Daddy never sleeps at ni-ight

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This title is, of course, from The Who’s “Squeeze Box,” but in my case, it happens to be true. Among the many wonderful things I’ve inherited from my dad is a proclivity for insomnia. I’ve also inherited a sense of humor that can err on the side of crass, an inherent friendliness, a love of duck (sorry vegans), a sentimental streak—as evidenced by the mounds of memorabilia I sorted through over the past several weeks—a talent for singing  both enthusiastically and free from the constraints of proper tune or lyrics, and much, much more.

I love you, d!

(mima, please let him know he got a “shout-out”, as he’d say)

I have the great fortune of seeing my dad on a regular basis. The photo above is from Bash Bish Falls, which I first visited many years ago when he took me (us?) hiking there.

I wish all of the fathers reading this a very happy Father’s Day.

Today I’m also reminded that I have many friends and cousins who’ve lost their dads, some many years ago and some quite recently. I imagine this day is incredibly difficult whether or not you celebrated it much growing up . The whole world  (the corporate one, anyway) just assumes you have a father—and that you have a good relationship with him. News programs devote entire segments to what to get dad for Father’s Day. Chalkboards outside restaurants invite you to bring  him in for brunch or dinner. Stores create elaborate displays of Father’s Day gifts. Reminders are everywhere.

So to my friends (and cousins) whose dads are no longer with us, I send you love and strength today and every day. If you’re in my life, your dad did a hell of a job. Your mom too, but we’ll talk about her some other time. Unless she (or you) is a single mom; happy day to all the badass women out there going it alone with strength and grace, however imperfect it may be at times. We are all imperfect.

This past week was the 14th anniversary of a very close friend’s passing, my sweet Laura. Though my grief over her is not nearly as raw as it once was, she is never far from my mind. I think about her in some context more days than not.

Such is the bittersweet truth of loving deeply and often. With love comes the risk of loss. Let that not be a deterrent, though, because life is much richer when shared.

 

I bought a ticket to the world

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On the advice of the wise and wonderful Ginger, I got myself a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. The first issue arrived and, despite the fact that it looks like it was delivered by bored, rabid ferrets who were building an addition to their nest, it’s exactly what I need right now. It’s all about the beginning … the first sentence, the first chapter, and so on. Since I’m pretty much reinventing the book, I have the opportunity to craft a stellar beginning. I liked my original one, but I absolutely understand why it was bogging this thing down.

In beginning my story on what was once page 129, I have the incredibly challenging task of incorporating back story — which was once, simply, “story” — into my new beginning, and there’s an article on that, too. The main takeaway from this article is that back story needn’t be spelled out as explicitly as one might think; it can be hinted at in the way characters behave in the present, in their motivations, wishes, fears, and so on.

I’ve written before about “killing your darlings” — and in this case, I’ve outright massacred mine. But this does not mean their lives were in vain: I needed to write out 129 pages of ponderous, stagnant back story in order to learn who my characters are and why they are that way.

Now my task is to tie it all together into something that bears vague resemblance to a book. With a plot. And an arc.

What have I gotten myself into?!

In addition to the print version, a subscription to WD includes access to a wealth of content on their website. One of today’s pieces was on fact in fiction, on how, if one is well-versed in a particular topic, and a fiction writer has not done his/her research, it can be hard to accept the rest of the world that he/she has created.

A lot of creative folk had a hard time writing/painting/sculpting/dancing/singing about 9-11. I read a fair amount of contemporary literature in the years after it happened, and it was quite a while before I read a book that referenced it. The first one I did was The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, which came out five years after the fact.

I loved the way she touched on 9-11 … nothing gratuitous, nothing repetitive to those who lived through it. She wrote elegantly of the mood in NY in the hours and days after the planes, and I appreciated the way she handled it.

However … there was one “fact” she ignored, and I hesitate to say that because there is no wrong in fiction. But it struck me then and has stayed with me.

The night of 9-10-01, one of her characters goes on a helicopter ride around Manhattan and sees the lights and the city and I don’t recall what else. Anyone who lived here then will recall that on the night of 9-10 we had a torrential downpour. A deluge, the kind that upends umbrellas and ruins shoes and is enchanting to those of us who love rain, no matter how inconvenient. And so it was especially stunning how perfect the next morning felt, how crisp and clear and bright the skies. And then, they did their thing and you know the rest.

So add to the myriad reasons it takes me so long to get through a paragraph in this book I’m trying to write the fact that I do not want to take such a liberty. I’m already doing so by making the summer of 1999 a particularly rainy one and throwing a massive power outage in for good measure. (and to further the plot). But where very tangible specifics are concerned, I’m getting in my own fiction-writing way.

Any excuse to keep from churning out another draft from which to create the final one.

My bestest friend and I are writing a tv pilot loosely based on our awkward, misfit selves in the 80s. This is a breath of fresh air from the book. It’s work, it’s challenging, it requires letting go of ego and perfectionism and impatience and indulging in the process. And we’re doing it together, which is the best part. There’s strength in numbers.

Book-writing’s a lonely business. Bear with me while I figure it all out.

 

 

Sweet emotion

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Well hello, and Happy Father’s Day to all who identify as fathers.

I have been remiss in posting here, and a major part of that is that when I sit down at my computer to write I feel compelled to work on the novel … I am in the homestretch of this draft and really hope to finish it within the month, so that I can move on to the Herculean (but hopefully not Sisyphean) task of rewriting. Quite a process, this … and finishing this first draft will be a huge milestone and one that I feel might reverberate into other areas of my life. I have notes for the project all over this apartment, in notebooks, on index cards, on the backs of envelopes and scrawled on my whiteboard. Because my approach to getting through this draft, per my writing coach, is to just plow ahead and not worry about editing at all, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of thoughts and ideas to consider when I do begin the editing process. More clutter — not what I need — so maybe when it comes time to collect and consolidate my every fleeting notion, I will by extension organize my space a bit more.

But I digress, which I’ve been doing a lot of in trying to get through this draft. My writing group has been invaluable, as have the couple of writer friends I can bounce ideas off of … but ultimately, I alone must complete this process.

My downstairs neighbors are very unhappily married. I know this because, more mornings than not, I hear evidence. I hear the wife shrilly berating the husband through the vent in my bathroom, and sometimes I hear their toddler daughter crying in the background. Apparently I am not alone in registering this; my doormen call them with noise complaints on a regular basis. It doesn’t seem to be working.

This morning, Father’s Day, I heard her shrieking over and over and over, “Nobody likes you! Nobody likes you! Not one person!”

My doorman told me that he’s heard through the grapevine that she threatens that if he tries to leave her, she’ll take his money and his kid and he’ll “be miserable”.

It is very difficult to listen to this on a regular basis. It is stressful. I feel sorry for all parties involved — the husband and kid, obviously, but also the woman, who is clearly not a balanced person and who seems to have no regard for the potential psychological damage she’s inflicting on her daughter. No regard for the fact that the daughter might well grow up with a false sense of what households sound like, of the dynamic to expect and accept in a relationship, and of how to express herself when she’s upset. Of course, damage is not a foregone conclusion, so hopefully she’ll be one of the lucky ones and rise above it all.

They’re moving to San Francisco at the end of the summer; maybe my new neighbors will get along famously.

Today in the Styles section of the Times is an article about ghostwriting services for people who need to deliver toasts and speeches at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and so on and so forth. I’d be good at this. I’ve delivered a few wedding toasts in my day and they’ve gone over well. I’ve also ghostwritten personal documents for friends — breakup and makeup notes, sorry-you’re-offended-but-this-is-how-I-feel emails, I-know-it’s-over-but-I-want-to-leave-things-on-a-positive-note missives. I’m pretty good at putting feelings into words and at distilling the truth from a multitude of messy thoughts. So why am I having such a hard time with the emotional aspects of the characters in my book? Maybe because a novel is antithetical to the distillation process. Finding new and compelling ways to describe hope and fear, the two dominant emotions in my book, is tough.

Now I’m not sure whether “hope” and “fear” qualify as emotions. Which gives me something else to Google while neglecting Chapter 19 of draft one of the as-yet-untitled project.

Chapter 19 is a biggie — it’s where the reveal happens. One of them. It also takes place not-in-New York, unlike the rest of the book. When I was doubting my progress to a friend today, he made a comment about how I’ve already written 18 chapters that take place in New York … I guess that’s something.

I went to theater a couple weeks ago to see Dr. Faustus at Classic Stage Company. There was a party after with the cast and theater staff, and I met the artistic director, who is a lovely man. He asked what I do and I mentioned The Novel and he said something to the effect of, “That’s impressive — it must be really difficult work,” to which I replied something to the effect of, “You run this theater company — that’s difficult, impressive work!” and he said “Yes, but everything I do is a collaborative effort. I rely on the input of a lot of other people. Writing a novel is such an insular process.” I really appreciated this because he’s absolutely right, and that’s one of the most challenging aspects of it for someone like me, who would much rather spend time with others than alone. So that’s where the writing groups and the coach and the friends I can bounce ideas of of and even this blahhhhg are helpful — I’m accountable to people for this. I’ve voiced my intention to complete this draft and so I must. I will.

Recently over dinner, a friend paid me one of the dearest compliments I’ve received. He said, “You’re one of the few people who, when I spend time with you, I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

That is one of my missions in life, to make others feel less alone. My other mission is to write.

Back to Novel. Until soon.

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.

 

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

IMG_5878I have become smitten by Instagram and this is excellent, because Words with Friends, this blahg, and conducting entire relationships via text are not enough distraction from the work I’d like to be doing.

The Instagram thing is great though because I used to love taking photos and, if I may be so bold, I was pretty decent at it. In the pre-digital era, which lasted a mere four-and-a-half billion years or so, I would shoot rolls and rolls of film when I attended events or take photos of rooftops in New Orleans and people walking away in various places, old men playing chess in Chinatown (that one didn’t go over very well; live and learn).

It’s a full moon tonight – fantastic – maybe things will finally start to get strange!

This new “strange” is, as they say, my “new normal” – I don’t like that expression – it’s my new reality and I’m learning to deal with it bit by bit and moment by moment. One of the things that helps the most is conversation – face to face conversation with people, friends and even the occasional stranger, who speak some of the same dialect that I do. The dialect about love and understanding and the validation of feelings and how, no matter how hard we might pretend we don’t need those things, those are ultimately the things that most of us need. We learn to live without them and so we grow up with these ideas that soul love is a fantasy, that our feelings are disproportionate (not our responses, for those certainly can be disproportionate, but our feelings themselves are 100% as they are meant to be), and that no one will ever really get us, because we’re simply too hard to get.

None of this is true. And trying to inure ourselves to the pain and struggle of finding these vital human needs only prolongs the process – be it through booze or drugs or meaningless sex, shopping or bingeing or hoarding cats – whatever it is, when we do the things we do to numb ourselves to our authenticity, we stifle that authenticity. Getting it all out can be terribly, frighteningly painful, but the better we equip ourselves to do so, the sooner we will become the people we actually are. Not the ones that hide behind vices and defenses and decades’-old betrayal, the ones who’ve experienced all the ups and downs and sideways and have the tremendous potential to thrive. From this point forward. The past is over, the present is now. And in coming to terms with this, one no longer needs to search everywhere for conversation about love and life. Conversation is a brilliant device that needn’t always be so heavy. I believe that getting through the heavy stuff with an intention of patience and kindness will expedite the process whereby one can get back to discussing the light stuff, the stuff that makes this world the beautiful shimmering light that it is.

I bought paint today. More paint. I’m going to try to keep painting pictures that are supposed to be representational and are abstract at best, filthy palates at worst. Either way, it’s an interesting outlet.

Have you seen the movie “Let the Right One In”? It’s a Swedish film about vampires, the theme of which is that, as all vampire mavens know, a vampire can not enter your house (or chateau or turret) unless you explicitly invite him/her in. Louie and I have developed a new routine whereby I have to invite him out of the house when we go on walks. I leash him, I sing our little walk song, and I stand outside the door waiting for him to exit. Let the Right One Out. The Louie Story.

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.

Better to have loved and lost

IMG_5798Take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night. 

–William Shakespeare

We’ve lost some legends in recent days and the one that’s impacted me the most is the great actor — Shakespearean and otherwise — and our dear family friend Charles Keating. If you don’t know the name, Google him and you’ll recognize his beautiful face. Charles has been an integral part of my life since I was 9 and his family moved to the States. He and my mother acted together in the early 60s, and the woman who would become the love of his life, Mary, was their wardrobe girl. We’ve spent the past 33 Thanksgivings together, as well as countless other celebrations and events. As a good friend said the other night, “They broke the mold when they made Charles. And then fired the mold-maker.” He was a poet, a dreamer, a rebel and a rogue. He taught me to memorize my favorite poem:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep, 

And nodding by the fire, take down this book

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace

And loved your beauty with love false or true

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled,

And paced upon the mountains overhead,

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

That’s Yeats. Charles recited it to my mum at her surprise 50th.

A couple of years ago I was going through a difficult transition and Charles and I had a long talk during which he imparted the following advice: Ride the horse in the direction its going.

There is so much I could say about this man. I could write volumes. I can’t imagine a world without him and I’m sad that that world now exists. But I’m blessed and better for having known him and I will take his advice as best I can.

Love you, mate.