Listen to the river sing sweet songs

I have not had this particular type of insomnia in a very long time – I feel ill and wide awake and physically and emotionally exhausted. Not fun, but this too shall pass.

Our friend Phil left us yesterday morning and this makes me very blue. Phil was a wise and wild man, a sweet slip of a thing who could build, fix, or refurbish anything. We enjoyed one another’s company and it had been a couple of summers since I’d seen him – but we have many mutual friends and I knew what was going on with him, health-wise. As such matters do, this has led to a deluge of love and memories and people coming together and all those things that are supposed to ease the crushing blow of grief ever so slightly and leave in its place a bittersweet ache.

I don’t know what more to say about Phil right now – I’ve said a lot in the past 48 hours – and nothing I write here will do justice to this being who was the essence of vitality, an absolutely straight shooter who lived fast and hard and with utter authenticity every moment of every day. There is much to be learned from a person like him. And as these matters also do, as I’ve had the great misfortune to write about a couple of times since I started this thing last spring, I realize in his absence the strong hold he has on a piece of my heart. Through loss we realize our capacity to love.

Damn it.

There are a great many others for whom this is an acute loss, and I always feel self-conscious about “owning” grief when it comes to people I’ve not seen in a while, like Phil, or people I hadn’t spent all that much time with, not like Phil. It is such an intensely personal experience.

The passage of my book I’ve been stuck on for many days (please excuse grammatical and syntactical errors in this post it’s late and I feel like my brain is in aspic) is actually about grief – my goodness I sound maudlin and macabre and something-else-that-begins-with “m”, though I suppose one can’t really write a ghost story without touching upon death. Contrary to how it might seem, I need to think and talk about these things in order to live life more lightly. Talking about it doesn’t make it harder for me, au contraire mon frere, it helps me to release some of the sadness – a pressure valve situation if you will, and really if you’re reading this you have no choice in the matter. I needn’t dwell but I do need to purge. I promise this isn’t all I’m going to talk about, ever. Promise promise promise.

Went to beautiful music on Monday night, to Buckwheat Zydeco at City Winery and WOW do I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I have to get myself back down there soon. One of my main characters is from New Orleans, so perhaps I can justify it as research. Which it would be, in part. In large part actually – wait – what am I talking about?! I HAVE to go down there soon for that very reason. Though the music, food, magic, and dear friends there might play a tiny role in this desire.

Wanderlust. Such an overused word for such a perfect concept. Travel bug doesn’t have the same ring.

I want to keep writing – I feel like I could go on and on and on about many many things – but I should attempt to sleep. Not gonna happen, but I should try.

Friend-I-spoke-with-yesterday, yes, dear girl, I will write about the things we discussed in the very near future I promise. Now hush and start writing, too. You can do it. You have the life experience and we know you’ve plenty of fodder. Start somewhere. I’ll help. Just … make it happen.

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Rest, sweet one. Your light is eternal.

Too cool to bluff

I was having one of those if-not-for-Lou-I-wouldn’t-leave-the-house mornings. One of those thank-God-there’s-no-cafeteria-for-me-to-sit-alone-in days. A sort of bad mood/existential crisis hybrid. You know what I mean.

But because my dog is so needy I took him out (I kid, I kid, he’s not the needy one) and it was delightful! The neighborhood is very smiley and friendly today – and now I have that line from Scarlet Begonias in my head – and I had a lovely conversation with a French bulldog owner who said of Louie, “Oh my God – what a fox-monkey he is!” At the bank I ran into a woman who used to live in my building – the stunning, tall, ambiguously European blonde who flirts with my boy friends and spends a lot of time unabashedly naked in the locker room at Chelsea Piers – and we had a really good conversation about the neighborhood, the building, and the aforementioned locker room. I didn’t bring up the full-frontal thing. I came back and bought three barstools from a neighbor who is about to move to Amagansett – which sounds so perfect I couldn’t ask him about it for fear of getting in my car and driving east and never looking back.

And now I’m here.

I’m also in the process — several of us are — of saying goodbye to an old friend who is very close to the end of his earthly days. I have lost a lot of people – close and distant – and that is because I have loved a lot of people. Not in the romantic sense, in the soul sense. In the recognizing another’s intrinsic beauty sense. It sucks. It hurts like hell. But I’d rather be someone who loves too much than someone who doesn’t want to love at all. I think I would – I don’t know because I’ve never not been this way. I had this conversation with my sweet new friend/brunch partner yesterday, that as challenging as it is to be someone who walks around with her heart galloping ten feet in front of her, and who throws herself full force into her friendships and relationships, we would rather know that we’ve shown all of our cards and lived authentically reaching for what we want than build walls and wonder what might have been.

But I digress. Our sweet Phil is leaving us soon. I’ve known this man for 20 years and he is part of some of my strongest and greatest memories in that time. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.

Thank you for reading this. I mean it.

You spend years working on the protagonist you’ve created, trying to make her a real person. And when you finally do she’s imperfect.

And that’s perfect. That’s real.

She’s deeply flawed and knows it. Hers was not a childhood that, despite its material comforts, leads to the notion of intrinsic self-worth. She was not abused or abandoned, but she was not disabused or met. She’s made mistakes – enormous, regrettable ones – and she’s learned from them all, though sometimes she learned the lessons much too late to right her wrongs.

But she’s determined to keep moving forward no matter how easily she can get mired in the past. She knows very few things for certain about herself but she does know that she has a surplus of love and needs somewhere to put it. She knows she is inherently good despite vast evidence to the contrary. She has an unusually high tolerance for sadness, and a questionably healthy capacity to see past the bad in hopes of finding the good.

She is rudderless, unmoored, in a holding pattern, operating without a net, etcetera. And she detests cliches like those above. She can be horrible, absolutely horrible. She can also be wonderful beyond words.

A lot of people see her, really see her, and see her worth. She hears this often. Every now and then someone tells her she’s worthless. And those are the voices that speak the loudest to her.

/end metaphor

The astonishing light

A sweet little coffee shop opened up in the neighborhood, the kind of place I prefer to patronize over the corporate-backed big guys. However, I got a large iced coffee this morning and it cost five dollars. Five dollars. THis is ludicrous, and so very New York.

By contrast, last night we spent twenty dollars apiece for an evening of live music — a tribute to Portishead that featured a chamber orchestra, six vocalists, a dj and a theremin … look it up … An evening of live entertainment for the smallest denomination one can withdraw from an ATM is a lovely thing. Listening to Portishead brings me back to 1999, to my apartment on Charles Street and my early days at Random House. To the calm before the storm that was to come two years later.

There is so much, so much, so much wrong in the world right now. There always has been, but we weren’t bombarded by news and images the way we are now. I suppose being aware is the better scenario, but the combination of awareness and powerlessness is a tough pill to swallow. Striving to be kind and gentle and tranquil in our daily interactions is the best most of us can do – create peace in our own lives and hope that it spreads. Much easier said than done, but something to bear in mind. On a global level, many of these conflicts are so deeply rooted that they will remain until the end of days.

Tranquility is one of my favorite words.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about the fact that we dislike the question “What do you do?” in polite conversation with new acquaintances. Because what we do is not always what we want to do, and what we want to do and like to do are much more indicative of who we are. Does that make sense the way I just wrote it? THat’s been my go-to polite conversation question lately – what do you like to do? or How do you spend your time? Try it. People tend to respond well. And, in my case, I get to avoid the glazed over look that comes with people talking about jobs within industries of which I should have a working knowledge but probably don’t.

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being. -Hafiz

That, right there, is my wish for you all. Truly.


I just took L for a walk and while we were out there on the mean streets of Chelsea I figured out something that has been eluding me – and that I absolutely need – I figured out what my three main characters want. That is, according to every writer/writing instructor/filmmaker I’ve ever read or heard, the most important element to story – figuring out what very basic thing it is that your characters want. And so I realized that: J wants to matter, D wants comfort, and M wants forgiveness.

I guess it goes without saying that these are all things their inventor wants, too.

L and I rode the elevator with a man, a neighbor, who has no idea who I am but who I know because he bought a piece of artwork from a dear friend of mine and his wife used to be my mom’s yoga instructor.

Thanks, New York City. And thanks, Louie, for asking me to take you out a little earlier than usual.

What happens to a dream deferred?


Oh, insomnia, wherefore art thou such a familiar part of my life? I inadvertently frontloaded my sleep last night and woke at 2:something this morning; have been unsuccessfully trying to reclaim sleep since. Forgive the lack of linear thought that will probably follow.

I had lovely conversations this weekend about many things. They include, in no particular order: This is Spinal Tap, key lime pie, dogs, the beauty of being in one’s 40s, what makes for a proper pie crust, the prison system, George Clooney, vulnerability, the beauty of knowing smart, strong people in their 80s, the fact that Monuments Men was a fascinating subject watered down into Oceans 14, futbol.

A fellow I sat next to during the Argentina/Germany match (despite my German blood I was rooting for the other guys) told me about a date he’d been on the previous night. I asked how it was and he said, “Not good. She looked ten years older than her picture.” Remember when that might not have instantly made sense?

Apparently there is a lot of lying on these online dating sites; I hear it often from friends. Never having done it myself I can’t say for sure but I highly doubt I’d lie or misrepresent myself. I really don’t see the point, but then I’m not known for my lying skills. Which means I’m either very honest or an excellent liar. But really, I’ve heard from women who’ve gone on first dates with men who bill themselves at 5’9″ and fail to mention that that’s while standing on a table, and men who’ve dated women who say “single” without adding “if my marriage doesn’t last”. There are lids for every pot – wouldn’t you want to get these logistics out of the way in the beginning?

Some years ago I was on vacation with a girlfriend who was one of the pioneers of online dating. While we were on vacation her profile was picked by Salon and Nerve and several other places as the Profile of the Week – and so she returned home to hundreds of potential suitors flooding her inbox. And she married one of them! Briefly.

I had my recurring dream a few nights ago – one of my recurring dreams – in which I’m showing friends around a dreamlike version of my parents’ home and toward the end of the tour I realize that there’s one more room that I’d forgotten about – and so we go – and it’s this elaborate, ornately decorated, loftlike mini-apartment that is unlike anything else in the house – and it’s always the most impressive part of the tour. Some years ago a shrink and I discussed this and decided that this is the “hidden” part of me – the untapped reservoir of potential – the undiscovered talent – the dream deferred. In this recent dream the friends to whom I was showing it were my two suitemates from senior year in college (Hi, K&M!) – which is probably significant if you buy into the dream analysis thing, which I do. Perhaps something that happened during that year plays into the fact that I’ve squelched whatever reservoir/talent/dream this is … A lot happened that year, a lot of things that contribute to who I am today, much of it not-good. There were excellent things that year as well, but there were some significant challenges, having nothing to do with school itself, that I should probably examine and get past. I’ll put that on my list of things to do today, a list that includes: finish Chapter Eight, check details on Louie’s bag of dog food against the list of recalled Iams products someone just sent me, and write Thank You notes.

My windows were cleaned yesterday, for the second time in 8 years. Hence, the photo above.

Where the hot springs flow


Someone mentioned the Land of the Midnight Sun on the news this morning, and I’ve had Robert Plant wailing in my head all day. I experienced the midnight sun in Norway in August 2007, where sun didn’t set until after 11pm. On more than one occasion this resulted in a frantic scramble to find a place still serving dinner. Norway had never been on my travel radar – not that I was opposed to the idea, but other places had piqued my curiosity more strongly. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit; it was strange and beautiful.

Last night in my dream I spoke Russian – one of the 18 or 19 words I know. I said “спасибо” – spasiba – thank you. I speak bits of French in my dreams but this is the first time I spoke what I’d spent decades thinking was my grandfather’s native language. About a year into my autodidactic studies, I learned that Ukrainian was the dominant language in his household when he was a lad. Back to the drawing board.

I leapt outside of my comfort zone yesterday and took an exercise class at this place, thanks to an inspiring and encouraging friend. I prefer my fitness endeavors to occur in the presence of as few people as possible, but we got there early enough that I could sequester myself in a back corner. The first five minutes of this class consisted of “cardio dance” – if you know me in three-dimensions and have ever watched me attempt to walk down a street without tripping, let alone dance, feast on that visual. Still, I got through it and the remaining 45 minutes of limb-by-limb torture and I feel pretty good today. I think I’ll try again next week.

Excellent conversations about writing and the creative process yesterday, about being “surprised” by our characters (as overblown as that just sounded when I reread it) and about how they can get away with saying things that we can’t. I realize that writing in the first person would afford me a lot more freedom of narrative and observation, but it doesn’t make sense for the project I’m working on. There have to be differing points of view.

Today is the birthday of a dear, departed friend, who, to quote Shakespeare, “makes the face of heaven so fine that all the world [is] in love with night.” Happy birthday, sweet one.

In the city in the rain

In my dream last night I had a difficult time photographing the koala bears that peppered the landscape of the mythical land I was visiting. They were awfully cute.

One of the books I’m reading about how to write books speaks of the fact that, unlike playing an instrument or painting or dancing, we all have the tools one needs to write – the depth of emotion, the life experience, the imagination. It takes dedication and practice, in that order. THat’s what my recent writing retreat gave me — among many other things — the habit and the need/dedication. I am finally writing my draft – as my writing instructor says, “You can’t edit a blank page.” And so I am filling my pages with a version of the story I want to tell – a very rough version, which is exactly the point. I consider much of what I’m writing placeholders for what will eventually be the words in my book. It’s so very liberating, to give myself permission to write the imperfect first draft. For once I feel I have the ability and drive to finish a draft. I actually look forward to getting home and writing, or to getting out of my home and writing. Writing at home with a dog who would rather I look at him than my computer screen and with papers that need to be put away and with laundry that needs to be done and free weights watching me from the table begging to be curled and appointments to make and Bill’s toupee and calls to return and everything else – this is the challenge. This is one of the challenges.

I’m now at the point where reading a well-constructed novel does not feel like a waste of time, the point where writing anything – this blahg, par exemple — feels like a valuable exercise.

Today, instead of writing in the hours I designated, I watched the fourth-to-last match in the 2014 World Cup. And I’ve no regrets – I wanted Brazil to win but Germany’s sweep was so impressive it bordered on riveting.

…and other phrases I never thought I’d utter…

I need a title for my book.

It’s muggy out there these days.

A million miles away


Whenever I’ve attempted to meditate, the thing that’s been hardest for me is coming up with a visual – a prerecorded moment of bliss that will lull me into tranquility. Like a lake or a beach or a meadow – though actually I’ve not spent much time in meadows. Every memory I have of such places is fraught with context – who I was with, why I was there, what happened next, what didn’t happen that was supposed to, etcetera.

I think I found my moment on Saturday, floating on my back in the clearest, most perfect version of the Atlantic I’ve ever known, the sun shining on my SPF’d face and the surprisingly decent resort troubadour playing What a Wonderful World. Say what you will; I love that song. 

My long weekend away was not perfect – like most of my times away of late it had the patina of guilt that I don’t live a life at home that merits vacationing. I haven’t done enough – worked hard enough – suffered enough – to earn it. That’s what was especially wonderful about this break: I wrote. I wrote and revised 85 pages of my novel, based on the outline I managed to cobble together shortly before I left. And I’m thrilled about this – I have, at long last, a story to tell. A story with a beginning, middle, and end, with protagonists who have purpose, with conflict and resolution. I have A storylines and B storylines – and even C, D, E and F ones. I know why my story takes place when and where it does and how my characters have wound up where they are at the start of the story. And I don’t have to change the opening line I’ve had since 2008: It rained nineteen inches the summer of the coat check girl

This is not a story that will appeal to everyone – and that’s fine. It’s a story I want to read, about life, death, love, the things we mistake for love, hope, regret, self-doubt, self-delusion, memory, revisionist history, food, New York, and ghosts, in all their many manifestations.

This was how we spent our five days and nights: we woke between 7 and 8 and drank coffee, went to the beach, jogged on the beach, swam in the ocean, floated on the waves, read novels, ate lunch, wrote for four hours, ate great dinners, drank wine on the beach at night, and went to sleep early. We bonded – we’re new friends – and we told the stories of our lives, the good, the bad, the embarrassing and regretful. It was lovely. 

And now I’m back, as ever changed by travel. And I am absolutely going to finish a draft of this thing. That’s all I ask at this point – to finish a draft. I don’t write with the hope of getting published, I write with the hope of finishing something I’ve written.

We are not the trappings of our lives, the things that people assume about us based on the limited information that they have. We are so much more than that. We are our hearts and souls, and only those who recognize this deserve to be part of our journeys around this weird and wild world.