Last Day of Summer

There were men on paddle-boards and no one else in the ocean, but the water was warm and I walked along the shoreline, ankle deep, with the seagulls who thought I was chasing them; I was, but only because they ran from me. I just wanted to talk to them, and remark on the beautiful morning we shared. The sun was shining and it was 75 degrees. The clouds looked painted on the blue sky and the waves felt soft and inviting as a bath.

My mother sat a few yards away, up on the sand, wearing her jean jacket and sunglasses. When I was sixteen, I used to beg her to drive me to the beach because seeing the ocean could always act against my depression, especially in the winter when a strong wind could blow it away and there was no one else around. I don’t get depressed the way I did then when I thought life seemed unbearably long and wondered how I’d get through it. Now I know all the tricks, and, besides, it’s three-quarters over. I still get sad though. I guess it’s the same things that get to me and the same things that save me. More than a half century of love and loss and the beauty of the world.

I walked back and sat beside my mother. She is 84 and doesn’t get depressed, not even when she has a good reason. I thought: How many more days like this? The sand was smooth and clean and we buried our feet in it and then walked on the boardwalk. I got a lobster roll from a food truck. My mother got an orange soda, but the bees liked it and chased us back to the car.

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Our Fragile Bodies

Yesterday, Doe and I were in that place in the park… just north of the bridle path, on the East Side but west of the road. The hill there slopes down on two sides to form a bowl of newly mowed grass, surrounded by trees. It’s one of our favorite places to rest and think. I never take for granted the joy of having Doe resting there, beside me. Yesterday, it was overcast but the sun kept breaking through. Still, it felt like it could rain at any moment. There was a strong breeze and it was quiet except for the noise of the trees moving in the wind. We were almost alone there except for an occasional runner, up on the bridle path, and two young women on the far side of the bowl, doing cartwheels and taking pictures of one another with a real camera. I made an effort to be where I was, there with Doe, and not in my head thinking of unreal things, or lost things, or things not happened yet.

The time with K. starts to feel like a dream. Like it didn’t happen. Or like it happened but wasn’t real. Although, every day there is the painting he gave me, on the wall, and the memory of some sweet or funny thing he said. I truly thought I was beyond it ever happening again but I should know better than to underestimate life’s surprises. It was poignant and heartbreaking for many reasons, none of them romantic. Romantically, there is no issue. I’m convinced of this, although who knows? I suppose, despite my feelings, it could be one-sided, but I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s the problem this time.

Like always, it is my work that rescues me, a new novel completed (K. helped, reviewing each chapter, encouraging me to go forward). I’m looking for a new agent and will take my time doing so. I don’t want this book to be sold into oblivion. I want to find someone who will find the right place for it, respect it, and support it. The new book is called While We Have Bodies. I started it long before K. and I got together but the title resonated during that time. Our fragile bodies. They serve the purpose of containing us– our souls, or whatever it is that makes us, us.

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Second-Hand Sweaters and Artifacts

I was at Housing Works the other day — Doe drags me in there numerous times per week: they give her dog biscuits, the shitty kind she isn’t allowed at home. Anyway, I don’t mind being dragged into Housing Works. I like thrift stores and consignment shops. Sometimes, I look down at myself as I walk along and realize that everything I’m wearing from coat to jeans has been worn by someone else first. Better second-hand cashmere than fast fashion, I say — better for the world and for me too. I continue to enjoy beautiful things though I can no longer afford them. Who can? The price of things has become absurd. I know there are many in my position. It’s the state of the changing world. There are a lot of poor people. In fact, I’m well off by most standards. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. My animals receive medical care when they need it. There are many, many worse off. And truthfully, I’m more comfortable living a bare-bones existence anyway. I’m repulsed by shows of excess. I suppose our non-president has brought into focus the grotesquery of wealth. Greed is so ugly, the opposite of compassion. What kind of fantasy do you have to live in to believe you deserve to travel by private plane while others live in refugee camps or don’t have enough to eat?

But this isn’t what I meant to write about at all. I meant to write about the strange sensation that came over me while I was looking through second -hand sweaters at Housing Works. They always have music playing and on this occasion, the song being blasted at a pretty good volume over the sound system was a David Bowie song — strangely, I can’t recall now which song it was; perhaps, it will come back to me before I finish writing this. But I was enjoying listening to the song, and that’s when it happened, this weird shift in perspective. Suddenly, I found myself feeling sad and thinking that Bowie is dead and, more and more, the music being blasted through speakers in stores, and restaurants, and everywhere is an artifact– not of the present but the past. And that increasingly we will live in a world where this is true. It wasn’t even a thought so much as a feeling. Kids will grow up loving music, art, fashion from decades before they were born. They will understand Bowie and the Beatles and Joni Mitchell as artifacts, not artists. Anyway, maybe this is not such a big revelation, but it struck me as such.

It’s possible that this sense of the world, as increasingly strange, is characteristic of aging– getting old, I mean. Unbelievably, I will turn 60 in March. I still love the world, have become increasingly appreciative of it, in fact. Not the horrible things, of course, of which there are too many. But the beauty of it: the five-story maple tree outside my window, the birds, and the rooftops. Good friends and family. My work, which continues to give me something to do and, on good days, provides meaning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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