Thanks to you it will be done

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Thanksgiving eve – so much better where I am right this moment than on this eve last year, or the three years prior … this time last year I was having my protracted lost weekend, the year before that was a haze of surgery and Percocet and more surgery and more Percocet, the year before I was in the midst of completely altering the course of my life and I was heartbroken and worried and not at all sure I was doing the right thing. I’m still not sure I did, but I made decisions that felt right at the time. 

I suppose I should have started this post pre-aperitif but alas, I didn’t. So bear with me, dear friends. 

Right this moment I am good, really good, and I will savor this for as long as it lasts. This has been a pivotal year in so many ways and right this moment is the right time to express my gratitude. Alors:

  • I am grateful for my family
  • I am grateful that I get to see my parents on a regular basis
  • I am grateful that I got to spend time with my sister tonight and read her some of my writing and make her laugh when she wasn’t feeling well
  • I am grateful for my nephew and niece for their wonder and wisdom
  • I am grateful for my sweet doggie Lou who has been my darling companion, my familiar, my flatmate, my co-pilot (“Dog is my …”) for 11+ years
  • I am grateful for the friends I’ve had for years who don’t need context to understand me at any given moment and who’ve given me second, third, ninth, 60th chances when I’ve behaved without grace or dignity
  • I am grateful for the people who’ve been an integral part of my last several months and infused my life with music and color and beauty and hope
  • I am grateful for the people I’ve met once or twice who read and validate my words
  • I am grateful for my amazing writing group 
  • I am grateful for Professor Woolley who, in my last year at the wrong college, convinced me that I was okay at this writing thing
  • I am grateful for my sense of humor
  • I am grateful for — and I realize how this might sound but it bears stating – I am grateful for the men (+ one woman!) who work in the building that houses my home and who’ve kept us safe and informed no matter what was going on in the city around us
  • I am grateful for New York City
  • I am grateful for New Orleans
  • I am grateful for my time in San Francisco
  • I am reluctantly grateful for L.A.
  • I’m in love with Paris
  • I’m grateful for the dark times for showing me the light

Happy Thanksgivings, my darlings. 

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It’s a thousand pages give or take a few

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A writer I know gave a recent lecture to a group of students interested in pursuing the craft as career and he advised that they invest in a comfortable pair of shoes because writers spend a lot of time pacing. This is similar to what I’ve mentioned came up in conversation with the great Jim Bouton; much of our best writing comes when we are nowhere near pen and paper, or keyboard, or phone. It’s true. In a fit of insomnia two nights ago when I couldn’t find a writing implement I wrote amazing things, things almost as good as what I write in the shower or while tuning out conversation. While I was writing about writing the other day, someone stopped by my desk and told me she’d just been rejected by the New York Times – a venerable institution from which to be rejected, says I. This woman is a high-powered and very successful agent, and she described writing as “the loneliest, hardest, coldest climate there is”. It’s true – of all the arts and crafts, this might be the loneliest. Which is why I’ve taken to submitting my work lately, and why I’ve taken to this blahhhhhhgggg over the past nine months or so. Sharing makes it less lonely, brings us, as writers, out of solitary confinement. As someone who craves the company and feedback of others, I’ve put myself in an odd predicament by deciding to devote much of my mental energy to this pursuit. That’s why you, dear L (the other L) quickly re-found a place in my heart and soul – your early appreciation for my words helped me to realize why I do this at all. 

When I was in third grade I wrote a poem that garnered me the “Outstanding Poet” award at George Washington Elementary School. It went something like this … actually, it was exactly this:

Feelings

Sometimes I am happy

And sometimes I am sad

Sometimes I am lonely

And sometimes I feel glad.

But when I’m mad

I talk it over with myself

And I go to my friends

Feeling happy as an elf. 

I just Googled, “Are elves happy?” They are.

BNiem and I say that we write because it’s the only thing we know how to do. Which is not entirely true – I make a helluva roast chicken and am fairly good with foreign languages. He’s excellent at catching things that are unexpectedly thrown at him and can quickly calculate the number of letters in a sentence or name. This is how we discovered that we are both part of the five-five-eight club. Firstname-middlename-lastname. (5-6-5).

We’re gearing up for the most wonderful time of the year, the season of passed hors d’oeuvres and forced smiles. I’m determined, this year, to not have to force my smile, to feeling good and productive. And the fact that the muse has paid a visit is a necessary step toward both of those. As I wrote in a post that I accidentally published before it was finished and then quickly deleted, I am feeling blissfully inspired these days. I am grateful for this. I am grateful for a lot, actually. I shall write more later; right now I need to make coffee.

From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow

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Saw another play last night, Taking Care of Baby. This one I would not highly recommend though it was not without its merits. During the course of two hours I vacillated among entertained, annoyed, unsettled, and mildly satisfied. The theme is truth – and how subjective it can be, how we believe what we want to believe or need to believe or choose to. (yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition.)

Most of us grow up forming our personal mythologies based on messages we hear from an early age, from others and from ourselves. I think that more often than not these mythologies take the form of things we don’t do well – which is a defense mechanism, a form of self-preservation. In a weird way. When we hear the same messages and repeat them to ourselves, they can become self-fulfilling prophesies. Some of mine have been things I can’t do – I can’t cook, I can’t dance, I can’t stay organized. Yours might be I hate exercise, I have a terrible memory for names,  I don’t have a good eye for this or that. This past year has been, for me, one of debunking some of these myths. Turns out I can cook and I like to, I can dance (albeit without much semblance of rhythm, but I’m making peace with this), and I can be organized – though it’s far from effortless. Maybe that’s it – maybe I’ve come of age mistaking things that take more effort for me than others for things I simply can’t do. Certainly there are people who are better cooks, organizers and, sans doute, dancers than I am, but there is room for achievement on all levels of everything. What’s ironic, or probably isn’t at all, is that I have long devoted energy to encouraging others to try, to do, to think outside the box of whatever mythologies they’ve created for themselves. I shall try this tactic with myself. 

Can one develop rhythm after four decades of being convinced they have none? This reminds me of a joke that’s better told aloud but it’s 4:20 (dude) in the ay em, so bear with me: What’s the secret to comedy?TIMING.

Did that translate? 

 

Birds singing in the Sycamore trees …

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…dream a little dream of me.

That title will be more relevant by the end of this post if all goes according to plan. Which is not often the case with freestyle writing. This past week has been exemplary of this city’s overwhelming amount of dynamic and diverse art and culture, as well as of the synergy that exists if we know how to find it. In the past week I’ve seen two plays, four gallery shows, one film series, and all were entirely compelling — I would highly recommend any of them. The first play was “Fun Home”, a memory play/musical based on a graphic novel about the playwright’s quest to understand her life as defined by her sexuality and her father’s suicide. It’s at the Public and starred, among others, Michael Cerveris, who was so riveting in Sweeney Todd that I saw it three times when it was last in town, and who was perfect as this show’s equally dark and complex male lead. The second play, also a memory play, is “The Glass Menagerie”; I’ve seen this show before but never as stunningly staged and performed as this version is. It’s magic, not cheap, but if you have the opportunity it is live theater at its very best. In my humble opinion. And Ben Brantley’s. 

Gallery shows – two Richard Serras, one on 21st Street and one on 24th, at the Gagosian; one by a Las Vegas-based artist named David Ryan at the Galerie Richard on 24th – it’s only there through Wednesday; one photography exhibit at Steven Kasher on Vietnam through the eyes of the photojournalists who covered it. It’s fascinating, humbling, heartbreaking, and tells the stories behind some of the iconic images from the war that are embedded in our collective memory. 

Clearly I’m not an art writer or theater critic, but I know what I like and I like everything I’ve seen in the past seven days. 

Finally, Sunday, we went to the Film Forum to see a series of the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons in honor of the fella’s 85th anniversary. I knew this would be entertaining but I was the plus-one, not the driving force for attending this. It was fascinating from an animation point of view as well as a historical one; the good mouse made his debut in 1928 and his early days encompassed the stock market crash, the Depression, the second half of Prohibition, World War II. His job was to provide escape and entertainment to audiences at a time when the world was short on both; the films reflect beautifully the spirit of the era, the music, the rise of industry and changes in agriculture. There were a lot of kids in the audience, some of whom weren’t having any of it, but many of whom were  – how refreshing that they appreciated the low-fi medium and didn’t need all of the merch tie-ins – the boardgames and backpacks and breakfast cereals – to enjoy the ride. 

I’ve been having variations on my recurring dream lately: the basic plot is that I am entertaining friends in my parents’ home – meant to be my childhood home – and I give them a tour of the house. At the end of the tour I “remember” that there’s another room that I’d forgotten about, a hidden room that is grand an opulent and a little bit haunting but not threatening. I’ve talked this over with a dream analyst and we reached the conclusion that the forgotten room is an unfinished part of myself – an unrecognized talent, an unknown truth, a hidden beauty (her words, as the room is beautiful).

Last night I also visited a venue I frequent in my dreams, a music venue in a New Orleans/Paris/San Fran/Lower East Side hybrid. It’s my favorite place to see and hear live music.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams–Eleanor Roosevelt  

Mama’s got a squeezebox

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Listening to Supertramp right now, which reminds me of college. I love music – this goes without saying – but I go through phases where the emotional trigger of it all is too much for me to bear. Does that make any sense? There is certain “safe” music that I can always listen to regardless of mood; some of you will find this bit cringey but the Dead falls into that category. As does Bob Marley, she says, redeeming herself.

BNiem and I do this thing: if you could have any song play when you enter a room or walk down the street, what would it be? Our answers change each time we check in on this one. My easy answer used to be Kashmir. Then for a bit it was Helter Skelter. He hasn’t asked in a while so I’m not sure what my next answer will be. He has set my personal ringtone to “Smoke on the Water”; this is what plays when I phone him. Curious, that. 

Actually I do know my theme du jour: Right Back Where We Started From. That song makes me endlessly happy these days. And like most of the songs I love, I recall the first time I really listened to it. I was in Maine. 

The following are, in no particular order, songs and albums that evoke specific time and place for me. Bear in mind that some of these are guilty pleasures:

“Soul Rebel” – Bob Marley – my kitchen on Haight Street in San Francisco, where chicken scarpariello was likely being made, 1997-8.

“Honesty” – Billy Joel – swingset at George Washington Elementary circa 1978, Dave the Rave sitting on the rail in his brown leather jacket, playing it on his boom box.

 “House of the Holy” – Led Zeppelin – White Plains, winter break 1989

“Love Fool” – The Cardigans – driving to the Beverly Center in LA, 1995

“Music from Big Pink” – The Band – driving through Northern California, 1996

“You’ll See” – Madonna – Cafe Tabac, 1995

“Real Gone” – Tom Waits – Hampton Bays, 2004

“So Tonight that I Might See” – Mazzy Star – my apartment on York Avenue, 1994

“Riding on the Metro” – Berlin – riding on the metro, Paris, fall semester 1990

“Don’t Explain” – Billie Holiday – my apartment on Charles Street, 1999

“Dream On” – Aerosmith – floating on a raft in a pool in Westchester County (Harrison?), 1986

“Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” – Louie Armstrong – Burgundy Street, Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans, 2010

“Castles Made of Sand” – Jimi Hendrix – Katonah, NY, 1992

“Your Mother Should Know” – The Beatles – Christopher Street apartment, 1998.

That list could go on and on but I’ll stop at 14 because there are other things I should and want to be writing right now. Thanks for indulging me this trip down memory lane.

Climbing high into the sun

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AND I’m up again. Blessed beast this insomnia is. It’s that magical time of year when my phone and my microwave are duking it out over who knows the current time. My phone wins of course but the point is this: with the exception of the watch I unearthed a few weeks ago, there is nothing in my home whose primary goal it is to tell time. My phone, cable box, radio and microwave serve as my clocks. I have two clock clocks that need batteries, both. And I’m not sure where they are. 

My apartment is in flux, partially painted, partially boxed up, entirely waiting for its next incarnation. I’ve been a packrat over the years, much like my father is; the difference is that he lives with a woman who will not tolerate this and will throw things away that he’ll never miss. My mum would be more than happy to do the same for me, I know, but it’s really up to me to get rid of my collection of matchbooks, defunct business cards, photos of babies I can no longer identify, mismatched hand towels, ill-fitting clothing, chewed apart dog toys (thank God I have a dog; otherwise that would be far more alarming).  I’m ready to make – and keep – my home more beautiful. I’m ready for so much. To paraphrase the recent words of a dear friend, I need to do it, not talk about it. I need to start getting things done and I will. Sleep will come back soon – it must – and then tomorrow (or later today, to be exact) I begin the beautiful newness of a life evaluated and one of which I’ve taken control. Too easy it’s been for me to let others take over and to live their ideas of me. Too often it’s failed. So off we go, into the wild blue yonder.

postscript: I just googled that song and learned that Charles Lindbergh found it mediocre. I’m with him, but too tired to search for another.