I’ve been in a fog the last few weeks. Focusing on work, the novel, yoga. Periodically, I’ll look up and see the looming deadline of a cross-country move coming up and I’ll be like, “Oh. That’s nice,” and go back to work-novel-yoga. I started getting cranky with even the most supportive, well-meaning questions and comments about the move. I’m not good with supportive comments to begin with. I’ve gotten better, but often when people say nice things to me, I usually hide. But on Tuesday night I did a Cleansing (aka a Magickal bath) to remove whatever gunk was messing me up so badly (with sea salt and essential Jasmine) and then dreamed of swimming in a pool filled with the ocean. Ever since then, I’ve been crying. Mourning. They say the three most stressful things for an adult to experience are Death, Divorce, and Moving. Having lived in New York for thirteen years, I’ll add bedbugs and Times Square to the mix, but yeah. Moving is physically, financially, and emotionally vampiric.
Speaking of Vampires, I’d just fled one about eleven years ago….
There I was, staring at the metal bed on the bunk above me–living out of the backpack again…sort of. I was at a festival where I would meet Janet Farrar, but I had a place to go and an actual plan. A few months before, I’d ritually bid goodbye to my original dream of a career in theatre. As it turned out, I just didn’t love it. I loved it in college, but the actual making a living at it sucked a lot. Honestly, it was mostly the cold. To have a career in theater in NYC…it meant leaving your apartment on obscenely cold winter nights. I realized that if I were a writer, I could write from my warm living room in my pajamas, if I so desired. So, one night under a warm summer moon, there on the great lawn where I swore I’d seen Faeries dance, I bid a tearful goodbye to what had been my dream since I was fourteen and firmly re-embraced the dream I’d had since I was six: I would be a best-selling fiction writer.
After the festival, I would move to Greenwich Village. I would take temp jobs and I would apply to graduate school. I would be accepted at all of them and would go to the one who offered me the most scholarship money. Then, I’d spend a few months gathering experiences in NYC and then go off to grad school and become the most famous fiction writer in the whole wide world. It was a solid plan. It would definitely work.
But first, I needed to meet Janet.
Janet and I first met when Tiffany and I were dancing in a thunderstorm in metal-decked dresses. Smoking her cigarette, she wisely warned us about being struck by lightening and like all young immortal twenty-somethings, we were enjoying the attention far too much to get out of the storm. Fortunately, we were not struck. Later in the weekend, we got to know Janet and her husband Gavin even better when we realized that there was some serious energy in the little clique we’d brought together and we didn’t know how to ground it when it took us over. Some scary things went down and J&G saved the day. We struck up correspondence with them which started a whole other adventure.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I moved into an apartment on West 10th street. My roommate was an 88 year old woman whom I’d worked for briefly in my first stint in NYC. Her apartment clung furitively to a space between a dream and a nightmare. It was packed with paper and boxes and everything. As a Great Depression baby, she did not part with anything that had a use at some point. But much of what she kept was gold. The coffee table was one that Burl Ives made for her (they’d dated briefly). Once I came a cross a personal note to her from Vivian Leigh. She’d been an actress during Broadway’s gilded age and had worked with Tennessee Williams and every actor out there including Kevin Bacon (of course). She was sharp as a tack and full of brutal wisdom. One day, when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, wondering what the hell I would do if I didn’t get into graduate school…she pursed her bright-red lips, her eyes rolling up to the white hair sticking up from her head like a crown. “Well….” she said. “You could always become a prostitute.”
Naturally, she didn’t actually mean that, but it did shake me out of myself for a while.
I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself in the West Village. I couldn’t afford to go anywhere in that neighborhood and could barely afford to grocery shop. I took a writing class, studied for the GRE, and of course, struggled to apply to graduate school. I once thought that writing was better than acting because you had to get cast to do your art if you were an actor. As a writer, all you needed was a pen and paper. Except, in my case, I couldn’t even do that. I would sit down to write and the words would not come out. I’d approach the pen and paper with a fabulous idea in my head and it would fall apart about two pages in and I would fall into tears. Nothing I wrote came together well and I knew it. Where was all the talent people said I had as a child? What had happened when I got that first short story published? Had I lost all of my talent all at once? I applied for schools and one by one got rejected from all ten. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had something I felt proud of. But I had nothing. I knew why they hadn’t accepted me. I’d given them no reason to accept me. I wasn’t good. I didn’t have the talent to be a professional writer. I didn’t even have the inspiration anymore. There in the city with thousands of artists, I was stuck and dry and just fucking pathetic.
To break the monotony, I went to an open mic one night in the East Village. It was only five dollars to attend and the beers were even cheaper. It was something. I sat in the back with my pen and pad and watched the debauchery on stage. One woman played a rape whistle. One guy hung tennis shoes from his nuts. This was art? What in the fucking world was happening to art??? Was nothing good anymore? I’d stumbled into the basic metaphor for my creative life at that point–dried up, pointless, and just plain dumb.
But something happened while I was sitting there, watching a dude walk around the stage with shoes dangling from his testicles. I wrote. And once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.
I went back to that open mic the following week.