I am a creative Nonfiction author, lifestyle columnist, and mob historian. Personally a free-style chef, historic preservationist, trailblazer, swimmer, and manic Rolling Stones listener.
Since 1997 I have renovated historic homes and converted them into vacation rentals.
I read in one of my books on writing that the middle of the novel is where most writers face the demon. The beginning is a gallop, the end is a relief, but the middle wiggles in and out of your grasp. The middle of our lives reflects this same obscurity.
The middle of a life span reflects all we have accomplished and all we have left incomplete. This is what they call a mid-life crisis. I get it every year. I’ve finally accepted that my constant relocating, reinventing, and being restless is not going to be solved. At the bottom of the restlessness is the fear of finding rest more enjoyable than movement. This flotation of comedy rotated around me last night while I was standing out on the porch observing the peacefulness. The scenery of Ballston Spa is a comforting, historical beauty that comes from the harmony of architecture and nature. The flow of villagers downtown is along two main two-lane streets, all the shops, services and restaurants are a patchwork, and all the business owners know each other.
All I can think of is where I should go next. This is wholly a village of ancestral families, with defensible adaptation to the severe climate, simplicity, and uncomplicated lives. My discomfort comes from trying to assimilate.
Many years ago, in the summer of 1987, I was seated in a café in Monaco, truly, and a man that I was traveling with told me, “You have to make a choice.” He embarked on a long discussion about choices we make in life and how everything depends on these choices: how you live and with whom, and what you do. He pointed out to me over my first really authentic Salad Niçoise that I was an oblivious example of a woman refusing to choose. I was more interested in the salad, the yachts, the casino around the corner, and the fact that I didn’t have an evening gown to wear to dinner. I listened without argument or insult, but I was disturbed by what he said. I didn’t understand completely, but he was older and had much experience and conviction. That conversation now fits into the mid-life crisis, the comedy of errors in my life, and maybe in yours, and just how much travesty we can ignore. For my fault, as it WAS, I did not want to sign, commit, or make final decisions. I wanted it all to be a temporary placement that allows me the freedom to change.
Ihave lost track of my European friend, but if he met me today, he would say, “You have not changed at all.” So that is why I was standing there in the darkness on the porch and laughing like a silly girl because it is true. I have not changed at all.
The choice facing us at mid-life is making a change now, risking losing all we have accomplished, compiled, and attached, or throwing the dice.
Beyond the obvious changes in activity, relationships, and scenery are the internal travels. They are not so easily engaged. You cannot wake up one day and say, “I ‘m off to become more compassionate, or more practical, or more generous.” These journeys are taken when other factors play into our lives, such as when we get sick, demoted, or experience a trauma.
It is a very subtle inconsistency. When I unplug all the voices and listen to the one that understands, that is when I write. The middle of the story and the middle of life is the same. We and our characters have to make a choice.
I think of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper. It is not the act of writing with pen and paper moving along at a steady rhythm; it’s the activation of the heart and mind, collaborating to unravel the relevant from the irrelevant. To reach this state of matrimony a writer needs not a Tuscan Villa, or an English Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, the mise en scene that shakes its relevance.
Page 525. Terrified to post this but it is Sunday and I’m brave on Sunday. The book is fiction, first-person, and close third person so you’ll need a jogging suit to read. Based on true events.
Greta let the moment of the village rescue stay with her, like a new pet for as long as she could hold on to its beneficial ointment, away from what she calls her immersion into self. She gives me examples that illustrate her obsession with matching outfits in her closet.
It’s a bedroom she converted into a dressing room. There’s a single bed against one wall, a cabinet where she stores the winter boots, and an eight-drawerFrench nouveau dresser and mirror. She sits on a chair facing the windows so she can watch the trees live through sun, wind, rain, and snow. Across from the chair is the bed. She diligently arranged her summer pastel skinny jeans on the bed, and next to that row she arranged the T-shirts, camisoles, and shorts. It’s quite practical considering Greta as she has admitted to me half a dozen times, that she was born without common sense or practicality. At the base of the bed, she lined up her shoes, the slip-ons, the flats, the pumps stuffed with tissue paper to preserve their shape, and the wedges. After a breach of sanity, she goes into this room and visualizes outfits and color matching like someone might play chess. ‘ It does have a purpose, this way I visualize without wrangling with hangers and you know it just takes too much time when you’re in a closet.
‘”These days I look at them as if they belonged to someone else, I mean the red suede with gold heels that I wore on a New Year’s Eve of gaiety and not since, the black velvet pumps that always make me feel dainty and light. What care I give to all these garments when in the other part of the house, Dodger was descending into a financial coma.”
Greta did not acknowledge the few months before his departure that he was riddled with abject unfulfilling tasks, bills, and construction jobs that no longer fed him purpose and accomplishment. She did not notice that his slacking posture on the front porch, head lowered and staring out without any body movement was a sign, she in fact despised it and walked away. In the last few months, all of this seemed to rise up like a curtain before a play, in a theater and she witnessed his insolence and his silent howl for help.
The irony of her activity is that she doesn’t go to the events that she plans on going to wear the outfits.
I won’t get out of this unless I have faith in myself. If God does make miracles, I’ve used mine up. My wonderous, rewarding, illuminating, creative adventurous life was a row of blessings from people that erupted into my life at the exact right time like we had an appointment. Strangers one day, pals a week later, years later our rebar, supporting joists of our underpinning in life.
Loners were postured in film, books, and art as mysterious, untouchable, or approachable, they even became romanticized as people of superior cerebral awareness. I’ve met and gained friendships with several over the last few decades. My first high school boyfriend was a loner, he became popular but his soul craved mind expansion and he needed solitary confinement.
How this relates to the intensification of rancorous physical assaults in as many venues, streets, and shops as you can name is my pestering pursuit today. People are exploding with anger, frustration, and hatred. I understand the anger and frustration, but not the hatred. Are all these perpetrators unloved, or do they live amongst compatible comrades? People are shot because their hamburger wasn’t properly served on time, or they have a different opinion. I was living in Los Angeles in 2018, one day driving down Pico Blvd I noticed a sign, “Walk in Anger Management.” Maybe we need to convert a few drive-thru food diners to Anger Management centers. It sounds amusing, doesn’t it? If I was financially able, I’d open one in every major city.
What has happened to our culture is unimaginable for a woman who grew up in the Love and Peace generation, or even into the eighties and nineties. We didn’t shoot one another, maybe a fist fight, or a shouting match but not murder in cold blood.
Could this macabre movement be softened by friends who love you more when you are gentle and kind? It cannot be that simple, or could it? When I used to rage about some occurrence that ripped me personally my partner would come to me and say,
‘LouLou put your guns down,’ that always made me laugh, and then we’d talk out what triggered my fury.
Humankind is in recession, we need a John Lennon to lead us back to where we belong. TO BE CONTINUED
Sometimes an interview with a musician goes deeper than a narrative history of recordings, concert calendar, and early training. That happened when I met Jorge Gómez; founder, keyboardist, and musical director of Tiempo Libre, an all-Cuban-born Timba band. We met in a modest hotel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he and his six band members were invited to play for the third time at the Lensic Theater. It was steam-bath hot and muggy that Friday afternoon. As I stood in the doorway, Jorge wrapped up a recording session. After introductions, everyone cleared out except Jorge and Raul Rodriguez, the trumpet player. Raul propped up against the headboard of an unmade bed, one leg bent at the knee, the other straight out. He reminded me of Miles; cool in his skin and unflappable.
Jorge and I sat at the kitchenette bar, between us his keyboard on the countertop. Eagerness to begin was dilating from his eyes, so I began with my favorite question to all immigrants; how did it feel when you landed in the United States?
“Oh my God! It was my dream; all through childhood in Havana.” “Do you love America now?”
His arms shot straight up, as he rose from his chair.
“Are you kidding? We love America! How can you not? This is the best country in the world. I’ve been all over: Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. You have all the opportunities; you make your own life here, whatever you want.” He shifts his attention to Raul, agreeably excluded.
“You can’t do this in Cuba—right Raul?” Jorge leans forward and I’m struck by the indisputable untainted smile. Jorge continues to dramatize his arrival in Manhattan, with arms and eyes, “I got out because I had friends in New York. They helped me get gigs in the bars, weddings, and then we got into the clubs.” The room is silent except for Jorge’s satin-smooth transitions from one question to the next. That alone is reason enough to meet Jorge for a conversation. “We were not allowed to listen to Cuban salsa music, or American music; only classical. I trained at the Conservatory all my childhood. I play all of them; Beethoven, Brahms, all of them.” “Where did you learn Salsa?”
“From America! Yes. As teenagers, we climb to the roof and we to wait till state-programmed Cuban music goes off the air at 1:00am. Then we wrap aluminum around the antenna and turn our radio on. We pick up American music; like Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, everyone. We listened all night so we’d take the rhythms’ in our heads you know.” “What’s the difference between Cuban Salsa and Latin Salsa?” “Everyone claims this is their Salsa; it’s Latin, Marange, Colombian… it is a blend of many cultures and musical influences. We take from each other. All the instruments I learn come from listening. They teach me everything, and I teach them.”
“Do Americans play Conga different than Cubans?”
“It depends on the person. See if the person is open to learn everything then he push through. For example we have been playing all these places like Michigan, Minnesota, Minneapolis…all those places that are so.” He pauses to express it precisely. “Cold” he says, laughing out loud.
“And I’ve seen American band playing Cuban salsa so so good, my God, so well. Blue eyes and blond hair.” Jorge breaks to howl out his enthusiasm, surprise, and demonstrate the memory.
“Who do you like to listen to do today?”
“I don’t know the names, but I have a lot of friends, and they call me and say, ‘I have a band, you come and hear me.’ So I go to the club and Wow! This is good music! Everyone is dancing. I love to see them dancing! I want to see them happy. If they want to sit and listen, good, if they want to sing along, good, they want to dance good. Everybody has a different reaction. My job is to transfer the energy to the person; that’s the idea. Not to play the music for me; I want them to be happy.”
“How do you do that?”
“Sometimes you are sick, and no matter how many pills you take you are still sick. Right?”
I nod and watch his facial expressions twitch in thought.
“Then let’s say I come and say, Wow! You look so good man, you are looking good, and he claps’ his hands and pantomimes the joy he’s transferring. ‘You wanna coffee cake and coffee, yea, come with me, (clapping again) you want to sit here? Yea sit here and see the sun.’ Suddenly, you feel good.” He nods his head. “Trust me.”
Jorge is toe-tapping in place, his arms positioned in a warm world embrace.
“You forget all about the pills. Trust me, that is the kind of energy I give.”
“I suppose you don’t get sick?”
“Never. For sure. Never. I don’t know what this head pain is… how you say, headache? Like friends say I have so many problems, so many headaches, I can’t go out. I say, ‘What! Come on we go to the beach, to the sand. Bring your conga. What are you crazy! Come on!’ So he comes and we play on the beach in Miami.”
Jorge drums on the countertop. “Have a beer, have another.’ And everyone on the beach comes to us. The whole idea is to forget your problems. So my friend says to me, ‘I had the best day of my life.’ Yea! Be happy! This is youth; this is how you stay young. Life is so big.”
I shake my head, “Not in America; we concentrate on sickness and misery.”
“Yea! You don’t have sickness yet, but you are going to get it.” He ruptures into laughter and takes a sip of beer. My father tell me one time you have to hear your body; your body going to take you in the right direction. Just listen and you are going to feel so good. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep at night. All the songs and ideas are in my head and I can’t sleep. I must write it down, and the next morning I feel so good because I didn’t go to sleep. I drink beer because I am too happy-over happy.”
“Where did you learn this happiness?”
“From all the difficult paths I have in my life. Childhood was very difficult; no food, no water, no electricity, and no plumbing. What are you going to do? Party, go outside, dance, play basketball, and baseball. I get my friends and they say my problems are bigger than yours. Bla bla bla.”
I’m laughing now as Jorge continues to articulate his life philosophy. “At the end of the day you are so happy because you see people less fortunate and some more, and you are in the middle, and you want to help those people, you can’t go it alone.”
He chuckles again. His smile is broad as his cheek line. A streak of sunlight crossed the keyboard, and Jorge’s eyes and brows are in motion, as much as his legs arms and hands.
“What you’re going to hear tonight is a lot of crazy crazy energy, good music, a lot of stories. You’re going to see a lot of soul. When Raul plays his trumpet you’re going to turn inside out.”
“What is Timba music?”
“A mixture of jazz, classical, rock, and Cuban music.”
“Sounds like a musical.”
“Yes, Yes! We are in preparing for that.”
Four hours later I was in the Lensic Theater, twelve rows from the stage. Lead singer Xavier Mill, Jorge, Raul, Louis Betran Castillo on flute and sax, Wilvi Rodriguez Guerra on bass, Israel Morales Figueroa on drums and Leandro Gonzales on Congas opened the set, and five minutes into it I was dancing below the stage. Two and half hours later I was still dancing, along with half the audience.!!
You see a chime, the moment it responds to a breeze, the sound is beautiful, like Chopin’s Nocturne 1. Sounds that accompany a descending light mist, or setting sun, but the chime improvises its sounds and movements when a vivacious wind girdles its ether. This abstraction reminds me of sensitivity. It can be soft and gentle, nurturing to the souls of those less peaceful, but when the velocity of attack hits, sensitivity is a walloping eruption of rage, drifting on uncontrollable. I’ve been punitively and cordially of being too sensitive. There are more good reasons to alter my sensitivity than not to, but the one reason that hovers above all else is that everything we do, feel and act in life needs revision. We should never stop evolving into more thoughtful, loving, or wise human beings. Every day, there is an opportunity to leap into saintly hood. It is the same with my writing it can be better.
The next adventure is closing in on me as foreclosure is over the June horizon. The dismantling of possessions brings me some sort of twisted alignment to my life. Picking and choosing what to pack, eliminating what Dodger and I bought together, and vacillating over treasures that are now more weight than worth. If I am ever to rest in one address, I’m sure it will be a headstone and a plot of dirt. I chose a destiny to relocate, and so the highway off-ramp will evolve, I just have to be patient.
It is the inner self that concerns me, and how I will adjust and adapt to leaving my favorite house. When I was thirty, I was afraid of getting married, and when I was forty, I was afraid of not having children. Now that I am sixty-nine, I have a fear that once was my chant, the idea of moving.
The word coddiwomple is English slang, defined as “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination”. If you are anything like me you may be coddiwompling your way through life, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Looks like an open dragon mouth, in a way it is. Follies House is begging for a brace. The horrors and hahas of owning a 137-year-old home. We’ve had twenty-two years of sustainable wood, but this year is the end of luck. A dear and wise friend once told me this, ” Don’t love what doesn’t love you back.” As a woman of insatiable imagination and impracticability, I do love her. So I spent a few weeks interviewing masonry contractors. The first four said this, ” I wouldn’t park your car under there.” “What? The carport is going to collapse?” “It could.” ” And that costs? ” Fifteen thousand at minimum.” ” What about a temporary fix.” ” Too much liability. Sorry, mam.”
Five interviews later talking to a man whose been in the business thirty years, ” I cannot restore the entire job, is there a temporary fix?” “Well, we could bring in a platform plank to hold it up.” ” How much would that cost?” “Twenty-five hundred tops. You should really let us remove the foundation above it, that’s rotted and sinking. Is there a room above it?” “Yes, a bedroom in my unit. How much would that cost?” ” Between ten thousand and fifteen. We have to get in there and see how much water damage.” ” No, I can’t do that, no impossible.” ” I understand. I’ll do the temporary fix, the house is so gorgeous, and I’ve seen them all.” ” Thank you, I have tenants and have to be responsible for their safety.” ” Would you like to see the bedroom?” ” I’m in a rush.” I smiled a lot and walked up the stairs and opened the front door so he could see. “Wow, this is incredible.” Once he was in the house he was in love and granted me a discount of five hundred dollars. Do you know why? He said he’d love to be a part of her history after he’s gone. Historic homes are leaving our country, replaced by what he called tinderboxes that only last thirty years.
I looked at the list. The list looks back at me; trivial, trite, redundant, so I turn on the news. The sky has taken the bail, the air is earnest spring, clouds and impending rain like a suspense novel you just started reading.
The list is still in front of me. Call the bank for the fourth time this week. Their new and highly improved website refuses to give me access. Find the copy of the passport application I just submitted. Next, pack up winter clothes and replace them with spring-summer. This obligation irritated me until late afternoon, and then in one swift harmonious leap, I packed up the winter clothes and removed them from my eyesight. Then, I heard a breeze, a solid applicable one that needed to blow through the winter staleness. I opened all the doors and windows that I can open, and let the house breathe. I’ve been quarantined since a week ago Saturday with Covid. It was not as agonizing as I’d imagined. Two days of annoying muscle and nerve pain, and flopping over four or five times a day to sleep. Today, I will use my energy to cross off the mindless tasks.
Next on the list, are estimates on the spring cleanup of five hundred or more dead stalks, leaves, bushes, etc to make Follies ready for spring. Internal conversation goes like this, I should do it myself, save the hundreds they will charge, but where do I empty all the leaves? The village has rules about placing leaves on the street. Too physical, back to the list.
Submissions for publication, are the most tedious and necessary acts if you are a writer. Nope, not in the mood for that. So I took a drive along a country road, with the top down, and listened to Joe Bataan, a waist-twisting Salsa boogaloo disco singer. I turned around after fifteen minutes, even Joe cannot spring my spirit to life.
My relationship with the world is not dependent on what happens to me. It is with Ukraine. My heartbeat is in slow motion as I watch the latest news feed from Zelensky. He is holding a press conference this Saturday. It lasted two hours or more. As the camera scanned the packed room of reporters; expressions rooted in awe, admiration, eagerness, and razor-sharp comprehension I thought, they resemble a child’s face the first time a book is read aloud. Within the hour’s conference, a news blip surfaced. Blinken and Austin will meet with Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday. My suspicion is they were watching.
As I sat down to dinner, I thought of the announcement earlier that day, “One loaf of bread fed forty people in a bomb shelter. How do we live within the torture, death, and starvation? How do we get up and laugh or enjoy an outing? For me, I have not found a way.
We can pay to go into space, text unlimitedly to avoid, a phone call, we can avoid meeting because we have too many social media reply’s waiting. We can upload, download, delete and save in a second. We can install security alarms, and electronic remotes to open and close our appliances, and electricity. We can drive a car without hands-on, we can buy a private plane, an armored car, bodyguards, and we can remain anonymous by creating a false identity… What we are not doing is improving our behavior, our own personal evolution as humans. Our civility is most recently televised as the Chris Rock, Will Smith slap. I’m sixty-eight and have watched the Oscars, so I remember what they gave the audience- humble sweet, amusing award-winner speeches, not a political coma, or reprisal for a joke. If Chris did not know the sensitivity of Jada for suffering from alopecia, ( and she is gorgeous with or without). After the slap Chris said something like, this will be the most-watched television show. WHAT? Is that all there is to our humanity; attention, vanity, and ratings?
As time grabs our life without us evening knowing it, one day we may wake up and say, I don’t have that much time left, what should I do? If you are single without children then the options are galactic, unless you live in Ukraine. The war bleeds in my veins, sometimes I feel nausea from the videos, and other times enraged that this was not prevented. The best news of the day is that Russia is expelled from the Human Rights Council. Pause, just today? I am half-Ukrainian. My father, grandfather etc, were Ukrainians. I’ve always thought and said I am half Russian, as noted on Dad’s papers. But I am not Russian, excuse my blind spot.
The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. Ayn Rand.
The latest poll on our opinion about NUCLEAR WAR revealed that seventy-five percent of us are worried about NUCLEAR WAR.
April 1, 2022 Day 34
Listening to the news on and off today to collate my life with Ukraine. My tasks and routines are dismissed or performed fecklessly. Just now at four-thirty pm, a splash of the sun touched down to give me a moment to sit on the porch and let the warmth saturate through my gloves and coat.
I’m looking at the magnificent great great grandfather spruce tree across the street. A ballet wind fan is blowing the branches as if they are in toe shoes. Nature granulates humanity. We don’t live for thousands of years like rocks, rivers, oceans, mountains, waterfalls, and trees. Then I think of the Ukrainians, they will survive. I watched three hours of news today. The longevity and persistence of nature emulates the Ukrainian heart and spirit. My dice, cards, everything is on their winning this war.