You were in my song

Nineteen years.

A new friend in CA asked me to tell my story of this day, so here goes:

I was living on Charles Street in the West Village, and working for Random House. I was single. Getting ready for work, blowdrying my hair, turned on the TV, saw something weird, turned up the volume just as the second plane hit and the fact that it was not an accident dawned on the newscasters. The palpable instance when the narrative changed.

You know those moments when part of you realizes in real time that your life will forever be divided into before and after? I’d had one almost exactly a month before, when I got the call about my grandmother and crumbled to the ground. In a relatively short period of time I’d lose close friends to terrorism, complications from childbirth, and non-terrorism-related murder. I’d come to know the collateral beauty that can accompany unthinkable tragedy. The love that rises to the top, the brightness that follows every squall. The fact that love and loss are inextricably linked. And it’s better to have loved …

Back to that morning. I called my mom. I called my ex. I got ready for work.

On 6th Avenue and 10th Street I stood with dozens of people and watched the flames. In that moment my thoughts were on the buildings; somehow, despite my flair for the macabre, the potential loss of life wasn’t yet registering.

Ron, my pal from the neighborhood, a Vietnam vet without a home, called out to me,

“Laura! They got us!”

I remember thinking about going back for my camera and realizing I’d be late for work. I got on the subway. I don’t remember the subway ride, but I do remember running into a cheerful coworker at the station in midtown, and telling him.

By the time we got to the office (Random House), the towers had fallen. We all huddled around a computer monitor keeping up with the news. One of my colleagues was panicking about her husband, who’d had a meeting at the WTC that morning. I have tears in my eyes this moment, picturing him walking into our office, shaken. Alive.

The calls started pouring in from friends around the country; Diane was the first, then Laura Martin. By this time there were rumours of planes targeting Chicago and LA; I don’t remember when we learned about Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Erika and I left work and walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch. We could see the smoldering ruins from their windows. Sandy lived in Brooklyn at that point; a business card from one of the towers fluttered onto her stoop.

We walked to Times Square and met Michel, then walked down to my place in the West Village. All around us sirens screamed. People spoke in hushed tones. We cycled through the stages of grief.

That night we had dinner at Gus’s, on the spiritual vortex of Waverly and Waverly. The couple behind us was on a first date.

We went to a bar and met our friends. Tom was there. His brother came in, handsome in his suit, covered in ash.

Somewhere along the way, the next day or maybe the one after, I learned that Jonathan was missing. It would be eight months before they found him.

At Sean’s holiday party the following year, the band played—now a trio—with a chair where Jon should have been. With a chair where, if you think as I do, Jon was.

The acrid smell stayed in the air for days, weeks, months—the Missing flyers faded in the elements. Ownerless dogs barked. Slowly we learned we knew more people. We read the Portraits of Grief. We heard the anecdotes. We did a lot of recounting of our versions of the events. We were connected, survivors, we were New York City.

We are New York City, and we’ve been through a lot.

Every year I know this day is coming, and every year it takes me by surprise.

This year, the world is a very different place. We have much to mourn, much to feel anxious about. I am taking this moment for gratitude—to my family—we are strong; to my friends, the old and the brand-new, the ones I know in three-dimensions and those I’ve befriended through the magic of technology; to B, for never giving up on me; to this city, for its resilience.

To all of you for reading.

I dedicate this post to the friends I’ve lost along the way. I’m better for having known and loved you.

*Post title from “Here Today,” by Paul McCartney

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

We can’t change what we refuse to see. – Robin DiAngelo

This is a quote from White Fragility, which I am currently listening to. Reading is hard for me to do these days, so I have audiobooks to accompany me on my walks and chores.

So much has happened since last I wrote here. SO much. George Floyd was murdered and people took to the streets to protest all across the globe, resulting, hopefully, in major reform to this country’s law enforcement policies. Time will tell, but it feels as though the needle has started to move in the right direction.

Black lives matter.

I have had many discussions about race and racism since that horrible day, and I am learning a lot, namely that I will never stop learning.

I grew up in a town that—I just looked this up—was 48.9% white in 2010. In White Fragility, DiAngelo asks her readers/listeners to cite the first time they recall being cognizant that other races exist. And the truth is that I don’t recall not knowing; presumably within my first month of existence I met my grandfather, who was Chinese. My babysitter from Day 1 was Chinese. In my neighborhood and then in nursery school, I knew black, brown, Asian, and white children.

And there is SO much I don’t yet know or understand about racism. I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn. Some of the conversations I’ve had since Mr. Floyd’s murder have been uncomfortable. And, as DiAngelo says in Chapter One:

The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort.

I am all in on moving forward, and I hope that you’ll join me.

I had a lot of other things in mind to add to this post, but I will leave it as is and post again soon.

Much love to you all.

When the sun shines we’ll shine together

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Look for the helpers. 

This thought has been consistently running through my mind for the past many weeks. It comes from Fred “Mister” Rogers, and the context is this:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Though helpers have always abounded, I have been most aware of them since the 21st century began. 9-11, Katrina, Sandy, Newtown, Covid-19; these are the intermittent public tragedies that have marked this time period for me, and the ones during which I have looked for, found, or been one of the helpers. If I’ve been, it’s been through minor deed; there is so, so much more that I could be doing and could have done. But in my small way, I’m trying right now as I have through these other traumatic events. I hope it goes without saying that there have obviously been innumerable events this century that I haven’t named, war and famine, tsunamis and mass shootings, hate crimes and water crises … the ones I listed above are the ones that most profoundly directly impacted me. Social media is filled with “What about”isms, and to my mind this is a lazy form of empathy, shaming people for whom some events resonate more personally than others. I care about people in nations I’ve never visited and can’t place on a map. I care about mass shootings that don’t take place in elementary schools, I care about illness that never makes its way to my hometown.

And during the events I mentioned above, I have found the helpers in unlikely places. Over the past nine+ weeks they’ve included the friends I’d lost track of who’ve reached out to me, the close friends who intuitively get why my particular situation is a challenge, the strangers who wave when I’m out on a walk, the woman who reminded me to breathe when I started stress-crying at the grocery store, the person from the TM center who answered my desperate email, every one of my new colleagues in my grassroots political work, and every one of you … if you’re taking the time to read my words you are one of my personal helpers because writing is therapeutic for me and having an audience makes it matter more.

We have a unique opportunity born of unfathomable circumstances. We can all decide to be part of the solution. We can’t fix this crisis or directly save the lives of the many, many more who will perish from this virus. But we can certainly do our part by wearing masks and washing hands and socially distancing. And beyond that, like the woman who was kind to me when I lost it at the grocery store, we can muster empathy for one another. We can recognize that rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white, Democrat or Republican, Christian or atheist, Muslim or Jew, woke or ostrich-like … and any single one of the myriad variables among these markers … we are all going through this. If you are a mask-refusing rights-screaming Covid-denier, you don’t read my blahhhhg. If you are reading, I’m certain you’re not one of the aforementioned decidedly unhelpful people. So to you I urge, be part of the solution. Be nice to one another. Be nice to me. Understand that none of us is behaving perfectly right now and you will never get the exact reaction you need at the exact time. Human beings don’t operate like that. To this quarantine we all bring our lifetimes of habits and fears and anxieties and pre-conceived notions and fixed behaviors … this came on far more suddenly than most of us could have anticipated and we are making it up every day as we go along. Cut yourselves and your loved ones a hell of a lot of slack. We are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Some of us have more space to roam than others, some of us are employed, some of us are home-schooling children and have little bandwidth for anything else, some of us have just lost our jobs and have no idea where to turn, some of us are grieving the loss of loved ones, some of us are working round-the-clock to save lives. We are all in this together.

Look for the helpers and you’ll find them. I’m one of them – I can’t do everything or be everywhere, but if you need to talk, I am here.

I mean it.

If only for today …

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Well, I had a decent run of writing daily … but I realize that is not realistic. So I’m officially taking the pressure of myself and committing instead to writing regularly. Thank you, B, for inspiring me to dust this thing off at all.

Last week my friend and teacher Jamie Leonhart joined our Action & Empathy meet-up and gave us breathing lessons. I’ve never been a great breather; like so many people, I hold my breath when I’m stressed. Jamie walked us through a very simple and extremely powerful breathing exercise, and I’ve practiced it every day since.

This very weird time period is reminding me of the importance of the lessons and advice I’ve put off for years, about breathing, about finding balance, about listening closely and responding judiciously. And the piece of advice that dominates everything, the one my mom offered many moons ago: never go to bed after an argument without apologizing. I strive for that one, even if it’s “I’m sorry you reacted that way to my innocuous question,” but more often than not it’s something much bigger than that.

If you or someone you love is still not grasping the fact that nothing is sure, that we may never get a chance to say, “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean that,” that every interaction we have with a person may well be our last with them, then I hope I can persuade you, or you them, otherwise. What a shame it would be to emerge from this pandemic with regret.

I am determined not to, and so though friends and loved ones may lash out from time to time, as I have, within the allowance for humanness there is a newly fundamental reset button. We are all dealing as best we can in the moment with the most outrageous, unpredictable, and terrifying situation we’ve ever been in.

I have so much more to say and I need to unwind and get some rest. On this long weekend, I’m feeling unmoored. I’m feeling bereft in a way I’ve made myself too busy to acknowledge for several weeks. I’m having a hard time, but not an impossible one. I am grateful to my friends and loved ones for the texts, emails, messages, FaceTimes, Zooms, and to one new friend, for the socially distanced walks.

We are in this together, despite time and distance.

 

In the timbers of Fennario

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Today has been a good one so far, in that I’ve been busy and fairly productive. Yet even the good days are difficult now, because right below the surface runs this undercurrent of perpetual fear. This fear takes many guises, panic, sadness, anger, all manifestations of the same root cause. It’s such that even the bright spots are fraught. When we see friends from a social distance, it’s challenging; everyone is a “suspect.” And this is a terrible feeling, but one that we will simply have to learn to navigate. We will have to continue to take precautions that seem extreme but aren’t.

I think of the things I feared as a kid, lightening storms striking the oak tree in my backyard and sending it crashing into the house; cars spontaneously catching fire; daddy long legs spiders (I know they’re not technically in the arachnid family, but still); and whatever unseen entity loomed in our basement and attic. These are fears that make “sense” to a child, though my reactions to them were certainly disproportionate to the actual threats.

This fear is different, though. I can’t imagine how it must feel to children. I know that several of my friends who are moms to school-age kids are having an increasingly difficult time with it all. The thing about this is that it’s hard to really comfort anyone. In the aftermath of 9-11, one could explain “bad people” and that most people are not like them. How do you explain a situation in which absolutely no one is truly safe?

I’ve hesitated to put my deepest fears into words lest some malevolent higher power (as my shrink calls it) decides to have a little fun. I think of Natalie Wood and her apparent lifelong fear of drowning in dark water. This is very different from my friend Brian, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Brooklyn and has, or used to have, a visceral fear of alligators. Or Sandy and her fear of Big Foot. Those may sound like childhood fears writ large, and yet they make perfect sense. Our “boogeymen” are probably stand-ins for things too frightening to speak of.

So what do we do with our justifiable fear now? What can we do? We can take precautions that may seem extreme to some but are absolutely the right things to do. We can keep our minds and bodies occupied as productive distraction. And we can connect with one another in meaningful ways so that, just as fear is a perpetual undercurrent, so too are love and gratitude.

I hope you all had a decent day.

[post script] Title of this post is from the song “Dire Wolf” by the Grateful Dead. Would it be good for me to contextualize these titles or will you just Google if you’re curious? They’re all lines from songs that somehow relate to these posts. [/end post script]

[post post script] Photo from an afternoon in New Orleans when I had the door open a bit and one of the many NOLA strays wandered in, realized he was in the wrong place, bid adieu and left. Southern gentleman. [/end post post script]

 

Watch out now, take care

IMG_4790Title above from “Beware of Darkness,” one of the songs that accompanied me yesterday on my walk. It was one of those iTunes shuffle days that seemed of divine intervention. In the case of this title, I love the song, it reminds me very much of a particular period in my life, and its namesake album includes, “My Sweet Lord”—which was charting at number one on the day I was born. The other working title for this post was, “Make one dream come true, you only live twice”—which played as I made the left at the fork.

Whenever I notice a fork in the road I think not necessarily of Robert Frost, or even Yogi Berra, but of that iconic film quote,

“Bear left.”

“Right, frog.”

That’s from “The Muppet Movie,” of course.

Anyway. I did not expect to be writing this post at 5AM and I will go back in for another hour of sleep.

This pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst in us, sometimes both in a day. So many of you have expressed over the past 9 weeks that you are not doing everything you should be doing, or are falling into self-destructive mindsets, or are “losing it,” and so on. I relate to all of that. So this is just a brief missive to urge you to be kind to yourselves.

There are no should’s right now other than to wash your hands, wear a mask in public, stay home if you can or if you are sick, and practice social distancing. The rest of it—accomplish this, quit that, stick with this, always do that—no. Please, cut yourself, and the rest of the world, more slack than you ever imagined possible. This is unlike any other time in our lives where the word “should” might come into play (and I personally avoid that word as much as possible.) This is not a staycation, or a holiday break, or a weather-induced need to stay at home. This is not sabbatical, or a long weekend. This is a global fucking pandemic, whose magnitude and personal impact change by the hour.

So please, friends, be gentle with yourselves and with your loved ones. And when you slip up on either front, because you probably will, please do NOT punish yourselves. We have never been through anything remotely like this, no matter what horrors we’ve been through. Perhaps the ultimate outcome of all of this will be far less devastating for you personally than other periods you’ve been through. Perhaps the worst of this will be feeling cooped up and isolated and panicky at times … and those are absolutely real challenges in and of themselves. The thing is, we don’t know the outcome and we really only have the present and some thoughtful planning of the immediate future. Remember that. One breath at a time, one step at a time. That’s all we can do and we’re in it together, no matter how different our circumstances or how far apart our homes.

Love to you. And now I’m going to attempt to sleep the hour before the dog wakes up.

 

 

 

Do you like the things that life is showing you?*

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Another day in global paradise. Someone asked me today, “What keeps you busy?” I’ve been writing here about the main things that are keeping me busy, and I’d love to hear what you’re all doing with your time, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Which reminds me of the cinema-studies trip to Paris I mentioned yesterday, as B and I went to a brilliant Sergio Leone exhibition at … where was it, B?

A friend’s mother used to say, “Move a muscle, change a mood.” I followed this advice, finally, this afternoon. This was a busy day and blueness didn’t help the process, but here we are. I think part of the issue—besides everything—is that yesterday was such a special one celebrating my dad’s birthday, the best day I’ve had since this ordeal began in earnest for us. So today everything I’d been staving off dwelling upon yesterday seeped back in. I just took a quick walk and it absolutely helped. I need to incorporate moving about more in to my day-to-day life.

Also, I spent my sleeping hours mired in interesting but anxious pandemic dreams. Dreams in which I found myself at large, crowded events and suddenly realized this was a very bad idea. In one dream I accidentally stepped on someone’s yoga mat at a  Grateful Dead concert and we joked about PPE. In another, Tracee Ellis Ross wanted to talk to me but first had to go pick her son up from a football game. Not sure what she was doing in my dream, save for the fact that I’m working on one of her mom’s songs (*theme from Mahogany) in my voice lessons.

These kinds of dreams, along with the unexpected (yet entirely expected) moments of being gripped by panic, point to the fact that I really need to get back to meditation, along with all the exercising I’m going to be doing from here on out. I fell off the wagon with both when this thing hit, and I’ve been negligent in turning this around. It is time.

Another friend’s mom once said, “Brightness follows every squall.” Actually, she probably said it many times but I heard her say it once. Needless to say, I look forward to the brightness that will surely follow this squall. This is not going to be a short game, but there will be a renaissance of sorts to follow, as Tara so aptly put it. There has to be. I don’t know what that will look like, of course, but I stubbornly cling to my belief in a higher power and purpose. It absolutely sucks that there must be so much pain on the way to reaching it. It’s important to acknowledge the pleasure as well. As Jack said in our A/E meetup the other night, people feel guilty acknowledging the good things that may be happening to them these days, and they needn’t. I get it, absolutely, the instinct to not share moments of joy But I need to tread optimistic water in order to stay afloat.

Among the good things happening for me these days are the genuine friendships I am forging and the existing ones I am strengthening. So thanks, all, for being part of the brightness that happens to be coinciding with this squall.

Thanks, too, as always, for reading my words.

Every moment of the year

IMG_1173It’s a beautiful spring day here, and it’s my lovely father’s birthday. We have opted to spend it in Paris; earlier we went on a virtual visit to the Picasso museum, this evening a boat ride on the Seine.

Have I mentioned lately that I miss Paris? I do—and prepping for these encounters today has made me miss it all the more. The photo above is taken on the Ile-Saint-Louis, heading toward Notre Dame and is from December of 2018, when I was there with my folks for Christmas and then with B for my birthday and New Year’s and beyond. I got to return there a month later to spend time with Babette and to work on my book.

These were very special times; the trips came at the end of a year that was anchored by the losses of Louie and Tom, a year riddled with all of the complicated dynamics that accompanied the loss of such magnificent forces in my life.

On these trips I spent a lot of time meditating in Notre-Dame.

And then Notre-Dame caught fire on April 15, 2019, the day after we officially said goodbye to Tom in that incredible celebration of life at the Capitol Theatre.

On that first trip, B and I immersed ourselves in film, traveling to Lyon, the birthplace of cinema, and seeing several movies in theaters throughout Paris. On that second trip I got a lot of re-writing done and essentially finished my manuscript, and Babette and I got to enjoy concentrated time together as we hadn’t since we both lived in San Francisco in the 1990s.

San Francisco … have I told you lately that I miss San Francisco?

Travel is one of my great joys … and especially the kind of travel where I get to “live” in the place I am visiting, get to interact with people who actually do live there in a way that one doesn’t always have a chance to do on vacation.

Alas. We will travel again one day.

For now, I live in Massachusetts with my parents, and I am incredibly lucky to be here. For now, most of my time spent with B is via FaceTime, though a safely distanced visit is in the works. For now our travel to Paris is virtual. And there is a lot of beauty in the now.

Happy birthday à mon cher papa (qui ne lit pas ce blahhhhhggggghh). Je t’aime toujours.

 

You are the sunlight in my growing

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Photo from my trip to New Orleans in July, 2016. A week+ of friendship, food, writing, and some of the rainiest and most humid days I’ve ever experienced. Before I’d spent time there in the summer I asked my dear friend and NOLA ambassador Keith Medley what it’s like in July and August, whether it’s as rough as “they” say. He told me that he likes it, that it’s sultry. He’s right. NOLA in summer is the definition of “sultry”, and the ceiling fan is a thing of beauty and necessity.
Have I told you lately that I miss New Orleans?
I’ve been thinking about the e.e. cummings poem that begins,
in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious
And I’ve been thinking about it with irony … as I sit here closing out the day with hail pelting the ground outside my window. It snowed the other day. Today was mostly rain, then it turned into that bewitching post-rain sunny haze. An hour ago while I was on the phone the skies grew suddenly dark and it’s been raining ever since.
I love rain. And snow. But if ever there were a time that it would be nice to see sunshine and spend time outdoors, this would be it.
That people who get to experience it are using decent weather as a reason to flout social distancing guidelines is just horrible.
I know this is hard. I know we’re lonely. I know we’re cooped up and that we want to get back to normal. And I know that the only real chance we have of getting back to normal is to do the right thing. Right now, the right thing is to wear a face covering in public, to practice social distancing, to stay in if you don’t feel well or if you don’t *have* to leave your home, to wash your hands like it’s your job, because it is … to take this damn thing seriously. I get it. It absolutely sucks. My silver linings are great but there is nothing I wouldn’t do to end this pandemic if I could. This is not how I thought I’d be closing out my fifth decade. This is not how I thought 2020 would be. 2016 and 2018 were very painful years. ’17 was a time of reassessing my role in the world, and ’19 proved incredibly challenging and forced another round of reassessment. I was getting somewhere.
And here we are. I’ve long cautioned that complaining about the weather is a waste of time and energy. As is complaining about a pandemic. But we can complain about the selfish and dangerous behavior that we bear witness to during said pandemic.
However, this is off-brand. I’m a glass-is-half-full kinda gal. Which is ironic, as for years I’ve been vocal about my relationship with depression, have published essays about it, and will talk to anyone who wants to better understand it or who thinks perhaps they have a touch of it. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I remain pathologically optimistic on some level, even though this optimism might not be always obvious.
We are in this together, my loves and my light. I am here for you always. Stay in touch.
-L

Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place

96586271_10158903823324903_3665430317105152000_o-1That’s my mama and me circa 197-something. We were in Curaçao, the first time I left the country besides Nassau in the much-earlier-70s. I guess it couldn’t have been that late, actually, because that is the bathing suit I wore (with shorts) to the double-feature of Grease and the PG-version of Saturday Night Fever. Which must have been about 12 minutes long.

It is Mother’s Day and I send love to my own mom, to Linda, and to all of the women in my life who are mothers. I also send my love and light to those people for whom today is extra difficult.

I asked in yesterday’s post whether I should continue writing here every day and got a variety of responses; that any one of you thought I should continue is why I will. I so appreciate the support and feedback I’ve been getting from y’all!

Today: my mom and I are working on a really cool jigsaw puzzle; we are vocalizing together to get ready for our acapella FaceTime event (just kidding, Mom, but now that it’s out there …?); we made progress on Project X. I ran an errand, I spoke to a couple friends, I showered … and now I’m writing here. The dogs are well, dinner is in the works, everything is fine and yet nothing is okay. But this is the world in which we currently live, so let’s do what we can for one another. Let’s remember that as horrible as your day has been, none of ours have been especially great. Let’s support one another and lift one another up. Let’s be better listeners AND communicators.

And let’s, please, vote in November.

I love you all.