He’s told us not to blow it, ’cause he knows it’s all worthwhile

At the time that I am starting to write this it has been two weeks and about 15 hours since my friend Tom took his final breath. I’m not sure when or if I’ll finish this, because I do not know that I will find the right words.

I have known Tom for more than half of my life and the experiences that we’ve shared run the gamut from weddings to funerals, from horseback riding in Half Moon Bay to touring the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne. Music, food, New Year’s eves, New Year’s days, birthday parties,  bachelorettes—he was the masked, silent bartender at a bachelorette weekend on Fire Island in the summer of 2001. When I first moved back from San Francisco we went to brunch. Ten hours later we were watching exotic dancers, he in a fake mustache and me in cat ears. It was never boring, it was never mundane, there was an element of adventure to our every encounter. A flair for if not breaking the rules, then seeing how far we could bend them. There was laughter, so much laughter, and there were tears.

Today is Thanksgiving. I am grateful for many things, for many people. I am grateful for the fact that I can start to put into words some of the many lessons that I learned from Tom. Among them, to make every day matter. Tom had bad days, but I don’t think he ever had insignificant ones. He surrounded himself with amazing friends of all stripes and among the many beautiful things about him, he saw each and every one of us. He had a unique relationship with each and every one of us, a trove of shared memories and experiences and in-jokes. He made every one of us feel, on some level, invincible. He believed in us, sometimes more than we believe in ourselves.

He died surrounded by love and surrounding us with love, and I take comfort in that.

Grief is a strange and mercurial beast. Those stages don’t show up in the order you expect them to. I have had a ton of love and support in the past almost-three weeks as I’ve begun the daunting task of navigating my own, and of trying to be strong for the many, many people in my life who are grieving too. Tom had the ability to create memories with his friends of five decades and with people he met once. The second to last time I was visiting with him we sat down at a bar to have lunch. He got up to take a call and the bartender asked me who my friend was and whether he was an artist. I said yes—he said, “He looks like someone who creates really cool things.”

Indeed, he was.

To be continued. My love to you all.

 

In the secret space of dreams

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Yesterday’s beach plans were thwarted as we neglected to check the horsefly index. They had commandeered our stretch of sand and were relentless, so we spent the day inside and reemerged before sundown to hear live music and watch the changing view above.

Went to bed early and woke in the inky darkness. It was windy and the doors were creaking (it’s just the house settling, Jan) and the place felt heavy with spirit. I lay awake for hours in my fear-of-darkness.

Just as I wrote those words, “The Sound of Silence” came on:

 

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping.

 

Exactly, fellas.

I fell back asleep as it started to get light again, and then the birds outside our windows began cawing.

This all seemed a great big, universal reminder that we are the new kids on this planet. The horseflies, the birds, the sharks, they were all here first. And we’ve come along and, in a very short time—because we are, by and large, quite intelligent—invented things that make our lives easier and theirs more confusing.

I’ve seen one firefly this summer.

All creatures great and small. Remember that series? I read a bunch of those books when I was young.

I lost the thread of what I was going to write about. There was one.

I’ve been keeping morning pages again, since August 12, and I’m reminded of what a valuable exercise this is. I highly recommend it—it’s a great way to clear the night and kick off the day. You do not have to be an experienced writer to benefit; you just have to have pen, paper and a mind.

One thing they’ve helped me do this time around is remember my dreams. If you’re one of the myriad people who find other peoples’ dreams boring, skip to the last paragraph.

I go through phases with dreams, thematically. For many years I had the recurring one where I’m giving someone a tour of my house and at the last moment discover, or remember, a hidden room that is much larger and more opulent then the rest. A room that is under-utilized.

There was a dream bar I frequented, located in an amalgam of the East Village, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Paris. It had two rooms and live music.

For a fairly long stretch my dreams involved global travel, the kind where I could walk from London to Indonesia to Cameroon and back.

And lately they’ve involved time travel. Never future, always past, and often I am self-conscious about the access I have to technology. Last night I followed a friend into a nightclub in 1978, and it was large and dimly lit and I lost track of her. I realized I had no way to get in touch with her because cell phones wouldn’t work in that space or year.

I think I just found the thread—the technology conundrum. The fact that the animals were here first (most of them). The experience, last night, of being in this beautiful outdoor space with beautiful live music, surrounded by people texting and Instagram-ing and Checking In.

Yes, yes, I recognize that I am pointing these things out via WordPress and The Facebook and on my laptop computer. I’m not judging; technology is important. I’m just advocating for a little more analog in this digital world we’ve so deftly created.

Write something by hand. Watch the band with your eyes and ears. Have three-dimensional relationships and experiences. These, my friends, are the most important things.

 

Here by the sea and sand, nothing ever goes as planned

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Beautiful lyrics, not entirely true. There are some things you can count on. The ocean will amaze you. The sand will be soft and cool enough that you won’t think about it beyond its inconvenience when you’re washing off. Despite your great efforts—even better than last year’s—you will inevitably miss a spot with your SPF 9000*, and that spot will worry you for several days. It’s the end of August and the seagulls will be behemoths who hover overhead in order to steal your first-born and your snacks. You will marvel at the ocean, and you’ll fear its power and its contents, and you’ll wish the latter were not true. You’ll stand in its shallow surf and see things that are not there, fins of things you don’t understand who can do to you things you don’t want to think about. You’ll watch your darling companion, your fearless prince, go out deep into the waters and you’ll tell yourself he knows what he’s doing. A wave will hit, he’ll disappear from sight, and you’ll realize that he’s gone forever. You’ll wonder how you’ll get the car home in your grief and with your fear of driving. He’ll re-emerge and you’ll pretend you’d never thought those things. You’ll look for sea glass and not find it, you’ll find sea glass when you’re not looking.

You’ll wonder why you ever spend time anywhere but here.

I am in Montauk, one of the places in my heart. Tonight we looked at the night sky, saw constellations, planets, planes, satellites—satellites move in slower, calmer, eerier trajectories than most things in the night—and in the stars I saw my Louie’s face. So clearly. And probably, it was not him. And maybe it was.

I prefer to believe in the possibility of magic. I prefer not to assume that this is all we have.

Happy end of summer, my friends. I am sentimental and optimistic and exactly where I need to be. I wish for you the same.

*PSA – wear sunscreen, and get yourself checked, every year or more, for a skin cancer screening.

And you who had the honor of her evening …

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I’ve been thinking about this post all day and I’ve been wondering whether or not I’d write it. The title here is from Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving,” a song that, like so many others, breaks my heart in the most beautifully devastating way.

Kate Spade. I think many of the women I know who are my age-ish have at one point been familiar with her wares. I knew very little about her; I was gifted one of her handbags in the early-to-mid 90s and I wore it proudly, always aware that I was handbagging out of my league.

She killed herself this morning. And of course the social media-verse is full of “WHY?!?”s … and that is a valid question. The answer, I’m certain, is fairly complex. When we try to distill the why’s of suicide into explanation we fall short of the bigger picture which, more often than not, is my old friend and foe depression. Family things may well have been happening, business things may well have been challenging, but what drives someone to take one’s own life is rarely quite so tangible. “But she had …!” and “But she was …!” don’t apply. I am not diagnosing her, I do not know that she was clinically depressed, but I do know that some variation on depression plays into many suicides.

And I also know that depression does not care whether you are young or smart or famous or rich or beautiful or powerful or none of the above. Depression, like cancer, chooses its path quite democratically, and while there are things one can do to stave off both, there are no guarantees.

I know what it’s like to feel alone while surrounded by people, to feel stuck despite options, to feel empty when the judgmental voice inside tells you you shouldn’t. And I know the value of facing these possibly tamable demons and coming out on the other side.

If you are reading these words and you feel empty, alone, despondent, suicidal, please know that there are resources available to you. If you need to, reach out to me. Ours is a very challenging existence. As one of B’s photos from Love City says, “Don’t jump. Somebody, somewhere, is waiting to love you.”

Very few things are insurmountable. If I can help you to realize this, I will.

Until we meet again

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I write this post with a heavy heart. My aunt Debby died on Thursday, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

I’ve known Debby—I called her Tanta—for about twenty years. She and my uncle Charles married in their 60s. We grew close and used to have lunch together on a somewhat regular basis. Gramercy Tavern, the Yale Club, and Sushi Yasuda were our mainstays.

Debby brought to our world a profound sense of the importance of family. Family came first for her in a way that, devoted as I am to my own, I hadn’t really experienced before. She broadened our definition of the word. To Debby, family included everyone in her close circle, blood relative or not, regardless of whether one’s official title had “step-” or “half,” “in-law” or “twice removed” in it.

When you’d talk to her she’d go through the list—asking how you were, and how your partner was, then your dog, and our mutual friends. Anyone you introduced to Debby became a mutual friend. That’s how she operated.

She asked about everyone not to make small talk, but because she genuinely cared.

She was warm and thoughtful, funny and kind, and one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. So devoted was she to my uncle Charles that she, a lifelong Yankees fan, switched to the Mets; in earlier days they’d go to Port Saint Lucie to watch spring training. She was an interior decorator for many years, worked on some of the high-end lounges that were part of NYC nightlife in the ’80s. She loved good food and nice things, her manicure was flawless until the end. She loved lions. She loved having people to her house for the Jewish holidays. And most of all, she loved the people in her life and always had the capacity to welcome more.

As you may know, I believe in some form of an after life. I understand how one might not, but I’ve had experiences too otherwise inexplicable for me not to believe. And that brings me comfort. That helps me through times like these, and I’ve had a fair amount of them.

I will miss you, Tanta. Until we meet again.

You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

I know this to be true because of the incredible number of people I’ve connected with in the aftermath of the recent election. I have not been to this page in quite a while—nor, I’m afraid, have I devoted as much time to my novel as I’d intended to—and that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the group I started, Action and Empathy. I don’t think the link will work if you’re not on Facebook, and for this reason and many more we are building an external site that will hopefully accomplish the same goals as the existing page.

I started the page a few days after the election because I, and most of the people in my life, were angry, disappointed, worried, depressed—all the stages of sudden grief in no particular order—and I wanted to create a space that was about action, not just ranting. There was plenty of ranting going on on Social Media, traditional media, and in person. I wanted a space where we could take action against perceived injustices and conflicts of interest and all the rest AND where we could express our empathy by actively supporting the groups that will need it most under this impending administration: women, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, the LGBTQ community, tax-paying New Yorkers, people on Medicare, the press, and on and on and on.

And I’m thrilled that the small part I am taking in all of this is having any impact at all. What began as a group of about 7 of us has grown to over 900 members, most of whom I don’t know. I’ve gotten letters of appreciation from people I’ve never met and that is enormously validating.

I have been complacent for most of my life, and this time around I had no choice but to change that. In a strange way I feel as though I am finally finding my purpose in life. I know my strengths and talents, but purpose is an entirely different thing. My other purpose, at present, is to finish my novel, and that I will do. Creating this network has taken priority.

This will be a long road and will begin in earnest after January 20. And while it’s been argued that these forms of silent and vocal protests won’t change things, in fact they will. They will prove to the world that not all Americans accept what this administration intends for this country. This will get many of us involved on the smallest, most local levels such that we can change the course of things from the bottom up. We will all pay a lot of attention to the 2018 elections. And we will support one another, we will do everything  we can to maintain the things that make this country beautiful, and those include its ethnic , religious, and cultural diversity. Those include freedoms that are now being directly threatened.

I’ve been accused of co-opting other people’s causes. I am not doing this. I am simply doing my best to do my part, and I mean it when I say that I am learning on the spot. I will make mistakes and I will seek the knowledge of others, as I’ve been doing all along.

Today is Christmas and I am with family and loved ones in Paris. Despite all that this city and country have been through in recent years and despite its current political strife, Paris still offers me the timeless beauty and romance that claimed me the first time I visited.

The Seine still flows, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles at night, the gryphons and gargoyles still guard Notre Dame. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes that I associate with this city remain, and this is very comforting.

Peace on earth is a tall order these days. So instead I will strive for as much inner-peace as I can, and though there will be slip-ups along the way, I will remain on an upward swing. I wish the same for all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate and, whatever ideals you most value.

On the topic of tranquility, which is one of my favorite words, the British philosopher James Allen said,

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.

Whatever calmness of mind means for you, I urge you to practice it in the coming year. My goal for the new year is to become stronger and wiser.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, none of the above, all of the above, I wish you peace and joy.

Until soon, my friends.

Here by the sea and sand

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This photo was taken at the Montauket during what would become the most brilliant sunset I’ve seen in quite some time. I have a feeling this couple wound up in many photos from that day. They were summer’s end personified,  and were it not for his unfortunate man-bun, they could have been of another era. Timeless.

We spent the week in Montauk, a perfect way to celebrate summer—the ocean and shooting stars. So many stars—Montauk is aptly nicknamed the end of the world and when you’re out there, looking up at the night skies and listening to the symphony of crickets and tree frogs and things that go chirp in the night, it feels like the most remote spot on the planet.

Then you drive past the Surf Lodge and realize it isn’t.

I did a lot of reading and a decent amount of writing while there—fell short of my writing goals but made progress, and more than that, I was inspired. I seem to have written myself into a corner in terms of the relative ease with which I write anywhere but home. My writing retreats to New Orleans, my time in the Berkshires earlier this year, Montauk … one of the speakers at the conference last month advised that we “not be too precious about our writing environment” — and that is good advice. It’s important to have sacred writing space, but it’s equally important to get words on paper when and where inspiration strikes.

To that end, I scrawled some notes on a piece of paper one evening while enjoying an exquisite sunset and a decent cocktail. I had just read The Alchemist on the recommendation of a very young man who, much to my delight, reads books. The kind with pages. I understand why this book is not to everyone’s liking, but I enjoyed it—and it’s a story, an allegory, about finding one’s true purpose in life and pursuing it, while remaining open to change. About trusting the process. So this is what I scrawled:

If we can remind ourselves how vast and unknowable the universe is, we can better enjoy the ride. We can weather misfortune, even the greatest of all, the death of those we love, because it is all part of the process of being alive. We are all on a pilgrimage toward the same place, and that is really the only fact about living that there is. Complaining, lamenting, manifesting conflict, all become futile, then. Let it wash over you and know that there is not a single experience from which we can’t somehow become richer and wiser.

I was reminded of someone I met shortly after college, when I was having a tough time and was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being human. This was long before we were bombarded with messages about “living in the moment” and “being present”. I met a friend of a friend at a party, a guy who happened to be deaf. I don’t remember much about the conversation, though I imagine I was dwelling on the malaise of “the real world” and the days I’d wasted, and he said, “No day is wasted. If I have a good conversation with someone, or see something beautiful, the day was not wasted.”

I try to maintain that outlook and I often succeed, but I do need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Autumn is a good time to be productive. I have another draft to revise by the time I go to my next writer’s conference in October. And then, soon, I’ll be calling on those of you who’ve offered to be beta readers.

Happy end-of-summer, friends.