Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A text, a post-it, a painting and a play

My daughter sent me a text when I started a new assignment. She said I love you. Remember you have blue eyes.

Blue eyes is code between us. It means your gift is nothing personal.

That thing you do that makes you feel alive and in the flow is entirely neutral.

We’ve taken to calling it blue eyes because my eyes happen to be blue and that's a fact. And just like everyone has different abilities, everyone has eyes of some colour or another. It's not like I'm going to go to work and all of a sudden I won't have blue eyes. I can count on it, every time.
It only gets confusing when I make it mean something like proof that I’m worthy, special, employable. It's only when I focus on the outcome, that I get lost.

So I wrote this on a post-It and stuck it to my phone:

Hew wood. Draw water.

It’s a reminder that it doesn’t really matter what it is.  Just do what is in front of you.
If it’s bringing out the best in a person, or telling a story, or conveying a new idea, or bringing order to chaos, or making connections, or solving a problem, or joining the dots, or dancing, or writing, or creating, or finding consensus, or leading a team or making things look pretty, or growing things, or baking bread, or making shoes, or making movies, just do it.

It doesn’t matter what the outcome is. There is no meaning in your ability to do it.
Being rich or happy or successful or making a difference is not the point of your blue eyes. There is no point. There is only do.  

This is how Barbara Kruger says it:

This is how Yoda says it:

YODA: Use the Force. Yes...
Now...the stone. Feel it.
So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you
nothing that I say?

LUKE: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally

YODA: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn
what you have learned.

LUKE: (focusing, quietly) All right, I'll give it a try.

YODA: No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

LUKE: (panting heavily) I can't. It's too big.

YODA: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm?
Mmmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a
powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It's energy
surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we...(Yoda pinches
Luke's shoulder)...not this crude matter. (a sweeping gesture) You must
feel the Force around you. (gesturing) Here, between
tree...the rock...everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that

LUKE: (discouraged) You want the impossible.

Quietly Yoda turns toward the X-wing fighter. With his eyes
closed and his head bowed, he raises his arm and points at the
Soon, the fighter rises above the water and moves forward
as Artoo beeps in terror and scoots away.

LUKE: I don't...I don't believe it.

YODA: That is why you fail.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The man who came fourth

Last night, I watched a slight man in a team GB t-shirt reach a finish line before any of the 29 men that had started with him less than half an hour beforehand.

It was beyond exciting to see Mo Farrah win the Gold Medal in the 10 000m in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

I liked it even more when he said after the race: “It’s never going to get any better than this. It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, training 120 miles a week, week in and week out. Long distance is a lonely event. I just got to enjoy this moment I guess”

Apparently two best friends came first and second and two brothers came third and fourth.  
Until yesterday, I didn’t know much more than that about athletics, so I didn’t really notice the guy that came fourth.

This morning I was talking to Anton, who knows a lot about athletics. He told me what he knew about the guy who came fourth.  The rest I found on YouTube.

Kenenisa Bekele is an athlete from Ethiopia who knows a lot of things. He knows what it’s like to reach a finish line before anyone else. He knows what it’s like to win two gold Olympic medals for the 10 000 meters and one gold medal for the 5000 meters. He knows what it’s like to set and hold the world record for both events.

He knows what it’s like to fall in love and have your fiancĂ© die in your arms on a training run.
He knows what it’s like to dominate a sport for over ten years and then rupture a muscle and see your career grind to a slow halt.

He’s a shy, quiet person with incredible focus and peace of mind. In an interview before the race he was asked if he was worried about Mo Farrah. He said:” I don’t worry. I enjoy it lots. I will try to do my best”

That’s all we can ever do.

Yesterday it was in the power of Mo Farrah to run 27 minutes and 30 seconds.
And it was in the power of Kenenisa Bekele to run 27 minutes and 32 seconds.

It’s just two seconds of a life of moments that are strung together like a rope. If you focus on the end of the rope, you’ll miss the point.

The only way to approach it is to keep your head down and do what is in your power to do. Don’t think about winning gold, about crossing finishing lines or about what it all means.

Our lives change all the time.

Only two things don't change: the connected, intact and infinite spirit inside us. And that moment by moment, we only have this time now.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

How to tell where the real story is

Once upon a time long ago my people rejected the polytheistic view of the surrounding tribes and became attached to the belief in a single God.

They passed down this belief from generation to generation, more or less understanding what it meant, until today about 3, 000 years later. This is where I become part of the story, because this tradition was impressed upon me too in turn. Not just when I stayed home and when I went out, but also when I lay down and when I got up.

I went to Weitzman Primary School where I learned the stories of the Torah.  I matriculated from Herzlia High School, where I learned to read and write Hebrew.

I got drunk on four cups of wine and sang with my cousins on Seder night. I wore a blue shirt and a red toggle and had the time of my life at Habonim Machaneh in Onrust, in the sun and the dust.

I ate Friday night supper with my parents, my grandparents and my brother and sisters.  There were always prayers and three courses including dessert and Coke.  We sometimes sang Grace after meals.

I sat upstairs in Marais Road Shul and looked at the clothes of the other girls, and tried to catch the eyes of the boys downstairs. 

No one told me to, but I believed in a Jewish God in the sky. I believed He had a special relationship with his Chosen people. I believed that the whole Torah was written by God and given at Sinai. I believed Hebrew was the language God spoke in. I believed the land of Israel was Holy.  I believed good Jews keep more mitzvoth.

And then and then and then…
Then this year I read Viktor Frankel, Richard Elliot Friedman, Rumi, Sidney Banks, Menachem Kellner and Arthur Green.  And I listened to Jonathan Wittenberg, Terry Rubinstein, and Simon Cooper.

And a lot of what I believed fell away.
This is what was left:  that there is one, undivided God. That God is so undivided he can’t be in some places and not in others.   I don’t believe his name is God or anything else either.
I like this belief. When I see it (and I don’t always truly see it) I feel connected to a force in me that is also in everything and everyone else.  It all follows from there.

Apparently, in this case, a recipe for pizza dough follows:

1 packet instant dry yeast
600gm flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
450 ml warm water from the tap ie not too hot
Mix and knead. Cover and leave to rise. Then roll out,
add toppings and cook on high till done.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

How to put your best foot forward

A head-hunter called me this week.  They wanted to meet me before agreeing to represent me.
As I am very keen to be offered more freelance work, I was thrilled.
The more I thought about how important it was that I make a good impression, the more the inside of my head looked like a fight scene in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

These were some of my Tom and Jerry thoughts:

I need this interview to go well.  I was very anxious at the last interview. I am a failure. I don’t want to be doing this anyway. Advertising has an unfair age-ceiling. I don’t deserve a lovely job. My expectations are too high. I’m beating a dead-horse. If only I was brave enough to make cold-calls. If only I had better self-esteem.  The only thing standing in the way of getting a new job is my inability to control my anxiety. My career is over. Etcetera.  Etcetera.

But for some unknown reason, on the morning of the interview, I had a wild and crazy thought.
This is what it was:

This interview is just another interview out of the thousands I’ve had in the business. Probably nothing will happen as a result of it. Let’s see how it feels as I go in, while I’m in it and how I feel after it. Let’s just be curious about what I experience moment to moment.

I became more interested in the experience of the journey than the purpose of the journey.

I let go of trying to control the outcome.

This is what happened on the day of the interview

On the way there, I watched myself on the train getting a little anxious about leaving behind my portfolio which was next to my feet. I picked it up and put it on my lap.

I watched myself get a bit thirsty. I stopped and bought myself a bottle of water.

I watched myself worrying about getting lost and being late. I asked for directions.

As I met the two recruiters, my bracelet and sunglasses flew across the room as I stood up to shake their hands. I watched myself quickly regain my composure.

We went upstairs and sat on the roof terrace in the sun. It was hot. I drank the water I had bought earlier.

I watched myself being dynamic, clear, confident and graceful.

I learned what Just Do It means.
It means don’t look ahead. Look now.
Because that is where the power is.
When I let go of the outcome, the path rose up to meet me.
I suspect it works for most things.

Unhappily married? Let go of the outcome. Listen quietly and non-judgementally to yourself moment by moment. Talk (or don’t talk) from that place.
Feeling fat? Let go of the outcome. Listen quietly and judgementally to yourself moment by moment.  Eat (or don’t eat) from that place.
Feeling anxious? Let go of the desired outcome of freedom from anxiety. Listen quietly and non-judgementally to yourself in the moment.  Have your anxiety; it doesn’t have to have you.

You know that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he needs to cross a chasm and suddenly he sees the invisible path that will take him across?
It’s a great metaphor for what happens when you see that the goal is an illusion,
that the past and the future are irrelevant,
that the only power you have is in this moment,
putting one foot in front of the other.

Summer Supper

The goal was not to make a quick meal for my family that was healthy and more delicious than anything the great Ottolenghi himself could have made, but that’s what happened.  Ten fingers.
This is how:

Couscous salad
250 gm. Couscous
400 ml boiling water
Tiny cubes of one sweet potato boiled till soft
Beluga lentils
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt, pepper, cinnamon on the sweet potato
Tablespoon of oil in the couscous
Put couscous in bowl. Add boiling water and oil. Leave for a bit. Add other ingredients.
Fish Ocean basket style
Plate of flour with fish spice mix
Plate of sunflower oil
Jug of melted butter and lemon juice
Fish fillets: cod, haddock or kingklip
Dip fish fillets in flour mix, in oil plate
Then onto hot, oiled frying pan for 6 or 7 minutes
Then plate
Pour over with butter/lemon juice 
Steamed asparagus

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Getting over heartbreak (and other problems)

Recently, I have heard the following said by some of the wonderful people in my life:

If only he loved me,
If only we could be together,
If only we lived in the same place,
If only I hadn’t slept with his best friend,
If only he would come back to me
If only he didn’t work so hard,
If only I had more time,
If only my boss wasn’t an arsehole,
If only I was married,
If only I could change his mind,
If only it wasn’t raining,
If only my child was gifted academically,
If only I weighed 63 kgs
If only I had a meaningful, well-paid job,
If only I had as many followers as Pioneer Girl,
If only I always said and did the perfect thing,
If only I had more energy,
If only my child didn’t wear such short skirts,
If only I had the discipline to write 30 pages a day,
If only I could live by the sea,
If only the sun was shining,
If only I was rich,
If only I had had a better childhood,
If only my child was happy,

Then I would be ok
I would be happy
I would be whole
Then my proper life could start

When people say those things to me, I want to hug them and sit with them until the tears end. Then this is what I want to say:

You are on this planet right now,
It is your turn to be here
One day your turn will be over
But today it is your turn
And you are OK
You are whole
You are not broken
You don’t have to fix anything outside or inside to be OK and whole and happy.
Happiness is not conditional on freedom from suffering
Your circumstances will never be completely perfect,
Your thoughts will never be completely perfect,
But know you are part of an infinite and intact wholeness that is already perfect
And always perfect
So get up
Stay in the game
Look after the body you live in
Feed it well
Be kind to it
Stretch it and strengthen it in the way it likes
Do what you have chosen to do with all your might.

This soup is near perfect: quick, delicious and nutricious. It's now on our soup-roster along with butternut soup, leek and potato soup, tomato soup, chicken soup, thai coconut soup and the favourite bean and barley soup.

Nigella Lawson’s Lentil and chestnut soup

One onion
One leek
One carrot
One stick celery
Two tablespoons oil
225gm red lentils
One and a half litres vegetable stock
22gm tin of chestnut puree
Double cream

Chop and fry first four ingredients in oil.
Add lentils and stock.
Boil for 40 minutes,
Add chestnuts, boil for another 20 minutes.
Blitz, add cream.

Friday, 23 March 2012

It is too much love to say

Lily and Jumbo Hirshowitz

I don’t know very much about my grandmother Lily's life. But this is what I do know:
She was born in 1910 in East London in South Africa.
Her father was an invalid, and her mother ran a boarding house to pay the bills.

I imagine my grandmother, Lily and her sister, Jumbo helped run the boarding house. I imagine they cooked and cleaned.  I don’t know. I only know my grandfather came to town one day, and fell in love with Lily.  

Jack was handsome, wealthy and had studied law at Cambridge.  He sent Lily a diamond ring, and in that way that rich men marry beautiful women, they got married.  

They moved to a big house in Cape Town and had three children.  Lily never worked again.

She was 52 when I was born, the first of her eight grandchildren.

I spent a lot of time with her and this was her routine as far as I could tell:
She bathed every morning and then sat at her dressing table in her petticoat.   
She put on her stockings, her makeup and her jewellery. Then she got dressed.

She sat in the living room on the sofa with her back to the window. She did the cross-word puzzle and the Word Game in the Cape Argus every day. 

She read, gardened and played bridge with her friends.  Tea came on a tray in a pot, with a jug of hot water and a jug of milk.

She smoked 30 Benson & Hedges cigarettes every day and she would let me light them for her.

Every day at five o’clock, she would bring in the drinks tray with ice-bucket and silver tongs. She and Jack would drink a whiskey and soda. 

She taught me to crochet, knit and shuffle cards.  She taught me how to play Patience, how to make a house out of cards and how to make a fan out of the gold foil in the cigarette box.

I never once heard her say an angry, unkind word.
I never heard her complain, although I could see when she was sad. 

She didn’t like the way her hand shook when she developed Parkinson’s disease.
Even when I held her soft, wrinkled hand and kissed it and said I loved all of her including her shaking hand, she was still sad. I could see that.

This is the last thing she taught me:
It was the last time I saw her alive. 
My grandfather had died and she lived alone in a small flat. Although I loved her desperately, I would only visit her when my mother nagged me to.
That day as she was saying goodbye to me, she said: “be happy”
She was trying to tell me that happiness is a choice.  
I didn’t understand what she meant.
I do now.

She died in 1992. I remember the date because I was five months pregnant with my first child.
I called my daughter Lily. 


These are some of my grandmother's recipes:

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Difficult conversations

The view from the house in Schliersee

We had had just eaten a delicious supper of trout and potatoes, followed by ice-cream followed by schnapps.

Everybody knew they wanted a kind of pear schnapps called "Willy" and truthfully it was delicious, served in ice cold little glasses with the edges at the bottom of the glass nicked out.

I find it hard to understand German in big groups of fast flowing dinner conversations. I miss the jokes mostly so I spent some time examining the bottom of the schnapps glass.

It was good to be with old friends again. Not much had changed in 26 years. We were all still with the same partners, and all still in the same professions. We were all still healthy and busy and I think I was the only one who dyed her rapidly greying hair. I was the only one who didn’t go to the Albert Einstein Gymnasium in a small town in South West Germany. I was the only one who didn’t speak German as a first language.
I was also the only one who was Jewish.

In the 26 years I knew them, we had never ever discussed it. In years of holidays together in Germany, in France, in Italy and once in New York, we had never ever discussed the subject.

In the years of coming to Schliersee and hanging out together, hiking and drinking and cooking and laughing and playing cards, we never discussed it.

Even when I went to visit Dachau, close by Schliersee, we never discussed it. It was a non-issue.
They knew I didn't eat pork and that was the end of it.
No one asked me anything about it, and I was glad to be accepted so completely by such kind, funny, loving, wonderful people.
So I was not expecting it when the subject finally came up.

We were all walking back to our hotel. We were full of good food and good will. I was talking to one of the group about his grandfather who had built the house in Schliersee that we always stayed in.

He told me his grandfather had been in the Waffen SS and that when he came back, he never spoke about what he saw and did. He built his house on the hill and lived in it alone for the rest of his life.

It was an awkward conversation. I didn't say what I really think which is there is not in reality an "us" and "them" and that we are all capable of evil actions and kind actions.

That we are all part of the collective whole of life, and that it is our responsibility to be kind, with whatever powers we have, to all forms of that life.

I didn't say any of that.  Instead I told him tearfully about my great-grandmother who was murdered alongside her son, her daughter-in-law and her grand-children in Riga in 1941.

I realized that while I have many thoughts about the Holocaust, the person I was speaking to, didn’t. The issue is not what we remember, but that we remember.

My people read Primo Levi, Martin Gilbert, Anne Frank, Victor Frankel and Elie Wiesel. We visit concentration camps in Germany and Poland. We build Holocaust museums. We teach it to our children. We remember the unspeakable.

It's in our cultural DNA to remember. We have in our history enemies we do not forget like Amalek, Haman and Pharaoh. 

In the shadow of the Holocaust, we are a people with post-traumatic stress disorder. We have all personally lost entire branches of our family or been raised by orphans from the Kindertransport or known survivors of the camps. 

Even far away, in South Africa, where I was raised, we were not unscathed. During the war, my grandfather received a telegram telling him his family had been murdered. My father still remembers the day the telegram came and his father’s cries of pain.

We have two names for it - the Shoah or the Holocaust. They have none. They call it Der Nazi Zeit. The Time of the Nazi's.

My husband's mother's brother was in the Waffen SS. I didn’t know about it until he died. He was based in Gurs concentration camp in France and had worked on the selection of Jews for transfer. When he was alive, I had often been in the same room as him and no one ever said a word about it.  It was never mentioned as if it wasn’t relevant that a man with a tattoo in his armpit, signifying his membership in a group whose function it was to carry out the Final Solution, was now happily chatting to a Jewish woman and her three Jewish children.

Here is poster I saw once in the area. It is advertising a memorial hour and the subhead says: 70 years since the deportation of the Jews of the Rhinlenand Palatinate to Gurs.

Gurs was the French holding station for the Jews of the Rhineland Palatinate before they were selected to be taken by train to Auschwitz and Sobibor, where they were gassed.
The poster says - they were deported. It does not say they were murdered. It tells the part of the story that is easier to tell.

Understandably, as a deeply shameful episode, the Holocaust is largely encapsulated and over as far as they’re concerned.

We are like a lesion that was removed from their body, and the body has healed with no sign of a scar. Our partners in crime have moved on.

It is not the same for us. 

But when we remember the Holocaust, we are talking to ourselves.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Why this doesn’t work when you want to lose weight:

This I know for sure:
If you get out of your way, your body wisdom will always make a choice for wellness.

You’ll choose to carry less weight on your knees.
You’ll choose to give your pancreas an easier time.
You’ll choose to be kinder to your long-suffering liver.
And the best part of it is you don’t even have to know you have a pancreas or liver or even heart.
Your body knows it wants to be well right now, and it already knows how.
You don’t have to try.

A tree doesn’t have to know about photosynthesis to seek the light it needs.
A baby doesn’t have to count calories to know when to stop suckling.
And you too as a living being on this planet know what you have to do.

It’s not will-power that you lack or a trainer or a diet or a better understanding of the Krebs cycle.
You only need the ability to see your human thoughts as the human condition and to tune-in instead to living wisdom we all have.

So relax. Don’t do anything except things that calm you down. Breathe. And go about your day.
Sooner or later you’ll probably have a thought about food.
I hope you have the privilege of seeing yourself at the moment you think one of your crazy thoughts that you think are so true.  

I hope you see in that moment you have a choice.
I hope you see the difference that makes.

It’s quiet and it flickers, so be gentle on yourself.  
Don’t shout. Don’t try. Don’t grab.
Let go and let love.
Let me know how it goes.