Category Archives: new york

>The Eyes Have It or Weepy VS Old

>No, it is not some new weird, reality show where people wrestle… it is just the reality of my life as a mid-life mom, woman, worker, wending my way through life.

I ride my bike everywhere, you know that right? Well, I do and today it is beautiful, gorgeous enough for me to feel as if perhaps the universe is paying me back for all the lousy, rainy, cold days I slogged to and from work and meetings on my trusty three-speed. Today puts money in the weather bank and redeems the North East for the crazed days past.

So yes, of course, I am riding my bike back and forth to meetings today in the sunshine and wind. And I stopped to get my sunglasses adjusted, because it looks as if the season is upon us. As I walk in the shop my eyes are streaming tears. I had been told that light eyes, mine are like an Alaskan Husky, clear blue off-set by my no-longer “real” dark brown hair. (OK, to dye or not to dye is most definitely another post) But this is about eyes. The eye doc comes over and I proffer my good old Persol glasses apologizing for my weepiness and add, “ have always been told that light eyes are more sensitive to light and wind, and I am on a bike.”

“Oh no, that’s not the reason; it’s just because they are old eyes.” I swear he said that. Who would make that up? OLD EYES.

Well, I mumbled and made some snappy rejoinder. . . maybe, but I was stunned. My eyes were a thing I though might hold out and still be glorious until I hopped off the twig–a phrase my 86-year-old friend Beati uses when referring to her last mortal moment. I thought my skin would get the way it does–spotty and wrinkly–and there would be more floppy skin surrounding the eyes, but the blue of a great Carolina sky would hold me strong. They wouldn’t be clouded in a flood of weepy.

Now when I enter a store or go to a meeting I will be embarrassed about my watery eyes. I know they have always been runnier than most and I am challenging myself today to think: Are they different from 20 years ago water-wise?

I can’t recall. I seem often to occupy the moment firmly, both a good and bad thing. Here is what I want to know. Was there a reason for this eye doc to call my orbs old? And couldn’t we all do with a little more finesse when it comes to talking about other people . . . I mean especially right in front of them. I’m off to buy a pack of tissues to stuff in my bag to hide the tears.

>Hearing the passion in Obama’s Downtown supporters

>

I have lived in Tribeca for over 30 years and certainly in its graying, last decade, when its residents either got just older, or older and riche, it has seemed as if my neighborhood was a very indifferent place, politically.

Many of us who came of age in the Mark Rudd, S.D.S. anit-war protests of the ’60s and ’70s, of late have tread the road more taken. The political apathy of the generation formerly known as activist, rabble rousers is renowned — as we are more often cited for parenting vigor or traveling aggressively. But on Monday night, the official observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday, and the same night that three Democratic candidates were slinging mud in a debate, there was a political meeting in Tribeca.

It was the brain child of an unlikely foursome: Downtown resident Ruth Charney who offered her big loft in the old Bob DeNiro, Harvey Keitel building on Hudson St.; activist comedian Reno who is the resident celebrity in my building on North Moore St.; long time Obama friend, and supporter, the lawyer David Carden; and the final member being economist Jeffrey Shafer, currently the head economist and political strategist at Citigroup’s global banking division. These four had met at a previous Obama rally, and Jeffrey Shafer and Reno concluded that if the Obama movement could bring together souls as disparate as they are, then there must be something more happening. And so they endeavored to set up a Tribeca meeting designed to allow undecided voters to gather information about Barack Obama, the man and candidate.

Reno acted as the emcee managing the crowd of over 75, who took chairs, leaned against walls or lounged with kids or dogs on the loft floor. She took pot shots at the current administration and other politicians, as well as herself referencing her well-known lesbian activist roots: “I thought I had to be for Hillary because, well she is a woman and I am a woman, at least ‘menza menza’ I am a woman. But we asked people to come and hear about Obama, people who might be on the fence.” The meeting took off when Jeffrey Shafer, under secretary of international affairs in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Dept., told why he was supporting Obama. The distillate of Shafer’s path to Obama involved reading Obama’s books and simultaneously writing to the Hillary Clinton campaign with ideas, and getting no response from her advisors. In a 20-minute presentation involving great quotes, and personal stories, the essence emerged. Shafer came to the conclusion that, “Obama understands how other people see the world. He understands that unity is the great need of the hour.”

David Carden followed; a thin man, brimming over with facts, experience and information all strung together with an intelligence that heated the room. Carden unfolded his path toward supporting Obama and recounted how strongly he feels that we must have inspiration and real intelligence in out next president if we are to in any way redeem our country in the eyes of the world. Carden said, “If you had asked me 22 years ago, when my wife was working at the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago and Obama was organizing on the South Side of Chicago, if this man could be president, I would have said, yes. Let me tell you why. He is the best listener I have ever seen. He emits empathy and intelligence. This is what led Obama to stay in the business of other people’s business, which is what politics is.”

The formal presentations ended and the questions, queries and worries from the audience began to pour out. A variety of neighbors questioned electability, experience and even specific votes for both Hillary and Obama. There was a sense from some attendees that the evening had turned from fact finding to a rally for Obama. And it certainly was difficult not to be caught up in the passion evinced by Shafer, Carden and some other guests who had been in Iowa canvassing for Obama. Carden’s retelling of the Iowa trip was moving as he recounted the personal stories of those he met. He concluded with this: “We need a shared mythology. We are the stories we tell and we are also the stories others tell us.”

Certainly this evening, when dozens of neighbors rallied to share their thoughts, ideas and stories, had gone a long way to providing the assembled with both facts and the effect surrounding Barack Obama. It also had perhaps the unintended effect of uniting us as a community. We forget that we have to listen to our neighbors, know their stories, as well as our own and respect our differences and the vibrant similarities.

Yes, information was shared, but the energy, the belief that we can still be passionate was the most important byproduct for this too often apathetic voter.

>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.

>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.

>Producing theater then and now

>The last time I produced something, a real something with collaborators and sets, casts casting about for motivation and the pressing need to raise funds to raise the curtain, was over ten years ago. I had a staff and the technological revolution had hit them, but not me.

Today I am in the throes of producing and writing an opera about the very personal effects of September 11, 2001. Any one of those things would be enough to induce blood boiling: scribbling, producing or revisiting 9/11, but taken together the troika could present a tipping point for a middle-aged mama. But I have been saved by the onslaught of technology. Yes, the emotional pitches and sways cannot be mediated, but the speed and efficiency of my work seems magically augmented especially when we three collaborators sit down together.

This past week we were lucky enough to have an entire day where the composer, Doug Geers, who normally lives in Minnesota and the designer/artist Christine Sciulli, who lives across the street but teaches, designs and has two baby children, well where we could all be together in the my loft. We make pots of coffee and scrambled eggs crammed full of sharp cheddar and farm-stand tomatoes and then we worked.

We each had our Apple laptops; we talked, we waved hands, we argued about sensibility, religion and tempo. We outlined the entire opera; we cut a quarter of an hour from the running time, just in theory. We agreed that there would be no iconoclastic tower tipping images but rather that we would focus on the “presence of absence” and the leitmotif of “harmony from dissonance.” These are not facile concepts and we agreed to push each other to remain true to them IF words, or music or images threaten to revert to mini-series heartstring tugging. Then we gave out tasks.

But unlike “back in the day,” when workers went away and came back weeks later, we accomplished many of the TO DO LIST right where we sat. Christine called to find a choir conductor. We emailed her. Doug had a friend who sets up web sites. We wrangled with the URL and came up with WWW.CALLINGTHEOPERA.COM and maybe also .ORG. We drank more coffee and wrote out three separate a best-case scenario budgets, we emailed them to each other and then created a single unified document. Now we edited that document down to a bare bones production. In other words Doug really wants “SIX CELLI” but can live with two playing against a recording. Christine wants rear screen projectors, very expensive but she could hang one in the front if the funds are scarce.

We all had been saving the names of funders who we thought might be interested in our project. Doug found his from listening to public radio, Christine gleaned her info from designing the lights for the new Mabou Mines piece and I revisited the backs of every theater program for the last year. We found a few that suited us, found the guidelines on line and began filling out the grants. We exchanged email biographies and compiled information for the web site we were constructing.

We drank more coffee and called to cancel the rest of our day and we worked. We looked at images; we reread passages in my book and fought about order and tone. We took time out to make calls on our cell phones, connecting to other clients who never knew we were in a frenzy of creativity, taking an interstitial moment to give them an edit or a drawing or a syllabus. Our discreet electronics allowed us to work together and separately all day.

When I was the executive director of La Mama back in the 80’s to early 90’s this level of output would have taken weeks. All the paper and Xeroxing, the collating of reviews and copying music tapes to send to funders. And now many of the RFPs (request for proposal) for grants require everything be sent only electronically. And this aspect means I have to send stuff to Doug so that he can oversee my Luddite slowness.

But even with my backward techniques and recalcitrance to modern life, this session, a veritable flurry of passionate producing bumped me up to a new level of appreciation for what the last decade of technology means.

Within three days all our information, bios, music, reviews and some aspirations had been uploaded, by Doug, to the new website. So check it out, because I am still amazed at what that one day wrought, albeit with much back-story and working already loaded into our electronic brains. And I also still have a great deal of faith in the positive effects of copious amounts of coffee.

>Beggar With Clean Socks

>Hot summer had taken a holiday; a little spring breeze tickled me, pushed tendrils or evaporated sweat and the world was out in summer profusion. Bare midriffs, street food, bikes and busy sidewalks at lunchtime.

I was walking on the wide swath of 23rd Street before it comes to Fifth Avenue. My gym is here and I try to come as often as life permits. I was still walking my bike; as I decided whether or not to allow myself the indulgence of an eight-dollar salad or if it was better to peddle home to leftovers.

As I walked east, I saw a young dark-eyed woman sitting with her back against a post box; she was holding a sign, the ubiquitous kind written on cardboard in black ink describing sadness, woe and poverty.

She sat cross-legged with her dark, ocular pools cast downward. I walked by. I stopped. She had on the cleanest socks I had ever seen. They were navy blue and white and the contrast between the two colors popped. We are all cautioned against grifters, and con artists who ply the trade of playing on our emotions to extract funds for nefarious business. We know that young women or babies, all can be utilized to maximize the effect, and so I wondered.

I sat watching this girl, she never spoke, her plea was silent and intense; I saw another woman stop to regard this mendicant. I walked over to her. She was older than I am, gray hair and walked with a cane. She was very beautiful and upright, an elegant woman. We both now watched together; it was as if we had slipped into the cast of an impromptu play and tried to quickly come up to speed on the back-story.

I turned and said, “I always wonder about these folks, who is real and who not. And how do we know?” The woman with the cane turned to me, “Yes, I do as well, but what puzzles me about this one is…” then we both said, as if on cue “Those socks are SO CLEAN!”

We talked some more about wanting to help, but that if you gave everything away how would you know where and when and to whom and then who would take care of you? I said I was going to ask her if I could purchase her some lunch from the cart whose aroma was wafting over to us and I was sure was reaching the young cross-legged woman as well.

I approached her and inquired. Yes, she would like food. No, she couldn’t walk with me to pick what she wanted, as a woman had promised to come back to her spot and give her a job. She had shiny black hair tied back in a ponytail, those dark eyes and clean socks. Her accent confused me; I asked if she spoke French, she said her mother did, but she spoke Romanian.

I walked to the cart and bought a combo platter and a bottle of water. Whether she was shaming the passersby or not, it is still lovely to be offered free lunch and someone who stops to inquire about our state of being.

We all need that, clean socks or dirty.