I’m only happy when it rains

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Well that’s not entirely true, but there are times that call for torrential downpours and this weekend is one of them. I have a lot of purging to do, literally and figuratively, and a rainy day would allow me to sit in my apartment without feeling guilty that I should be soaking in the waning days of summer (it’s still summer until the 21st and perhaps a bit after if it chooses to remain so), boxing up decades’ worth of books and photos and clothing and mementos whose significance elude me. It will feel really good to do this; it will be a start in the myriad steps I must now take to become the right version of myself, the one I’ve been shirking for 43 years. The one who relies on old pain to justify defensive reactions, on fear of my feelings not being validated to spew them in the most vicious and verbal way that I can in order to be heard. My childhood was a long time ago and it’s time I caught up to that reality.

And so I have begun taking some very important steps – and very scary ones, in some ways – as my dear L says, “learning to take care of ourselves first goes against everything we’re ingrained to believe” – or words to that effect. And she’s right. I’ve been called selfish, I’ve been called irresponsible, I’ve been called worthless – and those are some of the accolades – but the fact of the matter is that I’ve spent an awfully long time putting the needs of others – or what I perceive to be the needs of others – before my own. And so when my efforts to be needed are met with resistance, 43-years worth of frustration and loneliness and the absolute irrefutable “knowledge” that no one will ever really see me as I am or understand me as I want to be understood manifest in a torrent of ugliness that only a time machine could fix.

Mistakes I’ve made, many throughout my life and far too many in recent weeks, and while I do accept full responsibility for my actions, I have limited choices as to how to proceed now. I can apologize – and I do – with every cell of sincerity in my body. I can beat myself up (figuratively) and chastise myself and hate the little girl who rears her ugly head as a grown woman and says and does things she’ll forever regret. I can also breathe, deeply, use some of the breathing exercises a wise woman taught me this week, and I can begin to heal. I can learn from my past regrets and make what may seem like empty promises to never repeat certain behaviors, but until my final day on earth I will not know that I’ll never be “that bad” again. I certainly intend not to be – that is my goal. I can live in the present and pray for the future. I can accept my solitude because assigning fault or blame to it is fruitless; this is where I am today for reasons that are too complex for WordPress.

I can pour my vast stores of emotion into love and tranquility for myself and for anyone who enters my life from here on out. This is what I can do. I can not change the past, I can only embrace the present and strive for a better future. As I’ve said recently, I am pathologically optimistic (and yes, feel free to insert other ways in which you deem me pathological here). This is why I “ignore” signs that shouldn’t be ignored, and this is why I get myself into a terrible state where I ruin days and nights. I’m very, very tired of living this way.

In keeping with the poem I posted the other day, here’s another from Mary Oliver, which I’ve posted before. I know she’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but these words helped me once and they will again; I just have to learn to bear the lessons in mind and to stop sabotaging my life and ignoring the truth. If someone is hellbent on vilifying [you], no amount of repentance, explanation, or love can help. It’s time to move forward, hard as this may be:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Better to have loved and lost

IMG_5798Take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night. 

–William Shakespeare

We’ve lost some legends in recent days and the one that’s impacted me the most is the great actor — Shakespearean and otherwise — and our dear family friend Charles Keating. If you don’t know the name, Google him and you’ll recognize his beautiful face. Charles has been an integral part of my life since I was 9 and his family moved to the States. He and my mother acted together in the early 60s, and the woman who would become the love of his life, Mary, was their wardrobe girl. We’ve spent the past 33 Thanksgivings together, as well as countless other celebrations and events. As a good friend said the other night, “They broke the mold when they made Charles. And then fired the mold-maker.” He was a poet, a dreamer, a rebel and a rogue. He taught me to memorize my favorite poem:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep, 

And nodding by the fire, take down this book

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace

And loved your beauty with love false or true

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled,

And paced upon the mountains overhead,

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

That’s Yeats. Charles recited it to my mum at her surprise 50th.

A couple of years ago I was going through a difficult transition and Charles and I had a long talk during which he imparted the following advice: Ride the horse in the direction its going.

There is so much I could say about this man. I could write volumes. I can’t imagine a world without him and I’m sad that that world now exists. But I’m blessed and better for having known him and I will take his advice as best I can.

Love you, mate.

 

You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly

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Yesterday was the funeral for someone who was once a very dear friend, a brilliant, artistic, successful, strong willed, exotic beauty who was a good friend in high school and then again for a few years in the early – mid 2000s. Unfortunately we had a falling out in 2006; we were both going through transitions in our personal lives and we met up for dinner on a night when we were in entirely different head spaces and there were drinks involved and it spiraled out of control and that’s the last time I saw her.

A few years later we exchanged a brief email; I apologized for my part in things and we agreed to, as they say, let bygones be bygones. I reached out to her this past spring when I was getting ready to host a gathering in honor of the people who’d come to town for my high school reunion; I wanted to let her know that she was absolutely welcome in my home if she had any desire to attend. I didn’t know  then  – in fact, none of us did – that she was sick. A few weeks ago – September 5, actually – I had what I guess was a prescient dream about her. I don’t recall the details, just that it was troubling. I sent her this: “You were in my dream last night. I hope you’re doing well.” I didn’t expect a response, but I certainly didn’t expect that she would be no longer with us less than two weeks later.

This is a very weird grief – at first it was just bewildering, then I felt an uncomfortable detachment that I rarely associate with death – I guess it was due to the fact that so many others are mourning more viscerally. Now that’s gone – Saturday it turned into heartbreak, sadness, confusion, and regret for the way things ended between us. I chose not to go to the services yesterday, not because of any ill will whatsoever; these sorts of things evaporate immediately in the face of death. I chose not to go because I felt that I need to mourn this one in a private way. And I’ve begun doing so. I’ve prayed, I’ve asked for forgiveness (and I know I’ve gotten it), I’ve wept and I’ve done my best to keep to myself on this. I tried to talk to my mum a bit about it but she doesn’t, as we know, like to hear about these things, so I keep it in and talk to myself and the universe and to my departed friend. I had second thoughts about not attending yesterday but I feel in my heart it was the right thing for me to do, to mourn her in private and let those who were more actively connected to her spend time together. I’ve been through these things enough that I know there are no rules as to how or where or when one grieves. It is such an intensely personal thing; I remember when a friend died some years ago and another friend made the active decision to not attend the services. This was confusing but she told me that the services are really hard for her for reasons that have nothing to do with our friend – and that she chose to honor him in her own way. I absolutely get it now.

And so I will choose to do the same with our beautiful Khakasa, who is now in the stars. She was always a star, and she always will be.

Gone from my Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

 Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

 Gone where?

 Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

-Henry Van Dyke

I’d build a road in gold …

Image…just to have some dreaming.

Actually, I slept beautifully last night – eight fairly solid hours – woke up once and fell easily back to sleep. However … you see one movie about a global war caused by marauding gangs of desperate flesh eaters, you have cataclysmic dreams for a week, apparently. Nothing I can’t handle – I eagerly await World War Z2 – but it’s been interesting. Last night’s featured explosions and falling buildings (no casualties that I can remember), but they were all part of films that I was watching. There was also a disturbing film about a little girl people were trying to save – that one felt far more sinister.

In the weeks and months after 9-11 I had regular dreams about things like this – and they weren’t films. I’d dream that buildings were exploding all over the city. I dreamt that I was in my parents’ old building and a Pan Am plane fell from the sky. These were much more literal. Although it still seems far too soon to delve into, perhaps the distance between that wretched day and today has enabled me to put a celluloid filter on my nightmares.

Going to touch the ocean this weekend and not a moment too soon. I learned to love it a couple of years ago (is six a “couple”?) – in Montauk, actually. Prior to that I loved the idea of it but found the execution to be overwhelming. Now it’s overwhelming in a good way. During my years with the wandering minstrel I had the great fortune of traveling on a relatively small budget – touring musicians of a certain level know how to do this like nobody else – and seeing parts of the world I might not have otherwise. When I encountered a body of water, no matter how cold, I at the very least waded in up to my ankles – and so I experienced the North and Irish seas. Some day I hope to encounter the Mediterranean and Adriatic. I’m very drawn to Croatia and I’m not sure why, but that’s on my list of places-I-might-someday-see. There are many, many others. As Andrew Marvell wrote, in a poem that was actually about getting the object of his affection to sleep with him, Had we but world enough and time.

Travel is good. It’s, to me, the best investment of time and money that there is. And so off to the Atlantic we go.

Love is the drug

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The other day, I felt the blues trying to sneak up on me at a most inconvenient time. I was on my way to see my mom — we went to the ballet — and I am trying my best to minimize her worrying about me. A friend who understands these things all too well (I wish you didn’t, of course, but selfishly, it helps that you do) agreed that I should “fake it” — because sometimes this actually works. I did; I smiled throughout the cab ride uptown in what I hoped was a beatific manner but that was probably closer to maniacal. I held the door for everyone in my path at Lincoln Center. I rolled my eyes and agreed with the line for the Ladies Room that waiting so long is an injustice against our gender. And by the time I saw my mom, I was feeling much better.

Since I’ve been writing about depression I’ve been searching for my own metaphor. It’s something like a fog coming in (and not, as Carl Sandburg said, on little cat feet), but fog is too pure; it’s more like a thick smog. The ability to sense its coming is invaluable. 

Grief is an entirely different animal. When I was little my mother and sister were driving in a rain storm and a massive dead branch fell on their car and shattered their windshield; thank God, they escaped unharmed. That is a good analogy for grief — a wet broken branch that falls with a thud and shatters whatever it lands upon. And grief, again, takes many forms — death of a loved one is the most profound, but the loss of any relationship can be as traumatic, particularly when it takes us by surprise. So, “At least you’ve still got your health. At least no one died” doesn’t apply; every ending is a death of sorts. Folks-who-are-going-through-this, allow yourselves to grieve and don’t let anyone make you feel that you should snap out of it, because we can’t just do that; adding pressure to the feeling makes it that much worse. Change of any sort is difficult, and it makes perfect sense that we struggle with it, that the unexpected takes its toll and we are temporarily paralyzed by the fear that we’re not sure how to get through, what to think, how to feel, how life can possibly work from here on out. You ARE going to get through it, and you’ll figure out how life is going to work, but these feelings are entirely valid. Rely on friends, rely on music, on art, on exercise, allow yourself to feel the loss and allow yourself to believe that you have incredible strength that will rise to the surface when you need it most. 

The Vanishing Man contacted me again, via email. I’ve still yet to respond to a single attempt on his part. I’ve nothing to say. I wish I didn’t derive any semblance of satisfaction from his “suffering” (hard to believe the words of the delusional), but I can’t help it. I went through hell — briefly — because of him (in part because of him; he doesn’t have the power to wreck me), and I made my feelings known to no avail. I’m pretty sure what I feel now is indifference. Of course I don’t wish ill on him — I wish no one physical harm, ever — but if he’s now having a hard time emotionally because of the world he created through his action and inaction, so be it. Not my fault. Not my problem.

I’ve come to the point where I truly believe that, more often than not, we’re best off making our thoughts and feelings as clear as we can; any “rejection” this causes is much purer and less worrisome than what would exist if we hadn’t put ourselves out there in the first place. If our genuine selves send others away, those others could never have been right for us. Because despite our best intentions, despite how hard we try to be on perfect behavior at the beginning of a relationship, to woo through what we think will work and act in such a way that we will keep the object of our affection interested, eventually our true selves will shine through. I think I’d rather be rejected for who I am, hard as that can be, than for who I want others to think I am, for not expressing enough interest if I have it, for not putting my heart out there. At least then I know I’ve done whatever I could to love completely and without subterfuge. It’s important, however, that we don’t make the loneliness = heartache mistake. That we don’t perceive promise where there’s never been any and let this determine our happiness or sense of selves. No one person can make it all better for us. Sometimes not crossing the line of platonic love in the first place is the best thing we can do. This is not the same as acting on physical impulse once (or twice) and realizing it’s a mistake, because as sentient and sensitive beings, sometimes in-the-moment makes all the sense we need it to. But regaining our wits if we haven’t succeeded in keeping them about us is crucial. And not blaming others for our indiscretions or changes of heart (or other parts) is mature and kind. Much more to say but I’ll have to come back to it.

Bright eyes

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My dear, departed friend Mark Enger used to call me Bright Eyes. He was exceptional. Though he has an identical twin, somehow they broke the mold when they made him.

I’ve had some excellent conversations in the past several days, with people who have turned out to be more likeminded than I’d have thought. Among them are the conversations I had yesterday with this guy, who has come so far in the years I’ve known him where letting go of cynicism is concerned, and with whom I spent Saturday afternoon and evening; we were in the west village, which was my home for ten years and is one of my favorite places on earth. We were both so appreciative of the slightly off weather and of the fact that we are in New York. And we talked about love, the importance of it in all its manifestations, how, ultimately, nothing else really matters. It’s not all about romantic love. By that token, you must visit this, a project by a brilliant photographer friend we ran into yesterday. His photos, here, are visual manifestations of the things I try to write about. 

The loneliness I felt last Sunday is, I think, an extension of my addictive personality. I’d become so accustomed to having a fellow in my life that, despite profound evidence that my last two situations were likely going nowhere, I held on as long as I could; at times nothing is more terrifying for me than sitting with uncertainty. And now I can say without a doubt that moving forward from those defeating relationships was the best thing I could have done with them. Wow. How lovely it is to enjoy the silence after so many months+ of the dissonant thrum and shrill banter of misalliance.

The liberty is intoxicating. The future is boundless. 

Though the poem itself is macabre and tragic, and the associations with Play Misty for Me (great movie) chilling, some of the language in Annabel Lee is pure romance. There is one phrase that runs through my mind on a regular basis: “…we love with a love that [is] more than love”. Various iterations of this have become nicknames for my sweet Louie, who is turning 11 next weekend. This boy has been by my side through so much sturm und drang and remains sweet and sensitive and kind; strangers often remark that he looks at me with incredible love. And he does. I know it. It’s not just that my pockets are lined with dog treats …

Alors. I must get ready for the dinner I planned last week because the thought of being unmoored again on a Sunday night seemed unbearable. Actually, I’d be fine, and I have the people who’ve been part of my last several days to appreciate for that.  

I leave you with this, which I am determined to memorize. I’ve got the first few verses down.

Annabel Lee
 
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
 
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.
 
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
 
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
 
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
 
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
-Edgar Allen Poe

This is your paradise

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I have fallen in love again with this magical city over the past few days.

I made the executive decision to not attend the bulk of my high school reunion yesterday, having done my part on Thursday evening. The evening was festive, but with one or two exceptions I didn’t feel very connected to anyone from this part of my past. I am much better suited to the world I’ve inhabited since I completed my formal education, and it’s a world that bears little resemblance to my all girls’ boarding school and college, which was the quintessential East Coast liberal arts school, complete with homecoming games, quad-dwelling hacky sack players, and a flourishing Greek life. Neither institution nurtures individuality the way the cities I love and the people I choose to spend time with do. There were molds to fit. I’ve come to appreciate both places in a way that I couldn’t see them then, and that’s largely because I have the benefit of a few decades of wisdom. Attaining wisdom often comes at a cost; it’s rarely a smooth process, and some of the strongest lessons are born of darkness. But knowing this makes the dark times less unbearable.

Brightness follows every squall. These words have stayed with me since I heard them, in February 2006 at my friend’s father’s burial. It was a cold, sunny, beautiful day in the aftermath of several days’ of winter storm. I remember trying to balance the walk across the frozen snow toward the grave; the sun was blinding. My friend’s mother, the widow, spoke eloquently and calmly. Brightness follows every squall, was how she began her eulogy.And it’s true, and this is what helps me most when things get difficult.

I am feeling exponentially more tranquil and grateful today than I did one week ago. Right this minute, in my beautiful home with the rain as my background music, I’m exactly where I want to be.