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.
This is the hand of a Man of Passion. The fingers of a Farmer. Well, not just any farmer. Rick Bishop, a/k/a The Soil Whisperer. I photographed this hand well before I ever met Rick. I couldn't help myself the first second I spotted this handscape, I KNEW it was the hand of a major Passionista. Since I created the word, I'll share with you what it means (to me). Passionistas are people who are not only doing what they love, they are BEING that. And, in their fullest embodiment, they are also actually great at what they do. Their "What" (they are doing) and their "Who" (they are) are working together fluidly. Seamlessly. Congruently. Over the last few years I have been saying to anyone who will listen that I want to meet any person who is involved in a project with me at their intersection of what they love doing AND are great at. Because that's where the magic comes from, where we are giving openly and fully and generously, excited to be able to give and receive, without keeping score. The tapestry weaves together more seamlessly when this. happens. And, oh yeah, everybody seems to win when this happens. It's quite something to experience. The Flow state, individually and collectively.
It is often said about people like this that "they are doing what they are supposed to do" or "God put them on the planet to do this." All I know is that they are the lucky ones. Meeting Rick Bishop several seasons after I first saw his fingers during potato season at the Union Square Greenmarket, and witnessing people lining up before the Market opened on a Saturday morning for his unparalleled strawberries, I came to see that Straberryman was also "my potato guy." And the more I read about him online, and what moves him - his Why - the more I knew I needed to know him. I had the good fortune to take Cooper and his BFF up to Rick's farm in them Catskills one Summer day, and witness the real Soul attached to those fingers be completely lost in his life. His work. Someone clearly not doing it for the money, while also creating the means to prosper, and share his gifts with others. I always use Rick as a fave example of someone "doing what he's supposed to be doing."
It truly took me into my 40's to understand that this could be me. That I could choose. That I could create a life of intention and, at the very least, TRY to do so, regardless of where the path leads. For most of my life, my What and Who were disconnected. Every time I tried to fit in, or was motivated to succeed for external reasons, it consistently was unfulfilling. Being a lawyer, with the heart and soul of an artist and an empath, is not a great match. I could DO it, even do it well. Yet I came to realize that I could never really succeed on my own terms (when I figured out what they actually are!!) unless I am doing what I love (and what I believe I am great at). It's just true. I have never been one, nor do I ever expect this to change, who can prosper by doing what I don't like, or love. Some people can, and that's cool, we are all different. And that is the key. To create a match for yourself, to understand what moves you, and go for it. As soon as we're clear, and honest with ourselves, it's our own path to carve. No one has power over our choices like that, unless we give it to them.
I sometimes wish that I got all of this sooner, earlier in my life. And then I come to my senses and realize the deep gratitude for having chosen to blow up some paradigms on a better late than never basis. When I am periodically acknowledged for having been brave, or courageous for having made some of the choices I did that broke me open, and start from basically;ly scratch, I always say that I didn't do it to BE brave or courageous. I just did what I had to do, realizing that while I may not have known where I was going, I surely knew where I did not want to be, and could not, any longer. I had no choice. I became someone who believed that I am a Passionista, and I don't want to live my life as anything else. M y true self. And, all I know, my friends, is that if I can do it, struggles and all, you can too. I am happy to be that mirror, that catalyst for others, if you want, or need, some inspiration. You know where to find me.
While writing is so often my balm, my therapy, my means to try and make sense of my head, my heart, my spirit and soul on any given day, in any given moment, I have come to understand that it is also a pathway for me to connect with others, and for them with themselves. Years ago I had a blog called Man.Kind, that I did not fully nurture and develop as much as I could have. And, as with so many experiences in life, I learned again that if we allow ourselves to approach explorations with intention and non attachment, to give ourselves permission to try, to grow, to be, to be in the process and not focused on the outcome, we give ourselves an extraordinary opportunity to learn. About ourself, and those we touch. When I do that, I am able to get out from the vacuum of myself and learn what others may experience from the other side of the equation. To see what IS, not what I think it may be.
One of the key byproducts of developing Man.Kind was the consistent feedback that my willingness to expose my emotional self, especially as a man, resonated deeply, with women + men. Especially with women. Having never been a "typical" straight guy has provided its challenges and delights ever since I was a teen, everything from often being peppered with the question, "Are you gay?" (not that there's anything wrong with that!) to being called a Lesbian in a Man's Body. As a male who always embraced my yin, I took all of this actually as compliments. I was not TRYING to be anything, other than seeking authentic self-expression. For me, and not for others. As myself, not some externally driven version. What might the embracing of my full, individual alchemy be if allowed to shine? It's surely an ongoing unfolding and what I have come to realize is that, for me, so much of my expansion over these recent years has come from holding my yang more dearly, allowing it to rise up, and to "be a man" in my own way, from my particular perspective. And the more I became connected to my deeper vulnerability and truth, the more I received encouragement from others. To keep unpeeling, and to share openly. Because we all need inspirers, it seems. So here I am.
About 8 years ago I had a prominent literary agent (a man) who encouraged me to write a book proposal for Man.Kind. All I can say is that writing a proposal for a memoir is way harder than writing the book itself, it's an f'in beast. And after months of grueling effort and having my entire emotional kishkes stirrred-up fully, I handed a first-draft in. "I don't know what to do with this," my agent said. my eyes curled, and I looked at him with complete bewilderment. I asked him what he thought this was going to be. "A book teaching men about how to be a 'sensitive guy.'" I wanted to throw-up. Having read self-help books, and worked with a variety of teachers, I had no desire to be one in this case.
"I want to be a mirror, not a Guru," I said. "I have no idea what to do with this," was his response.
And, the proposal has sat in the drawer ever since. And while I have been writing, I haven't known which way to go with my writing, with starting a blog again, just to get in the flow. My brain goes in a million directions, I can even get hung up and paralyzed on even what to call it. On where to start. on how to begin. And then, of course, it became obvious. That there's no place better than the present. As Dr. Seuss said, "today is the day..." On some level I have this whacked out notion that aspects of my life would not even begin until I started actively and consistently writing again. So here I am. As a Mirror, not a Guru. I am committed to exploring the questions, not the answers. The types of explorations that I hope will inspire people to engage in conversations - with me, with themselves, with those in their lives. I am not here to tell people what to do, or to follow any rules or guidelines or specific paths to their own fulfillment, or journey. If "this is how I did it" is a catalyst for someone else's transformation or shift, or it serves as a validation of any sort, I could not be more pleased. I am writing to write, not for an outcome, for myself or others. Like what I do with a Bagel, I am Scooping Out, to make room for the good stuff. Whatever that may be.