As a native New Yorker, I have had the unique (and shared) experience of growing up and living in the People Watching Capital of the world. I often feel that it’s why the entire world is drawn to be here…to experience the breadth and depth of the variety of life, in all its forms, that only exist in NYC. There is no other place like it, no other city of the extraordinary cities in this world bring together the melting pot of cultures (in all aspects of life) and the subcultures and sects within the melting pot of possibilities that exist on this vast universe. And it is on these streets, and from the minds and hearts of those who live here, that #WeAreAll18 was born. I sometimes feel as though that is my mission in life: to bring the Diversity from this DiverCITY out into the greater world, to show people from places where there are more limited experiences and opportunities to see people UNlike their own that truly, different does not have to be scary. We have to figure out, as those who live here, how to get along with EVERYONE as best as possible. It’s what happens when we are all thrown together - on sidewalks, on subways and busses, pretty much everywhere - and have to coexist. WE, wherever we live, need to create spaces and places where people can feel safe, where they are elevated and supported to be themselves AND to listen better to others who simply want the same, basic “things” in life. Only through collaboration and openness can we truly transform this country, as it starts with US.
It took me well into my life to truly understand the importance of having someone in one's life who spots you, sees you, gets you. In the ways that you want to be spotted. Seen. Gotten. That's so much at the heart of why I am called to #WeAreAll18. Because I know what it's like NOT to have someone unconditionally holding the space for you to be the full embodiment of who YOU want to be. Agendaless. Being able to empower young people, to elevate them by my presence, by the presence of all of us, is where it's at. When you have that as a young person, you build it up (WE build it up) in our essence, in our DNA. Inside. Not looking for that validation from the outside. Because we have built inner confidence. All I can say is better late than never, for me. For any of us willing to be on that journey to hopefully get to that place of integration, authentically, for ourselves.
During High Holiday services, Rabbi David Ingber read aloud, Being 10, a reflection on the trials and tribulations and emerging self that emerges over one's first 10 years of life (Reb D was using it as a metaphor, with this being Romemu's 10th year in existence). Sitting in the back of the congregation, I had to laugh, as I had recently written an essay, I Am 10, a reflection on the absolute newness of my life. How I feel like a kid in many ways, someone with a new wardrobe, and yet so much deeper. I call these last years, the ones that are post-marriage and post-lawyering, my UnYears. UnLearning lessons that like all of us, were taken on by observation, with wrongly held beliefs that somehow become part of us. At least how we see ourselves, and experience ourselves, from the Inside-Out. UnLayering. UnFolding. And yes, Peeling Back My Onion. This Journey to the UnKnown is not one for the weary, because in so many ways, no one knows when it begins, or when it ends. It requires the Journeyer on the Road Less Traveled to have faith, to weather many dark nights of the soul, to walk through the desert with crumbs and little water...to question everything, to sometimes have no clue where you are going with the only piece of clarity being where you don't want to be. So many questions, and no clarity at all around answers. Especially to the question, "what do you want, (Jonathan)?" It all changed for me when I started to ask myself, "How do you want to feel?" instead of "what do you want?" And that is when so much shifted. When the light started shining in, when the Universe began to give me what I was asking for - in situations, with people, and within myself. What few people in my life truly understand is that this is the first period in my life when I am actually making important choices, from a new internal paradigm. Without giving my power away to others. Putting people in some kind of elevated place over me, my choices. It's hard to even articulate or fathom. Wives, Fathers-in-law, dead parents, experts, etc. It's not that I have not been brave before, or did not make choices that some thought to be crazy, others thought to be brave. It's simply that the motivation for how I am choosing to live my life now is 179 degrees from where I was years ago. Before the Un. And as a result, my ability to tap into my intuition, to come from a place of faith over fear, abundance over scarcity, passion over conforming, possibilities over "what if's," has truly allowed me to give birth to the best version of me that has ever existed. So much (F)Un, still to expose and transform. And, all I know is that, for me, it's the only path I can take. #morelove
Months before the DebaclElection in November, I decided to take a long-held (and favorite) documentary idea of mine and have it be the first longer-form storytelling initiative of "Listening to America." It's called Act Like A Man. The exploration of what a phrase like that even means, whether to men and/or women. I thought the timing was perfect. Post-Election, on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be President (although I knew 45 was capable of winning), this would be the 2017 post-Trump look at the State of Men. Maybe even to highlight the rejection of old school male values that are so outdated, misogynistic, sexist, homophobic and repulsive, and further deepen the opening for the celebration of everything that this old archetype "is not" and should not be. The New Real Man. Whatever that is, and might be. Well, we know how 11/8/16 turned out and I find myself realizing that the time is more right than ever. We need to have this can opened-up, we need to hear from men about being a Man, and women about what their experience is of men these days, and what their expectations, and desires and hopes are. About them, or for them. These conversations, and eye-openings and listenings need to happen between the genders, not in vacuums. If we want better relationships, we need to understand how to have them, how male and female brains are wired differently AND that some elements of what may be traditionally perceived as "male" (non-emotional, analytical, focused on results, etc.) or "female" (emotional, process-oriented, soft, nurturing, etc.) might actually be "human" feelings or behaviors. We each have our own alchemy, male + female. Men can certainly possess the feminine Shakti energy, I know that I do, bigtime. My point isa that men need help, and women need to be part of the dialogue, about the questions as much as helping each other find the answers. What we did as a Country on 11/8/17 - with many women part of this horror - is reward (REALLY) bad male behavior. There's a great song by Baba Brinkman in his seminal show, The Rap Guide to Evolution, called "Don't Sleep With Mean People." The audience would stand-up and scream the chorus. Don't Sleep With Mean People. It's a Shout out to women that they (YOU!) have the Power of the Pussy. You don't want more assholes in the world, the essence goes, then don't procreate with dickheads. Don't Sleep With Mean People. Don't give men what they want (sex) if they are treating you badly, and reward good behavior. Reinforce the best that you want, in good people. Natural Selection. More and more people these days are telling me that their new Mantra for themselves is #nomoreassholes. We are living at a time when bad behavior is flying at us on each and every content-delivery platform. The bar is getting lower, and people young and small are learning by observation and example that it's OK to behave badly, and to expect it (often from a man, and obviously women as well). They see it on reality TV, they read about it, and then they now see the President of the United States acting like the most horrible version of a (White) Man that can be imagined. Women, we are all in this together, and if we want to bring-up daughters, who become women, and we want them to feel safe in this world, we need to teach by example. And if we want to elevate soulful, caring, nurturing males who grow up to honor all sides of themselves - of ourselves - then we need to shift this Paradigm.
"Don't Sleep With Mean People": youtube.com/watch?v=5FVsCWKgKEY
Noun shpilkes (plural only)
See also: ants in one's pants
When I was in college, a then dear friend nicknamed me Shpilky. It derived from the "only-in-Yiddish can you say so much with a few letters" word, shpilkes, which I grew up understanding meant, "ants in your pants." He called me Shpilky because it was a reflection of where I was, how I vibrated internally and externally, and how I was experienced by others. The truth is that for so much of my life, and because of whatever we call our personal circumstances, I grew up mostly being focused on being in the past or the future. Anyplace but the present. Because wherever I was, I believed that something else, or someone else, was better than what is. This became an ongoing challenge and conflict, my natural, seeking, spiritual self coming face-to-face with my inability to "be here now." Becoming a parent was truly the first time that I was able to realize the essential importance of being in the presence of the present, on a real level. And, life's not that simple. Being forced, and able, to Pause and "be," also shined a light on my truth. Those foundational truths and beliefs that color our lenses, how we experience ourselves, and others. What isn't working. "Wherever you go, there you are," is the truth. Imploding my then known life - first the marriage, and then whatever what was deemed to be my "career" - created a multitude of secondary and tertiary consequences. One of them is that for my own mental and emotional health, I came to realize that as time in my life got shorter, I needed to slow down. To do more, to do more well and in the way that I wanted, to be a better reflection of who I always imagined myself being, I needed to scramble less, run around less, be less grabby for teasing possibilities, and simply breathe. Let my intuition come fully alive (it's amazing how much some of us can suppress the fondest parts of ourselves when in incompatible relationships, where we feel the need to diminish ourselves to "make it work."). It's been a bumpy and extraordinary journey of excavation and unfolding and allowing, one that I am constantly told by others requires deep courage. Whatever was the fuel, I knew that I craved the opportunity to create a life of joy, from the inside-out, and to be an inspiration for my kids, to never stop believing, and to go towards the light, and the love. And yes, while those delicious children taught me about unconditional love, one's kids alone cannot forever mask the longings that can become part of our emotional DNA. We have to start, from the inside-out. I am certainly no longer Shpilky. These days, I periodically am called things like "the most chill intense person" and/or "the most intense chill person" that someone has ever met. When I was living in the Bay Area, several people told me that they had never met such a passionate native New Yorker who also embodied simultaneously a West Coast vibe. I loved hearing it, because I wasn't TRYING to be that, or anything else. I was finally fully on the path of embracing my dichotomies in as congruent a way as I can. Now. Here. In the moment. I am blessed.
I loathe Hallmark holidays. I'm also a big believer in the notion that the pleasure is in the giving, more than the receiving. In the pleasuring and pleasing and nurturing of others. It's where the greatest gifts are for me. While this has been a huge year in terms of being a "child" in the parent-child continuum, with the passing of my father, my last surviving parent, on this Father's Day I want to celebrate the people who have given me the gift of being a parent, their parent. Who continue to expand and evolve and seek and explore, and are my greatest inspirations and teachers and mirrors. While my father loved me, for sure, he had no idea about how to connect, and I didn't have the opportunity to have any kind of engagement with him where I felt seen, or understood or held in a safe place. My intention and desire has always been to create a safe space, as a Dad, for my kids to be the best manifestation of who they are, to dream big, and to give them two of the most important elements that I could provide - Roots + Wings. Thank you, Maia and Cooper, for the opportunity to have the gift of unconditional love. Definitely a first for me. Love, Dad.
People of all ages and ethnicities universally love Yiddish. They get that it's a language, not a religion, and yes, it tends to be spoken and used most by Jews. I LOVE Yiddish words. Always have, it was spoken in my home, a bit, by my mother to her sisters, generally on the phone, to make sure that the "kleyner" (the small, or little, one) did not understand. Ahhh yes, the Secrets.
Anyway, I digress.
I always cherish the opportunity to use Yiddish, to spice up a sentence with the perfect Yiddish word that, when translated into English either takes up 10 words to explain a meaning, or misses the boat, because those Yiddish words capture the essence, the subtlety, the soul of what it is referring to. In one word.
People use the word "Mitzvah" *which is the Hebrew word that really reflects a notion of a religious commandment. I am talking about the Yiddish, "Mitzveh," which literally means "good deed." It's one of my fave words, because if I have a reason to use it, or explain it, it generally means a good thing happened, is happening or will be happening. A doing where everyone involved will feel pretty darn good about it. The giver and the receiver, simultaneously both one and the same, giving and receiving.
I unexpectedly found myself in downtown Brooklyn last early evening, an appointment ended early. Moments from Brooklyn Heights, I realized that a perfect person to see was one of my fave people on the planet, the only person alive who has truly known me since birth. Doris Kaplan, my Mother's BFF from the time they were 17 until Mom passed in 1972. I call her "Dora," it was what Marilyn Pillot called her, so when I reached down and called her at 7PM and said, "Dora, I'd love to come say Hi," the glee on the other end of the phone filled me up. Getting off on the 13th Floor on Clark Street (She and her beloved Milt were the first people I knew to move to Brooklyn Heights way back when), there she is in the hallway by the apartment, at the end of the hall. I don't get two feet out of the elevator before we start doing what we do, forever. Kibbitzing, laughing, remembering. Last evening's hour with Dora, in her home filled with memories of her life with Milt and her kids and grandson, she being at 94 the most extraordinarily spirited and with-it and present and wantingtoknowevereything person you can imagine, was the most ideal end to a hot Summer Day. Dora is the closest connection I can have with my Mother, a woman whom I really don't remember, and about whom I Dad never really spoke once she passed. It's a trip to roots that while being mere threads, still exist. In a way that is so unconditional and wonderful. Something that has at times been sorely missing in my life, for so much a part of it. Yes, it was a Mitzveh. We both "won" more than words can describe. An unexpected moment in a day, in life, that no one involved knew was to happen when we woke up. A gift. Pure Magic.
More than ever, I feel it is so important to spend time with people who get who we are, and like us and yes, may even love us. It's the being gotten that is deeply essential. Because being gotten and seen, and held warmly by those who want you/us to be fulfilled and happy for being the full embodiment of who we are and how we want to be and manifest on this planet - your TRIBE - creates the best outcomes for us all, and those we touch.
Yes, those are, indeed, in deed, Mitzvehs.
My dear friend, Betty, shared with me this morning about how Clover, her 21-year old daughter who is a remarkable singer and vocalist missed her scheduled bus home from Port Authority because the bus company failed to alert her that the regular gate had changed. For this one departure. So her daughter now unexpectedly had hours on her hands at the Bus Station, neither the fabbest place or nabe in NYC to hang. When out of the blue comes a lifelong family friend, who is known in the family as "Uncle Dave." Now Clover and UD naturally become immersed in a conversation about whatever they were talking about, which obviously included what's going on in Cloverland, when a woman sitting next to them touches Clover's arm and says, "Sorry to overhear and interrupt, but my sister is looking for a vocalist for her band, you two should meet." When Clover got home and checked out the Sister's music, she was blown away by how amazing an artist she is. And whatever ends up happening, who knows. My point is that Serendipity and Synchronicity did their thing.
It ever ceases to amaze me how events like this unfold, the Sliding Doors of Life, as I always call them. The way life happens on its own terms. People often tell me - sometimes with frustration, pretty much always with love - that in conversations with me, I often "don't stick to the subject." "I didn't know there was a subject," is often my response. Meaning, I get that when you're in school, there are classes with subjects, and you don't go to Chemistry to learn Italian. Or that when there is a serious conversation to be had between people, when there is a need for singular focus, there is a "subject." However, for me, in life the subjects and the moments intertwine, intersect and take us in unknown directions. What we thought it would be, what bus Clover thought it would be and how the rest of her day "was supposed to" unfold, didn't happen. Something else did. It's called the moment. The present. The moment of the present. And they happen all the time (yes, each moment). And now for the last several years, when I "miss" that Subway, or find myself where I wasn't "supposed" to be, I try to get away from that all too old and familiar place of "Fuck, I should have left 5 minutes earlier." Which starts me down a path that is anything but good for my inner voice. I now allow myself, way more often than not to just let whatever IS to unfold. In Life's Time. Because so often when I do, something else wonderful, some person to talk to or interview, enters my life, to take me on a Tributary that is different from "the Subject." And then the next, and then, the next.
It's why I also so often abhor the overuse of the dreaded word, Mistake. I hear spiritual ;leaders and teachers use it, and it just feels dissonant. In the way that people often mean it. As in, "I made a mistake marrying that person" or some similar sense of "I fucked up." I get the notion, of course, of the feeling and the intended meaning. Yet in a bigger picture kind of way, I find it so necessary (and a challenge at times, of course) to push back on events or choices that we made, that didn't work out as we "expected" or "hoped for" or were "supposed to be" as MISTAKES. Especially when we scratch below the surface and look at what happened next, we often find that something or someone quite wonderful, very UNexpected, came to our life instead. Life changers. Magic. Other opportunities and possibilities. Those Mistakes can become blessings, and always provide lessons and growth. If we allow them, even we get out from the narrowness of our perspective.
For me, who lived most of my life in the past or the future, neither of which exist at the moment, this ongoing path to understand what it really means to be here now, right now, moment-to-moment, has been both a challenge and the greatest gift I could give myself.
Definitely not a mistake to embrace the missed buses in my life.