Monthly Archives: September 2007

>Birthdays I recall

>Today is my birthday. It is an easy and popular day for births as it is 9 months after Christmas. Couple that with having been born in 1950 and it is very simple to know how old I am or how old I was in a particular year. My mother joked that she knew I would be mathematically challenged, and hence had the prescience to birth me in such a simple arithmetic year.

It seems birthdays, at the very least, should be etched or discernable in the haze of memory. But when I tried to do a mental rewind this week I found that very few commemorations of birth actually came up on my hard drive.

I wanted to find days I actually remembered, rather than seeing photographs and then allowing the murky emulsion to fuel and inform my memory. Like my first birthday with the Halloween theme and the incredible papier-mâché pumpkins adorning a long wooden table festooned with black and orange streamers. At least I imagine that was the color theme as the actual photo is black and white, well of course it was, the year was 1951.

After that what comes up is my 14th birthday. I was moody, probably hormonal. I hated, my mother, poor thing and my father was off running the press for the ill-fated Hubert Humphrey campaign. I received a telegram earlier from “ The Happy Warrior” the name of the campaign plane, and it was signed “HHH” it was followed by a small enameled blue pin with the same. I just found that pin tucked away in a box.

My mother made a poster, out of school project oaktag, it read: “Our 1964 Candidate for Happiness.” She turned her sewing room into a make-believe campaign headquarters with balloons and gifts and this poster. I entered and promptly ran off crying. I slammed out the kitchen door and ran up the hill to sob under some sugar maples in a dark night.

I recall that when I returned home having used tears to calm me, neither my mom nor my brother made a fuss about my fuss and then the memory curtain fades until. . . .

My 26th birthday. This is what my family calls a magic birthday, because you turn your age on the date of your birth. So 26 on the 26th.

I was working on the Bicentennial Barge, a strange floating museum that had been created to commemorate this country’s 200th birthday. I was in thrall with the equally young,
curly-headed public relations guy and we were moving the Barge to its next location when a giant storm blew up. Hurricane conditions and a group of young bone-heads moving a 200-foot barge in the dark of night across Long Island Sound. The crew was professional, at least, and they instructed us to lash ourselves to the bow of the boat and we were each given axes and told if the boat started to go down to cut ourselves free. Hell, it was my birthday. How many people are born and die on the same day? It seemed statistically comforting.

We finally made it into Port Jefferson, where the object of my crush was met with his FIANCE breathlessly hugging him while he looked sheepishly toward me. We had shared a number of trysts during our time in port, as sailors do I suppose, and mention of this woman just never came up.

I took the train home to my little West Village apartment; I was alone, wet and overjoyed to be alive. I ate a tuna sandwich over the sink and it still seems a stellar birthday feast.

40 I was the head of a new theater company and had two little kids, 2ish and six. And as I had been the Director of Special Projects for the City of NY for so many years, a job that entailed overseeing many gigantic fireworks displays, and had become friends with the Grucci family, the premier American fireworks family. So as a thank you, I guess now it might be seen as a kickback, but since I had no more work to give them I prefer to see it as THANKS alone. So as thanks, the Gruccis gave me a fireworks display down in what is now Battery Park City. It was billed as a benefit for my new theater company, but many folks knew it was my 4th decade too.

It was 1990 it must have been one of the last displays downtown, still on land, as there was open space to be had. Amazing, my kids were there ogling the lights, I danced with friends and had a chuckle when the next day in the school yard I heard the parents and teachers wondering why there was such a big display when there seemed to be no holiday or occasion. A wonderful secret to relish.

Half way thru the ride, 50 I decided NOT to have a party I had married a love of a man a few years earlier and we had a great big bash. My kids were getting bigger and I wanted a different kind of day. So I sent out a letters, emails or postcards to friends, family and co-workers who spanned decades. I asked them to send me their favorite memory of me. I asked that it come on my birthday or as close as possible, and that it be hand written. Well 96 crazy, unique memories and images came to me. They came by fax and post and fed ex and by hand. They came with flowers or giftys and they trickled in nearly all year.

We were supposed to go out for a fancy dinner, but Willi, my teenage daughter, was sick so we ordered Chinese food and ate home. It felt perfect. And it had nothing to do with what I had imagined or expected and being open to that was remarkable.

Last year 56. My kids were both away for the first time Willi on a trip to in Brazil, Henry a freshman at college and even my husband, Zac, was traveling; so I was alone. I wasn’t sad about it just quiet.

I got an invitation to go sailing with my first major boy friend on his wooden boat and he brought champagne and a friend for propriety. It was a soft, magical night. Wind whipping, me a little woozy, leaves changing and blurring on the shore, all kinds of memories shared and just clean kindness.

And now today 57, writing, lots of love, feeding birds, about to detach and play tennis. Dinner planned late with my girl and her lovely new man and perhaps calls, or messages from my son flung to Scotland for a working semester.

Memory sticks or fades in unfathomable ways; in fact its very ephemeral nature is what draws me. We can’t make memories, they choose us, which is why when they stick and revisit us we need to welcome the visit.

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>The tyranny of the web

>I used to be able to rise with a joyful list in my heart or hand and, after sufficient coffee, start to take bites out of that list, but now I am waylaid. If I so much as open my email I am bombarded by needs.

I must send a certain saccharine message to no less than 20 people or my roof will leak, my hair fall out and most prolifically I WILL NOT BE RICH!!!

Since that is the case, I must have angered the email gods even before I knew they existed. They have so many needs, it is impossible to appease them all.

And even as I attempt to decide to forward or delete, to which friends or pseudo-friends will I send the dreaded message, I am assailed and distracted by messages popping up and bouncing with an urgency that really can’t merely mean Amazon has mailed out a real book . . . or can it?

I love my email and the quick, swift kicks it allows me to give writers, or loving pokes to friends who have trouble getting off phone lines, but it beckons me like a shiny object. I glimpse it constantly out of the corner of my eye. I am particularly distractable, but I believe I am not alone in the tug exerted by electronic mail.

Finally, I get hold of a way to answer mail, and I know it has to be looked at AFTER I write, then it seems new distractions appear every day.

And each is U R G E N T

Now there is LINKED IN. It seems as if I get about five of these daily It feels as if if I have to sign all these year books for folks I worked with in theater, or magazines or Wall Street or went to High School with. And if I don’t, it is insulting or I look as if I have no proper skills in the land of cyber space; when really I want to not add extra shit to an already tippy pile.

I know where to find the people I need. I meet new ones every week, and I keep the info on those that interest me.

Do I really want to be a part of a myriad of social networks?

More importantly, why at my age, am I still trying to please people, pathetically even virtual people?

>9/11 + 6

>Six years after September 11, 2001 and I forgot what day it was; until my friend and the man who published my book, A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero, called to say he had dropped his kid off at school and made his annual donation to the fire department.

“OOOHHH, is it that time again.” Of course I knew it was September 10th yesterday, I had given it as a deadline to many writers for the October issue of THRIVE, but still sometimes I don’t track linear, but rather in a leap frog fashion. So to me, today was just another day. Until Dave called.

If it wasn’t Dave, it would have been my date-book declaring 911, Remembrance Day, or the news, but today, what would not have jogged my memory was the weather. It is raining today; blessedly gray and rainy and, as my date-book further informs me, we are in the midst of a solar eclipse. So there is no disconcerting bright blue sky, the cloudless brushed azure beauty with a crisp coolness and no humidity that makes me sick to my stomach now, any time this is a September day like that.

Imagine that legacy. AHHH it is gorgeous, clear . . . and UUUUGH, I feel scared, sickened, and full of anxiety. Wait, I know what’s up, it’s 9/11 weather.

But today’s gray drizzle, interspersed with sudden downpours is allowing me to have a different kind of remembrance–one that asks me to recall not only the day six years ago, but to question myself on growth, strides and missteps.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, I vowed this would be my most productive day of the year. I promised to dive into unanswered mail, pay off debt, wash my hair, go to the gym, write, practice my cello, cook a good dinner, return the most dreaded phone calls, do the laundry, change the sheets and have a major positive attitude.

I decided to offer productivity as a legacy to those whose lives were cut short. I would be over-the-top proactive. And so it is not yet noon and I am thru 5 loads of laundry, paid off some school loans, made calls I had put off, deleted all emails save those that need action and I am writing. I am editing. I am helping a friend with a micro-economic project in East Africa. I have to get a document notarized–silly but it takes time. I called an old friend to congratulate him on the design of a building. In fact, he was an Ex and it is often difficult to do those reach outs.

I don’t think anyone in my house knows about my pact with productivity, so for now they just think the rhythm of autumn has finally taken me in its grips and I am on a powerful roll.

But I know it is my way of acknowledging all the potential, all the efforts, the lovely lives cut short.

>The day after cleaning

>AHHH a scene change; after my explosive cleaning energy I am left with an overwhelming desire to sit like a lox on this final day of summer and make a fifth attempt as yesterday’s crossword puzzle. Perhaps I can blame the sudden laconic mindset on the party we held last night outside on our loading dock. It featured a pitcher of punch; made by my ( grown) daughter and contained apricot, and orange juice, mint and well . . . I saw an empty bottle of rum. And although I have a list to write: a review and a travel story, I seem to be able to achieve nothing save obsessive flipping of Internet pages searching for a small fast boat called a scull. A used one.

All of this came about when I rowed again last week, actually sculled since there are two oars, after a 22-year hiatus. This is a longer tale and will have to wait until some work is finished.

But I did need to clue any readers in on my quick energy loss, least I be viewed as someone I am not.

>Fall Cleaning

>I think it is fall the flip to cool that triggers my need for clean. I could care less about a tidy place in spring; all I want is outside, to dig in the earth and to run wild, but in fall my fancy turns to clean.

Crazy, but on this Labor Day morning as soon as my kid went to work and my husband ran to tennis, I polished the silver to a burnished new high. I brushed the super furry cats into a sleek sea skin and I am about to bake banana bread with the beyond ripe beauties that lie in the big blue bowl I carted recently from a ceramist’s studio in Fez.

I think it is a combination of cool and the looming energy of back-to-school that fuels my frenzy. I want order in order to begin what I always fantasize will be my most productive season, especially after the doldrums of summer. I am not a summer hater, but work does descend to a new low as the temperatures rise and everyone is on vacation so excuses abound. The editor was away, my agent was in Italy, my hands were too sticky to write, and I had to have a cocktail and lie in the grass watching the clouds.

But now the sky is whisked clean blue and the humidity gone and so I seek productivity.