February 24, 2012
My childhood is filled with images long gone. Images of pastels and sunsets and chiffon. Images of baby’s breath and flowers behind the ear, of flowing dresses and stacked heels. Of men in white suits and women in color, of dances that held hands, dips, and spins. Of romance, exciting and new. Of cruises and discos and fantasies, too.
Saturday Night Fever, Dance Fever, Solid Gold, The Love Boat, and, of course, Fantasy Island. These forever informed my aesthetic. Diana Vreeland may have never said these words but I attribute them to her because I imagine I read them in her memoirs. It was something to the effect that what we see in the first five years of our life forever defines our style and I was a child of the Seventies, loving every moment of it.
It was a time before crack, a time before AIDS, a time before computers, a time before all of this. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Perhaps because I was young. It was a time before the darkness and nightmares would come. It was a time when anything was possible, and so it was. And I, born to some great reward, knew all of this.
My earliest memories are of walking across our black and white tile kitchen floor with a dishrag draped around my neck like it was a mink stole. I walked up and down, back and forth. I bet I would have walked on tippy toe if I knew such a thing were possible.
Back then I didn’t watch TV. But I went to the movies and there I saw things that I believed were real. By the time I had a TV, I was convinced. There was no such thing as fiction. It was all reportage. And so it is that I watched shows like Fantasy Island believing in the possibility that dreams could come true, understanding at the same time that one had to be careful of what they wish for. For what we imagine in our hearts will heal our soul may actually be the thing to bring about our downfall.
I know this now, three decades later, but knowledge and fantasies are not bedfellows. I mediate between what I have learned and what I wish, finding the space in between them that is me—and no one else.
Heels were my life, until they were not. And then they were replaced with Nikes and Timbs. But in the past year, the heels have made a return, because no longer do I need to be on the run. No longer is comfort my priority. I have returned to my world, my fantasy. A world where there is no rush, nor hurry. There is only this day and what I want it to be.
And in this day, I have the ultimate luxury. I have time. All the time I need. And with this time, I take care to spend it wisely. I spend it on the things that make me feel happy. And one of those things is beauty. Beauty comes from within, and finds manifest outside. For how I appear is how I feel, and when I am in heels I feel on top of the world.
There is something about those extra four inches that changes everything. My energy comes alive, my body slows down. Walking is no longer a matter of getting from one place to another. It is simply a matter of being alive. For in each step I know exactly where I am. I am not lost in thought or fictions of the mind. I am here and now and radiating this immediacy that is so very intimate I notice the heads spin.
All of my life I have attracted attention. When I was young, and angry, I changed its energy. I made it a bad thing and everyone responded in kind. And even when they meant well, I threw up a wall and this made them angry, because they were denied. But as the wall has come down, I have allowed myself to connect. It is not my fault that they are interested. It is simply who I am, and how I be, and I know this. In a city of eight million, I draw notice.
And the heels, they change everything. They change my relationship to the ground, and to all that is upon it. And so it is with great pleasure that I introduce the spring 2012 Rocket Dog collection, inspired by one of the greatest shows of all time, Fantasy Island.
February 10, 2012
Here’s the thing about abuse. It doesn’t end. It rewires the brain in ways that I do not understand. Paths to healthy responses have been obliterated. Paths to self respect, self esteem, self love, all gone. The understanding of the value of the self, and its place in the world has been corrupted in ways that go far below the surface and to the center of it all. The expectations for what life should look like, for how people are supposed to behave, are as perverse and distorted as reflections in fun house mirrors. And here’s the most terrifying part: everything you do is setting you up to fail your heart’s only dream.
I have only ever had one birthday wish. It started when I was five. Five. I don’t even know what happened them, but I was already operating from loss. I was asking the Universe to grant me one thing, just one thing that would allow me to feel love. The last time I made that wish was the year a man hit me. Since then, I’ve asked for nothing on my birthday.
Today I had a vision of how I got to where I am. Seeds of hatred and humiliation and malevolence were sown into me. I was forced to watch those seedlings turn into saplings and taught how to tend them so that when they became trees I could do it all on my own. I no longer needed anyone to wash my brain for the work had been done. The ancestral curse is real, and I bear its legacy with deepest of regrets. My inheritance is a forest of dead trees. No leaves, no fruit, no carbon dioxide consumed, no oxygen produced. Just massive trunks and the deepest of roots, this is what I was given by those who chose to bring me into this world.
Two years ago, I began to chop down some trees. Exhausting work, believe you me. But I didn’t realize nothing would change unless I extracted the stumps, tearing them out of the earth by the root the burning it all in a pyre to purify the spirit of demons (i’m just sayinn). But that’s the grand finale. For now, I’m standing in front of barren fields littered with dead trees and stumps. The farther I go, the more committed I become, but the deeper I go, the more painful it is.
I am discovering things I do not understand. Like how I do not know what is real. And how I have no plans. About how I was miserable living my life as a lie, but without the delusions and denials, I have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I have discovered how few people want to participate in this conversation, so it is a blessing that I have learned to write. Maybe it’s easier to read than to hear. Maybe it’s better to do more with less and be confident in that. It’s the Unamerican Way. And that’s my path.
So here I am with dead trees and empty land and sadness and disappointment and the ability to see all the mistakes I have made and the pain that comes as a result. But the pain is not just the pain of making a mistake, but the pain of knowing I knew the truth before I lied to myself. But here’s where it gets weird. The truth terrifies me. I have a visceral fear of retribution and that does terrible things to my soul. It makes it so that I do not trust or value myself.
………………..it is here that I begin, facing down my fears, walking through the fire time and time and time again until the forest is clear and the soil is ready for me to plant pure and healthy seeds for the life I deserve to live.
February 10, 2012
We were told to journey to the lower world where we would meet our spirit guide in animal form, and ask to be taken apart. So down I went, all the way down, until I encountered the tiger and so it began. As soon as I got the words off my lips, I saw the tiger lunge towards me with his jaws open wide. The fangs bit down into my neck, snapping it like a twig and within second I was headless, laughing at the intensity. It tickled in a way that I cannot explain. Like the tiger knew, the first order of business was Off with her head!
I watched as my head rolled down into a ravine and through the landscape. I wanted to turn back but the tiger insisted I focus on watching my head roll away. So I stood patient and watched as my head then slipped into a stream and I felt the tiger telling me, Watch. Look at your face. See how it is floating away.
The tiger would not let me turn back. I stood watching it go, until it was so far away, it was out of eyesight, and there was no more of my ego. Then I saw my body laying upon the ground, so peaceful in its headless state, I knew the tiger was an expert at his work. I held my breath as I watched the tiger lift a massive paw, then point a single claw. This claw was traced in a straight line down my chest and from this one scratch, my ribs opened up and out came my heart, like a Valentine, beating its wings like a butterfly. It flapped and fluttered and floated softly away. As I watched my heart soar free, I felt a sense of inner peace. All was wonderful, and I was at ease.
I looked at my body, now headless and split open, and I watched the tiger with a little bit of trepidation. What would be next? I did not know. The tiger circled me a couple of times until he settled himself at my waist, and lay down alongside me, remaining at alert. I knew he was finished, and I knew what he said, without uttering a single word.
Get rid of your ego.
Set your heart free.
Protect your body.
This is the path to liberty.
January 26, 2012
My Blackberry was on death row but I didn’t let that stop me. Though that little clock icon, I hate it. Tick tick tick like a time bomb. But I told myself, “This is a lesson in patience.” And also humility. Because all I was doing was taking notes, and really, that’s a little weird. To whip out my phone and write things down as though I were reporting on.. err… yeaa. But I am glad I did because otherwise alla it, I woulda have forgotten.
So here goes. Notes on San Francisco. Annotated, of course.
~ We’re driving through the park. I look up and we’re on Sunset Boulevard. Clearly we’re on the right path.
~ Behind the ropes at the Fraenkel Gallery with Darius Himes, thinking how incredibly chic it all is. And thinking of a story for La Lettre with the Director of Publications.
~ Jim tells me he always wanted a mistress so he could spoil her. I gotta tell you, he’d do a good job. It’s not just that he has great taste. It’s that he knows what a girl wants. Jewelry and perfume and photographs of herself. I literally wore out the Tiffany teardrops he gave me. They were simple. Nothing like the chandeliers and Christmas ornaments I usually rock. And don’t you know after our trip to the Piedmont, Jim topped himself off by pulling out a Gucci bag. Ain’t that some ish. Yea. Here’s where it’s hot. I’m cold, I’m rockin my Claw Money sweatshirt and the double Gs match the Claw perfectly. And it’s subtle enough to be understated, which is good cause all my accessories are magenta.
~ These people are cray. It’s raining. It’s 45 degrees. And they are swimming in the Bay. Running barefoot in the park. And me, I’ve got to stop making excuses for being lazy.
~ “San Francisco looks good in the rain. New York just looks dirty, like a homeless man getting hosed down.”
~ The Piedmont. Where do I start? The fan earrings. I never bought them before. I wasn’t ready. But I gave it a whirl. I went for magenta and black. But I couldn’t stop thinking about them. So I went back. For turquoise, silver, and lilac. And what do you know? They go perfectly with the flowers in my hair, and that’s a hard thing to match because… it’s starting to turn into a bouquet. A garden. Undoubtedly, I’m going to take it too far. Because I was thinking of birds for weeks, and then I get to the Piedmont and there they are. But not just birds. They also have bees. So now it’s flowers and birds and bees and me, going nowhere. I mean, maybe to the post office?
~ A couple of things I have learned. San Francisco is the land of outdoor earrings. And weed smokers. And people off their meds. “I’m going to have to give you a ticket,” a woman told me on Haight Street. Yep.
~ At the end of Haight, an egret landed on the roof with a spectacular view of everyone cruising up and down the avenue. It gave us the side eye, taking in the scene, as though it could easily swoop down and steal a muffin right out of my hands. I’m looking at it until we walk into Amoeba, and then I am talking to myself, out loud I mean, saying, “What does it mean?”
“It’s art,” a guy says to another guy. But he just answered my question…
~ new books: Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa, Poems by Rumi, The Tao Stories of Chuang Tsu, The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton, and The Touchstone by Edith Wharton. Shout outs to Dog Eared Books, Green Apple Books, Kinokuniya, Park Life, Upper Playground, and of course, The Phoenix Hotel.
~ and then there was the lilac sky as we drove to the airport. San Francisco giving me my send off. Thank you for all that you are.
January 17, 2012
It was early 2000. Sometime in the spring. The phone rang and I answered it. “Hello, powerHouse,” I said. I used to be a receptionist, so I played my part. Besides, we only had one line. I was new and I realized the best way to find out what was going down was to pick up the phone. Find out who was talking to who.
A voice grizzled and growled on the other line. “Who’s this?” a man asked. Well, well now, I wasn’t expecting that.
“It’s Sara,” I said.
“Hello Sara,” the man said, now sweetness and light. “You’re new there. What are you, an intern?”
Aww hell no, I seethed to myself, full of pride. Ahem. “I am the Marketing Director,” I replied, though I really didn’t know what that meant at all.
“Just the person I want to speak to,” the man went on. “I am Nat Finkelstein. Author of The Factory Years.”
Yea, I knew who he was. I had written catalogue copy for his book. In fact, it was his book that I used for sample copy to request permission to write all entries for the catalogue. You see, I wanted to write. More than anything else. So on a Friday I asked, “Can I write the catalogue?” I was bold.
“Can you?” I was asked.
I considered that. “I’ll write an entry over the weekend and if you like it, I will do the rest.”
I was so excited. I can’t even tell you. It was my shot at the big time, to be the voice of the company. I looked at the list and I felt lost. Until I came across The Factory Years. Then I was home. I sat in my apartment and the first sentence came to me: New York City, the 1960s: Inside a ramshackle studio known as The Factory, the post-war art world encountered the industrial revolution.
I loved that line. That’s the kind of writer I wanted to be. I submitted the copy, and it had passed muster. I was given the assignment for writing all copy from there forward.
So it came to pass that the first author I had spoken to was the one who inspired me to go for what I wanted most. Ahh, Nat, he loved the ladies and he loved to talk. He could not or would not be stopped. He loved it so much he suggested we meet up. Sure, sounds great.
And so we met. I don’t remember what it is we did. All I remember was this one moment in a taxi cab. “So what was Warhol like,” I asked curiously, only to be met with a howl from hell that I did not expect.
“DON’T ASK ME ABOUT WARHOL!”
I know he said more but when his yelled, I went into shock. I didn’t understand at that time what I did wrong. But as I came to know Nat, as the years went by and we established a friendship that transcended the author/publisher vibe, I discovered that the issue was more complex. First, there was the way everyone had been feeding off The Factory.
It’s a strange thing, to have your life’s work defined by someone else’s success. I can imagine that for someone like Nat, there was absolutely no appeal—other than the cash—to that. Then there was the truth about The Factory, which Nat had written in the book, a dark place of vampirical energy, evidenced by the corpses it spit up. And lastly, there was Nat, his life so much greater than the time he spent with Warhol, though I always wondered about that—what was this Coney Island original doing in that vortex of gay males?
As I got to know Nat, I understood what it was. “You know why Warhol had you around?” I asked Nat one night, having that stoned revelation.
Nat looked at me with a mixture of doubt and curiosity, wanting to know what I would say, yet thinking, What the fuck is she talking about?
With the utmost confidence, I continued. “He had you around because you were that powerful, strong, heterosexual male energy. You were the straight guy, the No man, so to speak. You were the only one who would call him on his bullshit.”
Nat said nothing. I knew he liked this. Silence was agreement, that much I learned.
And so in honor of this, Nat’s 79th birthday, I want to send all of my love to the old man from the sea. There’s so much more I could say, ha, I could write a book. Nat is (I can’t say was, because even though he is dead, he is not gone) the real thing. He is strong, powerful, reliable. He is smart, funny, sensitive. He is deep, sophisticated, vulgar. He is the man I love. He is the man who taught me that life is for the fearless. He is the spirit that has taught me death is not the end but a new beginning. Nat Finkelstein is eternal. His magic lives forever.
oh yea, and you can thank Nat for the Fifteen Minutes line.
It was his.
Read the book and find out.
January 14, 2012
Should I speak my mind freely, or should I watch my tongue?
I wrote these words last night, then I drew a bracket and captioned this: Issue #1. That gave me pause for it hadn’t occurred to me that a list could be forming. And I am in no position to consider more than one thing at a time.
In the past I failed to understand: You can only serve one master. I had gone for breadth rather than depth. I thought success was defined by my ability to multitask at the highest possible speed. I believed that life was a fight, that everything was victory or defeat. That’s because I was stuck in survival mode, having been wired to protect myself from those who were supposed to protect me.
It’s fascinating to detach myself and watch my body respond as I write thoughts that stir powerful emotional currents. It is as though the pain in my heart is trying to escape but all it does is flood my body with the most ghastly ache. I literally choke on the emotion, trying to swallow it back down as my stomach twists into knots to keep the toxins out. My eyes water and my fingers shake and my heart pounds like, Please make it stop. And maybe that is why I have to write.
I understand that the past has passed. But having never come to terms with what I witnessed, it reverberates in ways that I don’t fully comprehend. The past forced me to redefine myself, to compromise my integrity in exchange for… life. I knew far too early that something was very wrong, but I was told over and over again that that was wrong was me. Wrong thoughts. Wrong words, Wrong actions. Wrong intentions. I was foist upon the eightfold path to hell in a hand basket, screaming all the way down.
It is only now, I mean in 2012, that I have enough self-awareness to see what I am doing but not necessarily as it happens. Perhaps I should rephrase. It is only now, I mean in 2012, that I have the humility to listen to other people. And this is complex. I just rubbed my hands over my face, trying to come to terms with the idea that in order to survive, I began the practice of selective listening.
The first thing I stopped hearing was anything good. People may have complemented me and I am sure I would have loved to believe them, but that was not an option. It’s so hard to articulate how the mind works. But I see that believing them would have challenged everything I was being taught about myself. I couldn’t serve two masters. Only one. And I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was too young.
I was not good enough. And I never would be. Everything was conditional, a carrot on strings. Nothing was acceptable, nothing was forgiven. Everything was a crime, and I was guilty. Redemption was not possible. There was only hell to pay. Over and over again. Sisyphus and me.
For not being perfect, I was deemed worthless and treated as such. The confusing part was, when I was perfect, I was ignored. There was no love nor kindness for being a good girl. There was only the brief cessation from being the object of disgust. But that didn’t last for long. Perfection is eternal. My grip on it was forever slipping. To this day people notice that I am hard on myself. But that’s only because I was trained, perfection is the only way I can avoid the pain, the blame, the shame.
But other people, they didn’t know. Good things spoken? Couldn’t be true. But tongue lashings masquerading as discipline, inappropriate and out of control ? I was taught I was supposed to be berated, humiliated, maligned, betrayed. I had become a magnet for misery, a rod to absorb all the psychic violence that rage spews. I was never given lessons of conduct, of virtue, of use. There were no moral teachings. That, yea, that’s how you know you’re dealing with a sociopath.
I always fought. I screamed. I cried. I did everything short of hurl myself at him. For my reaction—for any reaction other than abject submission—I was invalidated, defeated, trapped, without escape. I was too young. It was bad and with every passing year it got worse. Patterns were crystallized. Roles were played. Lies were truth.
But it didn’t all fall on me. By luck of the draw, my DNA made me capable of aiming for academic perfection and come close enough to avoid a kind of destruction of which I can barely speak. Sometimes life is fragile and needs nurturance. But not where I come from.
I stopped listening but I couldn’t help but hear the words that were reserved for her. Imagine what it is like, being turned against your closest kin, being taught that cruelty is not only acceptable, it is a skill. And imagine how I felt, relieved that it wasn’t me. But the memories of that relief and of those cruelties makes me feel so guilty. And I don’t know how to forgive myself. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t stop them. But wait. It’s worse than that. It’s not in the past tense. It is happening now, today, yesterday, every day, til death comes at the end. I can’t help her. I can’t save her. I can’t stop them. I can only walk away.
But since I’ve left, I’ve begun to discover that the past lives in me. It’s conditioning, programming, brainwashing. It’s decades of misinformation, misdirection, smoke and mirrors, façades and mind games. Slick, sick, twisted games. Phrases like, “I believe you believe it.” The thoughts of pathological minds.
Is there any wonder I stopped listening. To anyone. About anything. You don’t know me. That’s my favorite song. No one could tell me something good. No one could tell me something bad. Hell, you could tell me the sky is blue and I’d argue it’s cerulean, just to keep myself from being open to your truth.
I was closed. Sealed. Hermetically so. A non-porous surface, no way in, no way out. My favorite word was No. It’s the only power I held. I said it over and over again. It’s only now that I can see how disturbing that must have been. I’d like to give a big shout out to all the people I’ve loved who have loved me who have had the patience to deal with my inabilities. To the people who didn’t get angry or take it personally. Especially to Miss Stermer, who laughed lovingly as she said, “I can always count on you to say No.” That, yea, that I heard ringing in my ear like a cow bell.
In the past year, cracks in the surface took hold. My love for him opened me up and broke me down. I began to listen, if only because I discovered something I did not expect. I respected him. And that was in shocking contrast to how I felt about every man who came before him. But the thing is, I was practicing still selective listening. I wouldn’t hear the most important things he said because if I did, I would have to leave and I wasn’t ready to walk away yet.
Only now I wonder, what is that? Willful ignorance must be stopped. So I have begun listening, not just to others but to myself. To that voice in the back of my head that has always been there but was invalidated years ago. I’ve started realizing that my instincts are true, only I don’t know what to do. Do I speak my truth, or do I bite my tongue?
It seems like the answer is obvious, that is, unless you’re wired wrong.
January 9, 2012
Monday morning, maybe ten am. I finally have a day to myself. First thing I do is hit the Piedmont. Because… I’m addicted. I mean, in a bad way. Like my heart starts racing when I am on the airplane. Just the thought of it. Walls of earrings, cases of jewels, baskets of lace gloves, porcelain flowers on clips that slip into the hair. I wish they had birds. Yea, that’s my look. Birds, trapped in my hair. The Birds, like Hitchcock, only they’re happy not mad.
But they don’t have birds. Just feather boas. PVC. Latex. Rubber. Fishnets. Fetish. Ohh, legwarmers… You know me.
Hmm… I was going somewhere with this. Yes, my trip to the Piedmont. It was 2007, I think. Might have been 2008. But probably not. I remember I was wearing that William Klein Films t-shirt that I wore til it disintegrated. That’s my favorite part about t-shirts, the moment they come undone against your skin. There’s something alluring about the idea that your garments will give out. So yea, there I was on Haight Street, all black er’ythang with fuschia highlights.
I didn’t look distinctive. Not by my standards anyway. So I wasn’t really paying much attention as I walked by a group on the sidewalk. They had some electronic equipment, am not sure just what. Looked like a video and a sound guy, and some woman directing them.
Just as I reach my spot, I hear this clattering behind me. Shoes pounding the concrete, and me, Noo, this is not happening. It can’t be. I’m stoned. Come on, yo.
But it is and it does and so it goes. “Excuse me, ma’am?” the woman’s voice asks over my shoulder.
I steel myself. I turn around. I’m facing a video camera. It is pointed at me. Okay, yea sure, I love a camera. But wait, this isn’t my scene.
“Hi! We’re from Ambush Makeover,” the host cheeses in earnest. “Would you like a makeover?”
I’d like to say the earth opened up, but it didn’t do that. I’d like to say something, but all I could do is stare. At this woman, with camera-ready make-up. Now I love a good foundation but this is ridiculous. And her hair. It’s straight but it has so much body. Like Styrofoam, it’s not the kinda thing you want to touch. What’s with her outfit? A blazer and jeans. Do I want a makeover from this lady? Let me think about that.
I notice that the cameras are waiting. They are pointed at me. I look at the woman and she is eager for a reply to her offer some time, like, today.
“You think I need a makeover?” is all that I can manage to say, my emotions swirling on the surface, a mixture of horror and pride.
”Ma’am, Ma’am, would you step over here?” the host asks as she backs away from the front door, in an effort to get me out from underneath the shadow that lingers below the Piedmont’s legendary awning of legs. I wish the camera man had the sense to back up and get the shot from a distance. But no, no one is listening to me. I’m not even speaking. I’m frozen, realizing the show must go on.
With a nod towards stage left, I turn my back on reality tv, preserving my fifteen minute virginity. Fame is for other people. A girl like me likes status, which is to say you may know my name but not my face.
No words are spoken as I slip into the store. My friend Jim, who has been with me the whole time, is at my side remarking how things always happen whenever we’re together.
Then a production assistant nips in for a quick signature. “Would you might signing this standard release form so that we can use your No at the beginning of the episode?”
“Can I get a copy of the segment?” I ask, hopeful.
“No,” the production assistant assures me with a cheery denial. There’s nothing for me except the possibility that I might catch it sometime, like, in my next life.
So yea, I sign the form because why not. Me saying No, I know a few people familiar with that side.
Then the production assistant leaves and the sales people are curious so I’m giggling about my near miss til the production assistant returns. He asks if I can step outside. It sounds so official. Camera is waiting. I need to pose for a Polaroid.
“So we can file your picture with your consent form.”
Sure thing, yea. I back up against the building and strike a pose because you know I love cameras. Polaroids especially, they’ve got that magical flash happening. All eyes and eyebrows and lips. Nothing else exists.
The production assistant seems surprised by my fluidity, or vanity, who can tell. But what really knocks him over is when Jim lifts his camera. Where he was once my mild mannered escort, he easily becomes Jim Jocoy, photographer unparalleled.
Jim pulls out his Polaroid and takes a shot. Mostly I think he was photographing the production assistant hard at work.
“Who’s he?” the production assistant asks, now totally confused.
“Jim’s my personal photographer.”
And so it goes…
January 2, 2012
“Sex is violence,” he wrote, speaking for himself. But as I read those words, I became alert to something else. The word dissemble reverberated in my head. dis·sem·ble v: to put on a false appearance in order to conceal facts, feelings, or intentions.
Here’s the thing. Words deceive. Willful, intentional, dissembling little words do the bidding of a mind dazed and confused. At least his was, as I know mine to be. And so I do a little undressing here. What is real? Where do words end and Truth begin?
It’s funny how the mind works. Because logic follows a formula, we believe that if it fits the formula it is correct and then it becomes a tautological truth. Ahh …mind games… a banal form of madness taken as proof.
I wondered how sex could be violence. Only violence can be violence. But fear and anger and hatred can transform anything into an expression of violence. The question is then why, what purpose does it serve to pervert what is good and pure? Because in and of itself, sex is an act of innocence (for all life is born from innocence). What you do with that innocence is determined by how much you need to dissemble the pure being inside us all.
Ahh, but this may be intentionally simplistic, glossing over the complexities of our need for protection from, well, our selves. We do not trust what is inside us and we project that into a wall, a protective barrier between our self and the one with whom we are intimate. And though we may having constructed a wall to keep the sacred away from the profane, that does not stop these energies from mingling, from touching the soul just the same.
I was planning to start this essay by quoting a different man. Last week a different man told me with supreme confidence that, “Sex is power,” and it unnerved me to hear his words. Not because there wasn’t a truth to this—but because there was. And perhaps because of this, the conversation ended there. I wanted to continue, but I didn’t get the sense he wanted to explore. Not there and then, and maybe, not at all. Or maybe I was the one who was afraid to find out where this conversation could have gone.
Who needs this power and what do they need it for? Where does this desire for power come from, and why does sex suit its form? What is true power—is it the one who dominates, or the one who submits? Are they of equal strength? Or, more interestingly, is the one who dominates the one who has the greater need?
Because in life, one can submit to anything that comes their way. Go with the flow, that is what yielding really means. But domination, as I’ve found out the hard way, is a more devious game. One cannot dominate without being in possession of (or enslaved by) the need to have their way.
But his words “Sex is power” went even deeper than that. It has lead me to consider what intimacy is about. My inability to respond made me aware of how vulnerable I felt. Intimacy needs vulnerability in order to grow, for only in being open and exposed can one build trust. And, ironically, only in being vulnerable can one see how easy it is to fuck this up.
Because that’s where I started, from this feeling that I have been holding back, from speaking about the past, the present, the future, my dreams and nightmares. This feeling that if I were to be open, he would know me—and hate me—for who I am.
And I get that is not about him at all. But his words trigger something deeper, creepier still. It’s older than old, the conditioning that feeds this fear. But conditioning might be too nice a term for what feels like indoctrination. Encoding. Brainwashing. Stockholm Syndrome. It’s residue on the soul, post traumatic stress disorder, the echo of words uttered long ago, reverberating until…
Damned if I know.
As I wrote about sex and power and fear and intimacy, I got to this place where I laughed in surprise. I don’t know how to reveal myself. Even though I’m naked, thinking that means something when it does, and it doesn’t. Because I don’t know what he feels. And that’s on me, because I didn’t ask. Because I couldn’t be with the possibility he didn’t feel anything more (than power) (over me) (or anyone else).
Yea, that and, I couldn’t speak about how I felt. Because it was too much, to put into words who I am and speak my truth to him. Because there’s this awful need for validation, which leads to constant debate, inner silence, and an awkward sort of despair. Indoctrination is a hard habit to break. Brainwashing has erased so much of what had not even formed when indoctrination took place. And yet when the habit is broken, I’ll be free, and astoundingly empty. To sense how little there is? This is the strangest feeling in the world.
I didn’t say, because I couldn’t say, because I didn’t know how to say… For me, sex is pure animal instinct; it is the wild at play. And to me, there’s a feeling of innocence, of a kind of virtue that comes when we no longer live for our ego but live through (the expression of) (the union of) our body and soul. Sex is freedom, it is anything you want it to be. It is who you are and it is who he is. It is what you need and what you give. It is what you are given and what you make of it. It is an art, a communion, a gift.
Sex is the delicate balance between animal and human natures, between fear and love, between doubt and faith. What has this to do with power? Does power appear to stabilize what so easily falls into the breach? Should something so delicate be controlled? Or should it be totally free? And what then if we don’t agree?
What is intimacy? I’m starting to think it is the thing that is not of words, not of intention, not of action, not of expectation. It is the thing that is revealed inside the other’s eyes when you say something that doesn’t really matter, like how you don’t like Quentin Tarantino’s movies, and suddenly this incredible energy shoots back and forth.
January 1, 2012
(15.12.10) I just came back from a meeting art Martha Graham with Miss Xie, a young Chinese dancer who was just accepted into the Company. She spoke with me for about half an hour, and at one point while she was talking I remembered something you had said yesterday ..
When Miss Xie was 10 years old, her mother asked her if she would like to try out for the dance school in the Chinese Army. She agreed, not knowing one way or another what that meant, and was accepted and began training rigorously for the next six years. When she graduated the school, she became a dancer in the national company, which was a very good job for a woman in China. She toured, she did it all, but in her heart she was unfulfilled. She did not come out and say it, out of respect to her family and her country, but it was clear she did not believe in the dance she was performing and that was destroying her soul.
She discovered Graham while in China, and saw something in the dance that spoke to her. She realized she could leave China and pursue her dream, if she dared take the risk. She told me how good she had it, how she was in this cocoon but she wanted to see the sky, even though she didn’t know what the sky looked like. So she stayed on it, and after a year, she left China on her own and came to America to join the school at Graham. Within three months she was invited to understudy in the second company, and six months later, she was invited to apprentice in the first company, the one that I am representing. This, needless to say, is not the typical trajectory for any dancer.
Miss Xie talked about her struggle in China, where she was living a life that did not allow her to express herself. She decided to follow her dream because there was no other option for her. And now that she is living it, there are still struggles, as she is alone in this city, without close friends or family. I could see how her sacrifices caused her distress, but at the same time it was clear that the other option, to stay in the cocoon would be a living death.
When she talked about her dream I thought to what you had said yesterday, about how you see other people living their dream but you are so disconnected from your own that you cannot understand the value of their commitment — in as much as you seemed to interpret it on externals like fame, money, success — rather than realize none of that matters, that it is about living free to honor your heart.
December 20, 2011
“Don’t pout. It’s unbecoming,” he said.
His words caught me, hard. My face had been falling, my mouth dropping, my lip moving out like a child’s would. Emotions flow through me, much too freely at times. And by freely I mean overwhelmingly, overwhelming me. It has only just occurred to me that I do not need to act on my emotions, that instead I can mediate them. I can keep myself still and allow them to wash over me like waves upon the shore.
Thing is, there are emotions that do not flow calmly, they thrash and they lash and they hurt. They are not waves but riptides, opposing other currents and producing a turbulence that is all their own. I’m wondering if it ever ends. Because these emotions flow in and out, with a regularity that is exhausting. And me, I’m feeling like Michael Corleone talking about, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Only this time, something is different. I refuse to fall for it again. Because I see now it’s a perverse pathology, a sickening sort of self-sabotage. I’ve never had the courage or the strength to stand up to myself, only now, I shall because I must. I realize, this all sounds terribly (melo)dramatic and I assure you that’s because it is. Somehow I am stuck at seven years old, a petulant and angry little girl.
I’ve begun to consider how children are the most pure form of life, how they know truth because they have not yet learned to lie. For lies are defense mechanisms, bricks in the walls around our heart. But the scary thing is, once the bricks begin to pile up, you find yourself cut off. You find yourself making all kinds of rationalizations for the self-imposed distance, as you build flying buttresses, thinking it a masterstroke of the engineering arts.
And after some time, you find yourself in Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, feeling victorious for your isolation. You think don’t need or want for anyone or anything. In your solitude you find strength, but that’s only because there is no proving ground. “To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person,” Bruce Lee said. And that is where the true test of strength can be found.
For a long, long time, I had myself an island with a castle upon it. Security, it was, for a girl who never felt safe. Behind these walls of rock I would climb, sure that I was out of harm’s reach—only i was never safe, because I became the monster I tried to escape. Yea that and it was a cold and lonely place.
And me, I need warmth (like a lizard needs a heat rock at the zoo). So I tried to get warmth by inviting people inside but no one else can live behind these walls, especially when they have towers of their very own. And anyone who tried to fit inside my castle would only become resentful of the dependency I created, for I would entice them with whatever I could give.
Just don’t leave me here alone.
Yea, that failed. Miserably. Only thing was, I didn’t understand how to change things. I met Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And each time I repeated myself, I took it to another level, until I had so thoroughly confused myself that I no longer knew what was real.
Yet, in losing touch with reality, I found something I never expected to find. I found the Divine. And in finding the Divine I was shown the way out. It’s not enough to come out of the castle; I must also dismantle it, for if I leave it standing, there’s a good chance to it I will return. And I see how quickly it is that I want to return to something that has failed me time and again. Because I am scared of what freedom means.
There is one thing I have always wanted, and that is the one thing I have never had. But I’m finally starting to understand that the reason I have never had what I wanted is because I was unwilling to do what it took to raise that little girl up, get over it, and to go on without looking back.
I know why I was pouting last night. I was vulnerable and unsure of my footing, and I found myself lost and confused. I see a weakness in me, a desire for superficial emotional reassurance. Those words are not my own, they are his. And I am blessed that he spoke them for I never would have had the ability to see my immaturity so clearly. Maybe he can see through me and, for once in my life, that no longer feels like a scary thing.
“Don’t pout. It’s unbecoming,” he said.
Then I closed the door behind him and stood in the vestibule alone, in a hall of mirrors into which I usually smile with delight. But last night I saw the pout on my face. But there was something in my eyes. A very simple question this is so very difficult to answer.
What is real?
When I got back to my bed, I tossed and turned all night. Thoughts pummeled me, in the best possible way. I lay in bed finally able to be with the fact that I don’t know what this means, but it is time I stop forcing my fears into a narrative that doesn’t serve my needs. And with this small act of letting go, I began to feel at peace. And that’s when I finally heard him.
I replayed the scene in my head. And this time I heard his voice, not just his words. It was sure, it was firm, and it was kind. It was a voice that humbled me, that made me see beyond myself. It was the voice of a man who knows things I do not. It was the voice of a father. A good father. A strong and beautiful man. A man who understands… how much I have to learn.
December 16, 2011
I’m running an errand. Okay, I’m not even running. I’m enjoying a balmy December day where the leaves still hang from the trees, confused and green. And me, overdressed, because I’m not even sure what fifty degrees means.
I’m feeling cute, casual Thursday and all. My body sore from a day at the gym, enjoying the pleasure that self-inflicted pain so often brings. I’m headed my way, but the light changes, so I cross the street and that’s when I see him.
He is on a bike, rolling straight towards me. He has appeared out of thin air, crossing my path just like that. The expression on my face is one of surprise and horror & a splash of course this is happeninn. I can’t move, I can’t escape, I am rooted in place. He rolls to a stop.
He laughs, “Oh no it’s him,” gently mocking my energy.
I didn’t mean it like that, but he saw it written plain as day. I’m stunned, I’m stuck, I’m not able to take anything in. It’s been six months, he looks the same, he looks different. Silver hairs are everywhere, on his head, in his beard. His face looks fuller and he wears paint-covered jeans I’ve never seen. His eyes are the same, though the skin around them crinkles more when he smiles.
He’s looking at me, taking it in. I’ve changed a lot but there’s only one thing he notices. “You’re blonde. Blonde and blue eyes.” He is smiling but, me, I’m remembering something else.
It was Chinese New Year, the only time he ever accepted my invitation to anything besides work. It was a strange thing, everyone kept canceling, and so what I had envisioned didn’t work out exactly… I felt awkward; I always did. Too much static. friction, energy potent and spent… confusing.
Lunch ended and we walked to a bar, ostensibly to talk about whatever we were working on. And at the bar we talked, virtue and vice, and I saw the word Chastity, and I got nervous, for sure. Because I didn’t know what it meant. I thought it was about abstinence. And how could I tell him I was faithful to him when I wasn’t anyone to him? I flushed, sick, or maybe it was the wine. Changed the subject, let’s talk about Temperance, sure.
We kept drinking, we always did. I don’t know why ‘cause it didn’t help anything. I mean, the edges were fuzzy, the boundaries blurred, but I never spoke the truth until it started to eat me alive. But by then it was too late. It’s all the same, variations a theme. Extreme. Like how he sat at that bar and told me, “I don’t know the color of your eyes.”
Thas crazy right. Made me feel twisted, but wasn’t I always? Undoubtedly… yess. But now, since I knew him, since he’s been gone (cue Kelly Clarkson) (wow, never thought I’d be saying that) yea since he’s been gone things have changed. In so many ways. And he took notice. With admiration, with kindness in his eyes. And me feeling the strangest way. I was happy that the energy between us was positive but I think I was squirming. I kept looking at the Walk sign, wishing I could do just that.
October 28, 2011
Ava Gardner, my girl. I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of her movies except The Barefoot Contessa, which bored me to tears. But sometimes it’s not the lives on screen that interest me, but what happens after the picture stops rolling that has me spellbound.
I first picked up Miss Gardner’s autobiography years ago and was entranced by her sharp, humble lyrical flow. Here was one of the silver screen’s greatest icons, and she was most at peace walking barefoot through the countryside. I love her elegance and her vulgarity in equal measure, her wit, her style, her charm, her fighting spirit. Remember, honey was the love of Sinatra’s life—no small measure of a woman, she.
But it is more than this. It is her complete and utter disdain for playing the game that wowed me. It seems that the studios thought of her only as the sweetest piece of cheesecake and cast her accordingly (perhaps one needs to look like Bette Davis in order to get the good parts). And so there she was, thinking little of her skills for the parts she got were fabulously vacuous. And as time went on and life took it toll, she turned to the bottle, belligerent and volatile.
All the same, she recounts her life with a rare degree of humility and charm and in her autobiography, she tells one of my favorite stories. At some time she was living in Madrid, I think it was the 60s or 70s. And there she was, neighbor to none other than the recently deposed General Peron, who made it a daily habit to walk out on to his balcony and give speeches to the street below. Needless to say, no one took notice. No one, that is, except Ava, who jeered him at ever opportunity, until one day the tables turned.
Ahh, Miss Gardner. Perhaps my favorite scene is at the end of the book, when she speaks about life after a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. She is seated on the sofa, sitting on top of her dead arm, and she calls to her companion, “Help me get this fucker out from under me.”
Yea. They don’t make them like that anymore.
September 19, 2011
My grandfather, who gave me his name and his intellect and his arrogance, has lung cancer. He is refusing to see an oncologist, and rightfully so. He is 96, and it is time to go. He was never a smoker, never a drinker, and being a diabetic, he had always been rather fit, but I do not know if it was sober, sugar-free living that kept him going for nearly a century. I think my grandfather is the prime example of the will to live.
His mind is fully intact, albeit much slower, but he is fully aware of what is happening to his body as it has been corroding rapidly over the past five years. There may be something to be said for dementia, which is a burden to the family but perhaps protects the individual. If you do not know you are dying, if your brain disconnects you from our shared reality, you might find greater peace.
On second thought, I take this back. My grandmother, his wife of over fifty years, died of Alzheimer’s disease, and from the little I witnessed, her final years were an agony that has filled me with pain. She had been abandoned, exiled to a home exclusively for victims of this cruel disease. My sister, in her infinite compassion, wanted to visit my grandmother. I did not.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen, at the time and my heart had grown so cold that the only thing I wanted was to sunbathe in Boca, watch soap operas, and eat Entemann’s chocolate chip cookies. Somehow, I knew what I would witness and the apprehension tore at me. I nervously chewed my fingers and silently cursed my sister, thinking her foolish for caring.
We entered the home, me fresh with resentment, my sister hopeful and excited, my grandfather detached and officious. The smell of fresh ammonia remains in my nose today and I can still feel it numbing the front of my brain. As always, the air conditioning was much too high, and everyone was dressed accordingly. I stood there in my oversized Betty Boop shirt, short shorts, and Keds thinking more about how I looked in order to block out what was happening around me.
The wait was interminable and I could not relax. A patient, an elderly man wearing his pajamas and bathrobe sat in a chair and did not move once while I was there. I watched him with a kind of painful awe. But it became too much, so I looked away and began chipping away at the nail polish on my index finger. I could hear the sounds of nurses bossing and cajoling their patients into submission while the patients were as docile and helpless as newborn babies. But unlike babies, I didn’t hear any of them cry out. They seemed to have accepted their fates and retired to a place deep inside themselves that no one could reach. I began chipping away at the nail polish on my thumb.
Perhaps the wait was not so long as I thought. Time play tricks where pain is concerned. At some point we were allowed to go to my grandmother’s room. The door was wide open, which seemed strange. I peered in and saw a nurse helping my grandmother into a long white slip. A rush of embarrassment swept over me. Here was a woman whose appearance meant everything to her, a woman who took great pride in being put together, and now she was fully exposed. I stood at the door struck dumb, wanting to run but having nowhere to go.
The nurse was having a hell of a time getting my grandmother dressed. Submissive throughout her life, the disease had released her from my grandfather’s control and a she-cat was born. With all of the attendant mewling and hissing and clawing that comes from a feral animal, my grandmother resisted all instruction. When she realized there were visitors at her door, she recognized my grandfather but seemed confused by the sight of two adolescent girls. “Is that my sister?” she asked, looking at me and my throat closed while my heart soared. A very strong part of me was cheering for her.
“Rose, these are your granddaughters,” my grandfather corrected, as though the facts at this point still mattered. Let her think I am her sister, I wanted to shout. My grandmother didn’t quite follow, but that’s okay because she had other things on her mind. As we took a thirty-foot stroll through the small and enclosed garden of home, my grandmother gripped my grandfathers’ arm and repeatedly pleaded, “I want to go home.”
I want to go home.
I want to go home.
I want to go home.
Her voice echoes in my ear as I write this. My stomach clenches just as it did that day. My grandmother, who never had a mean word for anyone, who accepted her domination in a way I never understood, could no longer be controlled. Her knuckles were white as she cling to my grandfather for her life. “I want to go home.”
My grandfather had had enough. Not even ten minutes into the visit, and we were through. He handed her back to the nurse, saying he would call or something equally irrelevant and he told us to wait by the car while he sorted out something at the front desk.
Under the scorching Florida sun we stood on the asphalt, besides the Lincoln Town Car that my grandfather drove to the early bird specials. My sister and I exchanged no words, which was probably for the best because I desperately wanted to blame her for making me see this.
I never saw my grandmother again.
May 19, 2010
The 70s smell like fruit punch and Nilla Wafers, wet cardboard on a hazy summer day, fresh dirt under my feet.… At least that’s how I remember the earliest years of my childhood, a couple of which were spent in 70s New York City, the legacy of which has all but disappeared. I have only a vague sense of the 70s, having been too young to watch the flames of political rebellion die down into a smoldering pile of soot from which a great blaze of pop culture arose like the proverbial phoenix. How is it possible that one city, in the course of one decade, could bring forth hip hop, disco, and punk—possibly the most influential movements in music, fashion, and lifestyle of the late twentieth century—during a time of disaster, destitution, and decadence?
My theory: New York City is the center of the universe. (And that’s not just provincial thinking masquerading as urbane sophistication; it’s an observation made from three decades of living in an ever-changing, always-present-tense, forward-thinking city that doesn’t take kindly to the faint of heart. Even if you never commit murder, you’ve got to be a killer to live here.) The 70s, however, saw the city shift from a spectacular galaxy into a gaping black hole, as concrete blocks began to eat themselves whole. Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, rife with cultural anarchy, aggressive sexuality, and unrivaled creativity, New York City begat a new form of artistry: do it your own damn self.
And while the Boogie Down Bronx was burning, break beats were bumping in housing projects. And while what is now known as the East Village was then Alphabet City, rock and roll was sharpened into a shiv. And while the city was busted, broke, and lacking hope, the disco was kicking and the stars were sniffing while the world kept on twisting.
The 70s marks the end of a certain kind of innocence. It was a time before AIDS, before crack, before the computers. The greatest technological advancement of the 70s was the invention of answering machines.
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
It is by virtue of reflecting on our past so we may better understand our path that I return again and again to the time and place of my earliest years: a city of grime, of crime, of decline, of the sublime. Of a place and a time that might just remind you that what can happen when you do it your own damn self.
May 17, 2010
One night in ‘98: This guy I know invites me uptown to smoke a blunt. As we are puffing away, his itty-bitty boombox catches the munchies and starts snacking on the mixtape. While this guy tries to salvage his shit with the precision of a brain surgeon, a white chick rolling a shopping cart interrupts. With a voice faltering like pantyhose scraped across sandpaper, she scuffs along, “…Uhhh…Could yous watch my cart…for a minute…I gotta go upstairs…to….uhhhh…take a shower?”
This guy answers, “Yeah. Go ahead.”
“I just gotta clean up real quick.”
“No problem,” he assures her but she doesn’t move.
Again, he promises, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be here.”
Her eyes switch from us to the building, fingers twitching for a fix. She darts past her cart, which happens to be stocked with—among other things—a set of striped bath towels.
While lighting a cigarette, I hear a door slam.
“Did you see that?” this guy asks, his voice edgy with excitement.
“You didn’t see that?”
“Okay,” I sigh, speaking slowly. “Tell me what you saw, and I’ll tell you if I saw it.”
This guy pauses and shakes his head in frustration, then continues. “Right after she went inside, some guy jumped out that door over there and grabbed something out her cart.” Watching my faced intently, he adds, “It’s like he was watching through the window.”
My eyes widen and furtively glance at the door in question. “Do you think he’s watching now?”
This guy hadn’t considered that. “Let’s go over to Broadway. I gotta stop by this restaurant for a minute.”
The restaurant is packed. It’s happening. It’s the place to be, what, with it being Tuesday and everything. We squeeze past the customers perched like birds at the counter. An odd sense of anticipation energizes the room, though everyone plays it cool. We are seated up front, inside the picture window, underneath a neon sign that shines a warm light on our table. The walls are lined with mirrors, the seats are stuffed with people, and the air conditioning cannot compete with the resounding body heat. A waitress brings us a couple of cups, but no menus. In my reflection, I notice no one is eating.
A stunning Dominican woman, barely covered by swaths of the softest pink suede, saunters towards us, speaking espanol muy rapido, all smiles as she takes a seat. “Hola Papi.. Que necessitas?” Turning towards her, this guy places his order while I eye myself from a multitude of angles, trying to determine whether my hair is glorious golden brown or simply succulent caramel. So involved am I in me that I barely notice when Pink Suede Sweetie leaves.
Ten, fifteen minutes later, she returns with an even bigger smile and sits down at the table, where Styrofoam cups of murky water masquerading as coffee are quietly ignored. Exercising discretion, she passes this guy a package under the table. Distracted, he holds the plastic bag up to the light to get a look. Taken aback, she gasps while I burst into a laugh. He shrugs and gets up. “Let’s go. I want to take you somewhere.”
“Fuck!” this guy mutters to himself.
“What?” I wonder.
“The shopping cart,” he remembers, stopping mid step and turning east. “We just left it.”
I start laughing. “Shit!”
“I know. I feel bad.”
“Nahh. Not that. I mean, I gotta piss.”
“Why didn’t you go in the restaurant?”
“’Cause that place was nasty!”
“But pissing in the park? That’s classy.”
“Ohhhhh! I’m just gonna take a little walk.” I pivot quickly, swish down the ramp, and nip around the corner to a secluded spot at the bottom of a steep bank where a storm drain beckons. With a quick zip and tug at the hips, my jeans are around my ankles and I aim carefully to avoid the dreaded backsplash all females know well. Amazed at the volume now traveling into the city sewer, I have plenty of time to check out my surroundings and almost fall over when I look up into the sky. There, just above me, are cars cruising the Drive, headlights igniting their rides, spotlights zooming through the night.
I press on then zip up.
At the top of the ramp, I find this guy with his nose in a dollar bill but decline his offer, having sworn off ski trips after an eightball and a date with Oscar Wilde. “We should go.” We stroll along a path at the edge of the park illuminated by old streetlamps once filled with gas but now lit courtesy of Con Ed. The breeze through the trees conspires with the cobblestone scene, making Harlem on the Hudson something like Paris on the Seine.
When we reach Broadway, we grab a gypsy cab. What starts off as a pleasant ride turns into a hideous wreck when cops stop the car before we get on the West Side at One Two Five. An undercover wearing a Mets cap asks the driver our destination, but the cabbie barely speaks English and stutters incoherently. Doom seems imminent. We are finished like Orwell’s Burmese elephant.
Looking the cop dead in the eye, clasping a purse littered with dimes (while this guy slinks further and further into the backseat in a sad attempt to blend into the upholstery), I tell Five O that we’re going to Twelfth and Sixth, Twelfth and Sixth. The cap nods in agreement and lets us go.
It’s amazing what the right address will do.