Category Archives: Minding my life

“Minding My Life”: wherein I get up close and personal with the stuff of my life. Sometimes reflectively, sometimes currently, sometimes imaginatively. Maybe you will find parts of yourself in reading about mine.

Tell me something true, something really really true

At the first sign of discomfort, I reach… I reach for something to put in my mouth. I reach for something to check. I reach for another something to drink. I reach for an old flame. A new flame. An extinguished flame.

People have their little families, their little groups, their little places, their little jobs, their little countries, their little clubs and the one thing all these little things have in common is that they’re full. When you ask one of the people with their little things how they are, usually they answer something along the lines of, “I’m SO busy!” They say “so” as if “busy” were a badge of honor. But the short of it is, they just aren’t available.

It’s not personal. I know that.  But I want more. So much more. I am driving an 18-wheeler down a bicycle path here and it is, um, what’s the word I’m looking for—


There’s an expression for what I keep doing. Something about barking up the wrong tree.

Sometimes I want to pull a Henry David Thoreau. I want to leave all the little places of wrong trees and go build a cabin with and among the real trees, next to a real pond, with some real food I’ve planted and then watered and watched grow in some real dirt, the kind that gets under your real nails… and at the end of the day, which will end for real when the sun goes down, I will reach for my real paper and real pen to write it all down. And if I stay up past sun down, it will only be for as long as the wick of my candle, or the flames of my, very real, fire.

Thoreau quote at Walden Pond

Site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden

I wonder what made Henry David Thoreau finally up and leave for Walden. I imagine he was tired of noise. Maybe he was tired of everything. He said he wanted to “live deliberately.” Maybe, left to his habitual ways, he was a reacher, too, a reacher tired of not being filled by the whats he kept reaching for.

I want to say, “Henry David, you have no idea, man! There’s this thing called Facebook now, and cable news, and the whole world has turned into a noisy dribble of soundbites.”

To which he might be all, “Soundbite? I am not familiar with that word.”

And I, “Oh Henry David, trust me. You don’t want to be.”

I am sitting on a little planet, like the little prince on the cover of The Little Prince. Sometimes I am sitting quietly, and sometimes I am flailing. Sometimes I get up and shout, “Are you there?… Anybody?” It’s dark and it’s beautiful and I am alone and so much I am wanting connection, but not just any old noisy connection will do. No. Not just any old faux connection I compulsively reach for will do. No. I want the real goddam cheese, not the processed orange bullshit. I want the flesh and bones arms around, not the “Like” button. I want the listening. I want the truth. The real, down-in-the-bones truth. The underbelly, beautiful, though not always pretty, truth.

I’m tired to death of regurgitated quotes. I’m tired to death of the rah rah rah and the blah blah blah. I want the grit and grime, but only if it’s true. True grit. Don’t pretty it up with bullshit, though I wouldn’t mind if you put a lovely scarf around your hips. But scarf or no scarf, make it true.

Right now I want to write about how the birds are making noise. Not singing, but a boisterous, somewhat excited, noise, like a classroom-full of middle schoolers the moment before the teacher opens the door. Squaw squaw squaw didyouknow didyouhear didyousee… That’s what I want to say. It’s true.

I want to write about how the only thing that gets anywhere close to expressing what is trapped in my chest is a drum. No other sound is big or raw or gritty or beautiful or loud enough for that trapped stallion.

Yes. Stallion. I have a fucking stallion trapped in my chest. It pounds from the inside, Let! Me! Out! And I’ll be damned if I know how to, except for this drum of truth. Bam!

Right now I want to go check on all the little people with all the little things again. I want to check on the man, yes, the one I let break my heart again. I reach to click on my Facebook app, only to remember I deactivated Facebook 10, make that 11 now, days ago.

This morning I meditated for 10 minutes. Ten wee minutes. And yet, 10 minutes more than I would have if I hadn’t. Ten straight up minutes. It was the most honest thing I did all morning. And the ground was strong and true.

You may understand nothing of what I’ve just said, and I don’t care. I mean, I do. Very much. But the stallion in my chest is trumping even my concern about what you might think. And that’s saying something.

Connection. For real. Like Christopher and Anne, our neighbors who knocked on our door the other night during Hurricane Sandy. I answered and said, “Come in, come in!” and they did. They goddam did. And we sat in real chairs, and we sipped on real tea, and we talked and we laughed and we sang. Verily, we sang.

Let’s play a game, wanna?

Tell me something true, something very very true
I’ll tell you something true, something very very true

OK. Here’s something: The hydrangea outside my window is purple and dry and makes me happy and want to cry all at once.

OK. Now you…

Painting my nails red

Painting my nails red

Yesterday I painted my nails red. Understand, I am not one to grow long nails, never really have been and certainly not now when I’d never want a client to feel anything even remotely like a long nail on a shoulder, on a back, or while I’m fulcrum-ing their head at that hurts-so-good spot where skull meets neck…

But, the other day, walking past CVS, I was taken back 20 years… And yesterday, on the eve of my birthday, my fingers practically begged me, “Please, can you paint us red?” I just had to oblige. Also, something about now must be reminding me of then…

I was living at 211 Beacon Street in Boston, in studio 3D, although I can assure you that the words “three dimensional” utterly belie the Lilliputian size of the studio I called home for several years in my mid 20’s. It was a shoebox of a place, with a ladder I climbed up to where my futon fit, just barely, in the sleeping loft a couple of feet from the ceiling… a place where you were likely to bump your head if your dared to stand up tall, and a place where, too many times to tell, something like a ceiling fell. Yes, that’s right, a ceiling.

Fairfield Realty was the name of the management company for the building of my shoebox studio, and for $475 a month in the Back Bay of Boston they would practically look you in the face, laugh, and proceed to tell you you were lucky —yes, lucky— which was shorthand for they’d not be fixing your bathroom ceiling anytime soon. Like I said, it was not a place where a girl could stand up tall.

But I had a friend. Her name was Katherine. She lived on Marlborough Street, a block away, in a studio with an actual bedroom and ceilings that didn’t fall.

“Waterstones later?” Katherine would ask.

“Yes!” I’d reply.

Waterstones was an enormous, three-story, palace of a bookstore in a beautiful, old, stone building on Essex Street. It became my second home, a place I could while away long New England winter weekend afternoons, a place where I could, for a few hours, not notice that it was dark:thirty in the afternoon and oh-so-cold and getting colder.

This is how it went: after a quick hi-how-are-you kiss in the lobby Katherine and I would split up to do a walk-through, each of us perusing our favorite shelves and sections, gathering our stack for the day. Mine would invariably include new fiction, or women’s studies, or poetry, or psychology, the latter to find out what the hell was wrong with me. Thankfully, at Waterstones I also met many poets, alive and not, and they made me feel understood in the way that even the most perfect psychological diagnosis never could. Discovering Letters To a Young Poet was like finding a pack of letters in a bottle just for me. Mr. Rilke got me. And there’s nothing like feeling gotten, nothing. Mr. Neruda had grown up in the very city I had in Southern Chile. He knew endless rain, the kind you could feel in your bones, and he talked about love being round like a watermelon. And oh but I wanted a melon like that. And on and on… At Waterstones poets became friends.

After our walk-through, Katherine —who, whatever else she may have ended up carrying, always had at least one book, if not five, from the Humor-Comedy shelves in her stack— and I would meet at our predetermined spot by the big comfy chairs by the windows on the third floor —choice #1—  or, if the window chairs were full, in the quiet corner over by psychology, sitting cross-legged on the floor —choice #2. And there we’d read the afternoon well away into the evening, every so often looking up to tell each other something we’d found.

Those were paycheck to paycheck pay the rent and just buy food kind of days, so I never did buy many books at Waterstones, but please believe me, dearest palace of a bookstore, that any extra money I ever had did go to you and I was heartbroken the day I went back to visit you, after I’d moved to a place where I could stand up, and I saw the closed-for-business sign on your front doors. My heart sinks all over again just remembering.

Often Katherine and I read until 11, practically closing the place down, but sometimes, getting back to nails, we’d hop across the street to CVS, the drug store, to try on shades of red polish. Usually it was at Katherine’s urging, but I can’t say she ever had to twist my arm all that much.

There we stood, making single streaks of red on our nails, trying on a million shades, until we found the one we liked. We’d leave the store, our nails looking like bloody zebras, but our hearts warm with laughter.

It’s my birthday today. Happy birthday to me! Many things have changed since those shoebox studio days. For one, I can stand tall where I live. For two, I do something I love. For three, there’s you, and this here me writing to you. For four… oh there are more, many more. And yet, some things about now are reminding me of then and, truth be told, it’s scaring me just a bit. So this here is me, ushering in a new life year in the spirit of red —kindness, laughter and friendship— on some gray-feeling days.

Entertaining today’s guests (break up edition): Regret, Doubt, Rumination… (feat. Rumi & Leonard Cohen)

This being human is a guesthouse…
– Rumi

It was probably the last day of sun before a string of rain days descended upon us, but on this day Spring was decked out in her softest and sunniest white, pink and purple ruffles and her youthful joy just made me all the sadder.

Oh, my love, it is best for us to part. It breaks my heart and yet it must be said.

That was the gist of the letter I’d just read again before sending. It had been on my mind for days, no, weeks, and in some way maybe even months. This was not a surprise of a letter to anyone, which didn’t take away from my sadness.

When I awoke the next morning, Regret and his brother Doubt were standing at my door, anxiously shifting their weight from leg to leg, weary from their travels through the night. Barely the door was open, they hurried into my living room.

“You spoke too soon,” said Regret.

“You don’t really want to lose him, do you?” added Doubt. “You sure do love him. Look at your puffy eyes, would you? Oh honey…”

His voice trailed off and a heavy silence descended upon the house of me. They are right, I thought.

“What a good guy,” said Regret, looking wistfully out the window.

“You certainly could do worse, you know. What a find he is. I mean, was—” Doubt piped in. “He spoke your dad’s language. Remember how you practiced German with him on the dock that day last spring, sitting on the piano bench in the fog with a blanket pulled around you?”

Regret, still looking out the window, added: “You were planting a garden. How could you leave when you were planting a garden! The baby basils were just becoming toddlers—“

I nodded. A set of furrows was settling itself into my brow and a huge lump had lodged itself in my throat.

“And now you’ve gone and lost him. Just you tell me where you will find another chap like he.” Doubt spoke with such old-fashioned grammar.

Minutes later, another knock on the door. I peeked from behind the curtain to find a youngish woman who looked like an over-caffeinated step aerobics teacher from the 90’s with her hair pulled back into the tightest of ponytails. Her shirt said, “Ain’t nothin’ can’t be fixed!” and her shirt sleeves, rolled up to her armpits, gave brand new meaning to “rolling up one’s sleeves.” I do not know how her tight ponytail allowed for even a hint of movement in her face, but she managed to raise an eyebrow while glancing at her watch, then knocking again.

When I opened the door, Ms. Fixit’s knuckles almost rapped me on the forehead, and then she marched right past me, brushing Regret and Doubt aside.

She unzipped her backpack in the middle of my living room and tools of every size and shape spilled out and a hundred bolts of advice went rolling across the floor. There was, “You need to see him. Like now!” And, “You need to stop wanting so much.” And, “You should take the train up there now and fix this. Here’s a schedule.” And, “You should try couples therapy.” And, “You shouldn’t be so bossy–”

That’s when I found my voice. “Excuse me very much, I shouldn’t be so bossy?! Pot ‘n’ kettle, hel-loh!”

She just rolled her eyes, flashed me a “whatever!,” and picked up a tool that, sweartogod, looked like a machete and a hammer and a chainsaw all in one.

Around then was when the movies started: a year’s worth of pictures, snippets of conversations, voiceovers and commentaries on various fight scenes, love scenes, hope and dream scenes, all began scrolling across my mind’s eye, ending, finally, with last Friday’s skype-call with the coach lady, the call that had mainly succeeded in reminding me of just how hard our hard stuff was. Afterwards he had texted me: “I’m going out for a run,” and I had texted back, “A run sounds good. Me too.” And then, without further ado, I did. Go running, that is…

All the way to Whole Foods. All the way to the chocolate-covered almonds that sugar-free-me justified by pointing out that they were made with fruit-sweetened chocolate after all.

The movies left me feeling like my heart had plunged down an elevator shaft into my belly. Someone coughed and that’s when I noticed Rumination running the projector from a chair over in the corner.

Rumination had the longest, most ancient looking of faces you have ever in your life seen. Seriously, his eyebrows had grown so long that I’m quite sure his eyes had only a vague, ancestral memory of sunlight. Also, earhairs? Put it this way: there were no ears to be found.

Blame and Shame did not want to be left out of the sadfest and, sure enough, by midday these two rolly-polly ladies with waggy fingers and not quite securely anchored false teeth had arrived carrying casseroles. (What else!)

“Dahlin’, you’ve gone and lost the best thing ever. You’ll never find better,” muttered Blame as she waddled into my kitchen. “You are a piece of work and you know it,” she went on, taking a red Jello mold out of Shame’s hands and proceeding to cut it as if it were cake.

Back in the living room Shame started in on a long list of thisses and thats, all preceeded by the words, “You are too…” while Blame kept muttering, not enough under her breath, that “no man would want that in a woman…”

My cheeks got redder and redder and it was all I could do not to cry.

“We should know, shouldn’t we!” exclaimed Blame, looking over at her sister. Shame, the quieter of the two, nodded.

“We’ve held onto our men for, oh, what is it now—eleventy hundred years?” Blame went on, proudly. “Oh how time flies when you’re bound in holy wedlock.”

It was the word “lock” that brought me back and I glanced around at the motley crew in my living room. And just when I thought it could not get any more crowded one more guest arrived.

Panic was out of breath when I opened the door. And also? Terrified. The end of the world was upon us, after all. His vocabulary was very limited and pretty much all he managed to say was “On no, oh no, oh no,” which he chanted like a mantra gone awry, all the while pacing about my living room wringing his hands and then smoothing back his hair with a sweaty palm. He knew my deepest fears and managed somehow, in spite of not being able to stand still for so much as a second, to lay a slew of pictures out on the table before me:

There was a snapshot of me hungry and alone… another of the Aardvark leaving me and going back to Africa… another of Heidi’s Table failing disastrously, my appointment book completely empty… another one of never another kiss, ever… culminating in the predictable—Urgency School of Redundancy trained as he is—clincher: a framed 8 x 10 of me dying a godforsaken and lonely death, alone, with nary a soul around.

What a state the house of me was in. And, whatever was I to do with these guests! I did not like them and yet there they were, all doing their best to, from their point of view, help me.

With my heart still in my belly and that lump still in my throat, I walked over to the window. That’s when I noticed her. She was sitting in the big white Adirondack chair on my porch, smoking.

Wait, what?!

I know, right? Smoking! On my porch. The nerve!

I was about to go out and yell at her but something kept my feet glued to the floor, watching.

I was still perturbed when I noticed that the smell wafting in through my window was not of any cigarette I’d ever smelled. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was a cigarette. What was it, Sandalwood? Cedar? Definitely some Clove. Yes. And something a bit citrus, a bit floral…

I sank into my senses and inhaled deeply—Bergamot! Of course. And something else I hadn’t yet managed to place when she took her last drag and, letting out a loooooong exhale, slowly began turning her head—

I could have ducked but it wouldn’t have mattered. She knew I was there, I could tell, which was confirmed by the fact that she did not even so much as almost blink when her eyes rested on me.

I could not look away. Her face was forever wrinkled in a way that made me look forward to one day being that old. And her eyes were the most curious blend of calm and attention. I could tell that this woman never missed a beat and that nothing ever ruffled her. I wondered if she’d always been that way or if it had something to do with the wrinkles.

She looked at me with kindness, without even a hint of pity, and in that moment I saw myself and the motley crew in my living room through her eyes.

When I turned my attention back into the house of me, my guests were different. No one had left, and yet they had changed.

Regret had found some watercolors and was painting what looked to be an herb garden.

Doubt was talking philosophy over a glass of port with Shame, and in the kitchen I could hear Ms. Fixit and Blame tidying up. Ms. Fixit was saying that there was nothing better than waking up to a shiny sink, and Blame said, “oh, our Heidi could certainly use a little shine these days.”

Panic and Rumination, thick as thieves, were plotting techniques for making a new movie from the footage and photos they had. Rumination wanted some kind of a film noir, and Panic wanted some sort of a mystery-drama.

They were all fine.

I looked back out and the old woman nodded and motioned toward the empty chair next to her. I went out to join her and we shared a smoke. And then I cried and cried. She didn’t mind.

~ * ~

“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”
– Leonard Cohen



Thanks to my guests, clearly I’m all set on the advices! But if you care to share a cry or a potion-smoke or a story with me here in the comments, I’d love that. I’m still hangin’ out on the porch with this curious old woman. Turns out her name is Ylang and she’s related to Presence, the hot bartender at The Pause. *ahem!*


Also, gossip alert!  I just learned that Presence is their family name. When I asked Ylang about Presence, the bartender’s, first name, she told me she had been sworn to secrecy. Whatever the name, I am so taken by them all that the Aardvark and I have named a potion for them. Go ahead and guess what it smells like! (And, yep, you can get it over here).

Heidi’s Table

2464 Massachusetts Ave. #405
Cambridge, MA 02140


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