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. 

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Wait a minute Mr. Postman …

ImageI have spent part of today searching through boxes of personal memorabilia in search of one specific photograph. These boxes have been in storage at my father’s company for decades, and though I haven’t found the photo, I have found some interesting souvenirs of days gone by. Apparently I was the news editor of my high school newspaper. (I do recall that I was on staff but I don’t recall editing any news.) I found the program from my elementary school’s singalong in 1978, when my sister was in sixth grade and I was in third. My class performed “California Kids” (“Well east coast kids are hip, I really dig the styles they we-ear…”). I remember what I wore. I was, in fact, part of the East Coast Kids group, so compared to the Midwest Farmer’s Children and all the rest, my costume was not terribly gimmicky. I wore a denim jacket, t-shirt and jeans and a pair of brown rain boots with black fake fur at the top. I loved those boots.

I also found many relics of the lost art of letter writing, a practice that played a major role in my life up until the bitter end of its reign. I loved writing letters from the time I was able to write. My granny and I wrote constantly, and she kept a carbon copy of each letter she typed on her sky blue Smith Corona, which now lives in my closet. It needs work. I’d like to get myself a refurbished portable typewriter; I’d been toying with the idea, forgot about it, and then read this essay. But before I purchase any heavy machinery I must purge some of the stuff that I’ve semi-hoarded over the years.

Reading through some of these letters has been like finding a time capsule from the late 80s/early 90s, when I was in college. I’ve come across gems like these:

  • There are a few people that you’ll be glad to hear that I didn’t keep in touch with, namely Evan and Randy. I didn’t call Randy even though he owed me 25 dollars for the Who tickett [sic]. That’s how much I didn’t want to talk to him.
  • Take care, hon, and find yourself a “nice boyfriend” – good luck and I hope to hear from again really soon.
  • I lost my proof so the bar scene has been even more interesting b/c every night I have to think of new scams to get in. I borrowed my housemate’s proof. The name on it was Mandy Fiddle …
  • I am going to the travel agent today to make some arrangements 4 spring break. Yeah! Jamaica!
  • Now don’t think I’m turning lesbo on you, but I thought the front of the card was rather appropriate. Your card to me was hysterical, talk about appropriate.
  • You should definately [sic] come home for a weekend we’ll be total townies. one night we’ll go to the “Aft” then to “Cooks” – another night we should go hang-out in the village. 
  • Actually you see, I think I fell in love in Spain. I met this Spanish guy in Marbella – he is older, 27 is my guess (I never bothered to ask) he is so lively and so crazey [sic]. He’s a real estate agent & a part owner of a bar/nite club & I have this feeling he might deal coke or something on the side. … he has really ruined my desire for Laurent … I’ve decided French guys are dull.

Good stuff. I miss writing letters. I don’t miss being 19 and 20.

This ain’t no never-never land

ImageNow that two people have expressed confusion, I must clear this up: the “L” to whom I’ve addressed several missives is not me, it’s a friend with whom I have quite a bit in common, including our first initial. It’s been wonderful to have her (back) in my life. Though we’ve traveled different paths, we have a fundamental understanding of one another that alleviates the need for lengthy explanation. It’s a beautiful thing.

Right, L?

The lyric above is from “Centerfold”, which I distinctly recall hearing for the first time when I was in sixth grade; the new kid, Eric Schmidt, was sitting in the lunchroom playing it on a box (radio) and singing along. Just thirty-two years later, last Friday night, Peter Wolf joined Bob Dylan on stage at the end of the show. He’s gangly.

On our walk this morning, Louie and I passed a group of day camp kids playing kickball. It brought me back to the horrors of gym class, which was perhaps one of my least favorite activities as a kid. I am not an athlete. Newborn giraffes have better working knowledges of how their limbs work than I do – and are far more graceful. I’m afraid of the ball. I’ve thrown “like a girl” since long before that was considered an unevolved statement. I can’t do a cartwheel. As such, I was often picked last for The Team. Thank GOD those days are behind me. I believe in fitness and health and that they should be priorities and that children should have physical outlets. But I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all method for achieving this. Being a kid is awkward enough without a jury of one’s peers to judge grace and athletic prowess and choose sides accordingly. Not to mention gymnastics – oy vey. To have eight-year-old me spot a classmate who’s balancing 12 feet in the air on rings is the antithesis of safety.

A couple of years ago a friend’s daughter was sent to physical therapy because she was uncoordinated. My friend, the father, said, “I was uncoordinated and, except for gym class, it never really mattered. I became a musician.” It’s all about nurturing what’s positive and moving on from what doesn’t work. Too often, though, we expend time and energy wishing for what we can’t or don’t have and disregarding what we can and do.

This post is not quite as disjointed as it seems.

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.