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.

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.

 

Where the hot springs flow

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Someone mentioned the Land of the Midnight Sun on the news this morning, and I’ve had Robert Plant wailing in my head all day. I experienced the midnight sun in Norway in August 2007, where sun didn’t set until after 11pm. On more than one occasion this resulted in a frantic scramble to find a place still serving dinner. Norway had never been on my travel radar – not that I was opposed to the idea, but other places had piqued my curiosity more strongly. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit; it was strange and beautiful.

Last night in my dream I spoke Russian – one of the 18 or 19 words I know. I said “спасибо” – spasiba – thank you. I speak bits of French in my dreams but this is the first time I spoke what I’d spent decades thinking was my grandfather’s native language. About a year into my autodidactic studies, I learned that Ukrainian was the dominant language in his household when he was a lad. Back to the drawing board.

I leapt outside of my comfort zone yesterday and took an exercise class at this place, thanks to an inspiring and encouraging friend. I prefer my fitness endeavors to occur in the presence of as few people as possible, but we got there early enough that I could sequester myself in a back corner. The first five minutes of this class consisted of “cardio dance” – if you know me in three-dimensions and have ever watched me attempt to walk down a street without tripping, let alone dance, feast on that visual. Still, I got through it and the remaining 45 minutes of limb-by-limb torture and I feel pretty good today. I think I’ll try again next week.

Excellent conversations about writing and the creative process yesterday, about being “surprised” by our characters (as overblown as that just sounded when I reread it) and about how they can get away with saying things that we can’t. I realize that writing in the first person would afford me a lot more freedom of narrative and observation, but it doesn’t make sense for the project I’m working on. There have to be differing points of view.

Today is the birthday of a dear, departed friend, who, to quote Shakespeare, “makes the face of heaven so fine that all the world [is] in love with night.” Happy birthday, sweet one.

Mon coeur qui bat …

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If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. -Ernest Hemingway

It is impossible to return from Paris unchanged, no matter how many times one has visited. This was my sixteenth visit of the past 24 years and still I saw things I’d not seen and learned things I hadn’t known and fell in love with the city anew. It’s a city that loves you back, one of its most beautiful qualities. 

Still can’t figure out the tipping thing. 

It’s wonderful to experience Paris with someone who is visiting for the first time, to share the bits that I know and love and to see it in a way I never have before. My lovely travel companion showed it to me through a photographer’s lens and I learned from the moment we landed why it is the City of Light, how the skies are different and more luminous, how the streets are lined with language and pictures. Even the vulgar graffiti – and there is much – somehow looks prettier when written in French. 

We did many of the things I’ve done before and never tire of – La Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Montmartre et Sacré Cœur, aperitifs at Les Deux Magots, lunch at La Coupole, la Marché Bastille – and we did some amazing things that were brand new to me. We went to a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bastia (PSG won 4-0), to Sunday mass at Notre Dame, to dinner on a boat on the Seine. We rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower and drank Champagne. And we explored the Louvre – on my previous visits I’d basically run from Point A (Mona Lisa) to Point B (Venus de Milo) to Point C (Winged Victory) to have had the experience; the immensity of the palace, while too small for Louis XIV (that guy), overwhelmed me. This time we spent hours in its hallowed halls and it was formidable. We visited in it the apartments built for Napoleon (another tiny, humble Parisian) and Josephine. On this visit to Paris I also learned that I had a great aunt named Josephine, thanks to a distant cousin with whom I just connected who loves the city as I do. 

There still remains the paradox of incredibly rich food and a finely appointed populace, despite the fact that gyms are in short supply. The Parisians do smoke a lot less than they used to, and there are electronic cigarette boutiques partout. The city absolutely evolves, but just when you think it’s not what it once was, it will remind you it’s still Paris by throwing in an off-duty mime sipping RIcard in a cafe, or a beret-wearing poodle wielding a baguette on a bicycle. 

There is so much more to say on this visit, so many memories and observations to share, but I am going to save them for a different forum, a project I am very excited to begin. 

Alors, mes amis, we’ll always have Paris.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buenas noches a todos. 

 

 

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

Une part de bonheur dont je connais la cause

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The world lost a bright star today. Lily is a close family friend whom I have known my entire life. She’s a beauty queen from France who met and fell in love with my father’s best friend, Charlie. Or The Judge, as my dad refers to him almost exclusively. He calls my dad Delty; they met in the army and would have lost touch had the judge not traveled to Japan on holiday, where my father was stationed greeting the troops.

Our families are family. We’ve spent holidays together and have attended their three children’s weddings. The Judge officiated at my sister’s. Some years ago we celebrated my dad’s birthday by taking a trip by riverboat through French wine country, The Judge and Lily were integral parts of this event.

Lily was beautiful; I don’t picture her much older than she was when that photo was taken, though it was taken several decades ago. The last time I saw her, which was during the holidays, she and I sang La Vie En Rose, as was our tradition. Once we performed it, usually we just amused ourselves.

I don’t think this has really sunken in, but I know that my feelings are of warmth and love. I’m not going to fall apart. I’m going to be here for her family and for my parents. And I’m going to know that the skies are brighter for her presence.

Jusqu’a la prochaine fois, mon coeur. Je vous aime.