You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

I know this to be true because of the incredible number of people I’ve connected with in the aftermath of the recent election. I have not been to this page in quite a while—nor, I’m afraid, have I devoted as much time to my novel as I’d intended to—and that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the group I started, Action and Empathy. I don’t think the link will work if you’re not on Facebook, and for this reason and many more we are building an external site that will hopefully accomplish the same goals as the existing page.

I started the page a few days after the election because I, and most of the people in my life, were angry, disappointed, worried, depressed—all the stages of sudden grief in no particular order—and I wanted to create a space that was about action, not just ranting. There was plenty of ranting going on on Social Media, traditional media, and in person. I wanted a space where we could take action against perceived injustices and conflicts of interest and all the rest AND where we could express our empathy by actively supporting the groups that will need it most under this impending administration: women, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, the LGBTQ community, tax-paying New Yorkers, people on Medicare, the press, and on and on and on.

And I’m thrilled that the small part I am taking in all of this is having any impact at all. What began as a group of about 7 of us has grown to over 900 members, most of whom I don’t know. I’ve gotten letters of appreciation from people I’ve never met and that is enormously validating.

I have been complacent for most of my life, and this time around I had no choice but to change that. In a strange way I feel as though I am finally finding my purpose in life. I know my strengths and talents, but purpose is an entirely different thing. My other purpose, at present, is to finish my novel, and that I will do. Creating this network has taken priority.

This will be a long road and will begin in earnest after January 20. And while it’s been argued that these forms of silent and vocal protests won’t change things, in fact they will. They will prove to the world that not all Americans accept what this administration intends for this country. This will get many of us involved on the smallest, most local levels such that we can change the course of things from the bottom up. We will all pay a lot of attention to the 2018 elections. And we will support one another, we will do everything  we can to maintain the things that make this country beautiful, and those include its ethnic , religious, and cultural diversity. Those include freedoms that are now being directly threatened.

I’ve been accused of co-opting other people’s causes. I am not doing this. I am simply doing my best to do my part, and I mean it when I say that I am learning on the spot. I will make mistakes and I will seek the knowledge of others, as I’ve been doing all along.

Today is Christmas and I am with family and loved ones in Paris. Despite all that this city and country have been through in recent years and despite its current political strife, Paris still offers me the timeless beauty and romance that claimed me the first time I visited.

The Seine still flows, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles at night, the gryphons and gargoyles still guard Notre Dame. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes that I associate with this city remain, and this is very comforting.

Peace on earth is a tall order these days. So instead I will strive for as much inner-peace as I can, and though there will be slip-ups along the way, I will remain on an upward swing. I wish the same for all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate and, whatever ideals you most value.

On the topic of tranquility, which is one of my favorite words, the British philosopher James Allen said,

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.

Whatever calmness of mind means for you, I urge you to practice it in the coming year. My goal for the new year is to become stronger and wiser.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, none of the above, all of the above, I wish you peace and joy.

Until soon, my friends.

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.

Bright are the stars that shine …

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I have fallen head over heels in love with New York over the past week. Smitten. It’s been a week of music, art, friends, family, kismet, productivity, and optimism, and I am hellbent on savoring this feeling for as long as it may last. Because I know there will be dark times again, but this, my friends, is what life is about. This is what matters, and this is very much real. I used to think calm and happy were the exceptions – actually, they were the exceptions for many, many years. But I’ve always, I think, harbored profound optimism that things could and would get better. When my optimism first manifested, it was met with great resistance from people who very much mattered to me, some who still do and some who’ve gone the way of other toxic elements in my life. My tranquil state of mind was seen as contrived, fake, manipulative. And it is anything but.

I have thus far smiled more today than I have in a very long time.

A recap of events in random order: Sir Paul McCartney at the surprisingly beautiful Barclay Center, with, by sheer coincidence, seats in front of one of my dearest friends; Sir Alain Toussaint with unannounced special guest Dr. John at City Winery; a night of readings by three talented, smutty male writers; a long and good conversation with my father; a date with my mum, a pitstop at Moma, a gallery visit, a home cooked meal, new writing/editing projects, random encounters with a neurosurgeon, heart transplant specialist, and decorated war veteran. What matters most in all of this is the part that doesn’t cost a dime, and that’s the connectedness I’m feeling to so many people who understand me and appreciate me despite my many flaws. Forgiveness. It’s a beautiful thing. 

I’m overdoing it on the adjectives. 

The essence of everything I’m feeling right now is very much related to a conversation I just had with the ever-lovely Vanessa: while “they” say that people don’t change, the truth is that we can evolve, transform, metamorphosize into kinder, calmer, safer versions of ourselves. I’m catching a glimpse of this now, and I’m grateful for it. I think for many years I couldn’t get to this point because I didn’t really believe that it would be possible. I believed I was inherently bad and misunderstood, and I numbed myself to as much of the world as I could to keep my thoughts from spiraling downward. But I’ve somehow been lucky enough to surround myself with like-minded, kind people in the past several years, people who have my best interests at heart as well as their own, and who understand the language that I speak. So if you are reading this and feel alone, know that it needn’t be permanent. Forever is a very long time and the world is filled with beautiful souls who will wish the best for you sans ulterior motives. We’ve all felt betrayal; it needn’t darken our outlook on (wo)mankind, because the good are many and the future is bright.

Thank you, my friends. 

 

Across these purple fields

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When I reached the corner of 41st and Madison today, I saw a woman sitting in the street; she’d just been hit by a car, it seemed. She had her back to me and an umbrella over her head – it’s pouring rain in New York – so I couldn’t really see what she looked like. Her legs were crossed strangely and she was just sitting there, while strangers gathered around, talking to her and directing traffic. I was on a phone call and outside my destination, so I couldn’t really avoid the scene; it was incredibly upsetting. The vulnerability on display, the kindness of strangers – sometimes I feel too emotional for this world. Soon a firetruck arrived, followed by an ambulance, and after what seemed an exceedingly long time, they took her away. 

What made this especially strange was that I was already planning to write about what happened to me exactly two years ago today. 

In the winter of 2011 I fractured a tiny bone in my wrist – my scaphoid. I didn’t realize it for six weeks, six weeks during which I banged out a draft of a screenplay and downward dogged on a regular basis – something I doubt I’ll ever be able to do again. I wound up in a cast for a year – a series of casts, actually, as I had three surgeries on my wrist during that time. 

On June 7 I had my first (and, as it turned out, last) day of a class in midtown. I had an afternoon appointment with my wrist surgeon and in between I ate lunch in Bryant Park. It was the first hot day of the season – incredibly hot, and humid. I had enough time to walk to my appointment, so I began to head uptown after lunch. On the corner of 52nd and 5th I started to feel lightheaded. The subway was across the street and I decided to take it, but by divine intervention I didn’t make it. Instead, lights started flashing in my eyes and I realized something was not right at all. The last thing I recall is turning around, seeing a store and heading toward it to sit in the air conditioning. 

I came to surrounded by people I didn’t know; one person was behind me holding my head, someone was offering me water, someone else said, “You’re okay – you fainted but the ambulance is on its way.” I told them I had to get to my appointment and tried to get up, but they wouldn’t let me. I looked over at my purse and saw a puddle of what looked like Kool-Aid; when I asked what it was the person holding my head said, “We spilled something – don’t worry about it.”

This is hard to write.

This is what happened, I found out a few days later: some of the shop’s employees came back from lunch and found me standing in the doorway to the office, which was next door. Apparently I grabbed one of them by the arm and told him I didn’t feel well, and he told me to come in and sit down. He put his key in the door and I fell backwards through it. They stared at me for a second and blood started to pool around me. One of the guys who worked there was certified in CPR; he’s the one who was behind me with the compress on my head. I was out for a little over four minutes and it took the ambulance 15 to arrive. 

I remember the rest. The paramedics strapped me into the thing-they-strap-you-into and lifted me in. I asked them if I was going to die. They asked me all my pertinent info and compared it to my driver’s license. They asked me the date, the name of the President, and his predecessor; I made some sort of political joke because I was desperate to prove to the universe that I was okay and going to make it. 

My parents were flying back from France that night, so wouldn’t find out about this until the morning. My then-boyfriend came down to the hospital, though it was a while before he could see me. 

Once it was established that I was stable, I spent hours on a gurney in the hallway of Bellevue being hip checked by whomever passed by. At one point they wheeled me outside of an x ray room; a patient they were examining inside the room went into cardiac arrest and died. I heard them yell “Code Blue!” and a dozen people rushed past me into the room. I heard him flatline. 

Because it was a head injury, I spent the night in a room that had 24-hour supervision. My roommates were three men: one was a prisoner, handcuffed to his bed, with an attending cop stationed outside; one was a grandfatherly Latino on oxygen who kept asking for cigarettes and giving me sympathetic looks – he was very protective of me; the third was Mr. Singh, a Sikh who was yelling obscenities in Hindi all night long. He and I were separated by a curtain and the nurses kept shouting things like, “Mr. Singh, put your pants back on!” “Mr. Singh – that is NOT a bathroom!” I was on a Valium drip – Gawd I love those – and they kept upping the dose because having Mr. Singh as a roommate is not conducive to rest. 

One of the doctors who saw me was a young, cocky resident who was chomping on gum and trying to get me to confess to a drug habit that I did not have. 

The upshot of all this – a concussion and several staples in my head. The cut itself was fairly shallow. I had serious short term memory loss in the weeks that followed; as it turns out, the part of the brain that I injured is the part associated with communication and language. I forgot words. I forgot close friends’ names. I forgot who visited me and when. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself for many weeks. 

I sent this note around at the end of July:

Individual thank you calls forthcoming, but collective profound appreciation to all of my friends and family who’ve been so lovely and supportive in the aftermath of my accident. Feeling so much better in every way – and you were all absolutely wonderful during my time of many needs. Special thank you to Claudia , Mo and KJ for accompanying me to doctors’ appointments and acting as my short-term memory/balance when I had neither, and to Angel, Alyssa, Di, Erika, Sean, Suzanne, Vanessa, Christina, Linda, Tommy, Rachel, Cheech, Sherrie, Paul, and the folks I’m inevitably forgetting for visiting. Thank you always to Tara and Lisa for listening so well and so patiently.

I have the best friends in the universe. Truly. xoL

Wow. I’m glad I got this out. I really, really hope that the woman I saw today is okay, and that she has the guardian angels on her side that I did that day and still do. 

Love is the drug

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The other day, I felt the blues trying to sneak up on me at a most inconvenient time. I was on my way to see my mom — we went to the ballet — and I am trying my best to minimize her worrying about me. A friend who understands these things all too well (I wish you didn’t, of course, but selfishly, it helps that you do) agreed that I should “fake it” — because sometimes this actually works. I did; I smiled throughout the cab ride uptown in what I hoped was a beatific manner but that was probably closer to maniacal. I held the door for everyone in my path at Lincoln Center. I rolled my eyes and agreed with the line for the Ladies Room that waiting so long is an injustice against our gender. And by the time I saw my mom, I was feeling much better.

Since I’ve been writing about depression I’ve been searching for my own metaphor. It’s something like a fog coming in (and not, as Carl Sandburg said, on little cat feet), but fog is too pure; it’s more like a thick smog. The ability to sense its coming is invaluable. 

Grief is an entirely different animal. When I was little my mother and sister were driving in a rain storm and a massive dead branch fell on their car and shattered their windshield; thank God, they escaped unharmed. That is a good analogy for grief — a wet broken branch that falls with a thud and shatters whatever it lands upon. And grief, again, takes many forms — death of a loved one is the most profound, but the loss of any relationship can be as traumatic, particularly when it takes us by surprise. So, “At least you’ve still got your health. At least no one died” doesn’t apply; every ending is a death of sorts. Folks-who-are-going-through-this, allow yourselves to grieve and don’t let anyone make you feel that you should snap out of it, because we can’t just do that; adding pressure to the feeling makes it that much worse. Change of any sort is difficult, and it makes perfect sense that we struggle with it, that the unexpected takes its toll and we are temporarily paralyzed by the fear that we’re not sure how to get through, what to think, how to feel, how life can possibly work from here on out. You ARE going to get through it, and you’ll figure out how life is going to work, but these feelings are entirely valid. Rely on friends, rely on music, on art, on exercise, allow yourself to feel the loss and allow yourself to believe that you have incredible strength that will rise to the surface when you need it most. 

The Vanishing Man contacted me again, via email. I’ve still yet to respond to a single attempt on his part. I’ve nothing to say. I wish I didn’t derive any semblance of satisfaction from his “suffering” (hard to believe the words of the delusional), but I can’t help it. I went through hell — briefly — because of him (in part because of him; he doesn’t have the power to wreck me), and I made my feelings known to no avail. I’m pretty sure what I feel now is indifference. Of course I don’t wish ill on him — I wish no one physical harm, ever — but if he’s now having a hard time emotionally because of the world he created through his action and inaction, so be it. Not my fault. Not my problem.

I’ve come to the point where I truly believe that, more often than not, we’re best off making our thoughts and feelings as clear as we can; any “rejection” this causes is much purer and less worrisome than what would exist if we hadn’t put ourselves out there in the first place. If our genuine selves send others away, those others could never have been right for us. Because despite our best intentions, despite how hard we try to be on perfect behavior at the beginning of a relationship, to woo through what we think will work and act in such a way that we will keep the object of our affection interested, eventually our true selves will shine through. I think I’d rather be rejected for who I am, hard as that can be, than for who I want others to think I am, for not expressing enough interest if I have it, for not putting my heart out there. At least then I know I’ve done whatever I could to love completely and without subterfuge. It’s important, however, that we don’t make the loneliness = heartache mistake. That we don’t perceive promise where there’s never been any and let this determine our happiness or sense of selves. No one person can make it all better for us. Sometimes not crossing the line of platonic love in the first place is the best thing we can do. This is not the same as acting on physical impulse once (or twice) and realizing it’s a mistake, because as sentient and sensitive beings, sometimes in-the-moment makes all the sense we need it to. But regaining our wits if we haven’t succeeded in keeping them about us is crucial. And not blaming others for our indiscretions or changes of heart (or other parts) is mature and kind. Much more to say but I’ll have to come back to it.

Yes it’s a long way to go, but in the meantime

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A friend asked me recently what I think of as my worst quality. Interesting question – as qualities and habits are not the same thing. Much of what I would like to change about myself is the result of habitual behavior that has seldom worked in my favor, like procrastinating. Other things are the result of deeply rooted fears and insecurities; I’ve preemptively lashed out at people I love so they can’t hurt me first. I’d have to say that my “worst” quality is impatience, in all its many forms. I get impatient for results and do things too quickly and not quite carefully enough and this is how dishes break and ankles are sprained and overpriced items are bought. Intentional use of passive voice. I get impatient with people who don’t seem to know how to behave in public, like the woman sitting next to me at the theater last night who did not stop moving the entire time, ate what sounded like a full meal, and took her shoes off. And I get most profoundly impatient with the people I love who can’t see the wonderfulness in themselves that I see. I realize how “unfair” this is, and that it is projection, frustration with my own slow self-improvement, and so on, but the question was asked and this is my answer right now. RIGHT NOW! (see?)

It comes down to a mixture of things. One is that, as Vanessa and I discussed this weekend, I am on such a quest for self-betterment and so determined to conquer my demons, which will be a lifelong project, that I get frustrated when people complain and lament but don’t want to accept that there are solutions, that the vast majority of “problems” we have are, in fact, surmountable. My frustration stems very much from my need to believe that obstacles are temporary and that better things will surely come my way. And that I can manifest a life that is rich and abundant and more positive than negative. And so idle complaining from others, particularly of the cyclical variety, is difficult for me to tolerate. When a friend complains about his or her unhealthy habits and the toll it’s taking on his or her body, I want to be able to say, “You know what you need to do. I’ll help you and encourage you. Let’s start now.” But I recognize that people aren’t always ready to hear that. I know I’ve needed to lament about the states of various things for a while before I’ve been ready to take the necessary steps toward fixing them. It’s like quitting smoking (and in some cases is exactly that). We know it’s bad for us and that we need to quit, but knowing and feeling and implementing are three unique parts of the process. Kinder than sighing in frustration and snapping with impatience is embodying this quote, which I’ve used before:

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

Several people in my life are going through difficult times right now.Most of these times revolve around heartbreak and self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’m noticing, can segue into self-loathing, and there is no one in my world who deserves such treatment. Loving and accepting our own humanity, the wonderful and the horrible, allowing ourselves to learn from and let go of guilt and regret, and understanding that we don’t behave in a vacuum, that we are a sum of all of our parts and experiences and habits, these are the things that pave the way toward happier lives. Toward surviving the dark times and moving forward. Bad things will happen; this is an inescapable truth. The stronger we are, mentally and physically, the better equipped we will be to weather the unthinkable.

Now I must practice what I preach.

Fare you well, my honey

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Oh this is a tough one to write, a heartbreaking situation, but I can’t let it go unmentioned. The sweet boy in the photo above, Archie, was hit by a car a couple of days ago and is no longer with us. He was my parents’ dog – and absolutely devoted to my mum. With her through so much over the past several years. Strange and beautiful and sensitive and full of life. He was a wonderful addition to the family and I’m grateful that she enjoyed these years with him. 

If you happen to know my immediate family, please don’t bring this up; it’s too difficult to process at the moment and there’s guilt and shock involved. Then again, if you happen to know my immediate family I probably don’t need to have told you that. I am the grief filter among the four of us, and I’ve had to learn to understand that I process things differently than they do. I’ve dealt with a decent amount of untimely death over the past many years, and it’s been very difficult. As such, I’ve become better at working with others when they are in mourning. I feel things very deeply and am an excellent weeper, but I’m learning how and when to put my grief aside and let others’ take precedence. It’s such a tricky process, grief – the five stages are very real, and they don’t always come in order. Grief is unwieldy, unpredictable, and deeply personal. I’ve found, more often than not, that the bereaved don’t want to tiptoe around the name of the person (or animal) they’ve lost, but this is certainly not the case for everyone. 

It’s hard for people who’ve not had pets to understand how profound the love we have for our dogs can be. When I was going through one of my black holes of depression and Louie was an outspoken and impossible-to-please two year old, I had a very hard time raising him. I gave serious thought to giving him to friends upstate. It was an agonizing decision at a time when paper or plastic was an agonizing decision. A well-meaning friend, one of the “But you have so much going on! Don’t be depressed!” folks, said, “He won’t care – he’s a dog!” I took no offense at this and didn’t try to convince her otherwise, but as anyone who’s read about or experienced the incredible attachment and unspoken communication that can exist between dogs and humans knows, this is not the case. 

Obviously I did not give Louie away, and as the weekend of his eleventh birthday draws near I can say, unequivocally, that I am truly grateful for that. 

But alas. Frolic with the angels, my sweet Archie. I love you very much — we all do — and we miss you more than words can say. We will meet again some day. 

Good boy.