Category Archives: Spirituality

Why Didn’t I Leave Brooklyn Sooner?

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Why didn’t I leave the City sooner? This is a question I often ask myself. I’ve been living in the Hudson Valley for two years after living in Brooklyn for fifteen. My last few years in Brooklyn were like being in a bad relationship, it held so much promise but really couldn’t deliver. Like somehow if I stayed there maybe my dreams of being a writer-musician-wunderkind would come true, but in reality I was working so much I had nothing left at the end of the day to pursue my creativity.

I stayed because of my business. I just didn’t know how I would make money somewhere else. I stayed because of my ego. There’s some kind of identity of being a New Yorker that I wanted to hang onto. I had worked so hard to carve out my little niche that I was reluctant to give it up.

But I was so stressed out from the noise, crowds, constant stimulation, and work that my adrenals were shot, my system was inflamed and I became depressed. Everything looked great on paper- I had the business, husband, apartment but then I couldn’t get out of bed. The suicidal thoughts came and wouldn’t stop which led to shrinks, more and more meds, hospitalizations, and eventually ECT (electroshock therapy), which affected my memory and left me a shell of my former self.

We couldn’t keep going in the city. I somehow sold my business during all this, and while I was on my psych hospital tour of 2015, my husband moved all our stuff into storage upstate. We moved into the tiny weekend cottage in Catskill that we had been renting for a few years. No jobs and no guarantees that we were going to be ok. Nothing.

I wouldn’t have ever left if I hadn’t gotten so sick, that I am certain of. I would’ve worked myself literally to death. But now what would become of us?

The same day my husband moved our stuff into storage he got a job interview in his field up in Albany and he actually got the job. It was a 45-minute commute, but some people do that or more in the City crushed in a subway car with half of humanity. A typical NYC kid he’d only gotten his license in the past year after a lot of prodding from me. Now he had to buy a car and drive to Albany every day. Thankfully, the thruway between Catskill & Albany traffic really isn’t all that bad. His commute would be air conditioning, music, and mountains on either side, not riding in a subway car with a pair of discarded shit filled underwear across the aisle like he did his last few weeks in NYC.

I, on the other hand, was a mess. The depression was better, but I wasn’t totally out of the woods. I struggled with the trauma of the past year in hospitals and losing my life in the city, my business, etc. I worried the only job I could get would be working a Target at the depressed Hudson Valley Mall. But at least I’d have a nice view of the mountains. If I had to work at Lowes the same was true. And if I worked at Stewarts at least I’d probably get free ice cream.

One thing we held onto in this transition was the fact that none of our friends who had left the City and moved upstate said they regretted it and wished they could go back. They had vibrant lives and families and time to enjoy them.

For work I boarded and trained dogs and I opened a small gift and pet related shop in Saugerties called Dogerties. I had always wanted to have a little shop and the rent was so reasonable. I couldn’t have afforded to do it in the City. I started sewing and making dog coats, pillows, and bandanas. I had always wanted to learn to sew but never had time. While I was sitting in the slow shop I wrote and played music a little, but mainly I just recovered from the past year or years it had taken to get me to this place.

We were able to buy a house, a simple ranch on 7 acres, with a creek and mountain views. Our mortgage is less than a studio apartment in the City. We could sit out on the back deck and watch the pink and orange sunset over the mountains.

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I took my dog for walks on the different trails nearby, the Comeau in Woodstock, the Lighthouse & Falling waters in Saugerties, some of the easy hikes in the mountains near Tannersville. I read. I listened to music. I slept. I ate and gained weight from the psych meds and not walking everywhere in the City. I went to the gym.

Sometimes, I got frustrated about my weight and tried to go down on my meds or switch and wound up feeling like shit again and going back up. Some days I cried and was scared I was falling back down the hole again, but usually the next day would be a little better. I just had to be patient, which has never been my strong suit.

I met other writers, artists, musicians, and instead of them being competitive as they were in the City, they were oddly nice and supportive. They weren’t worried about who your agent was or how many books or records you’ve sold. There are a lot of sharp elbows in the City. Upstate people are just excited to meet and experience another creative.

Dogerties was losing money despite my best efforts and I knew I would close when my lease was up at the end of the year. I’m glad I got to try having a shop, but honestly, sitting around waiting for someone to come in is not for me. But I value the experience as something I wouldn’t have had in the City. I made friends with the other shop owners in town and met a lot of nice people.

I didn’t know what I would do next, but I got more and more interested in real estate since I had been looking at Hudson Valley & Catskill Real Estate for so many years in the City. The real estate agent who had sold us our house became a friend and encouraged me to study for my real estate license. I passed and got a job at her company. I really enjoy it, but it is a lot of work and you’re never sure if you’ll actually make money. I’ve done pretty well so far selling a few houses in my first year and I hope with the hustle I learned in NYC I’ll be able to make my business grow to sustain me.

I went back to Brooklyn recently for the first time in two years. A lot of friends have moved away and the few we have left there are anxiously hanging on or planning their exit. Brooklyn has become a caricature of itself. Everything is “Brooklyn” loft or “Brooklyn” coffee or “Brooklyn” mayonnaise. I don’t even think Brooklyn is in Brooklyn anymore.

When I moved there in 2000 Brooklyn was creative, rough around the edges, rife with possibility. I see all that more in Catskill and Kingston than in Brooklyn these days. It’s exciting to be a part of a community again where regular not wealthy people are starting out shops, galleries, restaurants, doing their art, and finding their way.

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I think it’s possible upstate because it’s more affordable and there is more down time, which is what Brooklyn used to be. Now Brooklyn is more expensive—the art space that used to be around the corner from me is now a gym, the tattoo shop an insurance firm, the record shop a bank.

I’ll never be grateful for the sickness that drove me out of the city, but I am grateful for the life I have today. It’s quiet, but not boring, there’s actually so much going on in the Hudson Valley & Catskills that I can’t do everything. From music shows, to literary readings, to gallery openings, to hiking, swimming, and farming. I thought I would feel isolated, but I’m always running into someone in town that I know, always meeting yet another City expat or weekender that wishes they could be here full time.

I think the best gift that this move has given me is that now I know I can hustle anywhere. NYC gave me the gift of making me tough, creative, and resourceful and now I get to do that in a beautiful place where I actually have time to enjoy it.

If I could’ve told myself anything a few years ago it would’ve been just to leave. Leave before it gets so bad you have to leave. Life is too short to be miserably hanging onto what you think you are and where you think you need to be. Just fucking leap, you will land and it may be even better than you’d thought it would be.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Catskills, depression, Dogs, Hudson Valley, Moving, Music, NY, Poetry, Spirituality, Upstate, weight loss, Writing

A Simple Heart- My Struggles with Insanity

No one ever really sets out to lose their mind. The hardest part is trying to piece it back together, particularly after ECT. Yeah shock therapy, yeah they still do that. It helps a lot of people but it didn’t really help me. It just made me confused and depressed instead of just depressed. I had 14 of those motherfuckers, so you can imagine it left me pretty confused afterwards. It makes you lose your memory which you’re supposed to get back over time or at least that’s what everyone tells you. I’m still waiting.

I’m not really sure what happened. I’d lived in Brooklyn fifteen years running a successful dog walking, training, and pet sitting service, which I loved. But managing people as it grew was a constant source of stress. As you can imagine the turnover rate is pretty high and people drawn to the profession aren’t always the most responsible. I had one guy lose a whole set of keys twice and then quit and then try to claim unemployment so I’m getting audited by the department of labor which is a nightmare of paperwork.

I was (am) happily married, we had an apartment in a nice neighborhood, Park Slope, until they built the fucking Barclay Center which totally ruined things. They started throwing up high rises left and right and every rich douche from Manhattan started moving in. It became crowded, expensive, and unbearable. I started wearing earplugs just to leave the apartment, sometimes in the apartment along with the fucking white noise machine so you can attempt to sleep through neighbors and sirens and the like.

So we moved to Clinton Hill, a little quieter neighborhood which it turned out was kind of a transportation nightmare with the old neighborhood and work. The G train isn’t the best line to be on. And when you work from home and your business is based in another neighborhood, and parking subway are pretty much ridiculous what do you do? If you are me you have a nervous breakdown apparently.

It wasn’t just that, it was like life was this giant game of Jenga and the pieces kept getting pulled out until the whole thing just fucking toppled. You’ll have to excuse my use of the F-word, I’m hoping at some point this whole thing becomes a spiritual experience but right now it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and there is no other word to adequately express myself.

So one of the biggest Jenga pieces happened that February. We had been renting a cottage upstate a few hours to get away near Saugerties and Woodstock. We paid for it by bringing dogs up for a country get away. We’d sometimes throw 5 dogs in the car and take them up. It was ridiculous. Some of my happiest memories (that I can remember) were there. The dogs loved it and we did too, the simplicity, the nature, the small town.

One time we went to the movies in Saugerties and we got their 30 minutes early to make sure we could get seats like you do in the city. The theater wasn’t even open yet. Turns out they don’t open until like ten minutes before the movie starts because unlike the city doing a normal activity isn’t a shit show you have to plan for as if you’re going to battle. After the movies we’d go get pie at the local diner or visit our friend Rae who runs a kick as chocolate shop/ café that she lets us bring our dog into. We’d take the dogs on nature hikes and send pictures to their owners who were ecstatic because their dogs seemed so joyful in nature.

The cottage we rented from a really great artistic couple of NYC ex-pats who lived in a bigger house on the property. The cottage was small but the land was big, we had a few fenced in areas but were also surrounded but a hill, woods, and a creek. We tested the dogs on a long line always to make sure they would stay close and listed if we let them off leash. They’d swim in the creek chase each other around and basically have a blast. The cottage this place was our safe place our sanctuary from the cares of NYC until February 2015.

norms rock

Norman king of the creek

Norman running free Norman creek

We took my dog, Phoebe, and another terrier mix Norman upstate for the weekend. Norman had been up several times and listened really well so we had no reason to not let him off leash. Phoebe is a smart somewhat mischievous dog who kept testing the boundaries of how far she could go from us. She particularly liked going up the hill on one side of the property to try to find deer poop to roll in which was it’s own joy to deal with. She took off that day up the hill and Norman followed her. We followed them immediately not liking any of the dogs to be out of eyesight. We kept calling for Norman. Phoebe finally came back without him and I knew then something was wrong. I heard a hawk screech above us. I got in my car and started driving up the road to look for him to see if he’d just gotten lost or something. Dennis kept searching the woods. I rounded the corner and there he was dead on the side of the road. Some motherfucker had hit him and didn’t even stop. I screamed and burst into tears. I put him into the car and drove back to the house honking the horn and yelling for Dennis.

Harry and Catherine our landlords came out to see what all the commotion was I was sobbing so hard there was snot running down my face. I could barely speak. I love animals more than people because they have a simple heart unlike people who always have their hearts covered and cloaked by the things they’ve had to live through. There’s none of that with dogs. They just love you. I called Norman’s owners hysterical they couldn’t have been more understanding of the accident. I asked if they wanted me to bring him back to the city or bury him up there. They told me to bury him up there. Harry got a shovel and helped us dig a hole. I wrapped Norman in my favorite Walt Whitman T Shirt and said some prayers. I can’t stop blaming myself.

I was in shock, this couldn’t have happened in our one safe place to one of the dogs I had loved and cared for for years. But it did happen. I haven’t been the same since. If you told me I would lose my mind over a dog dying I would’ve told you to fuck off. I’m from Brooklyn I can handle that. But like dogs I have a gentle heart as much as I try to act tough.

The depression started soon after. First I didn’t want to go up to the cottage, then I didn’t want to be in the city. I started having trouble getting out of bed, leaving the house, basically functioning and showing up for life. Then the suicidal thoughts started coming. I’ve been on meds and in therapy most of my adult life for depression but it had never been like this, it had always been manageable. The hospitalizations started and endless series of doctors in the city and upstate. The darkness came and went but was always there. My mom came up and stayed with me for a while upstate since Dennis was working in the city. I put one of my trusted employees in charge of things for the most part and attended about a month long partial hospitalization program. That helped and the people of Kingston/ Benedictine hospital are very kind.

I decided I couldn’t go back to the city. And even got a receptionist job at the local SPCA. I decided to sell my business. I worked out a deal with another dog walking company I knew. But then after a few weeks I started to feel better and I also started to get scared. How could I let go of the business I had worked so hard to build for a part time job in a city my husband wasn’t even in yet. I went back to Brooklyn and that’s when it got really bad. I asked for the business back and the buyer obliged but I couldn’t run in I could barely function yet again. So I wound up selling it to her again for a smaller percentage. I didn’t feel like I had a choice I was painted into a corner and didn’t exactly have the time or energy or sanity to go looking for another buyer who would keep my employees and customers in tact and happy.

I went back upstate, my mom came back. They put me in the hospital again. They changed my meds again. Nothing but darkness, an empty hole where I used to be able to feel things. I kept asking my mom to kill me. We didn’t know what to do so I drove back to Florida with her. We were scared if she left me alone up there I’d try to kill myself.

A day after we got to Florida they put me back in hospital. Psyche wards are just not a place you ever want to be more on that later. I can’t remember much about that hospitalization because that’s where they gave me ECT. They would put me under 3 times a week and shock me. I’d wake up confused, but I guess they thought I was getting better because they kept doing it. Then they released me on like six different medicines I needed a chart to keep track of. They enrolled me in a Partial Hospitalization Program. On the third day I told them I was having suicidal thought and they kicked me out. They said I had to go back to the emergency room. Fuck that the first time I waited 28 hours to get help there and so far I was still fucked up. They referred me to a shrink who referred me to Wakiva another behavioral treatment hospital.

At this point I had what I know now is called Akathisia which is an inability to stop moving. I was pacing, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sit still. Apparently, this was a side effect from all the medicines I was on. They admitted me at Wachiva to a ward where a woman wouldn’t stop screaming cuss words all day and night which I can tell you doesn’t do a whole lot for your depression. They took me off all the meds then called me bipolar (which no one ever had before) and put me on lithium. I thought it was working cause the shaking and pacing stopped so they discharged me. But then seven nights went by without me being able to sleep. I stayed up all night pacing. (Add More about hospital homeless and starting an AA meeting)

This time they put me in the hospital at River Point (which is nowhere near a river I can assure you). There they took me off lithium and put me on prozac. They eventually, discharged me to their Partial Hospitalization program even though I kept asking if they thought I was ready because I was still crying and having suicidal thoughts. They told me to let the meds kick in. They didn’t so the new doctor I started seeing put me on Brintellex. Which mad me nauseous and gave me diarrhea. I’ve been on it 3 weeks, with lamictal, and kolonopin. I had a good week when I was going down on the prozac and up on the Brintellex but then he tool me off the Prozac. Suicidal thoughts again.

Meanwhile my husband Dennis up in NY and I guess I (don’t remember) decided to sell our apartment and move upstate. He got a job and moved everything. Himself with the help of some of our friends. I want to go back but I have to get stable enough. I had a dream the other night that I hung myself at the cottage which was enough to scare the shit out of me. I don’t know what to do at this point. I’m sleeping on my parents couch and going to partial. I’m scared sometimes to leave the house or drive but I’m making myself.

I’m in AA for 18 years so I go to meetings and call people. I do step work. I’m trying to change my belief in God to something more positive working the second step “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” but I’m so fucking mad at God right now. All I’ve done for the past 18 years of my sobriety is try to help other people get sober, do service work, even in my job I just wanted to help people and when I really, really need and am begging God for help it feels like he’s nowhere to be found. I suppose he’s in the people who have helped keep me alive until now. But I just keep begging for this depression to lift. I want what’s left of my life back. I miss my husband. I’ve been in Florida for four months trying to get well. My poor fucking parents. They are saints of patience. I just keeping praying for God to heal me. There are days I feel like I can’t go on but I can’t just kill myself. It would hurt too many people, and I know this is just my diseased mind.

NYC pissed me off a lot but I don’t know if I was ready to leave my business, apartment, and friends. Not in this way. It didn’t feel like much of a choice. It seemed like survival. Sometimes, I wish I could’ve stayed there and gotten the help I needed and gotten through it. Maybe I could have but that isn’t what happened. When I get well I don’t know what I’m going to do in rural NY. I suppose I can do some pet sitting, I want to learn dog grooming, and I can still train dogs. That part of my memory seems to be coming back. I don’t know when this will lift. I’m hanging on by a thread, hopefully someday I’ll be able to help someone else with this experience. If I make it through. I’m a goddamn warrior though, I’m not going down with out a fight.

normanface

Here’s a poem I wrote for Norman and his folks

Pay Attention!
for Norman

You had so much to say when I met you barking, Look a dog!
A pigeon!
Look a lady smiling!

Would you look?!
Do you see?!
Barreling breathlessly along with an occasional hop Your short legs struggling to keep up
With your riotous exuberance for every creature Under the wide open sky. Shiny under-bite smile Electric shock of white hair and brown eyes beg Pay attention!
Do you see that hawk over the hill?!
River rock juts up and out, a perfect perch
for you to survey all of God’s creation.
Pay attention!
Don’t worry, just run through green fields
Chase me or I’ll chase you!
Pay Attention!
Remember to play, and jump, and tease despite The cold November freeze and chest aching.
Cold has come and grey has settled into winter.
I will always remember what you taught me
to delight in the trees and wonder at the flowers, insects buzzing. The Spring must come again
with new life blooming, and we will pay attention.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Dogs, God, NY, Poetry, Spirituality, Upstate

The Catch of Marrakech

Djemma El Fna

Djemma El Fna

“Why do you want to go to Morocco?” was a question I was asked a lot leading up to my recent April 2013 trip there. The short answer is: curiosity. The longer answer is: As a musician who’d played in bands for years, I started getting really into world music field recordings in 2007. I was disillusioned with the hyped & moneyed nature of the American music scene, and found these recordings of street musicians who had made their own instruments and were just playing for the joy of it really inspiring. Plus an Oud played through a crappy amplifier sounds like an extra awesome electric guitar. So much so that I’ve been using effects pedals etc. trying to add this element to my guitar sounds.

Ever since I saw Sublime Frequencies film “Musical Brotherhoods from the Trans-Saharan Highway”

I have wanted to go to Marrakech, Morocco. I wanted desperately to see the street musicians play in the Djemma El Fna,  a public square full of magicians, snake charmers, storytellers and musicians. This square is so historical and unique that it has become a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site to protect it from development.

Finally, 6 years later I started my own music project called NEON GRLZ  using drum machines, world music samples, and my guitar and vocals. I began recording my own samples of various street musicians and sounds. I decided I wanted to make videos as well, it seemed like it was finally time to go to Morocco.

NEON GRLZ

NEON GRLZ

My husband and I booked tickets to go to Marrakech for a week. He did Middle Eastern Studies for his first Masters Degree, lived in Rabaat for 3 months in college, and speaks a little Arabic so I thought I’d be in good hands traveling with him. The first day in Marrakech we spent an hour trying to hunt down our luggage at the airport. It had been shrink wrapped into unrecognizable shapes by the airline but we finally found it. We were taken by cab to the winding streets of the Medina, within the walls of the old city of Marrakech.

A man from our Riad (Moroccan version of a Bed and Breakfast or as I called it a Bed and Bread- since Bread was our breakfast for 7 days) came and met us at the car and led us through a maze of narrow streets to our Riad. We managed not to get run over by scooters with whole families crammed on them. The Riad was nice but, we were traveling pretty budget and our room was fine but had no real windows only some small ones by the floor of our room for ventilation. I guess staying in a bunker wasn’t so bad as it was a quiet den away from the busy streets of Marrakech.

Once we were settled they served us mint tea in the courtyard. We trekked through the Souks (think crazy big mazelike flea market) with men calling out trying to sell things to you. Haggling is a big thing here. They will tell you a price 6x or more than the worth of an object and it’s up to you to try to haggle them down to a reasonable price. I am a great haggler in America and have haggled my way through Mexico, Russia, and Europe so I thought I’d be fine when I was ready to buy things. Nope; these guys are pros. I walked away from every purchase during the week feeling I’d been ripped off to the point I just stopped trying to buy anything. The extent of the stories they will tell you to get your money is pretty remarkable.

Minaret

Minaret

We made our way to the Djemma El Fna. Finally, I was here but it was day and only the snake charmers and orange juice sellers were out. Upon closer view/proximity of the snake charmers they start asking for money. You give them money and they say they want more which is kind of a turn off. Not to mention most of the snakes look either dead or half dead. I shrugged this, the miserable monkeys on leash, and sad shriveled donkeys off determined not to let my dreams of this place be shattered. See I felt like going to Morocco with all their sacred music and calls to prayer echoing would be a Yatra or a pilgrimage to a holy place. But I had a sneaking suspicion I’d been a bit mislead in my thinking. We ate the first of many tagines walked around some more.

We got lost trying to get back to our Riad and a little kid helped lead us back. We gave him what we thought was a respectable tip and he yelled at us that it was not enough. My husband told him if it was not enough he could give it back and the kid ran off. We both felt frazzled.

That night we went back to the Djemma El Fna to take some sound and video samples. The Gnawan and other musicians were amazing. But again we gave money and were almost always asked for more even though we’d given a good amount. The Djemma El Fna was overwhelming in good and bad ways. I had trouble making sense of my feelings and was beginning to feel serious culture shock. We ate at one of the food sellers and my husband had Pastilla, which was unclear whether it was chicken or pigeon, but I suppose it was safer than the goat and Sheep heads some people were bravely eating.  On our way back to the Riad/Bunker a woman grabbed my hand and began painting on it with henna before I could say no. I finally gave her some money to let me go and stupidly wondered back to our bunker feeling as though I’d been mugged.

Henna Mugged

Henna Mugged

The next day we wandered into the New City (built by the French during their occupation) and went to the Jardin Marjorelle and Berber Museum. The garden and wide streets leading there were a nice change from the crowded, small, winding streets of the Medina. Never had I been so happy to walk by the familiar golden arches of McDonalds. We went to the Djemma again that night for footage and sound and found a few musicians that were cool with what we gave them. But the constant harassment by others in the square sent us back to the Riad early.

Jardin Marjorelle

Jardin Marjorelle

We had scheduled a Moroccan cooking class and tour of the Souks the 3nd day. I asked our guide, a Dutch woman, who had moved to Marrakech several years before about what was appropriate to give to musicians and she told us an amount smaller than we were even giving. I had immense respect for her as an expat who had been able to make her way in this strange place that seemed so into ripping off foreigners. Say what you want about NYC but if you ask someone directions they will just tell you, not try to purposely mislead you to get your money. If you ask a price they will start with a pretty fair one. I get it, I’m American and probably a lot more well off than many of these folks, but I’m not rich by any means so I got pretty offended when I was trying to be kind and respectful adn was told it wasn’t enough.

Souks

Souks

I started having intestinal issues probably from eating in the Djemma and a few days of eating things my body wasn’t used to. This led to nausea and other unpleasant things the rest of the weak. By day 4 were ready to go on our day trip to the coastal town of Essaouira.

As opposed to the Pink City of Marrakech, Essaouira is a blue and white port town. It had a much more chill feeling, though I got ripped off there too when I bought a bracelet I was told was old silver but turned out to be something that left green band on my arm. I did however wander in to Bob’s music (named for Bob Marley) and got a castanet lesson from the kind proprietor there. Essaouira holds a Gnawa Music Festival there every year and its laid back atmosphere brings many hippies and musicians there. I bought some castanets, which are actually harder to play than you would think. I got carsick on the two hour drive back to Marrakech.

Essaouira

Essaouira

This led to my first ever travel meltdown where I felt I’d seen/done enough and wanted to go home early. My husband convinced me it would be more difficult to change our tickets and we should just stick it out. I felt ashamed that I was crazy spoiled American as we went to McDonalds the next day and mostly hung out in the New City which had a more European feel. My husband tried to console me by telling horror stories about his time in Morocco in college. I couldn’t believe he’d lasted 3 months there. It was just so radically different, which at times was beautiful and at times really, really frustrating.

Our final few days we spent mostly in the New City eating a Fast Croke and other French inspired places. We went on another day trip to the High Atlas Mountains and Berber villages but it was pouring rain and again I got carsick on the winding mountain roads.

Berber village in High Atlas

Berber village in High Atlas

I was really relieved when it was finally our day of departure back to America. I appreciate my cushy American life so much more. The odd thing is looking through pictures I’m glad I went although I wish I’d only done a few days in Marrakech and more days in Agadir or Essaouria or Spain.

Perhaps, now in my 30’s I’m less adventurous than I was in my 20’s. I place a higher value on being comfortable. I was so uncomfortable all the time in my teens and twenties that a trip to an uncomfortable place didn’t faze me much. Now I like my routines, my husband, apartment, neighborhood, and my pain in the ass dog. I am humbled by this, as I used to think I was so adventurous. I guess my home in New York City is all the adventure I really need for the time being.

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Filed under God, Music, NY, Spirituality, Travel

C-C-C-Changes!

Wow so much has happened since I wrote in April! Phoebe the dog is an agility star- super smart, motivated to please, and doing great in our household. In less that a week Dennis and I will be married and headed to Paris for our honeymoon.

Getting married is totally weird. First of all, I thought it was all about the couple getting married, but I see now that was pretty naive. It turns out its like planning a big event for your family and friends who often have their own ideas of what a wedding is or should be. I have been really surprised by some of the people I thought would come that aren’t going to make it, luckily a lot of people have come out of the woodwork to show up. This whole experience has made me re-examine some of the relationships in my life because a lot of them are not what I want them to be. I’ve had a lot of close friends move in the past few years and sadly we aren’t as close, I realize I need to put more effort into finding local supportive friendships with some new folks, and its hard to make new friends at 33 years old. I think running my own business I have often let my relationships take a backseat to work. I’ve gotten a lot of perspective and I know I need to make some changes.

So the wedding is happening this Saturday in Prospect Park at 930am, hopefully it won’t rain! The dogs are a part of the ceremony though we’re pretty sad that we lost our best man Rusty a few weeks ago. He had struggled with his health over the past few years and we finally had to let him go. He was an amazing dog and we miss him terribly. I wrote this poem for him a while back (of course wordpress is messing up the formatting)

Rusty photo by Dennis Riley

Tug of War

For Rusty

What happened to you? Gregarious guy knocking

me aside, running up slippery stairs ebullient, bone

in mouth, hopping on the hairy bed fit for a king,

you allow me in, but not to sleep. Stir morning

wake and all eighty pounds of you bounds down

upon me, sniffing and licking, painful paws digging,

giant head nosing and nudging me to my feet. Big

body barking like a girl, not even a bellow, a shriek.

Pulling me to the park, off leash beseech the squeakiest

ball, so you can feel like you’re a crazy killing machine.

Drop for catch, wait until I bend down to scream-plead

your demands into my panged ears. Once you’ve caught

your kill between big teeth you fake fetch tricking

any empty hand in your lair into and unwitting game

of Tug of War. You won’t let go, after only six years

no more Prospect Park’s green and trees. Your solid

stride scarred and clicking from surgery. A clock

making us all more aware of time and how little

of it there is. We are all going grayer, clinging

to anything solid in this turbulent sea.

——-

Rusty and all the dogs teach me to stay in the day/moment because that’s all we really have and we are lucky to have it. I’m very grateful to have met my match and to be going into this new phase of life with him. More soon about the wedding and our parisian honeymoon!

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Giving up Ego for the Holidays

Dog Nativity pic borrowed from Tamara Dormer's facebook profile : )

Happy Holidays everyone! I can’t believe it has been two months since I last blogged but a lot has been going on. I guess I’ll just start where I left off at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Despite it being an amazing learning experience and forming great relationships with the other trainers and the dogs out there they didn’t choose me for a Dog Trainer position. I am really disappointed on a professional level, but on a personal level I feel relieved. I would’ve loved to work with the amazing people at best friends but my fiance wouldn’t have been able to move out there for a while, if at all- there aren’t exactly a ton of archiving jobs in the middle of Utah. I hope to be doing some work with them locally with their Community Training Partners Program and have kept in touch with the trainers Pat, Jen, and Tamara since I got back to New York. It’s tough on the old ego but I think it’s for the best. Looks like the dogs I worked with are continuing to make progress. I spoke to pat the other day on the phone and he said Sir Uno is running around like a puppy playing which is huge. There’s some footage here. Firefly has continued to make progress with her dedicated caregivers/ trainers and was adopted! More here. So the good work is still being done and I’m getting to do work locally helping out with Pets for Life/ Safety Net Program and volunteering regularly at Sean Casey Animal Rescue in addition to training pet dogs in Brooklyn.

A week after I returned to Brooklyn I moved in with my fiance. Perhaps the old Higher Power knows what he’s doing. Had I gotten the job in Utah I would’ve had to postpone moving in and getting married and those are two things I’m glad I didn’t have to give up. They say “Rejection is God’s Protection” and perhaps our relationship wouldn’t have weathered the whole Utah Brooklyn separation well. Moving in has been great but its also been a trip since both of us have lived alone for the past ten years. So far we and the cats are getting along with minimal hissing. We’re starting to plan our wedding for Memorial Day weekend 2011. Hopefully also with minimal hissing.

On the writing front I’ve decided to stop blogging for BOMB after a year and a half to focus on my own writing, getting married, and doing more work with animal shelters. I love poetry and writing but ultimately my priorities are spiritual- the relationships in my life and being of service to the community with my skills. Creativity is important but at the end of my days I think I’ll be more concerned with how much I loved and helped people and not how much I published. I think the publishing thing is just ego. Ultimately it’s the being creative that makes me feel good, publishing anything only gives short term satisfaction.

Its funny how I let my ideas of what I think my life should be or look like effect my happiness in life. My life looks nothing like what I thought it would years or even months ago. When I can let go of my ego and ideas and accept that maybe I don’t know what will ultimately give me lasting satisfaction and be grateful and accepting of the blessings that I have today, only then can I really be happy.

Phoebe photo by Dennis Riley

For today I’m grateful that:

I get to have a sleepover party with my pal Phoebe.

I have awesome people and animals in my life and we’re all healthy.

I took Christmas weekend off work and am going to see Peewee Herman on Broadway.

It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Happy Holidays!

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In memory of Tom “Bones” Miquel

I wrote this poem about the Slope last year. My friend Tom “Bones” Miquel recently passed, so sadly I wanted to put this poem (please excuse word press screwing up my format) up on the ol’ blog in his honor. He left us way too soon.

Slope

“I’m not much for gossiping, but I do like to talk shit.”

The Slope Opera’s in full swing so-and-so is coming

out in full lesbian fashion. So-and-so’s shift missing

got them expelled from the Food Co-op. No more

fresh greens, crowded shelves, long communist lines.

Walking along 7th Avenue, Bones, a bearded tough

motorcycle guy, drives by in his little pink Barbie

car while stroller moms saunter and stare hogging up

the sidewalk. Dogs stop and sniff Marty’s restaurant,

La Taqueria, with its psychedelic murals and burly

bean burritos, but pass on by pulling to Prospect Park

to bound around off leash and swim at dog beach

(which is really just the edge of a lake). I walk on

to browse the crowded shelves of the Community

Bookstore. I step over the two old dogs sleeping

by the new release hardcovers and head to the poetry

section. Run my fingers along the colorful spines,

huff the dust and ink and all the musty spent sweat

of the writers who’ve gone before me. I search to see

who I’ll be sandwiched between when it’s my time

up on that wall with all the language queens and kings.

Beside me to one side perhaps orphan Corso bopping

with the Beats, The Bridge of Hart Crane, and old ee

in all his eccentric glory. To the right this tenderness

comes from Mark Doty, Rita Dove’s smart line struts

on by Denise Duhamel’s sassy sestinas. All of us up

there together getting dusty on the shelf pressed tight

together our slick, sharp corners softening with time.

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Me, an almost cult member?

Milo Breaking the Law photo by Dennis Riley

Milo Breaking the Law photo by Dennis Riley

I believe in God, but I have a hard time with religion. I know it might be controversial to speak so frankly about this in a public forum like a blog, but after last week I feel like I must. I don’t think I’ve ever not believed in God or a higher power even though there’s been many times I’ve been angry as hell with him, her, it. I believe there’s a God because my life makes no sense at all on paper and yet it is. The fact that I’m able to make a living dogwalking, that there is music and poetry, that I’m in a beautiful relationship, that I survived my insane adolescence and have been able to help others with all of my experiences. My prayers and resulting coincidences-there just can’t be that many. In an intellectual place like New York City it seems almost taboo to believe in God or talk about it, like it somehow makes me inferior but I find that if my spirituality is in check and I seek that first everything falls into place. When I seek the things of this world first- power, money, fame, success-I’m miserable.

So in my spiritual quest I’ve gone to different churches, temples, and meditation centers. Until last week, I’d been going to one in particular for about six months. I’m not here to slander anyone so I’ll exclude the name, I’ll just say they practice christian mysticism. There were things in the practice that were hard for me to be open-minded about from the beginning but I always try to put my cynicism on the shelf as Herbert Spencer said “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

So in this christian mysticism center they’re big into one taking a formal teacher. The first step to this is a life retrospection, in which you meditate each day on a year or two of your life and write down anything with an emotional charge. You write more about the feelings than a play-by-play of what happened and you share this with the priests at the center. This retrospection is followed by baptism. Once you go through these steps and wait a few months you can apply to be a student. I did all of this then they gave me the student guidelines. The guidelines were attending two  6:30 am morning meditations, two 2 hour classes a week and Sunday service, and tithing 10% of your income. Essentially, attending 5 times a week, which is a lot. Anything one wants to get better at they have to give time to so I figured I’d try this for a few weeks and see if I could do it. Those two weeks were really hard on me, I was working a ton and totally stressed out and this just added to it. Towards the end I had a meltdown and decided I just can’t do all of that in addition to my already full life running my own business, having a relationship, writing etc. I believe God is supposed to add to your life not take from it and that’s what I felt like was happening. I had a horrible nightmare that night that I was dog sitting for someone for several weeks and I kept finding things in the house that were broken, but the dog and I were not breaking them. Frames that had fallen off the walls smashed  on the floor etc. I called the owner and told her about the broken stuff and she said, “That’s probably my Grandmother who has Dementia. She lives there, haven’t you seen her?” I said no and went to look for her. I found a terrifying old woman in a closet. I woke up screaming covered in sweat and goosebumps. The next morning I sent an email to the priests telling them I couldn’t be a student. One wrote back to me saying that I would never get out of “the mess” I’m in without their help and that I should stop “running away like I’d habitually done.” Whoa, first of all what mess? My life is pretty great and I’m generally pretty happy. Secondly, anyone who knows me, knows I don’t run from anything. I face my problems and I tend to stay in situations probably longer than I should. The only things I’ve ever run from have been things that weren’t healthy for me. Example: When my band Terset broke up on tour and left me in North Carolina did I go home? NO! I rented a car and went and played shows by myself, talk about hanging in there! The only reason these people probably think I run was because they were always trying to get me to stay longer and I had stuff to do! After two hours at church I’ve gotta get going, a girls gotta make a living etc!

Obviously, this was a huge red flag to me. It seemed like they were trying to manipulate me with the personal information they’d gotten from me in the retrospection. I began to do research on this spiritual center online. They have locations all over the U.S. It turns out there have been a few news articles contemplating whether this place is a cult. There’s also a website by a former priest in the order that has corresponded with people who’ve left the order themselves and family members who’ve been abandoned someone who’s joined the order. I was shocked, I think of myself as a pretty intelligent person who wouldn’t get sucked into a cult but it seems that may have been what was happening. It did feel like they were trying to suck me in and now I felt like leaving was choosing my life over God. Obviously, I needed a bit of deprogramming. It turns out none of these “priests” went to a formal seminary. They have their own training program in the order and wear priest collars. As one of the family letters said “Wearing priest’s clothes and calling yourself a priest does not make you a priest. Using the Catholic Church’s garments is akin to someone dressing up as a policeman. When someone meets them, they are perceived differently because of what they are wearing. It is a psychological trick.”

I personally don’t believe God wants people to abandon their family to “follow” him. I always had a problem with Buddha for this reason. I just don’t think being a renunciate helps anyone. Maintaining your spiritually in the world- now that’s a challenge! Frankly, I learn more from people who have many life experiences and get through them instead of cutting themselves off from normal life.

Needless, to say I’m interpreting my nightmare as a sign that there was something not right all along and this isn’t the path for me. I’m grateful to have realized this before they got their hooks to far into me. I’ll continue to pursue the spiritual path but I think this experience along with others I’ve had definitely makes me weary of formal religion. What’s the old saying? Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there. People are fallible and shouldn’t dictate others moral code. Spirituality is a highly personal thing that must be decided by the individual not the group. All I know is I feel God when I hang with the dogs, when poems come through me, when I witness the love between my friends, family, and I, and when I stop and marvel at the trees or the city. That’s all I need to know.

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