More Lessons from Lilli Diamond: good for what ails you.

I hear my grandmother’s voice almost daily. And some days multiple times.

This day I am standing at the kitchen counter on a winter Sunday, just past noon. She is not yet two months gone.

I’m in my bathrobe, showered, after my ritual Sunday cardio-funk dance class. Dance class is usually good medicine. I usually feel happy with the first bar of music blasting from the speakers, the first stretch, the beginning of movement, and downright exultant by the last breathless bow. But not today. Today it didn’t work. I am a little depressed.

I am at the kitchen counter, and I have just sliced a mango into a white bowl with a tiny chip at its rim. When did I get these? Post-engagement, pre-marriage? Twenty-plus years? I used to remember details like these. I have cut open a pomegranate and sprinkled pomegranate seeds onto the mango. It is beautiful, orange and red. I pierce the fruit with a silver-plated fork embossed with an elaborate script H. H for Heisen, for Selma & Aaron, my husband’s grandparents. I rescued them from a hidden box of silver last week, rather than let them continue to sit, tarnished and untouched.

I take a bite of my fruit, and it is a sweetness like no sugar, no cookie, no cake any human could make. A ripe mango is proof of divinity, if nothing else. The pomegranate seeds burst with juice, and yet more sweetness. I give gratitude for this deliciousness. I congratulate myself for buying them, for not forgetting about them until they are brown, for not being too lazy this time to cut into the pomegranate and confront its greedy, intricate design, trying to keep its seeds prisoner.

And I think, how can anyone be depressed eating mango and pomegranate, on a sunny winter afternoon, while wearing a bathrobe? It can’t be sustained.

And then, like a reward, I hear my grandmother’s voice. As I slip my fork again and again into the chipped white bowl, putting bite after bite of sweetness into my mouth, my redheaded guardian extols the health benefits of my snack in her distinctive style: “Pomegranates have lots of antioxidants, they are SO GOOD FOR YOU!” It’s a voice that could be saying, “You just won tickets to Disneyland!” This is a celebration.

I exhale, and try to release the dregs of whatever has its teeth in me. It’s always the little things that bring me back. I wrap my soft robe tightly around me. I appreciate the counters I’ve decluttered and wiped clean, my transparent effort to bring similar order to my mind and soul, and I nod to myself, thinking, “Grandma, you are so right.”


An Upbeat Playlist for Stressful Times

We entered singing. My sister and I had ascended the stairs into the “great room” of Belmont Village to visit our grandmother, and the joint was jumping. Residents had gathered to hear the musical stylings of a guest singer. It was impossible to refrain, so why try? We opened our voices and danced over to her. (It is easy to spot her, the redhead, from behind, or really from any direction.)

When she saw us, she bestowed her perennial gift, a contagious, nearly-crying smile that says better than words can, “I’m so happy to see you.”

I needed that. Then the singer said, “Remember, music is the best medicine.” I needed that, too. This past Sunday, at dance class, the music, the dancing, the singing along. I need it. You know you need it, too. These are trying times. Play your music loud and often.

Without further ado, a (starter) playlist for stressful times. Play loud.  Play often. Dance. Sing. Repeat.

  1. Michael Jackson (just about anything, but let’s go with Wanna Be Starting Something
  2. And another Michael Jackson, Black or White
  3. American Authors, Best Day of My Life
  4. Marvin Gaye, How sweet it is (to be loved by you)
  5. Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
  6. Kinky Boots, Raise You Up

(And, for a change, try a nice quiet 10-12 minutes with the Calm App gratitude meditation. Be grateful for your lungs, and legs, and all the other parts needed for dancing your stress away.)




The Sound of Inspiration, and Light for a Dark World

I’m trying something new — music in the background while I write, a soundtrack to inspire. So I pick Simon & Garfunkel.

“They’ve all gone to look for America…”

And I instantly discover the problem with this sytem: I stop and sing.

“I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.”

I mean, can you blame me? Here is their genius: they make me feel what they feel, with intensity. I mean, I promise I have never “taken comfort from the whores on 7th avenue” — my comfort vice is ice cream — yet when they do declare, I do declare along with them.

How do they DO that? How do they get me in that moment with them when I have nothing in common with that experience?

It’s not that the details don’t matter. They matter a lot. They paint the picture. What doesn’t matter is if I have or haven’t experienced those details myself. What I’m sharing with them is not the experience of say, taking a bus across America, but the universal feeling of wishing and yearning. That’s what I sing along with. That’s what I need to write like.

I hum their tune and some Boxer part of me wants to break out of my mold, wants to write and punch my way to glory. Another line plays and I think, aha, I can relate to that one. “All my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity…like emptiness in harmony…” Those clever devils even got a good line out of writer’s block.

I wonder who inspired their artistry? Maybe the sound of silence? (Groan. Sorry.)

Next to me is today’s newspaper, with stories that crush the heart. Earthquake in Taiwan. Libya is the new Syria. Syria is still Syria. It’s easy to ask, what kind of a world do we live in? And this morning I’m happy to be reminded that we live in a world of beauty, too. Enjoy.  

If Mercury’s Retrograde Has You Down, Hold On…

Two women I know who don’t go for hocus-pocus told me recently, “Mercury is in retrograde” to explain a current period of crap-ola in the lives of everyone they know.

The first person mentioned it as a way of forgiving me my forgetting that we had a meeting that morning. Mercury’s retrograde, in that instance, did me a service by creating instant forgiveness and understanding.

The second person mentioned it this morning at the gym. Before you get the wrong idea about me and the gym, let me set the scene. Our gym is the YMCA, small and beloved, a far cry from fancy schmancy. And while my friend is strong and disciplined, I was there for a whopping 15 minutes. Walking on the treadmill. (But at least on an incline, with 3-pound weights in each hand for a little oomph.)

“How are you?” we asked each other. “How’s work, the family, everything?”

“Good,” we responded, but our faces begged for a truth-serum follow up. My “good” in answer to her “how are things” was not a hollow, reflexive attempt to deceive or to be shallow, but a commitment not to dwell on what’s not good, to convince myself that, actually, everything that truly matters is fine, or will be fine. Because it’s got to be.

“Well, you know,” she said, “I don’t believe this stuff but I’ve heard Mercury is in retrograde…” Her face said that whatever havoc Mercury can wreak was present in her life. “But wait until Friday. I’ve heard everything gets better then.”

I don’t actually believe our solar system’s alignment can curse or bless our moods, actions, words. But I can observe this: there seems to be something in the air. People are in a funk. Earth herself is hellaciously moody, storming and burning mad.

I’m doing what I can until Friday. Wearing pink. And a dress. Taking walks. Trying to let the excuse of “Mercury” make my forgiveness more forthcoming, like my friend.

And holding on until Friday. It all gets better then.