Still flustering over how to save more money, and which expense she should solve; the dental appointment that’s six months overdue, the servicing of her car overdue since June, or elevated reasons to book a trip to San Diego. The urgency to decide sent her into a minor mid-afternoon tizzy and she decided she needed potato chips to solve her physical edginess. She does not use salt in her cooking, and from experimentation over the years realized that salt could elevate her dizzy thinking and lackluster posture. The momentary outdoor freshness stilted her, to stop moving, and breathe deeply like she was in the doctor’s office and they say, ‘ deep breath.’ The street is absent of walkers, workers, delivery trucks, and residents, it’s almost like a graveyard and this does not irritate Greta, she uses the bliss to engulf her creativity, and so she began to write.
PUZZLE OF SOLITUDEwill always be a puzzle because our lives, solo or mated, are puzzled by too much solitude, or not enough.
I contest what seems endless solitude with my Irish Russian temper; condemning irritants like street noise, absence of friends, short-tempered customer service reps, world news, and mindless tasks. After the first ice rain and snow, the fever dulled, and mindfulness triumphed. I imagined my basement of survival would sink. It did not. There is an inner exploration happening, unfolding like spreading new sheets on my bed, that solitude has befriended me all my life, in the best of times and the tedious. I have to find the frolic and follies in the world I created. I have to laugh alone so I watch screwball comedies, seek humor in my irregularities; wear a sweater inside out, pour coffee into a wine glass for a cocktail and chuckle up and down the staircase, because I keep forgetting where I left my phone. My head is elsewhere-daydreaming. I’ve learned how to repair house calamities; unscrew windows, seal up cracks, fix clogged drains, replace air vents, read the meters, and rejuvenate every wood board, handle, chair, and table with Old English Oil. As one pal commented on a visit to the house, ‘ It’s a perfect day for Old English! The winter forecast is blizzardy and full of warnings I haven’t experienced here; and how could I complain when half of Upstate New York is buried in SEVENTY INCHES of snow and no way out? At the end of the day, pleasure comes in the kitchen; my heart and spirit melt while stirring my weekly slumguillion stew while listening to Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and swing music. Winter has in the past been a funnel that leads to writing.
Will-powered out of the house on a glory hallelujah day of ballet winds and buttercup sun. I walked along the bike path and observed the cyclists, and joggers, some still masked. Along the way, I smiled at passing strangers, and sometimes even a hello. How reviving to connect with strangers after two years of physical masks. Emotionally optimistic, a rare trajectory of nature and my life within. If nature can survive, why can’t I? What prevents us from launching new growth, mentally emotionally, and financially?
Let me take this day and bless it with hope, miles, and miles of hope and faith that I will land, plant new roots, and bloom.
When do we begin to lie about our life our feelings, our fears, our everything? I ask this because of simple observation, knowing when someone is not telling me their truth and I remain silent, it’s not my way to ask, why do you lie to me? My friends are not lying, it’s more like a social cultural mask. My wise father once told me ‘Tell them your sister or father just died, and they’ll respond, excellent because they do not want to hear your problems.’ But I do, I’ve always wanted to know the truth. Why should we shield our traumas and hardship, more than our triumphs and accomplishments? Do you know who does not lie? ART and SPORTS. That is why we listen to music, read books, go to galleries and museums, films, the theater, and ballet or other dance performances. I cannot comment on sports because I’m not a spectator although I do love basketball.
We, and I mean this in only a visceral sense, do not believe the politicians, news, social media, or advertisements. We want to, but deep in our inner truth, we know it is the manipulation of our individual thoughts. And that my friends is why I trust art to deepen my understanding of the human condition. Thank you to all the artists and athletes who share their pain and glory.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve often wondered what people think about when they are alone; taking a run or walk, dining alone, in the shower or tub, or just being on their own. Artists in all genres spend more time alone in the process of creating art.
Waking alone, I step out to open the drape to see if it has snowed. If it has then I’m on landlord duty to wait for the snowblower to arrive, so my tenants can get to their cars. If it hasn’t snowed then I am thankful, not that the snow-white lawns and rooftops aren’t magically transforming, it’s that time of year when the power goes out or some other nuisance like scraping snow off my car and porch.
Then thoughts leap like little squirrels, from musing on my friends, who I need to call, do I feel like writing today, can I stomach thirty minutes of news and a bit of punishment for past mistakes. The one thread that rises in nightmares, and the first moment I wake up is unconquerable, fear is a thread I cannot snip and toss away. Fear is really about the unknown, we cannot supersede circumstances that are in the waiting room of our lives. Either they have already occurred or you know they are on their way to your front door.
THE FOLLIES HOUSE
Now with the coldness, at six or seven in the morning, I crawl back in bed with coffee and think of the past, then the present, then the future, and then my thoughts drift like snowflakes. You know the saying when you are despondent or troubled you will be told to keep busy. I have not understood that advice until now. My life prior to the last two years was dizzy bizzy. And yes, it eliminated fear and malaise, so now without all the lists, commitments, and responsibilities absent, I am on time with my thoughts.
I ROSE AT 3:00 AM to turn the heat on, pick up my writing journal, and discern the week’s theme. I wonder for a moment if I should boil water for tea or coffee, and settle on decaf. The street is hollowed like a tunnel, the light of day is shining in some distant country, and the sky appears tinted with primer. Somewhere someone is dressing for work, breathing by the tick of the clock until he or she ( can’t figure out the right pronouns) must report for work.
The draft of sleep lingers in my eyes, and my feet shuffle on the wood floors while I grind the beans and think through the remains of the week. There are themes to our lives. Sometimes a year, sometimes one single day launches the theme, or it may just tumble into our path unexpectedly and replace whatever we were holding on to dearly, and deliver something unpleasant, like sickness, or separation. The sensations leading up to my theme jilted my creativity, and the pages I wrote were jammed with contradictions, maybe they still are.
Thoughts begin to form and ruminate, what is important? The theme of my week began when I finally was in the Dentists office. It’s been a year, and at sixty that was enough. Now Dr. FX’s office calls me every six months because I am over sixty-five. Still can’t really grasp my age. When I was thirty-something sixty-eight seemed very old. Do you remember that?
Dr. FX is the Music Man dressed in a white tunic. When he comes into my cubicle, he sort of prances on his toes and gives me an elbow safe bump.
“ Hello, oh I see,” as he looks into my mouth that has been open too long and my cheeks start to stiffen. The hygienist takes that white suck-up tube out of my mouth.
“ She has some tarter that I can’t remove so I suggest she come back because her gums are so sensitive and nonvaccine her for the water treatment .”
Dr. FX nods and bounces out of the room. Now she begins to sort of authoritatively advise me again that I have serious tarter. I think this is the third time.
“ I think I got a little lazy flossing during covid.”
“And I also started snacking on those crunchy health bars at night.”
“That wouldn’t cause that.”
Now I am ready to leave and I’m elated to get out. The receptionist starts talking and advising me about Dental Insurance and she leaves her desk and meets me in the waiting room, and starts stretching.
“ I have to do this as much as I can, sitting in that chair all day long.”
“Oh, of course,” I raise my arms and swing my hips beside hers. I walked out into a day of clouds and a peek a boo sun feeling a mood change, a spark of energy from a few moments of improvisational dancing. We all crave an irreplaceable swarming of joy, that comes unexpectedly. I was awakened to my detachment from feeling truly alive.
Writing with a pen is so different from the keyboard, journaling is always with a pen, but columns are on the keyboard. I understand what tranquilizes all the peripheral complaints, mental pains, and wounds that lie dormant or at least manageable. Without thinking of the tormented hours, I think of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper. My desk is sealed into a corner of the bedroom, next to a double pane window (original 1885) forty feet in length. 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 a Moorish Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, or recall of the experience that gives it relevance.
I return to the porch for one more gulp of landscape that I share with the stars. The street is unfamiliar, a temporary scene like a bus stop, and I am merely waiting to move on. Some of the neighbors are friendly, some have no interest, one kind of spies on me when he thinks I’m not looking. There’s a reason for that but it’s too much of a separate story right now.
If I continue to roam around the task of writing this story, the intensity of irritation will escalate, my neck and shoulders will not loosen, my walk will be feigned, my smile forced, my heart longing for padding, my ego striving for recognition in the wrong places, and my soul roaming the hallways at 3:00 in the morning. I read a quote the other day on some website, to paraphrase: When I’m writing I know I can’t do anything else. The theme of the week is to bring back LouLou, a clownish, spirited, curious, joy seeker.
I FEEL A SENSE OF GUILT to seek pleasure, amusement and escape. This weekend fifty-seven innocent people shot in Chicago; Nyiah Courtney, a beautiful six-year old in W.DC, a violent riot in Los Angeles, a woman and son robbed before falling down a flight of concrete stairs at the Subway station in NYC, and in Tucson: “The gunman parked his silver SUV by the park, got out of the car and opened fire on the two paramedics who were inside the ambulance, Magnus said. The 20-year-old male EMT who was sitting in the driver’s seat was struck in the head and the 21-year-old female EMT who was in the passenger’s seat was shot in the arm and chest.” Bullets’ targeting fans outside the Washington DC Stadium will be what everyone remembers.
That’s all I could handle this morning. So, why aren’t I talking about it with friends? ‘ I don’t watch the news anymore’ is what I hear and so my feelings remain unspoken. Maybe because I do not have a family, or the man I could love, and so my emotions stretch to a world of strangers in pain and agony.
It is not depression that leads my day, it is mild shock, anger, and a halo of sadness for the cloud of hate, crime, corruption, and divisive storm looming over.
My heart is especially raw for the youth, embarking on adulthood, the unsolved immigration crisis, and knee-jerk mask attacks on one another.
The words of condolences: ‘We pray for your family, you are in our hearts’, lasts how long? Do they get a phone call from a Lawmaker or Member of Congress? It seems laws have to be passed. Instead, all I see is a game of power. A solid gesture by the government to rename streets after the victims, a monument, or a wall with their names, so we never forget is my suggestion.
I wonder what you all are doing this July 4th. The last year had pressed us closer, and friends from years past have knocked on my FB door. Someone switched the light on our lives and I for one will find pages of material as a memoirist to unleash all that happened within and without. What took me all the way down was seeing the number of deaths. NY lost more than thirty-five thousand people, that would be like all of Saratoga County.
I vote for a Memorial somewhere in the US, maybe a wall, inscribed with the names of those lost to Covid-19. Grateful is the word of the times. I wish you all a big, loud, closely adjoined unmasked party.