Saturday, January 16, 2021


Here in the city, living as we do in cubicles-- stacked space, with shared walls or ceilings... it is hard to establish good fences-- physically or metaphorically.  The behavior and culture of our neighbors affects us more than we would like.  The noise-- their habits, their courtesy or lack thereof, their comings and goings and those of their friends-- well, we often know more than we want, and vice versa.  While the pandemic has silenced parties and gatherings for the most part, there is still a sort of presence adjacent or upstairs.  I hear my neighbors exercise, occasionally cough... argue....  In March/April it was as though a mute had been placed on everything.  Many people left the city for safer space in the country.  Some moved out permanently.  The nightly 7 PM noisemaking for essential workers was an event-- a relief, for those of us who are accustomed to a certain level of sound.

I have written a poem about my very first apartment, where through the ceiling I heard violent, hysterical arguments-- pleading... tears and weeping... it was disturbing, and affected my belief in my own relationship, although the couple upstairs seemed meek and innocuous when they emerged from the elevator.   My second apartment-- the studio where I relished my party years... shared a wall with a strange man who smoked and watched a gigantic television 24/7.  Though he had a balcony he literally never stepped out.  He'd bang on my door when I played music too loud... and considering the size of his television speakers, he had a flawed case for complaint.  He bullied me a little-- would look behind me to see what was going on.  Otherwise we never spoke.  One night when he knocked, I had some visiting members of Steel Pulse there-- a reggae band from the UK.  With their dreads and innovative hairstyles, they turned heads on the street, even in the 1980's.  Two of them who  were tall and buff and shirtless knocked back at him.  'You have a problem, man?' they asked, calmly but firmly in their West Indian accents.  'Because if you have a problem you need to take it up with me.  You have a problem?'  That cured.  He never knocked again.  One evening when the superintendent was inspecting something, I looked in.  The whole apartment was like a Holiday Inn room-- with two empty chairs, a coffee table... not a single accessory besides a giant ashtray, the TV and these curtains filthy with old stale smoke stains.  I'm sure he is still there, although undoubtedly forced to take his cigarette breaks on the street.  

My current home for two decades has been a haven for me.  Maybe seven years ago my downstairs neighbors sold their gigantic apartment to a Brazilian family.  They were kind and friendly-- until the day they closed on their home.  I had two friends over-- a Sunday afternoon before Christmas... we were doing a vocal rehearsal-- not usual for me.  Anyway, the husband burst in and announced he could hear us.  As though he and his three kids and dog didn't make a sound.   This felt like an invasion.  I'm an adult-- I own my home, have been here for twenty plus years without an issue.  Of course we are aware of one another-- children practicing squeaky violins, opera singers, parties... happiness... I am not the person who plays in my apartment--- yes, a little acoustic guitar but my professional musician friends had gigs-- we don't entertain in our homes.  It was a rare guest who sat down at my keyboard and proceeded to belt out a song.  Not in my 'wheelhouse', they say.  But I felt ambivalent.  I was technically within rights, but also loath to create in-house tension. 

Anyway, the Brazilians pushed and pressured-- as though there was an agenda-- they needed renovations because of their upstairs neighbor?  It was unclear.   One day the wife came upstairs screaming about water in her apartment-- no pipes above theirs in mine; the damage was from a higher point, but I was blamed and also had to allow the plumbers to demolish my walls to access the issues.  She stopped speaking to me and made a sort of pout whenever we had to pass in the hallway.  I became an untouchable.  She forced her husband to do all the calling and whining.  Not to mention their son had a set of electric drums.  They were very noisy people.  Did I complain about her high-pitched screaming, the children's lack of musical ability, her husband's hallway calls to his broker in Brazilian?  I did not.   

At a point they moved out and a crew of construction workers moved in.  For two years, well beyond all permits and allowances, they drilled and hammered-- caused my apartment to be covered in plastic protection, spread dust and debris everywhere-- damaged walls, electrical... not to mention ear-splitting noise.  Me, a day sleeper... was put into a state of perpetual exhaustion.  It was a nightmare.  Even my building management read me my legal rights.  I have never been interested in money, but they eventually sent a professional crew in to thoroughly clean everything-- every book was removed and replaced-- every cd, every album.  It was painful to witness, and like a shuffled deck of cards, nothing has been quite right.  But I settled in. Their occasional complaints were addressed to the super.  They spent summers in the Hamptons so there were periods of peace for me.  I prayed they would move.  After five years they listed the apartment for some obscene amount.  I prayed more... then the pandemic came.  Worst of all, they hired a cook.  Despite my lingering covid-anosmia, it was like a Brazilian garlic cloud hung in my closets, exhaled from my clothing.  Out of some twisted sense of dignity, I refused to complain.  

When the New York Times article came out (which was mistaken for my obituary), my other neighbors circulated this around the building.  The Brazilian wife gave me a token little greeting one day... as though my Ivy League pedigree had shamed her into some kind of apology.  Not exactly...  and besides, they went to the Hamptons for the warm months.  You can play your bass, she said to me, as though giving me an award, and as though I tormented them with amplifiers and decibels (I do not).  

Last week-- just like that-- they left.  Like a swarm of bees, or locusts.  Done.  For a day there were loud sounds, a huge moving truck, and then silence.  Apparently they've gone to Miami where hopefully they will have a huge tract and no neighbors.  I've grown so used to the annoyance of their hostile presence that I feel anxious about who or what will replace them.  It warned me, in a way-- took the safety factor of my home, left me wondering when someone would ring or phone or complain even though the sounds that bothered them were probably not even mine.  I began to pity them-- their shoddy renovation, their attempt to customize their home-- the dearth of culture-- books, art, among the generic furnishings.  Their petty priorities.  

There are motors in the alleyways, exhaust fans and laundry equipment... like occasional tooth pain or a headache, most noise subsides, recedes.   People who are sensitive this way do not belong in a city-- in a communal living situation where we share air currents and sound waves-- where we breathe and exhale in unison.  Some nights when I was awake writing in silence on my laptop I could swear I heard her husband snoring.  These intimacies are not just disturbing but embarrassing.  TMI.  

Five years ago I would have been elated to see them go.  I have some affection for most all my neighbors but these were like constant thorns.  Because of the pandemic, we have learned to trust one another less-- to distance ourselves... we fear one another.  We can lock our doors, but we cannot keep the virus threat outside.  We sleep with anxiety and wonder when and if we will return to life as it was.  I play occasionally-- I write... I read... but I don't feel the same exhilaration of music, the same camaraderie, the same assumptions.  I am quiet.  I can't blame my downstairs neighbors for taking away my sense of security- of safety and insulation... because they have left behind another kind of emptiness.  Maybe even they could not bear the silence-- the absence.  

Last night I woke up and smelled the ghost of their cooking-- that Brazilian stew or meaty pong that stayed around long after meals were done.  The windows are quite dark.  In the middle of these nights when I miss things and people especially, could it be that I count their narcissistic family among the absences?  I never really got an apology; not in the vocabulary of such people.  I will get over it, will recover from the low-level abuse and discomfort of bad neighboritis.  I doubt they will read this, but they were part of my life and I bid them despedida.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sonidos de Soledad

 I've been joking with friends about my lifelong penchant for solitude.  We've had a private relationship for years, I say-- flirtations, sometimes a secret affair...  but lately we've become more or less exclusive.  To be perfectly honest, I never really felt totally connected.  I loved my mother-- but the others-- well, it was like we were made of different material.  We'd get banished to our rooms for various childhood misdeeds and while my sister would tantrum and panic, it was sort of my sanctuary.  I invented stories and poems-- I read, I painted pictures, talked to my little animal collection, looked at stamps, built things.  It was the group activities that terrified me-- even a family dinner was like a tortuous ritual.  

It's not like I was a loner; I was social and participated... I took ballet and chorus and orchestra and loved the ensemble thing, but I craved solitude.   When I discovered music-- pop and rock in those magical years of the early 60's, the lyrics reached out to me.  I went as an exchange student to a remote city in Veracruz, Mexico and the language difference separated me further, but also drew me in.  The girls had names like Blanca-- Rosa-- colors... or Dolores (sorrow), and my favorite friend, Soledad (loneliness).  It was like a legendary story and I was a character.  Life was simple and basic-- no electricity or plumbing; we slept three 'sisters' to a floor-palette.  People sang and danced.  

I'd brought with me Simon & Garfunkel's 'Sounds of Silence' album.  This had been a revelation to me-- from the very first lyric 'Hello darkness my old friend'... I knew I was 'home'. Unfortunately there was no turntable and nowhere to plug one in, but Soledad daily came and studied the cover-- turning it over and over, touching the vinyl grooves as though magic would emerge.  They had a guitar; I was not good but could figure out most of the chords... So I spent the summer translating song lyrics...los Sonidos de Silencio.  My versions were clumsy and filled with mistakes and misinterpretations but I began to understand the underlayer of the Spanish language, the way we in school wake up one day to the concept of symbolism.  Names have a meaning; characters represent things.  What is the meaning of my life, I wondered, as I wrote out Yo soy piedra/yo soy isla... and Soledad looked at me from her black eyes of sympathy.

My first stop when I got to Mexico City later that season was a record store where I found The Who's 'Tommy' had been released.  I spent the afternoon in an isolation booth with headphones, savoring the re-discovery of recorded music--like an old friend.  For those of us who begin to 'live' via music, it is only this that accompanies the solitary room of existence.  Every sorrow has a theme, every grief has a soundtrack. 

Ironically, in my 2020 confinement here, I have been separated from my live musical connections.  Players need one another-- we need noise and amplification and audience and company... personal intimacy.  The absence of the alternative to solitude takes away some of its meaning.  I'm not sure Thoreau would agree-- or St. Augustine or those monks who suffered and labored for years confined and deprived.  For me, during much of the year, loss and grief have defined the boundaries of my shadows-- they have drawn the outline of my silhouette.  Some nights it has been hard to even listen to songs of my personal history that conjure old memories.  Here I have all the time and space I have ever craved, and the ghosts of music past haunt my evenings and color my auditions with a kind of pain.  

Tonight I did my lap of the park reservoir in the cold with the wind stirring up a current on the glassy water... A lone goose was calling-- shrieking, squawking.  The moon had painted a clear white broken line on the black surface but she avoided the spotlight.  I strained to understand her, to fathom her language... to no avail... but within minutes a whole flock came and surrounded her.  For a time they all shouted and sang; then they were quiet.  What was the meaning?  Was she banished or punished and then forgiven?  They all seemed so calm when I turned west-- gliding across the rippling cold water, listening to the sirens and the soft wind, unaware that the year is about to turn over.  

I realize that Soledad taught me somehow the difference between solitude and loneliness.  I wonder where she is today-- an older woman like me.  She liked to dance-- she would undoubtedly have led the happy/sad life of most beautiful women.  I am still mourning the losses of this year, but am grateful to embrace the amplitude of what I have been given.  It is as though I am in an empty room with nothing but a wand.  There is another language still to be learned; I am beginning to see this, and I look forward to a  slow melodic passage into another year where I will once again hear and translate the sounds of silence.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sticky Fingers

 I was newly 18 when the Stones released Sticky Fingers.  Converted by the second track and totally romanced by Wild Horses, it was clear the album was going to take precedence on my little dormitory stereo in those innocent days before headphones.  Plus you could hear Brown Sugar and Bitch blasting across quadrangles everywhere.  Still, it was the cover that really obsessed me, the art student who had hung out at Max's with fake ID and visited the Warhol studio on several teenage occasions.  It was clever-- it was pop, it was tongue and cheek, and it was ultra sexy.  There were racy promo photos of Mick wearing nothing but the album placed just so across his hips.  

My Mom often used the expression 'sticky fingers' when she suspected one of us girls had raided her purse or the refrigerator.  Never me-- I was inclined otherwise... not a pilferer, nor a tattler.  In my first year of college I caught a roommate red-handed in my underwear drawer.  Confusing and a little creepy.  She cried and returned  a stash of 'borrowed' things, none of which were of much use to her.  It was her pathology, our Psych-major neighbor explained.  

After I had a baby I learned the true and literal meaning of sticky fingers.  They were everywhere... windows, appliances, stereos, bookshelves.  My little monster once 'mailed' a peanut butter sandwich in the VCR slot.  Nights were spent wiping things down-- after all, these things spread germs or grew bacteria, or whatever.  Babies put anything and everything in their mouth and then they transfer to their hands and paint the walls.  

The pandemic admonished us of the potential threat in human fingerprints; I have often thought back with nostalgia on those innocent baby-juice days as I learned to wipe off surfaces, doorknobs and other touchables.  Admittedly I'm not too fastidious.  But being alone here for extended hours and months, I've done a sort of unintentional categorical inventory of things.  I've discovered possessions, cds, albums, books-- old letters and photos-- rocks and minerals, souvenirs... things I recall with some vagueness.  Like an associative exercise, one thing leads me to another-- a Colin Blunstone album, a love-letter from a deceased drummer, a set of strings from some rockstar or other... I've never been one to actually catalogue;  I loaned so many books and albums over the years-- many never come back.  During recent months I've come upon these 'gaps' like a missing tooth... and I wonder, besides my own careless generosity, what visitor or overnight guest might have slipped something into a pocket, then let themselves quietly out while I was sleeping off an all-night gig.

My first husband felt entitled to my things in a charming sort of way.  After all, he is non-materialistic and would give anyone anything.  When I pulled out a vintage album on which he played, I found the vinyl had been lifted and a burned cd with a handwritten note left in its place.  But that was a focused appropriation.  In a way he 'owned' his work.  Here I'm missing Dylan-- Hendrix... Faulkner... Pynchon... baffling.  Sticky Fingers-- the actual zipper version-- appropriately (?)-- has been removed.  

My old neighbor used to come by every night and slip something into his pocket.  He took wine bottles from our local liquor store, too.  Sometimes he'd steal cookies and food.  When I'd question him, on the way out, he'd reply 'you don't need THAT'.  Much of his 'loot' were compact jazz box-sets he loved.  Slim and Slam.  Bud Powell.  He was a famous photographer and a great man who had entered the last stage of his life.   He was confused.  I was a little flattered that he wanted my things.  Go figure.  His fingers were literally sticky from the stolen cookies.  He left prints. 

Modern technology is clean and sterile.  No inky prints on our letters-- no rumpled paper and foodstains on manuscripts.  We are reminded, in the pandemic, that phones carry germs.  Everyone is sanitizing their hands to near-death.  When we voted, we were given our very own stylus/pen which went home with us.  God forbid anyone should exchange body fluids.  

I can't help thinking sex has suffered-- it's messy and sticky.  Obviously hook-ups and random meetings have been squelched although surely there is an underground culture of touching and physical intimacy.  For the rest of us, monogamy is favored.  I found it ironic that the Stones' 'mouth' logo which first appeared on the Sticky Fingers album is now being commonly used on a mask which inherently messages 'anti-tongue'.  We haven't seen many real smiles on the street... lipstick sales are understandably down-- cosmetic tooth procedures no longer prioritized.  

When I was about 15 I went to a concert and one of the musicians brushed my arm on the way out.  He gave me a wink, as though it was intentional.  I could swear I felt it, like a sort of warm glow, and did not wash that spot for a week until I was forced into a school swim.  Our Mom used to tell us how God touched every baby before birth just above its mouth and left that cleft mark.  There's a certain magical transference that happens when someone touches you... talks with their hands-- plays your guitar and leaves marks on it... shares some moment with you that leaves you with a physical souvenir.  

I miss my old neighbor... I miss my old sense of hospitality.  Christmas is here and very few people will see my tree which, after setting it up alone, left my hands fragrant and syrupy with its resin.  I miss my missing things... tonight I'd put Sway on my turntable if I still had it.  I can get it on youtube... not the same.  A few of my beloved decorations are not in the box-- more victims of my neighbor?  There were undoubtedly times when I'd take things down and give them away.  

We have all been a little sterilized by this pandemic.  We fear one another, we hesitate-- we wash and scrub and hold our breath.  We disguise ourselves and pretend maybe to be cleaner than we are.  Most of all I miss being 'touched' by someone-- a random meeting or conversation where you exchange and leave a sort of mark on someone.  These things do not happen with the same frequency.  I worry our culture is a little too digital and premeditated... less fleshy and flawed and mud-spattered.  White-washed and clean, smelling of disinfectant... do not forget how bloody are our beating hearts, how sticky the fingerprints of our childhood and parental memories, how fragile our souls which pass so easily through the layers of latex and surgical cloth and flesh.  

Tonight I looked again in vain for the Saturn/Jupiter conjunction.  It's up there, like most things, even though we can't see them.  Not touching, but putting on a little bi-millennial show for us--  reminding us that this too shall pass, this 2020 mess.... just about a moonlight mile on down the road.

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Home Alone

 I read an article this morning about the alarming surge of suicide in Japan.  More people there took their lives in October than died of  Corona virus in ten months, the highest rates being among young women and schoolgirls.  The very word--schoolgirl-- pulls at my maternal heartstrings; there is no more poignant symbol of soft-edged vulnerability...  the magical prologue to the drama of life.  The image of Japanese girls lined up and giggling in their staid uniforms like delicate figurines-- children-- juxtaposed with the dark confessional teenage social media posts-- well, it is heart wrenching.  

As I discovered in 2017 when I went with Alan to Tokyo, masks have been standard street-wear for years... so it seemed to me the pandemic protocol would be not quite the adjustment it has been in New York City.  But loneliness-- isolation... is a difficult prescription for the adolescent psyche already afflicted with perpetual FOMO or social addictions.  Being confined to the house with one's insufferable parents is a sort of punishment... and when life is all future, quarantines are a kind of extreme deprivation.  I am not well educated in Japanese culture but found it to be a weird mix of ultra-sophistication and this cult of the child.  After our rock and roll show a young woman presented me very seriously with a lovely doll.  

Despite all the Thanksgiving messages of hope and gratitude, there is the widespread epidemic of depression and sadness.  I tried my best to be festive at my small table, but the echo of former guests' laughter hung over us like a memory cloud.  I miss the Hendrix tributes; I miss coming in from a gig to face an all-nighter of cooking-- I miss the musicians passing my guitars back and forth as the sun rises on Black Friday.  

In addition to the 'Virgin Suicides' plague, I've been reading pieces about postpartum depression-- miscarriages... the sorrows of women.  We have always carried our layers of grief, but only recently I have had to see Chrissy Teigen's Instagram photo-shoot with a shrouded fetus... not to mitigate her right to mourning, and the pain of losing a child... but in this worldwide 'weather' of death, it just seemed a little overdone.  

I've been emailing my long-standing women friends; we seem to have a need to communicate-- to bare our  loneliness and disappointment to our sisters with whom we can 'let down'.  We're used to sadnesses-- we have mourned the phases of our lives.  While I didn't have the luxury of postpartum moods, as a single mother and sole provider, there was the sense of shedding a skin-- of losing the tender 'girlness' that makes those Japanese adolescents so compelling and soft.  We are no longer the little twirling ballerina on the cake-- we are someone's mother... we are responsible ministers.  As my own mother warned-- she who disapproved of my life-style and single parenthood-- knowing how I craved my own independence and creative solitude, 'You'll never be alone again, my dear!'  Intended as a cruel prophecy, she did not live to witness just how wrong 2020 has proven her.

Now that our children are adults and we are becoming grandparents, another skin has been shed.  I wonder if moulting snakes feel pain... they seem to slither out of their coats with no regrets or hindsight... straight ahead into the next phase; not so we women.  Forward we go toward a winding-down; the current braking of culture and community leaves us leaning on our lifetime sills, looking through criss-crossed panes at future and past, sensing our own helplessness to protect our children and other women's children from falling in love with death, the ultimate solitude.  

Turning the pages of my blank calendar, I can still remember years when every single day was not just crammed with events and gigs and meetings-- but the possibility of things... the slivers of soundbites and colors-- fashion and books... hooded eyes meeting yours... flirtations and messages exchanged on papers during breaks... Today I could swear I smelled the patchouli-vanilla aura of that dread-locked guy from Dan Lynch's-- with the muscles and the smooth brown skin who left his scent on you one night,  like a taste of what you were missing.  And these moments you skipped-- stones you left unturned-- same as the ones you pocketed-- they were still there-- in the night air-- in the live-wire sea of the possible.  I can imagine these sad girls of Japan-- everywhere-- like a new race of pandemic humanity-- barefoot on the shore-- sentenced to unsampled beauty and sexuality-- wading prohibited.  

Time is a tightrope, I once wrote... love is the fall; love is a one-track mind... time is the crash.  At that moment I would have died if I was separated from my own passion.  For the sake of children-- of girls everywhere-- may this end, may we return to some normalcy of touch and taste and uncovered faces and hearts... and may the older among us accept our fate with the strength we acquired when we were young.  Not to forget... but to look back at where we have been.  Preserve your memories, Paul Simon wrote... they're all that's left you.  I was barely 15 and writing in a secret diary when I heard that lyric for the first time; I can scarcely recall why it touched me then, but some 50 years later, it is just as haunting.  

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Pet Sounds

Years ago in the city-- before the animal-litter laws and formal leashing enforcements--I took in a feral dog.  No one called it that, but it was definitely not domesticated.  It couldn't bear to be touched or even approached... but was so beaten up by the elements and other wild animals, it accepted the can of meat I offered it on the sidewalk of upper Madison Avenue one afternoon.  A week later, like some spirit-animal, it found its way from the Broome Street bar where it was tied up to the townhouse gallery on 92nd Street where I worked.  It waited for me for days until I came in. 

He got used to humans, and despite the fact I lived in this cool loft with a brick wall and a balcony where the dog could pace and watch the world, he'd give me this look every once in a while, like 'is this IT?" He'd take every opportunity to escape and run wild in the park or down to the East River, just to remind me of his roots-- his canine soul.  

The dog-to-human ratio in the city has increased since the pandemic.  Everyone has a dog now and many have new dogs or newly-acquired dogs.  Shelters have never been so empty.  In my building maybe the majority have dogs.  Not a single cat that I know of, across 48 or so apartments, but barking dogs-- large dogs, small dogs, neurotic dogs, sweet grateful rescue dogs.  It's nice.  After the death of my feral pet who lived an uncannily long life, I never replaced him.  Apologies to my son who wanted a dog so badly-- and I regret this, but I was so stressed with single-parenthood and working nights, living often from a bag of yesterday's stale bagels or leftovers... I just couldn't manage having to disappoint an extra pair of begging sad eyes.

Every day it seems one friend or other calls me to check in-- or really to check themselves in, because every single one has some complaint or symptom they had never noticed.  They are bored, they hate their spouse; they hate sex; they hate food or they eat compulsively.  They drink too much or not enough.  Their back hurts...  their leg hurts; their feet hurt.  They have carpal tunnel and hand tendinitis.  They are claustrophobic and nonproductive-- addicted to exercise or slobbed out watching hours of reality TV repeats with bags of Nachos and imaginary guacamole they don't even bother to whip up.  They hate themselves and do not shower or shave.  They order clothing that doesn't fit.  They lie to their family and themselves.  The cheaters can't meet their secret lovers and the users have trouble getting their dealers to meet them.  

Personally I feel dull.  I miss the conversational/musical stimulation of a good underrehearsed gig and the edge I take on at the end of a night, criticizing my own work to my peers, assessing the audience... sharing anecdotes from the ride home where at 3 AM there's always some psycho or self-appointed orator or performance-vomiter on the subway.  I remarked tonight that I used to be a C# minor chord and now I'm more a D-flat minor diminished.  Thats it-- I'm diminished.

But it occurred to me today-- we have become our own pets.  Our little claustrophobic daily routines, our limited circumferential routes-- even our eating-- we are leashed and restrained... dual-domesticated.  Even the bi-polar among us-- our extremes are room to room, not block to block.  We are stifled and tamed. We talk the talk, but we no longer walk the walk.  We can't... we're masked and quarantined.  We're leveled.  Sit.  Lie down.  Sleep.  We pick up after ourselves-- well, some of us do.  The other day my neighbors were in the elevator and I wanted to ask 'which one of you does the barking?  But I simply smiled with my eyes.  I've learned to do that-- straight-faced underneath.  It's a new kind of disguise.

When my son was little we inherited a pet snail from his science classroom.  It lived in a plastic salad container  and required very little maintenance.  Once a week I'd put it on the kitchen counter and clean the little house out.   Instead of pulling inside its shell like a frightened turtle, it let its antennae all the way out like it was stretching.  Extending.  I sang to it... figured it can't see, but maybe it could hear.  It seemed to tilt in my direction.  It was brave-- it was exploring the world outside its container.  Back inside, it would circle several times--laps-- like a swimmer without water, spreading its slime around the way they do.  His name, bestowed with the innocent irony kids exude, was Speeder.  He, too, lived way beyond the normal expectancy of his breed, but there you go.  He had his little routine, his little life-- his outings and his feedings.  

My personal production this week oozes rather than runs.  I'm beginning to feel like that snail in my container-- all of us-- corralled and boxed and restrained-- slowed down... becoming in a way complacent and compliant with what we have, with the future sequentially postponed in blocks of time that melt and freeze like those soft Dali clock faces hanging on lines.  Even the dark of days' end is greedy and quick; we are deprived of long sunsets and poetic evenings. Trapped like leashed dogs, like fish in a bowl, like amphibians under rocks-- alone in our doll houses and little plastic cages which social media has rendered transparent, we are our own voyeurs-- performers and audience simultaneously.  Sometimes I feel as though I could be eating that plastic sushi you see in restaurant windows.  With our diminished smell and taste, we Covid survivors-- what difference would it make? We are no longer feral; we talk about our masks and wash our hands and don't touch one another.  

Last night as I ran around the reservoir in the wind, a duck was squawking.  What was it saying... maybe 'is this IT?' I envied it the freedom to change ponds, to get up and fly away.  I wondered if it could see the cartoon-colored lights of the southern skyline from the park-- the way it's changed, as though it's another city altogether-- another backdrop, another 'set' which emerges with more and more clarity as the leaves disappear.  I remember the ducks in Iceland-- how they didn't seem to mind the cold... and the night I buried Speeder by the Meer-- sadly, in the moist black dirt, noticing as I held him one last time how he smelled of the sea.

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Saturday, October 31, 2020


I was shocked this evening to see a bit of manifested holiday cheer on the streets, children and parents in costumes-- trick or treating, I suppose, at doorways of shops, grocery stores...  merriment in the park... adults on bicycles dressed as ghosts and Teletubbies.  I'm not sure what I'd be doing if I had young children-- does one keep up the illusion that life is going on as it did, that joy and celebration are still appropriate even during a pandemic?  We Americans-- we make the best of things, I've heard.  Some of us.  

In 1961 I wore one of my father's old suit jackets, pinned and rolled up-- a Stetson hat and a John F Kennedy rubber mask.  It was a good disguise for me, the perennial tomboy who at that moment hated makeup and princess clothes--  low-maintenance and warm.  I tried to imitate the walk of a war hero-turned political leader-- really the first President I celebrated in my young life.  He was a young, handsome father, like my Dad-- a former soldier.  We were old enough to follow the election in school and we loved him.  Again in 1964 I'd looked through my closet for ideas-- was way more enthusiastic about theatre and music and boys than trick or treating...  considered reviving the Kennedy mask, but post-mortem it seemed more tastelessly macabre and politically incorrect.  

Today I saw Trump masks-- left over from 2016?  New ones made with the irony of the very image of the mask-shunner stamped like a grotesque advertisement for the Corona virus?  Hard to decipher whether the wearers are haters or supporters.  An army of Trump faces on the street is as scary as Halloween gets.  Pumpkinheads. 

Last night I was so agitated about the upcoming election I slept not at all.  To distract myself I memorized the presidential sequence.  Incredible to me I've lived through twelve and hopefully will see thirteen in a matter of months.  As an early voter, I forgot I'd have this feeling of helplessness as the day approaches; not much we can do but encourage others.  It's politics, it's numbers... but I've still not fully recovered from the devastating mental hangover of November 9, 2016.  It can't happen again... but yes, it can.  

Out of the 45 names I litanised, there were some bad ones; we lived.  I can't blame the entire pandemic on one man... and yet he's become the symbol-- the mask, as it were, of evil-- of 'spread'... the very opposite of a Protector, a hero-- a blunderbuss opportunist who's turned America into a casino culture.  A cartoon-man whose flaws and failures have been woven into the very fabric of this country in a way that is unprecedented and more horrifying than any haunted house I can imagine.

I have this image in my mind... of a quiet parade-less Thanksgiving morning with one enormous balloon in the shape of an obese Donald Trump floating above the city, children being given old-fashioned pea-shooters or plastic darts.  Pin the tail on the Trump-donkey.  But today, after a sleepless night, I saw the boarded-up windows of Macy's-- a city on edge,  anticipating unrest-- catastrophe.  This is more than an election... this is not a democratic process but a seismic sociologic event.  

Just one year ago I was a musician.  Halloween for decades was not just a children's holiday but a gig-- revelry and dancing.  We played and shared microphones, sang our hearts out-- swapped sweat, licked strings and kissed one another.  We exchanged vampire teeth and masks, ate candy corn and hung plastic skulls from our guitar-necks.  We did Misfits covers and carved out pumpkins.  It is hard to think about being a musician when there is no live music.  What am I?  What are we?  We are diminished-- we are masked not from celebration but from fear.  

It's not just Halloween and a rare blue moon, but the one day of the year we are given an extra hour.  November is beginning on a 'loaded' night... spirits are flitting around, and the cold autumn air is fraught with socially distanced energy and urbanites jacked up on sugar and alcohol.  Kids are resilient, but even they know how much we've lost in the past seven months; the novelty has worn off.  I'm tired of thinking my future will be little more than nostalgic reminiscence-- story-telling.  Tonight I am measuring my life by presidents... ready for my thirteen.  Whatever lurks out there for us, let there be a little hope and humanity-- something more than candy wrappers and smashed pumpkins.  We have less choice than usual, but we can put our faith in a man with a mask, or throw our chips in with a human mask that camouflages a hollow man.  Once in a blue moon, we might deserve a miracle.  

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Blue Ink

 Over the weekend I was touched by the obituary of a type-face designer who passed away.  His fonts and graphic 'eye' are well integrated in our every-day visuals.  The musical metaphors he offered, the way letters and printed words 'speak' to some of us... these people are part of media obsolescence.  I find myself mourning the disappearance of them as though they are family.  They are part of the soul and material of my life.  I miss them; I miss the reality to which they belonged-- the priorities and signposts. “The most beautiful thing in the world,” the Times quoted him as saying,“is a blank piece of paper.”


My neighbor is a well-known older writer.  When we met, years ago, he exclusively worked on an odd and dated version of a dedicated word processing machine.  One night he called me-- panicky-- because it was malfunctioning and any self-respecting computer repair man declined to service this.  I offered him my 'transition' typewriter-- the kind that memorized a line at a time and then printed it out on a page via plastic ribbon.  I held onto these things as souvenirs, and for just such literary emergencies.  It distracted him, but it was wrong.  Ebay, I suggested... and sure enough he was able to find a replacement.  

Meanwhile, I remember thinking how far I'd come-- writing my first novel in Word Perfect, on a Dell PC I'd been gifted, to replace my used  8 MHz IBM PS  which prompted me to install DOS by floppy disk every time I turned the machine on.  From my first ancient Royal on which I'd typed my Princeton thesis (with carbons), to an electric Smith Corona, and onward.  My friends know I'm still using a telephone land-line; I've resisted change/technology along the way.   I am uncomfortable with these systems that seem to accelerate my process until I don't recognize myself.  I need the heartbeat and material of sentence-building, of story-telling.  

The cross-outs and inserts of manuscript writing are part and parcel of understanding a writer's process.  Songwriters, poets... their doodles and marginalia enhance value-- provide clues to the creative path, to private distractions and passions--  a bit of humor.  In the late sixties when I applied to college the applications were hand-written.   On one of them, instead of attaching the passport-sized photo requested, I asked one of my friends to draw me.  I maneuvered questions and embellished things-- gave them what they didn't ask but maybe wanted.  Today the 'common' app most universities use are just that; they leave little room for variety or humor.  My little portrait would have been missed by any computer.  

I wake during the night and scrawl lyrics on paper scraps-- have a supply of writing utensils among piles of books on my nightstand.  Far beyond recalling inspiration now, I still shun middle-of-the-night technology, as though the bright blue light threatens poetry.  Last night I thought about summer camp.  I hated being sent away and from the age of eight spent a full two months in a cabin full of girls with no privacy.  Besides my rag doll, I brought a small stack of paperback books my Mom approved, and a white pad of stationary paper with a blue ball-point pen.  It was the first time I was allowed to use ink.  I can still remember the way it glided along the paper, the sweetish candy smell of the ink, and the halo of my flashlight underneath the covers.  It was during those nights that I think I became a writer.

In this era of backlit news, texts and emails which spread or shrink across screens, I still take my coffee black and my reading material in print, bound and paged.  The way the words flow in linear formations-- the serifs and italics, dots and lines-- these are essential.  They comfort me when I am sleepless, sing to me when I am alone.  The hours and nights of this pandemic have run one into another-- my solitude provides little punctuation, but the near-endless supply of well-written sentences in my old books, the familiar patterns of verse and chorus-- have provided some comfort, like the homesick summer nights of white paper and blue ink.

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