December 30, 2007

Sheets at Year End

It is the last Saturday of the year and I am in my country house attempting to organize the sheets. This is not a complaint.

I decided that if ONE has two houses there can never, jamais, never be the moan
“Oh, poor me, I can never recall what is in my rural residence and what is in the city.”
What a crock.

If ONE is lucky enough after years of work to purchase, rent or borrow a home out of the city and in the midst of trees, crickets, snow and lots of back breaking work, then ONE needs to shut up and only comment on the glories.

If it is such a hardship to remember in which house you have a micro-grater, a garlic press or a baking pan for fancy sweet potatoes, either get a double or give up the damn house and give the money to charity because you are way past S_P_O_I_L_E_D.
And you have tipped over into spoiled ROTTEN.

I ran away a few days ago to be by myself, to write, to walk. But, truth be told, I have read novels and stayed up until 2a.m. neither cooking nor eating real meals. I have eaten chocolate and drunk coffee in the after noon knowing it would keep me awake but reveling in the fact that I wouldn’t bother anyone. I thought Huey Newton, the saved barn cat, might even like having me awake to share his nocturnal perambulations and be an aural witness to his killing fields in the basement.

But I also wanted to do some year-end cleaning. I enjoy an organizational flurry to usher out the old year, rather than the ritual welcoming of the new. Everyone loves the New Year; I want to celebrate the old, before she shuffles off. And thus it was that I set about organizing the linen closet. AHH what luxury to say that. The loft, where I have lived for over thirty years, was a factory and has no closets others than the over stuffed IKEA stand ins. There is a solitary book self for sheets and pillow cases in the city. But a linen closet holds wonder.

When I open it the rush of lavender fills my head and also wafts some of the lingering sandalwood odor from my mother’s closet, now closed for over six years. When I purchased this house in the Hudson Valley I culled sheets from my mom’s home, mix-matched extras that had accumulated over the years in the loft or from kids beds and moved them to the country. As if they were retiring to a sheet farm. But they were not arranged rather thrown higgledy-piggledy into the closet across from the upstairs bathroom. (AHH again to more than one bathroom.)

My daughter has accused me of pilfering her sheets when she comes to the country to visit and DO WASH. I certainly haven’t done it willfully, but stuff does tend to get shuffled. I had promised to see if there were suitable bed dressings for her rather than resorting to the modern default of “ Oh let’s just go to the newly opened Bed Bath and Beyond and get new” That is also a New Year's resolution. Really check to see if you need it before you buy new.

And thus I began taking everything out of the linen closet and opening, labeling and refolding. A job for too much coffee. And as I began to make labels:
Queen Bottom
Single Top
Single Flat
Queen Top
King interchangeable, meaning flat, but I wrote interchangeable and I began to giggle.
I felt as if I were writing a personal ad

Middle-aged woman with a closet full of queen bottoms would like to meet a King sized man who is interchangeable.

Of course this laughter meant I had to run downstairs. AHHH downstairs not across the floor, but actually to another room where I couldn’t see the mess I had left on the floor of the foyer (AHH foyer) outside the linen closet.

Now I am writing watching the birds at the feeders, (AHHH birds) but you get it by this time. I do love it here, but everything I undertake and I suppose this is a ubiquitous element of life, every task reminds me of two others that need to follow. And thus I often never get on my walk or sit down to my writing or my luxurious bath ( AHHHHHH bath tub) Instead the laundry is folded, the birds fed, the silver polished, well at least it is at Christmas time and food is cooked and cooked and cooked again.

But I made a pre-resolution to stop what I am doing and do what I DESIRE. And so last night I ran to the bath at 1a.m. Today as I stooped, chortling in the closet, sorting Queens into tops and bottoms (still funny to me, maybe because last night I had dinner with a friend who worked in the male porn industry and we always make silly jokes) I stopped and came to scribble this.

Nothing momentous. It is more the action of ceasing doing tasks and taking the time to divert. It is about making myself take a U-turn, just for me, for something that is fun for me and not a necessity to someone else.

Happy New Year whether you are a Queen top, a single or a flat King.
We all deserve a warm, happy bed, a good giggle and time for ourselves.

December 19, 2007

What makes you happy?

Last week I had a meeting with a potential client. A woman who works in skin care, very fancy high-end skin care. This woman has a practice so evolved that she requires interviewees sign a confidentiality statement before even starting chitchat.

I was talking to her about ghost writing, and in order to see if there was a click I asked her about her practice, why is it different? She explained that she practices holistic skin care and few others work the way she does. She sees the skin, the body’s largest organ, as a map to the wellness of entirety of a person.

Our skin wizard, can look at her patient and see if perhaps she is not having enough fun, is closed minded, or holding grudges that appear as dark circles. Yes she often performs miracles with chemicals, creams, peels and others tricks of modern magic. But she also asks her clients questions.

Her keystone is this:

What makes you happy?

Does this seem easy at first?

It isn’t a rainbows, walks on the beach and puppies kind of query; she really wants to know what rings her client’s chimes emotionally.

And she says very few can answer it without prompts from her.

In fact when she asked me, I was somewhat stumped, I suppose from the notion that happiness needs to be a combinations of selflessness, doing good, and care, of ourselves and others. But as I left, convinced that I didn’t get the job, and reemerged into the cold, rarified Upper East Side atmosphere, heightened by the bevy of Christmas shoppers plunking down dollars beyond my wildest imaginings, I knew ineluctably what makes me happy.

I got on my bike, my old bike, my trusty bike, not something I need to replace after a decade or even three; I sat upright on the seat and started to peddle home. And it was then that the rush hit me.

Going home. Going home at Christmas. Going to where it is warm and yes worn down and crammed full of love and memories. And taking myself home at 57, in the cold, with the crepuscular promise of deep dark coming upon me. I am peddling my old legs, ones that aren’t replaced or enhanced, but have just worked, been fed and occasionally cherished and now they take me home.

I peddled my bike downtown; it is about five miles and takes about three quarters of an hour. I pass lights and shoppers and traffic and I am inured to all of it as I whiz down or slog up hills; all toward home. I revel that I make my own heat, as I observe women clutching furs, their hose covered legs looking for all the world like twigs emerging from a bear. And I peddle, warmer with every glide and stroke.

I move through Mid-town and into Greenwich Village, the low buildings auguring my imminent return home. I see the trees; the occasional menorahs and I feel my center returning. I love to propel myself in wind and cold and coming night. I love taking myself home year after year, mile after mile. I often feel, after a particularly harrowing ride, with black ice or errant cars, that I should exclaim, “ HOME FREE ALL!!’ the way we did when we were kids and had avoided capture in games of hide-and-seek. There was a magic about touching the tree that was base; home base and arriving home / home free all.

And so I am home now writing, no I didn’t get the job writing about beauty for a tapered twig who boasted caring for president's wives and other leaders of the world;
I am just writing. I am here with the smell of a big balsam and the snuffling of my goddaughter wrapped warm in her carriage as her mother shops to haul goodies home to Scotland.

Home, where, if the gods and goodness prevail, is the notion that must make us all happy. Especially in this season.

November 9, 2007

Photo journal from Galapagos

October 31, 2007

Kindness and the Survival of the Fittest

Oct 30-31 2007
Galapagos Islands
Early a.m.

I am here in the cradle or spiny nest of the theory of evolution; and as one tramps around the unwelcoming island landscape, observing sea lions, red and blue-footed boobys and Darwin’s celebrated finches, you can do nothing but think about evolution. Evolution for us as a species, and for all the endemic birds, reptiles and mammals I will never see again after I leave these strange, some say enchanted islands.

Before I arrived here I compiled a tiny library: Jonathan Weiner's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Beak of the Finch; Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands by Edward Larson and of course Darwin’s own The Voyage of the Beagle. I attempted to read a few before arriving and have devoured the rest as we “sail” from island to island in a noisy yacht that roils and racks from side to side literally giving me a sleep where I toss and turn (AHH, so is that’s where the phrase comes from!) But when I am not reading and tossing we are taking the zodiac, a small dingy, to the islands.

The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, stretch for more than 50,000 square miles across; that is roughly the size of Florida. In 1959 the government of Ecuador set aside 97% of the landmass as a national park known as The Galapagos Marine Reserve. A part of what makes the Galapagos so special is that they are located at the confluence of two major ocean currents: the Humboldt Current from the arctic and the Cromwell Current from the equator. The swirling hot and cold temperatures give rise to a wild diversity of habitats and specially adapted creature. This eco system is home to 3000 kinds of plants and animals about 20% are endemic, meaning found nowhere else in the world.

We have been to the island of Genovesa, where in my books, naturalists Peter and Rosemary Grant have undertaken a twenty-year study of the incredible changes in the beaks, behaviors and lives of the Darwin finches. These unique creatures, and how incredible to use the word unique without it being hyperbolic, but rather a precise discriber, exist nowhere else in the world and hence the changes that happen to them can be deconstructed and followed. In science, the finches can be very effective predictors.

Some of the finches observed by the Grants made evolutionary changes in leaps and bounds due to a period of drought, followed by the El Nino pattern of nearly deluge like rain which caused the populations to dwindle and then spike. These abrupt changes provided the ability to observe the survival of the fittest intimately.

The Grants observed that as the drought took hold, the myriad types of seeds normally available dwindled down to only large hard seeds, difficult to crack open and hence only the birds with the big tough beaks survived. When the rains finally came the birds were ready to mate again. They had missed an entire year because the finches only mate after rain when the males build nests in the cactus and sit on the highest points, singing to attract females. So after the drought, at the first mating opportunity, meaning rain, there was a population of large, surviving males that greatly outnumbered the females.

So the giant finch males took to singing and the females had the pick of the songsters. They mated and bumper crops of eggs and hatchlings and fledglings ensued. This continued until the population of the Genovesa Island exploded and the mating went on and on. But then the ecological swing came. Like the stock market, good luck, or rainy weather, unless you live in Seattle or Scotland, all things have seasons or swings. And the flip came on Genovesa and drought returned.

There on Genovesa was a quick-change generation of large birds, bred to crack difficult seeds and all around them they found only small plants, with small soft seeds. All of a sudden these big beaked birds with their evolved specialty is null and void. Of course there are some small outlier birds hanging out from the class of large, strong beaked birds who have survived and NOW it is their turn to shine as they can peck and feed well on the teensy seeds remaining in a parched environment. And the cycle continues. Natural selection by itself is not evolution. It is only a mechanism that, according to Darwin, can lead to evolution. As the Grants say, "natural selection takes place within a generation, but evolution takes place across generations.”

All of this has caused me to wonder, as a writer, as perhaps a too close observer of humanity, What is our destiny as a race, given these seemingly perilous times? As an amateur naturalist in this time period, I see clearly that we are egregiously ignoring global warming and the graphic postcards it sends regularly. Here are some recent messages.

Greetings From:

Hurricane Katrina
El Nino
Times Square 2006 New Year’s Eve at 70 degrees
Flash fires in California
Unprecedented glacial melting
Rogue tornadoes

We ignore these signs at the peril of, our actual neighbors and then our animal and plant co-habitants. It keeps boiling down to an overly simplistic explanation for me, and it is that KINDNESS has been bred out of modern human beings as a trait. Somehow we naturally keep selecting for self-centered GREED.

I sometimes feel so distraught when I watch the news, an activity that more and more requires a cocktail to give me one thin layer of protection from the abject destruction and persecution of the large part of the world by a tiny ruling class. Nightly I observe a disregard for the signs of an apocalypse brought on by the inability to listen and learn from those less powerful, a world that is dwindling around us.

New Orleans Ninth Ward is still a disaster zone. Darfur and the entirety of Sudan is in an acknowledged genocide. The United States continues as the only developed country with no national health care. But the spending for war augments and rages. Oil profits are beyond record as the price for a barrel tops 95 dollars and promises no near end. But we elect oilmen who ignore education and health in favor of a bellicose path and they are nearly gleeful with the fear their paths generate in a public ever more timorous.

On the Galapagos Islands, one of the most shocking revelations is that the creatures, mammals, reptiles and birds, evince very little fear or concern with the tourists trooping by snapping photos and asking for bleakish grins. At first, I thought it was just the newness of the situation, but I come to learn from lectures and reading, that these inhabitants of Isabella, Fernandina and Genovesa are so specialized that they each posses a unique niche. So the iguana, who eats the algae, is not in completion with the sea lion who eats fish. The flightless cormorant wings have atrophied, as he no longer needs to fly to escape predators, and so he can fish unfettered in a pristine pool while sally light-foot crabs watch from the banks clicking their claws like an absurd Greek chorus.

Yes, the giant Frigate birds do steal fish right out of the mouths of gulls, but the fish abound. The hawk can feast on small marine iguanas, baby turtles do languish and die on the beach, and desiccating baby seals dot the beach in Genovesa. But Darwin’s famed finches have different feasts from the blue-footed boobies and iguanas. And thus you see black lava beaches where sunbathers include mammals, reptiles, birds and the occasional human interloper, all in respectful harmony. It is impressive and makes me wonder.

Has our own human desire to have more, better, bigger perhaps caused a natural selection necessitating blindness to the needs, wails and moans of others in our backyards and across the globe? When some more radical pundits propose that we, the hyper-mobile, super rich American middle to upper class have alienated much of the world by our patterns of over consumption in every arena of our lives, it is viewed as heresy and anti-patriotic blather bordering on treason.

Today I sit writing aboard a small yacht, the Letty bobbing atop the Pacific Ocean. I eschewed the trek to the tiny island of Bartolome with the rest of my 14 cohorts from an eco-voyage, to observe what looks like the moon. I have selected, naturally, to remain shipboard and write. I am a very gregarious person who requires large doses of alone time to keep up with an inner life that often feels neglected by my attentions to others. This is my rhythm; and at heart what propels me is a desire to be kind, to do well for myself, and others, in a widening circle.

September 26, 2007

Birthdays I recall

Today is my birthday. It is an easy and popular day for births as it is 9 months after Christmas. Couple that with having been born in 1950 and it is very simple to know how old I am or how old I was in a particular year. My mother joked that she knew I would be mathematically challenged, and hence had the prescience to birth me in such a simple arithmetic year.

It seems birthdays, at the very least, should be etched or discernable in the haze of memory. But when I tried to do a mental rewind this week I found that very few commemorations of birth actually came up on my hard drive.

I wanted to find days I actually remembered, rather than seeing photographs and then allowing the murky emulsion to fuel and inform my memory. Like my first birthday with the Halloween theme and the incredible papier-mâché pumpkins adorning a long wooden table festooned with black and orange streamers. At least I imagine that was the color theme as the actual photo is black and white, well of course it was, the year was 1951.

After that what comes up is my 14th birthday. I was moody, probably hormonal. I hated, my mother, poor thing and my father was off running the press for the ill-fated Hubert Humphrey campaign. I received a telegram earlier from “ The Happy Warrior” the name of the campaign plane, and it was signed “HHH” it was followed by a small enameled blue pin with the same. I just found that pin tucked away in a box.

My mother made a poster, out of school project oaktag, it read: “Our 1964 Candidate for Happiness." She turned her sewing room into a make-believe campaign headquarters with balloons and gifts and this poster. I entered and promptly ran off crying. I slammed out the kitchen door and ran up the hill to sob under some sugar maples in a dark night.

I recall that when I returned home having used tears to calm me, neither my mom nor my brother made a fuss about my fuss and then the memory curtain fades until. . . .

My 26th birthday. This is what my family calls a magic birthday, because you turn your age on the date of your birth. So 26 on the 26th.

I was working on the Bicentennial Barge, a strange floating museum that had been created to commemorate this country's 200th birthday. I was in thrall with the equally young,
curly-headed public relations guy and we were moving the Barge to its next location when a giant storm blew up. Hurricane conditions and a group of young bone-heads moving a 200-foot barge in the dark of night across Long Island Sound. The crew was professional, at least, and they instructed us to lash ourselves to the bow of the boat and we were each given axes and told if the boat started to go down to cut ourselves free. Hell, it was my birthday. How many people are born and die on the same day? It seemed statistically comforting.

We finally made it into Port Jefferson, where the object of my crush was met with his FIANCE breathlessly hugging him while he looked sheepishly toward me. We had shared a number of trysts during our time in port, as sailors do I suppose, and mention of this woman just never came up.

I took the train home to my little West Village apartment; I was alone, wet and overjoyed to be alive. I ate a tuna sandwich over the sink and it still seems a stellar birthday feast.

40 I was the head of a new theater company and had two little kids, 2ish and six. And as I had been the Director of Special Projects for the City of NY for so many years, a job that entailed overseeing many gigantic fireworks displays, and had become friends with the Grucci family, the premier American fireworks family. So as a thank you, I guess now it might be seen as a kickback, but since I had no more work to give them I prefer to see it as THANKS alone. So as thanks, the Gruccis gave me a fireworks display down in what is now Battery Park City. It was billed as a benefit for my new theater company, but many folks knew it was my 4th decade too.

It was 1990 it must have been one of the last displays downtown, still on land, as there was open space to be had. Amazing, my kids were there ogling the lights, I danced with friends and had a chuckle when the next day in the school yard I heard the parents and teachers wondering why there was such a big display when there seemed to be no holiday or occasion. A wonderful secret to relish.

Half way thru the ride, 50 I decided NOT to have a party I had married a love of a man a few years earlier and we had a great big bash. My kids were getting bigger and I wanted a different kind of day. So I sent out a letters, emails or postcards to friends, family and co-workers who spanned decades. I asked them to send me their favorite memory of me. I asked that it come on my birthday or as close as possible, and that it be hand written. Well 96 crazy, unique memories and images came to me. They came by fax and post and fed ex and by hand. They came with flowers or giftys and they trickled in nearly all year.

We were supposed to go out for a fancy dinner, but Willi, my teenage daughter, was sick so we ordered Chinese food and ate home. It felt perfect. And it had nothing to do with what I had imagined or expected and being open to that was remarkable.

Last year 56. My kids were both away for the first time Willi on a trip to in Brazil, Henry a freshman at college and even my husband, Zac, was traveling; so I was alone. I wasn’t sad about it just quiet.

I got an invitation to go sailing with my first major boy friend on his wooden boat and he brought champagne and a friend for propriety. It was a soft, magical night. Wind whipping, me a little woozy, leaves changing and blurring on the shore, all kinds of memories shared and just clean kindness.

And now today 57, writing, lots of love, feeding birds, about to detach and play tennis. Dinner planned late with my girl and her lovely new man and perhaps calls, or messages from my son flung to Scotland for a working semester.

Memory sticks or fades in unfathomable ways; in fact its very ephemeral nature is what draws me. We can’t make memories, they choose us, which is why when they stick and revisit us we need to welcome the visit.

September 13, 2007

The tyranny of the web

I used to be able to rise with a joyful list in my heart or hand and, after sufficient coffee, start to take bites out of that list, but now I am waylaid. If I so much as open my email I am bombarded by needs.

I must send a certain saccharine message to no less than 20 people or my roof will leak, my hair fall out and most prolifically I WILL NOT BE RICH!!!

Since that is the case, I must have angered the email gods even before I knew they existed. They have so many needs, it is impossible to appease them all.

And even as I attempt to decide to forward or delete, to which friends or pseudo-friends will I send the dreaded message, I am assailed and distracted by messages popping up and bouncing with an urgency that really can’t merely mean Amazon has mailed out a real book . . . or can it?

I love my email and the quick, swift kicks it allows me to give writers, or loving pokes to friends who have trouble getting off phone lines, but it beckons me like a shiny object. I glimpse it constantly out of the corner of my eye. I am particularly distractable, but I believe I am not alone in the tug exerted by electronic mail.

Finally, I get hold of a way to answer mail, and I know it has to be looked at AFTER I write, then it seems new distractions appear every day.

And each is U R G E N T

Now there is LINKED IN. It seems as if I get about five of these daily It feels as if if I have to sign all these year books for folks I worked with in theater, or magazines or Wall Street or went to High School with. And if I don’t, it is insulting or I look as if I have no proper skills in the land of cyber space; when really I want to not add extra shit to an already tippy pile.

I know where to find the people I need. I meet new ones every week, and I keep the info on those that interest me.

Do I really want to be a part of a myriad of social networks?

More importantly, why at my age, am I still trying to please people, pathetically even virtual people?

September 11, 2007

9/11 + 6

Six years after September 11, 2001 and I forgot what day it was; until my friend and the man who published my book, A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero, called to say he had dropped his kid off at school and made his annual donation to the fire department.

“OOOHHH, is it that time again.” Of course I knew it was September 10th yesterday, I had given it as a deadline to many writers for the October issue of THRIVE, but still sometimes I don’t track linear, but rather in a leap frog fashion. So to me, today was just another day. Until Dave called.

If it wasn’t Dave, it would have been my date-book declaring 911, Remembrance Day, or the news, but today, what would not have jogged my memory was the weather. It is raining today; blessedly gray and rainy and, as my date-book further informs me, we are in the midst of a solar eclipse. So there is no disconcerting bright blue sky, the cloudless brushed azure beauty with a crisp coolness and no humidity that makes me sick to my stomach now, any time this is a September day like that.

Imagine that legacy. AHHH it is gorgeous, clear . . . and UUUUGH, I feel scared, sickened, and full of anxiety. Wait, I know what’s up, it's 9/11 weather.

But today’s gray drizzle, interspersed with sudden downpours is allowing me to have a different kind of remembrance--one that asks me to recall not only the day six years ago, but to question myself on growth, strides and missteps.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, I vowed this would be my most productive day of the year. I promised to dive into unanswered mail, pay off debt, wash my hair, go to the gym, write, practice my cello, cook a good dinner, return the most dreaded phone calls, do the laundry, change the sheets and have a major positive attitude.

I decided to offer productivity as a legacy to those whose lives were cut short. I would be over-the-top proactive. And so it is not yet noon and I am thru 5 loads of laundry, paid off some school loans, made calls I had put off, deleted all emails save those that need action and I am writing. I am editing. I am helping a friend with a micro-economic project in East Africa. I have to get a document notarized--silly but it takes time. I called an old friend to congratulate him on the design of a building. In fact, he was an Ex and it is often difficult to do those reach outs.

I don’t think anyone in my house knows about my pact with productivity, so for now they just think the rhythm of autumn has finally taken me in its grips and I am on a powerful roll.

But I know it is my way of acknowledging all the potential, all the efforts, the lovely lives cut short.

September 3, 2007

The day after cleaning

AHHH a scene change; after my explosive cleaning energy I am left with an overwhelming desire to sit like a lox on this final day of summer and make a fifth attempt as yesterday’s crossword puzzle. Perhaps I can blame the sudden laconic mindset on the party we held last night outside on our loading dock. It featured a pitcher of punch; made by my ( grown) daughter and contained apricot, and orange juice, mint and well . . . I saw an empty bottle of rum. And although I have a list to write: a review and a travel story, I seem to be able to achieve nothing save obsessive flipping of Internet pages searching for a small fast boat called a scull. A used one.

All of this came about when I rowed again last week, actually sculled since there are two oars, after a 22-year hiatus. This is a longer tale and will have to wait until some work is finished.

But I did need to clue any readers in on my quick energy loss, least I be viewed as someone I am not.

September 2, 2007

Fall Cleaning

I think it is fall the flip to cool that triggers my need for clean. I could care less about a tidy place in spring; all I want is outside, to dig in the earth and to run wild, but in fall my fancy turns to clean.

Crazy, but on this Labor Day morning as soon as my kid went to work and my husband ran to tennis, I polished the silver to a burnished new high. I brushed the super furry cats into a sleek sea skin and I am about to bake banana bread with the beyond ripe beauties that lie in the big blue bowl I carted recently from a ceramist’s studio in Fez.

I think it is a combination of cool and the looming energy of back-to-school that fuels my frenzy. I want order in order to begin what I always fantasize will be my most productive season, especially after the doldrums of summer. I am not a summer hater, but work does descend to a new low as the temperatures rise and everyone is on vacation so excuses abound. The editor was away, my agent was in Italy, my hands were too sticky to write, and I had to have a cocktail and lie in the grass watching the clouds.

But now the sky is whisked clean blue and the humidity gone and so I seek productivity.

August 27, 2007

Producing theater then and now

The last time I produced something, a real something with collaborators and sets, casts casting about for motivation and the pressing need to raise funds to raise the curtain, was over ten years ago. I had a staff and the technological revolution had hit them, but not me.

Today I am in the throes of producing and writing an opera about the very personal effects of September 11, 2001. Any one of those things would be enough to induce blood boiling: scribbling, producing or revisiting 9/11, but taken together the troika could present a tipping point for a middle-aged mama. But I have been saved by the onslaught of technology. Yes, the emotional pitches and sways cannot be mediated, but the speed and efficiency of my work seems magically augmented especially when we three collaborators sit down together.

This past week we were lucky enough to have an entire day where the composer, Doug Geers, who normally lives in Minnesota and the designer/artist Christine Sciulli, who lives across the street but teaches, designs and has two baby children, well where we could all be together in the my loft. We make pots of coffee and scrambled eggs crammed full of sharp cheddar and farm-stand tomatoes and then we worked.

We each had our Apple laptops; we talked, we waved hands, we argued about sensibility, religion and tempo. We outlined the entire opera; we cut a quarter of an hour from the running time, just in theory. We agreed that there would be no iconoclastic tower tipping images but rather that we would focus on the “presence of absence” and the leitmotif of “harmony from dissonance.” These are not facile concepts and we agreed to push each other to remain true to them IF words, or music or images threaten to revert to mini-series heartstring tugging. Then we gave out tasks.

But unlike “back in the day,” when workers went away and came back weeks later, we accomplished many of the TO DO LIST right where we sat. Christine called to find a choir conductor. We emailed her. Doug had a friend who sets up web sites. We wrangled with the URL and came up with WWW.CALLINGTHEOPERA.COM and maybe also .ORG. We drank more coffee and wrote out three separate a best-case scenario budgets, we emailed them to each other and then created a single unified document. Now we edited that document down to a bare bones production. In other words Doug really wants “SIX CELLI” but can live with two playing against a recording. Christine wants rear screen projectors, very expensive but she could hang one in the front if the funds are scarce.

We all had been saving the names of funders who we thought might be interested in our project. Doug found his from listening to public radio, Christine gleaned her info from designing the lights for the new Mabou Mines piece and I revisited the backs of every theater program for the last year. We found a few that suited us, found the guidelines on line and began filling out the grants. We exchanged email biographies and compiled information for the web site we were constructing.

We drank more coffee and called to cancel the rest of our day and we worked. We looked at images; we reread passages in my book and fought about order and tone. We took time out to make calls on our cell phones, connecting to other clients who never knew we were in a frenzy of creativity, taking an interstitial moment to give them an edit or a drawing or a syllabus. Our discreet electronics allowed us to work together and separately all day.

When I was the executive director of La Mama back in the 80’s to early 90’s this level of output would have taken weeks. All the paper and Xeroxing, the collating of reviews and copying music tapes to send to funders. And now many of the RFPs (request for proposal) for grants require everything be sent only electronically. And this aspect means I have to send stuff to Doug so that he can oversee my Luddite slowness.

But even with my backward techniques and recalcitrance to modern life, this session, a veritable flurry of passionate producing bumped me up to a new level of appreciation for what the last decade of technology means.

Within three days all our information, bios, music, reviews and some aspirations had been uploaded, by Doug, to the new website. So check it out, because I am still amazed at what that one day wrought, albeit with much back-story and working already loaded into our electronic brains. And I also still have a great deal of faith in the positive effects of copious amounts of coffee.

August 19, 2007


August 14, 2007

Morocco post 1

I haven't written since I have been back.

It was a long and often arduous trip. We were given a guide who we thought was from the Moroccan government tourism office but it turns out had been subcontracted to a car rental place.


So here we had this idiot, Simo, who told us things like, "This says Coca-Cola in Arabic," when it was written on the distinctly shaped bottle that Coke had spent billions on so that it would be instantly recognizable in any fucking language. Or, "That is a jet ski. That is a train."

Simo had no real information. He was late most days and hung over--and all this in a Muslim country where at least you think you might we'd get a sober, if stupid, guide. He was nefarious and asked for gas money and took us, of course, to stores where we paid too much and he was paid a lot.

We also had an adorable driver named Omar who spoke maybe 20 words of French and then Arabic. Simo tried to keep him in line by buying him a prostitute the first night they went to a disco. But in the end, it was Omar who rose up against Simo and called the car rental boss, who we, in the dark, still thought was the Moroccan tourist bureau that had supposedly sponsored us. Omar told on Simo and we got a brilliant guide named Abbes who tried to fill us in on the history of Morocco in the week that was left.

In a moment of boredom and frustration, we taught Omar to say ASSHOLE when Simo got into the car.

We saw Morocco from shining sea to orange desert. We slept under the stars and rode camels; we hiked into gorges, saw Kasbahs made of sand, and the world's largest mosque standing on the cliff side in Casablanca reflecting the words in the Koran, "And He shall build his castle by the sea," or at least our wise guide, Abbes, told us this. Simo would have said that is where they built it, and that is all. Similar to his response when we asked about the significance of the Moroccan flag and Simo's said, "Flags have no meaning." Ahhhh, the future of tourism.

I hope not.

We went to the hammam, a traditional Moroccan bath. We wandered around Fez and Marrakech in 127 degree heat, finding the shade in every soak (market place). We came home laden with rugs, baskets, skewers for shi-ka-bab and wild bright shoes. We had amazing meals like a couscous of fruit in a Riad (small hotel) where we ate in front of a pool surrounded by palm trees. Or fish caught and cooked in the plaza off the sea in Essaouira. We ate at roadside stands, lamb beef, pumpkin and watermelon. I ate as much local yogurt as I could thinking that it would give me lots of local flora and fauna, in a good way and it seems to have inoculated me. We knew many folks who complained of stomach stuff, but luckily not us.

We climbed the steep stairs in every palace, museum and Medersa (an Islamic college). We were made nearly drunk with the beauty and complicated patterns that adorn everything from gates (Babs) to walls, gardens and schools. As Islam does not allow the depiction of human or animal forms the decoration is pattern, tiles, scroll like writings, carved wood ceilings and all combined in dizzying profusion covering the world’s largest mosque, the Hassan II in Casablanca to ancient 11th century walls in Fez.

More to come…

July 16, 2007

The road to Morocco

I am off and running for the next few weeks.

I fly to Morocco with my daughter, who finished her studies at Columbia having read all about Africa and colonialism, never alas, to have set foot on the continent.

So it will be a big bonding trip for mom and her first baby.

It will also be hot, and we will fill our eyes, ears and mouths with new delights, coming back to fill in pages. Silly perhaps, but we hope to understand better what separates all of us in the world. My belief is that if we visit, eat, sit and talk, the world shrinks and and animosity can melt.

So here we go.

July 13, 2007

Beggar With Clean Socks

Hot summer had taken a holiday; a little spring breeze tickled me, pushed tendrils or evaporated sweat and the world was out in summer profusion. Bare midriffs, street food, bikes and busy sidewalks at lunchtime.

I was walking on the wide swath of 23rd Street before it comes to Fifth Avenue. My gym is here and I try to come as often as life permits. I was still walking my bike; as I decided whether or not to allow myself the indulgence of an eight-dollar salad or if it was better to peddle home to leftovers.

As I walked east, I saw a young dark-eyed woman sitting with her back against a post box; she was holding a sign, the ubiquitous kind written on cardboard in black ink describing sadness, woe and poverty.

She sat cross-legged with her dark, ocular pools cast downward. I walked by. I stopped. She had on the cleanest socks I had ever seen. They were navy blue and white and the contrast between the two colors popped. We are all cautioned against grifters, and con artists who ply the trade of playing on our emotions to extract funds for nefarious business. We know that young women or babies, all can be utilized to maximize the effect, and so I wondered.

I sat watching this girl, she never spoke, her plea was silent and intense; I saw another woman stop to regard this mendicant. I walked over to her. She was older than I am, gray hair and walked with a cane. She was very beautiful and upright, an elegant woman. We both now watched together; it was as if we had slipped into the cast of an impromptu play and tried to quickly come up to speed on the back-story.

I turned and said, “I always wonder about these folks, who is real and who not. And how do we know?” The woman with the cane turned to me, “Yes, I do as well, but what puzzles me about this one is...” then we both said, as if on cue “Those socks are SO CLEAN!”

We talked some more about wanting to help, but that if you gave everything away how would you know where and when and to whom and then who would take care of you? I said I was going to ask her if I could purchase her some lunch from the cart whose aroma was wafting over to us and I was sure was reaching the young cross-legged woman as well.

I approached her and inquired. Yes, she would like food. No, she couldn’t walk with me to pick what she wanted, as a woman had promised to come back to her spot and give her a job. She had shiny black hair tied back in a ponytail, those dark eyes and clean socks. Her accent confused me; I asked if she spoke French, she said her mother did, but she spoke Romanian.

I walked to the cart and bought a combo platter and a bottle of water. Whether she was shaming the passersby or not, it is still lovely to be offered free lunch and someone who stops to inquire about our state of being.

We all need that, clean socks or dirty.

July 12, 2007

A small lie

Yesterday I tried to ascertain what would be interesting about my life, what might cross over to be that ubiquitous moment and I was overwhelmed with watching. I saw myself lie to a stranger about the bounty in my life because I felt embarrassed.

I was standing outside a public garden in Greenwich Village. There was a rather tattered man also peering in; he was sketching in a small book. I was standing astride my green, 1968 Raleigh bike waiting to meet another writer to discuss a project. I was early, as I often am, because riding a bike in Manhattan makes you punctual because all you have to do is peddle a little faster and there you are, but that is another story and not the lie I told.

I asked the man what he was sketching. Not a good sign when you can’t tell from looking really, but I am preternaturally chatty. He replied, “Oh I love that shed, I have drawn it so many times.”

I looked, it was a pre-fab grey shed for tools tucked in the back of roses and weeping cherries. Maybe he loved the verdant vegetation, but when I took a concerned look; in fact he had just roughed out the shed alone in green crayon.

“What are you doing?” he continued the conversation toss.

“Oh, I am just garden fantasizing.”

He took the ball and tossed back. “Oh I don’t do that enough, maybe if I did, fantasized about having a garden then I WOULD have one.”

“I think they call it visualization--seeing things you want to make manifest, but I like fantasizing, too.”

Now the lie.

He asked, “Do you have a garden?”

I guess because I felt guilty about the small five-acre farm purchased in the Hudson Valley, on credit, nearly two years ago. I said, “ Oh yes, I have a small garden, but not this opulent.” The garden in question was .3 acres, I had just read that on a sign and was basking in how much more land I had when the conversation began.

Why did I feel the need to downgrade my incredible luck and good fortune? As I walked away from him, he was still sketching and I chose to focus on the positive phrase I had uttered, “Yes, I do have a garden.” It was a magical sentence, and yet I made myself feel bad because I felt I had to lie to this stranger, in order to not make myself look so spoiled.

Why did I do this? And as a correlative, why do we inflate silly things to make ourselves feel, look or seem better in encounters with strangers on a train, or bus or bank line? For me, it causes me to wonder if who I am will ever be enough, or correct - just as I am - at the moment at the garden gate or bank line?

July 11, 2007


I am always looking for signs. Not, “right turn 100 feet ahead” but, danger; do not go on the second date. Quit now and avoid years of heartache.To simply, try the fish.

I do not sit inert waiting for things to happen.

I don’t throw bones or read prophetic books auguring auspicious days.

Instead I look at everything.

I believe that information abounds. Personal, private codes bounce along next to us waiting to cheer and embolden our lives.

I also have an MBA from Yale. I say this because I am a regular analytical, thinking person. I also have a complete croyence in magic, witchcraft, the vibration of the spheres; call it what you will. Serendipity or coincidence.

So today, I struggled in a humid funk attempting to put myself on a single, productive path. Watch me this morning. I am up early. I have stripped beds and have laundry piles, I have begun cleaning closets for the renters who arrive to assume control of my little country house a day after I return from a fortnight in Morocco, so I need to get organized. I am carrying two pills in one hand, a stack of books in the other. The cat is curling around my legs. And by the time I descend the stair, mind you, this is not a grand house, I have lost the pills and my train of thought. I now want to clean the porch. There is laundry everywhere from yesterday's crisis (the cats had been using the laundry as a litter) and EVERYTHING had to be washed twice.

So I decide to make coffee, but on the way to get the grinds, I see the bird feeder needs to be filled and then the humidifier needs to be emptied and the cat box was overfilled and needs to be swept up. And once again I don’t know what I am doing. But I see that I put the pills down by the phone as I picked up the mail and magazines.

Well, that went well.

My mother spent her life telling me I was a slob. And I spent the first quarter century buying into her characterisation, and the second, being as my kids say, obsessive compulsive. (Think twice about educating them, really.) Now I want things neat, folded, clean, tidy, designed and - if I can achieve it without hiring out - fabulous. So I am whipping around and my wandering attention is taken by the small bird’s nest on the front porch.

It is a cup made of twigs and mud, all surrounded by vibrant green moss. I have seen inside these nests. They are lined with animal fur. Quite cozy, made by black-capped chickadees. Now there are three or four hatchlings vying for the same maybe 3-inch diameter nest. But they are very well behaved. When I come near they are quiet. How do the bird mothers teach them? When the mother approaches they open their mouths. I know it is instinct, but here comes the SIGN.

I see that there are two birds alternating attendance. One, and then other, not quite identical birds. I go to my bird book and see that both male and female chickadees do look the same and both tend the brood. My chest heaves. An involuntary sigh and sense of calm replaces the humid air that hangs on my shoulders and coats my hair still wet from last night’s swimming. It is the sign.

I had my babies with a man from a breed who was not a nurturer. He had fancy plumage and a cock-strutting walk; he did not always come home to the nest I so lovingly filled with animal fur and designer sheets. I too often bickered with him, squawked, and pulled his feathers and mine in humiliation and rage. It was me who flew home to the fledglings and filled their open mouths with goodies and words and magic. But when they were small and I was 42, I changed that.

I left the strutting cock and fell in love with a black-capped chickadee. A beautiful, strong loving bird who flies with me to do everything. He feeds children, and fixes the nest and still I often squawk at him. I did it yesterday for not noticing the wretched cat’s box.

And so when the calm washed me moments ago; I stopped in my tracks and intoned: THIS NEST - THESE TWO BIRDS WORKING TOGETHER ON YOUR PORCH is a SIGN! Notice how you have changed your life and sit down. And so I made a cup of strong black coffee using my favourite method, a folded paper towel draped over a big cup, and I sat down to capture a sign.

July 10, 2007

Starting the blog

When you decide that you might have words, thoughts and emotions to share with readers on a daily basis what does that mean? Beyond writing in a journal, where you can say, I have new and detested hairs sprouting out of my mole that does seem to be really growing. Or, I hate my children sometimes, most of us have no place to venture forth, out loud with that. Or maybe I never should have had children, as I fear I have passed my insanity on to them, let alone the quirks and downfalls of their now abhored father.

What can we say in a blog that borders on honesty, but creeps over into a universality that vibrates with other readers? Readers who are, let’s say, women old enough to know better, or maybe old enough, but still learning. Maybe these middle-aged-mambo dancing women have children, either hated or beloved, or both in alternating moments who want to decode them in order to love them better, so these kids will read this blog. We can all hope that some of these gals have spouses who want in further, who want insight and clues, tid-bits that might lead to AHHH HA moments and they will creep onto our pages.

Perhaps if we were all more transparent,there really could be détente among the generations, sexes, or cultures. Honestly do I think a BLOG that unravels the musings of one wacky writer, parsing moments of hilarity and heinousness will facilitate world peace? NO, I am not delusional, much as my ex will disagree, really I am not, but when we share our fear, or joy we move closer to elevating ourselves to more. I don’t mean more in the sense of a bigger house, or a smaller body. I mean the real more that involves sanity and sanctity.

So welcome, come step behind the curtain and please do pay attention to this woman behind the curtain, because unlike the Wizard of Oz, I do want you to see the strings and machinations of all we do to make magic in our lives and I invite you to share with us what you do, think and see that takes your breath away.