Suddenly the night has grown colder

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That is the opening lyric of “Alexandra Leaving”, a hauntingly beautiful and very sad song by Leonard Cohen. Sigh. By the late Leonard Cohen, because this week has not broken my heart enough.

I have made some very negative comments about Donald Trump and I have alienated some people; I don’t have many Trump-supporters in my community. To them, I say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that politics got in the way this time, but it did. Because this time feels so very different.

No, walking the streets of New York does not feel like the aftermath of 9/11. In the days that followed we were a different kind of scared, and in New York at least, I felt as though we were all on the same side. I know mine were very different experiences than those of my Muslim friends and of my Sikh friends.

I am scared, now, when I walk the streets of this city. There is an aggressiveness to the mostly men I pass wearing the red caps of the President Elect, and I feel less-than-safe. And that’s not overreaction.

Over the past 72 hours I have heard about aggressive racist bullying of two black people within my extended community. While neither of these turned physical, they were certainly violent. The words spewed by the aggressors in both incidents were along the lines of, “Bet you’re scared now, n—-.” I heard about a young gay man in Santa Monica who was attacked and had a bottle broken over his head moments after the results were in. According to this man, his aggressors said,  “We have a new president now, faggot.” A young woman had her hijab ripped off. Someone vandalized a high school in Florida and hung signs over the water fountains saying, “Colored” and “Whites Only.”

These are just the incidents I’ve heard about. And I am so afraid that this is just the beginning.

Can you blame these bullies for acting out? When the presumed future leader of the free world spends over a year bullying and mocking and insulting everyone in his path, when he aligns himself with a vice president who stripped his own state’s LGBTQ community of their rights, when he does not condemn the violence at his rallies, when the KKK announces that they will hold a parade to celebrate Donald Trump, the bullies, the racists, the homophobes are empowered.

Now here’s the thing. I’m reading a lot of “He did what he had to do to get elected” “he doesn’t really think those things” “he has gay friends.” Of course he has gay friends – he’s a New Yorker. And of course he did what he had to do to get elected. But do you think the bullies know the difference? Do you think they care?

During my very brief stint at Page Six I talked to Donald Trump several times for stories. Granted, I was giving him press, but he was always polite, he placed his own calls, he remembered my name.

This is not about his “real” personality or politics, because I’ve still no bloody idea what the latter are. This is about the fact that he has allowed an environment of hate and oppression of others to flourish. And while I know that not all of his supporters are racist and homophobic and everything else, there sure is a vocal and physical faction that absolutely is and that is justifying hate crimes and bullying by hiding behind our President Elect. Yes, I said “our”, because I live here too.

What message this sends to these historically marginalized groups of people is that they are expendable. Collateral damage to win an election.

This is not about politics. This is unprecedented in my lifetime. This is about human rights, empathy, and all that I and the vast majority of the people in my life hold dear.

I was going to go on about my personal plans for getting through this time as calmly and productively as I can, but I’m exhausted. We all are, on both sides of things. I didn’t say anything groundbreaking here, I didn’t say anything others haven’t said more eloquently and with a better understanding of the world, but I spoke my truth. I didn’t say anything hateful, I used anecdotal evidence to explain my fear. I do not want to argue, I do not want hate, I know some of you who stumble upon this voted for Trump, and I ask you not to send me negative messages. The debate is on hold for me for the time being.

I’m sad, I’m scared, and I’m with you if you feel the same way.

 

 

Here by the sea and sand

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This photo was taken at the Montauket during what would become the most brilliant sunset I’ve seen in quite some time. I have a feeling this couple wound up in many photos from that day. They were summer’s end personified,  and were it not for his unfortunate man-bun, they could have been of another era. Timeless.

We spent the week in Montauk, a perfect way to celebrate summer—the ocean and shooting stars. So many stars—Montauk is aptly nicknamed the end of the world and when you’re out there, looking up at the night skies and listening to the symphony of crickets and tree frogs and things that go chirp in the night, it feels like the most remote spot on the planet.

Then you drive past the Surf Lodge and realize it isn’t.

I did a lot of reading and a decent amount of writing while there—fell short of my writing goals but made progress, and more than that, I was inspired. I seem to have written myself into a corner in terms of the relative ease with which I write anywhere but home. My writing retreats to New Orleans, my time in the Berkshires earlier this year, Montauk … one of the speakers at the conference last month advised that we “not be too precious about our writing environment” — and that is good advice. It’s important to have sacred writing space, but it’s equally important to get words on paper when and where inspiration strikes.

To that end, I scrawled some notes on a piece of paper one evening while enjoying an exquisite sunset and a decent cocktail. I had just read The Alchemist on the recommendation of a very young man who, much to my delight, reads books. The kind with pages. I understand why this book is not to everyone’s liking, but I enjoyed it—and it’s a story, an allegory, about finding one’s true purpose in life and pursuing it, while remaining open to change. About trusting the process. So this is what I scrawled:

If we can remind ourselves how vast and unknowable the universe is, we can better enjoy the ride. We can weather misfortune, even the greatest of all, the death of those we love, because it is all part of the process of being alive. We are all on a pilgrimage toward the same place, and that is really the only fact about living that there is. Complaining, lamenting, manifesting conflict, all become futile, then. Let it wash over you and know that there is not a single experience from which we can’t somehow become richer and wiser.

I was reminded of someone I met shortly after college, when I was having a tough time and was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being human. This was long before we were bombarded with messages about “living in the moment” and “being present”. I met a friend of a friend at a party, a guy who happened to be deaf. I don’t remember much about the conversation, though I imagine I was dwelling on the malaise of “the real world” and the days I’d wasted, and he said, “No day is wasted. If I have a good conversation with someone, or see something beautiful, the day was not wasted.”

I try to maintain that outlook and I often succeed, but I do need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Autumn is a good time to be productive. I have another draft to revise by the time I go to my next writer’s conference in October. And then, soon, I’ll be calling on those of you who’ve offered to be beta readers.

Happy end-of-summer, friends.

Don’t believe the hype

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I’m back, and fully recovered from last weekend’s conference. Thank you to everyone who’s asked me about it and expressed interest in hearing more; I will not bore the rest of you with the details.

I left there feeling as though I had to completely reinvent my book, from the year it takes place (1999) to the structure to the plot, in an effort to make it more commercial (e.g. sellable). The fabulous Ginger talked me down off that ledge, as I knew she would.

She reminded me that this was my first time really going out into the world as a Writer, my first conference, and the one that happens to be the biggest, most overwhelming, and most commercial. She told me not to get bogged down in parsing all 0f the conflicting advice that I received, or to weigh the feedback of each of the agents I pitched with equal importance.

“The way to not survive the writing process is to listen to everyone else,” she said.

How liberating. (That, and I needed a tie-in for the photo above.)

So, the aspect of this conference I was most anxious about—actually, the only aspect I was remotely anxious about—was the “Agent Pitch Slam”. This was speed dating with literary agents, only unlike real speed-dating (what the hell did I just type?!), we had decent information about the people we were meeting well in advance. A few of the agents I met expressed interest in my project and asked me to send them pages when the thing is ready.

One of them asked me why my book takes place in 1999, and for that I have an answer—unlike “What are the stakes in this novel?” for which I have about 12.

I’ve set it in 1999 because I want it to pre-date 9/11, but for 9/11 to be looming. I wrote the book’s first sentence (or a variation of it, anyway) in 2006, and at the time, it felt inauthentic to set any book—let alone a ghost story—in downtown New York without 9/11 somehow informing the plot. When I picked it back up years later, that day was not as fresh in our collective conscience. But it still felt like the right year for it to take place.

The other reason: I did not want technology to be as ubiquitous as it is today. I got my first cellphone in December of ’99—I was late to the game, but not the latest. In 1999 we still wondered about things. We didn’t have an electronic dossier on everyone in the world at our fingertips. My protagonist, Josie, couldn’t just Google the guy she was dating and find out the truth about him. She could have Ask(ed) Jeeves, but he wouldn’t have known much, either.

Another agent asked me why, if Josie is so frustrated with her restaurant job, she doesn’t “just quit”.

Anyone who’s ever had a job they didn’t love want to field that one?

I read fiction today for the first time in a while. I’ve been reading a fair amount of nonfiction but it’s been hard to read novels while attempting to write one. We went to the beach today—my first time all summer—and I brought and read Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays. It’s a tight and fairly short novel, recommended by the aforementioned wonderful Ginger—and wow, I want to take a master class with Joan Didion. Before this I’d only read her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which I was drawn to out of title-envy. Now I want to read everything she’s written.

I’m going to my second writing conference in October in Richmond, Virginia. If you know anyone down there, please let me know. I’ll have a couple nights to myself and will be researching great restaurants to take myself to; I’d love recommendations.

Thanks for reading, friends. Until soon.

 

 

A Creole tune fills the air

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The day I was leaving Louisiana I drove past the image above. Josie is my main character’s name, the one whose experiences I’ve tried to capture and absorb during my visits to New Orleans this year. This was either a cool coincidence or a sign from beyond, depending on your point of view on such matters.

I’m somewhere in the middle.

I was telling someone about my book and where the inspiration for it comes from, and he said, “Sometimes I wish I had a less scientific mind. I could use a little more magic in my life.” I think we all could use more magic, the good kind.

This was a first—the other night I dreamt a live-action scene from my novel, in which  two of the characters sit at the bar having a conversation. I recall the gist of their discussion, but not the dialogue.

One of the things I love so much about my visits to Louisiana is the generosity of the people I’ve met, generosity of time and spirit. As I said in my last post, on this most recent visit I was a guest in several homes, I was treated to meals and shown parts of the city and state I’d not have discovered on my own, I was given gifts of sentimental and spiritual importance to the givers. The people I’ve met have a deep appreciation for their city that I’ve not experienced elsewhere; they’re proud of its culture and history, and they love to share their knowledge with visitors. And every person I speak with has a unique perspective on what makes it the special place that it is.

Somewhere I once read that Mark Twain described New Orleans as “a beautiful woman with dirty fingernails”. I’m having a hard time finding that quote now, so maybe I dreamt it, too; either way it’s accurate. A new friend who lives there reminded me of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, which I need to re-read; I read it long before my first visit. In researching literary New Orleans I found this quote from the book:

Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air—moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh—felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time.

The same friend described his neighborhood, which is fast becoming one of my favorites, as “mostly quiet, not touristy, with the sweet, soothing sounds of gunshots most nights after midnight.” I think that’s a slight exaggeration but I defer to the people who live there. In my experiences, like most places I’ve been, you’re safe if you keep your wits about you and don’t venture into unknown territory.

I worried that I didn’t get as much writing done on this trip as I’d set out to, and my amazing editor/coach assured me that what I did get was of great value to me as a writer, as part of the “writer’s life” that she assures me I am living. It feels at times like a cop-out because being a writer does not mean constantly writing. And the other aspects of the writer’s life are fun and interesting, the research, the mining of peoples’ stories, the surrounding myself with creativity and inspiration. My trip coincided with a visit by my friend Richard Grant, the wonderful travel writer who was in town to discuss his latest book, Dispatches from Pluto, at the Faulkner House. I’m reading the book now, in so far as I’m reading much of anything these days, and it’s wonderful. It’s hard for me to read while I’m on deadline; it just makes me aware that I should be writing. But once the conference is over and I can briefly relax, I plan to inhale this book and a few of the others stacked up on my nightstand.

So much has happened in the twelve days since I’ve been back from Louisiana. So much more mayhem and malice in the world. Another horrific terrorist attack in France, more suicide bombings (Somalia comes first to mind but of course there’ve been others), lots of gun violence in this country, the shooting of another unarmed black man … and the conventions.

I wish that I could express myself as eloquently about American politics as so many of you can … but I lack the deep understanding and historical context, as well as the ability to discuss the state of things objectively, free of emotion. What’s going on right now is incredibly emotional to me. This is why I am asking any of you who can articulate your point of view well to write a post for this blahhhhgggg in the coming weeks … happy to share your words anonymously, if you prefer. I have some very smart, informed, and articulate friends and I’d love to learn from you.

I need to maintain my faith and optimism. We’ll get through this.

 

 

 

‘Cause all I ever have

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Note: I wrote this several days ago and never posted it. I was getting ready to write a very different piece tonight, about the writing process and Alan Cumming and connecting with others and the dog’s injury and then, somehow, it felt wrong not to acknowledge the events of last Sunday.

July 17

…and another horrifying story, this time a national one that took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day after I left that beautiful state. As I said, this was the first time I’ve ventured out of New Orleans, down south along the bayous to the tiny and climate-threatened Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish, and in so doing I got a fleeting glimpse of an entirely different Louisiana. It bears little resemblance to anywhere else in the world that I’ve spent time, and I was quite taken by its beauty. See exhibit A, above.

Despite all the atrocities going on in the world and despite the personal challenges I and several people in my life face and the fact that he-who-shall-not-be-named is running for president, I left that vacation feeling some semblance of enrichment and extreme nostalgia for ten days’  worth of experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And then this. Oh, this. The person-on-the-street footage of what happened in Baton Rouge is chilling. I wish I could say that that crime makes zero “sense” – but in the world in which we live, it is not out of context. It did not occur in a vacuum. And that is an even less convenient truth than the fact that it happened in the first place. This was neither the first nor the last act of extreme, divisive violence we will experience this year.

I am tired of being horrified. I’m tired of feeling helpless. I’m tired of the front page of the Times having an all-caps headline to the effect of: ANOTHER ONCE-UNTHINKABLE ACT OF VIOLENCE. And I’m tired of the flags just kind of staying at half-mast.

Let’s try to look out for one another.

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.

 

 

Misty water-colored memories

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Now you, too, can have that song stuck in your head.

I am going through boxes upon boxes of family memorabilia that have been in storage since the Enlightenment. It’s amazing the things we hold onto. Three of the four members of my immediate family have packrat tendencies, with me quite possibly leading the charge.

It has been very satisfying to throw away/recycle decades’ worth of papers and photos and things we kept for rainy days. Photographs of people whose names I’ve forgotten. Blank cards I thought I might someday use. A notebook from college about the Protestant Reformation, with one-sided conversations scrawled in the margins to whomever was sitting next to me.

Throwing away that stuff made it possible to unearth other mementos that are worth holding onto, like my dad’s birth certificate, a war rations book, a ribbon from the 1956 New York World’s Fair. Letters my dad wrote his parents from the army. Cards my mom wrote to my dad before they were married (n0t to worry, I didn’t read them). Homemade gifts and cards from my sister and me. My birth announcement. My childhood autograph books. A program from the pinnacle of my theatrical career: June 22, 1980, 3:00 pm, The Westchester Children’s Theatre Workshop Presents “The Music Man” (with 9-year-old me playing Amaryllis). A script to an episode of “Different Strokes” signed by the inimitable Conrad Bain. (Actually, it’s just the cover, and yes you may have it.)

These boxes have been sitting by my desk taunting me for months, and I finally went through them and discarded more mercilessly than ever before. I feel lighter. I want to do a lot more of this.

I have set a goal of finishing this next draft by the end of June – forgive me if I already mentioned this. After that comes intense copyediting, than I start pitching the thing in August. Exciting, terrifying, unwieldy. Since I can’t run off to New Orleans every week, and I need a space to work on this, I’ve applied to join a writers’ room in town for the month of June, with the option to extend. I had a trial day there on Tuesday and it was great – space for about 60 people, good lighting, quiet except for the sound of typing (in the workspace; there’s a lounge area/kitchen where one can “conversate”, as my Uber driver said yesterday).

That said, in streamlining the storyline, I will be expanding certain elements, including the New Orleans section. So I was wrong, I do need to get back down there soon.

Miss those moss-covered vines, the tall sugar pines, and all the rest. Including the best iced coffee I’ve ever had, at Café Rose Nicaud.

Last night I dreamt I was in a park trying to meditate and was interrupted by a bear (I dream about bears a lot), then an ostrich, then some elephants. I said to my meditating partner, “If we see a hippo I’m out of here.” And that was the end of the dream. Feel free to analyze.

Please send my sweet Lou a telepathic happy birthday wish! He’s 14 today, or 98, depending on who you ask …