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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