It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

For only love can conquer hate

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I just looked at my most recent post and, damn, if you made it through all those photos, you’re far more patient than I. I shot them and curated them and it was too many for me to get through. But it was too many because the day, the event, was so rich and full that it was impossible to encapsulate without showing the whole picture.

The whole picture was a thing of beauty and love. The whole picture was people of every size, shape, race, religion, gender, non-gender, and whatever other categories we put ourselves in … this was about love in all its many splendored glory.

And every person walking in that parade, and most every person on the sidelines and rooftops, believes passionately in the spirit of the day.

I am a proud supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t, even if I didn’t have the lexicon to express it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Perhaps it’s because I “grew up” (and some would argue that I’ve yet to do that) in the entertainment industry and I’ve known people who by-the-way are gay my entire life. Maybe it’s because I’m intrinsically accepting of the human condition, by which I mean the condition of being human; I am not referring to sexuality or gender as a “condition”. Whatever the case may be, the fact that compassion and acceptance for others are still debatable is the most inconvenient truth I can imagine.

If that was overly wordy, please know that I awoke at my normal time of 3AM and this time I didn’t get right back to sleep. I will sleep for one more hour once I post this thang. Then Dog and I have morning appointments and I have work to do.

I don’t attend Pride every year, though for the past six, my dear friends M&M have come up from Florida and stayed with me in order to attend (and to see me, and to love New York, which they do better than most people I know). I decided to go because this year is one of the more significant. This year we are getting ready to elect a new president, and I can’t even delve into that. The thought of what may come chills me to the bone. I don’t agree with everything Hillary has ever said but I agree with most of her policies now and I like her and I respect her and I support her. That the other option “may not be as bad as he tells the world he is” – which I’ve heard from many people and news outlets – I can’t. He is as bad. And so, so much worse. I promise.

This is why I can’t delve into politics on social media. If you were my friend in 2008, you know what I’m talking about. I was … passionate … about politics that year.

However, I was comforted by the “Republicans for Hillary” movement I saw well-represented at the parade on Sunday.

Beyond the election, there’s Orlando, obviously. There’s the fact that we can now add this to the list of “If gun laws didn’t change after ____ then what will it take?!”

There’s the fact that a man in my neighborhood, Chelsea, which has one of the more established gay communities in the country, was beaten up recently in what cops call a hate crime.

I just don’t fucking get it. That I don’t get beating someone up in the first place is a foregone conclusion. I just don’t get why gay/straight black/white female/male and any other either/or that assumes one half is “less than” is even a thing, as they say.

But it is.

And then, in uplifting news, there’s the fact that the National Park Service just declared Stonewall Inn and the park in front of it national landmarks.

I’m a proud supporter of humanity.

 

 

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).

 

 

Had we but world enough, and time

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I’m not sure why Sunday’s post garnered so much attention on FB, but I’ll take it — thanks, y’all. It was suggested to me, in the same breath, that it was because “it’s summer and no one’s got anything else going on” and “you need to write more!” … so I shall. Once I made the decision to link this thing to the Facebook and the Twitter, I realized that I was opening myself up to a much more vulnerable place, to the eyes of 919 of my closest friends. And my mom (hi, Mima!).

That’s 1838 eyeballs, and I used my calculator to figure that one out. Math has never been my forté. My grandfather, Wei Liang Chow, was a brilliant mathematician who discovered a theorem of algebraic geometry. I’m not even sure that I phrased that correctly, so basic are my math skills.

(I recently learned how to make an accent aigu, so my posts may contain disproportionate use of the words forté, cliché, and soufflé.)

There is a lot to be said for admitting what we don’t know, even if we think we should know it.I used to hide behind my ignorance of history, and I think what made me stop doing so was the revelation that without understanding history, current events have no context, and reading anything but the local news becomes an exercise in bewilderment and frustration. You wind up doing a lot of nodding at cocktail parties and hoping that the expression on your face is appropriate to the conversation at hand. As I’ve said before, it’s so easy nowadays to learn and to learn for free (or almost free) via this internet thing. I didn’t study much geography in school, and what I did learn was so long ago that much of it has changed (e.g. we learned of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union) … my geographical IQ grew exponentially once I found Lizard Point. You’re welcome.

Speaking of travel (just go with it), a friend said earlier that she’d like to spend time with me outside of New York and my “comfort zone”. I’m beginning to think my comfort zone is  outside of New York. In terms of a place to live, safety, resources, and so on, of course I’m comfortable here, but in terms of where I don’t feel mired in too much of everything, where I can breathe and not worry that I’ve fallen behind, and so on and so forth, I think that magical place exists elsewhere. I’ve had recent conversations with two people who had lived in NYC for decades and couldn’t imagine leaving, until they did. They both expressed in different ways having found more peace elsewhere and, in so doing, having realized they might not have been as happy here as they’d convinced themselves they were.

This is in no way an anti-New York diatribe, because I love this city completely and will likely stay here for a very long time. It’s my roots, it’s where most of my friends and family are, it’s where some of the things I love most in this world can be found. But I don’t know that I’d survive it were it not for my occasional opportunity to leave. It’s all about balance, not the bass. Though I do love the bass.

I had a vivid dream of Quebec last night, a vivid and geographically correct one in which I was explaining the city to someone and giving them directions past the Citadel, down to the old city … as my darling travel companion can aver, that I was giving directions was most definitely the mark of a dream. I’m not terrible with them … I know my way around my apartment very well and I can get around Manhattan with ease. But I do so appreciate a good map elsewhere, along with someone who can read it.

I want to visit Croatia, among many, many other places. I also want to return to some of the beautiful countries and cities and tiny towns I’ve already visited.

For reasons only my iPhone knows, when I try to email myself from it (i.e. send myself a reminder or forward a note I’ve taken), my address pops up under the name “Holidays in the United States”. That, according to my phone, is my proper name.

They — the people who bring us reports of rain and the latest in nutrition news — say that we should aim to take 10,000 steps per day. My phone now has a built-in pedometer (yours probably does to), and so I am able to see how far short I’ve fallen of this goal at the end of each day. When I got home from a day of running back and forth across town yesterday I checked and saw this:

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Forty-one steps later I was at the elevator and back out with the dog. I’ve actually been walking quite a bit more in the past week, but, as this graph shows, I don’t always bring my phone along. Now I feel compelled to do so. I also feel compelled to not text and walk, to pull over to the side if I need to respond to or check something. Yesterday a young woman was walking toward me and texting furiously, as young women do. She tripped and flew forward several steps, continuing to text the whole time. The future is in the hands of unobservant multi-taskers.

The photo above is from Ireland, from a trip I took a few years ago with a group of modern-day wandering minstrels. It is, in fact, the northernmost point in Ireland and the inspiration for an impromptu song called “The Northernmost Point in Ireland (Is Not In Northern Ireland)”.

Sláinte.

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

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Hi.

As I mentioned the last time I updated this thang, I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, and a few days ago I made the executive decision to claw my way out of it. In so doing I’ve been reminded of the restorative power of friendship. I’ve reached out to, and spent time with, some of the important people in my life, in person and on the phone, and it’s been therapeutic. It’s allowed me to have optimism and plans and to stay busy. What’s that quote about idle hands? Whatever it is, that. For me, being idle is the easy way out, and in my experience the easiest ways out are almost always temporary salves. So much easier to stay in bed than to face the world, to not try lest I fail, to cancel plans so I don’t have to talk about what’s happening or not happening in my life. I’d been doing that for a stretch and it was not working and by the time I really realized that it was absolutely, positively, time to do things differently.

So I begin a new approach to my life. I’ve done so many a time and they’ve not always taken, though along the way I’ve picked up pieces of wisdom and the right kinds of habits.

I had a writing workshop yesterday for Girls Write Now, the awesome (do we still say that?) mentoring program I work with, and in this one we worked on author bios for ourselves, among other things. The topic of the workshop was online presence for writers; apparently I should be tweeting more. Or at all, really. We were given writing prompts, such as describe yourself in three nouns, then three verbs, then three adjectives, etcetera. Because this would be shared with the group I wasn’t as brutally honest as I might have been  — not that I was DIShonest, but my responses were more user-friendly than raw. I wrote “aspiring polyglot” and in trying to figure out the new WordPress interface so I could update this thing, I noticed that I’ve described myself this way before. Muy interesante, n’est-ce pas? Nyet.

We also wrote down ways other people might describe us; one of my dear friends has described me as an “acerbic marshmallow”. Perhaps that’ll be the name of my next blog.

We then wrote about what we write about and this made me realize that I need to write more, in more forums. I’m writing my novel — and am astonished to report that I hit word 60,000 on Friday. It’s a ghost story, as I’ve probably mentioned, and at present it has no title. It’s set in a restaurant — acerbic marshmallow friend and I bat around fake titles for it, and yesterday I came up with, “Waiter, There’s a Ghost In My Soup!” to which he replied, “Ghost Custards”. (Say that one aloud if you don’t get it; I didn’t). It takes place in New York in the summer of 1999, a decision I made so that I could avoid both the specter of 9-11 and our inextricable bond to technology, particularly so-called smart phones. I got my first cell phone in December of ’99, so for me that summer could still be a time when we had to wait to hear from people, when we still got to wonder and guess, when we weren’t just a few keystrokes away from knowing everything we needed to know about everyone and everything. My writing coach told me about a recent interview with a mystery writer who said that the advent and widespread use of The Google and its friends has made mystery-writing more challenging. Who needs to hire a private detective when we have Instagram?

Because novel-writing is so solitary, and because I’m prone to bouts of loneliness, I have been craving more collaborative projects to supplement my writing habit. So if any of my talented and creative friends — which is all of you — feel like collaborating on something, do get in touch.

I had a lot more I planned to write today but I’ve just spent about twenty minutes wrestling with my WiFi connection so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

 

Pack up all my care and woe…

IMG_7771The title of this post is from Bye Bye Blackbird, which was the favorite song of someone I knew who died from Alzheimer’s — or as my young niece calls it, Old Timer’s. I had a brush with early stages of the disease today in a chance encounter on the street.

It was not unbearably freezing today, and so I decided to walk home from my appointment on 36th and Park. As I walked down Ninth Avenue I saw an elderly man a few paces ahead of me who was standing on the sidewalk looking around. I made eye contact with him and he stopped me and asked if I live in the neighborhood. I said yes, and asked if he was lost. He was – I asked what he was looking for and he said, “My home. I can’t remember where it is.” He was visibly shaken by this. My first thought was to call the authorities, but I didn’t really know which authorities to call. He had his keys in his hand and on his key ring was a CVS customer card. I suggested we might go to the nearest CVS and see if they could scan it and find his address.

Then I asked if he perhaps had id in his wallet; he did – he had a Christmas-themed return address label stuck on the inside. I read the address to him; it was about half a block away, but a long block, and it took us a while to get close to the building. He kept saying how ridiculous it was that he could just forget where he lives, that he’s lived there for years. I asked if he lived with anyone or had family here and he mentioned a daughter, whose name he couldn’t recall. I asked to see his wallet again, and in it found a piece of paper with three names and phone numbers – “Son” and “Daughter” were clearly marked – one with a New Jersey number and one in Brooklyn, he told me. The third name, Stella, was 212. He told me she was his girlfriend so I asked if I could phone her.

Stella was very concerned to hear what was going on and explained that she’d been sick and couldn’t come over to his house – his name is Michael, by the way. She asked if I’d bring him to her, and gave me the address. She lives in the housing projects a few blocks from me that I pass every day and have never been inside.

On the long, slow walk to Stella’s, we passed a friend of mine who lives in the East Village and whom I haven’t seen in years – she was on the phone and we greeted each other and agreed to talk later.

I asked Michael more questions. He estimates he was born in 1925, and clearly recalled that he moved to New York from Naples, Italy, in 1940; shortly after he joined the army and fought with the 69th Infantry Division. He couldn’t understand how he could remember that, but not where he’s been living for the past many decades. I said something about how curious memory is, how sometimes we recall things from childhood but not what we had for breakfast that morning. I asked if he’d eaten anything today and he said no.

I held his arm when we crossed the streets and told him that I was afraid of slipping on the ice myself – and he laughed. But in general he was sad and confused. I said, “This must be very frustrating for you,” and he said, “It’s very frustrating. I just don’t understand.” We talked about the fact that he should probably pay a visit to a doctor – he doesn’t think he’s been to the doctor in quite some time.

We reached Stella’s building and she buzzed us in, though the lock on the main door appeared to be broken. Michael pushed “7” in the elevator – and Stella waited for us with her apartment door opened. They cried on seeing each other – she gave him a big hug and asked what was going on and he said he didn’t understand.

She invited me in – actually, it was more insistence – and we helped him off with his jacket. She asked where his keys were and I said probably in his pocket, so she went through his pockets and pulled out his keys, wallet, a bunch of napkins, and his teeth.

While she made him a cup of tea I called his daughter – who started to cry and told me that this has been going on for a while and has gotten worse and worse and that she’s asked him to come stay with her in Brooklyn but that he’s stubborn. She said she’d call Stella in a few minutes, and I gave her my number and explained that I live in the neighborhood, should they need anything.

While we were in the kitchen Stella said to me, “We’ve known each other for 37 years. This is going to be so hard for me – I am all alone.”

I said whatever I could – tried to be comforting. I told Stella I’d check in with her, and Michael’s daughter said she’d keep me posted. I said my goodbyes and left.

So much to say about all of this but I’m still processing it. My neighborhood – this whole city – is full of elderly people who live on their own. I recently had a conversation with a friend – one whose own elderly mother was in a physical rehabilitation center with apparently deplorable conditions – about the fact that our society has a lot of work to do in terms of how we value and care for our elderly. Michael and Stella have lived in my neighborhood since long before it was filled with new condos and art galleries and night clubs and expensive restaurants – since long before the vast majority of the people who live in my building were born. This is their neighborhood.

I am grateful that I made eye contact with him and that I stopped, because in the wrong hands, things could have turned out much differently. Not only was he confused, he had money and credit cards in his wallet. Mine are far from the only right hands – I know that everyone reading these words would have done the same thing I did. I also know that moments before I saw him I’d been looking at my phone to see if I’d heard back about tomorrow night’s dinner plans, or about what time my Pilates lesson was. Of course we all spend far too much time looking down these days – and once more I’m reminded of the value of looking up. Looking around. From now on I will pay more attention to the many elderly people I see walking around my neighborhood by themselves.

The other takeaway here – and this is important for ALL of us – is to carry ID and a list of contacts. I don’t know if that ICE program is still relevant, but if it is it’s a good one – emergency responders are taught to look through cellphone contacts for anyone marked ICE – “in case of emergency”.

This city is a big and busy place and not everybody is kind; but like the day I had my accident a few years back (I fainted in the street) – today proved that sometimes the kindness of strangers is what separates trauma from tragedy.

Be well, my friends, and look after your loved ones.