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.

See the sky in front of you …

ImageI try not to talk about the weather; it makes me self-conscious. BUT … it’s been awfully strange lately. After relentless heat and humidity for several days, it was autumnesque yesterday. Beautiful, but I was underdressed, and it smacked of that bittersweet change-is-in-the-air turn-of-seasons thing that makes me nostalgic. Not that most things don’t. I could feel, though, that tremendous transformation is taking place in and around me. The last two nights I went to bed early and had hours of pure, unadulterated sleep. It was blissful, and while I know we can’t catch up on sleep, I feel somewhat restored after two weeks that were far from tranquil. Which my friend who is an amazing Tarot card reader had foreseen when she read for me two Wednesdays ago. She told me to  brace myself for two difficult weeks, and she assured me that a new phase would follow them. Right on schedule – this past Wednesday was promising. She gave me a reading in late March, right before my vacation to Europe, and saw a couple of people who would come into my life – or rise in significance – one a few weeks after our reading and one the following month, and both proved accurate. She saw their age-ranges and the purposes they would serve. If anyone in New York is interested in a reading with her, I will happily put you in touch. She’s the real deal.

That change of seasons thing has always impacted me – not in a seasonal affectedness disorder way, but in a way that evokes decades-long sense memories. The summer-into-fall transition is about reinvention, starting over – probably from the school years of yore and the fact that I’ve started many new jobs in the autumn months. When it’s cool and sunny I also think of 9-11 (I know, I know, but I do), which was a beautiful and crisp day, and I think of studying in Paris in autumn 1990 – trying to get my bearings and wandering around the city looking for unoccupied phone cabinets so I could call home. Scary things were happening at home and I needed to be in touch. Those two years aside, though, it’s an optimistic time and I’m determined to capture and hold onto that optimism this year. Though I’m nowhere near ready for summer to end; yesterday was a brief reprieve. I plan to spend more time at the ocean and to soak up the sun as much as I can before the season fades.

If all goes according to plan, I will be seeing music tonight, a lineup that includes Bob Dylan, whom I’ve never seen live and always adored.

Happy birthday, Mick Jagger.

The plan was to sweep the world off its feet …

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Lying in bed listening to the oddly comforting white noise thrum of electricity and reveling in my view – I’ve never had a view before, unless “brick wall” and “soot-covered building interior” qualify as views. Mine is a dichotomous look at present and past; at left a building that sprouted overnight a couple of years ago — with a rainbow of words that was rescued, I’ve been told, from a Burning Man festival; at right old, industrial Chelsea factories, smokestacks and water towers. I love this neighborhood. What book is it – either Henry James or Edith Wharton – where the scandalous divorcee who had the audacity to traipse around Europe returns and is relegated to West 23rd Street, that hotbed for immorality? If you know the answer, please share it.

The plan still is to sweep the world off its feet. Lots of traction professionally in this past week: finished a book proposal I’ve been working on in various iterations for many moons and began shopping it. The rest is up to the powers-that-are. Good meetings with smart, passionate, driven people regarding project in which I’ve become invested based solely on my belief in it. Nothing more, nothing less. Mentoring interns on writing and critiquing screenplays. This is all good, good, good … it’s been a longtime coming and I’ve had some self-inflicted very lean years with the creative process, but at last my spell of fear-based paralysis has been broken.

I’ve recently reconnected with someone I studied with in Paris in 1990. And though this was a long time ago and we were so much younger and things were ostensibly easier, I will gratefully take 42 over 19. Not that I have much say in the matter, but self-awareness and experience are of the highest value to me. I know it sounds a bit self-helpy, but each perceived step backward gives me tenfold the motivation I need to forge ahead. I wish everyone in my life felt this way, but it’s something we need to figure out on our own. Regret is useless. As are lamenting the passing of time and complaining about the weather, but I can’t seem to convince people to stop doing these things.

Alors.

Not sure if you can see it, but at the bottom left of the photo above is a piece of a black leather rhinoceros bookend I’ve had since 2001. At the time I lived above Washington Square and I once dreamt that I had a view of the park and that the rhino was about the size of a battleship and standing in the park trying to menace me. I need to read more.

Remembrance of things past

ImageI remember the Summer of Sam. I was six, Julia turned ten, and though we never talked about such things around the dinner table, we joined the rest of the city and its outskirts in being choked by fear of this unknown menace. “We have to dye our hair blonde,” my sister told me; his targets were brunettes. 

I remember when Elvis died. I’d not heard of him before, to the best of my recollection. We were in Maine and stopped at an inconvenience store so my dad could get sodas. I got a plastic cup with Bullwinkle on it that would fair quite poorly later that day when carsickness kicked in. “Elvis Presley died,” he said when he got back into the driver’s seat.

I remember when John Lennon died. I was in fifth grade. Erika Levine returned the book on Capricorns to me.

I remember when River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, and Amy Winehouse died. 

The day the Challenger blew up was a snowday; I watched live on the tiny black and white Sony in my parents’ bedroom, on my mom’s side. 

It’s too soon to talk about 9-11. 

I’ve been to a fair amount of funerals, and I can recall almost all of the language used to convey to me who the guests of honor were. Jimmy was killed. Laura passed away. Granny was gone. I learned about Tim at a newsstand in Soho. I screamed and threw the Post on the ground; the shopkeeper told my boyfriend that it was fine, he’d pick it up. 

I remember not realizing Jonathan might be dead. I’d lost track of who he worked for. His “Portrait of Grief” is in my box o’grief in the other room, which is filled with news clippings, mass cards, photos, birth announcements, a receipt. 

This is not how I meant for this post to go, but this is how it’s going and so I will let it. 

So much more, so much more. 

I’m feeling strong and calm these days – I really am – but yes, the good ones can see the sadness waiting on the sidelines. I’ve lost a lot of people and I’ve lost a fair amount of myself in the process. But I’ve found so much more than I otherwise would have. This is why I give as much as I can to the people I care about, now. This is what sustains me. 

Tomorrow may rain

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…so I’ll follow the sun.

The summer of 1994 was the first one I spent living full time in Manhattan … and I hated it. I had been unceremoniously dumped by a boy I’d fallen in love with on first sight – on a train from DC to New York. We’d started talking as the train pulled into Penn Station and met later that night at a restaurant in Soho – Boom – I think it might actually still be there. We “dated” long distance for several months and had just come back from a vacation in Sedona, where his mother lived. She owned a bead shop and had befriended a group of Hopi Indians, with whom we spent part of the week. Sedona was beautiful; this relationship was not. And it ended shortly after we returned to the east coast. That summer I had a share in the Hamptons with two of my then equally miserable girlfriends and a group of people with whom we had very little in common. I lived on East 86th Street with a roommate and worked in ad sales for a now defunct women’s magazine. Suffice it to say, I had not yet found myself, and I was miserable. 

Nineteen years later, humidity notwithstanding, I love this town in the summer. Restaurant reservations are easy to come by. Warm weather makes me happy. Ish. Montauk is still pristine in parts and as I make my own hours I can escape the city during the week when the beaches are less crowded. In theory I can – I haven’t been there or to Fire Island in a couple of years, but maybe I’ll change that this year. The beach where I spent much of last summer did not fare well in the hurricane, so I’ll need to find a new one. I love the ocean, though it overwhelms and terrifies me; seeing the movie “Open Water” did nothing to assuage my fears. Neither did attempting to learn to swim in the Pacific last year. 

My nephew and niece have both asked me, separately, “Titi, why do you always look like you’re about to laugh and cry at the same time?” (Titi is short for Tia, which is Spanish for aunt; my Italian-Russian-Chinese-German nephew and niece speak Spanish.) I do often look like I’m about to laugh and cry at the same time, which can cause confusion. I need a more relaxed resting face — I’m expressive, I suppose. There’ve been a couple of instances when women have walked into public restrooms while I’m washing my hands and said things like, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!” Once, while watching a friend play music in a bar, I turned around to see what was going on behind me and a frat boy type kicked my chair and said, “What was that look for?!” to which I protested, “It’s just my face!”

I’d be a terrible poker player. 

Lately people have been lamenting that this year is “flying by”. I don’t like thinking this way, because time moves at the same pace it always has, and the alternative to accepting this is much less appealing. My birthday comes at the very end of the year, and so I’ve had to stop putting so much stock in New Year’s/birthday resolutions. My family has always acknowledged Chinese New Year, which buys me at least another month. 

This time around my year began on April 1, which is when my mom and I took our trip to Budapest and Paris. April 1 was when I began to extricate myself from my most recent and least healthy relationship. I haven’t seen or spoken with that gentleman since then, and this is an absolute blessing (thanks again, sweet friend, for helping me through that; I would have made it through regardless, but you were so incredibly helpful and comforting through it all and for this, and more, I will always, always appreciate you). I am so much better now than I was on March 31. Despite however emotionally chaotic I might look and seem at times, the serenity I now feel is like nothing I’ve experienced before. A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since my birthday, and he commented later that I seem completely different now, calmer and stronger. And that my eyes sparkle again. And yesterday at the office someone commented on my “positive aura” – not sure what that means exactly, but I like the sound of it. 

I’m figuring out, finally, how to stay in the moment. This has never been easy for me; like so many of us, I get caught up in regretting the past and worrying about the future. But now is all we have, and as Vanessa and I discussed, the better able we are to appreciate the present, the better equipped we’ll be when the present is difficult. Right now things are good. So I’m raising my (not proverbial) glass to NOW. 

Cheers.

Hello there, my old friend

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Another one for you, dear L, on this most auspicious anniversary. Seven years ago you finally had enough of things as they were, of repeating mistakes, waking with regrets, issuing apologies, I imagine, for things you didn’t fully remember. How easy it is to continue in vain, to decide through indecision to fix it all later. But you are strong enough and smart enough to realize that later doesn’t always come, and that, even if it does, time better spent is what makes it worthwhile. You made a choice that is far from easy to execute, and one that so many of the people in our world avoid and rationalize until the choice is no longer theirs to make. Seven years ago you started over again,  and while I wasn’t there in the intervening years, I imagine it was, at times, grueling. I imagine it took everything you had and many things you didn’t know you had to adhere to your new way of life. The last time I saw you before this new beginning we’ve recently realized, we were all on the same spectrum, and so it must have been so, so easy to justify staying there; as I’ve written before, there’s comfort in the familiar, no matter how dark and destructive familiar might be.

But you stuck to it. My friend Roger says that he won’t know he’s succeeded in this same mission until his last day on earth. You, my dear, are inspiring, so inspiring to me. I am so appreciative that we’ve reconnected at this time in our lives, older and wiser and stronger and smarter and ready to take on the world. 

Thank you for being the amazing woman that you are, and for accepting me just as I am. 

Here’s to the rest of our beautiful lives. I’m so grateful to be part of yours. 

Love, L