Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life is interesting. Things change. I'm changing. I really am at the point where I'm making very conscious decisions regarding my direction. Mostly, my emotional direction. My parents are both having some health-related issues. No wonder, considering the fact that they're both in their eighties. The thing is that they're still my parents and I haven't yet gotten used to the fact that they're old. I've been so blessed because they've both enjoyed good health for most of their lives. I have, maybe, one or two memories of my mom being sick with the flu or something when I was a kid. The thing is, though, amidst all these blessings I never really learned how to just be with what is - there was a pretty high level of denial when it came to things of an emotional nature. I don't blame my parents because they, too, are products of their own family environments BUT now, in their eighties, they're becoming the emotional equivalent of "touchy feely."
My mother has some yet to be determined form of early stage dementia. The neurologist I have the most respect for through all the testing and nonsense has said that he suspects she has Alzheimer's. In any case, she's started doing things for me, when she stays at my apartment with me, that she never did for me my entire childhood. For example, when I get up in the morning the first thing she calls out to me is -
"Dawn, do you want me to put the kettle on?"
"Err...ummmm...(scratch the head, rub the eyes)...what????...oh, uh, yeah. ok, mom."
And when I get out to the kitchen she has a tea cup, a cereal bowl and two spoons set up on the kitchen counter for me.
This is the same woman who would come in to my bedroom my freshman year of high school with a Benson and Hedges 100 dangling from her lips barking "GET UP!" And ten minutes later (aka the second time she came in to attempt to wake me) she'd yank the covers off me and yell, "I'm not coming back. Get up now or TOUGH SHIT!" The obvious point being that my breakfast was not ever laid out for me.
The same goes for my Dad. He was not the type to rip the covers off my freezing carcass but he drove a hard bargain. He was a tough disciplinarian and had little time for the cuddly stuff. However, recently he showed up for me on such an emotional level that all I could think to myself was -
WHY NOW???????
I had just gotten to the point of accepting my parents fully as the teachers they were meant to be for me and had resigned myself to the emotional distance they themselves had set up in each of our relationships. I know that I've learned more than a few things in this life and that I, too, have made room for the love I feel for them and they feel for me but still....still, I'm realizing I had hoped, somehow, that it wouldn't be enough to hurt me. Silly of me, I know, but I've been flooded by realizations, lately, of the places/relationships/events that I incorporate some of this emotional fear in to -
Yes, I am a cup is half full kind of person. I am positive and am most comfortable with thinking the best of people. However, my most recent light bulb moment came when I was having a conversation with one of my children. I realized that my need to get to the emotional "point" was my way of getting to a place that would make me comfortable because I am not comfortable with, well, emotional discomfort. I need to know, in some way, shape or form, that something, anything, everything is alright and/or will be alright.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A friend recently e-mailed me a YouTube link for the Cat Stevens song "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out" from the movie Harold and Maude. This is my favorite movie of all time...right up there with To Kill A Mockingbird. Anyway, the song is also one of my favorites of all time.
So, I was out walking my two dogs yesterday morning when that song came on my iPod. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny day here in New York and I was walking past a wall of honeysuckle, my favorite vine. So many favorite things all in a row was making for a great time. As the dogs and I were bounding up the block, a little boy came up alongside me and began walking next to me. He was skipping and throwing his arms up in the air and, for a moment, I thought he was hearing the same song and reacting to it. I remembered then that I had headphones in my ears and that he couldn't hear the song at all. I realized that kids walk around with all that unbridled joy in them all the time and they wear it like a badge of honor. Skipping, singing, arms flailing. So, if you want to be free, be free.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I moved out of my mother's house when I was seventeen years old. Which is not to say I left. I found this out twenty years later when she put the house up for sale.

Life began, for me, on 52nd street between 7th and 8th avenues in Brooklyn. I have memories of our apartment there in spite of the fact that we left when I was only four years old. It was a six-ish unit apartment building and we lived on, probably, the second or third floor. My friend Bobby lived on the first floor in the back and I loved going to play at his place because he had one of those big plastic horses propped up on springs that you could bounce up and down on and pretend to be the Lone Ranger, or Tonto, or just some girl riding a horse which, in Brooklyn, is equivalent to being an astronaut or a surfer. I was afraid of Bobby's father so I rarely played there anytime near 5pm when he would come home from work. I'm not sure why he scared me but I vaguely remember him being big, and dark and quiet. Too quiet.

My best friend at the time, John Ratazzi, lived in the building next door. His mother would take us on excursions to the bakery across the street for sugar cookies every now and again. John and I walked to our first day of school together, with our mothers, and he cried really hard when they separated us from our moms and took us in to the auditorium. I was on the girls line holding back the tears and John was on the boys line sobbing and heaving and snotting. I wanted to hug him, give him a sugar cookie and comfort him with the story being told to all of us frightened children that our mothers were waiting for us right outside the doors of the school - even though I knew it was the first of many big, fat lies.

I also vividly remember flushing my goldfish down the toilet in a moment's panic when my father came banging on the bathroom door because it was locked (I was not supposed to lock myself in there - ever). I thought I'd surprise everyone and clean the goldfish bowl so I put them in the toilet to swim while I scrubbed away at the scum hugging the walls of the bowl using my parent's toothbrushes. For months afterwards I couldn't sit on the toilet because I was sure the fish would come back and take revenge on my tiny behind. I used a wooden potty chair for weeks because I knew there'd be no unpleasant surprises swimming up from the scary unknown world deep in the recesses of the bathroom toilet. I'd probably still be using it today if my father hadn't forced the issue and thrown the potty chair out one late night while I slept.

My sister was born while we were living there and I remember missing my mother a lot. Every day that she was in the hospital felt like a Sunday. Eerily quiet and just not right. She'd delivered all three of us by c-section so she was in the hospital for, what felt like, a very long time. My grandmothers took turns watching my brother and I while my Dad worked and went to the hospital. It was right around Christmas time and our scrawny tree (fake) was up. My Scottish grandmother, Mary Adam, would sit with us and sing Lutheran hymns (she would sing - my brother and I would listen) and all I wanted to do, the entire time, was plug in the lights on the tree. I was told over and over and over again not to touch the plug and not to turn on the lights.
"Gram, can I put the lights on?"
(scottish accent) "No ya will nawt touch the tree. Gawd won't like that!"
"Don't touch the lights my wee bairn."
"Ya heard me know - "
My Dad wanted us to wait for Christmas Eve when my mother came home. I held out until just a few days before my mother's arrival with the new baby but I couldn't stand it any longer. I crept behind the tree and layed on the floor commando-style and shoved the plug in to the socket and, literally, got the shock of my life! Electricity coursed through my body and, although it obviously didn't kill me, it scared the shit out of me and hurt like hell. My grandmother came running in to find the tree lit and me wailing and screeching on the sofa. Unfortunately, for me, my father came home right at that moment and I had to confess my wrongdoing. I don't remember exactly what happened (I've handily blocked it out) but I'm sure he spanked me and put me to bed.

We moved to 63rd street between 4th and 5th avenues the Spring after my sister was born. My Dad's parents lived four doors down from us. His brother lived in an apartment on my grandparent's top floor and his sister, Jean, lived in the house directly across the street. This was an area of Brooklyn that Scottish immigrants heavily populated. Afternoon tea, Robert Burns poetry and brogues were all I knew - until that first day of school I mentioned earlier. So, I thought, wait just a minute, we're not in Scotland!!??

The more "socialized" I became, the more I pondered the possibility that my family was a bunch of freaks. Maybe even witches! No one else's family sat down for tea evey afternoon - and used a silver teapot and loose tea (as opposed to tea bags). No one else's grandmother read them poetry about toothaches and farting and all other manner of things.

My parents divorced when I was 12 and at this point we had moved, the year before, to a big house on 68th street. This house was next door to my father's sister Anna and her husband Albert and, in the same house but on the top floor, my mother's sister Dorothy and her husband Mike. When my Dad left, that house became even bigger. My brother and sister and I would huddle, at the end of the day, in the living room together watching TV - something we weren't allowed to do when my Dad lived home. It was never spoken but I know that we just wanted, and needed, to be close to each other. So, there we were, sprawled out on the sofa, the floor - wherever. In those days, TV used to go off the air at a certain hour. The national anthem would play to an image of the flag waving in the American breeze and then the station would sign off for the night. Even if all three of us were sound asleep, the minute the anthem started playing, someone would wake up and walk over to the TV and change the channel. To anything. What was on didn't matter - having our electronic fireplace did.

My mother had over a hundred thousand dollars worth of remodeling done on the house and then decided that she needed to sell. It was, according to her, an "albatross" around her neck. She was in debt and stressed and ready to move on, finally. When she told me she had a buyer I had the first twinge of - well, for lack of a better word, fear. I was the one who'd left home at 17. How could I be having these feelings over a home I couldn't wait to leave?

Once I acknowledged the fact that this was, in fact, really emotional for me I began to see even more clearly and realized that I had never really left. As independent as I'd been my whole life, somewhere in the back of my head, and heart, I always knew that if anything went wrong, I could always come "home". I felt the need to ritualize my emotional exit from this time and place in my life, once and for all. I planted the garden in front of the house that year before my Dad took off and I tended it and replanted it every year so it seemed the most logical place to "pull up roots", so to speak.

I went early one morning and chose a plant to dig up. My plan was to go to the ocean and let the plant, roots and all, go in to the vast expanse of water that would nourish it and possibly give it a chance to reroot itself. I took the bus to Coney Island. When I got to the beach, I sat for awhile and held on to the memories, both good and terrible, and I knew that they were in me and safe and so was I. When I felt like the time was right I walked in to the waves a bit and then hurled the plant over the crest of the biggest wave I could find. I stood there for a moment, filling up with emotion - when this really big, Brooklyn kind-of-guy walked up to me and said "'scuse me - would you like to go out with me?" I looked him right in the eye and said - "listen, I don't want to sound rude but I'd like to be alone right now." His reply was, "so, is that a yes?"

When he walked away I felt something at my feet that made me jump up out of the water - thinking it was a fish or a killer whale or something - I looked down to see - the plant. The plant that I had unleashed in to the great and mighty Atlantic Ocean had found it's way back to me. I was freaked out. So, I took a deep breath - renewed my heartfelt vow to honor the memory blah blah blah and threw the thing as far and as hard as I could. Less than a minute later, it came back again.

I was stunned. So, is this what my mother meant about the albatross?? Would I never, ever be able to leave this house, after all?

I decided to give it one last effort. I walked a bit further in to the water and said, out loud, right before I let it go again, "if you need to come back, come back but I'm going to stay here if it takes all night..." and then, I realized that in order to truly leave, I needed to say goodbye. Goodbye to the fight my parents had right before my dad left for good - goodbye to Babe and Dog the two beautiful animals that loved us - goodbye to the nights without heat and the days without my mom who was lost to her own sadness.

I threw and this time I felt like I really let go. I stood there for close to an hour - waiting for it to come back, and it never did. Even if it had washed up on shore right next to me, I don't think I would have seen it. I was changed. Things were beginning to look different.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It has long (recently) been my contention that with all these new-fangled ways of being in "touch" (cell phones, internet, texting, skyping, etc. etc) we are more out of touch than ever. Technology has offered us little more than more ways to avoid each other. Since the dawn of the answering machine, and then forward to beepers and the sincere hope that the person we were trying to "reach" would not actually pick up, we have perfected the art of not actually having to, nor wanting to, talk. Ever.
I've noticed, too, that when I walk along the street many people who are not actually carrying bags in both hands will, more often than not, be talking on the phone. I know that I've been compelled on more than one occasion to call someone while I was walking from one place to another just to have something to do and, also, because, tragically, we don't seem to be able to find the time during our busy days to simply sit down and converse.
One of the things I believe to be happening, as well, is that we are becoming less and less comfortable with just - well - walking down the street. I would liken it to the same kind of discomfort that one might feel walking in to a room filled with strangers.
I read a story recently, as I was riding the subway to work, by Sylvia Boorstein. It was about her grandfather and a man named Mr. Cory. Mr. Cory was a farmer who lived down the road from Sylvia's family when she was growing up. Mr. Cory and his wife of seventy years did all the work on their several acre farm and then sold the produce out of their garage. Sylvia recalled a day when she was driving over to the Cory's to pick up some produce. As she neared the garage she thought she was looking at a statue of Mr. Cory when it was, in fact, Mr. Cory himself. She writes, "...he wasn't reading or writing or sorting produce or whittling or doing anything but waiting."
Then she tells a story about her grandfather who, when he was well in to his nineties, was living in Florida in a community for elderly folks. Sylvia went to visit him and was invited to join him, after breakfast and again after lunch, for a walk around the block. "He explained to me that this was his regular regimen, his daily exercise. I said to him, "What do you think about when you walk?" He looked at me with surprise. "What do you mean, what do I think about?" he asked. "When I walk, I walk!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tonight, when I looked out the window of my apartment at 8:03pm, I noticed that it was already getting dark. I'm always amazed how, during the height of Summer, it stays light out until almost 9pm.
That being said, I had a little adventure at the food co-op today. I got on the Express line, with the few things that I was buying in hand, a tiny bit aware of the nice looking guy in front of me. A couple filed in behind me and they were all love-y and in that "we're the best couple in the world and I am not all alone in this world" smug love place that we have all at some time or another felt when we're hooked up with someone. The woman put her head on her man's chest and I overheard her say "there's something you don't know about me" - to which he replied "uh oh" - and then she said, "this is my faaaaaaavorite snack", as she pointed to a barbecued seitan strip... at which point I thought to myself, 'dork'... However, I let go of my immature thoughts long enough to sneak a sideways glance at HM(handsome man) in front of me and I could have sworn that he had some "awareness" of me - and then - it happened...the line advanced to the shelf where I saw the organic maple syrup that I'd come in to buy in the first place so I bent over to grab a bottle and...farted. Yep. Not some little, tiny, silly fart like Carrie Bradshaw let rip in bed with Mr.Big but one of those honking ass-blasters that can make your own mother seem slightly repulsive. Stick your tongue out and blow really hard and that's what it sounded like... So, what did I do? I stayed bent over for a moment - I think I may have even said a few things out loud to myself - and then, in a moment's panic, I tried to replicate the sound using the sole of my sneaker. Ohhhhhh, you thought I faaaarrrrrrted???!!!! No, No, Nooooo!! It was my shoe! And then, when the only sound I could make was one that sounded like a sneaker scraping across a tile floor, I shot an accusatory glance at seitan girl!
The line was long and I had to stand there, steeping in my own humiliation, (thank god it didn't smell!) for an uncomfortably long period of time - reliving the moment every step of the way and feeling as embarrassed as the moment it happened.
As I rode my bike home I thought about it and I came up with a comforting thought - if I were dating someone and we were in that situation together, the way he handled it would tell me an awful lot about the odds of our relationship lasting. I'm not necessarily saying that I would want to be high-fived or anything (although that would be funny) but what I am saying is that humor is a necessary connection for me...and besides, what's a little fart amongst friends?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker AND tits - the seven words you can't say on television. George Carlin's death really bummed me out. I learned of it when I woke up this morning and walked in to my living room just as my mother (she's staying with me for a few days) opened the newspaper. Sometimes news of someone's passing makes me say "ohhhh, wow" and sometimes my reaction is "ohhhhh, no." This one was an "ohhhhh, no."

I saw him perform in the late 70's at the Civic Center. I went with my boyfriend at the time. We were both around 18 years old and had smoked some pot and hash right before the show...and during the show...people passed joints around like cheese puffs in those days...anyway, I was pretty high. Some of what I remember is him riffing on oxymoronic expressions like "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence". He talked at great length about a loaf of rye bread and how none of the slices were the same size, making the point that when we open a new loaf of rye bread we all reach into the middle of the loaf for two slices, we never just take the first two slices - but, eventually, we all end up eating the ones we avoided in the first place.

I've learned a lot, both as a person and as an artist, from the likes of George Carlin. From my perspective, art is truth. It's all about having the guts to express your truth, your experience. It's what makes things moving and funny, being willing to see ourselves, our truths, exposed.

RIP George. I am honored to have shared the planet with you.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Okay. Here's an example of Hormones Gone Wild. Today, I was sitting at my computer looking up recipes for pasta salad. I'd like to make something special and fresh and delicious to bring to a reunion I'll be attending in July (which I'll write about another time) of all my friends from my summers at the lake.
Anyway, I clicked on to Lidia Bastianich's website. She's that wonderful woman who cooks the most delicious Italian peasant food on Channel 21. I read a few recipes and then switched to another site that had recipes for the food she served the Pope when he was in New York recently. Now, I was raised Catholic but have not practiced nor subscribed to Catholicism for most, if not all, of my adult life. That being said, I read that when Lidia served the Pope beef goulash for one of his meals he said "these are my mother's flavors" and I started crying. Just a little. Not a full out cry. One of those ones that happens sometimes during a commercial. Or when I smell freshly cut grass. Mamma Mia...