Biting the hand that feeds you

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What a long, strange week it’s been.

I’m tired, more tired than I’ve been in a long, long time. There are many reasons, mental and physical, for this, and in response, I’ve taken myself on a self-imposed writing retreat for a week … I can not tell you how much I am looking forward to this. How much I need it. And how much I appreciate the opportunity.

New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town … I have had a very New York-y week. I saw music and theater and art. I had Thai food, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, and a horrible midtown salad for lunch yesterday. I saw a bunch of old friends, unexpectedly and on purpose. I worked a lot. And best of all, I got semi-ready for my week out of town.

Yesterday I saw the Picasso exhibit at MOMA; the person I saw it with, an artist, commented that double-P (my words) demonstrated in his sculpture his skills of observation. I don’t know if it was this comment or my meditation or a combination of those, but walking home from work yesterday, the snippets of conversation I overheard registered more than usual: “I’m a human compass” “Picture me, now picture Miranda Cosgrove” “Dude, I did four sets of ten to fifteen reps with, like, a ten-second break between” “looking at all the pictures on the wall and boom — there’s Mick Jagger”. One of the exercises we do in our writing group entails taking a piece of overheard dialogue and building a story around it. The four I quoted are pretty much complete stories on their own.

One of the reason I’m especially tired these days is Dog. I love the guy … I love him so much it hurts, and I want him around for a very long time. But, between you and me (and anyone you forward this to) … he’s not very easy to deal with these days. Our early morning walks have turned into borderline late-night ones, though now that we’re in the country I’m hoping he’ll want to sleep in a bit. He has taken to snapping at me, seemingly out of nowhere, which absolutely sucks. The vet is incredibly sympathetic about this, which is nice, but it doesn’t do a damn thing when petting my beloved beast turns into wrestling my hand from his jowly grip. The vet thinks he has a bit of dementia, which would be funny in a short story but is fairly tragic in real life. Yes, he’s “just a dog”, but he’s my j-a-d and I’m his whole world. And so of course I bear the brunt of whatever he’s going through physically and emotionally. He loves me — that’s not in question — but he is not very gentle with me anymore. He is with other people, but he’s a teenager and I’m his mother. I imagine this is not dissimilar to what my parents went through when I was a teenager, so perhaps this is my comeuppance. As I don’t have a co-parent, I don’t really have anyone with whom I share the burden of loving an angst-ridden kid.

Le sigh. My problems could be worse. Having just watched some of tonight’s Repugnantcan debate I know that they could be much, much worse.

Wednesday night I spoke at a meeting for Girls Write Now, the wonderful organization I work with. I helped create the style guide for our annual anthology and gave a tutorial on grammar … being a word nerd, this was heavenly for me. We talked about some of my favorite things: the Oxford comma, the em-dash, the italicization of ship names. The fact that compound words in adjective form take hyphens when their noun counterparts do not. Riveting stuff.

What else.

I’ve set a lofty goal (I’m certain I’ve said the exact same thing in an earlier blog post) of getting through Chapter Ten of Book while I’m here on my writing retreat. Ask me about it next weekend, will ya? Being accountable helps.

I am not where I thought I’d be at 45. I didn’t have specific ideas of where I’d be, but this certainly wasn’t it. I’m not implying in the slightest that I’m in a bad place or am unhappy … I’m not. But I’m not where I thought I’d be.

Someday I will elaborate on that. On how the things we thought were foregone conclusions sometimes turn out to be anything but.

I spent today and tonight with my parents and some of their friends. I am blessed with amazing people in my life, and with grownups (people 60 and older) who have no intention of slowing down or stopping. Who are as vibrant now as ever before and who, for the most part, take better care of themselves than they did at my age. People who, like my parents, continue to expand their minds, to learn and grow and cultivate new interests (the fact that I first wrote “knew interests” means I need to wrap this up and get some sleep before Dog the Biter wants out in the morning). I want to emulate these people. I want to continue to learn (k)new things and enrich myself, and my life, for my remaining days. That is living. There is no giving up, no throwing in the towel, no deciding you’re done. If you still have any say in the matter, you’re not done.

Love you. Thanks for reading. Vive la France et le circonflexe (about which more later).

 

 

Pack up all my care and woe…

IMG_7771The title of this post is from Bye Bye Blackbird, which was the favorite song of someone I knew who died from Alzheimer’s — or as my young niece calls it, Old Timer’s. I had a brush with early stages of the disease today in a chance encounter on the street.

It was not unbearably freezing today, and so I decided to walk home from my appointment on 36th and Park. As I walked down Ninth Avenue I saw an elderly man a few paces ahead of me who was standing on the sidewalk looking around. I made eye contact with him and he stopped me and asked if I live in the neighborhood. I said yes, and asked if he was lost. He was – I asked what he was looking for and he said, “My home. I can’t remember where it is.” He was visibly shaken by this. My first thought was to call the authorities, but I didn’t really know which authorities to call. He had his keys in his hand and on his key ring was a CVS customer card. I suggested we might go to the nearest CVS and see if they could scan it and find his address.

Then I asked if he perhaps had id in his wallet; he did – he had a Christmas-themed return address label stuck on the inside. I read the address to him; it was about half a block away, but a long block, and it took us a while to get close to the building. He kept saying how ridiculous it was that he could just forget where he lives, that he’s lived there for years. I asked if he lived with anyone or had family here and he mentioned a daughter, whose name he couldn’t recall. I asked to see his wallet again, and in it found a piece of paper with three names and phone numbers – “Son” and “Daughter” were clearly marked – one with a New Jersey number and one in Brooklyn, he told me. The third name, Stella, was 212. He told me she was his girlfriend so I asked if I could phone her.

Stella was very concerned to hear what was going on and explained that she’d been sick and couldn’t come over to his house – his name is Michael, by the way. She asked if I’d bring him to her, and gave me the address. She lives in the housing projects a few blocks from me that I pass every day and have never been inside.

On the long, slow walk to Stella’s, we passed a friend of mine who lives in the East Village and whom I haven’t seen in years – she was on the phone and we greeted each other and agreed to talk later.

I asked Michael more questions. He estimates he was born in 1925, and clearly recalled that he moved to New York from Naples, Italy, in 1940; shortly after he joined the army and fought with the 69th Infantry Division. He couldn’t understand how he could remember that, but not where he’s been living for the past many decades. I said something about how curious memory is, how sometimes we recall things from childhood but not what we had for breakfast that morning. I asked if he’d eaten anything today and he said no.

I held his arm when we crossed the streets and told him that I was afraid of slipping on the ice myself – and he laughed. But in general he was sad and confused. I said, “This must be very frustrating for you,” and he said, “It’s very frustrating. I just don’t understand.” We talked about the fact that he should probably pay a visit to a doctor – he doesn’t think he’s been to the doctor in quite some time.

We reached Stella’s building and she buzzed us in, though the lock on the main door appeared to be broken. Michael pushed “7” in the elevator – and Stella waited for us with her apartment door opened. They cried on seeing each other – she gave him a big hug and asked what was going on and he said he didn’t understand.

She invited me in – actually, it was more insistence – and we helped him off with his jacket. She asked where his keys were and I said probably in his pocket, so she went through his pockets and pulled out his keys, wallet, a bunch of napkins, and his teeth.

While she made him a cup of tea I called his daughter – who started to cry and told me that this has been going on for a while and has gotten worse and worse and that she’s asked him to come stay with her in Brooklyn but that he’s stubborn. She said she’d call Stella in a few minutes, and I gave her my number and explained that I live in the neighborhood, should they need anything.

While we were in the kitchen Stella said to me, “We’ve known each other for 37 years. This is going to be so hard for me – I am all alone.”

I said whatever I could – tried to be comforting. I told Stella I’d check in with her, and Michael’s daughter said she’d keep me posted. I said my goodbyes and left.

So much to say about all of this but I’m still processing it. My neighborhood – this whole city – is full of elderly people who live on their own. I recently had a conversation with a friend – one whose own elderly mother was in a physical rehabilitation center with apparently deplorable conditions – about the fact that our society has a lot of work to do in terms of how we value and care for our elderly. Michael and Stella have lived in my neighborhood since long before it was filled with new condos and art galleries and night clubs and expensive restaurants – since long before the vast majority of the people who live in my building were born. This is their neighborhood.

I am grateful that I made eye contact with him and that I stopped, because in the wrong hands, things could have turned out much differently. Not only was he confused, he had money and credit cards in his wallet. Mine are far from the only right hands – I know that everyone reading these words would have done the same thing I did. I also know that moments before I saw him I’d been looking at my phone to see if I’d heard back about tomorrow night’s dinner plans, or about what time my Pilates lesson was. Of course we all spend far too much time looking down these days – and once more I’m reminded of the value of looking up. Looking around. From now on I will pay more attention to the many elderly people I see walking around my neighborhood by themselves.

The other takeaway here – and this is important for ALL of us – is to carry ID and a list of contacts. I don’t know if that ICE program is still relevant, but if it is it’s a good one – emergency responders are taught to look through cellphone contacts for anyone marked ICE – “in case of emergency”.

This city is a big and busy place and not everybody is kind; but like the day I had my accident a few years back (I fainted in the street) – today proved that sometimes the kindness of strangers is what separates trauma from tragedy.

Be well, my friends, and look after your loved ones.

Let love shine

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It is getting autumnal out there. Which, of course, reminds me always of singing Edith Piaf’s version of “Autumn Leaves” in Babette’s kitchen in the Richmond in San Francisco. Once 9-21 passes, I will Skype her for an encore. Or I’ll go visit her, which is actually a far more appealing option. I did travel a fair amount this summer, to the country and to the beach, and I have the urge to get on an airplane and add a stamp to my passport.

I had one of those modern-day dreams the other night where I sent an elaborate, detailed, and brutally honest text to the absolute wrong person. Like, imagine writing your dealer to complain that the last batch was definitely cut with something and accidentally texting your mom?! That wouldn’t happen – my dealer’s very upfront with me. Just kidding – he’s a jackass.

Because most of the people who read this don’t know me or don’t know me anymore, I feel compelled to assure you that most of the pithy bad-girl asides are sarcastic. The vague, at times overwhelmingly emotional ones are not.

For the past two nights I’ve had a variation on a recurring dream in which a youngish woman tries to steal my wallet – or in one case my purse that had my wallet, keys, and phone – and it was frustrating beyond belief. I never actually got them back before I woke, though it seemed promising. As I purport to be a decent analyzer of dreams, let me see what I can do with this one – someone or something is stealing or sabotaging a very important part of my identity. Or my whole identity, perhaps, as the wallet contains links to so many things (I know, because I recently left mine behind). I am wrestling – in one case literally – with this someone to hold onto what I can; in the other scenario I begged a go-between to help me get my things back.

I’m making, as many of you know, some fairly drastic life changes these days and poof! There goes identity. In this case the end goal (not really an end, it’s all a work in progress) is meant to be a positive one, one about changing old patterns and habits that I’ve long relied upon and that have never worked out in my favor. Or, as I said to a friend in a card I just gifted him, “my version of perfectionism has proven to be anything  but,” and so it’s time to alter my view of what “perfect” me would look like, because this ain’t it. Perfect is inaccurate, for it’s through cracks and imperfections that beauty and light shine through. It’s about using these imperfections to my – and the people around me’s – advantage. And it’s about letting go of things that just aren’t working. This means something different for everybody – this means many different things for everybody – and I’ve found myself making certain pledges in the past few days, one of which is that I will no longer waste time with people who choose to view me through a lens of resentment. I’ve let this happen to me so many times in the past and while I don’t want to wish I had that time back, I choose to never again forfeit it to that dynamic. I’ve had resentments in the past and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a dynamic where they don’t slip out and cloud whatever conversation or situation is at hand. I urge you all to do the same, to purge your lives of anyone who sees you for your trappings only and not for who you really are or, most importantly perhaps, who you want to be. I have a tremendous tolerance for overlooking behavior and finding the person within who I just know would come out if he or she could get past past pain and unproductive behaviors. And that can make the years roll by with nothing more to hold onto then the specter of what might have been.

I signed up for bike riding lessons. Yup, I don’t know how to ride a bike.

Yet.

 

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

IMG_5878I have become smitten by Instagram and this is excellent, because Words with Friends, this blahg, and conducting entire relationships via text are not enough distraction from the work I’d like to be doing.

The Instagram thing is great though because I used to love taking photos and, if I may be so bold, I was pretty decent at it. In the pre-digital era, which lasted a mere four-and-a-half billion years or so, I would shoot rolls and rolls of film when I attended events or take photos of rooftops in New Orleans and people walking away in various places, old men playing chess in Chinatown (that one didn’t go over very well; live and learn).

It’s a full moon tonight – fantastic – maybe things will finally start to get strange!

This new “strange” is, as they say, my “new normal” – I don’t like that expression – it’s my new reality and I’m learning to deal with it bit by bit and moment by moment. One of the things that helps the most is conversation – face to face conversation with people, friends and even the occasional stranger, who speak some of the same dialect that I do. The dialect about love and understanding and the validation of feelings and how, no matter how hard we might pretend we don’t need those things, those are ultimately the things that most of us need. We learn to live without them and so we grow up with these ideas that soul love is a fantasy, that our feelings are disproportionate (not our responses, for those certainly can be disproportionate, but our feelings themselves are 100% as they are meant to be), and that no one will ever really get us, because we’re simply too hard to get.

None of this is true. And trying to inure ourselves to the pain and struggle of finding these vital human needs only prolongs the process – be it through booze or drugs or meaningless sex, shopping or bingeing or hoarding cats – whatever it is, when we do the things we do to numb ourselves to our authenticity, we stifle that authenticity. Getting it all out can be terribly, frighteningly painful, but the better we equip ourselves to do so, the sooner we will become the people we actually are. Not the ones that hide behind vices and defenses and decades’-old betrayal, the ones who’ve experienced all the ups and downs and sideways and have the tremendous potential to thrive. From this point forward. The past is over, the present is now. And in coming to terms with this, one no longer needs to search everywhere for conversation about love and life. Conversation is a brilliant device that needn’t always be so heavy. I believe that getting through the heavy stuff with an intention of patience and kindness will expedite the process whereby one can get back to discussing the light stuff, the stuff that makes this world the beautiful shimmering light that it is.

I bought paint today. More paint. I’m going to try to keep painting pictures that are supposed to be representational and are abstract at best, filthy palates at worst. Either way, it’s an interesting outlet.

Have you seen the movie “Let the Right One In”? It’s a Swedish film about vampires, the theme of which is that, as all vampire mavens know, a vampire can not enter your house (or chateau or turret) unless you explicitly invite him/her in. Louie and I have developed a new routine whereby I have to invite him out of the house when we go on walks. I leash him, I sing our little walk song, and I stand outside the door waiting for him to exit. Let the Right One Out. The Louie Story.

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

Wait a minute Mr. Postman …

ImageI have spent part of today searching through boxes of personal memorabilia in search of one specific photograph. These boxes have been in storage at my father’s company for decades, and though I haven’t found the photo, I have found some interesting souvenirs of days gone by. Apparently I was the news editor of my high school newspaper. (I do recall that I was on staff but I don’t recall editing any news.) I found the program from my elementary school’s singalong in 1978, when my sister was in sixth grade and I was in third. My class performed “California Kids” (“Well east coast kids are hip, I really dig the styles they we-ear…”). I remember what I wore. I was, in fact, part of the East Coast Kids group, so compared to the Midwest Farmer’s Children and all the rest, my costume was not terribly gimmicky. I wore a denim jacket, t-shirt and jeans and a pair of brown rain boots with black fake fur at the top. I loved those boots.

I also found many relics of the lost art of letter writing, a practice that played a major role in my life up until the bitter end of its reign. I loved writing letters from the time I was able to write. My granny and I wrote constantly, and she kept a carbon copy of each letter she typed on her sky blue Smith Corona, which now lives in my closet. It needs work. I’d like to get myself a refurbished portable typewriter; I’d been toying with the idea, forgot about it, and then read this essay. But before I purchase any heavy machinery I must purge some of the stuff that I’ve semi-hoarded over the years.

Reading through some of these letters has been like finding a time capsule from the late 80s/early 90s, when I was in college. I’ve come across gems like these:

  • There are a few people that you’ll be glad to hear that I didn’t keep in touch with, namely Evan and Randy. I didn’t call Randy even though he owed me 25 dollars for the Who tickett [sic]. That’s how much I didn’t want to talk to him.
  • Take care, hon, and find yourself a “nice boyfriend” – good luck and I hope to hear from again really soon.
  • I lost my proof so the bar scene has been even more interesting b/c every night I have to think of new scams to get in. I borrowed my housemate’s proof. The name on it was Mandy Fiddle …
  • I am going to the travel agent today to make some arrangements 4 spring break. Yeah! Jamaica!
  • Now don’t think I’m turning lesbo on you, but I thought the front of the card was rather appropriate. Your card to me was hysterical, talk about appropriate.
  • You should definately [sic] come home for a weekend we’ll be total townies. one night we’ll go to the “Aft” then to “Cooks” – another night we should go hang-out in the village. 
  • Actually you see, I think I fell in love in Spain. I met this Spanish guy in Marbella – he is older, 27 is my guess (I never bothered to ask) he is so lively and so crazey [sic]. He’s a real estate agent & a part owner of a bar/nite club & I have this feeling he might deal coke or something on the side. … he has really ruined my desire for Laurent … I’ve decided French guys are dull.

Good stuff. I miss writing letters. I don’t miss being 19 and 20.

My sole intention is learning to fly …

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According to the internets I might have that lyric wrong, but the essence of the two versions is the same. Learning to fly, finding one’s bearings after being set adrift. It’s hard to do, and accepting this is the only recourse for beginning to heal a broken heart or beaten soul or combination of the two. The process is exhausting and there are regressions along the way, but if one has some semblance of determination, the powers-that-be will reverse what’s seemed like a spell of misdirected punishment and the world will be brighter.

Despite all my foibles and missteps and temper tantrums, I think the people who choose to stick around know that my love is boundless and my loyalty fierce. I do have a fair amount of people in my life, and this is because, for whatever crazy reason, excellent people have come my way. I’ve met plenty, plenty of toxic people along the way, some of whom have disguised themselves as knights in shining armor and all-weather friends, and as such I’ve had my spirit broken many times. But through it I’ve held onto a faith that comes from some mysterious source and I’ve not given up on the universe. I can’t. Otherwise, why am I here? I’ve accepted the fact that mine will be a hard-won happiness; I’ve walked through deluges and spent years in foxholes and I’ve raged and rebelled against a world that’s at times seemed hell-bent on watching me suffer through life. But I’ve gotten back up, licked my many wounds, and struck out again to make mistakes and continue to fight for light and love. Because, I think, you don’t get one without weathering the other. I guess I’d rather keep battling because the moments of beauty, tranquility, and bliss are brighter and more powerful than one thousand demons could ever be.

When I was a kid I thought the song “Torn Between Two Lovers” was “Torn Between Two Leopards”.

Third time’s a charm:

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

I do, and I mean that for all of you.