Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Best Of Both Worlds

I have been accused of being a dabbler -- someone who hops in and out of jobs, groups, and residences quicker than the average person.

Others have named my disorder a reaction to boredom, which involves a constant need for a new, challenging project.

Lately, I've named myself a "participatory journalist" like George Plimpton who recorded his various experiences from the point of view as an amateur -- but in my case, rookie.

I have no problem accepting these labels, although I especially like the last one, and because I have no regrets about my quick decisions.

Every job I've had, including salesperson at the Gap, specialist at the Apple Store (three months apiece), and press aide for a Chicago mayor, communications director for a school superintendent, and account supervisor for public relations firms (one year each) introduced me to new friends, challenging assignments, fresh skills, and most importantly, essay topics.

The same "no regrets" applies to all of the neighborhoods I have convinced my spouses to move into. In my first marriage of 30 years, we lived in 15 different apartments, condos, or homes. Dear Tommy, who had lived in the same house for 25 years before I wandered into his life, was schlepped to three homes in 14 years. Since his death in 2012, I've lived in two different apartments, and now -- drum roll, please -- I'm ready to leave Los Angeles and return to Chicago.

So at lease end, I hope to move to an apartment in one of the high-rises in Lakeshore East, a location that will put this participatory journalist in the midst of the city's vibrancy and near friends and relatives -- some of whom could use support as they care for aging partners, or need a pal at their side for their own medical procedures.

This reverse move may come as a surprise to my readers and to viewers of published photos, all of which praise Los Angeles. These examples of my delightful eight months here with family and celebrities are accurate; there was no exaggeration.

But, being the quick decision-maker that I proudly call myself, I recognize I'm better off in Chicago, a city much easier to navigate for an older woman who elects not to drive. While my hometown does have its struggles, it has moved ahead on tough urban issues, such as a reliable and speedy public transit system, addressing homelessness, and creating a downtown viable for residents, college students, retail, and visitors. And then there's the pizza and hot dogs.

My decision doesn't mean I have flunked here, or have regrets about the cross-country move, for I have learned things about myself, which wouldn't have occurred if I hadn't done the shift.

For example, with a Metro senior citizen pass, I get to far-flung shopping centers and doctors' appointments. I find fulfillment by volunteering at a nonprofit agency, and by attending weekly Torah study. I have made a good friend -- another grandmother transplant -- who drives and shares her favorite L.A. highlights. And, I took a 6-week workshop on How to Write a Half-hour TV Comedy, completed an original pilot and a spec script, and gained a manager who continues to seek opportunities for me.

All of the above was accomplished relatively easy for a speed demon like myself, but the primary reason for my move to Los Angeles was much trickier. Because I had not lived in the same city as my daughters for 25 years, and since I was unfettered in Chicago (no husband, house, dog, car, debt), I thought the time was right to jump into their world.

It turns out that my daughters' whirlwind lives are already over-stuffed with career and family responsibilities. While they try to include me in as many events and gatherings as possible, I find myself insatiable. No matter how often I see them, it is never enough for me. Trying to make up for lost decades, and likely attempting to fill the void left by Tommy's death, I turned needy and greedy -- features unbecoming to me and difficult for my beloved daughters.

But, instead of considering this decision an abandonment of Los Angeles, I'll add Bi-Coastal to my labels and have the best of both worlds. For special events and family celebrations, in harsh winter months, and when the itch for something fresh enters my brain, I'll return to the city of treasured children and grandchildren, temperate climes, and glitter.

And when my L.A. and Boston daughters book a visit to see both Chicago parents -- hopefully with grandchildren in tow  -- they'll have my new playground as an attraction.

Just think of the essays that await us.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


The door was locked, so I took a seat on the floor opposite the office of my new therapist. Because I was early, I wasn't unsettled about my blocked entry; and I resisted taking it as a sign that this latest round of soul scrutiny was off to a bad start.

However, if she (let's call her Sarah) didn't arrive by my appointed time, then I would rise, dust myself off, and chalk it off to evidence that therapy need not be a weekly calendar notation.

But a few minutes before the hour, Sarah appeared -- breathless because she had ridden over on her bike. She apologized for the locked door and I was speedily ushered into a room that felt as familiar as a childhood bedroom.

There was the three-cushioned couch in a subtle grey and floral pattern, the side table with a box of Kleenex and bottles of water, landscapes and other serene artworks on the walls, a facing armchair in matching upholstery, with its own side table of clock and notepad.

In my 76 years of life, I have turned to therapy a handful of times. My slim record is not because I disdain the practice or am reluctant to reveal my secrets. Au contraire, I love therapy! Fifty-five minutes focused on me, a sympathetic witness to my angst, a collaborator in my version of the story; who wouldn't relish the experience.

All of my sessions were jump-started by a query. Some visits continued weekly for nearly a year; others curtailed in a few months.

Sondra (fictitious, too, but interestingly, all of my therapists' names did begin with the letter "S") was my first, sometime in the late '80s. I was lured to Sondra through an article she had written about weight issues. I was a perpetual dieter, and thought Sondra could help me untangle my eating issues and enable me to drop 10 pounds.

But somehow during the very first session, our theme veered from my heft to my marriage, both of which were affecting my happiness. I can still see Sondra from those long ago days. She was wearing a loose-fitting tunic top and matching long skirt. Shrink wear, I thought at the time, flowing, unrestricted, the better to encourage comfort and open dialogue.

I discontinued therapy when my marriage improved (I still had the extra 10 pounds), but returned after my husband's surprise leave-taking in 1990. I went solo for a few sessions, he joined me for one, and despite Sondra being charmed with him, my spouse had his foot determinedly out the door.

My next bout of therapy was with a woman we'll call Stella, and it was to her whom I would come back to over the coming years. Stella is regal, with salt-and-pepper hair, and dressed in the requisite draping wardrobe.

Our first round was very short term, perhaps only three visits. I had only one question: if I was so unhappy in the marriage, why was I still crying about its demise?

"You were married for 30 years, sadness is normal," she said, which satisfied my need for any further sessions.

I returned to Stella in 2009 after my second husband, Tommy, and I had been together for 13 years. “He's a jerk,” I told her. “When we first married, he’d write me love letters, hide syrupy Post-it notes in my gym bag. Now, nothing, and on top of that, he says inappropriate things to strangers.”

As our appointments and Tommy's odd behavior continued, something new was added to the mix: he lost his ability to speak. Stella suggested a visit to a neurologist, and that's how my husband's dreadful brain degeneration was diagnosed. Once I realized his unsettling symptoms matched the illness, I ended therapy and transitioned from puzzled wife to compassionate caregiver.

Before I left Chicago for Los Angeles at the end of 2014, I had a few more sessions with Stella. She listened as I questioned my motivation for the move, and like a professor watching a student puzzle out an unsolved math theory, she sat patiently while I tossed pros and cons.

Yesterday, I had my second appointment with my LA therapist, Sarah. It began in a more traditional fashion. Her outer office door was unlocked, so I settled on a chair in the waiting room. Exactly at the appointed hour, she opened the door to her private space. As I unleashed my backpack and removed my hat, and placed both on the cushion next to me, Sarah uncapped her pen and placed a notepad in her lap.

"So, here's my question this week," I began.