THE FIRST CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This is one of the funnier old family stories.

My family believes that it documents the first time being a conscientious objector was used as a rationale to get out of military service. The concept didn’t exist in World War I.

Abe was my grandmother’s brother. He was a nebbish and a schlemiel. He was not too bright, whiny, screwed things up a lot and the family often had to bail him out. For example, in around 1908, he and my grandmother had first class tickets on the ship that was bringing them to America to live. He lost the tickets. New tickets had to be procured, but this time they were steerage. My grandmother was not happy with him.

My grandmother and Abe

Abe got drafted and somehow managed to snivel his way through basic training. He was scheduled to ship out to Europe to fight in World War I. The family got a call. It was Abe. “They want to send me overseas to get shot at! I’m not going! I’m coming home!”

He went AWOL, was caught, thrown into the brig and faced a very long prison term. Or worse – he could be shot!

Whenever the family faced a serious problem, the person to call was Ivan Abramson, a well-connected cousin. He was brilliant, charming and knew a lot of “important” people. He was a producer in the Yiddish theater and I think he had something to do with gambling. He was definitely “a player”. One of the people he knew was the Secretary of the Navy. Go figure. It just so happened that the Secretary was coming to New York City to review the troops before they shipped out. A perfect time for Ivan to talk to him about Abe.

So, picture the military pomp of a formal viewing ceremony. There was the Secretary of the Navy, the troops, the press, Cousin Ivan and – Uncle Abe, dragged out in chains, crying. The story goes that Abe was pleading with Ivan to “Save me! Don’t let them shoot me!”

Ivan was clever and made a persuasive pitch to the Naval Secretary. He said that Abe belonged to an obscure Jewish sect that didn’t believe in violence. He said that fighting in the war would be against all of Abe’s religious convictions. He argued that this should never happen in “the land of the free” etc., etc. The ploy worked. Or he paid off the Secretary in some under the table way we’ll never know about.

Abe was discharged from the navy and released back to his family. He continued to cause problems for everyone for the next 60 odd years! But I like to think that he had one shining moment, inadvertently paving the way for future conscientious objectors. It would be the only candidate for shining moment in his life. So I’m going to stick with my story!

THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just spent time with an old friend and she reminded me of a wonderful experience we shared 34 years ago.

My friend, Jane, lived in my apartment building in New York City, a few floors down. She had a two-year old and was pregnant with her second child, due in a month. Her husband was out of the country. So I volunteered to be her support system if she went into labor before he got home.

You can see where this is going. I got the call around 4:20 AM. Jane had been having contractions for hours and the doctor finally told her to go to the hospital. My then husband brought Jane’s toddler to our apartment to wait for her grandmother to arrive to take care of her. I was taking Jane to the hospital.

Penguin giving birth

We got down the elevator to the lobby and I ran down the very long corridor between the elevator and the front door. The plan was to get a taxi ASAP. I ran outside to find the streets totally deserted. There had just been a major blizzard and there wasn’t a single car on all of Park Avenue. That was very rare and very inopportune. I ran back inside to tell Jane but she hadn’t made it to the lobby. I found her half way down the long hallway in a chair. Her water had broken and she felt an overwhelming desire to ‘push’.

I got her to the lobby and immediately called for an ambulance. My main job was to keep Jane from pushing the baby out right there in the lobby. The ambulance seemed to take forever so I called again. I was told that it was on it’s way. But then the operator added “Don’t let the woman in labor go to the bathroom. And whatever you do, DON’T CUT THE UMBILICAL CORD!” Umbilical cord! WTF?!!!

I’d had a baby myself, but my son was born 8-½ weeks early – the day before my Lamaze class was scheduled to start!! So I knew nothing about breathing or the stages of contractions and even less about umbilical cords. I was panicked, to say the least.

The ambulance finally came. But we had to drive slowly because the medics were afraid that hitting a pothole could catapult the baby out like a cannon ball. Miraculously, we made it to the hospital and even to the maternity floor hallway.

The doctors and nurses on call started discussing whose patient Jane was and who would handle her case. Jane suddenly propped herself up on her elbows and announced “I’m sorry, but the baby’s coming!”

All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity around Jane and cries of “Oh my God! The head! The head is coming!” And out came Sarah!. In the hallway with me standing right there next to Jane! The staff ran off with the baby and wheeled Jane into the OR. Her doctor eventually arrived, but he’d had a hard time getting to the hospital at all.

So I got to see a baby born the way most father’s do. Standing next to the mother and watching the miracle happen. Usually women witness birth from a different angle – the other end of the birthing canal. This was an exhilarating experience!

Jane gave me a scallop shell silver pendant as a thank you. I still wear it all the time. It’s very special to me because it reminds me of the wonder of birth and the meaning of true friendship.

THE “AH HA” MOMENT! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

It has always fascinated me that ideas can somehow just ‘pop’ into my head. Creative thoughts, insights into situations, or even solutions to problems can just suddenly appear to me. It’s the light bulb going off in your head. It’s also called an epiphany.

Everyone knows that when you’re obsessing about something and hit a brick wall, you should give your mind a break. You should do or think about something else. After that down time, you’re more likely to see things more clearly. You may even have that “Eureka moment” when a full-blown idea just comes to you. Apparently Paul McCartney ‘heard’ the complete melody of “Yesterday” in his head when he woke up one morning.

Scientific research has been done on this type of epiphany. “Eureka moments are associated with a distinctive burst of high frequency activity in the brain’s right temporal lobe. This burst of activity is preceded by a brief ‘brain blink’ during which a person is momentarily less aware of his or her environment.” John Kounios, “Eureka! Yes, Eureka!”, New York Times, Sunday, June 11, 2017.

So this is a real, physiological phenomenon! But there are two factors that must exist to allow for this to happen. One is that a person must be in a positive, relaxed mood. Anxiety is not conducive to any kind of creativity. The other is that the idea must be based on new connections between things you already know. These insights can’t come out of nowhere in a vacuum. The elements of your ingenious thought must already be floating around in your brain somewhere.

This explains why ‘sleeping on’ something stimulates the light bulb effect. You know, when you go to bed thinking about a problem and you wake up with a fully formed solution. That’s because the relaxed brain during sleep is fertile ground for the Eureka Moment spurt of brain activity.

Very often, when I’m writing a blog or a script, I wake up with phrases or ideas or edits that had eluded me the day before. I keep a pen and pad next to my bed so I can write these things down before I forget them. That’s part of my writing process.

It’s nice to know the scientific explanation for why these mini lightning strikes happen so often. It’s also nice to know that Eureka moments will keep happening. Without them, writing would be much more difficult and far less inspiring.

REUNION ANGST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Every ten years I face a major High School Reunion. 20 years, 30, 40, and now I’m up to 50 years in June of 2017. Whenever reunion time approaches, I go through a period of self-doubt and indecision. Do I really want to go? What can I say about my life? To be honest, I don’t feel I’ve “accomplished” much which leaves me feeling insecure talking to my High School classmates about our respective life trajectories.

I was one of the top students in my Fieldston High School Class of ’67. If we had done the “most likely to” labels in our senior yearbook, I’d probably have been one of the most likely to “succeed”.

Senior High School Yearbook Photo / 1967

However, I chose a path that was unusual for my generation of Baby Boomers. I practiced law for a mere three years before I gave up my legal career and opted to be a full-time, stay-at-home Mother and homemaker. After the kids left home, I taught Yoga and tried to start a small business from home. I never had another full-time job. I don’t regret the choices I made – except when High School reunions roll around.

Everyone else has probably had one or even two long-term careers to talk about, in addition to having families. Many may also have had individual achievements to brag about along the way. I don’t have much to talk about at all, at least concerning career and work.

Me and my two kids in 1985

I decided, for my own sanity, the best way to measure my life is in terms of experiences I’ve had – and survived. When you count negative, challenging, out of the norm experiences, the picture changes and suddenly, I’ve had a full life.

I spent much of my life dealing with some form of mental illness. My own anxiety and depression. My first husband’s bi-polar disorder, complete with long-lasting and severe manic episodes. My son’s depression, bi-polar disorder, and learning disabilities — all of which made getting him through school an ordeal for the whole family.

Then there are medical issues. My grandfather was hit by a truck and spent six-weeks, brain-dead in the hospital before he died. I nursed my grandmother, father, and mother through cancer. My son’s kidneys failed at the age of 24. Five years ago, I donated a kidney to keep him alive. He still struggles with kidney symptoms and medication side effects every day and will for the rest of his life.

I survived a lot of shit and I’ve come out in a good place. I’m in a wonderful second marriage, I have great friends and close relationships with my children. I have interesting hobbies. If you were to give out points for surviving with humor, decency and an upbeat attitude, then I deserve an award. That in itself is a major accomplishment.

I think it will be enough to get me through my High School reunion with my head held high.

HIGH ANXIETY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

On June 11, 2017, the front page of the New York Times ‘Sunday Styles’ section had an article called “An Anxious Nation.” The article talks about the near epidemic levels of anxiety in our society. For a generation, depression was the poster child for mental illness/psychological malaise.

Now it’s MOVE OVER DEPRESSION! MAKE ROOM FOR ANXIETY!

I have both depression and anxiety disorders. My life changed when the first mass market anti-depressant drug, Prozac, became available to the public. It does wonders for me and alleviates my anxiety based depression. Because of Prozac and other drugs in the same category, I have been able to control my symptoms. I have become a happier, calmer, more upbeat person. My inner life now is positive more often than negative.

But, I’ve always felt ‘different’. There was something about me that most people couldn’t understand or relate to. I learned to edit out my anxious and/or depressive thoughts when talking to people. I didn’t admit many of my fears or worries. I just made myself do what I thought was considered ‘normal’ in a given situation.

I felt great relief when depression came out of the closet, so to speak. A lot was written about it and it became universally recognized and better understood. I didn’t have to anticipate the question “what are you depressed about?” if I told someone I was depressive. Over the years of mainstream depression education, most people ‘get’ that it is an illness in which irrationality can control the sufferer. They can understand and empathize, at least on a superficial, outsider level.

Donald Trump has helped push this condition into the mainstream. Since he’s been President, therapists all over the country are reporting a large increase in the number of people coming in with some form of anxiety! Now it looks like anxiety will have its day in the spotlight. A lot is being written about it and an avalanche of people are admitting that they are afflicted by it.

I feel freer now to be open about my issues, however minor they may be for me nowadays. Now I can tell people that I have serious anxieties about driving to an airport alone. This used to be one of my embarrassing secrets. That kind of anxiety is ‘out there’ today. It’s all over TV sitcoms, other TV shows and movies. Celebrities have talked about having agoraphobia. So now I can admit that I have days when I feel anxious about leaving the house. I can reasonably expect some empathy and understanding of my irrational feelings.

Hopefully more people are recognizing and diagnosing their anxieties and getting help. Medication does a lot for most people, as does Cognitive Therapy. More support groups are popping up online and in the real world. Being able to talk openly and feel support is a big step towards conquering the illness.

It is liberating to know that I am not alone battling my demons. It is comforting to know that many other people have similar issues. Why does that help me? Because the painful sense of stigma is removed. No one, including me, believes it’s my ‘fault’.

The need for secrecy and pretending is removed. I can just deal with my issues in peace. I don’t have to add insult to injury. I don’t have to be anxious about my anxiety!

HOME ALONE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband, Tom, left on a three-day trip this morning. I’ve been dreading his departure. I’ve been dreading being alone.

Why?

Tom and I spend most days ‘doing our own thing’. Even when we’re in the house together, we’re often in different rooms doing different things. Some days, Tom goes to the boat and doesn’t come home until dinner time. In either case, we often don’t actually hang out together until the evening.

So why does the house feel different today? Why do I feel a little bit lonely and out of sorts? Why do I feel something is missing? Because it is. My other half, my soul mate isn’t going to be with me for several days.

I have to confess. I’ve only lived alone for six months in my entire life. That was when I was 23 and in law school. Since then, I’ve been married or living with children in between marriages. I’m not used to being alone.

I think for me, it’s the idea of being alone that freaks me out. It’s not that I go crazy when I’m by myself. I’m actually pretty good at keeping busy. But I’m not confident in my self-sufficiency. It’s similar to my anxiety about having to drive to the airport alone. I know I can do it and have done it many times. But I’ve also gotten lost in the airport on and every time I go, I get nervous and uncomfortable.

Another issue is that I’m technologically challenged. So I worry what will happen if the remote goes on the fritz or my phone goes wonky, or the freezer drawer gets stuck again. Tom is the one who fixes those types of problems for me (as well as a myriad of computer issues I can’t handle on my own!) In that area I am truly helpless. So that actually is a real issue for me.

But other than facing something broken that I can’t fix, I’m fine when I’m on my own. It’s just that I’m used to having someone else around. That is my comfort zone. I am definitely a fish out of water when facing three days alone in my house.

My dogs are great company, as is MSNBC. I’m reading a good mystery. I have our nighttime talk shows to keep me occupied late at night. I’ll be seeing friends, running errands and talking to Tom on the phone.

But through it all, I’ll have an empty feeling just knowing that Tom is not nearby. I think that’s called love. So I guess I’ll have my love to keep me warm until Tom gets home!

A NAUTICAL ROAD TRIP – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I are going on a nautical road trip with our friend Deb. We all live in southern CT. She bought a boat that is moored in Eastern MA. So we agreed to drive with her, in a car, to the boat and then drive the boat, on the water, back to the home marina in Stratford, CT. That trip would be 128 nautical miles, at about 12 miles per hour, if the seas are calm. We plan to make the journey in two days.

DAY 1

We meet in the parking lot at our marina. Deb has rented a van and packed it with everything she’ll need for the boat, which is basically a small house. Bathroom stuff, bedding, cleaning stuff, tools, food, etc. The kitchen also has to have dishes, glasses, silverware, serving pieces, pots, pans, Tupperware, Saran wrap and baggies, you get the idea.

The drive up is uneventful. When we get our first view of Deb’s new boat, I swear to God, a rainbow appears in the sky! Good omen! Lots of unloading and unpacking. We go out to dinner and get to bed early.

DAY 2

 Deb returns the car and does some more unpacking.  Tom relaxes and hangs with the dogs while we wait to head out again.

The 6 ½ hour drive is smooth. But it is cold and raining off and on. We’re bundled up in three layers of clothing, including hoodies and jackets. I’m also wrapped in a blanket all day – in June!

We go through the scenic Cape Cod Canal and I take photos of bridges. Mostly in the rain.

When we tie up at our marina for the night, Deb and Tom troubleshoot some of the problems they found on the boat. Something called an inverter, the shower pump, the kitchen drain, the windshield wipers. (Yes, this boat has windshield wipers!)

We marinate our lamb chops and try to start the grill. Guess what? There’s no gas for the grill, the stove or the oven. All that works is the microwave. So we warm up some beef stew and nuke some potatoes. We’re roughing it. In a floating condo.

We go to bed to the sound of strange noises from the water pump every three minutes.

DAY 3

We wake up to no water. Not a big deal, just fill the water tanks. But why are we out of water? We didn’t use up ½ gallon of water overnight. Welcome to owning a boat.

Microwave the eggs and bacon and head out. There’s a six and a half hour drive ahead of us. But we are looking forward to seeing our friends at the other end who are ready to greet us with pizza and champagne to christen the boat.

Cold and rainy again.  Deb and Tom drive the boat and I stay inside most of the day trying to stay warm. But it’s hard to stay warm because the heat inside the boat isn’t working.

Major miscalculation! The trip home is 36 miles longer than we expected. So the total trip is actually 164 miles and today’s travel time is up to 10 ½ hours! So much for the welcome home party. We approach our marina in the dark. We’re navigating by all three of us sticking our heads out of the windows and looking for marker buoys. Still raining. Dancing to oldies rock and roll.

We really know how to have fun!

We arrive at our marina at 9:45 PM and dock the boat in the pouring rain. Unload quickly and drop Deb off at her house. Tom and I find a diner that’s open and get a late, light dinner. Home by midnight. Greeted effusively by ecstatic dogs.

Great adventure but it’s good to be home!

Happy Deb and her new boat!