BELOW 14TH STREET

I used to have a friend who prided himself on never going above 14th Street. I understood him since I, too, am loathe to leave my neighborhood – the Upper West Side. I’ll go east – grudgingly. But I don’t go downtown that often.

Well, I’m here to tell you there is, in fact, a whole new world in Manhattan’s southern realm.

In response to a gracious invitation to join a friend for dinner, my partner in crime and I ventured into the nether regions of the City. Eye-rolling is completely appropriate here. There are, indeed, nether regions, but East 16th Street doesn’t qualify. And, as you’ve noted, I didn’t really make it below 14th Street.

The restaurant was quite good. The other patrons seemed to be of my species. The wait staff was well-oiled and even comforting. All in all, a positive outing. But, after returning via a not very long subway ride to our familiar uptown world, I exhaled and relaxed in a way I hadn’t fully done all evening.

What is it? The air? The density of the molecules in the atmosphere? Is it truly different uptown? Were we just reacting to the familiarity or can I make the claim (I will) that uptown kicks downtown’s ass?

You are welcome to refute.

END OF DAYS

Yes, that is a somber (at best) opening. But I did want to get your attention.

It’s that last day of the year, the day when there is nothing on television except a replay or regurgitation of the events of the year.

I find the most compelling are the who died lists. Now, I’m not ghoulish by nature, but there is something exceptionally humanizing and important about taking stock of those who are no longer with us. Each year, it seems as if there are an excessive number of losses, but loss is the ultimate nature of things, is it not?

I promise that if you keep reading, this will end well. You just have to trust me.

Many of my fellow humans enjoy making a big party out of the last day on the calendar. I try to edit the impulse – and the corollary one as well. The big assessment. I’d just as soon order in some Chinese food and maybe watch the people I truly believe are insane, stand cheek by jowl in the frigid New York air in Times Square. They are waiting for the ball to drop. As if. I’m just waiting for something catastrophic to NOT happen. Just let the mayhem and/or revelry pass and resume what passes for normalcy.

Even in my callow youth, I felt there was something substantially inauthentic and forced about the whole New Year’s Eve thing. It just doesn’t ring true. (Do you see what I did there? Kind of subtle, no?) I tended to be the one who fell asleep at 11pm. I have been known to go with the flow and express New Year’s wishes to family and friends. But, in truth, the delineation is just one of the things we do to try and trick our minds. So we don’t see life in its fully unvarnished state of day after day.

Well, so much for this ending well. But, don’t take it to heart.

 

Every word

There are some books you want to skim to get at the plot and find out how the story will unfold. There are some books where you read each page but and fade in and out of attention and fascination: an uneven ride that leaves you a little nauseated. Other books are read with the diligence arising from old school habits. You might be tested…

But then there are books where each word is a treasured jewel. You not only read each one, you savor it. And maybe you do it as slowly as possible, like a really thoughtful eight-year-old eating the last bit of chocolate pudding. Licking the bowl.

The author has made the words dance – before your eyes and in your heart. New ways of saying old things and new things entirely are framed by light and dense sounds and emotional heft. It’s why those of us who love to read, love to read.

And when, after not too many pages, you realize you have the good fortune to be on a journey with a book whose every word you are going to taste and digest, it is quite close to heaven. If heaven were a transitory experience that would thrust you into paroxysms and tears and leave you breathing heavily and maybe a little suicidal.

Well, it’s my idea of heaven.

RUNNING LOW

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who run out of things and those who never do. Type 2 is more anxious. They’re scanning the horizon, trying to forestall whatever might be heading their way. Type 1 is more carefree, seat of the pants, trusting; willing to roll with the punches. Can I come up with a few more trite phrases? Probably.

Why do I take your precious time to talk about these opposites? Because the world would be better off as a blend. I had to say that…because it sounds true. But I don’t really believe it.

I have been known to overbuy things – like toilet paper – because God forbid I run out. So, I’m  type 2. Is anyone surprised? I didn’t think so. It’s the illusion of control. And, honestly, I’m happy to have even the false comfort of believing I’m in charge. Because who wants to be at the mercy of the winds of fate – or whatever you like to think of them as: random chance, fickle finger (that’s old), unseen forces of the universe. No thank you. I’ll take none with a side of I can make things happen.

So, if you see me standing at the end of the road, looking out in the distance, it’s because I’m trying to get a jump on the next difficult thing. I’m not exactly a girl scout – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would be happy to believe I’m a little more Macgyver than that. But I just don’t like that feeling of GOTCHA that’s like some stupid old uncle giving you that side tickle you always hated.

So I’ve got doubles and triples of whatever I consider to be essential or a “staple” and yes, I know that if the big old catastrophe shows up, my three cans of tuna won’t really matter. But, for now, I can rest a little easier. Do you need any spare toilet paper? I’m your girl.

 

Gotta do an end of year assessment piece.

And mention that it seems to be the winter of our discontent. A lot of killing and death. Has it always been so? It seems to be coming from many more directions. With a lot more acceptance – depending on which point of contention you favor. And a lot less willingness to have a dialogue. It never was that there was a great willingness. But now there’s less.

In a taxi yesterday. Immediately, I became aware that the driver was listening to a religious incantation. The sense of it was that nothing was sweeter than Allah. I got very uncomfortable right away. And judged myself for being so. But, in the world as I know it, how could I trust that this driver was only engaging a loving spirituality? What if …? I couldn’t get out of the taxi fast enough. But I gave him a great tip.

Why?

Because it’s the end of the year. And tis the season to give people money. It doesn’t much matter how you feel toward them. The scary looking delivery man who had very few teeth also got a good tip. It feels like a combination of I want to and I must. Shall we call that wust? It should have it’s own word. It exists in nature often enough. At least for me. Shall I expand on this?

Back to that winter of our discontent thing…

It really seems like it is thus for a great many on a lot of levels. A big sadness fills people at this time of year. Families are not as accessible as they once were; some are dealing with an ongoing crisis – which seems worse during the holidays. Pots are coming to a boil all over town, and even across the great expanse of our country, so that I can hear the same tenor in delayed time from California.

I’m struggling with the possible publication my first novel. It’s science fiction. There is a demand for me to do a shit load of work, spend money and sort of go for it. That has become the most pressing issue for me. Except for the not unexpected intensity in my primary relationships. It’s probably all to the good but not much fun.

A strange combination of events have collided – meta and micro. Change seems to be on the horizon but I will go kicking and screaming all the way. Which will be draining. It is my way in the face of the unknown future.

So I could say this was a year of growth or I could say this was a year of drama, or one of danger, or one of certain joy. But however I feel for the next two weeks, I might just take it with a grain of salt.

If I could just go dancing that would make me happy. And if the guy upstairs would stop playing his horn, I would be extremely happy. Those are my wishes for New Years, a celebration of the artificially delineated time segment which we call a year. That’s a good enough reason for me. I don’t feel like resisting it; rather, I think it’s an opportunity.

The bold, the few, the entitled

Growing up, there used to be the regular sneering references to Jewish American Princesses and the male version – usually just simplified to the Prince. But, in the intervening half century (oh, God – really!) this religio-cultural stereotype has blended into the culture at large. The girls and boys who were raised without having to incorporate the word “no” have come of age. And they are self-centered pains in the ass. And, as luck would have it, there are more then the average number of representatives of this culture of entitlement in my esteemed neighborhood. What is there about the UWS that invites these obnoxious folk? I must ponder.

At first encounter one might find something to admire in the lack of self-doubt and the drive to achieve goals. But, stick around and you’ll soon see that this is not quite so admirable. The absence of questioning the legitimacy of one’s desires can look something like this:

Excuse me. EXCUSE ME! I need: (now we fill in the blank) that taxi, the last avocado, to cut in front of you on line, to speak while you listen, to stop in the middle of the street and block your way because my child (an extension of ME) asked a question; or – and it can never be restated too many times – TO PLAY MY HORN.

Oh, it could be any old thing. As long as it feels like it’s wanted.

What happens if you (read: I) were to confront the bald, excessive entitlement? For this super-narcissistic swath of humanity (and I use the term loosely) there is no receptor for self-evaluation. “I want” equals truth. And there is only the one truth.

As a not necessarily obvious sidebar, I’d like to mention that narcissism and insecurity go together like…love and marriage (well, that might be a poor analogy). Part of the underlying problem that clings to the residue of never having to accommodate “no” is the weakness of character which fear of not getting one’s way produces. So, it is yet one more ironic twist. Because there is a pretty fragile inner reality, the yes-babies put on really thick-soled combat boots and stomp every possible alternative into dust.

The wise stay out of their way. But, really, one of those wise would like to use some serious restraints. Sadly, all I can do is rant and yearn for those delightful JAP’s of both genders.

WAKING UP HUMAN…OR NOT

From the time I can remember, there was a notion. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? That was supposed to explain bad moods, an irritable spell or behaving in a way that the questioner (usually a parent) didn’t particularly like. Little did I know how mild a notion that was. Because now, I’ve discovered the real question:

Did you wake up human?

You see – sometimes people (and I must – in all humiliating full disclosure – include myself) are foul from the first flutter of their eyelids in the morning. There can be an early state of blurry resistance to being awake that just descends into barking and carping and crescendos with the destruction of every bit of well-being of each person they come in contact with.

It’s the kind of deeply disgusting behavior and attitude that, if it lasted beyond the single day, if it became a life trend, would be summarily diagnosed as severe mental disease or worse – that the person is a true motherfucker. Or sadist. Or psychopath.

What is the combination of events and effects that lead to an otherwise kind-of okay person waking up as a monster? It could be some bad clams. Or a bad encounter that ate away – in the dark realm of unconsciousness we call sleep – at the individual’s reserves. In the morning he or she was denuded of the stuff that buffers us. And a pre-conscious awareness of just how miserable it was going to feel was immediately and increasingly turned outward onto the (possibly) innocents in their immediate world. Or it could be that some strange mix of barometric pressure, phase of the moon, alignment of the stars acted on that person’s psyche, leaving them imbalanced and desperate.

Let’s all take a moment here and recall a time when that was you. You know. Everything hurt – and I don’t just mean physically. You didn’t want to be felt, smelt or touched (I quote a dear friend here). And no one – naturally – would just leave you the fuck alone.

Good morning? How did you sleep? And so it begins. The inane or kindly (it doesn’t matter) intrusion. Your grunt does not suffice. What’s up? Whatsa matter? Are you okay? When this line of questioning is met with some sort of verbal attack, the unsuspecting spouse, friend, parent or whatever, won’t get the message. I don’t when I’m on the receiving end. There’s likely to be some blowback before too long, which doesn’t make anything better.

And even in that best of all possible worlds – where you are given your space, you’re still stuck with you. And that feels like crap. So you might just go looking for someone to beat up.

There ought to be – no I’m not thinking of a pill. Stop that! That’s really not always the answer. There ought to be, in every town or neighborhood, an environment that’s just for those who have woken up inhuman. It would be a soothing center. Maybe with a really good restaurant. But certainly with colors and sounds and a natural pool and privacy rooms and spacious settings that are quiet but not deafeningly silent. And the monstrous ones would be accepted as just going through a bad patch. There would be truly sensitive monitors (okay – it’s my ideal reality) who listen – if that’s wanted, but who are highly intuitive and don’t have to apply the torture of questions…unless that’s wanted.

Perhaps if we all are just a little bit more forgiving of these aberrations, both in others and in ourselves, it will make these bad days pass more easily. Because it’s really unlikely that you or I can escape sometimes waking up NOT human.

Will cook for competence: (AKA: CONFESSIONS OF A JEALOUS WRITER)

This is sort of a part two, but not really.

Resorted to cooking yesterday in order to recapture the elusive sense that I am actually able to do something well. The back and forth (or to-ing and fro-ing) with editors, potential publishers, interested relatives and friends began at 4am morning.

The area which had become my no confidence zone, was my writing. Having bad feelings whenever I hear of someone publishing a novel (I have a few that are unpublished).

So, am I jealous, or is it envy? It’s the one where I want in too. I don’t want to undo the success of others.

Sidebar: There has been an unintended consequence during the past seven or so years during which I have donned the mantle of “writer.” I’ve become resistant to reading. My auto-compare ap is instantly engaged as I turn the first page of any book, be it fiction or non-fiction.

Can I write this well?

Am I a better/worse writer?

#1 is an almost objective assessment

#2 sits squarely on the ego-centrism/shame continuum.

It’s pretty hard to take the constant review going on in my head and avoidance often wins out. So counter to EVERY bit of advice for writers, I’m reading less not more.

Silly girl. Get over yourself. But I have lusted after publication the way many covet money or fame. Well, both are indeed involved here.

From the deepest depths of “I am not worthy” to the heights of “I’m a freaking literary genius,” my mind caroms along. And, somehow, through it all, I keep writing. But some wonderful novels are getting dusty on my nightstand. Must buck up (I tell myself), press on, don’t give in to petty emotions.

So, now, interest in my science fiction novel came (as all things must) out of nowhere two days ago. But, close on its heels was a demand/assumption (by the prospective publisher) that I get a thorough editing by a professional outside editor. This lead to an exploration of just what that would mean. It would mean, among other things, spending a big chunk of change ($thousands!).

WHOA!

Let’s look at this. Interest, yes, but no guarantee of getting my words into print. A guarantee of spending money with an unknown (recommended by the publishing house) editor. A sick pit in my stomach and an inability to sleep. Not good.

After obsessing, researching, overcommunicating, cross-emailing, mis-emailing (uh, sorry…), and then going round that circle a few more times, I decided to make a meatloaf. No, that’s not metaphorical or euphemistic. I went to the kitchen, organized ingredients, chopped, sautéed, etcetera-ed.

For the next hour, peace filled me. I stopped thinking about my fears and jealousy and all that chazerai (look it up). I was unambiguously engaged in a process that would produce the intended result.

It not only was a break in the manic action, there was dinner for us later. By the end of the day – even with the calming interlude of cooking – I was fried and toasted. When the meatloaf reappeared, it reminded me. I am who I think I am – at least in the culinary realm. I’ll take it.

 

 

WILL COOK FOR LOVE

Way back in the 50’s (that’s the 1950’s – you know that decade when Truman and Eisenhower were president. Of the United States, that’s ‘of what?’) women were expected to cook. Every night. Put that dinner on the table. And there were no frozen products, everything was cooked from scratch. Not too many women balked at this. At least not outwardly.

Things have changed dramatically is our culture. Women are working all day; they’re not exactly up for another two hours of labor in the kitchen. But – even so – there’s something that lingers.

I know, because it lingers for me.

Even the most self-absorbed, non-responsive man will at least grunt with pleasure when he enjoys his food. That may be a paltry type of acknowledgment, but there might be something hard wired into the female of the species which responds to pleasing her mate. For those of you who aren’t quite finished with the barf bags, I’ll pause here…

Ready?

I confess that I cook a lot. Maybe four or five days a week. And no one (read: my husband) has ever insisted that I do so. There is a kind of satisfaction I get when he enjoys the food I’ve prepared that doesn’t quite come from any other source.

Now, I’m not one of your ‘chefs’ or real cooking aficionados. I can get by. I can follow a recipe, make some stuff up, make it turn out tasty (most of the time), but I’m not filled with a creative flush when I stand in the kitchen. That feeling happens when I write, not when I sauté. So, my motivation is merely twofold. First, I want to eat food that tastes good. But I also want to give this particular kind of comfort to the guy I’m married to. And, in a weird way, it’s not about him. That doesn’t make sense, I understand. But it is nevertheless true. It’s about something sort of primal.

Now there’s some irony here because growing up, my father was the cook. I mean my mother could get some basic food on the table, but he was the one with the flair and inclination. I learned whatever I know by watching him. But, rather than find another one like him, I’ve kind of become him. (Okay, let’s not get all psychoanalytic here.) It’s less about loving TO cook, then having loved THE cook. And it’s less about feeling duty bound, and more about a willingness to occupy a role. Retro though it may be.

When I’m chopping and peeling and mincing and checking for flavor and aroma, I’m in a state of calm. During those minutes I’ve lost any ambiguity…I know who I am and what my mission is. Get these ingredients into an altered state and presto – create a meal.

Oh, and one of the most important elements of this enterprise is that my husband ALWAYS cleans up.

WHEELS UP

Moving sidewalks…

Not exactly what we expected from the Jetsons’ vision of the future.

Wheelchairs, scooters (the kind you sit in), metal-framed walkers,  abound.  That’s the movement of the sidewalks. (I’m not even going to engage here the issues of pushy strollers and – of course – bad old bicycles). Those of us who continue to perambulate the old fashioned way are not only becoming outnumbered, we are in danger of being overrun. I mean that literally.

Whether in use by the disabled, the elderly, or the growing segment of those merely unwilling to walk under their own steam (I mean – isn’t that too much to expect, after all?), the wheeled folk zip by at an alarming speed. They are also heedless. Which is to say, they are protected by their steel and aluminum, and are not overly concerned about a glancing blow or a sideswipe.

It’s not as if one can just zone out when taking a stroll or running errands in the City. There is the need to sweep the near environment for crazies or malevolence. But that used to be an awareness of the shoulders-up space. Now one has to maintain vigilance below the knees, too. Whoops. Had to jump to the side. Okay, now, that was a close encounter with a www (woman with walker) who hadn’t heard about the no zigzag rule. Wait. I mean, just stand and wait. That older guy riding a sitdown scooter – should he really be chugging along at that mph on the sidewalk? I need to permit him to pass.

Do you get the picture?

It’s time to put them all in special lanes. Let them duke it out or turn it into a 21st century roller derby. Or keep the rest of us in a protected area. It’s not a fair fight.