Kids, Camp and the Moon

Download-4In July of 1969, I was at summer camp in Maine. It was an all-girls "sleep-away" camp and the season was a full eight weeks. 

I loved, loved, loved camp. It was a world away and to me it felt  like a world unto itself. We lived in wooden cabins with no electricity. We used outhouses, and bathed and shampooed in the lake. (This was before people realized that the suds from Breck and Prell shampoos weren't great for the water.) We all wore the same green shorts and white shirts, and we all swam in the freezing cold lake, climbed local mountains, and paddled canoes to go on camping trips.

We girls navigated at night with flashlights, mindful of the tree roots buried in pine needles. Our favorite past time was playing jacks. I wrote home on pieces of birch bark, even though my mom had equipped me with stationery.

One night, after taps had been played and we were all asleep in our cabins, our counselor woke us up. We were all to go to the campfire area. Sleepy and confused, we stumbled our way in the cool, dark Maine night. The whole camp had gathered.

Incredibly, we found a small black and white television set perched on a tree trunk. Multiple extension cords led from the back of the set into the dining area, the only camp building with electricity. Download-2We'd been brought to watch a man walk on the moon. 

We strained at the grainy image.  You could barely make out what was on the screen, a fuzzy grey figure moving in almost slow motion. One of the counselors kept adjusting the antenna.

I don't know what was more shocking - a television at camp - or a man walking on the moon. 

Afterwards, we all headed back to our cabins. The batteries in my flashlight were weak - shedding only the palest light ahead.  I stopped and pointed my flashlight up at the moon, as if that could make what I'd witnessed more comprehensible.

I know that kids at camp now own cell phones with more computing power than Apollo 11 had that day. Yet I feel lucky beyond words that I got to be a child back then.

Advice, please.....

DownloadThis week I interviewed a very charming, very smart and pretty famous man for a magazine profile I am writing. From my research, I also knew he could be ruthless in his work and inspired fear in those who opposed him.

Back in the day, this sort of thing made me nervous, but one advantage of being older and experienced is that much of that anxiety has dissipated. My subject was brilliant and accomplished, but in the end, a fellow human being.

Before we settled down, his flack (publicity person) had been chatting about a safari that Famous Man had taken, his wife's many accomplishments,  and also pointing out various awards and photos in his office.  We all sat, and I started my two recordings (I may not be anxious during interviews, but I'm compulsive about having technological backups) and the flack set up hers.

Suddenly and before I asked my first question, Famous Man said, "I want to show you something." He took out his iPad and showed me a photo of himself standing behind an absolutely huge African tortoise. 

"Isn't that great?" he asked. 

I responded with my usual articulateness: "Wow. That's big."

Here's what I need advice about: I keep wondering why he showed me that photo. He didn't show me any others. Although the safari had come up earlier, so had many other things. Don't you think that tortoise is a metaphor - and a message? It seemed really clear when he handed over his iPad, but now I'm struggling. A metaphor of what? Was he letting me know I will never know the true him, because he is so well protected? He'll only show me a very tiny bit of who he actually is? He has armor on his back? He's a survivor?

Or maybe I'm just pushing it. But please feel free to weigh in if you can think of any useful interpretations. Thanks!

Drama Inside the Walls

MacBethYesterday I went to a production of "MacBeth" at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in New York.

Well, Fishkill actually has a lot of programs - a super-max on the property, a work-release program, a hospice for dying inmates, vocational training and more. It's also often a step-down for men who have been in maximum-security facilities and are moving closer to their release date.

But I digress. R.T.A., Rehabilitation for the Arts, a nonprofit with which I work, also hosts a drama program there, as well as in several other state correctional facilities. I've seen several plays produced at Sing Sing and one at Green Haven. But this Shakespeare production really knocked my socks off.

I wish I could show you a photo, or better yet a video, but of course, no cell phones are allowed inside the facility. I've spent so much time working in prisons over the last year, that I found myself irritated with a visitor who became impatient waiting in line to go through a security clearance. Please - we are not in a Broadway theater here.

Anyway, not only was the production excellent, but also we were allowed to visit with the cast for a few minutes afterwards; not something I've seen in a max facility. 

Must now go prepare myself to be interviewed about the mother-son relationship for a Seattle-based podcast. Sometimes changing hats so quickly is dizzying. 

I Cheated On My Gym

Download-2I cheated on my old gym. I fell for a younger, shinier gym that opened very near my house.  It's spanking new, with lockers that lock, beautiful exercise rooms, mountains of equipment, flowers in the entrance and a person who swiped my membership card and said, "Have a great workout, Kate!"

I was also lulled by the robust class schedule - so many options at so many times.

Because breaking up is hard to do - and I had a longterm relationship with my old gym -  I just put my membership on hold. This new gym cost twice as much as my old one. But it was so close! And so beautiful!

Well, it's been two months and I've returned to my old gym with my tail between my legs. Gyms, it turns out, are about a good fit. The classes at Gym Shiny were filled with young mothers who look like the women in that yoga picture. The instructors shouted things like, "Come on, Ladies. It's almost bikini season!" or "You know you want your butt to look good in those booty shorts."

Uh, no. I do not work out so I can have a rocking body to display (thank God). Sure, I want to be fit, but it's to be able to take the long hikes I enjoy, lug around heavy things, and accrue all the other benefits of exercise, like better cardiovascular health, stronger bones, more flexibility, etc. You know - to live my life.

On top of that, the robust-looking class schedule at Club Shiny was misleading. Many of them required you to pay extra. Say what? I'm already paying a hefty monthly fee.

My first day back at Gym Old Faithful, I took a class with my favorite instructor. As we were setting up, she said, "Before we begin, great news! Pam is a grandmother for the second time!" We all applauded. Pam is a doctor who takes the same strength class I do. Then when we were doing a leg exercise, our instructor said, "Let's really work this, because summer is coming. And we want to be able to be able to take long walks to enjoy it!"

Ah, I'm back with my peeps. I am sorry I strayed and I've learned my lesson.

Oh, one more thing: the classes at Gym Old Faithful are actually far more challenging than the ones at Gym Shiny. Even if the goal is not bikini-ready bodies. 

Maddy (2005-2019)

    Fourteen years ago, a tiny stray kitten wandered into a jewelry store in Annapolis, Maryland. And in one of those weird twists of life, she ended up in our New York home.

    The basics: our daughter's college boyfriend's little sister had a part-time job in that store. She brought the little stray home, but her Mom was allergic to cats. Overnight, that cat somehow became our responsibility. My daughter argued that the kitten was likely to go to a kill shelter unless we took it. "Her death will be on your hands," she told me darkly. (My daughter has a flare for the dramatic.)

    Anyway, we ended up with Maddy.  She was tiny, four months old, very vocal (every hop up and down any surface was accentuated with a quizzical "Meww?" almost as if she wondered what had just happened. Our vet  looked at her and described her as "riding the short bus," a very politically incorrect way of describing what she saw as Maddy's vacuity. 

    It's true that it took Maddy a few years to master her name. And she still struggled to understand that both sliding doors led into the house. But oh, what a sweet girl she was! Full of affection and love. For such a small  cat (she never exceeded 8 lbs at her heaviest) she had a mighty purr, and she wasn't scared of anything or anyone.

    Maddy adored my husband, and followed him around like a puppy. She stretched when he stretched, meditated when he meditated, curled up and watched hockey games with him and slept on his side of the bed.

    Last night our vet (not the one who dissed Maddy but a different and lovely one) came to our house to put Maddy down. The kitty had cancer and it was spreading. Maddy was really sick and had no chance of recovering. She was suffering.

    Maddy curled up in Mike's lap while the vet gave her a sedative. After she was very sleepy, the vet gave her a second shot to put her down. The whole time we were petting Maddy and telling her how much we loved her. It was a peaceful end, and she was carried away in the little blue kitty bed she loved.

    We thanked Maddy repeatedly for all the love she brought into our lives. 

    Who knows how long I will keep waiting for her to round the corner, making her little mewing sound and jump into my lap?


ImagesThe second anniversary of my Dad's death is coming up. The deep mourning - that feeling that your heart is actually sinking inside your body - has passed. But I miss him all the time. Some days are harder than others.

When my Dad was in his final days, I got some good advice. Ask for something of his - a sweater, a shirt - just something tangible of his to have and to hold. Now I have several pieces of his clothing, though inevitably they've had to be washed and have gradually lost his smell. But still they give me comfort.

Just last night I felt a sharp need to be with him. I slept in one of his old t-shirts, and thought of it as my Dad giving me a long hug. 


Is "Closure" real?

Download-1Last week, we (my co-teacher and I) wrapped up our memoir writing class at the-place-that-can't-be-named. 

It has been an emotionally tough month. We were very worried about one class member's mental health.  Another class member had graphically shared so much about his past that we were worried about our mental health. The writing prompts stimulated memories and feelings that were sometimes overwhelming for students and teachers alike.

The program that sponsors our class asked us to provide "closure" at the final class. We all spent time discussing what worked and didn't work in the course. I confessed that I sometimes felt like a surgeon who opened up their chests and then left them, hearts exposed, on the operating table.

"Yeah, it sometimes feels like that," one class member told me, while others nodded in agreement.

But in the end,  it was a lovely last class. The guys surprised us by writing pieces about what they had gotten out of the course. And we surprised them by writing about what we had gotten got out of the course.  This experience was definitely a two-way street. 

Closure? I'm not so sure we achieved that. But I'm also not convinced it's that important. Or even possible.


Neverland, Never more....

Download-4I finally forced myself to watch "Neverland" - the two-part HBO documentary on Michael Jackson's alleged child molestation. 

Now, I need to calm down. 

I'd been a fan of Michael Jackson since he was a little kid -  from his Jackson 5 days to nearly the end. So many amazing danceable songs, from "I Want You Back" to "PTY (Pretty Young Thing)." And the performances - mind blowing!

I didn't want to watch that documentary. But I had to watch that documentary. 

It was painful. I found myself talking out loud to the screen. First to the young men who were recounting the sexual abuse, I kept saying, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you went through this." And to their mothers, who I tried not to judge to harshly, but in the end couldn't help it: "What the hell were you thinking?"

It's actually made depressingly clear what the families were thinking. Michael Jackson was a classic predator. He befriended the families of the young boys he was interested in. Soon, the family was swept up into a world of limousines and backstage passes. Jackson promised to make their sons "stars." Lavish gifts were bestowed. Gradually Jackson would isolate the boy from his family, until yup- why not let a seven-year-old sleep in the bed of a grown man?

Yeah, yeah, I know, Michael Jackson didn't have a childhood, he was a mess, he was lonely, he was massively talented. But he was a pedophile.

So other than sorrow and anger (and no little amount of disgust) I don't know how I feel about all those great songs. Download-3 It feels similar to the way I can't watch Woody Allen movies anymore -especially the appalling "Manhattan" in which he depicts it as perfectly normal for an adult man (himself of course) to be sleeping with a high school student. 

On the on hand, that's crazy. So many great artists were personally twisted but create such beauty. If we dismissed all painters, musicians and writers based on judgement of their personal lives, what would be left? 

But this feels different. 

Say what? Part 2 - the legal version.

Download-2Awhile back, I wrote a post about using an online transcription service to convert my mp3 interview recordings into text.  That was for this story about opioids, which involved many interviews with police. 

The technology is not yet perfected, and my transcript was full amusing goofs, like translating "some narcotics" into "summer cottage."

Today, I present the legal version. I'm profiling a famous lawyer, and went to hear him speak last week. He referenced some major cases and talked about his practice. Here are a few of my favorite transcription gaffs:

"Bush v Gore": Grocery Store

"It's now constitutionally required to enable anybody to get married, regardless of sex." : "It's now constitutionally required to enable anybody to get at the better car for us, sex."

"There was too much ferment out there." : There was too much for men out there.

"As it might have been." : A vitamin

"Posterity" : "Pasta Veggie."

Despite its limitations, I still am grateful that I no longer have to transcribe a recording word for word. Your honor, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case.



A Small Thing

DownloadThis week, I was visiting my daughter. She has "Alexa" - that personal-assistant thing from Amazon. (Yes, I know. I'm ancient.)

Anyway, we were in her apartment making dinner and she asked, "Mom, do you want to listen to some music?" "Sure," I replied. "What do you want to listen to?"  "Whatever you've got," I said. She paused. "How about the Beatles?" "Great!"

After which she simply said, "Alexa, please play the Beatles."

What got me? Not the technology. It was that my daughter has such lovely manners that she says "please" to a machine. A small thing. But sweet. Like my daughter.