Friday, November 20, 2009

Cheese Puffs and Birthday Crowns

so many
many ways--
to have been in love

Boncho Nozawa, from Love Haiku by Patricia Donegan

I was in Trader Joe's the other night, picking up some goat milk on the advice of my podiatrist. He is enamored of the stuff--as he was describing its health benefits to me (good for the bones and joints, aids digestion, guarantees immortality) his usual stone-faced, all business doctor-persona was replaced by a wild enthusiasm, full of gesticulations and sentences that if written down would be lousy with exclamation points. Anyway, since it impressed him so much ("From the first day I drank it, I felt a difference. The first day!") I thought I'd give it a try. Having had a broken foot for six months, I was willing to drink dead gopher's blood through a Krazy Straw if I thought it would help speed along the healing process.

Anyway, it was the first day I was allowed to wear my own shoes (with orthotic inserts) and not that despised orthopediac sandal on my right foot with the beat-up black sneaker on my left (though I wanted to buy new sneakers my husband insisted we wait until my foot was better, so I wouldn't "wear down" the new left shoe.) On my first day back, I chose to wear my sexy black vinyl boots. All September and October I had watched every young woman in every imaginable cute boot, in every height, color, and style. High-heeled boot, cute rain boot, cowboy boot, short boot--they were all represented. Meanwhile if it rained the water would soak through the sandal and my sock, making the bottom of my right foot itch. I was and felt...lame.

So I'm at Trader Joe's, noticeably taller and definitely more put-together in proper, matching footware. I'm waiting in a very long line with people clutching their pre-Thanksgiving booty of butternut squash cubes, fried onions, and cranberry chevre logs. Suddenly, I'm awakened from my long-line-induced stupor by a small boy running past me, clutching a bag of Trader Joe's brand cheese puffs. "I love cheese puffs!" he exclaims, like he's just inherited a million dollars from his Uncle, "I love my dead Uncle!"

The older lady in front of me giggled, and we exchanged smiles, and I said, "I wish I still got that excited about cheese puffs." The woman nodded. We both seemed to reflect on this. Then another baby in an adjacent shopping cart started bawling, and the moment was gone.

What small things did I love as a child that I take for granted now or don't even think about? Here's a short list: Burger King french fries, ladies' hats from the thrift store, cherry italian ice, being picked up and spun around by my father when he got home, watching scary movies with my friend Heather during Friday night sleepovers, the two hots dogs they gave you after you marched with your Girl Scout troop in the Veteran's Day parade, gold-colored cardboard birthday crowns, dancing in my first pair of high-heeled tap shoes, and, speaking of dancing school...anything, ANYTHING decorated with sequins.

What small things do I love now, but which I don't yell out my deep affection for in public: Pomme Frites dipped in mayonnaise, full skirts, Tiramisu-flavored gelato, getting a big hug from my dad when I come to visit them, and otherwise, a kiss from my husband, foreign movies watched while drinking red wine, a Friday night restaurant meal, a pretty piece of vintage jewelry, dancing at weddings, and almost ANYTHING decorated with sequins. And let's not forget boots.

What small things did you once love? What about now? Yes, I know it's very "My Favorite Things" but so what? Fraulein Maria was definitely on to something.

Monday, November 16, 2009

One Year of Giving Notice Now

"Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don't struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality."--Pema Chodron

It's been over a year since I started writing on this blog. I don't know that I accomplished what I set out to do (live in the moment) but I've tried, with mixed results. We're wired to daydream, tune out, fantasize, reminisce, hold out hope for better things to come. It's OK to do these things, but it's also useful to catch yourself sometimes and say, I am right here now.

This weekend I visited friends in New York City. I hadn't been in the city for six months--way too long to stay away. Yet sometimes I resist visiting New York. My old city makes me melancholy. I no longer feel the personal, intense longing to fit in as a New Yorker, to feel that New York City loves me as much as I love New York City. But I also miss the thrill of the chase.

I remember the negatives of living there: the crowds of people being swallowed by the entrance to Penn Station, the incessant noise and rude drivers of midtown, the impossibly chic women in their Vogue-inspired fashions who make me feel like the bridge-and-tunnel Jersey girl who shops for her designer clothes at TJ Maxx. Not that I should be ashamed of my roots--we all have to come from somewhere, and I came from Central New Jersey. But New York City was always my golden ring--just out of reach, a bit out of my league.

I worked in Manhattan for ten years and like so many transplants from around the country, I tried to pass. I accumulated a lot of credit card debt in the process, but to this day I believe it was worth it. Now I don't have to wonder what it would have been like to be twentysomething and living in one of the greatest cities on earth--I had my taste, and it was delicious, but not something I can make my regular diet.

Coming back to New York this weekend and anticipating the unstoppable force of nostalgia, I decided to make a list of ten things I wanted to do that I can't do in Boston--maybe that would be a nice way to enjoy the present moments while I was there. I tried hard not to look back over my shoulder, at that 26 year-old me drinking champagne at Flute, eating tapas and drinking sangria on a Tuesday night with my friends in that little Spanish place with the one-letter name in Soho, wandering in the West Village on a warm summer evening, stopping for pizza at Two Boots. I look away from that slimmer, cuter, braver, livelier ghost of me, that girl who was safe in the knowledge that she had something new to discover everyday in a city that changed like the shapes in a viewfinder. I try to focus on who I am now--a woman with more wisdom and spirituality, a smarter woman, a woman of substance with love in her life.

This "woman" forgets to go one level higher in Loehmann's, automatically combing the racks in juniors as she did ten years ago. It's Ladies' Sportswear for me now, or whatever they call clothes for thirty- and forty-somethings (I never understood that term--sportswear. What does that mean exactly? I don't see any tennis skirts or baseball cleats on offer.) I wander aimlessly into the "Womans" section, the Ellen Tracy and Jones New York racks, and I start to sweat. Enjoy this time, I warn myself, enjoy being 36, because it will be gone before you know it and soon you'll be wearing satin tunics and chunky ethnic jewelry.

Later, at the Strand, getting 50% off on new hardcovers downstairs where they keep the discarded review copies--that's still the same--though they don't check your bag anymore, and they sell a lot more Strand-inspired merchandise than they used to, as if The Strand is now The Hard Rock Cafe, another place to acquire a bag or a t-shirt to show people where you've been.

I also notice--when I'm not busy reminiscing--that parts of New York are actually very quiet. Walking down 9th St on a Sunday to meet a friend for lunch at a vegetarian place called Gobo, I notice the stillness, the practically empty sidewalk, the lovely brownstones with pots of flowers on their front steps and ancient vines creeping up their facades. I discover the poet Marianne Moore's house--the plaque says she made that apartment her home for most of her life. I never noticed this historical treasure before. I imagine Marianne emerging from this brownstone, in a smart hat and gloves, going to some literary party. It makes me happy that now, by virtue of being a tourist, I notice more and more that I might have missed before, when I was always racing by on my way to work or dinner or to the subway. Kind of like what I do in Boston now.

I had a lovely time in New York visiting with my friends. They were by far the best part of my weekend. But heading home on the train, I didn't feel that same sting of leaving my beloved city. Not that Boston feels like home yet, but my longing for Manhattan is not as acute as when I left it three years ago. Back then I wrote a love letter to Manhattan, comparing it to the lover who I courted but never won. One day maybe if I live somewhere else, I'll long for the youthful, vibrant, colorful, and intelligent feel of Boston. Or maybe I'll never love a place quite like I did New York City. After all, maybe contentment in the present is better than always reaching for that far-off shangra-la that is the past.

Wherever I am is the right place, and right now that place is here.