Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some Thoughts I Have About Raymond

Raymond and I have conducted our relationship in secret for almost fifteen years. We weren’t hiding it, we weren’t up to anything-in fact there was a very marked lack of any sexual attraction between us though he has given me many compliments on my rack over the years. Thanks, Ray, by the way. We just had very different lives, different social circles, different schedules.

So when I found out he had died it was about 24 hours later and only because someone posted something about it on Facebook. FACEBOOK! I was in my office and I got up, walking past all these computer monitors and silent typists wearing headphones and stumbled out onto the street. My body shook. I didn’t know who to call. Our lives are like a venn diagram and no one else seemed to be in that overlapping area, that little place where our friendship existed. Just like that all traces of it were gone. I barely have even any photos of us together.

I wanted to call him and ask if it was true.

When people die everyone says the same things. Unlike our friendship my grief isn’t private-it’s shared by everyone who knew him, loved him. It’s shared by everyone in the world really, because time keeps marching on and keeps dragging us from each other and we try to forget during the in between times. We probably have to or every moment would be this agony of feeling, just constantly screaming at the top of our lungs, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Because in this moment, knowing that he is gone, I wonder why I ever said anything else.

My last word to Raymond was on Gchat. We have been IMing each other pretty much every single day since it was invented. Maybe that’s why it was always so easy to tell things to Raymond that I could never tell anyone else- about my chronic depression, about my family, about my low self-esteem. Most people don’t want to hear about those things because they think it makes you tainted in some way, like a sick animal that should just slink off somewhere shady to die. Raymond never made me feel like any of my thoughts or feelings were unsafe to share. He never made me feel like the things I hoped for were stupid. He was, no matter how much we butted heads, always kind which is not something many people (definitely not me) manage to be. And my last word to him on Gchat was, “whatever.” I was annoyed with some disagreement we were having. I wasn’t angry or anything just being dismissive. On Sunday I called him to see if he wanted to go get a drink and he didn’t answer. I can never take back that last irritated conversation. So instead I want to remember the last time we were together which was at his house a few weeks ago.

It was rainy as shit. I went to his house and we drank beer, ate pizza and watched stand up. We smoked a cigar on the stoop and made a pact that we would do a stand up show together by November. We looked out at the rain and said we should write a song but by the time we got upstairs we were too lazy and drunk. We sat around his room while he played music and talked about people we love, think we might love, think we might get laid by. We said good bye and I hugged him and said let’s do this more. He agreed. Memory is strange because now, wanting it so desperately to be true, I think as I left I said I love you. Did I? Had I ever? It was true and he must have known it but even though I can picture myself saying it and I can picture him bashfully mumbling, “Love you too, Aimee, now get out,” or something like that...I don’t know if it really happened.

I doubt very much that I was anywhere in the top best friends of Raymond’s life-he had so many. But I believe our friendship was one of the most special in my life, one of the most unique and long lasting. A huge part of my life has been extinguished and besides I Love You I’d like to tell Raymond that. We don’t always know the ways we touch people, what compartment inside their psyche or heart we fill. I can walk into so many rooms in my mind but now one of the biggest ones is empty. If there are people in your life who shape you, understand you, indulge you, argue with you, make up afterwards with you, get crazy on the dance floor with you why keep it a secret? I wish it hadn’t been. I didn’t even know it was until I knew he was dead.

On my iTunes there is a bunch of music Ray picked out and a few that he wrote, a couple we wrote together. The ones I was involved with weren’t as good, but he always helped me anyway. One in particular popped up a few months ago and I hadn’t listened to it in awhile and it made me so happy to hear it. It reminded me I had this friend who wrote me this silly song just because I asked him to and a tear came to my eye even then. It was for a video I made about an evil villainess called the Pie Socialite who pies her enemies and Raymond wrote it from the perspective of her boyfriend before she goes evil, when she’s just plain old Holly his girl. He probably wrote it in like two minutes but it’s so catchy and funny and sweet. I’m listening to it now as I write this and trying to remember all the moments we’re supposed to remember in times like this- when I flashed him on stage during his first show with Ohnomoon, watching him walk out my door forgetting he was still wearing a pair of bunny ears over his hat, him running down the hall away from me in our high school after teasing me, tasting honey together at a harvest festival, smoking pink cigarettes on my stoop, dragging his drunk ass into a bed while he clutched a slice of pizza, him chastising a driver who almost doored me in Williamsburg as he biked cavalierly by, roasting together on Brighton beach, the sound of him calling me Red which is a nickname no one else living remembers...

There is nothing in this life worth as much as the capacity to be loved and to love others. I love Raymond Blanco. I believe the world and my life is a lesser place for not having him in it. There is no solace.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Philosophy of Fasting

This morning I was sitting around the kitchen table with my roommates, debating the merits of exercise. I was pro-exercise and others were con or somewhere in the middle. And one of them made the point that Elle MacPherson doesn't look like she does because she hits the gym every day. That exercise doesn't ever really make the life altering change to our looks that we hope it will. And I told her that in the last year I've lost roughly 20 pounds and definitely look different. She asked if this was just from exercise and I said yes...but it's not quite true.

Just after Thanksgiving last year I embarked on a five day fast. For five days I drank salt water, lemon juice and tea. During those five days I lost maybe eight pounds, most of it water weight. Which means I should have instantly put it back on in the days following the fast, but I didn't. I kept getting thinner. I ate less generally. I started exercising. So now a year later those five days of not eating have left their mark on me and I wonder if it was kind of a cheat.

This summer I was in a used bookstore and I found a slim yellow volume entitled "The Philosophy of Fasting" by Edward E. Purinton. Published in 1906 it advocates what is essentially the Master Cleanse, what I did a year ago (a very truncated version). I flipped through it, intrigued.

When you're not eating there's not much else to do but think. All the time you usually spend planning a meal, buying ingredients, preparing your food (or in lieu of that, the time you spend arguing about where to get take-out) is now just dead air. Since I was avoiding the thought of eating I thought about lots of other stuff that I had been avoiding by eating all the time. My way of dealing with difficult emotions or thoughts has always been through food, eating as a kind of sedation. Part of the reason I went on the fast was because that compulsion had begun to take over my life in a scary way.

This is a weird thing to write about because this blog is about things I think are cool or funny or interesting or poignant or would recommend other people try. But fasting is none of those things. It's personal, as is everyone's relationship to food and their bodies. As much as we do it in groups, fetishize it, torment each other over it, teach and write and talk about it, eating is like a relationship. No one knows what goes on between you and your food except the two of you. Edward E. Purinton's book touched a lot on the spiritual side of fasting, how starving yourself leads to all kinds of revelatory experiences but he sounds pretty crazy and self-obsessed, much like this post is starting to sound...but I still get it.

Because I fasted, which led to thinking which led to philosophizing. My reasons for eating more than I needed to and then more than I even wanted to became clearer to me and I found that those reasons held less power when I was aware of them. Am I cured of these compulsions? No. They manifest in a hundred other ways and I'll never abstain from all bad behavior, god willing. Do I have control over myself? What an ugly word control is especially when related to the physical self. But now I know what's possible. Change is possible. I've changed. I don't think fasting is the only way to make that happen for myself or anyone but I'm still really glad it did happen. I wont ever look like Elle MacPherson, obvs, and while I look different, kinda, maybe its not as different as I'd hoped when I started loosing weight.

Could I fast again? Well, I have one or two days at a time. It's not the same because the first time you don't eat for many days in a row you're not sure what to expect and it's kind of exciting. Now when I do it I'm like, oh yeah...that bullshit. But with it having been a year and all I'm beginning to feel some of that desire, to just set aside time for myself. Time to think, to have a headache, to reflect, to pee a hundred times a day, time to work out my philosophy. Whatever it is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Secret Garden Tour Part 2: Waterpod

Well, well, well. Look what we have here. It's one in the morning and winter was in the air as I walked home tonight. To warm myself I looked back on summer days of yore and it hit me-I haven't written a blog post in over a month! What the what!

Also to get through the night shift I've had about 50 ounces of yerba mate in a twenty minute period. I'm so pumped I've already jogged around the block a couples times, painted my room and rearranged all my books according to the Dewey Decimal system. I even smoked a cigarette to pass some time. It was either write this post or count all the hairs on my head until dawn. GET PSYCHED EVERYONE!!!

A lot has happened since the summer. I've finally settled into a new house and unpacked about 45% of my boxes. I got a hair cut.

So, the Waterpod. I visited twice this summer, once when they were docked in the Bronx, once in the Queen's marina. The first time it was just the tour. We saw the chickens, the greywater system, the wood burning stove the tiny lofted bedrooms and the Three Sisters garden. The second time I went and built a boat. But what is the Waterpod? Part art project, part experiment in sustainable living, the Waterpod is a giant barge that was dragged from borough to borough this summer teaching the local populace about food and agriculture from their very own working farm! The people living aboard fed and watered themselves from what they grew and the rain water they collected. It was kind of like a dream come true. Who among us hasn't been sitting around with friends late a night and said something along the lines of "Guys...guys. We should live on a houseboat. Seriously. Like, let's get one and live on it. We'll be free, man!" Well, that was like this except better.

The second time I visited it was the last weekend for the Waterpod and they were cramming the events in. There was a foraging tea and dance parties and music but my favorite thing was a boat building session led my Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins, artists who are interested in community building and also floating objects made from garbage. My friend Robin and I elbowed our way into their project and helped lash a couple of doors together along with giant chunks of styrofoam found floating along the shoreline. When time came to launch the very shady looking raft only the four of us volunteered to go for a spin. I'm not gonna lie...the paddles made from pine branches and two by fours were not the most wieldy. But again I felt like I was living the dream! Is there anything better than taking the detritus of human existence and with some comradery and power tools turning it into an adventure on the open water? I'm here to tell you...no, there is not. Of course, we were slowly sucked out towards the sea and had to be hauled to shore by a kayak, but near drowning is part of the fun. And when we got back there was rose hip tea and a sleepy cat in a captain's bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lotus Garden: Secret Garden Tour Pt. 1

I snuck home last weekend for the Secret Garden Tour and visited two amazing places. So I decided they each deserved their own post (And then I'd feel less nuts about all the writing I'm doing. Or more nuts?)

The Lotus Garden is on the Upper West Side which is like a foreign country. I'm a downtown girl, if you know what I mean. The townhouses and condominiums of Central Park West through to Riverside Drive are completely alien to me. They're full of rich people, you guys! What's interesting about The Lotus Garden is it's completely ornamental and this was a stipulation of its existence. The garden had originally been a ground floor community garden and when it was ripped up for Columbia to develop another building they had enough sway to demand reconstruction. Now the garden is elevated over the new building's parking garage, but growing vegetables was banned as it was considered 'low rent'. Why would you need to grow food when you can buy it?

I don't mean this as a criticism of the garden. Frankly, it's totally beautiful and well maintained and verdant etc. I just find it pretty fascinating how people's attitudes about home gardening have been reflected in the landscape. Upstate now I've noticed that depending on the neighborhood you're driving through many people have started to have vegetable gardens (or continued to if they never had any snobbery about it). Will there come a time when Lotus Garden needs to grow vegetables? Since I'm not usually that interested in ornamental gardens, especially the shaded hosta filled variety I spent a lot of time thinking about that as we toured around.

Members of the garden have a key to let themselves in and not many open hours. That plus the fact it's up a locked staircase on top of a private parking garage means it's a secret garden indeed. The Lotus Garden is also run solely by volunteers and to register as a non-profit they'd need to be open at least 20 hours a week which would be pretty challenging. I wasn't clear from listening if they need more members or money or what...but I guess being a non-profit they could then apply for grants and then get more members and then more money.... wahhh! How confusing the access to park and growing space is in New York! I heart community gardens but they need to become less rarefied and more inclusive if they want to survive. Probably not the Lotus Garden though. Their roots run deep.

They have trees standing twenty feet high and a koi pond whose ancestors probably pre-date my birth. The people who met us there, with cider and crisp apples from the farmer's market as a gift, were gracious and incredibly committed. Carolyn Summers showed off her miniature garden, tiny Hen and Chicks planted in the gravel, baby hostas and ferns stunted by the pots shortening their roots and hidden carefully under ground. It's kind of fascinating how people take pride in what they grow and what they choose to grow and why. With space limitations she made her plot a museum of the small. I could never grow a garden like that...but wouldn't it be incredible if everyone had a little space to see what they'd sow?

You can visit The Lotus Garden from 1-4 every Sunday April-November on W. 97th between Bdwy and West End. Thanks to Huong for photos!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Small Potatoes

Well, it's September 11th. I don't think about September 11th very much. I didn't think about it today until I checked Facebook and saw everyone's statuses reminding me and telling me that they were thinking about it and also pretty sad about it.

I woke up this morning planning to write a post about some potatoes I grew in a window box. They're Magic Mollies, purple potatoes that I hoarded for almost a year to plant in my garden. When we had to move out and couldn't take the garden with us I got the shovel and uprooted one of the potato plants. It was a wonderful color, dark green with purple coming up the stem and spreading into the leaves growing in every direction. I put it in a long narrow plastic container with some silty dirt and hoped for the best. Over the summer it continued to grow, taller and taller but there were never any flowers on it. Eventually the whole thing collapsed on itself and I made the executive decision to rip the thing up rather than cart around twenty pounds of dirt to yet another of my many homes.

All that came of it were a handful of tiny potatoes. They looked like something a woodland animal leaves behind. Appetizing, but I didn't get around to eating them, then forgot them in a friend's refrigerator. It was a disappointing yield but still the Mollies are magical to me. Anytime you have a hand in creating something, even something so small and turd-like, it's kind of a thrill.

The scale of the worthwhile and the meaningless is such a difficult one to balance. On the one hand I'm thinking about a day eight years ago when thousands of people died a short subway ride away from me. I have memories of the day and the days that followed. My mother got sick that same week and was in the hospital for ages, it seemed. I remember visiting her and walking through the ER hallways lined floor to ceiling with pictures of missing people. On the other hand I'm thinking about potatoes.

When today passes I'll be thinking about the potato side of life far more prominently. Or there will be another unspeakable tragedy and I'll think about that. Or another crop, something even more sustaining and delicious and I'll think about that. I guess on the anniversary of important events, both good and bad, we're not just thinking of one day but all the days in between, all the events that have changed and shaped us, who we were and what we've evolved into. And we hope this time next year things will be better.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Secret Garden Tour/ I Love Plants Like Whoa

Someone recently said, "Your posts are so long!" without adding "And really interesting..." so here's a pretty short and sweet and matter of fact one for ya. Ya knows who ya is.

This summer I met two lovely people, Colin and Huong. They're artists and though I'm not sure about what kind of objects they make (if only objects qualify) they certainly know how to throw a party. Frankly, there is an artistry to that I greatly admire. Many fun times were had but this fun time in particular took place on their Secret Garden Tour. Colin has assured me it's not really a secret so I am at liberty to divulge. They've been developing the tours all summer and this particular one brought us to two very diverse examples of community growing.

Damn. I typed a whole bunch and then my computer shut itself down and it was all lost. There's a lesson in here somewhere but for who?

Let me regroup. THE FIRST PLACE WAS...Red Shed Community Garden on Kingsland Ave. and Skillman. They have a willow and fig tree, a shed, and a grill that they started to fire up at the smallest hint we'd be staying a while. Didn't bring anything to bbq though unfortunately. This garden is very reminiscent of a community garden I grew up next to in the East Village run by Open Road. I had a plot there which still remains. I planted a tree in it so they can't dismantle it. Cherries!

Anyway, at Red Shed there are the locals who've been living in the neighborhood and nearby projects for ever and there are the gentrifying intruders. As a visitor I can only say that things seem friendly. They have community plots and personal ones with lots of fruits and vegetables growing. Eggplants were flourishing when we were there and mosquitos. The keep extra bug spray in the shed.

Our second stop on the tour was Rooftop Farms on Eagle St. in Greenpoint. Rooftop is run by Annie Novak and Ben Flanner and they've been getting a lot of attention this year because they've taken the idea of a green roof and turned it into a working farm. The roof's owner wanted to install a green roof and Annie was called in to figure out how to make it all work. We talked for awhile before the tour started and it seems like that's what she does circling the world, stopping at farms and meeting challenges in growing. As she said several times in different ways, "I love plants like, whoa."

Rooftop sells their produce and welcomes volunteers. They're hoping to make the farm work as a viable option for other buildings around the city. The installation is quite expensive but since then she says they've been farming as cheaply as possible. With time the produce will begin to pay for itself and make up the original cost.

We walked down the rows of tomatoes, carrots, squash, beans, fresh herbs, melons and Annie told us about the different plants and their composting system. They also have two bee hives (!) and are growing hops up the side of one of their walls.

Now, I'm not a farmer. But I do love plants like...well, like something. What was especially exciting about the tour was the feeling that hey, you want to grow things, grow them! You want to start a community garden, start one! You want a farm, build it on the roof!

So how about it? Anyone want to start a community garden with me?

The next Secret Garden Tour is this coming Saturday Sept 12th starting at 2 PM at The Lotus Garden then going on to the Waterpod at Concrete Plant Park. If you can't come then find another time to visit either place (the Waterpod in particular looks cool as shit) or hell, just go to your nearest community garden and sit back on a bench. Enjoy the last warm days of September as the harvest comes rolling in. Think what you'll plant next year. Imagine it grow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fly Away Home

Since moving from Sunset Park this spring I've lived in four other locations, not counting a few regressive nights on my mother's couch, which would bring the total to five. Certain aspects of moving have become very streamlined for me. Every time I start packing to go to a new place I go through my things and ask myself, When was the last time you touched this object? Wore this shirt? Opened this book? Things have been paring down. Coming to my current roost I had one bag of clothes and a backpack. Of course the weather has completely changed since then and I've been wearing the same long sleeve shirt over and over. I don't know if this means I should have packed more or if I could have gotten away with packing even less. One shirt. Done. Who needs pants? The Man.

Earlier this summer I went camping with some friends in Harriman State Park on the edge of a lake. We took a train to Tuxedo then walked through town and off the road into the woods. I have been looking back on that trip as some of the worst packing of my entire life. I walked into the woods prepared for little more than dying cold and wet in a ditch covered head to toe in ticks. Yet somehow my backpack was so fucking heavy it felt like my collarbone was being gradually pulled apart by the straps across my shoulders. It was a two hour hike to the camp site and this wasn't considering the walk through Brooklyn to the subway then wandering all over Penn Station for the train.

Luckily, my friend Zach lead the way and he loves to camp! It's just camp camp camp day and night with this guy. He has a camp stove, a bear bag (this is where you keep your food not your bears...unless you eat delicious, delicious bear), various tarps, and an extra tent for myself and my pal Robin who would have been sleeping on the dirt with me otherwise. He also had lots of great advice, like "Don't wash your face with the water we cooked pasta in," and "Don't bring berry scented lotion to the woods full of bears".

Some of you (I mean the two people who read this blog) may know how terrified I am of sleeping out of doors. Like most unreasonable fears this one has waned through practice or the 'facing' of fear. I've slept in a tent a few times now without prescription drugs OR a panic attack and though I went to bed that first night startlingly sober (though he packed everything else Zach forgot the bourbon) I believed in the possibility of sleep and not that I would be murdered by an itinerant woodsman.

Fear is not the same thing as discomfort and within the hour both Robin and I were shivering in our sleeping bags. At least that's what she claims. Every time I looked over at her she was calmly breathing out frozen white puffs. According to her she tossed and turned and declared me an 'excellent sleeper'. We'd borrowed our bags from a couple who told us they'd slept on the snow with them. We realized they must have zipped the bags together and cuddled but Robin rejected my offer to spoon. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it spoon with you.

The next night I thought, if I could just be warm I would sleep like the dead. But the body wants what it wants. It was warmer but there was no peace. You see, I hadn't packed a mat and through the thin texture of my sleeping bag I felt every rock and clump of grass and rabbit dropping held together by the hard hard cold cold ground. My eyes closed occasionally but that was as close to sleep as I got.

Since this trip I've thought a lot about what's the least amount someone would need to live in the woods and though there are many people who actually have the experience to answer this question let me dwell on my suppositions a moment. Fire. Food that wont quickly perish, until you learn to throttle squirrels for soup. Good walking shoes, until you walk them off your feet and develop a thick sole of skin. A tarp. A place to sleep. Well, I seem to be wavering here...because what is necessary to living in the woods depends a lot on how much you want it to be like living in your home. One could slowly shake off what is vital to a civilized life and keep only what is vital to survival. I don't think of that as a romantic idea. Being uncomfortable is hard. And if you're going to live in the woods, well, why not build a cabin? As camping goes we were in a pretty good place, not a cabin but there was a nylon roof keeping the rain and some of the bugs out.

I still don't have a permanent home but when it happens how will I face the flood of...stuff? All the lamps, the mattress, the bags and bags of clothes I never wear, boxes of books to the ceiling, letters, photos, drawings, twenty-five years worth of knick knacks pouring in on me from storage to be sorted through and categorized and valued again. They wont take it well if I say, "Sorry. You're not vital to my survival." Then I imagine myself in a bare room, in a poorly insulated sleeping bag tossing and turning on the floor. But hey, at least I don't have BAGGAGE! There must be a happy medium somewhere.

Wait, before I finish I just want to mention the bugs again. There are a lot of bugs out there. Ticks especially. Zach had a handy little plastic tweezer to pull them out. Robin was covered in them every time we came back from a hike. I never found any on myself but did enjoy mooning her under the pretense of a tick search. The thing about bugs is in the city we think of them as scurrying around the floor, hiding in the dark until we go to bed. It's a war and we think by keeping our homes clean, lining the cracks with poison we'll win every skirmish. But as soon as you go out where there are more trees than people you can see the fallacy in this thinking. Bugs in the woods are not shy, they're not gonna hide and you're in THEIR house. A tent is basically a little air bubble where you can breath without inhaling gnats.

I'm in the woods again, in a cabin actually, and the line where my house ends and the bugs' begin is blurry. There's no heat and the screen doors droop on their hinges. I have to evict squatting spiders and hypnotized moths pretty regularly, ants swim in my honey and this morning I killed a mosquito helping itself to the buffet of blood in my eyelid. Later I was walking along the road and saw a black raspberry bush, the last of the season's fruit glistening on its stems. Falling on it like a gremlin, I ate what was there leaving nothing for the birds or neighborhood children. When I stood up I checked my legs, for ticks of course, but found instead a little red stowaway, a ladybug clinging desperately after what surely must have been a traumatic trip through space.

I recited the old rhyme. Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home...and just like that she spread her hard candy wings and fluttered off. It was kind of like magic and I appreciated that she didn't let me get to the grim conclusion...Your house is on fire and your children are gone. Now trying to imagine my future home I keep thinking of the ladybug's scorching tinderbox. The tiny firetruck manned by grasshoppers. Her (many?) eyes reflecting the dying flames and charred remains. She'll have to rebuild.

On our third day of camping we woke up to pouring rain. We shook out our temporary homes, rolled them up and packed them away. When we got off the train we went en mass to a friend's house for showers, a hot meal, Pictionary and a big bottle of bourbon. Damp cold and sobriety has its place...but not at MY place. That much about my future residence I do know.