In the secret space of dreams

IMG_0147.jpgThis post’s title is from “Attics of my Life” by the Grateful Dead, a song that will forever remind me of a very poignant and emotional time in my life, coming up on its 20th anniversary at the end of this month.

Next year, as has been well-publicized in the past couple of days, will mark the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, and while I needn’t point out the obvious, as this blog will live in cyberspace indefinitely, I will: this past Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, saw another massacre at a high school carried out because a young man had access to an assault rifle. This time it was in Parkland, Florida, which happens to be the home of one of my oldest, dearest childhood friends. I contacted her as soon as I heard the news, and she was on her way to the school to pick up her daughter, who survived the carnage and was barricaded in a classroom.

Conflicting reports list the number of shootings at schools since 2018 began and the number itself, in the double digits, is irrelevant; one is far too many.

Somehow I managed to inure myself to the other incidents that took place, and that is on me. It took emotional proximity—a term I learned in the aftermath of the Bataclan attacks—for me to really react.

Not something I’m proud of, but something I understand.

When will the madness end? When the NRA stops buying politicians. When gun owners and enthusiasts recognize that gun violence prevention is NOT about the abolition of the 2nd Amendment, but rather about updating it so that its intent bears some semblance of reality to what is possible and impossible in 21st Century America. When the children of Parkland and other afflicted schools turn 18 and exercise their rights to vote.

Maybe.

To the victims and survivors of this and all the other mass shootings in the past 19 years, I am sorry. I am sorry that I don’t always pay attention. I am sorry that of the devastating number of such incidents, only a handful really stand out for me: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Pulse Nightclub, Parkland. I pledge to do much more than hope and pray. I pledge to vote responsibly and to encourage others to do the same, to support affected communities if and when I can, and to not let this issue fall to the wayside. I pledge this as an activist and as a human being. This should never happen again, but it will. And to quote someone I read today, who’s escaping my mind at the moment, while I am not necessarily optimistic that this incident will be the one to turn the tides, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because of the strength and grace and determination of generations of future voters.

A friend asked me the other night why I keep this blog, what purpose it serves for me, and I really appreciate this question. I think the answer is manifold; I keep this blog because it keeps me writing, for one, and because it forces me to organize my thoughts. It forces me to try to put them into words, and in so doing, to really crystallize what I feel and think and why. When I started it, coming upon five years ago, it was a way for me to manage an intensely transitional and uncertain phase, which has always been difficult for me—for most of us—and at the time I felt as though I were writing myself out of a rut. And then, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I realized that talking about my stuff was a way to connect to others who are going through stuff, and that was richly rewarding. I am a connector—it is difficult for me to have superficial friendships because I need to talk about things. And I like to hear people’s stories and, as I said last time, to help and support if I can. So this blog feels like a tangible manifestation of the emotional connections I strive for on a regular basis. There you go, AG, that’s why I write this. Thanks for making me think about it.

Hug your loved ones if you’re a hugger, think warm thoughts about them if you’re not, never go to bed angry if you can help it, apologize for your missteps to yourself and those you hurt or inconvenience along the way—but do NOT apologize for being imperfect—be kind to strangers who don’t seem creepy, be gentle to the ones who do, and remind yourself that all that is certain, as my friend said yesterday, is this very moment. Nothing else really exists. So make this moment matter, and if you hit snooze, make the next one matter, or the one after that. We are living in a fractured world, and we are all lonely, and we are all connected. If you are reading this, I have love for you. Unless you are an NRA-funded politician or a white supremacist; if you are, I have faith that you can change. But that’s up to you.

 

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Words that jangle in your head

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Hello mesdames et messieurs, and welcome to 2018. I’m behind on this post; usually my tradition has been to write an end-of-the-year post listing all the things I did for the first time that year and some of my goals for the new one. For various reasons, I was not inspired to do so this time around.

What can I say about 2017? By and large, it was horrible. To quote one of my favorite shows, “Broad City,” “a sexual assault-bragging steak salesman became our president” … and those are his accomplishments. I’m not going to delve into everything that is despicable about that man and his administration because you already know, and others have voiced it much more calmly and eloquently than I will. However, I will say that as much as the political situation in our country disheartens and infuriates me, on a personal level 2017 was quite decent. I woke up, I contributed to the Resistance, I met likeminded (i.e. empathic) people and solidified existing friendships. I saw theater and opera and went to concerts. I did interesting freelance editing work. I wrote, I traveled a bit, I continued with my voice lessons, I upped my exercise game, and I figured out the timetable I need to stick to to stay one step ahead of my roots.

I wish I’d framed the photo above better so that the entirety of the doorknob were visible. This was from Paris last year, sometime around New Year’s Eve.

It’s only been 12 days, but it feels as though 2018 has yet to get off the ground. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it feels kind of sluggish. I think part of the reason for this is that I’ve yet to sit and dedicate several hours to my own writing, and I plan to do so this weekend. Among the many projects I hope to work on are: another revision on the novel I (thought I) finished last year, a series of short stories, a short film idea I’ve had, and that second novel that I started last summer and have taken a long break from. What I need to do, and what I did while I (thought I) was finishing Novel 1, is to schedule writing time in my week as I do other things. Actually put it in my calendar and stick to it. Because I feel much more human and connected when I’m writing, and this is probably why this feels like a non-year so far.

I also have the goal of recording some of the songs I’ve learned, and a talented friend who knows how to do these things has offered to work with me on this. The title of this post, by the way, is from “The Windmills of Your Mind”, the song from “The Thomas Crown Affair.” I want to learn it. It has a lot of lyrics, but I’m pretty good at memorizing.

I want to keep up this exercising thing, because I’m liking the combination of strength training, Pilates, and yoga. It’s good for my brain. At this point in my life, that is the far more important reason to exercise than is fitting into my old jeans. But in case the Gods in charge of these things are paying attention, I’d be happy to fit into my old jeans, too.

I want to read more books.

I want to continue my language studies – Spanish, Russian, German, and recently I added Haitian Creole to the list. One of the beautiful things about the Internets is that one can learn languages, at least the basics, for free.

Of course I want to travel, but for now big travel plans are on hold as Louie’s comfort and wellbeing take precedence. I don’t mind this at all; I am happy to spend these days with him. I have a couple of short trips coming up, one to D.C. to celebrate acknowledge the completion of one year of this pitiful, hateful excuse for a presidency, and then one solo restorative healthy retreat in early February.

I’ve thought about ending this blahhhggg as I didn’t write in it much last year and I feel as though it has served its purpose, which was initially to help me through a strange and difficult time. A lot of my writing energy has gone to the Resistance and my book and such, and so I’ve let this fall to the wayside. But I don’t think I’m ready to throw in the towel yet, so bear with me a bit longer while I figure out what I want this to be and what I want to write about.

I hope that you all have productive and peaceful 2018s, and that you meet the goals you set for yourselves. Onward and upward.

 

 

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.

Beautiful jewels of wisdom

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The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

That’s from the British philosopher and writer James Allen, and I came across it during one of the more challenging times in my life. This was before I started my meditation practice and so I did not yet know my capacity for true calm. I understand it a little better now, though like most things, it is a work in progress.

My (second) cousin asked me, and several other people, to write a letter to her daughter who recently graduated high school and is off to college. She asked me months ago and it took me a while to compose something in part because I don’t write quickly and I edit obsessively and in part because, as I said in the letter, I don’t feel terribly wise these days. However, I managed to cobble something together.

I think many of us have a lot more wisdom than we realize. That wisdom may lie beneath the surface, but when we need it, if we trust that it’s there, we can learn to access it. A large percentage of our problems stem from our getting in our own ways, and more often than not we know just what we need to do to fix certain aspects of our lives. Of course there will always be things over which we have no control, but I do believe that most of us have far more control than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Because having control over things is scary. Because if we have the power to improve our lives, does this also mean that when things go wrong we have ourselves to blame?

No, it doesn’t. It means that many of our challenges are in our control, and to me this is comforting. Again, there will always be plenty of things over which we have no control. How refreshing, then, that what we can do is learn to change our behavior, and our responses to our often messy (and always valid) emotions. That is where that beautiful jewel of wisdom comes into play. One can’t cultivate it over night, but with practice and determination, one can develop it. And learning how to better respond to our negative emotions is the cornerstone of wisdom.

The day after I sent my cousin-letter I was talking to someone whom I know casually. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m in a creative rut.” He said, “Okay—so get out of it. Set small goals. That’s how you win.”

And so I did, I decided to start working on a new novel that has been marinating in this (occasionally calm) mind of mine for the past month or two. I am not abandoning the other one, I am just stepping away from it for a little while so that I can get back to it with a fresher perspective. I told myself I would just set out to write 500 words, and I did, and then I wrote 500 more the next day, and then I had more ideas so I jotted those down. I’m going to take a very different approach to this project then I did the last, going to make every effort to bang out what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism kills creativity. Or, to paraphrase a writer friend of mine, I’m going to write the first draft so that I can tell myself the story I want to write.

Will be spending the next week at the beach, thereby cramming an entire summer into seven days, and I hope to get more writing done there. I am also looking for some freelance work to support my book-writing habit; if you know of anyone or anything that needs writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading, and so on and so forth, please keep me in mind!

Namaste.

Let’s get together and feel alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

*I didn’t order a cup of coffee in.

 

 

Just like starting over

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“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” -James Joyce

Granted I’ve not tried to write much in other languages, but this book writing thing (did I mention I wrote a book?) can be maddening. Maddening! And yet so many books get written and published and a fair amount of them are really good. How do these people do it?

I’m in the mountains celebrating Father’s Day and then taking a few days to, as I keep saying for some odd reason, as it’s not an expression I’ve ever used before, “bang out my revisions.”

I saw a friend last week who comes to town a couple times a year and he said, “Wait—weren’t you working on revisions when I was here in December?”

WHY YES, I WAS!!!! And then, based on those revisions, I needed to copyedit, which led to further changes. Then I submitted my draft to my editor and my writing group and my beta readers and more revisions stemmed from that … and so on and so on and so on.

I found a metaphor for this today. I love metaphors. Not in writing per se, but in life. I took a longer walk this afternoon than I’d set out to … this is a hilly walk and is decent exercise and exercise is something I wish I loved more than I do. It’s a walk where, once you reach a certain point, it’s silly to turn back, you might as well just keep going up that road and take the long way back—you’ve gotten this far. So I kept bargaining with myself that I didn’t have to do the whole thing—I just needed to do something, which is my general approach to exercise. I would turn around once I got to the bend in the road, which I could see many steps in the distance. Only I’d never get to the bend in the road because once there I’d realize it wasn’t a bend, it was the suggestion of one. So I could never really catch up and I had to keep going. And that’s what this revision process feels like. I’ll revise until I finish this draft, only once there I realize the draft isn’t finished after all.

However, I want to move on to new projects, and so I must finish this one for the time being. In so doing I will start pitching to agents—in fact I already have begun this process, and it is a long and arduous one that uses a very different part of the brain than the writing does and a different part than the revising and maybe I should go back to school and learn a trade or follow a new pursuit?

But since I’m not going to do that, I’m going to “bang out” these revisions, continue my agent research and querying, and move on to my next writing project.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do set goals at other times of the year. This feels like a starting point. My goals for the second half of 2017 are: to become a better writer, to read more, to spend less, to finish revisions (for now) and move on to the next thing, to purge a bunch of stuff that is cluttering my apartment and mind, to meditate and exercise regularly, and a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t want to put on record.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all.

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.