Going Solo

•July 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I love to travel.

I have mixed feelings about traveling alone.

And there was a time, more than 20 years ago, when I wondered how much traveling of any kind I was going to do. Panic attacks that came while driving—usually but not always over steep bridges—left me questioning where I could go by car, especially alone. (At least the two times I had attacks with someone else with me, I could pull over and let them take the wheel). And one attack in Boston while simply walking over a bridge made me wonder if I was creeping into a sheltered life defined by agoraphobia. Not a pleasant prospect for someone who had some of the most memorable times of his life in Europe and the Caribbean.

Then there was the flying problem. After the second of those European jaunts in 1983, as the anxiety about many things—mostly untimely death—began to build, I flew exactly once in thirteen years—Hartford to Chicago. I do no recall how I managed on that trip, though I assume alcohol was involved.

Finally, in 1996, I made a decision: There was too much of the world I still wanted—needed—to see, and I couldn’t let my travel-related phobias limit me. So, on one 10-day trip, I confronted my bridge fears by driving solo to Chicago to visit family. Then, from there I flew to New Mexico (I had met a friendly doctor who had no trouble prescribing drugs to address my flying fears. Thank god for her and lorazepam). Despite some sweaty palms and a pounding heart a few times along the way, I survived the trip, and I have not looked back as far as tackling any travel adventure. Only time and, of course, money,  place restraints on them.

Still…while I learned I could travel alone, I increasingly realized I didn’t want to. I wanted a travel buddy, preferably a female who was also the love of my life, to share the hardships and the inanity and the beauty and the memories that are all part of travel. And in 1998, I thought I had met her.

Faithful readers of C?WC? know many of the ups and downs of the subsequent 12 years. Suffice to say, whatever struggles we had (and there must have been a few or the second phase of the Crisis wouldn’t have been kicked off with yet another divorce hmm?), we traveled a lot. And we traveled well, I always thought, except for the Cruise from Hell, well documented and often referred to here.

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A Frank Lloyd Wright house we explored on one of those Midwest excursions.

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Lovely Budapest

We did short jaunts to Montreal and Toronto; we explored different parts of the Midwest when we lived in Chicago; we cruised several times before the Demon Sailing and had a blast; even before our marriage, we spent a week in Brussels, drinking beer, eating chocolate, seeing art, and struggling to listen to UConn’s first NCAA tournament win on a short-wave radio I bought on the trip just for that purpose; much later, we set off for Prague and Budapest, each of us studying one of the foreign tongues so we would not be complete Ugly Americans (and I think we pulled it off). I imagined even more trips together, wherever and whenever the mood struck, because we had no kids, flexible schedules (well, me more than her), and a desire to absorb all the art and history we could around the world.

 

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Taos sunset, pre-divorce, solo.

We still traveled solo too, her taking a vacation here or there by herself, me traveling for work. My anxieties had almost completely faded, and going alone was less and less of an issue for me. For her, I think, it was a foreshadowing of the time alone she craved. And not just for a week here or there. And when the split came, she stunned me when she said she was “done traveling.” Events since then have shown she just meant done doing it with me.

 

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Iceland–an incredible solo trip.

 

So, seven years into flying solo all the time, if you will, I’m once again mostly a solitary traveler. I’ve almost completely done away with the lorazepam, and I can juggle my overpacked luggage while going to the men’s room (boy, having someone to watch your gear is a real plus of traveling with someone). As far as pairing up for a road trip: There was one trek back East with a New Mexican girlfriend, but that was a meet-the-family kind of thing, not an adventure. With the most recent ex, we did not travel well together—symptomatic of the problems that constantly plagued us and ultimately drove us apart. Ironically, I travel much better now with a close female friend, but alas, we will only be friends. That’s a story for another day.

 

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This weekend–still exploring NM.

 

This weekend I took one of my many short, solo trips around New Mexico. There are benefits to going alone. I stop when I want to take pictures, do everything at my own pace. But I still crave that female travel buddy who is also my partner, the person I can share laughs with as we recount odd roadside attractions (“it’s just a big hole in the ground”) and our own travel silliness (beware the Eagles vortex of western New Mexico). Someone who will share my excitement as we plan our next adventure, for many years to come. But until then, there’s this trip to London I’d like to take next spring…

 

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Birthday Blues

•March 10, 2015 • 2 Comments

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happ-

OK, so the actual day, the infamous Ides, is not quite here. Don’t some people celebrate birthday weeks these days? I mean, why not just an endless string of festive events and nights out with friends and celebrations leading up to that special day?

Yeah, trying to get back to my fighting weight...

Yeah, trying to get back to my fighting weight…

Well, maybe some people do. But as I look over the social calendar for this birthday week, I see…nada. Unless you count that thrice-weekly torture some people call my exercise class (meant to try to alleviate sciatic pain that has had me wincing for several months now, not to try to recapture the fitness of my youth. There was none, remember?). And no, I don’t count that. So what else is there? Maybe a movie, solo, one night. And in the one highlight, a trip to ABQ on Saturday to see a play, once again sans accompaniment. Then on Sunday, the special day in question? A birthday repast that I will prepare by myself, for myself alone.

Oh, boo hoo.

I stress the solitary nature of this year’s celebration because it’s really hitting me in the face as I confront this milestone (or semi, anyway; the ol’ double nickel). It will be the fourth birthday I’ve had here in Santa Fe, the second alone. It didn’t have to be alone, of course, if I had not ended my most recent relationship almost three months back, but staying in an ill-fated coupling just to have a date on your birthday (or Valentine’s or Christmas or Arbor Day, choose the special occasion of your preference) is plain wrong. Definitely worse than just sucking it up and spending the day alone.

I suppose, for this birthday, I could have put some effort into rounding up one or two of my friends here to do SOMETHING on or around the special day. But my heart just wasn’t into planning my own party, even something small scale. No, easier to wallow in self-pity, eh?

Of course, the worst thing about the impending birthday is not the thought of being alone. No, it’s that whole, you know, getting older thing. And being alone.

Yes, still living...

Yes, still living…

...in a place I love.

…in a place I love.

I try to think back to earlier decades. Did I imagine what my life would be at 55? And if so, was this it? Living in a place I love, yes, but so far from my closest friends and my family, struggling year to year to make a decent living, and facing these quickly passing middle-age years without someone by my side. Well, I’m sure there were times when I didn’t even think I’d be breathing at 55, let alone lamenting whatever sad state my life had taken. But in those more optimistic times spent contemplating my possible longevity, I didn’t think this birthday would find me feeling so isolated.

If you want to say it’s my own fault, because I couldn’t make past relationships work, or I don’t feel able to take the initiative now to cultivate more friendships, let alone a relationship—ok. And if you want to say, “Grow up, finally, Burgan, and accept the givens of aging, of approaching the inevitable end, and stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself,” say it and I will nod in agreement.

And if you say all that, and maybe throw in a little slap to the side of the head while sneering with disgust, I will not rebuke you. Maybe that’s what I need right now, more than a relationship, more than companionship, on my birthday. But I can’t help wondering: would having the latter help me frame the approaching birthday in a better way?

Moot point now, I reckon. The reality is that this is my fate on this birthday week. And I can either ratchet up the wallowing or I can take a higher road. I can pledge to make myself the best damned birthday meal ever (homemade spaghetti sauce over vegan raviolis, and homemade pecan pie for dessert—a repeat of my Christmas feast), and enjoy that play the night before, and maybe call all those friends I haven’t talked to in a while, rather than waiting to see if any will contact me on the 15th. Yeah, getting older and being alone does suck. But it still beats the alternative. And it might give me the needed impetus to make sure number 56 turns out a little better. My choice, right? Go ahead, say it. Just don’t slap me too hard on the side of the head.

The Many Santa Fes

•February 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The longer you live in a place, the more you see its different sides. I suppose that’s an obvious truism, but one that also rests on how much you throw yourself into various social strata and subcultures. Me, being basically a boring kind of guy, I’ve only immersed myself in a few, and the rest I just observe from the sidelines.

Last night I tasted two of those somewhat self-contained worlds, as I went from the rarefied air of academia, courtesy of St. John’s College, to the wild and wooly music-and-booze scene that is the Cowgirl on any weekend night. Over the past three-plus years, I’ve spent more time at the latter than the former, I must admit, but last night—most likely because I was flying solo—I felt more comfortable at the college.

Scenes from last year's

Scenes from last year’s

Jazz on the Hill

Jazz on the Hill

St. John’s, our St. John’s, is an offshoot of the original that was founded in Annapolis more than 300 years ago. Its curriculum is built around the “Great Books” of Western Civilization; students read and intensely discuss (I imagine, since I’ve never sat in on a class) everything from Plato and Ptolemy to Kierkegaard and Schrodinger. Students also take ancient Greek and modern French. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is on critical thinking and the clear expression of ideas—the epitome of liberal arts education. It’s the anti-Scott Walker curriculum, and I’m glad we have a St. John’s here, even if I don’t take full advantage of the programs it offers the community (excluding the Jazz on the Hill concert series, which is a great way to spend a summer evening). And in a nod to Asia, the Santa Fe campus offers a master’s in Eastern Classics, an even more practical academic pursuit (and one I would love to take, though the part about learning Sanskrit, I don’t know…).

I went to the school last night to hear a talk about Abraham Lincoln, and yes, I know, that’s a mighty exciting way to spend a Friday night. Being single, poor, and a history nerd will do that to you. I hope to write about the talk itself on my other blog, over at my “professional” website.

I walked in the student center and saw two guys playing chess, which I know happens at UConn and other state schools all the time on the weekends. Tying into the emphasis on classics, there were Greek sayings on the walls, and even Greek numerals on the clocks. Outside the lecture hall, coffee and tea was available for anyone who wanted it (hey, why not, when undergraduate tuition comes in at a little over $47k). Inside the hall, the audience seemed to be mostly faculty and students, though there may have been a few other townies. When the guest lecturer walked in, the folks who know the ritual stood up, as a sign of respect. Not wanting to be the rube, I followed suit, and we repeated the gesture at the conclusion as well.

Sitting in the hall of this pretty exclusive private college, I couldn’t help but think: Santa Fe has some of the greatest intellectual resources you could imagine for a city of 80,000 people plopped into the high desert with no “major” university in site. It’s the home of the Santa Fe Institute, which attracts scholars from around the world, and the almost-equally powerhouse School of Advanced Research. And with the Los Alamos National Laboratory a major employer for the region, an impressive array of research scientists live and retire in the region.

But then, you step back and look at the attitude toward and success with local public education, and you shake your head. The state, by some accounts, ranks dead last in education, a product of, this newcomer believes, deep poverty and a general attitude among parts of the population that education is not that important. Throw in the difficulties kids from different backgrounds—Hispanic, Native American—have in a system that has trouble meeting their needs, and you have the reality that Santa Fe represents in a microcosm—well-educated pockets of people side-by-side with lots of folks who never even graduated high school (not surprising when the functional illiteracy rate is almost 50%!).

Thinking about this educational divide, I remembered conversations I’d had with people—Anglos—who had been here longer than I had. Santa Fe is a small city, more like a town, and certain social and cultural classes never really cross over. You have visual artists and the wealthy people who patronize them. Rich Anglos who come here to retire, art patrons or not. Classical musical folk, Americana folk, folk folk. The Hispanos whose roots go back hundreds of years and who still shape local politics and recent Central American immigrants who keep the expensive, I mean NYC-prices expensive, restaurants humming. Real cowboys, wannabe cowboys, aging hippies, next-generation hippies, New Agers and body practitioners of every stripe. Working artists, artists who work at other jobs, hobby artists, and every thing in between. And don’t forget the fairly large gay and lesbian population.

Farolitos

Farolitos

Zozobra

Zozobra

Now, is it fair to say that all these classes of people never overlap? Of course not. But the events at which you see people of all ages and ethnicities and personal interests rubbing shoulders, at least from my admittedly limited experience, is not large. Maybe Zozobra, our annual burning of a moaning giant puppet, or the farolito stroll on Christmas Eve, but not a lot else.

Which brings me to the Cowgirl, where I ended up after the lecture. I won’t say it transcends all the local divisions, but the contrast between the scene there—live music, booze and conversation flowing, people dancing—and the staid lecture hall was pretty stark. The Cowgirl is sorta funky, sorta kitschy, but there’s music every night and lots of beer—albeit overpriced—on tap. Hippies come, bikers come, music fans come, families come, tourists come. Anglos, Hispanics, and Indians come, and I recently brought some gay friends from out of town. No one feels out of place, and there are certainly no airs. It has some of the “anybody can fit in” ethos that I think attracts so many different people to Santa Fe, for a visit or a lifetime. Me, I’ll be doing something in between, while trying to figure out which of the many “tribes” I can comfortably call my own while I’m here.

Return of the Son of C?WC?, Part II

•January 6, 2015 • 2 Comments

It’s time.

Yes, just as the undead know the proper moment when to arise from their graves, and film producers know they have a small window of opportunity to make money on a sequel of their mediocre movie, I realize the time has come to resurrect Crisis? What Crisis?

Look for: pictures of Santa Fe!

Look for: pictures of Santa Fe!

The reasons are myriad. For one, I can no longer post to the blog I created when I moved to Santa Fe a little over three years ago, thanks to some quirk in my WordPress account that I can’t figure out. And the new blog I can post to, I’m reserving for serious-minded (relatively speaking) work-related posts, since it’s part of my “professional” website. Perhaps most important, the time is right for this resuscitation because I am once again in crisis and need an outlet to explore the nuances of my neuroses, anxieties, and often-bizarre thoughts (yeah, it’s cheaper than therapy, though I still have that too…). Though some things have changed. My stereo is way better, with the addition of new speakers and a receiver to go with the turntable I bought a few years ago. I own my home. And I struggle to survive as a freelancer like I never did before–another source of current insecurities.

As the loyal readers of C?WC? will recall (all six of you),  my initial virtual musings started more than six years ago, when I was living in Chicago, happily — more or less — married, and facing an impending move back to my home state of CT, largely against my will. On top of that, I was experiencing in various ways a midlife crisis, though one devoid of extramarital affairs, overpriced, overpowered cars, or male cosmetic surgery. As midlife crises go, it was pretty tame and mostly internal.

Now, with 55 rapidly approaching, I can no longer refer to a midlife crisis; hell, I am not even middle aged. I am on the downward slide, baby, ain’t no denying it. Yet, crises remain. At times they even become magnified and multiply. I am not one of those lucky people who, through their faith or therapy or New Age beliefs, have come to peace with aging and dreams unrealized and impending death. No, I am, still, an adolescent in adult’s clothing, a writer with little faith in his talents, a male unable to fully comprehend the women I choose as partners.

The original C?WC? took an unexpected turn about 18 months in when it became the chronicle of a marriage dissolution unforetold, though perhaps, in hindsight, an inescapable one. And as much as that unwanted divorce reduced me to tears and stirred fears and conjured up all forms of grief, it did lead to some good blog posts, if I say so myself. I mostly avoided diatribes against the ex and managed to find humor, and perhaps even poignancy at times. At least I like to think so (the Alaska blogs, from the Cruise from Hell, were particularly memorable; here’s a sample).

Given that past, I doubt anyone will be surprised to read that part two of the online explorations of an aging writer’s angst once again reflects relationship troubles. The second of my post-divorce relationships has recently ended, though not without real effort to keep it going. In the end, the too-frequent conflicts outweighed, for me, the love we did share in calmer moments. I have a hunch future efforts to secure another relationship, or the frustrations encountered while attempting same, will come under scrutiny here at C?WC? 2.0. And surely provide chuckles for all those lucky enough to be my age and happily involved and free from the demands of dating when your years are running out.

And pictures of  my travels!

And pictures of my travels!

One downside of that recently ended relationship was my not devoting as much time as I would have liked to my personal writing. Hell, I didn’t even write one post on my incredible trip to Iceland, or other excursions both near and far. Now, I have the time for those posts and ones on myriad other subjects. They will be personal, as C?WC? has always been, they will reflect my fears and doubts, but I hope they will not be too bleak. And maybe they will even offer some levity—to me at least, if not my readers.

Does the world need this iteration of that original blog? Did the world need 29 different Godzilla movies? OK, that’s hubris on my part, thinking I can match the entertainment value of even the worst of the Godzilla movies (perhaps Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the 2002 version?). Of course the world does not need this blog or my random thoughts. Luckily for me, the world has no say in it. But I will strive to provide something of interest as the new crisis unfolds.

Friends

•January 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A belated Happy New Year to my faithful readers—all six of you—and here’s hoping 2018 surpasses the previous year. In my case, that won’t be hard, for myriad reasons (No play productions?! No love life?! My beloved cat diagnosed with a baseball-sized tumor on her liver?!). But as lousy as my past year was, I know I have it good compared to the loved ones of an old friend.

I didn’t even know—let’s call her Karen—Karen was sick when a mutual friend on Facebook noted her passing in December. I waited for several weeks for an obit to go online. When it finally popped up, thanks to the same mutual friend, all it said was that she had been diagnosed with “her illness” during the summer and she died at home. The illness could have been many things, but my first thought was cancer. Not that it really matters.

She was 59.

Too young, too young.

What I did know before I read the obit was that she was brilliant, a doctor and an activist with a huge, warm heart, and who had watched painfully as someone close to her struggled for years with addiction. She would have been sensitive to the needs of someone fighting that sickness anyway, because of her medical background and innate compassion, but seeing it devastate that loved one made it doubly difficult—and made her even more advocate to fight the opioid crisis in any way she could.

Karen was not quite a lifelong friend; our first contact had come through her sister, who I had met in 7th grade. Karen was two years older. But starting when we were in 8th grade, my circle of friends began to overlap with Karen’s, through sibling ties and romantic relationships. So that’s how it came to be that a group of us met at Karen and her sister’s house one Sunday afternoon, and we got our first exposure to Monty Python from one of their albums that I had found in a cut-out bin (any young’uns reading—ask an elder what a cut-out was). I remember the almost non-stop laughter, fueled by both the humor and some pot; the memory of that day remains one of the best of my life.

friendship-1After that, there were other parties with the two gangs, and I came to appreciate Karen’s dry wit and intelligence. But then she graduated and her sister went off to a private school, and my interaction with them was almost nil for decades. Then, as the marital dissolution was unfolding, I made contact with her sister, and she and Karen came to my house for a visit; mostly an exercise in nostalgia, but as with any people with whom you once shared seminal moments and with whom you still feel a connection, a spark reignited. Karen and I did not become close friends in the years since that reunion, but we wrote each other on FB from time to time, checking in, sharing personal stories or our indignation over social and political ills.

Karen’s last message to me was dated 12/27/16. I had reached out to her that Christmas, after we had not contacted each other for several months. She had just been demoted at work and her loved one was going through another shaky round of recovery. “Life is short,” she wrote, “and I’m trying to focus on what’s important.” She also tried to comfort me after I had recounted some of my usual woes. “You are not alone!” she assured me. “You are loved!”

And she talked, as we had in the past, of seeing each other again: She had earlier invited me to come East to accompany her and her sister to a retreat they often attended; in that last message, she said she hoped to come West to visit me.

Karen never made it to New Mexico, and our last time together turned out to have been several years before, at the wake for the mother of a mutual friend. I fear, as I get close to 60—still a few years away, but undeniably close—that wakes and funerals will increasingly become the events that draw my circle of old friends together, whether for parents, siblings, or the friends themselves.

That is a really shitty thought.

So, to make this first post of 2018 a little less morbid, I want to think about the friends who are very much alive. I bemoan, often, my dearth of friends here in my home so far from Connecticut, but I cherish those I do have. And with my old friends scattered around the country, I try my best to stay in touch—I write, I call, I keep tabs on them through social media, and I visit when I can. A few have visited me too, as I’ve extended an open invitation to all of them to see just what it is that drew me to and keeps me in Santa Fe. But I know the trip isn’t an easy one, and everyone has their own work/family/health demands. So, when some don’t make it out here—I understand. I get a little sad, but I understand. And I try even harder to keep the connection we do have as strong as possible over the many miles that keep up physically apart.

Somewhere in my library—I looked today but couldn’t find it—is a purloined textbook from my hometown high school (I’m assuming the statute of limitations has passed and it’s safe to say that). I remember opening it years ago, and on the inside front cover, where every student who had the book from one year to the next wrote his or her name, I found Karen’s. I smiled when I saw it; it was just another small link between us. I’m going to rip through my books again, trying to find it, praying it wasn’t purged in one of the periodical thinnings of my library. It’s a link I want to keep, along with all the good memories of a friend gone too soon.

 

XX & XY

•November 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately—often a dangerous proposition. A lot of thinking about women.

And I’m going to try to write down some of those thoughts—perhaps even more dangerous.

Female

Not because I plan on saying anything offensive, something overtly sexist or misogynistic. But because in my position of white male privilege, I might not even realize—as enlightened as I like to think I am on the relationship between the sexes and the systemic and personal crap women face every day—that there are many things I just don’t get. Will never get. And that I exacerbate the problems women face because of my obtuseness.

I’m even more sensitive to making huge missteps in these days of #metoo and the never-ending torrent of revelations of how men—powerful men, seemingly aware men, scummy men—harass and demean and abuse and rape women as a matter of course. An entitlement, actually. These reflections on women started before the news broke about Weinstein et al., and in response to those revelations, some men have expressed their outrage and support for the women they know and love in eloquent ways—more eloquent than what I will achieve here, I’m sure. I’m not trying to write the next post that women share to say, “See, men, this is what you should do/believe/say.” Because I know there’s still a lot I need to learn, to try to understand given that privilege I inherited for no other reason than the appendage that dangles between my legs (well, and the Y chromosome that triggered it). There is still compassion I need to show. And empathy. Yes, I am sensitive to the fact that at least one woman has accused me of lacking both.

So, with those preliminaries aside, let me say this: I like women. And with that, how do women react? There are of course many ways to interpret that statement. As a heterosexual male, I like them as partners in a loving relationship. As a heterosexual male, I do also look at them at times from a purely physical perspective. I’m not proud of it. Nor of not challenging other men when they make comments that are sexist/objectifying, or when in the past I’ve made comments that were sexist/objectifying. I am trying now more than ever to be attentive to what I say, do, and, just as importantly, think; it’s an ongoing process.

I’m not sure if my gender and sexual orientation influence this or not, but I especially like women as friends. I like hanging with women in the kitchen while the menfolk are out talking some menfolk shit. I like talking one-on-one to the many great, close female friends I feel lucky to have (so, so lucky). I sometimes think my comfort around women comes from having grown up in a female-centric family and having a father who was not macho in any sense. I can’t say that he had any female friends that I knew of, but he did enjoy the attention of women, without being in any way flirtatious or inappropriate (at least not that I ever saw). To be honest, when I’m around guys who seem to reek testosterone, I want to get away from them as quickly as possible. My father did not have that male bravado, and I’m thankful for it.

I’m also thankful that in that female-centric family, which extends out to aunts and nieces, the women were/are uniformly strong and accomplished and self-sufficient (as are those friends mentioned above). And they have, as far as I know, escaped outright abuse at the hands of men, though I know they have endured harassment of some sort. As #metoo showed, hasn’t every woman who has walked this planet since the rise of patriarchy endured it?

I can’t say the same for my female friends and partners, that they have escaped the worst of male predatory behavior. I know about the sexual abuse, sometimes at the hands of family members. Of the rapes. Of the mistreatment in so many small and big ways by men who hold power over them, or just feel the women are there for their pleasure. I’ve gotten angry hearing the tales. And sad. And felt hopeless, at times, wondering if things will ever get better. I have tried to be good friends to them, to listen, to offer whatever meager comfort I can. And to treat them with respect.

Have I always succeeded in the latter? No. In my relationships especially, I’ve shown arrogance or indifference. I have hurt women I said I loved. I have lost sight of the compassion and empathy I so often say I want to show to all sentient beings. And with my female friends: This recent self-reflection and all the reports of abuse that have come out make me question if I have failed at times with them too. Was there a comment, a “joke,” that was hurtful because of latent sexism? Were there physical advances that were inappropriate and that I’ve blocked out of my memory because I don’t want to see myself as “one of those guys”? What is the trail of hurt I’ve left behind that some friends have overlooked, for whatever reason, or that have led some former friends to distance themselves from me without saying why?

Questions, questions. They arise at a time when, apart from the recent news, I’ve been examining how I interact with women for many reasons. Because I’m single and don’t want to be but can’t even get a serious glance from women. Because some of my close female friends are a huge part of my life, as always, but now are playing an even greater role in keeping me sane. Because I think about the shit all my nieces have gone through in this world dominated by asshole men. Because I really believe that this country would be better off run by women who understand the sapping effect of patriarchy on everybody and want to create a better society, but they’re thwarted by fundamentalist religious beliefs and the misogyny so embedded in our culture. Which is of course embodied by our pig of a president.

Playwrights sometimes discuss how they can write authentic characters that aren’t like them. How do I write the role of a black man, a queer, a woman of any ethnic background or sexual orientation? Well, I have to try, because plays that have only straight, white, male characters would get pretty boring. You try to call upon whatever empathy you have. You think about, in this case, the women you have known. And loved, in many different ways. You draw on the experiences of all kinds that they’ve recounted. You try to understand. I hope the women in my life will have the patience to keep helping me try to understand. And have the capacity to forgive when I screw up. Because, sadly, I will, despite my best efforts.

Postscript: I did something rare here at the Crisis: I hesitated posting something. This. Me, Mr. No Boundaries when it comes to exploring the minutiae of my internal and external life. I think that’s a reflection of my knowing how sensitive this issue is, of not wanting to offend women I like and love, of not wanting to seem to have some sort of holier-than-thou rap vis-a-vis other men. But I showed this to one of those close female friends I am so lucky to have (and an excellent writer in her own right), and she encouraged me to post it. So here it is.

She also said that it felt incomplete in some way, like it needed more of an ending—unless I was going for something of a stream-of-consciousness feel. I laughed; pretty much everything here at C?WC? falls into that category of inchoate musings. But I think this post’s not being neatly wrapped up is appropriate. As I said, my education, my doing and thinking the right thing, is an ongoing process.

PPS-After writing the first draft of this a few days ago, the first things I saw on FB were about Louis CK and Roy Moore. And it just keeps on coming…

Looking Up

•September 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

From time to time, my devoted readers—all six of them—express concern over the tenor of some of the scribblings here at C?WC?  Why so glum so often, they ask. Should they be concerned for my emotional/psychological well being? No, no, I assure them; the sad stories that emerge here (like the last two posts, which you can find here and here) might reflect some down moments, but overall, at least this week, life is OK. Writing about the gloomier things is a form of therapy, and of course if anything gets too dark you can always skip a post and  go back to all the cheery social media posts about our beloved president.

That, of course, was a joke.

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From one of the daily walks. The birds bring me joy.

But just to show that I can pull myself out of the self-pitying muck I sometimes wallow in, here’s a post that reflects some of the good stuff that has happened of late and that I anticipate for the near future.

For one, I got a rush job from a client, which I just finished today (well, at least the first draft) and which has eased some of my financial fears of the summer. As a freelancer, there will always be some angst about the workload—too much, too little—and the worry that the money that does come in just won’t quite be enough to make ends meet. Yet somehow, the mortgage gets paid, the electricity stays on, Callie my beloved feline does not starve, and I still manage to get a few pints of IPA every week at my favorite watering holes.

Another benefit came from this recent assignment. I validated a theory I had been kicking around for a while. Work, at least for me, is therapeutic. When I have to scramble to meet a pretty ridiculous deadline or push myself to  juggle several substantial jobs at once, I don’t have the time for lamentations. And when works slows, I have another thing to worry about it, which makes me more depressed and not eager to do work. So, for me, work is good (even if I do sometimes enjoy those slow days when I can knock off early and go to a matinee).

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Rain’s a comin’.

Also boosting the mood the last few weeks was having an East Coast visitor, one of my oldest and closest friends. I put aside the rush job for a few days so I could play tour guide, take him to some of the must-see sites here in Santa Fe and a few favorite places of my own. The touring included a stop at the Valles Caldera, which I had been meaning to go to for ages. Rain cut short our hike, so I plan on returning very soon.

Now,  his trip here was not all fun and games, as we each had tales of woe to share. But knowing that someone who cares was listening and at times offering solace was comforting. (Of course, the solace sometimes turned into pointed advice, as my friend reminded me that in the search for a significant other, or at least a date, I should stop being so damn picky.)

Another plus: While I don’t always feel as connected to the theater folks I know here as I would like, the reality is they form my largest social network, and at times, the camaraderie and inspiration I get from them is essential to my well being. I felt the latter in spades while attending another playwright’s informal reading of a new play and after attending the annual Fiesta Melodrama, a tradition almost a century old and still going strong. I left the theater the other night recommitted to pursuing my playwriting and am applying to a retreat and a conference for 2018, to try to turn that intention into reality. Fingers crossed.

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Recent purtiness #1

 

Other small highlights: seeing a one-hour preview of the new Ken Burns’ series on the Vietnam War; hanging out with friends; going to the art museum to see an exhibit of drawings from such heavy hitters as Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and da Vinci; making a daily walk part of my new health regimen (have not missed a day in two months! We’ll see how that record stands when winter comes…); harvesting my first tomatoes; making plans to see Green Day and Wilco this month; making plans to finally get my butt down to White Sands on another solo camping trip (report to come on that, I’m sure); anticipating my first trip of any substance since May, when I go visit a dear friend in Washington state.

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and #2

Then there are those things that always give

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and #3

me pleasure, even if I lose sight of them during the darker moments: friends, Callie, music, the farmers’ market, the mountains, the sunsets, taking pictures of the sunsets and other bits of nature around me. I’m grateful that things have taken the upward turn of late. The trick now is to let all these things buoy me a bit when the next down time comes. Or even better, use them to keep the darkness at bay.

The Obsession That Won’t Die

•August 3, 2017 • 6 Comments

 

I am, as many of you know, something of an obsessive when it comes to certain topics, people, places.

I am also a liar. And a thief. But more on that later.

Of all my obsessions, the one that I have the hardest time letting go of, and explaining, is my enduring fixation on my first love, a brainy, funny, voluptuous, creative, tortured woman named Jami. So obsessed, that I was moved to write my one and only solo stage piece about her. So obsessed, that I then self-produced the show in Chicago nine (!) years ago, a process I discussed in the early days of C?WC?

(I also recounted the subsequent threat of a lawsuit I received from one of the other principals in the play, leading to the hard-earned lesson that you shouldn’t use someone’s real name in a biographical work, especially if that someone seems to have some misgivings about certain decisions in her life. But the gag order prevents me from saying anything more.)

I suppose I could just say, if you’re curious about my relationship with Jami and the turns it took, read the play. But I don’t post or send that out any more. And reading the play wouldn’t really explain why I still think about her so much, and why today I was moved to find any trace of her that I could on the Internet. And truthfully, I can’t answer either question. The latter one might be easier to understand if she had appeared in my dreams last night, as she often does (which I know makes it sound as if her spiritual being wills herself into my dreams. Which is, of course, silly. Right?). Sometimes, we interact in my dreamscape the way any dreamer does with someone from their life, past or present. Other times, though, I know she is dead, I tell her she is dead, and can’t understand why she is there in front of me.

Obsession, maybe?

jami2A little bit of back story is in order. A one-month relationship (physically, nothing below the neck) during the summer of 7th grade, which had been proceeded by many marathon phone calls (I mean like two hours), in which we mostly talked about our shared passion for music. Later, even as she had several boyfriends, one quite serious, we spent uncountable afternoons and evenings at her house. We explored drugs together. She turned me on to music that I still listen to today. She introduced me to Eastern philosophy and Rimbaud and the Beats and so much more. And as we went through high school and college—she finishing both early, a sign of her restlessness to move onto the real part of life, the writing she wanted to pursue—I remained in love with her. Would have dropped any other relationship for her. Thought I could be the one to dissolve all the pain she carried from a fucked-up childhood and that contributed, at least in part, to the heroin addiction that played such a role in her downfall. I could “save” her.

Hubris is a funny thing, eh?

Our contact grew sparse as she stepped deeper into her druggie lifestyle in NYC. When we were about 30, I found out she was living in Hartford, got a number, and called her. She didn’t want me to come visit. I drove to her place anyway, knocked on the door in the oh-so-sketchy apartment building in an equally sketchy neighborhood, but she wasn’t there. Then, years passed, and the obsession kicked in again. On a Thanksgiving Day, with no premeditation, I stopped by her mother’s house—the house that had been like a second home during so much of my adolescence. Her mother told the sad tale: Jami was in a nursing home, in practically a vegetative state, after trying, but failing, to kill herself with an overdose of pills. I left and immediately went to the nursing home where Jami was staying. Two times, actually. And it was not a pretty sight. But at least I had seen her, tried to reach out one more time, though still thinking I could save her. Thinking the mix tape I made for her of some of our old, favorite songs and that I brought on the second visit would somehow snap her back into the Jami I had fallen in love with decades before.

The tape did not have its desired effect. Jami had no clue who I was. Her mental capacity was that of, oh, a five-year-old. The reading material by her bed consisted of picture books. But even in that state, Jami did not want me to go. She asked if I would come back. And here’s where the lying comes in: I said yes, which I knew was not true. I could not bear seeing her like that again.

She died in May 1999, never recovering from that failed OD. There was no obituary in the local paper.

And as I found today, there is barely a digital trace of her. She’s mentioned in two alumni magazines from Barnard. The first, from 1982, says this: “Also looking to capitalize on the English language is Jami Morrone who, while working as a researcher in an executive search firm, is seeking a publishing position. Jami admits her job is interesting.” The second piece reported her death, five years after it happened.

I also found what may be the only extant example of her writing, besides the few notes she scribbled inside several books she gave me. Appropriately enough, it was a review of Elvis Costello’s third album. God, we both loved Elvis. And she liked the album.

Another find was her mother’s online obituary. I had seen it before, when Mrs. M. died in 2013—and today I got pissed again when I saw that whoever submitted the obit couldn’t even be bothered to get her first and middle names right.

I’d seen the police report online before too. A story from the Hartford Courant, dated April 3, 1996, listing her as one of many people caught in a police drug sting. She was still living in Hartford, still, apparently, using. No word on what happened after the bust.

The last mention I found came in an unlikely source: an online catalog of the papers of Allen Ginsberg, held at Stanford University. But maybe not so unlikely, given her love of poetry and the Beats and the fact that it was written some time during the ’70s, a time when I’m sure Jami would have had the gumption to write one of her literary idols. Her name appears during correspondence from that era, box 151, folder 37, and I’m betting there wasn’t another Jami Morrone who would have written him.

The letter is not available online. Now, if I were truly obsessive, I’d have already booked a trip to California or written the archive to see about getting a copy. I still might. But even I realize obsession needs some limits. Though not enough to keep me from stealing. See, on that second and last visit to the nursing home where Jami eventually died, after I lied to her, I took a picture her mother had included in a collage  of old photos hanging in the room. It showed Jami as she looked right around that time she wrote that Elvis review. A time when I knew I still loved her. Would always love her.

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Let It All Out

•August 2, 2017 • 2 Comments

When did all this crying start?

Was I like this in my 20s and 30s? I  don’t think so. And I definitely don’t remember it during my 40s, not like this anyway, when I was mostly happily married. Of course, being a sap, I’ve always shed a few tears over some pretty silly things, like overly sentimental or manipulative ads and movies designed to tug at the ol’ heartstrings (see this post from December 2010 on that). And there have been plenty of times when my emotional (irrational?) attachment to “my” sports teams has led me to unleash tears of joy with hard-fought (in something of a Freudian slip, I first wrote “heart-fought”) victories or wail with grief at painful losses (1986 World Series, anyone?).

Well, at least it wasn’t raining…

But the real and often unexpected crying jags started in 2010, with the news of the IMD. Jags that left me curled up on the floor, soaked and breathless, after the initial onslaught of tears and tightness in my stomach and certainty of thought that I would never overcome the emptiness that engulfed me. All compounded by the grief for my father’s death four years previously, which I had—obviously, in retrospect—never really processed.

So, all that explains the bawling bouts then. But what about since then? What has spurred those moments of late when I sit on my bed and feel a wave of sadness—and yes, often self-pity—rise unexpectedly from somewhere deep within? Within my brain, of course, because thoughts of some kind are usually a trigger; thoughts of loneliness, of unworthiness, of feeling like a fumbling, bumbling fool as I try to navigate what’s left of my life. But at some point, the thoughts touch something outside my head, something in my heart or soul or call it what you will. And the tears come.

Like they did about ten minutes before I sat down to write this.

The pause came as I sought to discover, what positive comes out of all this wet wailing? And I quickly found several answers in an old Psychology Today article.

(An aside: I love PT. I discovered it in 8th grade or so, and used to read it in the public library before briefly having my own subscription. I’m not a regular reader today, but often when I have questions about emotional or relationship issues, my Google searches seem to take me to the PT site. It even helped me find a therapist when I tried to navigate, unsuccessfully as it turned out, my last relationship.)

So what I found, courtesy of Dr. Judith Orloff, is that we cry for different reasons. My suddenly arising bouts are, not surprisingly, called emotional tears. As with the other two forms of tears, letting out emotional ones has some physical benefits: “Typically after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.”

But emotional tears can do so much more. When we cry these tears, we purge stress hormones and toxins from our body. At the same time, we are ramping up the production of endorphins. Orloff says, “Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart.”

Yes, I have felt the benefits of a “good cry.” And maybe when they come unexpectedly, I should truly welcome them, since they indicate that whatever emotional distress I might be feeling on the surface has entrenched itself even deeper within me than I realized. It’s a signal to take stock and take action—and hopefully something more productive than drowning the tears in drink or seeking some other addictive outlet. I guess it’s good that I’ve never been hung up on the idea that “real” men don’t cry. Or not been too concerned about whether people think I fit their or society’s image of masculinity (hey, when you’ve had one of your nuts yanked out of its sack, you don’t get so wrapped up in the external things).

So, my advice to myself and others: cry away, baby. And if you’re with me and you start to cry, I will hold you and comfort you and wipe away the tears. And be happy, too, since you’re doing something so healthy. Do the same for me sometime, OK?

The Anti-Poet

•July 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

poetry-274x300God knows I am not a poet. I have never taken a class in writing poetry, cannot tell iambic pentameter from trochaic tetrameter, and probably have not read a poem since taking an English lit class more than 30 years ago. OK, there was the silliness a friend and I called speed haiku, with the emphasis more on the speed than the poetry. And once, eons ago, when I was dabbling–badly–in free verse, I did manage to get one poem published in the Christian Science Monitor, of all places. But since then, my stabs at poetry have been sporadic and confined to my notebooks, something for which I’m sure the world is grateful.

And yet…at odd times, usually when I’m in the midst of emotional angst (all right you wags out there, enough with the comments like “When aren’t you?”), I attempt to put down some strings of words that might be considered, in a certain light by a generous observer, something akin to poetry. Very mediocre poetry, but there you have it. And an event of last night moved me to write something today.

There are elements of the real-life situation that sits behind these words that, if you knew them, might give you a better sense of the meaning. Or maybe not. But in the end, they stand or fall on their own, eh? So, if you’re still with me and the slightest bit curious, here goes.

The Weekly Marathon Call

“I didn’t trust her”
was the last thing I expected her to say
about her mother.
“I don’t trust her now.”
A vehement distrust planted and nurtured in childhood,
with only brief, almost begrudging bouts of love
to bring down her guard.

“She was not a motherly mom,”
she went on,
her voice starting to deepen and shake
as she inhaled the soft sobs ready to rupture,
saying what had already become so clear.

Then she said she trusted me;
whatever our past misunderstandings,
whatever anger I had pulled from deep within her,
we could talk.
We did not deceive.
Our love was a stepping stone for understanding.

I listened, nodded, a nod unseen in her bedroom
half a continent away.
As unseen as the tears that unexpectedly pooled
in the corner of my eyes.