All in all is all we are

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My dog turned 13 on Tuesday, as many of you already know. He’s a spry 13, shaky, arthritic legs notwithstanding, and people are often surprised to learn his age. My doormen know, and on the morning of his birthday they greeted him with birthday wishes and joked about his teenage years. I made some comment about his Bar Mitzvah and one fellow said, “Yeah, but he got that taken care of when he was a pup, right?” and proceeded to pantomime snipping something. I laughed and Louie and I were on our way. I realized that this guy is under two fairly significant false impressions: 1) that I had Louie circumcised, and 2) that boys have this procedure done at their Bar Mitzvahs.

Hmmmm. I know I’m misinformed about a wide variety of topics and I’d like to not be, so if ever we have a conversation in which I reference false knowledge, please feel free to let me know. As I said in my last post, admitting what we don’t know is empowering.

Last night I went to see Billy Joel perform his 17th consecutive monthly show at Madison Square Garden … and in keeping with my quest to stay up-to-date on the latest in music, I’m seeing Joan Jett open for The Who tomorrow night. I saw Billy Joel once before, circa 1987, at Jones Beach. My best friend and I went and Elton John was an unannounced special guest. I remember riding out there in her Audi and eating deli sandwiches before the show, (Westchester County has some of the best delis in the land), and I remember that as we were walking through the parking lot some guy asked us if we were twins — remember that, TJ? We are not, though we’re roughly the same height and have similar hair color. And we were fairly inseparable back in those days; thank God, because I do not know how I would have survived those lovely teenage years without her. I absolutely did not peak in high school. Or college, for that matter.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I am profoundly grateful that we did not come of age with cellphones and Facebook and the internet, grateful that I learned how to look things up in books and did not have the pressures and marginalization that social media can foist upon young minds. At the show last night the cameramen kept filming people (mostly young women) in the audience, who would laugh and point or blow kisses or hug their friends when they saw themselves on the huge screens. He filmed one young woman who was busy looking at her phone and missed the whole thing.

The unequivocally strangest part of the evening was about halfway through when l’artiste invited one of his roadies onstage to perform a number. “Chainsaw”, his name is, came out wearing his roadie blacks and performed a rousing and pitch-decent rendition of “Highway to Hell”. Based on the demographic of the audience, I would guess that half the people were “psyched” and the other half baffled.

What else what else what else … oh! I have set a rather lofty goal for myself where the timetable for finishing my first draft is concerned — lofty but attainable, I think. It’s a matter of creating time to write every day and just powering through what is, essentially, the final stretch of this story. Deciding to work with my writing coach is one of the single best decisions I’ve made in recent years, because she is encouraging me to get through this draft so I can move on to the “fun” part, which is editing/revising the second one. The wisdom I’ve gleaned from various writers and teachers is that the first draft is the “discovery” draft, where you tell yourself the story you want to tell. So that’s what I’m doing and it’s working to some degree and now I’m in the home stretch, though it’s a dense home stretch with a lot of action, location changes, and so on and so forth. But I’m enjoying the process, and it had been a while since I’d really enjoyed it, so this is good. Having to be accountable to someone for a certain number of pages every two weeks, investing a little bit of money into the process, is helping me to get this thing written. So if all goes according to plan, and it very well may not, but if it does, I will have a first draft before too long.

Now that I’ve written that I feel compelled to switch gears and work on the novel, so I will do so shortly.

The other day I passed two guys having a conversation and one was saying, “I’m the biggest [redacted] in New York City!” I wanted to go back and ask “What? You’re the biggest what in New York City?!” because that’s quite a bold statement. If he really is the biggest-something I’m honored to have shared the sidewalk with him.

Last weekend my father and I took a field trip to the outlets to buy unnecessary, reasonably priced items of clothing. As we were pulling into the parking lot he made a comment about being a “shitty parker”, which I’d never known about him, or realized, in the many years that he’s been parking cars in which I’m a passenger. I suggested that telling oneself that one is not good at something can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy; decide you’re a shitty parker and maybe you won’t try as hard because you figure you won’t do it well anyway. Once there we divided up for an hour to run our errands, and I encountered a very young woman working in one of the shops who apologized incessantly. Example: I came out of the fitting room and asked her if the buttons on the shirt I was trying were supposed to line up the way they did or if it was a defect; she said that was the way the shirt was cut, then said, “Sorry.” I said, “Oh! Not your fault!” While I was in the fitting room I heard another woman come out and ask if the pants she was trying were too short and the gal said, “I think they’re supposed to hit at your ankles. Sorry.” I went to try on a few things I’d left outside the fitting room and somehow the hangers had gotten tangled and it took me a minute to unfurl them and she helped me and said, “These are all tangled. Sorry.” When I was leaving I said, “I’m not going to get this sweater – it’s a little big,” and she said, “Sorry.”

Now, I know “sorry” is an overused word and that young women in particular tend to use it as filler and I’m guilty of occasionally doing the same thing but hearing it from a third party made me really realize just how demeaning it can sound. Why apologize for that which is out of our control or has nothing to do with us? Why apologize for the way a shirt is made or because I’ve tangled my hangers? I know she wasn’t really apologizing — at least I don’t think she was — but it’s one of those words that loses its power and efficacy if abused. The flip side of this is people who refuse to apologize when the situation calls for it, and that’s no fun either. Use your apologies judiciously, folks, not as filler. Different rules apply for the Brits, I think, where “Sorry” replaces “Excuse me!” and “What did you say?” among other things.

Words have power.

Turns out my dad, a formidable man on so many levels, actually is a fairly shitty parker.

Had we but world enough, and time

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I’m not sure why Sunday’s post garnered so much attention on FB, but I’ll take it — thanks, y’all. It was suggested to me, in the same breath, that it was because “it’s summer and no one’s got anything else going on” and “you need to write more!” … so I shall. Once I made the decision to link this thing to the Facebook and the Twitter, I realized that I was opening myself up to a much more vulnerable place, to the eyes of 919 of my closest friends. And my mom (hi, Mima!).

That’s 1838 eyeballs, and I used my calculator to figure that one out. Math has never been my forté. My grandfather, Wei Liang Chow, was a brilliant mathematician who discovered a theorem of algebraic geometry. I’m not even sure that I phrased that correctly, so basic are my math skills.

(I recently learned how to make an accent aigu, so my posts may contain disproportionate use of the words forté, cliché, and soufflé.)

There is a lot to be said for admitting what we don’t know, even if we think we should know it.I used to hide behind my ignorance of history, and I think what made me stop doing so was the revelation that without understanding history, current events have no context, and reading anything but the local news becomes an exercise in bewilderment and frustration. You wind up doing a lot of nodding at cocktail parties and hoping that the expression on your face is appropriate to the conversation at hand. As I’ve said before, it’s so easy nowadays to learn and to learn for free (or almost free) via this internet thing. I didn’t study much geography in school, and what I did learn was so long ago that much of it has changed (e.g. we learned of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union) … my geographical IQ grew exponentially once I found Lizard Point. You’re welcome.

Speaking of travel (just go with it), a friend said earlier that she’d like to spend time with me outside of New York and my “comfort zone”. I’m beginning to think my comfort zone is  outside of New York. In terms of a place to live, safety, resources, and so on, of course I’m comfortable here, but in terms of where I don’t feel mired in too much of everything, where I can breathe and not worry that I’ve fallen behind, and so on and so forth, I think that magical place exists elsewhere. I’ve had recent conversations with two people who had lived in NYC for decades and couldn’t imagine leaving, until they did. They both expressed in different ways having found more peace elsewhere and, in so doing, having realized they might not have been as happy here as they’d convinced themselves they were.

This is in no way an anti-New York diatribe, because I love this city completely and will likely stay here for a very long time. It’s my roots, it’s where most of my friends and family are, it’s where some of the things I love most in this world can be found. But I don’t know that I’d survive it were it not for my occasional opportunity to leave. It’s all about balance, not the bass. Though I do love the bass.

I had a vivid dream of Quebec last night, a vivid and geographically correct one in which I was explaining the city to someone and giving them directions past the Citadel, down to the old city … as my darling travel companion can aver, that I was giving directions was most definitely the mark of a dream. I’m not terrible with them … I know my way around my apartment very well and I can get around Manhattan with ease. But I do so appreciate a good map elsewhere, along with someone who can read it.

I want to visit Croatia, among many, many other places. I also want to return to some of the beautiful countries and cities and tiny towns I’ve already visited.

For reasons only my iPhone knows, when I try to email myself from it (i.e. send myself a reminder or forward a note I’ve taken), my address pops up under the name “Holidays in the United States”. That, according to my phone, is my proper name.

They — the people who bring us reports of rain and the latest in nutrition news — say that we should aim to take 10,000 steps per day. My phone now has a built-in pedometer (yours probably does to), and so I am able to see how far short I’ve fallen of this goal at the end of each day. When I got home from a day of running back and forth across town yesterday I checked and saw this:

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Forty-one steps later I was at the elevator and back out with the dog. I’ve actually been walking quite a bit more in the past week, but, as this graph shows, I don’t always bring my phone along. Now I feel compelled to do so. I also feel compelled to not text and walk, to pull over to the side if I need to respond to or check something. Yesterday a young woman was walking toward me and texting furiously, as young women do. She tripped and flew forward several steps, continuing to text the whole time. The future is in the hands of unobservant multi-taskers.

The photo above is from Ireland, from a trip I took a few years ago with a group of modern-day wandering minstrels. It is, in fact, the northernmost point in Ireland and the inspiration for an impromptu song called “The Northernmost Point in Ireland (Is Not In Northern Ireland)”.

Sláinte.

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

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Hi.

As I mentioned the last time I updated this thang, I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, and a few days ago I made the executive decision to claw my way out of it. In so doing I’ve been reminded of the restorative power of friendship. I’ve reached out to, and spent time with, some of the important people in my life, in person and on the phone, and it’s been therapeutic. It’s allowed me to have optimism and plans and to stay busy. What’s that quote about idle hands? Whatever it is, that. For me, being idle is the easy way out, and in my experience the easiest ways out are almost always temporary salves. So much easier to stay in bed than to face the world, to not try lest I fail, to cancel plans so I don’t have to talk about what’s happening or not happening in my life. I’d been doing that for a stretch and it was not working and by the time I really realized that it was absolutely, positively, time to do things differently.

So I begin a new approach to my life. I’ve done so many a time and they’ve not always taken, though along the way I’ve picked up pieces of wisdom and the right kinds of habits.

I had a writing workshop yesterday for Girls Write Now, the awesome (do we still say that?) mentoring program I work with, and in this one we worked on author bios for ourselves, among other things. The topic of the workshop was online presence for writers; apparently I should be tweeting more. Or at all, really. We were given writing prompts, such as describe yourself in three nouns, then three verbs, then three adjectives, etcetera. Because this would be shared with the group I wasn’t as brutally honest as I might have been  — not that I was DIShonest, but my responses were more user-friendly than raw. I wrote “aspiring polyglot” and in trying to figure out the new WordPress interface so I could update this thing, I noticed that I’ve described myself this way before. Muy interesante, n’est-ce pas? Nyet.

We also wrote down ways other people might describe us; one of my dear friends has described me as an “acerbic marshmallow”. Perhaps that’ll be the name of my next blog.

We then wrote about what we write about and this made me realize that I need to write more, in more forums. I’m writing my novel — and am astonished to report that I hit word 60,000 on Friday. It’s a ghost story, as I’ve probably mentioned, and at present it has no title. It’s set in a restaurant — acerbic marshmallow friend and I bat around fake titles for it, and yesterday I came up with, “Waiter, There’s a Ghost In My Soup!” to which he replied, “Ghost Custards”. (Say that one aloud if you don’t get it; I didn’t). It takes place in New York in the summer of 1999, a decision I made so that I could avoid both the specter of 9-11 and our inextricable bond to technology, particularly so-called smart phones. I got my first cell phone in December of ’99, so for me that summer could still be a time when we had to wait to hear from people, when we still got to wonder and guess, when we weren’t just a few keystrokes away from knowing everything we needed to know about everyone and everything. My writing coach told me about a recent interview with a mystery writer who said that the advent and widespread use of The Google and its friends has made mystery-writing more challenging. Who needs to hire a private detective when we have Instagram?

Because novel-writing is so solitary, and because I’m prone to bouts of loneliness, I have been craving more collaborative projects to supplement my writing habit. So if any of my talented and creative friends — which is all of you — feel like collaborating on something, do get in touch.

I had a lot more I planned to write today but I’ve just spent about twenty minutes wrestling with my WiFi connection so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.