Let’s get together and feel alright

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“Wherever you go, there you are.” Somebody said this to me recently while I was talking about an issue I’m having, and how I will address it once x, y, and z are in place. At first I dismissed it as one of those hollow, placeholder clichés, akin to “sounds like a plan” and “at the end of the day.” But then he elaborated and I realized, shit, he’s right.

He went on to say “the one thing all your problems have in common is you.” Right again. Then he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear.” No, he didn’t. That part’s not true. But the rest of it is … I often fantasize about living somewhere other than NYC, because NYC can be a tough place to live on many levels (she says, scrounging through her purse for five dollars so that she can get an iced coffee). It can also be an easy place (she adds, realizing that she can keep writing and order a cup of coffee in*), but there are much calmer, more beautiful, kinder parts of the world. However, for many reasons, it does not make sense for me to live elsewhere right now.

And so I am instead working on what I can do to be more comfortable anywhere, to make “wherever you go, there you are” a positive thing. One of the ways I’ve been working on this is by getting back to my meditation practice.

I was a skeptic for many years, had tried various forms of meditation here and there, and decided it wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t the right kind of person for the job. Then two years ago, thanks to a generous birthday gift from my mum (one that took me seven months to get up the nerve to use), I went through the Transcendental Meditation training program. It was easier than I’d expected, and I felt like I was getting benefit from it, though I wasn’t really sure what that benefit was. I was fairly consistent with meditation for a while, then I forgot a couple of times and then I fell completely off the wagon. Got back on toward the end of last summer, then November 8 happened and the last thing I felt like doing was being alone with my thoughts for 20 minutes, twice a day. Because, unlike other forms of meditation that I’ve tried, in TM you are allowed to acknowledge your thoughts. And my thoughts were dark in those days. They are slightly less so today, a day that many of us woke to very good news (it’s not about celebrating a victory, it’s about being relieved that people we know and people we don’t know will be protected if they get or are sick or pregnant or take medicine or are human). But I digress.

I had a bout of the blues in early June and decided to throw myself back into TM, as well as to work more with essential oils, which are wonderful for mood support—if you want to know more about this, message me. At the same time, a VIP in my life expressed interest in learning TM, and I highly supported this idea. So I started practicing regularly again and this time around I am absolutely aware of the positive impact it is having. It is making me calmer, lighter, better able to focus. It is helping me creatively, as I gear up to begin a new chapter (ha HA!) in my writing life. It is making me more patient, less irritable, less reactionary. I am very grateful that I decided to dive back in. Sometimes we need to take a break from things to recognize their worth. If I could, I would gift this practice to many people in my life who I think would benefit from it. But as I can’t, I will say this: do good things for yourself. Whatever issues you are facing, approach them from as many angles as might be helpful. Realize the strengths in yourself and in your circumstances and build on them. If you are reading this, I can almost guarantee that something you possess is the one thing that someone else on this planet thinks, “If only I had ____, my life would be so much better.” A job, a home, a loving partner, an enriching hobby, willpower, musical talent, perfect skin, physical strength, intuition, a sense of humor, intellect, empathy, wit—if you possess any one of these things, you have a foundation that others aspire to.

Speaking of aspirations, here’s something nutty—I’ve been taking voice lessons for a couple of years, basically because I like to sing and wanted to get better at it, and I’ve kept going because I love my teacher. However, the idea of singing in front of others makes me want to evaporate. I have tremendous stage fright, as well as paralyzing fear of public speaking. My lovely teacher informed me a few days ago that she is having a recital sometime in the fall and that she’d like me to prep for it. Holy smokes. This would involve singing in front of other people. In semi-public. But it’s good to have a tangible goal, and so I will focus my efforts with this in mind. Stay tuned. No pun intended.

*I didn’t order a cup of coffee in.

 

 

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

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Hi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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. 

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.

Love is the drug

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The other day, I felt the blues trying to sneak up on me at a most inconvenient time. I was on my way to see my mom — we went to the ballet — and I am trying my best to minimize her worrying about me. A friend who understands these things all too well (I wish you didn’t, of course, but selfishly, it helps that you do) agreed that I should “fake it” — because sometimes this actually works. I did; I smiled throughout the cab ride uptown in what I hoped was a beatific manner but that was probably closer to maniacal. I held the door for everyone in my path at Lincoln Center. I rolled my eyes and agreed with the line for the Ladies Room that waiting so long is an injustice against our gender. And by the time I saw my mom, I was feeling much better.

Since I’ve been writing about depression I’ve been searching for my own metaphor. It’s something like a fog coming in (and not, as Carl Sandburg said, on little cat feet), but fog is too pure; it’s more like a thick smog. The ability to sense its coming is invaluable. 

Grief is an entirely different animal. When I was little my mother and sister were driving in a rain storm and a massive dead branch fell on their car and shattered their windshield; thank God, they escaped unharmed. That is a good analogy for grief — a wet broken branch that falls with a thud and shatters whatever it lands upon. And grief, again, takes many forms — death of a loved one is the most profound, but the loss of any relationship can be as traumatic, particularly when it takes us by surprise. So, “At least you’ve still got your health. At least no one died” doesn’t apply; every ending is a death of sorts. Folks-who-are-going-through-this, allow yourselves to grieve and don’t let anyone make you feel that you should snap out of it, because we can’t just do that; adding pressure to the feeling makes it that much worse. Change of any sort is difficult, and it makes perfect sense that we struggle with it, that the unexpected takes its toll and we are temporarily paralyzed by the fear that we’re not sure how to get through, what to think, how to feel, how life can possibly work from here on out. You ARE going to get through it, and you’ll figure out how life is going to work, but these feelings are entirely valid. Rely on friends, rely on music, on art, on exercise, allow yourself to feel the loss and allow yourself to believe that you have incredible strength that will rise to the surface when you need it most. 

The Vanishing Man contacted me again, via email. I’ve still yet to respond to a single attempt on his part. I’ve nothing to say. I wish I didn’t derive any semblance of satisfaction from his “suffering” (hard to believe the words of the delusional), but I can’t help it. I went through hell — briefly — because of him (in part because of him; he doesn’t have the power to wreck me), and I made my feelings known to no avail. I’m pretty sure what I feel now is indifference. Of course I don’t wish ill on him — I wish no one physical harm, ever — but if he’s now having a hard time emotionally because of the world he created through his action and inaction, so be it. Not my fault. Not my problem.

I’ve come to the point where I truly believe that, more often than not, we’re best off making our thoughts and feelings as clear as we can; any “rejection” this causes is much purer and less worrisome than what would exist if we hadn’t put ourselves out there in the first place. If our genuine selves send others away, those others could never have been right for us. Because despite our best intentions, despite how hard we try to be on perfect behavior at the beginning of a relationship, to woo through what we think will work and act in such a way that we will keep the object of our affection interested, eventually our true selves will shine through. I think I’d rather be rejected for who I am, hard as that can be, than for who I want others to think I am, for not expressing enough interest if I have it, for not putting my heart out there. At least then I know I’ve done whatever I could to love completely and without subterfuge. It’s important, however, that we don’t make the loneliness = heartache mistake. That we don’t perceive promise where there’s never been any and let this determine our happiness or sense of selves. No one person can make it all better for us. Sometimes not crossing the line of platonic love in the first place is the best thing we can do. This is not the same as acting on physical impulse once (or twice) and realizing it’s a mistake, because as sentient and sensitive beings, sometimes in-the-moment makes all the sense we need it to. But regaining our wits if we haven’t succeeded in keeping them about us is crucial. And not blaming others for our indiscretions or changes of heart (or other parts) is mature and kind. Much more to say but I’ll have to come back to it.

Yes it’s a long way to go, but in the meantime

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A friend asked me recently what I think of as my worst quality. Interesting question – as qualities and habits are not the same thing. Much of what I would like to change about myself is the result of habitual behavior that has seldom worked in my favor, like procrastinating. Other things are the result of deeply rooted fears and insecurities; I’ve preemptively lashed out at people I love so they can’t hurt me first. I’d have to say that my “worst” quality is impatience, in all its many forms. I get impatient for results and do things too quickly and not quite carefully enough and this is how dishes break and ankles are sprained and overpriced items are bought. Intentional use of passive voice. I get impatient with people who don’t seem to know how to behave in public, like the woman sitting next to me at the theater last night who did not stop moving the entire time, ate what sounded like a full meal, and took her shoes off. And I get most profoundly impatient with the people I love who can’t see the wonderfulness in themselves that I see. I realize how “unfair” this is, and that it is projection, frustration with my own slow self-improvement, and so on, but the question was asked and this is my answer right now. RIGHT NOW! (see?)

It comes down to a mixture of things. One is that, as Vanessa and I discussed this weekend, I am on such a quest for self-betterment and so determined to conquer my demons, which will be a lifelong project, that I get frustrated when people complain and lament but don’t want to accept that there are solutions, that the vast majority of “problems” we have are, in fact, surmountable. My frustration stems very much from my need to believe that obstacles are temporary and that better things will surely come my way. And that I can manifest a life that is rich and abundant and more positive than negative. And so idle complaining from others, particularly of the cyclical variety, is difficult for me to tolerate. When a friend complains about his or her unhealthy habits and the toll it’s taking on his or her body, I want to be able to say, “You know what you need to do. I’ll help you and encourage you. Let’s start now.” But I recognize that people aren’t always ready to hear that. I know I’ve needed to lament about the states of various things for a while before I’ve been ready to take the necessary steps toward fixing them. It’s like quitting smoking (and in some cases is exactly that). We know it’s bad for us and that we need to quit, but knowing and feeling and implementing are three unique parts of the process. Kinder than sighing in frustration and snapping with impatience is embodying this quote, which I’ve used before:

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

Several people in my life are going through difficult times right now.Most of these times revolve around heartbreak and self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’m noticing, can segue into self-loathing, and there is no one in my world who deserves such treatment. Loving and accepting our own humanity, the wonderful and the horrible, allowing ourselves to learn from and let go of guilt and regret, and understanding that we don’t behave in a vacuum, that we are a sum of all of our parts and experiences and habits, these are the things that pave the way toward happier lives. Toward surviving the dark times and moving forward. Bad things will happen; this is an inescapable truth. The stronger we are, mentally and physically, the better equipped we will be to weather the unthinkable.

Now I must practice what I preach.

Fare you well, my honey

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Oh this is a tough one to write, a heartbreaking situation, but I can’t let it go unmentioned. The sweet boy in the photo above, Archie, was hit by a car a couple of days ago and is no longer with us. He was my parents’ dog – and absolutely devoted to my mum. With her through so much over the past several years. Strange and beautiful and sensitive and full of life. He was a wonderful addition to the family and I’m grateful that she enjoyed these years with him. 

If you happen to know my immediate family, please don’t bring this up; it’s too difficult to process at the moment and there’s guilt and shock involved. Then again, if you happen to know my immediate family I probably don’t need to have told you that. I am the grief filter among the four of us, and I’ve had to learn to understand that I process things differently than they do. I’ve dealt with a decent amount of untimely death over the past many years, and it’s been very difficult. As such, I’ve become better at working with others when they are in mourning. I feel things very deeply and am an excellent weeper, but I’m learning how and when to put my grief aside and let others’ take precedence. It’s such a tricky process, grief – the five stages are very real, and they don’t always come in order. Grief is unwieldy, unpredictable, and deeply personal. I’ve found, more often than not, that the bereaved don’t want to tiptoe around the name of the person (or animal) they’ve lost, but this is certainly not the case for everyone. 

It’s hard for people who’ve not had pets to understand how profound the love we have for our dogs can be. When I was going through one of my black holes of depression and Louie was an outspoken and impossible-to-please two year old, I had a very hard time raising him. I gave serious thought to giving him to friends upstate. It was an agonizing decision at a time when paper or plastic was an agonizing decision. A well-meaning friend, one of the “But you have so much going on! Don’t be depressed!” folks, said, “He won’t care – he’s a dog!” I took no offense at this and didn’t try to convince her otherwise, but as anyone who’s read about or experienced the incredible attachment and unspoken communication that can exist between dogs and humans knows, this is not the case. 

Obviously I did not give Louie away, and as the weekend of his eleventh birthday draws near I can say, unequivocally, that I am truly grateful for that. 

But alas. Frolic with the angels, my sweet Archie. I love you very much — we all do — and we miss you more than words can say. We will meet again some day. 

Good boy.