Thursday, December 31, 2009

I am finishing Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge with a whimper.  As a recovering perfectionist, this is an opportunity to practice a little messiness (I suppose. Grudgingly.)

I appreciate anyone who may be reading these hastily written words at the end of what I imagine is a very full month for everyone.  I have to get to sleep as I am going to ring in the new year with a full day of meditation.  Hurray!  I hope to come back to some of these questions in the following week, as I've been blogging them in my mind the last ten days as I've been immersed in holiday fun, travel, and a little holiday trauma too.

December 21 Project. What did you start this year that you're proud of?
So many things... This was a year of starting and finishing.  One of those things is still a secret, but it involves a pact to actually make money writing, as well as an opportunity to collaborate with some brilliant women, and to (I hope) write something that helps people.

December 22 Startup. What's a business that you found this year that you love? Who thought it up? What makes it special? 1)  Emc2 Emmett McCarthy see 'best shop post'.
                                      2) Grand Street CSA (my CSA) Community Supported Agriculture.  So grateful to be a part of this movement to eat slow, local food.  It isn't a fad.  Its an enormous improvement on the grocery store for my health, the health of the planet, and my wallet too. 

December 23 Web tool. It came into your work flow this year and now you couldn't live without it. It has simplified or improved your online experience.  Thanks to a good friend, I now have technology  that is up to date for 2006!  I have a phone that is also a blackberry type device.  No more bulky filofax.

December 24 Learning experience. What was a lesson you learned this year that changed you?
Someone tried to take credit for my work.  I stood my ground and got the credit I deserved.  Don't mess with a Taurus.
December 25 Gift. What's a gift you gave yourself this year that has kept on giving?
Through meditation I've been developing the witness self.  This is the best present ever ever ever.

December 26 Insight or aha! moment. What was your epiphany of the year?  Too many.  Today's insight was that I have looked at my writing as something that people sometimes admire (really-- it isn't all choppy and full of awkwardly constructed sentences when I write more than a first draft), but I had not seen it as anything that could have the potential to be truly healing, even though I've written things (especially poems) that people have expressed thanks for receiving.  Its time to look at my writing as  part of the medicine I have to offer.  It can be that.  Why not?

December 27 Social web moment. Did you meet someone you used to only know from her blog? Did you discover Twitter? Yes I discovered Twitter.  I discovered it-- or more like I chose to join in-- because when my dad's secretary had to leave suddenly he was left completely helpless, having stubbornly refused to learn basic things about technology over the years as a private practice lawyer now in his 60's. He used to refuse to 'learn how to use the google'.  He is learning now, but its a steep curve.  So basically I was frightened into jumping into the fray for fear of being left behind, and I'm very glad I did.

December 28 Stationery. When you touch the paper, your heart melts. The ink flows from the pen. What was your stationery find of the year? Danielle LaPorte's cards are gorgeous.  They are even more beautiful in real life than they are online, as the paper is thick and luscious, and the fonts are just so big and juicy.  I gave the fanfuckingtastic card to a friend starting a new business.  My friend cannot swear.  She says that she'd like to, but her mom put a curse on her and she can't get the words out.  She put the card where she can see it every day.'This is IT!' she said when I gave it to her.  'This is THE CARD! I'm putting it on my altar.' I love cards, I give them to friends all the time, and I've never gotten a reaction like that before.

December 29 Laugh. What was your biggest belly laugh of the year?  I have heard that jokes are some of the hardest things to remember.  I can remember laughing until I was screaming and pounding the floor on many separate occasions with three beautiful people.  What we were laughing about I can't tell you.  But it was very funny.  I'll have to do better next year with remembering these things.

December 30 Ad. What advertisement made you think this year?  I'm a fan of AdBusters magazine, and was fascinated by their corporate logo/ leaf shape test.  There are two black and white squares on the page, one filled with corporate logos, the other with leaf shapes, all just in outline.  I was able to name most of the leaves, but also all of the corporate labels.  Most of the people I showed it to could name all of the labels and few of the leaves.

December 31 Resolution you wish you'd stuck with. (You know, there's always next year...) I'm pretty good at sticking to resolutions.  I think it is the confidence that comes with being an ex-smoker.  Somehow, doing that made me feel that I could do anything I set my mind to.  This year I stuck to my writing every day resolution, which was major, as well as some smaller ones.  I did say that I wanted to have more parties, and I had exactly one, which was one more than the year before.  This year I'll be taking a page out of Gretchen Ruben's book and have more 'laid back gatherings', which are less overwhelming.

Happy New Year.  I'll be blogging again at least twice weekly starting next week.  It has been such a pleasure discovering great writers and fascinating people through this community that Gwen Bell has been fostering.  Yay Gwen!  Yay bloggers!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Young Heros

Post inspired by Day 20 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:

 Who is your unsung hero of 2009?

I'm smiling right now, looking at this picture of two of the kids I mentor in a children's garden in New York City.  They are planting tomatoes we grew from the seeds of the previous year's crop for our communal 'pizza' vegetable garden.  

When I tell people about my work with the kids, the reaction is often something like, 'Oh, that's great. What a good thing you're doing for those kids, etc.' While I truly appreciate the cheerleading, because its unpaid and often unnoticed work that takes precious hours away from my business and writing, I want to tell people, 'No. It isn't what I'm doing for those kids. It's the other way around. Those kids save me.'  

The two little girls in this picture love the earth.  They worry about what's happening to it the way I worried about nuclear war when I was growing up.  The older one told me that when she sees trees that are being 'mistreated' she cries.  She said that she cries at night sometimes thinking about what's happening to the planet.

The kids feel incredibly proud when they plant trees, make compost, watch the seeds they planted grow into sunflowers.  They are delighted by worms, by dark rich soil, by finches nibbling crab apples and mason bees dozing on coneflowers.  Their delight is infectious to anyone who is open to it. 

They are learning how to be advocates for the earth, and they inspire me every time I see them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best of 09 Catch Up Post

These prompts are from Gwen Bell's December Blogging Challenge.  I'm playing catch up after a very full week of artistic output on my play, energy spent on my herbal biz, dancing in a performance, and in case that sounds like too much fun, really thrashing out a tricky situation.  Here online  I was getting carried away with reading everyone's amazing posts and noodling around on twitter at all hours of the night.   I had to chose between blogging from midnight until 4 AM or sleep, and sleep won out.  But maybe I can learn to both sleep and blog.  Yet to be determined.

Rush of the year: 
Hearing the play I worked to complete for five years read aloud for the first time by an actor.

Best Packaging:
Glass milk bottle.  Elegant.  Completely reusable. The milk tastes infinitely better.    There used to be one type of milk that I could find in a glass bottle here in NYC.  Now there are two kinds readily available in my neighborhood,  Ronnybrook Farm and Milk Thistle Farm.  My hope is that the glass milk bottle craze will sweep the nation. It tastes so good, the reusable bottle gives you a happy feeling, and you can pretend you're on Mad Men.

Tea of the Year:
I'm an herbalist, a.k.a. a tea-ologist.  I'm known for my tea blends, and I own 4 teapots of various sizes and actually use all of them regularly.  My very favorite tea isn't a blend, though, its Linden flower I gathered myself from the trees in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  You know in June when all of a sudden the air smells like honey as you pass under these enormous shade trees often buzzing with bees?  That's linden.  I love it so much that I named my dog after the tree Tilia, the Latin name for Linden.  Its not cultivated in the U.S., though its highly medicinal (studies have found it lowers blood pressure) and is also relaxing, as well as simply delicious.  You can buy it from Mountain Rose Herbs, though its imported from Eastern Europe, where it has been a beloved tisane for centuries.  Proust writes about Linden tea with his madeleine in Swan's Way.

Word or Phrase:
2009 was... transformational.  9 is a number of change. After a run of some (10) entropic-feeling years I finished my play, wrote 30 poems in 30 days, started a novel, danced a solo in front of an audience, began the process of founding a not-for-profit, expanded my business, and finally made homemade mayonnaise. 

Best Shop:
EMc2 Emmett McCarthy
Emmett McCarthy's designs are timeless, current, sophisticated, and a little tongue-in-cheek.  What Holly Golightly or a young Elizabeth Taylor would wear today.  Michelle Obama has caught on.  Emmett uses beautiful fabrics in both neutrals and deep jewel tones, with exquisite tailoring done right in New York City where his boutique is located.   One of his winter coats boasts a silk lining.   Those kinds of luxurious details make me feel both dressed to kill and also completely comfortable.  I have one of his gorgeous coats now, and plan on adding another piece to my wardrobe just as soon as I can.

Best Car Ride of the Year: the subway.

I  understand driving a car really fast.  Driving makes more sense to me as a sport than as a mode of transportation.  For the latter I'd rather walk, snowshoe, ride a horse, a bike, or in the city take the train.  I love the fact that if you live in Manhattan you don't have to own a car.

This summer I took a long road trip with my partner, and we drove through bizarre little towns north of Highway 2 in Minnesota.  It was a glimpse of what driving must have been like before highways.  We got a feel for which towns were wealthy with their freshly painted Scandinavian inspired gingerbread moldings on the buildings, and which were not: 'Spooner Blows!'.  We drove through brat days and past spaghetti dances.  We goofed, laughed, listened to good jazz, but unlike when we're sitting by a lake having a great time, or at our kitchen table, I felt slightly queasy and stiff from immobility. So ultimately I left the car knowing that I'll always need to live somewhere where I don't have to drive because no matter how much fun driving can be, its still driving.

Even though the MTA has been really shady lately with their fare hikes and service cuts, I'm so grateful for the New York City Subway System. 

Here's my favorite ode to the train:  Duke Ellington & Ella Fitzgerald, Take the A Train.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What's the best change you made to the place you live this year?

Post inspired by Day 13 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge

I live in a very small apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Its not the smallest apartment, that would be this one, but it isn't a lot of space for two people, two dogs, and frequent house-guests.    I have to purge about twice a year, or I'll go insane. 

 I've been inspired by the great de-cluttering posts on Communicatrix's blog, as well as her book recommendation, Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer.  I also love Karen Kingston's Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.  Both books give insight into what goes on emotionally when we hoard stuff. 

The often arduous process of finding new homes for my underused things has made me more conscious of my purchases, and even of the gifts I accept.  I've pared down a lot.

The deepest purge I've ever done was this last one.    I took a look at my bookshelves and thought, 'I can't possibly get rid of one more book.' But I didn't have space on the shelf for the box that stores the first handwritten draft of a novel I'm working on.  I was subconsciously telling myself that my own writing didn't belong on a bookshelf.  A bunch of books found new homes.

The moment I started this purge, my outworn relationships began to shift too.  I found myself letting go of some people, reconfiguring my relationships with others.  The process is still going on, and is likely to take awhile, but the new found clarity in my relationships feels even more freeing than the extra three feet of space available for yoga asanas.

How about you?  What was your best change in the place you live this year?  If you are part of the Best '09 challenge, I'd love it if you'd leave a link to your blog, and if not, write your answer in the comments.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Goblin Fruit

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
their hungry thirsty roots?....

'Nay, hush, my sister:

I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still...

~ Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market: a Tale of Two Sisters

I adore this ballad by Victorian poet Christina Rossetti.  Much has been written about the meaning behind Goblin Market.  The author herself said that it was meant as a simple fairy story, though not for kids.  I think it has many layers, like dreams.   The words and images are as rich and sensuous as almost anything I've ever read.  If you don't have your own paper copy, I suggest printing it out and reading it when you are lounging and eating delicious fruit.  Maybe in the bath.

Post inspired by Day 12 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge: What was your favorite new food 09? (still haven't tried goblin fruit, but know I'd love it.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reimagining Home

Go where you will.
Take the long lashes
that guard your eyes
and sweep a path
across this earth....

there is no fixed place
on earth for man
or woman...

Alice Walker from Revolutionary Petunias

There is no place called home. 

The place where I spent many years growing up still exists.  My mother still lives there.  The land she's been cultivating for over twenty years is mature now with tall trees shading her moss garden, accented by purple flowering hostas and lacy white hydrangeas. Large fuchsia rhododendrons put on a show every Spring.  There are vistas of  Black Eyed Susans in the summer, and roses that bloom from April till November.  One night this year I dreamt that the garden was gone, that I would never see it again.  On my next visit I crept outside at night and hugged every tree, thanked every corner of the garden for being there.

Soon after I'd gotten back to my apartment in the city, my mom called to tell me the apple orchards at the end of the block had all been cut down. A new subdivision was being built.   My mother's boxwood has been browning.  Box is very sensitive to air pollution.  We know this story.  Its the same all over.

In her heartbreaking book 'The Place You Love Is Gone' Melissa Holbrook Pierson writes about what it means to grow up surrounded by nature, and then to have it destroyed by development.  It takes a toll on us psychically, even after we've moved away.

I live in Manhattan now.  I volunteer in a community garden designed to help city kids connect with nature. Its threatened by development, and I've spent countless hours organizing to save it. 

I've dreamt of having my own garden, a place I don't have to fight so hard to keep from being destroyed.  But I hope that when I'm finally sitting in the garden of my dreams I remember that it is really always all around me:  the parks, the street trees, community gardens, dandelions in the cracks in the sidewalk, rain forests, glaciers, wetlands, orchards.  They are all my responsibility, to a smaller and larger degree, to protect and to tend. Everywhere is home.

(above photo is of purslane, a very nutritious wild plant growing on Delancey St., L.E.S., Manhattan)

Post inspired by Day 11 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge: What was your favorite place in 09? (the earth)

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Instant Eternal: 5 Peace Band

Day 10 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge: What album rocked your world in 09?

This year I got to see John McLaughlin and Chick Corea play together at Jazz at Lincoln Center, forming the group 5 Peace Band with Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett, and Brian Blade.  McLaughlin and Corea hadn't played together since Miles Davis' Bitches Brew back in 1970.  They are masters and innovators whose contrasting compositions made for an exciting night.

Saxophonist Kenny Garret's playing blew the roof off of Lincoln Center, sending some subscription holders fleeing, while the rest of us talked in tongues as we rolled on the floor.  (Not really, but almost.)

5 Peace Band is nominated for a Grammy in 2010.   Eventually I'll check out the CD.  Sometimes when I see live music that shakes me to my core I can't listen to anything recorded for awhile.  For days after the show I just wanted silence and the memory of the performance. 

I wrote the following poem for a friend I hadn't talked to in ages who would have loved to hear them play.  I was thinking about the way we can be altered forever in an instant, while at the same time some fundamental part of us, the most sacred part, never changes.  That's what the music brought up for me.

Instant Eternal

I must shoulder stones
to connect with this old friend.
The years form a cairn
between our doors.

So much has happened since even this morning.
I woke up vibrating still from the concert.
The union of sacred geometry
and raw divine love twining between masters,
spiraling from Fender to Steinway to alto sax
created a flying cathedral
that oscillated through the cosmos
on wings built from the heartwood
of an ancient forest.

My friend has a child I have not met,
though I imagine every moment spent with such a creature,
wise eyes starring at the undulating drapes
on the first warm night,
produces a cellular shift.

When we knew each other
we were full of dissonance
bouncing off of hard parallel surfaces
booming with echoes.

Now the liquid self
laughs at an absence
as timid as the flick of an eyelid.

He would know the sound
of that saxophone,
the Beloved round inside every note.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Defeating My Red Knight: Best Challenge 09

Day 9 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:  Best Challenge 09

In Terry Gilliam's film The Fisher King, Robin Williams plays a homeless man named Parry who cowers in mortal terror at the sight of an imaginary red knight, the embodiment of his fear.  The film consistently blurs the line between imagination and reality, suggesting that the line is not that important.  It doesn't matter whether or not the Red Knight really exists, it matters only that he be defeated.

My greatest challenge of 2009 was imaginary.  It was all in my head, and it was as real to me as the Red Knight was to Parry.  2009 hasn't been the easiest year.  There were deaths of people I loved, break ups with friends, job losses, but nothing was more difficult for me to handle than this:

After much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, on a sweltering day in August with my back sticking to the leather desk chair, I proofed my script one last time before dripping through streets radiating with thick white haze blooming with sulfur, to get to Kinkos.  Then I handed my packaged script to a kind Fed-Ex worker after checking the address one last time.

That was it.  Red Knight defeated.  Heavy iron armaments fell off my body and clattered onto the concrete.  It was the first piece of writing I had sent out in over fifteen years.  It didn't matter whether or not it was accepted.  I had sent it out.  I would send out more work in the future.  I was free.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finding Moments of Peace and Presence Through Dancemeditation

Day 8 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge: Prompt: What was a moment of peace for you this year?

I don't need to fly to a beautiful tropical island to find peace, as Gwen Bell convincingly argues in her post on the subject.  But time spent immersed in meditation has made it easier for me to find peace everywhere, even on the streets of New York City.

One day I was walking up Sixth Avenue on my way to my Dancemeditation class, quietly chanting the Peace Prayer, 'Let me be an instrument of thy peace, where there is hatred let me sow love...' when everyone on the sidewalk froze as a man punched another man in the face, hard, and the other man swung back.  No one moved or spoke.  In a deep, authoritative voice, I found myself saying, "Quit it."

The men paused.  One turned and began to walk away. The other ran after him.  "You!"I said. "Stay there. You.  Go."  They did as they were told.  After the first man had disappeared into the subway I went on my way.  A small woman in a ruffly silk skirt, I'd taken charge in the moment because I was fully present.  I have my Dancemeditation practice to thank for that.

I’m a long talker, but when I get back from my yearly two week Dancemeditation Movement Monastery in June and friends ask me how it went, I tend to respond, ‘great.’ Period.  I don't have the desire or the ability to say much more.  If they ask for details I tell them about the simple food, the  Victorian mansion where we sleep, the old mill where we dance, the rushing waterfall behind the mill.

Its a rare gift to have two solid weeks to focus on embodiment, to sensing, moving, and breathing; exploring the space of the body, the space around the body, the space inside the body.

Going into this deep inner place with a supportive community is like paddling out to sea on a big raft.  We can go farther when we navigate through the waters together.  We get to places we could never find alone. 

By the end of the retreat I stretch like a cat, enjoying every sensation.  I'm learning anatomy and physiology from the inside out, articulating movement I wouldn't have thought possible several years ago.

There are usually some hard parts,  times when my brain won't shut up, or my dancing feels leaden, or there is some drama about kale.  Sometimes painful emotions surface.  But the hard parts are forgotten after periods of oneness….. of actually getting to leave the experience of my ego/story for awhile…. These moments are sustaining.  They shift me in subtle, fundamental ways, and they support me when I'm back in the hectic world. There are typically all sorts of little personal epiphanies along the road too.

These words feel entirely inadequate.

Here’s a poem I wrote on my very first retreat in an attempt to capture something I couldn't express through prose.  Incidentally, it was the first poem I had written in years after a long block.

I am in the sea
sinking under Love
past razor junk fish
through light and shadow.
I have begun to understand gratitude.

No words come for it. 

I can say only
that it feels right
to push my head and heart
to the sea floor.
It feels right
to take off my face
and let the water seep inside,
shifting my organs with the sand.

Blood and lymph
bathed in salt tears
become thresholds
for spirit to slip
back into my bones.

Waves lift me,
 rock me,
press me into crevasses,
fold me over myself
until there is nothing
but the folding,
motion creating space between the cells.

I want to become these waves,
foaming into coral,
sliding through the sand,
rising up inside the sky
to shudder down again.

For now I breathe through them,
chest under the blue green water,
head above their purled crests,
until they send me,
charged and weighted,
to the shore.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best Blog Finds '09

Day 7 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:  Best Blog Finds '09

Its the end of the first week of this blogging challenge and I can't believe how much great writing I continue to find.  Its inspiring.  I'm happy to have the chance to share three of the blogs I'm always grateful to read.

My friend and fellow Dancemeditator*** Karleen Koen, author of Dark Angels, Now Face to Face, Through a Glass Darkly, and the upcoming Before Versailles, writes an exquisite blog called Writing Life, making small observations about the world around her that have reverberations far and wide. I look forward to each short entry.

I have also been deeply moved by the writings of playwright Callie Kimball (@calindrome) on her Deroraroo blog, specifically the pieces entitled This is Not a Memoir about her journey with depression.  The disease has been a part of my own narrative, and I've gained an enormous amount of insight from reading her stories, as well as simply taken pleasure in her words.

***I'm lucky that my meditation teacher Dunya McPherson is also a talented writer.  Her posts provoke, encourage, and guide me back to my practice.  Her poems are jewels.

What Costume Does Your Fear Wear?

Day 6 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:  Best Conference/Workshop/ Jam Session '09

The other day a friend of mine told me that she's trying to scrub this phrase from her mind forever:  'Its nice to be important, but its more important to be nice.'  Its humbling to recognize that this bon mot has been lodged in my gray matter too, because I've been a strident feminist from the time I was a little kid in my Annie Oakley costume twirling my two b-b gun revolvers.

But looking at the life I've chosen thus far, its fair to say that I've worked harder at being nice than I have at being important.  I started taking a closer look at that hard truth after the group firestarter session with Danielle LaPorte in September during which about 20 women and 1 man were inspired to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams and plans.  Over on A Design So Vast the author writes that part of Danielle's core message is: 'You have to ask for what you want.  You have to meet grace halfway.'

Recently I learned that in all the years former Fortune editor-at-large Patricia Sellers worked at that publication, not one woman asked for a raise, though plenty of men did.  I'd like to think I would have bucked that trend, but it probably isn't true.  I work for myself, and when people ask how much I charge I tend to squirm and apologize.    

Although I love what I do, up until now I've been happy laboring in obscurity.  I had tricked myself into believing that this was somehow the way to be authentic.  That doesn't make sense.  Lots of the people who have touched my life through their teaching or art have been outwardly successful.  If they hadn't been I would never have found them.

The unexamined belief: 'to be noncommercial, anti-commercial in fact, is noble and produces the best work' was really a mask for fear to hide behind.  But what is the fear? 

I realize that, as much as I hate to admit it,  I've wanted to be loved more than I've wanted to risk being shunned for standing out, because being loved and standing out are mutually exclusive. Obviously. 

Before asking for what I want, I've had to allow myself to want it in the first place.  The next step is working with the fear of actually getting it.  I don't mind if the fear is in the room, as long as it isn't blocking the door.

Have you dealt with the fear of success?  How do you work with it?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Naked Man's Naked July All Free

Day 5 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:  Best Night Out '09

I’m sitting on an inflatable bed with a bunch of strangers.  Some are blindfolded.  We are eating stringy black seaweed from a pile in the center of the bed that a dancer has recently been wearing on her head enclosed in an amorphous turban.  The dancer, in spiked heels, black ribbon, and little else, has taken off the turban, simulated birthing it, unwrapped the seaweed, and placed it ceremoniously on the bed, nibbling it a bit before pulling people out of their seats to join her feast.

I had no idea that this would happen tonight, and as it’s happening I’m thinking to myself, ‘I feel oddly comfortable.’  The salty seaweed tastes good, the moaning, angsty, seemingly endless song the rock musicians are playing is relaxing.

Earlier in the night I was with my husband and his family from out of town.  My husband’s aunt and his fresh faced blond haired, blue-eyed 18-year-old cousin are from North Dakota, now living in Florida.  This is their first time visiting New York City.  They have crammed into the front room of our tiny one bedroom tenement apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for… five nights.  Exhale.  Yes, five.

They are excellent house guests:  kind, excited to be here, and not at all put off by our humble accommodations via another inflatable mattress and an over-sized chaise.   An iphone minimizes the amount of hand-holding they need in order to maneuver around the city.

But the cousin wants to explore New York: the T.V. Show.  She makes a pilgrimage to the Seinfeld restaurant, then to Carrie’s stoop from Sex in the City.  I can’t get her to pay attention to our neighborhood, the East Village, until I mention the Life Café from Rent.  Its not her fault.  New York is a living t.v. and movie set. But the movies and t.v. shows never quite capture the city's raw, living heart.    Spontaneous strangeness is what I love most about the city.

So this is what happens.  We go out to dinner on Clinton Street, Frankie’s 17.  My husband’s aunt requests the plainest thing on the menu, linguine with garlic and oil.   She loves it.  I taste it.  Its delicious. We leave full and happy. 

Next-door is the new home of the Living Theatre, a downtown institution.  We gawk at people wearing flat, Dali-esque masks sitting by the theater door.  They hand us flyers that read: Come right now to  Naked Man’s Naked July with optional naked audience members.  All Free!

Before anyone has a chance to think, I pull them down a narrow flight of stairs into the black box theater.  Disappointingly, no one is actually naked.  There is a rock band, a chanteuse type singer moaning into a mike, and lots of projections on the walls that profess to be about filtering reality, the way things get filtered through the television news, how we see things in a commodified way, how we are told to see them.

The audience and the stage are evenly lit.  Projections wrap 365 degrees around the space.  There is no real off stage.  Audience members roll into the playing space and start to dance.  A camera person films the audience in their chairs from the center of the space.

My husband’s family is uncomfortable.  They fidget.  They look bewildered, then frustrated. The performance goes on.  People start to leave, and in a fit of boldness the family stands up and rushes out through the curtained door, projections rippling in their wake.  Its a dramatic exit.  There is no other choice.

I stay.  My husband will take care of them.  The performance ends when everyone in the audience has walked out or is sitting on the bed full of seaweed.  Somehow this feels like home.

Scrumtious Sentences: Best Book 09

 The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

This was one of those books where, after reading a few sentences, I thought to myself, 'I'm in love. In love.  Where have you been hiding, Angela Carter?   I mean, there must be a road named after you somewhere, right?'

While reading The Bloody Chamber, her book of short stories based on famous fairy-tales, I wanted to eat her words, smear her beautiful sentences all over myself and lick them off one by one. 

If you love Thomas Hardy, as I do, you'll love Angela Carter.  Like Hardy, she writes prose with the exactitude of a poet.  Her stories are full of vivid imagery, but they are also plot driven.  There is nothing flowery or excessive about them.  They keep your heart racing. Most of the stories in The Bloody Chamber are recognizable but twisted up in all kinds of fascinating ways, probing at the psychological and mythological depths of fatal attraction.  The title story, based on the Bluebeard tale, is chilling with a bit of wicked humor.  Puss-in-Boots, in contrast, is a naughty romp. 

Angela Carter died of cancer in 1992 at the height of her powers, which might at least partly account for why she is not more widely known outside of Great Britain. 

Salman Rushdie was a friend and huge fan.  Here's a link to Rushdie's tribute, which gives a nice overview of her entire body of work:

Rushdie suggests that Carter's fame might snowball after her death.  I hope it's happening.  She deserves it, and the world needs her tremendous gifts.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Spider Alchemy

Day 3 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge:  Best Article '09

The earth is sacred.  I remember this when I'm standing on the street at dawn under a Bradford pear tree bursting with birdsong as the sky slowly turns from silver to peach or I'm watching a rose bloom in the snow.

But what about when I'm running late for someplace, talking on my cell phone in the back of a fossil fueled cab?  Do I remember then?  When my life seems to be speeding out in front of me, racing away from the natural world, sometimes a dramatic reminder of the profound beauty and alchemical power our earth possesses can bring me back into a state of wonder.

This really exists:  Golden silk threads that are 5 to 6 times stronger than steel and as soft as cashmere, created by large spiders in Madagascar.  The shimmering golden silk would make Rumpelstiltskin proud.  Scientists have been trying to emulate the material for use in NASA, and have failed to be able to do it thus far. 

Fishermen in Madagascar have been using the thread to weave simple nets for centuries, but the silk webbing is too time consuming to extract (painlessly and harmlessly) from the spiders to consider using it commercially. 

Still, two European men became obsessed with the idea of weaving with this spider silk and, with local women doing most of the real labor, they spent 5 years creating a large tapestry, which is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until February ‘10. 

The men spent half a million dollars of their own money to do it.  They were called crazy.  Maybe they are.  But it is a crazy that I understand.  To me, the tapestry is like a visual poem, a ballad from and to the earth.  It is singing, ‘Look how amazing the earth is, the creatures of the earth!  Just look!’  It takes my breath away.

Here's the link to the fascinating New York Times article that inspired me trek to the museum and then wade through all of those old dioramas to see it for myself.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh, and I'd like a side of bigotry with that too, please

Day 2 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge.  The prompt for the day was ‘Best restaurant experience ‘09.’  I was going to write a post tonight about a cavernous, Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome type restaurant in New York City.  I had avoided going to this place since its opening several years ago because I’d told myself that I don’t like big flashy restaurants.  I like intimate quiet ones.  I live inside the spectacle that is Manhattan and don’t crave more of it.  But then one night the stars aligned and I found myself there in the middle of fashion week no less, packed with designers and models in neon stilettos. 

It was an amazing night.  My friends and I joined a birthday party full of Londoners on holiday at a long communal table, and ate delectable dumplings dripping with exotic sauces while being expertly cared for by friendly staff.  There was none of the cool, sneering attitude I had expected to find in a place designed to see and be seen.

Then I remembered that I knew the guy who had probably made most of the restaurant's final hiring decisions.  I had worked with him as a waiter years ago.   He had the rare ability to bring up both the morale and the efficiency of an entire crew of jaded, exhausted performers, misfits, and immigrant restaurant workers.   He'd thrown me several life rafts of encouragement during my first wobbly weeks of working at a big midtown restaurant fresh out of school and freshly dealing with being just another waiter/aspiring artist in the city.

Kindness was clearly valued in the staff here.  Wow. (I hadn’t let on that I knew any managers, so the kindness couldn’t be chalked up to deferential treatment).

I'd cut myself off from ever going to this big restaurant before because in a blanket statement I'd decided, ‘I don’t like restaurants like that’.   This is what I was going to write about, but then the news of the New York Senate’s vote 38-24 against the gay marriage amendment came in, and after dinner tonight I crawled into bed and turned out the light.  My body felt weighted down by lead balloons.

I had stupidly thought that my beloved New York recognized the immense contributions of its gay and lesbian constituency.  Doesn’t every straight identified person know a gay couple, a gay family? The anti-gay rights people are cutting themselves off from hundreds of thousands of loving families.  It's like my bias against the restaurant that turned out to be my “favorite restaurant experience ‘09”.  I had assumed that I knew what it was all about without ever having set foot in the door.  The no voters and the people they represent are stuck in straitjackets of rigid beliefs.

Over time, the 38 no votes will be seen to be on the wrong side of history.  But in the present, there are families who are denied health and life insurance from their partners’ employers, and there are citizens and commitments that are not being honored with the respect they deserve. It just so happens that the manager of that great restaurant has a long-term same-sex partner, and they have a child together.  Today New York has said to them, and to countless others, ‘we don’t care about you’.   This has to change.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Carolina In My Mind

I am stepping up to the Best of  09 blogging challenge put out by the wonderful social media maven & yogini Gwen Bell. Each day in December she gives a prompt.  It is a great kick in the pants to get into the habit of blogging more frequently, as well as a way to give thanks for some amazing experiences, people, and things that have been part of my life this year.  My goals: 1. Don't bore people who might read it. 2. Answer each prompt. 3. Inspiration--give it & get it.   December 1st is Best Trip 09. 

I tried writing a prose piece about this trip, but the experience didn't lend itself to it.  So, in a really surprising move for me, here's a poem-y kind of a thing.

an island somewhere off the coast of South Carolina

no t.v.
no cellphone
no laptop
no ipod
no commercials
no catalogues
no billboards

salt air perfume
bones melt into warm sand
the waves steady exhale
an invitation to do the same.
pick up a book
or put it down
read poetry or gossip
stare at the shifting clouds
lie in a hammock
sit in a grey cedar rocking chair
and watch the sunrise
listen to someone play the guitar
or walk silently through the surf under the moon

laugh with loved ones
beloved conspirators.
stirrers of inspiration.
acolytes in the church of beauty.

share simple food
fresh tomatoes
fried okra
boiled shrimp
caramel cake
about important things:
dreams especially.

ride the waves
play like otters
or runaways

sit on the dock at sunset
creekside lowtide
the green grasses deepening
against the fuchsia sky.