Where the hot springs flow

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Someone mentioned the Land of the Midnight Sun on the news this morning, and I’ve had Robert Plant wailing in my head all day. I experienced the midnight sun in Norway in August 2007, where sun didn’t set until after 11pm. On more than one occasion this resulted in a frantic scramble to find a place still serving dinner. Norway had never been on my travel radar – not that I was opposed to the idea, but other places had piqued my curiosity more strongly. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit; it was strange and beautiful.

Last night in my dream I spoke Russian – one of the 18 or 19 words I know. I said “спасибо” – spasiba – thank you. I speak bits of French in my dreams but this is the first time I spoke what I’d spent decades thinking was my grandfather’s native language. About a year into my autodidactic studies, I learned that Ukrainian was the dominant language in his household when he was a lad. Back to the drawing board.

I leapt outside of my comfort zone yesterday and took an exercise class at this place, thanks to an inspiring and encouraging friend. I prefer my fitness endeavors to occur in the presence of as few people as possible, but we got there early enough that I could sequester myself in a back corner. The first five minutes of this class consisted of “cardio dance” – if you know me in three-dimensions and have ever watched me attempt to walk down a street without tripping, let alone dance, feast on that visual. Still, I got through it and the remaining 45 minutes of limb-by-limb torture and I feel pretty good today. I think I’ll try again next week.

Excellent conversations about writing and the creative process yesterday, about being “surprised” by our characters (as overblown as that just sounded when I reread it) and about how they can get away with saying things that we can’t. I realize that writing in the first person would afford me a lot more freedom of narrative and observation, but it doesn’t make sense for the project I’m working on. There have to be differing points of view.

Today is the birthday of a dear, departed friend, who, to quote Shakespeare, “makes the face of heaven so fine that all the world [is] in love with night.” Happy birthday, sweet one.

Addendum: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

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 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. 

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. 

My sole intention is learning to fly …

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According to the internets I might have that lyric wrong, but the essence of the two versions is the same. Learning to fly, finding one’s bearings after being set adrift. It’s hard to do, and accepting this is the only recourse for beginning to heal a broken heart or beaten soul or combination of the two. The process is exhausting and there are regressions along the way, but if one has some semblance of determination, the powers-that-be will reverse what’s seemed like a spell of misdirected punishment and the world will be brighter.

Despite all my foibles and missteps and temper tantrums, I think the people who choose to stick around know that my love is boundless and my loyalty fierce. I do have a fair amount of people in my life, and this is because, for whatever crazy reason, excellent people have come my way. I’ve met plenty, plenty of toxic people along the way, some of whom have disguised themselves as knights in shining armor and all-weather friends, and as such I’ve had my spirit broken many times. But through it I’ve held onto a faith that comes from some mysterious source and I’ve not given up on the universe. I can’t. Otherwise, why am I here? I’ve accepted the fact that mine will be a hard-won happiness; I’ve walked through deluges and spent years in foxholes and I’ve raged and rebelled against a world that’s at times seemed hell-bent on watching me suffer through life. But I’ve gotten back up, licked my many wounds, and struck out again to make mistakes and continue to fight for light and love. Because, I think, you don’t get one without weathering the other. I guess I’d rather keep battling because the moments of beauty, tranquility, and bliss are brighter and more powerful than one thousand demons could ever be.

When I was a kid I thought the song “Torn Between Two Lovers” was “Torn Between Two Leopards”.

Third time’s a charm:

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

I do, and I mean that for all of you.

The band in heaven, they play my favorite song

ImageI’m learning that there is little that can be done when someone is hellbent on convincing you that they are inherently flawed, and therefore bad. Of course they are flawed – we all are – but bad is another story entirely. If someone we love turns on us, rejects us, this does not mean we are bad. This means we were not meant to be with that person, and tough a pill though that may be to swallow, it is a far cry from being a Bad Person. And really, you know this. It’s a cry for help, an excuse to spin your wheels, a reason to attach to everything that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed, lied to, used, rejected – I’ve venture to say that everyone reading this has been through these things. We’ve also suffered disappointments on the work front and parents – or children – whom we can’t relate to. None of this makes us bad. This makes us human. However, worth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if you are feeling unworthy, please know that this alone does not make it so. Hard times cause self-doubt, but self-doubt needn’t perpetuate to the degree that it does.

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Today was difficult, so difficult. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead quickly, which means we don’t have a lot of lag time to get used to the idea of someone’s passing before we ritualistically mourn them. It was difficult and beautiful to see so many people honoring Lily, speaking of her love of life and excitement over every new adventure, her utter devotion to her family and to her husband of many decades. Her children spoke. My father spoke. We buried her – quite literally, as is also tradition. It was so … final. I will take from my relationship with Lily the notion that love and life matter more than anything, that family and friends come first, that being generous has little to do with material possession, and that we dance on this planet once in this form, so we might as well turn the volume up loud. Lily was life – even if I didn’t think so before, there is no way now that anyone could convince me that physical death means the end of spirit. She is, still, way too vibrant for this. I’m sad, but I’m so much better for having known her all these years, and so much more comforted by the notion that she’s still around.

Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday

ImageTraditions are good. Last night we sailed NY Harbor for E’s birthday, something we’ve been doing for … five years? Six? I haven’t updated that number, but it’s a lovely event whose guest list morphs with each passing year. I am honored to always be included and was especially honored to be given the opportunity to blow the captain’s conch this year.

No, that was actually weird.

In addition to not being able to ski or ride a bicycle, I don’t know how to whistle. I’m not sure that skill would have helped with the conch blowing, but I imagine it couldn’t have hurt.

Two days ago I had a meeting with a writer whose screenplay I’d read and critiqued. It was a little terrifying at first – I’d not met this man, though I know his husband for many years. The writer would be a hell of a poker player – as I went through my notes he watched me, almost expressionless, and his resting face is not one of joy. Because I doubt myself WAY more than I should, what ran through my mind was the notion that I’d completely misread his work and that he couldn’t believe he was having to listen to this blithering idiot who claims to be an editor missing the point entirely.

Not the case. He walked me out, thanked me profusely, and wrote a lovely follow up note about how helpful my ideas are and how excited he is to work on the next draft.

I suffer from the self-doubt my father has described as, “Every day I wake up and think, today’s the day they’re going to catch onto me.” I know that I’m a good editor, and that sometimes writers don’t like to be edited. I know that I’m a decent writer when I understand the assignment. But as B and I have discussed, we write because it feels like the only thing we can do, and we fear that every decent sentence we string together will be our last. That’s another reason this blahhhg has been good for me – I can string together shoddy sentences and I’ve no choice but to try again.

When I feel I’ve done something wrong, I have a hard time accepting forgiveness. This happened this week in a way that brought me back to big-long relationship with musician (not the wandering minstrel); I was told repeatedly in several ways that I was “ruining [his] career”, by not being involved, by being too involved, by making introductions and suggestions, by not making them … ultimately, it’s hard to ruin another person’s anything, I think. But having grown up (and you know how much I love my family, but I was not an easy little one – way too emotional) being reminded that I “ruined” every meal, conversation, vacation, celebration … it’s taken me a while to completely eradicate that mindset. And so I take criticism to heart in a way that is not at all productive. What I need to do instead is to get back on that bike I don’t know how to ride and carry on, because regardless of how I’m perceived, my intentions are almost always good. Some months ago I was the “victim” of rumours that are simply not true, and I flipped out. Not how everyone would handle it, but I can’t change the past. I’m filled with paralyzing regret about this incident, and I need to move forward. I’ve thought about apologizing to everyone involved; however, not everyone involved cares enough about me to see my apology for what it is, and so it would likely fall on deaf ears.

Need to keep moving forward – now and forward are all we’ve got.

Thanks for a lovely evening, Erika! Happy birthday and many more to one of the best friends a gal could have.

Dream a dream with you

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This was a lovely weekend that began with music and included a trip to the ocean, a movie, and the requisite tears and laughter. Friday night we went to the pier in Hoboken  to see Wilco and Bob Dylan; there was an opening act followed by the cloyingly named My Morning Jacket, who are good musicians with unmemorable music — to me, that is. Apparently there are many people who disagree, as scores of fans were singing along. To each her own, says I. It took me a while to wrap my head around Wilco, despite the fact that I’d seen them play several times — I’m a good friend — but now I absolutely get it. They’re fantastic performers. (I’m such a good friend that, loathe as I am to admit this, I took a dear friend to see Dave Matthews many years ago as that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I’m sorry.) And Bob Dylan was excellent – clear-voiced and strong and we were close enough that we could see his blue eyes.

A few days before this show, a person I know who is undeservedly arrogant took great pleasure in telling my friend how much Dylan was “going to suck” and that he had it on good authority that the man is a hopeless junkie. This took place in the same room where I had the following conversation with a former friend a few years ago:

FF: What are you guys up to?

Me: We just had an amazing night – we saw Paul McCartney at the Apollo!

FF: I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

Be that as it may, you pseudo-arrogant twit, what is it in your DNA that makes you derive pleasure from shooting down other peoples’ excitement? Or from trying to break their spirits? Can you – any of you – imagine saying to someone, “You’re going to Cancun? It’s going to suck.” “You’re dining at Babbo? That place blows.” “You got into med school? I’d rather skewer kittens on knitting needles!” It’s the opposite of schadenfreude, which, as we know, is the phenomenon of deriving pleasure from the misery of others. This is about deriving misery from the pleasure of others. Baffling.

Less baffling but quite irksome: people who spend the duration of a live musical event – or any event, for that matter – watching it through the screen of their SmartPhone. The uploaded concert is never as good as the event itself. Nor is the photo of the sunset. I take photos – I have some beautiful ones of the sunset in Montauk – but I do so pretty sparingly so that I can be in that elusive moment to the best of my ability. This Friday is the annual birthday sail for my friend E. One of the guests who usually attends (but isn’t this year, I’ve just learned) tends to spend the two-and-a-half hours of the trip photographing, tagging, and uploading. There’s a  feeling of  “if you can’t prove it it never happened” to this behavior. I love photos – I miss film, I love my digital camera. But unless one does something with them, makes a thing of beauty out of the evidence, capturing seems a poor substitute for experiencing.

Why am I so ranty today? I’m actually in a good mood.

Another thing. I really wish people wouldn’t walk their dogs off-leash in this town. The proliferation of off-leashers and the advent of the Citibike is an ominous combination.

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I know that for some of us, this moment is less than ideal. I know about the singularity of heartbreak and the feeling that it might never get better. I know about walking out on the street feeling entirely vulnerable and about never knowing when the tears might sneak up and fall without your being able to do anything but stand helplessly by. I know about the only solution being the problem itself, about pleading with the gods that the other person just open his or her eyes and see what seems so very obvious, and about waking each day with the sinking feeling that we’re right back where we started from. And, dear L, I know about walking headfirst into a situation that we absolutely know just can’t yet (yet!) be what we want it to be, and that has caused us pain and sadness, but that holds some sort of power we feel incapable of resisting. And I know how fruitless it is when people warn us not to do what we’re going to do anyway and worse, when they judge us and get mad at us and give up on us. I will never give up on you, sweet girl – on any of you, for that matter. I can’t fix it, but I can promise you with everything I have that you are not alone. And that, if you allow yourselves to have the faith that’s been challenged so many, many times, it will get better. In the meantime, know that I am here and that I want to be the best I can be and I want you to do the same.

Love yourselves.