Saturday, December 31, 2005
2005 - The Year I WorkedIt's 9:45 on New Year's Eve and it's indicative of everything that I am here at home working.
This has been the year I worked. And anyone who knows me, knows that's saying a lot.
I am a worker. Always have been. Ever since my days of being pocket change away from the streets in Berkeley, I've been driven, relentlessly productive. I'm not only willing and able to wear more hats than anyone, it seems I MUST wear more hats than anyone, do more than anyone, outwork, out-perform and overpower anyone with my sheer dogged determination.
In many ways this is a good thing. Boy, I get a lot of stuff done. I can squeeze more stuff in a day than you can believe. And it's not like it's all work. I squeeze recreation in there too. I squeeze as much exercise as possible in. I squeeze hang time with my home-girls in. I squeeze music lessons in. I squeeze blogs in. And it's not all productive, which is why it's taken me a full week of "vacation" to catch up.
Catching up this week included taking all day on the 26th OFF. Really off. But with the help of a friend and my sons, the rest of the week was spent painting the inside of my house, cleaing the roof gutters, clearing out my desk, cleaning the kids' rooms, catching up on all the backlog of stuff that accumulates even though the top layer is always pretty much up to speed. One night I was up until 3:30 clearing out my six secondary and tertiary "in" boxes. One night I was up until 2:00 finishing off the painting of three bedroom doors. I got a couple of yoga classes in, too, because -- you know -- you've got to relax.
In the year before my ex-husband became my ex-husband, I once quizzed him, trying to gauge how he actually saw me. I said "OK, finish this sentence. Kathy is a ______." Now of course he wasn't going to say bitch, but I was hoping for something along the lines of, well, "writer." Or "mom." Or, but this was dreaming, "great person." But he answered "worker." Kathy is a worker.
Admittedly it was a trick question. Like "Do I look fat in these pants?" But not THAT tricky. And the answer was interesting.
So as I finish off a year in which I've worked my ass off, I'm thinking about this whole concept. During this year my work brought into the world some things that I am so proud of and pleased with I could bust: the book, this blog, a whole new creative world. I have worked and played and raised my kids, and we're ending the year tightly bonded, happy and in sync. I have worked hard at my job and (I think) they still like me enough to keep me around for awhile.
But I've worked extremely hard at some things that didn't turn out very well at all. With at least four critically important relationships in my life, I worked very hard at communicating, listening, being available emotionally, dealing with hard stuff. All four of these relationships turned sour in the last few months.
This breaks my heart in so many ways. Two were with women, two were with men. All four of them gone from my life. Not because I'm perfect and they aren't, but despite a lot of work and care.
So what did all that work do? Not much. In some cases maybe it actually pushed the end of the relationships. Or maybe it kept the relationships on artificial life support and prolonged the discomfort for all concerned.
I look at all I'm doing and then I hear myself snap at the kids. WTF, man. What does any of it matter if I'm a stressed out lousy asshole of a mother? (In my defense, I had a great talk with my son on the roof the other day -- see Cleaing the Gutters, above -- and he said I was happier these days than he'd seen me in a long time. He's a pretty straight shooter, so I believe that's an honest opinion. He also said that it's OK when I occasionally blow up "bad" these days because I also blow up "good" more often than not. Which I take to mean I'm a bit more buoyant and prone to things like, you know, smiling and laughter. Go figure.)
So all this work, what does it mean? What does it do?
Many people, myself included, tend to think that the opposite of "work" is "play." Not the case, at least in my opinion. I think the opposite of "work" is "rest," and that's a far harder proposition in my case.
I just don't have a clue how to "rest." I certainly sleep well at night, most of the time. I pass out, comatose for about 6 - 7 hours, then get up and have at it again. It's not sleep so much as unconsciousness. And I usually get a good nap at movies, and in long meetings. I've perfected how to take a nap with my eyes open, actually. It's excruciating, but sometimes must be done. (Never at work, however. That would be unethical.)
But... resting. Without sleeping? The closest metaphor I can come up with is in yoga. In some poses the way to actually do the pose is to NOT do the pose. Yes, grasshopper, the key is to work without working. To keep the brain alert to the moment, to not fix on the unfixable past or the unknowable future, but to stay alert and present in the here and now. That seems to me to be the key to a lot of things. Not to passively just konk out (metaphorically) and let things wash over you, uncaring. Nor to work and strain and overanalyze and agitate. More just to alertly, and consciously, be.
Be-ing is plenty hard work. Harder than Do-ing. I had a boyfriend a long time ago who always used to sign off "Do well." (He's the one I learned all about work-aholisim from.) A subsequent boyfriend signed off "Be well" and I noticed the huge difference even way back when in my spiritually embryonic state. Do well vs. be well.
Which is harder? I seem to thrive on challenges, but I actually think the Be-ing is a whole lot tougher than the do-ing.
In any case, I did the do-ing thing a lot in 2005. In about 2 hours it will be a new year. I'm going to try the be-ing thing a little bit more as we go forward. I haven't a clue, really, how to do that. I mean, how to BE that. I just have no clue.
I think it's a good thing to enter a new year with more questions than answers. I'm wary of people who know everything and I certainly don't want to fall into that trap. So the question will remain open: how to work without working, "be" with intention and allow the river to flow a bit more on its own, without me always pushing it one way or the other in some vain attempt to control it.
Happy new year one and all. Be well.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:44 PM 1 comments
Monday, December 26, 2005
Christmas post mortem -- The Ugly, the Bad and the GoodMy therapist says that January is the biggest month for her and other people in the mental health community because that's when people fall apart. The Thing Expected becomes the Thing That's Failed and now there's no way to ever make it perfect ever again.
For me and my family, we take care of all that in December, because we KNOW it will never be perfect and -- just in case it threatens to do so -- we nuke it from space before it ever gets a chance to come close.
My mother and I had been doing really REALLY well the past four months. We've been talking every day, close as sisters, sharing and laughing and really coming to rely on each other for a measure of mutual support. Anyone who knows me and my mom will know that this is a kind of amazing thing. Like, a miracle along the lines of virgin births. Not to be cynical, but it really was a big deal.
She had gone into the hospital shortly before we went to Europe. I was with her through that and we had The Talk, just in case she didn't make it through surgery. Tears shed, outpourings of love, heart to heart, a true healing and reconciliation.
But her demons, as usual, won the day when it came to Christmas.
My mom did not have a good childhood. I'm not sure exactly what happened but whatever it was sent her brother into a 30-year bender in the local bar, where he would appear at 6 a.m. and leave at closing time, finally coming down with ALS and dying a sad, lonely, horrible death. He never married. I don't think he ever had a job. He drank. Period. Then he died.
Whatever happened to my mom went internal. I will not get into details on a public forum. But she comes by her demons honestly, and they play for keeps.
They love Christmas.
She has been invited to spend Christmas with me and the kids (and Gavin, when we were together) every year. She made it once, when we all went to Houston and she bought airplane tickets for her and her husband, before the demons showed up, and she didn't have a choice except to show up. I think she got very sick that year and only was around for a few hours.
Every other time she's picked a fight and refused to come. The nature of the fight goes like this: You've always failed me, I've never had family, you never invite me correctly, I've never been to your house for Christmas. If I've sent her presents after hearing this litany and knowing she won't be over, they end up back on my front porch. About ten years ago, I figured this system out and just started buying her presents I'd like back for myself. Or I just give them to her as birthday presents in February, when she's calmed down enough to receive them.
I can't remember her ever giving me a Christmas present.
So this year, again, I became The Problem. She decided while I was in the last week of my travels that the weekend I returned I was going to call up, offer to come down, do some grocery shopping for her and her husband, and make them dinner. Now I would gladly have done all of these things except (a) I had just come home from nearly three weeks of work and travel, I had the kids, and we all had commitments from 6 a.m on Saturday through 5 pm on Sunday. And in the middle of this I had to put my life back together so I could hit the deck running at work on Monday.
Not to sound defensive, but it was really not the weekend for me to think up her scenario on my own. However, if she had asked or mentioned it, I would have understood her needs fully. They are old, she'd been sick, I'd been gone. I would've figured out how to make it work.
It didn't happen. I wasn't sensitive enough to her needs, therefore I failed. We got into it the next week when she told me she was going to the lawyer, again, to cut me out of the will. This happens about every six months. I've been disinherited so many times that I've lost count, as has the lawyer. The amazing moment happened when I got back INTO the will while she was in the hospital, but that lasted only about three weeks.
So. We're back to old ground. I am the problem. It is all my fault. She's never been invited to Christmas, she doesn't believe I really wanted her. I gave all my love to my Loser Father and now I'm giving it to my Loser friends. I could've done anything or been anyone, but no, I had to squander all of it and become a total failure. Her husband was visiting his family and she was pissed about that as well. They're all losers too. She's never had a family. She doesn't want to talk to me, hear from me, or see me ever again.
That was Christmas with the birth family. Things didn't go so well with my ex-husband either, but we managed to pull it together and had a pretty good Christmas morning despite several nasty bouts the weeks before.
So that's the Ugly and the Bad. The Good came in abundance, however. And it was startling and obvious and beautiful.
Christmas Eve I went over to Bridget's house and hung out with her, Cindy and Cindy's husband, Rob. We all go so far back that we almost didn't need to talk. The comfort was deep. Deep down to the lowest molecule. It was comfort like one gets during a good massage, where you almost can't breathe it feels so good. And when you DO breathe, it feels even better.
We ate soup, and it was delicious. Cindy and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle while we digested. Then we went to sit by the fire. It was so companionable and relaxed, we never had to work at any of the words that were said. When they tapered off, the conversation just continued at a sub-verbal level. We laughed, we made plans for the future, we talked about the past. We talked about art, we talked about stupid things, we just WERE. Together.
At one time I commented that we had come to this evening from wildly different, and pretty dysfunctional birth families. Bridget is going through a divorce, and mine wasn't looking so pretty itself. Rob and Cindy were the representatives of Long Term Marriage. We all have kids. So we had all sorts of family configurations going on ourselves.
But we... the five of us... were what family SHOULD feel like. To me. A community of individuals that know and love and accept and are comfortable together. Who can disagree and be upset and STILL come back to that same place. Deepened, rather than damaged. More intimate, rather than less so.
I found it again last night, in another configuration. The kids and I went over to another friends' house for Christmas Dinner. Laura is a dear friend, yoga partner, confidante and one of the true keepers of my sanity. Her son is friends with my kids and her husband is a truly good guy.
They invited us over, with their family. His sister and her husband; her brother and his wife; both their mothers.
And we got to sit in with them and bask in THEIR configuration. Everyone had come from pretty far away -- from down south, to the far northwest, to the East Coast. The house was absolutely beautiful... in the way that unself-consciously beautiful houses can be. It's not a house that bashes you over the head with its magnificence, but it was done perfectly, the decorations and color and warmth right out of an art director's imagination.
The same with the couples. The mothers had lost their husbands; they presided over the event with their wise matriarch's eyes, a sense of humor leavened with time, love for their family and not a smidge of drama. (What would THAT be like, I kept wondering.) The siblings and their partners, were great. They, like, LIKED each other. They were affectionate and easy with each other.
And Laura and David, whom I know pretty well, they worked together effortlessly. When David poured the mushroom juice out of the sauteed mushrooms that I was stiring and Laura was presiding over, my spidey-sense for undercurrents snapped to attention. THIS is where the conflict lies, I thought. It's the power plays over the food prep, the choice of which wine glasses to use, the moving into the other person's territory.
So when she asked me where the mushroom juice had gone, I tensed, knowing that we were in Extremely Dangerous Territory. "David dumped some of it out," I said, cowering inside. "I think he saved it," I added, hoping that the rage would be somewhat deflected.
"Oh, that's perfect," Laura exclaimed, fully and completely joyful that David had had such a good idea and executed it. "Great." And then she moved on to mashing the potatoes.
WOW, I thought. Wow. That was... amazing. Not a bit of conflict over the mushroom juice. Not a single "you know, if he EVER put the KNIVES back in the right PLACE I'd be able to FIND them when I NEEDED them" with the teeth clenched and the anger sizzling out the ends of the hair. Not one undercurrent. Not ONE. I was blown away.
WOW, I thought many times that evening. Like when I walked into the living room to see David's sister and husband doing a little waltz when they thought no one was looking. Like when I saw Laura's brother massaging his wife's feet, both of them wearing silly reindeer horns.
I AM NOT KIDDING. I actually saw these things happen.
I didn't make a fool of myself, gaping and pointing it out to my kids. I didn't get a migraine because obviously they were all smoking some type of Functional Family Crack that obviously would never be shared with me.
I just observed. And tried to understand that these things can, and do, happen. That stories of hideous pain and bitterness and disappointment are NOT the only stories of the season. That this is happening too.
And I tried to imagine myself having some of that for my very own, and then (gold stars for me) shut myself up. It was my very own, for a time. No, I'm not related by blood to any of these people, nor to Bridget, Cindy or Rob. No, there's nothing legal or binding saying that these moments MUST be in my life ever again.
There's nothing that gives me any title of ownership to this kind of functional love. There's nothing that I can lay claim to to force it back into being. It's all an act of faith, moving forward with the flow, accepting the good even when it's not planned, not mandatory, not calculated, not an obligation.
So that's my family of choice. The people with whom I can share those moments. Maybe you have to go outside of blood and legal contracts to find family like that. But to those of you who have given me these memories this season -- and I include all my other extended families as well, Dee and Robert and Theresa and Charles and Anna and Mark and Steph and Val and LoriAnn and everyone else who so enhance and enrich my life -- my deepest thanks for all your blessings on me and my children.
The world is an unknown and magical place, when you dare to operate on faith and accept that good is a possibility.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:01 AM 0 comments
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men (and Women)This year, these are difficult concepts for me. Peace on earth seems further away than ever before. Good will towards men (and women), seems also remote. The world outside is in upheaval, on the micro and macro levels. My own world is conflicted and out of whack. Communications are skewed, tensions are high, emotions are constantly in flux.
What is going on here?
I don't know if anyone else is feeling it. Maybe it's because I just got back from some wondrous travels and have been thrown into a world that's dramatically different from when I left. The trees are stripped of their leaves, the houses and stores are transformed by decorations, and I am faced with a list that is by definition irrevocably behind.
I have moved from a sense of possibility and wonder while I was out in the world, to being drowned by a low-level frantic crush of lists and obligations and things to do so that I can arrive at December 25, sweaty and frayed, hopefully intact. People close to me are at odds, disappointed in me, each other and in life. I'm sensing a huge schism this year between the Christmas lights and the crisp cold evenings and the internal churnings of colliding needs and deep resentments.
It's not a new story. Holiday seasons are fraught, period. Fraught with layers of personal history, past aches, renewed hopes, and that never-quite-forgotten certainty we had as children that the Thing Most Longed For will appear, glittering and new, as if by magic under the tree. I think it's the waving of that wand that so gets to us as we get older. We are now the providers of the magic. We now accumulate the wads of credit card receipts as we try to cobble together some fulfillment for the ones we love. Now that we're the wizards behind the curtain, we know our own fallibilities all too well, and have lost faith that magic can exist outside our efforts.
We try so hard to make it work. Not just on the material level, but also to rise to the occasion of the spiritual promise and hope that is embodied in the season, no matter what our religious grounding. We want to believe in the light in the darkest hour. We crave the peace that the myths of salvation and delivery provide. We want so badly to fix all the aching painful moments in the past where there was no salvation, where there were no lights, where the magic fell short. Not just for ourselves, but for the people around us. We want so desperately for it all to be so nice.
Peace on earth: it ain't happening these days. And we're to blame. That's a tough concept to accept. It's not just George Bush's fault for being a self-aggrandizing despot. It's not just the Republicans' fault for running a set of ruthless and questionable elections. It's not just the Democrats' fault for being the nice guys in a world that no longer can sustain that sensibility. It's our fault. We're part of it. That's a concept that is almost impossible to reconcile.
Good will towards men (and women). Also a difficult concept. Almost everywhere I look I see fallout from tense, strained, painful relationships between men and women. I see divorces destroying children. I see bitter tension undermining existing relationships. I see people complaining about their mates, lying to each other, putting on smiling faces while inwardly dying inside.
I see new relationships full of joy and hope, and I see exactly in what way they will start to crumble and fail. I see ongoing relationships in which both people have learned to accept a level of misery that they no longer have any strength to change. I see people hurting and hating and bitter. I see people alone who need to be connected. I see people connected who need to be alone.
Where is the light in all of this? What is the message here?
I don't know the answers. But I have a sense of where to start. I know what, for me, lightens the load for a moment or an hour or a lifetime. I know, for me, what takes all of this and makes it bearable. It's stuff like this, the guy who programmed his Christmas lights to music. To me, this is on the same list as the Eiffel Tower, the wild exuberance of Jackson Pollack, the manic brushstrokes of Van Gogh, the windows of Chartres, the gargoyles of Notre Dame, the glitter of Broadway, the sheer pleasure of movie-making in King Kong, the smell of a bookstore, any ornamentation that is done from love of beauty over function, any word that is crafted from the love of language, any act that is done with mindfulness and joy, any moment that is entered into with peace and left with gratitude.
The antidote for all this pain is the act of the heart over the brain, the triumph of the nonsensical over the mundane. When I see someone creating something insane, something non-functional, something unacceptable, it gives me joy. I love the things that are big and outrageous. I applaud the person who creates the thing that the world cannot understand.
The thing that negates the horrors of the world and the strain of living together in it, is the whimsy and the passion of those who refuse to conform, who will not shut up, who cannot contain their voice into neat compartments.
Magic exists in this world. It may not be found under the tree, or on the front page of the paper, or in a pill you can take to make the hard realities of life endurable. But it exists. And sometimes it will jump out and surprise you in moments of breathtaking wonder. The Eiffel Tower is such a cultural cliche, it's easy to pass it by as just another set of Mickey Mouse ears. But when looked at and absorbed, it is a thing of perfect beauty, created by someone who just wanted to do it. It is absurd.
Even though we are the creators of magic for many of the people in our lives, we are still entitled to receive some of it ourselves. As we enter into a new year, I wish you all some moments of this absurd and beautiful magic. May it enter your life, lighten your load, inoculate you against the harder realities. We will not wake up on Christmas morning with world peace and completely peaceful hearts. But maybe we can find a way to start the process. And maybe we'll discover in that journey that the Thing Most Longed For is a possibility once again.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 12:23 PM 0 comments
Friday, December 16, 2005
Aphrodite in TearsI took off that super hostile blog from the other day. It served its purpose: short term alleviation of my super pissed-offness. But it doesn't serve a long term purpose. This is not how I want to be known. Nor is it a landscape I wish to spend much time tending and tilling.
The State Board of Equalization sent me my reseller's license the day after I wrote that blog. I was looking through the pile of papers and forms when I realized: they were calling my new business "Aphrodite in Tears Enterprises."
That's so sad. And so good. And so annoying (more phone calls).
So Aphrodite in a Towering Rage has morphed into Aphrodite in Tears.
Of course I will make the requisite phone calls. But in the meantime I'm thinking about how underlying all rage is usually a big reservoir of tears waiting to be shed.
Sometimes enlightenment comes from the strangest sources.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:57 AM 0 comments
Thursday, December 08, 2005
First night in Paris4:16 a.m.
The city outside is foreign, and it's Paris. It is filled with wonders I have only a limited number of days and hours to breathe in and assimilate. It's like a huge bookstore with countless volumes waiting to be read, promising juicy stories, rich descriptions, evocations that pierce the soul. How am I supposed to sleep amidst all of it?
Long ago I came to this city and spent heady days and nights roaming the streets with a polyglot group of other young people. We spoke multiple languages, primarily the universal one of youth. We met at Shakespeare & Company, the renowned bookstore, so we shared a second language of love of writing and books. Our third and fourth languages included alcohol and the high spirits of the late 1970's, so we communicated successfully and well.
We moved in a group. I found my notes from those days and since they were the days before the Internet and email, of course I never heard from any of them ever again. They were ephemeral and potent. They were the embodiment of all foreign pleasures, all conversations possible.
Upon arriving in Paris today, we realized that we could not find my friend Dee. Dee is here to celebrate his 50th birthday and we have been invited to be his guests for the occasion. As Spencer says, it's the ultimate party favor.
It was Dee with whom I was traveling when we came here in 1979. It was Dee who left me here for a few days while I stayed on, living at Shakespeare & Company, unable to stop the flow of conversation with the books and the city and the people and wondering if I should stay on the entire summer to get my fill. It was Dee with whom I met up again in Bombay a few days later, realizing (rightly) that I would always be able to come back to Paris but that a trip around the world was not going to fall into my lap every day. It was Dee who taught me how to travel, and to navigate through new streets, and how to be resourceful and calm and polite and smart.
I had no real concern about how to meet up with him. No matter that the web site for the apartments he's rented for us and his other family and friends had no street address. No matter that I was traveling heavy (as usual) and with two kids. We had a bit of a problem with the taxi driver who insisted angrily that we needed an address number for him to drop us off at. There was kind of a foreshadowing of future problems when I pulled out my cell phone and called the phone number on the web site only to get an outgoing message in France that sounded a lot like I wasn't going to figure out how to dial the number successfully, ever, in this or any future lifetime. But I tipped the driver generously and assured him that it was not his fault, nor his problem, and persuaded him to drop us on a corner on Rue St. Honore, just north of the Louvre.
This is Paris, you realize. Every square inch is intoxicating, filled with little cafes, creperies, tabacs, bars. Behind every glass pane are people deep in conversation, shrouded in cigarette smoke, discussing les travailles de la monde, the passions de la couer, or just doing that particularly un-American thing that looks a lot like relaxing. We're kind of lost, but MAN we're lost in a great place. We're lost in a place like people get lost in opium. Like we're lost but, with all due respect to the gods of chance, who CARES?
Still, there's the fact that it's about two degrees the wet side of freezing, dark and starting to rain. And I am in charge of two children and three large bags, and three backpacks and we do need to get this sorted out.
So we go into the first creperie. I am glad I have been whitening my teeth for the past few weeks as my smile is going to have to do a lot of work here. My hair is flat and pulled back into some kind of mess, my makeup has been non-existent since we left Waterloo station, and I'm encased in a ski jacket, gloves, scarf, jeans and tennies. There isn't much to work with in the realm of feminine allure, so it's down to the smile, the eyes and a wretched recall of French that I hope will be charming rather than completely annoying. Plus I have the kids, who are doing the wide-eyed "please sir can you help us" thing very convincingly.
I order some Nutella chocolate crepes for me and the kids, and an extra croissant for Taylor. The store is about four feet wide and 12 feet deep. One customer is hanging out in back, obviously a friend of the guy in charge. There are pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Babe Ruth on the walls. Louis Armstrong is singing "What a Wonderful World."
We indulge in the crepes when they are handed to us, hot and insanely delectable. See, I say to the kids, see how quickly life gets really super good? I want to appear a bit bigger than life here, as I'm about to ask these guys for help. I also want to appear moneyed and sane. The big-billed Euros help the former, the kids help with the latter.
I pull out my printouts from the web and ask in pathetically broken French and a large apologetic smile if either of these guys knows where these apartments are. They look for the street address, which still isn't there. Together we decide from the clues and the map that it has to be on the next block over. Not wanting to lose our sugar rush, I bundle up the kids and we go back out optimistically into the cold cold night.
We walk up and down the block of St. Honore, between Rue du Louvre and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The sidewalk is about 18 inches wide and well traveled. Our suitcases are about 19 inches wide and we are bulky and slow and cold as we stop and peer at every storefront and window. I know there are five units to these apartments, over a storefront. The description on the web says there's a view of the Louvre. It says it's on the corner of Rue due Louvre and St. Honore. The map gives us a big X right where we are standing. In reality, this X spans maybe 20 different addresses, maybe 100 separate apartments. I know we're in the right place, but I haven't a clue how to figure out where we're supposed to go.
We cruise back and forth, looking up at windows and storefronts and I realize that there is nothing left to do but to keep asking people. I go to an ice cream store called Scoop. Same deal: clouds of smoke, interrupted conversation - but women and ice cream, rather than men and crepes. The proprietor is an American and tres sympathetique. We go through the printouts, cluck over the map and the lack of numbers, and draw the same conclusion. We are too big for this store totally: the suitcases block the door and the kids don't know where to stand.
We leave, having this time decided that the huge X on the map is really on Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. So we go up that street. Nothing. Rien.
We come to a cafe/bar. This time I leave the kids outside. Again we are way too big for this place. The woman behind the counter doesn't speak much English. But there are two customers - again we've interrupted a conversation in progress (or is it our cumbersome arrival and instant disruption that immediately bonds us all together and makes it feel like we've all been part of this adventure from the very beginning?) – and they speak English pretty well.
The woman behind the counter, the woman at the counter and the couple all take interest in our plight. I pull out the ragged pages. I work on establishing the "solvent and sane" criteria. Eventually I ask if I can bring my kids inside, as they are standing outside in the freezing air. We lug our stuff in, instantly taking up way too much space, and the kids slump down in the chairs. I try to make us as small as possible but it feels as though we are taking up the entire place with our baggage, both internal and external.
The Nutella has worn off; Taylor is floppy and Spencer is in a sullen head-phone-wearing funk. Nerves are wearing thin between us; Spencer had pissed me off by agreeing way too enthusiastically awhile back when I commented how badly my French sucked, and Taylor's floppiness is not helping my campaign to keep convincing these people that we are alert, safe, well-meaning and worthy of their much-needed help. We seem too much like the gypsies who approached us in the Gare du Nord, asking if we spoke English and then asking for money. (I started off by saying Yes, and then no to the begging part. Then, once I figured out the drill, I cut them off with a very European "Non" when asked. But my favorite was after about six such invasions, while distracted with grabbing a taxi. The woman asked if I spoke English and I said clearly and completely "No, I don't," with (a) perfect articulation and (b) such a vehement refusal to play the game that she bought the subtext even while the text was so obviously in contradiction.)
I digress. The point is that I suddenly felt very much like a gypsy and needed badly to change the image as thoroughly as possible. For all concerned.
The customers, a couple about my age, take interest in our plight. The man offers to go out, with the printouts, and do the sleuth work of looking at the doors, windows, addresses, signs to try to find the apartments. I order some tea. We try to figure out if the kids want anything to eat, but they are picky about the offerings and the kitchen is closed anyway. No luck on that front. I really want to spend some money (see "solvent and sane," above.) But all I can do is sip some lovely Earl Gray.
I have a bright idea. I can call up the Internet on my cell phone and check out the web site of these apartments, trying to see if there is any clue possible that I had overlooked. I am totally happy that I have a phone with Internet access. Who cares if it's going to cost, like, five bucks a minute? Who cares if I am really pretty convinced that there isn't any more info there than I had already printed out? I am connected! I have technology!
The web page won't load.
I'm momentarily defeated, but wait! I am connected! I have technology! And by this time it's nine a.m. on a Sunday morning in L.A. If I can't connect, I can CALL someone who can connect! I will call Bridget! I will call Cindy! I will call my legions of friends who all love me and all have computers and THEY can log onto the web site and find out that there is no address number nor any more information than I already have. It's OKAY. Because I'll be proving that I'm not only sane AND solvent, I have TECHNOLOGY! I am CONNECTED!
I remember to dial the international code for Bridget when I see a new message on my cell phone. The cell phone that is going to connect me with something I can control. The cell phone that usually is stuck to my body 24/7 but that I've been able to live without for a few days. The cell phone that . . . well . . . hasn’t been plugged in for a few days . . . because I haven’t used . . . it . . . that . . . much.
But WAIT! We can get around this! If I really have to, I have a converter and an adapter. In the huge 32 kilo suitcase, true. The one that would completely take over all remaining free floor space in the bar/cafe (after we moved a few bar stools and maybe one table). The one filled with laundry and clothes I'll never wear. But that's not the impediment. The impediment is that even once I dig out the converter and even once I unearth the adapter from the baggies of extension cords, camera adapters, iPod adapters computer adapters . . . at that point I'd have to ask for an outlet to plug in my cell phone, seriously reducing the image I'm trying SO hard to maintain of being (what? Right! Sane and Solvent) low maintenance. And THEN I'd have to WAIT while the phone recharges. At WHICH time I'd call my good friends Bridget or Cindy and have them log on to the web site only to what? Right! Find out there's no address number or any more information than I'd already have. Nevertheless, I scout around for an outlet anyway.
But WAIT! We have another option! SPENCER has a cell phone! YES!!! That's it. That's the brilliant idea I'd been waiting for. I'm smart enough to copy down Bridget's phone number before my own phone dies (thinking things through like the master logistician I am). Then I get through Spencer's cloud of funky pissed-offness and he digs out his cell phone and throws it at me. I start it up. It's small and alien in my hand. I wait for it to boot. And then see another bad message: Network Not Found.
What kind of bullshit is THIS, man? Network not found? Why is the network found on MY phone and not HIS phone? We're the same carrier! We're the same LINE! We're fungible, my child and I. My DNA is HIS DNA. My cell phone account is HIS cell phone account. We are the same being, with one vital exception: he is charged and I'm not. I should be able to feed off his youth, his battery power, his advanced technology, his RESERVES. I have been extending myself to the max here. It only seems fair that his battery power should kick in right now, while mine is flagging. It's the way the world works. It's the way humanity has survived chaos and uncertainty through the centuries. It's necessary, it's Darwinian, it's The Way It Must Be.
And yet. It's not.
Network not found.
At this point, it's true, I do start to question and doubt. With my oldest son sitting there in a funk because his beloved mother is failing him on many levels, with my youngest son's head on the cafe table resigned into despair, and now without the Darwinin Imperative to rely upon . . . I start to entertain doubts. Perhaps this won't work.
The man comes back: no luck. He has traversed the streets. Nothing.
And then, quietly, like it has so many times already in the past few days, I remember the thing that will save us. The one power I still have that will get us out of this situation.
The credit card.
Yes. We still have that. Lost, alone, and in the cold. Without Internet, with a dead cell phone battery, without even a network connection. Having lost both credibility and faith, I still have that one thing that will enable me to prevail: False money. Money borrowed from the future. A future that seems distant and inconsequential in light of the next few hours' needs.
I'm in Paris with a credit card. The very worst that can happen is what? We stay at the George V and order room service.
So. I ask my new and only accessible friends on the planet where to find a hotel. They point around the block up two then turn gauche and then droit, and I say yeah OK and leave my children and all my belongings in the cafe while I go out to find a hotel room.
It's cold. It's somewhat biblical in proportion . . . Mary out looking for lodging in the cold of winter. Odysseus trying to find Ithaca. Leopold Bloom . . . I'm failing here in keeping it literarily distant. . . it's, ah, like, way too fucking cold. We need a place to stay and it's getting less romantic by the second.
I find the nearest hotel. Perfect. Clean. Close. I can find Dee in the morning.
No rooms available.
What the fuck???
BUT WAIT! My lightning sharp brain does not miss a beat. It does not find multiple setbacks intimidating. Whenever the doors all seem closed, there are always new ones that open. This filled-up hotel is a professional establishment, not un cafe or un creperie. This place has a computer. Which means they have . . . what? They have the Internet!!!
I smile the white teeth and ask the guy if we can look up a web site. Bien sur. But of course. I type in the URL and guess what? Finally, after all that time trying to see if there's any more information to be had . . . guess what? NO! There isn't any! The same "30 metres from the Louvre." The same "on the corner of Rue Du Louvre and St. Honore." The same HUGE fucking dot on the map that narrows the place down to only half a city block of potential windows.
So I go back out into the cold, down to the cafe, musing as I go about how incredibly stupid this whole idea was in the first place. Not just the hotel thing. Everything. Paris. London. The whole stupid expensive time-consuming non-relaxing physically brutal potentially dangerous trip. This is only about the twentieth time over the past four days that I've really thought this thought. I actually count the occasions when I'm NOT thinking this thought as noteworthy. Sometimes I am un-jetlagged and I don't think this thought. Sometimes my body doesn't hurt and sometimes the kids aren't driving me crazy and sometimes, when both those things are happening simultaneously, I don't think this thought. But usually, frankly, I walk around thinking this thought. What a stupid fucking idea.
The kids are ravenously enjoying this, yes.
We're all alive and living and noticing and awake, yes.
But a stupid idea, oh yes. Always. These big ideas, these big adventures are ALWAYS stupid ideas.
So I'm thinking that thought. Again.
And I go back into the cafe.
The couple offers to find us a place. She makes a call. The hotel is nice, and not too expensive. They will walk us there. We leave the cafe. I'm grateful beyond words, to all of them. I realize I have one of my books accessible and am glad I have something of myself to give them in thanks.
He takes one of the bags. We walk down the street. They point out a restaurant that has good food, pizza for the picky boys, good greek food for me. We talk a bit. She's a Parisienne going back many generations. He's from Quebec. Good people. Marvelous ambassadors. My kids will always remember the kindness of French strangers. And especially since we are les Americains, and unwelcome in many parts of the world, I am even more grateful.
The hotel is fine, great. Clean, charming, and a huge step up from our cramped little digs in London. I give Francois and Marine the book. He is a writer. And because of the Internet, and email, I'll be able to find them again and tell them how it all worked out.
Once again, I find myself roaming the streets with people with whom I share a common language. Maybe not so much the language of youth any more, but certainly the language of adventure and the language of community. My children are seeing some of this and I am glad they're learning some of the vocabulary. These vocabulary words are ones of politeness, of appreciation, of making sure that the footprint we inflict on other territories is as honorable and respectful as possible. The act of using French, however inept, to speak to the French. Not having a quota on how many merci's and s'il vous plaits one can use in a sentence.
We made it through the dark night to the hotel. I imagine I will not get sent to jail for spending false money any more this time than I have in the past. The money will appear. The adventure will continue. The leaf floats down the river to its appointed destination, whether it wants to or not.
Later. . .
We're eating at the Greek restaurant that Marine and Francois recommend. I look up. Outside I see Dee and and his friends walking down the street.
I jump out of my seat and nearly fall over Taylor as I yell "It's Dee! There's Dee!" Too loud, too boisterous, the crazy American lady runs out of the restaurant and down the street, chasing the three guys.
Sure enough, it's him. With his friends Sandy and James. We fall all over each other laughing and talking. Oh my GOD, I tell them, I can't believe we found each other. I had told Taylor and Spencer that we’d probably run into them, because that’s how the world tends to work, and now I'm intensely grateful that my spidey sense was right on this one.
We have found each other.
This doesn't negate the hotel room we'd just booked and moved into. But it does save us a ton of hassle in the morning as we resume our search for the missing St. Honore apartments. They are walking around, going to do the boat ride on the Seine. Please, can we join you, I beg? They agree to wait while we finish.
Dee gets the key to the mystery apartment while we finish eating. The kids are elated and finally perking up again. They can't believe we found Dee. I explain the situation to our waiter, who has been happily indulging our hideous but well-meaning French and laughing at our new phrases ("Il pleut comme il vache pisse" "It’s raining like cow piss") that we’re getting out of the book. I feel like the whole restaurant is once again actively engaged in our plight. Monomaniacal Americans. Coming into a civilization and taking over. But the feeling I get is, at worst, bemused exasperation. At best, compassion and indulgence. It helps that I'm a woman traveling alone with two kids.
We finish up, overtip, and leave. The waiter has paid attention to me in a kind way and I'm kind of pathetically grateful that he, a man, has been nice to me, a woman. Nothing untoward at all, but it made me feel noticed for the first time in ages. Thank you kind sir.
We go out and everyone talks a mile a minute. James is from SF; arrived yesterday. Sandy is from LA and just got off the plane. Dee's been here for a week already. I am insanely happy to be with these people. I've known Dee forever, something like 35 years, but the other two go back at least 20 years so everyone's easy with each other. I fall into a groove immediately with both Sandy and James, the kids immediately bond with everyone; it's great.
They are walking towards a boat that does the nighttime illuminated cruise of the Seine. It's docked on the north side of the Ile de la Cite and we're early, so we take the stairs down to the quai and start walking along the side of the island towards Notre Dame. We hike back up to the top of the island and find ourselves in the center of Paris, the towers rising above us. We have about 30 seconds to take it in if we're going to walk back to the boat for the last cruise, so we all run across the plaza and touch a piller. The kids pull one arm in from their jackets and put it behind them, creating a wild crazy faux hunchback, and run all the way back to the boat that way, calling each other igor and mixing metaphors and storylines like crazy.
We get on the boat and it's freezing. Spencer, Dee, James and I go up on top. Incredible. The wind whips the French flag that's hanging off the stern railing, the Seine is black and churning against the limestone quais. To our west, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, glittering.
We take off and Spencer and I stay up on top the entire time. It becomes a competition about who is tougher, so neither of us can go downstairs despite the fact that we soon start freezing down to the very core of our bones. The cold is the main part of the ride, but we are awed by the beauty of the bridges, the sheer splendor of the architecture.
James talks about how the French used the limestone that was nearby to create the city but for some reason never seemed to try to paint it. This is something I'd never thought about. The rock of the buildings, of the walls, of the bridges is beautiful in its natural variations. It's the subtlety that gives off the sublime elegance, the stately majesty.
As we get closer to the Eiffel Tower, we start really appreciating what it IS. We talk about how no one, at least not in the states, builds things that magnificent just BECAUSE. Except for in Las Vegas. We somehow don't have the budget for things that are outrageously stupid and beautiful and expressions of the human spirit anymore. We just kind of don't.
We talk about how graceful the structure is, how it's so feminine in its grace, and yet constructed out of steel. How it rises up, phallically, but has this exquisitely female curve that really can't be appreciated except by seeing it full-size, in three dimensions. I think of Cindy who is the ultimate connoisseur of form and shape; she deplores the outside of the Disney Hall as being sloppy in form, inexact in its structure. This tower is as far from that as you can get. It is perfection.
We get closer and closer to it, watching the light show that has been newly designed for it (well, newly for the millennium . . . new for us who haven't been here in 15 years). We gaze up at it, speechlessly.
Spencer and I tough it out on top of the boat, freezing and chattering and teasing each other, trying to get the other to give up and go downstairs. Taylor has been below with the rest of them the whole time, wisely sitting by the heater. But Spencer and I have a fight to mend and we need to bond, so we stay up top, getting ever crazier and loopier with it all.
We go by Notre Dame, looking up at the flying buttresses. Spencer looks up and says "OH yeah. Now I believe in God." And he’s half kidding - knowing that the architecture was supposed to inspire that kind of sentiment - and he's half not. As Napoleon once said, there are no atheists in Chartres cathedral.
On the way back, Spencer - amped on cold and our wild ride and exuberance and the events of the past six hours - runs headlong into a busy street as the light changes. He is following James and Sandy but is too far back to make the light. I yell GO so he'll make it across, he pauses to look back, and then charges forward right as the cars start moving. A truck passes in front of our line of vision right when the impact would be. It all happens too quickly, and too slowly.
When the truck passes, we see Spencer on the other side of the street, unharmed. We are all ashen-faced. He is shocked, sure of my wrath. I am so angry I want to slap him to the ground and then realize there is nothing I can say that can make it any worse. Dee is not smiling. No one is smiling.
He starts crying and the three of us clutch each other as we walk back to the hotel. Dee and his friends walk ahead of us. We don't talk too much about the incident but we cling to each other in the cold.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 8:20 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Notes from MOMAAmazing thing about all this art - the struggle to produce it and the consciousness behind every piece. Before I really understood writing, I didn't get it. It all seemed so random. A pure blue canvas - WTF? Campbell's soup cans? Stupid.
When I was younger, the "goodness" was in the difficulty of the execution. And that was judged by how close it came to reality, because I had tried to draw a face and know how hard it is.
It was just like using big words. The proficiency was gauged by the difficulty to execute. Doing art that was hard to do "right" was good. Just like reading a book that was hard to get through. The harder to understand, the bigger the words, the better it must be.
Then you get Hemingway, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack. Boy, that doesn't look so hard, does it? Short words, big canvases, wild splotches of color. Until you've done a bit of living, thought about it awhile, tried to do it yourself in your own work.
Seeing these works at this point in my life is like having a conversation. It's like talking to the artists. When I was younger I was working from the outside in. Today, this stuff talks to me. It cries out and sings to me.
I realize that it's all about the alchemy of conscious and unconscious work. At a certain point the artist gains enough craft that the soul is able to express itself fluently in a vocabulary all its own. The energy pours forth suddenly, now that the voice has a form. Now the voracity is able to start its roaming, looking for food, warmth, sustenance. Now that it has the tools, it's able to convert all that stuff inside and spill it all out again. It has grown up. It is now all about a constant seeking of engorgement and release.
And the content that emerges is largely out of the conscious mind's control. Jackson Pollack's wild energy and splattering is his vocabulary, whereas Picasso is obsessed with space. Some of them have to paint fields of color. Others don't.
It's not like Yves Klein woke up one day and said Hey, if I paint this thing just one color, I'll be famous enough to be in MOMA when I'm dead AND I'll be able to catch up on some laundry. Nope. His soul wanted blue so it did blue. Rauchenberg wanted to do cars and Johns wanted to do flags. The content chose them. The soul had something to say and it chose the way to say it.
The paintings here at MOMA - the Braques, the Cezannes, the Picassos and Van Goghs - they represent such an ultimate rarification of that process. The underpinning of all of it - the years of acquired craft that enables to artist to control the spewing and execute the explosion with a fine-tuned eye and hand - comes from the mental and physical discipline. To hold it all in; to roam and find; to know when to ingest and know when to let go.
All that had gone on for years before any of these great works were produced. How many hundred of meals were done without to get these works completed? How many relationships foundered? What was the price to the body and life of the artist to pay the soul's ransom required to fill these rooms?
The eyes of the Desmoiselles stare at me. The swirling sky of the Van Gogh bathes me in serenity. "He was having a good day that day," the words appear in my head like a thought bubble. The swoop of the line is ecstatic and sure. He sweeps that S with a master's command and precision, while exulting with the inner spirit's song at the glory of its expression.
It is divine mastery, executed on a day when the alignment is right. The voices are stilled, the whole being lost in the moment of its art.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:13 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Weather ReportHeard on this morning's weather report: snow reports all over the eastern seaboard. The DC area, however, "seems to be protected by a bubble of hot air."
In case there was any doubt.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 5:16 AM 0 comments
Monday, December 05, 2005
Snow on Times SquareI'm sitting tonight in a bar eight floors up over Times Square.
It is snowing outside.
Over the patrons of the expansive bar area is a mirrored ceiling, which butts up to the huge plate glass windows opening up to the expanse of Times Square signage that is visible from eight floors up.
Through the windows, the snow swirls down in that magic way snow swirls, especially to a native Californian. The talk continues around me but the snow promises silence, solitude, depth and peace.
I stare at it and then see that the intersection between the mirrorred ceiling and the plate glass, I can see the other people, sitting upside down. Above them, reflected from the streets, the taxis drive, upside down, across the ceiling and off into oblivion. The world is backwards up there, but accurate as well.
The snow falls softly down in the window. But in the mirrors above, it floats gently upwards, like champagne bubbles, enveloping the people, the taxis and the life down below in a soft caress.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:50 PM 0 comments