Sing with me

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Woke at 4AM to inebriated neighbor lamenting loudly on her rented deck that she doesn’t know “how he expects [her] to pay for it!” and kindly asked her—kindly but sharply—to keep her voice down. LB 2.0 asked much more kindly than the older model might have, and it worked, but the damage was done.

I saw a sticker the other night that said, “Make Montauk Less Great Again,” by which they mean bring us back to the days when it was a rustic, salty fishing and surfing town whose character couldn’t be compromised by the influx of people who come to admire its beauty every summer. I’ve been coming here for a couple of decades and though technically “part of the problem,” I, too, remember fondly the days before it became what it is today. I never came here for “the scene.” Then again, I’ve never really gone anywhere for “the scene” except maybe Café Tabac in the early-mid ’90s, and even then I was a spectator on the periphery. And what a periphery it was.

I digress. I huffed back into the room and declared that I’d be unable to fall back asleep to which B mumbled, “Count something.” I got to 5 and decided to switch to letters, which are much more my thing.

When I’m lying in bed in a state of insomnia and trying not to let my mind wander too far I play alphabet games, things like, “People in my life, excluding family and partner: Ana, Brian, Claudia, Delene, Erika, Francesca—does it count if I only see her once a year?—Gary, Hannah …” and so on. Or I’ll do “Things that have been part of my life in the past year: Asanas, Bottino, Cinema, Dogs, Exercise, French, Gingold Group, Hawaii (see: possible plans to visit) …” like that. Or I’ll do exercises like, “Alan Alda, Bryan Batt, Carol Channing … and then get to Don Draper/Dirk Diggler and my thoughts will become consumed with figuring out the rules of the game and I’ll have to change course.

In any event, I finally fell back asleep and in so doing got lost on my way to an Aretha Franklin tribute and wound up spending a confusing but manageable weekend at a retreat on the newly renovated grounds of the house where I grew up. Then Amy Schumer and I tried to pull a fast one on an alleged guru she’d met at my grandpa’s funeral in 1992.

Sorry, Other-Peoples’-Dreams detractors, I came in through the out door with that one.

For the first time maybe ever I find myself comparing the merits of frequent shorter posts to occasional longer ones. In all likelihood this won’t be an issue once I’m back from vacation. If you care to opine, you are welcome to.

Thank you, neighbor, for honoring my request. Thank you, coffee, for being strong.

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In the secret space of dreams

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Yesterday’s beach plans were thwarted as we neglected to check the horsefly index. They had commandeered our stretch of sand and were relentless, so we spent the day inside and reemerged before sundown to hear live music and watch the changing view above.

Went to bed early and woke in the inky darkness. It was windy and the doors were creaking (it’s just the house settling, Jan) and the place felt heavy with spirit. I lay awake for hours in my fear-of-darkness.

Just as I wrote those words, “The Sound of Silence” came on:

 

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping.

 

Exactly, fellas.

I fell back asleep as it started to get light again, and then the birds outside our windows began cawing.

This all seemed a great big, universal reminder that we are the new kids on this planet. The horseflies, the birds, the sharks, they were all here first. And we’ve come along and, in a very short time—because we are, by and large, quite intelligent—invented things that make our lives easier and theirs more confusing.

I’ve seen one firefly this summer.

All creatures great and small. Remember that series? I read a bunch of those books when I was young.

I lost the thread of what I was going to write about. There was one.

I’ve been keeping morning pages again, since August 12, and I’m reminded of what a valuable exercise this is. I highly recommend it—it’s a great way to clear the night and kick off the day. You do not have to be an experienced writer to benefit; you just have to have pen, paper and a mind.

One thing they’ve helped me do this time around is remember my dreams. If you’re one of the myriad people who find other peoples’ dreams boring, skip to the last paragraph.

I go through phases with dreams, thematically. For many years I had the recurring one where I’m giving someone a tour of my house and at the last moment discover, or remember, a hidden room that is much larger and more opulent then the rest. A room that is under-utilized.

There was a dream bar I frequented, located in an amalgam of the East Village, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Paris. It had two rooms and live music.

For a fairly long stretch my dreams involved global travel, the kind where I could walk from London to Indonesia to Cameroon and back.

And lately they’ve involved time travel. Never future, always past, and often I am self-conscious about the access I have to technology. Last night I followed a friend into a nightclub in 1978, and it was large and dimly lit and I lost track of her. I realized I had no way to get in touch with her because cell phones wouldn’t work in that space or year.

I think I just found the thread—the technology conundrum. The fact that the animals were here first (most of them). The experience, last night, of being in this beautiful outdoor space with beautiful live music, surrounded by people texting and Instagram-ing and Checking In.

Yes, yes, I recognize that I am pointing these things out via WordPress and The Facebook and on my laptop computer. I’m not judging; technology is important. I’m just advocating for a little more analog in this digital world we’ve so deftly created.

Write something by hand. Watch the band with your eyes and ears. Have three-dimensional relationships and experiences. These, my friends, are the most important things.

 

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

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Beautiful lyrics, not entirely true. There are some things you can count on. The ocean will amaze you. The sand will be soft and cool enough that you won’t think about it beyond its inconvenience when you’re washing off. Despite your great efforts—even better than last year’s—you will inevitably miss a spot with your SPF 9000*, and that spot will worry you for several days. It’s the end of August and the seagulls will be behemoths who hover overhead in order to steal your first-born and your snacks. You will marvel at the ocean, and you’ll fear its power and its contents, and you’ll wish the latter were not true. You’ll stand in its shallow surf and see things that are not there, fins of things you don’t understand who can do to you things you don’t want to think about. You’ll watch your darling companion, your fearless prince, go out deep into the waters and you’ll tell yourself he knows what he’s doing. A wave will hit, he’ll disappear from sight, and you’ll realize that he’s gone forever. You’ll wonder how you’ll get the car home in your grief and with your fear of driving. He’ll re-emerge and you’ll pretend you’d never thought those things. You’ll look for sea glass and not find it, you’ll find sea glass when you’re not looking.

You’ll wonder why you ever spend time anywhere but here.

I am in Montauk, one of the places in my heart. Tonight we looked at the night sky, saw constellations, planets, planes, satellites—satellites move in slower, calmer, eerier trajectories than most things in the night—and in the stars I saw my Louie’s face. So clearly. And probably, it was not him. And maybe it was.

I prefer to believe in the possibility of magic. I prefer not to assume that this is all we have.

Happy end of summer, my friends. I am sentimental and optimistic and exactly where I need to be. I wish for you the same.

*PSA – wear sunscreen, and get yourself checked, every year or more, for a skin cancer screening.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.