Biting the hand that feeds you

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What a long, strange week it’s been.

I’m tired, more tired than I’ve been in a long, long time. There are many reasons, mental and physical, for this, and in response, I’ve taken myself on a self-imposed writing retreat for a week … I can not tell you how much I am looking forward to this. How much I need it. And how much I appreciate the opportunity.

New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town … I have had a very New York-y week. I saw music and theater and art. I had Thai food, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, and a horrible midtown salad for lunch yesterday. I saw a bunch of old friends, unexpectedly and on purpose. I worked a lot. And best of all, I got semi-ready for my week out of town.

Yesterday I saw the Picasso exhibit at MOMA; the person I saw it with, an artist, commented that double-P (my words) demonstrated in his sculpture his skills of observation. I don’t know if it was this comment or my meditation or a combination of those, but walking home from work yesterday, the snippets of conversation I overheard registered more than usual: “I’m a human compass” “Picture me, now picture Miranda Cosgrove” “Dude, I did four sets of ten to fifteen reps with, like, a ten-second break between” “looking at all the pictures on the wall and boom — there’s Mick Jagger”. One of the exercises we do in our writing group entails taking a piece of overheard dialogue and building a story around it. The four I quoted are pretty much complete stories on their own.

One of the reason I’m especially tired these days is Dog. I love the guy … I love him so much it hurts, and I want him around for a very long time. But, between you and me (and anyone you forward this to) … he’s not very easy to deal with these days. Our early morning walks have turned into borderline late-night ones, though now that we’re in the country I’m hoping he’ll want to sleep in a bit. He has taken to snapping at me, seemingly out of nowhere, which absolutely sucks. The vet is incredibly sympathetic about this, which is nice, but it doesn’t do a damn thing when petting my beloved beast turns into wrestling my hand from his jowly grip. The vet thinks he has a bit of dementia, which would be funny in a short story but is fairly tragic in real life. Yes, he’s “just a dog”, but he’s my j-a-d and I’m his whole world. And so of course I bear the brunt of whatever he’s going through physically and emotionally. He loves me — that’s not in question — but he is not very gentle with me anymore. He is with other people, but he’s a teenager and I’m his mother. I imagine this is not dissimilar to what my parents went through when I was a teenager, so perhaps this is my comeuppance. As I don’t have a co-parent, I don’t really have anyone with whom I share the burden of loving an angst-ridden kid.

Le sigh. My problems could be worse. Having just watched some of tonight’s Repugnantcan debate I know that they could be much, much worse.

Wednesday night I spoke at a meeting for Girls Write Now, the wonderful organization I work with. I helped create the style guide for our annual anthology and gave a tutorial on grammar … being a word nerd, this was heavenly for me. We talked about some of my favorite things: the Oxford comma, the em-dash, the italicization of ship names. The fact that compound words in adjective form take hyphens when their noun counterparts do not. Riveting stuff.

What else.

I’ve set a lofty goal (I’m certain I’ve said the exact same thing in an earlier blog post) of getting through Chapter Ten of Book while I’m here on my writing retreat. Ask me about it next weekend, will ya? Being accountable helps.

I am not where I thought I’d be at 45. I didn’t have specific ideas of where I’d be, but this certainly wasn’t it. I’m not implying in the slightest that I’m in a bad place or am unhappy … I’m not. But I’m not where I thought I’d be.

Someday I will elaborate on that. On how the things we thought were foregone conclusions sometimes turn out to be anything but.

I spent today and tonight with my parents and some of their friends. I am blessed with amazing people in my life, and with grownups (people 60 and older) who have no intention of slowing down or stopping. Who are as vibrant now as ever before and who, for the most part, take better care of themselves than they did at my age. People who, like my parents, continue to expand their minds, to learn and grow and cultivate new interests (the fact that I first wrote “knew interests” means I need to wrap this up and get some sleep before Dog the Biter wants out in the morning). I want to emulate these people. I want to continue to learn (k)new things and enrich myself, and my life, for my remaining days. That is living. There is no giving up, no throwing in the towel, no deciding you’re done. If you still have any say in the matter, you’re not done.

Love you. Thanks for reading. Vive la France et le circonflexe (about which more later).

 

 

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Filling up an idle hour

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I’ve been taking melatonin to help me sleep and one of the side effects I’ve been experiencing is unusually vivid dreams. The other night I dreamt that I was very good friends with Brad Pitt – practically best friends. Nothing was going on between us – I swear – we just spent a lot of time together. Movies, dinners, long phone calls, that sort of thing. You know how it goes. There was plenty of speculation – par for the course when a man and a woman are as close as Brad and I. I often have celebrities in my dreams – James Franco showed up last night, with his longtime girlfriend who turned out to be one of the receptionists at the office. Mel Gibson proposed to me once with sapphire earrings on stage in the theater at my high school. This was the kinder, gentler, Mad Max version of him, not the homophobic anti-Semite. 

I had the rare pleasure of walking Lou at 5:00 this morning; he wasn’t feeling well last night so when he woke me extra early I didn’t pretend to still be asleep. It was nice in a glad-I-don’t-do-it-often kind of way. It was quiet, except for the early morning chirping of the birds and rats, and the cop who was washing his van, and the trio of ne’er-do-wells who were smoking on the corner. I expected to go back to sleep but it didn’t happen. So instead I’ve been reading and writing and running errands.

I’m applying to a program that pairs writers with high school girls who want writing mentors — this is similar to a program I was set to volunteer with a few years ago, before my year of surgeries put me out of commission; by the time I resurfaced, the program’s funding had been cut. One of the questions in this application process is “Why do you want to be part of a writing community?” – That’s an easy one to answer. Writing is an incredibly solitary endeavor, so much so that it can feel lonely at times. This is where having a forum like this blahhhhg is invaluable – knowing that I have a built-in readership, that my words, however imperfect, will have an audience, makes a tremendous difference to me. Not everything I write here is profound or well-written, but it’s necessary in cementing my identity as a writer – something that can feel like an empty promise at times. I’ve been published many times in the form of articles and essays, but it’s been a while. So even this relatively small exercise in self-publishing contributes to my feeling of productivity. I don’t get feedback on this forum often but when I do it encourages me to keep going. When I started this last year – just over a year ago, actually – it served a definite purpose of helping me through a challenging stretch of time; I literally wrote myself out of it . And then I reconnected with a friend (hi, L!) who was going through her own challenging time and she told me how much my words helped her to feel understood. So my writing took on a role outside of a self-motivated one, and so I kept going.

I’ve grown my writing community in recent months – my literary Salon, which has been meeting for about 6 years, continues to be a wonderful outlet and source of inspiration. The fact that I’m doing this with my mom is amazing – when we first began meeting I wasn’t sure how open I could be with my mom as one of my readers – but it’s been really cathartic, I think, for both of us. We were seven in the beginning – three maternity leaves later we are now four – and we work very well together. Last Monday I started a second writing group with five women who were part of the online novel-writing workshop I took earlier this year. There are six of us that live in New York(ish – one lives in Jersey City) and we decided to meet in person and it was amazing. A wonderful dynamic – really smart, talented, strong women – I couldn’t have handpicked a better group. We’re going to try for every two weeks. The feedback they’ve given me on my work-in-progress is incredibly insightful. To have a group of people so invested in my story and in my progress is the loveliest antidote to the solitude of writing. 

Now I have to put the insight and inspiration for my novel into writing … I’m going to do an overhaul of my outline to reflect the new changes. 

But first I’m going to go to the gym. I put it in writing, therefore I must do it. 

Going to LA in two weeks for the first time in a while – there I will hike and beach and commune with “nature” and my family. And write. My version of LA affords me a lot of time and space to do so. Looking forward.

 

The band in heaven, they play my favorite song

ImageI’m learning that there is little that can be done when someone is hellbent on convincing you that they are inherently flawed, and therefore bad. Of course they are flawed – we all are – but bad is another story entirely. If someone we love turns on us, rejects us, this does not mean we are bad. This means we were not meant to be with that person, and tough a pill though that may be to swallow, it is a far cry from being a Bad Person. And really, you know this. It’s a cry for help, an excuse to spin your wheels, a reason to attach to everything that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed, lied to, used, rejected – I’ve venture to say that everyone reading this has been through these things. We’ve also suffered disappointments on the work front and parents – or children – whom we can’t relate to. None of this makes us bad. This makes us human. However, worth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if you are feeling unworthy, please know that this alone does not make it so. Hard times cause self-doubt, but self-doubt needn’t perpetuate to the degree that it does.

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Today was difficult, so difficult. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead quickly, which means we don’t have a lot of lag time to get used to the idea of someone’s passing before we ritualistically mourn them. It was difficult and beautiful to see so many people honoring Lily, speaking of her love of life and excitement over every new adventure, her utter devotion to her family and to her husband of many decades. Her children spoke. My father spoke. We buried her – quite literally, as is also tradition. It was so … final. I will take from my relationship with Lily the notion that love and life matter more than anything, that family and friends come first, that being generous has little to do with material possession, and that we dance on this planet once in this form, so we might as well turn the volume up loud. Lily was life – even if I didn’t think so before, there is no way now that anyone could convince me that physical death means the end of spirit. She is, still, way too vibrant for this. I’m sad, but I’m so much better for having known her all these years, and so much more comforted by the notion that she’s still around.

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.

Bright blessed days … dark sacred nights

ImageApologies to my friends who saw me not at my best last night. To accept me is to understand my imperfections and, more importantly, my core, which is one of love and generosity and authenticity. However, yesterday was a day dominated by fear, and as such I probably needed more comfort and nurturing than being in this city sometimes allows. I love this city, but at times I wish I could instantly transport myself to the little patch of rocky beach in Maine that I love so much. Yesterday was one of those days.

I’m finally reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, inspired by the fact that an old friend and novelist compared my writing to hers. Very different subject matter, but I’m flattered and I see where she’s coming from. It makes me want to keep writing so that I can keep getting better.

This is what Strayed says about fear:

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.

I read this before my appointment yesterday and tried to channel it as best I could. I had a bit of a meltdown after getting ready too early and waiting at my house to leave, and a slight one on the way over, but by the time I reached the hospital, where my mom was waiting for me (at her insistence; I accompanied her to her surgeries a couple of years ago. We’re both pretty good with other peoples’ crises), I was calm enough. It turned out I was not having the MRI I thought I was having; miscommunication from the person who booked the appointment; human error is unavoidable. Instead I had a consultation with a neurologist who went over my recent CAT scan with me. The MRI is pending approval from my ever-lovely and generous insurance company.

I’d had a CAT scan following a week-long fever and persistent headaches – headaches that lasted after the fever went away. I just had deja-vu. Turns out that the fever was a virus, but the CAT scan revealed something called ventriculomeglia (Jojo, is that right?) which means that part of me brain is larger than it should be for a person my age. It’s not extreme, but it is there – he showed me the CAT scan, which was fascinating and weird and my eyeballs looked quite round. And brains are gray. When a baby or young child has this condition it’s “water on the brain”; in an adult (maturity level notwithstanding), the causes can be many. Most extreme case is cancer. It’s possible I’ve always had this; I have to call the hospital where I was taken after my accident to see if they can send the records from that CAT scan. I assume I had one back then but honestly, it’s all a bit foggy. The neurologist said, “I don’t think we need to go in and perform surgery; I think we can continue to monitor this.” He gave me a battery of tests, which I passed. Next step is to have the MRI, see him again, and then make yearly visits with him.

This is all a huge relief, of course, and I know people have weathered far greater health concerns than this. However, this is scary for me. Yes, I can keep it in perspective but it is all relative. A few years ago I had tests on my heart. When it comes to the heart and the brain, regardless of outcome, the stakes are such that fear is a natural response. There’s been strange cancer in my family. One never knows.

As I said in the post I referenced above, I went about 40 years without surgery or a concussion – and then had three surgeries and a concussion in the course of a year. I’ve had lots of surgical procedures, have had every dental woe known to (wo)mankind (root canals, caps, crowns, the removal of four impacted wisdom teeth followed by complications I won’t name because my dear friend is getting his wisdom removed tomorrow but suffice it to say, mine was an extremely rare scenario), and have sprained and broken digits and appendages, but now we’re getting to the organs and it feels like a different animal.

Regardless, I am alive and I am going to have all the tests I need to have and I am in good medical hands and so we move forward. Like a shark. But where mortality and my mother and my emotions meet, things can get very murky. And so yesterday was an intense one for me, and I suppose I should have predicted that and planned accordingly. But I didn’t.

I love you, friends.

Health is important, which is something I’ve lost sight of at times. Never again – I’m keeping on top of things. I was very proud to say “no” when they asked if I smoked or took recreational drugs. Progress should be celebrated; perfection is a myth.

Let’s reboot.

It’s only love, and that is all

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Alors. Right this moment I am feeling blissfully back on track following a week of derailment. I don’t often get sick (knock on wood, bad rice, etcetera) and I spent five days in bed with a fever and no appetite. Doctor ordered a CAT scan, all is fine, I’m better, but oy vey that was a rough one. And one that separated the wheat from the chaff, as traumas great and small always do. Thanks, you, for dog walks and beverages and making me eat and hanging out watching Le Mans whilst I wept on my fainting couch and all good things. And I can handle the bad things. I’ve told you this repeatedly and now I’m putting it in writing for my legions of readers (hello, you three) to note. So here it is, my pledge, I will weather the storms with you as you have and will with me and you’re stuck with me as your friend, manager, editrix, and Jewish grandmother. Put some sunscreen under that bike helmet.

Back in the music and art zone, which is where I need to be, always. Galleries Thursday eve, music last night, accompanied friend on photo shoots of the Empire State Building and the nether regions of Staten Island (beautiful [free] ferry rides there and back), and inadvertently bore witness to what could easily have been a reality show about horrid, coked up frat fellows and the wedge-heeled girls who love them on Friday night. From a safe distance. Keep your friends close and your amateur-hour-look-ma-no-hands-coke-binge-Skoal-packing dew schbags far, far away.

Happy Gay Pride to those who celebrate, embrace, and understand. If you don’t, please feel free to never read another word I write.

It’s a new dawn.

Remembrance of things past

ImageI remember the Summer of Sam. I was six, Julia turned ten, and though we never talked about such things around the dinner table, we joined the rest of the city and its outskirts in being choked by fear of this unknown menace. “We have to dye our hair blonde,” my sister told me; his targets were brunettes. 

I remember when Elvis died. I’d not heard of him before, to the best of my recollection. We were in Maine and stopped at an inconvenience store so my dad could get sodas. I got a plastic cup with Bullwinkle on it that would fair quite poorly later that day when carsickness kicked in. “Elvis Presley died,” he said when he got back into the driver’s seat.

I remember when John Lennon died. I was in fifth grade. Erika Levine returned the book on Capricorns to me.

I remember when River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, and Amy Winehouse died. 

The day the Challenger blew up was a snowday; I watched live on the tiny black and white Sony in my parents’ bedroom, on my mom’s side. 

It’s too soon to talk about 9-11. 

I’ve been to a fair amount of funerals, and I can recall almost all of the language used to convey to me who the guests of honor were. Jimmy was killed. Laura passed away. Granny was gone. I learned about Tim at a newsstand in Soho. I screamed and threw the Post on the ground; the shopkeeper told my boyfriend that it was fine, he’d pick it up. 

I remember not realizing Jonathan might be dead. I’d lost track of who he worked for. His “Portrait of Grief” is in my box o’grief in the other room, which is filled with news clippings, mass cards, photos, birth announcements, a receipt. 

This is not how I meant for this post to go, but this is how it’s going and so I will let it. 

So much more, so much more. 

I’m feeling strong and calm these days – I really am – but yes, the good ones can see the sadness waiting on the sidelines. I’ve lost a lot of people and I’ve lost a fair amount of myself in the process. But I’ve found so much more than I otherwise would have. This is why I give as much as I can to the people I care about, now. This is what sustains me.