I am a language you never learned, an unsolved mathematical equation. I am spontaneous, worthy of exclamation marks. I am the perfect Shakespeare adaptation, the perfect glass of wine. I am them, I am you. I am conversations you overheard in a coffee shop. I am organic and cage-free. I am lethargy, I am inert. I am trying to tell you too many things. I am olden and sophisticated. I was here before you. I’m not to be trusted! I’m potato, not potahto. I’m your family’s rabbi, I’m a mensch. I’ve seen many things. I heard all about it, they were discussing it all day. I’ve never been to Rome. I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal. I’ve never seen the Mona Lisa. I learned it all in the Marines. I know! I don’t know. I dunno. I mean, I know. I said that yesterday, it’s like déjà vu. I said that yesterday, it’s like déjà vu. I don’t know what I would do without spell check. I’m unsure of what you mean. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I regret to announce. I’m here to inform you. I’m your worst nightmare. I’ve never, but I will. I think it’s best. I’m upset. I’m hurt. I wanted to, but you wouldn’t let me. I still believe it was the right thing. I still miss you. I still haven’t met him. I haven’t been there. I haven’t skied the Alps. I haven’t visited Tokyo. I’ve never had caviar. I haven’t decided. I haven’t any money. I haven’t much time. I’ve had enough. I have some thoughts about your e-mail. I have some suggestions. I have an answer to your inquiry. I have an idea. I have a hunch. I have it! I have your keys, you left them on the desk. I have issues with the way we do things around here. I have a meeting. I have somewhere to be. I have this thing. I have a thing for you. I have the hots for you. I have to go to work. I work too much. I work like a horse. I work from home. I work for an asshole. I work my butt off. I work on drawings. I work on a laptop. I work well with others. I’m working on it. I’m working on being a better person. I’m working on a cruise ship this summer. I’m working uptown and living downtown. I’m surfing in the ocean, I’m climbing up a palm tree, I’m lounging in a hammock. I’m this thing you talked about when you were young, then forgot about as you grew older. I’m back. I’m uncool. I’m dubious. I’m cloudy, I’m dense. I’m underneath you. I’m over there. I’m in Aisle 7, next to the Band-Aids. I’m the girl-next-door. I want you to know that it was me who left flowers on your doorstep. I want you to know that I will never forget all you did for me. I want you to know that I will always love you. I am recyclable and biodegradable. I’m artisanal. I’m local. I swear, if you keep saying that! I am non-denominational and I am Orthodox. I’m pretty sure that we met before, at that party, with the hot tub, and you said you went to college with my sister, and I’m much older now than when I knew you, when you knew me, and I think I loved you in the future. I am the future. I’m con-temp-OH-rary. I’m hollowed out, dry, deboned. I’m married. I’m drowning. I’m queen for the day! I have fears about getting my hair cut. I have a low credit score. I have low self-esteem. I have low blood sugar. I miss out on everything. I have fear of missing out. I miss my brother who died in Iraq. I miss my ancestors who died in Auschwitz. I’m fighting for my freedom! I’m not true, which makes me even truer. I’ll never take the same route twice. I’ll never know what it could have been. I always take my coffee with cream. I always order my hamburger medium-rare. I always listen when you talk. I am old forest. I am still, let me be still! I’m still trying to understand what you are talking about. I’m truly confused. I wouldn’t have done that, if I were you! I think we need to take a step back. I think about it all the time. I think South Africa has come a long way. I think Basquiat took art with him into the grave. I think Americans watch too much TV. I think American cars are shitty, especially Buicks. I think this blow is laced with PCP. I think you gave me herpes. I’ve heard you say that so many times. I wish you’d been there. I wish you were here. I wish things could be some other way. I wish we’d ordered more food. I wish I could tell you about it. I would tell you something else. I could tell that you were mad. I could never do something like that. I’m pregnant. I’m hungover. I’m sure. I’m tired. I’m ruined. I’m lost. I’m done. I’ll see you later.
A clean slate.
Afterward, I met people at Jimmy’s, put on a good face, drowned out the sorrow.
Afterward we ate and then headed to Superfine in DUMBO.
All such a blur!
An eye for an eye.
And how long it took me to see that they are my demons, not the world’s.
And I don’t want to change that, it’s who I am.
And I think it really helped her.
Aren’t mine just silly anxieties, puffy clouds that dissipate when you touch them?
Boom, boom, boom.
But anyway, it’s only temporary.
But good food, great sex.
But I will miss him so much.
But it also felt like that supposed moment right before death, when your entire life flashes before your eyes.
But maybe that says more about me than about them.
Completely and totally broken, for good.
Every moment now feels very full and I love that.
Everything is like a blur!
Everything is so intense right now.
Fiercely independent but also loyal.
Find something to do there?
Generosity is important, work toward this.
Give it up.
He drank three beers and ordered French fries; I had one beer and apple pie.
He hasn’t cooked for me in a long time.
He was so strong and reassuring and encouraging in a way I’ve never seen him be before.
Here’s one: me sitting in a café in Paris, dressed in a nice blouse, skirt, bare legs, wooden-soled sandals, lipstick.
I am only now realizing what I have, what is here for me.
I am paralyzed without a laptop.
I can’t stop writing!
I feel uptight, tense.
I hope it’s not cheesy but it probably will be.
I leave for India on Sunday.
I liked it but not loved.
I loved it; was exhilarating!
I must be submitting myself to this in order to avoid tackling something in my life.
I’m almost too tired to write.
I’m doing everything, all at once, and it’s confusing.
I’m glad to be alive, I want it all.
I’m so fucking tired of being on schedule, all the time.
I can’t believe how I can go on loving him more and more, despite all his faults.
I can’t imagine running a marathon and losing my legs.
I feel sad.
I must learn to be a more relaxed person: softer, gentler.
I need a new setting, new places to explore, new things to learn.
I think I know, but maybe I don’t really know.
I think so.
I want to read more poetry.
I write by candlelight.
Instead of working on that, I’m sitting here complaining into this adorable leather-bound notebook like a spoiled little girl.
It comes naturally to me.
It makes me so happy.
It refreshed my desire to do journalism.
It was a very strange day for me.
It was strong and it will send me forward.
It went very well, felt natural.
It’s a scary thought, in some ways.
It’s posh, chic, beautiful.
It’s selfish and stupid and disgusting.
Kind of staring into space.
Let it go!
Life is full.
Listen to yourself, work hard, stop making excuses.
Maybe I should just let myself be wild.
My body feels open and good.
My consciousness is stimulated, active.
My house feels crowded, strange.
Nature is perfect.
Nice, but kinda boring, same old.
Noise bothers me.
Now, a new thought: am I bored, done with New York?
OH, feeling a little better.
Or am I stuck?
Or should I stop expecting because it is more realistic that they may never come?
People are strange obstacles.
Rose early to get to New Jersey for my great-aunt’s funeral.
Snowstorm on country roads after visiting the Norman Rockwell museum.
Someday that will be me.
That was an interesting, thankfully brief glimpse of the murky, networked, literary machine.
The bombs went off in a section of the race that had been dedicated to Newtown families.
The food was dismal but the gathering was worthwhile.
The important stuff has been said.
The moon is full tonight.
Then again maybe I should just dive in.
Then came home, made Passover dinner for twenty people!
There is agency, and divine will, too; they are not separate.
Then just before she made a move to get a divorce, he came at her with a baseball bat.
There was a sinking feeling, and jealousy.
There will be attitude change.
There will be dancing.
They are strong, brilliant women, teaching by example.
This country, everything drying up.
Today’s lesson was, don’t try to be in two places at once.
Typing furiously on my laptop with a glass of wine beside it.
Use less mind.
We are having a spell of very cold weather.
We need to make the most out of this experience.
We were laughing and yelling so much that the hostel owner had to tell us to go to bed.
Went for a long run after babysitting.
What do I hope to accomplish?
What will be said about me in the future?
What’s holding me back?
Where could I possibly fit in in the literary world?
Will be challenging and rewarding.
Will I cry, feel lonely?
Will I ever get myself out of this mess?
Work is going well.
Wrote a blog post.
You know how to do this.
The streets of San Telmo are dirty, littered with evening remnants – cigarette butts, beer bottles, a crumpled pair of red panties – and you step carefully, weaving amogst the landmine of debris, listening to your heels clicking on the cobblestones. You wish you had a Valium, a gun, a trench coat full of fake Rolexes – anything to make you in this moment less mundane and desperately normal than you are. The smell of urine hangs in the air. You walk by a homeless man curled up, snoring on the sidewalk. You see no taxis. You walk.
Earlier you refused to dance, sulking in a corner, sipping wine, because you knew you could not be led – could not pretend to enjoy a strange man’s hand around your waist, pressing into you telling you to step or move your hips, his eyes softening in approval when you cede to his guidance. You watched your friends dancing and smiling and laughing, and silently critiqued them and their bodies and everything they were doing. Marta’s hips have widened at least five inches either way, and Becky has developed adult acne, since college. Jess looks fantastic and her music career has taken off, to all of your surprise, but you reminded yourself as she leaned backward, lifting one leg dramatically as her dance partner supported her with strong arms, that Jess and her husband fight constantly and are both having affairs that the other knows about.
At dinner, you devoured your steak quickly and lit a cigarette. When asked, you delivered several details about your work life, omitting the part about the creative director, your boss, repeatedly asking you out to drinks and giving you suggestive glances. When you finished speaking, you resumed your bored posture of head-on-elbow-on-table, tuned out while Allison expounded on things like floral arrangements, the atheist ceremonial officiant, plans to buy an apartment downtown. You still had not told Allison, or any of the other bridesmaids, that you will not be attending her “big day.”
That knowledge resides heavy in your belly now, a grumbling ache that has married with the bloody meat, a fire that only glass after glass of Malbec can extinguish. Now the wind whips around you – isn’t it supposed to be warm in South America – and you are stumbling, each heel landing in a moment of precarious wobbling, your body pushing through the dense air like a knife through thick jelly. The ache is somewhat bearable after so many Malbecs. And after the musician.
He played Bob Dylan and you raised your glass at him, and he winked. Your friends elbowed you, said Go for it. At that point you didn’t know where you were, had followed your friends blindly walking through the streets after the meal; you didn’t care. You were there and he was there and he was Uruguayan, sexy in that run-down way, and he whispered into your hair, stuck a hand of the back of your shirt, bought you a Fernet. Americana, he said in his throat, as if uttering the name of the devil.
His apartment was tiny but clean, pretty little paintings on the walls, to which he mumbled something about an ex-novia. Under rumbled sheets he seemed pleased with your body, ran his lips and hands over it in a way that you could not help but think was completely Latin, fiery and uncensored, yet so, so deliberate, so strong.
Dawn has, finally, completely broken and a newspaper delivery truck creeps along ahead of you, drowning out the sound of your heels. Bundles fly out from the truck cabin. You stoop down, pick one up, unwrap it, examine the pictures, try to discern the headlines. La president dice que . . . you interpret as, A president dices what. Dices what? You are laughing, imagining a president dicing a tomato, when a security guard approaches the door you are blocking, casting a tired eye at you, you the vermin of the night. You say to him Buenos dias, the only Spanish you know. He says nothing. You rise, continue walking, unsure of where, though the hotel name and address is written on a card in your wallet. The street opens onto a large road, and a bus unloads people. Their tired morning faces step out of the vehicle, one by one, and move away, toward wherever they will spend the day laboring. The expression is one familiar to you. You board the bus, giving the driver a few American quarters. He sighs, waves you on. People stare at you. Probably your chin is smeared with lipstick. You are glad. Let them see you as you are. The city awakens and unfolds beyond the dirty window of the bus, and you smile through the white specks, whatever they are – spittle? – at an old man as he unstacks crates that covered his fruit stand overnight. He waves casually in return.
Maybe, you think, instead of telling your friends the real reason why you cannot attend Allison’s wedding, you will tell them that you have decided to move here. You have fallen in love with the Uruguayan musician and want to learn Spanish, and of course, tango. You will be so happy here, they will say. We’ll all come visit. You will agree, say you always wanted to learn tango; it is such a beautiful dance.
beside the ocean for my soul
to camp there, salty air caressing
inner thoughts, sand
exfoliating down my
gritty, vile anxieties.
I will set up a tent
beside the ocean for my soul
to camp there, rolling
waves crashing against
obstacles, tearing them
them into smooth seashells.
I will set up a tent
beside the ocean for my soul
to camp there, chatting
with blue hermit crabs,
cawing with pelicans
and cranes, slithering
through warm brown leaves
with belly full iguanas.
I will set up a tent
beside the ocean for my soul
to camp there, devouring fleshy shark
and red snapper, shimmying up
long-necked palms to rescue
clusters of dates, quenching coconuts.
I will set up a tent
beside the ocean for my soul
to camp there, bathing
in comforting moonlight, letting
stars rain down their protection,
bright little angels
of the dark, vast night.
“In an era when rents are spiking, book advances shrinking and magazines shuttering, New York may no longer be a necessary destination for the young writer, she acknowledged. It may not even be a feasible one.” – NYT
Growing up, my theater arts teacher was my mentor. She was a beautiful, hardworking woman, a single mother and creative genius, and role model to us all. Her theater was a haven for those of us who didn’t fit in: the freaks, the homos, the artsy types. We found ourselves in her rehearsal space, in the scripts we wrote.
Although our teacher knew that she did so much for us, gave us a place to come out of our shell and use our talents, she resented her position in life as a mere public high school teacher. She always wished she’d tried harder, been more. She definitely had the talent. So what was it that she’d done wrong?
I remember so clearly: the look in her eyes when she talked about living in New York City, taking workshops with Uta Hagen and trying to get professional acting gigs. And when she said that she’d always regretted leaving New York City too early. That if she’d just stayed longer . . . who knew what her life might have become?
I could leave.
I could pack up my belongings, my boxes of books and inexpensive furniture and barrels of winter coats and boots, and ship out to Costa Rica and be a yoga teacher, or to Korea to teach English, or to my hometown near DC to find a comfy 9 to 5, or to Portland where one of my best college friends lives and work someplace, anyplace, and not deal with New York City. I could pack up and leave and not deal with the annoying roommates and crushing rents, the impenetrable higher echelons of the creative and literary worlds, the non-committal boyfriends and the flighty, distant friends. I could leave and live somewhere where I wasn’t always so lonely, so broke, so injured by the hazards of daily life whether a bike accident or aching shoulders or ever-enroaching deafness due to screeching subway trains.
I could live somewhere where people are nice, and have dogs that run around in backyards, and get married in their twenties but still go out to dinner on weekends because it’s actually affordable, and life has sit-com moments where you get hit on in the parking lot of the gym, and you save up money to one day buy a house, and if you get fired from your job it’s not the end of the world because you can live on a relatively small amount of money. I could leave. I could do this.
Last night, I was restless. Roommates were out of town, men were unavailable. The novel I was enjoying in the bathtub seemed insufficiently interesting. Being Monday night, the natural choice was to visit my old haunt, Smalls, in the West Village, where I used to get in free as a grad student because Mitch, the doorman, saw how much I loved jazz and that I couldn’t afford the $20 entry. It would be filled with tourists, and the A train was under some service changes, and I would be alone—that mysterious, slightly weird woman out by herself, nursing a neat whiskey at the bar—but I had to get out, so I threw on jeans, some red lipstick, grabbed a purse, the novel, and left before I could give it a second thought.
Six blocks later, passing by a neighborhood bar, I heard the tizz-tizz-tizz of the drums, the blop blop of the bass, the crooning saxophone and the dancing piano notes. I dashed in and there was a seat waiting for me at the bar. I ordered a Jameson’s and looked around at the bar, full of musicians waiting for the jam session to begin, their eyes bright, their bodies strong, their souls alight with beer.
Within two hours, I’d met most of them. The band bought me a drink and lent me cigarettes. I made friends with a woman who lives down the street from me, and had conversations with others who I’d surely run into again. You’re quite something with that sax, I said to the handsome musician, touching his arm and smiling. Are you on Facebook? the keyboardist asked me. See you next Monday, I said, laughing, as I let myself out and walked home in the cold.
A few days earlier, I’d stooped to a familiar low: I was going out on an OkCupid date. It’s fiction research, I assured myself, for a short story I was writing in the form of an online dating profile. It’s fiction research and maybe he’ll become a friend, or who knows what will happen—just go, and see.
He was nice, sort of boring, a little politically naïve (people still dumpster dive, really?): the standard let-down. I paid for my own hot chocolate and pastry, and gave him advice on a book he wanted to write. Then I checked in with a friend who was in town that I’d planned to meet up with. I hadn’t seen her since high school, and was curious about how our interaction would be. But the day before, we’d tried and failed to get together, as often happens in New York City—schedules and geography work against all efforts to be social, to connect.
I’m in Bed-Stuy seeing a friend, she wrote.
I told her the name of the coffee shop where I was having my date—my regular coffee spot, where I sit writing this now. Two minutes later, she was hovering over me. Is it you?
My date left, and I sidled up to the bar with my high school friend and the friend she was visiting, who explained that she’s a regular at my coffee shop. How have I never met her? Now we’ve been brought together. We chatted non-stop for an hour about career, romance, city life, DC versus NYC. We left together, huddling under one umbrella in the rain, a trio of sturdy, independent women, needing nobody to guide us, unafraid of getting soaking wet.
I could leave. Maybe someday I will. But when I do, I will miss the random and serendipitous encounters, the beautiful moments. And I will also miss the loneliness, the self-doubting, the relentless competition, and most of all I will miss the way my life is constantly in flux and unpredictable and at the center of it holding it all together as much as is humanly possible is only and entirely little old me, just a woman on her own, knitting the fabrics of life into one complete piece, shaggy and mixed-up and imperfect, and completely my own, just mine.