Recently, I purchased a red chair from Wayfair.com to spruce up my house, which I’ve had repainted and re-carpeted (upstairs) after years of shabby flooring and aging wall paint. The chair is a faux leather red. It’s inexpensive as I have two cats, one of whom likes to scratch his way through the furniture.
We had a red chair in my childhood home in the room we called “the den.” In that chair, I would color with crayons and coloring books filled with animal outlines, forest trees and fields of flowers. I watched The Lucy Show and Simba the White Lion, played with a Lite Brite, Legos, and Colorforms. I read my first books in that chair. When I was a young child, my mother spent time in the room, too, sitting in the red chair herself or on the couch, as we watched The Ed Sullivan Show or Red Skelton.
This is the red chair from the den of my childhood home. One of my favorite photos because my mom and I are in it together.
It’s easy to idealize one’s childhood when five decades have passed since you were a kid. Of course the truth is things weren’t always easy in that house. My parents separated when I was four years old and eventually divorced, and my parents argued, especially after the separation. My father came to visit on Sundays and sometimes roared his anger. It could be frightening. My mother went to work and was out late most nights. She drank too much on those nights. That could be frightening, too.
It is equally easy to forget that growing up wasn’t always bad. There were those red chair moments, for example, the great food my mother cooked for us, her generosity with buying us clothes and toys, her gentle demeanor and her sense of humor. And my father, he took us out for rides on his boat from Quincy to Cape Cod. I enjoyed those afternoons. I remember one day in particular when I was perhaps 10 years old. It was just he and I walking into a marina store so he could look at the latest line of new boats. He could be great company when he wasn’t angry. He could be funny and engaging. I felt happy to be out with him on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
My brother and me in the den. If you look to the far left, although it’s dark, you can see part of the red chair. This looks like a good day.
Childhood was a mix of good and bad, which perhaps it is for many people. In my fifties, I choose to focus on the good that my parents provided.
The red chair of my youth represented happiness, so I purchased the new red chair to link it to the past. Sometimes when I sit in my red chair, childhood memories rush back, and it’s almost as if I am a child again. It’s almost as if my mother and father are young again.
I experience a slow, sinking feeling, as if I’m losing myself in a soft mud. I am alone in my descent and I cannot call out; I’ve lost my voice. I cannot reach out; I have no arms.
All there is, is sinking.
(All she is, is tremor, Suzanne.)
This is not a dream. This is my life. Now. At fifty. A dark, bitchy drama-queen. I see who I am becoming.
I sink in the mud.
I am spiritually and emotionally hollow. Or do I mean shallow? I never thought of myself as spiritual, but the emptiness I feel seems beyond the everyday. In the past, when I felt bereft, I sought people to fill me up. My forties were about filling up. My forties are gone and already take on a certain flavor, a decade where (by my standards) I partied hearty, occupied the time with lovers and travel and new friends.
Now I am 50 and I have emptied out. Lost. Feeling dark.
I am hyper vigilant about mortality. The brevity of this life is always on my mind.
Two class-mates, ones I met in first grade, died in October. They had both turned 50 this year.
Stephen Schuko used to sit next to me in study hall. He made me laugh. I saw a photo taken when Stephen was in his twenties: handsome, invincible, muscle-built, a bad boy you just had to love. In the pic he twists towards the camera with his handsome grin and his muscles taut, shirtless, gorgeous; he looks as though he should live forever.
Deb E. Howe, brilliant, quiet, and someone I gave a hard time to (briefly) in junior high. I never took the opportunity to apologize to her for being a bullying 13-year old. She died, unexpectedly, from a stroke. She lived in Greece. I believe she died in Greece. At least she died in Greece. At least she lived something she dreamed before she died. But she died.
I ponder the (non-mortal) loss of two best friends, both of whom seemed to have just walked away from our 10-year friendships. In all fairness, I changed, and I did not walk much toward them over the last few years.
It’s the transient nature of life and relationships that has got me down. Sure, that’s part of it.
People leave you so alone. Or have I left them?
I sink in the mud.
Before the muddy muck reaches my eyes, let me share a revelation: I will likely not find a life partner because of who I am.
Who am I?
I am someone who does not deal well with long-term intimacy. That explains a lot about the multiple affairs I had during my forties. Recent dating experiences have also left me with a new knowledge of myself: I cherish my freedom, even when it’s lonely. Oh, and I detest spiteful women. (Yeah, I mean you.)
As I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
No, wait, it was a parking lot.
As I walked through the dark parking lot at work the other night, I admitted to myself something I had hoped was just coincidence: I fall in love with women I cannot have or who I can only have for a short time; and I push away the women who fall in love with me. Good thing it was a night to see my therapist. For reasons I can’t pinpoint, this is who I am at age 50 and there’s a good chance this is who I will always be: a single gay woman, breaking hearts, getting broken, and turning bitter.
Desperado, you better let somebody love you….ah, fuck that.
Release me from the muck of myself and from my daggering anger and meanness of spirit. I screamed in the car this morning, the ugliest words, at the top of my lungs, hatred in my soul. And that’s all that was in my soul.
Then I took my aqua fit class and felt fine.
I Went to Church
Last Sunday I went to church and there was no bible.
I walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church for the first time. I’d heard about such churches, welcoming and non-denominational. This one lived up to the reputation: I was welcomed by everyone who saw me, there was not a bible to had, and the word “God” was used twice and clearly used to mean whatever the congregation members needed it to mean in their lives.
The minister was a middle-aged woman and her sermon was phenomenal. She was downright literary. She is doing a monthly series on “virtue” and last week’s sermon was on courage. How timely for me personally, as I have felt less than courageous these days. I have been unable to work up the courage to simply enjoy myself, be it at a Melissa Etheridge concert or meeting a friend in Boston for a day on the town.
I wish I had her sermon here. I would print it. I am paraphrasing a few things:
Courage, she said, is not fearlessness. Courage involves fear and how we manage it. Courage requires fear and moving forward even when we think it’s impossible.
Courage is not a man with a gun in his hands. (She was not referencing brave soldiers, I’m sure, but cowardly killers.)
She read a passage from To Kill a Mockingbird, which beautifully illustrated courage. I have not read this novel, but now I must.
There was music. The “hymns” were about living mindfully and with courage. They were not biblical.
No one said the word Jesus Christ. Nobody quoted bible passages. Nobody referred to “Him.”
On the tables in the fellowship hall were numerous pamphlets geared at lesbian and gay youth – not to “cure” them but to help them feel welcomed and okay about their emerging sexuality.
This was church.
I felt jaded and impure, in my muddy, mucky soul, hearing so much encouragement; this congregation — wise yet innocent — the enduring human spirit. I don’t know if I’ll fit in, although I will give it time. I can no longer fill my life with lovers or best friends or other temporary connections. I need something steady and real and something I can handle. That church is always there. Can I handle it?
I attended again today, my second week, and was surprised by how many people remembered my name. The sermon was not as moving as last week, although educational. The minister was not there but a guest speaker. I hope the minister is back next week. She is quite brilliant.
After the service I drank coffee and had two conversations with two old women, who gave me a better role model of aging than my own mother can. After all, they have brought themselves to church on their own, even at their age. They asked relevant questions and could hold intelligent conversation. I also spoke to two middle-aged women who encouraged me to keep attending. One asked, “Are you new to the area?”
Spiritually, yes, I am brand new to this area, but that’s not what she meant.
I said, “No. No, I’m not. I’m searching for something, I think.”
“This is a good place to be searching.”
When the minister is back, I believe her next sermon is on generosity.
I could use some of that, too, and this congregation seems to possess it.
Yesterday, I found myself involved in a four-way or five-way, I mean, a multiple conversation in Facebook Message. Of the women mentioned in the conversation below, I’ve only met Ann in person. She is a student of the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College. I’m a graduate of that program. I poke fun at Bridget Bufford, a friend of Ann’s, but I hope she knows it’s all in good fun. She and I have a running fiction versus nonfiction argument. Bridget is a terrific author, with two novels published thus far: Minue One: A Twelve Step, which I’ve read, loved, and reviewed on my blog. And Cemetery Bird, which is in queue to read, because I’m a huge fan of her writing. The other women I just got to know during the conversation. The texts in brown are my secret thoughts that I did not reveal until NOW! The conversation is only about half of the total length of our talk. Sometimes Facebook is worth it. Thank you everyone, for cheering me up. Readers, I hope you enjoy. Cindy
Dear Blogging Friends,As many of you know, I’m preparing to take the BIG leap into the blogosphere. I’m planning on doing a blog over the summer about my experience preparing to turn 50 – my birthday is August 23. The idea is to chronicle the upcoming summer as I go through a very intentional process to prepare for this landmark birthday.My question for you: What do you think of my choice for title?
“My Summer of Turning Fifty”
You all have had far more experience with this than I have so I’m not even sure what to consider when choosing a title.Thanks so much for your thoughts!
btw, after feedback I’ve chosen to go with WordPress. Cindy, your blog looks absolutely beautiful on there.
I guess this message is part of my process, yes? The importance of support and collaboration as I enter this next decade…
Thanks to you all in advance! You’re wonderful, smart, supportive women!
Poor Ann, so sincere, she thinks we’re really going to help her. -CZ
Yay! Very cool. I like the title, too. My only suggestion is that the title limits the blog in the event you decide to keep blogging about your fifties or something like that. But if you want it to encapsule just your experience preparing to turn fifty, it is perfect!
Good point, Laura. Since this is my first foray into this medium I want to make no promises of further work, in case it doesn’t work for me. I thought this was a good way to create a very definite end point. HOwever, if I LOVE it and the fans clamor for more (Ha!) I would segue into a different version. I guess. A sort of Next Chapter?
Ann, most of all, have fun. Blogging is fun. With WordPress you can easily add pages with different titles or start a second blog. So, it’s okay if you want to be specific with the title. I’d like you to spice up the title a little. Maybe an edgy adjective – My Summer of Angst and Turning Fifty, or something that suits you. Your call. Can’t wait to read it, regardless of title.
I’m going to make Ann work harder on her title. I’m like that. -CZ
A noun with the flavor of an adjective!
I like it… I wondered about it needing a bit of “spice…” And I like the notion of something “edgy.” It seems like as we women age we’re… whoa, back up. I can’t speak for all women, here. As I age, “edginess” seems an inevitability and I’m loving it! (How’s that?) Thanks, Cindy!For the rest of you, here is the link for Cindy’s blog: https://cindyzelman.com/2012/05/20/on-a-perfect-day-i-want-what-i-have/
Yes, we get edgy, angst-y, and wise. And aren’t you sweet to promote my blog. I really love blogging, Ann, and see it as its own art form (and craft challenge). Really, have fun. Turning 50 is a great topic. Can’t wait to read.
I was facilitating the Friday morning creative writing workshop. Working on a piece about The Blue Fairy and Geppetto meeting up in San Francisco; the Fairy, still in his teens, is too young to know how to deal with Geppetto’s shame over being Catholic, divorced and gay. Edgy and angsty. Fiction.But I do like Cindy’s blog, and am eager to catch yours once it appears. Thanks for including me in this announcement.
Oh Gawd, Bridget’s here talking about FICTION. She won’t admit that she’s really Geppetto. -CZ
You can throw me out of the email chain after saying this, but all fiction is closeted nonfiction to some degree. Even your puppet. Even gay, Catholic Gepetto. Are you gay and Catholic, Bridget? Terry in Minus One was one hell of a lover. Did you just make up all that awesome sex, Bridget? Damn, what an imagination! I’ll give you this: all CNF is closeted fiction to some degree. It’s impossible to ever tell the whole truth because none of us ever knows it. We are all writing the same thing just pretending it’s something else. There is no pure genre, just good writing or bad writing. Chew on that. And remember, CNF is not journalism, which isn’t pure either, just FYI.
Jesus, no wonder I don’t have a girlfriend. I am BORING. -CZ
On this perfect day in May, I give myself a break from everything: from worrying about what to do about my mother as she ages, to feeling, for the first time, that there may not be enough years left to read all the books I want to read, or to find my perfect mate, or to see all I want to see, or that my stomach is no longer flat and muscle-lined – and of course, from worry that I don’t possess enough time or talent to leave behind a legacy of published writing.
To all that worry I say: Fuck it. The sun is brilliant. The sky blue and clear as a diamond chip. The air, the kind that reminds you of being six and riding your bike in the driveway. Then you go eat a popsicle and play in the grass. There is no worry. Today, I give myself a perfect day of freedom to match the sun and sky.
I accomplish things: I exercise, I get an oil change for my car and don’t let the guy talk me into spending more money than I have to – I really don’t need to pre-buy 10 oil changes for $100. I take hours to clean my house, a step at a time, without worrying if I’ll finish the entire house.
I open windows and watch little Mia close her eyes and sniff the spring breezes blowing across the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen. Mia has such a beautiful little cat face and it’s so wonderful to see her content, as she is not a happy-go-lucky-soul, as is her son, Timmy. I scour the kitchen. The bunny watches me. The cats disappear for naps. I fix a shelf in a cabinet that fell down two weeks ago with hardware I bought from Lowes. I put the Cheerios back on the top shelf. I reclaim this house as my home. Clean this, clean that, fix this, fix that, a little at a time, and a little at a time this house will come back to me as a home I love, rather than a burden I carry on my back.
Apparently, I stir up some good karma as my neighbor, Ed, says to me, “I have a new mailbox and post for you. I’ll put it in this afternoon.” I never asked for a new mailbox and post, but I need them. My mailbox is cheap plastic starting to crack; the faded red flag droops when you try to put it up for outgoing mail. Karma brings Ed and a new mailbox on a new post on a perfect day. It looks good. Ed also fixes my bike. He won’t take any money. I buy us ice coffees and we share some laughs in the sunshine.
I find myself saying at different points in the day: Take care of what you have and cherish it, rather than bemoan that which you wish you had. I know this isn’t an original thought. I think there are bumper stickers with this theme. I wish I could tell you my revelation was more profound than a bumper sticker, but it wasn’t.
Lately, I’ve been thinking I need something else, a different life, or a change of location, or a new person to fill my needs. But today, I sweep with the broom and say, “This is your home, not your burden.” I vacuum the old carpeting and think: This is a place of comfort for you, where it’s quiet and the cats are happy. I dust and polish and say, “There’s so much more that needs to be done to this house, but it’s a project, to be accomplished a little at a time, like putting that cabinet shelf back up in the cabinet.” Every little bit counts, like the new mailbox sitting atop its new post. I’m going to buy sticky numbers to put on my new mailbox so people who visit can find the house more easily. After living in this house for ten years, I’m finally putting the address on the mailbox. Today I also bought a drill. I’ve never owned a drill. Sometimes, discovering what you need can take a long time.
For much of the week, I was living in a menopausal haze of anger. I lost a friend or two this week, but that’s okay. Sometimes we outgrow friendships. That doesn’t mean we didn’t love these friends and perhaps we still do. Outgrowing means it’s time to move on, to find more of what it is you need because it takes so long to find it. I’m pretty sure the people on the other end of my anger think I’m a lying bitch or an unreliable person, but that’s okay. We do whatever we need to do and think what we need to think in order to survive. Emotional survival is not so easy, not when you’re young, not when you’re middle aged, and not when you’re old, I imagine.
Today I gave myself permission to take care of my house, my family, myself, and not worry about publishing an essay or a book or who I may have hurt or who has hurt me. Today I allowed myself to breathe in the air, feel the sun on my shoulders, and see the sky over my head. I didn’t worry that the years will whiz by and I’ll turn around and be eighty like my mother. I didn’t worry that if I eat this or that I might gain weight. I did not worry that as a writer, I may never be good enough.
And because I let go of such pressure-filled dreams and nightmares, I can sit in my bed on a Saturday night and write this, not caring if it’s good, not caring if it doesn’t live up to the writing standards expected of me as an MFA graduate. I really don’t care. Tonight I’ll write whatever I want.
I also made a decision about my mother. I said, “This is her home, too, for as long as she wants to be here.” A few weeks back I was angry and thought about putting her in an independent living community for the elderly. It’s a nice place where she’d make many friends. I may tell her about it, but she does not have to leave this home or the cats unless she wants to do so. I was inspired by and moved to this decision in part by reading of the passing of Robert Clark Young’s mother this week. He has worked so hard to give both of his parents a comfortable and dignified life in their senior years and during their illnesses. This week, he lost his mother. But she did not leave home until it was her time to die. Robert made it so she could be home until the very end. I want to do that, too. Thank you to the sun and thank you to Robert for this revelation.
I don’t have everything I want, but on a perfect day, I want what I have.
I’ve been feeling like a failure lately because my essay, “Claudia Songs,” has been rejected so many times. I log onto Facebook and see so many of my writer friends publishing, some often, some sporadically, but they are publishing. I’m happy for them, especially for the ones I know personally but still, that feeling of failure, “not good enough,” wants to creep into my writer’s soul. The newer versions of “Claudia Songs” are still out there with about five journals, but I don’t know if the essay will get taken. A friend said to me, “Sometimes you have to send a piece to a 100 places” before it gets taken. Well, I’m nowhere near that. I probably have only sent “Claudia Songs” to 10-15 places, and most of those places were reading an earlier version of the essay.
My friend, I don’t know if she wants to be named here, also gave me permission to stop trying to publish for the next several months. “Focus on the one project you want to work on most and write it as if you were writing to your ideal audience. Do that for six months and see what happens.”
What great advice. I’m trying to take it. It’s hard because I want to keep up with my friends. I try to remind myself that if I were to list all the publications I’ve had over 25 years it would be a long list. While not all of the publications were “creative” or literary in nature, many of them were. But it all feels so few and far between and I seem to have an emotional need to publish now to feel successful as a writer. Never mind what I’ve published since my twenties. Yesterday’s news, as they say. And I’m 50 now, and I don’t have a book.
“Focus on that one project for several months,” she said again, “and write your blog, especially if you can find a way to tie it into the project.”
It’s great advice, so here goes: I will try to focus on the “monologue” aspect of writing that I’m so interested in. In that spirit, I’ve signed up for a full weekend workshop with T.M.I. (Too Much Information) out of Rosendale, NY, to learn more about how to craft a monologue from the essays I write about my life. I’m truly looking forward to the workshop because the abbreviated version at the Woodstock Writer’s Festival was so great – one of those workshops where you are encouraged to keep going rather than having your work analyzed to shreds. And then you get to “perform” the piece at the end of the weekend to an audience.
The women’s weekend retreat is being held at the Lifebridge Sanctuaryin the Catskills of New York. I will post a picture so get ready to lose your breath. It’s a gorgeous venue inside and out. If you’re in the Catskills the weekend of July 21-22, please come see the performance on Sunday night.
This is the Lifebridge Sanctuary near Rosendale New York. I think I’d try to sneak in here for the workshop even if I wasn’t a writer.
I will try to tie my blog entries into my focus on the monologue, when I can. Here is a draft of a short piece I hope to turn into such a monologue, when I truly learn how to do that:
Plax. Red fucking Plax. I’m on a mission. It’s nearly midnight. My old lady mother wants dental rinse, red dental rinse.
“Miss? Miss?” I call. The young girl behind the counter looks up at me after a pause and an inspection of her black nail polish.
“What?” she asks.
I want to mock her and say, “What?What? Is that your generation’s shorthand for ‘How may I help you?’” But I keep quiet, afraid that any verbal conflict will lead me to wring her neck and leave her dead behind the counter.
A dead checkout girl will not lead me to Red Plax, and if I don’t come home with it, my elderly mother will sigh that sigh that makes me want to crawl out of my skin, that “I’m not happy with my life” sigh. I don’t ever want hear that sigh again, the way I never want to hear another ABBA song.
“Where is the red Plax?”
The cashier gazes at me, twirls her hair with her left forefinger and thumb, nearly assumes an intelligent expression on her face. She’s probably trying to guess my age, some middle-aged woman who is interrupting her adolescent reverie. Is she dreaming of Justin Bieber? I note a little upturn of one side of her lip. She has nose piercings. Probably not Bieber.
“What’s red Plax?” she asks.
“It’s for your teeth.” Don’t they train these people? Her long brown hair now rests on her overdeveloped bosom. She shows amazing cleavage for a girl her age.
I move my eyes from her cleavage to the countertop, blue, and then to her eyes, also blue, and wait for an answer. No one else is shopping at midnight in Rite Aid, so, we are alone. The mood is a showdown.
She twirls her hair; I twirl my anger. Who will shoot first?
“Aisle seven,” she says finally, upturning the other side of her mouth. Is she smirking?
“I’ve been to aisle seven. There’s only green Plax in aisle seven.”
She remains silent. Maybe she’s thinking about red Plax in the storage room. Maybe she’ll reach for the keys and take a look.
“Can’t you buy green Plax?” she says.
I note the cigarette display behind her, the rows of colorful Bic Lighters. I calculate the seconds it would take to jump over the counter, grab a lighter, and set her hair on fire.
Instead, I stand there, not budging.
She seems to have depleted her well of helpful suggestions.
“Look again,” is what she comes up with.
“Fuck this,” I say under my breath, but I follow her direction and turn toward the aisles. I suppose it’s possible the red Plax is hidden behind the green bottles. I head across a clean white floor. I walk past the cards and gifts, the stationary and school supplies, the deodorant and feminine hygiene displays, and again, I find the sign for aisle seven: Dental Care.
I behold a long, dizzy row of all things dental: Crest Toothpaste in a thousand variations, teeth whiteners behind locked glass cases, denture cream, dental floss, tooth brushes, and plaque removers, including green Plax. I kick a few bottles off the shelf. I see not one red bottle. I kick a few more bottles of green Plax to the floor. Oh, hell, I kick about thirty of them and the bottles lie on the white floor like dead soldiers.
Let the little cleavage-ed bitch pick up the bottles.
I turn myself around and prepare to walk up to that little twit and scream at that dumb ass little highness that there is NO RED PLAX. But maybe I should leave? Go to Walgreens? CVS? As I walk back along the gleaming white floor I look up at her and say quietly, “No red Plax.”
She shrugs her shoulders, reads a text message. I want to murder her. I guess her age to be seventeen. I guess her mother to be younger than I am, probably not even forty. I look at her brown hair leading to her breasts and wonder if someday she’ll be looking for red Plax for her 80 year old mother who insists on spending money on this shit, even though her teeth are brown and dead and nothing will bring them back. The counter chick with the cherry pop lips has no clue that she may be me in forty years.
I want to explain all of this to her, the aging, the generational evolution – or the collapsing order of things, like when you’re mother gets so old she becomes your child. If your elderly kid screams for red Plax you must find it. But I don’t think she’ll understand.
“Buy some red Plax for this frigging store,” I say to her as I approach the exit. She shrugs again. She really couldn’t give a shit. She was just seventeen.
You know what I mean?
If you didn’t enjoy theblog, maybe you can enjoy the song.
Usually when I’m in flight I read or let my mind drift, stare out the window at clouds or the lighted dots of cities in the dark. If I fly JetBlue, I watch Channel 13 – a little cartoon plane flies across a map on the mini screen embedded in the back of the chair ahead of me. I can see the route the plane takes, and the speed and altitude.
Recently I attended AWP in Chicago, which is a high volume conference – meaning a high volume of writers and editors gather once a year to schmooze, read, take seminars, sell books and journals. I was on my way home from this event, on that JetBlue plane, watching Channel 13, and seeing the night sparkle of Boston come into view through the plane window. As the plane made its descent, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” played through my ear buds. Songs bring me to places, my past and my present and sometimes fantasies of my future. I watched the map on Channel 13 and looked out the plane window, as we drifted down from 35,000 feet to 21,000 to 10,000, and as “Free Bird” rocked me back and forth through the decades of my life.
The song is one of the anthems of my youth – it represents both the joys and pain of my adolescence – the time before the panic disorder, and the time after it, the time before my best friend dumped me and the time after she dumped me. That kind of thing. Ronnie Van Zant’s voice remains relentless and hard-edged into the 21st century, although his body left the earth decades ago. He had his time in the 1970s, as did I, before he crashed in a plane and before I crashed in a panic.
Not long after “Free Bird” became a hit in the 1970s, I locked myself in my house for a year, as I succumbed to panic attacks. I became a recluse, a full-fledged agoraphobic. I couldn’t go anywhere. I mean, not anywhere. I quit high school. I quit my part-time job at Roxies Supermarket. I quit going out with friends. I quit riding bicycles or taking walks. I sat in my apartment, the one I shared with my mother. And I lost my mind.
I’m writing a book about that time in my life, trying to figure out the design of the story, trying to remember all that happened in the year 1979 particularly, the worst year of my life.
Today I can jet to a city like Chicago where in 1979 I couldn’t sit on the stoop of the apartment building where I lived. In the past year I’ve traveled as far as Seattle and Colorado, I’ve braved the big cities of New York and Chicago, and if I get into a writing conference for summer, I plan to go to Los Angeles. In 1979, I couldn’t sit in a high school classroom without panic assaulting my body and mind. And so I quit school.
But things are not the same. I am not the same.
I must be traveling on now, because there’s too many places I gotta see. Bye, bye babe, it’s been a sweet love, but… If I stay here with you now, things just couldn’t be the same. Because I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change. – Ronnie Van Zant
When I was 17 I prayed for overnight miracles; more than 30 years later, I’ve learned miracles don’t happen overnight but over a lifetime.
Lately I’ve been acknowledging how good my life is. Maybe some of you out there do this all the time, count your blessings, write down all the positives about your life: I love my children, I’m grateful for my house, I adore my car, I am blessed. That sort of thing. I wouldn’t know since I don’t hang out with folks like you. Happy people tend to scare the crap out of me. Acknowledging happiness is like jumping out of a plane and believing the parachute will open. People like me don’t count on parachutes. We count on hitting the ground, hard. But, you know, honestly, right now, in this nanosecond, things are good and I feel happy.
I present to you the cliché litany of things to be grateful for: I’m healthy, I’m in a good place professionally, I have wonderful friends, I’m pursuing my passions, I’m pursuing my women (well, maybe that one is less typical) and I’m continuing to overcome my lifelong issues with panic disorder and agoraphobia. As my forties move out of focus and I peer down the periscope of fifty, I wonder: Is it possible that the best is yet to come? (Writers, please stop counting the cliché’s in this piece. Writing “happy” is hard.)
One reason I’m happy is because I spent a wonderful weekend with a beautiful woman. Her name is Laura Ross, and I met her briefly at a writing conference a few years back. We’ve kept in touch via email. She lives in New York, somewhere in Manhattan. Don’t ask me where in Manhattan because I’d never been to New York, and I wouldn’t know midtown from downtown from uptown from across town. She kept me so busy seeing parts of the city and helping me to see new ways of viewing myself that I found no time to visit some of my other NY acquaintances. So, Michelle Hampton, Natasia Langfelder, Rik Fairlie, and others, you will be on the list for visits to come, I promise.
Laura is a dream I dreamed in my younger days. Laura lives and breathes in New York City, but my dream of passion had died long ago. Or so I thought. Ironically (because life is full of irony and writers love irony) the dream could only be fulfilled at this middle stage in my life – after I’d gotten older and learned to control my anxieties and phobias. But also after my body and soul had forgotten the feeling of passion and sex, after I’d said a hundred times to friends and to my therapists (yes, plural): I’m not interested passion anymore; I’ve experienced all I can experience; and it’s gone, like my sex drive and my youth and my menstrual cycle.
But the dream came to life once again with Laura: We stood on a subway platform and held hands, stared into one another’s eyes. Her eyes are deep and addictive. I breathed deep. I said to myself: What’s this feeling, Cindy? What does this remind you of? XXXXX, perhaps? No, this is better and why? Because Laura is kinder (i.e., not psycho like that chick I was so in love with in the 90s) and because I am healthy now, no more emotional baggage that I carry around like a stack of business cards: Cindy Zelman, first class neurotic specializing in panic disorder and agoraphobia, office hours only. My business now is living. I’m almost fifty and my soul moved on a subway platform in Manhattan, standing there with Laura. If I could freeze time, I would freeze that moment. Okay, a few others, but I won’t write about them here on this so far PG-rated blog. Read my memoir for the sex.
Throughout the train ride home from New York to Boston, I continued to reacquaint myself with this feeling of passion. I must have smiled to myself like an idiot. No wonder no one sat next to me.
Cindy Zelman is happy. Write down the date and time and where the axis of the earth is in relation to the sun or the moon or Jupiter, or whatever. And look up to the sky to see if there’s a full moon to explain this fucked up state of mind in a woman for whom humor is a substitute for happiness, usually.
Reviving passion was not my only accomplishment this year; my accomplishments 2011 have been more than I expected, and these, too, contribute to my nauseating state of happiness, in case anyone is still reading.
In June, I traveled to Seattle where my good friend and fellow writer, Erika Sanders, picked me up and whisked me off to Whidbey Island. Surrounded by Puget Sound, all the way across the country, stood this girl (me) who at one time in her life could not walk out the front door. See October 2011 blog entry, “David, pray.” Also see, July 2011 entry, “Luggage and Baggage.” Yet there I was on the Pacific coastline, as if this was no big deal at all. It’s not that I didn’t feel moments of anxiety on the trip, but they revolved around the logistics of airports, which I hate, and the idea that “home,” really was not someplace I could return to very easily. Agoraphobics think about such things, even those who are well under control like me.
Perhaps the most challenging trip for me was the one I took in August to Westcliffe, Colorado to participate in the Wet Mountain Writers’ Workshop, organized by Bar Scott and Brent Bruser and featuring the amazing Abigail Thomas and inimitable Dorothy Allison. There were no beautiful women waiting for me there. Well, actually, as it turns out there were quite a few! But I didn’t know this as I boarded my plane. For months, I’d let the idea of high elevation and elevation sickness mess with my psyche and worm its way into my brain until I was convinced that once I walked into the Colorado air, I would lie down and die. This is what neurotics do, even those of us who have it well under control. So, this was not an easy trip. If you read my entry “Once An Agoraphobic” (Aug. 2011), you may relive with me the panic attack in the ladies room at the Colorado Springs Airport after one whiff of air that wafted in between the small jet plane and the tunnel leading to the gate. But I did take the trip, I’m still alive, and thank you to my friends, old and new, who were so supportive of me.
And still there is more to come. In March 2012, I travel to Chicago to the AWP conference and read (at an off venue event) with the fabulous Meg Tuite, Anna March, and Robert Vaughn, and others I’ve yet to meet in person. Holy shit, how did I get so lucky to be able to read with such accomplished writers? Chicago will be yet another new city for me to see, yet another reason to feel travel anxiety – and yet, the girl who spent much of her 17th year watching Laverne and Shirleyreruns imprisoned in an apartment by her panic and phobias – will go to Chicago AND READ. This sad young girl, who is now a happy grown woman, will not only get to read with these gods and goddesses of the written word, but she will see many writing friends and colleagues, including Meg Kearney, Tanya Whiton, Faye Rapoport Despres, and Faye Snider. These are friends from The Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College. I will also see my new friend, Dr. Amy Wright, whom I met at the Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Colorado. I’m so excited that she and I can meet up at such an event. And perhaps others from that conference will be in Chicago.
I could not have traveled to any of these places twenty years ago. I could not have met any of these people ten years ago. Today I can panic in a Ladies’ Room in Colorado and get over it. Today, I can travel cross country to Whidbey Island and love it. Today I can stand in a subway platform in NYC holding the hand of a beautiful woman and remember that my dreams do, indeed, live on.
Suddenly, the prospect of turning fifty in April feels like a beginning and not an ending.