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.

 

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Where did all the blue skies go

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I started to write a post on the 4th of July and decided not to publish it, didn’t finish it. I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, couldn’t quite figure out how to acknowledge a celebration of our country’s freedom when so much of the world is not free. I don’t usually get political here and it felt inauthentic somehow, though my feelings were 100% sincere.

That was four days ago, and I think had a fair amount to do with a new friend I’ve made, through my cousin – a fellow who lives in Iraq. I reached out to him after the latest spate of suicide bombings in Baghdad and he was, of course, devastated and angry. He asked to see photos of the mountains and woods where I spent the long weekend; he wanted to see beauty and positivity and freedom. He sent me a photo collage of the victims of Sunday’s attacks, and it was a collection of beautiful, young, vibrant faces.

The next day there were attacks in Saudi Arabia. This week two young black men in the US have been killed by police for the “crimes” of selling music and driving with an allegedly busted tail light. Last night, snipers shot and killed five police officers in Dallas and wounded several others.

I do not know how to react to any of this. I am infuriated and saddened and tired of feeling helpless and I don’t know what my recourse is.

I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump is not the answer to any of this. Hate begets hate. Intolerance begets intolerance. Ignorance is dangerous and hubris does not a successful leader make. And I do not want to speak his name more than absolutely necessary, so that’s that for now.

I am in New Orleans again, working through the final third of the book. And it is hard to concentrate on what at times seems such a trivial pursuit in light of all that is happening in the world around us. But this is my job, and so I will do it.

Since I was last here about six weeks ago, there have been terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan–and that’s just off the top of my not-terribly-informed head. Since I was here, a monster shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There is so much to grieve in this world. And there is so much to love and admire, to those of us who are fortunate enough to live in places where we are allowed to love and admire who, what, and when we choose to.

I’ve been accused of having a Pollyanna-like outlook on things. I don’t. I’m more realistic than I let on. But there are many people who can speak of the world’s atrocities much more eloquently than I can, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these people and their words.

I have long been saddled with a need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to believe that people are inherently good. I am fortunate to have many good people in my life.

But it’s a scary, uncertain world, and I am aware of this. So if I veer toward light and love in the things I write and post and choose to talk about, do not mistake it for blindness. I can’t fix all the bad, and so I choose to try my best to contribute more good.

Time for coffee and Chapter Ten.

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.

 

I’m only happy when it rains

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Well that’s not entirely true, but there are times that call for torrential downpours and this weekend is one of them. I have a lot of purging to do, literally and figuratively, and a rainy day would allow me to sit in my apartment without feeling guilty that I should be soaking in the waning days of summer (it’s still summer until the 21st and perhaps a bit after if it chooses to remain so), boxing up decades’ worth of books and photos and clothing and mementos whose significance elude me. It will feel really good to do this; it will be a start in the myriad steps I must now take to become the right version of myself, the one I’ve been shirking for 43 years. The one who relies on old pain to justify defensive reactions, on fear of my feelings not being validated to spew them in the most vicious and verbal way that I can in order to be heard. My childhood was a long time ago and it’s time I caught up to that reality.

And so I have begun taking some very important steps – and very scary ones, in some ways – as my dear L says, “learning to take care of ourselves first goes against everything we’re ingrained to believe” – or words to that effect. And she’s right. I’ve been called selfish, I’ve been called irresponsible, I’ve been called worthless – and those are some of the accolades – but the fact of the matter is that I’ve spent an awfully long time putting the needs of others – or what I perceive to be the needs of others – before my own. And so when my efforts to be needed are met with resistance, 43-years worth of frustration and loneliness and the absolute irrefutable “knowledge” that no one will ever really see me as I am or understand me as I want to be understood manifest in a torrent of ugliness that only a time machine could fix.

Mistakes I’ve made, many throughout my life and far too many in recent weeks, and while I do accept full responsibility for my actions, I have limited choices as to how to proceed now. I can apologize – and I do – with every cell of sincerity in my body. I can beat myself up (figuratively) and chastise myself and hate the little girl who rears her ugly head as a grown woman and says and does things she’ll forever regret. I can also breathe, deeply, use some of the breathing exercises a wise woman taught me this week, and I can begin to heal. I can learn from my past regrets and make what may seem like empty promises to never repeat certain behaviors, but until my final day on earth I will not know that I’ll never be “that bad” again. I certainly intend not to be – that is my goal. I can live in the present and pray for the future. I can accept my solitude because assigning fault or blame to it is fruitless; this is where I am today for reasons that are too complex for WordPress.

I can pour my vast stores of emotion into love and tranquility for myself and for anyone who enters my life from here on out. This is what I can do. I can not change the past, I can only embrace the present and strive for a better future. As I’ve said recently, I am pathologically optimistic (and yes, feel free to insert other ways in which you deem me pathological here). This is why I “ignore” signs that shouldn’t be ignored, and this is why I get myself into a terrible state where I ruin days and nights. I’m very, very tired of living this way.

In keeping with the poem I posted the other day, here’s another from Mary Oliver, which I’ve posted before. I know she’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but these words helped me once and they will again; I just have to learn to bear the lessons in mind and to stop sabotaging my life and ignoring the truth. If someone is hellbent on vilifying [you], no amount of repentance, explanation, or love can help. It’s time to move forward, hard as this may be:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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. 

 

 

This ain’t no never-never land

ImageNow that two people have expressed confusion, I must clear this up: the “L” to whom I’ve addressed several missives is not me, it’s a friend with whom I have quite a bit in common, including our first initial. It’s been wonderful to have her (back) in my life. Though we’ve traveled different paths, we have a fundamental understanding of one another that alleviates the need for lengthy explanation. It’s a beautiful thing.

Right, L?

The lyric above is from “Centerfold”, which I distinctly recall hearing for the first time when I was in sixth grade; the new kid, Eric Schmidt, was sitting in the lunchroom playing it on a box (radio) and singing along. Just thirty-two years later, last Friday night, Peter Wolf joined Bob Dylan on stage at the end of the show. He’s gangly.

On our walk this morning, Louie and I passed a group of day camp kids playing kickball. It brought me back to the horrors of gym class, which was perhaps one of my least favorite activities as a kid. I am not an athlete. Newborn giraffes have better working knowledges of how their limbs work than I do – and are far more graceful. I’m afraid of the ball. I’ve thrown “like a girl” since long before that was considered an unevolved statement. I can’t do a cartwheel. As such, I was often picked last for The Team. Thank GOD those days are behind me. I believe in fitness and health and that they should be priorities and that children should have physical outlets. But I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all method for achieving this. Being a kid is awkward enough without a jury of one’s peers to judge grace and athletic prowess and choose sides accordingly. Not to mention gymnastics – oy vey. To have eight-year-old me spot a classmate who’s balancing 12 feet in the air on rings is the antithesis of safety.

A couple of years ago a friend’s daughter was sent to physical therapy because she was uncoordinated. My friend, the father, said, “I was uncoordinated and, except for gym class, it never really mattered. I became a musician.” It’s all about nurturing what’s positive and moving on from what doesn’t work. Too often, though, we expend time and energy wishing for what we can’t or don’t have and disregarding what we can and do.

This post is not quite as disjointed as it seems.

I’d build a road in gold …

Image…just to have some dreaming.

Actually, I slept beautifully last night – eight fairly solid hours – woke up once and fell easily back to sleep. However … you see one movie about a global war caused by marauding gangs of desperate flesh eaters, you have cataclysmic dreams for a week, apparently. Nothing I can’t handle – I eagerly await World War Z2 – but it’s been interesting. Last night’s featured explosions and falling buildings (no casualties that I can remember), but they were all part of films that I was watching. There was also a disturbing film about a little girl people were trying to save – that one felt far more sinister.

In the weeks and months after 9-11 I had regular dreams about things like this – and they weren’t films. I’d dream that buildings were exploding all over the city. I dreamt that I was in my parents’ old building and a Pan Am plane fell from the sky. These were much more literal. Although it still seems far too soon to delve into, perhaps the distance between that wretched day and today has enabled me to put a celluloid filter on my nightmares.

Going to touch the ocean this weekend and not a moment too soon. I learned to love it a couple of years ago (is six a “couple”?) – in Montauk, actually. Prior to that I loved the idea of it but found the execution to be overwhelming. Now it’s overwhelming in a good way. During my years with the wandering minstrel I had the great fortune of traveling on a relatively small budget – touring musicians of a certain level know how to do this like nobody else – and seeing parts of the world I might not have otherwise. When I encountered a body of water, no matter how cold, I at the very least waded in up to my ankles – and so I experienced the North and Irish seas. Some day I hope to encounter the Mediterranean and Adriatic. I’m very drawn to Croatia and I’m not sure why, but that’s on my list of places-I-might-someday-see. There are many, many others. As Andrew Marvell wrote, in a poem that was actually about getting the object of his affection to sleep with him, Had we but world enough and time.

Travel is good. It’s, to me, the best investment of time and money that there is. And so off to the Atlantic we go.