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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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.”