Monthly Archives: January 2010

>The Bike Fund


When I started riding my three-speed bike after graduation from college in yes it’s true, 1972, I never thought to bank the money I saved every day. Instead I began buying fresh flowers, with what I intuited was my extra cash, all because I biked everywhere.

Now 38 years later I am still on my bike, it is one of the great loves of my life. I have ridden home from work twice in labor. Really I could not have considered lumbering into a cab with someone I didn’t know, gasping and occasionally screaming. However peddling home in labor from LaMama, on East Fourth Street, where I was the executive director, to my loft in TriBeCa seemed like the logical choice. I rode home first in December for my daughter, and again in August three and a half years later, for my son. I stopped peddling along the way, gagged and groaned and made my way home; and I would do it again.

On my bike I feel powerful, safe, silly and thrifty. What an extraordinary combination. If packaged and advertised those feelings on television, this amalgam would surely sell soap, cereal or beauty products. It is more than a bike to me; it is a lifestyle a true love affair.

I know on occasion I come off as a zealot, or a proselytizer, but to me it seems clear cut. The bike is near to free, even when it is stolen, you can amortize the cost of a new one in a matter of weeks, if you are a public transportation commuter. If you are prone to cabs, the bike pays for itself in days. I am talking regular easy cheap bikes here not designer, fifty speeds, Hermes seats; it’s a bike reminiscent of childhood. You get on you balance and peddle and do that until you arrive at your destination. With the amortization principle in mind, even a few lost cycles along the way, still make you come out ahead of any other means of transport. OK I will bow to walking, but honestly it is so slow, and when you shop you have to schlep your own entire parcels home.  

Bikes are good for the world, we now say they are green and in fact mine is British racing green. Bikes are good for you. Even though I am chubby, or BMI challenged, my doctor still annually extols the value of my bike. “ Wow, low blood pressure, the kidneys, lungs, and liver of a 20 year old, that bike is good to you!”  I may have to give a nod to my equally rotund father, who smoked, and drank, like the Irishman he was, and yet lived to 92. So yes genetics and biking provide the maximum health combination.

I ride in snow, sleet, rain, sun and fog. I zoom to black tie events and tennis matches. For the last two decades I have had the same sweet bike, (knock on wood) I know I can’t count on keeping it and in a funny way; the magic is not linked to the exact machine, but rather the idea of biking, which beguiles me. This infatuation is the exact opposite of what one hopes for in a spouse. Oh honey I love the idea of being married and in fact it could be to anyone. No one would want that marriage, but I would extol my bike love with those exact words.

Biking is an innate sense of freedom. The air cocoons me on a summer’s night as I head home downtown whilst others wade into the humid subway or haggle for cabs. It provides a magnificent sense of power for me as a middle-aged woman. I never worry about how I will get home from any event and I am faster than most other conveyances in midtown. I careen from the east side to west in a jiffy. I can do three art openings from Chelsea to SOHO and back in the time others are saying “taxi” and I am having fun.

I feel like a kid on my bike. My legs peddle or I let them hang down when I take the long hill home down Ninth Avenue. I know all the terrain, the hills, the badly paved streets, the good ice cream stops or soup places, the fruit vendors with plump cherries and ripe pineapples Plop, it all goes into the basket and I carry on.

So this year, on the Epiphany, I decided to begin a new sharing of the wealth I create by riding my bicycle. I can’t share the energy, the giggles, the low blood pressure but I can share the money I save. So I started the bike fund.

Every day I am prepared to share whatever I saved by biking. Yesterday, I went to the World Trade Center Health Clinic at Bellevue, two trips by subway and in fact it was a five-hour ordeal and so I might have taken a cab home. OK tally up at least five bucks. Then I went to a cocktail party further down town and across town to a show. Let’s call it another 5 bucks.

Now I have 10 dollars in the Bike Fund. When I rode down Second Avenue toward home, I spied a young woman with her sweet dog. They were sitting on cardboard with a sign which read, Please help us. I wheeled around and gave her five one-dollar bills.  A passerby chided me, “ How do you know she is not scamming you?”

“Well even if she lives on the Upper East Side, this is a damn hard job, sitting on the ground in the bitter cold; and I want to help.”  He clucked at me and stormed off. I mounted my back and continued home

Later that night after a show at the New Museum, the swell crowd filled the Bowery smoking and parsing the performance art we had just watched. I heard one man accosting a group, “Hey anyone have 25 cents?  I am a quarter short of a million”

Oh I loved that. “ Hey come her I want to tip you over the top and put you on the road to the next million.” I gave the man two bucks. This encounter made me think of a man I saw often when I went to visit my father who worked at NBC News. He was a jolly man who asked for a hand out this way. “Anyone want to help me buy some Lawrence Welk, I love that champagne music shit.” My father always gave him bills.

After pottery class last week on Chambers Street I emerged onto the street feeling like a well-dirtied kid in a great mood. I was. It was cold, but I was hot from the kiln and hadn’t even bundled up yet and there in the bus enclosure was a man with all his belongings tied into a few large plastic bags. “Hey will you help me I am Irish, Jewish and Black, a mixture that needs a lot of help.”

“Like my family “ I say and I go over to my bike to unlock it and fiddle in my purse. I walk back and give him the five bucks. It’s what I would have dolled out to get to pottery on the subway and head home. Easy charity.

Thursday January 21 I rode the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue and 69 Street a long cold bright ride in strong winter sunshine.

But it would have been so expensive if I had taken a cab even one-way, but I biked both ways. On the way back home there was a person, from afar very androgynous, but a person in a mountain of clothes outside Marble Collegiate Church. I stopped my bike and popped it up the curb. I could now see it was a man, engrossed in counting change He held a cardboard sign that read HELP ME. When I approached he said, “Good afternoon miss how can I help you?”  All intoned in good, smooth accent less English, the clip to which newscasters aspire. “ Well I thought I’d give you this.” And I handed him a five-dollar bill. “Thanks have a good day.” It was one of the most polite interactions I’ve had in ages.

I know with the situation in Haiti and the degradation, which abounds in our world that my tiny bike fund makes no dent, but it allows me to help in a small way and always shakes me, reminding me how lucky my life is. I am grateful to have fallen in love with my bike so that I can share some of it benefits with others.


>Sled Alone


It has been said that man does not live by bread alone, but I found that woman can live by sled alone.

You can trudge up the hill and carefully, painstakingly, carve a firm path down by inching your way in a snow coaster, or flying saucer, as we used to call them. After a few slow, snow packing trips down the hill, where you walk up hill breaking another path in fresh snow, you will have a hard packed run, where your coaster will glide to the bottom. In fact it will go further on every run.

I did this today in a feather-light snow storm with only my reluctant Maine Coon cat Auggie as a co-conspirator. Auggie didn’t help. He didn’t want onto the coaster, he just walked way out in the field with me and sat on the Adirondack chair observing my folly. After a few runs as I edged closer and closer to his quiet chair, he jumped into the snow and left wonderful tracks with his huge snowshoe feet. And I was left to sled alone.

I turn 60 this year and at first I thought, oh this is attempt at sledding is pathetic, but as the run got faster and longer it was marvelous. Why, I pondered, am I so happy to bike, swim, skate or swing alone, but I always consider sledding alone to be a sad endeavor.

I trudged to the top again and again and every time I pushed my start back a few feet and began to more quickly cross my legs so I was a little swift ball on an orange disc. I found after the first few feet, the coaster rotated 108 degrees, so that I ended the run turned around. And as I couldn’t see I landed smack in the black berry thicket OUCH.

A good thing about sledding as an adult is that you can turn on your problem solving brain. I would parse the physics of my coaster. Problem: I end up reversed. Possible solution: if I began facing backwards, would the same rotation, spin me so that I make the bulk of the trip careening frontward? Well it did, and on the first try. I felt like a jubilant Olympic athlete. I had made my own run, problem solved and although I fell off at the end, every time, I t made me laugh out loud.

And there I was, snow covered and alone, giggling. Auggie had gone home; I had obviously embarrassed him. The weak winter sun was setting and the trees scratched the sky as lacy snow flew in blustery guts off the roof of the barn. The nuthatches and golden finches gobbled at the full feeder of thistle seeds and I was full of joy.

No one was there to see it, or share it and still it was palpable and soul soothing. If you sled alone, chortle and return home snow encrusted at nearly 60 is the ebullience imagined less real because no one saw it save a large feline and feasting feathered friends? I think it is more solid as it proves that the glimpses of pure joy, free, timeless and solitary are gifts for all ages. 

>XX X Triple X New Year Resolutions


January 1 XX X

As you can see that I have decided that this will be the triple X year. In Roman numerals one X is ten, thus two are twenty, a space and another X is ten again. Making it the year  XX X or 20 10.

Oh my dyslexic self loves the look of this; without the space it is another perfect palindrome year like 2002. This stuff makes my heart soar and my differently wired brain hum with a combination of calm and clarity.

Ok So the first day and I have named the year, taken down the Christmas tree, swept up, mended shirts, and obsessively organized all my passwords and codes into an alphabetic wonderland. My husband Zach and I attended two open house parties where we found old friends, a nemesis or two and wonderful food and conversation. For New Year’s Eve, we danced at home to James Brown and watched, he for the first time, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and we quaffed champagne and nursed caviar.

All in all, it was a good first day filled with work, thought, love, goodies and possibility. I can’t ever ask for more. Let’s hope I won’t.

Here is the encapsulation of my new year’s resolutions.

Less Waste

Less Waist

Less Waste: Use what you have well; stop thinking you need new whatever. I like my 1968 Raleigh and although it poses some challenges so does my 1950 corpus. I’d like a new refrigerator, but this one keeps things cold, and that’s its purpose right?  The list can go on. Less waste means using up the food bought during a shop, no tossing because it’s about to spoil and it isn’t convenient to cook tonight. Less Waste means mending shirts, coat linings, and sweaters.

The biggest place of WASTE for me, is time. To that end my daughter bought me a half hour, sand clock, similar to the one the wicked witch tortures Dorothy with, cackling that her time is running out. So the timer gets me started on writng. Turn it and write for a half hour, what do I lose. Or it limits the time I can fall into a sinkhole of social networks and (sometimes) useless information.

Less Waist is deciding that a little less of me and my expanding waistline could be a god thing. Nice to have a husband who adores me at size 12 or 16 but my knees would like a return to less. I read that every pound off the body is 4 pounds off the knees.  I ‘d like to keep riding my old bike and walking up stairs and running after toddlers with abandon and I need knees for that.

So that’s day one.

Happy Triple X   or   XX X  or   20 10

Memory & Movement

A year of walks and poems

January: Makes One Little Room an Everywhere

This is the year I turn 60. I want to give an overview of the reasoning behind my Movement and Memory Project. I want to find a way to move more and to use my brain. I want to pursue adventures, which are difficult for me, meaning out of my comfort zone either psychologically or skills wise. And so I have chosen to learn to plod a path, slowily walking and memorizing a different poem each month.

My fantasy is that at the end of the year I will weigh less in my expanding body, but my brain will be more massive having engorged itself with the words, and rhythms of John Donne or Emily Dickenson, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich or e.e.cummings and I will have remembered how to input tiny bits, learning bit by bit, line by line.

I will be patient with me as I push to challenge myself. That in itself would be treat enough, but the thought that my jeans might also be a tad looser and my tongue able to incant a poem or / twelve is also a wonderful goad to movement and memory.

And now a little back-story.
I am currently at 59, BMI challenged, having gained 3 to five pounds a year for the last decade. Oh it was a glorious ten years; I was married to the love of my life and he seems to love me thin, chubby or full out tubby. Our family endured the terrorist attack on our neighbors the World Trade Towers and yes food was my drug of choice to weather that storm. In the aftermath of 911 we lost the bulk of our income to a faltering economy. Our pockets were then more deeply scarred by the ensuing stock market crashes of 1999 and 2008. And here we still are.

So I ate happy, scared or sad.

On a further note, we have no health insurance, as we canceled our policy in deference to paying college tuition for our kids. We are not unique or heroes, but rather parents who can parse a cost benefit analysis. We are . . . touch wood, rarely sick and it was costing nearly $13,000 per year for insurance. We needed that money for college. We got scholarships and pitched in the savings from the insurance premiums and this year our second, and our youngest kid graduates, with honors, if you please, from an excellent college. Why did I tell you this? Because without insurance, I needed to find a way to get some doctoring into our lives and as the World Trade Center Health Clinic offered us a yearly check up if we would participate in their study. So I signed us all up.

This January I went for my second visit and I was told in short everything is great in my burgeoning body save that I am desperately chubby. I weigh . . . oh really it doesn’t matter, but it is more than I weighed at the end of pregnancy. I go to Pilates, I take yoga, I ride my bike everywhere, but I don’t get enough aerobic exercise and the doctor told me I have to walk. I have to carry my own heft around with me. Not bikiing, swimming, or kayaking , you get it. My stubby legs need to move me in order for me to slim down.

I hate to walk.

I hate to walk because it is so so so so so so slow. I am used to the speed of the bike. I zoom from one meeting to another with no sweat, no waiting at the corner for taxis or buses; I just peddle and glide. Please note that Manhattan is only 12 miles long from stem to stern and not a hilly town, so it is perfect for biking. I know this provides some exercise, and as the doc said, my blood pressure, lung, kidney and liver functions wouldn’t be so super without the biking, but my body is used to this and I need to shake things up.

I live right by the Hudson River, I work as a consultant and I have time to walk. I hate it. I fight it. I don’t get it. All it makes me want to do is make phone calls, hail a cab or return home and get my bike so I can be productive.

I am unsettled in my own head when I go slowly; hence walking make me very nervous. So nervous that I want to eat grilled cheese or pasta carbinara or cream of chicken soup. You see where this goes; walking made me want to sedate myself with rich food. All I thought about when I walked was: what I could cook or eat, when the walk would be over. I argued, why did I have to do this ? And what a loser I was for being unable to perform the function of a biped, a simple postprandial or prepandial walk.

This was how it was last year when I made this resolution on my birthday and on any other day when one observes their life and vows to fix things. Then became disheartened, because I would fail again and again. But this year I made a different vow, one to better my brain and my body simultaneously.

I promised I would learn poems. Learn them by heart, as we said in elementary school. I can still spout some of Hiawatha, Edmund Lear, If, and Invictus. The poems were my 25-year-old daughter’s idea. She wanted to commit poems to memory as a way to entertain herself on her long trudge to the subway. I think there may also be a whiff of romance in her endeavor. Imagine reeling off a lovely poem to a sweetheart as the ski lift climbs, or the lights dim in a train traveling north. So I bought her a selection of poems to memorize and was captivated with the notion for myself as well.

The book I liked best, I bought four, was Poem in Your Pocket. It flips open like a notebook and every poem is perforated, so it literally can be removed and tucked into your pocket. I read though and found The Good Morrow by John Donne. It moved me and it made me think of romantic, filial and parental love. I wanted to own it in the pocket of my mind. And so I set about on January 1 to learn it.

On first blush I thought oh three stanzas, six lines each, a snap. But no sooner did I attempt to memorize that I found myself paraphrasing the poem. Not reciting but doing a retelling of what it meant, what it intended. I kept changing and rearranging the words to be mine. I made it more modern, more edgy and less beautiful every time. And so I slowed down to a crawl where I could see myself typing the words, slowly in my mind, one line after another. And it began to stick.

When I couldn’t fall asleep I began typing,
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
And these two lines took me days. I flubbed them and re read and retyped in my moving, oh so fast modern brain and finally they were mine. And I crawled on to the next.
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or, snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
The rhythms were so anathema to any that I wrote or uttered on a regular basis, that every time I said them out loud, or murmured in my brain Or, snorted we . . .
I was calmed and beguiled. Who knew the change would be so immediate? A different set of words, set in different rhythms removed my modern ennui and any immediate malaise brought on by the fact that everything in my 21st Century electronic life was not fast enough to satisfy me. And I imagine the host of other netters, bloggers, overnight shoppers, texters, net workers and instant movie watchers across the globe, nodding in agreement. Faster, more connectivity, was what I craved, and then I bumped into poetry from the late 1500’s; ballast to my blasting brain.

The languid pace and the lush language was a balm to my soul. And so I kept on memorizing. But this had not solved my crisis of chubby. I needed to walk to address that. Then I hit on the idea of learning the poem whilst walking. Sorry I had to write whilst. And today I began.

January 12, 2010
Walking along the Hudson River today speaking aloud, John Donne’s words filling the air as I internalized another three or four lines. Lines running in my head, restated back to forth and the river runs to the West in my vision. I walk looser legs and lighter mind. I walk south and north and home before I know it. No desire for a high calorie treat the words fill me.

January 20, 2010
At my pottery class I recited the first two stanzas after attempting to tell my classmates what my project was. It was an incredible sensation. The room was all whirling and chatting and I began. And after three lines the hubbub ceased it was tomb quiet and I saw the power of difficult, musical language to engage even an unwitting audience.

It was a night when I wanted to move quickly, glaze thrown work, slop on colors or trim the bottom of a large bowl with a clumsy foot, rather than an artful, elegant one which would set it apart and allow it to soar. What I saw was that I can have patience; if I want to. The slow slivers of semi-dried clay were no different being sliced off the bottom of the pot than the way the words of the poem spin slowly into my conscious mind. Word by word they form sentences and coherent ideas. And thin slices of red clay piled up on my worktable until my bowl possessed an elegant curve, which echoed inside and out.

“Patience, can be anyone’s, but they need to want it and value it.”
Thus spoke Margaret the wise ceramic guru, and she was right, at least that night.

January 21 2010
An interminable press conference at the Italian Cultural Council
And I wrote the first two stanzas from memory as I struggled to stay awake after the first hour of tough Italian and boring translation in a dark room. A working brain is more likely not to shut down.

January 24, 2010
Sunday in the country
I had words with my loving husband. Why do we say that? All conversation is words, but these words were harsh. It doesn’t matter what my feelings are, I often manage to blurt them in a way, which alienates the listener. The exact opposite of what I want. What I desire is to have my man do things outside his comfort zone, which seems to be sports and a warm house, lots of vacuuming, all the grocer shopping and paying most of the bills. Now please say OH SHUT UP you ungrateful wretch! And you would be right, but I want someone who has ideas and invites me to foreign films or wants to hear the poem I have been attempting to memorize, in my memory and movement project. It is silly because the project was begun as a meditation or a way to increase patience and now it looks as if I want some notice, at least from him.

We were going to take a walk together, but I got my dander up so much that I needed to take a breather and calm down. I decided to walk up the hill to what I call my office, on Hog Trough Road. I refer it this site as my office because I actually get cell phone reception there. Too often I drive up the hill, it is less than a mile so the admission that I drive is embarrassing and very country. In the city I walk or bike everywhere, but car culture is a swift, pervasive infection. I need to fight it. And so I walked up the hill, walking west and turning north. The opposite of the lines I am attempting to capture.
Where can we find two better hemispheres?
Without sharp North, without declining West?

As I say the lines I see myself turning and reversing the directions in the poem and the words gell. I walk in winter gray, but yet mild. My legs are moving freely as if my jeans were larger. All of me waves in the slight breeze. Up the hill I go reviewing the first stanza and as I turn onto Hog Trough Road I see a small animal dead in the road about 25 yards ahead. I know I have to walk by it, and I dread this. I always cringe and stare at road kill. I get closer and can tell it is a mammal, not a snake or bird. I approach, muttering the lines of the poem, and I see the head resembles a round rubber ball, with long ears, a bunny with a profusion of fresh red guts spilling out. Long thick, round strands; intestines are registered. And at that instant I turn to aggressively look at the other side of the road as if a show had begun there. In that moment, a crow flies past me landing on a bittersweet vine and I wonder, “ How do all those guts get so neatly packed inside one tiny creature? How does it stay inside, because when it is laid next to the rabbit, it bewilderingly looks as if it could never be repacked? I wonder what fits inside of me? And I keep walking up the road; now turning west to the cloud obscured Catskill Mountains. They lurk shrouded and unseen, but there they are in my persistent memory. I increase my pace and attempt to focus on the lines, which are eluding me.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.
I can see this line, I see my face in my daughter’s eye, I see myself looking into only one eye and the line concretizes in my brain, but the next one with is fraught with convoluted 16th century language and syntax. And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

As I type this I see I have captured the rhythm and it is nearly in my memory, but only because I repeat it like a nursery school child with a spider song. I do not see it as clearly as the reflecting eyes.

I speed up attempting to ward off pounds and I pass the free-range cattle. The bull and his cows all lowing loudly, rooting for winter silage. They are huge, always a shock as they roam close to the road with neither wooden fence, nor electric device. They are held in an orbit by the notion that home is the place we all want to return to because the hay is sweet and the barn cossets us from the wind. I wonder how much life is coiled inside of them? I turn and take my poem back down the hill, carefully, anticipating the dead rabbit and looking to the east where the crow has flown.

Tuesday 25 January 2010
I had a meeting today with the director of the OP ED project, basically an initiative to teach women to write op ed pieces and be thought leaders. The founder/leader of the project mentioned in passing about a professor at NYU doing work on movement and memory so I was charged up about my memorization and movement project and want to find this scientiist.

As the day wound down, lots of sitting , phoning, long boring adult time, I yeared to walk more, to put new words in my head as I charged along the Hudson River. So in late afternoon I called Rachel, a Scottish transplant and mother to my godchild Holly, to ask if we could have a river walk. I met them in the lobby of their apartment, just as Holly’s bitsy baby sister Pippa melted down howling from the wind. I left Rachel with just one tot to sooth and Holly and I set out bravely. She with a pink scooter and me afoot.

I had been reciting the poem on my walk over and realized that although I have 80% memorized I can still mix up the verses, words, stanzas. I made a random, hip-hop sampling of John Donne’s work as I briskly moved along the Hudson. At one point I realized I was lost and stopped to reboot and install the words in their correct order. It was the rhythm, which alerted me.

I am still on the final stanza

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest:
Where can we find two better hemispheres?
Without sharp North, without declining West ?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally’
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

This is tough When I walk I can see my face reflected in the eye of another. I get that, but then the rhythms get old fashion and I am lost. I make my own tiny, incorrect adjustments conspiring in such a way that they either tumble out in melodic phrases or I jumble them making them sound modern and harsh.

After I deposit Holly for supper I rush home to dusky dark. I love coming back north along the river singing the parts I know and, because I didn’t bring glasses I can’t refer to the actual poem in my pocket. I back and fill in my mind, a false start and it seems as if it takes no time at all. I am at my door and I didn’t fret or think about butter not for one second.

January 28, 2010 Thursday
As I make coffee I incant the final stanza while reading it and then recite the first two by heart. The water boils as if by magic, because no time passes when my memory is so deeply engaged. Coffee appears as the poem finishes.

January 31, 2010 Sunday
The last day of the month and I will move on to another poem, and I have to be finished. As I make a salad for supper and the Grammies blare in the background I roll the entire poem over in my mouth silently.

The Good-Morrow
John Donne 1572-163

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? were we not weaned til then?
But sucked on country pleasures childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven-Sleepers’ Den?
‘Twas so: but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired and got,’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one and other out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone.
Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown.
Let us possess our world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest:
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally,
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.