Biting the hand that feeds you

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What a long, strange week it’s been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Had we but world enough, and time

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I’m not sure why Sunday’s post garnered so much attention on FB, but I’ll take it — thanks, y’all. It was suggested to me, in the same breath, that it was because “it’s summer and no one’s got anything else going on” and “you need to write more!” … so I shall. Once I made the decision to link this thing to the Facebook and the Twitter, I realized that I was opening myself up to a much more vulnerable place, to the eyes of 919 of my closest friends. And my mom (hi, Mima!).

That’s 1838 eyeballs, and I used my calculator to figure that one out. Math has never been my forté. My grandfather, Wei Liang Chow, was a brilliant mathematician who discovered a theorem of algebraic geometry. I’m not even sure that I phrased that correctly, so basic are my math skills.

(I recently learned how to make an accent aigu, so my posts may contain disproportionate use of the words forté, cliché, and soufflé.)

There is a lot to be said for admitting what we don’t know, even if we think we should know it.I used to hide behind my ignorance of history, and I think what made me stop doing so was the revelation that without understanding history, current events have no context, and reading anything but the local news becomes an exercise in bewilderment and frustration. You wind up doing a lot of nodding at cocktail parties and hoping that the expression on your face is appropriate to the conversation at hand. As I’ve said before, it’s so easy nowadays to learn and to learn for free (or almost free) via this internet thing. I didn’t study much geography in school, and what I did learn was so long ago that much of it has changed (e.g. we learned of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union) … my geographical IQ grew exponentially once I found Lizard Point. You’re welcome.

Speaking of travel (just go with it), a friend said earlier that she’d like to spend time with me outside of New York and my “comfort zone”. I’m beginning to think my comfort zone is  outside of New York. In terms of a place to live, safety, resources, and so on, of course I’m comfortable here, but in terms of where I don’t feel mired in too much of everything, where I can breathe and not worry that I’ve fallen behind, and so on and so forth, I think that magical place exists elsewhere. I’ve had recent conversations with two people who had lived in NYC for decades and couldn’t imagine leaving, until they did. They both expressed in different ways having found more peace elsewhere and, in so doing, having realized they might not have been as happy here as they’d convinced themselves they were.

This is in no way an anti-New York diatribe, because I love this city completely and will likely stay here for a very long time. It’s my roots, it’s where most of my friends and family are, it’s where some of the things I love most in this world can be found. But I don’t know that I’d survive it were it not for my occasional opportunity to leave. It’s all about balance, not the bass. Though I do love the bass.

I had a vivid dream of Quebec last night, a vivid and geographically correct one in which I was explaining the city to someone and giving them directions past the Citadel, down to the old city … as my darling travel companion can aver, that I was giving directions was most definitely the mark of a dream. I’m not terrible with them … I know my way around my apartment very well and I can get around Manhattan with ease. But I do so appreciate a good map elsewhere, along with someone who can read it.

I want to visit Croatia, among many, many other places. I also want to return to some of the beautiful countries and cities and tiny towns I’ve already visited.

For reasons only my iPhone knows, when I try to email myself from it (i.e. send myself a reminder or forward a note I’ve taken), my address pops up under the name “Holidays in the United States”. That, according to my phone, is my proper name.

They — the people who bring us reports of rain and the latest in nutrition news — say that we should aim to take 10,000 steps per day. My phone now has a built-in pedometer (yours probably does to), and so I am able to see how far short I’ve fallen of this goal at the end of each day. When I got home from a day of running back and forth across town yesterday I checked and saw this:

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Forty-one steps later I was at the elevator and back out with the dog. I’ve actually been walking quite a bit more in the past week, but, as this graph shows, I don’t always bring my phone along. Now I feel compelled to do so. I also feel compelled to not text and walk, to pull over to the side if I need to respond to or check something. Yesterday a young woman was walking toward me and texting furiously, as young women do. She tripped and flew forward several steps, continuing to text the whole time. The future is in the hands of unobservant multi-taskers.

The photo above is from Ireland, from a trip I took a few years ago with a group of modern-day wandering minstrels. It is, in fact, the northernmost point in Ireland and the inspiration for an impromptu song called “The Northernmost Point in Ireland (Is Not In Northern Ireland)”.

Sláinte.

Too cool to bluff

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I was having one of those if-not-for-Lou-I-wouldn’t-leave-the-house mornings. One of those thank-God-there’s-no-cafeteria-for-me-to-sit-alone-in days. A sort of bad mood/existential crisis hybrid. You know what I mean.

But because my dog is so needy I took him out (I kid, I kid, he’s not the needy one) and it was delightful! The neighborhood is very smiley and friendly today – and now I have that line from Scarlet Begonias in my head – and I had a lovely conversation with a French bulldog owner who said of Louie, “Oh my God – what a fox-monkey he is!” At the bank I ran into a woman who used to live in my building – the stunning, tall, ambiguously European blonde who flirts with my boy friends and spends a lot of time unabashedly naked in the locker room at Chelsea Piers – and we had a really good conversation about the neighborhood, the building, and the aforementioned locker room. I didn’t bring up the full-frontal thing. I came back and bought three barstools from a neighbor who is about to move to Amagansett – which sounds so perfect I couldn’t ask him about it for fear of getting in my car and driving east and never looking back.

And now I’m here.

I’m also in the process — several of us are — of saying goodbye to an old friend who is very close to the end of his earthly days. I have lost a lot of people – close and distant – and that is because I have loved a lot of people. Not in the romantic sense, in the soul sense. In the recognizing another’s intrinsic beauty sense. It sucks. It hurts like hell. But I’d rather be someone who loves too much than someone who doesn’t want to love at all. I think I would – I don’t know because I’ve never not been this way. I had this conversation with my sweet new friend/brunch partner yesterday, that as challenging as it is to be someone who walks around with her heart galloping ten feet in front of her, and who throws herself full force into her friendships and relationships, we would rather know that we’ve shown all of our cards and lived authentically reaching for what we want than build walls and wonder what might have been.

But I digress. Our sweet Phil is leaving us soon. I’ve known this man for 20 years and he is part of some of my strongest and greatest memories in that time. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.

Thank you for reading this. I mean it.

Filling up an idle hour

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I’ve been taking melatonin to help me sleep and one of the side effects I’ve been experiencing is unusually vivid dreams. The other night I dreamt that I was very good friends with Brad Pitt – practically best friends. Nothing was going on between us – I swear – we just spent a lot of time together. Movies, dinners, long phone calls, that sort of thing. You know how it goes. There was plenty of speculation – par for the course when a man and a woman are as close as Brad and I. I often have celebrities in my dreams – James Franco showed up last night, with his longtime girlfriend who turned out to be one of the receptionists at the office. Mel Gibson proposed to me once with sapphire earrings on stage in the theater at my high school. This was the kinder, gentler, Mad Max version of him, not the homophobic anti-Semite. 

I had the rare pleasure of walking Lou at 5:00 this morning; he wasn’t feeling well last night so when he woke me extra early I didn’t pretend to still be asleep. It was nice in a glad-I-don’t-do-it-often kind of way. It was quiet, except for the early morning chirping of the birds and rats, and the cop who was washing his van, and the trio of ne’er-do-wells who were smoking on the corner. I expected to go back to sleep but it didn’t happen. So instead I’ve been reading and writing and running errands.

I’m applying to a program that pairs writers with high school girls who want writing mentors — this is similar to a program I was set to volunteer with a few years ago, before my year of surgeries put me out of commission; by the time I resurfaced, the program’s funding had been cut. One of the questions in this application process is “Why do you want to be part of a writing community?” – That’s an easy one to answer. Writing is an incredibly solitary endeavor, so much so that it can feel lonely at times. This is where having a forum like this blahhhhg is invaluable – knowing that I have a built-in readership, that my words, however imperfect, will have an audience, makes a tremendous difference to me. Not everything I write here is profound or well-written, but it’s necessary in cementing my identity as a writer – something that can feel like an empty promise at times. I’ve been published many times in the form of articles and essays, but it’s been a while. So even this relatively small exercise in self-publishing contributes to my feeling of productivity. I don’t get feedback on this forum often but when I do it encourages me to keep going. When I started this last year – just over a year ago, actually – it served a definite purpose of helping me through a challenging stretch of time; I literally wrote myself out of it . And then I reconnected with a friend (hi, L!) who was going through her own challenging time and she told me how much my words helped her to feel understood. So my writing took on a role outside of a self-motivated one, and so I kept going.

I’ve grown my writing community in recent months – my literary Salon, which has been meeting for about 6 years, continues to be a wonderful outlet and source of inspiration. The fact that I’m doing this with my mom is amazing – when we first began meeting I wasn’t sure how open I could be with my mom as one of my readers – but it’s been really cathartic, I think, for both of us. We were seven in the beginning – three maternity leaves later we are now four – and we work very well together. Last Monday I started a second writing group with five women who were part of the online novel-writing workshop I took earlier this year. There are six of us that live in New York(ish – one lives in Jersey City) and we decided to meet in person and it was amazing. A wonderful dynamic – really smart, talented, strong women – I couldn’t have handpicked a better group. We’re going to try for every two weeks. The feedback they’ve given me on my work-in-progress is incredibly insightful. To have a group of people so invested in my story and in my progress is the loveliest antidote to the solitude of writing. 

Now I have to put the insight and inspiration for my novel into writing … I’m going to do an overhaul of my outline to reflect the new changes. 

But first I’m going to go to the gym. I put it in writing, therefore I must do it. 

Going to LA in two weeks for the first time in a while – there I will hike and beach and commune with “nature” and my family. And write. My version of LA affords me a lot of time and space to do so. Looking forward.

 

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

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Some merry prankster has taken to writing the words “Bad Luck Spot” in chalk on the street corners by my house. Thanks, buddy. I’m way too superstitious for that. It’s a bizarre little enclave Lou and I live in; the gas station down the road has been temporarily usurped by an “art” installation – there is a white picket fence around it, a few dozen metal sheep, rams and lambs (are these one and the same? I do not know) grazing on astroturf, and a man in head-to-toe black holding a clipboard. The man is real. Maybe the grass is, too. The farm life is definitely not.

This has been a week of things not-quite-going-as-expected: shifted plans, chance encounters, interesting strangers. Today I escorted a visually impaired man to the Verizon store, where I was headed as well; this is the third or fourth time I’ve had occasion to do this. Once it happened while I was fortunate enough to be visiting Paris, beautiful, magical Paris; a blind woman asked me to escort her out of the metro. As we’ve established, I’m afraid of heights and, much to the dismay of anyone who’s been to an airport or shopping mall with me, terrified of escalators — I much prefer the stairs. This was one of these metro stations with a fifteen-story vertical escalator, and the woman grabbed me and asked for assistance just as I was bypassing it. I couldn’t summon the French for “debilitating, irrational fear of moving stairs,” and so I clung to her for dear life and made petite-talk for the 12-minute ride. It was all at once a good deed and extreme sport.

A friend used to tease me that my greatest fear would be riding an escalator without mascara. Which is ridiculous; I’d be fine with just eyeliner. 

So … I might be published in the New York Times! Yep. In the past couple of days I’ve submitted a question/complaint to the Social Q’s column and a found haiku to Metropolitan Diary. Hey, a byline’s a byline – even if every grandparent-of-a-precocious-child-who-takes-public-transport gets one in the Diary.

I am learning a tremendous amount, this year, about how to live in this world. And, as I’ve said aloud to a couple of people in the past few days, my life has been infused with a lot more color than it used to be – in my decor, my wardrobe, my experiences and relationships. What a difference it makes; I spent April 2011 – April 2012 in a series of casts for a fractured scapula (look it up, too tired to explain); because I was x-rayed regularly my cast was changed regularly, and the day I opted for a fuchsia one instead of the standard bone-white, my mood improved dramatically. You learn a lot about human nature when you spend a year in a cast – particularly how intrusive strangers can be. I can’t imagine seeing someone with a broken bone (or black eye or gaping wound) and asking for an explanation, but an amazing number of people NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!! At first I would explain, in painstaking detail, my official version of events, but I soon learned that if I just said “accident” people would seldom ask me to elaborate. I also learned in that year to type very quickly with one hand (insert obligatory internet porn joke). 

Alright then. I had intended to write about something entirely different, had been thinking about it since this morning, but here by the sea and sand …

Buenas noches a todos. 

 

 

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. 

I’m in love with that song

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Yesterday on the street I passed someone I knew another lifetime ago, someone I hadn’t seen since I moved from 9th Street. She is part of the fabric of this town, a lifelong New Yorker now in her 80s with stories and secrets whose surfaces I only skimmed during the five years I knew her. She was an integral part of Louie’s first few years, and she helped me immensely during a very difficult time when I couldn’t always find the energy to take care of my dog. For this I will always be grateful. I didn’t stop her – she was doing her thing, we had somewhere to be, and I’m not sure how much catching up we really need to do. But it was strange and comforting to see her still thriving in her very unique manner of thriving.

Last week, or maybe the one before, while Louie and I sat on the bench outside Joe’s and drank our (my) coffee, a gentleman sat down and struck up what seemed an innocuous conversation. The dog, the weather, the neighborhood. In the thirty minutes I knew him he told me a lot — strangers do this with me. Stranger is not the right word. He’s in Chelsea only temporarily while he waits for his apartment on the east side to be renovated; it was destroyed in an electrical fire almost a year ago. He divides his time between his friend’s place in Chelsea and his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He inherited this home from his now-deceased partner of several decades; they met in a gay bar in the West Village in the late 70s. They built a life together, alternating between the city and Hartford, where his partner was an architect and adjunct professor at the university. His partner died of a heart attack a year and a half ago, while my momentary friend was on the train heading up for a visit. He told me how hard it is knowing that he’d taken his time, that he might have been able to save him, that he didn’t get to say goodbye but was the one who had to identify the body and call his love’s children and ex-wife. He told me his love was a packrat, a borderline hoarder, and now he doesn’t know what to do with all the stuff. Everything has meaning; he remembers where they bought it and why, how they acquired it and when. He apologized for burdening me. I asked if he minded my follow-up questions and he said he appreciated them. I assured him that he was absolutely not burdening me, explained that I’m the “feeler” in my immediate family — not that the others are cold or unfeeling, but they aren’t comfortable with talking about the dark side of life, death being the darkest side of all. I have had to become comfortable with it because I’ve had to become all too aware of it – nothing I would wish for, certainly, but ignoring it doesn’t really allay my fears or expedite the grieving process. Some people, like this man (James), want to be asked about their departed loved ones, want to talk about what happened and how they feel and what they’re going to do next. If one believes these things, and I do, there’s a reason we got coffee at the same time and the bench was free when it was and the weather was such that we had something to talk about beyond what a good looking guy my dog is. I served a purpose for those however-many minutes, and I am grateful that I did. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger whom you’ll likely never see again about the things that matter. I guess. I need to talk to the people in my life in order to feel like what I have to say matters.

Beautiful weekend this past one was, combining some of my favorite things – travel and music and good food and new friends and comfort and weather and light. And love, in all its many, many manifestations.

May the bad times be fleeting, et laissez les bons temps rouler.