I cannot pretend returning to NYC after my upstate tenure has been easy. Not because of the weather, which, for the most part, has been ridiculously lovely–the sort of halcyon temperatures we New Yorkers associate with mid-September. With September 11, not to put too fine a point on it.
Certainly the existential dread connected to the events of that day is not helping. Like so many long-time New Yorkers, my personal relationship to September 11 only deepens the horror of how it irrevocably changed this city and country forever. Every year, just as the weather gets gloriously crisp and clear, sadness creeps in before I remember why.
But I think this dread is about something more.
It took a good four days of being in the country for me to lose the bad bruja vibes that had been short-circuiting my car and relationships all summer. (Both Daisy and Grace registered the bad vibes, the former landing in the vet hospital.) Only on the fifth day did Columbia County’s big, big green smooth me out.
Green, not coincidentally, being the color of my grandmother’s heart.
I’ve been thinking about Alice May a lot lately. My mother’s mother, her birthday was last month. She crowns my book–the whole last section is about her, about how the regret she expressed in her last days catapulted me into my true life.
Green was Alice’s absolute favorite color. She said that it was the color of life and love. Only when I began taking my work as an intuitive seriously did I learn that green was considered the color of the fourth chakra–the heart chakra.
As was so often the case, my grandmother’s leonine instincts were spot-on. It was she who, in the 1950s, determined that her sons were not dumb but dyslexic, a disorder that was far less recognized than it is today. It was she who understood that I had to get the hell out of dodge if I were to live the life I was meant to live. The life she’d once wanted for herself.
So I left home upon high school graduation, and with the exception of a few months after my first year of college, never spent another night under my parent’s roof. Never felt like I was anyone’s child again.
But then again, I’ve never felt safe. Never have, possibly never will.
I think that’s more common than people let on.
My grandmother died 10 days after I turned 18, and one of her most fervent wishes was for me to attend college. At the time, although I did well in school, my attendance was hardly a sure thing. No one in my family even brought up the topic. No one except for Alice, whose name I cannot type without crying some 30 years later.
She died before I’d been accepted anywhere, and yet I felt her green guidance when I opted for a small Quaker college in Pennsylvania rather than Barnard, where I also had been accepted and which I’d named as my dream school. New York New York big city of dreams: it had seemed a natural fit. But Alice, grandmother lion with owl eyes and terrible fangs (even her false teeth were unusually terrible), made her agenda clear from the other side and for once I showed the good grace to listen.
This is what is left for me to write. My grandmother’s last months. The last months of my family trance.
I think it is also most people’s final trance.
Indeed, the myth of biological bonds holds most people rapt forever and is the foundation of the worst sort of tribalism. Also the worst strains of emotional larceny, since people feel sure that no matter what they do to their kin they will be forgiven. The privileging of the nuclear family–well, nuclear family and romantic love–is how most societies’ absolve themselves of greater collective responsibility.
People say: You have to forgive family.
I say: Forgiveness is not a capitulation. It is shared compassion, something families often eschew in favor of an enforced party line.
Thus I’ve always preferred the kindness of strangers.
The trick, of course, is never to consider anyone a true stranger. Nor to consider anyone true family.
Family to me is about unconditional bonds. And while I do love everyone and recognize that all love is unconditional (conditional love not actually being love at all), I do not consider myself unconditionally bonded to anyone.
There’s always something you could do that could send me running.
There’s always something I could do that could send you running.
During this summer of eclipses I found this to be especially true. On both counts.
So why am I writing all this? Why bother to communicate to other humans about what is essentially a detachment disorder (and, yes, I’m intentionally mangling the term)?
Because only by permitting myself to write about it am I able to transcend the writer’s block that has been holding me hostage. For upon returning to New York two weeks ago, those bad bruja vibes rushed back in, disrupting my body, my technology–anything that channels energy, basically. And none of my usual spells–none of my usual trances— have been shaking it off.
Ten days have elapsed since I began this post.
During most of that time it has taken everything I’ve had to return my closest friends’ texts, let alone read work emails. The universe, laboring as it always does to grant unconscious wishes, totally derailed my computer for the entire Labor Day weekend. The week before it had chopped off the top of my finger to prevent me from typing and texting, but I superglued it back on. (It was just a skin flap!) So my computer–a 7-year-old Macbook Pro I call the Silver Fang–was derailed to grant me the silence I did not know I craved.
At first I was told repair costs might ratchet up to $700, which begged my least-favorite tech question: Is it cheaper in the long run to simply buy a new one? But once I accepted the universe’s invitation to truly unplug, the fix turned out to be a simple trackpad replacement that the Bedford Ave Geniuses performed for a song. (Someday I’ll write a whole post about how supportive those Apple angels have been of my book.)
For the four days I was without laptop–and typically that machine functions as an extension of my actual lap–a great relief bathed me. It was the relief of someone who’s grown very, very tired of communicating without communion. And it put me in touch with how deeply I desire the comfort of silence shared with another person. Not to mention how much I desire a sexual partner who’s also a friend of my heart. One whom I don’t have to entertain so much as enjoy.
Ah, the irony of being a writer, a witch, who doesn’t feel like saying a damn thing. No spells to cast, no edicts to deliver. Being, rather than doing.
Everything I love about the ocean and the woods.
The day I came downstate, my crush was working the window at the café next door. He is a chef who looks exactly like a 1930s circus barker, and is so young that I have to pretend I don’t hear him whenever he asks me out. He does it ambivalently anyway–youth is paralyzing, I had forgotten–but his un-ironic mustache still makes my day whenever I see him. (He is Italian, not Italian-American, and thus does everything with deadpan charisma and nothing so trifling as irony.)
But it had been a shitty-hot, shitty-long drive, and of course I couldn’t find a parking space on my block because it has gotten ridiculously difficult to find parking anywhere in East Williamsburg.
When I moved to the neighborhood 18 years ago, I’d promised myself that as soon as the parking became a hassle I’d move. It was a promise I’d long forgotten, but I found myself remembering it as I double parked-across the street and began ferrying possessions to my stoop. Grace was screaming at the top of her lungs about the indignity of being seen in public in a carrier: Really mom you’re the worst the fucking worst
At that moment, I couldn’t have agreed more.
So though I could have sworn my crush brightened upon seeing me–he’d been kind enough to take in my mail while I was gone–I merely nodded and, sweaty and flushed as only a perimenopausal woman can be, ducked upstairs to deposit the poltergeist formerly known as my permakitten.
And continued ferrying my possessions while cursing my packrattiness.
Then a guy I’ve seen around the neighborhood for decades–meaty paws, smoker’s crowfeet framing lonely eyes, perpetual leisurewear (read between the lines here, people)– asked if I needed help. And another guy lounging in front of the cafe–perfectly coifed unabomber beard, perfectly cropped chinos; spotless $1,000 sneakers (read between the lines here, people)–asked if he could help, too.
So there we were, virtual strangers from three different walks of East Williamsburg life (hood, hipster, has-been) lugging and tugging my thrift store lamp, special pillow, canary melons up two flights of stairs. Only when my car was completely unpacked did the two guys beat a hasty retreat. “Do you want any tomatoes?” I called but they waved me off. “I have a garden in my backyard, honey,” said the smoker, who introduced himself as Leon.
I loved that his name was Leon.
But while I was grateful for this kindness-of-strangers interlude, something was sticking in my craw. I tossed the tomatoes at my crush, who looked bewildered by my gruffness, and retreated upstairs to said fuming permakitten.
I didn’t voluntarily talk to anyone for another two weeks.
At first I huddled indoors and tortured myself with the news. (Spoiler alert: The dystopia is now.) But once my computer was busted, I ventured outdoors again. I went to city beaches. I cut seven inches off my hair. I read three hardcover books by Oliver Sacks, whose calm wonder at the order of the universe is such a balm. I cleaned out my cupboards and regrouted my tub and sink. And I walked in the only nature NYC has in scads: human nature.
I watched parents fall in love with their children. I watched clean, young people bicker and picnic in the park. I watched people on first and also final dates. I watched people clad only in garbage bags and feces scream while others bopped on by.
Often I feel most at peace when taking in the human parade. But a brutal longing had descended upon me. It was my least favorite feeling in the world: the ghost feeling, in which I see everyone and connect with no one. By Labor Day I retreated back home and played Yahtzee with Alice’s ghost –the program on my phone replicates all her signature moves. Also I lay on my bed without turning on the fan or changing the sheets. Just sweating that grimy city sweat while mainlining Mindhunter, the Netflix serial-killer series whose existential gloom too perfectly mirrored my own.
I was miserable without having the good grace to do anything about it. Which is not the same thing as depression, because I knew that I could.
Or did I?
The next day, K dragged me next door for coffee. I was game, mostly as an opportunity to see Crush, a fact K noted with great disapproval. “The last thing you need is to sleep with another person in the neighborhood,” he said, pointing out my last four lovers had lived within a half-mile radius. “Fuck someone in the Bronx for a change.”
K is so rarely tough love with anyone–he’s gently famous for being a big-bearded Buddha type–that I am charmed when he is tough on me. I take it as a sign of our hard-won intimacy, which is something that I sorely need.
Once upon a time, I was in love with K for all the wrong reasons–he lives only few blocks from me, for example, and speaks many of the languages I share with very few other people. But he assured me–gently and then roughly–that we were better suited as friends. And once I got over my awful longing
(My ghost feeling
I saw that he was right.
Now as we sat outside the cafe I basked in his disapproval as well as the light of the day. I nodded at the neighborhood elders as they passed by, thanking one for a hand-printed, creased marinara recipe she shakily produced from her purse (I’ve been carrying it around til I saw you again, honey). I watched K watch me with narrowed eyes. “You really need to get off the block,” he said.
That night T called.
T is my busiest friend by a billion and thus dispenses with all unnecessary niceties, brokering only in essential kindnesses. “What’s going on with you?” she said without introduction.
I said I was fine, just going through something. She exhaled audibly. “You know you were ‘going through something’ this time last year.” She was right, as usual. “The thing is that it makes no sense for you to be so broke,” she said. “I’m not trying to be mean. I just think you’re meant to take up a lot more space than you do.”
“Ya,” I said, cocking an eyebrow at Grace, who cocked an eyebrow in response. (I swear she can do this.) As with K’s saltiness, I wasn’t taking offense. I take it as a badge of honor when people I love and respect call me out so long as they’re doing it from a place of compassion. This is the only capacity people I love and respect would ever call me out, anyway.
“But then I would have to be seen,” I said now.
“Aren’t you always complaining about that ghost feeling?” she said, and without further ado switched the topic.
The truth of the matter–and I’ve been saying this one way or another all year–is I’ve lost faith in my ability to connect. I realized this on my birthday, and it’s only gotten worse, even when you all came to my rescue when I hit the wall financially. It actually got worse after that because I became gripped with a fear of failing you (not that I wasn’t powerfully grateful).
My closest friends hang in there because that’s what we’ve been doing for each other for decades. But I’ve repelled tons of others this summer, and the irony is that everything I do for a living requires my connecting with people from a pure and loving place.
I don’t have a fix for this. I still can do readings because connecting humans to their highest selves is not social so much as spiritual. But I haven’t been able to write since I got back, and know it’s deeply connected to why I bottomed out financially and fuck pigs rather than peaches.
In short, all the trances that replaced the first trance aren’t working anymore. I can’t bring myself to eat shitty food. I can’t bring myself to drink too much–the same bottle of tequila has sat on my shelf all summer, which is pretty much a personal record. I can’t bring myself to mope over the wolves I’ve fetishized since ceasing to be one myself. I can’t even pretend the kindness of strangers is enough to get me through this thing called life.
I haven’t stopped numbing out–I cannot tell you how much TV I’ve mainlined over the last three weeks–but even that isn’t working. And as I round the bend to 50 I have no idea of how to cross this bridge connecting me to everyone else (even me). It feels like a windowless, airless corridor that is sealed tight. It feels like….
Wow, it feels like the family trance.
Because so long as we remain loyal to conditioning that no longer serves us–in my case, the belief that I have to be on in the presence of others, the belief that prolonged human contact is solely enervating, the belief that I will never connect with others well enough to really live well–we’re not experiencing the present so much as a zonked-out, zombie past.
Dear Goddess, help me write pieces again for forums besides this one. Help me find a lover who’s as kind as they are charismatic (a motherly man, a mannish woman, maybe even Crush: any stand-up being with a beautiful heart and big, greedy paws). Help me finish this book and find it a home outside my block. Help me make enough money to thrive, not just survive. Help me own a cottage in the most bucolic, briney nature. Help me channel greater faith in myself and others. Help me draw on the wild patience of Virgo season to proceed step by step, bird by bird. Help me finally exit this lonely hallway I entered at age 18. Help me honor Alice May. Help me believe that I am worthy of help.
Above all, help me wake up from this trance.
Thanks for reading, friend of my heart. For if you’re still reading after this solipsistic year in Signs and Sirens, I absolutely adore you. How’s that for connecting?