Brooklyn Les

brooklynThere was already a Leslie when I arrived to work at The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995, so I quickly became Les – which was strange because up until that time, only my parents had ever called me Les.

However, not long after that “christening,” I earned the name Brooklyn Les – used exclusively when I would lead with my mouth.

Brooklyn Les swore like a sailor. Kept a pack of Newport Lights in the pocket of her leather jacket – a tan vintage number with a paisley silk lining which my friend T affectionately referred to as the Serpi-coat, an homage to Al Pacino in the movie of the same era. Brookly Les was feisty. A little bit angry. And funny as she let the expletives fly from her lips.

In those first few years in San Francisco, Brooklyn Les showed up a lot. But as time passed, her role became more of a cameo — the walk-on of a once beloved character that had moved on.

I quit smoking. I got older. I went to therapy.

I quit the job I hated and learned to curb my tongue at the one that I loved. I learned to meditate. I joined a spiritual business group.

There was less to be angry about.

“Remember when you used to be surly, Pearly?” my then-husband asked, only half in jest.

I did.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, Brooklyn Les began appearing again. Sans cigarettes.

I was newly sober and leaking emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Pain. My friend D insisted I was angry but didn’t know how to express it.

And yet, every once in a while, I did. Usually with my friend M, over food or coffee. Always unexpected. What started as simple conversation quickly developing into full-fledged rant. About my husband. Or my parents. Or my birthparents. The weather. Weight Watchers. Chicago. Occasionally myself.

M would clap with glee. She loved Brooklyn Les. Probably because she only turned up occasionally and was so different than the woman I presented as. She was funny and crass and said things none of us dared say.

But I always felt apologetic. Like I shouldn’t behave this way. That I couldn’t afford the luxury of a good resentment.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brooklyn Les. Strangely, she didn’t show up during my divorce or my pained efforts at dating after. She didn’t show up during my move to Seattle or my unfruitful job search in Chicago.

I was angry. But it wasn’t funny or functional. Instead, it mostly got turned inward, on to me.

My friend S noticed and thought that breaking some rocks might help release it. Or at the very least, invite Brooklyn Les for a visit.

So a few weeks ago, we drove out to El Pardo – a park outside of Madrid where Franco used to shoot deer. (Rumor has it he was such a bad shot that his lackeys would literally have to place deer – I don’t know how – directly in front of his aim if he was to have even a minimum of success.)

Inside the park, at a quarry of sorts, S demonstrated.

He picked up a rock, said some choice words, threw it against another and watched it shatter into bits. Then he invited me to do the same.

I picked up a rock. Threw it. And watched it bounce off another and roll onto the ground.

“I can’t even get angry correctly.”

S invited me to name my anger – more specifically, the sources of my anger – but I couldn’t. I could only cry. So he named them for me. And I cried even harder.

I cried and muttered and prayed…threw some rocks. A few shattered. Many bounced.

It was a beginning.

I’m sure Brooklyn Les could have done better. But she was nowhere to be seen.

I thought I recognized her walking through Sol, the center of Madrid, the other day. As I was jostled and bumped by Spaniards just doing what they do – walking four or five across on the sidewalk, slowly, seemingly expecting everyone else to move. They all seem to navigate just fine around each other but I haven’t quite figured out their system.

But instead of Brooklyn Les, I felt more like William Shatner in an Everyready Battery commercial circa 1978. “I dare you to knock this battery off of my shoulder.”

My anger scared me. It still does.

I thought about my ex-boyfriend D. How I more than once told him, “I won’t fight with you.”

“People fight,” he insisted. But I wouldn’t.

I thought about my ex-husband. How he was one of less than a handful of people I would fight with – who I felt safe enough to fight with.

But mostly, I find myself just fighting with myself. It’s exhausting.

It seems clear I need to find a way to purge this anger from my body – without imposing it on others, or turning it on to myself. Although I’m still not exactly sure how.

Perhaps Brooklyn Les might have an idea…

 

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Thank You For Your Bad Behavior

Last Saturday I ran into R. at a party. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. And while she looked stunning at first glance, I intuitively knew something was wrong.

Her vibration was low. And she seemed less sparkly than usual.

She confessed she was in what I like to call a “come-here-go-away” relationship. She had become involved with someone who was not emotionally available.

I could only smile. Not for her pain. But because I know it so well.

For the past two months Mr. 700 Miles (Away from Chicago) and I had been doing the same thing. Until two weeks ago, when – without a word – he went away. No text. No phone call. No Facebook message. Nothing.

A part of me felt sideswiped.

We had just Skyped the night before, before bed, as had become our ritual – enjoying all that technology allowed us to enjoy about one another. We blew a kiss goodnight. He said he would call me the next day.

Intellectually, I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.

With Jo, the night he walked away.  I told her he wouldn't call.  She told me to let it unfold.
With Jo, the night he walked away. I told her he wouldn’t call. She told me to just let it unfold.

And yet all that day and the next I felt twisty and anxious. Something inside of me knew otherwise.

I was right.

What I didn’t realize was we wouldn’t speak again.

I don’t exactly understand what happened. And yet, I do. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t tell me he couldn’t do it.

At first I felt sad. Confused. Then I got angry — chucking magazines across the apartment, their glossy pages smacking and fanning out on the hardwood floors, and shouting into the universe, “You F**king Pussy,” choking on my sobs.

I beat the bed with a red spatula – the one my friend Kristen brought me the day I moved into my apartment – whacking it until I was exhausted.

I wrote a letter in red marker – one I will never send. It wasn’t kind or generous or understanding. It didn’t speak of my gratitude for him in my life, or that my heart would always be open to his friendship – even though this too was true.

I didn’t write it to garner a response, or to guarantee he would remember me a certain way.   I wrote it so I didn’t have to hold the pain myself. So I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt when it did.

It felt good. And hard. And when I was done, I wiped the Alice Cooper mascara rings from under my eyes and went to sit in a church basement with the people who taught me I didn’t ever have to drink again – not even during times like this.

I miss him. Our friendship. Our deep connection – emotional, spiritual, creative, sexual.

But I do not miss what I saw in my friend Saturday night. The twisting. The anxious. The uncertainty.

The holding on to what was, what could be, rather than what is. The hearing only what I want to hear – what fits my story.

The trying to wedge myself into a sexy stiletto of a relationship – the one that gives me blisters.

Dressed up for the party...no date necessary.
Dressed up for the party…no date necessary.

And as R. told her story, I felt gratitude. Gratitude for his “bad behavior.” In walking away without a word, he made the choice for me. A choice I had made a month prior, in a moment of strength and clarity, when I told him I couldn’t do this. That I needed more. A choice I ultimately could not stick to it.

It all reminds me of when my girlfriend A. divorced me a couple of years back. When she told me I was “too much.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said, rather than, “You are right. Please show me how to be strong like you” – which was, at the time, more my style.

At that moment our karmic contract was broken. We were done.

It has been more than four years since we had that conversation at her home in Long Beach. Over the years I have reached out just a handful of times. She never responded. And then I stopped trying.

I thought being told I was “too much,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And in the process, I learned that I wasn’t either.

I thought “being left without a word – abandoned,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And I learned that I wasn’t either. That that is an old adoptee fear. Old language. He simply chose a different path. And he chose not to tell me about it. It was never about me.

Perhaps that was our karmic contract. Or at least part of it.

R. left the party early. Perhaps to see her Mr. Come-Here-Go-Away. Perhaps to twist and perseverate.  I’m not certain.

But I stayed. I ate cake and talked with friends about the book proposal I am working on, the contract work I recently secured, and about dancing a master class with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   Anything but him. But us.

And on the way home, I thanked Mr. 700 Miles – for many, many things – among them, his “bad behavior.”

Artist Date 62: Standing On…? Wondering Where I Am.

"Love is Pain." Artist, Judith Hladik-Voss.
“Love is Pain.” Artist, Judith Hladik-Voss.

Love is pain.

That is what the quilt says.  Right in the center on a big red heart.  All around it are stages, stops – like on a game board.  Candy Land or Risk.  Yeah, Risk.

Love.  Joy.  Desire.

Trust.  Faith.  Intimacy.

Jealousy.  Anger.  Betrayal.

Heartbreak.  Wound.

Anxiety.  Disillusion.  Despair.

Loss.  Grief.

It is Valentine’s Day.  I am at the Greenleaf Art Center for the exhibit – Be Mine.  I am meeting my girlfriends here, but they are stuck in traffic.  So I am alone.  Impromptu Artist Date 62.  My second this week.

I step back and look at the quilt that greets me as I walk in the door, wondering where I am on it.

Joy.  Desire.

I met a man.  Or perhaps I should say, re-met.  We knew each other once upon a time.  Kind of.   We are getting to know one another – not quite again – but now, for the very first time.

He is smart and funny, creative, sensitive and sexy.  I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me.  We can talk for hours about anything and everything.  We laugh a lot.  And I find myself smiling a lot.  Friends have noticed this.

There are about a thousand reasons why this will likely not work out and I will land on the square marked Heartbreak.  I occasionally visit Anxiety already.  I hate uncertainty.  But I can’t not see this through.  I want to find out about us.

Trust.  Faith.  I am trying to practice both in my life.  Not so much with him, but with the universe, my higher power.  Intimacy.  Yes.  We are building that — slowly.  He lives several states away, so we are forced to go at this pace.  Although the recent addition of Skype dates – we have one tonight – have added a heat to the flame.

I have not told him every single thing about me – emotionally vomiting, as if to say, “So can you handle that?”  And, obviously, I have not slept with him.  I haven’t led with my sexuality – my one-time calling card – either.  Refraining from saying things like, “I think about you bending me over the butcher block and hiking up my dress around my waist.”  I think them instead.

"Ungentlemanly Behavior."  Artist, Cathi Schwalbe.
“Ungentlemanly Behavior.” Artist, Cathi Schwalbe.

Loss.  Grief.  I still find myself here sometimes too.  Not as deeply entrenched as I once was.  I am no longer up to my knees in it.  I am standing in the sun, my feet wet, in a puddle left from the storm.

Post-divorce, grieving the loss of the fantasy, that that one person will be there no matter what.  Always.  That this love will quiet that part of me that silently screams “Don’t leave me.”  It is a lie.

Day one of my life on the planet.  Separated from my mother.  I do not recall a second of it.  Yet I know a part of my work here is to heal it.

I watch it get kicked up and manifest in unconscious, desperate attempts for control and certainty.  As if that will heal me.  But it doesn’t.  Neither did a husband.  Nor meeting my biological parents.  The work is mine alone.

I move on to a series of men’s shirt collars embroidered with real messages from the artist’s experiences with online dating.  “What kind of underwear girl are u?”  “Every young man want to get laid by a gray hair lady.” “You want a naughty pic?”  It reminds me I have not finished my Match.com profile.  And that I probably won’t.

There are maps covered with pins and handwritten notes.  Heart-shaped boxes filled with broken glass and newspaper clippings. A video of a woman covered in striped fabric dancing with a bee.

I return for a third time to a piece titled, “Love Letter.”  It is long and tall, like a body.  With hair at the top, words winding down the center, like buttons, and rocks circling the bottom.  The artist, Sherry Antonini writes, “Love Letter is a meditation on listening inward and noticing outward; on persistence and on beginning again with what is left over.”

I read the poem running down her torso again.  It is still too much to take in.  So I photograph it – in pieces.

“Keep time.  But throw away most other things, including reasons to worry…Watch for signs, however small.  Push through with ideas, envisioning them as even bigger than you think they deserve to be.  Do this until you can once again see yourself shine…

"Love Letter."  Artist, Sherry Antonini.
“Love Letter.” Artist, Sherry Antonini.

“Make a list of the things you hold at core.  Those essences nearly forgotten, cast aside for too long…Months or years it is that you have been bound tight and stilled, silenced in some darkness.  But the beauty of light is insistent…

“First, you fill up a room, then you empty it, one piece at a time and all in its right time.  No one can tell you not to.  Or that you can’t.  That you never will.  Or won’t ever again.

“When you rotate the stones point them in line with your heart’s desire, you put your hands once again on your own gleam of power and touch possibility.”

I head toward the front door as my friends are entering.  Unplanned.  Serendipity.  I meet them, filled, spilling over.  Love.  Joy.  And later, this man who makes me smile big, on Skype.  He notices my grin and tells me he likes it.  I read him the poem, still trying to sort my way through it.  Intimacy.  Faith.  Desire.

Pulling Myself Out Of The Pity Pot, “Just Like Starting Over”

double fantasyI’ve been sitting in the pity pot for a couple of days now.  Actually, I‘ve been stewing in it – my attention laser focused on what I don’t have, what isn’t working, and most of all, the ways in which I have not changed or grown.

It’s terrifying.  Mostly because I lived my life this way all the time, once upon a time.  It was only in “so-sad-rescue-me-from-myself-because-I-don’t-know-how-to” mode that I dared to believe I might get what I thought I needed.

Things changed.  I changed.  I’m not sure how – if it was learning to meditate, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a spiritual-business class.  Making gratitude lists, losing weight, or getting sober.  Just getting older.  Or perhaps a little bit of all of it – but I did.  And today, as a rule, people tend to see me (and I see myself) as pretty sunny, light.  A light – full of gratitude, a big believer in G-d, the universe, and possibilities.

So it’s scary returning to that once familiar place of darkness, hopelessness, and self-pity.  A not-so-fun house of circular thinking.  Even if it’s brief.  I know it’s not reasonable to think I will never take a sojourn here.  And yet, it surprises me every time.

I forget that the way out is gratitude.  Not just once, but continuous and sustained.  Ever growing.

My nightly gratitude list, the one I exchange with a friend, the one I’ve been writing for double-digit years, isn’t enough right now.  I had to pull out the big guns.

Last night I wrote on Facebook, “The universe is conspiring with me.  At least in work.  I need to say this out loud because it is true, as opposed to the lies my brain likes to tell me.”

I immediately felt better.  Very quickly, I heard the Pavlovian “ping” of my cell phone, alerting me of Facebook activity.  Thumbs up, sunny responses, connection – like attracting like.

This morning I woke to a message from a friend that didn’t sit right with me.  Intellectually, I knew what he was asking of me was perfectly reasonable.  That it had nothing to do with me.  Nonetheless, I found myself wondering if I had done something wrong, along with the dreaded thought  – “Are we ok?”

It was quickly displaced with, “Think about all of the love in your life.”

It was reflexive.

I thought about my friend Jonathan calling me “brilliant,” reposting my Facebook status, because “it is so appropriate.”  About Amanda doing the same, writing, “(it is) My new mantra.”

I thought about the 30 people at the table jumping up and down to be with me, instead of the one who didn’t show – a lesson my friend Lisa tried to drill into my head for years.

It appeared I was no longer in the pity pot, ladling my fears over me – the old “I’m-not-loveable-I’m-doing-it-wrong-I’m-broken-God-is-fucking-with-me” refrain.  I am certain this is a direct result of my speaking my gratitude – again, again and again.  In larger and larger circles.  How else could I have broken the cycle?  I certainly wasn’t going to think my way out of it.

I thought about my drive home to Chicago, from Detroit, a few summers ago – right after my best girlfriend’s father died.  On the way in, I noticed my car sounded really loud.  Her husband took it to the shop for me.  The muffler had a hole in it, but his mechanic couldn’t fix it right then.  So I drove home “as is.”

Julie and I in happier times.
Julie and I in happier times.

My 4-cylinder Honda Civic is great on gas.  Great for parking.  But a powerhouse on the road, it is not.  And with the muffler shot, I had less power than usual.

Around Kalamazoo I found myself wedged into a single-lane gauntlet, construction barriers on either side.  As a rule, I do not like narrow spaces, but here I was – with an aggressive Michigan driver on my ass, with nowhere to go but forward.

I was terrified.  And then I wasn’t.  Something kicked in.  I began reciting a gratitude list out loud.  Quickly.  Without breath or punctuation.  Everything and anything that came to mind.

“I am grateful for this car.  For Julie.  For my flexible schedule that allows me to take trips like this.  I am grateful for the sun.  That I live close enough to drive to Detroit there easily.  For the CD in the car.  For John Lennon.  I am grateful for John Lennon singing to me, “It’s been too long since we took the time, no-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly.”  That shaky, kind of rockabilly quality to his voice.

And then the lanes opened up.  I glided over to the right and watched the aggressor behind me whisk by.  I was safe.  It was over.

It was been said that fear and faith cannot exist at the same time.  I don’t know.  I don’t know if I had faith in that moment that I was ok.  But I could name what was ok.  Just like I did last night.  And again this morning.  I stepped out of the pity pot and wrapped a plush, oversized Ralph Lauren towel of gratitude – of ok-ness, of ok-enough-ness – around me.  And I was ok.  Perhaps, even more than. It was “Just Like Starting Over.”