When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez

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I was thinking about travel songs because I’ve been thinking about travel and that one popped into my head—though if I understand it correctly it’s about an extremely ill-fated trip. It’s a great song, and I went through a phase somewhere around 2003 of listening to Bob Dylan’s and Nina Simone’s versions back to back, along with a somewhat random assortment of other songs that were part of my greatest hits collection during that stretch. Nick Cave’s “He Wants You”, Marlene Dietrich’s “I May Never Go Home Anymore”, Tom Waits’ “Old Shoes and Picture Postcards” were all on that soundtrack. Along with many others that will come to mind as soon as I hit “Publish.”

I got to travel a bit last weekend, a long weekend in Florida where we lay on the beach and floated in the gulf and it had been a while since I’d done either, particularly the latter. Sometimes, often, you don’t realize how much you need to get out of New York until you get out of New York. On the one hand, stepping outside of your life can help you to appreciate it; on the other hand, New York is a really effing hard place to be. It is also a really exciting and interesting place where the vast majority of my friends and family live. Now that dog care is no longer an issue—and you know I would trade the freedom for more time with Louie in a heartbeat—but given the confines of my reality, I am realistically fantasizing about leaving town for an extended period of time. Not six months—but a couple of weeks feels like just what the doctors have ordered.

I feel like New York has a way of deciding who you are and what your life will be like without your having as much say in the matter as you might elsewhere.

We sat in the exit row on the way down to Florida, and it occurred to me that I should be more vigilant about knowing who is in the exit row on future flights, for they have the power to hinder or expedite my slide to safety.

I’ll be traveling again the week after next, to Colorado, to see Tom. I don’t have any idea what this trip will be like but I am grateful that it will be, period. There was a time quite recently when early-May seemed an impossibly long way off.

At the office today, three people asked me how Louie was doing. I’d kind of assumed everybody there, and in my building, knew—but this was not the case. B and I have fantasies that Louie is hanging out with the Roosevelts; not sure where this came from, but it fits.

The photo above is from last summer, Louie’s last trip to Montauk with us. I don’t think his death had really hit me for the first couple of weeks—something about being present for it, maybe. Or about the enormity of his spirit. I’ve hung out with him many times in my dreams since he died. “He died” sounds so very strange, and was made much clearer a few hours after I landed in Florida, when I got a message from his vet’s office—his vet is wonderful and most of the people who work there are too, but this message came from one of the front desk people who is not the most delicate or empathic.

Picture (aurally) this in a New York accent:

Hi Laura, it’s xxxx calling from West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital. Just letting you know that Louie’s cremains are in, so if you want to pick them up we’re open from 8AM to 7PM. 

I guess this means he’s never really coming back except in “cremain” form. Cremain, criminy, craisin, Crimea … I miss that boy.

Much more to say, must go to sleep. If you knew Lou, look for him in your dreams. He’s around.

 

 

 

 

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Darlin’, you’re the best

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Alas, here it is, the post I knew I’d someday write and yet never really believed I’d have to.

My little guy has gone to the great dog park in the sky, where he will find all the tennis balls, cookies, and people-who-give-him-just-enough-but-not-too-much attention his heart desires.

Louie Louie Louie … my sweet little babushka boy, the spy who loved me. That was one of the songs I used to sing to him, that and “Girls” by the Beastie Boys.

I suppose I should tell the story of Lou and me. Here’s where you learn what a horrid, unethical, fake-animal-loving person I used to be … I got him at a pet store. I know, I know, but I didn’t know then, and I was 31 and grieving and of COURSE I would do things differently now, were I to acquire another animal, but I have zero regrets about how it went down because Lou and I were meant to hang out for 16 years. One-third of my life thus far.

Here’s what happened. I have to back track a little to June of 2002, when six of my girlfriends were pregnant at the same time—’twas the season—and while I had always feared the physicality of childbirth, I’d also always kind of assumed I’d be a mom someday because that’s what women do. So I’d started to research international adoption, which freaked my mom out a bit at the time, but as I explained then, it wasn’t as though I was going to make a rash decision about adopting a kid. I was merely researching. I mean, I pretty much knew how the getting pregnant and having a kid thing worked, so I figured it made sense to learn this method of motherhood as well.

And then the unthinkable happened. What was then the unthinkable, anyway, and is now clearly possible. My friend Laura died in childbirth. And though I’d suffered losses of loved ones before, I’d never experienced anything like that, hearing the message on my answering machine to call Diane back and knowing by the tone of her voice that something wasn’t right, deciding to shower first to stave off the bad information that was trying to find me (a borrowed quote from another tragedy), then crumpling to the ground in tears and shock and disbelief and all those myriad stages of grief that whirl around you like a swarm of gnats and sneak up on you when you think you’re thinking about something else. When you think you’re going to the corner store to buy milk or cigarettes or whatever you buy at the corner store and you wind up livid and in tears. Or when you dream a beautiful dream in which all is right in the world and you’re walking off into the sunset hand in hand with your true love and then you wake to have the anvil of reality plunge to your gut.

So that went on for a couple of months and as I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure I think about Laura on some level every day.

And then one day in mid-August we went out for brunch, a couple of us. I was living on Charles Street at the time, and as we walked down Christopher to meet our friends we passed Urban Pets. It’s no longer there. I glanced in the window and there was a jumble of puppies doing puppy things, all tails and teeth and oversized paws, and there, in the very front of the window, staring out, pleading to be rescued from the mundane mayhem of so many puppies, was this little black foxy thing that reminded me of my childhood German Shepard, Lovable. We went in and inquired about him and learned that he was that newfangled Japanese breed I’d been seeing all over town—which, in fact, is one of the oldest fangled dog breeds around, dating back to many thousand years B.C. and, since 1936, a “precious natural product” of Japan. I held him, all six or seven pounds of him, and asked questions. I still had no idea I was going to be getting a dog, I just knew that I liked holding puppies. I’d been doing a fair amount of that in the aftermath of my friend’s death. It was comforting.

We went to brunch, and on the way back stopped in again for more puppy-holding. The wheels started turning and the then-partner started panicking. Over the next 48 – 72 hours I phoned everyone I knew who had ever owned, walked, or looked at a dog. I wrote lists of pros and cons and realized that not being able to jet off to Tahiti on a moment’s notice had never been an issue, and that having to leave my house every day was a pro.

I lied—I wasn’t living on Charles Street at that point, I was living on 9th.

So I went back and visited him several times and eventually took him home. Before I did they gave me his papers; his parents’ names were Foxy Lady’s Nikki One Leg (dad) and T-Dallas Rebel’s Sungirl (mom). I commented on the names and the man at the shop said, “Well, he came from Nebraska. You know how they are in the south.”

I may have altered those names slightly – I will look at the papers later and edit.

I believe we took Louie home on a Monday, and by Friday he still didn’t have a name. There were several contenders including Hiroshi, which is Japanese for generous. And then one day I realized his name was Louie.

For the first week or two Louie stayed in the bathroom; he could not be coaxed out of his hiding place. I was afraid I’d made a terrible mistake, that this little thing I just wanted to love adamantly refused to let me do so. And then one evening we were watching TV and he came out, sat in the doorway, and stared at us. If you knew Louie, or any Shiba, really, you know that that is the mark of true affection. At long last, I’d earned his trust. And his love.

Louie and I spent almost sixteen years together. He screamed the first time he saw the sunrise, and was elated on his first visit to the sea. We spent a couple of summer vacations on a lake in Maine, and several summers on the beach in Montauk. He’s been to Philadelphia and Baltimore and Sea Isle City and had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the late, great John Barlow at a party in Soho. He loved tennis balls, food, and watching rain fall.

There is so much more to say about Lou, but if I were to say it all this post would never end. I will write more about him, I’m sure of that.

For now I say this: thank you to everyone who was part of Louie’s life, and thank you, sweet Lou, for being my bearcub and lovebug and faithful companion. Keep visiting me in my dreams, dear one.

 

One brief shining moment

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The lyric above is from Camelot, whose second definition in Merriam-Webster is “a time, place, or atmosphere of idyllic happiness.” The photo above is from sunset at the Montauket in Montauk, NY—which is one of my Camelots. You get there before the sun has begun its descent and take a spot on the fence looking out at the water, sip your wine, ignore everyone around you except the person you’re with, and revel in the melancholy and beauty of some of life’s most perfect sunsets.

A good friend of mine—a good friend of many—thought he was going to Chicago last weekend and wound up learning that he has Stage 4 prostate cancer that has metastasized into his bones. I have experienced Camelot many times with this friend, in hot tubs in Napa Valley and cabins in Vermont, in long, leisurely lunches all over Manhattan and late nights spent telling stories and creating characters and living life. In 1998 at a restaurant in northern California three of us (this friend included) came across the words “If not now, when shall we live?”  imprinted on the menu, and this became a motto for us, one we’ve repeated many time in the decades since. One that my friend embodies, sometimes to the detriment of rest and restoration, and that has enabled him to build an incredibly large makeshift family all over the country and throughout the world. This has led, in the past seven days, to an outpouring of love and support so strong and so vast that it’s hard to keep up. And this is good. This is what he needs, this is what we, his terrified and saddened friends, need for him. This will work in his favor, as will the excellent medical care he’s receiving and the indomitable joie de vivre that is his core.

He has not had an easy life—none of us has—but that it should end this way seems impossible to me. And so I take my cues from someone who is with him right now, thousands of miles away, and who is certain that this is not the end. At all.

I’ve been asked to be part of the team who will, over the next couple of months, go out and visit in a caregiver capacity, taking him to appointments, tending to his needs, which remain to be seen, I imagine cooking and cleaning and all of the things that help life to function. And most important to me, spending time with my friend. Talking, laughing, reminiscing, and working toward conquering this thing we are determined he conquer.

There is a Go Fund Me set up to offset some of the cost of Having Cancer in America. As I cannot seem to link to it without linking to my personal profile on Go Fund Me, please let me know via message or comment or however you choose if you would like to contribute. Five dollars, five thousand dollars, every bit, as you know, counts.

As I said to a friend, one of the hardest parts of this past seven days has been that everyone found out at different times and so I had the opportunity to witness each stage of grief all day every day. For me Sunday was shock, Monday was grief, and slowly I’ve started to figure out my role here, which is strength and support and taking care of myself so that, when needed, I can help take care of others. I have my own tiny makeshift family here in Chelsea who deserve my attention right now and who have been wonderfully supportive.

The grief I speak about is grief that we must watch our friend go through this. I am choosing optimism and so I choose to believe that this is the beginning of a new version of life for my friend and, by extension, for many of us.

We’ve got this, dear one. I’ll see you in May.

 

 

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.

Here by the sea and sand

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This photo was taken at the Montauket during what would become the most brilliant sunset I’ve seen in quite some time. I have a feeling this couple wound up in many photos from that day. They were summer’s end personified,  and were it not for his unfortunate man-bun, they could have been of another era. Timeless.

We spent the week in Montauk, a perfect way to celebrate summer—the ocean and shooting stars. So many stars—Montauk is aptly nicknamed the end of the world and when you’re out there, looking up at the night skies and listening to the symphony of crickets and tree frogs and things that go chirp in the night, it feels like the most remote spot on the planet.

Then you drive past the Surf Lodge and realize it isn’t.

I did a lot of reading and a decent amount of writing while there—fell short of my writing goals but made progress, and more than that, I was inspired. I seem to have written myself into a corner in terms of the relative ease with which I write anywhere but home. My writing retreats to New Orleans, my time in the Berkshires earlier this year, Montauk … one of the speakers at the conference last month advised that we “not be too precious about our writing environment” — and that is good advice. It’s important to have sacred writing space, but it’s equally important to get words on paper when and where inspiration strikes.

To that end, I scrawled some notes on a piece of paper one evening while enjoying an exquisite sunset and a decent cocktail. I had just read The Alchemist on the recommendation of a very young man who, much to my delight, reads books. The kind with pages. I understand why this book is not to everyone’s liking, but I enjoyed it—and it’s a story, an allegory, about finding one’s true purpose in life and pursuing it, while remaining open to change. About trusting the process. So this is what I scrawled:

If we can remind ourselves how vast and unknowable the universe is, we can better enjoy the ride. We can weather misfortune, even the greatest of all, the death of those we love, because it is all part of the process of being alive. We are all on a pilgrimage toward the same place, and that is really the only fact about living that there is. Complaining, lamenting, manifesting conflict, all become futile, then. Let it wash over you and know that there is not a single experience from which we can’t somehow become richer and wiser.

I was reminded of someone I met shortly after college, when I was having a tough time and was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being human. This was long before we were bombarded with messages about “living in the moment” and “being present”. I met a friend of a friend at a party, a guy who happened to be deaf. I don’t remember much about the conversation, though I imagine I was dwelling on the malaise of “the real world” and the days I’d wasted, and he said, “No day is wasted. If I have a good conversation with someone, or see something beautiful, the day was not wasted.”

I try to maintain that outlook and I often succeed, but I do need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Autumn is a good time to be productive. I have another draft to revise by the time I go to my next writer’s conference in October. And then, soon, I’ll be calling on those of you who’ve offered to be beta readers.

Happy end-of-summer, friends.

Too cool to bluff

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I was having one of those if-not-for-Lou-I-wouldn’t-leave-the-house mornings. One of those thank-God-there’s-no-cafeteria-for-me-to-sit-alone-in days. A sort of bad mood/existential crisis hybrid. You know what I mean.

But because my dog is so needy I took him out (I kid, I kid, he’s not the needy one) and it was delightful! The neighborhood is very smiley and friendly today – and now I have that line from Scarlet Begonias in my head – and I had a lovely conversation with a French bulldog owner who said of Louie, “Oh my God – what a fox-monkey he is!” At the bank I ran into a woman who used to live in my building – the stunning, tall, ambiguously European blonde who flirts with my boy friends and spends a lot of time unabashedly naked in the locker room at Chelsea Piers – and we had a really good conversation about the neighborhood, the building, and the aforementioned locker room. I didn’t bring up the full-frontal thing. I came back and bought three barstools from a neighbor who is about to move to Amagansett – which sounds so perfect I couldn’t ask him about it for fear of getting in my car and driving east and never looking back.

And now I’m here.

I’m also in the process — several of us are — of saying goodbye to an old friend who is very close to the end of his earthly days. I have lost a lot of people – close and distant – and that is because I have loved a lot of people. Not in the romantic sense, in the soul sense. In the recognizing another’s intrinsic beauty sense. It sucks. It hurts like hell. But I’d rather be someone who loves too much than someone who doesn’t want to love at all. I think I would – I don’t know because I’ve never not been this way. I had this conversation with my sweet new friend/brunch partner yesterday, that as challenging as it is to be someone who walks around with her heart galloping ten feet in front of her, and who throws herself full force into her friendships and relationships, we would rather know that we’ve shown all of our cards and lived authentically reaching for what we want than build walls and wonder what might have been.

But I digress. Our sweet Phil is leaving us soon. I’ve known this man for 20 years and he is part of some of my strongest and greatest memories in that time. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.

Thank you for reading this. I mean it.

Dream a dream with you

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This was a lovely weekend that began with music and included a trip to the ocean, a movie, and the requisite tears and laughter. Friday night we went to the pier in Hoboken  to see Wilco and Bob Dylan; there was an opening act followed by the cloyingly named My Morning Jacket, who are good musicians with unmemorable music — to me, that is. Apparently there are many people who disagree, as scores of fans were singing along. To each her own, says I. It took me a while to wrap my head around Wilco, despite the fact that I’d seen them play several times — I’m a good friend — but now I absolutely get it. They’re fantastic performers. (I’m such a good friend that, loathe as I am to admit this, I took a dear friend to see Dave Matthews many years ago as that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I’m sorry.) And Bob Dylan was excellent – clear-voiced and strong and we were close enough that we could see his blue eyes.

A few days before this show, a person I know who is undeservedly arrogant took great pleasure in telling my friend how much Dylan was “going to suck” and that he had it on good authority that the man is a hopeless junkie. This took place in the same room where I had the following conversation with a former friend a few years ago:

FF: What are you guys up to?

Me: We just had an amazing night – we saw Paul McCartney at the Apollo!

FF: I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

Be that as it may, you pseudo-arrogant twit, what is it in your DNA that makes you derive pleasure from shooting down other peoples’ excitement? Or from trying to break their spirits? Can you – any of you – imagine saying to someone, “You’re going to Cancun? It’s going to suck.” “You’re dining at Babbo? That place blows.” “You got into med school? I’d rather skewer kittens on knitting needles!” It’s the opposite of schadenfreude, which, as we know, is the phenomenon of deriving pleasure from the misery of others. This is about deriving misery from the pleasure of others. Baffling.

Less baffling but quite irksome: people who spend the duration of a live musical event – or any event, for that matter – watching it through the screen of their SmartPhone. The uploaded concert is never as good as the event itself. Nor is the photo of the sunset. I take photos – I have some beautiful ones of the sunset in Montauk – but I do so pretty sparingly so that I can be in that elusive moment to the best of my ability. This Friday is the annual birthday sail for my friend E. One of the guests who usually attends (but isn’t this year, I’ve just learned) tends to spend the two-and-a-half hours of the trip photographing, tagging, and uploading. There’s a  feeling of  “if you can’t prove it it never happened” to this behavior. I love photos – I miss film, I love my digital camera. But unless one does something with them, makes a thing of beauty out of the evidence, capturing seems a poor substitute for experiencing.

Why am I so ranty today? I’m actually in a good mood.

Another thing. I really wish people wouldn’t walk their dogs off-leash in this town. The proliferation of off-leashers and the advent of the Citibike is an ominous combination.

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I know that for some of us, this moment is less than ideal. I know about the singularity of heartbreak and the feeling that it might never get better. I know about walking out on the street feeling entirely vulnerable and about never knowing when the tears might sneak up and fall without your being able to do anything but stand helplessly by. I know about the only solution being the problem itself, about pleading with the gods that the other person just open his or her eyes and see what seems so very obvious, and about waking each day with the sinking feeling that we’re right back where we started from. And, dear L, I know about walking headfirst into a situation that we absolutely know just can’t yet (yet!) be what we want it to be, and that has caused us pain and sadness, but that holds some sort of power we feel incapable of resisting. And I know how fruitless it is when people warn us not to do what we’re going to do anyway and worse, when they judge us and get mad at us and give up on us. I will never give up on you, sweet girl – on any of you, for that matter. I can’t fix it, but I can promise you with everything I have that you are not alone. And that, if you allow yourselves to have the faith that’s been challenged so many, many times, it will get better. In the meantime, know that I am here and that I want to be the best I can be and I want you to do the same.

Love yourselves.