Sunday, January 30, 2011

What happens once you graduate divorce?


Have any of you gotten to that place, when you wake up one morning, and you realize, "I’m over it?"

I’m not talking about no longer texting an ex-boyfriend, or realizing that your heart has finally mended. I mean finally moving past the heavy mourning phase of your divorce. It takes time – a lot longer than you can possibly predict. There's some myth which states that it takes a month of healing for every year you’ve been together. I was with my ex-husband for 14 years, but it took more than three to feel “normal,” to get to know myself, and to reach the end of the ‘what is my life going to look like now’ journey.  And then it took another year to quit smoking the nostalgia cigarette in order to feel creative and mine my grief for material (this blog not included).

It didn’t seem possible three years ago. I didn’t think I’d ever get to a place where I could talk about my past without saying “we” - where I had accumulated enough experiences that happened to me, rather than we.

It happens slowly, and yet you notice it suddenly, like:

1-    When you run into your ex, and instead of feeling nauseous and shaky, you feel okay.
2-    A mutual friend tells you that he’s reading your blog. Not just reading it, but “studying it.” You’re curious, but you don’t mind.
3-    You stop going to his Facebook page to see if he’s changed his profile picture (since you’re not friends you’re not privy to anything else). It’s like reopening the fridge to see if something new has appeared until you realize you’re not even hungry.
4-    You don’t feel the uncontrollable urge to talk about your marriage or “what happened to you” anymore.
5-    You enter into a new relationship where you don’t cry the first time you have sex.
6-    You enter into a new relationship where you’re not comparing the new guy to your ex, checking off the positive qualities he has that your ex didn’t. Or perhaps you’ve come so far that you realize they have some good things in common, too.
7-    You find out that your ex has a new house, a new wife, and a new baby. Six months ago it might have driven you to the brink of email bombing – but now suddenly, you are too busy making your own life worthwhile, and enjoying it, that you don’t care what is going on in his. Maybe you’re even happy for him.
8-    Your sister calls you on what would have been your tenth wedding anniversary, to see if you’re okay, when you don’t even know what day it is.
9-    He sends you an email out of the blue- when you haven’t spoken in almost two years, and while you experience a disconcerting jolt of anxiety, it doesn’t send you into a tizzy the way those emails used to. And even if you might consider writing back, you get too busy in your own life that the email gets buried in your inbox.

Life gets in the way. Your life.  A life that you’ve built all by yourself, from the ground up, and when it whisks you away – even rescues you from the lurking tidal wave of your past – I think it’s a good sign.

I went through a period where I actually felt a yearning for that dark place, and sometimes, I admit, I still do.  It’s disconcerting. In some strange way – looking back through the gauzy lens of nostalgia – I believe that I felt more raw and real and creative inside of that space than I feel in the bright light outside of it. But it’s probably a good thing.

Can you detect the moment when you realized you were over your ex and the life you left behind, and when you did, did it make you happy, sad, or both?









Monday, January 17, 2011

Signposts on the path to a meaningful life.


Yes, this is a post about signposts (pun intended). I wrote one a while back about signs, the universe, and how if we take the space to learn its language, if our eyes are open, we can see them all around us. But here I am, delving into this topic again, because once more, things are happening that I can’t ignore.

I recently read Dani Shapiro’s memoir, “Devotion.” A friend recommended I read it because Dani’s story and voice reminded her of me (and what a compliment). In her thoughtful book, Dani charts her search for meaning (while leading a seemingly rich life) and how she finds it in her reinterpretation of religion - a hybrid of Judaism and Buddhism (Buddish? Jewdist? You get the point).  Dani grew up in an observant household, like I did, and after taking a detour away from it, like me, she found her way back to it. Unlike me. Not yet anyway.

But there is a reason this book was written now, and a reason it resonated with me. There’s a reason that although I hardly ever watch TV, I recently found myself immersed in a cable program about the roots of Kabbalah.  Every day for the last three years, since my divorce and subsequent life change, I’ve worn the same two Kabbalistic necklaces that I bought from a religious shopkeeper in the Israeli port town of Jaffa (One is shaped like a key, and fyi, “Is that the key to your heart?” is the worst pick up line ever). I feel naked without those necklaces, even though I don't know what every single etching on it means. They just feel warm around my neck – they feel right.

I started having dreams about running to the airport and missing my flight to Israel again. I mentioned this in a previous post. When my ex-cub and I were getting serious and discussing whether he would convert or at the very least learn more about my religion, these dreams were prevalent. The most symbolic of them being the one where I couldn’t get on the plane because I had lost my passport – signifying the loss of my Jewish identity, perhaps. Since my ex goyfriend and I broke up, the dreams ceased.

But the signs haven’t. And now that I find myself in the early stages of a relationship with someone new, who also happens to not be Jewish, the same questions are emerging. What does it mean for me to be Jewish? What customs and rituals matter enough to actually enforce?  How much of it is meaningful to me personally, and how much is just inherited expectations (and agita) from my family? Obviously, I am entering into this new relationship willingly. At this stage and age in my life, I’ve decided that it is in no way a deal breaker. Finding love – an indisputable connection - is difficult enough that I’ve decided I cannot limit myself to only Jews (not to mention that my J-date experience has produced zero contact with J’s; only with goys. Goy - 2. Jew - 0).

My new guy and I are just getting to know each other, and it’s definitively too early for me to concern myself with this (if it is even a concern at all), so I’m not going to.

But the signs couldn’t care less.

Religion came up last night for the first time. Turns out my new guy loves religion, the Old Testament, and goes to church occasionally.  We share the same values and intellectual curiosity. A good start.

But in typical neurotic Cougel fashion, I found myself reflecting on what that might translate into in the future – should we even have one together - and briefly discussed this with my sister.  As I was walking through Union Square on the way to a meeting, I was BBMing with her thoughts regarding what it means to be Jewish, and mentioned the lost passport dream to her again. When I put my Blackberry into my purse, a young woman with long dark hair stopped me. I thought she was going to ask me for directions. She said something else.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”

Note: It’s freezing in NYC. I had a big furry hat on, sunglasses, and my typical rock and roll garb and borderline Lesbian boots. My curly Jewy hair was covered. There were no tells.

I don’t know why I didn’t just say, “Yes,” or “No thank you, I’m in a rush.” Maybe it was typical New Yorker suspicion and identity concealment in play, or maybe it was my own confusion that made me reply with, “Why?”

She handed me a box of candles, for the Sabbath (it was Friday), and said, “We had some extras and I wanted you to have one. Candle lighting is at 4:30.”

Coincidence? No way. If that wasn’t Universe code for, “Hey Cougel, get your Jewishit together,” I don’t know what is.

My brother-in-law who is a Rabbi told me that we all have a “malach,” an angel, that hovers in the universe around us to watch out for us. But the malach is also there to test us, to surface important conflicts out of our subconscious and into the light. A signpost, if you will, in the form of a stranger on a wintery New York street.

I don’t know what the answer is, or what I’m supposed to “do” with this information, if I’m to do anything at all. But while reading Dani’s book, I admired her tenacity and ability to do the painful digging in order to ground herself in something bigger than the minutiae of her day to day life. It sparked to life the swirling undercurrent I’ve been experiencing regarding finding deeper meaning in my own life. I don’t know if the key (yes, the key again) lies in Judaism, or Eastern philosophy (I don’t do Yoga), or something in between.

But if I don’t stop to see the signposts in my own search for meaning, then it’s likely I will never find the answer.

So, is this neurotic mumbo jumbo, or is there relevance to all of this? Is this even a question for the masses, or is it up to us as individuals to interpret the sign’s meaning for ourselves?










Sunday, January 9, 2011

The real reason behind my writer's blog-block.


Sunday. Just the thought of that word evokes feelings of long brunches, calling mom, and snuggling up on the couch to watch bad TV. For me, it’s blog day. If I haven’t written a blog by Sunday, or haven’t come up with a topic for one, I don’t panic, but I do feel an urgency to get something posted. As most bloggers will say, does anyone really notice? Do they even care? But I do.

So here I am, at 8:30 on a Sunday night, with nothing to say. I was about to post a column I wrote last month – from my back blog of ideas – for times like these. But it didn’t feel right. It felt dishonest. It occurred to me that it’s not that I don't have anything to say, but that I’m actually not quite sure how to say it, or if I’m ready to.

I met someone. Five weeks ago. I’ve mentioned him briefly in my last few posts, unsure if the relationship was going to develop further, and I figured I’d cross the blog bridge when I got to it. And now I have. 

As I suspected, meeting him changed my outlook. I went to South Beach over the holidays. When I booked that trip, I was single, post break up, and intent on living it up and potentially meeting someone. http://bit.ly/h3tBfz  But after meeting this guy, my agenda changed. I thought we wouldn’t talk while I was away, but we ended up speaking every day, and by the time I got back to NY, we had fallen into a groove. We’ve spent almost every night together since I’ve been back.

So am I in a relationship now? It looks that way. Since I was married for so long, and have only had one significant relationship since (where we were friends first), this kind of progression is new to me. I’ve never actually been with someone whom I went on a date with, then five, then started to lose count, as the relationship organically deepened in a mature and romantic way.

Is he a cub? Well, he’s 9 years younger than me, so technically you could say he is. But when I am with him, I forget. He is wiser, more confident, and manlier than some men in their 40s and 50s. I’ll reserve that topic for a later and more in depth post, but for now, yes, you could say that after my public declaration that I will no longer date younger guys, here I am, doing it again.  Do I feel bad about it? Not at all. Not yet anyway.

Is he, or rather is it my surprise (and joy) that I am suddenly in a relationship, the reason I was stuck today and unsure what to write about? Probably.

Although I write this blog under a pseudonym, many of you who read it know me and are my friends, so this is new territory for me and my blog. I haven’t yet figured out whether I can continue to write about my romantic life, when there is actually someone I care about in it. It's not the same thing as blogging about a blind date gone bad, or even an ex. This guy knows about my blog, and at my behest, respectfully does not read it.  He doesn’t want our dating to stop me from writing honestly, and he said he doesn’t mind if I write about him, as long as I don’t use his name. But the question is, do I want to expose myself, or taint the delicate stage we are in, of a new blossoming relationship, by putting it out there?

And lastly, I wonder, does it change the focus of my blog altogether, if I’m no longer single?

So I’m asking for advice from my readers. What do you think? Is it time to bring other benign topics back (like Mom, for example), or since the guy is saying he doesn’t care, should I just go for it?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

With a new year comes the old.


How could I not write about the past year, right? In the weeks leading up to New Year’s, I was feeling noticeably at peace.  This was not what I expected heading into the holidays. It’s a cliché to say that being single during Christmas and New years is a recipe for depression, but it’s cliché for a reason. But this year, I felt better than I have, for a longer stretch of time, than I had throughout most of 2010.

Is it an accumulation of all of my efforts over the year to change, to get on top of my shit, to turn that frown upside down?

This wasn’t a resolution I made.  On Jan 1 2010, I didn’t forecast or promise myself that in the upcoming year I would make the ground underneath my feet less shaky, nurture my relationships more, and start living in the present. 

It just sort of happened. Or did it?

It was a rough year, as it was for almost everyone I know. It seems that at the turn of every New Year, we anxiously usher out the old and place high hopes on the new.  Our desire for change, for “better,” blinds us from honoring what we have experienced - including the pain and grief - and acknowledging those things as critical building blocks to our future. It’s easy to look back on the past year and bid it adieu; to recount the hardships and believe that they evaporate when the clock strikes midnight. Of course, they don’t. They stay with us. “Our past doesn’t go away. It becomes us,” said TS Eliot somewhere, which I’m lifting from a wonderful memoir, Darrin Strauss’ “Half a Life.”

A lot of people have asked me what my New Year’s resolutions are. But I can’t offer a concrete answer. I’d like to say, “For my book to get published,” or “To meet my future husband,” and while these things are true, I have no control over any of them. The WSJ “Friday Journal” section featured “Cultural Resolutions: What top writers, artists and musicians are hoping to accomplish in 2011.” Each artist states that they wish to achieve a goal that is concrete: a work of art, losing weight, having a baby, etc. All of these goals are inspiring and while it’s quite likely these people will attain them, it made me stop and think. What about setting goals that are not tangible, that stem from within? Isn’t buying a house or expanding a museum’s collection, the cumulative result of all these intangible changes we make on the inside?

Without knowing it consciously, without uttering it aloud, my subconscious agenda this past year was to get to know myself better. And to try to stay in the present - rather than in the tug of war between past and future - and have faith that the rest, the physical manifestations of that, would follow in whatever form they were meant to.

I finished my novel and got a literary agent. That wasn’t my resolution. My resolution was the precursor to that. To find my voice, to keep going, to follow the thread I had started weaving. The rest followed.  I had my first significant relationship - and my first significant break up - since my marriage. Looking back, my tacit and yet misguided resolution was to settle down with this person and start a family with him, but in the end, the opposite happened. That relationship taught me how to be present, to listen to my gutt, and clear the space for the new things waiting in line to get in.

Judging by how I was feeling as the clock was striking midnight, at a party surrounded by new and loyal friends, as texts were coming in from my long time pals who don’t live in NY, and a man I’ve recently met who was at a wedding in the Midwest – our texts crossing in the ether as the ball was dropping – I think it’s going to be a good year.