Until we meet again

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I write this post with a heavy heart. My aunt Debby died on Thursday, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

I’ve known Debby—I called her Tanta—for about twenty years. She and my uncle Charles married in their 60s. We grew close and used to have lunch together on a somewhat regular basis. Gramercy Tavern, the Yale Club, and Sushi Yasuda were our mainstays.

Debby brought to our world a profound sense of the importance of family. Family came first for her in a way that, devoted as I am to my own, I hadn’t really experienced before. She broadened our definition of the word. To Debby, family included everyone in her close circle, blood relative or not, regardless of whether one’s official title had “step-” or “half,” “in-law” or “twice removed” in it.

When you’d talk to her she’d go through the list—asking how you were, and how your partner was, then your dog, and our mutual friends. Anyone you introduced to Debby became a mutual friend. That’s how she operated.

She asked about everyone not to make small talk, but because she genuinely cared.

She was warm and thoughtful, funny and kind, and one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. So devoted was she to my uncle Charles that she, a lifelong Yankees fan, switched to the Mets; in earlier days they’d go to Port Saint Lucie to watch spring training. She was an interior decorator for many years, worked on some of the high-end lounges that were part of NYC nightlife in the ’80s. She loved good food and nice things, her manicure was flawless until the end. She loved lions. She loved having people to her house for the Jewish holidays. And most of all, she loved the people in her life and always had the capacity to welcome more.

As you may know, I believe in some form of an after life. I understand how one might not, but I’ve had experiences too otherwise inexplicable for me not to believe. And that brings me comfort. That helps me through times like these, and I’ve had a fair amount of them.

I will miss you, Tanta. Until we meet again.

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You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

I know this to be true because of the incredible number of people I’ve connected with in the aftermath of the recent election. I have not been to this page in quite a while—nor, I’m afraid, have I devoted as much time to my novel as I’d intended to—and that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the group I started, Action and Empathy. I don’t think the link will work if you’re not on Facebook, and for this reason and many more we are building an external site that will hopefully accomplish the same goals as the existing page.

I started the page a few days after the election because I, and most of the people in my life, were angry, disappointed, worried, depressed—all the stages of sudden grief in no particular order—and I wanted to create a space that was about action, not just ranting. There was plenty of ranting going on on Social Media, traditional media, and in person. I wanted a space where we could take action against perceived injustices and conflicts of interest and all the rest AND where we could express our empathy by actively supporting the groups that will need it most under this impending administration: women, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, the LGBTQ community, tax-paying New Yorkers, people on Medicare, the press, and on and on and on.

And I’m thrilled that the small part I am taking in all of this is having any impact at all. What began as a group of about 7 of us has grown to over 900 members, most of whom I don’t know. I’ve gotten letters of appreciation from people I’ve never met and that is enormously validating.

I have been complacent for most of my life, and this time around I had no choice but to change that. In a strange way I feel as though I am finally finding my purpose in life. I know my strengths and talents, but purpose is an entirely different thing. My other purpose, at present, is to finish my novel, and that I will do. Creating this network has taken priority.

This will be a long road and will begin in earnest after January 20. And while it’s been argued that these forms of silent and vocal protests won’t change things, in fact they will. They will prove to the world that not all Americans accept what this administration intends for this country. This will get many of us involved on the smallest, most local levels such that we can change the course of things from the bottom up. We will all pay a lot of attention to the 2018 elections. And we will support one another, we will do everything  we can to maintain the things that make this country beautiful, and those include its ethnic , religious, and cultural diversity. Those include freedoms that are now being directly threatened.

I’ve been accused of co-opting other people’s causes. I am not doing this. I am simply doing my best to do my part, and I mean it when I say that I am learning on the spot. I will make mistakes and I will seek the knowledge of others, as I’ve been doing all along.

Today is Christmas and I am with family and loved ones in Paris. Despite all that this city and country have been through in recent years and despite its current political strife, Paris still offers me the timeless beauty and romance that claimed me the first time I visited.

The Seine still flows, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles at night, the gryphons and gargoyles still guard Notre Dame. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes that I associate with this city remain, and this is very comforting.

Peace on earth is a tall order these days. So instead I will strive for as much inner-peace as I can, and though there will be slip-ups along the way, I will remain on an upward swing. I wish the same for all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate and, whatever ideals you most value.

On the topic of tranquility, which is one of my favorite words, the British philosopher James Allen said,

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

Whatever calmness of mind means for you, I urge you to practice it in the coming year. My goal for the new year is to become stronger and wiser.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, none of the above, all of the above, I wish you peace and joy.

Until soon, my friends.

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.

 

 

 

To my colorblind troubadour

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It’s time now, my friend, to acknowledge the thirteenth anniversary of the day your last words were, allegedly, “Oh fuck!” The rest of the mythology of you after the fact is more than I can put into words in this forum.

So, how do I do it this time, Jon? Tonight I realized that you’ve been dead longer than I knew you. But I think we know one another, still. Your parents met my parents this past weekend, at Drew’s wedding. My mom didn’t give great details except to say that your mother spoke kindly of me. I remember the last formal you ceremony I attended – I think it was 2011 because it was a big(ger) deal (anniversary-wise, than usual). I remember your mom said, as we sent balloons into the sky, that she liked to think of you in Hawaii.

Hawaii has come up as a possible upcoming journey friend-and-family wise.I have a feeling, dear, that perhaps I’ll see you there someday.

In one of the final days of Charles Keating’s life one of the boys asked if he was afraid to die. His answer: “Wherever I was before, I’ll be again.”

I recently went through a bunch of boxes that had been in storage in my dad’s office and I found paraphernalia from the early 90s: your roach clip, a – JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO ROACH CLIP – a couple of photos of you, your then-business card and two handwritten notes you’d sent me. Jay suggested I send copies to your parents’; the card, sure. The rest is actually far more personal and “us” than I think I ever realized existed.

You were so handsome, so imperfectly perfectly handsome. And you were nice to and tolerant of my early-20s friends who probably tacked Hibiscus Margaritas onto your order of Bud. And you made me feel like a smart, kind, interesting and important person.

I remember going to dinner with you at Etats-Unis, which had newly opened, and we had a really good meal.

I remember ordering sushi at your apartment on 70-somethingth street and having you answer my question about what the exact content of meat is as I choked down some eel.

I don’t know what I “own” of this, babe. I know I was way too young to spend the right time with someone like you when we knew each other. But you had an impact on my life that would exist regardless of where you worked that day.

We didn’t have music – we listened to a lot of music – and, of course, you played music, my favorite instrument, actually. I had so many more things on my 23-year-old-brain than what constituted good music. Things you fulfilled, beautifully. Yours were the conversations for which connections exist.

Damn Jon – I wish you’d met Louie! You guys would have gotten each other. I’m grateful he was born 8 months too late to experience 9-11. We’ve been through an awful lot, all being relative, which I know it isn’t.

Sometimes I think you are around, else how would I remain so protected despite my propensity to forget to remember what to do?

The song that makes me think of you is “Santeria” by Sublime. A few years ago I stayed at Sean and Ivy’s – they’d had a holiday party the night before and when Sean, Jay and Dave played, they set a chair for you, for the celestial bass player. The next morning while walking around the kitchen making coffee Sean was singing that song along to the radio – no other reason than that, but I love it.

I have so much more to say to you, my sweet, but I feel like I need to sign off for now and continue to speak to and about you tomorrow.

I love you, my dear friend, and I know you’re in my life.

Across these purple fields

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When I reached the corner of 41st and Madison today, I saw a woman sitting in the street; she’d just been hit by a car, it seemed. She had her back to me and an umbrella over her head – it’s pouring rain in New York – so I couldn’t really see what she looked like. Her legs were crossed strangely and she was just sitting there, while strangers gathered around, talking to her and directing traffic. I was on a phone call and outside my destination, so I couldn’t really avoid the scene; it was incredibly upsetting. The vulnerability on display, the kindness of strangers – sometimes I feel too emotional for this world. Soon a firetruck arrived, followed by an ambulance, and after what seemed an exceedingly long time, they took her away. 

What made this especially strange was that I was already planning to write about what happened to me exactly two years ago today. 

In the winter of 2011 I fractured a tiny bone in my wrist – my scaphoid. I didn’t realize it for six weeks, six weeks during which I banged out a draft of a screenplay and downward dogged on a regular basis – something I doubt I’ll ever be able to do again. I wound up in a cast for a year – a series of casts, actually, as I had three surgeries on my wrist during that time. 

On June 7 I had my first (and, as it turned out, last) day of a class in midtown. I had an afternoon appointment with my wrist surgeon and in between I ate lunch in Bryant Park. It was the first hot day of the season – incredibly hot, and humid. I had enough time to walk to my appointment, so I began to head uptown after lunch. On the corner of 52nd and 5th I started to feel lightheaded. The subway was across the street and I decided to take it, but by divine intervention I didn’t make it. Instead, lights started flashing in my eyes and I realized something was not right at all. The last thing I recall is turning around, seeing a store and heading toward it to sit in the air conditioning. 

I came to surrounded by people I didn’t know; one person was behind me holding my head, someone was offering me water, someone else said, “You’re okay – you fainted but the ambulance is on its way.” I told them I had to get to my appointment and tried to get up, but they wouldn’t let me. I looked over at my purse and saw a puddle of what looked like Kool-Aid; when I asked what it was the person holding my head said, “We spilled something – don’t worry about it.”

This is hard to write.

This is what happened, I found out a few days later: some of the shop’s employees came back from lunch and found me standing in the doorway to the office, which was next door. Apparently I grabbed one of them by the arm and told him I didn’t feel well, and he told me to come in and sit down. He put his key in the door and I fell backwards through it. They stared at me for a second and blood started to pool around me. One of the guys who worked there was certified in CPR; he’s the one who was behind me with the compress on my head. I was out for a little over four minutes and it took the ambulance 15 to arrive. 

I remember the rest. The paramedics strapped me into the thing-they-strap-you-into and lifted me in. I asked them if I was going to die. They asked me all my pertinent info and compared it to my driver’s license. They asked me the date, the name of the President, and his predecessor; I made some sort of political joke because I was desperate to prove to the universe that I was okay and going to make it. 

My parents were flying back from France that night, so wouldn’t find out about this until the morning. My then-boyfriend came down to the hospital, though it was a while before he could see me. 

Once it was established that I was stable, I spent hours on a gurney in the hallway of Bellevue being hip checked by whomever passed by. At one point they wheeled me outside of an x ray room; a patient they were examining inside the room went into cardiac arrest and died. I heard them yell “Code Blue!” and a dozen people rushed past me into the room. I heard him flatline. 

Because it was a head injury, I spent the night in a room that had 24-hour supervision. My roommates were three men: one was a prisoner, handcuffed to his bed, with an attending cop stationed outside; one was a grandfatherly Latino on oxygen who kept asking for cigarettes and giving me sympathetic looks – he was very protective of me; the third was Mr. Singh, a Sikh who was yelling obscenities in Hindi all night long. He and I were separated by a curtain and the nurses kept shouting things like, “Mr. Singh, put your pants back on!” “Mr. Singh – that is NOT a bathroom!” I was on a Valium drip – Gawd I love those – and they kept upping the dose because having Mr. Singh as a roommate is not conducive to rest. 

One of the doctors who saw me was a young, cocky resident who was chomping on gum and trying to get me to confess to a drug habit that I did not have. 

The upshot of all this – a concussion and several staples in my head. The cut itself was fairly shallow. I had serious short term memory loss in the weeks that followed; as it turns out, the part of the brain that I injured is the part associated with communication and language. I forgot words. I forgot close friends’ names. I forgot who visited me and when. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself for many weeks. 

I sent this note around at the end of July:

Individual thank you calls forthcoming, but collective profound appreciation to all of my friends and family who’ve been so lovely and supportive in the aftermath of my accident. Feeling so much better in every way – and you were all absolutely wonderful during my time of many needs. Special thank you to Claudia , Mo and KJ for accompanying me to doctors’ appointments and acting as my short-term memory/balance when I had neither, and to Angel, Alyssa, Di, Erika, Sean, Suzanne, Vanessa, Christina, Linda, Tommy, Rachel, Cheech, Sherrie, Paul, and the folks I’m inevitably forgetting for visiting. Thank you always to Tara and Lisa for listening so well and so patiently.

I have the best friends in the universe. Truly. xoL

Wow. I’m glad I got this out. I really, really hope that the woman I saw today is okay, and that she has the guardian angels on her side that I did that day and still do.