Now I wanna be your dog

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Yesterday, I had the following conversation at the vet’s office.

The scene: a man was encouraging his dog to “say hi” to Louie.

Me: Oh—he’s not great with other dogs!

Man with other dog: Are you sure? He was sniffing mine before.

Me: No, he wasn’t—I think it was that guy (pointing to third dog).

MWOD: Well let’s just test it out. (releases more slack on leash)

Me: Oh trust me, I wouldn’t—he’s not great with other dogs.

MWOD: So you don’t socialize him?

Me: Actually, when he was-

MWOD: Because you really should socialize them

Me: I know, and I used—

MWOD: The vet says it’s very important..

Me: Yes, of course it is, but—

MWOD: How old is he?

Me: 15.

MWOD: Well that explains it. Have a nice day.

Me: You too.

My reaction brought you by the makers of Transcendental Meditation. There was a time when it would have been super important for me to interrupt the interruptions and reassure this man that yes, I socialized him from the time he was a few months old and he used to be quite social, then he had a bad experience with a couple of dogs but was still okay, then he got injured in the dog park and needed surgery, so we stopped going to the dog park, and his tolerance for other dogs faded. But since he’s turned 15 he seems a bit more tolerant, though as it’s not something I can depend upon, it just seems easier to say that he’s not great with other dogs, even though I feel badly saying so because that verbiage makes it sound like it’s a deficit on his part and it is not that. But sometimes it’s easier to just smile and nod and say, “You’re right, I should have socialized my dog.”

When you have a dog in this city people like to tell you how you should have a dog in this city. My dog has arthritis and his back legs shake; therefore, people assume he is a) cold and I’m not dressing him properly or b) scared, and I’m not comforting him properly. In fact my dog is warm, brave, has arthritis and is not great with other dogs.

Last night I dreamt that I was going on vacation and I stayed over at Tom Petty’s house because it was closer to the airport, natch. It was a bit of a mess but who was I to complain? I commented to Tom that many of his songs are quite literal, that he doesn’t use a lot of metaphor, at which point my mother walked in and said, “What about ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane?'” and I was impressed because I didn’t know my mom knew that song.

I’m trying to get back to this 500+ words a day in the new book by way of plowing (or  plodding) my way through the “shitty first draft.” Must resist the urge to edit and must doubly resist the urge to give up. Got another “I like the premise and the voice but just didn’t connect enough with the story” email today from a literary agent about my first book. I’m not sure at this point if I should keep sending it out or if I should, once this other one is a bit more under way, go back over the first one and do another round of revisions. Or the third option, which would be to tuck the first one on a shelf and forget about it for a while. If anyone wants to weigh in with advice, I’m open to it.

I’m currently taking a beginner’s American Sign Language course and it’s very interesting. It’s intense—we are learning a fair amount of material in a short amount of time. And it is a lot of body language and facial expression, which I hadn’t realized but yeah, of course it is. I’m learning it because it’s something I’ve always been curious about and because one night, when I couldn’t sleep, an ad popped up on my computer for inexpensive ASL classes. I’m learning tiny bits of many languages, mostly self-taught through some of the many programs available online, and I wonder if I should pursue any one of them more thoroughly? Focus is not my strong suit. But every where you turn these days you hear about mindfulness and the power of now (and The Power of Now) and all evidence points to doing one thing at a time and not multi-tasking. I can’t recall the last time I did one thing at a time for any extended period of time … which is why writing is a good exercise for me because I can’t really do anything else while I do it, can’t listen to music or eat or pet that freezing, anti-social dog of mine. So if I write more every day perhaps I’ll get better at Doing One Thing At a Time.

I would like to end this post on a note that is either profound, witty, charming, or thought-provoking, but I got nothin’. One of my goals for autumn is to write in this more, too, so if the muses allow, I’ll regale you soon with profound, charming, thought-provoking wit.

Until then, au revoir, arrivaderci, adios, auf wiedersehn, tchau, Прощай*.

*I actually hadn’t yet learned how to say it in Russian. The More You Know!

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Beautiful jewels of wisdom

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The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

That’s from the British philosopher and writer James Allen, and I came across it during one of the more challenging times in my life. This was before I started my meditation practice and so I did not yet know my capacity for true calm. I understand it a little better now, though like most things, it is a work in progress.

My (second) cousin asked me, and several other people, to write a letter to her daughter who recently graduated high school and is off to college. She asked me months ago and it took me a while to compose something in part because I don’t write quickly and I edit obsessively and in part because, as I said in the letter, I don’t feel terribly wise these days. However, I managed to cobble something together.

I think many of us have a lot more wisdom than we realize. That wisdom may lie beneath the surface, but when we need it, if we trust that it’s there, we can learn to access it. A large percentage of our problems stem from our getting in our own ways, and more often than not we know just what we need to do to fix certain aspects of our lives. Of course there will always be things over which we have no control, but I do believe that most of us have far more control than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Because having control over things is scary. Because if we have the power to improve our lives, does this also mean that when things go wrong we have ourselves to blame?

No, it doesn’t. It means that many of our challenges are in our control, and to me this is comforting. Again, there will always be plenty of things over which we have no control. How refreshing, then, that what we can do is learn to change our behavior, and our responses to our often messy (and always valid) emotions. That is where that beautiful jewel of wisdom comes into play. One can’t cultivate it over night, but with practice and determination, one can develop it. And learning how to better respond to our negative emotions is the cornerstone of wisdom.

The day after I sent my cousin-letter I was talking to someone whom I know casually. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m in a creative rut.” He said, “Okay—so get out of it. Set small goals. That’s how you win.”

And so I did, I decided to start working on a new novel that has been marinating in this (occasionally calm) mind of mine for the past month or two. I am not abandoning the other one, I am just stepping away from it for a little while so that I can get back to it with a fresher perspective. I told myself I would just set out to write 500 words, and I did, and then I wrote 500 more the next day, and then I had more ideas so I jotted those down. I’m going to take a very different approach to this project then I did the last, going to make every effort to bang out what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism kills creativity. Or, to paraphrase a writer friend of mine, I’m going to write the first draft so that I can tell myself the story I want to write.

Will be spending the next week at the beach, thereby cramming an entire summer into seven days, and I hope to get more writing done there. I am also looking for some freelance work to support my book-writing habit; if you know of anyone or anything that needs writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading, and so on and so forth, please keep me in mind!

Namaste.

Stuck in the middle with you

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My friend (Michel) sent me a meme (don’t love that word) that said: Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. That sums it up fairly well. Mine are talking to me, but they’re all talking at once and it’s very hard to decipher their individual voices. I need someone to work crowd control, but then he or she would need a storyline, and I’d be right back where I started (from).

In college I read the Luigi Pirandello play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in which six unfinished characters interrupt the rehearsal of a play because they’re desperate to find a writer to finish their stories. They’re in a sort of purgatory until they do. I wrote a little piece for writing group last year based on this concept; my characters gathered in the bar (my characters spend an awful lot of time in the bar) discussing where I’d left them. The ones with marked characteristics and clear voices were relatively okay, but the others were pissed.

I’d always heard that, when writing fiction, characters can come to life and drive the story. This is my experience with this novel; I’d thought I knew who my main character was until the person who became my main character claimed the spotlight; it took me a while to fully realize that this is her story.

Her name is Josie, short for Josephine. About a year and a half ago I met a Josephine at a party; I commented that that was my protagonist’s name, and she asked what she was like. So I told her that she wasn’t always my protag, but eventually she became the most important character in the story. Non-fiction Josephine laughed and said, “That sounds about right.” A year and a half later she is one of the most important people in my life.

Lots of synchronicity in the long, drawn-out writing of this book …

Most exciting development of late … I might finally have my title. I need to mull it over extensively before I commit, though. Titles are hard.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m also writing a pilot with my oldest (in longevity of relationship) friend Tara. It’s been really interesting working on these projects simultaneously, and as different as they are, there have been a lot of parallels in the process. Both stories needed extensive backstory written and then cast aside in order to get to the heart – or the bloodline, as my coach says – of the plot.

Tara has been invaluable in the novel-in-progress as well. She’s a voracious and careful reader and has read my chapters and given me excellent feedback. This is crucial. Without her, and my coach, and my writing group, and other helpful sets of eyes, I would be operating without a net. With the village that is helping and encouraging me in this project (and you know who you are, even those who don’t wish to be named in this forum), I feel fairly confident that I will not leave gaping plot holes and red herrings and guns in act one that don’t go off by act three. Can’t remember who said that – feel free to comment if you know (Mom).

I am going back to my muse city, as JC calls it, in a couple of weeks. I’ve been warned and warned again about the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but never having experiences Nola in the summer, I know that this is something I must do. For the book’s sake. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will spend the week slathered in sunscreen and bug spray and depending on the kindness of strangers’ air conditioners.

Much more to say on the subject of this upcoming trip, but I shall save it for another post.

I travel extensively in my dreams. While asleep the other night I visited New Orleans, India (there were sharks in the Ganges!) and a cross between Marrakesh and Namibia. Been trying to keep track of my dreams by writing them down. 3AM handwriting aside, this is an interesting process. By writing them down when they’re fresh in my insomniac mind, I am able to recall the emotional imprint of the dreams, not just the storyline.

I will leave you with this. I was watching something late, late one night in which a psychiatrist and a few other professionals were discussing the basic rules to human interaction – what one or two guiding principles help us get along with others. So I wrote down some thoughts and came up with this: meet people where they are. I mean this figuratively, though if you’re my friend in real life you know this also applies to my love of proximity to my home. But really, meet people where they are, accept their limitations, and don’t hold them up to improbable standards. You can expect the best from someone while still embracing imperfection.

And now back to my possibly titled book.

This is my generation, baby

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Not to belabor a point, but … Write thank you notes! We’ve just received our second handwritten one from a prospective summer intern – it just so happens that both of these candidates go to Lafayette College, my alma mater. We’re getting down to the wire with the selection process and I realize that the thank you note, virtual or otherwise, serves a secondary purpose of helping us to keep track of our interviewees. We’ve conducted about fifteen interviews, many of them back to back. The thank you note is a necessary step toward keeping one’s hat in the ring. 

I don’t read my horoscope every day but this was from Thursday:

You don’t have to come on strong to make your point –

on the contrary others will be more receptive to what you say

if you say it calmly and clearly and with no hint of a threat.

They want to believe you, so don’t make it difficult for them.

This is good advice for me to follow every day. I can get a bit … emphatic … when I’m worried that my point isn’t getting across; I’ve said before that one of my lifelong struggles has been knowing that I’m being heard and that my opinion is being considered – this comes as much from doubting the strength of my own convictions, or questioning my judgment, as it does from any external forces. As such I tend to “come on strong to make my point” and this can easily backfire. This horoscope echoes one of my favorite quotes, which has become a lengthy mantra of sorts:

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

Lately people have been telling me that I seem much more calm than I used to – this is good news, as I’ve wasted a lot of time being anything but calm. Calm helps me consider things rationally, get the recipe right, find my keys. I wish it helped me write my f’ing novel. I’m having serious writer’s distraction these days. The quote above is from James Allen, by the way.

The other day I had the opportunity to impress a taxi driver – and myself – with my newly gained awareness of professional soccer. He asked me if I knew anything about the sport and I told him that in fact I’d been to a PSG game. Against Bastia. He implied that I likely had a crush on Ibrahimovic, to which I replied that I’m more of a Cavani gal. I went on to say in an offhand, in-the-know way, that Sweden isn’t playing in the World Cup. He said he was going to watch soccer all weekend and I mentioned the Liverpool/Chelsea game Sunday morning. I told him I’d been schooled by an Arsenal fan – and he told me that that’s his team, too, and that he dreamed of seeing them play. I let him know that that dream could come true as they’ll be in NY this summer to play the Red Bulls.

This was fantastic!  This was Kismet! He from Uganda and me from NY with so much in common, so much to talk about … and then he honked at the car in front of us and said, “I knew it – a woman – you women should not have drivers’ licenses. Women do not know how to drive.” I mentioned Danica Patrick but he’d moved on to talk about “the gays”. How gay men are not men, they’re women. From there he segued into Obama, letting me know that if I voted for Obama I must be racist. That anyone who voted for Obama was racist.

I kept my mouth shut and what I hoped was a beatific smile on my face until we reached my destination.

At least we had soccer.

We can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight

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Some things have happened around me lately that serve as poignant reminders that we never know what others might be going through, that we can never assume others have it all together and think as highly of themselves as we perceive them to be. That good fortune is not so much about material comfort as it is about internal strength, and that success means something entirely different to every single one of us. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own heads that we believe our beliefs before they’re fully formed. We convince ourselves that this one’s a this-person and that one’s a that-person and he/she/it has more this/that/the-other-thing than we do and therefore they’re winning or at least they have a higher score than we do. Someone said to me, someone who reads this, “I didn’t know that people like you get depressed”. Someone said to me today, “If I can’t feel good, at least I can look good.” We assume all sorts of things about others based on who we think they are and in so doing, we lose the opportunity to see them as they want to be seen. Pain knows no boundaries, doesn’t care about physical traits or higher education or income bracket, upbringing, race, creed, religion, doesn’t care how popular you are or how clear your skin is or how easily working out is for you. It doesn’t care that so many people love you and you have so much to offer or you’re funny or honest or hardworking or talented. It finds the cracks and it seeps through and if we’re not prepared, inured to its power to wreak havoc on life, we can very easily give in to it.

Be kind to each other. Know that we all have something we wish were different. We’ve all had our hearts smashed and our spirits broken and our dreams ridiculed. We’re all in this together. Love as much as your heart will let you, whatever that means for you. Love, in all its many forms, is actually all that there is.

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.

You wanna play mind-crazed banjo

ImageThis photo is from Pride. That was a festive and inclusive day. The night was different.

That night I gave gave gave to people who deserve deserve deserve not at all. Took one true and two false friends to dinner. That which does not kill us …

In any event. I slipped into the ocean this weekend, which is exactly what I needed. That’s the fountain of youth, M. de Leon. If I could, I’d live in a place where I could touch the ocean every day. I’m sure I wouldn’t actually do so, just as I don’t actually take advantage of everything this gorgeous town has to offer, but knowing it’s there would be rejuvenating, invigorating, and everything else Roget has to say on the matter.

Being out of town and seeing the stars, the moon, the horizon – this was necessary. I’m grateful. Enjoy your summers, my friends.