Monday, April 29, 2013

The Resurrection

 I recently returned from a visit to New York where I spent time with my family.  I brought my camera in case I had the inspiration to work on Deconstruction.  I packed my long white dress, and lightweight tripod so I could fit everything into a carry on bag... a first for me. (My husband is still in disbelief).  I didn't think I'd have time because I was there to help my family and father as he began his recovery process from a fractured pelvis, at home and to visit with my mother who lives alone and is also dealing with health issues.  My mother lives close to Long Beach, so after we had a visit with her, I wanted to see it, as it was a big part of my youth and adulthood and I had to see for myself what had transpired.  There was no boardwalk, only pillars which once held the slats of wood that I used to walk on, ride on and when I lived in Manhattan, I would meet my best friend there at least 3 times a week to run... even in the snow.  Afterwards, we'd have coffee in the cafe there.  Running on the boardwalk in the winter was my favorite time... there was hardly anyone around and the sand would be dusted with snow and that cold brisk air against my fast kept me going while I inhaled that ocean air.  I remember seeing the elderly people who lived there, with their walkers and canes, sitting on the benches, looking out into the ocean, appreciating its great depth and the sun shining above.

We drove to the west end and back...I had so many memories from Long beach... from Junior and Senior High School in the 70's to the time I moved away from New York City in 1994.  It was so quiet, even more quiet than it usually was in the winter.  I saw what was left of the boardwalk...and while my initial reaction was sadness as I saw the destruction and remembered the people who were left homeless... I could see that reconstruction was already in place. Trucks, bull dozers, mounds of sand...all to repair and recreate this place that brings so much joy to so many.  My heart went out to those who are still contending with this disaster and I pray that they are finding solace and safety at this time.
Untitled, Deconstruction Series, Long Beach, NY

A few days later, I realized that if I had the chance to do a session for my Deconstruction series, that it would be here at the boardwalk. Time flew by but on the day I was flying back to California, I got up at 5:15, packed my camera and tripod, put on my white dress and drove back to Long Beach to do the shoot. It was still dark but I wanted to be there when the sun rose so I could get back in time. Of course, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts to indulge one more time in that New Yawk Cawfee that I love so much. About a mile from the beach, it started to rain. I thought maybe it would stop by the time I got there, but it did not.  I pulled into a space in the parking lot where I could see the water and put down the passenger window to grab a quick shot with my camera while I finished my coffee. The rain did not let up and I surrendered to Mother Nature thinking that it just wasn't the time to do it and I let it go.   I sat and stared out the window and then it dawned on me that if I could get a clear view, I could do the shoot through the passenger window.  I originally wanted to do the shoot standing under the pillars, but it was raining too hard to expose my camera.  I put one of the legs of my tripod on the front seat and set it up.  I did a trial and then another session... at first I was not happy about the fence in front of the pillars, but in the end, I liked the contrast and lines.  It felt good to photograph at a place that I hold dear to my heart, one that is in reconstruction, like I am. I felt that together, we are building a new foundation, a resurrection, another chapter.
Untitled, Deconstruction Series, Long Beach, NY
I will never forget the Italian Ices, the bikinis I wore, the boys I flirted with, the bars I hung out in, the restaurants I ate in,  the 2 mile runs and long, intense talks with my best friend or the growing up I did here at this boardwalk. As I see the beach leveled out, I too, am going through a transformation and I look forward to the day when I return and get to walk on the new boardwalk and join my elders once again, to marvel at the great ocean and let it fill me with its infinity and the ability to endure the changing tides.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nothing To Defend

Hair is gray and the fires are burning. So many dreams on the shelf. You say I wanted you to be proud of me. I always wanted that myself.  Tori Amos

The other day I was driving down to Newport Beach listening to the music in my car… well, I wasn’t just listening, I was singing and jiving in my seat, the way I did when I was in my 20’s and 30’s….At some point I felt self-conscious and then I thought – F it!  I don’t care, this is who  I am… sometimes…or at that moment.  Since when does an age define whether or not we can jam and boogie in our cars?  I had that feeling again.. the one that is of longing… longing to play music and even perform again, but mostly, to just play music with other people.  There is nothing like it… not for me.  I fantasized about placing an ad in the music paper, “53 year old female classic rocker looking to jam with a band of musicians. Keyboards, some guitar and lots of back up vocals.”  Then I started thinking about the memoir I never finished, “How I Never Made it as a Rock Star.”  I thought that maybe I could start breaking it into little pieces and sharing it on my blog… as part of the deconstruction theme… Music is/was such a huge part of my life and whenever I go back to NY and see friends and friends of friends, they always ask, “are you playing anywhere?”  And I want to laugh… because the only place I had played in the last 3 years was the convalescent home and I haven’t even played there in over a year, I’m sorry to say.  But it’s funny, I guess if enough people ask you the same question over and over, after awhile, I begin to think about the question and ask myself how I feel about that.  I used to love to sit down and play Beethoven and Bach and Hayden…just by myself… and sometimes, go through my giant book of standards from when I went to Berklee… but it had been such a long time that I had done that, the keys on my piano were actually dusty.  One of the sweetest connections I have with one of my stepdaughters is that we sit down at the piano and sing my songs together, including the song I wrote for her, which I think is the last song I wrote and that was about 4 or 5 years ago. She is away at school now and we hardly do that anymore. I used to write songs every week when I lived in NY and then when I lived in Portland, OR, I wrote an entire CD worth of music, inspired by my first marriage and divorce.  It was called, “Two Separate Worlds  and I had a band to promote the cd and songs and later became a duo and did some touring in the pacific northwest as well as the east coast.  Anyway, needless to say, music was my life… before writing and photography and … life.  Once, when after I ‘quit’ music for two years and went back to school for writing and English (in my 40’s) – it dawned on me that I wasn’t a songwriter anymore and I felt fine about it.  The next morning (and after many listens of David Gray’s first album, "White Ladder") I woke up with songs in my head and started writing until 6 songs were born.  Naturally, I had to record them and did.  I think it was because I was willing to let it go and by “it” I mean, my identification with what I did...and then I was free… to create from a place of peace.
Deconstruction: Self-portrait in White
Learning that I am just the vessel in which these things flow through, I realize that nothing can ever be forced.  Last month I had the flu and as I wrote in another entry, it was a bit of a vision quest, since I couldn’t go anywhere and had to be still and quiet.  During this time, I was dealing with some personal family stuff that was very emotional and painful and full of growth.   One day, while bundled up in my pink fuzzy bathrobe, sitting on the couch, I grabbed my husband’s guitar (which just happened to be sitting there) and started playing.  He usually plays with a capo, so I left it where it was and starting picking… pretty arpeggios and before I knew it, words were coming to my head and out of my mouth…   I have never ever written a song where I didn’t write the lyrics down first and then sit down to write the melody… but on this day, an hour or two later, I had the bulk of a song written… and memorized (of course, I recorded it on my phone because I didn’t trust my memory to last to the next day or the day after…).  And the melody that came to me was one I never thought I would choose, nor the chords, which I still don’t know what some of them are…but I play it once a day… and still… I have not written down the words (which I will eventually do).  It brings me such joy to play it, and sing it, because the words came from a place in my heart and the song reminds me there’s, “Nothing To Defend.”  And I believe it is a gift from God, Great Spirit, The Universe, or whatever one wants to call a higher power… because I can tell you, it certainly did not come from me.  It was a beautiful lesson… and reminded me and taught me that if I get out of the way, I create a space for something beautiful to come through.  If I fill that space with a bunch of gunk, then it is clogged and nothing can get through and I am stuck needing emotional Drano to clear the path and disintegrate the blockage I created, which is the good news… because if I created the gunk, then I can get rid of it.  

Robbie: Rocker circa 1980, NYC  Photo: Denise Winters
Sometimes, and maybe always, it’s as easy as sitting down and saying, “OK, if ‘you’ have something to say or create through me, I am open and ready, let’s do it.  If not, that’s cool too.”  The main thing is, I am learning to let go of the attachment I have put on just about everything… and of course, I want to let go of the attachment to the pain and anguish of those difficult times in life, but it is another thing to learn to let go of the joyful things, or accomplishments… and trust that there is no shortage of those and that if I allow them a space to enter my life, time after time, they will come.  Like Pema Chodron says, it’s learning to walk in the middle.  Not getting attached to the pain nor the victories.  If I never write another song again, it will be ok, I feel fulfilled and look forward to one day recording this new song that would make me happy to share.  A new song… such a metaphor, and metaphors… make great songs.

When all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
Stephen Chbosky

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Emperess's New Clothes

Deconstruction, Self-portrait in White, Steele Bridge c 2013
Yesterday I had an out of body experience.  It was amazing, really.  I must admit, I have a cloud of self-consciousness floating about as I write this, but I have committed to letting myself be seen so here it is.  First, a little background. When I was 10 years old, a student from Italy was transferred into our school.  She had just lived through a natural disaster and the teachers asked for donations of clothes.  I put a bunch of clothes into a hefty garbage bag and invited her to come over after school.  We ate Wise potato chips and drank Coke and though I really wanted to watch Dark Shadows, I searched the UF stations for Italian programs… I did not find one, but left it on a Spanish speaking station thinking it would be the same.  I had a great uncle in the garment district (New York) and my grandmother would take me shopping every year before school started to pick out some things from the show rooms.  The only piece of clothing I can remember from those days was a chiffon orange and white polka dot long sleeve blouse.  I was still pretty much a tomboy then, and didn’t wear frilly things, but my grandma insisted and so it was.  I remember wearing that shirt once and when a friend came over and said she liked it, I traded it for her shirt… which was not chiffon, nor frilly.  I remember my grandmother coming over that year and seeing that orange shirt on my friend and exclaimed, “you traded that shirt for a schemata!?” In Yiddish, that means…rag.  But I digress…  I have always had the pleasure of giving away my clothes to my friends or whoever, especially, because even as a young woman (and embarrassingly, not so young), my grandmother still took me clothing shopping, but now we were going to Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor…  still buying me clothes (conservative, office-like clothing, hoping this would lead to me become a paralegal!) mixed in with the occasional funky pieces that even my sweet and fashionable grandmother liked.  Still to this day, I enjoy passing my clothes on to friends and stepdaughters… it makes me happy to see them enjoy something that was mine that I can share.
I have tried many times, shopping in second hand stores and can count on one hand how many times I purchased something to wear from them.  I felt the struggle… and the self-judgment… about how it was difficult for me to wear something that was somebody else’s… yet I had no problem being the one who gave the clothes.  This always bothered me in some way but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I wondered if I was spoiled or snooty… and thought about what it would be like if I didn’t have that choice. What if I had to wear someone else’s “hand me downs” – what if I couldn’t afford to buy my own clothing?  And, lo and behold… as in most cases of my life, the universe presents opportunities for me to learn and grow.  I have not been able to buy a whole lotta clothing, not really even a little… and yesterday, I spent the day playing and working with a friend.  We have been researching stores that might sell our artwork.  We walk from one to the other, surveying and asking questions.  Along the way, we pass by clothing stores, with the cutest clothes and bags, and shoes in the window… clothes that I know I can’t afford now. Sometimes we go in and peruse and I even try on something. I am tired of my clothing, that I love, but wear over and over again, and right or wrong, they get stale and I’m a woman and I like to wear something new, something fresh from time to time.  I told my friend how I have put a ban on buying clothing right now and as we were walking back to the car, she said, “I have bags of clothing that I was going to give to charity, you can go through them and see if there’s something you like.” 

And as I live more and am aware of miracles more, I knew this was one. It was not just about the clothing, it was much bigger than that. We went back to her house and she got the bags and in her dining room, we went through them together, and I tried on piece after piece, and it was as if I was watching myself from a corner in the house (like Andora from Bewitched!). Her generosity of heart  amazed me. I was always the one giving away my clothing. Ironically, the only other person who ever gave me her clothing was… yes, my grandmother.  However, my grandmother was petite and I was not, and could hardly wear anything, try as I might.  My friend's clothes fit just right and they were just my style… and it touched my heart so… and she wrapped them in tissue paper and we laughed as she placed the garments in Nordstrom shoping bags.  There was much to learn from this exchange.  I am humbled and grateful and I am thrilled that I now know that joy of receiving in this way. I have a deeper understanding and compassion for those who cannot afford to buy brand new clothing or anything for that matter. And, I have a more grand appreciation for the value of love and kindness.

 I am writing this wearing my ‘new’ black funky shirt that is worth the world to me.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Won't Grow Up!

Untitled, Deconstruction, Self-portrait in White Series
I recently went to see Peter Pan, the musical at the Pantages Theater.  I had no idea what to expect, it was date night, we just had a delicious dinner, I had a little wine and I was prepared to sit back and be entertained.  I waited, with anticipation, for the curtain to open as the orchestra began to play. I started thinking about the story of Peter Pan and I really couldn’t remember it. All I remembered was being in the play of Peter Pan as a kid and singing the songs at camp in the mountains of upstate New York.  One of the special aspects of this night was Cathy Rigby starring in this musical.  My husband brought me to the show because he knew she was one of my heroes and role models when I was a young gymnast.  While we waited for the musical to start, we read about Cathy in the playbill and all the organizations she has created; for terminally ill children and for aspiring actors. 

The narrator began to speak and then it was time for the show about never never land to begin.  Peter Pan came flying through a window, sprinkling sparkly fairy dust. Agile and graceful, this 60-year-old woman was performing acrobatic moves in the air while singing.  I was right there with the kids in the audience smiling and enjoying song and dance and then I realized how fortuitous it was to be at this show, at this time in my life, listening to words about thinking joyful thoughts that make one “fly.”  I still was thoroughly entertained, only now I was beginning to see the metaphor of the story of Peter Pan unfold as well, at least in my mind.  Peter taught the other children to fly by encouraging them to think happy, wonderful thoughts.  I saw him as the true representation of the “Self.” He was honest, non-judgmental, and strong and loving and so open to miracles that he could fly.

Before too long, Captain Hook entered the scene and we learned that he was determined to kill Peter, to take him down, to never let him fly again.  Naturally, he represented the “ego.”  He was paranoid and strategized, manipulated and planned to find Peter and destroy his high flying spirit.  And, at one point, when Captain Hook put poison in Peter Pan’s medicine, Tinker Bell drank it to save him.  And who was Tinker Bell?  An Angel, of course!  We all have people, angels, beams of light that if we recognize them, help us along the way.  But most of all, we learn that the light shines within us and even after Captain Hook temporarily grounds Peter, before too long, Peter is back, choosing to think happy, joyful thoughts and flying again.  

It occurred to me that wisdom is not exclusive to age or beauty and that one does not have to be old or beautiful to possess it.  In fact, children are great purveyors of wisdom.  They live in the present moment, not attached to outcomes, they laugh when they want, cry when they want, sleep when they want and they play when they want.  Here, in Peter Pan, was this little boy not only teaching fellow children to think happy joyful thoughts but eventually he inspired the adults as well. 

The “story” of Peter Pan touched me so deeply that I felt a part of me was changed and not just because of the metaphor of the story and the beautiful music or the fantastic acting.  There before me, was the epitome of Beauty and Wisdom… Cathy Rigby. And in case you forgot what I wrote at the beginning of this essay, she is 60-years-old, a mother, a grandmother, and she was performing acrobatic moves in the air that most teenagers are not able to do on the ground. She “is” Peter Pan, having fun, believing in anything and everything and actualizing all that she believes in. It is no wonder that she now gives seminars on “The Art of Reinventing Yourself”, because she is a shining example of a woman who has reinvented herself. Cathy studied singing and acting for 7 years after having a career as a gymnast and winning 8 gold medals internationally. After that she became a sports commentator for 18 years. She has also created a company with her husband and together they are Executive Producers, a title that seems quite fitting.  At the end of every show she comes out to personalize signed, purchased posters and proceeds of these posters goes to Discovery Arts, an organization that brings music, art, dance and drama to children with cancer, serious blood disorders and life threatening illness while they are in the hospital receiving treatment.  My sweet husband bought me a poster to get signed by Cathy Rigby.  I waited on line nervously because contrary to what most people think of me, I am timid and shy at heart, but I was not going to let an opportunity like this slide by. When it was my turn to meet Cathy I thanked her for inspiring me as a gymnast when I was a kid and for inspiring me now, as a grown woman, to reinvent myself.  She gave me the warmest loving hug that will last forever in my soul. My thoughts are confirmed: age is truly an illusion and beauty most definitely is a by-product of happiness, as long as you believe and as Peter Pan says, “Think joyful, happy thoughts”.  I most definitely agree with Anne Lamott when she wrote, “Joy is the best make-up.”

In this quest of seeking who “I” am as a woman growing older in years, you helped me believe that I too, can fly with delight and I hope to always remember how to live in that delightful wonder of a child and to ‘be’ beautiful.  Thank you Peter Pan, and now, “I gotta crow!”

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