Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthday Gifts

I inadvertently started a tradition on my 30th birthday. I decided to have a big party, which isn’t something I usually do, I prefer multiple dinners and celebrations over the entire month of August. When the question of gifts came up, I was at a loss. I was already planning a gathering with a large group of people who call me friend and I wasn’t sure that I needed something material to improve that. So to make my friends happy and satisfy my need to not have things I won’t use in my house, I came up with a compromise. I asked my guests to bring one of the following: a favorite bottle of wine, a favorite CD, or a favorite book. Since I consider books, music and wine essentials in my life I thought it might be fun to see what my friends would come up with.


The day of my 30th birthday, I fired up the grill and smothered on sun block and one by one my friends arrived with hugs and kisses and well wishes. They set their packages to the side and we ate, drank and talked the evening away. Then people began to ask me to open their gifts. As I opened a bottle of wine I was told how my friends had had that wine every year on their anniversary since they had first drank it on their honeymoon twenty plus years before. I was told how the book I unwrapped had been a catalyst for change in a friend’s life and how another book kept my friend up all night laughing. And how the CD of harp music was from my friend’s harp instructor who changed how she felt about music. By the end of the evening I was surrounded by little pieces from the moments that meant something to the people I love. I spent the next couple of months listening to the music, drinking wine and reading books, and remembering the stories that went with them.


By the time I could hum to the melodies, finished the last drop of wine and closed the last book, I felt closer to my friends who had allowed me to take a journey with them. It was hard to believe that what started out as my version of a compromise, turned into a new connection with the people who had come to celebrate my birthday with me. In the years that have followed it has become somewhat of a tradition, I have continued to receive wine, books, CDs and even movies. Then I get to spend the rest of the summer in the pages of the people who mean something to me and I find that no matter how small my living space is, I have more than enough room for that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Connected

So I haven't posted to my Blog in a while even though there have been many newsworthy events on a macro as well as a mirco level. I have all this instantaneous technology and yet access doesn't necessarily equal productivity. I have an app on my iPhone that allows me to post to my Blog anytime day or night. I can tell you what I had for breakfast, or about the guy on the subway dressed as Merlin. I have the means to tell you every single nuance of my day. I recently joined Twitter and when I signed on to my page I looked and it and thought "now what?" Seriously, Twitter is a social networking site that wants me to give regular updates in 140 characters or less and will nudge me if I haven't done so in 24 hours? Do you really want to know what I am doing every 15 minutes? Do you really want to track my whereabouts on your iPhone app? I like the parts of the day when you are on your path and I am on mine and unexpectedly our paths cross with no warning, just a moment when the stars align for us to meet.

Don't get me wrong, I have been using social networking sites for a while. I signed up for MySpace a few years ago because my niece was on it and have enjoyed sharing pictures, a Blog and updates with my friends and hearing tidbits from their lives that keep us in touch. I also signed up for Facebook, even though I was sure I couldn't handle more than one site at a time. Of course, I ended up migrating more to Facebook because my iPhone app works better and I could snap pictures of the city and post them to my wall. And now of course I have Twitter along with my app to Tweet, but it remains to be seen how much Tweeting I will be doing.

I am an avid Internet user, take away the TV, but I would be lost without my laptop. I love that I can shoot off a note to my best friend in Germany and she can immediately know I am thinking about her. When we met 19 years ago, it would take weeks to exchange letters with outdated information. Now I can know what's happening in her life and send her my random thoughts whenever I feel like it. Still I would trade my laptop for one of our coffee dates where we solve the problems of the world in the time is takes to drink a cappuccino. But I take what I can get and I am grateful for instant access to the people I love.

Still I can't help but wonder if we are substituting quantity for quality. That we don't get enough face time, so we post, update, message, tweet...every time we think of the people we wish were in front of us. Because no matter how fast I type, an instant message can't replace the sound of my best friend's laughter that rings in my heart and lets me know that I am truly wirelessly connected.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

McSorley's and German Film Makers

A friend of mine turned me on to www.couchsurfing.com. She is a talented artist who decided to go west. Since she is 22 years old and not cynical, she signed up for couch surfing and made her way across country sleeping on stranger's couches with friends scattered in between for good measure. She stayed with us first on her journey and then kept us updated with her blog along the way. It was enough for me to go on the site and check it out.

So I started a profile without any real information and figured Mattie and I would fill it in later. A few days ago we got an email on CS from a 21 year old German boy who is in NYC with a friend shooting a low budget film and looking for a place to stay. Mattie and I arranged to meet them at the oldest and longest operating pub in NYC, McSorley's circa 1852. We were early, so we joined a California couple at a table and marveled at the history on the walls. From original New York Times front pages of the Titanic sinking and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the wishbones that hang on the light fixture over the bar with 90 years of dust. The bones were from the chicken dinners of soldiers going off to World War One, they would put their bones on this light fixture and then take them off when they returned. The dust covered bones there today serve as a sort of memorial to the men who never returned home. McSorely's is a living time capsule, beneath the trendy exterior of the East Village lies a place the has kept the integrity of the era when the neighborhood was populated roughnecks and over crowded tenements.

We enjoyed the evening with the couple at the table until the two German boys came in excited and exhausted from a week's worth of shooting. They joined us at the table for a few beers and then they went back to work more and we went home to rest. When we got home we had already decided that the boys could stay with us until the end of October. We couldn't help but appreciate these young artists with their contagious enthusiasm. Not to mention most people who know me know that I have a special place in my heart for artists and Germans.

It was a night for appreciating something truly magical about a city where you can meet young people here for the first time in a place almost as old as this country.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Loss

Yesterday a good friend of mine told me that the baby inside of her died and today she must go to the hospital and give birth to a dead fetus. She was due in March and we had been exchanging playful emails about pregnancy for months. It was horrible news and I didn't know what to say. Sometimes even a wordsmith is speechless in other people's pain. So I told her I love her, I would be thinking of her and I am here. It was all I had to give.

I wish platitudes about loss were as simple as they sound, "time heals all wounds." I would be the first to use them when my friend tells me she lost the dream inside of her. Or when my young friend tells me how she lost her mom to an accident. Or my older friend called to tell me her daughter was killed by a drunk driver on the 4th of July. Or when my brother left his own child whom I love with every ounce of my being.

I have studied Buddhism over the years because I thought it would help me to distance myself from pain and suffering. However, life made sure that I would have my fair share of both. The times when I have convinced myself that I am above the pain are exactly the times when I would wake up at 3 in the morning in the presence of my own pain with no one to call. I could not escape those intense moments when the absence of that special someone enveloped me in grief.

I don't believe that you rise above loss with time, or that grief won't continue to creep up on you in those quiet vulnerable moments when you miss the one you lost. But I do believe that loss creates a wrinkle in time that disrupts our daily routines and opens the door to connections that were never possible before that moment. I know some people close down in this moment and let their grief swallow them whole and make an impression on everything they do. But when our hearts are shattered we have that much more surface space to deepen old connections and create new ones. It is in the times when our world is shaken to the core that we have the opportunity to open our core to the unknown. Just as grief will not lessen with a cliche, love will wait for us on the other side of the unknown.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hans Solo

When I was 5 years old my grandma asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween and I told her I wanted to be Hans Solo. This was not a shock coming from a tomboy with wild hair and scabs instead of knees. One advantage I had growing up poor was that I had a brother who was 3 years older than me. Since I didn't like to play with girl toys, I got to share toys with my brother: cap guns and cowboy hats for cops and robbers and plastic light sabers for Starwars, which usually ended with my brother kicking my ass.

My brother wanted to be Luke Skywalker, at the time I would have sworn he was much more akin to Darth Vader. My brother was fiercely emotional and equally discontented from the moment he arrived in this world. So Luke Skywalker appealed to his need to be saved from outside in. He longed for a secret code that would transform him from a scared little boy into a Jedi Knight. He wanted to ultimately to overcome his fear and be a hero that people could love instead of fear or ridicule.

By the ripe age of 5, I on the other hand, was okay with myself. I had a difficult home life and a strict church life, but I was easy going and likable. When I could not find love or attention in the traditional places, I found them in the gaggle of friends that followed me around the playground. I thought life was adventure and couldn't wait to go to school. I knew school would be this magical world with new people and friends. I was not disappointed, I learned all sorts of cool things like when the teacher told me to put my head down for talking, I could turn my head to the side and keep talking.

By the time I started school, my brother had already been held back a grade and was having a hard time making and keeping friends. Though he identified with Luke Skywalker, he never seemed to find the outside force that would make him whole on the inside and so his discontentment grew. Being a year older than most of the kids in his class meant he could use his size and strength to bully the other kids. Unfortunately this was not conducive to making friends, he had few tools to find love and friendship.

I never thought much about his perspective, because more often that not I was in the direct line of fire of his anger and emotional turmoil. I steered clear of him and grew leaps and bounds in school. I identified with my hero, Hans Solo because he was everything I knew I would be when I grew up. He had the coolest ship, a best friend by his side and he even got the girl. He always did the the right thing, not because he was a member of a society that bound him to honor, but because it was the right thing to do. In the meantime, he had as many adventures as Luke Skywalker, except he got to have fun, he got to drink with species from all over the planetary system, he got to learn what he was made of and he even got feisty princess who would love him for all time.

It is already October and Mattie and I are making plans to go to the Halloween Parade in the Village with some friends this year. I was thinking about being Hans Solo. Can you picture me, a woman with large breasts who barely broke five feet tall as Hans Solo? Well maybe I can be content in the knowledge that if anyone got to grow up and be Hans Solo, it was me. Except the subway is my ship, my best friend is a lot less hairy and every gay boy in Manhattan has a crush on my girl. It is a life that I am sure Hans Solo would appreciate as much as I appreciated his.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Mess

The first time I lived in New York City, I was a blue eyed kid living in Astoria, Queens and was sure that I would be a famous writer before the age of 25. Life happened to my plans and though my writing was passionate back then, it was far from mature. The thing I needed to learn in my writing and in my personal life is that the most intriguing part of life is the Mess. The Mess is what connects people to each other for better or worse. People who have their shit completely together on all levels do not exist and they make for dull inauthentic characters in any kind of story. One thing I know about story telling is that it is the human experience that we crave and that stays with us long after the telling is done. It is the peacemaker who abuses his wife and the killer who hates cut flowers for destroying living beauty that seduce us to follow them through their stories even if we don't like where they are going.

I once heard that you should never meet your heroes because they will only let you down with their inevitable humanity. I think it would be more interesting to meet them and realize that we too can be heroes or for that matter, villains as well. Each of us possess the ability for great goodness as well as harm in the core of our being. Life is a series of choices that end up becoming our story. I read Gandhi's autobiography a few years ago and was deeply touched by his Mess. It was a moving tale of one of the world's greatest peace makers who was abusive to his wife and so self critical that he never truly appreciated the work he did. It was honest and raw on every page his persona was shattered and the living man came forward. I also saw the documentary on Hitler's secretary and how she was enamored by his kindness and that he, the killer, hated cut flowers because he could not stand to see them die. This is a chilling image, aren't killers supposed to be 100 percent pure evil? Aren't heroes supposed to be 100 percent pure good? But it is in our polarity of dark and light that we make the choices the define who we are.

So I look back on my writing and see characters with their shit together. Currently I am working on a memoir so I can wade through my Mess and hopefully be more real, raw and authentic in my writing. The naive child in me is sorely disappointed that there is no holy grail, no magic number or age or key to perfection. For many years I hoped that the guru with the laser whitened smile really did find inner peace through his God and for only $99.99, I could too. How fantastic that for less than 100 dollars I could have my shit together just like my characters did when I was 20 year old.

On my second New York journey, I am awake with no God to cling to and more questions than answers about life. Frankly, stories with guy smiley bore me, unless of course they tell both sides, like when he steps off stage and into bed with his boy prostitute, then I am going to be with him until the end of his tale and he will be with me long after. It took me a long time to realize that the Mess is not only where you find the truth, but also the beauty. I am saddened to see people, many of whom I love dearly, try to whitewash their Mess. That whitewash comes in the form of drugs, religion or just the rewriting of history and leaving out the absent father, the molesting uncle and all the things that are unpleasant to think about.

It would be awesome if everyone wrote a memoir with only honesty as the requisite. Then we could all exchange them and I doubt there would ever be a lonely person on this planet again. We all have imperfection in common and it would be truly phenomenal if we would stop holding in our guts and burps and pretending to be mannequins and instead each and everyone of us could reach out and embrace the Mess.