Friday, December 31, 2010

inimitable anxiety disorder and all

Twenty Ten draws to a close like a roller coaster car, hitting the skids after the final drop. Soon the gates will open and we will jerk by fits and stops back to the platform. The turnstiles will snap wide and we'll exit the ride, keeping our belongings in sight and checking our pockets for just how much change we've lost.

This week—what with the blizzard and these infernal balls in the air—I've mostly been trying to confine myself to my god given boundaries of skin and bone. Notable exception: yesterday evening, when I cried for approximately an hour then threw up an entire bag of movie theatre Skittles.

But I made it. I am coasting through the twilight into Twenty Eleven. I spent a good five minutes in savasana today, taking deep ass breaths in a room full of sweat and rubber mat smell, and so have managed to loop a few new years meditations through my tortuous psyche. God grant me the serenity, etc., etc.. I am listening to gentle things of genius, played on nylon strings or steel. I am preparing my heart for opening up and staying there. Because that is my resolution this year. To shuck the oysters of my doubt and find the pearls. To silence my one woman critical chorus of 'no'. To look before I leap, then leap the further, fall the farther, and reap the fruits of my nascent courage.

I will continue to pursue joy, joy, and abject joy, even if that means I spend my entire twenty-eighth year living in this sublet and cleaning someone else's toilets. I will stretch and dance and write and see the world, one day at a time. I will listen. Because live is a an action verb. I will no longer expect "to be" "to do" and "to love" to happen to me without my first cobbling their path.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.
Even now, poisoned from stem to stern by my own self-destructive spin cycle, I will take a shower, shave my legs, and trot off into the bowels of my city in search of my true love.

Maybe it will be Jack, maybe not. But I will not turn up at his door tonight like a deer in headlights. I will convert these barbed wire landslides into butterflies, and radiate that little princess part of me that really just longs to see him, to wrap my arms around his cherry red jumper, smell the wool, and hold him fast.

This too shall pass. Tomorrow will dawn one way or another. He will be there or he won't. It will be a new year, another swipe at the canvas. And the snowdrift in front of my apartment will melt, maybe not tomorrow, but next week surely, and with it will disappear the purple arc of Skittle puke, evidence of the worst of me.

So cheers. To auld lang syne . . . and second chances.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

on karma

Remember the four-day date? Friday, December 19th, 6:19 pm to 7:18 pm, en route to the opera, I was stuck underground, lodged between Spring and Canal on the C train, already late for my Moonstruck fountain moment with Jack?

That unsung hour, so easily obscured by the flashboom romance that ensued, was really a microcosm of a Meg Ryan movie in which I, the heroine, joined a chorus of kvetching commuters stranded on the subway.

It went a little like this: I was sitting by the door, my big-girl heels crossed at the ankles, my Kindle in my lap. I was listening to pre-game opera on my iPod and perusing the New York Times, paying but peripheral attention to the bitching and moaning and "Come on, man" banter that is customary with gratuitous transit delays, and wincing with every stationary minute.

Eventually, I cracked, breaking the fourth wall of my anonymity to bond with my fellow New Yorkers. We all do it. In these moments the whole city is your family.

Tell me about it. I have opera tickets.

More back-and-forth. The lady at my left was hosting a birthday party in the Village, at one of those snooty bistros that don't seat incomplete parties (and don't hold tables more than fifteen minutes). The lady in front of me had left work early to get some Christmas shopping done—so much for that idea. Another was on her way to meet a friend.

You're going to the opera?

If I ever make it, I answered. The story followed. It's my first real date with this guy I'm sort of crazy about . . . and I'm supposed to meet him at the Met, by the fountain, five minutes ago . . . and he doesn't have a phone.

You would have thought I'd exposed a ring of seal-clubbing puppy-skinning crime lords. These women, with their own places to go and people to meet, were aghast. If they could have formed a human chain to crowd-surf me up the island to Lincoln Center, they would have done so immediately.

Instead, they all held their impotent cell phones in the air to search for signal. They brainstormed. They demanded to know what kind of adult male doesn't have a cellular device.

A fourth woman chimed in. I live up there. When they open the doors, we'll split a cab. We'll get you there!

Only, they (the MTA) didn't open the doors. Oblivious to our plotting, an unruly cluster of men at the front of the car had begun to heave their bulk at the door, to force it open. Two minutes later, we were free, carried along in a human torrent up and to the street. My cabmate and I darted from corner to corner until we found a cab. We cajoled our driver to brave the West Side Highway, then Bridget, new-found wingwoman extraordinaire, spent the next nine minutes calling every business she could think of abutting Lincoln Square.

Lululemon: So I have a crazy request. My friend and I—she looked over to me and winked—were just stuck on a train WITH POLICE ACTIVITY for almost an hour and she was supposed to meet her date by the fountain at seven. Can you send someone over to tell him she is on her way?

Starbucks: No, I understand that your customers come first, but this is their FIRST DATE and she was stuck underground.

Rosa Mexicano: Surely someone can just pop over and help her out? I mean . . . the subway stopped because of POLICE ACTIVITY.

Of course no one would help. It was the height of the pre-theatre rush and this is New York City, not Brigadoon, but I had to admire her temerity, her utter willingness to troubleshoot.

We pulled up behind the sky lawn at about 7:32. I tried to hand her cash, but she wouldn't have it. She nearly pushed me from the cab.

No no, my treat. You just go get your man! And, with that, she thrust her card into my hand and demanded only that I tell her how it went.

Tonight, as a positive affirmation, I sent the email. Because, really, it was an absolute success. I made it and the date was grand. If nothing else, I have that victory. And so should she.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

the girl who cried wolf, part two

I tell stories about my Scotsman, his accent ringing in my ears with the Christmas bells, his gentle eyes, his turns of phrase. Tender moments remembered from the dead of night, every little trick of eye that makes him new to me, distinguished among the other tango cads.

No one believes me.

You have all been patient . . . through Gatsby and the G.I.Q. You've followed my roller coasters from their crest to the inevitable crash. I understand. I have no better reason to believe.

Except that it is Christmas, and I am full of wine and hope and buttered breads. The New York moon hides behind the blizzard blowing in. I hide behind a dream. The quiet of this dead-leg week invites my introspection, this taking stock.

Do I not have all I'd ever ask for?

I fear what may be missing is the faith.

My Scotsman's homebound flight (on Tuesday) was canceled and set again (for Thursday). Wednesday was our stolen evening, his loft to ourselves with candles lit, Prosecco from a goblet, warmed up farmers' market apple pie. We sat on the sofa, our legs intertwined, and talked about feminism, his work, my writing, and the finer points of normative naturalism. We slow-danced to Miles Davis and stayed up til dawn.

I'll see you in a week, you wonderful creature, you, he said when he left. He kissed me as I stood on goosefleshed tippy toes, my naked legs stretched up into his candy red jumper. He was humming, scatting, bah-rum-bum-bum-ing in his delicious baritone, happy as a king.

Later, locking up and stabbing out for work, I was smiling too. Industrial Bushwick glittered in the morning sun. This man, my Jack, is smart and kind. He has treated me as a long lost Maggie Cassidy, reincarnate for a second chance.

I have no reason to doubt him, but I do.

Then again, I doubt everything. It is a matter of history. Or insanity: doing and feeling the same things over and over, expecting different results.

How long before the well of trust is dry, before we die inside? Are we born with a finite supply of wonder and the will to dream? I realized, this year, I forgot to lay out homemade cookies and a carrot stick. I had them squirreled in my suitcase in a plastic bag, but the hotel city Christmas Eve threw my bearings, and I let one more childhood moment go.

Love is like believing in Santa Claus. It is just as implausible, and therefore just as important to leave the cookies and listen for sleigh bells.

For now, he is an ocean away. I have no guarantees. But Friday will come to welcome in the newer year, his flight will land, and we'll have to wait and see.

Kerouac wrote, "It's only later you learn to lean your head in the lap of God, and rest in love."

May later come sooner than it might.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

new york bohemian underground presents: the four day date


3 pm: My first proper date with the philosopher. Simon Rattle's debut at the Met: Pelleas et Mellisande at eight. I am to meet him at seven by the fountain, for an aperitif. I think, I am Cher.

6:04 pm: On the F train to Manhattan, in wool tights and big girl heels, I listen to Christmas Adagios.

6:16 pm: Transfering to the C, I check my eye makeup. Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

6:19 pm: A screech, the train lurches, we stop.

6:47pm: Nosed two doors deep into the Spring Street station, the natives grow restless, shifting weight from foot to foot and sighing at their watches, their cell phones.

6:58 pm: Still stalled, I make a friend. We'll split a cab uptown if ever we are freed. I think of my date, there by the fountain, phoneless in the cold.

7:18 pm: A horde of rambunctious men at the front of our car busts open the subway door. We funnel out like rats, the rest behind us in the tube.

7:23 pm: I cajole the glass-half-empty cab driver: suck it up and get me to Lincoln Center. He seems to respond to the words, "big tip." It takes us five minutes to make it to Houston, but then he, reluctant, speeds up the West Side Highway in a godsent traffic reprieve.

7:32 pm: I run across the plaza, scarf trailing, fling myself into the arms of a tall and red-scarved Scotsman, who takes nothing but delight in my story and buys me Malbec.

8 pm: Curtain. We are lost in Debussy, in each other. In the crystal chandeliers at intermission.

10:16 pm: Second intermission. We share the sandwiches he has brought, gaze at women in elaborate hats.

12 am: Midnight wine and chat. He twiddles my Claddagh in his hand. I look down as he rights it, my heart no longer open to the village boys.

2:09 am: Last-called and thwarted by trains, adventures on the L to Bushwick.

4:10 am: Two cups of chamomile, kissing in the kitchen, and the flipping through of books.

4:13 am: A herd of roommates descends, across the threshold in a cloud of smoke, bearing bulging grocery bags and buoyant conversation. Cheap beer and the chopping of onions ensues. They've heard so much about me.

5:00 am: Impromptu dinner party, pasta puttanesca, the window glowing Maxfield Parrish blue. My philosopher is Jack, his roommate chef a Ginsberg if ever one I've met.

7:15 am: Bundled up in borrowed jumpers on the roof, his arms around my waist. We watch the sunrise turn the skyline salmon pink.


12:3o pm: Assembled company convenes for cucumber and cheese on bread, we squeeze six into one SUV and drive. The sun sparkles white on the world, and cold.

1:41 pm: Silent film screenings.

2:57 pm: Robert Rauschenberg at Gagosian, we stroll through Chelsea arm in arm.

4:30 pm: Back in Brooklyn, a wee snooze. He rubs my feet, I butcher Neruda en español.

1:15 am: No hot water, I commute to shower and dress again for dancing. The elevator opens at Nocturne, the world is warmer. A wink.

3:17 am: We dance the final four, his lips a benediction on my brow.


4:08 pm:
Afternoon tango practice. He welcomes me with tea.

7:30 pm: Flea markets on forgotten avenues, a boxed feast from Whole Foods salad bar, the comparing of family Christmases.

9:26 pm: Barstool of a tapas bar, coffee and the crossword, his arm around my back, his forehead to my cheek.

10:30 pm: More dancing. More winks across the room.

12:38 pm: Fancy a hot shower? he says.

1:37 am: Alan's solo venture bolognese bubbling on the stove. A bottle of Korbel, a talk about art.

3:36 am: I set an alarm for never, Pushkin stories by my Scottish furnace.


9:30 pm: A wee whiskey before the Black Swan, with Alan and his date.

10:37 pm: His hand on my knee the whole way through.

1 am: Mulled wine at a bluegrass bar. Status of the moon: still mostly white.

2:12 am: Apres gin and tater tots, the moon has gone half dark. We retrace our steps down the windy road.

3:45 am: The moon turns red. Hot apple cider, a bonfire in a garden bar, lanterns twinkling under stars.

6:30 am: We sleep, we smell of woodsmoke, that is all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

analog barbie, part one

Eleven months and a half months ago, Peter Pan gave me a Kindle. A device I feared and loathed and have only recently come to accept as a suitable conduit for the written word.

I am still wary. It sits before me in its black leather case, looking smug—and so . . . digital.

Flip side: it carries within the power of the pdf. It can bring me The New Yorker and the New York Times on the subway, so that I may stand a snowball's chance of reading either periodical between dances—and quarter life crises.

I tell myself: no real books. Proper literature must be held between the hands, the pages felt beneath the fingers as we lose ourselves in turning them. There must be one thing left sacred. Then again, is it only a matter of time? Methinks I doth protest in vain. I have skied up the hill of my own stubbornness to find my foothold slipping.

I mean, come on people. I blog (though I shudder at the verb). I spend untold hours sifting through detritus on Facebook when I ought to be nose deep in Faulker. I've even sunk so low as to tweet (again, with the shudder).

Is it the turtle shell convenience of it all? If I thought for a moment the purity of the device's intention was to lighten the bookbag load, I might more easily forgive myself, but the intention was to sell ice trays to Eskimos . . .

By which I mean: Thank you, Peter, for this new frontier.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

because Santa inquired

My blessings being innumerable this year, I have a hard time assembling a wish list. My standard everyday desire for a boyfriend and a dog notwithstanding, I want all the usual things for Christmas: world peace, twinkle lights and peppermint hot chocolate.

This list is for everyone but my mama (who has already spoiled me rotten with mother/daughter spa services and a shocking quantity of other lovely gifts) who would insist on wrapping something for me this Christmas and needs a little inspiration. By no means do I expect anything from this list. The items included are merely suggestions. This means you.

- Funky earrings or other treasures from the Union Square holiday market.
- Flannel pajamas. (Exhibits A [cream/dog, size S] and B)
- A brown leather bookbag. The closer it resembles something out of Anne of Green Gables, the better. (You know, something you throw in the basket of your bicycle as you peddle along the seashore in autumn of 1890?) But if that is too complicated, I also like this one.
- An Irish cable knit sweater in one of those great colours like "oatmeal" or "white with natural fleck." (Exhibits A.)
- Tango shoes to replace the ones I have worn to shreds, from my friend's import boutique. (Exhibits A or B, in tan or brown satin, size 40.5, 3" heel)
- A copper heart necklace, made by my college friend Lilian Crowe.
- Music, namely good classical, opera or jazz. Or, you know, Red Letter Year, by Ani DiFranco.
- Gift certificates in any denomination to Anthropologie, American Apparel or Barnes & Noble.
- Books (any and all), but especially those pertaining to early U.S. presidents (such as The Adams Jefferson Letters and My Dearest Friend, Letters of Abigail and John Adams), anything translated from the original Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and anything by Louise DeSalvo.

Some of these things are awfully extravagant, so I will stress that really, I am always happy with books or the funds with which to purchase them (and sweaters . . . and socks . . . and things made of dark chocolate . . . and the color grey.)

Clothing: top: XS or S, bottom: 4, dress: 4. Unmentionables: panties: M, bra: 36A. Shoes: 10.5.

But this season is not about presents or purchases. It is about holiday cookies and/or cocktails in the company of those you love. So if you find yourself a little lean on cash, I would warmly accept nothing more than your well wishes for my grad school applications and my upcoming hadj to Buenos Aires (coming spring/summer 2011).

If you are charitably inclined, give a little to a good cause (such as Charity:Water or Kids For Tomorrow) in my name.

Wishing you all love and light at the close of Twenty Ten.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the girl who cried wolf

Or: how, drinking my dinner, I came to a deeper understanding of tango through chicken sexing.

Boy . . . Girl . . . Boy . . . Girl . . .

B went on in his brogue to detail the phenomenology of gallus gallus domesticus sex determination, how the untrained, unscientific eye can, after a period of seeing a visual put to purported fact, just tell.

I suppose I started it when I said tango was an impossible conversation between man and woman, a six minute moment strung between two human posts, crystalline, glossy, but false. For leaders, I said, it is chess. For followers, meditation. You see what we close our eyes to. You stare, you steer, you peacock, and we are free in flight. But then I took the mallet to the chisel when I said, our objectives being disparate, the moment itself is never wholly shared.

That's when he brought up the chickens. As if to say, sure, but see . . . we are not always navigating. The shared moment can only happen with both parties present. Which means the leader must reach a place in the dance where his lead will bypass his navigational brain and he moves from inside the music. When he is no longer being told boy, girl, boy, girl, but sees a conveyor belt of chicks and just knows which is which—without knowing why. That is the moment you feel, he said.

B is a dreamboat I dared not entertain. Tall, broad chested, blue eyed boy with a lucid wit and a lovely embrace. We've sent a few pithy emails, whiled away the odd tanda or two in impromptu chat and practiced once on a Saturday morning. It is all I can do in class not to blush with his bicep beneath my palm, my eyes turn to his chest, a loveworn swatch of grey green sweater, as we dance. Then on Tuesday, with all the nonchalance in the world, he tucked his arm around my grey wool coat and steered me through frigid midtown west to the nearest pub.

Going Guinness for Guinness, it was established that I: had a rocky childhood, wear a Claddagh, enjoy whiskey and believe in God.

You do? You mean, an omnipotent paternal presence-in-the-sky, creator-of-the-Universe, judger-of-our-every-action kind of deity?

No, of course not.

Well good, that's good.

We talked about astrophysics, art and the intersection there between. We covered theism, theatre, Nietzsche, the question of monogamy and the creation of the state. Somewhere in there we talked about Dionysus—and Apollo—the finer dynamics of the lead-follow relationship, the psychics versus the scientists and how it's all the same.

And that. That is what I believe in, I said. Sharing atoms. If you and I sit here long enough, we will eventually become each other.

It takes a rare breed of man to have patience with me when I wax quixotic, and a rarer one still to suggest a walk through the cold to a deserted hotel bar for ice tinkling Negronis and another round of laughs.

You mean to say the man/woman moment of transcendence we seek in tango is nothing more than the mutual sexing of chickens?

Precisely, he said. An epiphany.

It was a fierce rout of intellectual foreplay. I am still reeling in the brain chakra, not to mention select others, far more dazzling.

At three, the lobby bar closed around us, the Ecuadorian Italian barman shooing us out with a wink and his best wishes. We traversed the marble to the glass doors and into the wall of frozen wind. He had his arm around me again, but I swear it was of necessity. It was bitter cold.

I had one hand clutching the side of his coat, the other shoved between breast buttons. He flung one arm round my shoulders and the other around my waist, walking almost sideways. We stopped for a light and he leaned down to my face as I leaned up. Behind glasses, his blue eyes twinkled with the icy air, the traffic lit intersection. My hat slipped over my eyebrows, obscuring all but my nose. He righted it, smoothed the black knit backwards off my face. The light was still red . . . and then—

I have become a girl who dares not hope, a consummate assumer of the worst. Therefore, this evening, for all its merit, must stand alone, regardless of the way he brushed my hair from my face with both his hands and said, as if laughing, I've been wanting to do this for ages. Dunno why. Just this."

I realize also that I said—and just last week—there must be something more to all this courtship and coupling. If nothing comes of this (and round these parts, we fear the worst), at least I know. This is what was missing.

Thank you, Universe, for my philosopher.

Monday, December 6, 2010

andare via

Are you playing? he asked.

He had pulled me aside at the milonga to do this, dragged his folding chair to meet mine, trapped me between his lanky knees.

Funny how the simplest phrases are the most easily misunderstood in translation. Or the most easily evaded.


I think I know what he's talking about, but the question exhausts me. How am I supposed to know what I am doing? I met him at an Irish pub last night near Grand Central, for burgers and Cokes (he doesn't drink) and we sprang through the cold to listen to music on his computer (must be a generational thing) at his hotel.

Now, hotel rooms typically bring me joy, a comfort I can't quite understand. It was all I could do not to kick my boots off and flop down on one of the two double beds, enjoying the midtown office diorama through the plate glass window. But something told me to be uneasy, even with this bookish and slight specimen from Livorno who sent me roses on my birthday.

He kissed me. And it was nice, and to be expected. But then Italian men have this charmingly lax concept of time everywhere but in the bedroom. Late to everything, but the absolute first to try and peel off the turtleneck, reach for the jeans button, all the while whispering how much they want to fare l'amore con te. And I'm no prude, but this was all moving a little too fast.

Maybe it's the new nun-like digs—the twin-sized bed, the plaid flannel sheets, the room eight by ten. Maybe it's the vows I've almost taken not to own anything or love anybody ever again. Maybe it's the man, the men, I've not quite mourned.

Maybe it's me, wanting to carry my heart like the covenant and let it fester into mystical ether that melts the faces of the infidels. I just want to wait. It has been so long since I have been seduced, properly seduced, but I remember the attendant ceremony. As in: there ought to be one.

Roses, while lovely, words, while pretty, are no substitutes for knowing it is time for your clothes to slip to the floor, when your mind and your body are in easy lockstep, racing forward into the trains colliding overhead, and it is all you can do to keep up to the tune of so many trumpets. There's a great deal of wooing and winning to be done before this may be effortless.

Hai paura? he asked. Are you scared?

Yes, I am scared.

Also my heart is tired. Also, I say to myself, you are not yet worthy.

It is okay, we have time, he says, because they know what to say to get what they want. Va bene. We can just lay here, fully clothed, our thin, girlish frames, me conscious of my boots on the white duvet.

I fall asleep. Or he does. It is comfortable. He holds me in a practiced way (they must teach Italian schoolboys to do this), one arm squeezing, the other cupping the back of my hair like a child. It is the way a predator lulls you to safety only to suck your organs through your punctured skin. And it feels nice.

Everything feels nice—the eye contact, the furtive handholding racing through intersections, and this: being in someone's arms, even when I shut my eyes and imagine those arms to be the fleshier arms of others. Even when I shut my eyes and imagine dancing with someone else. My eyes flap open in the dark and I wonder, am I only here because I like to feel?

Either way, this is not fair to him. I am undecided here, and I have to go.

Devo andare, I say. I interrupt his snore.

Ma non... dormi qui con me. Dormi qui, piccola.

But I did leave. I read myself home on the F train, picked up a pint of sorbet to soothe my newly aching throat, went to my cell and to sleep.

And tonight he asks if I am playing with him. He wrestles the colloquial and I could hedge some more, but he deserves a straight answer.

I just need to be very careful. I always dive. This time I have to wade. You understand?

He pretends to, but then it's all . . . If I return next week, I come for you . . . and: I just need to know, when I see in your eyes, what I see there, are you lying?

My eyes never lie. But that is a stupid thing to say. And what do men see there that some find so captivating and the others fury-making. The innocence, the stores of love, the deer caught in headlights. The caution crusting over the abandon. Short answer: how should I know.

Can you come with me now?

I look at him sharply as if he has asked for me to kill someone, he sees my panic, understands, and leaves. It is the gentlemanly thing to do. Okay, we go this way, bit by bit. Write to me.

Yes, I say, and he is gone. I've got the whole milonga speculating about playboy flyboy and me. Are we or aren't we? Aren't, I'm embarrassed to admit. Or relieved.

I'm in a cluster of girls telling stories. Keep different men for different things, they say, diversify.

Then Gatsby is there at the edge of the dance floor, winking. And though I've sworn him off, it's been so long since we danced that I nod and make my way to take his hand.

He has a heart shaped sweat stain on his shirt.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

from queens to kings

Ladies and gentlemen, A Room of One's Own. One twin bed, one electrical outlet, one metal bar on which to hang my hat. Above a stationer and an Italian espresso bar. On a street strung with holiday lights.

My indoctrination occurred last night, over the seemingly inconsequential purchase of a knit hat to keep my ears warm in the legitimate cold of an icy Thursday night in December. Year of our lord 2010.

Hipster Clerk: What's your zip?

Moi: 11215?

Hipster Clerk: (rapid change in demeanor to express sudden and absolute solidarity) Brooklyn. I also live in Brooklyn. You have a nice night.

Moi: Well shit, you too.

And just like that, I belong. I didn't even judge him for the obviously non-prescription strength of his thick frame glasses. Or his jaunty cap. Or his angel hair jeans.

I have made my peace with Brooklyn. Watch out, bitches. I'm one of you now.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

odd year, this time twenty seven

The day after Thanksgiving is often a lost one—Black Friday, a cold and cloudy day, not quite winter, not quite Christmas. The morning after.

But this year it was also my birthday, and it was one of the best.

As if Thanksgiving were not party enough (I am continually humbled by the generosity with which the Family Pan opens their doors and hearts and lives to me—year in and year out), I had a birthday to celebrate. One year closer to Spinsterdom and Cat Haggery.

So I rang it in right: went to yoga class, took myself to lunch, and had my first Peppermint Mocha of the season. I bought myself a brand new dress and a big chocolate cake and walked through the Village in the grey gloaming, enjoying the desolate peace of the city on a holiday weekend and how it smelled faintly of woodsmoke.

Then I got showered with love and spoiled rotten by just about everyone in my life. Little gifts and large gifts (all perfect) and then sixteen people at a big wooden table eating ravioli and drinking Chianti by the jug.

Then the milonga, where we ate the aforementioned cake and I was greeted by two dozen red, red roses, sent by Spumoni from five thousand miles away.

I was a little too tipsy to dance, but it was good to end the evening under the twinkle lights in the back basement Ukrainian den of iniquity all the same, surrounded by friends I would never have made were it not for my shameless addiction to Argentine tango.

If this year is any reflection on its inaugural day, I will spend it smiling, behind a veritable Great Wall of Gratitude, tickled pink by the people in my life, with full knowledge of my impossibly good luck in those things that truly matter.

So from the bones of twenty six, I make a stock. It is a scrappy broth, given my circumstances, made from bits and blobs in a rented room. And it is just what I need. So I live out of a suitcase (well, two suitcases now, if we're counting) . . . I could not be more blessed than I feel today.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

happy thanksgiving

To everyone in my life who has been a rockstar in this time of flux, to my family and friends for putting up with my transience, to the fellas who've given me such beautiful dances, to the ladies for the solidarity, and to everyone who has made me feel a little less alone, I couldn't exist without you right now and I am truly grateful for you all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

to make a very long story short

I ended things with Gatsby. Me. I did it.

I sat there in his car, after an hour of intense eye contact over injera and honey wine, and listened to yet another "I'm just not sure I can shoulder the responsibility of a relationship right now" speech.

(as visions of G.I.Q. danced in my head)

Responsibility. To answer for oneself. Golly gosh by goodness, what a burden, I thought.

You know, I'm tired, I said. I deserve someone who can be sure about me, without audition or condition. So we should just be friends.

Maybe it was reverse psychology. Advanced Maneuvers for the Captain of Industry 101: Getting Her to Let You Go. Or maybe it was merely my nascent backbone, tuned like a radio antennae to the wisest counsel of my patient, patient friends.

Either way, I have been dancing the sadness out through my tired legs, hour after midnight hour. Keeping open the tiny birdhouse in my heart for the someday love of someone worth loving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

postgraduate postmodern poster child

As I stare down mile marker 27 on the road to Dirty Thirty, I have only this to say: Eat my dust.

I flipped the match and I still don't regret it.

Recipe for Disappearance: Sublet, suitcase, eleven hour workdays.

I used to love the moment of crawling under the comforter, preparing for sleep, running my toes along the bottom sheet, letting my body sink into soft relief from all this New York City hardness. These days, I sleep for survival. I take the bed like a tight end with the ball tucked under the elbow crook—face first in one forward assault. I sleep as fast as I can.

I am up with the birds and down with the underdogs.

Dessert: Writing sample, tango habit, yoga, boys. (In order of percentage of overall weight.)

My priorities have shifted their shit around. Two full time jobs stretch me thin from dawn until dawn, and my daily strategy is not to win the war, but to take the scrimmages one by one. Example, on Wednesday I got up at 6:30 to make an am yoga class. I listened to The Podcast while I mopped the kitchen and vacuumed the rugs. I did GRE problem sets on the PATH train to Newark.

I can very nearly eat standing up. (Translation: I am cheating death!)

I sublet in a seedy section of the Heights, living out of my suitcase. I can project neither of my two (now full-time) jobs more than a few months into the future, but I've made rent and COBRA this month and maybe, just maybe, there'll be a little something left over with which to buy Christmas gifts.

As tango now requires a rather expensive cab fare home, I spent two—count em, two—evenings (read: between the dinner hour of 10pm and the crash pad hour of 2) this week on the couch in my sweatpants, hard at work. I have a draft, albeit an imperfect one, to show for this.

Everything is a big fat mess, but for the first time in my life I feel confident making choices of myself, by myself, and for myself. I'm learning what it feels like to be in control, to change those things I can.

I've run my resume through the paper shredder. It now would seem to represent a circus performer with acrophobia and Tourette's. My internal marketing department has all but thrown up their hands and quit, the remnants of their catered lunch left on the conference table.

With every week, I look less and less like what I thought a grown up ought to be. I am like the Mets with the first quarter of the season behind them. The spectators are getting nervous. In other words: a nose dive. Or maybe a swan dive, if I can arch my arms out in time. Or—best yet—om sūryāya namaḥ, sun salutation style.

That said, quite simply, I've lost the desire to explain myself.

I may have disappeared, but I am not unhappy. I'm moving forward, up or down. I walk fast and keep the landing gear in tight. This is efficiency living and maybe I'm not happy, but also maybe I've never been happier.

My mother misunderstands and says I ought to show a little gratitude to the Universe for not letting me fall flat on my ass (as perhaps I should have done). But perhaps I have not adequately expressed the victories among all this adversity.

My friends are good ones. My family loves me. My therapist approves of me. My high school English teacher thinks I'm still worth his time. I'm rocking one towel, three socks, two pairs of jeans, my fleece jacket playing Chicken with the onslaught of winter. People matter so much more than things. I'm healthy enough to function on five hours of sleep and I know where I want to go. The same Universe that sent the plague of locusts also blew up my crash balloon. When I cut out the noise, my blessings were that much easier to count.

It is about purpose.

What good are all the jobs, all the money in the world without conviction? I'm not getting any younger. I have no wheels but this self-same junker I've been driving around for 26 years. Time to dust it off and tune it up for the next hundred thousand miles. I am approaching the point of no return and I plan to run naked through the sprinklers on the neighbors' lawn until the dicta of polite society can come up with something better than, "What about a 401k?"

Last night I danced until three, ate apple crumble with friends until four, then walked up Park Avenue to Grand Central with the hazel-eyed man who makes me remember Italian verb conjugations and says, "Sei bellissima, lo sai?"

It was nice, but it wasn't a disaster. I thank you, Universe, for that. For the lovely moment with Spumoni, sure, but mostly for leaving the pit of my stomach just exactly where it was. For letting me wake up without finding empty spaces to be filled.

Tonight I've chained myself to a desk in a nocturnal Newark industrial park, writing and eating cheddar cheese and Macintosh apples while Gatsby toils away at Big Business on the other end of the office. It may not be the most dignified way to spend a Saturday night, but the tranquil hum of the trucking lanes outside, the heating vents inside, and the clack of my own keystrokes under fluorescent light is just fine by me. I'm spending seven unadulterated hours of concentration and those hours are a gift.

His attentions are irrelevant bookends. I'm the main attraction.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

sleep is a crutch for the weak

You are a so beautiful lady . . . Why for you live this bad neighborhood? Huh? Is not good . . . No very nice. Why you no live somewhere nicer? Nice neighborhood. Huh?

This from my cab driver last night, whose services I employed to ferry me up to my new sublet in the nosebleed section (once I realized the 1 train was going to continue crawling the whole way uptown at two miles an hour). He hit every red light on Broadway, his boxy SUV clanking and wheezing, the interior construction squeaking against the body with every start and stop. I think he even slowed to catch a few just to drive up the meter.

I mean, I get it. Gatsby said the very same when he drove me home on Tuesday (read: Wednesday, 3 am). This is not a very nice neighborhood, young lady.

But Gatsby, bless his lion heart, meant it with some degree of protective concern. Cabbie Douchebag only wanted to give me grief, accept my 2o% tip and burn rubber down the block before I could get my key in the front door. You'd think if he'd been truly worried, he might have idled there to see me safely inside.

Ahem. New York is never a simple barrel of charms. (Watch for the wrist-chomping piranhas.)

Not that I have been a resident of this neighborhood long enough to discern said charms. I moved in shotgun style on Monday night and have come and go at 8 and 2 am daily. It is little more than a bed, two loquacious cats and the piano sonata I wake to on my cell alarm.

This week, I left the idylls of underemployment behind. One part time job mushroomed into two full time jobs, and I logged 44 hours in four days, plus the midday commute to Newark. I also fought off a flu with little more than Odwalla juice and Emergen-C.

The best part is, I'm so tired I can barely think. (Perchance to dwell.) My eyes are two deflated punching bags, glued to my face like a third grade art project. Were it not for my artists' masochism, I might have slept last night–but no—I went dancing.

I went dancing because Spumoni was there (two nights only, direct from Livorno!) and because I keep my promises. (That and my body begged for it—I can dance when I cannot stand.) I went dancing and it was delirium, another world's fatigue in alien legs, a dream I don't remember.

I sweat. And it was not the sweat of crowded milongas in overhot rooms; it was a fever flush, clammy and delicate, as the whole room blinked and buzzed around me.

I woke up this morning to the spareness and the rain and I was cured. Tango as bloodletting?

Highlight of the week: I am halfway to a draft.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

steel girder tightrope act

A mooch no more.

I woke up this morning with my annual malaise, after a night of restless thrashing and an eighteen hour weekend of tango. But there is no ache or sneeze I would not weather for the tanda I had last night. Or the sore soled bliss of dancing my blues away.

State of the Union, November 2010: As of tonight, I live in the nosebleed section of the Island, way up above the fray, just southeast of the Cloisters. I will miss my borrowed family very much, but not the feeling of being constantly in their way. My routine will now have to swell to accommodate three part-time jobs and a beastly commute, but I am once again paying my way, living with one of my best friends, her fiance and their feline entourage—practicing for my illustrious future as Spinster Cat Hag. I will be 27 in 25 days and I have boiled my life down to one overlarge suitcase, a backpack, a laptop and my yoga mat. I have the better part of my health and so do the people who matter to me. With the possible exception of my winter clothes and seven boxes of books in storage, I need nothing else.

Friday, October 29, 2010

bottoms up

Last night, over a scotch in a West side Irish pub, my dear friend's boyfriend cautioned me, in no uncertain terms, to pull my head out of my ass.

I release you, he said, from the idea that you don't deserve to be loved.

Understand by 'loved,' he means decently, seriously and reciprocally. Not the way I am accustomed to begging for scraps. His counsel boiled down to this: I settle for less than I deserve.

And, while I seem constantly to forgive and forget the parade of clowns (both sad and sinister), he remains mystified. You're a good looking girl. You're smart. And you are attracting only douchebags.

He is absolutely right. My heart is a dilapidated movie theatre, selling discount tickets to card-carrying emotional retards. I might as well hang a sign in the box office window that reads: Functioning Adults Need Not Apply.

Back in the city with my life around my ankles, this becomes all too clear. Not only do I obsessively cater to the needs of these Crassanovas, it seems to be what I do best.

I quit adulthood. I piled all my possessions together, the lovingly appointed apartment, the big-girl 9-to-5, the Weekender subscription, and turned my back, flipping a match over my shoulder on the way out of town.

Since the Plague of Locusts, I made the Big Decision, hopped the graveyard freighter to somewhere else, hid out in the tropics pondering my navel, and came back to New York the way I came the first time: with a suitcase and a prayer.

But everyone's first question was, "What happened with Gatsby?"

This is my fault. The hope of him was all my world. And then it wasn't.

I've come to care less. I've cultivated a quiet corner for myself in midtown Manhattan. My life got boring. I work, I dance, I practice yoga and I write. I make bulleted to-do lists and cross things out. I spend time with friends, but I eat a lot of pre-tango sandwiches on the sofa by myself.

I'm getting more and more comfortable sitting in the bathtub of me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

the bathers think islands are separate like them

I've been trying to tune out the noise. To stretch my arms above my yoga mat, to connect my feet into the floor, to be fully present in close embrace, to walk slowly and with purpose, to breathe. New York is a different place now for me, less full of traps and ambushes, more full of friends and fountains and ethnic food. The drama is gone. And I am my own island, connected underground by years of glacial earth to other islands, tethered to my friends and to my loves. The lava cooled and I got strong.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programing of self-growth and survival skills. I have friends to see and brunches to eat, muscles to stretch and tango to practice. I have hours to spend starting at an empty page. The dance card of my day is full.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

on drifting

I gave a dollar to the man on the subway singing "Yo Soy Feliz." It was just him and a guitar. He wasn't even loud, just walking up and down the car, singing in a mournful way.

Then I danced. For the eighth night in nine nights.

Hail Bohemia.


It is autumn, and I am sad.

But it is a softening sadness, a sinking into the crust of the earth before the snow sort of sadness. It is a sadness I need, a cycle I understand. I walk through city streets and feel the world shutting down for the winter, the air closing in with chill, the sky going grey, the trees letting go. I shove my hands in my pockets and listen to the same three songs, every year. I walk with wisdom, the summer languor setting bones, my steps slower, more even, my softening gaze.

I think maybe I live backwards. Ever since high school, in perfect Pioneer Valley New England farmland, I have come to love this time of year. Because it brought sweaters and scarves and hot steaming coffee, hours spent in drafty classrooms or overheated libraries, surrounded by books, searching for transcendence—eating the pomegranate, accepting the escort to the Underworld, and finding the fire within to light up the night.

It gets cold, too cold. Things get hard. It hurts more when you fall. More knees are skinned, and tights are scraped by bloody knees. The night is longer, lonelier. The stars pierce the firmament. The moon hangs heavy and far away.

I need this and I don't know why. I feel a pheonix-like affinity for the dying and the coming back. I imagine I will sprout from the frozen cobblestones come Spring, a newly reincarnate something green.

The cold is calming. I fight my quiet battles with a little added peace. And so, some pieces fall into place without event, a path emerges through the Ramble in the park. A place to live, a thing to do, a plan.

Some days are better than others. Some friends show up in ways I never knew. I am grateful, even as I flounder. I achieve the seemingly impossible: in certain moments, things aren't all wrong.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

on growing up

Ten years ago my family landed in Vernon, VT, armpit of New England, ending a four year streak on the road. I had never been in one place much longer than a school year or two, and being nerdy, fat and pathologically uncool, I hadn't held on to many friendships along the way.

In this tiny town, I suffered a particularly cruel and unusual eighth grade year before moving on to the hallowed halls of academe for four blessedly continuous years of prep school. This settled stint in the foothills of the Green Mountains marked the longest consecutive stretch that I (and my three man nuclear family) found myself in one place. It wasn't perfect—I would never choose it now that age and taste have intervened—but it was close enough to home, simply by virtue of the fact that we never had to leave it.

The friends I made in that stupid town are some of the best I've ever made. As satellite students, local yokels, we were left stranded in the cow pastures when the rest of the students went home to their glamorous lives in Seoul, Sydney and Durham, NH. We spent our summers driving through corn fields and scaring each other in the dark. We played board games with my parents, we loitered in movie theatre parking lots. We did wholesome things in the name of adolescence and stealthy things in the name of adulthood. They indulged in a few illegal substances and I baked pie. We were good kids and we still are.

Saturday, the first of us got married. And so it was that the guy who once passed out under my Twister mat said "I do."

Of the four of us, I will be the last to go. I was stuck without a plus one at a table of the affianced. The wizened New Yorker drifting through bad boyfriends and irrelevant career moves and her better, more practical friends. Who—I like to think—love me in spite of my incurable self-sabotage.

We may not keep in touch as well as we should. We may not see each other more than once a year. But these guys know me (perhaps better than I know myself). They have inspired me and will inspire me for years. Someday, if I have sons, I will want to raise them to be just like them—the kind of men at a wedding who ask their spinster cat hag high school friend to dance.

Friday, October 8, 2010

no small victory

How it feels to get through today:

Wake up in a sweat. Take a couple pills. Clean house. Cry into yogurt.
Type aimlessly. Stare at blank screen. Shower.
Dress for therapy. One foot at a time. Talk too much.
Well tears. Wipe tears. Confess and be absolved.
Sit in Starbucks. Eat salad out of Tupperware. Stir sugar into coffee.
Type aimlessly. Stare at blank screen. Spy.
Wander. Purchase paperback. Go home with groceries.
Email furiously. Talk to best friend. Attend lecture.
Attempt to stay awake. Attempt not to text. Attempt to pay attention.
Read on the subway. Grilled cheese sandwich. Glass of wine.
Television, television, television.
Stay up too late. Wear socks to bed.

Dr. H offered to see me for a while gratis. He said, given the month I've had, I'm doing extraordinarily well. Whatever happens happens. And he said he's proud.

Survival mode is a force to be reckoned with, propelling me into the world even when all I manage out there is to drool onto my laptop and people watch, poke through vegetable stands and window shop.

I get up and scribble lists onto legal pads just so I can cross things off. Set achievable goals and hack them one by one. Mail things. Make outlines. Cheat. Do what I know I should.

With the exception of a few texts and a few rounds of Is he?/Will he?, today was for me. I spent it with a roll of emotional duct tape, sealing the window cracks and making great big exes over doors. There are candles in my basement, unlit, and batteries in the fridge. My bathtub is leaking full with water. These are things I know to do—the lecture, the therapy, the afternoon out.

Only difference is this time, I've lost my conviction. I do all this in spite of the feeling (to fight the feeling) of wanting to hurl myself off a skyscraper, just to feel the freedom of the fall. You know, without the telltale splat at the end.

I am either much too weak or far too strong.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

honesty alert

The moment you realize someone is not the man you thought he was is like seeing your parents fallible for the first time. The Christmas tree crashes onto the coffee table, everyone is miserable, and no one can fix it.

Maybe it is time to admit I fell for the dream of him, the rest of him rosed over by the glow of a dying summer. The collapse of a lucky streak. The end of a long string of let downs and bad romance. The beginning of something to believe in. This had all the earmarks of a fairy tale, ergo I ought not be surprised to watch it devolve nightmarishly into typical every day tragedy, one heart bullet-grazed, the other smeared against the kitchen wall.

I thought I found a grown-up. What I found was another Batman, a boy who still thinks he can control everything in his Universe and does not appreciate biological proof to the contrary. I thought I found someone to share the burden, and yet here I am alone in left field again, mustering strength from the reserve tank to take care of myself and move on.

This is not to say he won't turn things around, show up again with chivalry and platitudes. Pitch the woo. Sweep me off my overlarge feet. But if he comes a'callin,' he will have lost a little of his charming veneer. I'll be accepting a little less than I deserve. Demanding a little more in reparations.

Maybe the lesson here is people are imperfect creatures–and dating just one long minefield of discovery. Perhaps we ought to assume the worst in people, to mollify our inevitable disappointment. Start disappointed, end up pleasantly surprised?

But I have bigger fish to fry. And miles to go before I sleep. I wake up every day in panic. I belong here, I don't belong here. I can make it, then I can't. Things make sense for only moments at a time. I have to find a way to breathe easier. Be solid on my own axis. Find neutral. Because the highs never last and the lows are starting to wear me out.

I was wrong to think I could live out of a suitcase. Wrong to think I could beat the system. And wrong to think I could borrow the feeling of someone else's family home. Without four walls to oneself and a sleeping pallet, one is always asking favors, growing debts. Feeling like a bad barnacle on someone else's hull.

And all this drifting just fills you with empty.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

house of ill humors

Fasten your seat belts, folks. We're in for some turbulence.

Ugh. And that sentence came after reading this week's Ben Zimmer in the Times Sunday magazine.

I am back on the big loopy bus ride that is New York, and as such have developed a new and increasingly startling feeling of fellowship with manic depressives the world over. Time to climb aboard the Bipolar Express. Hold on to your hats. For every downturn, an upswing. And vice fucking versa.

For one, it's freezing. I am freezing.

For two, I currently depend on the kindness of others for shelter. Free to go anywhere, but nowhere is home. On that note, three: I spent the better part of today touring the lesser part of Bushwick with pathologically positive Realtor Adam, a five-foot-four and bearded dogma-Vegan who took me from dump to dumpier dump, finding charm wherever least appropriate: windowless bedrooms built for dwarves, yellowed toilet seats, cockroaches.

Four, money. As in: I have none. As in . . . uhoh.

Then again, it is fall. Grey, chilly, sweater-wearing fall. Almost everyone I love is here and I am dancing. That I have. I get up every day and I get something done. I clean something, cook something, stretch something. Fill in a form, send out a cover letter, make a list and cross things off. I dance at night, so I sleep now—quel relief. I get to be with Peter, who will always be my family. Yet still I cannot shake the feeling that I'm missing something; something isn't right. If only I could fix that one factor, the rest would fall into place—right? And hum to the frequency of heavenly alignment? Because being 26 going on 27 only begs the question: what if it never gets better? What if this awful feeling of mismatch and discord persists? Where to then? And how?

These are questions I must answer. Questions I have chosen to answer from the unemployment line. Problems I have chosen to make harder to solve because I just can't help it.

And if being here, lost in my own godknowswhat—my freefalling Hail Mary pass at happiness and an honest living—means I can do that, well then I must be making progress.

minor victory

I slept for ten hours.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

cabin pressure

So I remember once upon a time, my mother would invoke the teachings of Ram Dass and chide me gently to Be Here Now.

Then, tucked in the spine of a purchase at the emporium, a bookmark that read: You Are Here. A bookmark I later saw in the bat cave of the G.I.Q.

Always I have been told to take comfort in the chaos. To find stillness. Today I flew (and I hate to fly) the length of the eastern seaboard, and survived. (read: cheated death again.) It only took a Xanax, a bag of gummy worms and the prayer-like recitation of all forty-four U.S. presidents in chronological order to calm me down. We got up and stayed up. I drank my can of cranberry juice. I read my dime store crime novel in the crisp blue dome.

Then the descent—nosing through a low, flat layer of cloud cover, sprawling dunes of sugar—into grey and blustery New York. Immediately, my armor intact, the cocoon of aloneness. My anonymous shroud. Earbuds, paperback, eyes on cell.

I found my city loud and proud and indifferent. I hit the pavement, matching pace. I took my computer to the Genius Bar for a one am repair, navigating sidewalks busy still at that hour on Central Park South. I could have danced all night. But I seem to have lost my edge.

And I may have lost my nerve.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I never sleep before I fly

Two epiphanies today.

If I rotate my shins inward in downward dog (adhomukha svanasana), I can fold my chest farther into the floor, my heart closer to my thighs, and it will feel as though something secret has been unlocked.

And if I take a chisel to my own self-erected wall of bullshit, I'm ready to admit just what a sap I really am. I've been trying to tell you all and, by extension, myself, that the Universe wants me to go back to New York. That I have plans, a life, a reason for existing on or around that island of insanity. And all of that is true. My friends are there, my focus is there and there is where I dance. Perhaps I have been happiest there. Perhaps the most miserable. (Yes, I flip more waffles than a house of pancakes.) But the gods' honest is this: I am going back for one thing only. Absolution.

I am going back to have my heart rebroken.

I cried like an idiot tonight, which was not altogether inappropriate. Tomorrow at 2:19 pm, I am going to do something so incredibly stupid. Sure, there are other valid reasons, and sure, a suitcase full of money could fall on my head, but really this is the romantic in me, staging a kamikaze run at a very uncertain endgame. So I pack my big red suitcase, send off the impossibly large check to COBRA and by this time tomorrow, I'll be back in the Tour d'Ivoire with $300 to my name, two pairs of jeans and one set of ratty, sweaty dance shoes.

Everything else is in storage. Everything else is illusion. I have become a laptop and a pair of yoga pants. A notebook and a mug of coffee. A regimen of vitamins. Crippling indecision. Vertiginous awe. A killer cocktail of gratitude and pique.

New York will fold me back into her batter, or else she'll reject me like a mismatched kidney and I'll be back to the lifeboat, rowing. I wish I were not the sort of girl who said "what if." I wish I didn't take chance after second chance, hurl myself at all my lessons the hard way.

But I have a book and a bag of gummy worms for the plane. A little lunch in a paper sack. My rootless abandon intact. I'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

losing farther, losing faster

Everything is wrong.

It is wrong to go, it is wrong to stay. Wrong to hope, worse not to.

I went on a date last night. With the Pilot, erstwhile pen pal from Hobe Sound, flier of cargo planes. Divorced father of three. He talked me into it really, he made the leap from casual drinks and Where In The World Have You Been? to seafood dinners on the waterway. Blackened grouper and hog snapper with hollandaise. Drinks on a dock, ring games in a tiki bar—and one very blustery moonlit stroll on the beach chasing night crabs. It was nice (but it wasn't a disaster.) It was not the same. No trains collided in my thought bubble. The earth kept right on earthing.

It was wrong to have spent the better part of this month in exile eating my feelings. I come back to New York chubbed up on my own cooking. I come back on an afternoon plane with a suitcase full of summer clothes.

Don't ask me what the hell I plan to do with my life, but I have balls in the air. Balls to the wall. Balls between a rock and a hard place. If it were not for the generosity of the people I love, I'd be out on my lily white Irish [expletive] in t minus . . . No, really. How much longer can I make a makeshift tripod out of my failing sea legs and all this kindness? I am in a borderless country with no currency to repay my favors. So I cook for people. I take out the trash. I try not to cry every day.

I return to the Tour d'Ivoire, a little worse for the wear. I cross my fingers for that killer railroad apartment at the end of this tunnel. To scrubbing kitchen counters like my life depends on it. To dancing every night. And to finishing those samples. Daily and with dedication. In the library. Because I'll want to be out of the way.

If I've learned anything from you 2010, it is that the world can (and likely will) come crashing down around you. It's only a matter of when and how loud the din.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

a bird may love a fish, signore, but where would they live

Oh how time flies when we are a mess. Can't sleep at night, so you sleep all day survival mode.

Yoga helps. Yesterday I was complimented on my pigeon (salamba kapotasana). I wandered around with a pocketful of prana all afternoon.

But then again, this march forward. Days, weeks—a month passes. I haven't done much here except drink coffee on a humid balcony until my heart starts racing or the sun sets. I've made some meals, written some dreadful poems, sat in the recesses of my own panic until my fingers pruned. I've run the gamut a few times over, come to some conclusions and changed my mind. I feel at home here. I am lost. I belong in New York?

No one ever told me life would be comfortable, but surely some people wake up in the morning without feeling their chests constrict. I look around at Normal and I start to resent the hell out of myself, every melancholy moment of me. Where is my quiet cocktail by the pool? Where is the day I don't doubt every decision I make?

Hell, don't feel sorry for me. I chose this. Remember? I said I was happy living out of a suitcase. I said I never wanted to own anything or love anybody every again. And I don't. I do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

a poet's guide to courtship

What do I do when I cannot write? I read.

Needless to say, I've been doing quite a bit of that. Poems, mostly, snippets of them running ticker tape through my head, which feels a bit like Times Square before a matinee. Which is to say: hot. Loud. Insufferable.

Yeats, that old dog, cheated on his wife and died of ripeness. But still he had the nads to write "Never give all the heart"—and bully for him. His reason:

". . . for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss."

The audacity of his advice to young lovers, the men who come calling with their toolboxes full of torture devices, astounds me. Thank you, Billy Butler, for legitimizing the age old tradition of head games and heart wrecking. The Ophelias of the world plug their noses and practice drowning.

A little advice to those listening: We the weaker sex do not prefer to be left in the dark by the phone.

I once thought I could sell a dating manual for men that would fit onto a business card. One side would say simply: "Man up and state your business." The other would read: "Decide what you want and then be there. Do that."

That is all we want. To know. Think of all the angst you could eliminate, the analysis of actions, the overanalysis of tone. I have a hundred women behind me. You are not special. We do not fall automatically in love. We are not immediately obsessed, monogramming towels and tote bags.

You are not special because you are a man and I am a neurotic creature. You are special because you are special to me. But I can live without you. My brain was born for other, bigger questions and I resent the space you take with your flimsy indecision.

I, we, do not need you to make the world any harder. So spare us the decade of drama from kiss to kiss. Declare your intentions and be done with it. Any passionate woman worth her salt will not shy away from certainty. For chrissakes, it will give her a chance to breathe and be herself.

Dorothy Parker said it best. "I should think it would be so sweet to be sure."

To tell the truth, I'm humbled and a little humiliated by my own inability to break the cycle. I've been down here for eighteen days now, with nothing but space. The precious commodity of time was mine for the taking and I have next to nothing to show for myself. A string of wasted days. Nights undersleeping, mornings oversleeping and nightmare after nightmare.

Right before I left, I bought myself a card, one of those inspirational messages printed in block letters from Barnes & Noble. And it says: "This is your world. Shape it or someone else will." I suppose that's what I'm most afraid of here. That I'm allowing someone else shape my world for the worse.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

the other side of insomnia

On the dream train last night, there were helicopters crashing overhead, buses falling from the sky, and a semi that drove off a building to erupt in flames below. Flames I had to run from. Sprinting along the top of this train—which was moving through a metropolis—too slowly to outrun the perils and projectiles.

This comes only a few nights on the heels of the sailboat crash with the pontoon planes and the giant rock. The lover who left me howling in the hallways while he danced with everyone but me.

Something tells me I ought not sleep alone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

hello cruel world

You've been unkind this year, and you know it. I can only hope you know what you're doing.

Because I wonder. Through the bombardment, in the acid drizzle on the arid ground, there have been trail markers. Haven't there?

And haven't I followed them? I cut and I ran. I put the moving van behind me. I quit my job. I disinfected, showered, boiled. Folded, laundered, packed. I ran away and danced. You said go; I went. You said no and I turned tail. I drank your little bottle of yes. I closed my eyes. I leaped.

I'm beginning to think we're in Acting 101, doing trust falls, and you're the skinny kid with the dirty sneakers and the smelly pits. Your arms outstretched, your palms sweaty, you give every outward appearance of wanting to catch me, but your bony elbows are no match for my weight and don't I look foolish? A little stupider every time I fold my arms across my chest and keel backwards.

And yet, bruised everything, bruised ego, I continue. I scan the horizon for mirages, perch like a yogi on the mountain, blur my gaze to the future, listening to every wayward wind current for direction.

So far it says: love while you can. It says: write faster. It also says: be careful or it all goes up in flames.

It even says: Brooklyn . . . something about tuna and Mies and tea.

The odds ought to improve eventually.

Monday, September 13, 2010

portrait of the artist

Oh, lead me to a quiet cell
Where never footfall rankles,
And bar the window passing well,
And gyve my wrists and ankles.

Oh, wrap my eyes with linen fair,
With hempen cord go bind me,
And, of your mercy, leave me there,
Nor tell them where to find me.

Oh, lock the portal as you go,
And see its bolts be double….
Come back in half an hour or so,
And I will be in trouble.

-Dorothy Parker

Sunday, September 12, 2010

every time it matters all my words desert me

When everything else fails, and we are left to pull our pieces back together, all misshapen with superglue, we turn to food. Some cook, some eat, others mainline Doritos and marshmallow Fluff.

I cook. I chop and pinch and sully pots. I stand before a hot surface and make sense out of so many disparate somethings. Form something tangible, taste-able, out of a bag of chaos. The whole process comforts me: fish market, grocery store, recipe book. Cutting board, spatula, sauce pan.

Tonight it was simple. Halibut Livornese, zucchini and summer squash. Served with rosemary grissini, truffle sottocenere and champagne. We sat on the deck and took stock. We ate our feelings, whatever they happened to be.

My September sojourn has presented me with this orgy of options. I have no answers for you—or anyone. But I can say this: I am sitting still. Listening for the frogsongs as they come, obeying what signals I am sent, trudging across finish lines and spinning my idle wheels.

When I can't think what to say (or think, or write), I use the kitchen. Take out the olive oil and basil and build something. That something never lasts, but a task is a task. A meal is a meal—structure made and dismantled.

I become secondary, with people to feed. And that feels good. Because otherwise, I revert to mooning, to melancholy, to sitting on bar stools tracing question marks across the room.

I don't know what to make of him, of me, of any of this. So I make dinner.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

labor pains

Sometimes you just need a margarita. Or twelve.

Tonight, of course, I couldn't make use of that particular coping mechanism. Lest I counteract my 3oo dollar antibiotic cycle and risk the mysterious "very bad reaction" the pharmacist foretold. But I made a few anyway and that was a party. The ladies drank them. And god saw that it was good.

There is such a thing as Girls' Night, and it covers all manner of sins. We have cultivated this tradition across the ages. We the seed gatherers, the wheat threshers, the women. From a ruddy congregation in the dark of the signal fire to the more finely evolved modern survival schema of baked goods and elastic waistbands, we've been making molehills out of mountains for centuries.

You see, there are moments in every woman's life that call for introspection, and there others that require processing—by committee. Times get tough enough, hurts get harsh enough, the lemon pile reaches the flood line, et voilà! The herd convenes for baying and keening and the licking of wounds.

A good Girls' Night can be anything, anywhere. A terrible movie and a ten ton tub of popcorn. Microwave lasagne out of the cardboard carton. Sex and the City episodes on DVD. A six am drunken pizza party to ring in the new year. A handful of Kleenex and a bottle of wine. Fat pants and brownies. We are adaptable. We adapt.

Then there is Mexican Night, a particularly heartwarming subgenre involving equal parts estrogen, tequila and avocado. It doesn't take much—I've seen this manifest at Chili's bars and grills nationwide. But the medicine is no less potent. It's your bottle of XXX moonshine under the bathroom vanity cabinet. You pull these stops on special occasions and under duress. Or, you know, just because. (Although, at least in the lifespan of the average American woman, it's never "just because." Who among us can safely recall a day without a tragedy to tackle, else a victory to flaunt?) It's never the inbetween, ladies. The dog faces either upward or down. We peak and we valley. And in the hollows we seek solace in sisterhood and salted rims.

On one such evening, Valentine's Day, 2006, I split my middle finger open on a can of black beans making enchiladas to soak up a piña colada sobfest. Outside, former frat brothers marched up and down 3rd Avenue with bodega bouquets to escort their J Crew clad girlfriends to overpriced table d'hotes. Inside, my friend the EMT superglued me back to single girl wholeness and we went right on weeping and wailing, cursing the Hallmark holidays.

Even as a kid, I sensed the magic. I wasn't so tall then; I used chiles out of a can and I made a few righteous messes of home and hearth, but I knew. There are certain demons that can only be fought with cayenne peppers and grated cheese.

A sprig of cilantro, lime juice in a paper cut, the clink of grocery store glassware . . . the dosage doesn't have to be exact to drown out the din. Even for a moment. A few women come together over a bowl of corn chips and poof: All that ails you goes up in a cloud of calories.

Tonight was no different. The day after Labor Day, when the whole world went back to work. All our summer hopes began to spoil in the fruit basket. And, well, somebody somewhere must have summoned the Kraken. We merely answered its call. With Sauza Gold and grouper tacos.

Maybe, for an hour or two anyway, we feel a little less alone.

Monday, September 6, 2010

brace yourself like a man

I'm going to wear my underpants on the outside for a moment and say that, if wishes were time machines, I'd go back to Baltimore and call for an immediate do-over.

Of course wishes are not time machines. Nor are they horses. Nor do they grow on trees. They are only wishes, and no matter how hard you think on them, they will not bend your life to their parameters. The meat grinder moves on and makes of you what it will.

If you are like me, you believe in rhyme before reason. That there are forces of fate working in defiance of our comprehension, with little latent 'ah-hah's weeks, months—years—down the road to look forward to. Non-believers beware, you doubt these truths at your own peril. Or perhaps you prefer chaos. Maybe the void makes more sense.

All I know is I struggle with Why. And as each of my dreams and limbs in turn are mangled and misshapen, I prefer to wait it out, rather than wrestle with the senselessness of a human life span.

Oh, for another 140 years.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

this modern love

Call me a voyeur, but when a couple of Yankee-clad hipsters* get engaged in my immediate vicinity, the cell phone camera comes forth to document the occasion. With irony. Lots of irony.

What is it about our generation that we must make our every moment public? One too many superheroes in our childhood cartoons? This the emotional equivalent of wearing our underpants on the outside, but we do it anyway. We have started to live like snowmen, rolling our insides around accumulating icy girth, content worthy of Facebook and bloggery.

Then again, this is a big lonely of a world. We can connect to anyone—friends, loved ones, perfect strangers—just by logging on to one device or another. But here are two people celebrating a milestone and, for better or for worse, they are all alone in a stadium of 50,000.

So alone, the newly affianced lady feels she must opt for the armpit shot to catalogue her moment. Perfect or imperfect.

I don't know whether I found this sad or savagely uplifting at the time, but based on their subdued smirks, I'm going with the former.

Just who do we think we are?

*Please note the fauxhawk on #28.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

road trip, part two of two

After 23 hours, the speed limit increased to 70 mph, the highways flattened out to a sun-bleached shade of bone grey, and the sky cracked open to let pass the rain clouds.

A windy Florida night gapes around me, midnight blue and humid. And the world seems suddenly very big.

I am grateful to be here. So grateful. For the first time in months, maybe years, I am supported. I am sinking into the musty sheets of my mother's second bedroom, the safety net of all safety nets, overlooking the Intracoastal effing Waterway, and surely that spells paradise. So why am I suddenly overcome by the incontrovertible lonelies?

Answer: It is time to face the big girl music.

Because, maybe she got me here . . . Maybe a confluence of Universal factors stuck a finger in my life and stirred the pot. Maybe the shit hit the fan and I had the brass to make bold moves. But now it's my turn. There's nobody but me in this damned psychic meadow. My choices are being etched in ink. And I'll have nobody left to blame if I fall on my face.

Now comes the hard part. Getting up and writing applications. Studying algebra. Resumes and cover letters. Personal statements. Overcoming crippling self doubt. Then I pack it up and go home (quote/unquote) with little guidance and no guarantees.

One month, two months, three—the difference isn't monumental. Tango would have sucked me back to shore soon enough. My wasted New Yorker of a heart thuds in its shell. Something in me cries out for chaos and corner delis.

I go back to nothing. Jobless, apartmentless and loveless. I go back with guts and hope to make an end run at the pursuit of happiness, but there are no absolutes. Don't get me wrong, I'm going back anyway. For the above stated reasons and then a few. But I know (and y'all know) full well, that there are always alternatives, unhappy alternatives, to that which we close our eyes for all those lonely 2ams in exile.

Hard to explain to anyone, let alone the Internet, that in place of certainty, I've got nothing but good omens. And I'm going on them anyway.

Monday, August 30, 2010

road trip, part one of two

America appears both innocent and sinister from the interstate.

Eleven hours out of New York and the difference is clear. The salad bars are full of canned beets and wilty lettuce, plastic ladles in assorted crocks, ubiquitous bacon. The everyday staples of city life: New York Times, coconut water, whole grain bread, are few and far between. Billboards don't advertise lifestyle living or hipster trends, but that largely unclassifiable "shit you need" factor—cheap places to sleep and all-you-can-eat-buffets—gas/food/lodging and cheap cigarettes.

It made me realize how simultaneously vital the city is, and yet—how ridiculous. We become accustomed to everything at our fingertips. We either grow into richer, more evolved consumers, or we become finicky yuppies who, when unleashed on the quote/unquote 'real world' are ill-prepared for reality. I mean, really, we have wasabi peas and hazelnut gelato available 24/7 in our convenience stores.

I suppose this month (and yes, that's the final timetable) will be a bit of an adventure in normalcy and my ability to adapt. After five years in New York, I've been thoroughly citified: acclimated to public solitude, multitasking and tuning out the background noise. Instinctively, I brace my face away from bus exhaust, I can apply eye makeup anywhere—in subway windows, on park benches, in transit and on the fly. I know the city by zones, train stops and restaurants. I can acquire almost anything in any neighborhood.

Like it or not, the land of shouting crazies and midnight falafel has become home to me. Maybe not the whole package 'home,' the fantasy of what that word is supposed to hold in four measly letters, but 'home' in the sense that I have built my life there. A life which transcends even the basics of job and apartment, the mechanics of waking up and hoarding food in winter. A life that works just as well–if not better—out of a suitcase.

For better or for worse, this is my city. I know, I know, last month I hated it here. This place is a beast. A sensory barrage. A swift kick in the everything—and that's all before breakfast. But, even so, it took trying to leave to make me finally feel at home. Or home enough.

Five years ago, I moved to New York with nothing but a backpack and a laptop, chasing some harebrained dream of being an actress. I survived infestations, shady plumbing, studio living and bar rot, among other things. I have conquered and been conquered. I've gone to galas at the Waldorf and I've eaten diner pancakes at three am. From the Met to the Manhattan Bridge, from squalorous dumps to slinky lounges and four star bars. It's all my city. A new world every block. And it's home. Or the closest I'm going to come to it for now.

At least when I wake up in New York, the world makes sense. The structure of the grid cast out like sonar, the x factor of travel time and train delays, and of course, the anonymity.

If traveling is mystery and newness, discovering the rules from the road, home should be where the rhythm makes most sense. And unfortunately, I picked a place that didn't entirely suit me. And now that's where I belong.

Maybe someday I'll get my herb garden and laundry lines, a herd of cherubic children in ladybug galoshes playing in the mud puddles. Or maybe I'll die in a cramped apartment lined to the rafters with leather bound tomes. Life has become one big choose-your-adventure storybook and I'm flipping back and forth like a madwoman, leaving a lot up to Fate and fancy, but feeling free.

So I've got a month. One month to get my shit together, to get good and ready to go back and hit the ground hard.

I guess woke up one morning this month and decided I wanted to keep doing things the hard way. But hey, that's just how I roll.

Friday, August 20, 2010

or are we dancer

Well, he kissed me.

After all that, an afterthought. For me, it was lost in the sea of a thousand bloodthirsty bandoneóns, tugging my heart down to the depths and Davy Jones.

I should probably talk about Baltimore. Because Baltimore changed everything.

I had worried I wouldn't be able to keep up, that my legs would quit from the hip joint down and I'd be left to bleed while the whole world turned around me. But I matched pace, class after class, milonga after milonga, for thirteen hours a day. I danced. I danced until it hurt to stop, until a piece of my own toe flesh came off in my hand. (I know, hardcore.)

It was that easy. Coffee, sweatpants, dance shoes. Run a brush through your hair. Class for seven hours, práctica. Stretch. Moan. Fall face down on the bed for five minutes, then roll off groaning to the shower. Cotton dress, eye makeup, splash of scent. Leave everything behind you but your heels and your wristband, pinned discretely to the hem of your dress. Walk unladen through hotel halls to the swirling eddy of bodies orbiting each other, a mass of man and woman turning back the hands of a giant clock. Dance, and time submits. Dance until dawn turns the giant windows cobalt blue. Pry your throbbing, soggy feet from the straps of your shoes and plod barefoot down the marble floors. Sigh in the elevator, insert a key card, let the heavy hotel room door click shut behind you. Don't bother with the light. Let the dress slip to the floor. Brush teeth hastily, find a t-shirt and curl into bed. Sleep if you can. Wake to the bleating of a bland alarm and repeat.

You see, there wasn't hardly time to play "he loves me, he loves me not." We managed only a few stolen kisses between workshops and dance halls, between rock hard sleep and morning reveille. A hand in my hair as I slept, an arm around my waist in the dark. An electric glance across a class.

We hardly even danced together. I trolled the edges of the floor, avoiding mouth breathers and back-breaking old men, waiting for dances, enjoying the echo of di Sarli in the gothic Ballroom, down my legs and through the floor. And he did the same. If I saw him standing there, I changed my course. Avert the eyes, scan the crowd. Make him wonder. It was my own dance, my counter cabeceo.

Never be caught staring longingly at a leader, begging for tandas. If that means fewer dances, it gives those dances dignity. I learned that in Baltimore—one of a million half-baked epiphanies that still hover in my ether, ready to spring.

Did I find tango, or did tango find me? It's been little more than a year since a New Years' resolution brought me to a snowy SoHo studio, since I started shifting weight on the subway platform, tracing tiny patterns with my toes. And here I am in the ocean of it, buoyant and baptized by the salt.

I've had lonely moments in this world none of my friends can quite comprehend, getting dolled up at midnight and leaving parties early. Walking home alone at 2, 3 and 4 am, shoe bag in hand, feeling the quiet ascend from the pavement. I've had to fight my worst insecurities, wait to be asked to dance by strangers, overcome my own perfectionism, learn to let go. I've forced myself to smile and start conversations where I otherwise might have bolted. By a slow pace, I forged friendships, made connections. I created a world for myself where, on any given night, I'll know someone out there on the dance floor. That recognition, that "Where have you been?" Like the man at the bodega in the cop shows who notices something's fishy when the girl hasn't been seen scrounging for Häagen Dazs three nights running. I remember when I first moved to this city; my mother told me to find a neighborhood bar. Well, ma, I found it.

What I take away from Baltimore, besides a flutter in my heart (akin to ostrich wings) and a dozen or so revelations about body mechanics and torsion and artistry, is simply that. Tango Element was the summer camp I never went to, the clique I never felt a part of, the peace of knowing in one moment that I am exactly where I ought to be. What I witnessed on that floor, in those classrooms, in myself . . . I lack the words.

I belong here.

From the girl who was always on the outside, this means everything. I know now this is not just some group of creepies who like to rub up against each other's cheeks and walk in step around a room counterclockwise. We are in this together—for one reason, for a million reasons, for the communal lack of reason, with a capital R. We are a family of students, learning from masters. Arch-tired and dancing anyway. A delicate hierarchy from Ludites to legends.

Ordo ab chao.

So forgive me for not having a list of moments to report. For thirteen hours a day, my eyes were closed. I was feeling with my feet. And everything else went away.

We finally danced on Sunday, ending the night and the festival with two tandas of utter transcendence. We drove home straight from the milonga, through the middle of the night, running on moments and kisses and turbo charged coffee. At seven am, he dropped me at my door. And reality returned.

Or maybe it didn't. The week has been a blur of dancing, tying off loose ends and falling flat on my fantastic face. I hesitate to jinx this by overworking the details, so I leave you, winking, on the threshold. I'm sure there'll be something to say when I land. For now, know that I fight the forces of vertigo, staring down the void beneath me as I cut chord after chord. I hear the steel snap behind me, the weightlessness encroaching. These are my last few days in New York for at least a month. I am leaving. Skis on at the top of the mountain, feet poised on the edge. But even as I do this, even as I squat in the eye of the self-created storm, I'm living a bit of a private fairy tale, dancing in a penthouse on the park.

He walked me home, he kissed me on the eyes.