October 29, 2010


Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make. While you have been enjoying my candles and roses and bubble bath (well, that sounds very romantic, doesn't it?), the wizard behind this curtain has been having a very hard time of it.

I wasn't trying to be all fakey or anything. Every time I found a silver lining, I just ran here (figuratively) to share it with you.

And I really am learning a lot from being sick. Thank goodness this isn't life threatening. Three-quarters of the time, I can't help laughing about how ridiculous this whole thing is.

But the rest of the time? Well, honestly, I'm having kind of a hard time doing pretty simple things. Trying to tie my shoes generally brings me to tears. Not that I need to tie them very often. Not that I have anywhere fancy to go. Heck, I could probably just show up to the doctor's every other week in my slippers if I felt like it.

I like my bed, but sometimes I feel a little trapped in it. I like my body, but now that it isn't working for me, I feel pretty trapped in that too. Sometimes I try to do things I know I can't really do right now. Sometimes I give up on doing things I know I can. Usually I'm tired. Sometimes I can't fall asleep. It's very unpredictable.

The days are stretching into weeks, and the weeks are stretching into months, apparently. I've already passed the one month mark, and walking to the kitchen and back still feels like running a marathon.

I know, this is only temporary. I've been reassured many times, by many wonderful people. But this is one of the hardest temporaries I've had to deal with so far.

The beginning was very challenging and scary and confusing. Then I settled into a kind of routine, a much, much slower pace, a quiet, still life. And now, I am stopping just to take another deep breath and just to say that the middle is kind of hard too.

This is very extremely incredibly frustrating sometimes.

There. I said it. Thank you for listening. I'm glad I got that off my chest.

October 28, 2010

Autumn leaves

The sun is out today, so I've had a chance to admire the leaves from the front porch. Thought I'd share a little glimpse with you.




October 27, 2010

On spoiling your skin

On spoiling my skin, I mean.

Ok, so maybe I've been a little bit spoiled these days. I can't help it. I can't really move, so I had to do a little something to cheer myself up.

Turns out you still have to get clean when you're on bed rest. Might as well do it in style, don't you think?

Seeing as how I can't really shop around in person and pick up little goodies to pamper myself, I decided to poke around online to see what's available. When I finally settled in for a browse, I was amazed at all of the sparkly new treasures to be had. I guess it's been a while since I've updated my stash.

Here's what I discovered.

1. Even on bed rest, you still have to wash your face. With soap. And water. Those cute little "facial cleansing cloths" don't work. I tried them. Two different brands. Don't bother. Although, they're probably nice to bring along on an airplane. They'll give you kind of a refreshing illusion, at least.

2. Neutrogena has a cool new Acne Stress Control Skin Care line. Glamour tells me in their latest issue that stress is a common cause of adult breakouts. I'll buy it. Either way, the Power Foam Wash is really mild, and it smells nice. And it's only $7.99.

3. Do you have a bathtub? Have you ever used it? As a bathtub, I mean? If I wasn't sick, I would add a glass of wine to that. I'm just saying, it's too bad it took me a whole year and getting sick for me to discover my bathtub. Also, CVS has some very cheap peaches and cream bubble bath. No more excuses.

October 26, 2010

Boston Ballet Season Previews

As you've probably already read, I am stuck on the couch for an undetermined period of time. This is practically killing me. Here's one good reason why.

Last spring, I saw a couple of spectacular dance performances here in Boston, and I have a little hunch that things are only going to get better this season. Here's the thing. I used to be a hardcore ballet dancer. I'll leave out the gory details, but suffice it to say that it takes a lot to impress me.

But when I saw Boston Ballet's Black and White near the end of last season, I was completely blown away. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was strange, scary, overwhelming, beautiful. Has there ever been a moment, during a ballet performance, when you've actually felt afraid? I can't really find words for the choreography, by Jiří Kylián—it was completely original—and the dancers pulled it off spectacularly well.

Afterwards, I wished it was a film and that I could go back to see it again, just the way it was. But that's the thing about a live performance—you can only experience it exactly the same way once.

Anyways, I thought I'd let you know that they'll be performing another piece by the same choreographer next April. You can bet I'll be there, even if they have to cart me in in a wheelbarrow.

This one's called Bella Figura, and here's what the Los Angeles Times has to say about it: “in an increasingly dark world, [Kylián’s] dancers are beautiful enough to give almost anyone renewed faith.”

In the meantime, here's what they've got in store for this season...

La Bayadère (November 4-14): I've seen this ballet a number of times, and I still have no idea what the story is supposed to be. It doesn't matter. It is sensual and extravagant. The choreography tends to be very exciting. It is a really good show, no matter how you cut it. That's all you need to know.

The Nutcracker (November 26-December 31): It's been several years since I've seen Boston Ballet's version of this holiday classic, but I remember it was a really magical experience. Highly recommended, if you can snag some tickets and spare the time in the next couple of months.

Elo Experience (March 24-April 3): This is a performance of two pieces of contemporary choreography, entitled "Plan to B" and "Brake the Eyes." This could be a great way to catch a glimpse of something fresh and interesting, if you don't want to sit through a longer story ballet such as Nutcracker or A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (April 7-17): This is one of the first ballets I ever learned. In fact, I was so young, I don't even remember my role. Flower? Cupcake? No, I've got it: Woodland Fairy.

Anyways, for those who aren't familiar with dance performances, this is a more traditional story ballet, based on the play by Shakespeare. This version is based on choreography by Balanchine, set to music by Mendelssohn.

Bella Figura (April 28-May 8): This is the one I've been waiting for. By the way, the performance notes explain that the ballet features partial nudity. I am not surprised. Black and White, a collection of five pieces by the same choreographer, also pushed the boundaries in different ways. It challenged me. It made me laugh, smile, and cringe. I don't know what to expect this time, but certainly I'm willing to go back for more.

Balanchine/Robbins (May 12-22): Boston Ballet is known to have a knack for Balanchine choreography, but I've never seen them in action. I would love to catch them this time—they're performing Afternoon of a Faun, Antique Epigraphs, Divertimento No. 15, and Symphony in Three Movements. It's all happening right after my exams, so maybe this time I can swing it.

Another reason I was particularly excited about this season has to do with the promotion of one of Boston Ballet's starlets: Lia Cirio. When I was in high school, I spent a summer at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, her home training ground. I am sure that I once watched from the doorway as she completed a long, tedious barre exercise, balanced en pointe, one long leg in the air, no hands, for what seemed like an eternity. Perhaps it was my imagination. Probably not.

As you can see, she is powerful and stunning. I saw her in Black and White last year, and I've seen her in pretty much every Boston Ballet performance I've been to for the last five years. So I'm not surprised, but I'm pleased to notice that she's been promoted to principal dancer.

That's probably all of the ballet notes you can stomach for now, so I think I'll bow out and return to my soup and gatorade. And perhaps a little daydreaming about sugarplum fairies...

October 25, 2010

A view from the couch

Since my Sunday was filled with a steady stream of lively visitors, I didn't have much time for writing. In lieu of words, here are some views from the couch.

My roommate brought these cheery flowers on her way back from the Head of the Charles regatta this weekend, along with some dark chocolate from one of the vendors. For some reason, the chocolate didn't last long enough for a photo.

Sssh.. don't tell. I'm eating these cookies for breakfast, out of a bowl I made in a pottery class in college.

And here are some beautiful books that have been keeping me company.

Happy Monday.

October 22, 2010

On Prayer

Uh oh. Don't get nervous. I'm not going to get all preachy on you. At least I'll try not to.

Someone asked me the other day whether I've been praying.

It's a good question. I normally pray on a regular basis. And I had some very good reasons to pray when I first got sick and was trying to figure out what was going on. And now I have some time on my hands... So?

I hesitated. "Well," I said. "Not the way I like to."

Let me explain. Normally I pray using a liturgy. I show up to a service, where I am surrounded by friends and by the community I love. That liturgy involves some standing up and some sitting down, some singing along and maybe a little mumbling.

Right now, I can't really do any of those things. I'm flat on my back. I can't even show up.

That liturgy also involves some silent, personal prayer. And I appreciate that. I like doing my own thing. But I like doing my own thing, knowing that other people are doing their own thing nearby. You know, just in case lightning strikes or something. I wouldn't want to be too far from civilization.

What I'm saying is that I've never been a big fan of praying all by my lonesome. And I've also never been very interested in praying while sitting still. And now, here I am, by myself, sitting still.

So yes, I've been doing a little bit of praying, but it's not the way I like it, that's all.

Sometimes I look over at my siddur, my prayer book, and then I just have to turn my head in the other direction.

"Leave me alone," I say. "I'm not in the mood right now. I think I'm just gonna eat another cookie."

As I learned on Tuesday from a New York Times interview with Syrian poet Adonis, and on Thursday from an audio clip sent to me by a friend, there are many ways of "reading" poetry. Perhaps it's time for me to expand my definition of prayer as well. Of course one can pray lying down, and sitting still. I have been doing it all along. But it goes much further than this.

I would venture to guess that the ways in which we can pray—like the ways in which we can read poetry—are endless. Each time, each person is different, depending on her relation to God or to the page, the sacred spaces she seeks, the places from which she came.

In the years and months I have spent with my trusty siddur, I have found that a liturgy is meant to be a framework, a spiritual practice, so that when you land flat on your back (hey, that sounds familiar), you have some words to draw from. Just to pick up a conversation with the Divine where you may have left off. Just in case the impact of a fall may have left you speechless.

A liturgy, a psalm, or a religious text, is simply meant to be an anchor, not a ball and chain. At least that's the way I see it.

But there I go preaching again, when I probably should be praying. Or eating cookies.

Shabbat Shalom. Happy Friday.

October 21, 2010

Things I've been loving...

1. Art for Aidan via Etsy. Aidan has leukemia. The people who love him set up an Etsy shop to sell prints of his drawings to raise money for his medical bills. They think he draws great monsters. I think so too. Prints are $12.

2. The Daily Puppy. Don't start laughing at me. Ok, go ahead. Laugh. But for those of you who are like me and can't have a dog right now, but want one, you are going to thank me. This site allows you to live vicariously through others. Here's a photo of my latest favorite. His name is Cello. If that's not cute, I don't know what is.

3. Audio Poetry via Slate. The other day, another dear friend of mine sent me some audio clips of poetry, after I was moaning about the recent decline in my reading abilities (hey, did I ever tell you I have amazing friends?). That inspired me to snoop around and see what else I could find. Turns out I hit the jackpot when I stumbled upon Slate's poetry podcast. You can subscribe to receive a free poem each week, read by its author. And don't worry, you can even go back and download past poems. Believe me, I checked.

October 20, 2010

Looking at the pretty pictures

As I mentioned on Monday, I haven't been able to read much lately, but I have been able to look at the pictures. It started with a beautiful book of Judaica, which some very wise and wonderful friends gave me when I graduated from college.

Then I stumbled upon news about the 1952 cover art for Charlotte's Web, which has been recently sold at auction for $155,000, more than five times its estimated value.

It made me stop and think for a moment about how much a picture is worth. A thousand words? Hundreds of thousands of dollars? I suppose it depends on the picture, who drew it, and which story it belongs to.

I've always loved children's literature. My parents read me bedtime stories—most in English, maybe a few in Spanish—and the magic never really wore off.

As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure of learning from Marie Rutkoski, who is now the author of The Cabinet of Wonders. It's not a picture book, but it's pretty darn magical.

Last Fall, I took a course on children's literature and religious education, and I got to meet Donna Freitas, the author of The Possibilities of Sainthood. She got me thinking about the possibilities of this world.

Do you ever feel like you're straddling two worlds, or a few worlds? Donna made me start believing that perhaps I don't have to choose only one. I think she has a very expansive imagination.

Then in the Spring, I went to a lecture by Eric Carle, author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Some very thoughtful and highly educated person asked him a very complicated question about how he came up with such a genius tool for teaching very little kids how to read.

English is Eric's second language. German is his first. He was trained as a graphic artist, not as a writer. He simply answered that he made pretty pictures that he liked and that he wrote simple sentences to go along with them.

When I was little, we must have read Are You My Mother? a thousand times before I was tucked into bed. I loved it for the part with the tractor. I wrinkled my nose and giggled with glee every time my mom said it.

Go on, say it, I would think, waiting in anticipation.

And then, she would turn the page, look at me, and sigh, "SNORT! said the tractor!"

Corduroy was another of my frequent requests, but only because there was a girl in it named Lisa. I barely remember the plot line. I was also obsessed with some nursery rhyme about a girl who died because her parents wouldn't buy her a pony. Tragic, I know.

So how about you. What are your favorite children's books? Nursery rhymes? Pretty pictures? I'm always accepting good recommendations.

October 19, 2010

On Poetry: Adonis

Just wanted to say that I was stunned, really stunned, by an article in the New York Times Books section on Sunday. It was an interview with the Syrian poet Adonis. I'll be honest. I haven't read his work (yet).

But this little English major saw "poet" and couldn't help taking a little peek at the article. I was lying here on the couch (just where you left me last time we met), lazily skimming along, and suddenly, I came across this gem:

“Poetry cannot be made to fit either religion or ideology. It offers that knowledge which is explosive and surprising."

I practically fell off the couch, scrambling for my trusty notebook and pen. I just had to write that one down for later. I loved it. I also had some questions about it. Isn't religion sometimes explosive and surprising? What about religious poetry? And does secular poetry necessarily transcend some boundary which religious poetry cannot?

But then they just kept coming, one after another, bam bam bam:

“Every artist is an exile within his own language,” he said. “The Other is part of my inner being.”

“Happiness and sadness are two drops of dew on your forehead,” he writes, “and life is an orchard where the seasons stroll.”

Isn't it strange, that proximity of happiness and sadness? I've felt it here, being enclosed in the house for the past three weeks. It almost feels dishonest to take pleasure in things. I'm sad to be in this state. But undoubtedly, there is pleasure in each day too. There is some kind of freedom in imagining happiness and sadness as seasons, each following swiftly, one after the other. Or as dewdrops, existing side by side.

And how about this one: “Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial. Real poetry requires effort because it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception."

I love the idea of reader as creator. But I think the first part of this view is too limiting. I think poetry can and should reach all people. If it cannot be read, it can be heard. If it cannot be heard, its letters can be touched. The possibilities for "reading" and responding to poetry are endless. I think it is the responsibility of poets and teachers to reach all people who wish to be reached.

So there you have it. That'll give you something to think about for a little while, won't it? Basically, I just gave up on the whole pen and paper thing and decided to sit back and take in the whole article. And then I thought I'd pass it along in case some of you might be interested too, especially since the title of this blog starts with "poetry."

And from the looks of that article, it sounds like Adonis has been hanging around Ann Arbor lately. Maybe I should drop him a line about that spectacular bakery and their chocolate chunk sourdough bread. What do you think? Does he look like a chocolate lover to you?

October 18, 2010

In case you were wondering...

Maybe you've been thinking, if you're so sick, how come you've been writing all these blog posts?

That's a good question. Let me explain.

I'm usually a busy girl. Not a too-busy-for-you kind of girl, but I like to keep myself entertained. I like to bop around from one place to another. I like to meet you for coffee. I like to go to class. I like to talk a lot. I like to run—not especially far or fast, but I sure do like to get up and go.

Now it's like somebody's closed up all the stops. I can't go to class because I can't get down the stairs or out the door on my own. I'm too tired to talk for very long. I have a headache, so I can't read much. Caffeine? Forget about it. And let's not even talk about running.

All of my energy is gone, but there's still something inside of me that needs to come out. Fortunately, it still leaks out through my fingertips sometimes. Isn't that funny?

While I'm sitting here, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite places to go for breakfast. Now that eating and staying hydrated has become a full-time job, I like to have something to look at while I eat—besides my food, I mean.

What I'm really saying is that I like to look at other people's food. So sometimes I go to Simply Breakfast, a creation of Jennifer Causey, and this is what I find:

Isn't that sweet? I thought so too.

October 16, 2010


Things I've been loving:

1. Anthropologie headwrap. Spotted on A Cup of Jo, a delightful blog by Joanna Goddard, who also blogs for Glamour (see? I told you, I need Glamour in my life). Promptly purchased and adored. Keeps me warm while I'm sick and puts a smile on my face. Small enough to fit my little head, stretchy enough to fit a bigger one.

2. Music by Sara Bareilles, Brooke Fraser, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Oh baby, these ladies can sing. Also, Brooke has this adorable tote on her site, featuring all of the lyrics from her new album. I keep eyeing it, even though I'm not allowed to get up yet and carry anything around. Isn't it great?

3. Zingerman's bakehouse. My fabulous San Francisco friends (remember Diana from my visit to her in June?) sent me fabulous bread from this Ann Arbor bakery. How's that for global living? My favorite is the chocolate chunk sourdough. It combines two of my favorite things. Let me explain. Dense, crusty, sour, dough. Filled with gigantic, dark, chocolate, chunks. I know. Tell me about it. I'd show you a picture, but I'm too busy eating it.

October 15, 2010

Soup: The Saga Continues

I've never been much of a soup person. But somehow, back in June, this blog started with soup. And here I am again, in this golden October, lying on the couch, inundated with soup. And you know what? I love it. I can't get enough of it. I love every steaming spoonful—even when it drips down my chin. Bean soup, noodle soup, chicken soup, squash soup, beet soup, soup, soup, soup. Oh my God. You know what I mean?

As I told you in back August, I made a resolution to surprise myself, and it keeps on happening. Dammit, I've become a soup person, and I wasn't even trying. I guess I should have seen it coming, considering I've got friends in some serious gourmet kitchens.

I've never been much of a cook either. If it's any consolation, I'm a fantastic eater. I tried all summer to expand my repertoire of recipes, and I even created a few of my own. Maxine Hong Kingston has a great passage in her book, The Woman Warrior, in which she describes feeling the weight of an entire culture resting upon her shoulders, in her kitchen. She insists: "I do not feed people."

I felt that way for a while. I didn't want to be expected to feed anyone. I barely knew how to feed myself. But this summer, I decided to open up my heart and my kitchen for a while, just to see what might happen. It was interesting. I was taking baby steps. I finally learned to open a bottle of wine. Chopped an onion or two. Made a salad. Risotto. Ceviche. Soup.

Pretty soon I was singing along to Sara Bareilles (my favorite) in the kitchen and licking spoons nearly every Friday afternoon. Feels like I was just getting started, and now here I am on the couch. Eating soup. At least this time I know a good soup when I see one.

October 12, 2010

Letting go

Things to be thankful for while on bed rest:

1. I do not wear a bra. (But I do wear cute pajamas sometimes).
2. I do not carry groceries.
3. I do not do make my bed.
4. People feed me.
5. I write.
6. I discovered free Amazon Prime 2-day shipping for students.
7. I am learning about the complexities of giving and receiving help.

It is very complicated. I've never had a problem with asking for help when I needed it. I used to be very shy—painfully shy—so I always take a moment to consider the best person to ask, the right number to call, and then force my little turtle head out of its shell.

But when you need a lot of help for an extended period of time—even for a few weeks or a couple of months—there are a lot of things to consider. Schedules, feelings, relationships, costs, talents.

And I'm learning that with illness, it's a little hard to plan ahead. That's frustrating for me. I'm kind of a planner. Not a five-year-plan kind of planner, but I at least like to put things on the calendar to have something to look forward to.

My calendar has been wiped clean from here to January. I still haven't learned to stop checking my calendar every day. There's nothing on it but this: Get Better.

Maybe it's time to let go. To ask for help and then take a deep breath, close my eyes, and not worry about it anymore. Just get better.

Here's a photo of my writing table. I decided to put down my pen and light a candle. How's that for letting go?

October 10, 2010

Stopping to smell the roses

Stopping to smell the roses

Last week, I had a very important conversation with God. It went something like this.

Me: Sorry, but there’s no way in hell I’m sitting on that hospital seat to take a shower.
God: Well, Miss Lisa, that’s very interesting, because you can’t seem to stand up, now can you?
Me: I suppose it just so happens that I can’t.
God: I guess you don’t really have a choice then, do you?
Me: It seems I don’t. Thank you for pointing that out.

Later that evening, the wisest man in all of Cambridge appeared by my bedside with a dozen roses (see above photo. Sorry ladies, he’s already taken).

Many dear friends have been asking me for the past two weeks if I needed anything. Isn’t there anything they could pick up for me, drop off, cook, buy? It was true, I needed so many things. Thank goodness, my friends are so smart and talented, they just figured out on their own what I needed, in exactly the right sizes, shapes, and flavors, at exactly the right times. God knows I was too much of a mess to tell them what to do.

But after I'd been lying there for a while and Mr. Wonderful showed up with the roses, he said he thought maybe I needed something nice to look at. Something colorful to keep me company. Had I taken a deep breath lately? he asked. See? Didn't I tell you he was wonderful?

After a whirlwind two weeks of doctor visits, fevers, and general upheaval, I think I finally learned something that day about stillness. About stopping to smell the roses. Or just looking at them with a smile on your face if you can't really get up.

Also this week, I’ve added another thing to the list of things you can do from bed rest: paint your nails. In fact, there has never been a better time in my life to paint my nails. I’ve never been more still. Since I'll have to take a break in between each one, they're going to look spectacular. Thank goodness for fabulous roses, irridescent nail polish, and slow living.

By the way, as a follow up from my August post, I’ve had a little change of heart. I’ve decided to keep my Glamour subscription. More on that, and other little things, next time.

October 3, 2010

Notes from the Underground: How I went from kickass to keeled over

Two weeks ago, I was very busy. I was starting my second year of graduate school. I had a lot of classes to attend, lots of homework to do. I was also running a few miles a day. As you may have read a few posts ago, I've been having a lot of fun with running, so I decided to keep up with it, even after the semester got underway.

I also started a new job, which I was very excited about, teaching fifth grade Hebrew school on Sundays. The fifth graders are focusing on the book of Exodus this year, and even though this is my first time teaching, my nerdy obsession for things like Moses and the burning bush totally started to outweigh the butterflies in my stomach.

But suddenly, last Monday, something very funny started happening with those butterflies in my stomach. They morphed into a fever and a lump in my throat and a lot of other strange things. Before I knew it, several days had flown by, while I had been lying in the infirmary trying my darndest to take in some fluids.

At this point, I'm back home on bed rest, trying to cut back my semesterly plans to the bare minimum, in the hope that I can both stay in school and recover at the same time. It feels like I've just come back from a time warp.

Two weeks ago, I was thinking of taking a fifth course. Now I'm wondering if I can just get credit for being able to stand up long enough to brush my teeth. It's funny how your perspective can change in the blink of an eye.

Anyways, I hope that none of you will ever need this list, but in case you were wondering, there are actually plenty of things you can do on bed rest. Here are some of my favorites:

1. read
2. write
3. listen to music
4. make mixed CDs
5. smile
6. cry
7. dance from the shoulders up
8. head bob (see above)
9. shop online
10. window shop online
11. write emails
12. respond to emails
13. make lists
14. cut out inspirational quotes and images and tape them to the walls surrounding your bed
15. make a pillow fort
16. take a nap
17. wake up
18. watch netflix
19. develop your online presence, in direct proportion with your increasingly limited physical presence in the surrounding neighborhood
20. look out the window with deep longing
21. look out the window without any shred of longing when it appears to be very cold and rainy outside
22. eat ice cream.  with or without guilt.  your choice.

The photo above is me in the summer, working on a very healthy portion of eggplant sub in Boston's North End. I hope to be engaging in similar pursuits sometime in the near future.