More Awake Than Alarmed

23 Dec

IMG_1218From beneath a thick swath of duvet encased in gray houndstooth flannel, face blissfully pressed into the unabiding affection of my stack of pillows, I heard Frank Sinatra murmuring and I jolted awake. Except I didn’t move and my eyes didn’t open. I actually, for the first time in my life, felt my heart pound into sudden alertness before I felt any other sensation of waking. There, at the center of my chest, with a force unknown in this year of pillow-ensconced, alarm-less sleeping, I felt activated. It was exciting. Invigorating.

Good readers, I have rediscovered the alarm clock. It’s a thing people use, it’s a sound they dread, but I am here to say that it actually triggers a very human response, and here’s some advocacy for artificially prompting that action.

I heard a bit on NPR yesterday about our internal clock, and how it slips into another time zone as we age. The report about the fallibility of our “clock genes” was slightly jarring, though the promise of more naps didn’t sound too bad. But the most important, connection-leaping, time-to-learn-a-big-new-thing moment for me was in these lines:

“When you woke up this morning, the timekeeping genes told a gland in your brain to give a jolt of the stress hormone cortisol to wake up. Tonight, they’ll tell a gland to spit out melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.”

Light bulbs! Alarm bells! Gongs! Other loud sounds, like my 24-setting burr grinder tearing through locally roasted single-origin coffee beans!

I was denying myself a cortisol shot every morning. Or at least I was sort of like, dampening it, by not activating that ol’ gene clock with an assist from the outer world. It used to be the sunrise and then it was roosters crowing, then it became alarm bells, and eventually it became my own carefully chosen, not-too-jarring song selection on my iPhone. All of these were external prompts to help exaggerate an internal one.

Then came my freelance era, an era steeped in resentfulness toward “working for the man” my whole life and doused in gallons of depressive responses carried down through generations of my Scandinavian and Irish ancestors. We alllllll hate waking up. Except on weekends, when we jump out of bed and do lots of things for ourselves all day. So it was that every weekday morning, beneath the pull of my own childish resistance to getting out of bed, I could hear the ancient tides of seas compelling my Viking ancestors to get a move on, and in response feel them pulling whatever flimsy animal skin cover back over themselves and deciding to pillage another day.

These tendencies were deep, I mean, they run all the way through all of my genetic code. But I would never deny that I’m a morning person. In fact, when I awake properly and do all the breakfasty things (ex-boyfriends know how important the breakfasty things are), I’m actually tediously chipper in the morning. Kind of scarily enthusiastic, in fact.

I’m making myself sound charmingly manic, but really the pendulum swings are fairly normal (or are they?!?). Except I’ve been effectively destroying, crushing, smushing my “clock genes” this whole year… and actually, truthfully, many, many years previous as well. I use mind over matter to shush the clock genes and suppress the cortisol boost. And then two years ago I let some doctors convince me to try some SSRI medication (“anti-anxiety,” they called it, but it’s also used to treat depression) that inhibits any fight or flight responses and soothes one into a happy consistency that makes the days easier to manage. Very helpful throughout the year of my mother’s death and the immediate aftermath of grief, yes. But NOT helpful when you’re trying to scare yourself into getting enough work done to pay the bills.

So, charming readers, friends who parse my syllables for mutual gain, I want to announce that concurrent with my retirement from SSRI status, I have rediscovered my clock genes. And this morning, for the first time in a long time (why does my internal monologue sound so often like that of the fictional Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City”? The horror! Or… the joy.), I set my alarm. And for my rousing music, I chose Frank Sinatra’s charming attempt at bossa nova, fortunately done in collaboration with Antônio Carlos Jobim: “Wave”.

It might not be extremely helpful that the first lyrics of the song are, “So close your eyes / For that’s a lovely way to be,” but… c’mon it’s gonna take me a while to actually believe I want to wake up. The rest of the song has a lovely mindfulness-based message though, so I think it’s a good choice. (More on that in my next batch of entries.)

My heart would agree that it was a good choice, because it awoke with a happy start that jolted me out of a lingering dream about Unrequited. And I felt alive, and glad to be in a world on my own, not with Unrequited, and I leapt out of bed. Now that I know that my clock genes actually collaborate with my brain on the whole stress-hormone release thing, I’m going to help that response along with a good old fashioned alarm clock. At least until I kick the habit of sleeping through the most important parts of my work day.



Found Out

22 Jul

Murder_She_Wrote“A woman in a man’s world,” he observed, having known me all of 17 minutes over the phone.

I’d told him of my love for “Murder She Wrote,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and he found the common thread immediately. I had never even seen the connection myself.

We were talking about old TV shows we’d watched compulsively. I described J.B. Fletcher’s plight/advantage in that people were constantly underestimating her ability to solve crimes. “She knows when to defy their expectations with an exhibition of her powerful brilliance and when to play into their assumptions, acting clueless to get the information she needs.” I added that in my experience as an editor and writer, “I’ve done that, I know when to act girly to get someone to explain something.” And, I added, “You probably do, too. You know when to play the young guy and when to really show them what you’re capable of.”

I was interviewing this kid, an astute architectural acoustics engineer, for a profile article, but for some reason I felt at ease enough to say I was comforted by Angela Lansbury’s presence and couldn’t stop watching the show.

Then I harked back to a show I haven’t thought or talked about in ages: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which was the first I’d “binge watched” when that possibility first became available on Hulu ages ago. We’d established earlier in our brief but florid exchange that I was from Minnesota, so I referred to it loosely now, telling him that when I first moved to New York, people had always said—in particular one of my fellow editors had always said—that I was just like Mary Tyler Moore.

“And I said,” changing my voice to a petulant grumble, “‘I’m not Mary Tyler Moore,’ [series of grumbling noises indicating defiance]. But it turns out I just loved the show. I mean, I’m not exactly like her. I’m not as innocent as her, but actually, she was pretty worldly too.”

And he just laughed this mild laugh and said, with jaw audibly clenched in a smile, “A woman in a man’s world.”
Affably, he’d defined my entire existence. And so, I feel compelled to run away with him forever.

I Have Dreamed that Your Arms are Lovely

23 Mar

The bracelet is brass, hammered by hand with tools replicated from those of the Egyptian era. He lifted it from the velvet case in the front window while I was at the back of the shop, talking with the proprietor. I saw his rangey silhouette make its way around the dress dummy with zipper popping from vintage yellow satin, pause, adjust footstep angle, and zigzag through retail obstacles human and metal to approach me. He proffered a square band, rounded at the corners and graced with a cluster of enamel-filled smaller-scale echoes of the same shape in a multi-layered pendant that would rest above my pulse.

My jaw dropped. Where did he find it? He led me back to where the window lit a tray of other future artifacts that would all fill my best-imagined jewelry box.

Here, he indicated, resting it precisely where the square had lain, green enamel and brass cluster of adornment facing the street.

I love it, I said. All of this is gorgeous. But I could never, my wrist wouldn’t…

And he picked it up and made as if to slide it over my hand, so I proffered my right appendage limply, self-conscious about a desperate need for some serious hand creme.

And it fit. And we smiled.

Let me get it for you, he said, to my immediate refusal. No, it’s the least I can do.

So I did. I let him wrap my wrist in a vestige of our closeness in a store we may never see together again. Now the square bangs against my ulna and I sense the trace of a love that would never, not in a million years, be as real or solid as this piece of adornment. Still, I let its weight remind me that there was a real, human form which stood tall and sent brown eyes gazing down with love and left a mark on my heart and arm.

Now I Know

22 Mar

twoheartsSomewhere deep in my sense memory was a perfect point-for-point recollection of what it is to be held in the tractor-beam of another’s affection. When that other actually feels a profound attraction and love for my every blink and shift, my words and gestures, and all the complicated machinery that brings those traits to the surface. Behind my twinkling eyes, a thumping heart. Behind my flinch, a headache. Underneath a furrowed blanket, a sad little soul who needs some coziness.

Someone, my ideal someone, sees all of these facets and assembles them into a shimmering gem. Then I, feeling the very particular sensations associated with being cherished, actually give more than I ever thought possible. I speak the truth of my heart without hesitation, and I do not fear a negative reevaluation of my worth. In fact, I’m worth more with each little ding on the gem, divots that indeed present just a tiny addition of shimmer to the overall picture.

I have remembered this many-layered love in a sudden burst of slow expansion into ease. It was a big and bold revelation, and one I immediately undertook without hesitation. Days passed and means of communication evolved, and between points of connection I felt myself expanding into one who is truly loved.

Now there is one more layer to that sensation. I can compare the embrace of unencumbered love, from thousands of miles away, to a convoluted love very close up and sleeping in the next room. The former is the love I will keep, and the latter is a love I will now very contentedly pack away as the ultimate Unrequited ending.

This is what it is to have a beautiful friend gaze into your eyes with the warmth of affection and endearment, but who does not feel more than a platonic level of attraction toward you. But more importantly, this is what it is to have found the real someone, the one whom you chose in your mind’s eye ages ago, and have them feel the strength of your love and respond in kind with even more emphatic connection.

Sometimes the demonstration of these extremes, both positive in their own way, arrives at precisely the correct moment, and the physical form of someone far away can be felt more supremely than that of a visitor staying in your own apartment. My dear Unrequited will always occupy a place in my heart. But my heart can only hold him there because it is strong with the support of true love from my soulmate.

May the One You Long for Long for You

19 Jan

paperThere are three poems I carry with me, sometimes as a little bundle of folded pages worn at the seams, sometimes just one important piece at a time. I am a girl of many handbags and totes, and so each day I must reassemble which items travel with me, and even when I keep my load light, I pack at least one poem. I can always feel the carefully selected verbal talisman there, leaning against my hip through canvas or jostling around with too many glasses cases in pockets of suede.

It used to be just one poem I always carried, and so I memorized it. It’s a very long poem, too. But I know it. Still the pages are smooth as river stones now, so I carry it like some might wear a tattoo. I know it, but I need it outside myself, too.

Another joined the ranks last summer when I was riding the subway very, very late one night and sharing thoughts with a stranger about a poem displayed in one of those “Poetry in Motion” public service ads. I turned to him as I dangled from a handrail and said before he could take off his beat-laden headphones, “Do you know anything about orchids?” When headphones rested on hoodie and he asked me to repeat myself, he nodded no. But we had a very lovely talk about what could be known about orchids and what we needed to learn. We agreed to seek out more on the subject matter when we got home. “Google it!” he said, as I disembarked. I hope he googled it, too.

In between the ancient relic of a poem that I memorized and the relatively new one that came from beneath the streets is the most important poem ever. It is an Irish Blessing that one of my dearest yoga teachers read aloud in class four years ago. I almost didn’t make it to that class, I was tired and whiny, but like the most intrepid of yogis, I made the effort to drive to the farthest studio that was in my orbit in Utah. It turned out I was the only one who would show up that night, and it was fortunate, because I needed to unburden my heart, give voice to a big truth I’d reduced to a little trembling trifle.

My teacher and I, we were (and are) both the sort who find meaning in incidentals, coincidences, serendipity, happenstance and several other words for magic. We talked while we waited for no one else to eventually arrive, and then when she opened her bookmarked page and began to read the text she’d selected for that evening’s class, she actually began to cry, instantly. I didn’t panic, as it was not abnormal for me to witness. I tend to be in a lot of amazingly emotional exchanges with relative strangers. I’m like the Hallmark card commercial guru. Have thirty seconds to start weeping about your neglectful father? Here, have a Kleenex-brand tissue.

The poem, the Irish Blessing, is by this guy John O’Donohue (legit Irish name, check). I purposely have never looked in to who he is or what era he lives in, but I’m fairly certain he’s probably a contemporary living Irish Blessing writer, because his subject matter is a superior blend of eastern and western philosophy.

“Blessed be the longing that brought you here,” the first line says to the weary yogi who traveled from at least 15 miles north. Alright, so that made me cry, too. And the rest of it was so amazing that I copied down her yoga-abbreviated version of the text by hand on a piece of paper before I left the yoga studio that night. It was evidently so mystical an experience that I didn’t even try to google it then and there… how odd…

Anyway, the next day, I called Unrequited and was kinda like super demanding and said we had to have dinner before I left town on a two-week trip the next day. He agreed to meet me after work, and I folded up my pocket poem and carried it with me to the restaurant. Then, after the appropriate amount of small-talk, I tucked the folded paper under the edge of my plate and declared that I had something to say.

I was afraid to say it, of course, so I read the poem first:

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.


That’s pretty good, right? I finished reading, folded paper, and put it back under the edge of my plate. Then I told Unrequited that I had cleared a huge place in my heart for him, and it was a permanent place. And now that place also included his two sons. “I hold you all in my heart, I always have since I have known you, and I always will. I felt this way since the moment we met, and it’s always been there, and it will always be there, so nothing will change.”

His jaw was actually dropped when I was silent. His eyes were wide and his gaze was upward at nothing. Then he started to smile in slow-motion (just like in a Hallmark movie!), and he said, “That is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.”

Of course nothing came of it then, otherwise he wouldn’t be called Unrequited, right? But for all you devoted Bunky fans out there, waiting for the best happy-romance-movie-ending ever, Unrequited and I spoke yesterday and he said he’s coming to visit me in New York.

I can hear at least one of you grumbling (WriterHero), but dude, let a girl have some poetry now and then. I’ll see Unrequited in two weeks anyway, when I get my hair done in Utah. But then he’s coming here. For me. FOR ME. And the quaint village of New York City.

Your Eyes Could Steal a Sailor From the Sea

9 Jan

IMG_6385.JPGOne rainy night I was in a cab with the gentleman from Boston, and the atmosphere was fuzzy with the glimmer of night signs and soft rock on the radio. I was mid-sentence when the softest of soft rock, a song that evokes the grocery store Muzak of my youth, convinced me to stop talking and listen:

Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the North of Spain
A locket that bears the name
Of the man that Brandy loves

He came on a summer’s day
Bringin’ gifts from far away
But he made it clear he couldn’t stay
No harbor was his home

Entranced, I smiled and used my powerful pocket computer to identify it: Brandy, by Looking Glass. Even before naming, the gentleman said he’d heard it often before and marveled I missed it. Apparently few others had in the small town where my mother deposited us briefly while I was in elementary school. I’d always wondered why so many girls in my grade were named Brandy. Now I finally know.

I’m so glad I didn’t discover this song until now, when my soft rock soul grants me permission to like trifles. The irony that deadened my sensibility for decades would have disintegrated under the light weight of this song.

But now, fluffy and free, I’m the girl who walks the streets with the smile of new love. I smile because I know why Brandy would pin her hopes on the unavailable, giving her solitary malaise purpose with misguided affection for the undeserving. I can feel her sustained loss, but I also know how lucky she was to look into those sailors’ eyes and rise and fall with the waves of their sea-flung stories. It’s likely she had as much wanderlust as any ol’ sailor, but her means of remaining unattached was to connect her heart to a floating buoy out in the ocean, rather than any anchor on land.

Electrical Conductor

6 Jan

waterSomeone very recently tangled up a whole mess of ideas trying to explain to me the virtues and excitement associated with sitting “backwards” on a train. So the scenery rolling by is the future, they said. That doesn’t make much sense, I wanted to say, but I was smiling politely. They continued to elaborate and the knots became more taut. “No, because, you’re looking at what just passed, and that’s the future.”

Truly, you haven’t even given me a thread to cling to in my insatiable quest for life metaphor. Nope, not even inverted, does it make sense. All you’ve done is make me a little bit irritated every time I take a train, wondering what the hell you were getting at, and I don’t even remember who you were.

So I’m backwards today, putting my back into the journey south and slightly west toward home. I have a long, long expanse of uninterrupted window alongside me and up ahead, because I am in my rolling executive office, the cafe car. It’s all beach, all shoreline and marina between Providence and New York, and I’m surrounded by conductors who roll New England syllables around until they accumulate into a bumpy laugh.

My view here is ideal. Sitting meditation-straight in the conductors’ living room and tossing gentle banter amongst passers-through. I’m a pleasure traveler in a business world. I guess I’m going backwards into the future, but I really look forward to it.

How Often Do You Watch Murder Mysteries?

5 Jan

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 6.10.46 PM“We ought to be able to arrest him for his taste, Lewis, but we can’t.”

How many detectives have I liked? Really very few. Sherlock just barely made the cut when Cumberbatch showed up. I thought I’d like Miss Marple, but she didn’t retain my interest for long. Magnum PI, now there was a man among men. Jack Nicholson in Chinatown or Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, run away with me. But generally, I don’t thrill at a mystery. I don’t like to sit with shoulders high and forehead furrowed around whodunit.

I think I prefer to ponder howdunit. Like, how is George Clooney going to mastermind another Ocean’s worth of hijinks. How will Bond survive another apparent drowning. How are the people so evidently in love but trapped in superficial conflict going to get together.

Netflix sometimes runs out of patience with me, I know. But the algorithm is growing wise to the nuances of my taste. Somehow in the shuffle over the holidays, I discovered Inspector Morse, and I am such a fan. Such a huge fan. If I were the software robot I would say “Based on your interest in Frasier, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and masculine feats of intellectual strength.” But probably it was just like, “She watches British things and stuff from the ’80s.”

Two episodes in, I was already a Mors-expert. There are several plot elements prominently featured in each episode, repeated identically in a winking “catchphrase” kinda way, long before irony made that a thing. Cue bullet points:

• Discerning bachelor, reader and choir singer Morse is drawn to the single, hard-up intellectual woman who either ends up the murder victim or a seriously scandalous suspect, either way teetering on the edge of total destruction and leaving Morse alone on his striped chenille sofa, listening to Mahler and reading Thomas Hardy.

• Hard-up woman softens around Morse and says, “Well, if we’re going to be meeting often, I can’t keep calling your Inspector Morse. What is your full name?” To which our hero responds with a slight frown and a faraway, slightly troubled glimmer in his blue eyes, “Morse. People call me Morse.”

• Morse takes a phone call or picks up the CB radio mic, screws up his face and says exaggeratedly with affected English upperclass accent: “Whhaaaattt??!?!? Who?!?!? Are you SURE?!?!” Cut to new murder scene related to the first incident.

• Morse nearly finishes a beer in the pub and says his brain is just beginning to work when Detective Lewis accidentally helps shed light on the case, causing Morse to swallow the last sip and say they’re leaving.

• And so on.

Truly, I am not mocking the style of it. Watching Morse make his maudlin way through the world, burdened by intellect and thrilling only at orchestral crescendos and the prospect of a pub, I realize that my favorite mysteries are of a creative variety. Giddily absorbed in the dated aesthetic paired with timeless wit, I love to picture the author of the original series of Inspector Morse books and imagine some television actor or director deciding it has to be brought to primetime. But what did they do when they noted the adorably repetitive plot devices that appear from story to story? They exaggerated them. Like Bond with his drink preferences (pre-Heineken in SkyFall).

If the creator of a work wants to keep audiences coming back for more, they have to exaggerate what makes a work their own. Catch phases and charming quirks give us the means to calculate whether we like somebody. A familiar voice discovered from afar makes us feel seen. And if the language and imagery matches, we know we’re in love.

And Again

3 Jan

againThe train tracks of the Northeastern corridor know me by now. I’ve been traversing them since 1998, rolling on quaking metal between New York City and Providence to go to a place where I can be still with the people I love. I make my temporary home in the attic room of my friend’s gigantic Victorian house, and day by day, after wandering the woods and beaches of mostly coastal Rhode Island, we come home and have tea by the fire and retire early to read books. Unless we’re going out to have cocktails.

I am the most fortunate of humans, because I have long embraced my nomadic instincts. But now, as the wetlands roll by and I suddenly see a cluster of at least ten wild turkeys (what?!? did anyone else see that?) on a golf course, I gotta be honest with myself. Do I keep moving so I never finish anything? Never keep anything except the new, new conversations, people, sights, sensations, passions brought to you by wanderlust.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks piled high on my desk at home is a quote that I wrote down while visiting the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. An early 20th-century painter said that artists must recalibrate periodically by visiting the mountains and the sea. I can’t remember if he said anything abut the plains or stuff in between. But I agree with him completely, and I feel ridiculously fortunate that I can indulge my starving senses on a nearly weekly basis.

Why stay still? Because then I would be done with getting ready for a trip or catching up after a trip, and I’d be in that functional limbo where I could actually be at peace and write pages and pages of the novel. Don’t you love how I call it “limbo”? Yeah, because being home is a kind of purgatory, apparently, no matter where I live. I guess it’s my Viking genetic code, seeking to plunder and possess more, more, more.

It makes me feel lost. But apparently I never want to be found.

Blow Me Down

28 Dec

threadsI am a succulent in the botany of love. I thrive in isolation and neglect, and I wither beneath an over-abundance of life-sustaining hydration. Please, let me dry out alone here in the sun, but do pass by on occasion with a drizzle of sentimental connection. I will soak up each molecule and enter my most blissful state, that of the sometimes forgotten lover.

Were you at a bar we once frequented, “running into” my dearest friend, who happens to be a very cool DJ who sets a very cool scene? I’m glad I was able to make you look good in front of your sister and your friend from Hong Kong. Would I love to meet these characters I’ve heard so much about? Yes. But I know, I see. You travel at the frayed edges of our fabric, gleaning the occasional tassel of affectionate reverie and then moving on.

Tell me you want to play records for me, discuss plans and drink scotch. Remind me that you owe me ice cream for my birthday, and pretend you will actually appear anywhere near that date with an offer that we get same. I crave each droplet, basking in the very specific comfort of dejection and closing my petals against better offers.

You, you give me just enough sustenance to carry me through months that I know I will endure alone.

You are just like my father. So triple cool and busy and knowledgeable. So brilliant and witty. And showing just a shard, a tiny shattered glimmer of sweetheart every now and then. Dangling this enveloping comfort as a possible outcome so that I chase it like a hummingbird sipping for a tiny drop of nectar.

When last we listened to records together, you tugged at my arm and pulled me down from sitting to repose with you. Your eyes were filled with tears when we heard notes from early Chicago soul. I fell, and I am still falling. So when you promise records again now, I think of the painting on your wall of two faceless people snuggled together in an armchair, the lady’s arm dangling languidly over the needle on the record.

It is a form of intimacy we both crave, but we are astrids in sand, and our spines fold at the prospect of too much constancy. We never had it, we tried to manufacture it, we rejected it, and in so doing built an exoskeleton of spiny scaffolding around our hearts. Nothing will crack us, not even our lingering tendency to reach for one another when the sand becomes too dry.

You will disappear when the work week resumes, and I will pretend to flourish, ignoring the watershed of interest I receive from other cultivators wishing to pull a harvest from this broken garden.

Hashtag sigh.

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