December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice 2009

Today is the shortest day with the longest night and we had a blast of sunshine during the peak hours and I ventured forth. I did nothing of consequence, I went to the bank and the super market and I ran into my Italian teacher from ages ago and actually turned my bike around after hearing his voice. It was clearly him, even though I hadn’t heard those dulcet tones in years. OK I had a crush on him but still. Cool to see him and his girl friend.

Then I was weigh laid by the Internet, (a new year, new decade resolution: half hour maximum in the vortex of electronic procrastination), so then I checked out a new site, mentioned in the Times magazine this week and on I found this info. In 1932 Wilfred J. Funk, whose father launched the Funk and Wagnall dictionary, posited a list of the ten most beautiful words in the English language. Melody, murmuring, hush, lush, chimes, golden, lullaby, mist, luminous tranquil dawn.

My take: I was murmuring a lush melody, a lullaby, as I pondered the luminous, golden dawn breaking through the mist this tranquil morn; silent save for distant chimes.

My former consulting job, just ended mid December, wanted me to finish a report, which I offered to write two weeks ago, but they said they didn’t need me to do it. But today they need it done, NOW but I do not have the information to do it ASAP.  Oh well it will have to wait until after the holiday. Is that a surprise??

This interaction made me depressed, uneasy, disquiet. WHY I hate to do something half-assed and my reaction is akin to an anxiety attack. So since I could not achieve the report I mended all the items on my fix it list, I did wash, I cleaned out the refrigerator, wrapped gifts, even the big ones which I thought could be given in card board boxes, and I am raring to go to the Winter Solstice yoga class. The last thing is a lie, but I thought by saying it I might make it so. In deep winter when it gets dark early,  all I want to do is hunker and cuddle and read or watch a movie or maybe roll over. But there is going to be cello and good cheer so I will push out of my cave and do sun salutations hoping, as my ancient ancestors believed, that might bring the sun back. And you know what tomorrow the day will be a tad longer, and who knows it might be all because we saluted the sun in her shortest appearance of the year.

After the Yoga class.

It’s true all is new intentions and an upward facing spirit from all the downward facing dogs.  I dragged my 25-year-old daughter, as she has tugged me along on other nights when I was less inclined. And after the amazing class, we both agree that a session where mind, body and spirit unite is all wonder. And that is was taught in an unflinchingly beautiful, candle lit, loft downtown, where Indian samosas, sparkling cider and wine were served to celebrate the Solstice was the best thing we could have done. We parted ways after class, she off to a party and me slipping and sliding home to my own candles, cats and a dinner to cook.








October 15, 2009

Time To Write . . finally, maybe

Oct 15, 2009


As I left my loft downtown, bouncing my bike down from the loading dock and donning my slicker, while coughing heartily into my hand, I encountered my neighbor.

Wow even in the rain, this cold, the bike . .  . really ?


 Oh well if you give your self a day off, or an excuse you are done for. . .


With that I pedaled off coughing and wheeling into the pelting downpour. I was wearing no hat and had grabbed only thin sweat pants to wear. I was on my way 3 miles north to a Pilates class, having forsaken my warm home and the promise I’d made to write something today that didn’t involve work. Meaning neither a journalistic piece on quilts nor a grant to support housing for homeless women. All important, but  diversions from my creative writing.


As I peddled off I was rattling around in my head, Never give yourself an excuse or an easy way out. You have to brave the rain, cold to stay strong. Go on out into the rain on your bike. I seemed truly crazy. And has I felt my fever heat and cool me simultaneously and my cough kept me hacking I had a simple epiphany as I crossed Canal Street. I am nearly sixty years old, when can I give myself a day off ? Or when can I take a respite just because I feel like it. WHEN?


And just like that I circled back and rode home. I turned my metal mule around and bumped back up the slippery loading dock and came home into the warmth. Ate a crisp apple and read.


Rather than feeling defeated I felt as if I  made a grown up decision. Pilates is wonderful but this cold and sore throat will not get better by beating myself up. I have a few hours without meetings and I am a writer who says she never has time to write.


Please do not think this is what I am passing off as my writng time, no this is the prelude, the foreplay to re- announce my intention to myself. As Lizzie Simon said in her wonderful  SHEWRITES.COM webinar yesterday, “Practice being a writer by writing every day for 30 minutes. Be in the void” Hell I spend a half hour wondering if the cats are actually smiling at me. Another thirty minutes pondering banana bread or a trash toss; so I think can invest that time in me and my desire to amass words into a form that might become a book.


I also went to a poetry reading this week given in a local gallery by the seductive and talented Max Blagg who said, “ I write1000 words every day, not all good words, not all keepable words, but words to get the juices flowing and refer back to perhaps when the real writng starts. Like keeping the machine in order.” His words and rhythm are magical and if they come from a rigor of daily writing then maybe I can join in.


At any rate I am home having turned back from rain and cold and wheezing and embracing, for a little while, the warmth of my home and the comfort of words.

October 7, 2009

Let Me Down Easy Anna Deavere Smith

Let Me Down Easy  Written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is a genius, and she even has a MacArthur fellowship to prove it. Anyone who is lucky enough to take a seat in the Second Stage Theater on West 43rd Street and be regaled by the 20 real life characters created by Smith in For Let Me Down Easy will burst out acclaiming her bravura intensity for all to hear.

Anna, as her characters refer to her, pioneered a form of theater at the confluence of journalism, caricature and mimicry, all tied together with a shining bow of theatrical excellence. Anna takes her time to create her work and will not be rushed. For Let Me Down Easy she spent years interviewing celebrities, folks, clergy, doctors and hospital administrators across the county in order to find a synthesis that hits pitch perfect.

Health care in America at this crucial moment is on all of our minds: how to get it, how to pay for it and how to feel safe. Anna began work on Let Me Down Easy with a commission from the Yale School of Medicine. Her findings were then wrapped into an early version of the play and shown at New Haven’s acclaimed Long Warf Theater, and then debuted this fall on Broadway. This is not the usual route to creating theatre, but then Deavere Smith has never done anything other than work off the grid and make her audience rethink whatever subject she is tackling.

She is a consummate journalist whose ear is pitch perfect when both questioning and listening to answers. She begins by taping everything and then she returns to the tapes, edits them and becomes the person whom she interviews. Do not skim over this, she is an alchemist and she becomes for our delight and education a Buddhist monk, a boxer, her aging aunt, Joel Siegel, Eve Ensler, former governor Ann Richards, a patient at Yale New Haven hospital and Lance Armstrong among others.


Each character contributes a salient piece on the debate about ageing, becoming ill, dying or attempting to be well and achieve in a society which often seems to not value those who are not perfect: women who are not svelte, the wounded, the poor, the uninsured, the uneducated. Anna gives them all an eloquent voice. She equally allows the celebrities and higher ups in the pantheon of medicine to wax poetic about how they view this confused landscape of medical care and the shifting sands of health.

As the characters emerge Anna is served props or costume pieces by an unidentified hand maiden and by the end of the nearly two hour piece the wonderful set, flaked by mirrors, is littered with the detritus of the twenty characters we have seen metamorphosis before our eyes. Boxing gloves, wine, eyeglasses, a hospital gown, and various suit jackets, all remain to remind us that every character, every story builds on the one before it in this play, as in our lives.

This kind of thought, effort and execution is rare and is the result of long hard work. Anna Deavere Smith has a glorious team surrounding her in the director Leonard Foglia, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, costumer Ann Hould-Ward and the movement and dialect coaches, dramaturge and various assistants; they all must be noted because Anna obviously knows that all the characters she brings so vibrantly to us are the work of a kind of distillation whereby gallons of liquid are distilled to produced drops of elixir. Do not hesitate to run and drink from the magic Anna Deavere Smith has created.

Thru November 8


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September 28, 2009

59 for the First Time (day 1)

 September 26 the very day

 I ran away yesterday, by myself, almost by myself. I took a fat cat named Huey Newton with me, and as two chubby felines we drove to the county. Why?

Well I was in meltdown mode and my husband was nervous about work. I was all a twitter with the same old twits of why I am not more in some ways and less in others. Not more in career and not less in girth.

A constant if one was to sneak a peak into the pages journals past. And like a Dickensian sleuth view my foibles, real and imagined, from birthdays past and future. They would spin a similar tale.

I thought, ahhh the country, flannel shirts, jeans so big even baked potatoes and croissants can fit in. I wanted to celebrate that for now, for this very moment in the whirling of the planets, we have this sweet, old house. We are holding on with our teeth and gnawed finger nails, but we have the old farm with its age blasted barn and dusty deer strolling by at dawn, bats in my chimney flashing, birds like flying crayons still divring for fatty sunflower seeds and the acres that are mine. Mine and the bank.

I wanted to hear the geese honk and announce it was time to head south. I craved hearing them tell that time has passed, a sort of aural birthday greeting. I needed the visual cue of shadows slating long across tall grass gone to diaphanous pink seed. These would announce the coming of my birthday better than calendars, facebook or any other modern contrivance.

I wanted to see pumpkins lined up next to obsolete wooden wagons and piles of spotty tomatoes in baskets. I wanted to be in a place where women still stopped because the sign read “Canning Tomatoes”. I like the log-like quality of the final silky corn rolled next to the first acorn squash. I wanted a seasonal announcement that also made me believe that changes and the flip of the year is not hard; it is natural. The summer flowers whither and the fall flourishes filling the landscape with vibrant colored trees.

That can be me. I just need to kick my phloem and xylem into high gear and get my leaves on. Aubergine, crimson, chartreuse, safety cone orange and yellow. The trees in autumn are a riot. This is my first 59th birthday and tonight I am going to drink champagne, squeeze my daughter and fairy-god-daughter, love my husband and holler through the phone lines at my big son.   I will eat cake and dance with friends in my funky loft downtown and see what age has brought me as a gift.

August 25, 2009

Aging Downtown Experimentalists Shine Uptown

I came of age in experimental theater. Ellen Stewart the doyen of LaMama dragged me, in 1972 at 21, to see Philip Glass in concert under one of futurist Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, perched on a hillside in Spoleto Italy. Stewart crooned,“ Baby you have to hear this cause Phil is another LaMama baby, just like you.”


After so many decades, there are many ageing experimentalists walking among us, but the cream of the crop have their talents shining in Central Park in a production of Euripides tragedy, The Bacchae. Greek drama is a staple of downtown experimentalism, Andre Serban, Ruth Maleczech, Richard Schechner, Lee Breuer, and Liz Le Compte all gave us multiple versions of Greek myths gone wild, but this summer’s production features many of the artists who dedicated their lives to this ephemeral craft of creating experimental work that would move audiences to visceral joy, terror and amazement.


The likes of Andre De Shields, yes of The Wiz but also countless works downtown were on display as Tieresis auguring in sequins and tearing at our souls. Karen Kandel heads the chorus with such superb marksmanship that the other eleven Bacchanalians follow pitch perfect. Kandel was in an early production of Andre Serban’s Trilogy and is now co-director of downtown’s lauded Mabou Mines. George Bartenieff, one of the founders of the funky, Theater for the New City, think political, shoestring, street theater regaling city streets for decades; he is now explosive as the grandfather of the murdered young king Pentheus.  And as an aside, although not one of the cadre of early experimentalists, Anthony Mackie is a young star as Penteus.


The murderer of Pentheus is none other than the incredible, ever incandescent Joan Macintosh.  I whispered to my daughter 24, before Macintosh took the stage that she was about to see one of the truly great actors of our time. A women, who if she had not been married to experimentalist, founder of the Performance Group Richard Schechner and stared in all his “environmental theater” productions might have been as well known as Meryl Streep. Her performance raging as a woman in ecstasy who unknowingly kills her son, thinking he was a wild beast is transformative on the lip of John Conklin’s  glorious river bound Delacourt stage.


And of course the  Queen and King of this ensemble work are the director Joanne Akalaitis, and composer Philip Glass; both 72. Akalaitis was artistic director of the Public Theater for a scant two years after the death of founder Joseph Papp. Glass and Akalaitis were married back in the day for fifteen years, but have been working together for more than forty years. And kudos to longevity and dedication because they still create theatrical miracles like The Bacchae.

 I know that if I were a more astute student of the genealogy of Downtown Theater, I could pull more strings of connectivity together, but if my own scant personal history yields this much imagine the wealth lying beneath the surface which is brought to light in this revelatory production. And as ever, all for free beneath the stars, wafted by summer breezes and serenaded by crickets. 

August 11, 2009

Making a Home Make Money

Making a Home Make Money

By Wickham Boyle 2:06 pm August 10, 2009


I love having a house in the country and a place in the city—so much that I have chosen country abode over health insurance. But even that sacrifice has not saved me enough to be able to hold on to my second home year round.

On the last day of July, I drove to my beloved little house a hundred and twenty miles up river from Manhattan, to make it ready for the August renters. We had rented our home before, but never for what seemed to me to be such a long time: five weeks. When you have a garden to grow and tend to (Read “No New Plants, Period.”), five weeks seems like an eternity. But it is a buyers market so when a good family responded and this is what they desired, I said YES.

I am doing this to make ends meet. It is not a tragedy of any magnitude; it is what my mother used to call, “an upscale problem.” I have two homes and so I have the upscale luxury of making one pay for the other. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss it, or bemoan my inability as an Ivy League educated mom to better provide for my family. It also doesn’t preclude me from experiencing some pangs at handing over my baby to another family.

I was grateful that our little house found renters when many of my neighbors have had their ads unanswered.

I had owned another farmhouse, one that I lost in a bitter divorce nearly two decades ago, and finding this house and purchasing it with my new husband, the love of my life, was the final stroke in healing my wounded core. This magnanimous man had moved into the loft where I had lived with the wretched ex and never bemoaned his energy lurking in the corners, but there were moments when we both felt it. This house on the slope was ours alone, a little nest and a testament to hard work and commitment.

In tough times we find ourselves either separately or together engaging in creative problem solving. If the taxes are too high on your home or well… second home, then you figure out a way to make it pay for itself. Like my children, my house is mandated to take a summer job. And it has. I am proud of my kids for finding jobs this summer and grateful that our little house found renters when many of my neighbors have had their ads unanswered. Thus, they are looking to second mortgages or home equity loans as bridges to pay taxes or bills.

And then the renters arrived. She is a documentary filmmaker with a cute lighting designer husband and two oh so sweet little boys, 3 and 5. The big boy and I immediately caught a small, bright ribbon snake and it was game on. They walked the property with me and oohed and ahhed at the giant two person swing my husband built, they ogled the ground hog hole dug right under a hammock, hung in a tall cedar. I showed them where the blackberries were staked ready to bloom.

We covered the more mundane issues intending a 200 year old farm house: water pump, creaky floors, strange light switches and the modern wonders of WIFI passwords and Direct TV, when it isn’t raining too hard.

We did a quick download of where the trash goes, where the best ice cream is sold and how to attract birds. And then we left another family waving from our porch.

I was overjoyed that small children were going to enjoy the hills and hammocks and wildlife, and happy that a harried, working mom was going to sip coffee on the porch watching humming birds and jays. I was also content that I had posted an “early bird special” on Craigslist and found good renters when other houses languished.

I felt wise, and a little sad. I know it is only five weeks but still I know I will miss the peaches, corn, lengthening of shadows and the first chill of fall. I received a cute email from the mom extolling the beauty, and comfort of the place along with news of the zoo established on the porch now housing fireflies and frogs. It’s just five weeks, and yes, it’s an “upscale problem.” But when times are tough, those things that bring us fulfillment grow in significance. I’m happy my little retreat is bringing the same to this other new family.


August 8, 2009

Machine Mania

I have harped, ranted and griped about this before and will again, but I am overwhelmed by servicing and serving an army of machines.


Yesterday I lost my IPOD Touch, a machine I call SHINY. I never wanted SHINY, sad to say, but my husband, a techno fan, gave her to me as a Christmas gift two years ago. I filled her with pictures and some music and came to value her when I traveled to far off places as she fetches my emails and let’s me see that the world in my corner of the globe still spins without having to suss out an internet cafĂ©, phone or newspaper.


How did I lose her? I have no idea. I remember taking her slim self out of a zipper pocket in my purse where I also stow my camera on a clip and my phone in a special pocket. I began charging her, which I had not done in ages and it was going to take a while. Of course it takes my computer powered ON to charge the SHINY. And it takes a different charger to boost my camera battery, and a still different cable to power feed the reading device, my Kindle (an anniversary gift from my adoring husband.) It is a regular riot of cables and attachments, which live either on my desk or in my travel bag. And somehow I lost her. Maybe SHINY went back into my purse; she either fell out or was lifted by someone in deep techno need. But she is gone.


Last night as we walked to see the new movie Julie and Julia I ranted as I attempted to keep pace with my long-legged husband, this means I often talk to his back. It may be his strategy because I do complain while walking. I hate walking, but that is another rant or blog or interior monologue. So I am ranting about how much more I loved having just a land line for the phone and letters with crunchy paper and artistic stamps, that I long for a time when I don’t have to be so damn up to date on every silly thing from hair-dos of the rich and famous, to bundled derivatives, bat disease and children’s medication. I went on and on, and I sounded, as I said to him, like a crazy old lady. And perhaps I am becoming one.


My family and I are on hiatus from the country (see a blog or two back) thus we are here downtown to revel in the glories of City weekends. This means I cannot escape to the timelessness of dirt, hills and berries. I am forced to confront the realities of my machine-based life and I am bridling.


I  do love being able to find my children by cell phone, but I am more than content with my seven year old Sanyo phone that has been cobbled together so often in the Sprint store that my children call it Frankenphone, as it is obvious that the pieces do not match. The man at Sprint has banished me from the store saying there is nothing else he can do, all the pieces are gone and I need to upgrade. I do not want to upgrade and that is my problem.

I want to go back . . .  not downgrade, but simplify.

I know there are others like me, but I am afraid they are Birthers, or revisionist history folks. Where are the intelligent, well informed people who want to read newspapers and books, get a letter with a stamp or slow cook a meal? I do not want to worry about charging an army of machines in the off chance that a phone, music, email, or book will not be immediately and electronically at the ready; or waiting to be lost and replaced to feed our flagging economy. I sound old and grumpy. Well maybe I am. 

August 4, 2009

Gardening in a Time of Recession

This is from the wonderful site 

Look for other posts from your truly


No New Plants, Period.
By Wickham Boyle ⋅ 3:03 pm July 27, 2009 ⋅ 

Gardening, after storms and the economic downturn, is akin to living with the dogged devotion of a Mets or Red Sox fan. As I wander through the garden and see the places crushed by the ice storm or rotted by the ceaseless rain I say to myself, “Wait until next year.” I say this too as I leaf through garden catalogs and dog-ear the pages. I know I can’t buy anything because I am on a recession diet: NO NEW PLANTS, PERIOD.

The economic downturn hit our house hard when I lost my part time editing job and our health insurance in March 2008. Then the stock market debacle turned our savings into dust. My response was denial; I just refused to open my account statements. It is possible to practice denial in dealing with retirement or college tuition accounts, but I had to walk out my front door and no amount of denial would allow me to over look the havoc wreaked on my garden.

The first thing I had to do was clean up the disaster. Then, since I am known to be a positive, plucky person, I decided to make gardening in a time of recession into a game, a challenge. How to garden when there is no money for plants or accoutrements? Not a penny. Luckily plants divide, unlike stocks of late, and what the economic community call “the green shoots of growth” seem to abound in the garden. I just had to learn to notice.

How to garden when there is no money for plants? Luckily plants divide, unlike stocks of late.

Every autumn I make a list of new year’s resolutions for my garden. In the fall of 2008 I fantasized a new job and a hedge of hydrangeas. Not just for the alliterative effect—though, I love that—but because they are opulent and romantic. I notated the idea in my garden journal. But when I read it this spring I crossed it out and scribbled: ice storm, rain and recession. I still wanted a project, so I settled on another romantic notion I had been incubating: a white garden.

I felt I could muster a white garden because many wild flowers bloom white, and I could toodle around my land culling these and cultivated white flowers too. So in spring I began marshalling the white plants to a western hillside covered in the leavings of a crushed willow tree downed in December.

I walked my property finding Queen Anne’s lace, phlox, a small white lilac strangled by buckthorn, and yarrow amidst the poison ivy. I waited until the lilies popped their heads up showing their colors and I moved the Casa Blanca and alba. I took wild daisies from the side of the highway and asked neighbors for seedpods or cuttings. Slowly my hillside began to fill in with buds, which are now opening in a mostly white profusion.

I am not a perfectionist, to my detriment, I fear, so when an occasional blue bell appears, I leave it. A few errant Halloween orange daylilies bloomed, now that the willow is gone and sunlight streams in. Maybe next year I will move these colorful interlopers, but for now I am celebrating that things are thriving.

The white garden.

I recently returned to take a peek at my portfolio, which had languished unvisited for nearly a year. And lo and behold, some things are coming back there, too. My portfolio and my white garden are making small strides.

I walk along, bending to weed, or examining new shoots and I think, next year, next year there will be white clematis climbing, and my GM stock will no longer be reborn, and they will issue new stock certificates. I will have blowsy hydrangeas grown from the cuttings my neighbor brought me. Next June, the delicate mock orange bushes, rescued from the highway crew, will bloom in the safety of my hillside. Next year, our teams will win, the market will soar and my white garden will be a glorious reminder of what can be culled, saved and nourished even in a time of deep contraction.


July 30, 2009

The Power of Laundry and Polish

As a woman of the liberated sixties and seventies I never thought that at near sixty I would scurry to my writing device, AKA laptop to write a blog post, well hold on . . .  who thought of blogs, the internet, OK other than Al Gore. But to write, in whatever modern fashion, a musing on the power of laundry and polish, that would have been unthinkable to me back in the day. Not this modern woman. And yet here I sit, a second cup of black coffee at my side having finished a round of bed changes and making my mother’s walnut furniture gleam.


I am doing this not because it is Thanksgiving or my in-laws are coming, frankly I wouldn’t do it then. I am doing it because we have rented out our house in the country and in two days the tenants arrive and I think, well they paid nearly all our yearly taxes, that is the impetus for the rental, and they should start off fresh and shiny clean.


I came up here alone as my family has other work, or they are living in another country, I bought that excuse. So here I am after enduring another torrential Hudson Valley pelting rain, house shaking thunder and horizon illuminating lighting. I am here doing housework or what used to be called women’s work. The term changed, but here I am. To be fair, normally the inside of the house falls to my husband, who the kids and I call, Mr. Itchy, since he is allergic to so much outside. But he is honestly in Cleveland and that is punishment enough, plus he returns with a check.


So I am here and happy. The wash is churning, the wood seems to smile, beaming from knot to knot, enjoying much-needed nourishment. I am about to take clippers in hand to snip bouquets for the bedrooms. There is a simple and finite sense of satisfaction that emanates from this work. I don’t think about an edit to move the sheets into passive voice or consider that repolishing the table from the right to the left would yield a more satisfactory “kick”. This is work I just do.


Now I don’t want to be disingenuous about the joy of housework; if this was all I did and did not have the interstitial moment to sit and scribble while the wash does itself, I do not think I could wax so joyful. Terrible pun but I am going to leave it in.


July 18, 2009

Generation DRINX

I am a lightweight drinker. I never learned to drink. Who knew that had to be on the TO DO LIST for life ?

My father was an Irish alcoholic and it worried me, as I seemed to possess many of his foibles and gifts. We had the gift of gab, and rage and humor and strength and irony and sadness. And so I eschewed drinking, thinking that would inoculate me from all the other pejorative traits we shared.

Mostly it meant that I never learned to have more than a half of a beer, or two glasses of wine or a martini. That was until I turned 50. Then I wanted to drink. It was the Millennium and then there was September 11 and then the economic downturn, and we still have a year and a half until this decade is closed. So I began to drink.

My drinking is still meager by comparison to most adults, but it is downright puny when viewed thought the always-full cup of my children and their generation DRINX. My daughter is 24 and my son turns 21 next month. They have been drinking for a while and they often imbibe with a vengeance that scares the shit out of me.

I saw my son boast that he downed 18 beers for his 18th birthday. I see his beer cans in recycling. (We don’t hide things too much in our family) My daughter used to drink more but of late she can’t really hold her liquor. She is tiny as an ant. But I used to I hear her tossing her cookies in the only bathroom in our downtown loft. She has turned her back on the kind of binge drinking or over-kill that seems to equally attract and plague her peers.

When she went to her cousin’s 25th birthday party, she found the girl weeping in the kitchen with a drink stuffed into each fist. The birthday girl's friends just kept the drinks coming saying, “Don’ cry, it’s your birthday.” My daughter removed the drinks and said, “Go ahead have a good cry if that’s what you want; it’s your birthday.” Atta girl.

I always choose emotions over mind numbing, but then I love a good cry, a pitched battle, epithets hurled with aplomb and lots of make-up banter. I like blood letting, cauterizing wounds and airing the laundry. I love all the metaphors for getting the bad stuff out in the open so the good can flourish.
And I seem to be mighty provocative.

If I am to be honest, I have never been with a man who hasn’t thrown things, broken things and come at me wailing. My kindest, most meek, nice Jewish boy friend ripped the head off an expensive teddy bear be brought me from Zurich in a fit of pique. But my son seems to drink to suppress all his feelings and that freaks me out.

The other night after working 12 hour shifts for eight days strait, he went out with the rest of the tech crew from Project Runway, oh sorry no one is supposed to know so. . . Code name Cheesecake Productions. I was up or half up, doing that thing our parents did and our kids will do, which is waiting with ears and jeans at the ready in case we have to fly to the rescue.

I heard Henry come in. A little stumble and crash into furniture positioned too close for his tall frame under the influence. I said Hi in a cheery voice and he responded. When I asked him where he’d been he got grumpy. He was ready for a hello and nothing more. He hates questions under the best of circumstances but drunk FUGETABOUTIT.

I got up and asked if he wanted food or tea or water. He brushed his teeth, took out his contacts and said all he wanted was bed. His eyes were ablaze in his head, not actually tracking and I could see him list toward his room. I asked again about Advil or water. “No ma I just want to pass out.”

I couldn’t sleep. I am troubled by his drinking, I am deeply nervous about the drinking of his friends, his cousins, in fact, his entire cohort. The over-kill thing terrifies me. Here is a kid who wants to eat no carbs and work out and then drinks more than a dozen beers. Crazy right?

The next day I left for the country without so much as a note. I never do that. And then I felt I acted the way I ask him not to. I was obtuse and extremely not transparent. I called to leave an apology message for running off, but explained that the drinking freaked me out. To my great surprise and to his credit he called me back.

“ Ma this is your issue not mine. I can have one drink or none, or I can get hammered. It is my choice. The other night I got many people, who were much more drunk than I was home. And I got home safe, brushed my teeth and went to sleep. I got up and went to the gym. Now, I am cleaning my room. So get over it. This is your issue not mine. Clear”

“ Well I guess so. But mostly thanks for calling me back and talking to me, cause you didn’t have to do that. You could have just deleted the message and let it go. So thanks.”

I felt better after talking to him, for not keeping my thoughts to myself, but it made me wonder how this Generation DRINX will unfold. I think it is more than my issue. Maybe I can figure it out tonight after a cocktail.

July 15, 2009

I Spawn Spoiled

I Spawn Spoiled, Except in the Garden
July 13 2009

It must be me. I see that all around me there is a trail of spoiled. My cats, my kids, my co-workers and friends; all often seem too coddled and catered to. It has to be me. I must spawn a kind of spoiled hierarchy that I seem incapable of escaping, except in the garden.

I didn’t start gardening with a vengeance until I was 55 years old and by then I had learned a thing or two about boundaries. I had left a bad, abusive marriage; I had started my own consulting business and had plodded through oodles of therapy. Most of this “think and talk work” as my son called it when he was younger, taught me that I had to value myself and shower a little of the love and affection that seems to veritably ooze from my pores for progeny, pets and people onto me.

My big Maine coon cat will only eat white meat chicken and if it is steak he has to have all the fat rimmed and the pieces need to be bite-sized. My son is equally fussy in his carnivore tastes and my daughter wants everything local and organic. My husband will eat preservatives and fatty cuts of meat as he is the youngest from a big Southern family, but he doesn’t like to experiment as much as I do with cuisine and so I hold myself back even when it is just the two of us.

One of my co-workers doesn’t like to write grants unless they are 100% true, meaning she doesn’t do creative wiggling to fit into the mold the donor wants. So I get to do all of those. Hell I do not mean to imply that I am applying for salsa lesson money when we help mothers and kids born in prison. But I am willing to bend the rules a tad. She isn’t. It is a convenient way of getting out of things and not a route I know.

I am the one who say SURE, LET’S GO, I’LL HELP. What do you need? Another blanket, extra food, a ride to the store, help carting a couch up six flights of stairs. None of these is a frivolous example; all emanate from my I am here to help life. But I put my foot down with my garden.

I have half dozen separate gardens in the Hudson Valley and not one of them is high maintenance. Even the roses have to fend, flourish or perish. I love it. Why didn’t I think of this as a mantra when raising kids, picking mates or spoiling felines? The gardens are beautiful and they do spawn new blooms every year, which astound me with their grace and opulence. But there are also some lost by the wayside. The lilies seem to need protection from the deer; the roses need protection from the beetles and the black berries seem to be about to take over the world. Daises, mint, herbs, foxgloves and bee balm sprout in profusion. When it floods they thrive. And when the drought came last year they hunkered down and waited.

OK . . . I weed, I cut grass back, but not often and I water on very rare occasions. Most of my friends are slaves to their quite spoiled gardens and I am happy to report that my plucky garden gives me hope that my cat might live just fine on cat food and my tall, muscled son will continue to grow on a dinner not his number one choice. My daughter will not dwindle and die from inorganic 2% milk and my husband, sweet as he is, can with stand an experiment or two. After all, pizza abounds, so you won’t starve, no matter how spoiled you are.

June 25, 2009

In Search of Whirled Peace

As someone who’s been pegged a whirling dervish on numerous occasions by friends and foes alike, it was no surprise my announcement of an assignment to go cover the real-life spinning mystics was met with chuckles, chortles and knowing winks all around. Not that anybody ever meant to imply I was a Turkish dancing mystic and follower of a charismatic philosopher-poet born in 1207…

Many of us who came of age in the sixties have at least a passing acquaintance with Rumi, aka Mevlana, via his aphorisms that adorned so many inspirational posters of the Hippie era: “Reason is powerless in the expression of love” and so forth. I was lucky enough to have witnessed the dervishes in action at the LaMama Theater, an experimental company in Manhattan’s East Village where I worked in the eighties. Their music was hypnotic and evocative, the precise symmetry of their movements captivating as they spun in tight circles under tall felt hats, their white weighted skirts forming undulating cones and the entire spectacle instantly converting our dusty little auditorium into some exotic middle eastern bazaar.

Later, I learned Rumi was a respected Islamic scholar and theologian who proclaimed the way to enlightenment was through a meditative trance-like induced by spinning. His teachings evolved into what Turks call the Mevlana Sect. Beyond that, I knew nothing. So when a choreographer friend mentioned he had received a grant to travel with his company to the interior of Turkey to dance with the dervishes, I jumped in with both feet and soon found myself boarding a plane bound for Istanbul en route to Konya to continue my education about this sect of whirling seekers.

Konya, the site of the 13th century mosque and mausoleum of the Mevlana Rumi himself, is described in my guidebook as one of the most religiously conservative cities in Turkey. We arrived there mid-morning, and the site’s turquoise minaret, gleaming against the gray of an early spring sky, beckoned from blocks away. The call to prayer was just subsiding and the courtyard of the shrine was filled with pilgrims of all ages, each patiently donning plastic over-shoes in order to enter the mosque where Rumi and his disciples are entombed. (It became a museum in 1927, four years after the establishment of the Turkish Republic.)

Rumi’s faith held Muslim, Jew and Christian in equal regard. He advocated tolerance, positive reasoning and charity, and did not ascribe to an orthodox Muslim doctrine, which has garnered him followers among many sects and creeds.

Inside, the tombs were topped not with gravestones, but rather enormous stone turbans. Candles hung from the ceiling, inside large hand-blown glass lamps. Elaborate carpets covered the floors, and the murmur of praying filled me with a numinous sensation. Pausing for several minutes at Rumi’s place of honor, I began to sense an aura of contentment settling down on me.

The walk from the mosque to the conference center on the outskirts of Konya, where our whirling workshop would take place, revealed the city to be a jumble of modern industrial buildings; ancient architecture, including numerous religious monuments; and small shops. Carpet stores abutted barbershops where men wrapped in hot towels peered out, their faces slathered with cream. Turkish children whooped in schoolyards surrounded by fences with rusting bicycles tethered to them. Tiny businesses sold figs, walnuts and olives; kiosks plied delicious warm pide bread. Doner kebab stands offered sliced lamb or chicken stuffed into the bread’s pockets along with onions and tomatoes.

At the conference center, Ahmet Calisir, the leader of Konya’s semazen—their dance is called the sema, hence they are the semazen—began to enlighten us. Through a translator, he spoke of the pressing need, especially in these times, to connect to the earth and to our own immortality, and to recognize that we are not the center of the universe. He began to unfold the deep symbolism of the sema, how it hearkens to a mystical journey, our spiritual ascent toward perfection, and how the spinning represents a turning toward truth and away from the dangers of egotism. It also honors the commonality of all beings, reaffirming a fundamental condition and scientific truth of our existence: Whether we are planets in a solar system or electrons in a single atom or flighty journalists in between jobs (as I was), we all rotate.

irst, we would watch the dervishes perform then they would assist our efforts to replicate their swirling dance. I was champing at the bit for the active part, even in the face of such a patient teacher as Calisir. We sat cross-legged as the ancient music of the ney, a reed flute, and the kudu drum invaded our thrumming modern psyches. The dancers began at a markedly slow pace, arms crossed. As the crescendo built, they released their arms to heaven and earth, their eyes rolled up into their brows and they spun faster and faster, slipping magically past each other, never colliding. I was in rapture, with whirling skirts flying just inches past my nose and nimble feet, tightly laced in thin black leather boots, crisply pivoting at barely arm’s length. The dervishes’ sikke, those tall felt hats, somehow remained fixed. By now, I knew they represented the tombstone of the ego, a renunciation of worldly attachments.

The dance lasted perhaps thirty minutes. When the music subsided, the semazen calmly took their places against the back wall, hands crossed to opposite shoulders, sweat rolling down their cheeks yet breathing sedately.

Rising with my friend’s troupe, I was self-conscious about my age and lack of a dancer’s physique. My unquiet brain taunted me with self-doubt. We assumed the stance and the music began. Omar, a baker by day, and Hassan, a plumber, adjusted our arms and feet as we attempted to find the orbit and singular thread evinced by these practicing mystics. Many of us faltered or tipped; some clung to a wall for spatial solace. I wobbled, plopped onto my backside, and took a moment to revel in the spin of the room.

We were privileged to witness another miraculously calming performance by the semazen and were then asked for our reactions to the entire experience. Sensing no need for a clever response, no impulse to swoop in and deconstruct the scenario or come up with a definitive string of witticisms, I remained uncharacteristically silent. I realized that with real whirling comes focus, balance and the connection to a greater sensibility than anything my left brain could parse.

The next day, I was awakened at dawn by a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. As I lay in bed in my little room at the Hotel Rumi, across from the mosque, I felt myself still spinning. It was not the residual rocking of a seasick ship passenger but a constant, steadying, internal movement, like the ticking of a well-oiled clock. I could pause again to acknowledge my newfound connection to all things that revolve and spin and find their centers.

May 26, 2009

Fragility: Look it up

You can see a word endlessly and never notice it, until you look it up. Then as if by magic, it is ubiquitous and it seems as if there is numinous haze surrounding it, the equivalent of highlighting. Every book, every New Yorker article has the word: limn, palimpsest or numinous. And you say AHHHHHHH I know that word.

I feel that way about fragility. I know the word, I know how to recognize and note it in a few languages, as it is an important concept for packages, fruit, hearts and emotions. But until my recent close brush with death and the fragility of the human head and mind I didn’t take it in as a concept for my life, my family my tiny circle.

I had been blessed with little or no hospital time; my parents died very old, I am still (knock on wood) unbroken and although somewhat bowed I have not spent time with in the medical system or the realm of the fragile. I wrote last about the accident I witnessed where my daughter’s boy friend had a massive skateboard crash right under my nose. And since he is French and without his parents, we took to tending him. It is now a month and I have been unseated by all of this uncertainty.

I cringe when the car brakes, swerves or honks. I wept when I unearthed and cut up a snake with my weed-whacker and today there was another tumult of my fragile psyche. My husband found an upturned nest of baby birds in the barn. The nest was a badly made cup of mud and moss, it feel from the barn rafters and lay overturned on the workbench. I flipped it over and there were hatchlings, four of them mushed together in the cup.

I thought they were all dead and I looked at their featherless wings and wide translucent eyes and then they began to breath and chirp. They were still alive and I had to save them. But how? I could hear the mother outside frantic. Of course. It was her fault. She had built a bad nest, she had left them for food, she was too big for the nest, she had been idle and grown fat and lazy. She was a mother and she berated herself the way we all do. Even if she didn’t I could scold her and myself at the same time.

I picked up the crumbly cup of a nest and thought to put the babies in a shady clump of peonies, but then I recalled seeing my cats this morning run after anything that moved, peeped or chittered. So I returned the cup to the barn and my husband devised a makeshift holder for the nest. He inverted a metal clip lamp, I laid the nest into the lamp and we replaced it on the rafters.

Then I noticed that one bird had fallen out of the nest and was on the table. He too was still breathing but all twisted and bent. I thought he would undo the fragile balance we had established for the nest and I doubted he would make it. And so I made a triage decision and relegated him to die. But I couldn’t stand to let him suffer or be taken by a mean predator so I held him beneath the tail pipe of my husband’s less than ecologically correct, 1976 MGB sports car. And there the CO2 emissions sped him to the arms of the bird angels.

I had watched my father minister this release by the side of the road when he saw a badly hit porcupine or a mangled deer. We would stop; the kids had to wait in the car and my father got out. He always talked so calmly to the “critter” as he called him. He never feared animal retribution, as he was a wild thing himself and I often felt he was in his element releasing their spirits. That was the phrase he used, he was a spirit releaser, and I must have taken on some of that countenance because today when I held the tiny bird body in a paper towel under the blast of noxious air, I felt I had done a minor kindness.

I suppose I feel that all the tiny acts of goodness will heal me from the terror and the sense that awful things will come my way because I have looked up the word fragile in the dictionary of life and I keep reading it, seeing it everywhere.

May 19, 2009

The Aftermath of Disaster

Today I went out early to try out my new light, strong weed-whacker and I wept. I didn’t cry at the efficiency of the machine or its ability to cut clean swaths through my over grown acreage. No, I cried because I had snipped a snake in two.

The temperature dropped and it rained hard last night, not ideal circumstances for a reptile, but great for a middle-aged gardener who likes to work hard when it is chilly. The snake was one of my favorites, a ribbon. He was green with light yellow ribbons running all round his small lithe body. I saw him and he was in half.

I stopped and bent over him, there was nothing I could do so I returned to clipping, perhaps a little more carefully. And then I started to tear up, then cry and before I could even identify what was wrong I was collapsed in the garden chair sobbing, with my Maine coon cat galumphing to the rescue.

My daughter and her 25-year-old French boy friend had been visiting us in the in country three weeks ago. They were cute, he is lively, silly an artist and a wild thing. One day he helped me clean the haymow in the big old barn and when we finished sweeping and carting the hold hay, he leaped form the loading door in the mow and down to the lawn. Maybe forty feet. It was thrilling and scary as so many of those stunts are. I laughed and my husband upbraided him. “Never do that again here, do you understand?’ The boyfriend quieted, as do all the boys when faced with my husband’s stentorian tines. He agreed.

The next day we went on a drive to see the local goats and the boy friend took his skateboard. He had asked my daughter to take him to a big hill earlier in the day and he had skate boarded down form the historic house Olana, built on a precipice of the Hudson River. She drove behind him and said he was going nearly 45 miles per hour. No helmet, no pads, shorts and a tee shirt.

On this trip home he hit a rock, pothole, divot and the next thing we knew he was on the street. We raced back and found him quiet with blood pooling on the pavement trickling out of his ears. He began breathing a heaving rattle. Terrie fed I took the car to the neighbor, as of course I had no cell phone reception. They called the ambulance; it came. I convinced the driver to allow my daughter to ride with as the kid speaks little English and in a crisis I know second languages go fast. They left; I followed the tortuous 30 miles to the nearest trauma hospital.

We spent days in the E.R and then the ICU. We had to call his parents in Nice. The arrived and we all translated and intervened. endlessly. We drove back and forth, we slept fitfully, we interviewed and befriended doctors, nurses and aides. He lived. The brain bleed stopped just as they were going to operate. He lost tons of weight, has a cane, is exhausted and jokes that he lost three days. His parents go home tomorrow. He follows in two weeks after the Neurosurgeon gives the OK for him to fly. And I will stay here changed.

I am terrified, and quaking at cars, roads, motorcycles, barking dogs. I made it through September 11, rescued my kids, wrote a book, volunteered and carried on. But this is the first item that someone I know, I like, I am in a way responsible for has gotten this hurt on my watch. I imagined the worst and I fantasized a jubilant return home for the cute, artist boy. I slept next to my daughter and we patted each other every night for weeks, when the nightmares came. I still find myself shaking my head like a wet dog, in an attempt to clear the images that leap in.

My friend Susan who studies the brain and alternative healing says that when an event like this accident happens the memories are logged in the limbic brain. In a way they by pass normal feeds of memory are logged right where they can crop up more easily and unpredictably. And they do.

SO today when I unwittingly sliced into the snake and sniveled, I know full well I was crying provoked by this new memory and sense of incredible fragility that it has installed in my very own reptile brain.

March 31, 2009

Travel: Vice of Choice

In my house, we say travel is our vice of choice, which means a voyage takes precedence over trinkets, gadgets, fancy dinners or fashion. Apparently we are not in the majority because in late March, the U.S. Passport office announced that the applications for passports dropped by 25% auguring that many consumers have decided to dedicate their hard earned dollars to other corners of the market.

My neighbors and I are all tightening our belts and staying up nights worrying about mortgages, groceries and college tuition. My little family is not flourishing the way we were a few years back, but still my dreams wander to travel and the huge benefits I accrue from far-flung trips.

I just returned from ten days in Tunisia. This trip was fueled, on the surface, by a writing assignment on a wonderful former fashionista who now works teaching design and business skills to artisans in the developing world. Inspirational stuff right there, but what made it mind expanding and debt worthy, were the conversations I encountered in every corner of the small Islamic country of Tunisia.

Conversation was facilitated because French is a common language. Most Tunisians possess a basic grasp, lingering as a shadow from French colonial times, and I have my exuberant, rudimentary high school Francais. I love to talk and somehow people babble back: shop keepers, taxi drivers, waiters and the artisans in the market. For me this is the miracle of travel.

Yes there are deserted Roman cities, which inspire with efficiency, and the elegance of design from over two thousand years ago. The palimpsests of central heating, non-skid streets, theatrical acoustics and gob-smacking, mosaic beauty are reason enough to travel to Tunisia, but for me it is the conversations that glue us to each other as members of a tribe that is larger than country, religion, gender or ethnicity.

We are human. We long to connect. So when a cab driver in Tunis took me back to my hotel after a day ogling mosaics at the Bardo museum, I was overjoyed when he turned off the engine and asked if we could talk. He wanted to know why Americans have such a negative image of Arab people. Did all Americans really think that all Arabs were terrorists and evil? It was heartbreaking and important.

I told him that many Americans, know that good and bad people populate all countries, all races and all genders. I told him I believed that more things connect us, rather than separate us. Maybe it is conversation in the present tense and the simple vocabulary from which I carefully parse my words, but there was a power to this conversation that doesn’t happen when we banter at a dinner party or yell back at the evening news.

When I was attending the workshops that Aid to Artisans sponsored in Tozeur, a small walled city in the south, I had another opportunity to converse. I rose early one morning and hired a caleche pulled a scrawny horse named Pamela Anderson and driven by Petit Omar.

I had read about the distinctive brickwork that faces many buildings in the medina and the newer city and I wanted to see the brickfields.

So we clomped along talking about farming, and the fancy hotels that had closed down because of the dwindling economy. I learned how dates are hand fertilized, how the lettuces are planted under the massive date trees in the oasis where 200,000 palms flourish. “Is farming like this where you live?” We talked about family farms and factory farms, and as we trotted along a dirt road, little kids and adults waved, yelling OBAMA! OBAMA! They knew I was American and I was happy to be embraced for a potentially positive administration.

When we arrived at the brick fields Pamela Anderson pulled up under a tree. I walked over to inspect the wood forms, but the barefoot worker only wanted to talk about Obama. “ Are you as hopeful as we are?” he asked, “Do you believe this will change the world?” I hedged my bets, as I am not sure what one man can do. I said that, but then I realized that the conversations, which inspired me in EL Kef, Tunis, Dougga, and Tozeur all took, place one on one.

It saddens me that travel is so expensive and often seen as an expendable luxury, because I see travel as the staff of life. For me, money spent traveling comes back ten fold. The lessons learned and the goodness spread returns and multiples back home.

February 19, 2009

Mantra for a troubled times

As I was riding home, down Broadway last week in the bright winter sunshine, I was attempted to boost my spirits by taking some solace in my health, family and general robust nature. You see I had just had a dispiriting job interview. I am not alone, but that does not necessarily make things better. It does make them different. Sometimes the fact that we are all in it together, mounts arguments that sooth sometimes and at other times it exacerbates the fear that I , that none of us. will ever find gainful employment again.

I know that I am in a much better place than many of my fellow citizens and yet whatever challenges we face as a nation, we also face personal demons a plenty. I have an ability to go to what my son called, when he was little, "The Dark Place". This mythical kingdom needs no introduction, for whether we have named it or not, all of us have visited there. Some of us have taken up summer residence or gotten graduate degrees there. It is the place where we can't get out of our own way, where we are afraid and can't find a hand to hold, or a cat to pet. And so we simmer and stew in our own private negative juices.

And certainly the current ingredients for the "Dark Place" abound: war, unemployment, debt, bad choices, a lasting legacy of privation for our children and a fear that accompanies even one of these, let alone the concatenation that is in full bloom. But then there are the antidotes to doom.

The antidotes are so simple, so unbidden, free and surprising that they take my breath away. They are friendship, laughter, kisses in corners, questions, conversation, music, dappled sunshine, home cooked meals, gleeful kids, crazy cats and the magic of everyday. Oh everyone's list varies, this is a quick fix mediation for me, but add to that list serendipity.

And so as I peddled by 1968 Raleigh bike down Broadway from the Upper East Side to the Downtown neighborhoods I love, I chanced a glance at the red stone wall at 707 Broadway just above 4th Street and there it was. Chalked in a neat hand were the words DONATE JOY. I rode past.

No I couldn't ignore this universe message; I wheeled my bike around and pushed it against traffic and up onto the sidewalk. I stood in front of the message, OK I know it is graffiti, but it changed my mind set as clearly as if someone had shot a personal remote control at my gloom. I was on a new channel. I took out my little camera and click, I saved the image and the sentiment.

I have been thinking about what it means to "Donate Joy." I attempt to offer smiles to folks on the street, I compliment women on lavish hats, I stop and help mothers with strollers, I make crying babies laugh, I hold doors, I proffer help, but is that joy ? How can I donate joy ? Do we donate joy when we don't participate in passing along gossip, or hatred or fear or racism? Do we donate joy when we really laugh with our friends and children and not at them? I am still on a path to figure out, not what joy is, because I have the essence of joy sewn to me like a second shadow, but how do I donate it , or it or pass it along ?

I have been detouring and riding past by the scrawling every chance I get. I know it won't last forever.
After-all it is chalk on stone in a wintery city full of rain and University cleaners. And joy is ephemeral, it can't be held on our hands or put into a box,
so we have to pass it along quickly before it dissolves.

January 21, 2009

They wouldn't sell me my home... now

They wouldn’t sell me my home now. I know this for a fact because I just got off the phone with the mortgage specialist who was recommended by my broker.
“Oh we don’t have mortgages like that any more,” she demurred.

I am a consultant who works in the arts, my husband is also a consult, but he works in sports. Meaning we both make money some times and have long dry spells. We also have no health insurance. We cobble together a very nice life that has been augmented by the fact that I tumbled into a neighborhood called TriBeCa back in the 70’s and bought, what my old, ornery Irish father called, “a dump.” Before he died, the neighbors downstairs, sold for nearly 3 million dollars prompting him to call the place,
“The 3 million dollar dump.”

I currently hold a mortgage on the dump at about ten percent of its value, but it is at nearly seven percent. My friend and broker said, “Oh let me have someone call you so you can refinance.”
OK, why not?

I had done that before to my advantage including garnering a hefty line-of-credit that allowed me to send my kids to college. So this loft, my dump, has taken care of me in a way that my wild, Irish father never could, and never imagined.

In fact before the mortgage specialist signed off with me, ending the conversation rather swiftly after I fessed up to being a consultant who had a pretty small earned income bottom line, she ventured, “Well you were lucky to buy your home, that won’t happen any more, as all mortgages now, require extreme income verification.”

I hung up with a whoosh of feeling.

My mortgage will change, for the worst in 2012 and it looks as if, unless I find a real job, one that can convince the new bankers of my value, I may not be able to own my own home in my dotage.

I know I was blessed to go to the party of home ownership when they were handling out tickets with abandon. But in fact my husband and I have never missed a payment or sent it in late, even with the vagaries of our employment and the wonder and stress of sending two very bright New York City public school educated kids to excellent private colleges. We still have a year and a half left for our son at Skidmore, but then in 2010 we are freed from tuition and I suppose we will need to focus on putting our home through its version of college.

We will continue to struggle to save the home I have lived in for over thirty years, the dump where my children were born and grew up. The same loft that got all dressed up to give us a major dancing fete for our wedding. It was the site of benefits, birthday parties, and endless orphan Thanksgivings.

Yesterday was a great day for hope, but today I feel deflated that I would not be able to purchase my home if I tried to do it now. It is a strange feeling, one akin to knowing that your mate wouldn’t date you, let alone marry you if he had to do it again. OK banish that thought.

The times they are a changing, again and again and again. I am going to try and stay ahead of the tsunami of financial woe and hold on to my nice, little dump of a loft.

January 19, 2009

Obama Day in TriBeCa

We considered going to Washington D.C. for the big day; my African American husband grew up in D.C. so we have places to stay and invites, but my husband wanted to be home. And home is TriBeCa. He wanted to be home to hear every word and cry and cry when he needed and wanted to. And so we watched and held hands and then, overcome, I had to go out for a walk.

The streets of downtown Manhattan, or my tiny corner of it, were filled with neighbors congratulating each other. The smiles of every person I encountered were street wide and folks were stopping and telling stories.

One woman, of Jewish heritage, told me about when she was an olive skinned, eight year old girl and she was turned away from a swimming pool in the south when she was visiting friends. She recalls how humiliating it was to have her bathing suit pulled up at the edges to prove she was white. “How did African Americans feel to have this happen again and again? And now today.” Her face was shining with hope.

Local school kids poured out at 3p.m. holding hands with caregivers or parents and they were all telling stories of the day’s speeches watched, and the stories of slavery taught and unknotted and repositioned by a new generation. The big kids, bounded out of Stuyvesant High School with visions of power re-configured in their over-achieving heads. All the talk on the street was Obama and the things we were seeing today.

A real estate agent friend stopped me, eyes brimmed over and reddened from a day’s celebrating, “ Go walk by my building on White Street and see the flag I hung out. I am so proud.”

This is not the normal rhythm of TriBeCa; patriotism is often defined in different stripes, not flags and faith, but in a pride that we follow a different drummer, and yet today once again, we are all proud to be Americans.

There is a jaunty clip clop to our steps and the joy spread over the faces of those who stepped out of Puffy’s Tavern after watching the speech was palpable. It is beyond the glow of good beer, or a pop or two at mid-day. NO this was real. The difference between fervor and faking it.

Obama was clear that we are in perilous times. We understand that down here, but we are also entitled to have a renaissance based on belief in the real American Dream not the watered down, badly polluted version we have been wincing at for eight years.

January 7, 2009

Enough wallowing

I decided enough wallowing and wailing and weeping.

After all, it is the Epiphany. Thousands of years ago, wise men in long dresses schlepped through the desert using a star and found their way to the manger where a baby named Jesus lay with his surprised mom and dad.

And so we took this day as an auspicious one, and the name Epiphany morphed over time to mean a great awakening, a happening that changes us. And it happens once a year. So I decided rather than leaving my blog and tossing it away, I would attempt rebirthing myself with a sense of wonder.

I have been working furiously for the past two days, not making money, but taking chances and doing multiple reach-outs. Some things will stick and now I feel as if I am out of the closet on stealing jewels and making amends, and am moving toward being valuable. I feel, after so many folks read the posting and took time to write to me, I feel they are right that we all have things we have done where are deeply ashamed and yet we attempt to incorporate it into the fabric of who we are and move forward.

So today I made the Epiphany cake, the same one my mother made for the nearly fifty years that I knew her and probably before that. In some cultures it is called a KING'S CAKE and my mom, an Italian who spent the first seven years of her married life in France, borrowed liberally from those two cultures to make a family tradition.

The cake looks like a crown; it is not a layer cake. It can be adorned with candied fruit to make the top of the crown more enticing. And here is a must: there has to be a prize or a coin hidden inside the cake. In New Orleans, it is a plastic baby, in our family it was a special coin. Whoever gets the prize will have especially good financial luck all year. My mother used to attempt to get my father to eat slice after slice so the family wouldn’t sink. My kids have a technique that they believe gives them an edge to finding the coin.

The cake our family makes is handed down from a good friend from the old Washington Heights neighborhood, Otta Maligold, and it is an old-fashioned Jewish sour cream coffee cake. My mother -- the erstwhile anthropologist -- loved the juxtaposition of a Christian holiday marked by Jewish pastry.

Here is the recipe; it is simple and delicious.

Epiphany Cake
A la Elizabeth Piccirilli and Otta Maligold

Pre heat oven to 350

¾ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar (Reserve a small amount to dust the top of the cake and inside layer. Add cinnamon to this reserved sugar)
1 ½ cup sour cream
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ teaspoons of both Baking Soda and Baking Powder
½ teaspoon salt
Cream butter and sugar WELL
Add Eggs and sour cream
Then add vanilla, salt, baking powder and soda then add flour little by little
Put one half of the batter in a ring pan, the more it resembles a crown the better.
Then sprinkle in half of the cinnamon sugar you saved.
Next layer the remaining batter. Do not STIR.

Cook for 40 to 60 minutes until a knife comes out clean.
Turn out onto a cake plate
Let cool, decorate with the remaining cinnamon sugar or candied fruit to make the crown

Keep eating until you get the PRIZE.

Now go out and make lots of money and share it with all those you love and those in need.

Be happy, be joyful, be generous and know that life is glorious.

And that is your Epiphany.