New Suffolk

I should be writing but in my defense, I was up before seven this morning, walked Doe on the beach at six-thirty, wrote two pages before nine. Two pages is a good day’s work for me. Another beautiful day here. It’s almost too beautiful. This is a dream. I am that woman, sitting with her dog on the beach. The sun glinting on the water. I want to absorb it, take it into me, and back to New York when I go.

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Thinking dark thoughts these last weeks. Part of it is just the way my mind works. I know that. Watched Michael Apted’s 56 Up last night on Netflix. Whole lives compressed into these brief, predictable summations. Depressing. Also, I’ve been spending too much time alone. It takes me many hours to write a few pages of the new book. Still, I could get out more. What happens is that once I am in the mode of isolation, I’m less able to move.

When I’m feeling this way, whatever is wrong with the world, or my life, seems the reason, but if I were not depressed, I would view things differently. Yes, the callousness of the world is awful. Yes, it is unjust. Yes, there is horrible suffering that goes on, but I’m not always as focused on these things.

I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and feeling trapped. Like I am in solitary confinement. This is just nuts and not accurate on any level. Just feelings. In fact, I have so many friends, and commitments, a rich life, I am reminded. But I forget in the middle of the night, pacing back and forth as if trapped in a box.

I’ve rented a house at the beach starting next week. Maybe a change of scenery will help. I’ll write, but finish each day with a swim. I want to begin to run again, too. I plan to swim and run and eat. The house is very charming with worn gray decks and a tall privet hedge. The water is just across the road. I’ll have a view of sailboats. Friends are coming out on the weekend to visit.

Of all the men and women in Michael Apted’s documentary, only one never married. Only he has been crippled by mental illness of some sort. The film doesn’t specify what his issue is, exactly, but it’s obvious that there is something wrong with him, poor man. When he says what he does (at age 28, I believe) that he never wanted children because he feared passing on the unhappiness that plagues him, I thought, “I am much more like him than the others.” And this is true, except I’ve been able to channel my discomfort into music and writing, and those things have saved me. But when I become aware that I am less equipped, and the evidence is in my solitary life, it makes me wonder if my emotional impairment is worse than I know.

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I’ve been sick this week. Also it’s been so hot. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if I had a fever or it was the weather. I finally went to the doctor yesterday and got antibiotics, though what I have feels viral, so I don’t know how much they will help.

I found myself wanting to look at this photograph of my niece Chloe because it makes me feel better. There are so many things I like about it. Her home-made bow and arrow, for example. Her commitment, not to archery necessarily, but to fantasy. She is Katness from Hunger Games, then she is a British archery champion (with hilarious accent) here to compete against the Americans. She throws herself into each idea. When she grows up I’ll miss the childish things about her. I hope she never loses this ability she has to imagine and have fun.

As sick as I’ve been this week, I’ve been working on my second novel every day. Everyone I run into asks me, “What’s happening with your book?” and I suppose they’re asking if “The Original 1982” is selling. The truth is I have no idea, but I don’t even want to think about it. What good can it do to know? I can’t control its fate at this point. The only power I have is to work on the second one and try to make it good.

I’m not immune to feelings of ambition, and sometimes I feel furious when I think about how the world doesn’t care if I write a book or make a record, or whatever. That’s how I know my ego is out of control. The world doesn’t care about almost anything. There are people who have to walk miles for clean water, people who are living on the streets, children growing up without parents, families that don’t have enough food to eat. So if I don’t get to be reviewed in the New York Times, or have my work reach an audience who might like it.. well too bad. I mean, really. I’m so lucky. I think those feelings of ambition are ugly. I really do. I want to be kinder, and more patient. I want to be a champion the way Chloe is a champion, successful in my ability to imagine and have fun.

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Morning After

This is what my life looks like.

This photograph is actually from a week ago, but it pretty much looks the same way today except for the flowers given to me by friends last night, now sitting on my desk and coffee table. I haven’t been able to write this morning. My excitement about the reading at Corner Books has made it hard to concentrate. It was such a wonderful night, one I will remember. But it exhausted me too. I was nervous about the reading (although I shouldn’t have been) and the nerves tired me out.

The bookstore was packed. Paul and Leslie and other friends couldn’t get in; it was so crowded with family and friends from all parts of my life: Music and writing friends, friends from the neighborhood, Patricia Davis from childhood, Meryl and Terry from the East End, a few friends who were actually there in 1982. Scott told my mother, “You know, I was the one who introduced them.” Which is not the way I remember it, but memory is funny. So who knows? Maybe he did.

Chloe was seated to my left, and I stole glances at her. I knew she was looking at me and thinking: “I’m going to do that! Maybe I could do it now.” She is already a good writer at twelve. I love getting to share this experience with her, helping her to know that her dream is possible.

Leon Ichaso came, and Elisabeth R. with Sheila. My editor, Kate with her new husband. My agent, Lisa from ICM, who brought Dan. Jeremy looked adorable as always (the young women were looking at each other like, “Whose that guy?”) My friend, Turney Duff, whose book comes out next week (The Buy Side) was there. We’ve gone through the whole process together, emailing and texting each other to compare notes over the last year, or more.

I read two chapters from The Original 1982, one very dramatic, and the other more subtle, shorter, and a good follow up. Kate helped me with the selection and it felt just right.

After, there was a late dinner at a nearby restaurant with friends who stuck around.

A truly wonderful night, still I was glad to come home, walk Doe, and fall into bed. This morning: there was coffee and a maple tree view. Quiet, the way I like it.

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They reach across the bridle path, creating a canopy, and dramatic shadows. There is something else in bloom, too. I’m not sure what it is, but the air smells sweet as we walk on the path, under those heavy pink, scentless, blossoms. When the wind blows, however slightly, we are showered by their delicate petals. They are lush, almost vulgar. Nature is over the top.

Doe is more interested in the dirt, in the grass, rolling in something foul. She is capable of noticing a jar of dog biscuits, inside a shop, as we pass on Madison, but she doesn’t seem to notice the cherry blossoms. She prefers the smell of another dog’s piss, morning breath, a dead bird. Beauty is in the eye (or nose) of the beholder.

Spring in New York City is magnificent. The Central Park Conservancy is a privately run organization. They have transformed the park into a fairy land. It’s breathtaking. Winding paths over rolling green hills. Fields of tulips, banks of daffodils, every variety of tree and shrub. Red-breasted robins, starlings with iridescent feathers, small brown sparrows, silvery, brown-eyed squirrels.

This morning, I sit at my table and write with a view of a tall maple tree, five stories high, now burst into trembling bright green leaves and shadows. A helicopter in the clear blue sky. I’ll work until noon, then take Doe to the park.

Saw two movies this weekend, both good: Disconnect, and What Maisie Knew. The director surprised us after What Maisie knew with a Q & A. I do love that although I never ask questions. I need time to digest a little. If I had asked a question, it would have been something pointless like: what do you imagine happens to the little girl (Maisie) after the movie ends?

Reading Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. It’s massive but I’ve been carrying it everywhere because I’m really into it. I lug it onto the subway and the bus, and hold it over my head to read before falling asleep. It’s pretty brilliant. The protagonist, Ursula, dies over and over again, but in the next chapter she’s alive, reliving the same events in a new way with a different outcome. Very clever.

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Just got back from walking Doe in the park. We walked north, from 90th Street, on the bridle path, and I was so distracted by my thoughts, and the beautiful spring day that when I looked up, we were already on the West Side. I noticed Doe was getting overheated. When she does, she appears to be grinning. So we stopped for a minute to rest on a hill. I could see buds on the trees. We were facing the tree that I’ve written about before, a magnificent specimen on a downward slope. The city has tidied it up a little, so its low branches no longer touch the ground, but I suppose that’s better for the tree. After we’d rested a few minutes, I pulled Doe toward it (she wanted to go the other way, towards the tennis courts), so I could place my hand on a massive low branch. It made me feel momentarily peaceful. Then we turned back, and north, to exit the park and walk toward home.

The thought that so distracted me, while we walked, was about a dream I had last night. I was a man in the dream, following a woman with dark skin and a black stocking cap. I told her that I’d overheard her conversation because I have supersonic hearing, and could make out a conversation from a block away. Surely there was more to the dream than this but it’s all I remember. I’d been feeling nostalgic and also a little sorry for myself, prior to going to sleep, and those feelings were also part of the dream.

The other day A. came over for breakfast. We were talking about the past, and about death, the way we do. He’s been predicting his imminent demise for twenty years, or more, but now it feels less unlikely, for both of us, even if we live a long time. I don’t think that A. wants to live a long time, and neither do I. Little by little things get spoiled, change from the way they used to be, and the disillusionment leads to a feeling of “enough already.” We’ve seen the end of music as we knew it. It’s different now, and the only ones who don’t mind are the young ones who weren’t here. When I met A. we were at the beginning. Cocky, drunk sometimes, and bold. We knew everything and sometimes we were right. A. said he thought I’d had it too easy at the beginning so I didn’t try hard enough later. I thought about it. Was it true? But I think I tried pretty hard. When I argued the point, he said, “I just wish you still wanted it. Still wanted to perform.”

I’ve given up so many things already: obsessive love and performing music among them. The other day, I heard an accomplished writer, one I greatly admire, speaking cynically about writing, and I knew that if I keep writing, one day it will change too. But not yet. I am still a passionate beginner with everything to learn. If I were to lose the joy in writing and reading, what would be left? Appreciation for the natural world and its creatures. I suppose one day it will have to be enough.

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Be Grateful

I’ve got to watch my expectations. On one hand, I know I am a beginner and lucky to have the chance to publish a book at all. On the other, I want to be recognized for my hard work and talent. Ego, again. It will happen the way it will happen. I’ve always known it wouldn’t change my life. It’s taught me how to be a writer. Why can’t that be enough? Greedy ego, be grateful!

I must not complain about the way the experience is different than my wildest dreams for it. My wildest dreams are out of line. They aren’t consistent with reality. Wild dreams for the sake of wild dreams are fine, but I already know what makes me happy. Look around. It’s more than enough.

Is it only anxiety looking for a place to land? It’s frightening to release it into the world. Of course it is. So I pick on some minutiae that doesn’t matter. Let it go. It will connect with some and that will be thrilling. It will be more than enough.

Stop wanting. You know better. Appreciate instead. Be grateful instead. Work harder instead.

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The Last

So go ahead, but know it may be the last
Of your throw-aways
Cause lately, it’s not so fast.

Met Jeremy B. at the FIlm Forum last night to see Amour. It was deeply upsetting, and one of the most beautiful films I’ve every seen. The camera lingered for long minutes over old skin and frightened eyes. It was aptly named. Love as far from obsession and neurotic longing as I can imagine. Old age is not for sissies. LM’s dad used to say that. Neither is love. Not that I know much about that kind of love. Maybe I never will. But I hope to be wrong about that. I know life still holds a few surprises before the last surprise. Maybe love will be one of them.

I’ve surrendered, accepted my lot, lonely but precious. I’ve been given so much by nature, or God, or the randomness of life. Among the gifts, a couple I might give back: depression and neuroses, but without these would I have turned to the work that has given my life meaning? Probably not, and it’s writing and music that have been my main-stays, and the way I am best able to communicate and connect with other human beings.

I’m settling into my new place. It feels right in a way the last one never did. It is completely silent here, a shocking and rare find in NYC. I have western views of gardens, rooftops, a church steeple, and a tall maple tree, the resting spot for many birds of all kinds. Yesterday, I made a fire in the fireplace, a few snow flakes were falling. I was reading the second chapter of Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes — I’ve started the stories of Tenth of December, too, by George Saunders, which is mind-blowingly good. Everything I read teaches me how to write, so I’m very careful about what I take in. Anyway, I felt so content with all of it: the book, Doe and the cats asleep, large mug of coffee, of course.

In the bedroom, there is a window that faces south and from late morning to late afternoon the sun pours in. I think I’ll have this place for a long time, maybe until I can no longer make it up the five flights, which will happen at some point. I know that. I’m in touch with how quickly it goes. But it’s not a bad feeling, really. I like the way reality has revealed itself. It’s a reward of aging, an awareness that existence itself is unlikely, miraculous. Someday, the world as we know it may no longer exist. How lucky we are to have the experience of being alive.

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