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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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Guitar Grievance

 At the age of three, my son had his very first 'away' playdate.  When I came to collect him, his friend's mother told me on arrival he'd gone from room to room opening closets, peeking under beds.  It was relentless.  She overheard her little boy ask him what he was doing and he replied 'I'm looking for your Mom's guitars.'  Apparently he assumed part of motherhood meant being a musician.  

During this pandemic I've watched more television than usual.  The quarantine has forced even our basic newscasters to provide a glimpse into their domestic environments.  Some are obviously fortunate, with rich decor and furnishings-- grand rooms behind them.  Others are more discreet, and appear in a limited space behind a desk, casually dressed, in front of a lamp-- family photographs in frames, and always the bookshelves.  Journalists have historic books-- world affairs, biographies; the entertainers and emcees have variety-- novels, popular trade books, art monographs, atlases.  Some are arranged so that they look 'provided'.  Others, like Judy Woodruff's, seem authentic and comfortably spine-worn.  

A large number of home 'sets' include a guitar.  Being the musician, I've often strained and squinted to decipher the brand or model.  Usually the instruments are background... but for some, like on Conan's show, they are prominently displayed and there are more than one.  I've actually met Conan at gigs, maybe 25 years ago... he'd always been attracted to music, played a little guitar.  We need to know this.  Apparently the presence of a guitar, like household pets, has a message-- conveys artistic bent, sensitivity? A 'player' (lol)? Coolness?  Who knows?  Like my young son, it may be just an assumption-- a household necessity-- like a blender or an iron-- something your Mom and her friends passed around at night... or the thing she took into the closet at 3 AM so she wouldn't wake the kids.  Most of the headstocks were labelled with the same initial as your name, so they felt familial-- branded.  They belonged.

Unlike many musicians, all of my guitars (and pets) have in a way 'found' me.  They are like stray dogs that somehow crossed my path, and came home to live with me.  I have fallen in love with each one-- their quirks and flaws, their unique beauty and voice.  My very first 'real' bass was initially a listing in Buylines-- the free newspaper we all used to seek out instruments in pre-internet days.  This was our Craigslist, the local 'hub' for trading equipment.  I took two trains and a bus out to some address in Jamaica where an old Fender Precision in a broken-handled case waited for me.  Its owner had long disheveled hair, arthritis... maybe a career once in local bands-- I didn't ask. The place smelled musty-- it was dark.  I'll take it, I said, without playing it, without holding it... the price was exactly what I had in my pocket-- $300.  When I got home, my rocker roommate was in a state of shock that I'd hit some pre-CBS jackpot.  That guitar served me for years; it mostly resides in a case these days; it seems pretentious to carry around a bass with its monetary value... I miss playing it.  I look at old photos and remember the way I felt.  

When my 'solo' guitar self-destructed two weeks ago, I panicked.  Here was another ill-fitting anomaly-- not 'me' at all, but somehow with its defects and flaws, I'd made it work.  It was my companion.  Yes, my 12-string weird tuning put unnecessary stress on the bridge but it had never seemed to complain.  Until it did.  Even its maker shook their head at the photos and told me to bury it.  Sell the parts.  

In a pandemic, random fated meetings are near-impossible.  I spent nights combing the internet for affordable options. Of course I have access to the wonderful collections of my friends, but I need to have my own funky instrument.  I need to be able to bond unequivocally and not worry about accidents or mishaps.  So with my tail between my legs I walked down to Guitar Center which was quieter than in former days... and lined with hundreds of the guitars we see and don't see hanging from TV walls-- primped and leaning in stands.  The first night I played a range of 12-strings-- from $4,000 down to $200... walked home and vowed I'd find a repair person brave enough to fix my old wreck.  

Five days passed-- I borrowed a guitar just to keep my fingers alive, and I got the courage to return to the store.  This time, one (a cheap one) seemed to remember me-- it had retained the tuning I tried out-- it had a small crack in the neck-finish which merited a price reduction.  It was the only one available.  I also had a gift card from judging a King of the Blues contest.  I so rarely buy things, the card was unused.  Again I went home, thought about the cracked guitar, considered the cons, the responsibility of actually buying a new instrument.  Nothing new about me these days.  Another two days passed, and I looked at internet photos. tried to crush on the guitar a little... gave myself lectures on moving on in life-- of leaving things behind, peeling away old layers.  A TCM movie synchronicitously had the guitar brandname in its title-- that perked my soul a little... I began to speculate that if someone bought that guitar I'd feel hurt.  So I went down a third time--- there it was.. it seemed to greet me... still in my tuning.  I bought it, carried it home with that feeling I had as a child when I'd take a few months' worth of allowance to the toy store on my bicycle and picked something. 

It's not 'everything' but it's something.  It's a lesson-- an adjustment.  The two of us are an odd couple.  It's loud, it's bright... it's black and so new.  It's a blank canvas, for sure... but I'm trying to make it welcome.  I'm going to sell the parts of my old one-- I won't insult it by trying to plastic-surgery it into some guitar hell, but maybe the parts will live on in some songwriter's hand.  It served me well and reminds me about life-- even inanimate things have a kind of death and we can't bury ourselves with our own past.  We have to keep going.  I feel certain one day my new guitar will gently weep for me, but hopefully I'll have done it a bit of justice by then.  

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020


The first slight chill of September is a grim reminder of not just time but his designated reaper.  This summer's diminished celebrations have highlighted the significance of our mortality... of the way things wind down, segue casually into a sequence... or, more rarely-- simply die.  That 2020 may be remembered as the year with no summer, for some of us, is for our future perfect to determine.  

Death after death has been logged, like a thick-knotted rope we blindly grope in an unfamiliar, unlit present.  We are sad-- we are repressed, we are uncharacteristically grateful for small privileges as they are gradually restored... but like a hurricane aftermath, we have not yet surveyed the damaged human landscape.  

Meanwhile we have the fires burning in the West, reminding us that nature is not done with us-- that vaccine or none, there are larger battles in store-- there is perhaps life on Venus, economic disaster for any one of a number of countries... there is still a looming and impressive death toll to digest.  No wonder people demonstrate; fear fuels anger... we are leaderless, disunited, confused and betrayed.  We are the victims of emotional recession.

Tonight I re-watched The Virgin Suicides.  With the added distance of age (the parental Lisbons are a generation younger than I am now), it all seemed both more and less poignant.  The concept of innocence-- especially for those of us who were born in the 50's-- is complex and rooted.  Whether we were raised in a protective, sheltered home or somehow damaged and violated, all women seem to have a mothery response to teenage girls.  As some of us know, they can also be evil and manipulative-- but even in the darkest Lolitas, there remains a 'band' of white.  They get a reduced sentence.  

One of the noted ironies of this film tonight was the quarantine-- which unlike our pandemic culture only served to encourage the so-called malignancy it was meant to prevent.  Teenage suicide is especially tragic because real-life seems so vast and irrelevant outside the small passionate priorities of youth.  I remember my older sister once swallowed a bottle of aspirin because she was docked from some unremarkable party.  At the hospital she confessed she'd only actually eaten seven and they were baby aspirin because she was more terrified of the stomach-pumping apparatus.  In the end it was a worthless exercise and she'd played the death card badly.

The other theme that struck me was the longing-- that hypnotic, all-consuming 'drug' we really only experience from the entry points of love-- the fantastic, elaborate, drawn out sense of endless waiting to consummate or even touch the object of our desire (which can change in a teenage heartbeat).  Halfway through the film, at the bottom of the screen a message floated by informing me, among other bits of news, that Cardi B had filed for divorce citing 'trust issues'. Well... times have certainly changed from nights of holding a telephone receiver over a turntable playing early Todd Rundgren to the instantaneous and public posts of social media.  In the current MO of relationships, those weighted endless hours of courtship have eloped; time snaps back like an elastic weapon in your face.  

I don't know what teenagers hold onto these days... romance has had its wings clipped-- or maybe the quarantine, like the Lisbon sisters, has only stirred the fires of love and creativity.  I have heard all too many stories of death these months-- painful for those of us who stand helplessly on these quiet sidelines, but also somehow comprehensible in this world of 'less-than'.  I look back on my girlhood; as a high school senior I had a brief romance with a handsome young teacher who was installed as a 'draft dodger' .  He let it be known he was interested and as inappropriate and taboo as it was, it superseded any romantic fantasies of my 17th year.  I was fortunate; he treated me with utmost respect and kindness.  We drove off in his Renault to a studio apartment on West End Avenue where he taught me things I had not known, but never violated my 'innocence'.  It was 'everything'.  He even introduced me to Dustin Hoffman.  

My high school romance became a lifelong friendship... we went our separate appropriate ways and I always considered this experience more than first love... During the pandemic I learned he'd passed away, and with it a small chunk of my past buried itself.  For those of us who do not attend funerals or post on social media or weep publicly, these things have taken a toll.  For teenagers, reading about death statistics daily, masking their young mouths and maintaining an amount of sterility-- well, it seems like some kind of deprivation--  the year with no 'teenage'.  It seemed fitting tonight that The Virgin Suicides paid a kind of tribute to the pain and loss suffered by even the 'privileged perfect'.  I remember the criticisms that it 'rhapsodized' suicide... for me it just reminded of the perfect fragility of adolescence... the sad wasted timeline of disappointment and cancellation-- the ambiguous and ambivalent value of quarantine.  But I am old and nostalgic-- empathic and sad.

On the other hand, apparently Cardi B. has just filed for custody of Kulture.  Let's hope not.  

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Abandoned Ship

I was up earlier than usual for a Saturday-- took a jog uptown and saw my Boxer training by the Meer-- it's been months and we were happy to see one another-- enough to exchange smiles... his a kind of stiff grin through his mouthguard.  I love that he trains alone with the guard in.  He's serious. No mask.  No one is going to step into his 6-foot ring.  

By the public bathrooms a large man singing through a cheap karaoke kit-microphone... Stuck on You... of all things.  Last week it was Ain't No Sunshine.  He was bad.  Not Michael Jackson bad... just bad.  As I passed, like an announcer he cheered me on, through the little speaker-- yeah, Baby Girl, you do it...  Even I had to laugh... no one called me that even when I was a toddler.  I'm certainly no one's baby. 

Most of my life I have chosen the 'high road' in bad situations.  I have opted out of payment, given to charity, refused to argue when greed was the protagonist on the table, gone home with my pride a thin coating against the weather and the haters.  You and yo' damn principles, Tyrone scolded me when I refused to trade food stamps for cash.  I'll buy him lunch, but don't want his benefits.  

Me and my damn principles.  I feel like it's Act III of this Corona play; we're all in it, scriptless, rolling around like blind pinballs waiting to hit some bell or whistle-- illness, death-- job loss, eviction.  We're hunkered down here, some of us.  I've never abandoned the ship of my city before, but my building is less than half-occupied at the moment, and day by day I read Facebook announcements of emigres, deserters. What am I proving here?  I feel like a smoker on my last pack... what next?  

Uptown seems calmer than downtown; no moving trucks here, not much action on the street before dark.  People jogging, shopping... walking dogs, setting up for street barbecues and picnics-- but little anger... more like a what's next attitude and the hangover from 5 months of diminished life. We've become lazy-- flabby, unproductive.  We accept shitty television and whatever sports we can get.  We overpay for cable and internet-- it's become our new expensive bedmate. We argue less at checkout.  We drink alone and accept curfews.  

I've been getting a ton of art-related email.  Virtual exhibition tours, panels-- opinions, critiques, advice.  The 5 or 7 or 10 curators who have shaped the art market.  Over and over.  The social relevance of new art...  etc.  What does it take these days to be an art curator?  When I went to school we had to distinguish forgeries from authentic signatures-- fakes from actual.  We had to know.  Art meant something; there was a history and formal principles to be analyzed.  Like a history of classical music.  And contemporary.  Of course now that 'markets' are more important than art, all bets are off.  People are anesthetized and too lazy to look; they take the opinion of 'experts' like a medicine.  They buy what they are told.  They sell. These things don't wear well; back into the cycle.  

The way things are framed in this life seems to be important.  This is advertising-- presentation; wardrobe, make-up.  I have been shocked in my lifetime seeing celebrities totally 'naked'.  Unrecognizable.  The framing is essential.  I have seen paintings-- works of art-- sloppy and frayed, sometimes finger and foot-printed from an old studio floor... then transformed like funky ducklings into graceful wall-swans, surrounded by mounting trickery like celestial cloud-rendering. Ready for luxury customers.  

I started to think today-- how the unexpected afternoon sunshine transformed the Meer. There was even an unscripted rainbow-- or at least half a rainbow.  The water had just enough current to make a kind of quiet surf-music.  While I am pretty well-versed in naming painters and identifying artwork, I still haven't learned to recognize trees.  Nature doesn't really speak to me the way I know roads and cornerstones-- rooftop profiles and water-towers against skyscrapers... I have befriended lampposts and painted messages... they resonate in my human heart the way bookspines, cigarette packs-- have meaning.  Photographed faces in a row-- vinyl album covers-- stamp books and bootlaces-- cassettes in repurposed wine crates.  The way things hurt, when you are young... the way girls fell in love with one another at a certain age... you knew-- this face-- was going to be your best.  

Trash piles outside the projects are the same as ever... old TVs, discarded furniture, broken airconditioners-- strollers... but downtown, they are filling with things... with cast-offs and cartons of memory.  My people are deserting me.  Not for the first time I have the sense of a sinking ship... but I can find few reasons to hang in.  Maybe the 'principled' of us are on the diseased cruise ship of New York.  After the fear, the distrust, the social distancing and unrest-- the demonstrations and demands... the sorrow... Death has become at least one of the starring roles in this new play. Suicide, I have come to believe, is in all of our DNA... it is part of the human condition and the unique privilege we have.  Maybe the concept of suicide has yet to invade the collective soul of an urban animal.  Maybe we are on some verge.  

I've been thinking about the ocean-- watching hurricanes rage and recede, massive wave formations.  I've been listening, again, to Procol Harum's A Salty Dog... it's a kind of metaphor for grief, this album. It's beautiful and I miss this kind of songwriting-- these albums of our heart that seem memorialized in vinyl. My old copy is quite worn.  It asks me who will inventory my life when it is over? Who will curate, present and frame?  I'm not sure how this play ends; by then the ship may have sunk, and my moot and principled life will surely not be deemed seaworthy.  I hope someone somewhere will still treasure the lyrics of Keith Reid, or whomever...they resonate with even more truth in these times... Let him who fears his heart alone/Stand up and make a speech...

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