You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until soon, my friends.

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The best laid plans …

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The title of this post, which is the more common phrasing, is actually a variation on the original wording – “best laid schemes” – from a poem the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote to a nest of mice he’d just found in his barn. I might have made the barn part up – he stumbled upon a nest of mice somewhere.

I had big plans for the start of 2015. Huge ones. Had all gone accordingly, I’d certainly have written in this thing more than once, and I’d have made further headway on my novel, the essays I’m crafting in my mind, the other career ventures I’m pursuing (about which more later, as my mom would say), the great clutter purge I’m planning, and my health and fitness goals. However, I awoke on New Year’s Day with a cold and, two weeks later, I’m still battling it. It’s nothing glamorous or romantic like consumption, it’s a f-king cold that never really amounted to anything but won’t completely leave me alone. We’re getting there, though.

In some ways this was good timing, for I’m very susceptible to holding tight to the notion of fresh beginnings and many times I’ve thrown myself full force into one, created the new, improved version of my life, only to burn out and find myself right back where I started from. So although my 2015 is off to a sluggish start, this has afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my thoughts and to develop a plan for implementing the aforementioned changes, rather than give way to my impatience and leap without looking.

A few weeks ago a friend was visiting from LA. On his last night in town, some derelict stole his jacket off the back of his barstool – it happened to be one of the coldest nights we’ve experienced this winter. This was not his favorite jacket, nor was it one of great monetary value, but it was his. He did everything he could – gave the bartenders his info should it turn up. He asked me how to get past the annoyance of the experience and I advised that he just accept it, realize that the person who stole it is probably not living a terribly peaceful or productive life, and view it as an opportunity to let go of a piece of the past and make room for something new.

Over the past few years I’ve developed this somewhat zen-like mindset – and I know it’s one that annoys the shite out of some people in my life – but I’ve had to do so. Because as I’ve said many times, I have too many bad marks in my past, too many potential regrets, and holding onto them and to the messy emotions surrounding them was only holding me back, keeping me mired in a version of myself that wasn’t working. It was in figuring out how to let go of some of this stuff that I’ve cleared the way to becoming the person – late bloomer that I am – that I am meant to be. A lot has slipped through my fingers – mostly because I’ve let it – and I realized in December, as my birthday approached, how easily I could fall into the mindset that what could have been is of more value than what might be. There is no use in going over all the ways my life might be different had I not done X or had I done Y, unless doing so will illuminate how I can make things work better from here on out. The point is I am here, now, a sum of my experiences and wisdom and, more important, aware that there are myriad possibilities for the future. That all is not lost – was never lost – I just took an unorthodox path to get to the place where I am today.

A lot of people in my life are going through challenging times, job-wise, family-wise, love-wise, in some cases all three – and while we can’t change the specifics of our circumstances, I think it’s helpful to recognize that it is possible for things to get better. This often requires letting go of longstanding ideas of what our lives are supposed to look like. I didn’t plan to be a childless 44 year old still figuring myself out and still working on my first book – but this is who I am, among many other things. And there is infinite possibility within these parameters. I have friends who’ve been professional musicians for their entire adult lives, and who didn’t plan to still be struggling at this point, didn’t plan for the record industry imploding on itself, for fewer and fewer venues to exist in New York, and for those that do to pay their performers little, if anything. I have friends who are single moms despite their efforts and expectations that things would be otherwise.

But here we all are. It’s easy to mourn the past and fear the future – it’s very easy. It’s a lot harder to accept the things we can not change (to borrow another phrase). But it’s the only thing we can really control – how we weather the storms. If we don’t learn to do so, we risk missing the good stuff, because there is good stuff amidst the wreckage of our dreams and expectations. Sift through the wreckage and you’ll find reinvention. There are people who love us – every single one of you is loved, deeply, by someone, or by many someones. There is no limit of new things to learn, and we are fortunate to live in a time where we can learn a lot for free. Really. It’s amazing, actually – with a few clicks of the mouse we can learn Spanish or yoga or the history of the world. We can broaden our minds, and that is a luxury. There are blue skies and pretty views and funny cat videos if that’s your thing. There’s music and art and beauty and light all around us. When we focus so tightly on what isn’t working, we lose sight of what is. Life is imperfect and unbalanced, but it is rich if we let it be.

I wish so much for you all in 2015.

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

Baby, baby, been a long, long time …

ImageL’shana tova … happy new year … 5773 flew by!

I love new years – and I celebrate as many of them as I can. I think I’ve said this before, but the fact that my birthday coincides with western New Year gives me a double dose of feeling the urgent need to right all my wrongs, to make great strides, to mend my life … this is why I’ve stopped making resolutions and instead make goals. And if I fail to meet them in January … Chinese New Year is just around the corner. And if that doesn’t work … it’s almost spring! Then the summer solstice … and my half birthday … and now it’s Rosh Hashanah. And soon comes autumn, traditionally my most auspicious time of year. Another chance to reinvent myself, to change my wicked ways.

Actually, I have changed the vast majority of my wicked ways, and that is something that I am very proud of, determined as I am to not end this sentence with a preposition. This is part of what was difficult about the rumours and misinterpretations that were flying around earlier this summer; they were based on behavior and habits from my past that I have worked very hard to conquer, and I have succeeded. I still have ways to go, but I’m a thousand miles ahead of where I once was. Now I feel that my new year’s goals are less about removing toxicity and bad decisions and more about adding nourishment and richness to my life. Spending time with people who value me and being present in those times. Not accepting every invitation that comes my way for fear of missing out. Living each day not as if it’s my last but as if it’s capable of having a positive impact on my life … writing, reading, cooking, exercising, working, playing, loving … and keeping my promises, which means not making promises I might not be able to keep. Including to myself.

Remind me to write about my recurring dream. I keep forgetting to do that.

Just found this quote by the great sculptor Henry Moore:

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.

Dig it.