Where the hot springs flow

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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.

You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly

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Yesterday was the funeral for someone who was once a very dear friend, a brilliant, artistic, successful, strong willed, exotic beauty who was a good friend in high school and then again for a few years in the early – mid 2000s. Unfortunately we had a falling out in 2006; we were both going through transitions in our personal lives and we met up for dinner on a night when we were in entirely different head spaces and there were drinks involved and it spiraled out of control and that’s the last time I saw her.

A few years later we exchanged a brief email; I apologized for my part in things and we agreed to, as they say, let bygones be bygones. I reached out to her this past spring when I was getting ready to host a gathering in honor of the people who’d come to town for my high school reunion; I wanted to let her know that she was absolutely welcome in my home if she had any desire to attend. I didn’t know  then  – in fact, none of us did – that she was sick. A few weeks ago – September 5, actually – I had what I guess was a prescient dream about her. I don’t recall the details, just that it was troubling. I sent her this: “You were in my dream last night. I hope you’re doing well.” I didn’t expect a response, but I certainly didn’t expect that she would be no longer with us less than two weeks later.

This is a very weird grief – at first it was just bewildering, then I felt an uncomfortable detachment that I rarely associate with death – I guess it was due to the fact that so many others are mourning more viscerally. Now that’s gone – Saturday it turned into heartbreak, sadness, confusion, and regret for the way things ended between us. I chose not to go to the services yesterday, not because of any ill will whatsoever; these sorts of things evaporate immediately in the face of death. I chose not to go because I felt that I need to mourn this one in a private way. And I’ve begun doing so. I’ve prayed, I’ve asked for forgiveness (and I know I’ve gotten it), I’ve wept and I’ve done my best to keep to myself on this. I tried to talk to my mum a bit about it but she doesn’t, as we know, like to hear about these things, so I keep it in and talk to myself and the universe and to my departed friend. I had second thoughts about not attending yesterday but I feel in my heart it was the right thing for me to do, to mourn her in private and let those who were more actively connected to her spend time together. I’ve been through these things enough that I know there are no rules as to how or where or when one grieves. It is such an intensely personal thing; I remember when a friend died some years ago and another friend made the active decision to not attend the services. This was confusing but she told me that the services are really hard for her for reasons that have nothing to do with our friend – and that she chose to honor him in her own way. I absolutely get it now.

And so I will choose to do the same with our beautiful Khakasa, who is now in the stars. She was always a star, and she always will be.

Gone from my Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

 Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

 Gone where?

 Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

-Henry Van Dyke

Baby, baby, been a long, long time …

ImageL’shana tova … happy new year … 5773 flew by!

I love new years – and I celebrate as many of them as I can. I think I’ve said this before, but the fact that my birthday coincides with western New Year gives me a double dose of feeling the urgent need to right all my wrongs, to make great strides, to mend my life … this is why I’ve stopped making resolutions and instead make goals. And if I fail to meet them in January … Chinese New Year is just around the corner. And if that doesn’t work … it’s almost spring! Then the summer solstice … and my half birthday … and now it’s Rosh Hashanah. And soon comes autumn, traditionally my most auspicious time of year. Another chance to reinvent myself, to change my wicked ways.

Actually, I have changed the vast majority of my wicked ways, and that is something that I am very proud of, determined as I am to not end this sentence with a preposition. This is part of what was difficult about the rumours and misinterpretations that were flying around earlier this summer; they were based on behavior and habits from my past that I have worked very hard to conquer, and I have succeeded. I still have ways to go, but I’m a thousand miles ahead of where I once was. Now I feel that my new year’s goals are less about removing toxicity and bad decisions and more about adding nourishment and richness to my life. Spending time with people who value me and being present in those times. Not accepting every invitation that comes my way for fear of missing out. Living each day not as if it’s my last but as if it’s capable of having a positive impact on my life … writing, reading, cooking, exercising, working, playing, loving … and keeping my promises, which means not making promises I might not be able to keep. Including to myself.

Remind me to write about my recurring dream. I keep forgetting to do that.

Just found this quote by the great sculptor Henry Moore:

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.

Dig it.

Une part de bonheur dont je connais la cause

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The world lost a bright star today. Lily is a close family friend whom I have known my entire life. She’s a beauty queen from France who met and fell in love with my father’s best friend, Charlie. Or The Judge, as my dad refers to him almost exclusively. He calls my dad Delty; they met in the army and would have lost touch had the judge not traveled to Japan on holiday, where my father was stationed greeting the troops.

Our families are family. We’ve spent holidays together and have attended their three children’s weddings. The Judge officiated at my sister’s. Some years ago we celebrated my dad’s birthday by taking a trip by riverboat through French wine country, The Judge and Lily were integral parts of this event.

Lily was beautiful; I don’t picture her much older than she was when that photo was taken, though it was taken several decades ago. The last time I saw her, which was during the holidays, she and I sang La Vie En Rose, as was our tradition. Once we performed it, usually we just amused ourselves.

I don’t think this has really sunken in, but I know that my feelings are of warmth and love. I’m not going to fall apart. I’m going to be here for her family and for my parents. And I’m going to know that the skies are brighter for her presence.

Jusqu’a la prochaine fois, mon coeur. Je vous aime.

Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday

ImageTraditions are good. Last night we sailed NY Harbor for E’s birthday, something we’ve been doing for … five years? Six? I haven’t updated that number, but it’s a lovely event whose guest list morphs with each passing year. I am honored to always be included and was especially honored to be given the opportunity to blow the captain’s conch this year.

No, that was actually weird.

In addition to not being able to ski or ride a bicycle, I don’t know how to whistle. I’m not sure that skill would have helped with the conch blowing, but I imagine it couldn’t have hurt.

Two days ago I had a meeting with a writer whose screenplay I’d read and critiqued. It was a little terrifying at first – I’d not met this man, though I know his husband for many years. The writer would be a hell of a poker player – as I went through my notes he watched me, almost expressionless, and his resting face is not one of joy. Because I doubt myself WAY more than I should, what ran through my mind was the notion that I’d completely misread his work and that he couldn’t believe he was having to listen to this blithering idiot who claims to be an editor missing the point entirely.

Not the case. He walked me out, thanked me profusely, and wrote a lovely follow up note about how helpful my ideas are and how excited he is to work on the next draft.

I suffer from the self-doubt my father has described as, “Every day I wake up and think, today’s the day they’re going to catch onto me.” I know that I’m a good editor, and that sometimes writers don’t like to be edited. I know that I’m a decent writer when I understand the assignment. But as B and I have discussed, we write because it feels like the only thing we can do, and we fear that every decent sentence we string together will be our last. That’s another reason this blahhhg has been good for me – I can string together shoddy sentences and I’ve no choice but to try again.

When I feel I’ve done something wrong, I have a hard time accepting forgiveness. This happened this week in a way that brought me back to big-long relationship with musician (not the wandering minstrel); I was told repeatedly in several ways that I was “ruining [his] career”, by not being involved, by being too involved, by making introductions and suggestions, by not making them … ultimately, it’s hard to ruin another person’s anything, I think. But having grown up (and you know how much I love my family, but I was not an easy little one – way too emotional) being reminded that I “ruined” every meal, conversation, vacation, celebration … it’s taken me a while to completely eradicate that mindset. And so I take criticism to heart in a way that is not at all productive. What I need to do instead is to get back on that bike I don’t know how to ride and carry on, because regardless of how I’m perceived, my intentions are almost always good. Some months ago I was the “victim” of rumours that are simply not true, and I flipped out. Not how everyone would handle it, but I can’t change the past. I’m filled with paralyzing regret about this incident, and I need to move forward. I’ve thought about apologizing to everyone involved; however, not everyone involved cares enough about me to see my apology for what it is, and so it would likely fall on deaf ears.

Need to keep moving forward – now and forward are all we’ve got.

Thanks for a lovely evening, Erika! Happy birthday and many more to one of the best friends a gal could have.

Dream a dream with you

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This was a lovely weekend that began with music and included a trip to the ocean, a movie, and the requisite tears and laughter. Friday night we went to the pier in Hoboken  to see Wilco and Bob Dylan; there was an opening act followed by the cloyingly named My Morning Jacket, who are good musicians with unmemorable music — to me, that is. Apparently there are many people who disagree, as scores of fans were singing along. To each her own, says I. It took me a while to wrap my head around Wilco, despite the fact that I’d seen them play several times — I’m a good friend — but now I absolutely get it. They’re fantastic performers. (I’m such a good friend that, loathe as I am to admit this, I took a dear friend to see Dave Matthews many years ago as that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I’m sorry.) And Bob Dylan was excellent – clear-voiced and strong and we were close enough that we could see his blue eyes.

A few days before this show, a person I know who is undeservedly arrogant took great pleasure in telling my friend how much Dylan was “going to suck” and that he had it on good authority that the man is a hopeless junkie. This took place in the same room where I had the following conversation with a former friend a few years ago:

FF: What are you guys up to?

Me: We just had an amazing night – we saw Paul McCartney at the Apollo!

FF: I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

Be that as it may, you pseudo-arrogant twit, what is it in your DNA that makes you derive pleasure from shooting down other peoples’ excitement? Or from trying to break their spirits? Can you – any of you – imagine saying to someone, “You’re going to Cancun? It’s going to suck.” “You’re dining at Babbo? That place blows.” “You got into med school? I’d rather skewer kittens on knitting needles!” It’s the opposite of schadenfreude, which, as we know, is the phenomenon of deriving pleasure from the misery of others. This is about deriving misery from the pleasure of others. Baffling.

Less baffling but quite irksome: people who spend the duration of a live musical event – or any event, for that matter – watching it through the screen of their SmartPhone. The uploaded concert is never as good as the event itself. Nor is the photo of the sunset. I take photos – I have some beautiful ones of the sunset in Montauk – but I do so pretty sparingly so that I can be in that elusive moment to the best of my ability. This Friday is the annual birthday sail for my friend E. One of the guests who usually attends (but isn’t this year, I’ve just learned) tends to spend the two-and-a-half hours of the trip photographing, tagging, and uploading. There’s a  feeling of  “if you can’t prove it it never happened” to this behavior. I love photos – I miss film, I love my digital camera. But unless one does something with them, makes a thing of beauty out of the evidence, capturing seems a poor substitute for experiencing.

Why am I so ranty today? I’m actually in a good mood.

Another thing. I really wish people wouldn’t walk their dogs off-leash in this town. The proliferation of off-leashers and the advent of the Citibike is an ominous combination.

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I know that for some of us, this moment is less than ideal. I know about the singularity of heartbreak and the feeling that it might never get better. I know about walking out on the street feeling entirely vulnerable and about never knowing when the tears might sneak up and fall without your being able to do anything but stand helplessly by. I know about the only solution being the problem itself, about pleading with the gods that the other person just open his or her eyes and see what seems so very obvious, and about waking each day with the sinking feeling that we’re right back where we started from. And, dear L, I know about walking headfirst into a situation that we absolutely know just can’t yet (yet!) be what we want it to be, and that has caused us pain and sadness, but that holds some sort of power we feel incapable of resisting. And I know how fruitless it is when people warn us not to do what we’re going to do anyway and worse, when they judge us and get mad at us and give up on us. I will never give up on you, sweet girl – on any of you, for that matter. I can’t fix it, but I can promise you with everything I have that you are not alone. And that, if you allow yourselves to have the faith that’s been challenged so many, many times, it will get better. In the meantime, know that I am here and that I want to be the best I can be and I want you to do the same.

Love yourselves.

Every moment of the year …

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Happy Bastille Day, mesdames et messieurs. In honor of the holiday I am sipping a glass of Austrian wine having just seen an extremely American movie much of which was shot, I’ve just read, in Wales. I do, however, love Paris when it drizzles and sizzles and everything in between, and I hope to visit much more of the country than I have thus far. Paris can be unfriendly and prohibitively expensive, but like most places, with a little bit of research one can experience the magic without facing these two sobering realities.

A friend who reads these words was not aware that the vast majority of my post titles are song lyrics, so just to clarify, the vast majority of my post titles are song lyrics. Not all, but most.

Today was a good Sunday. Healthy and productive and New Yorkish and fun. Reveling in the here and now.

I’ve reconnected with someone I don’t believe I’ve seen since we were in fourth grade and it’s been lovely (a word I overuse but use only when applicable). She is a successful writer and gave me feedback on my own writing that is inspiring me to get back into my novel-in-progress. I will. I will. We each have a specific memory of our time in fourth grade – actually, I’ve just realized that I have two of her – the second, C, being your birthday party, where we played Pin the Tail on the (non-battery-operated or digital or politically correct) Donkey. I can picture the wall where said donkey awaited our blindfolded attacks. I pinned the tail (with scotch tape) onto your brother’s gray sweatshirt. I’m almost certain it was gray. Funny what we recall.

Watching the Tour de France so I guess I am walking the walk on this holiday. Have a wonderful week, tout le monde. I’ll be in touch.

Tomorrow may rain

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…so I’ll follow the sun.

The summer of 1994 was the first one I spent living full time in Manhattan … and I hated it. I had been unceremoniously dumped by a boy I’d fallen in love with on first sight – on a train from DC to New York. We’d started talking as the train pulled into Penn Station and met later that night at a restaurant in Soho – Boom – I think it might actually still be there. We “dated” long distance for several months and had just come back from a vacation in Sedona, where his mother lived. She owned a bead shop and had befriended a group of Hopi Indians, with whom we spent part of the week. Sedona was beautiful; this relationship was not. And it ended shortly after we returned to the east coast. That summer I had a share in the Hamptons with two of my then equally miserable girlfriends and a group of people with whom we had very little in common. I lived on East 86th Street with a roommate and worked in ad sales for a now defunct women’s magazine. Suffice it to say, I had not yet found myself, and I was miserable. 

Nineteen years later, humidity notwithstanding, I love this town in the summer. Restaurant reservations are easy to come by. Warm weather makes me happy. Ish. Montauk is still pristine in parts and as I make my own hours I can escape the city during the week when the beaches are less crowded. In theory I can – I haven’t been there or to Fire Island in a couple of years, but maybe I’ll change that this year. The beach where I spent much of last summer did not fare well in the hurricane, so I’ll need to find a new one. I love the ocean, though it overwhelms and terrifies me; seeing the movie “Open Water” did nothing to assuage my fears. Neither did attempting to learn to swim in the Pacific last year. 

My nephew and niece have both asked me, separately, “Titi, why do you always look like you’re about to laugh and cry at the same time?” (Titi is short for Tia, which is Spanish for aunt; my Italian-Russian-Chinese-German nephew and niece speak Spanish.) I do often look like I’m about to laugh and cry at the same time, which can cause confusion. I need a more relaxed resting face — I’m expressive, I suppose. There’ve been a couple of instances when women have walked into public restrooms while I’m washing my hands and said things like, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!” Once, while watching a friend play music in a bar, I turned around to see what was going on behind me and a frat boy type kicked my chair and said, “What was that look for?!” to which I protested, “It’s just my face!”

I’d be a terrible poker player. 

Lately people have been lamenting that this year is “flying by”. I don’t like thinking this way, because time moves at the same pace it always has, and the alternative to accepting this is much less appealing. My birthday comes at the very end of the year, and so I’ve had to stop putting so much stock in New Year’s/birthday resolutions. My family has always acknowledged Chinese New Year, which buys me at least another month. 

This time around my year began on April 1, which is when my mom and I took our trip to Budapest and Paris. April 1 was when I began to extricate myself from my most recent and least healthy relationship. I haven’t seen or spoken with that gentleman since then, and this is an absolute blessing (thanks again, sweet friend, for helping me through that; I would have made it through regardless, but you were so incredibly helpful and comforting through it all and for this, and more, I will always, always appreciate you). I am so much better now than I was on March 31. Despite however emotionally chaotic I might look and seem at times, the serenity I now feel is like nothing I’ve experienced before. A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since my birthday, and he commented later that I seem completely different now, calmer and stronger. And that my eyes sparkle again. And yesterday at the office someone commented on my “positive aura” – not sure what that means exactly, but I like the sound of it. 

I’m figuring out, finally, how to stay in the moment. This has never been easy for me; like so many of us, I get caught up in regretting the past and worrying about the future. But now is all we have, and as Vanessa and I discussed, the better able we are to appreciate the present, the better equipped we’ll be when the present is difficult. Right now things are good. So I’m raising my (not proverbial) glass to NOW. 

Cheers.

Send me photographs and souvenirs

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A very happy birthday to a dear man (yep, it’s official) who has been an integral part of my life over the past several months … though we’ve known each other for three years. Thank you, my friend, for being here for me when I’ve needed you most, and for weathering the storms with me. In this short time you’ve taught me a surprising amount about the world and about myself. I wish you nothing but joy and abundance as you enter this next phase of your life. Поздравляю on all of your successes, past, present, and future. 

Alors. 

I so appreciate everyone’s kind words yesterday about the pup. Hug your dogs extra tight. 

I had a whole post planned for today but, as is the nature of writing without a map, my mind is leading me in a different direction. This weekend I will be in the home where the photo of Archie, below, was taken. This will begin the process of closure; he was such a part of that house.

At the risk of alienating the scientific minds and non dog-owners among you, I feel that my Louie senses what’s happened; he certainly will when we get there. 

I profoundly believe in an after life, in the immortality of spirit and its connectedness to the living. I have had too many convincing experiences to argue otherwise. My sister calls it “the vapors” – my perceived ability to sense the departed. I’ve walked into places for the first time and, without any prior knowledge, I’ve felt the presence of someone who’d recently died — in inquiring I’ve learned that this was the case. That was an awkward sentence; resisting the urge to self-edit, which is exceptionally difficult for me. I think that if we’re open to signs, we see them. I’ve been told by psychics and mediums that I have extra sensory perceptions, which I could channel if I applied myself. Sometimes I want to, and sometimes I absolutely don’t. 

There is an arrogance – no, a myopia – to believing that only that which we experience with our five tangible senses is real. I appreciate the fact that not everyone feels this way, but I am fascinated by such topics. “They” say that animals and children, i.e. beings who are open and not laden with incredulity, are able to perceive spirits. My Louie came into my life in August 2002, two months after I lost my dear friend, Laura. The last time I saw her we spent the day together, and I took a photo of her in an archway of my old apartment. For many years after her death, my thoughts of her were omnipresent; I still think about her very frequently, but as those who’ve experienced loss know, the sharp pain does eventually give way to a kind of acceptance, and tranquility and warm memories overshadow grief. I was thinking about her very strongly one day when Louie was quite young, and he suddenly sat up, startled, stared at the spot where I’d last seen Laura, and did that perplexed head-tilt that dogs do. For the next minute he’d look to me, back to the spot, back to me again, perhaps wondering why I wasn’t acknowledging the person standing there. Or perhaps he could tell she was on a different plane. Or perhaps a fly flew by and this is all in my head. I don’t think that’s the case, in part because I don’t want it to be. The notion of eternity comforts me greatly. I was raised without religion and so I’ve been allowed to draw my own conclusions about such matters. 

After I spoke with my mom the other morning, I told Louie what happened – yes, I talk to my dog as though he understands me, because that’s what one does. For the past two nights he’s climbed his little staircase up to my bed and slept next to me – something he hasn’t really been able to do since his knee surgery last summer. (My dog has a titanium knee).

Maybe Archie visited him and let him know that he was happy and frolicking (with Duffie, Lovable, and Clovis) and that there is something to look forward to that’s far more blissful than we can fathom. Maybe Lou sensed what happened before we knew about it. Maybe he understood what I said and wants to comfort me. Or maybe he simply figured out how to navigate the stairs again and this is all in my head. 

I don’t think that’s the case. 

I love you guys – you know who you are – and I have deep gratitude for all who read my words.