Time to Get Started

It has been a meaningful start to 5779 with a great Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and then the building of our first Sukkah.

Sukkah Build

I am learning that the spiritual work of this time is intended to bring us to a place of gratitude and joy, not overwhelming fear and anxiety. The opportunity to make a personal inventory, make changes, make amends and do better can provide one with a real sense of hope and optimism which is what I am experiencing. While I have experienced this work/growth/joy paradigm  elsewhere it is wonderful to connect it to my Jewish heritage and practice. Relatedly, after my last post, and yes I have made a resolution to be more diligent with posting,  I received a comment informing me of behavior many years ago that was hurtful. I would like to make amends to that person and if they can let me know how to get in touch that would be helpful. If it was simply to inform me that I had not been the kind of person I hope to be, thank you, and I am doing my best to do better.

I am now moving  into a phase of work that is more art based and less commerce driven. not that the two are mutually exclusive.  Banksy recently created what can  be described as a completely Banksian statement on this.

Banksy

My new studio office is coming together and although quite small some “Tetris”  is making it work and my friend and colleague Roy Vestrich has shown me that small spaces can be the foundation of big ideas.  I am starting more serious work on my Sticks & Stones project and will post images as they are created.

Studio Pret

Family is its own “project” and I am consistently challenged to step up and learn how not just to be competent, or functional, giving, or  helpful but to be all of that and more, gracefully and lovingly.

La familie Stark

So, I am getting started in 5779  and I am inspired to work and live joyfully even in the difficult moments…like when it’s pouring as I type… and I worry about the basement flooding…. 🙂

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True Grit

 

True Grit

I would say about 27 years ago I participated in a Tae Kwon Do demonstration at the Boston Globe headquarters on Morrissey Blvd. My dojo was a pretty hardcore place.

Tae Kwon Do

One of my teachers and senior Black Belts was an exceptional  man,  Mr. William Glover. Well on his way to  being a world champion Bill was shot in a robbery attempt and blinded. After a recovery period he resumed his training and continued to excel in the martial arts and to this day teaches and inspires others. Mr. Glover had arranged the demonstration at the Globe focusing on martial arts for the physically challenged.  Whether blind, or in a wheel chair, or less abled in some way, Mr. Glover would teach people how to best defend themselves. Believe it or not  there are actually people who prey on the vulnerable and see a blind person as an easy target for a mugging. There were even people unperceptive enough to try and rob Mr. Glover, whose posture and strength walking with his cane should be enough to steer anyone clear of him. (Those vermin got what was coming to them and unfortunately for them, when blind, you can not afford to leave your assailant in a position to attack you again.)  I learned a lot from Mr. Glover not just martial art techniques but he has been an ongoing lesson in resilience,focus, and moving forward for me.

At that demonstration was a young man in a wheelchair, Peter Wong. Those of you who have walked Newbury Street in Boston will recognize Peter as the man who sits at the corner of Newbury and Arlington, in his wheelchair, with a cooler of cold drinks, selling them to passersby.

Peter Wong 3

Peter has “suffered” his whole life from Cerebral Palsy and while physically challenged his brain is working on all cylinders, including some that I do not think I have. Peter loves the martial arts and we ended up communicating and then catching a premier of a martial arts film at the Museum of Fine Arts together.  Peter arrived via his  van. An assistant who helps him with the tasks he cannot perform drove him.  Peter does not let his personal logistical limitations stop him from fully engaging life.

Peter and I have stayed friends since that time and actually discovered we share the same birthday. Although his speech is at first hard to understand, like any “foreign ” language, I just need to spend some time listening, concentrating, and Voila!  I confess to not always being as patient as I want to be and that is my loss. But what I am always aware of is Peter’s strength of character, his ability to move past his challenges, and his desire to live life fully.

Peter has recently been featured in a Commonwealth Care campaign.

I know he is loving it and some of his friends have threatened to “graffiti the van he his featured on.  He would only see this as a compliment!  I learn from Peter. Especially on those days when I have efficiently dug myself deep into the hole of self pity over one or more of life’s challenges,  it is a man like Peter, who teachers me by the  power of example, how to pick up the shovel of gratitude and dig myself out.

And what has happened over the years is that I think I am developing some form of grit. Maybe not Bill Glover grit. Maybe not Peter Wong grit. But perhaps just enough of my own grit to live gratefully and well and to be of service to my family and friends.  G-D knows, I have been given incredible teachers. I hope I am learning something.

OK…More of the same…and then something else.

So the day I was waiting for came.  Swimming lesson with Missy A # 2. Now, it was a little more convoluted this time because at first Missy A. was wearing a long sleeve jersey designed to keep her warm. The problem was it was a little big and I felt like I couldn’t hold her as strongly and as gently as I wanted to. So I got mom to come and take the jersey and then she realized,  “Wait a minute…mom is not in the pool!!” So, it did take a while for here to settle down. But then, she actually got into chasing a floating red ball and her arms and legs were making the paddling motions…not quite paddling..but definitely on the way. So, as this photo shows, definitely getting to the ball…but still a little bit of ..”Mom…why are you not in the water?!”

Pool Time Jan 21 2018

But, once again, the most wondrous feeling to be in the water with her.  For me, the water is a safe place, unlike the rest of the planet with walls and corners, and stairs, and doors with edges,  and sharp objects and small objects, and cabinets with stuff in them…Whoa..no one told me how unsafe the planet is and how I need to trust a little bit or this anxiety will transmit to Miss A. and the one thing I know will harm her is FEAR. So, I bite my tongue, sew my lips, and wherever possible, put a little cushion, pillow, foam plumbing insulation to soften the most egregious edges. Perspective, I used to put that foam around the frame of my ever so precious carbon fiber bike to prevent scratches during transport. Yea, I still would like to keep the bike in good condition, but now my attitude is more like.. Please Hashem, if something needs to fall over today and get scratched..let it be my bike, my car, and or me…but not my daughter.

That said, as I don’t remember growing up in such a dangerous world, we decided to go Old School and let Alessandra drive the car home from the pool.

Baby you can drive my car

 

I mean, I think if you are over 35 you spent as least one session in a parent’s lap as they drove a vehicle somewhere local.  I think it builds confidence and self reliance. I mean I remember driving with my Dad in the Ford Falcon around the neighborhood in the Bronx looking for a parking space. When Missy A was in my lap…the only thing not the same compared to me and my Dad was his Corona Cigar angled away from the back of neck. And no,  I never got burnt… Mad skills my Dad had.  OK OK…before you call Children and Family Services…the car was parked…we was going nowhere….and the GPS will confirm that.

Hey remember life before Google Maps…AAA Trip Tiks highlighted in person by a AAA customer service person. There was something magical in the planning of a trip, going to the AAA office , leaving with the TripTik and assorted maps.

You know, sometimes technology is not an improvement, or at least does not make life easier. Having someone help is NOT a bad thing. My wife and I met a man the other day who left his tech travel job and is opening his own agency. He will actually use his expertise to help us efficiently and economically plan our trip and his fees are covered on commissions, as they are with all the other on-line travel companies. The difference is, we will be free to do other things, like read up on the places we plan to visit, and not spend hours on Trip Advisor, Kayak, Booking.com looking at the flashing: ONE ROOM LEFT AT THIS RATE!!!!!

2018: How about we make it a year of Service and Asking for Help. It just might make it more enjoyable!

 

Beware: Sentimental Posting

About 50 years ago, (yes 50), I went through some difficult times and moved from the Bronx NY to Long Beach NY. From a sixth story apartment in a building  in a concrete jungle to a suburban house 5 blocks from the ocean. Now, I was very familiar with Long Beach as my grandfather had a cottage in the West End of the town that we would spend summers at.  I learned to love the water at the ocean and learned to  swim at the Capri Beach club where we had a cabana. (Now those were the days!!!).  I felt both comfortable and at home in the water. So when I moved to my Aunt’s house suffering from severe OCD and other divorce related traumas I immediately exhaled just inhaling the ocean air. Then, when a neighbor introduced me to surfing, I literally entered the ocean and only emerged to eat and sleep, and well eventually get stoned as well, although the latter was possible on the surfboard. It took a couple of years but the ocean and surfing healed me, (at least the surface wounds), and I spent a good five years dedicated to the  surfer’s life. I was fortunate to be introduced to the Oppenheimer brothers, especially Mike whose style and power were almost incomprehensible and through him was exposed to world class surfer’s like Nat Young from Australia.

So it has been weird, enlightening, and weirdly enlightening to be reading “William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days – A Surfing Life” where page for page, and at times world for word I see a mirror of my own immersion in the surfing aesthetic.

Barbarian Days

 

Even his list of music he would listen to from Neil Young, to Hendrix, to Cream, to later Beatles, and Paul Butterfield. And I would add the James Gang!  The only element missing was the array of Black Light posters, which may have been specific to our set as Oppy, (aka Mike Oppenheimer), was a talented artist who would make forays into the canyons of NYC to sell his posters, (successfully).

But I digress. The point is how much I love the ocean, how healing it has been for me, and how at the first opportunity I had to be with my daughter at the beach I thrilled just to get her to feel the water. (She was willing but less thrilled as it was a bit cold.)

 

Now, having moved to a Rhode Island beach town, (The Ocean State!) I think always of this coming summer and being at the ocean with Missy A. (aka Freedom Stark). With that in mind I signed us up for swim lesson at the Y and this past Sunday we had our first Daddy/Daughter time in the pool. I was so happy I could not stop smiling. Not only did she look incredibly happily cute in her bathing suit…

Bathing Suit

 

…but she seemed super comfortable in the water and wonderfully trusting of me as I moved through the water with her, coaching her to paddle a little, float on her back, and find her way around the pool. Just rocking back and forth in the water with her established a connection that was both peaceful and electric at the same time. Jen was nearby and yet Missy A. was happy in my arms. For a Dad, with a daughter who spends most of her time with mom, and is rightfully most comfortable and safe in her arms, her contentment with me was both surprising and fulfilling. Surprising in that I thought at some point she would gravitate to mom but did not.  Fulfilling emotionally and in many ways spiritually.  I felt not just “my” connection with my daughter but also that she knew (somehow!) that I was in my element and that I was happy and that she was safe with me. In fact Jen, my ever intuitive wife insisted that I be the one in the pool with her knowing the above would come to pass.

I can’t wait to be back in the pool with her, and although there is a lot more winter to go, I am already excited about our family’s first days at the beach this summer….mmmm..make that this spring!

Sentimentally Yours,

J-Star

Yea, well… spring is coming…

So, we’re the new family on the block and new to suburbia.  And I was kind of scared out of my wits when something came crashing through the front door. It was the mail! For some reason, our neighborhood was built without mailboxes at the street or even outside the front door. The preferred mail delivery portal is 12″ by 3″ slot in the front door. You’re sitting there , eating your steaming hot soup and BAM! And to add insult to injury , most of what is coming through the slot as new residents are flyers, brochures, and coupons for services that just are not on our agenda like a Winter Sprinkler Timing System that doubles as a Security Alarm, and that can also be adapted to be a garage door opener with a  self oiling track….Maybe next year.

And then, there is the postman. Great guy who has been doing this a long time. And he confesses to me: “You know walking up to everyone’s door is not efficient but I don’t really mind.  But in the winter it’s downright dangerous!  Icy  driveways, walkways, and stairs are the rule” And then he says” You know, may be one day you could be the first on your block with a street side mailbox. Not just me but the Postmaster would really appreciate it!”

Well I can take a hint, especially when me and the family are trying to get those new resident and neighbor merit badges! Thanks to a Home Depot/ Amazon collaboration,  a friend next door who showed me how to make the wet soil of Rhode Island be a more solid foundation, a penny farthing sculpture we found in the garbage in East Cambridge 5 years ago, and my 84 year old Greek Grandma neighbor who explained what I was doing wrong and proceeded to grab the wrench from my hand and finish the install. And this is my “A Cycling Family Lives Here” mailbox.!Penny Farthing Fall

So I had about two weeks of joy with this new mailbox.  Then I realized two things. Our mail gets delivered around 4:45  PM which is now dark. And the temperature has been steadily plunging which makes me loath to leave the aforementioned bowl of soup and go get the mail. So, I am sure glad I got the extra large mail box so i can wait till the next day to pick up the mail,  and if I forget to, there’s plenty of room for all those flyers!  Then, just as I was getting into rhythm with the dark, the cold, and the new mailbox, IT SNOWS!

Penny Farthing Winter

So, now, my mailman has to do this Cirque de Soleil move to get the mail into the Box from his truck and I am waiting for my new Snow Boots to be delivered from Amazon so I can leave the house. I never thought I’d say this but:  “Amazon Drones…My Front Porch is Cleared for Delivery! ”

That said, soon it will be spring, I’m getting some cool spoke reflectors from actual bikes to put on the Penny Farthing. And I do know that the mailbox was the best holiday present our mailman received. Merit Badge being pinned to my bathrobe as I type!

There must be a pony in here somewhere!

That’s the punchline to a joke my rabbi likes to tell about being true to our true selves. Yes we can change and grow but there is very often a baseline that we stay close to. And as Uncle Milty says: “Under Stress, We Regress”.

So 2017 was a stressful year. While wonderful beyond any thing I ever experienced in some ways, there were some less than desirable events. So I am looking at 2018 with excitement, hope, and faith on one side and melancholy, trepidation, and fear on the other. As my baseline is fear, I have to work to shift the balance. Why shift? Because I find that my fear is usually a distortion of what is real and that faith invariably leads me to love, creativity, service, and peace.

This beachball has become my totem of the struggle.

It drifted, literally into the backyard of the house we had just purchased in September. It was very happy, and just liked to hang out, amuse the squirrels, and amuse me. I started photographing it every week or so. Well as the season has changed, it has decided to hang in there. While losing some of its punch, its lost none of its presence. I have decided that we are in this together, to learn something about patience and perseverance. I will create art with this Beach Ball as my collaborator, and together we will start this year believing that the warmth and light that is to come is already peaking through the trees.

Healthy and Peaceful 2018 to All, except those not granting health and peace to others.

Stark