I have a friend in his 50s who has not read one book since high school. And what might that book have been? Of all the titles in all the world, Jude the Obscure.
JUDE the OBSCURE?
I howled with laughter.
I know someone in her 60s who, though she is a writer with a degree in English and had been a ravenous reader, was unable to finish a book or even a comic strip, for several years. She–I–had formerly picked up another book as soon as I–she–had set one down.
I DIDN’T KNOW HOW BAD I FELT
until I felt good.
Loving What Is is a self-help–motivational book (as identified on the ISBN label) that caught my eye as I passed a bookstore’s outside sale table. In it Bryon Katie describes waking up from her miserable life on the floor of a halfway house, and presto change-o, she was a new person.
MEKA LEKA HI MEKA HINEY HO
I had a similar awakening
not long ago, whereby I realized that a string of heartbreaks, misfortunes and instability had built into an eight-year-long depressive episode, which one day magically lifted. I feel lighter, nearly buoyant, closer to the peace I have always sought, that everything’s going to be OK. With me–not the country or planet; that’s still up in the fossil fuel-ridden air. But it’s on me and me alone to enjoy and be grateful for my one wild and precious life, yes?
I’M SO HAPPY TO HAVE READING BACK
All loners know
what a great companion a book is. You can enter a stranger’s mind via a book. You can learn physics from Einstein. You can take the pressure off your own story and indulge in someone else’s. You can learn how to knit, how to strip wood, how to dress a wound, how to sew a French seam, how to rebuild a carburetor. You can learn ballet positions and tantric sex positions. But my favorite use of a book is to take joy in beautiful language artfully arranged. I also love laying a book on my chest, closing my eyes and smelling the pages. And then having a cat come sit on my head.
So I’m devouring books again. They are plant-based, zero in calories, and leave you feeling full.
“Did I just ask John Waters to excuse me?”
I asked John Waters, getting up for my stop on the F-line. I had! Apparently he has an apartment here in [SF], and was nice enough to let me snap his picture just because, hey, John Waters had sat next to me on the trolley. Proof. The empty space on his right is where I had previously sat next to him.
“If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” – John Waters
SO WELCOME BACK
to yourself, my dear.
I’m reading and writing again. Just like I did as a kid when I hadn’t gone to sleep yet and the ‘hood was not yet awake. Just as I did as an overly zealous English major.
I’m surprised I couldn’t find that mommy mommy commercial on youtube. Here is one to hold its place.
Apart from 20-something delusional fantasies of the Platonic meeting and melting of souls, I’ve always known I am not the marrying kind. I never as a girl envisioned anything like a dream wedding or the possibility of children. High school Saturday nights passed without thought to the date I didn’t have. Prom? What is that, even? Not this gal. Once upon a time when I was on a date with Some Guy, we walked by the Academy of Music, where the evening’s program was Dvorak’s New World Symphony. He was not one to spontaneously go to the orchestra with me, not even with $2 nosebleed seats. I briefly contemplated palming his chest and shoving him into the street with “This is where we part ways.” In my mental script, as I pass into the theater, he almost gets hit by a car.
I don’t want anyone
interfering with me and my one lifetime. I do what I want and go where I want whenever I want. I’ll buy a house, sell a house, move to another city, another country, and change jobs, quit jobs, without consulting anyone or compromising. I’m not going to wait for someone to be ready to join me before I do something. And never will I tell a friend, “OK, I’ll check with Jim and get back to you.”
reject the designation single. Single implies half of double and I ain’t half anything, beeyatches; I live a whole life of my own. Despite my continuing career as a chronic depressive, I find, in my upright lucid moments, that curiosity and appreciation are all it takes to be more happy than less happy, no matter who is or isn’t by your side. That’s my recipe for an interesting life, and the secret ingredients are music, cats, and friends.
FORGET THE TUNNEL OF LOVE
I live in the tunnel of affectionate friendship.
The best things ever to happen to me were menopause, retirement, and social security, which all freed me from so many dreary or conflicting aspects of life, like tampons, libido, alarm clocks, and jobs. Men? Forgettaboudit. That’s over. Not that I haven’t loved any, or might not still, but anyone of any persuasion quickly finds I am near impossible to live with. Ask my best friends. I would caution any guy—I’m a bad pony; don’t bet on me. I can have people around me for only so long. I don’t want to engage with someone just because they’re in my field of vision. I want to eat, sleep, go out, and travel in my own time, not in coordination with someone else’s. I want to play the same Scriabin étude on a loop for five hours. I prefer a quiet room to chatter. You do things with people you wouldn’t do on your own, like watch a rerun of Veep because why not what else are we doing? In silence, creativity calls.
Loving, supportive, loyal,
half-cracked friends is the way to go for me. Bonus points for gay guys. But you’re leaving out love, lovey, you might say, the riches of partnership—but even in love, I crave solitude. I can’t be alert and responsive 24/7. I need room to breathe and freedom to crash. I need to know no one’s coming through that front door. I realize most people seek companionship; I know I’m an exception, and I told a friend my lack of interest in the pursuit of love makes me feel an outsider to the human race which seems obsessed with it. He shot back over our Thai lunch, “You are an outsider.” Nothing special about it, it just goes against the grain of ordinary society. Some people are at a loss for being alone, but I enjoy my own company, bless my soul. I may die alone, like the hooked-up always forecast—but so will you after your partner croaks. I know I can live a satisfying life on my own; anything else is a crap shoot.
LISTEN TO BACH
and the world will make sense. – Mayor Jones
Music is my saving grace. If Whoever’s in Charge had asked, I’d have begged, make me not a writer but a musician. We all know music beats the living daylights out of other modes of expression. It is pure communication through sound waves.
There is nothing I love more
than music—but I don’t speak the language, I only hear it.
It might as well be calculus. It’s just sound to me, either pleasing or disturbing or undistinguished, or boring, and the structural framework upon which it is built eludes me. It’s a club I’m shut out of. I am unspeakably jealous of all musicians. It actually hurts. Sure I could learn more than I now know, in the way I was proud of myself for going from an F to an E in Algebra, then back down to an F, but some things don’t come naturally and I wouldn’t have the confidence of real understanding.
I mean: “Under the latter definition, a diatonic scale comprises five non-transpositionally equivalent pentachords rather than seven because the Ionian and Mixolydian pentachords and the Dorian and Aeolian pentachords are intervallically identical (CDEFG=GABCD; DEFGA=ABCDE).”
Maybe I’m lucky that way, that it’s an abstraction that goes in both ears and evaporates, because though I forced myself to learn to read music so I could mangle Bach on the piano, I found that when I later listened to pieces I’d studied, I didn’t like knowing what the notes were, or seeing the skeleton of the sheet music it began as. That was too of this world, and music is not.
Music barely exists,
in a practical sense. There’s no such concrete thing as Beethoven’s 9th. It’s not in the notes on the page; they have to be played and heard and you can hear only so many at one time. There’s no cloud of sound waves hanging in the air that contains the whole of Beethoven’s 9th. It’s not contained in the score; that’s just paper. Its wholeness is something we take on faith. When the second movement begins, the first one is gone. You can’t keep music and you can’t chase it. Tempus edax rerum. Time, the destroyer of all things, destroys music as it’s happening. With every note the previous note dies. It’s continually deconstructing itself into silence. You can only hear it in waves which advance and retreat. It comes to us like the wind and, like the wind, blows away.
My response to music is purely emotional.
I’m not knowledgeable enough to be a critic, and when I read online quibbling about fine points and nuances, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Rubato comes up a lot. I focus on the pleasure hearing something gives, it’s visceral and sensory, not intellectual, à la “I know what I like.” A piece can make me hyperventilate (Grosse Fugue), weep (Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony), swoon (Brahms’ 3rd), dance (Wir eilen mit swachen), smile (Fugue à la Gigue), wrinkle my brow (Rochberg), space out (Glass), pound the floor for mercy (Parsifal), transport me to another realm (Bachianas Brasilieras No. 9), gasp (Resphighi’s Ancient Airs), shiver me timbers (any Bach Mass), or sometimes gag (most contemporary schlock).
Music even saved my life. Deep in depression and grief months after the murder of a friend, I went to the Academy of Music to hear Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. By the light-hearted 4th movement I was reconciled to the reality that J was dead but I was not.
Someone asked me
what are my greatest pleasures in life, and without thinking I said long-distance train travel, a live symphony orchestra, and my cats. Apart from perhaps the thrillingly ominous creaking of the train as you climb Soldier Summit in the Wasatch Mountains on a snowy moonlit night, or having the earth drop out from beneath you riding the edge of Pineview Dam in Ogden, there’s nothing more
exciting than near-on 100 virtuoso musicians playing as one, the electricity of the hall crackling in the air. I’m addicted, and the treatment center is but a train ride away, because I live in the city of the glorious Philadelphia Orchestra. They’re our #1 asset, ask me. I grew up with them. They were my first orchestra and Ormandy my first Music Director, in the era of Concertmaster Norman Carol and flautist Murray Panitz, cellist William Stokking, the de Pasquales of course, and violist Renard Edwards, the first African American member of the orchestra, back in 1971. Forty-eight years later, he hasn’t retired.
Maybe it’s brand loyalty,
or simply the first live music I ever heard, but “music’s most sensuous sound,” the fabled “Philadelphia sound”— is the sound I crave, whatever other orchestras have to offer, for “its warmth, [its] rich enveloping sound.” “The signature lava flow of [the] magnificent Philadelphia strings is…memorably ravishing.” I hear Muti disrupted this tradition, and I didn’t pay much attention to the intervening conductors between him and Nézet-Séquin, but I can’t remember ever not being ravished by today’s Philadelphia Orchestra.
One of the first concerts
I recall was in 1977, with André Watts and featuring Beethoven’s Fifth; I think I’d just graduated from Temple. (Yes, I do still have the program and those of virtually every concert I have attended since college. I collect memories.) I must have chosen that because it was the Fifth that introduced me, amidst my nonmusical family, to classical music. I’d asked myself, “What’s the big deal about Beethoven’s Fifth?” I listened to it, and found out. Soon after, I acquired the 17-volume Beethoven Bicentennial Collection and was all about LvB until, after hearing Glenn Gould, I became the Bach freak I am today. As I like to say, “Buddha is my mentor; Bach is my religion.” Though I’ve no idea how often the players have shifted over the years—could be a whole different animal—I’ll hear Nézet-Séquin do something, Schubert’s Great Symphony, go home and listen to Ormandy’s 1969 recording, and they both feel familiar.
I found it sad,
though, towards the end, that the orchestra seemed to lose its heart for playing for Ormandy; sometimes the audience would stop clapping before he even got off the stage. Then when that spitfire Riccardo Muti showed up, things got exciting again. I loved his youngblood energy, but I left town not long after, and had no worthy successor orchestra to devote myself to. I got out of the habit of going to live shows, and was once brought to nostalgic tears in my living room listening to the Academic Festival Overture, but years later I hit the jackpot at Davies Hall, home of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. I loved them to death for 17 years (15 Grammy awards, 21 nominations) but couldn’t bring myself to call them “my” orchestra.
Ormandy gets mixed reviews
on the web. I don’t hear him lauded as one of the greats. I’m no doubt not discerning enough a judge. He gets a lot of flack but I don’t give a damn. It was his orchestra that taught me as a teenager to love Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaik and Rocky. They’re better than ever, and as I wrote of a performance in May 2017, “I don’t know where in the world you are but did you hear it, the ‘Philadelphia Sound‘ that just blew the roof off the Kimmel Center? Tchaikovsky would never have had doubts about his own 5th symphony if he had heard MY orchestra play it. Woôöòóœøōõow! They killed that 5th so dead, in my concert notes tonight I wrote ‘Why the Philadelphia Sound is the sound heard ’round the world.’ ” (conducted by Cristian Mâcelaru)
Here is a letter
I wrote Eugene Ormandy on October 30, 1981, shortly after fleeing the humidity, slush, and unrequited love of Philadelphia for Portland, Oregon, and here I am reading it to my pal Beau in my San Francisco apartment.
Dear Maestro Ormandy,
As a native Philadelphian (of 26 years’ habitation) who has recently transplanted to Portland, I am confident that while I miss my friends and city, a new life will develop in their stead—but what can fill the void formerly occupied by you and your wonderful orchestra? In the two months I have been making a home for myself, my constant companion has been your exquisite, incomparable recording of the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony. Is there a nobler, grander, more fearless piece of music, and could anyone embrace it with the warmth and fullness you alone achieve?
The 2nd is very meaningful to me. I first heard you conduct it at a 1977 Dell West concert, where I and my great love shared a single umbrella while the misty blue night descended and your strings soared over Fairmount Park like my own triumphant heart. I am a writer and I can only hope to one day compose a sentence that can fly straight into the heart like the motto of the E minor.
After I decided to leave Philadelphia (and my great love) in the summer of 1981, I went to see, one last time, Eugene Ormandy conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Dell. What was on the program but Rachmaninoff 2! As I do not know when, if ever, I will return, it was for all I know the last time I will have heard you together, and so I felt impelled to pay my respects and to thank you for the beauty and splendor you have given the world like a gift of magic. I happened to see you walking on Locust St. the opening day of the ’78-’79 season; I said good morning and you tipped your hat to me and asked, “How do you do?” I must confess I have been in love with you ever since!
In gratitude and admiration, [the young] Alexandra Jones
I returned to Philadelphia
in 2016 to be with my family, and who was now on the podium but international sensation Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He and the Philly crew are a perfect fit. I have a soft spot, called my heart, for MTT, but Yannick might just be the pinnacle of my concert-going career. After all this powerhouse—“the greatest generator of energy on the international podium”—is conducting my personal orchestra. Though he directs Philly and no less than the Metropolitan Opera, Orchestre Métropolitain and five or ten other ensembles, he is the farthest thing from a diva. Of course I sit behind him, not in front of him; I have it on good authority Ormandy “was a tyrant.” But Yannick—I would call him pure of heart, a decent, humble man who lives his passion and his beliefs, and spreads his own joy around the globe. He’s grateful for how lucky he is to be living the life he is, doing what he loves.
His energy excites
and exhausts me, canceling each other out and allowing me to sit quietly in a chair for two hours without attracting attention. But mostly, it inspires me. He does more with the 86,400 seconds in his day than anyone I can think of. And as one with a limited number of spoons at my disposal, I don’t know how he does it with travel thrown in; yet he took the time to make a 36-hour playlist of music for the homeless animals at the SPCA.
Just as you put your Goodwill stuff in your trunk and drive it around for four months before dropping it off, I’d had a cache of rejected cat food and surplus items in the pantry for donation for quite some time, only I’d been waiting to deliver them for a day when a famous conductor happened to be there. It wasn’t a public event but a press junket, so I just barged my way in and introduced myself as the “designated audience representative culled from [his] worldwide posse of admirers” (or something like that). I was so nervous I might make some kind of fool of myself I took a Xanax before I left the house.
When I thanked him
for this adorable gesture he spoke in his gentle Québecois accent of the need of animals and humans to love and be loved (or something like that). I noted, because I could look straight into his eyes, that I wouldn’t have to tippy-toe to hug him. I always scope that out when I meet a man. Huggage is a mainstay in the tunnel of affectionate friendship, ya know.
I once wrote
if ever I lived with a man he would have to be companionable as a cat, just in the room sharing air, rather than the space invaders I’d been used to. I have three furry tranquilizers—Zazu, Zzyzzy and Zahra (who are utterly oblivious to music unless it wakes them).
I named Zzyzzy after the last entry in the Philly phone book when I was a kid, Zzyzzy Zzyzzy’s Ztamp Ztudio. They called it that to make it easy to find as it turned out to be a front for a prostitution ring. I’ll never tell Zzyzzy that.
MUSIC IS HEALING
Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Seat F106
is the address of my happy place. F106 is my metaphor for where I disappear into the music and all is right with the world. “I” more or less ceases to exist, and the world with its travails.
The other night Yannick and the gang served up the most thrilling orchestral/theatrical experience of my life, no exaggeration—Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet accompanied by the magical acrobatics and aerial ballet of Brian Swanson’s JUNK. My front orchestra happy seat mainly had a view of principal cellist Hai-Ye Ni, but it was such a striking presentation I went back on the last night so I could watch the dancers from the conductor’s circle. From above, the spacious Kimmel reminded me of Noah’s ark, and the lighted rectangles of sheet music glowing embers on the hearth of humanity.
My review: Most spectacular and auricutacular [my word] outrageous exotic erotic display in memory. I can’t convince anyone to go, but those who do will not regret it and will never forget it.
They blew my mind and the roof off the house. Again! Charles Darwin used to wander Cambridge campus to hear hymns coming from King’s College Chapel. “This gave me intense pleasure,” he wrote, “so that my backbone would sometimes shiver.” This was truly a spine-tingling performance, with waves of Prokofiev washing over us like warm ocean currents. I’ve suggested they film it and I hope that would come to pass, for medici.tv or Great Performances, for it deserves to go down in history as an extraordinary one-of-a-kind tour de force.
MUSIC PRESERVES MY SANITY
I’ve gotten my life back since I turned off MSNBC and turned on my stereo.
There’s a charming documentary
on medici.tv, Christiaan van Schmerbeek’s “Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a Portrait.” My favorite part is Yannick collapsing onto a chair and eating a banana. So, he’s not Superman, huh? I’m proud he’s ours. I dread the Met will seduce him away. I’m jealous, in fact. I want him all to ourselves. When I heard of his appointment I thought, should one person get to occupy two of the most plum positions in classical music? There are only so many to go around, right? I was only defending my selfishness. Who on planet earth would have said no? All part of his meteoric rise (career “rises” are always “meteoric”—a neat trick because meteors don’t rise, they fall).
New York has gotten the white tie and tails treatment from him. Hm. I guess Philly’s more like home court. Ormandy held sway for 44 years; I hope YNS will stay put, well, until I die. Because I’m an addict, and I need my fix.
IF YOU LOVE THEM SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU MARRY THEM?
Not the marrying kind;
nevertheless, I confess, the Philadelphia Orchestra is the love of my life.
It happens that Yannick is starting the ’19-’20 season with the New World Symphony. I’ll be going by myself.
♦ ♣ ♥ ♠
Music will heal our hearts, will bring us together. – Lang Lang
It happens that (I’m not making this up): July 23rd the Philadelphia Orchestra will be performing, at the Mann Center (formerly Robin Hood Dell), Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony. I won’t be going alone. I’m bringing (drum roll)–my great love from 1977! That brings my life full circle. He’s married, to someone else, which worked out great, ’cause well, you know…
Maestro Eugene Ormandy
Director, the Philadelphia Orchestra
When I think of composing, my thoughts turn to you, the greatest orchestra in the world.
and not necessarily improved Ax Files (Redux) back in September of 2016, using your “September 1st is the most hopeful day of the year” initiative, pound out five columns, all in September, then nothing.
I WAS SUSPENDED
from my own disbelief
of current events. I was a lady-in-waiting, for two things: the presidential election, and the death of my mother. They both happened in November of 2016, and both threw me for a loop.
I had arrived in Philadelphia
in July of 2016 on the heels of personal turmoil, if not crisis. For the second time in three years, I was on the verge of losing my apartment. That did happen in San Francisco in 2013, due to lack of sufficient work, and again, nearly, in Portland, Oregon, after losing my job and not finding another. It so happened that at that time, my mother had gone into long-term care, leaving vacant her apartment in the duplex she shared with her brother, my uncle, which I now share with him.
So back to my native Philly
I went, after a 35-year absence and residencies in Portland (1981-1996—interrupted by a six-month pit-stop with my sociopathic and now dead boyfriend in Whidbey Island, Washington—in Berkeley (1996-2003), San Francisco (2003-2013), and Portland (again—2013-2016).
with being back to my eastern roots in Philly. I never thought of myself as a left coaster, always an easterner. This intro to NYPD Blue encapsulates the urban edge I missed out there—density, chaos, unsightly infrastructure, crumbling facades, rawness, generic unpleasantness. That barreling of the subway train into blackness feels right. BART was not nearly gritty enough, Portland almost too lovely.
San Francisco was my city, where I was meant to be, it was that city only while I had the means to be there. When I ran out of them I became a black hole waiting to be filled by someone else’s money.
SO I’M BACK
While weary of writing I took up photography. Photos are immediate; it takes a finger-snap for a first look, whereas printed pages require work performed upon them. They all look more or less like ants in formation. The words could say anything. They need to be scanned, absorbed, digested—read. Though I am or have been a writer and have a degree in English, as I age I quickly tire of reading, rarely finishing a book, article, or even paragraph. But now I find that I miss telling myself things in words, or just marking time as the years pass. Now it’s my compulsion for taking pictures I’m growing weary of—thousands sitting in wait to be edited, if ever.
It’s not a disorder.
It doesn’t disrupt my life; it is my life. It’s what I do. Take photos. Write about stuff. Document what I observe.
Here are some pictures I took “while I was gone.”
♠20th Century in the 21st
This one looked like a wartime goodbye with battle remnants heaped on the street. That is a Grumman Tracker II, a 45-foot-long Cold War-era naval plane with a 73’ wingspan, a submarine bomber. Sculptor Jordan Griska obtained the decommissioned plane and folded the metal of the nose and body so that it appears to be crumpling into the platform. And he turned it into a greenhouse!
My flickr stream is my free-for-all photo farm. This is not the cream of my crop–it’s the whole 40 acres and a mule, including fine dining, light snacks, totally non-nutritive filler junk food and outright garbage. Stuff that perhaps should never have been harvested and left for compost, but here it is, for your consideration. May you find something to your taste. Food for thought, at least.
I began my column The Ax Files in 2005 with the broad announcement: I am here to write whatever I want, whenever I want, for whatever it’s worth.
Same with photography. “I photograph anything that can be exposed to light,” as Imogen Cunningham put it. More specifically, I photograph anything that catches my eye–because it’s lovely, sad, tragic, boring, there.
Some of my obsessions are pigeons (the underdog of the bird world), abandoned shoes (all the lonely shoes; where do they all come from?), bulldogs (because some of my best friends are), X for Alexandra, 55 for the year of my birth, and the soulless people known as mannequins. They are dead yet alive.
I practice street photography as social documentation of both political and human conditions. I take photos only in public spaces and situations. If you see yourself here and do not wish to be included, please send me a flickr mail.
If you take a photo of something, you are saying, “This is worth looking at. This is how I saw it.” I hope you enjoy seeing what I saw. Cheers!
I BID YOU ADIEU
’til we meet again.
♦ ♣ ♥ ♠
I have scarcely left you When you go in me, crystalline, Or trembling, Or uneasy, wounded by me Or overwhelmed with love, as when your eyes Close upon the gift of life That without cease I give you.
My love, We have found each other Thirsty and we have Drunk up all the water and the Blood, We found each other Hungry And we bit each other As fire bites, Leaving wounds in us.
But wait for me, Keep for me your sweetness. I will give you too A rose.
or relieving than being off some hook you didn’t want to be on, usually involving something you don’t want to deal with? There are hooks you hang your coat on, hooks you latch your screen door with, hooks you catch a fish with, and there are the grappling hooks that snare you for life.
I’ve just been let off twice.
I called my uncle I live downstairs from to see if he was ready to visit my mom at her senior facility. He, her younger brother by seven years, goes every afternoon to spend an hour or two with her, “because she’s alone, and I don’t want her to feel forgotten.” I go with him or my sister several times a week, but sometimes, as has been the case all my life, I just can’t get myself out of the house. I was set to go today, but she’s just been taken in to physical therapy, and he’s going to skip it.
Getting out of bed, my roommate Molly once told me, is the hardest thing I do all day. That’s good, right? Because then nothing harder will happen to you all day. And truly if that’s the hardest thing you endure, your life is blessed for sure. First of all you have a bed that is under the roof over your head.
AH YES, HOW OFTEN
have I let myself, or gotten myself, off the hook? Every chance I get. There are hooks everywhere you look and some you can’t yet see. Once I set my alarm for 5:30 and again 6:00 to keep an early appointment. The cats woke me around five anyway, awaiting the tick-tick-tick-tick-ticking of kibble bits cascading into their feed bowl. So I could have stayed up and taken a shower.
But I went back to bed to await the 5:30 alarm, hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze again until the 6:00 alarm. Then I scuffled to find my appointment slip, and calloo callay o frabjous day, the appointment was for the next day! Back to bed, back to bed, back to bed!
I try never to leave anything to the morning. Before sleepytime I iron my clothes, gather my effects, place needed items strategically by the door, but there were some papers I still had to print out for the appointment. But lo! Behold! Now I didn’t need them till the next day, a whole 24 hours leading up to the next last minute. Life is good! As long as I don’t have to live it.
The former friend
who announced I was the most neurotic person she ever knew (you mean besides yourself, beeyatch?) was right on target when she called me a “horizontal personality.” I am never truly comfortable unless and until I’m lying down. Preferably in front of a movie or something that demands no response from me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, will I strut and fret my hour upon the stage, then go back to bed.
Is there any solace greater, any arms more embracing, than your own bed and bed covers? “I love bed,” I would sigh to my amused friend Larry, as if the bed and not any lover in it were my paramour. Bed is the ultimate outpost of avoidance. Therein is nothing you can’t not face.
Sometimes I wonder,
does laziness disguise itself as depression? But that is ungenerous. Depression is not a pretend hypochondriac ailment. It kills people. I liquidated a portfolio of valuable real estate properties in Portland, Berkeley, and San Francisco just so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed.
At age 61 I had to set up a Go Fund Me campaign to move back east to be near my mother. I had just lost my job in Portland and, consequently, my apartment was next in line. How did I ever summon the energy to gather my crap and transport it 3000 miles–well, it just had to be done–but boy did I crash once I got here! And though I love the smile of surprise on my mom’s face when she sees I’ve arrived, I was happy when my uncle let me off the hook and once again I did not not have to raise myself from my default prone position to confront the outside world. Thank God who does not exist!
THE OTHER HOOK
I got off of today
was pretty damn silly. I will be attending a live-stream performance by Opera Philadelphia (“Land of the Free. Home of the Bravo.”) of Puccini’s Turandot at Independence Mall this weekend. It was scheduled for tomorrow and I wondered if my little folding lawn chairs ever made it here from Portland. Just thinking of hunting for them was tiring, so when I got an email that the event is postponed until Sunday on account of rain–yay!
I keep myself so house-bound when my biggest kick is traveling the world. But as Lauren Sharon Schwartz put it in Not Now Voyager: A Memoir, “The stillness and stasis of bed are the perfect opposite of travel: inertia is what I’ve come to consider the default mode, existentially and electronically speaking. Bed, its utter inactivity, offers a glimpse of eternity, without the drawback of being dead.”
♦ ♣ ♥ ♠
My head aches, my eyes burn, my arms and legs have given up, and my face in the mirror has a grayish cast. The bed, across the room, calls in its unmistakable lover’s croon, Come to me, come, only I can make you truly happy, oh, how happy I’ll make you, don’t resist, remember how you moan with pleasure the instant we touch…. – Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Fatigue Artist
a nearby burner helped me erect my shade structure. As we worked at undoing the knots in the guy wires, I told him the story of the mother who had her own foolproof method of judging her son’s three prospective brides. She gave them each a knotted skein of yarn and asked their help in untangling it. The first yanked here and there impatiently and finally threw the yarn on the floor in disgust. The second concentrated for a few moments and abruptly concluded she couldn’t do it, and the third loosened and followed one thread all the way through until the mass fell easily apart and she smiled as she handed it back to the mother. “That, my son,” she said, is the wife for you.”
I love that story!
I think of it when a knotty dilemma comes up. Is there some way to break through to the heart of this matter and have the problem fall apart like a relieved sigh?
My mother might find a thin gold chain at the back of a drawer, wadded into an impossibly tight knot, and give it to me to untangle. It would have a shiny, sweaty smell, and excite me: Gold chains linked you to the great fairy tales and myths, to Arabia, and India; to the great weight of the world, but lighter than a feather. – Anne Lamott
In packing to travel to the next phase of my life, I encountered the very skein of yarn that might have challenged the three bridal contenders. Now and then I decide I’m going to get good enough at knitting to wear something I made without embarrassment, or become an expert crocheter like my mother. But I have a hard time holding my own attention at things I need to improve at. I tend to spend more time on and apply more energy to things I’m already good at. Part of it is my tendency to “crash,” i.e., drop whatever I’m doing and blink at the darkness while remembering how to breathe.
I bought myself a ukelele for my 60th birthday; it was a “60 after 60” thing I thought I’d pick up on as part of later-in-life new horizons. But when I discovered how hard it was (for me) to change chords, I, knowing myself, sold it to pay my electric bill. I knew I wasn’t interested enough to put in the time required to get good at it. Same with pottery. My instructor told me, “You’ll make 1000 bowls before you’re satisfied with one.” No, deary, I won’t.
Children and lunatics cut the Gordian knot which the poet spends his life patiently trying to untie. – Jean Cocteau
If a sailor expert at every extant knot
had made a career of tangling this yarn it could not have been more convoluted. If all three of my cats had pounced on this, wrestled each other and united their 12 paws of claws to confound me, it might have been easier to unravel. Some interloper, rogue element, banshee or succubus entered my lair and fucked with me.
Even though I knew
it was pointless, that I could have cut the mess apart, that I could have recrocheted the piece in less time, that I didn’t even want to continue the piece, that there were any number of better uses of time, I had to unravel this yarn, I just had to. It took me several evenings of dogged Netflix-binging obsession to work it out, and I did, but there was no great satisfaction in it. I just had to prove to myself that I am that patient, thorough, determined, marriageable, heart-of-gold gal that won’t give up. (That was a joke on myself. The very last thing I am is marriageable.)
Not that that has ever mattered to me. After growing up with front row seats to my parents’ marriage, I never once imagined my own wedding day. ~shudder~ But I do believe many problems can be deconstructed by looking at the individual elements, how they interrelate, and finding a path to resolution. They may be less convoluted than you think.
Now if I could just untangle my brain the same way…
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When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.
Glo-ry Glo-ry Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.
I turned 61 this year, 2016, and I’m throwing myself a party and providing the band. The band is playing Glory, Glory Hallelujah. There’s a trumpet, a tuba, a piccolo, a bass, a drum, and a chorus. It’s one of the only songs it knows how to play. For variety they might hazard a verse or two of Yankee Doodle Dandy, Glory H robustly picking back up without missing a beat. They’ve added cymbals.
I call the band “My Brain.”
It plays songs in loops, having started on Thursday, April 9, when I posted on Facebook, “Why is La Marseilles coming through my window?” Odd enough, but it played continuously and repeatedly, enough for me to check outside for who is so in love with the French national anthem they play it all the livelong day. I went outside, but the music wasn’t any louder and I couldn’t pinpoint a direction it was coming from.
The band played on.
It was a curiosity, but not loud enough to disrupt my attention, though I could make out every note over the whir of the refrigerator. If I watched a movie I would forget about it. But later on in my bedroom, there it was again, His glorious truth marching on like an army of ants. I remembered that I’d fallen twice recently, tripping down some outdoor stairs and again on the street, landing both times on my head (I don’t fall often but when I do I fall on concrete). Most alarming though was that while on the phone with my pharmacy, I without notice lost control of my speech and couldn’t form a sentence. I thought, balance problems and garbled speech, Jesus Christ, am I having a stroke?
I had already been to my doctor about the falls and loss of balance and random myoclonic tics and the alarming tongue-tied phone call. He surmised a mild concussion. Well that makes sense, but when the auto-play patriot channel kicked in, I went back to him and requested a referral for a neurologist. Could be nothing, but my dad had Parkinson’s disease.
The referral was denied by the Oregon Health Plan; the 24/7 livestream soon ceased. But what was left was the realization that until I hit my 60s, my vision of my future never allowed for catastrophic events like illness, natural disaster, and the utterly unforeseen. I have myself traveling the world to the bittersweet end, which I will meet with wry acceptance. The panoply of things that could go wrong has expanded exponentially with every birthday. Sixty’s still young to be contemplating how much time is “left,” but I have to wonder how long long-range plans can be.
Luckily, I’ve got a solid base, finally.
Since my best friend Donna succumbed to breast cancer in 2012 life has been a series of losses. After her death and a year-long depressive episode, I lost my San Francisco apartment, along with San Francisco itself, and later, back in Portland, my job, my apartment and Portland as well. Around that time, my mom had moved into long-term care, and friends helped fund my trip back to my hometown of Philly. No matter how dark the world can be, friends keep the home fires burning.
I’ve always operated at my own pace, though the current generation seems to have hitched a ride on the speed of light. And as I approach early retirement in the next year, I don’t bother to reflect on what I did or didn’t achieve in my working years or my childbearing years. I blossom in the fullness of time. I’m traveling at about 10 mph on the information superhighway. The internet is an invaluable resource and the biggest succubus of life force ever. When worlds collide!
I’m glad I grew up
when there was only one reality. What I’m looking for you can’t find on the internet. It is to know that when the blue screen fades into sleep mode, I am at peace with myself in the silence.
Glory Hallelujah indeed.
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“The Internet is a great place to get on the net.” – Bob Dole