Beast of Beauty

I’m sitting here at my desk by the window with its view of the big maple tree. All the rain this spring has turned it into a beast of beauty. I need to find other words for lush and green because I write the tree into everything. It seems sentient, alive, not only in the sense that we think of plants as being alive. But as if it has consciousness — if trees (and animals) are more aware than we know, imagine what they must think of our barbaric species? I’m ashamed to be human sometimes.

I am done with school as of last week, a graduate of 2017. I returned to Hunter to complete my degree after thirty-plus years. I wanted to be a better writer, and thought I might want to teach writing and so would need the degree. But in the end, I believe I made a good decision at twenty when I decided life was a better teacher. Maestra Vida in the words of someone I once loved. I enjoyed my classes, read literature and poetry that I had overlooked; took courses in human rights, history, philosophy, math, and science, too. But on the other end, it does feel like an indulgence or diversion. I’m anxious to get back to my own work. I’ve started a novel and would like to write some new music. I’ll probably need a job too, something part-time, but I’d rather clean houses than work in academia. I reject its small-mindedness and rigidity, its insularity and obstruction of individualism and creativity. (I know that’s harsh and probably unfair.)

As I worried about what I would do next, I got an email from Lyndsey P. about writing a tribute to Gregg Allman for Yahoo, and then G. requested my manuscript, “The Ones I Loved,” to give to his new publisher. So, I wrote the Gregg Allman piece — the link is posted on the “News” page — and now I’m revising the manuscript before sending it to G. It’s easier to see the tweaks that need to be made, two years later. I am in no danger of sitting idle. It feels wonderful, though, to be free of a schedule, for now at least.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Something in Your Eye

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here; since I’ve wanted to write. I read an article in the New Yorker this morning about a Brazilian author, Raduan Nassar, who wrote two short highly regarded novels years ago and then quit to be a farmer. Repeatedly, he was asked why he had quit writing but he didn’t know. He tried to come up with explanations over the years but the truth was probably he just no longer wanted to. Reading Swann’s Way by Proust, I think, again, about how the best writing comes from a need to communicate. More than a need, a compulsion. All good writing is one side of a conversation, a necessary communication. Reading Proust, one has the sense that his reflections were essential to him. When you have something in your eye, you don’t have to coax yourself to remove it. Emotional disturbance, loneliness, political unrest, disappointment, longing. These things motivate an outpouring. What is the purpose of writing only to have written? I admire the writer who becomes a farmer when he has said all he has to say.

At times, I have clung to my identifying label “artist.” Who am I without that which I have always been? I’ve been thinking about this a long time; I wrote “Part Missing” fifteen years ago. I’m a part/of the woman I used to be/I don’t know what’s become of the rest of me/Did I leave her there with you? As a musician and songwriter, I have been genuine in my need to communicate, to connect with others in the world. And I still feel that need, despite an ever increasing hermithood. (How proud I feel to be a member of the resistance, for example, to be a woman ready to do what we must to protect our freedoms and our planet.) I still want to write, to connect, but have not felt the same need to communicate. Has it been sated by social media? That would be a shame, I suppose. I don’t know. The truth is, the answer is a mystery.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Time and Advertising

Just in time for spring, the winter issue of 3 a.m. analog was ready. Maybe this speaks to the way musicians conceive of time, always a little late. Although, I tend to be early (which is why I’m calling our Winter issue, the almost Spring issue). It features a beautiful piece of writing by Rob O’Connor (about Richard Buckner) as well as stories by Sylvie Simmons, Jesse Harris, and me (the next installment of my serial, Cold Weather, Part 2).

Time seemed to expand the way it does when there is too much to do. Not only were we wrapping up the new issue of 3aa (as Jana refers to it), but Paul and I were working on a job for DW and, of course, there was my full course load, and lesson plans for the class I’m teaching this semester. It is an amazing phenomenon that when there is too much to do, the hours seem to stretch to accommodate it all. When I was sitting at my table all day, writing, the day flew by. It was morning. I took Doe for a walk, and then it was evening. Now the days and weeks are full to capacity, yet there seems to be time for everything.

The job for DW was kind of a nightmare. Not the composing part. I do love writing music to picture and the short film was beautiful and had a lovely slow pace to it, but DW was the worst he has been in that way he can be. I think he was being tortured by his client because he was impossible to please and it was frustrating when I felt I was giving him the best work I’ve done in a long time. I haven’t worked on music much lately and the first two pieces, and then two more, seemed to appear as if they had always existed. Thank God for Paul who said, “Wow, these are really good,” because DW was awful about everything I gave him and, in the end, cut one piece to bits, looping it needlessly, when the original served the same purpose only did it better. Advertising work is crap in the end. Not because of the work itself but because of the inherent disrespect. It’s challenging, to say the least. Of course, the money is meant to compensate for this but there isn’t as much of that anymore, even in advertising.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

January

The warm weather continues through the last days of December in New York City. These were taken in Central Park on the same day. One of the koi pond in the Conservatory Garden, the second of the hill where we stop sometimes to rest before rounding the last stretch of bridle path to 90th Street. I suppose this format has become archaic and I should be posting these to Instagram or Twitter but it seems too much bother. I like it here, writing to no one and everyone without the possibility of “likes.” It can’t be good for anything to have each tiny portion of your creative output approved or acknowledged. I don’t need to know what the world thinks every minute. It isn’t helpful and this is not just my opinion but common thought — or used to be.

The days have been running together since the semester ended. I took on too much with teaching and a full course load, and tutoring too. I’ll try to go easier next semester. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing it for, going to school, though it does fill the days with new things to learn and I think it is helping me to become a better writer, although not in the way I imagined it would. Like everything else, it seems to be just the doing — the doing and doing and doing — that makes one a better anything. No one can tell you how. Or that’s been my experience with playing music and singing too. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this. We teach ourselves really and it takes time.

Speaking of music, I’ve started a couple of new songs recently and wonder about them. They seem to lack something I used to find easily, an emotional center, an emotional motor. They have pretty melodies and are connected to my thoughts and memories as they always have been. I don’t know what this means, but my early obsession (when I was a young teen,) about why the songs of musical artists I liked weren’t as good as they got older, seems a premonition, a personal prediction. (I can remember thinking about this for the first time at my grandmother’s house in Fort Lauderdale. I must have been about thirteen.)

I have the month of January off and am looking forward to writing and reading, sleeping and cleaning. Unstructured days are the greatest luxury in my opinion. I’ve had more than my share of them — practically a lifetime’s worth. It has been an adjustment to conform to a schedule, although I see its appeal. There is freedom in a lack of freedom — you don’t have to invent your days, only show up for them. Since classes ended on the 17th, I have watched all ten hours of “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. I have read (or am reading): “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison, “Dear Mr. You” by Mary-Louise Parker, “10:04″ by Ben Lerner, “M Train” by Patti Smith, and others. My stacks are beginning to take over the apartment and I will get rid of some books, donate them to Housing Works, along with clothing I intend to cull from my over-stuffed closets, before the end of January. But this morning I sit here writing this, surrounded by dog and cats, drinking a huge mug of black tea, and enjoying the sunshine after a few days of rain. Before the week is out, it will be a new year.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

3 a.m. analog, musicians who write

Well, 3 a.m. analog is up and running! The stories are available for sale on Amazon. It feels like we’ve been working on this forever, but it’s truly been a labor of love. There’s a link to the site here (look to your right). I’m sure it will take us while to really get going but on the 18th of October, some of the writer/musicians (me included) will be reading at KGB Bar in NYC to kick things off.

It’s been a crazy busy summer into fall. In addition to being in school full time, I’m teaching a class at Hunter three days a week, and tutoring at the Writing Center there. It feels like a marathon sometimes. For a couple of years, I was sitting at my table writing seven days a week, walking Doe in the park, and not doing much else. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be busy. I’m still adjusting to the change, but suddenly my life is full of people and places I need to be and stuff that needs to get done. I think it’s a good thing.

The other night, I wasn’t feeling well. I was coming down with a cold, but J. had gotten tickets months ago to see Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) at Town Hall. There was no way I could stand him up, so I went and was so glad I did. It was an inspiring show. Mark Kozelek (in case you don’t know him) is this amazing singer-songwriter who writes these long, personal story-songs. Then he sings them in this super-soulful way, so you can feel his whole life (and your own) down to your bones. I had listened to his record Benji a lot last year, and other songs from a record he made with Jimmy LaVelle (Caroline, Gustavo) but had never seen him live. Man, he was so good. (Thanks J). I think he’s doing something, with his songwriting, that Karl Ove Knausgaard is doing with his writing. It’s a rejection of artifice. A real-time, unedited representation of living. When there are rhymes in his songs, they seem random. The story just unfolds, formless and beautiful. It feels so genuine. He writes about people who have died, and aging and loneliness and the characters he knows. His band was great too – two drummers, a keyboard player, and a guitarist/bass player who sang harmony. It was the best thing I’ve seen or heard in a long time.

Now, it’s a beautiful fall day that feels more like summer. I’m sitting at my table writing this. Tomorrow the marathon starts up again, but there are still many hours to go before then.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Everyone is Hooking Up With Everyone

Last week I found a bloody bird on the street. I had an appointment to take Target to the vet, because he wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have time to do both — to rescue the bird and get Target to his appointment. But I ran home and found a shoebox for the bird. It looked scalped. I was sure it was near death. Later, I learned It was a baby pigeon. I called my vet to see if she would let me bring the bird when I brought Target, but she said she doesn’t treat birds because they carry diseases. So I postponed Target’s appointment, and got in a taxi with the bird. “Please, hurry,” I begged the sweet cabdriver. We raced across town to the Wild Bird Fund, a hospital for birds on Columbus and 87th Street. I’ve taken birds there before, the last a dehydrated baby starling in the spring, but this bird was in terrible shape, and I burst into tears as I arrived. I felt like an idiot, crying like that but couldn’t stop, not even when a kind doctor came out and told me that the bird was in bad shape but might survive. He was still strong. They put him in an incubator to warm him up. If he was stable in the morning, the doctor would operate, stitch his scalp back together. I couldn’t believe it. I’d taken him for nearly dead, but the doctor sounded hopeful. They named him Carson (they name all rescues after rescuers). I haven’t had the nerve to go back yet, to find out if he made it. But I may go tomorrow if I can get up the courage.

(Update: Carson the baby pigeon didn’t make it, unfortunately. I learned his wounds were caused by other birds in the nest. The vet I spoke with said she’d never seen quite so severe an injury, but sibling abuse in the nest is quite common. He was euthanized the morning after I brought him in when it was decided he was too badly injured to survive.)

This is all so gruesome, I know. I blame Julia for my choice of subject matter. Or rather her recommendations of beautiful, dark fiction. I think I shouldn’t read any more of it. I can feel it in the flow of these words. The protagonists are always struggling to survive.

It’s hot and humid tonight but I’ve turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows. Without the roar of it, it’s almost silent here. I hear the click of the keyboard as I type, far away sounds of traffic. It’s just getting dark at 8 p.m. Outside, the maple tree trembles in the breeze. Maybe it’s cooler out there. I could be sitting closer to the window, at my table, but instead sit on the floor, back to the sofa, computer on the glass coffee table, sweating. A candle burns, smells of lemongrass and wax. It’s reflected in the mirror over the fireplace. I gave the TV that used to hang there to J. who says he’s been watching Bachelor Island or some such thing. “Everyone is hooking up with everyone,” he tells me.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Summer

This is a photo of the morning that inspired these paragraphs from the new might-be-someday novel I’m working on:

She liked to lie on the bed in that small room and watch the clouds drift past. Sometimes they created an optical illusion that made it seem as if she could see the earth’s rotation and, when that happened, she would think about how all the buildings and trees and people, everything, including the atmosphere, took up only the tiniest area, just the very top layer of the planet, and it made all of life seem terribly fragile.

Other times, the clouds made her feel peaceful, like a baby looking up at a mobile, and she would lie there allowing her thoughts to drift and float. She didn’t need much to be happy, she thought. Just peace and quiet, a window, the sky. She wasn’t like other people who needed so much.”

Almost mid-July: I’ve been in school this summer and have spent a lot of time doing homework, reading and writing for my classes in Literary Studies and American History. The Shakespeare class ended this week. We finished with Cymbeline; the play will be performed in the park in a couple of weeks. I saw the Tempest and would like to see Cymbeline too. It’s a fantastic thing to sit under the darkening sky in Central Park and watch these plays being performed. I’m learning so much in school. My teachers have been great. American History too is fascinating and as I understand the connections between everything that has happened and everything that is happening now, it makes me so angry. Why don’t we learn as a country?

I don’t know why I’m surprised to find school such a rich experience. I didn’t get it when I was twenty. I thought it was something to get over with before you had a life and I was too impatient to start my life.

Got together with Jana this week about the website for 3 a.m. analog. Also, received a story from Matt Keating that we’ll feature in our launch. It’s a creative non-fiction piece about finding a piano on the street and it’s really good. The site will feature short-fiction and creative non-fiction by musicians. Richard Lloyd of Television and Elizabeth Trundle (who recorded as Boo Trundle) have also contributed work. My contribution will be the first in a serial about a musician turned drug dealer called “Cold Weather.” Julia Brown, the beautiful singer-songwriter and fiction editor of Gulf Coast Literary Journal will be on board as an editor (and hopefully, will contribute her stories). We’re aiming for end of August. Musicians will be able to submit their own stories to the site and there will be writing prompts and other coolness (such as an advice column). If you’re a musician reading this and write fiction or non-fiction, please send me an email.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Norwegians

I was ahead of the curve when it comes to the Norwegians. Finding Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses felt like a personal discovery in 2005. I’ve always loved a good translation, one that retains a book’s original idioms, place, and cultural details. A good translation gives you the illusion of reading a book in its original language. Ann Born translated Out Stealing Horses. She died a few years ago and I have to think that Per Petterson must miss her. I’m sure she was a good part of the reason that the novel sang the way it did. Its publication in 2005 coincided with a year I was hungry for distraction. I had fallen in love with another Norwegian and although we spoke on the phone every night and spent our weekends together, in between there were all these days to fill where I tried to live in my own skin. Falling in love was like being kidnapped from myself. It was a kind of agitated madness. I was well into my forties when this happened and it caught me unprepared. Maybe love always does. The songs it inspired were pretty good but they didn’t provide relief, really. Books, on the other hand, could be escaped into. A couple of days a week, I rode my green Schwinn over to the Mattituck Library, checked out the new fiction, and talked to anyone I could about books. I was devouring three or four a week. There was a nice man who worked behind the counter, not a librarian, but a local man who loved to read and volunteered there. I would talk to him for an hour. I remember recommending Out Stealing Horses to him.

Since then, I’ve read everything by Per Petterson that has been translated into English. None of his other books is as structured or formal as OSH, but I’ve loved some of them even more. In The Wake may be my favorite. Petterson spoke about that book last week at the New York Public Library, where he was interviewed for over an hour, on the occasion of his most recent publication, I Refuse. His new book was reviewed in the Times last weekend, was on the cover of the Book Review, alongside Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Book Four, also just published. (I have a first row ticket to see Karl Ove read at the 92nd Street Y next week. I guess I’ve got a thing for the Norwegians.)

After Per’s reading, I stood on line to have him sign my copy of his new book, and we talked for a few minutes. It turned out he shared my love of Jayne Anne Phillips’ work and we spoke about that. He was lovely. I was able to tell him that his writing has influenced and inspired mine. Then I left the magnificent New York Public Library and walked to the subway, thinking of my old green Schwinn (now stored in my mother’s garage) and the modest but really excellent library in Mattituck. 2005 was ten years ago, unbelievably, but it doesn’t feel like that.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Ghost of Itself

Sometimes when I’m brushing my teeth before bed, I hear the traffic on Lexington Avenue through the skylight and it gives me a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on. Like these pictures taken from the window of a train. It’s a feeling that I get sometimes playing guitar too, singing, and remembering the different phases of that. It becomes its own ghost. Things not only what they are but what they used to be. This is what it must be like to lose your memory.

Earlier, I picked up the guitar and played a song written some months ago. The lyric goes: It’s easier now/to think of you as lost/like summer and childhood and the city as it was. It felt good to play and I wondered if the song was as good as other songs I’ve written. I remembered what it was like to be ambitious, to want people to hear the songs, and do what I had to do to make that happen.

I heard Michael Cunningham, the writer, speak a few weeks ago about ambition. He said that writers feel both ashamed of their work – it isn’t as good as you meant it to be – and confident that it has to be heard. I suppose I still have those feelings – about my fiction at least. But I no longer have the expectation that others should care as I do. It strikes me now as childish, like a kid demanding, “Look at me!” I want to share myself with others but not with any urgency. I guess it’s one of those things that’s become a ghost of itself.

Posted in Life | Comments Off

Old Dog, New Trick

If I wasn’t in school five days a week, I’d probably be hibernating this winter. As it is, I can’t say I mind the weather so much. I’ve managed to get those little rubber boots on Doe’s feet, which has eliminated a lot of the anxiety I felt last year; She started having seizures that I was sure had to do with the salt and ice – mostly the salt. Anyway, this winter she’s scrambling around like a champ in those little red boots and, so far, no seizures.

I leave her every afternoon to go to class. I don’t have any classes before two. That gives me time to write in the mornings, and take her for a walk before I leave. The writing I’ve been doing has been mostly homework but today I dropped math, which should free up about ten hours a week. I don’t know what I was thinking to sign up for that class first semester. I was never any good at math and now I’m rusty on top of it. Also, it brought up memories of my father that were painful. Yesterday, I was in tears about it. I can’t remember the last time I was in tears for any reason, let alone math!

I’m writing a lot, of course, which I love to do. My brain works in that realm. How can you be smart in one thing and so completely out of your depths in another? It’s interesting to have assigned reading too. I’m so used to choosing what I want to read, but part of going back to school is letting go of this idea that I know better. It’s always been something of a handicap, I think – that arrogance. Math should be all the reminder I need that I’m not as smart as I think.

I’ve been trying to get Three A.M. Analog off the ground, too, which means finding the musician/writers to begin. A lot is already in place but, without the stories, it’s just an idea: A literary press for musicians who write fiction and creative non-fiction. I think it’s a pretty good idea. Turns out there are quite a number of us out there. I’m looking forward to working with other writers on their work. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Posted in Life | Comments Off