Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Open Space, Utah Road Trip, Mt. Baldy

There are things about myself I'd like to change or understand. I'd like to feel less anxiety and sadness. I'd like to have a healthier relationship with both food and my family.  I want my marriage to remain the strong and happy wonder that it is. Someday soon, I want to be a good mother. I am doing what I can to be the woman I want to be, but I find myself wondering, where does change take place? How does change happen? What if you follow a formula and it doesn't work? What if you do everything you are supposed to do and you still wake up with knots in your chest, your heart hammering, worry wrinkles cutting into your forehead? What if you still try to control what you will never, ever be able to control?

The Navajo Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a road trip to Utah. We hiked through otherworldly terrain. I desperately needed a trip that was not another visit back home to my tumultuous family in New York. I needed to be reminded that the world is insanely beautiful and that the less expectation you have, the better the (road/life) trip will be. When Mark and I travel, we plan loosely. We exist the way I'd like to live my life. In an ideal world I would be as cool as I am when I travel. We figure the trip out as we go along, whatever happens happens, we have faith we will find somewhere cheap and suitable to sleep at night, we see beauty everywhere we go.

The Navajo Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Why do we travel? To see new things? To meet new people? To escape our reality? To jostle our world view?
I travel because I need to be changed. I come to a point, once a year or so, when I need upheaval. I need something massive and molecular to shift inside of me. I need to know that everything I thought I knew was wrong.

For a few minutes during a sunset in Capitol Reef National Park, a shade of blue I've never seen before spread across the mountains

Whenever I am within my everyday reality and I am exhausted and annoyed with humanity, I think of Livia Soprano's speech to Anthony Jr. during the episode of The Sopranos when Anthony Jr. learns about existentialism. He is sent to his grandmother to cheer him up and she tells him, "The world is a jungle! If you want my advice Anthony, don't expect happiness. You won't get it. People let you down. In the end, you die in your own arms."
"You mean... alone?" Anthony Jr. asks, dejected.
"It's all a big nothing! What makes you think you're so special?" I love this speech. I erupt into giggles every time I recite it. It makes me feel better, like I have a comrade in arms. But here, in Utah, I felt awful for saying the speech so often. The world is not a jungle. The world is astounding and neverending in its beauty and in it's ability to shock you into a state of bliss and gratitude. But it is also astounding in its ability to devastate you.

Hoodoo overlook in Bryce Canyon

When you visit a place, that place takes root inside of you. When you live in a place, you become the place in which you live.

Travel opens little doors inside of your body. It makes a space that was not there before.
Each person is their own hurricane, made up of whatever is around them--other people, the land, the air, the buildings. A family is their own hurricane, a town, a city. When you travel you enter the flow of an unfamiliar twister, one dictated by the place, the landscape, the animals, the people. You see what life is like somewhere else and on the best trips, you can taste what life is like there, or was like there. You may have moments where the scent and the soul of a place tornados itself inside of you and there it stays. This is why I travel--to collect tornado-souls: the tracks of a velociraptor running, the hoodoos, the night skies, the walls, the quiet, the unexpectedly delicious food, the chipmunks hanging of the edge of cliffs.
Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Reef National Park

I recognized the red walls as the ancient, weathered and sturdy walls in my heart.

Arches National Park

I recognized the arches as stories older than language.

Double Arch, Arches National Park

I recognized the unimaginable products of endless cycles of erosion spanning millions of years as the literally universal truth that nothing stays the same. Everything changes and you cannot predict how or when or why so don't even bother trying. Just enjoy. Breathe it in.

Green River Convergence, Canyonlands National Park

How do we change? We leave ourselves out in the open--where the sun shines, where it rains, where the wind blows. We leave ourselves open to change. We make the space for change to happen. We do something different. Try something new. Go somewhere new. Anywhere. Anything.

I went to a new yoga class last week, and found myself against a wall, balancing on one leg, the other leg perpendicular to the floor, one arm down, the other arm up against the wall. The teacher pressed my shoulder and hip against the wall and I felt myself burst open. She pushed against me and said, "You are creating space inside of yourself when you stretch like this. Anything can happen inside of this space that you make."

Delicate Arch, Devil's Garden Trail, Arches National Park

The week after we got back from Utah, we went on a local hike I had been afraid to do: Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in Los Angeles County. I had seen the pictures of the Devil's Backbone trail. I had read about the sheer drop offs at 10,000 ft. But we had done some hardcore, high elevation hiking in Utah and I (told myself I) wasn't afraid anymore.

Tiny hikers on Mt. Baldy

Mt. Baldy scared the shit out of me. I did not feel relieved once we made it to the peak. The physical exertion was secondary to how easy it would be to take a misstep and fall to my death, or watch Mark fall to his. There were a few times I completely froze with fear, every joint in my body afraid and unwilling to move. I wanted a helicopter to come rescue me. But never for more than a few seconds. I thought to myself: this is not worth it. But, then. Once we were almost all the way down, almost finished with the hike, I felt a rush of elation. THIS IS WHY! This is why we do things that scare us, this is why we do things we don't want to do--that are out of our comfort zone but that our heart knows we will love. It is not for the views or the pictures or the workout or the bragging rights. It is for the courage and strength reaped from doing something you were scared to do. It is for finding out how strong you really are.

Devil's Backbone Trail, Mt. Baldy. This was not even a scary part. I was too scared to take out my camera during the scary parts.

On a trail in Capitol Reef National Park, I felt something magical inside of me: complete serenity. I could not remember or understand why I had ever felt anxiety or sadness, ever in my life. I knew in every bone in my body and every last thought in my head, that I am doing what I can, and that all my negative emotions come from expectations or ideals I think I need to have or hold myself or others to and it is all a bunch of bullshit. I am on my own path and I will do what I can in my own time, or not at all, and everything is already perfectly fine exactly as it is, as long as I keep moving.
And if there is anything I know for sure about myself it is that I can stop time, stand still, appreciate all I have and all I see, and that it is impossible for me to ever stop completely, I keep going.

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah border

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah border

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thoughts on Bruce Springsteen, NY, NJ, LA 2012

I was raised on Springsteen. I have been to over fifty shows, probably more. I can't keep track. I loved him when I was a child and I loved him when I was a teenager and I am in my early thirties and I only love him more. When I was little, I saw the way my mother transformed into a lovesick horny teenager when she encountered anything Springsteen and spent many hours wondering if she was going to leave my father for the Boss.

Some kind of magic happens at Bruce shows, some healing, beautiful, incessant energy that is almost impossible to find in other live music.

My first indelible memory of a Bruce show was at the Brenden Byrne Arena in Jersey. My mother and I went to all the shows that year, but it was in a certain moment, on a random night, I am only 12 years old, and we are all bathed in red light.  The lights go dark and the music is gentle, tinkling, and I am twelve but I am already starting to feel a deep sadness, a sunken loneliness, a general dread, it seems like I've been caught up in your trap again... I know someday I'll find the key. I am twelve but there is something happening to me here in the dark, listening to these gentle words. He is talking to me. I know someday I'll walk out of here again, but now I'm TRAPPED. The lights come on and we all raise our hands, TRAPPED. We scream. Crescendo. I am shaken by the truthfulness of the dichotomy, at the same time we are trapped and free. The lights go dark, and the music slows. I will teach my eyes to see what is beyond these walls in front of me. I was twelve but I could sense I'd be trapped in my imperfect brain, in my imperfect body, at home with my crazy family, trapped at school, trapped in a world I didn't understand. I would feel this way into my teens and into my twenties and last month I flew home to go see Bruce at the Izod, the same building with a different name, and I stood in the GA pit with my mother, twenty years later, and I hear the gentle, sad music. I am twelve again, standing next to my mom, and these twenty years have gone by and I have aged, I know someday I will walk out of here again, I won't walk out a loser, but now I'm trapped. I am still trapped, but in totally different ways and learning to deal with what I have--this brain, this body, these insecurities and doubts but there is joy in this song. We are in this together. The lights go on and we scream TRAPPED together, with Bruce, there is joy and community and above all there is hope. I never could've predicted these past twenty years and I can't predict the next twenty, not by any means.

Trapped is the song that cracked me open twenty years ago and now, again.

I went to four shows this leg of the tour. Izod, MSG, and both LA Sports Arena shows. I thought I wouldn't fly home to NY for the second leg east coast shows, but I know I will. I will have to.

Bruce opens night one in LA with Badlands. I am with my husband. He is a Bruce fan because he has lived with me for eight years. In 2000, Bruce did ten MSG shows and I don't know-- but I went to most of them. It was the first time I was in charge of tickets. Those days, you could show up at the venue at 4am the day of the show, and wait for the best tickets to be released.  I waited all night for tickets with my friends, many times. My mom had created a monster. This is not something that happens anymore, of course, but it was a lovely time when the fans that wanted it most were the ones to be rewarded.

In 2000, I was not all sad. I had moments of happiness, bliss even, but I also had moments of despair. That year, I had a lot of moments of despair. I drank a lot. I smoked a ton of pot every day. I hated the college I went to. I hated myself. I knew there was a vast ocean between the girl I was and the girl I could be. He played Badlands at every show. That year, I went for Badlands. I needed it. My mother needed it too. We still do. I feel every line of this song. I could write an essay about every line. It is a poem. It is political: Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wants to be king and a king ain't satisfied until he rules everything... I believe in the hope and I pray that someday it may raise me above these badlands... Let the broken hearts stand as the price you gotta pay. At that time, I was one giant broken heart. For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, I wanna find one face that ain't looking through me I wanna find one place I wanna spit in the face of these badlands. You are with thousands of people who feel the way you do, who feel lost and sad and that no one really sees them and they do not really belong anywhere. You feel this. I feel this. Everyone in the stadium feels this. This is what heals you. I am beginning to think I won't ever get out of the badlands, but I can work to leave my heart open to moments of transcendence. I can work to always push myself towards what I think may save me.

This was a song Bruce wrote for Asbury Park, a falling apart, decaying seaside city. He started to play it after 9/11 for New York. We may tiff with New Jersey but we love each other. In our hearts, we claim the other as ours. There is very little difference between Jersey and Queens. Bruce gives us songs, at these live shows, that are relevant for us. They are songs we need to hear. New York needed this song. We raise our hands. WITH THESE HANDS. He has brought the song back for this tour, because we are struggling. You took my heart when you left. We have lost people and we have lost jobs and we have lost our sense of safety, of security.

In both Jersey and LA on this most recent leg, we get CANDY'S ROOM and SHE'S THE ONE. I adore both these songs, irrationally. Candy's room makes me jump up and down, lose all inhibition, dance like a lunatic. There's a sadness in her pretty eyes, a sadness all her own from which no man can keep candy safe...she says baby if you wanna be wild, you got a lot to learn , close your eyes let them melt let them fire let them burn... I have always loved the way Bruce sings about women, with reverence and awe. With her killer graces and her secret places that no boy can fill... these women enchant him. French kisses will not break her heart of stone. I spent my twenties wanting to be this woman. This is what I want to hear, even now, still now. I want to hear that I make someone feel thunder in their heart. Women won't, can't allow access to their insides, but he adores women, loves women. At the core of so many Bruce songs is our inability to connect with one another, but to pay attention, to try.

In LA, my husband is getting a beer during these two songs. I'm alone, and I realize it's not my husband I am missing during these songs, but my girls, the ones who really understand how these songs address the emptiness a woman feels. I want them to be here, my female Bruce friends, my mom, who have sung with me and waited with me.

This song was a show opener for many of the 2003 shows. He played 10 shows at Giants Stadium and I went to at least seven of them. A few nights, I took the bus from Port Authority with different friends and wandered the parking lot with a twenty dollar bill. I didn't care where I sat,  I just wanted to get in. As a country, as a city, we were still reeling. We were at war. We were angry and lost. For me, college was over. We were all still fumbling about. Sometimes i feel so weak i just want to explode. Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart. Take this moment into my hands. I think about this line many times at Bruce shows, and whenever I want to live in a moment. How can I take this moment into my hands? How can I stop time and really feel this, really he here, elongate a moment so I have time to remember?
There's gonna be a twister to blow everything down, blow away the dreams that tear you apart, blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted. He instructs us. He points to kids in the pit, dancers in corners, people in the back. He makes you feel like he is looking right at you.


Tom Morello is at these LA shows and is like nothing I have ever seen. I don't know what the hell he is doing with that guitar but I am amongst the youngest of the old fogies here and this mostly fifty-something crowd goes absolutely nuts over the insane things this man is doing with those elegant hands and that guitar. This song is made for Tom Morello.
Now Tom said, "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy 
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries 
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air 
Look for me Mom I'll be there 
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand 
Or decent job or a helpin' hand 
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free 
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me." 

Tom at these LA shows energizes Bruce, who then energizes the rest of the band. Bruce feeds off Tom Morello, who moves around like a rubberband, even his body movements are defiant, like he fights the air he breathes. It is thrilling to watch these two men.

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These Wrecking Ball shows are about death and rebirth, they are political--about the collapse of the economy, but they are very much about people we have lost. The E Street Band lost Clarence and Danny, but Bruce makes clear that these shows are also about people we have lost too, and the sense of loss itself. Bruce explains that he wrote this song, We Are Alive, in the perspective of ghosts. I think of the family I lost and the one I still have. I think of T, who loved music more than anything, and whose death sent ripples through so many people. The song is about what happens after we die. 
My eyes filled with sky. We are alive.


Monday, April 30, 2012

New York City, the MOMA, The Water Lily Room and Whirlpools Underneath the Hell Gate Bridge

Lately I find myself conscious of time passing. I notice it takes me five minutes to walk to my parking spot, settle into my car, and drive out of the garage. Five minutes goes by so fast and there are only so many five minutes in an hour, in a day, in a year. Five minutes can pass instantly. A day can click by and then it's gone. I would like to regard moments as little points of infinity but it seems impossible. Time is a real thing that happens without us. Even at 15, I was terrified of time moving too quickly, of losing my youth. I went through regular, fraught with drama 1/8 life crises, writing every number from 1-80 and circling 15, trying to take comfort in the time I had left.
Lately, I feel time moving. I see it go by. Earlier this month, I flew home to NYC. After a week of crippling anxiety, family drama, great fun at Springsteen shows, old friends, and the usual highs and lows of a trip home, I decided I needed some restorative time to myself on my last full day in New York City. It was early April, spring, perfect weather and flowering trees. I got a manicure-pedicure, something only affordable in Queens. I got on the train, got off at 5th Ave and walked to the MOMA.

When I lived in NY, and I was sad, I often went to museums by myself. I usually have intense emotional reactions at museums (and, ya know, everywhere else)  and leave feeling drained and uplifted. Anyone can walk into the Met with a quarter and I used to walk right into the MOMA for free with my CUNY staff ID. This time I had to pay the twenty-five bucks like everyone else. I walked around the two special exhibits I'd been interested in-- Diego Rivera and Cindy Sherman, then wandered around the permanent collections.
I am a giant crybaby. I feel a lot. When something reaches me on an inner level, that reaching feels like a spiritual experience, like connecting with God. I wandered the MOMA and remembered how much I used to love to go to the Water Lily room to cry and write in my journal. I needed to do that again.
I grew up with these Water Lilies. Many of us did, on class trips, Saturday visits, the old MOMA, the interim MOMA in Queens, the new MOMA. Going back to a place over and over is like time folding in on itself. You are there both now and in memories past.

I dont know much about art. I only know that I love museums and that certain pieces speak to me and certain pieces don't.
The Water Lily room is tucked away in a corner of the museum, 4 giant Water Lily panels and two smaller ones.

I slowly wandered the length of the panels. I like to look at brush strokes. I like to look at accumulations of paint. I like to watch where the brush and paint began, where they go what colors are where. Looking like this is stress relief, for me. I love when you look hard enough, every color is everywhere--there is something about this that feels intuitively truthful.
In the moments while you stand before it, a painting can be all you see, time can stop and it can surround you. What makes art different from nature is that art is permanent. Art doesn't change--you do. The night before, I'd walked to Astoria Park, something else I used to do almost daily when I lived there.

Landscapes can be dramatic in New York City, a city carved by glaciers. Astoria Park is a swath of green under two giant, grand bridges that span a wide, deep and tumultuous tributary of the East River, the Hell Gate Strait. I had leaned against the railings to watch the water, something I hadn't done for years. Water flows in two, three, four directions here. I watched water clash, rush and wind into whirlpools, I watched the water unspool and scatter, only to twist into a whirlpool again a few feet away. It was mesmerizing. It is so hard to write about the things I love about Astoria, because it is exactly this, this chaos and drama and beauty and danger. I want to go home. I want to be strong enough to go home. I am not yet.

The Hell Gate whirlpools were convulsive and ever-changing but paintings are stagnant, fixed, here, snapshots of the same life-stuff as whirlpools, as anything.
The water lillies are a human interpretation of nature, not the way we would see a water lily pond if it were right in front of us, but a representation of the way we process what we see and how we experience time. These paintings are time accumulating. They are the rocks under the water and what passes underneath the water, what floats on top of the water and what is above the water, and what the water reflects, in a day, in a week, in a passing hour. The water lilies are us, they are the cosmos, beautiful, organized chaos.

Why do I feel comforted, sitting before the panels? Writing, reading, art, music, sometimes yoga--why are these things a valve to release anxiety and pent up, stored emotion?
In the Water Lily gallery, I hear a girl ask her friend, "Why do people like these so much? Is it because they're familiar?"
Of course I am comforted by familiar things. These paintings are old friends, and so are all the Van Goghs in New York City and the Natural History Blue Whale and the bridges and the subways and all of it.
I've known these paintings. Many of us have. Spending time in their company comforts us because they connect us. Not everyone to everyone, but some of us to that smokey electric god thing that lingers under everything. Music, mountains, art, books--these are my churches.
Sometimes I am crippled by the horrors and evils of which we are capable. We are living on this tiny little dot and we stampede all over one another but we also do this. Art is born from love, and it is a complicated relationship, and at this point in my life, I am of the opinion that love is the hardest thing for us to do, whether it is pushing love through ourselves to another person, or to the art we are trying to make, and accepting that the best we can do in the time we are given will have to be enough.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Once Was a Blue Whale

I've always loved Big Things. I like to be on top of buildings. I love Giant Trees and the Statue of Liberty. The ocean and the albatross. The night sky and snow-capped mountains. I like things that make me feel small, because I've always been a Big Thing myself.

Most of my life I've wavered between a size 12-16. I was never small.  I may have been close to the biggest girl in my class. I may have been the fattest, or the tallest, or had the biggest boobs, but I was not the largest animal in the world.

We had a book at home, and in it was one of those pictures of animals relative to one another in size. There were elephants and giant sea turtles and dinosaurs but bigger than all of them was the blue whale. She was graceful, curved, bouyant, at peace and at home. She is the biggest thing to have ever existed. I felt a quiet place in me opening up as I looked at the picture of her, disinterested in the long-dead and too-small beings on the page with her. She could swallow them whole.

I don't know how old I was when I first saw her at the Museum of Natural History. I don't know if it was a class trip, or if my parents took me. I don't know if I read about it and went on my own. But again and again, I took the pain-in-the-ass A train up to the Upper West Side to visit her.

I wanted my first kiss to be under the blue whale. I wanted to get married here. I wanted to give birth on the floor under the whale and I wanted to DIE there. I was in love. I was not afraid to say I was a Blue Whale in a past life. I WAS a Blue Whale. I was she. I had whale DNA. I was a Giant of the Sea, a deep-sea diver, my stomach scraping across the ocean floor.

As seen from underneath the Blue Whale

As a little girl, I tried to learn all I could about my brethren spirits but there was not much to learn. We don't know their migration lines or their mating rituals or where they go or what they do. They were elusive creatues (like me!) they were loners (like me!) and no one really understood them (yes! like me!) I can remember sentences on a page in my animal book about the rarity of seeing a blue whale. I can remember telling myself, you will never see one. It's ok. The old gal swimming around in the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History would be enough. And anyway, I was part whale. I live in two worlds, just like her, the air and the sea, not quite belonging in either, but belonging in both because both are the same world. I wish I lived in the ocean, needed blubber to keep me warm, where I was weightless and elegant and the color of the sea.

My first kiss wasn't under the whale-- it was in the dinosaur room. My husband and I had our wedding at the NY Hall of Science, though I did inquire about a reception in the Hall of Ocean Life at the Museum of Natural History. $250,000, in case your were wondering.

My husband, sister-in-law, niece and nephews visited the museum on a recent trip to NY. We lied on the floor for awhile to stare at the whale and imagine her swimming above us. I'm pretty sure I was the only one all teary eyed and verklempt.

My husband, whale-like himself, has brought me great luck with whales. We've seen pods of Orca in the San Juan Islands, migrating Gray Whales off the coast of Long Beach and resident Sperm Whales in New Zealand. And last June, for the third summer in a row, a pod of Blue Whales pigged out on krill for weeks off the coast of Redondo Beach. Blue Whales don't come back to the same place year after year and they don't usually travel together. They are unpredictable nomads, but we drove down to Long Beach, hopped on a boat ($15 each with a Groupon!), and I didn't believe it until I saw them, it was not something that was ever supposed to happen. I saw them spout water and surge up and surge down and turn on their bellies to lunge feed. They slithered across the surface of the water, their bodies seeming to go on forever. They were real, these living dinosaurs and alive, just like any animal, just like us.

 I am still that lonely whale girl, but I am also the girl on the boat, happy as all hell to be exactly where she is. And grateful. And at peace. And in awe that things can happen, things you never expected, things you never even dared hope for.