Picture this: five women standing with their right side up against a wall, right arm stretched up high, singing "Lean on Me." How does this compare to the image that comes to your mind when you read the words "yoga class?"

This was not a spontaneous sing-a-long; the teacher started it.Does your yoga teacher sing pop songs to you? And encourage you to join in? Does your yoga teacher have a "Torture Chamber" sign hanging on the wall? Mine does. He also makes terrible puns.

I take Buddha Body Yoga with Michael Hayes one night a week. I use chairs, bolsters, blocks, blankets and straps for support when I need it. I also use a yoga wall. Michael asks lots of questions. At the start of class he wants to know if anyone has any problems he needs to be aware of. Knees? Back? During class he'll ask, "How's everybody doing?" as well as the really big question, "Are you breathing?" which is actually more of a reminder than a question.

If something hurts, I say so. Michael might make an adjustment that stops the pain, or he might croon a satisfied "yes" which tells me that the stretch is going what it's supposed to do, even if I don't like what it's doing.

I'm never self-conscious about my body in Michael's class. I feel like I can be myself there, make faces and "sound effects"--noises like R2D2 made when it was scared.I may get a little out of hand occasionally, but Michael will just ask--as he did the other night--"Would you like a little cheese with your whine?"

The other day I went to a "real:" yoga studio because I'd registered for a JourneyDance class that was being held there. It was modern, with the "right" decorations, like a wall of bells. It was beautiful, and the majority of the clients and staff would probably be considered beautiful too--young, slender, clad in attractive gear. If I tell you that the studio's web site has a review from Elle magazine, maybe that will give you an idea of the kind of place it is. It felt sterile to me. It felt oppressive. I missed Michael's "Torture Chamber" sign.

How Will My Garden Grow?

I am taking a gardening course, courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden. The classroom is just a couple of blocks away from my office. A six session course, complete with homework. It's ironic, in a way. My high school chemistry teacher passed me (with a D) out of the kindness of his heart, and I once said, "Math will never be relevant in my life." So here I am reading "Botany for Gardeners" and designing a circular house (diameter, anyone? How about circumference?)

Even though I have land, there's really no point in doing much in terms of establishing a garden before I build the house.

So taking the course is an expression of faith, really; the belief that someday this knowledge will be useful.

My parents were not gardeners. We used to have rosebushes on each side of the cement walk leading up to our front door--maybe eight total--and they pulled them out because they didn't want to have to prune them. We had flowering shrubs, but no flowers, except for the violets and buttercups that showed up on our lawn. We didn't grow vegetables either. The autumn before my mother moved out of our old house into her apartment, she talked about cutting down the maple tree in the yard. I asked her why. "It's the leaves," she said. "There are so many of them." I told her to leave the tree--which was dying, because one root had wrapped itself around the rest--for the people who came after us.

I've been thinking about my "dream" garden for a while, and I am overwhelmed by choices.

Since I'm interested in environmental issues, I've been researching native plants. But then I think of peonies. And lilacs. And roses. I think it would be fun to have a rose garden where all the roses would be ones named after famous women. I think of the Lenox tulip vases that my mother has and has never used and that I am determined to use before I die just to see what tulips would look like in them and I want to grow tulips.

I remember the plants around the house I grew up in, and, for sentimental reasons, I want to have them near my house: forsythia, mock orange blossom, bridal veil, lily of the valley, azaleas.

I want to have a moon garden. And an herb spiral. And a labyrinth. And a vegetable garden. And a garden full of witch plants.

And then sometimes, I just want to let the land just be.

Testament of Mary, with Fiona Shaw

Every once and awhile I get a glimpse of what theatre can be. Sometimes I get distracted by the Broadway shows that seem to be put together because a movie or television show was successful, so--hey, let's make a Broadway show out of it! But every so often I have the chance to see an extraordinary actor in a production equal to her talents. It's a privilege, really, to be in the audience for an evening like that. Well in advance of the performance I received several notices warning that there would be no late seating and no intermission for the 90 minute play. (Since I love Wagner, 90 minutes is a mere blink of an eye; nothing to be concerned about.)

I had not read Colm Toibin's book, Testament of Mary. I had not read the Bible, either. And I'm a Jew--sort of. So my knowledge of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of Jesus himself, is pretty much based on what has filtered down to popular culture over the years.

I went to see Testament of Mary because of Fiona Shaw. I think she's an extraordinary actress, and I did not want to pass up an opportunity to see her on stage.

When Julia and I arrived ( we had great seats--5th row orchestra), people were milling about on the stage. Although no one said anything to us, apparently the audience is able to go up on the stage before the performance. Fiona Shaw came out at one point, draped herself with blue fabric, and took a seat. A clear, plastic box was lowered, enclosing her, and a sheer curtain put around the box. There were candles (in glass holders) burning. There was a LIVE VULTURE on the stage. (Julia thought it might have been tranquililzed.)

The public. You can't control them. You can't trust them. When I was in law school I spent four years (at night) studying cases where things went wrong. I kept waiting for a disaster--for someone to try and pet the vulture, for the portly, elderly gentleman with the cane to fall as he walked down the steps off of the stage.

Then the stage was cleared. Fiona Shaw shed the blue fabric, and, wearing a thick hand/arm glove, carried the vulture offstage, flapping its wings.

The play began. This Mary was not docile; she raged--with anger, grief, bitterness, and the contempt of a woman who sees the world made by men all too clearly. Freed from the postures of paintings, she was constantly in motion. When she spoke, it sounded--to me--as though Mary was a working-class Irish woman.

I don't want to give too many details, because I don't want to spoil the play for anyone who is fortunate enough to see it. But I will say that the last line is brutal. And perfect. And, from my perspective, true. How many times have I seen a play, heard a line, and thought to myself, this is the end; that's the perfect line. And then the play went on, for another twenty minutes, or a half hour. But last night--that last line hit me. I felt tears in my eyes.

There are times in the theatre, when applause feels almost inappropriate. And yet, how else to embrace this actress, who has carried us all on this extraordinary journey, who has embodied the vision of a writer, given life to words. All I could think of was, she must be exhausted.

Afterwards, I babbled. I tried to understand the significance of the audience being on the stage before the performance began. I thought, at first, that it was a way of creating intimacy, of breaking down the physical barrier that exists between the stage and the seats. Then I thought that it might be like church. But, going home, I thought about being in New York City and near Times Square and I thought perhaps it was as though Mary was some kind of tourist attraction. And when I came into work this morning, I found an email from Julia (who had patiently listened as I babbled the night before), with her interpretation:

"I wonder if the theater crowds at the beginning were 'tourists'--viewing the relics of a woman and her life that were taken over by the 'followers' and turned into the basis of their beliefs/religion. And perhaps the vulture, a bird known to eat carrion, is a symbol of what the religion did to the meaning of the womans' life. So it's taken off stage when her real self is before us."

I also thought this morning about Jesus having started out as a Jew. During the play, Mary makes a reference to her son going to the temple with his father. Then I thought about the Irish working-class accent and I thought--wait a minute! But in the end that really doesn't matter. It's just another element to mull over, because the play, the performance is not really over. It lingers, whispering to you. That's what art should do.

Baby Song

As a spinster with no siblings, I know very little about babies, but I learned a few things this past weekend when I visited Greg and Andrea and their almost-seven-month old son, Reed. He and I had met briefly at our family's Thanksgiving dinner, but we hadn't really had much time together. I helped Greg to feed him (although I suspect that my inexperience was partly at fault for the mess which resulted in the need for a bath), and Andrea and I both read to him. Reed squealed, laughed and grabbed at a variety of things--toys, a spoon, and a cat who ventured a little too close to him.

Early Sunday morning, as I lay in bed admiring the pattern the leaves from the tree outside one window made on the closed blinds, I heard Reed. I listened carefully. He did not sound distressed, or as though he wanted something. It was more like he was talking. It was almost a kind of music. I remembered hearing a tape of the sounds that whales make under the surface of the water--mysterious and beautiful. Reed's monologue touched me in the same way. I felt privileged to be able to listen in. Although I couldn't understand it, it spoke to my heart.

I thought about how much we rely on words to communicate, yet many times we fail to say what we really mean. I thought about how words can also be the source of many misunderstandings.

How can we glimpse the world as experienced by a seven-month old baby? We can listen--not only with our ears, but also with our hearts.

The Last One Standing

I used to think that once you reached a certain age, death lost some of its power over you. That the more losses you sustained, the easier it became to accept them. But I was wrong. My mother is approaching her 88th birthday. Her mind is still pretty clear, and she doesn't have any serious physical conditions (that I'm aware of). But the web of relationships that supported her for most of her life is falling apart, strand by strand. Her brother. My father. Brother-in-law and sister-in-laws. Her sister.

There were two couples who were a constant part of my mother's life: Mildred and "Buddy," and Irma and Bob. My mother and Mildred were babies together; she's known Irma almost as long. As often happens, the men went first: Bob, then my Dad, and last fall, "Buddy." Now Irma is very ill.

This is one loss I'm dreading. It's as though the three women--Irma, my mother, and Mildred--balance each other in some way. If one leaves, the other two will falter. When I visit my mother, I look at the photographs on the bureau in her bedroom and realize almost everyone in them has died. I cannot imagine my mother's loneliness.

My mother sometimes says to me, "Getting old stinks." It stinks to have the chance to be the last one standing.


Recently a relative told me she envied me because I didn't seem to need a romantic relationship; I was self-sufficient.

It was hard not to laugh, thinking of all the romance novels I've read, all the love poems I've written for men and women who didn't want them or me, all the sappy movies I've watched over and over and all the torch songs I've listened to. Back when I was setting up playlists on my iPod I had one titled, "Loves Me," and another called, "Loves Me Not."

A couple of years ago, in a "getting to know you" chat with the hostess of a house I was staying in while taking a class, she asked me why I wasn't married and I replied, "No one ever asked me."

Is it truly self-sufficiency if being single isn't my choice but merely the result of not being chosen?

When I was in my twenties I had the revelation that maybe, just maybe, there might not be "someone to watch over me," as George Gershwin put it, and so I began living my life as if that were true. What else could I do? I didn't choose to be single; I chose to survive.

People who envy what they see as my "self-sufficiency" don't know there are times when I tell myself it's karma; that I must have done something really, really terrible in a past life to be unloved--romantically--in this one.

People who think I deliberately chose to live my life alone might be surprised to learn there are times when I see my lack of a romantic relationship as evidence that I've failed, miserably, at this business of being human.

But in the end, I'm not truly alone. Ever. There's always the Voice. The one that says I'm not worthy.

"Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying"

This past weekend, while my mother was napping, I watched part of The Shawshank Redemption. Each time I see it I appreciate what a wonderful film it is. This time around, I was moved by the line, "Get busy living or get busy dying." I'm going to be 59 come December, and I've been thinking a lot about the last part of my life. Some people might say I'm being morbid; I think it's natural.

I have no spouse or partner, no children, and no siblings; just cousins, flung far and wide. On the weekends when I go to Philadelphia to take my 87-year-old mother out to the dollar store, out to lunch, out grocery shopping, I can't help but wonder--who's going to do this for me? I'm going to be on my own.

In dreaming about the house I want to build, I'm worried that it's too late; that I've waited too long to do it. I can't deny the good sense of aging in New York City--my doctors are here, there are good hospitals, it's walkable and has good public transporation, there's plenty to do. I can easily see myself as one of the white-haired women with canes or walkers making their way down the aisle at a New York Philharmonic concert or the Metropolitan Opera.

And yet. And yet. I look up at the paint-peeling ceiling of my studio apartment and think: I don't want to die here. I go to Central Park and long to nap in the sun but I don't feel safe enough to do so, and I think of how lovely it would be to have a chair on my own porch or in my own garden where I could doze off at will.

I want to grow my own vegetables and flowers. I want to have a separate bedroom. I wanat to have a kitchen with space to cook in. I want to be able to sleep at night without hearing my neighbor's television through the wall.

Today, on Facebook, I came across a quote of Lao Tzu: "A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live."

Clause Monet was 50 when he bought his house at Giverny. He was 76 when he built a studio there.

On Sunday night I spoke with a friend of mine. I was tired from my weekend travels and shared my doubts about building my "hobbit house." I suspect she was trying to be supportive, and perhaps reassuring herself about some of her own choices, when she agreed with me and said something like, 60 years old is probably not the t ime to do something revolutionary.

But there are those who might tell you that I am, in my own quiet way, very revolutionary.

And that I have, over the last couple of years, done some very revolutionary things.

So it may be that the older I get, the more revolutionary I will become.

Writer Fail

I'm not sure if I'm using "fail" correctly; I've seen it used in Twitter messages. I suppose I ought to call them tweets not messages.

I had intended to submit an application to a writers' colony for next fall. The deadline was yesterday. Oh well, I probably wouldn't have gotten in anyway. Writers' colonies are for literary folk, not people like me who write humor and genre.

I'm embarassed to admit that my (non-digital) writing files have gone missing. I know that they're somewhere in my apartment, but back in August when I was going away to New Mexico for ten days I frantically moved things around in an attempt to make everything more organized and now--I can't find my files.

This is a temporary situation; I will find them, eventually. It's on my list of things to do.

I did manage to find the file with the manuscript of my first novel, which I am re-typing because the only digital file I had of it became corrupt somehow. Now whenever I finish typing in a couple of pages I e-mail them to a gmail account I set up. (Thank you, Wayne Hoffman, for that suggestion.) My second intention (after submitting an application to the writers' colony) was to submit the novel to a contest. The deadline for that is October 31. Any bets on whether I'll make it?

I was motivated to set these intentions by a reading I attended on September 20. My friend Kathleen Warnock hosts a reading series called Drunken! Careening! Writers! at the KGB Bar on East 4th Street on the third Thursday of every month. This particular evening was dedicated to Cheryl Burke, aka Cheryl B., a poet and writer who'd died from complications from Hodgkin's Lymphoma in June 2011 at the age of 38. Cheryl had been working on a memoir when she died, and the writers in her writing group gathered the pieces that she'd shared with them over the years and put them together into a manuscript, which Sarah Schulman, Cheryl's literary executor, then edited and found a publisher for. My Awesome Place is coming out this month from Topside Press.

I used to do poetry slams with Cheryl. We saw each other at readings and literary events over the years. She helped out with several Publishing Triangle events, and we were both part of a small group of of lesbian editors, agents, publicists and writers called All Girl Action that organized a couple of parties and put out a reading list. Cheryl was smart and funny and I admired her a lot, though I never told her so. Because I took her for granted. I thought Cheryl would always be around.

At DCW last month, Kathleen commented that Cheryl had been one of the writers who read at the very first reading in the series. The other two were Mark O'Donnell, and me. Mark O'Donnell died of a heart attack at the age of 58 in August. It was eerie, sitting in the KGB bar and realizing that I was the only one left of that initial trio of readers.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from college told me she wanted to read the novel I was working on at the time--that I'm still working on, sort of. I didn't send it to her because I wanted to work on it some more before I showed it to her; I wanted it to be better than it was. I took Pris for granted. She died when lung cancer spread to her brain.

My friend Bob Smith is an amazing writer. He's fighting a life-threatening illness and I'm rooting for him to win so he can write more books that I can read.

I know so many writers. My cousin Marcy writes EVERY DAY. Every single day. My friend Greg Herren has published more books than I could ever hope to write.

I have so much support from so many incredible people; I get good feedback--and I do nothing. Days, weeks, months go by and I do nothing.

Publicly, I declare myself to be "a writer and poet." Yesterday I got a postcard (through from Marketa, a woman in the Czech Republic, saying, "I admire that you write. That's my other dream. Write book."

I wrote Marketa a message acknowledging her postcard. I told her to write her book. I shared the Mary Oliver quote that I have pinned up on my bulletin board by my desk:"The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

I'm writing this at work. I actually had to close my office door because I started to cry while I was writing it. Go figure.

A Letter to My Father on Father's Day, 1982

Ever since my dad died, I haven't been able to look at Father's Day cards; I hurry past them, or look away. A couple of months ago my mother showed me a letter that I wrote to my dad for Father's Day in 1982. I decided to publish it in this blog for Father's Day 2012. This is unedited, though as I was typing it I definitely had the impulse to tweak it a little. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I miss you every day.

Dear Dad,

Over the years I've tried, in small ways, to give back to you and to mother some of the love and support that I've received, which has meant so much to me. When you mentioned, during your recent trip to New York, that you didn't seem to have much of a chance to talk with me, I started to worry that you've been shortchanged.

So I thought I'd try to compensate by setting down a few of my thoughts for you on this Father's Day, instead of letting Hallmark do all the work. I want you to know that you've shaped my life and the person that I am.

Do you remember the time we went swimming in the ocean and a huge wave knocked both of us over? I lost my hold on you and I remember kicking my legs and pushing up towards the light and the air, and being scared because I couldn't breathe. (I wonder now, if you were scared too--for me? for you?) But then my head was above the water and you were there, laughing and saying something like, "Boy, that was a big one, wasn't it!" Every time I go into the ocean, or even a pool, I think about that, and I realize that if you had fussed all over me (I bet Mom would have!) I probably would have been afraid of the water for the rest of my life.

And every time an election rolls around I remember the time when I wasn't going to vote, and you lectured to me about how important it was to vote, that that was a right we fought for, it was one of the things that made this country what it is; I don't remember the exact words, but I was so impressed by your conviction that I don't think I've missed an election since.

Of course, I remember little things too--how you've patted my hand or squeezed my foot when I was crying or sick, to let me know that you cared.

And I've always been so proud when my school friends would tell me what great parents I have. (Mary Ida once compared you and Mom to characters in a fairy tale.)

We hear a lot these days about the "new" father who gets involved with his children and isn't afraid to show them his love. Well Dad, that's old hat to me 'cause that's always been your style.

Rita "Tuba" (remember her? a friend of mine from camp?) once talked with me about leaving home. "Your mother will cry," she said, "but it's your father who will miss you the most." I've thought about it and decided that she was right.

Happy Father's Day.

Love always,


June 20, 1982

The Machine

My grandparents used to refer to their car as "the machine." At the Metropolitan Opera, it has a very different meaning.

I want to state upfront that I'm just an ordinary audience member with a newfound and growing passion for Wagner but no particular expertise. I did my first Ring cycle at the Met the last year of the Otto Schenk sets, and I'm glad I had the chance to experience them. When I heard that Robert Lepage would be directing the next Met production of Wagner's Ring cycle, I went to see La Damnation de Faust. I admired the sets and loved the music.When the new productions of Das Rheingold and Die Walkure were presented in the 2010-2011 season, I saw them both. In terms of the set, while I liked the concept, I had some concerns about the execution.

When I go to the opera, I want to listen to the music. I object--strongly--to anything that interferes with my listening pleasure, including people talking, people humming along with the orchestra, cell phones going off, and sets that make a lot of noise. More than once I looked around to see where the irritating noise was coming from and realized it was the set.

Now that I've finished my second Ring cycle, I have some questions. (I'm not really expecting an answers.)

Das Rheingold, April 26, 2012 8:30 p.m.

Adam Klein covered the part of Loge (and he did it very well, in my opinion). I couldn't help but wonder how much time, if any, the singers covering for the cast get to spend on the machine. Loge has to walk up backwards, and at one point has to walk across the top of the set with Wotan, both of them attached to wires. It looked like Loge slipped,

Stephanie Blythe, who truly is a goddess, as far as I'm concerned, besides playing one (Fricka), reached out and took Bryn Terfel's (Wotan's) hand at the very end, as they were walking up the planks, which were rising as they were walking. Totally in character as Fricka, Wotan's wife, but was Ms. Blythe also scared--no, that's not the r ight word, I can't imagine Stephanie Blythe being scared--let's say concerned--was Ms. Blythe concerned about the movement of the machine. I wouldn't blame her if she was.

Why is Fasolt's dead body rolled down into whatever is beneath the machine? The program notes state that, "[t]he gods are horrified," when Fafner kills his brother. But when Fasolt's body rolled down the set people around me were laughing.

Die Walkure, April 28, 2012 11:00 a.m.

Why must Brunnhilde be UPSIDE DOWN at the end? The man sitting next to me suggested that Wotan was looking down at her from on high, but I'm not sure that I buy that. Especially since she is no longer upside down when Siegfried rescues her (Siegfried, Monday, April 30, 2012 6:00 p.m.)

Gotterdammerung, May 3, 2012, 6 p.m.

When the Norns are weaving the rope of destiny, why are some of the planks on the set whirling around? I was a nervous wreck watching that scene.

Can we talk about what I believe is known as the Immolation Scene? I was waiting for the people on stage to start toasting marshmallows and switch from Wagner to campfire songs. Major anti-climax.

Finally, I have one question that does not relate to the staging. Siegfried, wearing the Tarnhelm to transform himself into Gunther, says his sword will lie between him and Brunnhilde for the night. But Brunnhilde knows Siegfried's sword, Nothung. In fact, in another scene she proclaims that she knows that sword; it was hanging in its sheath on the walla the night Siegfried made her his. So why didn't she recognize Nothung and wonder how "Gunther" (Siegfried in disguise) came to have it?

I'm hoping to go to Seattle next summer for their Ring cycle. I'd really like to see some other productions. I fear we'll be stuck with the Lepage set for a very long time--probably my lifetime. The Met has invested a lot of money in it. What does it say when there is a tee shirt, a hat, and a magnet devoted to the set? O.K., there's a stick figure of Wotan with a spear on top ot it, but it looks like the set is the star. I think that's what has troubled me all along; the set doesn't feel like a set, it's more like a character in the opera.

On the Met store table, along with the new set apparel, there was a puzzle featuring the old set. I almost bought it.



Yesterday I read that the National Endowment for the Arts had awarded a $40,000 grant to someone to develop a video game based on Thoreau's "Walden." I thought, no wonder the Earth is in the state that it's in; the Earth is no longer real to us.

Then I came home and found a postcard in my mail box from a 13-year old named Wiebke who lives on an island. Wiebke swims in the North Sea during the summer. Reading that, I was reassured--somewhere in the world, a teenager was actually smelling sea air, walking on sand, feeling the temperature of the water.

Wiebke and I have never met. We connected through After registering on the site, you ask to send a postcard. A name and address and an ID number will be given to you (and emailed to you). Some people ask for particular kinds of postcards, and most people give a little information about what their interests are. When they receive your card, the recipient registers it with Postcrossing, using the ID number. Your name is then added to the list of people who will receive cards.

It's an interesting blend of modern technology and old-fashioned communication. I love these brief glimpses into someone else's life. So far I've received 15 postcards from people in 10 different countries: China, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Spain and Taiwan.

While the politicians and one percent go about their dirty business, the rest of us live our lives--riding the subway, greeting colleagues, running errands on our lunch hour, stopping at the store to pick up something for dinner, checking the mail. Mixed in among the pleas for donations and announcements of amazing bargains on things we don't really need, there may be a post card. The image may be a drawing of a sparrow, a photograph of a Chinese monastery, pictures of sea shells. On the other side will be one or two unfamiliar stamps, and a handwritten message from a stranger: "Greetings from beautiful and proud POLAND! I wish you all the best. Anne." Except Anne isn't a stranger, really. 

I can't explain why this makes me feel better about the world; as if these small bits of image and words that have traveled so many miles are helping to balance some sort of scale. It seems to me that they weigh heavily for things that are so light. Maybe knowing that there are people ho want to connect--ever so briefly--reassures me that we aren't as far apart as the politicians and the one percent make it seem.

Simple Joys

My mother asked me to look for a piece of sheet music on the computer--"What'll I Do?" by Irving Berlin. I told her I would, but I wondered if she might have it already. I looked inside the piano bench first. I didn't find, "What'll I Do," but I found my parents' "song," "Always," as well as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "As Time Goes By," among others.

Then I began going through a large plastic box of sheet music in my closet. Halfway through I shouted, "Hah!" and walked into my mother's bedroom, to show her the music for "What'll I Do?" I haven't seen her so happy in a long time.

From the moment she asked about it, I wondered what my mother intended to do with this particular piece of sheet music. After I showed it to her, she returned to her nap and I placed the music on the piano stand.

My mother's parents gave her that piano. I couldn't remember the last time I heard her play it.

After her nap, my mother sat down at the piano, her dominant right arm in a sling, opened the sheet music and began to pick out the melody with her left hand, singing the words softly, in a quavering voice. It was incredibly moving to listen to, and to watch.

A couple of months ago, my mother had asked me if I was going to take the piano, meaning, we both knew, if I was going to take the piano after she died. 

I told her I couldn't. I didn't think I'd have enough room, and besides, I hadn't played the piano in years, wasn't even sure if I could remember how.

But later, I started thinking that I could take lessons again.

Watching and listening to my mother play and sing, purely for her own pleasure, I had a vision of myself sitting there, playing and singing the old standards that I love. My mother, who will be 87 this month, still has things to teach me.


Picture this: five women standing with their right side up against a wall, right arm stretched up high, singing "Lean on Me." How does this compare tothe image that comes to your mind when you read the words "yoga class?"

This was not a spontaneous sing-a-long; the teacher started it.Does your yoga teacher sing pop songs to you? And encourage you to join in? Does your yoga teacher have a "Torture Chamber" sign hanging on the wall? Mine does. He also makes terrible puns.

I take Buddha Body Yoga with Michael Hayes one night a week. I use chairs, bolsters, blocks, blankets and straps for support when I need it. I also use a yoga wall. Michael asks lots of questions. At the start of class he wants to know if anyone has any problems he needs to be aware of. Knees? Back? During class he'll ask, "How's everybody doing?" as well as the really big question, "Are you breathing?" which is actually more of a reminder than a question.

If something hurts, I say so. Michael might make an adjustment that stops the pain, or he might croon a satisfied "yes" which tells me that the stretch is going what it's supposed to do, even if I don't like what it's doing.

I'm never self-conscious about my body in Michael's class. I feel like I can be myself there, make faces and "sound effects"--noises like R2D2 made when it was scared.I may get a little out of hand occasionally, but Michael will just ask--as he did the other night--"Would you like a little cheese with your whine?"

The other day I went to a "real:" yoga studio because I'd registered for a JourneyDance class that was being held there. It was modern, with the "right" decorations, like a wall of bells. It was beautiful, and the majority of the clients and staff would probably be considered beautiful too--young, slender, clad in attractive gear. If I tell you that the studio's web site has a review from Elle magazine, maybe that will give you an idea of the kind of place it is. It felt sterile to me. It felt oppressive. I missed Michael's "Torture Chamber" sign.


Earlier this year I received a letter from a friend in Canada in response to my holiday card. I receive letters so rarely now that it was almost an exotic experience--opening the envelope, feeling the paper, seeing the handwritten pages. As I read, it was as though I was sitting there with Lisa, enjoying brunch and watching the other people in the restaurant. So when I discovered A Month of Letters

--a challenge to mail at least one item through the post every day it runs during the month of February--I signed up immediately, even though the first day--February 1--was more than half over.

I posted an offer in my Facebook status to send something to anyone who sent me their address in a message, but no one took me up on it. I was disappointed, but some people are going to get something from me whether they want to or not.

My first letter, sent on Thursday, February 2, was a card to my cousin Susan, using new stationery I bought on

When I came home that night, there was a postcard in my mailbox from my friend Dennis, a fellow poet and a regular correspondent. I love getting mail from Dennis, as he frequently includes a surprise with his letter or card; I've received poems, books, blank journals and calendars from him over the years. Each communication is imbued with his energy and enthusiasm; I immediately feel as though he's right there with me.

In jotting down names of people to send something to, I've found myself thinking of people I'd like to write a letter to, but can't, because they've moved on to a place there isn't an address for, a place the post office can't deliver to: my father, various aunts and uncles, my grandparents, even some friends. I might have to write some poems instead.



This weekend I was signed up for a two-day course in shamanic journeying. I left at the first break.

Things started off well enough--but then, they almost always do. Then one of the leaders said we would be working with each other, and I dread those exercises where you have to pair off or form a team. I'd thought shamanic journeying was something you could do on your own.

Then the same person started talking about the shaman's use of music and how everyone has their own "soul song." And--spirits forgive me--all I could think of was the movie "Happy Feet," and how that one penguin couldn't sing his "heart song" and had to dance instead. But of course, I don't dance. I don't sing or dance. So I left.

I came home, turned on the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast--a recording of a 1970 performance of "Norma," with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne--and checked Facebook, where I saw Bywater Books question of the week, courtesy of Z Egloff: "What do you absolutely, positively have to do before you die?"

Here's the answer that came to me: nothing. There are things I want to do, things I'd like to do, things I hope to do--but nothing I absolutely, positively have to do before I die.

Even my house--I could just as easily leave the land alone for the rest of my life as build a house on it, and sometimes I think I'll do just that.

This dancing thing--I don't really know how to explain it. At the Body Electric workshops they put on music and tell us to move around to loosen up--they don't even use the word "dance" as I recall--and I'm miserable. I just sort of sway and wait for it to be over. I don't know what I'm so afraid of.

The thing is, I live in my head, and not in my body. In my head I do Irish dances, tap dances, waltzes. Right now I'm hearing and seeing Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain. Last year I imagined myself doing a sort of dance karaoke--an imitation (very poor, at best) of that classic, magical scene in "Singin' in the Rain." I imagined myself doing it in an actual rainstorm. I need to watch the movie again--and again. Maybe I'll learn something from it. Maybe one day I will sing and dance in a rainstorm. Though it isn't something that I absolutely, positively have to do.





Last night I received a book I've been waiting for since September: Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson (Princeton Field Guide). When I walked what is now my land for the first time, I saw birds flying to and fro, and then I saw a dragonfly. If I'm going to be co-habiting the land with him (or her), I'd like to know his name.

Everything has a name. I'm not sure that I really appreciated this until a couple of years ago, when I was walking on Broadway, looked--really looked--at a bird moving around on the sidewalk, and asked myself: "I wonder what kind of bird that is?" (A European starling, as it turned out.) I remember that it seemed like a very important question, one that I had to get an answer to. Finding the answer changed my life, because it changed the way I thought about the world.

Birds, butterflies, bugs, moths, flowers--they all have names. The field guide gives the names of 336 damselflies and dragonflies. 336! Sweetflag Spreadwing, Ruby Meadowhawk, Calico Pennant--the world resounds with the poetry of identity. We're too separate from the natural world--mesmerized by the screens of our electronic devices instead of sunsets--and I cannot help but think that if we knew the names of more of the living creatures we share the Earth with we might be more careful about how we treat it and them.

When I was originally dreaming about my house, I yearned to plant roses, lilacs and peonies. But after spending a couple of hours on my land last fall, I want to enhance what is already there. There are wetlands on the property, some stream frontage, and the pine grove. These are the things that give the land the spirit of place that drew me to it.

I want to learn the names of all the trees, birds, plants and dragonflies on my property. Then, if my youngest cousins come to visit, I want to tell them, "Do you know that everything has a name? You can spend your whole life learning them. Look! Let's start with that dragonfly, over there."


New Year's superstitions: wear red for luck and do whatever it is you love to do and want  to be doing throughout the coming  year. Fortunately, the Metropolitan Opera shop had a red 2011-2012 season tee shirt, which I wore New Year's day with red undies and carnelian earrings. And that afternoon I started sketching a new design for my house. The design I came up with at Yestermorrow in September 2008 was rectangular. But lately I've been thinking about building a round house. When I told that to my friend Manuela at dinner this past December 1, she told me that was the kind of house she'd always imagined me in.

I started researching round houses. Apparently they hold up better than square or rectangular buildings during storms, and are more energy efficient. If you stop and think about it, so much in nature is round or curved. I found some round house floor plans on the web, and began thinking about how to divide up a round space.

Then, on December 31, I had a dream in which I heard the words: "The library is the heart of the house."

I've been planning for a library all along--what writer and/or devoted reader wouldn't?

And so on January 1 I sketched a house plan where the library would be in the very center of the house--a long room with shelves on both sides, and an arched opening--no door.

I'm excited about my house plan. And I've given my home-to-be a name: Grove House, for the grove of pine trees on the land.


At the Architecture and Design Film Festival the other week, the festival Director, Kyle Bergman, introduced me to one of the filmmakers as a poet. In fact, Kyle used some sort of complimentary word right before "poet," but of course I've forgotten it as I only remember the bad things that people say about me. Or that I imagine they say about me. I was touched by the introduction. I've been writing poetry, on and off, since I was a teenager, yet I haven't thought of myself as a poet in a long time. Being introduced that way reminded me of earlier days in New York City when Regie Cabico was curating a reading series, Poets on the Ledge, at a little cafe called Papi Louis. Regie gave me my first poetry reading gig. That was a time in my life when I went to readings regularly, and met a lot of other poets. And the best part about it was that when we saw each other, we talked about how our writing was going, but rarely mentioned our day jobs.

In the process of sorting through the papers in my apartment, I've found poetry and more poetry; more than enough for a book. I've thought about putting a book together before, but I'm serious about it now. A title that I previously considered was "In the Familiar Refuge of Silence," but recently I started thinking about "Armadillo." Feel free to weigh in.

In my decluttering I've also come across encouraging e-mails from other writers that I saved. I suspect that at the time I received them, they were the equivalent of a life raft, something to grab at and hang on to. Unearthing them now feels like finding a message in a bottle; a message from the Universe.

So thank you, Kyle. In reminding me of my past, you have given me a gift for my future. And Universe, keep those messages coming. I'm listening.

A Beautiful Day

What I remember most is how beautiful the day was. So beautiful that you might have been tempted to call in sick or play hooky from school. Not too warm, not too cold, a pristine blue sky. I was working from 9:30 to 5:30 then. And when the subway stopped at Christopher Street, and stayed in the station, doors open, I worried that I would be late. So I left the subway and walked up to the street, thinking I would go over to Avenue of the Americas and take the subway there. When I came out of the station, the street was filled with people looking south. I looked too, and saw fire and black smoke pouring out of one of the World Trade Center towers.

I didn't speak to anyone. I walked over to Avenue of the Americas, discovered that no trains were running, and phoned my office. I got Joanne's voicemail and left a message telling her I would be late. I said it looked like there was a fire in one of the World Trade Center buildings and I hoped everyone was o.k.

I began walking downtown. I passed a truck with its radio on--someone was saying the United States was under attack. The whole situation seemed surreal to me.

Our offices were at 30 West Broadway then--across from World Trade Center 7,  just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center complex. I felt compelled to do whatever I had to do to get to work; I didn't want to be accused of not trying, because it was such a beautiful day. And I wasn't worried--I knew if I got close to any place that was dangerous, the NYPD would have it cordoned off.

I had made it as far as Franklin Street when I heard an explosion. I thought a bomb had gone off. I watched as one of the twin towers crumbled. Then I saw people running toward me on the street, followed by a huge cloud of dust. A voice in my head said, "It's not safe here." I turned, walked up a side street, turned again and began walking uptown.

I felt as though I was doing everything automatically. I saw and heard things without reacting. Walking up one of the small streets in the Village, I heard a man say, "My neighbor's wife works in the other tower, and he's really nervous right now." When I got to 10th Street, across from the Jefferson Market Library, I heard someone say, "There goes the other one," and watched as the other tower collapsed.

I became analytical about my route. I decided to stay on the Avenue of the Americas to avoid the Empire State Building on Fifth and Madison Square Garden on Seventh. When I got to 42nd Street, I went over to Eighth Avenue. As I walked up Eighth people were buying postcards of the World Trade Center. When I reached 59th Street, I thought I'd walk up along Central Park, because whoever was attacking us probably wouldn't bomb trees.

As I walked I thought about my cat, Damon, who had died in May. I wished that he would be there waiting for me when I got home. It occurred to me that I had nothing in my apartment that was alive--no cat, not even a plant. At some point it also occurred to me that I hadn't had breakfast and I felt guilty for wanting to eat. But I was hungry and I bought a bagel at H&H on 80th Street and Broadway.

I remember Regie Cabico called me. And Jason Schneiderman--he was calling everyone he knew, just to make sure they were alright. At some point I called my parents to let them know I was o.k.

Here is something else that I remember: reading in the New York Times that President Bush had visited Ground Zero, and one of the fire fighters, or one of the policemen, had said that he looked "scared, like a mouse." And I remember looking at a photograph of Bush, sitting next to his father at a service in the National Cathedral. Everyone around him appeared solemn, but the President had what looked like the beginnings of a smile on his face. I could almost picture a quote bubble over his head, with the words, "My approval ratings just went up."

In the last ten years, I haven't gone downtown very much. I won't go there unless I absolutely must. I don't understand why people want to visit Ground Zero. I'm appalled by people who sell, and people who buy, fake crystal souvenirs of the twin towers.

They're building another tall building--taller than the lost towers. Naturally, when a phallic symbol is destroyed, there's a lot of anxiety until it is back up again, bigger and better than ever. But I want to ask the architects and contractors and investors: do you want your wife or husband, your daughter or son, your sister or brother to work on the top floor of this building?

I thought they should make a park. A beautiful, peaceful place with lots of trees and flowers, and maybe some kind of non-denominational chapel/meditation space, with materials--building materials, artwork--donated by all of the countries of the world--a true international collaboration. Isn't it amazing that someone who had lived in New York City for 25 years could have been so naive about the realities of real estate in New York City?

The other day on the subway I noticed a face I hadn't seen in awhile--George W. Bush. It was staring out at me from an advertisement for a television interview about his 9/11 memories. I don't often feel the urge to deface advertising on public transportation, but I did then. I wanted to smear that face with blood.