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. 

The falling leaves drift by my window

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I’m not at all sure how I feel about these posts being broadcast through Facebook as soon as I finish them, but I’m going to give it a little more time. I’m suddenly aware of everyone I might ever have alluded to in this forum in the days that it was word-of-mouth only. I think my record’s pretty clean in that regard, but I suppose time – and people with a lot of time on their hands who read back through these pages – will tell.

I had terrible horrible dreams last night – the kind that made me not want to get out of bed this morning for fear that my dreamlife was reality. Thankfully, this time, it wasn’t.

Tomorrow is October. This is one of my favorite months – one of my 12 favorite. I had this conversation with someone recently, how I’ve never really had FAVORITE anythings. Colors, food, people, music, movies, vacation destinations – I have at least five of each, I think. This might stem from childhood, when Sister and I would feel sorry for whatever inanimate object we didn’t choose if we had to choose something. Exhausting though it may be, it’s made me easier to please than some. And it’s added to my non-competitive streak, which is a good thing much of the time but which also has probably made me more complacent about getting ahead than I might otherwise be. That said, I’ve just finished reading an excellent novel, Fort Starlight, written by Claudia Zuluaga, who was my friend in fourth grade and who I hadn’t seen since, until the magic of the internets reunited us. This book embodies everything I love about fiction – complex, quirky characters, magical realism, a beautifully imperfect resolution, and a little bit of ghostliness. I highly recommend it and am thrilled that it’s given me inspiration to actually delve back into my novel-in-progress, which is in desperate need of a new title. So, thanks Claudia, and I hope that everyone who reads these words will check out your beautiful work.

I am working on my many-th draft of a very short story I began over the summer. I’ve sent a version of it to a couple of friends whose opinions I greatly value, and one of them had this to say:

Oh, fuck.  This is so cool.  I love it.  It’s so quirky, with just enough detail to stop you from making some sort of metaphorical assumption … and full of the longing and acceptance of past and cherished love, and the reverence we attach to those transitional landmarks of our lives.
 
Well done!  
 
What a nice treat it was to get lost in this world, having lunch in my truck as the mud dries on my boots!  Thank you.

Like the compliments I’ve gotten on this blahhhhhgggg, this one is motivation enough to keep writing. I’ve also gotten excellent constructive criticism from a few of my volunteer readers; this is so necessary for any writer, and I credit this thing (blahg) with encouraging me to share more of my work than I usually do. This thing and my wonderful writing group.

The song “Autumn Leaves” brings back a visceral memory of dancing with my friend Babette in her kitchen in San Francisco, singing Edith Piaf and waiting for dinner to be ready.

Getting out of the city, as I did this past weekend, is an excellent way to view the changing seasons. One might just as easily ignore them in the confines of this town – especially during an Indian Summer like this one.

Time to answer emails and schedule Important Things for this week. Happy autumn, all.

We can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight

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Some things have happened around me lately that serve as poignant reminders that we never know what others might be going through, that we can never assume others have it all together and think as highly of themselves as we perceive them to be. That good fortune is not so much about material comfort as it is about internal strength, and that success means something entirely different to every single one of us. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own heads that we believe our beliefs before they’re fully formed. We convince ourselves that this one’s a this-person and that one’s a that-person and he/she/it has more this/that/the-other-thing than we do and therefore they’re winning or at least they have a higher score than we do. Someone said to me, someone who reads this, “I didn’t know that people like you get depressed”. Someone said to me today, “If I can’t feel good, at least I can look good.” We assume all sorts of things about others based on who we think they are and in so doing, we lose the opportunity to see them as they want to be seen. Pain knows no boundaries, doesn’t care about physical traits or higher education or income bracket, upbringing, race, creed, religion, doesn’t care how popular you are or how clear your skin is or how easily working out is for you. It doesn’t care that so many people love you and you have so much to offer or you’re funny or honest or hardworking or talented. It finds the cracks and it seeps through and if we’re not prepared, inured to its power to wreak havoc on life, we can very easily give in to it.

Be kind to each other. Know that we all have something we wish were different. We’ve all had our hearts smashed and our spirits broken and our dreams ridiculed. We’re all in this together. Love as much as your heart will let you, whatever that means for you. Love, in all its many forms, is actually all that there is.

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.

The band in heaven, they play my favorite song

ImageI’m learning that there is little that can be done when someone is hellbent on convincing you that they are inherently flawed, and therefore bad. Of course they are flawed – we all are – but bad is another story entirely. If someone we love turns on us, rejects us, this does not mean we are bad. This means we were not meant to be with that person, and tough a pill though that may be to swallow, it is a far cry from being a Bad Person. And really, you know this. It’s a cry for help, an excuse to spin your wheels, a reason to attach to everything that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed, lied to, used, rejected – I’ve venture to say that everyone reading this has been through these things. We’ve also suffered disappointments on the work front and parents – or children – whom we can’t relate to. None of this makes us bad. This makes us human. However, worth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if you are feeling unworthy, please know that this alone does not make it so. Hard times cause self-doubt, but self-doubt needn’t perpetuate to the degree that it does.

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Today was difficult, so difficult. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead quickly, which means we don’t have a lot of lag time to get used to the idea of someone’s passing before we ritualistically mourn them. It was difficult and beautiful to see so many people honoring Lily, speaking of her love of life and excitement over every new adventure, her utter devotion to her family and to her husband of many decades. Her children spoke. My father spoke. We buried her – quite literally, as is also tradition. It was so … final. I will take from my relationship with Lily the notion that love and life matter more than anything, that family and friends come first, that being generous has little to do with material possession, and that we dance on this planet once in this form, so we might as well turn the volume up loud. Lily was life – even if I didn’t think so before, there is no way now that anyone could convince me that physical death means the end of spirit. She is, still, way too vibrant for this. I’m sad, but I’m so much better for having known her all these years, and so much more comforted by the notion that she’s still around.

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.