Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Part VI - Walking Down Madison Avenue
This sets the scene. 72nd and Madison. Except most of these pictures were taken uptown.
Edward Scissorhands meets Men's Fashion.
What is seriously not to love in this picture? It's just window dressing but it makes me want to rob banks, pilfer small countries and do whatever it takes to live the good life.
Oh yeah. That's called "advertising."
Purple chairs and purple dress. Does it make me want to go to war to maintain the right to dress in purple? No. Do the chairs make me want to buy the dress? No. Is it interesting? Uh. But I took a picture.
I love this display. It makes me want to drink coffee with such a dense chemical structure that it actually sucks light from surrounding rooms.
What I love about this is that they're so snobby they don't even TRY to translate it from the French. Like, pees off, les americaine swine. You are the whore scum of beggers. And oh yeah, we sell perfume too.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:55 PM 2 comments
Part V - The Door
Here’s the first moment:
Two people racing through the rain, towards the opera house. The rain is dancing over the plaza. The paintings in the opera house lobby are glorious through the windows. The lights and glass open to the world with aching grandness.
Take that moment and freeze it. Two people dashing through the downpour. Racing headlong towards art. Racing towards one of the world’s great manifestations and tributes to opera – one of the most improbable and magnificent of arts. A monument that embraces, respects and reveres the creative imperative.
Here's the second moment:
Same two people. Standing in front of the Waldorf-Astoria. She wants to show him the inside. He pauses, put off by the opulance. She grins and steps into the revolving door. She hears him say her name as she goes inside, looking back with a laugh. He pauses a second, and then follows her through the door.
Inside, the beauty of the lobby. The mosaic floor, the flowers in the atrium, the people moving back and forth without impunity. No one knows that they're imposters. No one is kicking them out. There is no reason they can't belong there as well.
Those are the moments.
Here's the situation:
I have been bouncing back and forth between hotels this trip, never quite knowing whether I will stay, return to LA, stay at a friend's apartment while she was out of town, or what. For some unknown reason known only to Expedia, the hotel rates in the Doubletree where I'd been staying more than doubled over the last two nights. More than doubled. But then they were going to go back down. So all I needed was a place to stay the two expensive nights.
I went to my friend's apartment. Nice apartment but small, even by New York standards. I stayed there last night but tonight was going to be a problem as she was returning to town late this evening. Her place is too small to actually sleep two people, so I was looking at a night sleeping in her twin bed with her.
Which seemed like a bad way for either of us to sleep.
I was heading downtown for a meeting and stopped at the Doubletree to use their business center. While there I swung by the front desk. Because I've been booking and extending and checking in and out all week, we're all pretty familiar to each other by now. I explain my quasi-vagabond plight to one woman (we'll call her "Laura") and she checks the rates. Nothing less than something that begins with a 5. Which, I'm sorry, is a fuck of a lot of money.
I go into the business center and find that the same room, online, is in the fours. And not the low ones either. That's better but let's not go nuts (yet.) It's still a ton of money, and twice what I'll be paying for the same room tomorrow night.
Laura promises me all sorts of amenities if I end up booking it because she understands I'm a ronin samurai and need a place to lay my sword. I say I'll keep it in mind but it's still a lot of money. We say goodbye, au demain, etc. and I go off down towards my meeting.
I walk down 50th and turn left at Park, right past the Waldorf-Astoria. I realize that I forgot to ask the Doubletree about where an electronics store might be to replace the cell phone adapter I apparently lost, and I figure that's as good an excuse as any to revisit the scene of our escapade a few days ago.
I go through those revolving doors and up the lobby stairs. Beautiful beautiful.
I head for the concierge and then I get a thought. Like... what the fuck. Let's see what they've got in the way of rooms. I go up to a woman (whose name, coincidentally, is also "Laura") and ask her about the rate. She looks it up: it's actually in the fours. And the low fours at that.
Wow. That's interesting. Cheaper than the Doubletree! But still... it starts with a four. Which is still ridiculous.
But wait. She frowns as she looks at the computer and then tells me to hang on. Says that she has to check something out, and she walks away.
I look around the huge lobby. There's some kind of meeting going on here. All the suits are out milling around. We just don't see that many suits out in LA. They all look like cookie cutter men, with the same sharp jawline, the same slightly cruel eyes. They are all good-looking, actually. But ageless. Trapped in their world.
Then she's back. And gives me a figure that starts with a three. Yes, it's expensive as hell. But then again... wow. You only live once.
So I say done.
And mentally put it in the stack called "we'll deal with that later."
I go upstairs to the prettiest little room you've ever seen in your life. With all the amenities you could want, and terry cloth robes in the closet (if I could wear both I would... instead I've been in just one all night.)
I go back to the apartment and bring my stuff back to the room, feeling like the richest and luckiest girl in the world. And then I go to my meeting with a skip in my step and a song in my heart. Maybe I deserve some of the bounty this meeting has to offer, too. Maybe I can someday work at something I enjoy and stay at nice hotels with impunity.
And this is what I realized:
In order to completely change my reality, all I did was ask.
I asked the Lauras behind the counters if this was going to be possible. I asked nicely. And it worked out.
What happens if we don't ask? Nothing.
What happens if we do? Sometimes nothing, at least not immediately. But if we don't ask, we're guaranteed to never find out.
It's the revolving door. You have to go through it to see what's on the other side. You have to dare to run pell mell towards your art. You have to embrace the passion of your calling. And then you have to to nicely ask if it can all be yours. And then, eventually, it can.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:32 PM 0 comments
Part IV – Authenticity
Being out here in the world has been beyond great. I've been able to find my authenticity again which feels like a precious jewel.
Here are some of the things I've learned the past few days:
Love can come, and go, in a heartbeat. It can be as surprising and powerful as a locomotive powering through your front door at 8 in the morning. Or it can be soft like a meteor shower. But either way, it comes in little moments. Trying to ensnare it and force it to linger will only cause it to become the stuff of the brain and the calendar.
Love, and its fleeting grace, is one of the best arguments for creating a practice of living in the moment. If you don't have those muscles working and toned, those shooting stars will fly by you all too quickly.
It is truly a blessing to be able to live within your own rhythms. One of the best things of the last few days, as I've wandered solo about the island, is the ability to acknowledge when my body is tired… and then to sleep. It doesn't matter if it's two in the afternoon, two in the morning, whenever. Between jet lag and the high octane potency of Manhattan, I am careening between full-throttle forward and dead-weight eyelids. It's been great to just acknowledge the body's needs and deal with them as they arise.
It's all about authenticity. One morning last weekend I woke up to a Cat Stevens' song – the one from Harold and Maude. "If you want to be free, be free…. If you want to be you, be you…. there's a million ways to be… you know that there are." And since I was in one of my favorite places in the world, and receptive to change, and breathing the air of books and smart funny literate people… I heard the lyrics down in my core. And I thought – well, why not? Why not decide… right here and now… to just … be… me? Just be me. Not more, not less. Not me + all the way the various people in my life see me. Not me + my job and my responsibilities and my lists and my obsessive crap. Not even me + my work. Just… me.
It takes some mental gymnastics to get to a place of being "just me." Dunno about you, but for me there's some barnacle-scraping that has to go on for me to get to a "just me" state. And – with the ability to pay attention for a few days about nothing but my own little life requirements – I'm starting to see the things that create calluses on my soul that deaden my ability to touch and to feel.
What I need -- what we all need I guess -- are touchstone people and activities (and non-activities) to keep us authentic. To keep the barnacles from growing too thick. The dealings of daily life start to blanket us with a veneer of details that sometimes cover us up completely. Underneath their weight we get small, we stop being able to breathe, we start fading and diminishing.
We all know who the people are who keep us honest. When I get back, I want to be more with them and less with the barnacle-inducers. Also, there are activities that help – like gardening, and yoga, and baking, and keeping spaces in your day to just do nothing. It's important.
So if you want to be free, be free. If you want to be you, be you.
And when those meteor showers come, just open your arms and let them rain down on you.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:11 PM 0 comments
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Part III - The Flower
Stolen for me from the Waldorf-Astoria.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:21 PM 0 comments
Part II - Odysseus
The sirens of New York sing of adventure and words and wonder and stories. Their melody is one of infinite possibility. Their voices whisper and cry through the streets of the city, luring the traveler. They tempt her to declare: this day I'm going to be no one else but me.
Riding in from JFK on a Super Shuttle. Deciding to be frugal and save the 45 bucks on a cab and kill some time with a 20 dollar van ride. How prudent I'm being. How very economical.
The half hour wait for the van grows to an hour and fifteen. And when the guy comes he's still going to the wrong part of the island. "I'll take you anyway," he says, angling for a tip. Bone weary and dazed, I say sure. Of course. Take me away. Anywhere but here.
We go to the van. Already it's filled with young buck businessmen and a couple of quiet women also just in from California. Their mode of conversation varies: they are either making fun of New York, making fun of the driver behind his back, or making fun of the people on the street. They are very enamored of their sense of humor. One guy likes making funny Indian accents. The women say very little. The Indian accent guy talks about it being so crowded on the streets that people will get out and strap headlights to their heads and run into each other on the sidewalks instead. They’d get in fist fights and yell at each other. "Sidewalk rage," one of the women says flatly, breaking her silence.
The driver drives in short explosive bursts forward. Then he brakes with short desperate pumps. The van jackhammers back and forth with every jam of either pedal. The shock absorbers are so shot that each percussive blast forward or back just keeps the van shaking until the next change in direction. It's not a pulsing. The word "pulsing" connotes blood flowing through the veins in a somewhat orderly, if, well, pulsing manner. This is more like the spurting of an intermittently severed aorta.
Changing clothes in the Doubletree bathroom off the lobby. I have no room yet so I lug my overly heavy bags up into the public bathroom and manage to snag the executive suite, which in this case means the handicapped stall. I am still tasting bile in the back of my throat and my headache throbs with an unremitting insistence. This is my new home, this bathroom. I am one of those homeless people that everyone avoids looking at. I have my luggage opened up and I carry my toothbrush and makeup to and from the sink, dodging the normal people who have slept and eaten and used deodorant within the last 24 hours. I'm the shadow that no one wants to acknowledge. I strain with all my remaining strength to have an intelligent, non-derelict air about me. I want to scream: "God Damn it! I went to Bennington Fucking College! I’m not homeless, I just flew into the sun and this Super Shuttle guy tried to make my gall bladder come out of my nose!!!"
But I don't. I patch myself back together, congratulate myself for surviving thus far, and then lug my suitcases down to the checkroom, where I will pick them up when my room becomes available at the end of the day.
My job today at the show is to find my hosting booth and drum up business for tomorrow’s book signing. I am going to make sure my books have arrived and otherwise scope out the lay of the land.
My hosting booth is down in the small press section. RJ Communications are the people who printed my book and they provide services for people wanting to self-publish, without the extreme inequities of POD. (I can talk the publishing talk so well right now, you have no idea. I will try to spare you the lingo but it's great stuff and I'm obviously in the wrong business and this blog is not about that so I'll quit.) I get along immediately with the RJ people. They welcome me as an author and I put down my stuff, heading out into the trade show floor to get rid of my 250 bookmarks that have been neatly stickered with the date and time of my reading tomorrow.
Here's the problem. This is six football fields' (at least) of publishing biz under one roof. It is beyond huge. And everyone is hustling their shit. Everyone has a gimmick: there are people dressed in foam dollar bills and pink hats, large weird teddy bears, people with wings, a man in a Borat wig. Every time you turn around someone shoves a bookmark or a tee-shirt in your face, offers you a chance to win something, assaults you with flyer or a book or a catalog. Typical trade show stuff… but as I prepare to become one of these people I see that it's just plain rude to stop people in their tracks with a bookmark. Yeah, it may drum up biz but more likely than not it's just going to make them think I'm an asshole.
And I'm too tired to get the perk factor up to full and be at all believable. Every time I try to cheerfully ask if someone wants a bookmark I'm pretty sure the subtext reads something like: "Oh god, jesus, I'm so tired, please take a bookmark, please justify my life, please take one just for me and then I promise to go away and not annoy you with my presence ever again."
It's just not happening.
I find myself standing in line for the bathroom. There are lines in front of every ladies room. And every one of these women is target market. Smart, stationary, doing nothing but standing there in line. It kills me how stationary they are. What could they possibly want to do more than read my bookmark and then come and get a book tomorrow morning? It's like capturing the herd of elephants at the watering hole and just aching to knock them all of en masse and get a year's worth of ivory in one fell swoop.
OK that was a weird metaphor.
So I talk to a few women as I'm standing in line, shooting the shit about how there's always a line in the women's room, and then I maybe hand out a book mark (with the same subtext as above but at least this time I've proven myself to be able to converse about other things before I turn on the sales pitch). And eventually I get a stall and I pee.
The second or third time this happens... interrupted by forays out onto the floor to try to find a good place to ambush people resulting in standing around dazed and then getting an ice cream followed by another trip to the bathroom because at least there I get to sit down... I think Fuck This. And I leave some bookmarks stuck behind the toilet paper dispenser in the stall.
What else are they going to do besides read my blurb and love me and come get my book?
So I stick some behind the diaper changer and on the shelf over the sinks and I'm thinking I'm pretty damn smart.
This is my new plan then. I am going to go to every women's room in the Javits center and leave bookmarks on the shelves above the sinks. I can't really go into every stall but I can brush by the women and go into each one and leave my mark.
I find a map, see that all the sinks are on one side of the building (thank GOD) and I start my mission. Walk to one: brush past people: leave bookmarks on shelf above sink; leave with a sheepish smile that says, yeah, I'm the author and I'm pathetic but hey we do what we gotta do.
As I go along I realize I'm not the only one who's thought of this. There are flyers all over the counters and kiosks of the hall but – as I found out by being dumb and asking about protocol – I've found out that you have to PAY to put them there. The powers that be will come by and throw them out if you put them down in these designated spots. But the restrooms, apparently, seem to be exempt from this precious sellable real estate law. And a subculture has started to form. I start seeing cards for diet books and metaphysical cookbooks and even a particularly clever poster that says something along the lines of "LOST: My pants. Well worn. I miss them. If you've seen them come by my booth and a handsome lothario will give you a kiss." With the booth number on tear off slips at the bottom of the page.
So I add my AIJ bookmarks to the extravaganza. I like this strategy. If someone wants one, they'll take it. If not, not. Clean and simple and non-invasive.
Which means I spent my entire first day at the BEA going in women's rooms. And thinking it's a modification of the Bilbo Baggins line: as soon as you step on the Road, you never know what's going to happen.
Getting out of the subway on the way back to the hotel. Getting that blast of hot sultry air from the train's underbelly as I walk out onto the platform, the station smelling like acetate, heat and humanity.
Then up and out onto the sidewalk. Big drips of summer rain coming down sporadically. Ozone and summer heat pulled out of the concrete and steel and brick. Elation and exhaustion combine. I am back in my favorite city and I have survived and it's going to be better because the three things I crave – sleep, food and a shower – are now next on my list of things to take care of.
She is lashed to the mast, this woman in New York. The sirens call and suddenly she wonders... what the fuck? And takes out her exacto knife and starts sawing away.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:58 PM 1 comments
Friday, June 01, 2007
Part I - Icarus"...When at last the work was done, the artist [Daedalus], waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air...." From The Fall of Icarus by Thomas Bullfinch (courtesy of Wikipedia):
I am in New York for the Booksellers Expo. I am wearing only one hat these days: writer. I am spending some good money to do this. But it's worth it, I reasoned when I made the plans. I'm spreading my wings. Tempting myself from the lofty nest into the air.
The thought of the trip coming up nearly killed me this week. I was sure that, like Icarus, my desire to fly would end in disaster. That I would fly too close to the sun, my wax wings would melt, and I would plummet to the earth, cured of my desire to soar once and for all.
The only other time I can remember feeling such anxiety in preparing for a trip was when I took myself to Iowa to research a novel I was currently writing. Then, too, I was beset with violent feelings of sadness and impending doom. I could not look at the world without feeling a wrenching regret that I was leaving all of it behind in order to pursue some stupid misguided idea that was going to inevitably and irrevocably ruin my life.
This time the anxiety had a physical component. For three days before the trip I was crippled by a severe migraine, one that had its iron fingers deep into my psyche. I was clobbered with images of death, loss, unrelenting self-loathing, and a powerful urge to quit writing and traveling and somehow become "normal." It felt like spiritual and emotional and physical nausea. There was nowhere I could go, internally or externally, where there was relief.
Thursday morning I called my friend Cindy, the sculptor, just to get her take on the situation. "It’s the curse of the artist," she said matter-of-factly. "You never think you’re good enough. You always want to just give up. But you can’t."
She told me that she can manage to do things that will forward her passion for her art if there is an obvious business component, such as a show, involved. But if she wanted to go to Europe "just" to research another artist, "just" because she has a deep compelling inner urge to do so -- oh no. She could never do that. She would be just as mortified and barfy at the idea as I seemingly was with the BEA.
Relieved (and now encouraged to vent my anxieties to everyone who would listen), I wrote to another friend who responded with equal understanding:
You betcha I get so sick of my internal chatter that I just want to barf.
You're resisting the trip: EVERY single time I have to make travel plans and spend money and pack a bag I fight it like crazy. Just like you: it's a trip you want to make but you're rebelling. I dunno: maybe it's the threat to the status quo…maybe it's fear of success…maybe it's just free-floating anxiety. It's all those things, actually. I usually blame it on my cat: I don't want to leave Buster.
Wow! I was not alone! Apparently other people also experience some form of sadness and fear at the thought of engaging with the absolute core of who they are.
I can't explain why such integration would provoke such sadness but there's something vaguely sexual about it. It's a profound vulnerability to the essence. Getting that close to the essential is like tickling a dental nerve; the instinct is to recoil, protect, chatter to distract.
But unlike the dental nerve, this is a nerve of the soul. This is a root that craves to be touched, begs to be seduced as often as possible – and should be. Not only is this a good nerve, it's an imperative one.
Given that this quest for the core truth is so inextricably bound with fear and guilt, what really are the choices? You can’t quit. You can't give up. You motor through it.
Which I did. I continued with all my closings up and lists and doublechecks. I got my stuff together and packed and plowed through the pain of the headache and the intermittent nausea and just kept going.
On the red-eye I was graced with a seatmate who was funny and smart and kind. I was graced with a good conversation before starting the long struggle to find the perfect position of head and neck and little blue pillow. I slept fitfully with hallucinatory strains of "I am the Walrus" commingling with Gwen Stefani's "Sweet Escape" on full volume in my head. The seatbelt light flickered on and off through the very short night and scenes from Lost played in an endless loop as I dozed, the visual component to my goo-goo-goo-ju soundtrack.
And in the morning I was roused by a bright beam of light coming in through my cabin window. I rubbed sleep out of my eyes and stretched my back, peering out to the horizon as we started our flight into the morning sun.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:17 PM 0 comments