Outdoorsy Part I: Sunken Meadow

I’ve got a summer wish list that I’ve been checking things off of like a woman on a mission who must get all these things done before the bus explodes. You know, like Sandra Bullock in Speed but without Keanu Reeves and without a bus. The reason I’ve been mission-izing my wish list dawned on me in a moment of clarity while microblogging: I’m trying to prove that I can have a fun time on my own without the help of anyone else, thank you very much, so you [most recent guy who broke my heart] can suck it hard. This moment of clarity allowed me to discover the following:

  1. No one ever said I couldn’t have a fun time on my own or with someone. No one ever accused me of not being fun.
  2. I’m having a fun time, so trying to create vengeance through fun seems nonsensical, and takes some of the fun out of the fun.
  3. No one needs to suck anything, hard, soft, or otherwise.

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Most items on my wish list involve nature. I’ve never considered myself a nature girl. Here I am in the summer of quarantine, visiting every state park I can with a handy Empire Pass in my back pocket. Something about lockdown brings out the need for nature. Also, Long Island is beautiful, and I want to explore it, especially since travel is out of the question right now.

One of my friends used to work at Sunken Meadow State Park, and all during quarantine he’s been regaling me with these neat vignettes about his antics. What better guide to have? We met up in the parking lot with him driving around to get me and bring me to where I needed to go to start, which I told him was 85% going to happen (the %15 percent that I would wind up in the right place when there are lots of lots to choose from was generous). Then off we went, onto a trail and over a bridge and I stopped short.

It. Was. Gorgeous. The sky was overcast, and the clouds were moving grey, and the water was running right under us, and there were birds, and the mountain shone so evergreen (okay, it’s not a mountain. It’s a big hill. But maybe a mountain. I don’t know. I’m new to nature, remember).

We went up a path, found a picnic area, and went up another path, and then another kind of steep path. At the top of that one, he stopped and was like, Yeah, that hill deserves a break. Lungs pounding, I stopped too and was like, Thank you for saying that because I thought I was out of shape for a moment. He told me on the other side of the fence nearby was a hill called Cardiac Hill. So what did we just climb? I couldn’t figure out how it could be much different since the fence was simply separating us from the same mountain/hill/land-incline.

Then suddenly, I was walking on a ledge and then through a forest and we were in the woods, y’all. And then through the woods, up and down and on steep and narrow winding paths, I reminded him, If you encounter a really large gap, we’ll have to double back. Because, you know, I’m short, and I wasn’t about to leap over a gap when the landing was wide enough for only one of my tiny feet. Luckily, no leaping was needed, and we came to the bluffs, and we were at the beach.

So to recap: we were on a mountain => we were in a forest => we were at the beach.

How does this even happen? Whoever complains about Long Island needs to be dragged up Cardiac Hill and rolled down a beach bluff.

We got down to the beach, and he gave me options: walk back through the woods or walk on the beach. The beach! The beach! The North Shore beaches are rocky and narrow, and since I’m a South Shore gal, I don’t get enough of these other kinds of beaches.

Apparently, when you’re from the North Shore, you skip rocks. When you’re from the South Shore, you do something you call skipping rocks, but all you really do is throw a rock into the water and watch it sink. We tried this several times, my friend showing me form and flicking and finding of the good rocks, and me side-winding and twisting and tossing a rock into the water with very little hopping and a whole lot of going under without much fanfare.

Also along the beach were fishermen. Which meant I walked by a full fish dead on the sand. Also dead was a large crab thingamajig with a long pointy tale, drifting in the shoreline as if it were once alive and decided to be dead to freak me out.

See? I’m so one with nature, now.

Actually, I am somewhat proud of myself. When we finished that path, my friend was like, but wait there’s more! We went down into another part of the park where all these little hermit crabs crawled around, in and out of holes. Crabs walk sideways, y’all! Like, I know this, but like, now I really know it.

At that point, thunder rolled and a bit of a spritz started. He was like, Are you good with rain? I was like, rain doesn’t make me melt, so I’m fine except if there’s lightning. He was like, Yeah, if you see the hair on the top of my head start to rise up…, and I jumped in, Yeah, I’ll take cover, for sure. He stopped and was like, Or maybe you can tell me first as a warning. I make a great friend sometimes.

No lightning. No hair on end. No taking cover. Well, that’s not completely true. We went semi-covered in a semi-covert operation to get a picture of a bird that I decided I wanted to stalk. We’d been talking about a recent new story about a woman who got too close to a moose and was pretty much jacked up by the moose when she got too close. I think everything about that story is right. Leave the animals alone. Follow the rules. If you break the rules and annoy the animals, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Okay, maybe you get upset, but you deserve it. A little over an hour later, here I am in marshy territory, sneaking all up in this bird’s business because I decide I want to be friendly with the animals instead of being grossed out by them (in my defense, both animals I encountered on the beach were dead, and that’s freaky). The bird kept flying away from me, and then I decided to maybe leave it alone before it went all Hitchcock on me.

We came up on the boardwalk. We walked over two more bridges. We finished a whole lot of the park, which meant we’d finished a whole segment of the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt trailis 32 miles running north and south. In my days at Heckscher, I completed some of it. Now here I was at the other end, another segment complete. Is it possible to complete in one day? My Great Saunter experiences point to a big fat No for me.

Sunken Meadow July 7 (2)

With sand in my shoes, wind in my hair, sweat on my skin, and a hum of sky in my ears, we finished the hike, regrouped in our cars, and called it a day.  A great day, for sure.

Microblogging Part 3

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Making friends as an adult is not easy, especially for a socially awkward introvert who can’t walk into a room of people without hyping herself up.(You should see the hype routine). Looking back, I now know I lost a lot of my life and who I’d been while I was married. A lot of friendships changed—as they do anyway—and some of the closest friends I had then were his. I’d lost a group of artistic writer friends before him, and after him, I felt like I’d lost my best friend—because I had. Still, those friendships I’d seen as drifting away did come around. When my dad died, they were there. When my wasband left, they were there. Still it wasn’t the same because I’d changed. Climbing back out of the wreckage, I’ve made acquaintances and strengthened bonds that I thought were at first frivolous or forced. Then I returned to the writing scene. Then I returned to the social scene. I returned to live my life as a new person, backed by therapy and Buddhism. Then this workshop came along. Here was a monthly gathering for not only reading but creating. The pandemic hit a few months later and my upward climb to building all who I am plateaued. Then suddenly, a friend I’d grown close to decided to not be part of my life, and losing someone special when we’re in these strange times is a greater loss than usual. And then all the losses piled up at once. And also, so did my friendships. I would not be able to be living this life if I didn’t have the most wonderful people surrounding me with such generosity, kindness, and heart. I am an adult, and I’ve made new friends, the kind I can call in the middle of the night if I need to, and also the kind who wouldn’t be into that, and that’s ok too. People need people in all different ways. Sometimes when you’re lost and you don’t know where to find your tribe, your tribe finds you. I am so grateful for the friends I’ve had for decades and the new ones I’ve made and for this writing workshop that lifts my spirits with every single word. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #friendshipismyfavoriteship #thankyouforbeingafriend #longisland #longislandpoetry #longislandwriter #southbaysundays #writingworkshop

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Here’s the sun and the clouds unfiltered. And now here’s me unfiltered: I once had a seven year friendship with an artist whose work stunned me. Through her, I met another poet, whose work was also stunning. Those years were filled with impromptu artistic salons, bridal showers and a wedding, long days of hanging out at the preserve, eating African peanut soup, yoga, and the tribulations and sagas of men. Then one of those sagas took a turn. For months, maybe even a year, she’d been seeing someone I’d dated that ended with him simply never calling me. It wasn’t the guy that shook me. It was the lie. It was the getting the email that said I need to tell you something and the story of how they were going to Venice because they were in love. It was realizing that all that time, I’d been the only one in the room who didn’t know. Maybe I knew on some level—found it odd that he’d show up in places where we were. Felt our friendship being strained by something I couldn’t figure out. That friendship ended abruptly. My poet friend then said if it truly was the lie, then I wouldn’t be speaking to her or anyone in their circle. And she was right. An entire world of artists cut out. I know I’m better for it, but to lose that much all at once devastates the soul. And now, it’s coming back to me, like all the other losses that continue to pile high, and so I walk, always looking up, continuing to go through to get through. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #nofilter #amwriting #grantpark #alwayslookup #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Four weeks makes one month. No, I’m not over it. We are never over it. We get through. I’m not through yet, either. The other day I got angry at myself, thinking I’m overreacting. I wrote a list of recent losses. It went twenty deep and I hadn’t reached all the deaths yet. So no, I’m not overreacting. I’m grieving everything all at once, and that may be a silver lining. Go through it all at once so that when I’m through, I’m through. Which isn’t realistic. Things happen. Remember when the tree fell on me? I could have died, and I didn’t. Anyone can die at any time. People leave. Love changes, or maybe chemistry shifts. So when I go through to get through, that means everything. It means life. It means always moving forward into the sad and into the joy. It means taking chances knowing that hurt exists and could happen, and so does beauty and bliss. It means I am so grateful that I’ve found gratitude, truly and genuinely, and I know it’s real because blue skies make me tear up with awe, bunnies make me gasp and giggle, and a smile returned makes me believe the world is good and still can be a better place. I want to be part of that, and through this maybe I already am. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #longisland #heckscherstatepark #alwayslookup #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #fitspo #piyo #piyobod #ispyny #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Once upon a time, I was Auntie Christina to three wonderful girls. I was scared to be an aunt because I don’t get children. Like, what do we talk about? Like, how do I play? This confusion stems from my never being a child myself; I was always a little adult. I’m more of a kid now than I’ve ever been, and that’s what made me able to fit the role seamlessly. I loved being an aunt. It’s been a few years since I’ve been called an aunt. I never got to say goodbye—but there have been a few messages here and there, one of the true perks of Insta. Even so, it’s not the same. When I was pushed out of love, my brother fell in it, and along came two little girls. I didn’t want to meet any of them because I didn’t want to invite in more people who could just as easily be taken away. The day I signed my divorce papers, I met my brother’s girlfriend. They clearly were in love. I liked her a lot. Then one day I met her girls. And now we’re the best of friends. I’m still scared of loss and also so grateful for joy. PS: We’re all walking on the same foot! #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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My photography friend snapped this during a photo shoot when we were happily blowing bubbles at Jones Beach. Where are the bubbles and where is the fun? This photo is proof that we can feel more than one emotion in a moment. Here I am happy and fierce. I’m frustrated and carefree. This was before the death of my dad and before the disappearance and divorce of my wasband. Even then, when I consciously thought life was perfectly fine, I contained multitudes below the surface. Here they made a quick appearance. Now a few years later, my therapist says this sucks, meaning all the loss and how it’s retroactively coming up. All my losses are real, so feeling sad is completely natural, which means I’m being super normal in an abnormal world. The main difference between then and now is my confidence in letting my insecurities shimmer and my confusion shine. There is power in letting go of embarrassment and embracing the awkward discomfort of uncertainty. I don’t know exactly who I am, but I’m grateful I have the opportunity to figure it out. This, all of it, is my best life. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #longislandphotoshoot #jonesbeach #warriorprincess #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Today I made new memories. I went to this park once by myself. The second time I went was with someone, and it was my first time out in the world after quarantine started. I was freaked out by all the people living their lives. This had all been going on as I’d been holed up in my house for months. I felt safe only because who I was with made me feel that way. Today I went back a third time, found the long path around the lake, and walked that as well as some of the trails I’d previously taken. I was alone and felt safe because I finally remember my own strength. New memories to replace the samskara. New memories to build new neural pathways. I’ve become attached to the walking, which is the opposite of vairagya, or non-attachment. At the same time, walking is helping me practice Aparigraha, non-possessiveness, because slowly I feel the non-attachment to the brokeness emerge. This is the duality of yoga. This is the duality of life. Letting go of letting go. Going through to get through. The other side is more life of the same. Life doesn’t change. The true self doesn’t change. The only real change is how we choose to react. I’m making choices that work. I’m making choices that fail. Along the way, I’m learning and laughing and crying and being, and I’m so grateful for all of it. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #longislandyoga #longisland #longislandparks #hempsteadlakestatepark #fitspo #piyo #piyobod #alwayslookup #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Microblogging Part 2

I don’t know if this is a cop out, microblogging instead of blogging here. I’m writing. I suppose that’s all that matters.

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I’m sitting on this bench, my dad’s bench, right now with a stop-the-spread-of-COVID mask over my face and sunglasses on. I’m typing on my phone, something I rarely do to write, and I’m sobbing. The plus of masks is that no one knows you’re crying. Though it’s probably obvious. These are body wracking sobs. But I keep typing because somehow writing is going to make it okay. That’s not true. Nothing is going to make it okay. My wasband used to talk about losing a parent, how it changes you. The morning he left, one thing he wailed was, “and I’m still sad about my dad“. He’d passed years before. One night when my dad was in the hospital with a high fever, my wasband came into the bedroom in a sob. “I don’t want to make you upset but” he started crying. I took him into a hug on the edge of the bed. “It’s okay” I said. “You can be upset, too. You guys are buddies. “ “I’ve tried to keep thinking he’s going to make it, but tonight I really think he might not.” “I know, I know.” My dad made it through that night and the next few weeks. Now, my dad’s still gone. That’s how death works. It’s permanent. It changes you. It’s never okay. The life we live before we die is the main thing. That’s a dad phrase: that’s the main thing. Getting therapy when we need it. Facing terror when we must. Sharing our feelings and not apologizing for having emotions. These are the actions we can take so that the rest of what we live is worth the life we are gifted. #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #gratitude #grateful #missyoudad #longisland #hendricksonpark #911survivor #september11 #endalz #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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A little over two weeks ago, I shared this in my story with the eloquent caption, “ok fuck it. The bod is back and I’m shouting it out. I don’t care who sees. Quarantine, in this way, has been good to me.” I was coming off a night of no sleep. I’d been blindsided. I fell into despair pretty quickly. (I’m still climbing out.) Quarantine has not been good. It’s not good for humans. I lasted a bit longer in not climbing the walls because I’m an introvert. Yes, folks, I’m debilitatingly shy. This may surprise some people—most likely the people I thought about before saying “fuck it” and posting this. I’ve got a crowd of recent students still following, and who knows what they’re stopping to read. (And they’re amazing—as students and as human beings). But as I always say, I’m a person, too, not just a professor. So here’s me, being a person who’s lived her whole life not looking at mirrors. Avoiding any reflective surfaces. Right now I’m in the best shape of my life, and I still feel like hiding the chub. And it doesn’t help when people tell me I’m skinny. It doesn’t matter what you think; it matters how I feel. Which doesn’t make sense because how I feel is based on what I think people think of how I look. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve been left. I’ve been lonely. I’ve felt insecure. Also, in my moments of feeling ugly and sad, I’ve seen the strength and perseverance of friendship in all its many colors. Though lonely and vulnerable, I feel loved. Knowing that, I can get through anything. #gettingthroughit #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #grief #bodyimage #bodydysmorphia #friendshipismyfavoriteship #fitspo #microblogging #essayist #englishprofessor #introvert #piyo #piyobod #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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I met David and Stephanie right after @sip_this opened their doors, fliers in hand, talking all about the poetry scene. They welcomed Poets In Nassau quickly, truly welcoming the poets and writers to run amok on the mic. They opened their walls to artists (I was honored to have my work shown years ago and my brother’s just last year). They opened the floor to musicians and comedians and drag queens. Then there was that one time we won music trivia. And there were those many times we lost trivia. And there were all those days in between of first dates, writing meet ups, grabbing a snack and a chat with a friend. Sip This hasn’t simply supported the community. They’ve been the community, standing as the common thread among all walks of life locally and from afar. Anyone who walked through that door belonged just by being there. I am so thankful that this place has existed, and I wish everyone much light and love. #longisland #valleystream #sipthis #grateful #gratitude #gettingthroughit #Repost @sip_this with @get_repost ・・・ We regret to inform you that this Friday 6/26 will be our last night in operation. For nine years we have enjoyed serving you. We thought Sip This would last much longer and we, our staff, and our families, are deeply saddened by this outcome. That said, there are wonderful memories and friendships that will continue. We know our time here was not for naught. There is so much good that was created in our time at Sip This: new love, countless hours of fun, business deals, random connections, shared art, and community coming together through events we helped facilitate. If we don’t see you Friday (4pm to 11pm), we hope to see you again soon. Thank you for all the support. -David and Stephanie ✌🏼❤️☕️

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“Will this bring up sad memories for you?” L&B Spumoni Gardens—memories of that place for sure. She was referring to the time we went on July 4th with my dad. We stopped at L&B for pizza. Then we went to the pier for fireworks. There’s a photo I share often of me and my dad in which I’m holding a full cup of froyo and he’s holding the nub of an already eaten ice cream cone, which is from that night. It was so crowded, and at one point I was like, “Dad, I’m more comfortable if you walk in front of me,” and my other friend at that time said, “Don’t worry—I was watching him too.” Because it takes a village to raise a dad. I love talking about my dad and remembering him. Those are not sad memories. Today in the car, S added, “Sad memories or bad memories.” Because my wasband is from Brooklyn. L&B was part of my life with him and with the couple who went with us to the pier and whom we called our children because of our age difference. And even though they are gone from my life now, the memories don’t make me sad or feel bad. Sometimes I feel angry. Sometimes I feel nothing. And then sometimes, I smile. Moments are moments. If something is really really good in the moment, it’s a good good moment. Today was filled with good good moments, and even with a mask hanging off of my ear, for a small moment, the world was a normal, safe place. Thanks, S, for always making it seem that way. #friendshipismyfavoriteship #thankyouforbeingafriend #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #brooklyn #spumonigardens @lbspumonigardens @southpawsweets @candyisart #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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It’s been three weeks and I found a new path—literally, it’s a path I haven’t seen before. It’s through the reeds away from the bay. One day I’ll take it; today was not that day. Today was the day I took two steps in, saw the bugs, and ran away. I’d like to think I’m not running away. I’d like to think that filling my days with walking and friends and writing is moving forward. Maybe it’s both. All I know is that it’s still hard, and I’m still sad, and when it’s nighttime and everything is quiet, my mind races through every struggle. After every struggle, I know there lies triumph. The other day, someone called me resilient. Then she said she wished I didn’t have to be. And that’s exactly the right thing to say. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #alwayslookup #fitspo #longisland #longislandwriter #heckscherstatepark #piyo #piyobod #ispyny #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Microblogging And Essaying

The big news is I’m writing a creative nonfiction collection. I realized this when I started microblogging about two and a half weeks ago. In case you missed it, here they are.

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One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant. A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem. Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for @waltwhitmanbirthplace . I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to. #poetsoninstagram #poetsofinstagram #longislandpoets #longislandpoetry #waltwhitmanbirthplace #1stepaheadband #walkingwithwhitman #bjspokegallery @b.j.spokegallery #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #gratitude #grateful #longislandwriter #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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A few days ago, I ventured toward the water and found a path and sat on a bench and cried because this path has been here my whole life and I just realized it was here, and look at all the years I’ve lost out on it. Either last year or the year before, I started walking in this park. I’m sure I came to this park as a kid, but I have no memory of that. Three years ago, I took my parents here for a summer outdoor concert. Still never knew about the path. I keep going every day. There’s something about nature that heals the heart one tiny bit at a time. #grantpark #longisland #gettingthroughit #gratitude #grief #heartbreak #fitspo #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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This is me sad & strong & broken & hopeful & devastated & healing & grateful. I know the exact date I was last at this park, the day two friends would marry in a wedding that was going to be the wedding of the century. A few months before, they were no longer my friends because they were his friends and when he left, they left. They got married, and I came here. And I walked and walked. Today, freshly wounded, I walked and walked again. And that’s what I keep doing. I keep going through it to get through it. #gettingthroughit #longisland #gratitude #alwayslookup #fitspo #grateful #grief #heartbreak #heckscherpark #greatsouthbay #piyo #piyobod #ispyny #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Nature is a newish thing for me. I’ve always been scared of it—I’ve always been scared of everything. Something in my brain switched either off or on and I understand it more. I still jump at every sound. And also I stand in awe at the vibrant life that simply is. Here I am in nature in the summer wearing a fall jacket because nature does what it does. The heart wants what the heart wants. I feel silly and foolish for hurting, and also what a blessing to release what’s been stored there for so long. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been truly happy all this time. It means simply I’ve been both. Gleeful and awkward and laughing and wailing and always thankful for the wonders of this world. #gratitude #gettingthroughit #alwayslookup #grateful #grief #heartbreak #newyork #iloveny #ispyny #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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Sometimes FB does nice things like this video of me and my brother. We weren’t super close growing up. We liked each other and had movies we like and still quote from. We liked some of the same music; he’s the reason I adore Def Leppard. Also, we made fun of our parents together. We never really hung out though. At some point in our youngish adult lives, we started to treat each other like real people. When I was married, I always made a point to invite him along on nonromantic fun excursions. Looking back on those years, I realize he returned the favor by calling me once a week. Our sibling adventures began before my marriage, continued during it, and keep going now. In the past weeks, this is the advice he’s given me: 1. Keep being yourself. 2. Keep your head up. I’m grateful to have a brother I can call my friend. #gratitude #siblingadventures #siblingbonding #bestbrother #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #grateful #longisland #queens #siblingadvice #familyiseverything #lifecoach #lifecoaching #lifecoachingtips #reikipractitioner #yogalife #Buddhistlife

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An Anniversary Of Me

One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant.
A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem.
Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to.
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The Funny Things About Death And Grief

There’s a global pandemic happening. Alone in my home, I have a lot of time to think, and a lot of my thoughts have turned to my dad. He died two years ago. I had to look that up. Years are hard for me. Dates and numbers were his thing. I still might be wrong but I’m pretty sure it’s two.

This fog is the kind of fog I was in for the rest of that year and at least half of the next. In times of extreme stress, like when you’re banished from your job and the world shuts down and some of your friends are telling you how you might not be able to leave to get food soon, the fog can set in. The fog isn’t necessarily passive. Sometimes it’s more of an anxious brain scramble. This fog is part of grief. This pandemic is putting a delay on the life I really started to live beginning last June and really revving up in January and February (Long Island Poet of the Year! Oceanside Library Poet in Residence! I was dating and looking friggin fantastic in short skirts!).

Back when my dad was in the hospital, I would have the sudden thought throughout the day, What will it be like to think about him when he’s gone? I didn’t really think about it after his first stroke. Not after the many mini strokes. Only after the last one, the second major one, the one that sent him to critical care, the one that wasn’t funny anymore.

Strokes aren’t funny. Sometimes, though, funny things happen and funny things are said. Like the one time we were in the ER after a TIA, and I was standing bedside, clearly having been crying, and my dad looked at me and said, It’s gonna be okay kiddo. Never in his life had my dad ever used the word kiddo, let alone called me that. So I answered, Thanks, Pop!, which made my mother laugh so loud she shushed herself. This wasn’t the only time we laughed in an ER or intensive care. After my dad’s first stroke, he had a visit from a very close family friend, and they told each other dirty jokes, which led to riotous laughter (I thankfully didn’t witness the dirty part—that’s gross). The staff asked them to keep it down but also said it was nice to hear laughter for a change.

That first stroke was hemorrhagic. He’d been stroking for hours before he knew something was wrong. Only after did we know how long—he’d been at a street fair the night before and couldn’t remember how to get home. Someone who knew drove him home, not realizing that could be a sign of something wrong. The next morning he got up, got dressed, and started breakfast. My mom thought something was a little off. We went to the ER. This became serious when they said they were rushing him to another hospital that specialized in this kind of stroke.

My dad survived that stroke. He was in critical care for maybe a day. While there, he was very concerned about the Walk for the Poor. He was supposed to walk soon. What did all this mean for the walk. As usual he was concerned about other people.

That was the same concern he showed on September 11. After a day of almost dying, he was upset about the young firefighters he saw running into the building and up the stairs while he was making his way down and out.

The first stroke should have caused more damage. He had some sight problems and some cognitive stuff going on, but the sight returned quickly as did most of the cognitive stuff. We had a running joke that pre-stroke dad kind of walked offbeat to the beat of his own drum, so like, when he would knock over a cup of water, we would think, that’s not the stroke—that’s dad. It wasn’t a rationalization; it was simply reality.

Mini strokes are sneaky little buggers. They slip in and take away tiny pieces, but those tiny pieces aren’t apparent until much later. So right after a TIA, he could seem fine, and then a few weeks later, something would be suddenly and strikingly different. Like he once had a mini on Easter, so I brought him his Easter basket in the hospital. The next day, the basket was pretty much empty. He’d eaten all the chocolate. We laughed about it. He was still dad. A few weeks later, he couldn’t remember dates.

I lost my dad long before he died. Slowly, over the course of about 7 years, he was becoming someone who wasn’t the whole man. He never lost the capacity to recognize us. He lost the capacity to be independent. There were times I didn’t want to visit my parents because it made me sad. I’d feel foggy and sometimes I wouldn’t feel anything. Other times, I was the most upbeat person ever, tearing into the house, telling my dad to grab his coat because we were going out. He never said no. My dad rarely said no to anything. He loved going out, seeing the world, helping people, talking to people, and walking.

That man could walk! Everywhere. For however long. He’d be gone for hours, walking, stopping to talk to people, and walking more. Sometimes my mom would be out in town and she’d get so excited to see Joe Rau walking along the street. The two of them were always excited to see each other even while they lived in the same house.

After the last stroke, my dad was in the hospital a long time. In addition to his being mostly asleep, he got itchy. His skin was always sensitive, so whatever cleanser they were using made him red and inflamed and all he did was scratch. It was awful. He had some bad days when I’d go in for a visit and they’d tell me I should talk to the head nurse about what happened that day. I thought about what it would be like to not have him around, and it didn’t upset me. It was more of a statement instead of a question because it had no answer and simply was a thought in a fog of thoughts.

When he came out of the hospital, that statement went away for a while. He went into a rehab home, and he couldn’t walk. He also couldn’t swallow or talk much. Still, if I played Elvis, he found a way to slowly push out three words of In The Ghetto. He also was my teammate on holidays when we brought games, and he would look on intently and laugh and laugh. Whenever his mind would clearly wander, I’d hit him in the arm and say, Pay attention! And he’d laugh and pay attention for a while again.

The first night in the home, he got sick and went right back to the hospital. High fever. They thought he might not make it. And then? There was my dad laughing in the critical ER room when someone joked about him being high maintenance.

Then he kept getting sick. That happens when you have a feeding tube. He was back to the hospital and then back to the home. Back and forth and back and forth.

Then finally, we all decided this wasn’t a way to live. He got sick and didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, he stayed sick and stuck around for longer than anyone expected.

I no longer had to ask myself how I’d feel when my dad wasn’t there. It was real. I still felt nothing. We said our goodbyes, and my dad’s last gift to us was to not have a funeral or wake but to simply be cremated, easy peasy. That was it. I asked my mom if I could open her house for a few hours at the end of the week to avoid random people dropping by at all hours, and so we did just that. A few months later, my brother organized a lovely memorial tribute.

I won’t say I wasn’t upset. Of course I was upset. Still, the fog of all those years was constant grief—grief over losing my dad each time he had a stroke and came back a different dad. I’d get used to that new dad and I’d lose that version too. Constant grief lurked and grew, and I didn’t know it. I knew I was sad to see him sometimes, but I didn’t know the unfeeling was a real thing.

I’m grateful my dad isn’t here today living through these strange, fatal, uncertain times. If he were in a home, we wouldn’t be able to see him, and we wouldn’t be able to keep on top of his care, and I wouldn’t be able to play Elvis for him.

If he were living with my mom, the version of him before the last stroke but after several TIAs, I could imagine what it would be like. His face mask would always be on wrong. He’d probably have to try at least 20 different masks before he found one that didn’t irritate his skin. The mask elastic would get tangled in his glasses and he’d curse at his glasses and mask, and we’d probably laugh but then help, and then he’d laugh too.

Recently, a friend who didn’t know my dad told me he seemed like a happy person. He said, Whenever I see a picture of him, he’s got that same smile that seems so joyful.

And he was. If I manage to live my life with even a small fraction of my dad’s happiness, I’m one lucky person. CC875755-B6AB-47A3-91A2-74CC5FB3C97A

Still Here

I could write about the chaos of a semester that never ends. I could tell you about my Instacart freak out concerning lots of frozen broccoli. I could also discuss what it’s like to live alone and not touch anyone for months and feel like everything is okay until going out into the world and being shocked by the sun and the grass and realizing my brain has been coping but this situation is far from okay.

Instead, I’m going to write about how I’ve gotten to do all the things I usually do in person (like teach and workshop and write and practice yoga) from my office and my living room and my backroom that is now my yoga room. I’ve been able to see my mom and chat through a window and across a yard. I’ve seen my brother, too, both in person and through technology when he’s not big on technology. I’ve started to go out and take walks with friends. I’ve started a fashionable mask collection.

I’m still here, and I’m healthy. Actually, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a while, and I know that’s probably not everyone’s experience, but it’s been mine. For that, I’m grateful. For all the things I’ve been able to do, I’m grateful. It’s these silver linings that make life still a wonderful and beautiful life.

 

Measure of Existence (Apparently, A Tribute)

Two or three weeks ago, I planned to do two things and wound up doing four. Happy to take myself into the city to see art and exhibits and make myself think.

For the past week, I’ve had a stress headache because COVID 19 has taken over the world. It has shut down the city and the suburbs.

So here’s a way to get out of your head if not out of the house. I’m going to remember my experience in a way that might let you live it for yourself. (My creative writers and my lit readers would be very excited that I’m practicing what I preach about second person pov). And away we go.

It’s the first time you’re using the MTA app’s eticket for your train ride into the city. You don’t have any idea if you need to leave it open, leave your phone on, if you can use other apps. You brought your charger in case your phone died on the ride but also you charged it until the minute you left the house even though it was already at 100% and you thought somehow it would suck in some energy reserves. You are in a car with the bathroom because nine times out of ten, you manage to sit in the car with bathroom. You activate your ticket only to realize there’s like a quiz to take to make sure you mean to activate your ticket, and really, this is not the kind of decision you thought you’d have to make, so now–as usual–you’re breaking out into the nervous sweats. Then the conductor comes by and barely says anything to you because your little eticket is flashing pretty colors. You let your phone sleep as you read your book that you started a few weeks ago and haven’t gotten back to because all those papers and meetings. You change trains and your eticket continues to work as you continue to read. You stop sweating. Sweet relief.

You take a walk downtown to find the David Zwirner Gallery. You already missed the doppleganger exhibit, so there was no way you were going to miss the Doug Wheeler one. You walk down and across and down and across and finally get to the street where the gallery is, and there are other people trying to find the same gallery because there are a lot of choices of doors. The sun is out and it is windy and the galleries are by the water so you are a little chilly as you try to choose the door that will get you to the exhibit. It’s kind of like Let’s Make A Deal for the art world.

The couple with the stroller ahead of you have chosen the correct door, which means they win! Which means you win because you get to see the artwork, too! The exhibit on view is a light exhibit. It looks like this.

Zwirner Gallery February 2020 (1)

And maybe that looks interesting but also some may ask, Why did you walk all that way on a windy day to see a framed box of light? Then you realize that this photo does the exhibit no justice. Here’s what it looks like again:

Zwirner Gallery February 2020 (6)

Ahhh, an entire lit up room wall thingie of light! It’s pretty groovy. You walk up to the light to see where it’s coming from. The wall curves under the floor. The light emanates and radiates from all around the wall that seems to be attached but also not attached to anything. You stay for at least twenty minutes, watching people look at the wall.

When you decide you have seen enough of the light wall, you leave the gallery and see a sign for Basquiat. The other side of the sign says Warhol. Go you must. So instead of keeping with the plan to go straight to the museum, you head over to Taglialatella Gallerieson 10th Ave. Your first fun find there is Einstein. He’s got a good message.

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You go inside for the Basquiat, but before you even get to that, you’re floored. They’ve got Keith Haring. They’ve got a bunch of sparkly silkscreens from Russell Young. There are artists with names like Jerkface and Mr. Brainwash. And then you turn the corner and Good God! It’s a Lichtenstein! (That’s for your brother). You do find the Basquiat and the Warhol, and you bask in their artistic genius. (For more about your experiences with Basquiat and Warhol, you can go here ).

Because you’re so close to it, you head up onto the Highline. It’s got free public art! And RuPaul!

You realize that it’s cold up here on the Highline, so you walk quickly. The sun comes out, and you slow down to bask. The sun goes back in, so you pick up the pace. Some young woman runs up behind you, calling out, Hey excuse me! You turn and see she’s holding out a $5 bill. She says, You dropped this. You say, Oh, hey, thanks! She runs off, and you almost skip the rest of the length of the park because there’s still human kindness in this world.

So happy are you that you overshoot your landing and get down off the Highline around 14th when the Rubin is on 19th. Then? You. Get. Lost. You look at street signs, expecting to see numbers and instead you see the word Washington or something. What is this non-numbered sign all about?

You decide to walk away from the water. Two reasons that will help: 1. it’s warmer away from the water. 2. it’ll take you closer to 7th, a cross street. Your spatial ineptness is in full swing, but this decision makes sense a little at least.

A few more turns and double backs, and you finally find The Rubin, your new home away from home. You are so thankful that you’ve found it because you’re super cold now and you have to pee really bad. They have a bathroom! You know that bathroom well because it’s the bathroom you brushed your teeth in when you slept there a few months ago. (Here, “slept” means “had weird half asleep dreams while half asleep writing them down only to find they make no sense and your handwriting looks like the writing you find in a journal kept by a murderer).

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You check in on your old friend, the Bodhisattva.

Rubin February 2920 (13)

Then you venture into the exhibit you’d been itching to see, Measure Your Existence. The main reason you wanted to see it is it has interactive components, and you love to touch things in a museum.

The first piece is a carpet of candy. You get to take a piece of candy. As the pile dwindles, the museum replenishes it. Measure the existence of candy.

You take some candy. You eat a piece of candy. You enjoy the candy. You enjoy the fact that you got to take something from the museum even more than the candy itself.

Then you come upon a wall of letters. Anyone can write a letter to anyone. You can seal the letter and address it. You can seal the letter and not address it. You can leave the letter open for other visitors to read. You read a letter. And then another. A lot of people have a lot of guilt and write a lot of letters apologizing. Some ask for prayers.

Then you see a little booth. You have to take off your shoes to go inside. You can write a letter in there, too, so you do just that. You seal it and address it. The museum will eventually send it.

When you emerge from the letter hut and put on your boots, you notice a woman sitting at the other writing desk, and she’s weeping. You teared up writing your own letter. You assumed a lot of people probably cry when writing. Here is the proof.

Around the corner you watch a snippet of a film about a guy calling different companies and talking to whomever answers as if he’s talking to his mom, and then he realizes his mom is dead. It’s subtitled. It’s a weird concept. You stop watching.

You then watch an animated film and listen to the meditative soundtrack. You’ve got those big headphones on again. You always wear headphones in some capacity when you come here.

Then you decide to shake hands with a bronze hand. You’ve seen it before and have not shaken the hand. Today is the day you shake the hand. It’s not creepy. But actually, yes, it is.

You think about going to see the Impractical Jokers movie but the movie times don’t jive with your train times. You walk back to Penn, taking in more art along the way.

You wind up waiting at Penn for half an hour, which gives you plenty of time to start worrying again about using the MTA app eticket. It also gives you time to read more of your book, and you get halfway through it.

Then about a week later, you get some mail that makes you smile.

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You know that the only true way to measure existence is in gratitude. You thank the universe for everything, every single thing.

From Silence To Storytelling

These silent meditation retreats are becoming my everything. They come up exactly when I need them. I get exactly what I need out of them. The universe works if you let it. This most recent one was at Kadampa Massapequa, and it was a bit shorter, from 9:30 to 1ish. I had to move my car a few times because of timing and parking, but the breaks between meditation were a good time to do that. Plus, I like to walk outside during the breaks, and I found out that that’s what people do–they walk clockwise. And that’s what I’d been doing all along at all of my retreats. Clockwise walking. I didn’t choose it. I just did it. See? The universe. Also, breaks are a good time to eat, which I did. I brought snacks. What? Did you think I wouldn’t be carrying a bag of food around with me? The best part was seeing someone there I know from yoga and hearing that she came because she read about it in my newsletter, aka my Highly Infrequent Email list. Changing lives, people! Changing lives!

When I arrived, I saw that someone had already put a jacket on my seat. Yep, my seat. I go there only once a month, and I don’t have a membership, but apparently I’ve claimed a seat. So that was a reality check, realizing that I’ve created an attachment. This moment was like the moment in the airport when S and I were flying to ATL and I moved to the side after checking our luggage and before security so I could take off my coat and I said to her, I”m realizing I have an airport routine.

Side note: Delta owes me a ginger ale. It’s not their fault. It’s turbulence’s fault. We experienced a lot of bumps on the way home so all beverage service was halted and the flight attendant threw cookies at everyone on the way to her seat. My attachment to drinking ginger ale on a flight was tested, and I got through it. Sort of. Because I still think Delta owes me a drink.

Anyway, the point here is that self-realization is a good thing and realizing attachment leads to a chance to grow and become non-attached.  Which means I sat in a different seat instead of confronting the woman who put her coat on my chair. As if I’d actually confront a stranger. Or talk to one. But this was the point of the day–not talking. The seat I chose worked just as well as the other seat, and now I’m no longer attached to the chair, physically,  mentally, or spiritually. (I still want that ginger ale, though).

As an about-face, the next day was very chatty. I taught two yoga classes–my regular power hour at 9 and then a sub stint for a stretch and flow at 10:15. By the by, if you’re a lady, you can join me every Sunday at 9 for dancey-yoga. If you don’t want to be out of the house that early or you’re not a lady, then you can get your yoga on in semi-private or individual sessions. Also? Reiki. I’m available, y’all! After yoga, I headed out to Sip This to write with a poet friend. It was our first time writing together, so we actually wound up chatting more than writing, but I did draft a poem about dolphins and yoga that’s been floating around in my brain, so that made me super happy. Also, there was jazz, loud jazz, which made for a really groovy coffee klatsch.

Then off to Industry in Huntington for Mostly True Things, a storytelling game. I mean, does it get any better? It’s storytelling. It’s a game. I get to listen to people tell me stories and then I have the chance to win. The last time someone told me a story was at the Rubin, and it was bedtime. This time, I was not in pajamas. The four tellers were fantastic. I saw some poets I know, so we chatted about possible truth tellers and fibbers–only one person was telling a completely true story. I was wrong in my first guesses, but when it came time to make official guesses, I got it right.

I won a tote bag!

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All of this unfolded on the tail end of a President’s Week that put all previous President’s Weeks to shame:

Sunday: Yoga and South Bay Sundays Workshop–I love love love my group of writers. Some new faces appeared, and I love them as much.

Monday: Sit Around and Write. I wrote some poems!

Tuesday: Hair cut! I’m bald! Not really.

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Wednesday: Mr. Cheapos with my brother to sell CDs. I came home with fewer CDs. Does anyone want CDs? I also have a DVD of the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen classic New York Minute, featuring Eugene Levy.

Thursday: Writing editing cleaning cooking doing all the things one does to stay alive

Friday: Breakfast at Morning Rose Cafe with T and D. And it was delicious. And I shook and had a headache for a few hours afterwards because salt and sugar. Worth it for sure.

So a very fun week rounded out by a very fun weekend and how grateful am I to be able to live this life so fully!

I Want A Fog Machine

Poetry needs more fog machines. There. I said it. It cannot be undone.

Sometimes I think I’m going overboard with the astronaut ice cream, but now I’ve kind of got the reputation as that poet who gives away astronaut ice cream, so really, there may not be such a thing as too kitschy, too gimmicky. Maybe wearing a space suit, but even then, maybe not.

Crossroads Talent hosts a talent showcase every second Friday of the month. I know this only because someone from that group found me on Instagram and has been asking me for months to join the show. This past month, I was free the night of the event, so I said I’d do it.

Then it dawned on me that I should probably look up the show. I found disco lights, smoke machines, step troupes, and rappers. Some soul singers and some R&B singers. More rappers. Lots of fog.

Now I have no problem being the outlier in a lineup. I was, however, left wondering why this guy had consistently asked me to be part of the show when clearly I do not do anything anyone else does. Still, I’d committed, and so I went.

Off to the American Legion! DB and EA met up with me, and what we found was what I would call the equivalent of a fun school dance. There was a drum kit and guitars set up with flashy lights and the fog maker. There were chairs flanking a blank space that would no doubt be a dance floor. There were decorations for Valentine’s Day, and that’s when I realized, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. And then there were donuts.

I don’t know how to describe the donut situation other than abundant. Just when you thought they were done putting out the donuts, there was another tray being set down. The donuts had not been on the clips I’d seen of the previous events; maybe they’d been hidden by the fog. In any case, a pleasant perk, for sure.

Everyone was so incredibly nice. Anyone involved in putting on the production kept making sure everyone felt welcome and supported. They asked the audience to crowd around the performers to show them love. Their kind of love showing and my kind of love showing are a little different because an audience five inches from a performer’s face seems more intrusive than loving, but still, most of the performers seemed to enjoy it. Some even asked for people to get closer. I stayed near my seat, but I did stand and clap and cheer. I loved how supportive everyone was of everyone else, especially for the performers who were 13, 14, and 15 years old. When I was that age, I wore mismatched oversized sweatpants and stayed in my bedroom listening to Paula Abdul and eating rice cakes while pondering all the ways I didn’t fit it in in life, so kudos to them for even stepping out into the world. I turned out pretty okay, though, because here I was, too.

The night kept going. The smoke machine kept billowing. There were some R&B singers and then a string of rappers followed by a Hawaiian dance group followed by another string of rappers. I don’t listen to rap all that much, but I do enjoy it from time to time. However, this was getting to be a lot. Also, some performers were leaving right after they performed, and I’m not a big fan of that. So after about two hours, I decided I’d had enough, and my posse of two agreed.

I took my name off the list, and one of the event planners told me he’d put me up next and I didn’t have to leave. That was really sweet, but then I’d stay even longer because I don’t leave right after performing. So I thanked him profusely, said I could come back another month, and then left.

What this group does for artists means a whole lot. There’s no place else I know of that invites people of every artistry of every age to do what they love to do for free and gives them donuts and a fog maker to boot. The world needs more of this kind of love.