Thursday, September 24, 2009

From last night's workshop...

I sat in a chair this afternoon in my boss’s office. We were supposed to meet at 3:30 but she’d been pulled into a crisis. I had checked through the glass door of the executive director’s office at one point to see if that meeting was interruptable, but even I felt that I should stay away until they were really done.

Now it was 4:15 and I knew she had to leave at 4:30, and I didn't want to linger anyway and had been planning on slipping out the moment she was gone.

I have been getting more and more savvy about finding pockets of time in the work day that I can shoplift, no one noticing.

Yesterday I managed a 20-minute cat nap in the conference room at a busy time of day. I had to do it. There was nowhere else to go and I had to close my eyes and get even a few moments of unconsciousness. I managed it – actually sleeping for five minutes, then waking myself up in time for a meeting in the same room during which I had to keep pulling myself back from a magnetic brink of unconsciousness.

I am sitting now in my boss’s office. I have scheduled myself into her tomorrow to make up for the time lost today, but tomorrow’s appointment could be easily blown off at the last minute too so I have opted to make use of her first 15 minutes of free time today to get at least a couple of things done.

I have a folder in my hands in which I have stacked all the things I need her to see in order of their importance.

When I get my 15 minutes with her I don’t want to waste a moment of it.

It’s like when I worked for Gurumayi, so like it sometimes. You’re responsible for making sure they see stuff on time, their time is unpredictable and spare – you try to be ready at all times and on the look-out for when you can gently, elegantly spring. You have to be appealing because you are bearing stuff they would love to put off.

I haven’t mentioned to Erica, my good-natured boss, how I often bump into déjà vu as I do my best to serve her. She has read the book about my time with Gurumayi and liked it a lot, but I fear the parallel might make us both uncomfortable.

We began going through some easy but important matters, then someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” my boss called out, popping an almond into her mouth from a bag she held on her lap.

The person stuck her head in, then offered to come back later. “No, no,” said my boss, "what’s up?” And the person proceeded to step into the room and tell her what was up.

I kept my eyes down, not getting into the conversation, allowing myself to be mildly pissed off that Erica hadn’t asked them to come back later since she’d kept me waiting for 45 minutes. But I know that one of the things I like about Erica is that she doesn’t mind being interrupted. I like that you can almost always knock, enter, talk.

I could feel the sadness that I’d been feeling all afternoon plant itself on my face. Erica glanced over at me as she spoke to the other person and I noticed how her look paused, as if she were taking a closer look at me, as if she had seen something and almost asked what it was.

And as we resumed our small bits of business I thought about confiding in her. After all, we are close enough that she noticed some subtle shift in me. I wondered if I could tell her the story of the last day or two, wanted to, but then thought, no, I can’t. She doesn’t have the capacity to hold me in the complete way I would want if I were to tell this story. Though it’s almost there. I think she thought about asking in the same way as I thought about telling. But I kept it to myself, and she dashed off to her daughter’s first piano concert.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing Workshops in Manhattan

UPDATE: April 2010. This series was successful so that now we meet once a month on a Saturday morning at TRS, 44 E. 32 St. between Park & Madison.

I will be offering three
Authentic Writing workshops in Manhattan on Saturday mornings -- if you want to do some writing, this is the place to be.

All the writing will be from life -- spontaneous and personal. The workshops are for people who have written for years, people who have wished they were writing, people who write in their heads but don't manage to get it down on paper and everyone in between.

These are studios more than workshops, a place for artists to come together and practice their art -- without competition or comparison.

I do almost all my writing in these workshops. The Guru Looked Good was almost all written in workshops.

You may take one or more workshops, or you can sign up for the series of three.

We will meet at:
TRS, 44 E. 32 Street (between Park and Madison), 11th floor

Dates and Times:

October 10, November 14, December 12.
10am - 1pm.

$75/workshop (please specify which date)
$180 for all three workshops

To register:

You can use PayPal
email me at:
call me at: (845) 679-0306

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I wore the dark blue cotton dress with the tie around my waist that tied in a bow behind me. Not a big wide fancy bow like you saw in movies. Just a regular, narrow bow, like on your shoes. There was white smocking across the chest and no sleeves so my mother taught me to wear a white blouse underneath. I could see how the plain white blouse suited the somber blue fabric. This was my best dress. I wore it the day I got my first holy communion. I did it by myself on a Sunday. Only my mother came with me to church. My father was away that year.

We went to church and when it was time for communion, before everybody else came up, the priest made an announcement about me and invited me up first.

A month later it was my birthday and it was Sunday and I asked my mother if I could bicycle to church. We were not hardcore church people. I liked church though especially now that I could stand up with the grown-ups and go get communion.

I wore the same dark blue dress and I wore a brown wool winter coat and I bicycled. As I coasted down a steep hill, a dog leaped out at me, barking, snarling, jumping, his teeth bared. I kept going and got past him.

I left my bicycle out in the grassy parking lot amongst the cars and when I came out it was bent out of shape. I couldn’t ride it. I couldn’t walk home. It was miles. There were no cars left in the parking lot. Everyone had gone home.

The only person I knew was probably still around was the priest. I had never talked to him. But I had no choice. I walked back into the empty church. I walked down the side aisle to the door of the room that the priest went into after Mass. I had never been in there before. I knocked. He opened the door, dressed in plain black clothes now. I explained how I couldn’t ride my bike. “Here,” he said. “Why don’t you use this phone and call your mother.” He sat me before a large black telephone. My mother suggest I should walk to the store and she would come get me.

I knew where the store was. I walked over there. It only took a couple of minutes. It was an old store, painted red like a barn, with a long wooden porch. It always made me think of the times when I was really little and we were living here the first time and my father would stop here on the way home from church and he would buy the Sunday New York Times which seemed much too big to me – a giant newspaper. How could anyone read that thick thick bulk of pages, all black-and-white and tiny print? My father laughed when I told him what I thought. He laughed because he could read it and I could not.

Inside the store the light was dim. I had never been in here before. Not like this. Only when there were lots of people and I was lost amongst their legs, holding my father’s hand while he steered me through. Now I was by myself and there was almost no one here.

I walked over to the magazines. I looked at the covers. I didn’t touch them. Now and then I heard someone come in, walk to the counter and buy something. I wished I had some money. I wanted to buy a package of Hostess cupcakes, the chocolate ones with the white squiggle of icing and the creamy white inside.

I waited some more. I walked up one dimly lit dusty aisle, lined with canned goods. Then the other. Then I went back to the magazines. My mother was taking a long long time.

“That’ll be $2.65,” I heard the man behind the counter say.

“Oh, just put it on my credit,” the customer replied and left without giving any money.

I waited. No one else was waiting like this. Everyone else came in, bought something and left.

“Can I help you with anything, hon?” the man behind the counter asked.

“No,” I said. “That’s okay.”

I read all the magazine covers again. I looked at the racks of yodels and ring dings and the cupcakes I wanted. I wished so much I had some money. I was hungry now too.

I took a package of Hostess cupcakes and went to the counter. “That’ll be 95 cents,” the man said.

“Can you put it on my credit?” I asked.

“Do you have credit with us?” the man asked. “What’s your name?” I told him my name and he said something that let me know that what worked for the other customer wasn’t going to work for me.

I put the cupcakes back. I waited. My mother finally came. She had thought I would be outside on the porch. I don’t know why she thought that. She hadn’t told me to wait on the porch. She said she had been driving up and down the road, looking for me.

Monday, September 07, 2009

What Holds It Together

My parents’ anniversary was January 2. When I was little my sisters and I would each sit down at the dining room table and make them a card, then deliver it on the day after New Years. It wasn’t much of a holiday, but better than no holiday at all, the last little whisper of Christmas season specialness that went steadily downhill after presents were opened on Christmas Eve.

If I asked my parents where they met they said “at a party.” There was never more detail given – how did they notice each other? what was the conversation? – and I have pieced together a story from scraps found in other stories they told, and woven it with what makes sense to me.

This is how I see it. My father was a handsome Hungarian refugee living in New Haven because he had an uncle there. He had some kind of graduate student status at Yale, but I can’t quite figure it out because he also could not speak English and was forced to do menial work. The menial work was torture to him – a man who liked to dress up and go to the opera.

He’d come to the States on the invitation of a rich pretty Smith girl on her Junior year abroad in Geneva, but when he showed up at her door at Thanksgiving she didn’t like him anymore. He’d looked better in Europe than in the States.

Life in America has been cruel. He meets my mother. They are both 28 and marriage is way overdue. My father has had one marriage, back in Europe, but it had only lasted 6 months. They are both very alone, both family-less foreigners in Eisenhower United States.

My mother liked European refugees much more than the typical rich boys she was meeting around Yale with their crew cuts and baseball pleasures. She wasn’t a Yale student. She was working in a lab nearby. She meets this tall (taller than her, rare) dark Hungarian refugee – and, look, now he’s in hospital, and she can go visit him.

If someone is sick my mother knows what to do. If they’re sick or in any way down on their luck my mother has a niche she knows how to fit into. If they are well, thriving, soaring, then she feels at a disadvantage.

Shortly after they met – my stitching together of half-told stories – my father was in the hospital. My parents have never named the ailment. It always has had a curtain drawn across it, telling you not to ask. I think my father tried to kill himself with sleeping pills.

My mother was tall and awkward. Glamour was something mysterious that other girls had. She came from the outback of British Columbia where most people quit school after 8th grade, but she had soldiered on through high school and college.

And my mother says they had fun in the beginning, that my father would go camping, and do things on the cheap in the beginning – they were both so penniless that their first home together was a camper parked in New Jersey from where my father commuted to Wall St. She says that once he started getting real work and the makings of a career then he didn’t want to do things like drive cross-country in an old Pontiac anymore. He wanted to buy land, he wanted to impress people.

I remember my first home with them. I was the first child and the three of us lived in the bottom floor of a house – white with red trim – in Yonkers, a house built on a hill so that the front door – which was not ours – opened at sidewalk level, but to get to our door you walked downhill, down the side of the house. There was openness behind the house -- space -- and I sensed a river and a railroad track down below but they were hazy to me, something only grown-ups could see and understand.

My father wears a trench coat in these images. He disappears during the daytime --- out the back, down the hill, like a bird taking off into a landscape I cannot see – and then he’s back at night with a briefcase with mysterious papers inside.

I sit on his lap when he eats breakfast. He puts the sugar in his coffee. I ask him if I can stir it and he says yes. He says yes! I get to be part of the grown-up world for these moments – stirring – this is something he does that I can do just as well. It is pure pleasure.

There is an afternoon about 20 years later when I pick my father up from the airport. I volunteer because I know my father will need as much comfort as possible. He is broke and even broker after this failed business trip that was a fools’ errand at best to begin with. I know neither my mother nor my sisters can lighten his load like I can.

As we drive out of the airport, my father, sunk in the passenger seat, says, “I have not been this low since –“ I don’t know what he calls that time – New Haven? The early fifties? Since I first got to this country? But he says something so that I know we are talking about that dark time, that is connected to the hospital stay, the one when my mother used to visit, the one you don’t ask about.

I have a theory. Something to do with unspoken grief and sadness that gets passed invisibly from parent to child, shrouded in what cannot be spoken at all and what cannot be spoken outside the family circle. I feel ancient crazy sadness inside myself, have felt it since I was little, have always thought I created it. Sometimes it feels like a Greek tragedy where to free yourself you have to find a way – any way -- to sever bonds so ancient they feel like your own flesh and blood.