I'm moving. I'm sorting, editing and throwing away. I have a considerable collection of what I call archival files; my diaries and journals going back to 1968 as well as plays, screenplays, collections of poetry, novels, short stories. This also includes reviews for my work, PR photos, and magazines in which my work was published or reviewed. This takes up apprx. four milk cartons. But wait there is more.
There is the hat I am wearing. Which belonged to my grandfather. May he rest in peace. Yesterday I told myself you are throwing it out. And you are throwing out Suzie, the doll I've had since I've been five, the sweater my mother knit when I was fourteen, the multi-colored gypsy skirt that I was arrested in (which I wore with a pink feather boa and a walking stick), the pink pearl necklace I wore on my wedding day, the faux Cartier tank watch from my father, and a small marble antique clock engraved with: If time stood still I would love you forever, 1980. In addition, I have birthday cards going back to the 1970's, letters, and hundreds of photos.
I have a hand-written letter from a brother who no longer speaks to me. It's dated 1977. He writes: Everyone is moving away. The house feels really strange. My heart ached for him when I read this. However, I am challenging myself to edit this collection of archives. I had my grandfather's cap in my hand over the garbage bag, but I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. And not to Suzie either. I did throw away the pearls and I did burn a letter from my ex. I finally threw away the boarding pass for my flight home to say good bye to my mother. That was difficult. I trashed the skirt, but not before smelling it. I know--- its weird.
I wondered: what would happen if I threw all this out? What if I threw out the small maroon diary that begins in 1968 and contains an account of the night I was raped? What if I threw out a notebook from 1969 filled with poetry and covered in romantic graffiti, Lillian Loves Fred. Then Joe. Then Fred again. A three ring binder of autumn leaves I collected before I moved, pictures of my brothers, poetry I clipped from The New Yorker--- a kind of momento mori to my days, my childhood, my family at 2616 circa 1977. Talismans. Proof I existed. Proof of the past. But do I need all this anymore?
Practically, it takes up so much space! I've been carrying it for 32 years. I've needed it to shape and create my identity, I've needed it for continuity. The thought of throwing it all away filled me with awe, imagine: a blank canvas. At a time when I really need to recreate myself. I just don't know if I can do it. I just don't know what I still need. Last May I challenged myself to ruthlessly edit my library--- and succeeded in dividing it by half. This has really pleased me. I like the spare lines of each section: literature, philosophy, fiction, psychology, mysticism and religion.
But the hat. I don't know if I can throw away the hat. And if I can't throw away the hat. I can't throw away anything.
Two things from Jose Rivera. I am using References to Salvador Dali Make Met Hot and Other Plays for my Humanities class this semester.
First, a quote--- the preface to the painfully beautiful Sonnets for an Old Century:
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
--- e.e. cummings, "I Thank You God."
Second, there is an appendix at the end of the book: 36 Assumptions about Writing Plays. Most notable (for me) is number 8:
"Embrace your writer's block. It's nature's way of preserving trees and reputation. Listen to it and try to understand its source. Often writer's block happens because somewhere in your work you've lied to yourself and your subconscious won't let you go any further until you've gone back, erased the lie, stated the truth and started over."
I've decided that this is going to be my goal this fall. Find the lie I've told to myself, erase it and start over.
A crumbling Catholic Church on Avenue B. Part ghost-story, part love-story; imagine the wedding between the tall handsome Polish immigrant, now in the military--- who meets the blonde beauty of his life--- my parents. The year is 1953 or 54. The facade is bright and fresh. The park is completely different. There might even be flowers. Perhaps they go across the street after the wedding, have a beer on Avenue A. Maybe I've been there myself.
Props to Joe Strummer, whoever he may be, and y-ever he was anointed with this mural on East 7th Street between A and B. I do know that it was the first bar I went to in NYC, 1989. I'm always glad to see its still in operation, although the name seems to change weekly, so I shan't include it in this post. But it's easiest enough to find---along the southern end of Tompkins Square Park where anarchy still reigns supreme; junkies, street kids, artists, crazy people, young families, wild dogs and once a great horned owl.
True story. Saw a crowd gathered, looking up, a tall towering tree. I said, What's going on? A lady said, It's a great horned owl. And I looked up, way up, and standing tall on a high branch of a huge tree, sat the owl. As if she hadn't a care in the world--- completely unaware that she was surrounded by a worshipful crowd of human beings. And yesterday, no owl--- but Joe Strummer, peering out from behind his shades on another Africa-hot August afternoon. The kind of day where you sit down and watch the carnival. Because it is multitudinous.
In the early 90's when I worked at P.S. 122, I'd eat my burrito here. I would stake out the Polish ladies. Sit next to them. I just wanted to hear them speak. My mother is always here. I see her: La-la-Lottie, pretty blonde, who lived across the street in a 5th floor walkup, heading out to Coney Island, with her friend, Francis. And here I am, a half century later, snapping pictures, having brunch. Checking out Joe Strummer and other wild life.
What the Gods haven't already told us--- can be explained by geometry. Fractal theory to be exact. One tree can explain an entire forest. As above, so below. Or just a bunch of pretty flowers sold by my neighbor, landscape architect, who grows them on her farm in CT.
I have this voodoo doll from my sister. This gal is supposed to bring me happiness and bliss. She's not a hottie by any means and some might find her downright frightening; her arms and legs are made of swamp grass, she wears a walnut shell for a headdress, and her gown is essentially scraps of fabric, lace and netting haphazardly sewn together. She is totemic and ageless, primitive--- issuing forth from the limbic portion of the brain, the dark wisdom of the past. On the other hand, she might just be a stock souvenir for all the white people, hurricanes in hand, as they browse through Bourbon Street. I don't know--- I'm not cynical. I like my dollie. For me, she lives in the same land as Jung's shadow self; the dark side of our soul that terrifies us, yet if we embrace it, hold it close to our hearts, bring it out into the bright light of day, our reward, if we believe Jung, is wisdom. I don't know if this is true. I just like the fact that she both repels and comforts me.
This is the inside of my head. These are the cold white floors where I am being consumed in a miasma of paperwork; forms, applications, credit checks, background checks. I get really f---ing annoyed when I am asked for my maiden name. It's sexist. Maiden technically means a virgin, before marriage. Do they ask men this? No. The word itself is restrictive and I resent it. Why does someone need to know how long I've lived at my present address? I have a Master's Degree from NYU. I've taught in the system now since 2001. That should speak for itself. Look at my record of publications, reviews, productions. That should also speak for itself. Why must my private and financial life always be subject to review. I am not a terrorist. Paperwork. It is the bane of my existence and I am not very good at it.
Furthermore, I've had enough with the hot white light of August. I want to walk in a thunderstorm, the rain pouring down upon my frazzled head, filling up my sandals, running down the inside of my trousers. dripping into my eyelashes, my mouth, I want my hair sticking to my head. I want blue jeans, boots, sweaters, a sunset at 6:00 p.m., a sunrise at 7:00 a.m. I want 70 degrees, and yellow leaves littering the streets. I'm tired of my clothes sticking to my body, of having to wear a hat everyday because the humidity lays it flat. I want to go dancing and drink martinis. I don't want to sit on the 4 train as it roars into the Bronx with the crazy people screaming into their cell phones.
No hustle. No bustle on Atlantic Avenue. One lone person braves the hot pavement. Normally thronged with babies, strollers, business men, nurses, doctors, plumbers, shopkeepers and drinkers from Floyd's Bar, today it is devoid, empty, everyone taking refuge from the heat.
Little boy frolics in the sprinklers, the hot light of midday refracted through the water. Mommy keeps cool by chasing after little boy. I was tempted to jump in myself. Pocket park around the corner from my home.
Mickels' Garden on Columbia Place. Named for a charming young man who was an EMT for Long Island College Hospital and died in their care. Here members of the community plant sunflowers, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, towering sunflowers, and sometimes, although not today, enjoy twilight dinners at the picnic table. It, of course, thrives in the heat wave. Today it is still and hot, green and quiet save for the roar of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
The Waterpod docked here at Pier 5 in the Heights is heading back out to sea. I wrote a post for the Brooklyn Heights blog last week about how it was like Noah's Ark. It's a self-sustainable floating art gallery and home. It's the brain child of Mary Mattingly. They have three chickens, flowers, hydroponic gardens, bedrooms, a galley, and a bar. They need 50,000 more dollars to keep it going until October. I hope they get the money. When I was visiting, I had this strange Mad Max sensation that in twenty years from now, club kids would not be dropping E and snorting coke in the bathroom--- they'll be listening to an alt-rock band, amps and lights powered by a freak on a bicycle. Think about it.
Here I am. I haven't disappeared. Busy all week working on a book proposal, and receiving a lot of good news re: employment and money. The Dean of Lehman College has granted me a waiver to work nine hours beyond my contract limit at my pay grade. Plus receiving an additional 45 hours at my pay grade to develop a new educational program. And unemployment kicked in. It has been strange and wonderful to not worry about money. I drink all the Red Bull I want. I bought a pair of shoes. Tonight I am going out with a friend and will buy her a drink. I swim like a fish at my gym, I luxuriate in the sauna. I wake at eight and take Molly out. I let her go wherever she wants to on her walk. I have two more weeks of vacation. It's sultry and hot outside, but inside, its cool and clean. I've been catching up on movies, reading books, magazines and newspapers. I no longer hear the scratch, scratch, scratch of the wolf at my door. He's gone back into hiding. Back into the dark woods where he belongs. In other words, friends, I am happy.
My cousin Terri sent this picture from Moab in Utah. She writes:
"...it was the desert heat, plus hiking on gravel to stone, stone to sand, back to stone. It was grueling at times but a great workout. The elevation was approximately 7500 so that's a great training point...all is well and I feel like I'm home."
It seems to me that you could make a religion out of that sky, and that landscape. That a person could, if they desired, see hiking in the desert as a hegira. The origin of the word is from the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution in 622 AD. Now it also means any flight or journey to a more desirable place. Joni Mitchell produced an album in 1976 called Hejira, and this is when I discovered it.
When I think of my cousin, Terri, I see, in a larger sense, a woman embarking on her own personal hegira under a sky so blue its like the bottom of the sea. Ironically as I write this post, there is a roaring jackhammer outside my window in the 90 degree heat and humidity of the city.
So after the movie, I walked out onto Houston and it was a gorgeous evening, traffic and hipsters and neon everywhere, the city was abuzz. So instead of jumping on the F train, I walked north on Broadway, toward the giant colorful sombrero, a place I call "The Hat" b/c I've never remembered its real name, even though, I've been a patron there for about fifteen years. Lately I've had a thing for Margaritas, and they do it right. Frosty, salty, sexy.
I walked in, sat down at a bar stool, and the man next to me said, "You're beautiful, you're like a supermodel." He was out of his mind drunk; cognition; nil, connection to the real world; 0. He continued, "You know they're not going to serve you. You know you have to be 21." I said, I'm way over 21, I'm 48 (I know, its a lie, shut-up)." He replied, "Damn you sure look good for your age." So sue me, and slam me, I started to find him funny.
I found out that he's the owner of prominent store in Soho that caters to the A-List. That he's a millionaire. He dished a bit about his celeb customers just enough so that I knew he was probably telling the truth (plus I checked it out the next day online). He was outrageous, so much so--- that I knew part of it was tongue in cheek, going for the gold, so to speak, saying the worst and possibly the most sexiest things he could get away with, things like:
"I'm going to take you to Peter Luger's and fatten you up on steak and mushrooms, then I'm going to take you to Brooklyn where I have a bat cave, and I'm going to tie you up, you'll be my sex slave for 24 hours, and when I set you free, when you're roaming the streets of Brooklyn you'll be a changed woman, you'll never be the same. I'll fuck you till eight in the morning, but not a minute past eight because I got to go to work, and you're gonna love it, you're gonna love being my sex slave. You're going to beg me to keep going, past eight in the morning, and I won't, but that's not going to piss you off, because we're gonna start again the next night." I was so laughing at him. Seriously enjoying myself. I stopped at the second Margarita so I had all my senses intact. I knew he might possibly be a Jeffrey Dahmer and even though he insisted we start tonight, I demurred. In fact, when he asked me if I wanted another drink, I said, "No, and neither do you. I'm walking you home." So we walked, arm and arm, south on Broadway to Prince Street. All the while he's continuing his sex slave narrative, and all the while I'm still laughing.
At his loft, he keyed in the numbers, and asked, "Coming in?" I said, "No dude, remember I'm just making sure you get home safe." He said, "Thanks," and buzzed himself in.
On Thursday night I saw A Woman From Berlin. It's the true story of how a young woman survives the Russian occupation of her beloved city at the end of the war. She keeps a journal. She writes everything down. She bears witness. On the first night of the occupation she is raped once. On the second night of the occupation she is raped twice; other women in her building as well. She complains to the commander.
He says: All my men are clean. Meaning what can you do? Boys will be boys. Since her body is going to be occupied, and since she has no choice in the matter--- she decides to choose her lover. One of the highest ranking men in the Red Army. The alpha male who keeps her safe from the sexual frenzy of the mob. Ironically, she falls in love with him. When her husband finally returns home, he treats her like a whore. The producers of the film know her identity. But to this day, the shame keeps her silent.
Here is what I would like to say to her:
Dear Anonymous Woman:
You were smart to have a strategy. You wrested whatever control you could in an out of control world. This allowed you to get through each day and not be destroyed. I liked when you waltzed with the soldiers who had invaded your home. It's important to find beauty in destruction. This is how you ensured your survival.
I think you are a brave and smart woman. There are many women like you in this world. I am one of them. I,too, had a strategy, and I too live to tell the tale. I wish you would come out of the shadows. I'm sorry the women around you--- the women who thought you dishonored the name of German women---I'm sorry they belittled you, and shamed you into silence.
I liked the authenticity of your story. The truth is always more beautiful and compelling than any lie.
This in response to the socio-path who killed three women in Pittsburgh. The feminist blogs that I read on a daily basis; Feminist Blogs, Feministing among others--- have been asserting that this constitutes a hate crime against women, and the press should label it thus.
I didn't see it this way when I first read about it. I saw it as yet another maladjusted nut job desirous of his fifteen minutes of fame---- and getting it any way he can. He used the media to ensure his legacy---through blogs, through videos, through the mass murder itself. He knew he would be mythologized by the media before the day was done.
And he was right.
It's a sure-fire way of gaining not only attention but notoriety as well. A place in the history books beside Al Capone, Adolph Hitler, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson. But now I get why hate crime is an important label to affix to this tragedy. Because women are victims of hate crimes every minute of every day.
I always laugh whenever I read about a young woman, murdered by her boyfriend/lover/husband/baby-daddy--- not about her death, no. But it seems that these woman had always just taken out an order of protection. This is where I laugh. I say, Yeah, an order of un-protection. It seems to guarantee she'll be dead before the day is done.
The other night, a couple was arguing below my window. I heard her say, Stop. Get away from me. Stop. You're hurting me. I looked out the window. She was clearly trying to get away from him. But I hesitated, thought, what if its just a lover's quarrel? But then he grabbed her arm and twisted it back. I yelled out the window, "Let go of her arm or I'm calling the police."
They quickly walked away. Was that women really in danger? Is he going to beat her up--- maybe not that night, but some night in the future? And is it really a crime to slap your woman around when she's being disrespectful? I ask this ironically of course. It seems to be the prevailing attitude, still --- today.
So yes--- let's label these murders a hate crime. Let it shed some light on the socio-paths who only hate one woman; his wife, his girlfriend or his lover, the mother of his children.
A list, in no particular order, of things/people I'd like to bitch about:
1. What is up with the woman who drove her car the wrong way on the Taconic? I can't wrap my brain around it. I do not understand how a woman with four children in the car could drink the equivalent of ten shots of vodka before noon. To me it seems like she'd have to have some sort of psychotic break, her mind snapped in half. I agree with the press that the family is not telling the whole story. And her husband insisting they exhume the body is just a further symptom of denial. The same can be said for Katherine Jackson, all due respect to the woman. Nobody murdered your son. He killed himself. It's what happens sometimes to drug addicts.
2. The State of New York for denying me unemployment benefits. Albany is a friggin carnival, a congregation of clowns and miscreants; the lame duck governor and elected officials wanking off on company time. Listen: I worked hard all summer long. I was only allotted 120 hours by CUNY. I'm now unemployed, what don't you get about that? Why does it matter that I have a reasonable expectation of work in the fall? What does that have to do with NOW. Today I am unemployed. I pay my taxes. I'm taxed to DEATH by you. May you all have the worst case of hemorrhoids ever.
3. The man at the pool I like to call the Beast. He jumps in the water like a great white whale, like Flipper on steroids, totally disregards other swimmers, and crashes into me because he is completely oblivious. I'm like "Dude, you're scaring me." He grunts, "I'm sorry," and does it again. Finally I have to get out of the pool, exasperated, and pissed off. I go there to relax. I follow the rules of polite swimming. They're posted clearly. Read them, dude. With you there, furiously pumping your fat arms and legs, with no regard for others, I might as well be on the 4 train with two angry prostitutes.
I had lunch today with a group of three men. One of them was pitching a documentary on the history of the orgasm, the other two are film producers. I believe they included me in the mix to make it clear that any discussion about orgasm needed to include a woman's point of view. The man pitching this said he really didn't think it was necessary to bring in the politics of gender since his exploration would be scientific and historical. And I said, politely, that's where you are wrong.
Scientific information has been written and evaluated and analyzed from a male point of view. I pointed out that it wasn't too long ago that the medical establishment asserted that they could prove that a man's brain was bigger than a woman's brain. That therefore, women and minorities of both sexes had smaller brains, and thus we possessed the mental acuity of children and needed to be treated as such. Was this in the far distant past? No. It was about one hundred years ago.
History, a series of narratives, has also been written primarily from the male point of view. So to assume that both disciplines present an empirical and objective picture is not entirely true. Any serious study of the orgasm, male and female, should, I think, include the work of female researchers and scientists; such as Shere Hite and Natalie Angiers. Language itself I argued carries within it the potential for a gendered point of view, and must be dissected and parsed as well.
At one point, the movie producers, got out their camera and began taping the discussion. It got quite spirited, and to be honest, thoroughly enjoyable. No offense to the man who was pitching the documentary, but women have had quite enough of discussion of our sexuality from the point of view of the hierarchy. Listen: everyone can join in the fun. That's the beauty of yin and yang.
Just finished A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower. It's a story inside a story, inside more stories. At times it felt the novel was just a vehicle for deep analysis on how we use language--- which in part is the spine of its Biblical counterpart. The snake swallows its own tail. She quotes Nietzsche, Blake, Freud, R.D. Laing, Rilke, Simone de Beauvoir.
The dominant narrative is Frederica's story: A young woman, a young mother, highly educated at Cambridge University, is trying to unravel the knot of an abusive marriage in the late 1960's. For her, there has been no revolution. Educated women are trouble. The judge tells her this in the courtroom during her divorce proceedings.
The other major narrative is an allegory set in the Middle Ages--- there are echoes of Chaucer's dispossessed pilgrims fleeing the plague. The world has become too violent, too brutal and so these gentle patricians, these educated souls set out to create their own world. A new world with new rules. Their ultimate decline towards total sexual anarchy is both erotic and disturbing.
We find that the author of the above story, Jude Mason, is a friend of Frederica's. That she in fact recommended the book to the publisher and it is now on trial for obscenity. Much is made of D.H. Lawrence's trial for Lady Chatterley's Lover. Through all of this then is a constant examination of language--- how to manipulate it, parse it--- how its used in education, in law, in poetry, in philosophy, and last but not least, how it tells stories. The snake swallows its own tail.
I don't intend to cooperate with you. Your fence is on public property. If my dog decides to pop a squat on this sidewalk, I'm not going to stop her. You don't like it? Move to Oklahoma. They got lots of space out there. In the meantime, we're all on top of each other here, and have to make the best of it. May I suggest a garden hose to wash down your fence and a dash of tolerance to top of your day?
Creator and co-author of the award winning The Erotica Project. Author of erotic short stories published on Salon.com. Producer/author for NPR. MA from NYU. Published by Cleis Press, Seal Press, Heinemann Press, New York Press. Reviewed in NYTimes, Village Voice, Art in America, London Sunday Times.