Thursday, February 15, 2018

120 square foot master bedroom

This morning I woke up in my 120 square foot master bedroom on my non-pillow topped Serta under my 250 thread count sheets with a ‘low fill power ‘ comforter.  I’ve watched enough HGTV to know that even first time homeowners barely out of their teens who have been living in her parents’ basement to save for a down payment demand a grand Master Bedroom with an en suite bathroom. My bathroom is not en suite (there’s barely a room and definitely not a suite).  My bathroom, at best, could be described as a Jack and Jill.  That means it’s meant to serve two bedrooms inhabited by  a boy and a girl whose parents named them Jack and Jill when those names were still usable. Even though there is no “master” in my house, I’m thinking I’ve settled and why didn’t I notice this before? 

I made a list of the places I’ve lived and searched for the wrong turn I might have taken.
1. Three boarding schools.
2. Three  studio apartments in New York City steps from glam Fifth Avenue. 
3. Newly married I was “at home” at the north end of Park Avenue. 
4. As a new mother I nursed my newborn in the chauffeur’s cottage in shadowy, secretive estate-choked Mill Neck, L.I.
5. As a middle-aged mother I yelled at my children in Lattingtown Harbor, L.I. within the old gated estate of J. P. Morgan’s lawyer, Mr. Guthrie. 
6. Presently, I live in the village of East Hampton, N.Y. one and a half miles from the Atlantic Ocean and sleep in the smallest bedroom I’ve ever had.

The most interesting house I lived in was at 3102 Cleveland Avenue, Washington, D.C. and had previously belonged to Truman’s V.P. Alben Barkley.  The Barkleys left a lot of government memorabilia in the basement that could probably make me a millionaire today but I think my Uncle Charlie threw it away.  Barkley died while giving a speech at Washington & Lee Univ. “I would rather be a servant in the house of the Lord than sit on the seats of the mighty,” he said and then collapsed.  I’m like Alben.  I have the residential mind-set of a peasant. I don’t want to sit in the seats of the mighty either.  Tracing the past shows me that I am most likely to choose a humble repair-needy dwelling in a great zip code.  

Recently I did some house refurbishing.  I painted the living room a medium gray and it looks sophisticated in a “An unexpected color can transform a summer cottage” way. I painted the outside soffits and fascias and trim and got new storm windows and new leaders and gutters.  It all looks as good as it will ever look unless I tear the house down and start anew.   Since I cut down the overbearing tree in the backyard, the sunlight streams in throughout the day but especially around three o’clock.  It is a cheerful, welcoming light that leaves nothing in shadow.   With the tree gone I will be able to have a vegetable garden for the first time in my life.  I could sleep in any room in the house.  I could make the living room my bedroom if I wanted.  I could sleep in a bedroom that occupies the entire gabled attic floor.  With the tree gone and my house all spiffed up and much of my stuff given away or thrown away, let’s see how I do in 2013.  I will probably own this house for the rest of my life.  It’s a good house with big fat water filled radiators that give off a mellow heat.  I can dry my clothes on them and sit on them when I come in from the cold.   I can walk to everything in the village and the railroad is a block away.  There’s a studio cottage in back that I occasionally rent out for the night or sleep in when my kids come to visit.  There’s a garage filled with all the stuff I took out of the basement.  (For some reason, the empty basement gives me confidence.)  This spring I will plant my  vegetable garden. I'll start turning over the soil as soon as the ground is soft.  Whatever psychological map led me to this house, it feels okay.

Friday, January 5, 2018

"Your own secrets sucked out of you..."

(one of the good things FB does is re-post some of my old entries.  I like this one.)

I wonder which is preferable, to walk around all your life swollen up with your own secrets until you burst from the pressure of them, or to have them sucked out of you, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of them, so at the end you're depleted of all that was once as precious to you as hoarded gold, as close to you as your skin - everything that was of the deepest importance to you, everything that made you cringe and wish to conceal, everything that belonged to you alone - and must spend the rest of your days like an empty sack flapping in the wind, an empty sack branded with a bright fluorescent label so that everyone will know what sort of secrets used to be inside you?  This is from Margaret Atwood

Really?  On first reading I love the idea of this quote but then...?   I'd love to have all my secrets sucked out of me.  Secrets are not all that precious.  The stuff I wished to conceal when I was trying to make my way, I gladly reveal now.   I like to sit around.  I'm an emotional eater.  I am not against lying although I'm recently adverse to stealing.  I have intimacy problems. I'm full of shame sometimes.  Every successful social encounter leaves me feeling filthy. Yes, filthy.  I still talk too much.  So what?   'So what' to everything. I call it my "so what" cure.  

There are still scenes from the past that make me cringe. Cringe as in hunching my shoulders inward and turning to confront myself.  When I write that sentence the scenes become insignificant.  I call this my "state exactly what is troubling you and it will diminish" cure.  
The things that are precious to me, images that I remember with a full heart are not secrets at all.  They are small ephemeral moments that catch someone close to me stunned by life.  Yes, life can stun you, good or bad.  In that moment, there are no secrets - just you and the thing itself.  And you can recover. You can recover from almost anything.
I recently saw The Master, and the best scene in that movie is when Phillip Seymour Hoffman sits very close to Joaquin Phoenix and asks him the sort of questions that I wish someone would ask me.
What is the most important thing in your life?  What do you wish would happen more than anything in the world?  What makes you most afraid?  

The answers are not the answers of old: children, health, accidents. 
The most important thing in my life is the ability to keep on going.  More than anything in the world I wish to know myself better.  I am most afraid of fulfilling my childhood dreams.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Look what I got last night.

Amazon has translated Fortune's Daughters into German and last night I got a boxful of paperbacks in the German language.

If you follow this blog and read in German I would be happy to send an autographed  paperback to the first five people who request it.

if you have a relative who reads in German and would like to give the novel as a gift, that would be fine, too.  Leave name and mailing address.  

I am ever grateful for followers.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Oh, and Merry Festivus, too.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Bitch Better Have My Money. Brapp!

I have a folder for unrealized blog ideas with a paragraph or two to remind me of the emotional tone I had in mind.  Here are three entries in the folder:

This was written at 8:15 a.m. on August 3rd.

THERE ARE days when I feel so inadequate, so lacking in ability to add anything of value to any social situation. The words that spill out are vapid noise – they reverberate in mocking chords. It makes me squish my eyes together and bring my forehead low.  I want to make my face disappear.

On August 3rd when I wrote that paragraph we were in the middle of a pleasant moderate summer in the beautiful village of East Hampton where I live.  Early mornings on Georgica Beach on the Atlantic Ocean were stunning.  All my kids had jobs and the grandkids were thriving.  I had no threats to health or finances.  I had a new book out and the reviews were good. What degree of self-loathing could make me want to make my face disappear?  

A very different entry: September 29, 7:29 p.m.

I often watch re-runs of Lassie. Parents would now go to jail for everything the Mom and Dad let Timmy do on that show. Five or six year old Timmy is allowed to fend for himself, day or night.   Sometimes he sleeps in the woods (against a log and without a blanket). Cayotes roam.  Timmy is regularly left alone in the house with his chubby friend Porky (yes, they call him Porky). The boys turn on the stove and sometimes start a fire.  Porky will eat an entire roast, an entire pie, etc. In one episode, Timmy gave all the food in the house to Gypsy squatters down by the river and that sent Gramps into apoplexy.  “Get those varmints off my land.” I kind of miss that incorrect America.  Later the homeless, foodless gypsies, who were insanely happy, were playing their stringed instruments and it turned out they knew some of Gramps’ songs and they ended up friends, singing together.

Here’s another entry.  November 9th, 7:06 a.m.

One of the best of the tech things in the pipeline is a cash free society. No more greenbacks.  We’ll pay with a fingertip or our eyes.  It will eliminate people asking to borrow money and people offering to lend money.  It will do away with those awful encounters when you have to ask for money you have loaned that is in the time limit danger zone.

But that’s in the future.  Until then, I bring you Rihanna’s fabulous “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
I don’t pretend to understand most of the lyrics in this song.  For instance:

Every time I drop I am the only thing you're playin'
In a drop top, doin' hundred, y'all in my rearview mirror racin'
Where y'all at? Where y'all at? Where y'all at?
Like brrap, brrap, brrap

The important thing here is that instead of a mealy mouth apologetic, “Ah, when do you think you can pay me back that twenty-three dollars I loaned you last month to pay for your lunch?” we can say:  

Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot. Bitch better have my money. Yayo. Moo-la-lah. Yayo. 


Monday, November 6, 2017

Me and my life. Me and my life. Will you shut up about that. It’s not important.

For several months, I’ve been listening to the lectures of Eckhart Tolle on You-Tube* trying to understand what the heck he’s talking about and see if I can use any of it to improve my experience on this earth.   Eckhart came to world prominence with his enduring bestseller The Power of Now. Like many, I was enthralled for two reasons:  the book brilliantly documents how ignorant I am and the spiritual discipline presented is impossible to follow or understand.  Eckhart has an answer for this.  He says, “Some of you will say, ‘What the heck is he talking about?  I’m bored.’  You are not ready.  That’s all right. You’ll be back in a few years.”

I like Eckhart.  He is not robust like Tony Robbins.  He is likely to slump. He wears a beige sweater vest.   He is pale. We can’t even imagine what he does when he leaves the stage. Maybe he has a cup of tea and one of those miserly English sandwiches with some butter and one thin slice of ham.  (Memo to the Brits.  World War II rationing is over.)  Eckhart’s jokes are only funny because we don’t expect him to understand our everyday life.  He is likely to mirror our lives with statements like this:  “You tell yourself, ‘I’m finally happy, I’ve found my soul mate.’ After a few months, the soul mate has become annoying and you wish he or she would go away.” Eckhart laughs at our attempts at happiness.  His laugh comes out as a strangulated snicker.

I like Eckhart’s backstory. It is the best backstory for predicting huge adult success. Childhood was morose and troubled. His parents quarreled.  Eckhart was academically brilliant but experienced crippling suicidal depression. I am interested in anyone who has crippling depression as opposed to bearable, low energy depression like the rest of us.  As a young adult, Eckhart talks about “being drawn into a void.” Imagine being sucked down into.  A. Big. Black. Hole.

"I couldn't live with myself any longer," he wrote.  "And in this a question arose without an answer:  who is the 'I' that cannot live with the self?  What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn't know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed.  It dissolved.  The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful.  The peace was there because there was no self.  Just a sense of presence or being-ness, just observing and watching."

Tolle went for a walk in London the next morning and found that "everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful." (Reminiscent of St. Paul's  instantaneous conversion, being struck by blinding light on the road to Damascus.) Eckhart stopped studying for his doctorate and for a period of two years spent much of his time sitting "in a state of deep bliss" on park benches in London "watching the world go by." **  He bunked in a Buddhist Monastery or slept outside.  His parents thought he was crazy.  Friends began to come to him for advice and counsel and out of these years of meditative awareness, he wrote The Power of Now.

The Power of Now was not immediately successful.  In 2000 Oprah recommended it in O Magazine and the reliable Oprah effect catapulted the book onto the New York Times bestseller list.  Oprah tries to Oprah-fy Eckhart and offers podcasts wherein she prods the slumped, slow to answer spiritualist with her hyper excited questions.  (An aside on the power of Oprah.  She has convinced both Deepak Chopra and Eckhart to partner with her on packaged offerings that she often gives for free to the world.  So far the only person that has said NO to Oprah is Jonathan Franzen, the novelist, who caused sequential strokes at his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, by refusing to put his book, The Connections, in Oprah's Book Club. ***)

So.  A little clarity.  Eckhart's big point is that the self that our minds have created and is kept in motion by habitual thoughts and memories - the person who hated eggplant and was picked on in grade school and was good at math and had no date for the prom but won a scholarship to Dartmouth is NOT WHO WE ARE.  We are not the sum of our past.  And as for the future. Oh boy!  Eckhart thinks this is the biggest fraud of all.  There is no future we can count on.  No future that will deliver realization of our hopes and reams.  Ideas like that make him snicker at our foolishness.  "Who you are has no history, no past.  It isn't what your mind tells you you are." Put simply:  Me and my life.  Me and my life.  Shut up about your life.  It has no importance.  We are undifferentiated consciousness that holds our history but is much, much more.  And this consciousness (aka bliss) is available at any moment.  In fact it is only available in this moment.  Now.  See?  What the heck is he talking about?

There is one marketing flaw with Eckhart's message.  Consciousness and awareness and getting rid of your adorable self do not sound like an exciting payoff for giving up our customary egoistic  addictions.  Eckhart isn't "selling it." The simple states of being do not excite our imagination. The only glimmer of fun that he offers is that if we live in the NOW and pay attention to NOW life will be easier.  Life will unfold in a good way.  

When asked "How do we achieve this awareness, the stillness, the presence?" Eckhart suggests that we go outside and observe the beauty of nature.  We might also observe our breathing or tune in to our bodies.  He tells us not to complain when the traffic light is red or the supermarket line is long but instead to study our surroundings.  To be present.  Hmm.    I am a restless, shallow breathing indoor person.

Despite this imperfect, confused review of the man the New York Times dubs the most important current spiritual figure, I believe Eckhart has something important to teach me and if I stick with it, I, too, will have an epiphany.  By the way, Eckhart doesn't say that his message is original.  He frequently quotes the Bible, A Course In Miracles, the Bhagavad Gita, Meister Eckhart to bolster his message.

Here are a few of Eckhart's accessible practices I try to incorporate into daily life.

The best way to treat any event (good or bad) is to acknowledge that it happened but not to color it with judgment and emotion.  When my hot water heater broke and there was water in the basement, I said, "Oh, look.  My hot water heater broke."  I called a good plumber who installed a new one the same day.  No hand wringing and whining.

Surrender to what is.  When you argue with what is, unhappiness, anger, despair arises.  The mind is always telling you this isn't right, I don't like what's going on, I don't like the way I'm being treated, why does this always happen to me.  It's that pesky mind.  Eckhart implores us to surrender to what is without letting the mind interpret everything as good or bad.  It just is.

The idea of surrendering appeals to me.  I imagine holding out my wrists for the cuffs and then I become someone else's problem instead of my own.  Someone else has to make decisions and also feed and clothe me.  I like that for a change.

Don't look for happiness in some future event. As a writer, it's easy to imagine happiness waiting for you when you type "the end" but I know that never happens.  I imagine happiness will be waiting when I get rid of everything I own and move to a pristine space without any of the clutter and repair problems that currently exist.  That won't happen either.  So Eckhart has a point.

It's not my intent here to go through or judge Eckhart's entire teachings. I have a feeling this understanding has to be an "Aha!" moment that arrives without strain.  Right now I don't get it all but I'm better off doing as much as I can.

*How did we do anything before You-Tube?

** The importance of the park bench as an iconic place to sit and mull life over has been overlooked.  The park bench is the place to recover from ignorance, depression, guilt.   Whenever I sit on a park bench, I  (along with Forrest Gump) take a deep breath and think.  The park bench deserves a post.

*** I like Oprah but she often co-opts complicated ideas and turns them into overpronounced sound bites.  Oprah says Eckhart changed her life. I believe her.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The darn tables have turned.

As often happens in life, there are reversals of circumstances that are novelistic and almost unbelievable.  Just such a reversal of roles has happened to Gayle and her best friend Oprah.   When Oprah’s talk show was on the air, the relationship between the women had a relaxed bond yet one thing was clear:  Oprah was the wellspring from which Gayle’s celebrity and relevance flowed.  Oprah had created the platform and the celebrity and the power. About five years ago, Gayle King, a woman we only knew as a confident, sometimes annoying sidekick to Oprah, the queen of all media, suddenly showed up on Channel 2, CBS, the Tiffany network once run by William Paley, the man who gave us Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Sixty Minutes.

Yes. Gayle, the spunky Oprah tag along, is now a newscaster and not only a newscaster but a credible colleague of Charlie Rose.  This is the no nonsense PBS Charlie Rose, a man who became iconic when PBS was still the holy network and not flooded with self-help marathons. Charlie interviews diplomats and world leaders and Nobel prize winners and tech titans and even hip hop moguls in a quiet intimate setting without commercial interruptions.

When I first reviewed the Charlie and Gayle morning show a few years ago, they appeared to me as The Professor and The Most Improved Student but now – five years in- Gayle has earned her position.  Whenever Oprah is a guest on the show, it is apparent that their old dynamic has changed.  Gayle has her good serious show and Oprah is just a guest.  The darned tables are turned. 

There is no documentation but I’m sure there was a conversation in the big master bedroom in Oprah’s estate in Montecito that went like this.

Oprah:  I was on CBS this morning. I couldn’t help but feel that something had shifted.  I’m now the sidekick and Gayle is the one who stays on the show after my segment is over.  It felt weird.

Stedman: Were you jealous? 

Oprah:  Not jealous.  After all I have a whole network even though no one can find it.  I have my own network and all the money.

Stedman: But what felt weird?

Oprah: Gayle has something more interesting and more immediately exciting.    She has credibility on a respected network news show.  Gayle has Charlie Rose and I only have Weight Watchers and The Girls Academy and my soul podcasts and a lot of money.

Stedman: Do you wish you had a news show?

Oprah: I don’t know.  Maybe. It just felt weird.

You can imagine my surprise a few Sundays back when Sixty Minutes announced a new special correspondent.  It was Oprah.  Yes.  She was a special correspondent on Gayle’s own network. On the sacrosanct Sixty Minutes.  Don Hewitt must have at least shifted in his grave.  God knows what Mike Wallace is saying.  Andy Rooney would like it. Oprah’s segment was about America’s political divide. 

Life is reliably weird.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

(Be true) "to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge."***

If I ever appear smart it is because I allow Maria Popova, brilliant editor of the newsletter Brain Pickings,* to do the heavy lifting.  Maria reminds me that it can be satisfying to think.  She’ll quote a phrase “ fighting the cowardice of cynicism” ** and my mind takes a gleeful u-turn from my diet of vapid.   Of course.  Cynicism is a cowardly and lazy exit.   But I love it so. I'm cynical about everything: marriage, parental love, the flu vaccine. etc.   I wish there was a cooking show that served up irony and cynicism.  Chicken pot irony.  Cynicism alfredo.  Yum.

This week, Brain Pickings  reintroduced me to e.e. cummings, the poet most remembered for using quirky punctuation.  He was much more. Cummings was a slayer of cultural repression, a rebellious son of puritanism.  This is how he mocked Harvard and Cambridge as the epitome of stifling respectability.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things --
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This is almost exactly how Tom Wolfe mocked the New York establishment decades later in Radical Chic.

Cummings became a member of the Lost Generation, following Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Paris and eventually settling in Greenwich Village to capture the Bohemian mystique of literary and sexual experimentation.   He made the establishment angry.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, not many poets were offering lines like this:

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows....

Here is one of cummings’  more annoying poems:










is upon a gra





Someone described this poem as letters falling from a cliff.

Cummings was showcased in Brain Pickings this week along with quotes from Seamus Heaney “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.”and even Nietzsche, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” because of his enduring message to be yourself and defy any culture that rules through fear. 

This direct quote from this week's newsletter is my contribution to the citizens on both sides of the current political battle that are cowered by fear of reprisal or physical harm from expressing their true selves.

Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs.  But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.

** Caitlin Moran
*** Seamus Heaney