Category Archives: musings

>Mantra for a troubled times

As I was riding home, down Broadway last week in the bright winter sunshine, I was attempted to boost my spirits by taking some solace in my health, family and general robust nature. You see I had just had a dispiriting job interview. I am not alone, but that does not necessarily make things better. It does make them different. Sometimes the fact that we are all in it together, mounts arguments that sooth sometimes and at other times it exacerbates the fear that I , that none of us. will ever find gainful employment again.

I know that I am in a much better place than many of my fellow citizens and yet whatever challenges we face as a nation, we also face personal demons a plenty. I have an ability to go to what my son called, when he was little, “The Dark Place”. This mythical kingdom needs no introduction, for whether we have named it or not, all of us have visited there. Some of us have taken up summer residence or gotten graduate degrees there. It is the place where we can’t get out of our own way, where we are afraid and can’t find a hand to hold, or a cat to pet. And so we simmer and stew in our own private negative juices.

And certainly the current ingredients for the “Dark Place” abound: war, unemployment, debt, bad choices, a lasting legacy of privation for our children and a fear that accompanies even one of these, let alone the concatenation that is in full bloom. But then there are the antidotes to doom.

The antidotes are so simple, so unbidden, free and surprising that they take my breath away. They are friendship, laughter, kisses in corners, questions, conversation, music, dappled sunshine, home cooked meals, gleeful kids, crazy cats and the magic of everyday. Oh everyone’s list varies, this is a quick fix mediation for me, but add to that list serendipity.

And so as I peddled by 1968 Raleigh bike down Broadway from the Upper East Side to the Downtown neighborhoods I love, I chanced a glance at the red stone wall at 707 Broadway just above 4th Street and there it was. Chalked in a neat hand were the words DONATE JOY. I rode past.

No I couldn’t ignore this universe message; I wheeled my bike around and pushed it against traffic and up onto the sidewalk. I stood in front of the message, OK I know it is graffiti, but it changed my mind set as clearly as if someone had shot a personal remote control at my gloom. I was on a new channel. I took out my little camera and click, I saved the image and the sentiment.

I have been thinking about what it means to “Donate Joy.” I attempt to offer smiles to folks on the street, I compliment women on lavish hats, I stop and help mothers with strollers, I make crying babies laugh, I hold doors, I proffer help, but is that joy ? How can I donate joy ? Do we donate joy when we don’t participate in passing along gossip, or hatred or fear or racism? Do we donate joy when we really laugh with our friends and children and not at them? I am still on a path to figure out, not what joy is, because I have the essence of joy sewn to me like a second shadow, but how do I donate it , or it or pass it along ?

I have been detouring and riding past by the scrawling every chance I get. I know it won’t last forever.
After-all it is chalk on stone in a wintery city full of rain and University cleaners. And joy is ephemeral, it can’t be held on our hands or put into a box,
so we have to pass it along quickly before it dissolves.

>Sheets at Year End

>It is the last Saturday of the year and I am in my country house attempting to organize the sheets. This is not a complaint.

I decided that if ONE has two houses there can never, jamais, never be the moan
“Oh, poor me, I can never recall what is in my rural residence and what is in the city.”
What a crock.

If ONE is lucky enough after years of work to purchase, rent or borrow a home out of the city and in the midst of trees, crickets, snow and lots of back breaking work, then ONE needs to shut up and only comment on the glories.

If it is such a hardship to remember in which house you have a micro-grater, a garlic press or a baking pan for fancy sweet potatoes, either get a double or give up the damn house and give the money to charity because you are way past S_P_O_I_L_E_D.
And you have tipped over into spoiled ROTTEN.

I ran away a few days ago to be by myself, to write, to walk. But, truth be told, I have read novels and stayed up until 2a.m. neither cooking nor eating real meals. I have eaten chocolate and drunk coffee in the after noon knowing it would keep me awake but reveling in the fact that I wouldn’t bother anyone. I thought Huey Newton, the saved barn cat, might even like having me awake to share his nocturnal perambulations and be an aural witness to his killing fields in the basement.

But I also wanted to do some year-end cleaning. I enjoy an organizational flurry to usher out the old year, rather than the ritual welcoming of the new. Everyone loves the New Year; I want to celebrate the old, before she shuffles off. And thus it was that I set about organizing the linen closet. AHH what luxury to say that. The loft, where I have lived for over thirty years, was a factory and has no closets others than the over stuffed IKEA stand ins. There is a solitary book self for sheets and pillow cases in the city. But a linen closet holds wonder.

When I open it the rush of lavender fills my head and also wafts some of the lingering sandalwood odor from my mother’s closet, now closed for over six years. When I purchased this house in the Hudson Valley I culled sheets from my mom’s home, mix-matched extras that had accumulated over the years in the loft or from kids beds and moved them to the country. As if they were retiring to a sheet farm. But they were not arranged rather thrown higgledy-piggledy into the closet across from the upstairs bathroom. (AHH again to more than one bathroom.)

My daughter has accused me of pilfering her sheets when she comes to the country to visit and DO WASH. I certainly haven’t done it willfully, but stuff does tend to get shuffled. I had promised to see if there were suitable bed dressings for her rather than resorting to the modern default of “ Oh let’s just go to the newly opened Bed Bath and Beyond and get new” That is also a New Year’s resolution. Really check to see if you need it before you buy new.

And thus I began taking everything out of the linen closet and opening, labeling and refolding. A job for too much coffee. And as I began to make labels:
Queen Bottom
Single Top
Single Flat
Queen Top
King interchangeable, meaning flat, but I wrote interchangeable and I began to giggle.
I felt as if I were writing a personal ad

Middle-aged woman with a closet full of queen bottoms would like to meet a King sized man who is interchangeable.

Of course this laughter meant I had to run downstairs. AHHH downstairs not across the floor, but actually to another room where I couldn’t see the mess I had left on the floor of the foyer (AHH foyer) outside the linen closet.

Now I am writing watching the birds at the feeders, (AHHH birds) but you get it by this time. I do love it here, but everything I undertake and I suppose this is a ubiquitous element of life, every task reminds me of two others that need to follow. And thus I often never get on my walk or sit down to my writing or my luxurious bath ( AHHHHHH bath tub) Instead the laundry is folded, the birds fed, the silver polished, well at least it is at Christmas time and food is cooked and cooked and cooked again.

But I made a pre-resolution to stop what I am doing and do what I DESIRE. And so last night I ran to the bath at 1a.m. Today as I stooped, chortling in the closet, sorting Queens into tops and bottoms (still funny to me, maybe because last night I had dinner with a friend who worked in the male porn industry and we always make silly jokes) I stopped and came to scribble this.

Nothing momentous. It is more the action of ceasing doing tasks and taking the time to divert. It is about making myself take a U-turn, just for me, for something that is fun for me and not a necessity to someone else.

Happy New Year whether you are a Queen top, a single or a flat King.
We all deserve a warm, happy bed, a good giggle and time for ourselves.

>What makes you happy?

>Last week I had a meeting with a potential client. A woman who works in skin care, very fancy high-end skin care. This woman has a practice so evolved that she requires interviewees sign a confidentiality statement before even starting chitchat.

I was talking to her about ghost writing, and in order to see if there was a click I asked her about her practice, why is it different? She explained that she practices holistic skin care and few others work the way she does. She sees the skin, the body’s largest organ, as a map to the wellness of entirety of a person.

Our skin wizard, can look at her patient and see if perhaps she is not having enough fun, is closed minded, or holding grudges that appear as dark circles. Yes she often performs miracles with chemicals, creams, peels and others tricks of modern magic. But she also asks her clients questions.

Her keystone is this:

What makes you happy?

Does this seem easy at first?

It isn’t a rainbows, walks on the beach and puppies kind of query; she really wants to know what rings her client’s chimes emotionally.

And she says very few can answer it without prompts from her.

In fact when she asked me, I was somewhat stumped, I suppose from the notion that happiness needs to be a combinations of selflessness, doing good, and care, of ourselves and others. But as I left, convinced that I didn’t get the job, and reemerged into the cold, rarified Upper East Side atmosphere, heightened by the bevy of Christmas shoppers plunking down dollars beyond my wildest imaginings, I knew ineluctably what makes me happy.

I got on my bike, my old bike, my trusty bike, not something I need to replace after a decade or even three; I sat upright on the seat and started to peddle home. And it was then that the rush hit me.

Going home. Going home at Christmas. Going to where it is warm and yes worn down and crammed full of love and memories. And taking myself home at 57, in the cold, with the crepuscular promise of deep dark coming upon me. I am peddling my old legs, ones that aren’t replaced or enhanced, but have just worked, been fed and occasionally cherished and now they take me home.

I peddled my bike downtown; it is about five miles and takes about three quarters of an hour. I pass lights and shoppers and traffic and I am inured to all of it as I whiz down or slog up hills; all toward home. I revel that I make my own heat, as I observe women clutching furs, their hose covered legs looking for all the world like twigs emerging from a bear. And I peddle, warmer with every glide and stroke.

I move through Mid-town and into Greenwich Village, the low buildings auguring my imminent return home. I see the trees; the occasional menorahs and I feel my center returning. I love to propel myself in wind and cold and coming night. I love taking myself home year after year, mile after mile. I often feel, after a particularly harrowing ride, with black ice or errant cars, that I should exclaim, “ HOME FREE ALL!!’ the way we did when we were kids and had avoided capture in games of hide-and-seek. There was a magic about touching the tree that was base; home base and arriving home / home free all.

And so I am home now writing, no I didn’t get the job writing about beauty for a tapered twig who boasted caring for president’s wives and other leaders of the world;
I am just writing. I am here with the smell of a big balsam and the snuffling of my goddaughter wrapped warm in her carriage as her mother shops to haul goodies home to Scotland.

Home, where, if the gods and goodness prevail, is the notion that must make us all happy. Especially in this season.

>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.

>A small lie

>Yesterday I tried to ascertain what would be interesting about my life, what might cross over to be that ubiquitous moment and I was overwhelmed with watching. I saw myself lie to a stranger about the bounty in my life because I felt embarrassed.

I was standing outside a public garden in Greenwich Village. There was a rather tattered man also peering in; he was sketching in a small book. I was standing astride my green, 1968 Raleigh bike waiting to meet another writer to discuss a project. I was early, as I often am, because riding a bike in Manhattan makes you punctual because all you have to do is peddle a little faster and there you are, but that is another story and not the lie I told.

I asked the man what he was sketching. Not a good sign when you can’t tell from looking really, but I am preternaturally chatty. He replied, “Oh I love that shed, I have drawn it so many times.”

I looked, it was a pre-fab grey shed for tools tucked in the back of roses and weeping cherries. Maybe he loved the verdant vegetation, but when I took a concerned look; in fact he had just roughed out the shed alone in green crayon.

“What are you doing?” he continued the conversation toss.

“Oh, I am just garden fantasizing.”

He took the ball and tossed back. “Oh I don’t do that enough, maybe if I did, fantasized about having a garden then I WOULD have one.”

“I think they call it visualization–seeing things you want to make manifest, but I like fantasizing, too.”

Now the lie.

He asked, “Do you have a garden?”

I guess because I felt guilty about the small five-acre farm purchased in the Hudson Valley, on credit, nearly two years ago. I said, “ Oh yes, I have a small garden, but not this opulent.” The garden in question was .3 acres, I had just read that on a sign and was basking in how much more land I had when the conversation began.

Why did I feel the need to downgrade my incredible luck and good fortune? As I walked away from him, he was still sketching and I chose to focus on the positive phrase I had uttered, “Yes, I do have a garden.” It was a magical sentence, and yet I made myself feel bad because I felt I had to lie to this stranger, in order to not make myself look so spoiled.

Why did I do this? And as a correlative, why do we inflate silly things to make ourselves feel, look or seem better in encounters with strangers on a train, or bus or bank line? For me, it causes me to wonder if who I am will ever be enough, or correct – just as I am – at the moment at the garden gate or bank line?