April is the Coolest Month (Looking Ahead)

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

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I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately, some referring to recent emotionally distressing events/memories, but most feature strange men and vampires trying to kill me, which they have been trying to do since my 20’s. (Before that, it was ghosts, swarms of insects and evil fog.) The cat persistently meowing me to wakefulness, the husband making toast, the sounds of New York in the spring – these are welcome reminders of the little sorrows I really face: working for a living, getting older, remembering to open my mail.

I have a new Macbook Air, which is making me happy. I like all my clients and enjoy editing – novels, memoirs, academic papers, other – except for the inconvenient effect it has of making me want to write my own books.

I’m learning more from editing and from reading self-published novels than I ever did in writing workshops. In particular, watching the writing/reading process minimally obstructed by the publishing industry is fascinating: so many “bad” books are very well liked by readers, maybe not in the tens-of-thousands-sold sense, but in the hundred-plus five-star reviews on Amazon sense.

I’m sorry to have to lost my financial freedom, but I appreciate having work come in over the airwaves – from all over the world at any time of day – meeting strangers and hearing their stories, honing my skills, feeling useful.

But mostly I love walking my city in the spring, buying strawberries and cupcakes, broccoli and tortellini, looking at the young beautiful women, the dreamy-eyed elderly, the street people with their snarly charm, and the groups of teenagers pouring out of the W 4th or 14th Street stations, thirsting for novelty, adorned with attitude.

The nightmares can have my slumber. I want the April days.

A new poet I’ve discovered—

Nothing is Lost

She would emerge from nightmares,
inch by inch, in the kitchen. Perched
on a wooden chair, she hugs her knees
. She is five, wearing a flannel gown
down to her ankles, with blue pistols
scattered over it, for killing mice at night,
her brother said.

The window lights up
like an altar. With her eyes half closed,
she looks at the particles of dust turning
inside the light, landing on the floor,
painted warm chestnut, as Mother
insisted.

The coal stove still unlit,
she hears the breathing of the house,
its sunlit silence rising and falling,
a fly stirring, brushing its wings, buzzing out of the dark corner.
I see her
making room among the shadows,
and remember: nothing is lost
until we miss it.

–Lucyna Prostko

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I’ve Got News for You

September 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

Jean-Claude Itallie

Lisa took me to a one-man show by Jean Claude van Itallie at La Mama Friday night. The veteran playwright, long connected to La Mama and its founder Ellen Stewart, told the story of his life from a childhood in Europe during/after WWII to discovering his homosexuality, becoming a writer, falling in love.

The audience was arrayed in a circle around this slender, lithe 70-something, this gay Jewish elf, long-simmered in Tibetan Buddhism. He asked us all to stand up, say our name and where we were born. It sounded nothing more than friendly, yet there was a cumulative power to hearing each voice name a city or country—Brooklyn; Chicago; London; the Bronx; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Hackensack, New Jersey. Milan, San Francisco, The Philippines, Japan. Detroit, Germany, Fayetteville, Alabama.

Jean-Claude talked about the stamp of fear left on him from his early childhood, though he never saw a Nazi. He described his youth in 1960’s Greenwich Village. “I slept with over 1,000 men,often three a day, and I think the cruise was what mattered more than the sex.” I wanted to know more about that, the current of desire and curiosity that takes you from one man to another all day long—something no woman I know would do for pleasure. “Sometimes we’d talk a bit later.” What I’ve experienced of strangers in the night required a lot of talking beforehand. How does one reach that dream state where the body and the willingness is all that matters, no need to find a hook in personality?

Paris Hilton thinks it’s disgusting that gay men (some gay men) have frequent sex with strangers. I think most women kind of do. I just find it mysterious.

Jean-Claude had other tales to tell, mostly about the theater, and the disappointment of botching opportunities—a rave review from Walter Kerr, not followed up on. The regrets and might-have-beens. He paused at key moments to sing snatches of the popular songs of his era: Some Enchanted Evening when he fell in love; Cole Porter’s You’re the Top to accompany his tale of living vicariously through his boyfriend. I never tire of those songs.

He ended with something that jerked me out of my own regretful might-have-been state: a fierce message about Global Warming—why the hell aren’t we all screaming in the streets?

I know why I’m not, and it doesn’t speak well of me. Activism requires a belief in oneself, a belief in success, as well as a desire to change the world. But there must be something a person with no confidence can contribute. (I have contributed a little bit, through the Cathedral.) As for contributing on my own time, I’m thinking about it. I’ve given up trying to drill through my emotional issues. I’m going back to the old fashioned work-around, with the advantage/disadvantage of some insight into how and why I fall short.

I talked to Lisa about climate change on the walk to the subway—in the gently cool September night, with just the right, fluttering breeze. Friday night in the East Village, crossing Lafayette, Broadway, University, then a diagonal through the lit-up park—as usual full of competing musicians, lonely souls, college kids and strolling lovers—and west to Sheridan Square. Everyone was out on the first night of Autumn.

I talked about climate change; she didn’t. I interpreted her silence, and it was eloquent, but I won’t offer that interpretation here, since this is not fiction and I don’t have the right to inhabit her skin.

What I said was how hard it is to be in a city you’ve lived in for years, to know it so well, its past, the lives it’s held, to see it night after night full of activity and imagine that in the not-so-distant future it could be a ruin or under water. I won’t live to see that (I hope), but New York is supposed to continue, to seduce and thwart and parent each generation. It’s only the beginning, isn’t it? When do the flying cars arrive? What about the robot waitress; the new outpost of artists; the sleek buildings rising, skins glimmering with color; the money; the fame; the stories; the surprise. How does one imagine that it’s possible—not certain but possible—that this city may be living its last century?

Something will happen. We’ll adjust. We’ll adapt. People will demand change, insist on it, and fortunes will be made in solar and wind.

That’s what I hear. Then everyone goes to dinner.


I Have News For You

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood

and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.

There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings

do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives

as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.

Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

Tony Hoagland

Catfood

May 8, 2009 § 3 Comments

I’m sure there are many cats who would enjoy the raw chicken cutlets beauty contestants stuff in their bras (before they can afford  boob jobs), but my cat likes my hands. He bites the knuckles and the wrists. Today he was pulling up the loose skin on the back of my hands and nipping it, as if to say, See, a little nip and tuck is in order.

He’s decided he likes sleeping in bed with me, which means I get strange dreams when he walks across my body in the middle of the night. Whatever story I’m spinning has to suddenly incorporate nurses or bullies. Last night I was in a supermarket and got into a fight with a young man who was poking me, and ended up with a fat lip (the cat walking on my back started the fight, but the fat lip was my guilty imagination).

And on the theme of small woes, I ran out of Wellbutrin because I procrastinated on emailing the doctor, and to convince myself I wasn’t missing anything went online to look up all its evil side effects. Some sites say, Insomnia, weight loss, increased sexual appetite; some list every affliction known to man, from boils to cancer. It was a fascinating compendium, but I don’t feel I’m dying this week, so I’ve whittled my likely symptoms to carbohydrate craving, yawning, forgetfulness, and feeling like I’ve received a thunderbolt to the head.

Okay, the last one is more desired than apparent. At best I feel a mild sizzle along the outer neurons when I see the bright spring green all this rain has produced.

There’s a beautiful and sad article about Gerard Manley Hopkins in The New Yorker this week, on the occasion of a new biography. His unhappiness is obvious in his work, and I knew something about his life—the constraints of the priesthood, and the belief that his writing was frivolous and self-indulgent. I didn’t know how little regarded he was in his lifetime, as priest or poet, though apparently everyone liked him as a man.

“His soul was too delicate for the rough work we do,” said a fellow Jesuit. Too bad he wasn’t born to the circle of Emerson and Emily Dickinson. Apparently he felt the most kinship with Walt Whitman, which he thought shameful, “Since he is a very great scoundrel.” Yes, I think he needed Walt on one side, Emily on the other. Religion didn’t do much for him except exert so much pressure that he seized on nature as the only acceptable tangible recipient of his passion—and even then he felt guilty. And it wasn’t enough.

Notice how this poem descends into despair

 

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—

  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

  A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

 

I didn’t like spring when I was young—too much prettiness and cheer; I felt out of place in it. Autumn was my season. I couldn’t imagine ever liking anything as much as October in the country. But now I prefer spring. I love the blossoming trees, and tulips, and the electric green and even the rain. I like walking after rain toward the river where the streets get more crooked and there’s always a new café to discover. It makes me happy to imagine who lives in all the brownstones with their aprons of steps and Joseph Cornell gardens.

I saw Lisa for dinner and she was trying to figure out why my life isn’t more abundant. It’s too much to explain—it would take a novel of the sort nobody reads anymore. Temperament, circumstance, trauma, choice; choice is the mystery. We also talked about spiritual knowledge. She was struck by and keeps returning to my statement that I don’t expect to ever understand life, that I don’t think it’s possible. She says that she can’t anticipate what she will know 2 or 10 years from now.

I can see why she thinks I’m shutting down possibility, and in fact I would rather feel open to dreams, visions, revelatory conversations and intuitions. I don’t know why it seems so important to think about limits. I’m fascinated by the brain science being done now, yes, and I’m slowly preparing for death and the small deaths of permanent disappointment in love and work.

But I don’t discount change. Do I? I’m not sure. I’m afraid to get my hopes up, in one sense, but in another I feel like I’m living on hope, nothing else, and perhaps that’s the secret; I feel guilty for being so vulnerable and won’t allow myself to see it as juice and joy.

My New York

December 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

Heading to dinner at Antonucci's

Heading to dinner at Antonucci's

Wet snow and sleet in New York; Philip is sleeping to the lullaby of Chris Matthews talking about the Franken recount: there’s no accounting for taste. It’s too warm in here, and the boyfriend snores…if I turn off the TV, he will wake. He has a big window–sliding doors to a terrace actually–with a classic New York view of lit up buildings. It reminds me of the city 40 years ago, when I was 12 and living close to here, on E. 79th St, absorbing the city as if it were the only New York, as if all the bus-drivers, newsstand owners, doormen, had been those things forever, eternal, as were the urine-scented streets, sweltering subways, and predatory loiterers in Times Square. When I was bit older and had read more, I envied those who knew New York in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Now I can say I knew it in the 60’s and 70’s. I like holding all that history inside me; being a person so relentlesly interior, more disconnected than most from the public or external world, it’s nice to have enough memory piled up so that I can feel like a citizen of the world. Meanwhile my nieces are so confident of THEIR New York, the one that isn’t nearly as dangerous as their mother fears. To hear them talk, hear their claiming the city as their own, for now and the future, is startling and pleasing.  It gives me  a stronger grip on the city–as my parents’ years here fade in everyone’s memory, Ramona and Delilah are just beginning to make a mark. I, of course, feel as if I’ve written in snow, not just as in *writing*, but in living, my experiences here intense and deep but not broad. What’s happened to me here? I was molested (in a small way) at 11. I took LSD and went the movies,  spending most of the film in the bathroom, playing with the sink facuets. I met my first drag queen. I went to great performances (Barishnykov, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bates) and got drunk in lots of bars. I published my first and subsequent books and went to my friends’ book parties.  I got sober in AA and heard the incredibly messy and fascinating details of hundreds of people’s lives, not quite stranger than fiction, but possibly more diverse. I endured 7 years of open-heart psycho-therapy. I cooked dinner for my husband in a glorified closet and put a Christmas tree on the coffee table, sometimes we were happy. When we weren’t anymore, we went to couples therapy , first to a woman on the Upper West Side who had decorated her office walls with vintage evening bags–the beaded or embroidered kind–which freaked my bushand out  so we quit her, then tried a man who met us in the room where he also led groups, so that the 3 of us were surrounded by 7 or 8 empty chairs. This freaked my husband out so much  he moved to Florida. (OK, that isn’t true, he moved for a job and also because I was having an afair. But I have something in common with those shrinks. Let’s embellish. ) I went on the Interent to meet men; had sordid and ridiculous and sexy sexual encounters; I fell in love. I spent 9 hours at a Tribeca cafe with my lover’s wife, held in place by a force of personality that explained quite a few years of strange boyfriend behavior. Lots of stuff has happened, and I’m not even talking about 9/11—nothing I went through that day was any different from anyone else. What I mean is, this is my city. Yet I don’t know many people here and never have. I just watch them. Sometimes want to sneak into the brain of a person on the street, and take a mind-print; sometimes I want to knock on the door of a brownstone with a lighted window; and sometimes want to find a giant broom and sweep everyone away.

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