Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Suzanne and Bob sit across the table from me in the cramped coffee shop booth – anywhere else they’d give you a few more inches, but this is Manhattan and every inch is worth money. It’s a gray day and we have walked the two or three blocks north from their apartment, up Second Avenue, past the cable cars at 59th Street. I have no idea what time it is. It is Sunday and I am not thinking about things like time.

“Did you see the cable car that got stuck up there a few years ago?” I ask, out of the blue, suddenly remembering that story. “Yes,” they say. They’d been out late rehearsing, had stopped for pizza, heard about the stuck cable car that had been hanging suspended all day, and went to look. “Were the people waving?” I ask. “Were they looking out the windows? Was there like a whole crowd down here?” Suzanne and Bob point to where the car had been. “No,” says Suzanne. “They were pretty grim, pretty serious actually. They were being taken one by one with a crane by then.”

I had been the first one up. I’d gone out, borrowing a black polar fleece jacket that was hanging by the front door and an umbrella that opened at the touch of the button, the umbrella so clearly more expensive and much better made than the ones I usually end up with that I vow to only buy expensive umbrellas from now on. There is something so satisfying and strong about this umbrella. It feels almost permanent.

Yes, it is raining and it is cold and I walk back to the Starbucks we passed last night at about midnight, Fred and I walking across town from the theater where we have both been so deeply moved, and I so deeply inspired. We walked slowly last night, no schedule to keep and after the circus of Times Square the city quieted and it felt like we were going back in time. Up Fifth Avenue a few blocks, then up a few more on Madison. Not many people on the sidewalks. Most of the stores darkened so that my eye did not stay at the usual eye level of shop windows and crowds, but looked higher at the outline of the buildings against the sky. “These are still the original buildings,” I commented to Fred, thinking how there is always so much talk of how different New York is, how it has changed, and I always feel out of step with common wisdom because for me New York never changes – just like a person you know well for years and years never changes – and for the first time there was actually some concrete evidence to back me up, the old-fashioned rectangular buildings lining the avenues, clearly the same ones that had to have been there when I was eighteen, I thought, and then I thought again, the same ones that must have been here when my father thought of this place as his city.

We come to Park Avenue and tonight it looks magnificent to me, this double boulevard. I pretend I am from another country and imagine seeing it for the first time. Park Avenue has never been much more to me than a rich person’s place, a street that takes twice as much time to cross as all the others, a place you just have to get through on your way to somewhere else. But tonight I am innocent and Park Avenue impresses me for the first time.

“I love this city so much,” I say to Fred. It is not a new feeling, but it is new to feel it this acutely, like a lover that I can be afraid of losing.

The Starbucks we noted last night is still here in the morning, more or less where I remembered it, a relief because now Fred will be pleased. I stand in line and order and walk back with my cardboard tray with two cups and one croissant. I will have the leftover raisin nut loaf I brought from Woodstock. I pass a woman in a party dress. She is middle-aged. The dress – I imagine her dressing up the night before. There must have been anticipation. She is alone now. It looks like it didn’t work out. Her face is worn with cigarettes and some kind of hard living. She is standing still, trying to make a phone call on a cell phone.

While Fred bathes and enjoys his coffee I sit in the living room at the glass coffee table. Suzanne and Bob got in late. I don’t know what time. I didn’t hear them come in. I have no idea how long it will take them to wake and come down. I start to read the bright green brand new paperback I have noticed on the table, a play.

I am so comfortable here. I keep noticing that. I keep thinking of thirty years ago when I’d be with Jeffrey and two or three of his friends and I would be on edge every moment, always feeling that every word I said was the wrong one. I keep thinking how if then was now I wouldn’t be able to drink this tea and read this book and curl up in the big leather chair and get the afghan to make myself warmer. Somehow all these things are easy now. How hard it used to be to be with other people, harder still to sleep in their houses.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


The buzz of several fat loud flies is in the room. Insects in the house. There have been ants too the last few days. A minute ago it was winter.

The fly buzz makes me think of my aunt’s ranch in British Columbia. I was only there 3 or 4 times in my life, all within the first 16 years of my life. It looms large.

Hot days that smelled of pine needles and grass as if rain never fell in this place. A place where cows wandered in the shade of woods and there were no buildings on the horizon, no buildings anywhere except a few ranch ones. That was the first time I went, a little girl, and the ranch was a huge place where one aunt panned for gold wearing a two-piece bathing suit. I’d never seen anyone do that before but here in this British Columbia world of my mother’s family you panned for gold when you took the kids swimming in the river. I see my aunt, a woman with dark hair and a face like my mother’s, crouched over the water, a metal screen in one hand. She is looking for gold in the water. She didn’t find any that day.

There were a lot of adults at the ranch, always people I didn’t know, men and women. My father didn’t come on that trip. I never saw my father there. He went once before I was born, and maybe once more when I was a baby, and he never went again. It was not his kind of place. It was a rough place. The ranch was anyway. It had no softness at all.

My aunt’s house, plopped in the middle, a few steps from the barn, from a corral, from a sludgy pond, was a gray kind of house, unpainted, no porch. You stepped right into a room that served as a living room – dumpy chairs, an old sofa or two, dim light, books and old newspapers scattered. This was not a place where people cleaned and tidied.

My aunt wore jeans and men’s shirts and her hair was short like a man’s. My mother said this aunt was beautiful when she was a girl, but “beautiful” didn’t seem to go with this person who was my mother’s sister. Her voice was full of cigarette smoke and coughing. She sat at the end of the long table in her house where everyone gathered to eat. She said she’d just gotten a book out of the library. “It’s called Below the Salt,” she said. “I got it because I thought it would be about the ocean. Turns out it’s about the Middle Ages, and if you weren’t rich enough you had to sit at a different table, below the salt. Rich people sat near the salt.” It made sense that my aunt had chosen a book, thinking it was about the ocean. My mother was like that too, always thinking about nature.

The adults hung out around the table a lot. They were noisy. I didn’t hear my mother’s voice amongst theirs. She kept quiet. They teased her. “Hey, Gin, get your nose out of that book!” They called her “Gin” since she was a kid. Most of her brothers and sisters had nicknames. They called her “Gin,” she said, because she had a laugh like a ginny hen. I didn’t know what that sounded like.

At night I slept with my sister in my grandmother’s little house which was also on the ranch, just beyond the barn and the corral. My grandmother’s house was not a scrappy house like my aunt’s. It had a blue front door that was split in two so you could close the bottom and keep the top open, and there were flowers outside, and my grandmother’s home-baked bread and the water that came out of her kitchen sink you had to pump it. It felt more peaceful and normal and less scary here. Not so many people. Just my grandmother in her housedress and apron and another aunt who lived with her. Just them. It was quieter here. At night though I knew my mother was over at the other house with her brothers and sisters. They didn’t all live there, but they gathered there easily. They came to the ranch from different parts of B.C. to be together. We were the only ones who don’t live in Canada.

My grandmother sat at her kitchen table and smoked cigarettes. The tobacco came in a tin. She plucked the brown shreds and rolled the cigarettes, her eyes looking out the window. She had glasses and light eyes and gray hair pinned up, a wide face and many wrinkles. When she laughed there was the sound of many cigarettes smoked long ago in her throat. You could hear them when she spoke too, her voice was deep. She didn’t want to be bothered with details. She baked bread and took care of things, was kind to me without being too gentle. Children were all right here. There were many children at the ranch. My grandmother was the kind of person to whom two or three children more or less didn’t make much difference.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I walk along the road. It’s countryside and about 3:30 in the afternoon, and spring is on its way and I am wearing a long wooley gray coat that I have gotten compliments on for years, a coat my mother saw in a consignment shop and bought for me back when I was living in the ashram. I’m also wearing a soft red scarf that Fred gave me for Christmas a few years ago. I always think of him when I put it on. I think it was sort of expensive when he gave it to me and I already had a couple of red scarves but he saw it, I guess, and liked it and gave it to me without thinking about whether or not I needed a red scarf, and for years I kept it carefully folded with my sweaters instead of just letting it hang on a hook in the messy coat closet, until this year when I started treating it like a scarf and it seems no worse for wear.

I have left the office late in the afternoon just to take a walk. I didn’t walk with Tamar this morning. Usually she and I go out after breakfast, but today I took it easy. She came to the front of the house at the time when we usually go and saw pretty quickly that weren’t going today. She accepts it, doesn’t whine or beg. I know that if I were to go get the leash out of the basket with the handle that holds all the cans of catfood, she would go delirious with barking, run to the front door, releasing all her excitement to go for a walk in the woods, but the leash isn’t reached for this morning so she ducks her head and goes back to the living room or back to catch a few more winks with Fred.

This morning when I went back to find the Harpers magazine that I thought would go nicely with my morning cup of tea, Tamar was sleeping on the floor on Fred’s side of the bed. Usually she’s on my side, and sometimes Fred hints that he wants a dog for whom he is the prime focus, but this morning Tamar was assuring him that she has his best interests at heart most of the time.

It is quiet on the wooded road where I walk and warm enough to be comfortable without a hat or gloves. It is a pleasure to be out of the office. I pass the small farm I have been passing all winter. I see a human being there for the first time. I think about waiting for her to come close enough to ask her the names of the two bassett hounds who live there, but think better of it. I’d have to wait too long. But I see there are chickens on the farm now. I hear a rooster, and I hear the donkey braying. I would like to know these animals better.

The last few days I have turned the radio off in my car and driven in quiet. Something I haven’t done for a long time. I don’t pray in words and I don’t meditate with the iron-clad discipline I learned in the ashram. But I do something. It’s almost like I try to notice and be with the layer that is not about getting to work on time or late, the layer that doesn’t worry about money or health, but a layer that has a trust in it, a calmness.

As I walked this afternoon, again seeking out, but in a gentle way, this calmness, I thought how years ago when I left the ashram I put an end to all words like “god” and anything I couldn’t see. I’d spent a long time believing fervently in things I couldn’t see and I’d had enough. Fuck that shit.

Something gentle is seeping back in. I am still careful. I have many friends who take a lot of things for granted: crazy healing schemes, pendulums, crystals, astrology and – worst of all – anyone who claims to be a teacher. I wish they’d be more cautious.

So I am still cautious. But I am also alert to what might really be true for me, or helpful to me as I navigate this strange segment of life with this almost fantasy world I work in to earn a check and health insurance, my two-sides-of-the-river life: writing and home on one side, crazy fantasy world on the other – a world that can’t just be dismissed, a world that is also some kind of place for me to expand.

I said to Fred the other day that my job – that I’ve had for five months now – is kind of like going to high school all over again, except I’m not the shy kid anymore who can’t speak because she’s so self-conscious.

I used to listen to people in high school Everything they said sounded stupid to me. Yet I deeply envied them that they could speak. It wasn’t fair. What they said was stupid, but I knew what I said was even worse – it was awkward. At least they seemed tat ease with their ignorance. That’s what it felt like.

I have a pink spiral notebook from 1985 or so. It’s the oldest writing I have. Not that old, but I don’t have any of my writing from before then. But somehow I still have this notebook. Now and then – every couple years – I look at it. I am in Greece in the book. I am less than thirty. I am in Natvar’s household. In the book I write about how stupid I am. I mimic Natvar’s words. It’s his voice in my head that I write down in the pink notebook. But I opened the door to his voice very willingly. It was a welcome guest. Sit down, I said to Natvar, make yourself at home.