Thursday, October 1, 2015

Growing old gracefully

One thing that we all have in common is: growing old. It can't be denied. Some of us go through it gracefully; others stamp their feet and pull out their hair. Some of us are in denial; others try to meet it head on.

I, for one, cannot remember growing old past the age of 19. Yes, I know that there are smidgeons of memories. The first years on the kibbutz, marriage, parenthood. Milking the cows, becoming a teacher, taking on social responsibilities, leaving to live in the desert. Creating a meaningful environment by connecting the world through educational initiatives and then entering into cultural and intellectual stagnation. What is left? What might have been, what was, and what will probably no longer be?

There is no point in crying over spilt milk. Whiskey is a good substitute. But not even whiskey can fill the place of all of the things that have gone missing. Most people would say that the main problem is me. They may be right, but I am not willing to let the world off that easily: not quite yet.

I don't recognize the face that I see in the mirror each and every morning. Nor can I imagine what people see who call me father, grandpa, husband and son. Do they recognize in me something that once really was? Or have I drifted away, leaving them with anything that they may want to paint into that image?

I admit that I am not growing old gracefully. I feel the desire at times to kick and scream. Although I find myself gradually slipping further and further into passive acceptance, or better said: the desire to toss it all in.

The problem with all this is that the memories get in the way. They creep up on you and pounce at the oddest times. Some memories make you feel invincible; others leave you feeling increasingly feeble. Sometimes we chase after memories in an attempt to rediscover misplaced nostalgia. But more often, we seek to avoid them. Although there are things that can never be ignored. Why is it that we have this obsessive urge to connect the dots, as if we can harness the neurons in our brain and make them do our bidding? When all that we accomplish is a more fractured sense of self.

And there are times when our memories seek out our own self-destruction, as they did this Yom Kippur. Wandering down to the Volunteers' Beach at the kibbutz by the sea, I was reminded of midnight swims past, when we ran down the hill, discarding clothes on the way, following a ritual of song, chocolate milk and brandy. The calm midnight sea allowed us to walk deep into its arms, each of us seeking out a special niche, as individuals we still were, with no thought of growing old. It was called the Volunteers' Beach, as opposed to the Members' Beach on the other side of a stone cliff, as it was a place where almost only kibbutz volunteers would go. Perhaps because mothers didn't like their children, and especially their husbands, to ogle at the topless Scandinavian volunteers.Or maybe it was because of the strong currents and undertows at this section of the sea. But we could navigate those turbulent waters. We were invincible.

And now it was Yom Kippur. The waves were sweeping in, crashing down upon the water's edge. I imagined myself to be 19 again and out I went. The thrill of riding the waves. Water sweeping over me. The sea flirted with me and drew me out further, until I felt the undertow taking control of my legs, pulling me to where there was no bottom and to where there was possibly no way back. As a 19-year-old, I would have had no problem swimming  out of it. But now it appeared almost poetically fitting that I would meet my maker on the Day of Atonement, when I had really thought that I could wind back time. But no, it was not to be this day. The human intervened and I was pulled to safety. And now there are two layers of memory, with one mocking the other.

So what is there beyond growing old and dwelling in the memories? Looking at the glass half empty, I suppose that my greatest fear is in becoming impotent: both physically and mentally, with all that that entails. For when we begin to question the reason for going on living, we question our very existence.

"Write another book," some of you say. "Isn't that a part of the legacy that you want to leave behind?"

Maybe. But what should I write about? Old-age? They say that you should write about something that you are intimately acquainted with. But I feel that I have said all that I have to say about old age. And now it is me, staring at the wall, wondering if I still have a voice, or why it should really matter if I do or don't.

I know, it's starting to sound like I am dwelling too much in self-pity. That was not really my intent. But what was my intent? I am too senile to remember. As for you, what still provides you with the quest for life, despite your growing old, despite the inevitable? Are you willing to share your secrets with us?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

We speak English, don't we?

The other day I started up a new WhatsApp group: Lloyds English. I announced it to my close family: Israeli-born offspring and Israeli-born wife, and stipulated that it would serve as a place where we'd communicate only in English. The immediate response to my announcement was: "What are you drinking and are you already drunk?" And then silence. The last words uttered in Lloyds English. So there was nothing left to do but fade back into the linguistic woodwork.

A friend of  mine asked me the other day, over a pint of Guinness, what I regret in life. Normally, my response to such a question is that I regret nothing. I believe in learning from mistakes, rather than dwelling in regret. But this time, whether it be the result of my increasing age or growing egocentricity, I admitted to having one regret: that I did not speak English with my children.

Now, in an earlier blog posting: Curiouser and curiouser, I defended my reasoning for not speaking English to my children, and in doing so, robbing them of a golden opportunity for becoming bilingual. If you haven't read that posting, or have forgotten what it is about, it would be a good idea to read it first. There I explained why my entrance and acceptance into Israeli society was not a simple one, and why much of it was dependent upon my acquiring a working competence in Hebrew. Speaking only English at home, at that time, would have prevented me from reaching the linguistic competence required to meet that goal and would have sent a wrong message - both to those in Israel and in Canada back home, who were waiting for me to come back to my senses and leave Israel - about how serious I was in my endeavour to fully adapt into Israeli society. So, I put my linguistic competence first, above that of my children. I thought that they would have ample opportunity for picking up English  on the way. Wasn't this a small price to pay for not having a father who was a social outcast?

The irony is that, in the long run, all of my effort really didn't make much of a difference. True, I took university classes in Hebrew, wrote papers in Hebrew, gave lectures in Hebrew, carried on correspondence in Hebrew - but in the end I was still the odd man out. I would never really fit in. Not because of the language, but because of me. I am simply meant to be an outcast, whether I live in Israel, Canada, or on the moon. I reached the point where I felt that I had adapted as well as possible to Israeli society and had nothing left to prove. And it was then, that I began to regress. At times, I felt like I was speaking with stones in my mouth, and Hebrew was often like a hot blanket, under which I lay smothered on a hot summer day.  Words only flowed in that ancient language when I felt emotion, and such moments became less and less frequent over time. My adult identity was slowly beginning to crumble. I needed to find a way to slip back into something which was perhaps lost forever: slip back into me.

Would speaking to my children in English help in any way? Or had that ship sailed forever? It's not that my children don't know English. They did pick it up along the way. A daughter who now speaks mostly English in her work. A son who is writing a 100+ page MA thesis in English on a very technical subject. And another son who decided one day, through his own volition, to speak to me only in English (and was the only one to applaud the creation of Lloyds English and not question my sobriety).

It seems that I never know when to stop chasing windmills. Don Quixote. It is my battle alone. And in the meantime, Lloyds English still lies there, ignored, like an unwanted orphan. Why should I expect anything more?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots

It's exciting putting out a new book. It's hard to describe. It all begins with an idea, a small seed, which slowly grows and creates constant turmoil in my mind. The seed becomes a story - and then the story begins to write itself. It is then that I know that a book is inside of me. And I rush to get it out, get it out before the rivers dry up and I lose my way.

But I do lose my way, many times, during the process. At times, I wonder who this is on the other side of the page. Whose story is this? Or can it belong to anyone?

A good friend read the finished draft manuscript and told me not to publish the book.
"You are risking too much by publishing it," he said.
"But it is fiction!" I exclaimed. "Why would this be putting myself at risk?"
"Because only you know what parts of it are fiction and what parts of it are not. And some people may see it all as real - an autobiography, perhaps - or maybe even a confession."
"If this is in any way a confession, then it is Daniel's confession," I said. "Although I think, if he still had a voice, he would claim it to be more of a legacy, than a confession."
"And he would want to believe that," my friend said. "As would you. Aren't you and Daniel the same person?"
"No. I am the author. Nothing more. He is my creation."

In my first book: "As I Died Laughing", there appeared to be no clear borders between the real and the unreal, between fact and fiction. In a continually fragmented plot, the author found it much easier to hide in the background. But there is nothing for the author to hide behind in: "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots". I stand there naked. There is truth in what I have to say, but I choose its maner of creation. The characters are real to the book. They begin and end there. Some of you will believe that you see yourselves in the book, but you are who you bring to the reading. And if you take away much more, then I have succeeded as a writer.

I have written two novels, and this second novel - "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots" - is the one that I believe will define me as a writer. Why do I put such emphasis on this second book? Because it is something that has been waiting to be written for a very long time. You may understand this much better when you read the book.

So, what is left? There was a time in my life when the act of writing, by itself, was enough. Just by putting words down on a page, I was in communion with self. But that is not enough, now. Not nearly enough. My words seek to be heard. They have lived in solitude, inside of me, for so long. And now, they no longer belong totally to me. They wander, seeking a new home, many new homes, as they live on and become real in the consciousness of others.

Another good friend asked me:
"What's it like knowing that there are people out there reading your most innermost thoughts at this very moment?"
I hesitated, but only for a fraction of a moment.
"As much as this may sound surprising," I answered, "it is a relief."
And I left it at that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


How many of you are humming the tune from Fiddler on the Roof right now? Tradition. But I am not talking about tradition that reaches back through the ages to our ancestors. But rather small traditions that bring us closer to people dearest to us.

One of the special things about my trips to Canada each year are the traditions formed with family and friends. Traditions which grow in importance from year to year.

One such tradition is the celebration of my parents' wedding anniversary. Each year, Gayle, Paul and I celebrate this happy event with my mother, at a special restaurant mother and father once shared. Father is always there, in spirit. He would never miss his wedding anniversary. And the celebration is also a sense of coming home. For Gayle, Paul and I were childhood friends and our home was a second  home to them. And it is still a home we all can come back to.

We grew up in a Scarborough suburb, which seemed so safe and polished at the time. It wasn't long after a war that we never knew. At times, we looked like we had stepped right out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best. Of course, nothing is as idyllic as it seems, but looking back - those were happy times.

But for Gayle this ended too quickly. When she was in the sixth grade, her family moved out West because of her father's work.  And this wasn't the last time they would be uprooted because of his work. It may have ended there, a friendship which had hardly begun, if it weren't for Mr. Herrington: Gayle's father.

I remember that day - a day that would unexpectedly have such an impact on my life. Mr. Herrington was sitting at the dining room table in our house, talking with my parents. He was on a business trip to Toronto and was staying with us for a couple of days. Normally, at the age of thirteen, I wouldn't have paid much attention to an adult conversation. But Mr. Herrington had a gift of bringing you into the conversation. It didn't matter whether you were ten or sixty years old. He made you feel that you had something significant to say. So I listened as he talked about Gayle, about how lonely she appeared in her new home. And I then did something quite unexpected. I asked for her address and sat down to write her a letter. And I discovered the writer within me. Until then, the only letters I had written were thank-you  notes that mother made me write after every birthday and Christmas.

And Gayle and I exchanged letters, sharing our thoughts and lives from afar, until Gayle moved back to the Toronto area with her family. And it was then that the stage was set for my two best friends and I to become The Three Musketeers.

I don't know if Mr. Herrington knew what an effect this conversation had on my life. I think that in some way he did. For he knew that Gayle and I became very close. My mother told me that Bob (she knew him as Bob) once told her about a conversation he had with Gayle. He asked her if she and I were in a romantic relationship. Gayle apparently answered: "No, that would only ruin it."

For some things cannot have labels. We can only experience them and know that they are real.

And each year, I look forward to meeting Mr. Herrington again, at another one of our small traditions: the Lloyd / Herrington brunch at The Blue Sea in Whitby on the last Sunday before Christmas. But this year I will not see Mr. Herrington at the Blue Sea. For he has passed on and left us behind. But we won't cancel this tradition. For I am sure he will be there, the first one in. Opening the door for the others to pass through. We will sit around the table and hear his voice. And know that all is good in the world, if even for a moment.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Curiouser and curiouser

I think I have become somewhat of a curiosity to my children. Perhaps this is a part of losing relevance as we grow old. Or perhaps it is also linked to circumstance. A close childhood friend of mine - same age as me - started having children much later in life. His oldest child is in her mid-teens and he still plays a very relevant role in her life. But my children are all grown up and have flown the coop. When is it that we feel less responsible for our children and they begin to feel responsibility for us?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my children view me somewhat as a curiosity. Most people do. It just took my children a while to catch up, perhaps. And I suppose I am to blame. I left them partly on the outside most of their lives, beginning first and foremost with the language.

"So, you didn't speak English with them at home."
"Why not?"
"Adva and I spoke Hebrew at home."
"But Adva knows English."
"And the English language is the greatest gift you could give them."
"I thought that giving them life was."
"That too."
I sighed into the darkness.
"Anyway," I said, in a meagre attempt to defend myself, "I was fighting an uphill battle. I was changing country, language and culture. It was very important for me to adapt."
"Most new immigrants go through the very same thing."
"Yes, but with a significant difference."
"Which is?"
"They are confident in their right to be here, and in others recognizing this right."
"And you aren't?"
"Not necessarily."
"Why not?"
I looked nervously around me to see if anyone was listening.
"I'm not Jewish," I whispered.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Maybe I should go."
"You can't go, you are my muse."
"Yes, but wasn't there an escape clause about misinformation?"
"When did I ever feed you false information?"
"I don't know. I will have to have my lawyers look at this."
"Okay, you've got me. One of the problems of living in Cyberspace."
"Are you going to help me with this or not?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Okay, then I guess I am."
Silence. She always liked the dramatic effect of silence.
"So," she said, "you speak Hebrew at home, but with a Canadian accent. You are not Jewish, but your children are, because there mother is Jewish. They probably have no idea why you came to Israel in the first place and why you are still here... am I on track, so far?"
"Knock yourself out," I said.
"And you wonder why they consider you as a curiosity."
"You are missing the point."
"Am I?"

"Was it as simple as that?" I thought to myself. What about the whole thing of getting old? Or was I trying to blame everything on getting old?

There are very few constants in life, things that I can state with certainty. But one is my children. They are the greatest part of my life. I would not take anything back. And now we have our first grandchild. And that is a real bonus to having children. They say that when your children are young, and they still don't know better, you are a superhero to them. But later they begin to see the flaws, and in their teens they wonder how anyone can be that stupid. Yet, in their early twenties, they are amazed at how much you have learnt in the past few years. And while you still have a very good relationship with them, you can never get back the magic. For they go on to create their own magic, through their own marriage and children.

And just when you are about to write yourself away, there is a grandchild. And you rediscover the magic through his/her eyes, letting you into a world you have almost forgotten. And I know that some day my grandchild will view me as a curiosity. But that doesn't disturb me. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking the devil in the eye - An Ode to Adva

I am not easily impressed. Perhaps this is a part of growing old and grumpy. And I must admit that after being married for 37+ years, I take many things for granted.  But there are times when something causes me to sit up and take notice.

Adva, my wife, is turning 60 this year. Many of us have already crossed this milestone and have the scars to prove it. But Adva isn't one to wallow in self pity. Nor wait in trepidation while counting down the days to this ominous date. Rather, she decided to grab the bull by the balls and look the devil straight in the eye. She would turn an ominous and unstoppable event into an opportunity.

I only knew about her plans to set out on the Magma Challenge to Costa Rica after she had successfully passed all of the tests and had been accepted as a participant. Was I surprised by her decision? Not really. Despite the rugged conditions that she was about to face, I knew that Adva was never one to refuse a challenge. Ever since we left the kibbutz, 25 years ago, she has sought out and faced many challenges, and never retreated from any of them. People can usually think of countless reasons to give up on the challenge of obtaining the things that they desire in life, but Adva is not one to fall back on such excuses, even when competing in a man's world. It was therefore fitting that she set out on her most recent challenge in the company of women - on a rugged adventure trip through the beautiful landscape of Costa Rica. Split up into teams of four, each team commandeered their own Land Cruiser, navigating their way through the challenges that awaited them. And to add icing to the cake, Adva's team was voted the best team by the majority of the participants. A one in a lifetime experience they won't forget.

Adva, in her own modesty, was surprised at the interest her journey ignited among her facebook friends. What she didn't realize was that her journey caught our imagination. For those of us seeking the courage to take back some control over our own lives, her journey is an inspiration.

I've always had an affinity for strong women, ever since my first girlfriend - a self proclaimed feminist - took it upon herself to show me the error of my ways. I imagine that Adva got much of her strength from her mother. Titi was a strong woman, albeit a little scary. There is a rumour that she told me, when Adva first took me to meet her parents, that she had a semi-automatic Uzi under her bed and knew how to use it. I took her seriously, for she was a no nonsense lady and knew how to get what she wanted. In her days in the Palmach, when there was no officer's course for women, Titi simply joined the one for men. No one dared tell her otherwise. And she was a true Sabra: prickly on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. The key to being strong is also being a good person,

We learn a lot through 37+ years of marriage. We set out thinking what should be, but then continually rediscover what is. Moving in different directions does not necessarily mean drifting apart, but rather redefines our concept of companionship. And the key to companionship is still being able to encourage each other in our endeavours, especially in what is most important to each of us.

In reaching 61 this year, I said to myself, "Been there, done that, what's the point?" But then I realized that it was all up to me. Either I become my worst enemy or my best friend. And I have Adva to thank for inspiring me to realize that we still have journeys before us and wonders to explore.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can beautiful people really feel the Blues?

I first saw the movie, Bagdad Café, long before coming to live in the desert, but even then its haunting sound teased me with dark promises as to where a desert road might lead. When I first listened to the Blues, I felt very much the same way. I wasn't there yet, but it touched me in ways no other genre of music did. The Blues is like Guinness. Either you love its bitter taste, or you don't like it at all. And if Guinness is somewhat of a rarity in most Israeli restaurants and pubs, the Blues is almost non-existent on the Israeli music scene.

Why is it that Israelis have never locked into the Blues? It doesn't even appear as a genre on most Israeli music listings. The YES satellite music select station, which proudly offers over thirty music categories to choose from, does not include the Blues on its list. Nor does the Wikipedia page - Music in Israel - mention the Blues on its long list of popular Israeli music genres. Perhaps an Israeli foundation - The Israeli Blues Society - will help spread the word. It's not that Israeli music hasn't considerably evolved over the years. It has: especially Israeli rock. Why is it then that Rock has become increasingly popular with Israeli youth, but not the Blues? Are there age restrictions to feeling the Blues?

Some of us are born old. Old Souls. We flirt with this all our lives. And then time catches up with us and we are just old. That's how I felt the other night while listening to Lazer Lloyd and Ronnie Peterson play the Blues at a pub in Kibbutz Tlalim. They had come there, down a long desert road, to this little oasis in the middle of the desert.

The makeshift desert pub was full of young people - beautiful young people - for this musical event. It's not that I have anything against beautiful young people. I was almost one, once. But now my presence felt like a hiccup in the passage of time, as I appeared to be the only one over the age of forty.

My eyes slowly scanned the room as the young audience awaited the appearance of Lazer and Ronnie. What were they expecting to hear?  I asked myself. Were they here out of curiosity or had they somehow developed a passion for the Blues, down here in the desert? And then Lazer and Ronnie appeared. They sat at the front of the crowded room, without the benefit of the buffer of a large stage that usually separated them in their larger venues. Perhaps it was this that knocked them a little off-balance at first, or the strange quiet of the desert setting. Or the shock of playing to a young audience: an audience of beautiful young people with expectancy still in their eyes, Ronnie appeared to have a bit of a problem synchronizing with Lazer's changing chords. Lazer appeared to improvize, at times, as if slowly feeling his way into this irregular setting. Some people soon started to sway back and forth with the rhythm. Some simply nodded. And others just sat rooted to the spot, as the music washed over them.

Ronnie and Lazer looked at first like I felt: aged and washed out. But it didn't take long until Lazer found the groove. One might even say that he caught fire, carrying Ronnie along with him. And everything else did not matter. It was the Blues again. Only the Blues.

The crowd was appreciative. I suppose each person took away something different. And for those of us who were Old Souls, we said hello again to old ghosts, and felt the music take hold and rip out our guts, leaving us exposed, the pain a welcome old friend. And for a moment, I did feel truly alive.