung in there with me, remained constant and true and full of love if only I would allow it. I have not been easy with my complaints, criticisms and demands. I do not regret the fight I have fought even though I know I have hurt some people here and there, just as I have felt hurt. It was like surgery for me. Psycho-emotional surgery where I had to lift the bandage and get right into the middle of the wound in order for it to heal. What a thought. For I might have to go into a physical surgery after next week’s test results and, how strange, am not feeling as afraid as two weeks ago.

Sometimes, we just have to go right into the middle of the wound in order for it to heal.

Anger is as anger does

Writing about teachers, children and anger, I cannot help but explore my own at the same time. And what a complex emotion it is! For, from a very young age we are taught (and teach) that anger is a bad, shameful emotion that one needs to get rid of, repress – anything, rather than confront it. And yet, it is a necessary feeling that rises to warn us that something is amiss, helps us take care of ourselves, fight for our rights and protect our integrity. It is not the emotion itself that is bad and shameful. It is the way we learn to express or repress it. Of course, this may not sound too new for many of us. We have gathered by now that it is not good for our bodies or souls if we hold in uncomfortable emotions for too long. Nor does it really benefit those around us whether in personal or professional relationships. Somehow, any how, anger seeps out in all sorts of ways: passively, aggressively, though illness and headaches, destructively, masochistically … on and on.

Some of you may remember Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Anger? I reached for it again this past weekend because during my past illness I experienced quite a bit of anger. Constant niggling, simmering anger at my body giving in like that. It rendered me helpless and exhausted especially because mostly I internalized it into a mild kind of depression. Debilitating. There was other anger too, the details of which I will not go into here because it involves my personal relationships. Although I did not express it outwardly I was seething within. As I was re-reading Lerner’s book thinking that I needed to brush up on women’s expression of anger for the third chapter of my book, I came upon this:

Fighting and blaming is sometimes a way both to protest and protect the status quo when we are not quite ready to make a move in one direction or another.

I stopped dead in my tracks. All that simmering, seething anger (internal, silent fighting and blaming) was debilitating indeed. But serving me well as it held me down and in place. With all these years of self-alteration and awareness I had journeyed back to the very same place only to know it for the first time.

This morning I awoke much clearer than any of the days of the past two weeks. Not only did the illness really feel like it was finally dissipating, but I seemed less afraid and helpless about my future. Not a big deal revelation or anything. Just a reminder. Anger will always come and go. Sometimes I will allow it to hold me down and in place. But, perhaps, one day, I will recognize it for the helpful, warning sign it is.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Sun and life

Lessons learned

Quote of the day:

Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life. Seneca

Being ill has been an interesting experience for me. About 25 years ago I had viral hepatitis. I had caught it from one of the children in my classroom. For two months I was yellow all over my body, fingers, whites of eyes, and general skin-tone. Most of the time I was weak, tired and nauseous. It was an awful, debilitating illness that never seemed to go away. Finally, at the very end I was hospitalized for a few days for some tests and then it was all over. Now, twenty five years later, I found myself in a similar situation only this time it felt so much more serious. It came at me from out of the blue and sucked me out of my life. I felt like I had been thrown into prison and would never be set free again. Indeed, I found myself making my hospital room comfortable for the long haul, as if accepting my fate and moving on with it the best I could. Some of the lessons learned occurred to me this morning when I enjoyed a cup of coffee, something I have not been able to do for the past ten days or so.

  • Even though the body is ailing with fever or pain, tremors or weakness and fatigue, the mind can pull me out of despairing. I can wash my face, take a deep breath – or a number of deep breaths, tell myself I am not just an illness, I am also me! Looking in the mirror for a long moment helps me come back to the me within. I look into my eyes and see that I am so much more than just fever and pain. I don’t have to become the illness.
  • Just because everyone around me is behaving in a certain institutional way, I don’t have to. For example, as the nurses rush through with their medicine packages and throw the lids or papers on the floor by my bed in their haste, I can pick those papers up and keep my room clean. I don’t need to lie in that mess feeling worthless or just like someone who is being handled. By the same token, if they have not time to ask me who I am or find out how I am feeling, I can still ask them who they are and find out how they are feeling. Each time I do that, they stay a short while and share their day with me.
  • Renewing respect for my body. My mind and brain resides in this body of mine. I deserve to take care of it. It seems to me that if I stuff unhealthy foods into it, that will not be kind or helpful to the body’s functioning. If I don’t move and bend it, the body won’t be flexible or strong enough to face the dysfunctional times. My body needs rest, warm baths and compassion for the number of years it has been functioning successfully so far.
  • Self reflection reconfirmed. Understanding why I do what I do, how I think and feel the way I do, is one of the ways I have some control of my life. It gives me choices and helps me make decisions for myself even if it is simply in my attitude or the way I feel. Self reflection is my friend and when I am in any type of situation I find comfort in writing out or thinking it through. Getting to know how my mind works is one of the best things I can do for myself: body and mind.
  • Contact with others is important. Visits, telephone calls, e-mail messages, cards, gifts and flowers make a difference. Feeling ill and working to keep afloat emotionally is challenging and can feel pretty lonely. Each time someone makes contact with me in any way is helpful and gives me hope that this illness state is temporary and the end is near. Plus, it just makes me feel worthwhile and loved. Attention does that! Puts me in the forefront for a moment while I struggle with feeling like I’m disappearing from view.
  • Relationships is what it is all about. And I keep returning to this lesson. Over and over again. In the end, it is my various relationships with different people that makes life worthwhile. Not the books I have written or will write, meetings I have attended or awards received. It has only to do with the one to one interactions with family members, friends, colleagues, or, even, strangers passing by my bedside, sharing a smile, a tear, a touch, a few words. My resolve has been strengthened and heart opened wider to spend the rest of my life enhancing the quality of all my relationships.

Thank you so much to all the people who wished me well or held me in their thoughts this past week or so. I raise this wonderful cup of coffee, which I am enjoying so much for the first time in 10 days, to all of you, whoever and wherever you may be, in a toast to human contact and relationships whether virtual or real!

Hospital days

So far I have been in the hospital for four days. I guess the way I seem to be holding onto this fever, I probably am looking at a few more. Early this morning I found myself talking to my body. Perhaps, it’s the long hours alone staring at the blank walls and ceilings with only the sounds of I.V. pump machines and other hospital bells and whistles out in the hallways. I realized that my body has always been there for me. Sure, now and then it has been weaker than it could be and these past eight years since I turned 50 it has ached in areas I did not know I had. But it seemed it was a constant. One of those few I could always depend on. “Hey body,” I said, “What’s happened? I’m not used to this.”

Yesterday, I raged. Anger seeped through my veins, splashing and swirling alongside the anti-biotic dripping relentlessly for hours, whipping up the fever, burning through my eyes, and constricting my throat. This morning I awoke out of a dream where the ocean rose up and washed over the roads, splashing people’s faces as they stood on the promenade looking out to sea. My rage did not feel as large any longer and then suddenly I knew that it had all been about my poor sick and feverish body: fallen down, weak, hurting.

I went into the bathroom, quickly grabbing a chance to brush my hair, and wash my face while my hand was miraculously free from dragging around the I.V. until the next dose would be upon me. After opening the blind and looking out at the rising morning for some moments, I climbed back into my hospital bed and pulled my computer towards me. Turning it on and hearing the familiar sounds of start-up seemed to soothe and comfort me. No Internet access? Never mind, I am still able to write. I might even be able to post it to my blog when I get home. And, this morning … how strange … I realize excitedly that yes I will get home…

Body, even though it might not be today or tomorrow, I assure you, we will be going home, you and me. On the way, you will get patched and fixed, prodded and jabbed, flushed through with gruesome healing medications, and propped up to keep on keeping on. We will have to stay awhile in an institution that believes in healing through medication. Even though there does not seem to be awareness about the healing powers of aesthetics, human communication, or quality of food. We will stay awhile and heal in spite of institutional ignorance. People are dedicated and working extremely hard to make us well. I start up some music on my computer, filling the room with sounds that give my spirit joy and comfort, and am grateful for the flowers Tom brought me last night. They are sitting in a corner of the night table bringing a touch of color and beauty into this emotionally and physically neutral territory. Yes, body. I will help us get well by not allowing us to sink into institutional brain set, and retaining the inner most soulful me.

And, most of all, I will learn to accept and support you with compassion and understanding when you stumble and fall.


I am home, armed with loads of medications and future procedures. On the mend and hopeful for positive end results in two weeks time.

A true Rosh Hashanah gift! Happy New Year to those who celebrate.

Getting serious (Update)

The party is over. Time for me to get serious now and buckle down to work. Preparing classes and finishing the book. Deadlines are hot on my tail … tale …

And yet …

It has been such a damn good summer. And I simply do not want to work as hard as I always have. I have started to enjoy enjoying. I love taking my time and doing what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it. Time seems short for me as I charge on towards my sixties … just a little less than two more years to go.

The semester ahead is shaping up to be busy and intense. Many classes to teach (too many?), book due before winter vacation, conference presentations to present, Board work, editorial consulting to engage in, students to supervise, work-outs, yoga, weights and dieting to work on, and the list mounts.

And yet …

I want to continue noticing a purple violet flower suddenly bursting into bloom on the plant stand, stare out at the bird feeder and the large oak tree, or walk the Wissahickon. I want to spontaneously jump on a train to the City, take in a movie on my own, or meet new people out of the blue. I want to blog when I want and I most certainly want to play on Facebook. Yes indeed, I want to have fun!

This sounds like a great way to retire. Work intensely at things I love to do: teach, supervise, write, present, consult, volunteer, advocate.

And yet …

And at the same time, as I become serious and buckle down, just refuse to take it all too seriously.

For as Life comes, so, too it will go …

So perhaps, this semester, I will practice the balance, prepare for retirement within, retiring from the old, ancient way of looking at how I do my living, and learn a whole new way of being.

I might even go so far as to consider this a New Year’s resolution. For it comes at the time of the year when a chill in the air greets the dawn, and one or two leaves start to turn. It comes at the beginning of the end of summer.


And then along comes this to support my learning a new way of being:


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Idleness is Okay

Most of the world’s troubles seem to come from people who are too busy.
If only politicians and scientists were lazier, how much happier we all would be.

Evelyn Waugh

This quote by Evelyn Waugh comes from the new book by Tom Hodgkinson, How to Be Idle (New York: HarperCollins, 2005). Hodgkinson makes the case in 24 essays that time spent not working is time well spent. Along the way he lampoons the many things that get in the way of us enjoying our leisure: employment, consumerism, middle-class propriety, status anxiety, deeply ingrained workaholism, and lack of imagination.

According to Hodgkinson, idleness is a whole philosophy based on the notion that much of life’s magic presents itself in those spontaneous, lazy moments when we are not intent on producing something. He observes…

“Planned schemes of merriment rarely turn into the best evenings, which are usually the unplanned ones, when you have abandoned yourself to fate and chance and chaos.”

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Have I said it all? & Inspired

A year ago …

… at Mining Nuggets: Past and present