Long Live Patti Smith

Hmm. I’d like to add that reading Patti Smith, and watching some You-Tube videos of her performing, is like breathing fresh air instead of candy-flavored, vitamin-enriched air that comes out of an expensive plastic bottle. Oh my God, I forgot! There used to be artists! Sex had nothing to do with money! Uptowners stayed uptown!

Sigh. I’m so grateful to have known the world before it got this dark. Thank you, Patti, for the reminder.

Free

I was just lying on my bed, looking up at the light green branches of the trees against the deep blue sky, listening to the birds chirping. There were two, with two different calls, and I was trying to hear whether they were doing a kind of kirtan—call and respond—or if the constant rhythm of their music just happened to fall that way: first one, then the other, then back again, like lovers.

I had been reading Patti Smith’s book Just Kids before I turned to the window, and the story of Robert Mapplethorpe coming to Scribner’s, where Patti worked, to ask her to come back to him one more time, was burning in my heart. She didn’t know then that she would become a musician—no, not a musician: who she was. She didn’t know who she was. This was thrilling, like a beautifully wrapped, unopened package under a Christmas tree.

Union Square, Summer Afternoon

So my wallet got stolen today on the subway. Of course, everything was in it, including $200 in cash, an $80 store credit, and my return-trip Jitney ticket. I tried to cancel my bank account but couldn’t with no ID, and the bank manager said I had to file a police report.

So I did that at the underground Union Square precinct, and the woman taking the information started hassling me about one thing or another—What bus had I taken that morning? Where exactly had I gotten on? Did I actually see someone take my wallet? If not, I couldn’t know it was stolen. Finally she said that if I couldn’t give her the exact bus number, she couldn’t file the report—and I lost it. I started to leave the station, but had a few words to say to the policeman at the desk about the difficulty of having one’s wallet and money and ID stolen in the subway, and not being able to file a police report because I didn’t know what the number of a bus I’d taken that morning. Somehow, I got the attention of about fifteen cops in uniform and plainclothes people: everyone stopped doing what they were doing and looked up, stealing glances at one another.

The policeman at the desk went off and had a word with the woman, who came back and apologized. Imagine what could make cops uncomfortable—a big-haired, 55-year-old lady in Birkenstocks, a black t-shirt, and a backpack, talking about the absurdity of her situation? I wasn’t raving. I didn’t yell or anything.

Anyway, it’s not poor me. Really, who cares? It’s only money and time. The thing that really got me was when I came out of the station and immediately encountered someone who I think was an older black lady, but who looked, at first and second glance, like an eighth-grade boy: she was short and stocky, with close-cropped hair. She was wearing a red t-shirt and red basketball shorts. She stopped me on the sidewalk and apologized for bothering me, and then she started to cry. The tears stuck in one eye, and rolled down her cheek below the other. She said she was hungry and she just wanted to go home. I believed her.

Of course, I had absolutely no money (or food), and no access to any. But there I was, the woman who had just silenced a room of New York City cops with my icy, middle-class fury, unable to help this woman who was really in pain. It sounded like complete bullshit, even to myself: “My wallet was just stolen, and I have no money.” I had a wealth of resources, just not financial. This woman was was hungry, and she wanted to go home. I wanted to take her up in my arms and hold her.

But, really, that’s what I wanted for myself. I was hungry too, and I wanted to go home. And I’m sure like her, the home I wanted to go back to did not exist anymore: neither the near-past home, nor the home of long ago.

Somehow that woman and I are now bound. I feel her, like a tattoo, like an unmet obligation.

Vancouver: Pace

This exact time last year I was heading for Berlin, to a teaching given by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. It was a good time, with lots of very happy blogging. Today I’m in Vancouver, at UBC, again coming to hear Rinpoche teach. It’s a different time for me—my heart sobered, my life quieter, with a lot of alone time.

This morning I got up early and walked out of the campus apartment I’m sharing with a couple of friends, in search of coffee. The sky was gray, and the air was cold enough for the down vest I brought. UBC is a big campus, and feels almost like a little suburban town—lots of roads and construction, a lot of standing on the corner, waiting to make sure that the car coming will stop, even at 6:30 in the morning.

What I realized when I was doing just that—waiting for a car to stop—was that the last year living out in the country has slowed me down, internally. I’ve grown accustomed to the gentle pace of country living, and that pace is very much in line with where my mind and body feel happiest. The frantic pace of cities, and even suburbs—traffic and noise and shopping and lots and lots and lots of people (strangely often drunk)—requires an amping up of energy that, for me, sometimes makes feel literally less stable: like I’m more apt to lose my balance, or my shit.

It’s silly, I know, but at the slow pace I can come out to the clouds and the trees and the air, and just settle there. That’s what I love.

Today is the first day of the teaching here, and there will be Rinpoche, and there will be friends from all over the world. I’ll try to hold my seat—the one I found in the last year.

I Know Love

Yesterday I drove to town to get coffee and went off course to look at the gigantic pink and white peonies at the farmer’s market in Greenport. Then I stopped at Sep’s, the farmstand up the road from me, and picked up some fresh strawberries for breakfast. While I was gone, a process server came up the driveway, my landlord reported, looking for me. The process server said that he had papers he needed to put in my hand. My landlord felt concerned and protective. We live out here on the edge of the world, with only the trees, the birds, the deer, and bunnies as witness. I live in the back, alone.

I know what the process server wanted to hand me: divorce papers. I didn’t expect them yet (I thought we were negotiating), and I didn’t expect them here. Anyway. I get very sad and anxious when I get these messages from Julia though she’s nowhere around, and usually I have to take a Xanax and cry a little bit and hyperventilate and watch the clock for time to tick slowly by. Yesterday, though, I went into the my kitchen and took down the two photographs that are propped up by the canned food: one of me and Maudie when she was about three months old, and one of my teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, with his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse. I brought them to my table, where I work, and propped them up against the bowl of smooth stones and delicate shells that I’ve found at the beach. I sat down and stared at them.

Love keeps me sane. Love for and from my daughter and my friends and my teachers. I am learning to turn to them in these moments, rather than fall down the dark, sad hole where there is no love at all. I am getting only slightly better at this, but better is not bad.

Authentic Presence

I was just reminded of this story that I really like, about Trungpa Rinpoche. I guess one of his students was slacking off, or slumping over, or just not being upright and lungta-fied. So Rinpoche said to the student, “Student”—I don’t remember who the student was—”Student, pull your socks up.” And the student said, “But Rinpoche, I’m not wearing socks.” And Rinpoche said, “Then pull your pants up.”

Haha. Love that.

Leap

From my spectacular friend, Angela—a very magical being—after spending all last week gabbing together in the East Marion treehouse. It’s a quote from Anais Nin:

One must be thrust out of a finished cycle in life, and that leap is the most difficult to make—to part with one’s faith, one’s love, when one would prefer to renew the faith and re-create the passion.

The Grand and Damaging Parade

Oh, God, and one more. I’m sorry (though, really, why ever apologize for great poetry?). It’s just that I thought I was new to Kay Ryan, and then I discovered, just now, this poem in the book I took out from the Greenport library last week, and was shocked: I had had this poem hanging on my various work bulletin boards for years! I guess it was in The New Yorker some time in the very olden days, and it spoke to me then too.

Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

—Kay Ryan

Flower

Backyard Poppy Brilliance
Could it possibly be that I am fifty-five years old and finally beginning to understand 1) what state of mind makes me happy, and 2) that in order to be in that state of mind I have to trust my instincts on much more subtle levels than I ever imagined? What I mean is, could it be true that if I don’t think a choice is going to actually make me happy—let me say that again: actually make me happy—I shouldn’t make it?

Backyard Being-Born Peonie, Leaning into the Camera Like a Puppy
Here’s the thing: I’ve always known that “someday” I wanted to live in a quiet place where there’s so much sand that sometimes you can’t help but track it into the house between your toes. I’ve always wanted to live among the flowers, the trees, and the birds. Also, I’ve always known that when my work situation was anything but calm and spacious, I was miserable. Often I’ve worked at a frantic, frenetic pace, driven by frantic, crazily driven people who wanted something that I could provide at the expense of my own well-being.

Brand-New Backyard Lettuce
The point is, that it was me making this choice, without really grocking that it was a choice. I felt compelled to strive and compete and climb a ladder that got me somewhere, but not here: not to my precious here where I’ve always wanted to be but didn’t know I could be.

Today I was feeling one regret on this score: that I modeled for my daughter the other way—the frantic struggle, the long hours and stressful misery of one frightening deadline after the other for years and years. The first thing I did when I got home when she was little was check my messages (which drove my husband crazy). I wish I’d done that differently. And yet, I guess, given a chance, why would I change a thing?