Now I wanna be your dog

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Yesterday, I had the following conversation at the vet’s office.

The scene: a man was encouraging his dog to “say hi” to Louie.

Me: Oh—he’s not great with other dogs!

Man with other dog: Are you sure? He was sniffing mine before.

Me: No, he wasn’t—I think it was that guy (pointing to third dog).

MWOD: Well let’s just test it out. (releases more slack on leash)

Me: Oh trust me, I wouldn’t—he’s not great with other dogs.

MWOD: So you don’t socialize him?

Me: Actually, when he was-

MWOD: Because you really should socialize them

Me: I know, and I used—

MWOD: The vet says it’s very important..

Me: Yes, of course it is, but—

MWOD: How old is he?

Me: 15.

MWOD: Well that explains it. Have a nice day.

Me: You too.

My reaction brought you by the makers of Transcendental Meditation. There was a time when it would have been super important for me to interrupt the interruptions and reassure this man that yes, I socialized him from the time he was a few months old and he used to be quite social, then he had a bad experience with a couple of dogs but was still okay, then he got injured in the dog park and needed surgery, so we stopped going to the dog park, and his tolerance for other dogs faded. But since he’s turned 15 he seems a bit more tolerant, though as it’s not something I can depend upon, it just seems easier to say that he’s not great with other dogs, even though I feel badly saying so because that verbiage makes it sound like it’s a deficit on his part and it is not that. But sometimes it’s easier to just smile and nod and say, “You’re right, I should have socialized my dog.”

When you have a dog in this city people like to tell you how you should have a dog in this city. My dog has arthritis and his back legs shake; therefore, people assume he is a) cold and I’m not dressing him properly or b) scared, and I’m not comforting him properly. In fact my dog is warm, brave, has arthritis and is not great with other dogs.

Last night I dreamt that I was going on vacation and I stayed over at Tom Petty’s house because it was closer to the airport, natch. It was a bit of a mess but who was I to complain? I commented to Tom that many of his songs are quite literal, that he doesn’t use a lot of metaphor, at which point my mother walked in and said, “What about ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane?'” and I was impressed because I didn’t know my mom knew that song.

I’m trying to get back to this 500+ words a day in the new book by way of plowing (or  plodding) my way through the “shitty first draft.” Must resist the urge to edit and must doubly resist the urge to give up. Got another “I like the premise and the voice but just didn’t connect enough with the story” email today from a literary agent about my first book. I’m not sure at this point if I should keep sending it out or if I should, once this other one is a bit more under way, go back over the first one and do another round of revisions. Or the third option, which would be to tuck the first one on a shelf and forget about it for a while. If anyone wants to weigh in with advice, I’m open to it.

I’m currently taking a beginner’s American Sign Language course and it’s very interesting. It’s intense—we are learning a fair amount of material in a short amount of time. And it is a lot of body language and facial expression, which I hadn’t realized but yeah, of course it is. I’m learning it because it’s something I’ve always been curious about and because one night, when I couldn’t sleep, an ad popped up on my computer for inexpensive ASL classes. I’m learning tiny bits of many languages, mostly self-taught through some of the many programs available online, and I wonder if I should pursue any one of them more thoroughly? Focus is not my strong suit. But every where you turn these days you hear about mindfulness and the power of now (and The Power of Now) and all evidence points to doing one thing at a time and not multi-tasking. I can’t recall the last time I did one thing at a time for any extended period of time … which is why writing is a good exercise for me because I can’t really do anything else while I do it, can’t listen to music or eat or pet that freezing, anti-social dog of mine. So if I write more every day perhaps I’ll get better at Doing One Thing At a Time.

I would like to end this post on a note that is either profound, witty, charming, or thought-provoking, but I got nothin’. One of my goals for autumn is to write in this more, too, so if the muses allow, I’ll regale you soon with profound, charming, thought-provoking wit.

Until then, au revoir, arrivaderci, adios, auf wiedersehn, tchau, Прощай*.

*I actually hadn’t yet learned how to say it in Russian. The More You Know!

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Right back to where we started from

IMG_0530 (1)Not exactly, but I’m working on a new book. These are words I did not think I would be saying anytime soon, but as the querying process for the other one got under way I had a mini existential crisis, à la “Now what? What if nothing comes of this? If I’m not working on it anymore, who am I?” and a friend who is a prolific songwriter (and very talented musician, I might add) said, “You set out to write a book  and you did. Great. Now write another one.”

And so I am. Writing another one, and it’s entirely different from the first (which is really the second but for these purposes we’ll call it the first). The book I’m writing now is sort of a comedy-noir, which are two of my favorite genres of film. The protagonist is male. It takes place roughly today. It has been such a very long time since I began the first book that I’ve forgotten what writing a first draft is like. It’s hard! But, as anyone who’s ever taken a class or tried to write a book or read a book about writing knows, you have to write what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft” in order to get to the decent one. Or, as another talented writer friend says, “You write the first draft to figure out the story you want to tell.”

I think because the first book is a tough sell, I’m determined to write something more accessible and salable and this is making it difficult to really dive in. But that’s the only way to approach it, diving in, so enough with this procrastination. Right? Right.

I am returning to my beloved Nola in a couple of weeks and that town inspires me. This will be a combo writing retreat/holiday, as I will get to see some of my favorite people. What I need to do is get better at writing at home; what I want to do is travel the world and write elsewhere.

Much more to say but I’m tired. My sleep has gotten weird again but one interesting thing is that, in the month or so since I started New Book, I’ve dreamt about it several times. Dreamt about the characters, dreamt about the writing of it, dreamt it was a series. So it seems my subconscious wants me to work on this thang.

I’ve been reading a lot more lately, I’m happy to say. Fiction again—I took a long breather from it while I slogged through those last several rounds of First Book because I didn’t want to compare my writing to anyone else’s or be accidentally influenced. Right now I’m reading Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time”— my first time reading her though she’s been on my radar since “White Teeth.” I saw her speak at the Girls Write Now gala in the spring, and she was awesome and inspiring.

What are you reading?

Someone asked me recently if, where writing is concerned, I have a fear of success. I responded that I think what I have is an expectation of failure—which sounds much darker and more dramatic than the way in which I mean it. But she, an intuitive person, to say the least, suggested that it really is what she suspected, a fear of success. So this is something I have to think about, what that means and why I would have it.

The Jewish New Year is upon us; l’Shana Tova to all. My resolutions goals for the new year are many.

It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

Stuck in the middle with you

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My friend (Michel) sent me a meme (don’t love that word) that said: Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. That sums it up fairly well. Mine are talking to me, but they’re all talking at once and it’s very hard to decipher their individual voices. I need someone to work crowd control, but then he or she would need a storyline, and I’d be right back where I started (from).

In college I read the Luigi Pirandello play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in which six unfinished characters interrupt the rehearsal of a play because they’re desperate to find a writer to finish their stories. They’re in a sort of purgatory until they do. I wrote a little piece for writing group last year based on this concept; my characters gathered in the bar (my characters spend an awful lot of time in the bar) discussing where I’d left them. The ones with marked characteristics and clear voices were relatively okay, but the others were pissed.

I’d always heard that, when writing fiction, characters can come to life and drive the story. This is my experience with this novel; I’d thought I knew who my main character was until the person who became my main character claimed the spotlight; it took me a while to fully realize that this is her story.

Her name is Josie, short for Josephine. About a year and a half ago I met a Josephine at a party; I commented that that was my protagonist’s name, and she asked what she was like. So I told her that she wasn’t always my protag, but eventually she became the most important character in the story. Non-fiction Josephine laughed and said, “That sounds about right.” A year and a half later she is one of the most important people in my life.

Lots of synchronicity in the long, drawn-out writing of this book …

Most exciting development of late … I might finally have my title. I need to mull it over extensively before I commit, though. Titles are hard.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m also writing a pilot with my oldest (in longevity of relationship) friend Tara. It’s been really interesting working on these projects simultaneously, and as different as they are, there have been a lot of parallels in the process. Both stories needed extensive backstory written and then cast aside in order to get to the heart – or the bloodline, as my coach says – of the plot.

Tara has been invaluable in the novel-in-progress as well. She’s a voracious and careful reader and has read my chapters and given me excellent feedback. This is crucial. Without her, and my coach, and my writing group, and other helpful sets of eyes, I would be operating without a net. With the village that is helping and encouraging me in this project (and you know who you are, even those who don’t wish to be named in this forum), I feel fairly confident that I will not leave gaping plot holes and red herrings and guns in act one that don’t go off by act three. Can’t remember who said that – feel free to comment if you know (Mom).

I am going back to my muse city, as JC calls it, in a couple of weeks. I’ve been warned and warned again about the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but never having experiences Nola in the summer, I know that this is something I must do. For the book’s sake. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will spend the week slathered in sunscreen and bug spray and depending on the kindness of strangers’ air conditioners.

Much more to say on the subject of this upcoming trip, but I shall save it for another post.

I travel extensively in my dreams. While asleep the other night I visited New Orleans, India (there were sharks in the Ganges!) and a cross between Marrakesh and Namibia. Been trying to keep track of my dreams by writing them down. 3AM handwriting aside, this is an interesting process. By writing them down when they’re fresh in my insomniac mind, I am able to recall the emotional imprint of the dreams, not just the storyline.

I will leave you with this. I was watching something late, late one night in which a psychiatrist and a few other professionals were discussing the basic rules to human interaction – what one or two guiding principles help us get along with others. So I wrote down some thoughts and came up with this: meet people where they are. I mean this figuratively, though if you’re my friend in real life you know this also applies to my love of proximity to my home. But really, meet people where they are, accept their limitations, and don’t hold them up to improbable standards. You can expect the best from someone while still embracing imperfection.

And now back to my possibly titled book.

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.

When autumn leaves start to fall

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And just like that, summer is the stuff of distant memory. Much as I love the beach and need the sun, this is traditionally a good time of year for me, a fruitful, productive time. It’s the back-to-school mentality combined with the fact that we’re in the last quarter of the year (I had a conversation with a tax attorney last night; I’m thinking in quarters), and by year’s end I’d best have something to show for the preceding 12 months. The holidays-birthday-New Year trifecta is one of taking stock, so I tend to cram an awful lot between October and December.

Autumn and winter can be cozy seasons – my experiences from this stretch of time are among the strongest of my childhood memories.

I’m taking a respite from drinking booze for several reasons, most notably that it bears mention that I’m doing so. It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever attempted, but it’s not always as difficult as I’d anticipated. It turns out there are many people in my life – people who I’m used to going out to dinner and drinks – or just drinks – with – who are perfectly happy to take a night off here and there. And that’s incredibly helpful in this process, though I find that even on the nights that I’m out with someone who is having a drink or four, any craving I have is fleeting. A momentary, wistful admission that their glass of Malbec would beautifully complement my entree. Someone told me recently that, physiologically, such cravings last a maximum of 20 seconds. Ours is such a culture of immediate gratification and of all the conveniences that afford this immediacy that we don’t often allow this theory to manifest. I don’t plan to never drink again, but I needed to hit reset, and in so doing my goal is to not rely on wine (or the occasional martini) as I once did. To actually adhere to the maximum I’ve often set for myself and ignored. So much of the drinking I and the people in my life do is by rote – breaking this pattern is something many of us don’t do until we feel we have to.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m sleeping much, much better lately. Not waking up in the middle of the night once the booze wears off. And vividly dreaming, though that could be the Melatonin.

During this self, social, and anthropological study I’ve realized a few things.

  • This city is full of incentives to drink – until you decide to take a break you don’t realize how many half-price-Mondays/unlimited-Mimosas/Cosmos-with-your-manicure/Happy Hours abound. Le Pain Quotidien now offers Happy Hour from 4 – 7pm every day. Le Pain Quotidien. Yep, the bakery where my mother buys her favorite multigrain bread now has Happy (Three) Hour(s).
  • Restaurants instruct their servers at dinner and, in some cases, lunch, to ask, “Can I get you anything from the bar, wine, beer, a cocktail?”  The power of suggestion.
  • Drunk people can be really annoying; conversely, annoying people and things don’t bother me as much when I’ve eliminated the elimination of reaction time.
  • Drinking things out of stemmed glasses is nice.
  • Restaurants ought to offer more nonalcoholic choices; ginger beer should be ubiquitous.

Much more to say about this but I’m running late for Pilates. Turns out the running-late thing is a preexisting condition that has little or nothing to do with how much wine I drank the night before.

Cheers!

Let love shine

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It is getting autumnal out there. Which, of course, reminds me always of singing Edith Piaf’s version of “Autumn Leaves” in Babette’s kitchen in the Richmond in San Francisco. Once 9-21 passes, I will Skype her for an encore. Or I’ll go visit her, which is actually a far more appealing option. I did travel a fair amount this summer, to the country and to the beach, and I have the urge to get on an airplane and add a stamp to my passport.

I had one of those modern-day dreams the other night where I sent an elaborate, detailed, and brutally honest text to the absolute wrong person. Like, imagine writing your dealer to complain that the last batch was definitely cut with something and accidentally texting your mom?! That wouldn’t happen – my dealer’s very upfront with me. Just kidding – he’s a jackass.

Because most of the people who read this don’t know me or don’t know me anymore, I feel compelled to assure you that most of the pithy bad-girl asides are sarcastic. The vague, at times overwhelmingly emotional ones are not.

For the past two nights I’ve had a variation on a recurring dream in which a youngish woman tries to steal my wallet – or in one case my purse that had my wallet, keys, and phone – and it was frustrating beyond belief. I never actually got them back before I woke, though it seemed promising. As I purport to be a decent analyzer of dreams, let me see what I can do with this one – someone or something is stealing or sabotaging a very important part of my identity. Or my whole identity, perhaps, as the wallet contains links to so many things (I know, because I recently left mine behind). I am wrestling – in one case literally – with this someone to hold onto what I can; in the other scenario I begged a go-between to help me get my things back.

I’m making, as many of you know, some fairly drastic life changes these days and poof! There goes identity. In this case the end goal (not really an end, it’s all a work in progress) is meant to be a positive one, one about changing old patterns and habits that I’ve long relied upon and that have never worked out in my favor. Or, as I said to a friend in a card I just gifted him, “my version of perfectionism has proven to be anything  but,” and so it’s time to alter my view of what “perfect” me would look like, because this ain’t it. Perfect is inaccurate, for it’s through cracks and imperfections that beauty and light shine through. It’s about using these imperfections to my – and the people around me’s – advantage. And it’s about letting go of things that just aren’t working. This means something different for everybody – this means many different things for everybody – and I’ve found myself making certain pledges in the past few days, one of which is that I will no longer waste time with people who choose to view me through a lens of resentment. I’ve let this happen to me so many times in the past and while I don’t want to wish I had that time back, I choose to never again forfeit it to that dynamic. I’ve had resentments in the past and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a dynamic where they don’t slip out and cloud whatever conversation or situation is at hand. I urge you all to do the same, to purge your lives of anyone who sees you for your trappings only and not for who you really are or, most importantly perhaps, who you want to be. I have a tremendous tolerance for overlooking behavior and finding the person within who I just know would come out if he or she could get past past pain and unproductive behaviors. And that can make the years roll by with nothing more to hold onto then the specter of what might have been.

I signed up for bike riding lessons. Yup, I don’t know how to ride a bike.

Yet.