Warning: This is going to feel random. Because it is. Rambling, unplanned thoughts as I sift through the debris of my mind.
It feels like it’s been a year since I posted last, although it’s only since April. An entire lifetime can be telescoped into several months. Since then I made a short trip to NYC to see my kids and wander around. Seeing the kids was great and both of them, who work ridiculously long and hard hours, made sacrifices to hang out with mom in Brooklyn and go to a movie, eat meals out, see a roof top movie (that was fun!) and such. I prefaced my visit with the request that we could use this precious time to “make good new memories,” and I think we did, but they were so tired and I was completely exhausted, not to mention going through the worst IBS attack of my life, that the good memories could be tarnished by the realization that, in fact, we were all disabled and drained for different reasons. I will explain my limp, worn and wearied self below, but they both had good reasons. My youngest daughter, Ananda, as a third-year neurology resident at Columbia University works 80+ hours a week on her feet; many overnights. No wonder she’s tired! BTW we just learned that she received a fellowship from Harvard University in Neurocritical care which will begin when her residency ends! Hurrah for this brilliant and talented and beautiful young woman. I am so proud of her!
My son Ben is a terrific actor who did a wonderful film a year or so ago, “Detonator”, available on Netflix now, and also has a day job at Swayspace in Brooklyn as a typesetter. They work hard, they are in this fast-paced city, and they are young. I am proud of them both so very much. Ben’s a survivor. Since graduating Vassar in 1998 he’s been down in the city pursuing his career and slogging away at his job. It takes guts, determination and dedication. I am rooting for him all the way. I got his back whether he knows it or not.
How would one interpret this picture? Well, first off I would say two tired young people, but upon further examination I would probably conclude two bored and exasperated young people having to spend obligatory time with a mother who traveled by the most horrific train trip imaginable and slept on a stranger’s couch to see them! After all that, they probably figured, let’s deal with her, but let’s not make it too happy! (because we’re not too happy about it). These are my interpretations of course and I could be wrong, but I doubt it. After all, what was I bringing to the table? I am on social security, food stamps and my elder daughter’s total support. I am not generating a dime these days and seem unable to pick up even a short term part-time job. My 30-year canon of writing work has never been accepted for publication, my music has gone by the wayside (I’ve totally lost interest and finally last week I packed up my keyboard to make more room in my flat.) Who am I kidding? I am a failed artist. Without income and no prospects for the future and not even a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend to help foot the bill! A loser, in fact. A total loser. I am sure this is how they perceive me and perhaps I also perceive myself this way.
As the saying goes, however, “If everybody was somebody nobody would be anybody.” The 3-dimensional world would be awfully flat without contrasts. Viva la difference. I am the contrast that makes the winners look good!
Speaking of that train trip–I know I am a kvetch but OY! NEVER AGAIN. And I do mean never again. I think the contrast between my fantasy of what 1) my trip to NYC would be like added to my fantasy of 2) what a relaxing 25 hour train trip would be like and the actual reality, are APPALLINGLY DISCONNECTED. Add to all that sleeping on a stranger’s couch–a very nice stranger I might add, who was generous enough to open her place and her couch to me, a total stranger as well. However, no offense to her, but the couch was exceedingly uncomfortable but, HEY, beggars can’t be choosers, after all. Or as my father said often enough throughout my life, “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.” An exceedingly cynical statement, but, in spite of his penchant for the sentimental and his admirable love for his family both immediate and extended, he could be a very cynical man. A complex human with contrasts, as we all are.
He was a parent who could support his children and family and did. I am a parent who, obviously, cannot. I can’t even make them proud. In fact, I am pretty sure I am a cause for embarrassment and shame to them. I wish this were not so. I wish they could be proud that I am still writing and creating new work and that, until recently, still singing and playing and creating music, but alas our brutal Capitalist system requires that one commodify oneself. If you cannot sell what you have you are nothing in this system. Right effort, energetic gifts and “trying” just don’t cut it.
Let’s talk about the train. That long trip from hell. OK. Let’s not. Let’s just post the pictures and you decide, but let it suffice to say that my back and digestion are still in recovery from that long trip both there and back, two weeks later. Next time (if there is a next time) it’s plane and B & B only. No more trains and couches. I am too old for that now, my body is just not resilient enough to withstand that level of discomfort, no matter how much I would like to think I can stand it. This kind of low rent poor man’s travel is for the hardy and probably mostly for the young.
You can see from my face how weary I was. I wasn’t faking it. Instead of being relaxing it was incredibly uncomfortable, mainly because the seats were awful, the food was horrendous, the bathrooms quickly became disgusting and the attendants rather rude and unfriendly, the trip was an ORDEAL. Everything about the trip said “this is cheap, suck it up.” I don’t know what’s happened to Amtrak in the last so-many years. Train travel used to be enjoyable. I don’t think even a sleeper would have made it much better.
It was clear to me that there is a third world in America and I am a card carrying member of this world. We don’t own cars or houses, we rely on public assistance, many of us are educated beyond the average, most of us are over 60, we travel by bus and train in our towns and cities and we have “vacations” like the one I just had–physically demanding and uncomfortable and crowded in together with others like ourselves. There were no “middle class” people on that train I traveled. All of us were poor. An ex Vietnam vet with a walker across from me proceeded to get completely drunk the entire 20+ hours to NYC; belch, fart, piss and poop on himself and smell up the car. No one said or did anything. What could we do? I felt sorry for him as he rambled on and on to himself for hours and hours. A family with 3 small children and a baby that cried for at least 6 hours rode behind me. I finally walked back and offered my help–hold the baby? Does she need a change or a bottle? The mother, clearly uninterested, told me the baby “just wants to sleep” so she stuck her in the chair and refused to pick her up. While appalling, I could do nothing about it and walked back to my seat. I am not above this group of humanity–I am right in there with them, but the anguish, pain and suffering were palpable and it dampened my enthusiasm for the trip.
Once in NYC after 23 hours on that train I was utterly exhausted. My host greeted me from the taxi and generously cooked me a meal and showed me how to work the locks to the door. It was not her fault but I experienced overwhelming anxiety and exhaustion and wished I had never made the trip. Miriam Berkley, a wonderful photographer and well known in her field, I thank you for your kindness and generosity!
A lovely woman. She’s a youthful and beautiful human being. At 65 I felt (and probably looked) 80! So let this stand as my thanks to Miriam.
We are two very different women, we did not always “agree” on viewpoints, and quite honestly, probably never will be friends, but I am always grateful for the kindness of strangers, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, and it was a trip that quickly became, for me, a learning tool.
What did I learn? Well, first of all, I learned that as much as I adore and love the people of NYC for their incredible friendliness, creativity, professionalism and audacity, I could never live there. It’s just TOO MUCH for me now, at this stage of my life. Perhaps 20 years ago I may have been able to hack it, the wall to wall people, the constant dialogue and interaction (however open and friendly, intelligent and creative it is), the noise, the continuous energy flow of humanity. It’s wonderful and terrifying and to the introvert that I have become, simply and totally TOO MUCH. So I have been able to gladly let go of that fantasy of living in NYC! What a relief! It was so wonderful to come back to my sleepy, slow Chicago and the quietude of Logan Square, where I can sit here in front of my window overlooking Wrightwood avenue and hear birds chirping, the occasional car and the voices of children coming back from the park. As cities go, Chicago is pretty damn beautiful and relaxing. Of course you can rev up and hit State Street or Michigan Avenue but it’s nothing like Times Square and Central Park or even Brooklyn (Park Slope), although Brooklyn was a bit more bearable. The constant undertone of energy and drive that makes NYC so unique also makes it impossible for someone like me to live there! However I did some fun things. I went to Central Park alongside Miriam and took photos. (below) I went to the High Line, a wonderful park above the city, I had drinks and dinner in Park Slope and other parts of Brooklyn, I saw a wonderful roof top movie with my son, and thankfully, I came home.
I got some really wonderful shots. But boy was I glad to be going home. You can see it on my face in these pictures Miriam caught of me just as I was heading out the door for Penn Station! The ride back, while still uncomfortable, was not nearly as bad as the ride up, mainly because I knew I was going home!
Thanks kids for tolerating mom!
I guess I got what the whole point of travel is all about–to learn about life, yourself and the world around you and get a clean perspective. For me, it meant gratitude for my present life and circumstances.
That lesson was totally worth the discomfort, I assure you.