Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Still, when she called that she was in NY, I looked forward to our evening together, most of which we spent in her mother’s apartment, drinking ouzo and talking. As I drank and talked a beautiful plan took shape in my head. I would quit my job. That’s what I needed to do to make things better. The certainty of it, the splendor of this ripe possibility rose up in me with joy.
I had been with the paperback publishing house for almost three years. I had begun as a secretary and been promoted to editor – my first private office, my first set of business cards. I could take manuscripts that I liked to my boss, a short round gay middle-aged ballet-loving boss, and persuade him to publish them. I had gotten Geoffrey a job to write a novel based on a movie. He had two days to write it in and got $1,000 for it. I wrote copy that I could read months later on paperback covers at B. Daltons. Lately, I’d been going to cocktail parties for book people after work though I often showed up in cut-offs and hiking boots, confident I was the youngest and prettiest girl in the room.
But always, weaving in and out of my days was the dread of being trapped in a 9 to 5 job, and lately – even with the parties – I had the sense that I was in a prison, a large one, but still, a very confined space. And the words of an old boss rang in my head, “All editors once aspired to be writers.” I couldn’t let that happen.
I left Marion’s apartment, having talked it all out with her. I would quit. I would get odd jobs. I would sit at my desk in my new corner room and I would write, just the way I imagined Virginia Woolf had done it, the way Susan Sontag surely did it. Yes, I thought, yes. I had hit on the answer to everything.
As I bounded down Broadway in my sneakers in the morning, everything sparkled. I couldn’t wait to be in my new life.
I knocked on my boss’s door and sat down across from him at his desk. “I’d like to leave in two weeks,” I said.
He looked at me, his wide bespectacled face. “But why?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.
all my reasons collided, causing a pile-up that stifled my voice for a moment. I wanted to give him an honest answer, and it brought tears to my throat because it all seemed so important. “I just want a life that means something,” I managed to say.
His expression didn’t change. Though my words meant everything to me I could see they didn’t mean much to him. “All right,” he said.
“You must not quit your job!” my father called me at my office two days later, his voice urgent.
Nothing he said touched me at all. His worries about disaster if I quit were nothing more than the annoying buzz of a mosquito. I was doing this.
The Managing Editor said she would send me manuscripts to copyedit. that seemed like an appealing writerly way to make money. For the rest of it I would figure something out. Other people did it. I would get my writing life.
I looked at its noticeboard, assured that whoever posted something there was a friend. It was the usual scramble of fliers and things for sale. Roommate Wanted, the notice said, Upper West Side. I took down the number and called. I had been staying in Geoffrey’s apartment for three months and I was restless to get away from a place that –though rent-free – would never really be mine, a place that wasn’t much more than a fancy hotel suite.
Scott was tall and gangly and going bald early. He wore glasses and kept his 10-speed in the hall and sprouts in jars in the kitchen. In his apartment – that had the high ceilings and random layout of a house – I could have a corner room. I signed up and moved.
Spring was just coming to New York City, I was just steps from Riverside Park and the new warmth, the new beauty of trees and plants, the newness promised by my new address lifted my spirits. I walked the 50 blocks to work in the bright mornings now straight down Broadway in my sneakers and skirt, proud to break glamour rules, and feeling like an elastic Superwoman.
I had liked meeting that man, Natvar at that yoga school on Eighth Avenue, but I hadn’t liked his class very much. It wasn’t hard enough. He talked a lot about following your breath as you moved, but I wanted something more demanding, something guaranteed to keep me skinny and young. I continued going to one yoga school and then another, hoping to find the perfection that had been the L.A. school.
But I returned to Natvar’s class. He was very happy to see me. He remembered my name. I was not surprised. I knew he had noticed me that first time just like I had noticed him.
After his class, I accepted the invitation of a petite dark-skinned woman, who seemed to be helping there, to linger and have some tea. She spoke softly and shyly. Her hair was gray and pinned into a bun. She wore baggy white yoga clothes and though I would have guessed she was in her 60s or 70s her face was still very pretty.
There were three or four other people lingering with styrofoam cups. The older woman ladled tea from a saucepan on a hotplate. I looked into the pot and saw simply steaming water with chunks of raw ginger inside, a recipe I had never heard of. The others kew each other and chatted easily, sitting on the couch and floor. I looked at the books in the little bookstore, an elegant set of 3 shelves built into the wall. The same man whose picture sat in the big chair in the hall looked out from the covers of the books that lay flat on display. I didn’t reach for them. I liked the curved wooden incense burner though. I wanted to buy it. I wanted to send it to Geoffrey as a gift. I thought he would like it. I wanted to send him something that would help him miss me. But I couldn’t afford it.
I walked a few steps over to the typed paragraph that was framed, hanging below the picture of a plump Indian goddess with many arms. The paragraph said something about how the blessings you receive are in proportion to the blessings you give, and right beside it was a small wooden box with a slot in the top.
I squirmed inside and moved away.
I returned again for another class, and this time the older woman smiled when I appeared and told me her name in a low, quiet voice. Anjani. Her old face held wisdom and warmth.
When I went to the other yoga schools you never saw who ran them or who had opened them in the first place. Those people were invisible. Here though Natvar was always present, teaching all the classes. Anjani was always at his side or in the background, helping out. Eve was there too, a painter with long hair and a nose ring. And a boy called Mark, a dancer with high arched feet and a ready smile.
Natvar loomed larger than anyone though. When he strode into class or stepped into the lobby afterwards it was always with great energy and purpose as if he could never be idle, as if he were enjoying every moment and wanted everyone else to too.
After class, he disappeared into the back and then joined us in the lobby for Anjani’s ginger tea. “Aha!” he’d say. ‘What great company,” as he drank his tea, leaning back on the couch now, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, his white yoga pants ironed with a crisp crease. And though it seemed it should be a place of ease I stayed alert in these small gatherings, aware that Natvar’s standards were high.
When he saw me he greeted me with tremendous joy and vigor. “Marta!” he’d call. He greeted all of us with this kind of unabating enthusiasm, and bade farewell to each of us after class with strong hugs, yet I never felt part of a crowd. I felt selected. I felt like I stood out to him as someone special – for my brains, my looks, my sensitivity. He saw me the way I wanted to be seen. Perhaps, I thought, he will be my next lover.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
When I lived here with Geoffrey we didn’t use this cut-out part of the living room, but it had my favorite furniture in it – the gray wood table and the big set of shelves and cupboards, both of which looked like they came out of an Italian farmhouse. I cleared the table of the junk mail and scrap that had been tossed on it over the years and sat there in the mornings before work with organic grapefruit and wholegrain toast, foods I never ate when I was with Geoffrey, foods that he would never eat and a meal that he was never up for.
This kind of food went along with the other new things I was exploring, the things Geoffrey didn’t want to go near – the yoga, the astrology, the meditation – all of which were well represented in the Village Voice – ads and classes and talks. The Village Voice would lead me into the city, I thought, provide me a path into the maze.
I went to a meditation class at East West Books, a place that appeared permanently established in secret knowledge, and came home determined to practice as the teacher had advised. I sat in the living room on one of Geoffrey’s stepmother’s chairs, the only object that resembled a straight-backed chair – a shiny chrome frame with spongy blue fabric, artificially soft. I sat in the evening after work, eyes closed for as long as I could stand nothing happening.
I saw an ad for a free introductory yoga class at a school I had not yet visited. I walked over on Sunday afternoon, arriving a few minutes late to the Eighth Avenue address. I opened the door from the street and climbed the straight flight of stairs to the door at the top. A sign read The New York Institute of Classical Yoga. There was a window in the door covered by a curtain on the inside of yellow cotton. I pressed the buzzer. Someone pushed aside the cloth, glanced out and opened the door.
He was lovely – tall and handsome with a big smile, dressed in white yoga clothes and bare feet. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Kevin, come on in!” He pointed to a small cluster of shoes on the black and white linoleum floor and said, “You can leave your shoes here.”
“Very strange,” I thought, pulling off my sneakers. I had never been asked to take off my shoes before. It seemed as random and odd as being asked to hop.
I followed Kevin from the narrow front hall a few steps into a small but bright open room with olive-green wall-to-wall carpeting. There were a few colorful pictures on the walls and some shelves displaying yoga books. “You can change in there,” Kevin pointed me towards a door that led into a changing room that was tiny but tidy and cared for.
Kevin was waiting for me back out in the main room. “We’ll be starting in a few minutes,” he smiled. “Come on, I’ll show you into the hall.” Again I followed him back towards the front door, into the narrow hall with its black and white tiles where Kevin slid open a door I hadn’t noticed before. “Just go on in,” he whispered, “and sit on the left side.”
The room was almost completely dark with just enough light to make out the shapes of six or seven people sitting and facing the front of the room. I picked my way carefully over to the left side, noticing a narrow aisle had been marked out that cut through the center of the long room. I spread my towel and sat cross-legged like everyone else. The women were on this side of the aisle and the men were on the other side. How strange. There was some kind of music playing and the people in the room had their eyes closed and were murmuring along in a practiced way, uttering words I did not understand, as if they were a secret code. This didn’t feel like any place I could ever be a part of. The party had gotten started too long ago.
I heard the door slide open at the back and someone stride up the aisle to the front of the room where there was a little more light. It was a man. He stooped for a moment over something in the corner, bringing down the sound of the music and then sat down back in the center of the room, facing us as the lights in the whole room came up slowly and gently.
The man was smiling. His hair was brown though bald on top. His face was young though he was older than me. In his thirties, I thought. Behind him was a strange oversize chair with a framed photograph of an Indian man placed upon it. There was a little table to the side with a rose in a vase. I just wanted a good exercise class.
The man began to talk to us. He said his name was Natvar, a name that seemed to match the unusual accent he had – it wasn’t French or German or Spanish, none of the ones I was familiar with. His English though came easily. He didn’t give us a lecture on yoga. Instead, he spoke of things he had noticed on his ride over on the subway – an old woman, a young boy with a skateboard. He made them seem important. I liked the way he described the subway, the walk up Eighth Avenue. He had vigor and energy and seemed really happy to be talking to us and about to teach a yoga class.
I listened to every word. I had never heard anyone talk like this before. Not like a teacher. Not like a friend. I felt I knew this man from the inside, like he knew me. That we were relatives in some way, that our inner worlds were similar. It was like finding a book by an author who speaks for you. This man was putting into words pieces of myself I didn’t know could be voiced.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I am truly honored to have just been awarded an Honest Scrap Award by the blog, Words, Words, Words, a blog that I actually love to check in with from time to time because she’s always reading and passing on something juicy.
The one condition of the award is that I list ten Honest Scraps about my own self and here they be:
- I don’t like to cook though I like the idea of cooking.
- I took so many walks with my parents (separately) as a child that it is in my blood and I have always walked a lot.
- I want to become a better photographer and like to practice. My favorite things to photograph are strangers in the street who are not aware of me watching them. I find faces beautiful. And I love old architecture.
- I love really good desserts.
- I love dogs and cats. In that order.
- I wish I had a pied-a-terre in
. And New York City . And… Paris
- I haven’t slept the last two nights. Hardly.
- I just got my first iPod and am a little frightened by how easy it is to get new music. It used to be something I had to think long and hard about, and then usually postpone.
- I think Obama is a great and historic figure.
- I still think Bob Dylan is the greatest.
And now I'd like to thank my producer...
Sunday, April 11, 2010
My mother and father were selling the house they had owned since I was three years old, a house that though we had not always lived in it – moving in and out several times – had always defined us as a family. It was a part of us.
I remembered the house from when I was little and it was the very beginning. My mother spackled the walls of the kitchen and painted them white. Workmen sat around in a circle at the bottom of the hill and ate thick sandwiches of meat and cheese. There was glass in the dirt near the house.
It was an old house, my parents said, and my mother showed me how a road used to go right by the house, a road that was now just a grassy open passage, cutting through woods. The house – white clapboard – stood on a slope overlooking the new road. There was always something ragged about it, more rough-edged than the smooth suburban homes where other people lived.
By the time I finished high school and we had returned to the house for the last time, my father had refined some of the rough edges so that when you drew up to the front door now the house looked more luxurious than it actually was, a rose trellis leading to a two-car garage. He left the huge spreading maple from which my mother had hung a swing for me in the early years. By the end, the swing was long gone, but a path of white gravel led you to the front door.
And now they had to sell the house. I knew it was because my father could not pay his bills. He was declaring bankruptcy. I received the news as lightly as if he were mentioning that he was getting a tooth removed. We did not react to things. Feelings were embarrassing. We left each other’s inner worlds very much alone.
The house was within easy commuting distance from the city, easy to get on a train at Grand Central and get there in less than an hour. I was glad to have a place to go to on a warm Spring weekend.
My sisters were at the house that weekend – Basil had come down from Boston, and Esther was still in high school, living at home. It was the first time in years that all five of us – two parents, three daughters – had been together, and here, in this house.
It was exhilaratingly summery. The dandelions were blooming. My sisters and I – all between 15 and 23 – played music loudly from the stereo inside, loud enough so that we could hear it outside on the grass.
Our spread of grass was too irregularly shaped to be called a lawn. It sloped downhill and faded into woods on two sides. I remembered doing my first somersaults on this grass, demanding that my father watch as he passed by, pushing a weekend wheelbarrow. I remembered my mother and grandmother carrying the body of our German Shepherd, each of them holding two paws while his body dangled between, across the grass one morning to the hole they had dug. I remembered the blow-up wading pool on this grass and the game of red-light/green-light that a woman, the wife of a businessman who had come for dinner, generously played with us. The big lilac had always bloomed purple.
On this Saturday my sisters and I blasted reggae or Van Morrison and we danced, the three of us, on the grass. We had never done this when we all lived here. We had stayed alone in our rooms, reading, listening to radio privately.
But there was a new freedom that morning, a sense of power, and we danced almost as if we were taking over now. I felt it, a sense of flaunting – our beautiful flexible bodies that could do anything.
My mother prepared lunch in the kitchen. My father watched from a picnic table as he waited for the real estate agent who had said she would drop by. I put a dandelion behind my ear.
Friday, April 09, 2010
I did move into the apartment on
The doormen and elevator men were always at hand, dressed in green uniforms. Only one of them was black and he was called Curly. His job was to stand in the elevator and press the button of your floor for you and talk amiably about weather or sports, your choice.
And yet it was spacious, the apartment. Two bedrooms. Two full bathrooms. Much more space than a 23-year-old in
I had lived here with Geoffrey and his father and sometimes his sister in my last couple of college years before we’d gone to
I brought Roy, the guy from the party in the
When people at work asked where I lived, I answered either vaguely, “in the Village,” or, if more detail was needed, I’d have to explain what I was doing in an expensive old-people’s building.
I put sneakers on and walked to work every morning – 40 blocks – feeling like I was riding the wind, feeling invincible in the power of my stride. Our
I had to get a lover quick. Mostly to protect myself from the memory and presence of Geoffrey of whom I was still so conscious. I promised myself I would not call him for six months, and slept in our old bed, with his childhood furniture that smelled the way it always had.
The only thing I knew for sure that I wanted and knew how to get was a yoga class. I wanted to find the classes that would make me feel as perfect as those
One was on
I knew three women from college in
Anna and Sara persuaded me to take a weekend workshop that promised breakthrough via a system they swore by. I took the weekend and did not have the promised breakthrough, could not join in the party afterwards where everyone celebrated having gotten it. I felt as disconnected there as at any other party.
I brought one boy home to the apartment after meeting him at a brunch on the upper West Side, identifying him early on and bringing him home, hoping that he would be the next Geoffrey, that we would melt into each other, but it was like trying to get something to stick with cheap glue.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Alyssa was a few years older than me. Not many. Just enough to put her over the edge into the next category. She had short dark hair and a serious face. She didn’t laugh or talk much. There was something serious and self-contained about her, almost sometimes disapproving so that being with her was sometimes a little bit of hard work.
She moved into the white cottage across the walkway from us and I pursued a friendship. She interested me. She seemed to know things I didn’t and I wanted to push past the usual boundaries that exist when people don’t know each other so that maybe she would share with me that secret knowledge.
I went over to visit her in her cottage, stepping across the few feet of concrete from my shady stoop to her identical one. She did not come over to my cottage because Geoffrey was there and it was as obvious as weather that we could not have our conversations there. In fact, Alyssa – visiting Alyssa – talking to Alyssa was a way of creating or trying to create a small island to which I could go, an independent place.
Alyssa talked of things I had never heard of – reincarnation, tarot, and astrology as if it were a science not just something dumb in the newspaper. And she was so poised and adult that I listened to her.
Alyssa took me to a bookstore called The Bodhi Tree, shelves upon shelves of books all covering these subjects I hadn’t known existed. I had spent so many years in bookstores, and yet here was one that I had never entered or known about. It was like stepping into an alternate universe. “Where do I begin?” I asked Alyssa, and she suggested a thick red paperback.
It was slow going, but I did not stop, chopping my way through its humorless prose about ancient
Alyssa and I came up with a plan to drive up to
We drove all day, arriving in the evening at a small house on a river bank, set amidst dense forest. Her friend was a man, living alone, handsome and friendly. They were old friends, it seemed, who had not seen each other for awhile, and I left them to be alone and catch up for awhile. I sat out on a rock overlooking the water. There was no sound of traffic or people or industry. This is where I had so wanted to be, but still I felt on edge, not sure how long I should leave them.
I waited for a half hour and then joined them inside where we sat together and ate. Eventually they drifted into the bedroom. I slept in the living room.
Not much was said in the morning. The handsome rugged man drove us around a bit, showing us the small town, and I filled up any empty moments with Remembrance of Things Past which I had brought along, drinking in every succulent word from its thick pages.
This was a place Geoffrey would never come to, and so it felt more authentic, more like a place where I would go. It wasn’t a place just for TV and pot and food and movies and shopping and chats with friends on the phone – none of that had ever found its way comfortably or permanently into my life. Those were the things Geoffrey was content to do for the rest of his life, things that seemed empty to me, like the scripts he wrote about handsome men falling in love with witty beautiful women.
The yoga class wasn’t like that. I liked the way the other teachers looked – the men handsome and the women confident, and all of them at ease with one another. They talked about who was going to
I did not miss a class, driving to the white mansion two or three times a week. And after every class I felt good in a way I had never felt good before. I had never found anything that so reliably made me feel better – in body, in mind.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
I said good-bye to Geoffrey on the terra-cotta tiled stoop of the white stucco cottage, a bright Los Angeles February day, three years after we’d arrived.
We said good-bye as if I were just going on a trip. I had spent the night. He had offered to make whatever I wanted for dinner and I had asked for pot roast. His sister Buf was driving me to the airport.
Geoffrey and I said good-bye, not knowing what the next step was. I was just glad to be headed back to Manhattan, all of it paid for by my job. I was ready for wonderful new things to happen in the city where things happened. I had no lingering love for Los Angeles, the biggest suburb in the world.
On the airplane I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman and saw a young woman sitting, her eyes down, small headphones on her head, a small black cassette player in her hands. Wow, I thought. Very cool.
I took the bus and subway to the West Village, to Thea’s empty studio apartment. Thea, a friend from college, had inexplicably become a model and was often out of town.
I put the key in the lock, opened the door, put my things down. There was not much light in the apartment. The main room was empty except for Thea’s large loom with a piece of weaving in its strings, dark purples, blues and greens.
When Thea and I spent time together it was always at some little place for dinner where we talked about how our writing was going or not going. This was the topic that held us together. We both had a tortured sense that we weren’t making enough art and that life was useless if you weren’t an artist. During those conversations we felt like best friends, but then there were huge pieces of her life she kept hidden from me – all her other friends, for instance. Her boyfriend who I imagined as dark and ultra-cool since I never met him and his name was Milo. The art gallery crowd she worked and hung out with. I knew I couldn’t make it with those Soho sophisticates. Thea’s keeping me out confirmed it.
But I liked her, I thought. And I liked her unusual face – wide, and almost Oriental-flat with blue eyes that could become almost slits. She wasn’t tall and she wasn’t thin, but they’d made her a model. Salvatore Dali wanted to paint her.
There was one time that Thea invited me to Fire Island, to a small house she was renting with two men. They were pretty boys of some kind. I was aware of my plain navy blue one-piece bathing suit and my unmade-up face, something in me refusing to put on a show for people who obviously were all about show. I was confident that I was beautiful anyway and if the two boys didn’t see it, it would just confirm how lightweight they were.
“They said you were beautiful but that you didn’t know it,” Thea said later. It was soothing to know I’d been accepted that much.
Her single bed was stuffed into a small closet-room with no door, a few feet from the loom. The kitchen was a hot-plate and a coffee pot.
Outside I could hear the roar of Sixth Avenue and the whole city. I felt the huge impossible distance between what was happening, who I was, what I was capable of – and what I wanted. There was no way to get from one to the other. Like they were on two different cliffs with an abyss in between. This was going to fail.
And though it felt like going backwards or standing still, I called Geoffrey, settling for the comfort of his gravelly voice. “It’s going to be all right,” he said. I knew he never felt this way – desperate, at the end of the line – that it was easy for him to say, sitting on his couch, watching TV and smoking pot, that it would be all right. “Why don’t you go live in the apartment?” he asked. “It’s empty. No one is staying there.”
His family’s apartment on Washington Square Park. The one we’d lived in before L.A.
Friday, April 02, 2010
My last few months in
I lived in a two-story building. I had seen a For Rent sign there once, driving around, and the next time we had a door-slamming, middle-of-the-night fight I drove to that building, parked my orange-and-white Pinto outside, put the seat back and slept, waiting for morning when I could go inside and rent whatever it was they were offering.
It was a large furnished room with a real sit-in kitchen complete with built-in breakfast nook. The bed came down from the wall. The bathroom was a bright robin’s-egg blue. The rent was low. It would do just fine.
Rose, my landlady, was a frail old woman with dyed red hair who shuffled in a housecoat and never left her own apartment on the first floor.
I liked the adventure of getting my own place. I covered the couch with a new Pier One white bedspread and took black and white photographs of myself, emphasizing the long dark hair and the oversize black Beatnik sweater. On weekends I went to modern art galleries by myself, looking for something. I wasn’t sure what.
Geoffrey and I hadn’t figured out if we had broken up or not. We weren’t very good at separating beyond the initial fury. We had separated 1,000 times, but never, ever, not once, for good. I was 23 and I didn’t know anyone else who had had the same boyfriend for five years. We were an institution.
Geoffrey didn’t come to my
I tried to fill up my new apartment with new friends and things to do. I invited the woman I met in a bookstore over for dinner, someone a little older than me, married, with pale strawberry blonde hair. She told me how a year ago she’d had a baby who had died in his sleep. It was the first time I heard how easily this can happen. And because we spoke so intimately I hoped we would be friends.
I tried to turn the boy who lived in the apartment next to mind into another romance, but it was just a blow job. Funny how Geoffrey could have affairs so easily with women he claimed to really like and all the times I tried to do the same none of the boys came even close to the urgency I felt being with Geoffrey.
While I lived in the furnished room there were times when Geoffrey and I still fought, didn’t speak, hung up on each other, or when I didn’t answer the phone at all, knowing it was him. And one time when, after not speaking for one whole week, I came home to a thick letter shoved under my door.
There were other times when I went over after work as if I still lived there, when I ate the dinner he always made whether I was there or not – some recipe he had honed since childhood, something with a lot of butter or cream or whatever it took to make it perfect. Evenings when he would sit as he always did on the couch in front of the television, the wide flat surface of his childhood Atlas lying on his lap as a counter top for rolling egg rolls, or skinning chicken, or chopping onions.
I joined in by smoking the pot and watching the television, stilling my uneasiness that came from not really having anything to do here. But for an evening now and then, the comfort of predictability and the plain comfort of physical comfort, of having Geoffrey’s well defined world to fill my empty one, was enough.
And in December when Geoffrey's family invited me to go with them on one of their well-financed vacations and when Geoffrey assumed I'd be coming, I let myself be included.
I would be leaving
These were the worst fights – the ones where Geoffrey's thorned complaints doubled as evidence that he loved me desperately.