Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My mother and I talk on the phone. She on her end. Me on mine. Somehow I’ve been wanting to check in each week. Sunday evening. There’s something sort of sweet and comforting and familiar about Sunday evening, around dinner time, just before 60 Minutes. I’m almost always at home then and she is too. We don’t talk long because I get restless. I like to hear a little of what she has to say. I like just to hear her voice for a few minutes. She always wants to talk – about her cats, or the people she works for or neighbors or what she’s cooking. If she pauses, I often prompt her, “So how’s the disabled man in Monticello?” And I try – now much more than I used to – to add one or two ingredients of my own to this soup. Not much, but something. And then I’m saying something about – well, I guess I better…

My sister is coming from California with her husband Steve to visit my mother for a few days. My mother lives about 50 miles from where I live here in upstate New York. My sister and her husband are coming and they will sleep at my mother’s house, but me and my mother don’t talk about that. They will come and go and I won't see them.

Once or twice over the past week I have thought maybe I will send a little birthday card or present to this sister because it’s her birthday on Saturday. I could do it. It’s like a party trick I can do well so I am sort of compelled to do it, to please her. It is so easy to buy someone a present.

My mother likes to give presents.

It’s harder not to.

I thought about it as I raked leaves on Sunday. When I do things like that I always think of my mother, or my family. I guess it’s the only other time I’ve watched or done yard work. Both my parents did things outside, though never together and always in very different ways – my father liked the lawnmower. My mother liked kneeling in the dirt, digging with a trowel, transplanting things she’d dug up from the side of the road.

And I thought about this thing with my sisters as I drove home tonight too and the newscaster on the radio said there were airport delays in New York – my sister is flying tonight, and a switch went off and I thought maybe I’d call my mother, see if everyone made it in okay. You know, that kind of thing. The show of concern when you’re not really afraid, you’re just kind of calling because we’re all kith and kin and we stay connected.

No, of course I won’t call. That idea went out the window pretty fast, along with the one about the birthday present. It’s not that I have a huge festering anger towards this woman, my sister. Sometimes I do. I can work myself up into it if I want to. But mostly it’s just that I am on a soaring track – and she probably is too – if I just let myself keep soaring and moving, if I just let things be without feeling I must do something because I can do something – what will happen then?

I have thought in this last week – raking leaves, then driving home tonight – of a similar time back in the late 80s when I’d been abroad for almost 5 years, and they didn’t know where I was and I couldn’t tell them, and when I came back I took all of the repair upon myself without question, was convinced – by whom? by what? – that I was a bad person for having disappeared and that it was up to me to bridge the gaps that had grown between me and my sisters.

I wanted to bridge that gap so much that I joined up with their spiritual movement, swallowed it lock, stock and barrel, guru and all – never considering it important that I’d been steadfastly psychologically tortured all those years abroad, that maybe I needed something desperately when I returned to the States, that maybe my sisters weren’t more important than I was.

Not this time. I thought driving home tonight how they have never approached me to hear the story. They like to say I am bad for disappearing into Europe, then disappearing into Woodstock and writing, but they don’t try to cross over. I did. Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. It sure felt like I did.

But I’m going to sit still this time. And let things cave in or flourish, whatever they want to do. i

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Extract from THESE STRANGE HOURS, the autobiography of Loren Eiseley

I stumbled upon this book, written in the early seventies by a man who came of age in the thirties. It is beautiful and brilliant and delicate. And here is a very small piece of it that particularly moved me and I thought worth sharing with all who have a passion for writing their lives.

"In all the questioning about what makes a writer, and especially perhaps the personal essayist, I have seen little reference to this fact; namely, that the brain has become a kind of unseen artist’s loft. There are pictures that hang askew, pictures with outlines barely chalked in, pictures torn, pictures the artist has striven unsuccessfully to erase, pictures that only emerge and glow in a certain light. They have all been teleported, stolen, as it were, out of time. They represent no longer the sequential flow of ordinary memory. They can be pulled about on easels, examined within the mind itself. The act is not one of total recall like that of the professional mnemonist. Rather it is the use of things extracted from their context in such a way that they have become the unique possession of a single life. The writer sees back to these transports alone, bare, perhaps few in number, but endowed with a symbolic life. He cannot obliterate them. He can only drag them about, magnify or reduce them as his artistic sense dictates, or juxtapose them in order to enhance a pattern. One thing he cannot do. He cannot destroy what will not be destroyed; he cannot determine in advance what will enter his mind."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Bennett is due at our house at 6 o’clock. I leave work early. It’s almost dark as I pull out of the large but rural parking lot and drive down the road through the woods that leads out to the main artery that will lead me to the next main road and the next all the way home.

I am watching the temperature gauge, that white needle that this morning was starting to swing way up to the mid-point and even a little past it. I had turned tense this morning, watching that needle, visions of the car exploding in my mind, willing the car to keep going, get me to work.

It did, but now it’s time to make the return trip. Within a few minutes, the needle is climbing and I feel my face tense into a mask. I turn off the radio – my source of distraction and pleasure – so that if the car starts making an unfamiliar sound I’ll hear it right away.

Cars don’t explode, do they? I’ve never heard of one exploding. People haven’t been warning me about that since I was a child. And they would have if it were a real possibility, right? Cars just die if they get too hot, right? But all that gasoline…

This is one of those times I wish I had a cell phone. When I turn left at the Exxon station I crane my neck in the opposite direction of where I am turning, trying to see if they have a mechanics area. No, just the convenience store.

I start across the bridge, a mile and a half (I know because I measured it once) spanning the Hudson River. There are several phones along the bridge. If I break down here and make a call, people passing will think I’m on the verge of suicide. That’s what the phones are for. People do jump off this bridge. A friend of mine saw someone hanging from the George Washington Bridge a couple months ago.

I cross this bridge twice a day and often think – not of actually wanting to stop and jump myself – but I think of it. I think of how I read once in an article about Golden Gate jumpers that hitting the water is like hitting cement –a survivor said so. Another survivor spoke about the flash of regret they felt once they were airborne. I feel death close by on the bridge, there if I want it – even as I look at the beautiful wide river or the sunset colored sky on the way home.

Come to think of it, I don’t usually have jumping thoughts on the way home when the sky on the other side of the bridge, spread out over where home is, is orange and lilac. Usually it’s when I’m going in the other direction.

But I make it across the bridge. The needle hasn’t climbed any higher. I am halfway there. I notice I am relaxing just a little. Not because I feel any safer, I note, but because I’m used to the level of fear. I think of people in a war, how they must just get used to the level of terror and live in it. I think of people still in Baghdad. They must be poor not to have been able to leave. I imagine myself one of them, saying, “Go? Where can I go?” and really not knowing where I could go and how I could get there.

Another ten minutes and I’ll be pulling into Woodstock. The Mobil station will still be open. I could go right there and ask them to take a look. Mike and Anthony are my friends. I brought them chocolate croissants last week when they had my car fixed on time. That’s the thing. The car was just fixed.

But I also have to get salad things for the Thanksgiving Pot Luck at work tomorrow. I can’t show up empty-handed, and salad isn’t something I can pick up on the way to work or something. I have to make it and I have to make it tonight. Plus, I have to get a couple of things for dinner. Bennett is coming and he’s a vegetarian. I was going to pick up some burritos, but that would be a good $20, and we are trying not to spend if we don’t have to. There’s the new car (well, not new-new) to think of, not to mention the mortgage payment, months overdue. I got an idea for something I could make tonight – it needs protein so I guess I’ll pick up some flavored tofu, but no – how about walnuts? That would be more interesting.

I am torn as I twist and wind down Sawkill Road, one of the most dangerous roads in our county, people are always getting into accidents on the Sawkill. What’s more important – making sure about the car or getting the Pot Luck? If the car’s no good, how’ll I make it to work tomorrow?

I pull into the health food store parking lot and leap out. Bennett will be at the house in half an hour. I move fast through the store, picking up a Romaine lettuce, broccoli – there’s Debbie. I haven’t seen her for about a year. I don’t tell her I’m rushing my pants off as we talk for a few minutes.

Out the door, back in the car and up the hill to Mike and Anthony. Great, they’re still open. The light is on in the office and I see Mike through the window, behind the counter. I pull up right outside the door and go in.

“Yeeees?” Mike drawls without looking away from his computer screen.

“Mike, the needle started to climb like crazy this morning.”

He looks up. He’s got glasses and a moustache. He’s wearing his mechanic’s navy blue coveralls. He comes out from behind the counter – this is JUST what I wanted – opens the door and steps out to the car, me close behind. He gets in the driver’s seat and turns on the car.

He looks at the white needle. “Is that as far as it’s going?” he asks, pointing.

“Yeah,” I say. “It just started this morning. It used to be way over on the left.”

Mike asks a few more questions. “It’s fine,” he says. “You’ve got nothing to worry about unless it goes way over to the right.”

I speed home. Steam the veggies. Saute the onions and walnuts. Make white rice instead of brown. Heat up that exotic-looking sauce I picked up on the weekend that will save the day I hope. Bennett arrives right on time. And dinner tastes great. Something I’ve never made before – a risk, a chance, done on the run.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


In the very early 80s I went to the supermarket one afternoon with my father, out in suburbia where he was still living with my mother. They were going from one rental to another after selling the house that had held us together, selling it – a fire sale – to pay creditors, and now my parents – my father jobless, my mother going from one babysitting gig to the next.

I am in New York City. I have quit publishing and the 9-5 world and I am doing yoga now almost full-time and learning about things like raw food and juicing and I wear baggy violet cotton pants and spaghetti strap cotton camisoles and my body is elastic. I am powerful in that elasticity.

My father says something about how maybe he will go back to Hungary. My father seems like such a loser to me. I watch him having to have a drink every day. I watch him always wanting to lose weight, always eating – and I know so much. It’s easy for me not to eat. I have this unique group of friends in the city. We run a yoga school together and we are friends like no one else is friends. We are doing some kind of great work, something Natvar – who started the school – has really mastered and will teach us. Us. Anjani: small, and white-haired, dark-skinned and pretty. Me. Tracy. Mark. Eve. David. When we see each other we kiss on the lips. We are a little dizzy, like being in love. I bounce into the school, having tied up my bicycle down below and when it gets stolen I say it doesn’t matter – and Natvar laughs with delight that I can be so casual.

Natvar makes sure we clean down into the tiniest cracks, and he makes sure that Anjani brings up the lights on the dimmer and brings them back down just right during class, and makes sure that the books in the little bookstore – just a set of pretty display shelves that Natvar built before I got here – makes sure each book is laid out with equal space between each one and dusted though no one ever buys.

Hardly anyone comes to our classes besides us.

When my father says something about going to Hungary, I am dismissive. “You can’t run away,” I say on the check-out line, something like that, something like: that won’t solve anything. Something like: you have to stay and face yourself.

I am so sure. My father looks like such a loser. I tell him he should fast and he tells me he tried it, until about 4 o’clock.

Natvar tells us what we have to do and all I do is try to do it. It is like trying to climb a cliff and the ground keeps dissolving into gravel so you can’t get a grip, but I just start up the cliff again, over and over.

And I don’t think my father will make any progress, get any smarter, by going back to Hungary.

But he goes of course. And he stays. And twenty-five years later he is still there. And I don’t call him or hardly write. I let him go. Because I don’t feel like anyone is really there. No one has ever been there, behind his eyes. Not for me.

Yes, I think of his voice. I think how happy he is when I do call. It’s like a little flame goes up, I see it flash. And then it’s gone and the words that pass back and forth don’t touch me and don’t touch him. So I hardly think of my father.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I am in the loft on 28th Street, between 7th and 8th, on the south side. The ceiling is high – a tin ceiling, imprinted with a pattern, something from the 19th century. There is thick burgundy carpet under my feet. We take great pride in this carpet. Or Natvar does. I take great relief. The day it was installed, the months of construction were over. Natvar is proud because he says he got a bargain because he impressed the head of the carpet company so much. It does look beautiful. Before the carpet everything looked rough.

Now I wear skirts here, mostly a narrow navy blue skirt that reaches past my knees. It is a hand-me-down from Regina and made of light wool. Natvar approves of it. I wear a pink blouse made of well-ironed cotton. It has pleats down the front and buttons in the back. I bought this. I liked it. Some clothes make me look pretty and some don’t. I thought the blouse did, though it’s prim. It’s not the thriftstore clothes I used to buy, the army/navy surplus, the funny jackets.

I’ve always been very purposeful in what I wear though it doesn’t always look that way. I liked to look elegant by accident.

But I dress differently now. Natvar didn’t like my big ballooney drawstring pants. In the beginning he liked everything about me. He seemed to delight in me – we made each other feel good. But now I come up short all the time. I never do anything right. I am ugly, my clothes embarrass him. He wants me wearing clothes from Regina, wants me dressed up, even made up, and I try very hard. I do look ugly now. He’s right. And these clothes and this makeup only seem to emphasise it. But I don’t know how to see.

I am standing alone here, moving towards the front door. I am alone in the mornings. Tracy goes to work for Regina in her apartment. I guess I couldn’t be spared. I’m Natvar’s secretary. He says I’m terrible at it. But Tracy is our little one, my little sister kind of – about six years younger than me – pert, brunette, petite. She has left her home on Long Island and her young handsome, chiropractor husband who she looked so in love with when she first came to our yoga school – she’s left all that and moved in with us, to the loft bed above Mark’s desk in the cubicle we built called the office. It doesn’t have a window of course. None of the little rooms we built have windows.

The only windows are in the lobby, up at the front, big windows that swing open and look down from four flights – the top of the building – to the street below. The windows at the back are in the meditation hall so they are blocked off.

Mark has gone out to meet Natvar. He often does that. Natvar loves him to do that and I know Mark loves to get out. He can only do it if Natvar invites him. Natvar leaves every morning after breakfast. He dresses meticulously, taking his yoga clothes with him in a colorful cloth bag that he treasures, that looks still like new, that one of his clients gave him. His clients are rich. He goes to their apartments one by one, changes and gives them a private yoga class. Then he comes back for lunch.

And I have to have lunch ready when he arrives. As soon as he comes through the door we both know everything will go probably go wrong, that he has had a wonderful morning away from here, going to all these rich people’s homes, people who give him delicious cups of coffee on beautiful china, people who tell him what a wonder he is, and then he must come home to me, homely, unhappy me, who still can’t make the rice right, who can’t get a simple meal together – fresh and healthful, delicious and cheap.