Looking over my yesterdays

Scan 2

Continuing my trip down memory lane, I went through that last box that had been in storage. I found this masterpiece as well as three books that I wrote when I was somewhere between the ages of six and eight. There was a Torah-style Halloween story, written before I learned which way to staple the pages, a first-person narrative about a 12-year-old boy who had a run of great luck, called “Yeah for Today”, and my favorite, the riveting tale of a group of feline musicians called “The Cat Band”.

In Chapter One, a cat named Lenard [sic] decides to “have a band”. He phones his friends Pierre, Fuzzy, Arthur, and Montecon, and all agree that having a band is a fine idea. Rehearsal is going swimmingly until two of the band members clash over the hour; apparently it’s midnight and the neigbors [sic sic] are sleeping.

Things look tense for a moment until Pierre opens Chapter Two with a witty anecdote from his days “back at France”; laughter ensues.

Enter: Wendy, a “very, very, very pretty cat” who walks into our boys’ lives at the start of Chapter Three and promises them a gig at the Cat Rock And Roll Meowy Theatre. The boys head down, sign a contract (yep, I’m an agent’s daughter), and perform to a packed room, with Wendy as backup dancer. The book ends on a high note, with the promise of many more shows to come.

Somewhere along the line the artist formerly known as Fuzzy changes his name to Fluffy.

 

Speaking of hep cats, I’m learning a new song with my voice teacher: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? That was on the roster of songs we were going to learn even before I went back down in March. It’s a challenging one, and I love it.

And since I do know … hoping to get back down in July, when it will be humid and sultry (it’s always sultry) … the New Orleans chapters of the book I’m avoiding writing take place in summer, so I must ignore my aversion to being uncomfortably hot and embrace it instead.

Next Saturday there will be a Second Line to honor pets, those who have passed and those who are still with us. My Louie will be represented in poster form … Lou-on-a-stick. Photos TK.

I met someone last night who lives in Billie Holiday’s old apartment in Sheridan Square. Apparently the building used to house the jazz club Café Society, reputedly the first integrated jazz club in the country, and artists lived upstairs. Very cool. All roads lead to New Orleans.

Back to book …

Down in New Orleans

13244899_10154259475279903_7661912383271813379_n-1

This’ll be a quickie as the day’s gotten away from me … but I’m back in this lovely town for a short writing retreat. I had every intention of writing between visits, and it just didn’t work out that way … all of my writing energy went into the book and another project, about which more later, as my mama would say.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here in May and this is my first time visiting during “termite-swarming season”. According to my dear host, said swarming takes place around 8pm, but doesn’t last too long. At 8pm last night I was blissfully tucked away at Three Muses, on Frenchmen Street, eating dinner and hearing great music … can’t recall the name of the trio and don’t want to break the momentum to look it up but I’ll get back to you on that detail.

The good news is I’ve missed “Bucket Moth Caterpillar season” wherein, according to the aforementioned host, large caterpillars spin and drop from the trees, stinging whomever they land upon in the process.

It’s a town full of colorful characters, of the two- four- and 600-legged varieties.

Every season is cat season, and one can easily get turned around should one decide to follow a group of stray cats and take photos. Happened to a friend of mine.

So  the book … major changes are in the works, which is daunting and exciting. I won’t bog you down with the  details but there is going to be extensive chopping and moving and killing of darlings before this draft is through. Turns out my story begins much further into the current plot than I’d intended … and according to my coach this is often the case, that first-parts-of-books wind up on the cutting room floor.

I am attending a writing conference in August, my first ever, and will have the terrifying opportunity to pitch the book in what is essentially speed-dating with literary agents. So I will  be immersed in it between now and then and will probably babble about it a fair amount.

I had lunch at the friendly and haunted Muriel’s yesterday . Dined at the bar and chatted with the same bartender I met last time around, the one who filled me in on the ghostly happenings there, including one involving her departed mother. She remembered me and I told her that I’ve thought of the story about her mom a bunch since then. A few minutes into our conversation, one of her mom’s favorite songs came on the radio—an obscure tune by a one-hit wonder (her words) whom her mother loved and saw live once. I assumed it was her own playlist but no, she explained calmly,  it was the radio—her mom had been around a lot lately, to the point of occasional distraction. Still, she said, her worst fear is not being able to feel her anymore—a line that went straight into the book. Not being an expert on these matters I don’t know what the chances of this happening are, but I hope for her sake that it doesn’t.

The gentleman sitting next to me told me that he, too, had a ghost story from Muriel’s. Seems this fellow’s sister was in town and he took her there for lunch and showed her the seance room upstairs. They took photos of one another and in all the photos of him, there was a mysterious glowing orb hovering, which was likely Antoine, the restaurant’s shimmering resident ghost. I asked to see one of the photos and didn’t have the heart to point out that it was a selfie he’d taken in the mirror. With flash.

Whatever gets you through the night.

 

Arm-in-arm down Burgundy

IMG_0595

That’s a line from Tom Waits’ “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” … I’m posting this from my writer’s bungalow on Burgundy Street (pronounced burGUNdy). There are so many songs, great ones, written about this town. And so many wind chimes in this neighborhood; that’s the soundtrack to my writing, wind chimes and ceiling fans.

My local breakfast joint (as my dad would say) is in a former bank that was allegedly robbed by Bonnie and Clyde back when Bonnie and Clyde were robbing banks.

I love the history of this town, the good, the bad, the macabre. I lunched at Muriel’s on Jackson Square, which plays a role in my book through the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires; my book is set in 1999 and Muriel’s wasn’t Muriel’s until 2001. I need to get past that … can’t be a perfectionist in fiction. Right? Right.

Muriel’s is haunted. The building was a grand mansion that was partially destroyed in the Good Friday Fire of 1788. After that it was a private residence owned by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who now goes by Antoine. In 1814 Antoine wagered his house in a poker game … and lost. Before he was to move out, he hung himself in one of the upstairs lounges—now Muriel’s séance lounge:

IMG_0646

The restaurant keeps a table set for Antoine and a guest:

IMG_0650

I spoke with bartenders and diners who’ve had experiences here. Glasses hurled across the room, glowing orbs, that cold feeling that shoots up the back of your neck when you are in the presence of a ghost. Disembodied voices.

You feel something when you’re standing at Antoine’s table. And the room where he died is colder than the rest, though that may very well be the restaurant’s doing. If owned a restaurant with a resident ghost, I’d probably make his room a bit colder to toy with the nonbelievers.

I wasn’t sure how traveling alone would be for me … as you know, I don’t like to do many things alone … but this has been wonderful. With the exception of the plans I’ve made with friends here, my agenda has been entirely my own. Traveling this way has also given me the opportunity to talk to people I’d probably not meet otherwise, like the theremin player with the Louisiana Philharmonic who was at the breakfast roundtable I joined on Monday. I resisted the urge to regale him with this gem: I’m thinking of selling my theremin; I haven’t touched it in years. 

Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

 

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

IMG_3324
I have not had this particular type of insomnia in a very long time – I feel ill and wide awake and physically and emotionally exhausted. Not fun, but this too shall pass.

Our friend Phil left us yesterday morning and this makes me very blue. Phil was a wise and wild man, a sweet slip of a thing who could build, fix, or refurbish anything. We enjoyed one another’s company and it had been a couple of summers since I’d seen him – but we have many mutual friends and I knew what was going on with him, health-wise. As such matters do, this has led to a deluge of love and memories and people coming together and all those things that are supposed to ease the crushing blow of grief ever so slightly and leave in its place a bittersweet ache.

I don’t know what more to say about Phil right now – I’ve said a lot in the past 48 hours – and nothing I write here will do justice to this being who was the essence of vitality, an absolutely straight shooter who lived fast and hard and with utter authenticity every moment of every day. There is much to be learned from a person like him. And as these matters also do, as I’ve had the great misfortune to write about a couple of times since I started this thing last spring, I realize in his absence the strong hold he has on a piece of my heart. Through loss we realize our capacity to love.

Damn it.

There are a great many others for whom this is an acute loss, and I always feel self-conscious about “owning” grief when it comes to people I’ve not seen in a while, like Phil, or people I hadn’t spent all that much time with, not like Phil. It is such an intensely personal experience.

The passage of my book I’ve been stuck on for many days (please excuse grammatical and syntactical errors in this post it’s late and I feel like my brain is in aspic) is actually about grief – my goodness I sound maudlin and macabre and something-else-that-begins-with “m”, though I suppose one can’t really write a ghost story without touching upon death. Contrary to how it might seem, I need to think and talk about these things in order to live life more lightly. Talking about it doesn’t make it harder for me, au contraire mon frere, it helps me to release some of the sadness – a pressure valve situation if you will, and really if you’re reading this you have no choice in the matter. I needn’t dwell but I do need to purge. I promise this isn’t all I’m going to talk about, ever. Promise promise promise.

Went to beautiful music on Monday night, to Buckwheat Zydeco at City Winery and WOW do I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I have to get myself back down there soon. One of my main characters is from New Orleans, so perhaps I can justify it as research. Which it would be, in part. In large part actually – wait – what am I talking about?! I HAVE to go down there soon for that very reason. Though the music, food, magic, and dear friends there might play a tiny role in this desire.

Wanderlust. Such an overused word for such a perfect concept. Travel bug doesn’t have the same ring.

I want to keep writing – I feel like I could go on and on and on about many many things – but I should attempt to sleep. Not gonna happen, but I should try.

Friend-I-spoke-with-yesterday, yes, dear girl, I will write about the things we discussed in the very near future I promise. Now hush and start writing, too. You can do it. You have the life experience and we know you’ve plenty of fodder. Start somewhere. I’ll help. Just … make it happen.

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Rest, sweet one. Your light is eternal.

Addendum: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

Image

 So this one, obviously, is not a lyric. 

My good day was ruffled a few hours ago, and then it redeemed itself. I was running late due to a miscommunication – typed conversation breeds confusion – and when I got to the train I was asked repeatedly to swipe again; swipe again at this turnstile; too fast; swipe again. I don’t do “flustered” well and I walked in a circle, tried again, and got the same behests. 

Reply hazy, try again.

I watched helplessly as one train, then another, passed me by; I’m not the turnstile-jumping type. I went to the booth and handed the booth-gentleman my card; he did whatever it is he did and said, “This card hasn’t been used since September 19th.” I waited for him to go on, realized he was the one waiting, and said, “I haven’t used it since then!” “What have you been doing?” he asked. “I’ve used another card.” Another train roared through the station and he said something I couldn’t hear. “I’ve been traveling?” He shook his head and asked again how it is that my Metro Card hadn’t been used since the 19th. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t use public transportation as often as I should. It’s not a hygiene or a safety or a mingling-with-the-masses thing at all. It’s that … actually, maybe it is a mingling-with-the-masses thing, but not because I don’t want to do so, because I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at rushing down the stairs, at balancing, at keeping a poker face no matter what’s going on in my head, at finding my way around my hometown. If it’s doable I much prefer walking, but truth be told I spend way too much money on taxis. 

So all of this is swirling through my head while the man’s admonishing me and trains fly past.

“You’re going to have to buy a new card,” he yells.

“Okay!” Another train is pulling into the station and he’s saying something else I can’t hear, though he must realize I’m getting agitated about my thwarted efforts to get to 34th Street. I could have burst into tears and probably looked like I was about to, out of frustration as much as anything else. A young woman who’s been watching for a bit snaps at him, “Stop being so hard on her!” and offers to let me use her card. “I can’t give it to you,” she says, “But I can get you through the turnstile.

By this point it had been about 15 minutes since I was supposed to be where I was supposed to be, and it was fruitless. I thanked her, cast what I’ve no doubt was a pitiful look at the man in the booth, and went home with my tail between my legs. 

Travel snafu and aborted plans notwithstanding, this young woman was lovely to me in a ridiculous moment when I just needed someone to be lovely to me. 

The point of all this: despite what our parents warned us, do talk to strangers if you might be able to make their day a tiny bit brighter. 

I’m going to make a concerted effort to become more comfortable with the MTA.

That’ll show him. 

Bright are the stars that shine …

Image

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.