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The language of flowers

I have always had a general reluctance towards flowers. Not so much an aversion as a mistrust. Very possibly it comes from the fact that they purport to send one message, but oftentimes end up sending another. I mean, there are books on flowers and their meanings. A black locust, for example, means platonic love. A buttercup; wealth, a daisy; innocence; a rose; love, desire, passion.   But do you think people nowadays have any inkling what they are sending? Highly doubtful. In all likelihood it’s not so much that I dislike flowers as that I have always poorly  understood human nature to the point of knowing that someone may say one thing but mean another. Seriously. Most women know by a certain point in their life that a flower isn’t just a flower, but rather, a symbol with some message attached. And unfortunately, that message isn’t always the cute, flowery one that FTD would have you believe. Couple that with some pretty traumatizing associations to flowers and you have a recipe for dismay.

For starters, my grandmother died when I was 14. She was obsessed with flowers and so, prior to her death, she arranged to have a gazillion flowers at her funeral. There were daisies and tiger lilies and begonias and whatever else, and the whole funeral parlor was popping with yellow. I loved my grandmother dearly, but the smell of all those flowers paired with the smell of embalming fluid? Not good. For years every time I walked into a florist’s shop I thought of death.

Then there was high school. Every February there was a carnation sale. And depending on how much money your parents gave you, whom you were dating at the time and how many friends you had, you could buy carnations till all three ran out–friends, sweethearts and parent’s money. Then, on Valentine’s day, the teachers during homeroom would call out your name and you’d go up to the front desk, where everyone would see you, and you’d collect your carnation. Most of us received one, maybe two carnations with a little note attached that generally said something like “BFF,” and that would be the end of it. But then, there were the popular people. The cheerleaders. The football players. The jocks. The preps. They’d get some ridiculous amount of carnations, somewhere upward of twenty or so. And you’d have to watch them all day, carrying these carnations around, struggling down the hallway, fidgeting with them in class. Of course, they never put the damn things in their lockers. No. It wasn’t that easy. These people rubbed your nose in it. Literally. You didn’t just brush elbows with classmates in a crammed hallway on V-day. You had carnations smashed into your face. Oops. Sorry my forty-seven carnations just whacked you in the head. All this, to the point where you found yourself sneaking around the gym locker room or looking in trashcans for discarded carnations to claim as your own. Who can get over that level of trauma? I didn’t. To this day, any time I see someone giving out carnations on the side of the road or something, I want to ram my vehicle into their plastic bucket and drive off.

Thankfully, I was able to recover from my botanical complex, if only for a short while. But, it was only a matter of time before I too, hater of anything with a stem or a bud, fell victim to that ancient and perennial commercialism of love, which states that if you do not receive a flower from a man, you have no worth.  My life changed at this point. I suddenly adored flowers. Not so much for their beauty as their ability to define me. And most likely because I’d never received any. And by the time I hit my twenties I felt I was something of a freak. If society validated a woman by the flowers she received, I must have been an alien.

Until S.

I was 22 and dating this Air Force police officer named S when I lived in Greenland. We had fallen in love, and despite my leaving to return home, we remained in touch. For my birthday he sent a dozen yellow roses. They were stunning. Everything I had imaged they’d be. It was the first time I’d ever received flowers. And I probably have every petal saved in a box somewhere up in my attic, that’s how amazed I was at the idea of flowers.

He drifted into the past, of course, but his flowers were possibly the last I’d see in a really  long time.

Throughout my first marriage I only received one bouquet of roses from my ex-husband. He never bought me flowers for anything. Not Christmas. Not Mother’s day. Not any holiday whatsoever. Not even on the days I gave birth to either son, or the day I graduated with high honors from Rutgers University, after 16 years of trying. I don’t believe he even gave me flowers when my father died. Like I said, I only received one bouquet from him. Back in 1999, when I was about four months pregnant with my second child, I found out quite to my dismay, that he had sent some girl down in Georgia a dozen white roses. It would be the first of many more, ahem, awkward moments in our marriage. Truth be told, I was most annoyed that he sent a strange woman flowers and had never given me so much as a dandelion. Anyway, shortly after this, I came home one day to my own bouquet. Out of guilt or embarrassment, who knows, he had sent me the clichéd dozen red roses that I still affectionately refer to as the “I fucked up” bouquet. I can still remember throwing those things out long before they died on their own.

After the dissolution of my marriage, flowers sent to me took a continued downward spiral. In fact, they became downright insulting. There were the occasional carnations wrapped in plastic from Wawa that my dad or boyfriend G would pick up out of obligation on days like Valentine’s day or my birthday. No card attached. There was the “I’ve been neglecting you to go party with friends” flower from S. It was a lily (isn’t that the flower of DEATH?). I planted it in my front yard and the squirrels ate it. And finally, there was the “we just started fucking and I want to move out of my parents house and in with you” roses from M, which, admittedly, were quite beautiful. Yet, they came with such onus that every time I looked at them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were an omen of impending doom.

The truth is, my history with flowers (and men) had been grim. Until D.

I won’t go into detail but I fell in love with D in winter. When I was the most alone I had ever been and yet, strangely, the happiest. A time in my life when, for the first time ever,  I wasn’t looking for hidden messages in flowers nor having (unrealistic) expectations about the men giving them. In fact, I very specifically told D a month into our relationship, “Don’t bother with flowers. I don’t like them.” And so, when our first Valentine’s day rolled around, a holiday I typically try to ignore, I played it off and made other plans.   OK, well, it was easy. It was a week day and he was working. At any rate, I went into the city by myself and walked and walked and walked down Pine and Spruce and then over to Walnut to revisit a few of my favorite antique shops. I bought a little vintage tin sign for the bathroom.  I had tabouli at Sahara’s. And I strolled around looking at windows and doors, which I love to do. I thought of virtually nothing all day except maybe the temperature and how cold it got after a few days of unseasonably warm weather. And, when I got home, sitting on my front porch step, there were flowers.

There were twelve red roses (no, not long stem. These babies were cut), encircling a spray of extraordinarily green tiny buds, which rested upon the lip of a cylindrical glass vase with smooth, black pond stones at the bottom.  I brought them inside and sat them on my countertop and I stared at them for a good 10 minutes. I breathed them in.  I walked around them. I determined that I liked them. A lot.

And then, I actually found them to be quite beautiful.

I opened the notecard. Of course they were from D. And he had scribbled—in his own handwriting—this little “xo” on the card. Just that. Nothing more. No “I’m sorry,” or “Last night was great,” or “I’m giving these to you because if I don’t, you’ll think I’m lazy and cheap.”  Just “xo.” It was possibly the purest, plainest, most direct language of affection I had ever received from a flower, or a man, in a lifetime. A bouquet that actually came with the message it intended.

How rare.

I can’t say me and flowers will ever have the kind of relationship that say, Georgia O’Keeffe has with flowers, but I can say, I’m no longer opposed to them. D and I have been together 9 years this January, and while he doesn’t buy me flowers as much anymore, his steadfast love and the memories of those early bouquets mean far more than the actual flowers of which they were made. Real love, I’ve learned, isn’t complicated. It doesn’t die on the vine or send unintended messages. It just is.  Umberto Eco wrote, “the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.” And I suppose that’s true. But like I said, it’s what’s behind the flower; both in the giver and the receiver. It is this that speaks more loudly than anything. It is the underlying current of love, or lack thereof that can wilt a daisy, or make it bloom eternally.

Out of place

We are in the middle of a warm spell. A  few days out of place. Winter breaking the rules. The lakes have melted. The snow is gone. I took baby for a walk yesterday and he saw birds, maybe for the first time in his little life. Geese flew in a crooked V above us, honking, and he looked up with his mouth wide open and followed them as they crossed a blue sky. I often imagine what it might be like seeing the way life moves for the very first time.  Seeing things that fly. Things that swim. Things that walk and run. A leaf that falls off a tree. A car that zooms by. A sunset. The idea of learning that the world has purpose astounds me.

The lady at the Chinese restaurant, after baby went home, said to me in broken English, “The world is happy today.”

I smiled. I need this warmth more than anything. But it’s a cruel trick. Like an insect born out of season. It doesn’t stand a chance. Like taking a weekend in Florida in the winter only to have to come back to the cold. It’s a sharp reminder of what you don’t have.

I read somewhere recently that there are scientists who believe the universe is conscious, which means it’s free to break the rules if it wants to. It has a brain. It pulsates with intention. And that intention propel us forward through the arrow of time. 

Stars make willful decisions. 

With new eyes and new thoughts I can’t help but wonder, How can that not be true?

Remembering Prince, 1958-2016

prince_shmI have to say something about Prince’s death because, honestly, I just have to write to feel better about this. And, because, he was probably my first true love. Yeah, I know. That sounds pathetic. I remember when Michael Jackson died and everyone went crazy. People were crying. I thought, “Are you kidding me? You act like you knew the guy…” Well, now I understand.

I’ve cried for three days straight. No, I mean, I’ve sobbed. I had devoted so much fantasy time to that man for a good ten years–I had every single solitary one of his albums, his 45s, his cassettes and his CDs; I knew every song, I could tell you which album each song came from; I had all his song lyrics figured out and in high school, my walls were painted purple with the big EYES from the Purple Rain album; I even lost my virginity to Purple Rain with a kid who I believed was the closest thing I could get to Prince–I devoted so much emotional time to that man,  it only seems natural I would feel this loss, and yet, a part of my identity that took years to build seems to have crumbled away in an instant. That’s a bizarre feeling. For sure.

Untitled-1Aside from my father, Prince was probably the man who influenced me most, good and bad, and fueled a latent nature that was dying to burst forth. Everything I was running away from, everything I wanted to be, everything I couldn’t attain was wrapped up in that man. His lyrics held all the answers for a girl who was clueless and afraid of love and life. What’s more, I think he changed the chemistry of who I was the night I first saw him in concert. As he sat at his piano, screaming The Beautiful Ones, “I gotta know…Is it him or is it me…” Prince reconfigured my DNA that night, and there was no going back. Without him, I couldn’t tell you what I would look like today, what I might have become. I was transformed.

My mother couldn’t figure out the attraction. I think Prince scared her. He was black, he was half naked all the time, he wore frilly clothes like a woman and he sang about masturbation and God and she wasn’t having any of it for her perfect little girl. After I had bought the Controversy album at a record store at the mall, I hung the poster that came with the album in my bedroom closet. If anyone remembers this poster they might see how it could horrify a parent of a 15-year-old girl. It was Prince in black bikini underwear only, standing in a shower with a crucifix hanging on the shower wall. When my mother uncovered it at one point, not long after I had put it up, she told me to take it down. I refused. She told me, “If that ‘thing’ is not gone in three days, I am ripping it down.” I said, “No. It’s my room! You have no right to do that.” She said, “It’s my house.”

I held my ground and left the poster on the wall and, when I came home from school on the third day, the poster was ripped to shreds in a heap on my purple bedroom carpet.

I suppose that story is more telling of my mother than of me or my sentiments for Prince. And yet, there were many more times I would cry over the man. I cried out of frustration when I missed one of his concerts, I cried out of jealousy when I learned he was dating Vanity or some other woman. And I cried just to cry because, when you’re 16, that’s what you do.

And I wasn’t alone. I had a clique of friends that also worshipped the Purple One. We wore fringe and lace, swooshed our hair to one side, wrote letters to God, painted our rooms purple and drew The Sign and those Eyes on all our notebooks along with lyrics, carefully chosen that spoke to us like no parent ever could. We worked diligently trying to uncover all the hidden messages in his albums. When Paisley Park came out, we were hysterical because we thought Prince was dying. And we all wrote in our yearbooks that we were going to DMSR our lives away…

Shortly after graduation my best friend came to visit me in Wildwood where I worked for a summer selling t-shirts. I was so lonely and so missing my old friends that her visit was a godsend. We noted the cherry moon on the night she showed up. It was a sign.

When I was in my 20’s, living in Paris, I lived my life through the Sign of the Times and Batman albums. I drank “pink things” at an American bar called the Violon Dingue with my British friend Karen and we smoked Gauloises and bemoaned living in Paris with zero money. I thought it was a miracle when a boy selling cassettes on the street offered to sell me the Black Album and a bootlegged copy of Crystal Ball that he had clearly made in his parents’ basement—all for a whopping 20 francs. I think I sacrificed a meal and a pack of cigarettes that week. But, it was worth it.  This collection of songs I shared immediately with my other Prince-addicted friend, Kimberly, who was also living in Paris at the time. One night we ended up at club that was promoting an All-Prince night. We had come across one of their paper advertisements in the street—a red heart that said LoveSexy and were convinced the Man would make an appearance. I begged my au pair family to let me have the night off. I took the train into Paris from Fountainbleau met Kim and we stayed out until 7am—until the Metro started running again—dancing and waiting. He never did show, and what’s more my purse was stolen. But, I still have the LoveSexy advert. That’s all that really mattered.

princeI marked the years by albums, and, maybe shortly after Emancipation (ironically), my styles changed and I drifted. Or did I drift away organically? It’s not clear. The impoverished, but spiritually abundant days of Paris were long gone, and the girl who was so averse to growing up, grew up faster than she wanted in a less-than-perfect marriage and a deep struggle within myself to hold on to the woman I wanted to be. I remember one afternoon, living in Madrid with my new husband. I was happy within myself for a moment, in between fighting and a seemingly never ending long string of days where I would cry and rock back and forth wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I remember putting on Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife, singing at the top of my lungs and dancing around a rather empty Madrid apartment living room that only had a futon and a TV. My husband came in and yelled, “Stop singing, you’re annoying me.”

That was the end of Prince.

I came back briefly during his Musicology period—Call My Name and On the Couch were the throaty, moaning, slow love songs that had first drawn me in and I simply needed to go back. That was 2004. The year my father died and the year I divorced. But, it wasn’t the same. I had changed. Prince’s spirituality imbued with sexuality was the perfect message of inspiration and validation I needed when I was younger, when I believed in those things, but I simply no longer possessed any of that anymore. Letters to God were replaced with the logical promise of science. And as far as my sexuality was concerned, I had spent years devoid of everything Prince told me true love and sexuality should look like. There were no hot nights in bathtubs with candles. My husband never said to me,

“If I was your girlfriend

Would U let me dress U

I mean, help U pick out your clothes…”

I got nothing remotely close to that. And so, I stop believing. In Prince. In the promises of youth. In me.

And that was that.

Until it wasn’t anymore. In 2009 I met Doug. By then, I had been through my fair share of ups and downs, reconnected with my true self, or rather, found my true self, not my fantasy one, and felt the warm glow of aliveness and happiness coming from within and from my children. While I no longer needed an idol to help me form my identity, I was no longer jaded by all the dreams that never came true. Doug and I, when we first met, talked about the fact that we both had Prince posters all over our walls and that he always dug girls who were into Prince because, well, let’s be honest, if Prince did one thing for any true fan, it was to teach them how to fuck. From a man’s perspective I could see how that might be appealing.

But, the truth is, Prince was a distant memory, a larger-than-life figure that gave me so much more than a song to dance to. He taught me how to be free. How to love. How to be my own duality. How to express myself. How to be unique. How to look at the world in all its glory and say, this is beautiful.

When I heard the news that he was dead it came in the form of a text that I only briefly saw. And then another, something about TMZ reporting it and it can’t be confirmed. I froze. I was at my computer, just off a 2-hour conference call. I went right on to Facebook and saw the posts blowing up my newsfeed. I called one of my old high schools friends right away and just kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no…It can’t be…” We were both crying. Holding on to the possibility that Prince not remotely capable of dying.

I looked at the date. And I knew.

Ironically, or coincidentally, both my father and Prince died at age 57. And ironically, or coincidentally, they both died on the same date. This is significant. There had always been a mystique about the world for me–an innocent belief that the universe aligns certain major events in your life mysteriously–as if someone behind a curtain is trying to tell you something–I may be invisible but there’s a purpose and a plan, and I’m going to drop little clues to keep you guessing. I stopped believing in that for a very long time, but in that very moment of reconciling Prince’s passing, I knew. It was a gentle reminder that the world is still a mystery and I need to keep my eyes open for signs.

Thank you, Prince. Thank you. For a lifetime of helping to build a girl into a woman. That’s a pretty big feat for such a little guy.

best-prince-songs-5I read today that Prince’s remains were cremated. And that reports of his death were that he may have overdosed on percocets. To me, those are crazy hard facts to hear. They don’t compute. They bring me back to the girl with the ripped to shreds poster on her bedroom floor. Crying because it just doesn’t make sense.

One of my homegirls sent me a poignant quote that sums up exactly how I feel about Prince’s death and why it’s possible I still feel a bit lost.

Prince was so utterly, effortlessly enshrouded in mystique that he seemed other-than-human, to the point where mortality never figured into our calculations.—Vanity Fair

Rest in peace. Nothing compares to you.

Home

The summer after I graduated high school, I left home. I worked on the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ with Israelis, Moroccans, Canadians, French and Russians. Those people did crazy things to me. They introduced me to the world. They pulled at my insides, sparks flew, something felt very right, like a calling to turn my life over to God. I was eighteen and still remember sitting in Frieda’s tiny, one-room apartment on Young Avenue. She was a woman with whom I sold t-shirts. A ton of Israelis, after their stint in the army, would live in a kibbutz and would have connections to others who were making tons of money ironing decals on t-shirts at the Jersey shore. Word of mouth sent her here. She knew she could make money under the table for the summer while getting to know America.  In the winter, she, along with everyone else, migrated to Fort Lauderdale, and then back again, year after year, never entirely settling down. There was something familiar in the ebb and flow of the way she lived her life. But I could never put my finger on it.

On a hotplate plugged into the wall she made me “Israeli coffee” and poured it in a tea glass, with sugar. We talked about life on the kibbutz, Shimon Peres and the Palestinians. “We are all human,” she said. She taught me how to say I love you, in Hebrew, which incited me to go around to all my other friends and ask them how to say I love you in their language. By the end of the summer, I could say I love you in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Russian and Hungarian.

It may have begun then.

When I turned 20, I moved to Paris and lived in a one-room chambre de bonne on rue Rimbuteau. I read a lot of Henry Miller, got laid, dropped out of my French classes at the Alliance Francaise and existed in such a state of poverty that my friend Karen and I would steal food from her stepdad’s house during the day, and then at night, we’d flirt with rich exchange students at the Violon Dingue trying to get them to buy us free drinks. I was even homeless for a few days and spent a good 24-hours with a transient, tattooed, pierced, skinhead named Will West who kept me laughing through my vagrancy. We would stay at free night clubs all around Les Halles and dance like zombies until seven in the morning, until the cafes opened and then, we could sit for hours with the alcoholics and street people, drinking cheap coffee and toasted baguette for ten francs. Je ne regrette rein.

When my mother dragged me home in the fall of ’89, I applied for a job as a cashier at John Wanamaker’s. The woman who interviewed me read my application and saw that I had just come back from France. She smiled and said, “Coming back to reality, eh?” It wasn’t long after that that I repacked my bags and took a bartending gig in Greenland. I’ll show you reality, bitch.

Sondrestromford, was a US and Danish military base right below the arctic circle. It was cold as hell. Thirty degrees below zero could turn a flower to shattered glass. There were no trees. Just gray, monochrome hills with dark skies and the occasional aurora borealis that slinked across a sky so lit up by stars you thought you might be looking through a telescope. A fjord the color of wet cement cut along the base.  I served drunks at the NCO Club and dated an American bodybuilder who taught me how to lift weights–there was nothing else to do up there but use the indoor gym, hunt musk ox and make money. I did that for a good five months before realizing that some places are better left untraveled. So, I came back home.

Part of the experience of being away from home, was longing for home. There was a weird dichotomy there. It was like what someone said to me about living in Paris. The only way to continue to love Paris, is to leave. So, for many years, I lived at home to the point of exhaustion and ennui, only to pack my bags, and live somewhere else for a time, until I missed home again. Back home, back out again. Back home, back out again. Just like that.

The older I got, though, the length of time it took to get to the point of missing home shortened. Until eventually, I did the unthinkable. I married and settled down. Granted, I married a Spaniard, which afforded me several costly trips back and forth to Madrid. Kids have to visit their Abuelos, you know. But the truth is, for the first time in my life, I actually liked home. I no longer wanted to run away. Making peace with the idea of stability, continuity, and permanence was a trip in itself. Something I had never known. The drawback is that kids force you into such a state of routine that you end up feeling trapped. At least I did. Drop off, pick up, drop off, pick up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed-time at exactly eight. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Nothing to jostle the monotony. So, you join the Junior Women’s Club. You go to Longaberger basket parties. You volunteer at school to serve lunches. You ask your mother to babysit so you and your husband can actually be alone and scream during sex. When that only happens once every six months, you go back to school and get a degree and have an affair. Well, you don’t have an affair. He does. And well, then you get to a point where you kinda fondly remember the monotony. But, that’s another story.

Permanence wasn’t my thing anyway. And so, in 2004, three events occurred which, even in their bad sad miserable way, allowed me to reclaim my inherent nature–a traveler. My father died. I divorced. And, I finally got my college degree (granted, the last was a positive consequence of my years as a stable New Jerseyan). When these three things happened, my tether broke. And when a tether on a hot air balloon breaks, there’s no telling which way the wind will blow it.

Within months, of these events happening, I hit the road. Twenty eight days, across the Heartland. Long stays with my kids in the Utah desert. Hiking the red rocks of Moab. Flying over the Grand Canyon. Twelve-hour car rides that had me fantasizing about the practicality of wearing a Depends undergarment so as not to make so many damn pee stops.

Travel is in my blood. Which gets me thinking. It probably didn’t begin with Wildwood. It didn’t begin with Paris or Greenland or week-long trips to Long Beach Island, or summers in Philly, or any of the trips I actually took to simply get away from home, get away from me. It began much further back than that.

In ’67, my mother and father eloped. They packed up my mother’s 1963 Chevy Nova and headed to Vegas. A year later, they made their way back to the West Coast, to Hollywood, where I was born in May of ’68. In November, we came home to Jersey and stayed a while. But not long. And while we never, vacationed, per se, we did move. And every move was an adventure.

In fact, we moved every year, for fourteen years. A new house every year, sometimes less than a year if my father couldn’t pay the bills. Adapting, readapting, not adapting so well. Moving in anger; moving in fear. Moving with our tail between our legs. Moving out of shame and necessity because we had burned our bridge. Moving with elation and joy to be in a new, undiscovered world of hallways and bedrooms and hidden closets and eiree basements and blistering hot attics. We weren’t moving to anything, now that I think of it. We were running away. Well, I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t me who couldn’t pay the bills. I was just along for the ride.

But a funny thing happens to a child whether she likes it or not. She inherits her parents’ hopes and fears and everything in between.  The circular reasoning that makes up 90 percent of the gray matter in her head. There was, in fact, a box of dolls I no longer played with that remained packed for many years because my mother was sick and tired of unpacking them. This frustrated me for a time because, of the few friends I was able to make, most had a wall of pretty little knick knacks, dolls, and porcelain (or plastic) horses on display with which they no longer played. I did not. My walls were bare. And so, when I was finally old enough to take these dolls out of the box, to pull them from their captive bundle of newsprint and bubble wrap, I didn’t even like them anymore. And so, I ended up throwing them away or maybe giving them away to another little girl who might have appreciated them more than I. Their traditional spot on a dusty, permanent shelf, where they could have sat throughout my entire childhood, held no meaning for me. And yet, I was embarrassed for so long at the transience of my life. Even now, when I explain my past to people (because traveling 14 times in 15 years is a bit much for a kid, don’t you think), they ask, “Was your father in the military?” I can’t say that I’m not slightly ashamed to have to say, “No, he was not.”

My childhood was a rich fabric of insanity, joy and adventure. I’ll leave it at that.

But here’s the thing. Every house was a home, a world unto itself –like a country, with a different language spoken within its borders. Each closet, to my child’s eye, was a landmark, a monument; each new kitchen, served a new regional cuisine. Every backyard was a continent, a varied landscape with fields that stretched to the horizon, or snowcapped mountains, or dark forests; seascapes, city lines, quiet, fenced-in corners pulsing with tiger lilies and skies broken to pieces with big white clouds. We traversed New Jersey, then up to New Hampshire, then back again. We lived in farmhouses, big houses, small houses, ranchers and even, what my mother not-so-fondly called, “a cardboard box.” My life is thusly divided into fourteen different worlds, with a myriad of experiences.  The cliché “home is where the heart is,” aptly applies.

In less than a week I’ll be in Holland. A month ago it was Bear Creek for work. Then Sedona.  Followed by Baltimore and now NYC. The instability of all this travel wears me out. Some days, I’d simply rather stay home. And yet, there is the eternal, inborn wax and wane, the coming and going, the internal rotating door that can’t be tuned out. An opportunity to adapt, readapt, not adapt so well. At the heart of it, I suppose, I’m used to the discomfort, the inconvenience. It has meaning. It’s who I am. The doll on the shelf can’t shake a stick at the story I tell and retell. And to me, the significance of that is far greater than any gift I may bring back home to decorate my walls.  More importantly, the child in me is finally OK with the idea that there’s no need to unpack.

Raising the dead

I cried this morning. No. I sobbed.

Pernille sent me an email regarding D and I being picked up at the airport upon our arrival in Amsterdam. We’ve known for quite some time we’d be going; we already have our tickets. So Pernille’s email was simply relating a few particulars on how we’d get from the airport to the hotel. Amsterdam is still very much happening! Within the email, however,  it listed the ways in which the others in our group would be coming into the city on or around the 21st. We would be coming in from Philadelphia. C would be flying in from London. And E would be taking the train in from Germany, I believe, and didn’t need any help getting to the hotel. It was this last bit that reminded me of trains. And this last bit that reminded me I needed to look at a map of Europe before heading to The Netherlands. It’s been a while since I’ve needed to know where anything was in Europe except Spain. Ergo, I’ve forgotten much of my geography. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the isolationist mentality of the American who knows very little of the world save how to get to Disneyland.

Google maps. Zoom in: Amsterdam on the Markermeer sea, across the North Sea from Great Britain. To the east of Germany. To the north of Denmark, Norway, Sweden. To the south of Brussels.

To the south of Brussels. Zoom out. Draw an imaginary line with finger below Brussels. Bingo.

There it was. Staring me in the face. The proximity of Amsterdam to France, and more importantly, Paris. I sobbed with happiness and release. Twenty-two years of trying to get back to a place I could never emotionally give up. Like a torchbearer for a lost love. Four and half hours by car; three hours and nineteen minutes by high-speed train. A six a.m. ride from Station Amsterdam Centraal will get us to Paris-Nord by 9:35. Petit dejeuner at Les Deux Magots. A stroll through Les Halles.  Notre Dame.  Saint Michel. Jardin du Luxembourg. My old flat on rue Rimbuteau. Le Violon Dingue. Lunch at La Closerie des Lilas. Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Henry Miller. Ezra Pound. James Joyce. Dorothy Parker. Camille Claudel. Kiki. Picasso. Ford Madox Ford. DH Lawrence. Rodin. Anais Nin. Gertrude Stein. John Dos Passos. The Louvre. Sacre Coeurs. Dinner in Montparnasse.

The Eiffel Tower.

In the years that followed my father’s death I kept having dreams that he would come back to life. I would know he was dead in the dream and then suddenly, I would walk into a secret room that I never knew existed in his house, and he’d be there in front of me, smoking a cigarette and saying something casually obvious like, “See! I’m not really dead. Just hiding out.” I would cry hysterically and hug him, and think, the nightmare is over; I have my father back. It’s that feeling of raising the dead, that it’s as simple as booking one simple train ride, on the right website, from the comfort of your home. You only have to know how to figure out the puzzle. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I’ve always had the power to “go back.” And yet, if somebody told me it was that easy, I wouldn’t have believed it. I had to figure it out for myself.

But alas! Perhaps this is all too good to be true. I am waiting on Pernille to get back to me, regarding whether or not we are free to travel that day or have events that I might need to be present for. I am hoping for the former. I’ve come so far. I would hate to think I was given supernatural powers to resurrect the dead only to have them taken away and be turned back into a human. I may have to remind myself that the dead are long buried and there is no bringing them back. That Paris is still very muchly out of reach. At least in this lifetime. Quelle injustice!

A touchy subject, even for the world of film

In a few days, D and I are headed to Amsterdam for the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) where a film I took part in, “Love Addict,” will debut. And while I’m thrilled to once again be part of the art world, schmoozing with a great clique of writers, directors, producers and photographers, in Europe no less, I am a little leery.

For starters, the documentary is a topic of interest that might not be, how shall I put this, all that well received. It’s about weakness and that’s something some people have a hard time witnessing. People might laugh. We will, after all, be in Europe. “Oh those Americans,” they’ll say, “Always angst ridden and falling apart over the most luxurious and invented of possible problems.” And it’s true. Love addiction isn’t really about love or anything lofty like that. It’s not even about something as ugly yet facinating as being addicted to sex, meth, hoarding or any of the more lowbrow dysfunctions. It’s about the psychology of personal defense mechanisms and how that plays out in a person’s life. It’s about whining over not being loved, but feeling stuck and doing nothing about it because you don’t believe in yourself. Superficial, self-centered stuff that probably should have been dealt with at age 13, not 43.

And let’s face it. The documentary is not based on “real” suffering, in the broader sense, the kind you find in places like war-ravaged Iraq or Sierra Leone. We didn’t film a heated polemic on climate change or the impending doom of global food shortages. This is self-imposed, I can’t control my behavior stuff that causes suffering. It’s akin to over-eating, over-spending, gambling, drinking. It’s the addiction argument. We participate in these behaviors of over-indulgence and over-consumption and suffer the consequences, then wonder what the hell happened when we fall flat on our faces. We wonder how it got this bad. And why it can’t be stopped. So we call it a “disease.” Really, it’s like cancer; it spreads. Obsessing over that which we cannot have and putting up with bad behavior from others becomes the dominant response. It gets to the point where good judgment is lost. It gets to the point where a husband smacks his wife across the face. It gets to the point where she stays because she “loves” him. She stays “for the kids.” Or she stays because she’s scared to death to be alone.

Sure, people might snicker over my American sensibility for personal growth. And they might even get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of their stomachs when the director toys with the idea of a woman who resorts to stalking a la Fatal Attraction, or another who dates a kid fifteen years her junior with no job and no real ability to handle an adult relationship, let alone take care of himself. Through most of the documentary, in fact, you find yourself asking, is this a real problem or do these people simply suck at managing their lives. In the beginning you feel like, clearly, anyone labeled a love addict is sick in the head. In the end, you wonder, “Could this be me?”

And that’s a good question.

Maybe the cultural dilemma of how men and women treat each other within a relationship is not as black and white as the media would have you think. Maybe love addiction is a lot subtler than the Hollywood version, or the battered woman version. Maybe the term “love addiction” is a misnomer, and it’s even more prevalent than alcoholism. You remember those statistics from the 80’s? In every family there’s at least one drunk. Or was that “jerk”? I can’t remember now. But I can tell you this: there’s tons of unhappy women suffering through bad relationships right now or stuck in a one-sided flimsy representation of one. It’s plague-ish, if you ask me. Take a good look at all your girlfriends. How many have stayed in a bad relationship or a bad marriage long past the point of dignity? That’s love addiction. How many settle for a “friends with benefits” situation in the hopes it turns into something more? That’s love addiction. How many men or women do you know that have had affairs and destroyed their families on the fantasy-based whim that love with this perfect new stranger will save their soul? That’s love addiction. And how about the hard-working career woman who finds it safer to date a married man, or one about 3000 miles away rather than go out and actually find someone close and available? That too, is love addiction.

It was just this past weekend that my Aunt came to a family party with proof that dating a bad boy is an epidemic among twentysomethings. She showed me a photo of my cousin N, a beautiful Paris-Hiltonish statuesque blond. She was pictured with a cute, smiling Italian guy. The first words out of my Aunt’s mouth were, “This guy is actually [emphasis mine] nice.” I.e. he’s not a f’ up like the previous ones.

It reminded me of my youth. I dated one bad boy after another. Each one ever so slightly less bad than the last. You’d think I’d be trading in behavioral traits in the hundreds instead of making microscopic improvements in increments of one. But were my bad dating decisions so far from the realm of what’s normal? I don’t think so. Sure, some of my friends dated good, kind, loving men who treated them well. But most couples in my circle had problems. And marriage didn’t leave you exempt from mismanaging your life. Marriage and love addiction are not mutually exclusive. And while having problems within a relationship is normal and unavoidable and by no means signifies that you or your partner are addicted to love, the degree to which those problems do exist and the length of time they last are your best indication that you are in a healthy relationship or that serious soul searching is in order.

But getting people to accept that idea is almost impossible. We all have preconceived notions of who we are and Unflattering Labels don’t really fit into our personal worldview, I’ll give you that. Who wants to be labeled a junkie? But remove the label and what have you got? Romeo and Juliet, is what you’ve got. The glamorization of painful, unhealthy love. So, does it really matter what the disease is called? Does it really matter if it’s a disease at all? The lessons are what’s priceless: love thyself, your body is a temple, you are a miracle, you have value, you deserve better than scraps, you need to grow up and get over the fact that life ain’t a Shakespeare play…

This documentary doesn’t offer those lessons. It should, but it doesn’t (it will have resources for how to get help on its website and DVD). What it does offer is the problem. And a socially acceptable glimpse at love addiction. Unlike self-help books, which, let’s be honest, are a bit embarrassing (no one wants to be seen checking out a copy of “ Women Who Love Too Much”), documentaries don’t imply there’s anything wrong with you. You can go to the theater and be a voyeur into the lives of others and you can freely and secretly gauge if this is something you need to investigate further. A documentary is a film. It’s art. And while you can certainly judge the participants of the film—and even laugh at them if you want—you cannot avoid recognizing yourself in their stories, if but in the smallest of ways.

And I guess that’s all I can hope for. That art can still inspire individuals to sustain judgment and think deeply about what this film implies. Not the sloppy Jerry Springerish implication of classless people getting paid wads of cash to beat the crap out of each other for entertainment. But the deeper implications of the human heart, and its delicate  and often feeble inability to always be strong.

Kids raised in homes without TV, electronics, are burdening society, report suggests


Philadelphia- Parents of young children are now urged to allow unlimited TV time, a recent study suggests. Television, computers and other self-described zoning-out electronic devices, despite offering little to no educational value and leaving children and adults dull-minded and apathetic do have their benefits.

According to Rolfe Hamburger, PhD and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics,  most children are raised in front of the TV, which stunts their growth and leaves them virtually unable to interact socially with other children. “That’s OK,” Hamburger suggests, “because the bar for ‘normal childhood behavior’ has now been lowered dramatically.” What has become a concern, Hamburger and his team of constituents contend, is the relatively miniscule but growing number of children whose parents don’t allow their kids to watch anyTV.

“These new ‘superkids’,” Hamburger says, “have a strong ability to communicate, keen interpersonal skills and a capacity to remain focused on tasks for longer than a minute, most likely because they’ve never been propped in front of the TV for four hours straight while Mom takes a cigarette break and gabs on the phone.” But, he warns, “these kids are becoming a drain on society and all the other children who can’t seem to cope with them on the playground.”

According to the study, which was conducted among a group of 30,000 randomly selected seven-year-old boys and girls across America, and which rated their TV-watching habits, “one in seventeen American children is placing unreasonable and excessive demands on his classmates by expecting them to play, interact and engage in actual dialog.” The study determined that less than .00001% of the population of children in America are not watching TV or playing video games, but rather “playing outside,” “doing activities with their parents,” or “reading books.”

Hamburger and pediatricians like him are “disturbed” by the findings.

“This puts a growing rift in our society,” Philip Locklear, DO, a local pediatrician from Chestnut Hill says. “No adult wants to be confronted with his own self-deprecating sluggishness and ineptitude, let alone a child. And that’s what happens in the presence of these kids. They are a constant reminder of the shame we now endure as adults for spending so many hours watching The Dukes of Hazard when we were kids.”