Saturday, October 26, 2019

Light Sings of Wear

The cost of shipping has increased.  On a personal level, the cost of mailing has become a burden.  The art of letter-writing has certainly fallen into a sort of category of eccentricities.  I have tried hand-deliveries where I can; to include a tiny memento or scrap in an envelope raises the financial bar and punishes me with a kind of fine.  Postal rules are confusing and discriminatory-- they favor neatness and conformity; I am interrogated at the counter with queries which, if you are a poet or  outside-thinker, scrape at your deeper conscience.  We are condemned to technology.

Tomorrow would have been my mother's birthday.  I know that I loved her, despite her flaws and bigotries, her failure to understand things.  She fell somehow outside technology; even to see her driving a car seemed unnatural.  I grew up loving the number 27; it was sacred and while the presence of my father on weekends could ruin my day, I only knew I could not live without my mother.  The excitement of Halloween always included plans to surprise her.  One thing I am grateful for: she appreciated my handmade gifts and actually wore some of them.  My father seemed uncomfortable even opening a box from me.

Adult Halloween is another anomaly.  Of course, when your children are young, you fuss and carve, you bake and pile, hold little hands on the sidewalk or stand guard at your front door, cooing over neighbors and schoolkids in disguise. If you are a musician, you put on a mask and witch's hat-- a cape and fangs--- then you watch other adults in fantasy-outfits winding up on a dance floor, becoming characters for a night.

Thirty years ago, I went into early labor.  I prayed I would not give birth on Halloween, knowing how children feel gypped being born on a holiday.  I lay on a hospital gurney, watching the heartbeat of my son who had clearly outgrown his womb-home; I had ghoulish bruises on my ribs from the size of that baby.  Happily, they sent me back home where I waited until Election Day... but coming back that night from the old Lenox Hill Hospital, I felt 'costumed' as a mother-- more prepared to remove than embrace it.

In the early difficult months of single motherhood, there were several deaths in my circle.  Having no budget for caretakers, my baby sat or slept through several funerals.  He even had a little outfit-- people gift you these things when they are born-- which was dark and serious.  It was sitting at the back of St. Vincent's, reciting the Lord's Prayer, that I began to feel the enormous comfort of holding an infant-- the bond, I suppose, that forms despite all of your confusion, your lack of preparation and the awkward intrusion of 'schedule' on a musician's life.  It was there-- listening to the sounds of grief, sensing the permanence of loss, that I lost my disguise and became a mother.

My son will soon turn 30; my mother would have been 95 tomorrow.  95--  one of those numbers she loved to see on my school papers; I often brought her that pleasure, as a good student, but it only created the sort of expectation that parents in those days held like a gun to our heads-- the one gun I did not fear.  I have a new book now; the last one was published just in time to place it in her long-fingered hands and see maybe a small glint of recognition at the cover photo.  Maybe not.  We hold these personal myths closer as our future grows shorter.  No one is there to 'grade' our adult work... even criticism has become something one buys into; marketing has replaced the art of reviewing and prioritizing.

Last night I read some Kafka.  The myth of the tormented genius sometimes exceeds the work.  I often think Franz in this culture might have been a gaming addict.... but surely the technology would have distracted and diluted the passion to create-- allowed people, as it does, the illusion of connection in the reality of isolation.   Here I sit at a keyboard in the dark, backlit by the strange blue light my mother (and Kafka) never knew-- the ease of publishing, of sharing, provide a certain comfort.  Still my pile of library books on the old farm-table, candlesticks and wood, lined pads and ink-- an uncarved pumpkin of possibility in my pre-Halloween solitude, with the city in my window like the massive bag of tricks it is-- the pack of dogs-- the never-ending parade.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Old Faithful

I have recently confessed to a clandestine summer television binge-- and trying hard to sit through one of the final dull episodes of The Affair last night it began to feel like just that-- an affair with these shows-- the initial attraction, late-night meetings, staying way too long, being entertained by things which are normally boring... then the long-haul 'meat' of the relationship-- the drama and path-windings-- finally to the denouement, the sense of routine and obligation, on to the cringeworthy and downright head-shaking disengagement.

What I did take from this 'relationship' was a geographical affection-- the feeling of Montauk in winter-- the coast I'd befriended as a child-- the nostalgia and sad permanence of the sea as a neighbor, a companion-- the one that outlives us all.  My 'affair' with Montauk even prompted a quick  trip to Provincetown last weekend where I also found a piece of my past remarkably untouched.

I am of an age now where any trip or visit could be the last one I will make to that place; my activity is limited and decreased by circumstances... I find my compelling obligations and callings are those of the mind.  Television has been a guilty pleasure but it was free for some months, and it was all the vacation I could really muster.  At 4 AM Sunday morning,  I came across the movie 'Unfaithful'.  Now all my girlfriends have watched this many times; most of us have gone through phases during marriages or long-term relationships where we were either tempted or forayed... but here was the very quintessence of ambivalence-- with the very beautiful Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez-- love, passion-- the choice, when we had it, and at this moment in life, the choices are much fewer.

Coming in at the halfway point of the film, I couldn't help drawing the obvious parallels with The Affair-- the infidelity, the 'price' everyone always seems to pay as though there is a judgment and a punishment (Fatal Attraction, etc...)... that violating trust is a kind of crime which not only does not pay, but brings tragedy.  Like The Affair, what drew me into this viewing was the 'place'... New York as it was in the late 90's still resembling my version of the city: the homeyness of the loft-- the piles of books... the Soho streets, the taxis... the Strand, as it was... the old stacks before it was turned into a department store.  I tearfully recalled Friday nights sitting in the dusty basement with children (their tiny category was relegated to the rear cellar, near the proofs section) looking at books opened on the floor-- the occasional mouse running through.  Also remarkable in these late-90's productions-- no cell phones... the poetry of the answering machine.  It occurred to me that in our current culture these random meetings would not even take place--- everyone is so involved in their little screen, they do not connect with human opportunities.

When I saw Unfaithful in 1999 it was in a cinema-- on a rare night when I had a babysitter, my young boyfriend and I would go out-- have a dinner downtown, see as many films as we could manage-- be just a couple.  We used to hold hands during movies... and I remember at the end of this one I whispered to him that I had something to tell him... I can't recall now what it was, but in that moment, I felt his pulse quicken-- not just quicken but speed-- and his breath came fast, as though we was in full-blown panic mode.  I realized my very young boyfriend was terrified I was going to confess some infidelity.   And it was that moment-- that heart-racing, fragile moment-- when I knew he was truly in love, that of all partners and husbands-- he would never be unfaithful.  This was the way, as we say now, he was 'wired'.

Of course this, too, is now part of my past.  I am quite beyond my passionate love affairs and much more committed to the work I need to do while I still can-- music, writing, poetry-- these are my companions.  I have never been completely faithful to any one man, and while I have been difficult and struggled with my tendency to outgrow things, I have tried to be honest and not hurt people more than they hurt themselves.  What I now realize, after failing at these relationships-- and I tried twice to change countries for lovers and husbands-- is I have been in love with New York City--  maybe less so with this current version-- but it permeates my songwriting, my poetry, my dreams and personal iconography.  My heart sings here as nowhere else and while I have a sense of past and the people who have strayed in and out of my apartments and life-- it is the place-- fickle as it is, changeable and cruel, beautiful and hideous, sublime and filthy-- to which, in my way, I have been faithful.


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