I Wonder Which of All These Things

What a winter it’s been. I’ve been thinking a lot about Maggie E. who died suddenly a week ago. We were not really friends but I’ve known her for a long time. She worked with Knox and I remember her from a thousand years ago when she had a band with Julia Murphy and they would get up and walk out of the meeting in Soho like the cool kids in high school. A few years ago at the annual Christmas dinner at Knox and Laura’s, we sat together and talked about writing and dogs.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into some kind of maudlin eulogy here. I didn’t know her well. I resisted knowing her. There was something about her that I found off-putting, in fact. I’m a very mistrustful person. It’s hard for me to let people in, and maybe she was the same way, so we were wary. Still, her death has really affected me. I’ve thought of her every day. It makes no sense that she’s dead.

It’s been one death after another this winter — and it’s been a terrible winter, too, bleak and discouraging.

She was healthy — that’s what I keep thinking. She was a vegan and did yoga and was only fifty years old (almost fifty-one, a Pisces like me.) I have Facebook messages from her and went back and read them and thought, “how can she be dead?” She had no plan to be dead. Or no public plan.

She seemed to still be trying to figure things out like how to convince people to stop eating animals, and how to make money, and who to love next. She was sexual and a wise-ass. She was writing a new book.

Like many, I’m sure, I’ve read her blog this week. There are actually many references to her heart, which wouldn’t be strange if she hadn’t died of a heart attack. In one post she’s talking to an old neighbor who eats meat. She’s trying to get him to see the light, giving him reasons to stop. She taps her chest cavity, indicating her own ticking time bomb heart which was only months away from killing her.

I wonder which of all these things
Now quietly sings
A premonition?

There are also references to friends she lost, the shocking nature of it. We don’t expect people to die. Even though we know it’s inevitable for all of us. If you read the obituaries in the NY Times, as I have started to do, you see that most people seem to live well into their seventies and eighties, so it is a surprise when a girlish looking fifty year old woman has a heart attack and dies.

It’s interesting how when someone dies they burn bright in your mind. While they’re alive you can resent them or judge them or forget them. But once they’re gone, you think of them in a different way.

I think of my father every day without exception. I miss him and wish I could talk to him. I know I’ll feel like this until I die, which could be anytime. Who knows?

If we knew in advance, we’d never leave anything until later. We’d say, “I love you, you know. I’ve always loved you.”

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From The Accident

This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing called, The Accident.

Days.

There are days when she can barely get out of bed. Days when she drinks her coffee and goes to therapy and walks through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on auto-pilot. Days when she finds peace in small things such as watching the cat on the windowsill. Or when she wants to cut through the quiet of her life, break out of it as if it were a box nailed shut. Days when she would like to join her family, even if death is the absence of everything. And days when she is willing to accept her life, diminished as it is. Some days it feels like an afterlife, and she thinks of it as such. Thinks that this is where the whole notion of purgatory must have originated because she knows she is not alone in feeling between worlds, that loss is part of being a human being and that even if she had not lost them in an accident, she’d be aging and find the world increasingly strange (as the aging do.) Eventually she would lose her life and the world, even if she had not experienced what she has experienced. Eventually, everyone loses everything. There are days when thoughts like this are a comfort. Every life is short. She will live a little longer than they did, and the oldest person in the world will live a little longer than that, but no one will live for very long, really. What’s a hundred years in the grand scheme of things? There are days when she thinks that they are all just temporary, insignificant, here for who knows what reason and then she sees two red cardinals land on the colorless tree branches, outside her window, and feels that however brief and troubled it is, however short and difficult, it is truly an amazing gift, life.

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In Case You Are Listening

The first day of 2014. Happy New Year, friends and readers.

Yesterday, I saw a documentary, called Shepard and Dark, about Sam Shepard and his best friend, Johnny Dark. I’m going to watch it again because it was so layered, about many things: Friendship and aging, men and women, art and life, solitude and writing, and more. The themes are set up so subtly. Both men have a lot to say, some of it contradictory, yet all of it true. Each man can see the other more clearly than he can see himself.

I think I’m losing interest in this way of communicating. I’m not sure why. It may have to do with an overdose of social networking, not mine – because I don’t participate in it much – but in general. It becomes apparent that this method of connecting is artificial and even delusional. I remember someone saying – I can’t remember who it was, a writer or a musician – that when we write, we have a reader, a listener, in mind. We are writing to that reader and imagine we are being received by that person. It is happening, but not with our reader. We are read (listened to) by unintended others. Friends and fans and stalkers, but not the one.

I used to write songs that ached to connect and this blog, which I began so long ago that it was originally called an “online journal,” was an extension of that. But I don’t feel that need anymore. I don’t know why it changed. Should I continue to send these missives into the world? For what reason? For the pleasure of writing itself? For the purpose of sharing books and movies and music that I love? To dream, to philosophize? To keep the lines of communication open? In case it matters? In case you are listening?

Now it is the morning after I wrote the above and my declarations seem rash and childish.. What kind of a New Year’s message is it to send out into the world that I don’t want to communicate through writing? It is utterly untrue. Also, this idea of “the one” is not interesting to me today at all and I want to erase that nonsense, but will leave it there to be read in all its immaturity and misguided romanticism. Obviously, there is more than one voice in my head.

Sometimes I feel as if I am a woman talking to herself (or her cats.) Sometimes I feel as if writing is a way of unspooling the wound up thoughts in my head. Sometimes I’m bursting to share something I’m thinking or have seen or read or heard. Sometimes I want to see my thoughts become clear on the page (screen.)

Last night I had dinner with the group of friends from my writer’s group and we had such fun. As we were saying goodbye, two of the women, both very dear to me, were standing together and just absolutely beaming their love at me and I was so moved by it.

Also, i was wearing that beautiful coat I have, the one I bought years ago shopping with Harriet in Boston. My friends commented on it and I told them that I had learned to shop from Harriet and told them about her a little and it made me miss her. Tomorrow is her birthday.

I love to write and I love all of you reading this. I really do. Even if I don’t know you. Even if you are crazy (obviously I am, too, sometimes.) All the best to you in 2014. x

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Hang by a Thread Not a Rope

I can’t do the sight of it justice. The bright golden, orange leaves of this maple tree, five stories high. Every day, I’ve watched it change. It stayed green as the weed-tree behind it turned yellow and lost all its leaves. Then this happened overnight. I woke up and walked to the kitchen, said, “Wow.”

I love my high perch here in the tree-tops. Writing all day, I feel like a shut-in sometimes, but it’s a nice place to be shut in. My new book, called, I think, “The Accident” is coming along. I should have a first draft done by the end of this month. I started it a year ago. I’m dying to take a break from it, but seem to be unable to. I’m afraid to fall out of the groove. I wake up every day and work on it all day.

I’ve been thinking about compassion. How much compassion do I show my characters? I’ve always loved dark, messy characters. Some of my favorite writers are downright cruel. But I don’t want to hurt mine unnecessarily. I don’t want to be cruel for no good reason. On the other hand, I can’t save them if they don’t earn it. They have to warrant whatever happens to them.

I heard Alan Gurganus read last week at the Y. It occurred to me that he treats his characters with great affection and respect.

I listened to an interview with Andres Dubus lll yesterday, on Book Worm. The interviewer, Michael Silverblatt, thought Andres Dubus lll had dealt one of his characters, a bartender, an unnecessary blow by making him not only a failed poet, but a bad poet. Why couldn’t he be a good failed poet? I thought it was an interesting question.

When it is okay to be cruel to your characters? Or kind? As a writer, you can be any kind of God you want to be.

Maybe since life isn’t fair, in fact is so laughably cruel, some writers feel an obligation to reflect the truth of that. Happy endings feel like bullshit. I hated at the end of Eat Pray Love when after all her soul searching and world traveling she ended up with a guy. Please. I don’t like fairy-tales, I guess, though I know most people do. I want to see my own struggles reflected. Still, I may break my own rule and give all my troubled characters a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t a train. I may throw them a rope and not hang them with it.

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The Experience of All That

Woke up thinking that I hadn’t gotten the Sequoias right. In my book. The description wasn’t quite accurate, felt shallow. Then I remembered there are no Sequoias in my book. It was from a dream. I felt a moment of relief before realizing that the dream was probably about the fact that there are other things in my book that lack depth: characters and situations. It’s hard to write fiction. I want to be better. All the re-writing is about going back to make a bit of dialogue more authentic or some detail, more true. Worrying that I’m not any good at it might stop me if not for the fact that I really like it. I like living in a fictional world. It’s fun, and when I get anxious, about Sequoias or whatever, I need to remember that I’m learning and I don’t have to be great at it. What is that pressure that I feel to be great? I feel shame, in fact, to realize that I may not be great, that I may only be good, or even just okay. I think this may come from being told that it was unacceptable to be an artist. Artists were other people. People who were Great

I don’t believe this though. If I had kids, I would tell them to have fun with it. Express yourself. Learn something. I think it’s true for forty year old kids, too, and sixty year old kids. What’s so great about being great? The fun part is the learning, the discovery, the being inspired by others, the experience as opposed to the results.

Being Great is about results. You’re great and other people know you’re great. They celebrate your greatness. Once again, ego. Ego, you mother-f*cker. If the goal is to be great, then it’s all about the judgment of the world, while the pleasure is in the work, risking something, learning something, trying, failing. The experience of all that.

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A Full Life

What does it mean to have a full life? My perspective shifts all around on this, determined by my very changeable moods. But by whatever definition, this week my life was full. It was so good that when I reflect on it, I can push other thoughts aside: petty worries, passing concerns. I can remember being in conversation with John Shaefer on his radio show. He was so quick. Asked great questions. Had interesting things to say. Of course, he really liked my book too. Am I so shallow that I have the best times when I am being admired? Maybe so..

Though it was also spending last weekend with Chloe, and she is the opposite of that. Everything is about her when we are together. I am here to love her and take care of her, like the other adults in her life. True, we have fun and I’m special to her in that way. But she is a child. It’s not her job to “see” me. It’s mine to see her and I do. We made paintings. One of mine is posted above. She took hers home with her. We sculpted animals and beads from red clay. Sat on a hill with a million other people in Central Park to watch the first hour of Silver Linings Playbook. Then she wanted to leave, so we went back to my apartment and painted some more. In the morning, she asked me to edit her new story. She provides me with the opportunity to love like that, and it makes my life full.

I had sixteen years of sobriety this week, and spoke at two meetings. Had dinner with a good friend. I took care of my animals and worked on my new book. Now, I look out the window at the maple tree, cool breeze coming in. The sound of a jackhammer is intermittent. I’m thankful for the minutes of silence in between. That’s the key. It isn’t easy and even being able to recognize it, to realize that my life is full and good, is fleeting. I know that.

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New Suffolk

I should be writing but in my defense, I was up before seven this morning, walked Doe on the beach at six-thirty, wrote two pages before nine. Two pages is a good day’s work for me. Another beautiful day here. It’s almost too beautiful. This is a dream. I am that woman, sitting with her dog on the beach. The sun glinting on the water. I want to absorb it, take it into me, and back to New York when I go.

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Solitary

Thinking dark thoughts these last weeks. Part of it is just the way my mind works. I know that. Watched Michael Apted’s 56 Up last night on Netflix. Whole lives compressed into these brief, predictable summations. Depressing. Also, I’ve been spending too much time alone. It takes me many hours to write a few pages of the new book. Still, I could get out more. What happens is that once I am in the mode of isolation, I’m less able to move.

When I’m feeling this way, whatever is wrong with the world, or my life, seems the reason, but if I were not depressed, I would view things differently. Yes, the callousness of the world is awful. Yes, it is unjust. Yes, there is horrible suffering that goes on, but I’m not always as focused on these things.

I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and feeling trapped. Like I am in solitary confinement. This is just nuts and not accurate on any level. Just feelings. In fact, I have so many friends, and commitments, a rich life, I am reminded. But I forget in the middle of the night, pacing back and forth as if trapped in a box.

I’ve rented a house at the beach starting next week. Maybe a change of scenery will help. I’ll write, but finish each day with a swim. I want to begin to run again, too. I plan to swim and run and eat. The house is very charming with worn gray decks and a tall privet hedge. The water is just across the road. I’ll have a view of sailboats. Friends are coming out on the weekend to visit.

Of all the men and women in Michael Apted’s documentary, only one never married. Only he has been crippled by mental illness of some sort. The film doesn’t specify what his issue is, exactly, but it’s obvious that there is something wrong with him, poor man. When he says what he does (at age 28, I believe) that he never wanted children because he feared passing on the unhappiness that plagues him, I thought, “I am much more like him than the others.” And this is true, except I’ve been able to channel my discomfort into music and writing, and those things have saved me. But when I become aware that I am less equipped, and the evidence is in my solitary life, it makes me wonder if my emotional impairment is worse than I know.

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Champion

I’ve been sick this week. Also it’s been so hot. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if I had a fever or it was the weather. I finally went to the doctor yesterday and got antibiotics, though what I have feels viral, so I don’t know how much they will help.

I found myself wanting to look at this photograph of my niece Chloe because it makes me feel better. There are so many things I like about it. Her home-made bow and arrow, for example. Her commitment, not to archery necessarily, but to fantasy. She is Katness from Hunger Games, then she is a British archery champion (with hilarious accent) here to compete against the Americans. She throws herself into each idea. When she grows up I’ll miss the childish things about her. I hope she never loses this ability she has to imagine and have fun.

As sick as I’ve been this week, I’ve been working on my second novel every day. Everyone I run into asks me, “What’s happening with your book?” and I suppose they’re asking if “The Original 1982″ is selling. The truth is I have no idea, but I don’t even want to think about it. What good can it do to know? I can’t control its fate at this point. The only power I have is to work on the second one and try to make it good.

I’m not immune to feelings of ambition, and sometimes I feel furious when I think about how the world doesn’t care if I write a book or make a record, or whatever. That’s how I know my ego is out of control. The world doesn’t care about almost anything. There are people who have to walk miles for clean water, people who are living on the streets, children growing up without parents, families that don’t have enough food to eat. So if I don’t get to be reviewed in the New York Times, or have my work reach an audience who might like it.. well too bad. I mean, really. I’m so lucky. I think those feelings of ambition are ugly. I really do. I want to be kinder, and more patient. I want to be a champion the way Chloe is a champion, successful in my ability to imagine and have fun.

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Morning After

This is what my life looks like.

This photograph is actually from a week ago, but it pretty much looks the same way today except for the flowers given to me by friends last night, now sitting on my desk and coffee table. I haven’t been able to write this morning. My excitement about the reading at Corner Books has made it hard to concentrate. It was such a wonderful night, one I will remember. But it exhausted me too. I was nervous about the reading (although I shouldn’t have been) and the nerves tired me out.

The bookstore was packed. Paul and Leslie and other friends couldn’t get in; it was so crowded with family and friends from all parts of my life: Music and writing friends, friends from the neighborhood, Patricia Davis from childhood, Meryl and Terry from the East End, a few friends who were actually there in 1982. Scott told my mother, “You know, I was the one who introduced them.” Which is not the way I remember it, but memory is funny. So who knows? Maybe he did.

Chloe was seated to my left, and I stole glances at her. I knew she was looking at me and thinking: “I’m going to do that! Maybe I could do it now.” She is already a good writer at twelve. I love getting to share this experience with her, helping her to know that her dream is possible.

Leon Ichaso came, and Elisabeth R. with Sheila. My editor, Kate with her new husband. My agent, Lisa from ICM, who brought Dan. Jeremy looked adorable as always (the young women were looking at each other like, “Whose that guy?”) My friend, Turney Duff, whose book comes out next week (The Buy Side) was there. We’ve gone through the whole process together, emailing and texting each other to compare notes over the last year, or more.

I read two chapters from The Original 1982, one very dramatic, and the other more subtle, shorter, and a good follow up. Kate helped me with the selection and it felt just right.

After, there was a late dinner at a nearby restaurant with friends who stuck around.

A truly wonderful night, still I was glad to come home, walk Doe, and fall into bed. This morning: there was coffee and a maple tree view. Quiet, the way I like it.

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