Remember the Teen-Age Joys of a Parked Car?

With nowhere to go, Covid has revived this simple pleasure and kept a lot of people happy and sane.

Photo by Ali Mu00fcftu00fcou011fullaru0131 on Pexels.com

I’m suddenly fourteen again.

In order to escape the confines of my big, chaotic family, I sneak the keys to the car and sidle out the door before anyone notices.

With a heavy yank, the driver’s side door shuts withan Omph sigh of relief, and the outside world disappears. Seated in my tiny capsule ready for orbit, I twist the radio dial to my favorite station and happily drift away. This is my great escape.

The last four months of this new age Covid living have forced most of us to return to a time of simpler things, be it baking bread, playing board games, reviving family dinners, or taking walks. At the same time, the total lack of privacy, the bouncing back and forth between just a few rooms, living with a roommate(s), partner, children 24/7 is just plain contrary to the laws of nature. A lot of short fuses have been lit, eggshells crushed, and barbs volleyed.

In November I moved to New York City, found a sublease with a roommate, but left my car parked an hour away thinking I would never really need it. Although she and I get along and are both introverts, after four months of working from home and being imprisoned together, I started hating her. Everything she did, and didn’t do, annoyed me. And she never went out!

I know the feeling was mutual. This and the underlying anxiety of getting sick was quietly beating us both up. I wondered what were people doing to combat built up hostility over seemingly nothing?

And then it hit me.

They escape to their cars.

I suddenly started noticing one, or sometimes two, people just sitting in parked cars listening to music, especially at night. This seemingly innocuous practice would come up in conversations more and more about ways to stay sane.

Parent friends in therapy confided the car was the perfect place to have a session. He/she could have a good cry or howl at the moon without their prying-minds-want-to-know children listening.

Another friend, living with her adult, twenty-something, daughter, revealed she is ordered out of the apartment on a regular basis to allow her daughter some much wanted alone time. This mom is happy to comply and retreats to her car where she can listen to the oldies, NPR, or talk radio for a couple of hours.

I’ve learned second hand that Date nights of long ago have found a revival in the family wagon, if even for a mere 30 minutes.

And remember the joys of parking? Imagine taking your sweetheart to a primo spot on the empty streets of Times Square.

So after months of living in the now sleepy city that never sleeps, I pine for my 2005 Subaru and the simple pleasures it will afford me. I leave for a vacation in Maine soon and relish the thought of sitting behind the wheel feeling free once again.

The immediate future isn’t looking all that bright, but I’ll find the silver lining. This time when returning, I’ll keep my car parked out front. When the need arises, like it often did so many years ago, I’ll have my own private getaway—

and it will be the cat’s pajamas.

To Reteach a Thing Its Loveliness

We need to develop the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness…and the benefits are worth it.

Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

When I read the phrase To reteach a thing its lovelinessjust let that sink in for a minute… it felt like a lifeline, like a comforting beacon of light after being lost on an uncharted sea of anxiety, fear, and growing anger.

Reading further in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, I learned this is the nature of metta, which can be translated from Pali, the ancient language of Buddhist scriptures, as unconditional love or lovingkindness. 

It is the first of the brahma-viharas, heavenly abodes, and supports the others that include compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The metta meditation is an opening of the heart and a wish for not only our happiness, but also for all beings. The Buddha first taught the metta meditation as an antidote to fear when it arises and feels overwhelming.

Could there be a better time to practice this?

Hitting month three of quarantine here in NYC, along with the ensuing explosion of the BLM movement, I needed a soothing balm to quell the guilt and an almost self loathing, for not having contributed more to society in some meaningful way, for being an elder and higher risk burden. 

The pandemic has become more and more about politics and the economy uniting us in different camps of hatred: the haves vs. have nots, liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, entitled vs. essential, black vs. white. Social media, originally created to feed our very human need to connect, has, instead, amplified our separateness, and it has spilled on to the streets.

I’ve read about regular people lashing out verbally at others for not wearing a mask or social distancing. Plenty of times I’ve passed pedestrians on the street and police at protests and silently judged them for being arrogant and selfish for the same thing. Hating this reaction, I found myself stuffing my feelings to lessen the pain. This is where we get in trouble as Salzberg aptly explains: 

Sometimes as individuals, or as members of a group, we may sacrifice the truth in order to secure our identity, or preserve a sense of belonging. Any thing that threatens this gives rise to fear and anxiety, so we deny, we cut off our feelings. The end result of this pattern is dehumanization. We become split from our own lives and feel great distance from other living beings as well.

When I read the words, To Reteach a Thing Its Loveliness, I was blown away by the beauty of the message and recognized instantly this was something I could do, as just one small person, to be an agent of change.

 The practice of metta begins with loving/befriending ourselves, no small feat. I know. I’ve been a heavy weight titlist in the “beating myself up”ring for decades. But we have to begin with loving ourselves…despite our weaknesses and failings…before we can mirror it back to others. This mirroring brings it full circle.

The practice of metta begins with short meditations that begin with oneself, and then work outwardly to a loved one, someone neutral, and, the most difficult, an enemy. The meditation focuses on silent repetitions of phrases such as “May you have ease of well-being,” May you be free from danger,” “May you be healthy and strong.” Yes, it gets more difficult as you move outward. It is especially hard to wish happiness to an enemy, but this is the work of unconditional love, the driving force of healing. Even if you aren’t feeling the love, don’t give up. You are planting a seed, setting an intention, and that is enough. 

As if the nature of metta isn’t just beautiful in and of itself, the Buddha outlined eleven specific benefits. Your practice will reap the following rewards:

  1. You will sleep easily.
  2. You will wake easily.
  3. You will have pleasant dreams.
  4. People will love you.
  5. Celestial beings and animals will love you.
  6. Celestial beings will protect you.
  7. External dangers ( fire, poison, weapons) will not harm you.
  8. Your face will be radiant.
  9. Your mind will be serene.
  10. You will die with a clear mind.
  11. You will be reborn in happy realms.

If you’ve always wanted to start a meditation practice but felt it might be too hard, this is a great place to start. A few minutes a day is all you need to begin. I’ve recently added metta meditation to my regular meditation practice, and I’m feeling more hopeful and optimistic. 

On daily walks now there are more frequent, tiny moments of connection with total strangers I pass on the street or on a front stoop. It might be a verbal hello or a silent, mutual nod of the head that says I acknowledge you. Smiling eyes behind the mask. It’s a small moment of connection, a much needed dopamine hit of goodness. Lovingkindness is a powerful energy to radiate.

And I’m sleeping better.

So, if we should ever pass each other on street, know I am silently wishing, “May you be safe from harm,” “ May you be healthy and strong,” “May you be truly happy.”

What a lovely thou

Is Sheltering in Place in the Big Apple an Opportunity for Personal Growth?

After searching for an answer, the big reveal is, yes.

Author photo. Greene Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

I kept asking myself over and over again, Why now? Why the hell now?

In October of last year, I fulfilled a life-long dream of moving to New York City. After months of journal writing and mulling it over, I made the decision it was the perfect time. The winds of change propelled me forward, and magically things fell into place. My adventure manifested, and I was challenging myself doing new things and working hard. In February, as a result of a written piece I submitted, I got an interview with The New York Times, in one of their regular feature columns.

And then … BOOM.

After a short, four-and-a-half months of New York City WOW, disaster struck. The greatest city in the world suddenly crippled. Its beating heart of creative energy, suffering cardiac arrest was left an ICU patient with no visitors allowed.

Without notice, and cut off from all the art and culture I was drawing inspiration from, I found myself alone in quarantine. Like everyone else, I was left reeling in a state of confusion and fear. At the same time, I kept wondering why had this happened when prior to the pandemic all systems were go? My adventure was looking more like a quest, and my biggest trial was facing an invisible foe who could, quite literally, take me down. I was going to have to dig deep to answer this one.

Nagged by this question of why, I, nevertheless, held steady and made the best use of my time writing, painting, reading, and observing.

And then one day going through some old notes, I came across a quote I had written down . It was from a list of “68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice” to the young, compiled by author Kevin Kelly, who helped launch Wired magazine. Even though I’m old, it hit like an resuscitative electrical charge:

“When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problem, no progress.”

Well, I certainly was experiencing a crisis, but how was I going to change my perception and make it positive? I had come to the city to foster my own curiosity and creativity. Maybe quarantine and sheltering in place were just the environments I needed to buckle down and make real progress with my writing and painting. Feeding a passion takes solitude and focus.

So I dove in and keenly observed the changing world around me. Every day I wrote or painted with an energy that surprised me. I discovered a new painting medium using recycled trash and even submitted a couple of articles to different publications.

I had nothing to lose.

But it was hard.

Any creative endeavor or change of habit requires us to access our higher nature. And you will know you are on to something because resistance, in its many forms, will rear its ugly head . For me, resistance comes from things like Netflix, social media, and Zoom constantly calling me to come play. Of course, I enjoy these things, but only after I’ve completed some work time. Wrestling resistance requires a Herculean effort, but staying focused yields results.

My confidence kept growing.

As further proof that I was on the right track, I happened to read through more notes I had taken several years ago and was jolted by another message that was waiting for me. In Letters to a Young Poet #7, written in 1904, the poet Rilke( only 27 himself) writes back to a young man looking for advice about his writing. Rilke’s response echoes the very same stumbling blocks of resistance and hard work. That in his practice of solitude, the young man might find himself distracted by the conventions of his day, might be tempted to take the easy route rather than trust in what is difficult, which would reveal his true artistic self:

“…it is clear that we must trust what is difficult; everything alive trusts it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.”

So crisis and disaster have struck, and I’ve found the answer to my question, Why now? I’m choosing to see this problem of a pandemic as a personal challenge in making progress towards becoming the best that I can be.

I’m currently working on a series of paintings I hope to show in the near future and writing articles I hope to see published. I’m even entering a large scale commissioning art program here in NYC. Completing the application has been mind bending; I know it’s a long shot.

Working on it is hard.

But when I hit the send button to submit my proposal, regardless of the outcome, I will be happy I gave it my all, knowing…

“…that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.”

Will Convenience/Instant Gratification Be Our Undoing?

A City’s exorbitant cardboard trash got me thinking about our excessive consumption, and, in this Covid-19 reality, creating.

Author’s portrait of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Oil and x-acto knife on recycled cardboard. Covid-19 series. Cutting into cardboard give a 3-D effect.

I’ve longed to live in NYC for years, and when it became a reality this October, it didn’t disappoint in showing me a rich banquet of stimuli that could satisfy the senses of any appetite. But an interesting side effect, a slight indigestion, grew as my awareness sharpened and revealed some of the underbelly amidst the dazzle.


Sure, I expected to see skittering rats on the subway tracks and a cockroach or two. What I didn’t expect were mountains of trash, especially cardboard, left curbside most days. This begged the question why do we have to have so much? All you have to do is look at the growing trend of self storage units that have become a blight on the landscape anywhere in the U.S. We have so much damn stuff, we need additional space to house more damn stuff. And then there’s the environmental impact.

Back in October an average of 1.5 million packages a day were delivered to NYC. In addition to the congestion, add to that the growing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and deteriorating infrastructure.

For most of us, myself included, these growing concerns flicker to a weak flame for a moment in our consciousness but then quickly get tamped out by our desire for convenience and instant gratification so easily attained with the tap of a finger.

But this pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate, reflect, to go deeper.  By going deeper I mean calling on our higher nature to do the right thing instead of succumbing to our lower nature that always demands I want it now. Essential workers’ lives in this plague economy are on the line, and that includes people filling orders and delivering goods. We’ve got to be asking ourselves is this something I need or something I want? Is it an emergency? Then act accordingly.

Author’s painting: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, NY. Oil and x-acto knife on cardboard. Covid-19 series.

Like millions of others, I’m trying to exercise restraint and do the right thing. At the same time I’m looking for ways to be productive, creative, and entertained with what I already have as we social distance and self quarantine. 

As an artist, I’m continually looking for ways to be innovative while limiting my carbon footprint. Not able to find the right size canvas/wood block I wanted, and not wanting to place an order that required a delivery, I looked to recycled items.

In January, I joined the ranks of the bottle-pickers and began scavenging my Brooklyn neighborhood for large pieces of of unblemished cardboard (flat screen TV boxes are perfect). This resulted in a never-ending, free supply of discarded cardboard and the discovery of a medium that, when cut into, adds a 3-D effect to my paintings.

Author’s painting: Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn. Oil and x-acto knife on cardboard. Covidd-19 series.
Author’s painting: Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY. Oil and x-acto knife of recycled cardboard. Covid-19 series.

Covid-19 has brought the world to a screeching halt. If it has done anything, it has, perhaps, forced us to take a ” searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Or it should.

I’d like to think there are many ways we can make a difference. Acts of kindness, thinking of others, being resourceful and creative can spread exponentially too.

My Taking a "Gap Year" at 67 to Live in NYC Will Now Include Surviving a Pandemic.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Oh, the irony.

This past October, I answered a call to adventure and moved from Maine to NYC to experience the dizzying din of a city that never sleeps. Four months into it, all the enticements that drew me here have been shut down, and I’ve been put to bed without my supper. Along with the city’s other 8.5 million residents, I’ve been asked to stay home, avoid crowds, and practice self distancing.

I was, initially, peeved.

I am now working to suck it up, to surrender.

Up until a week ago, I’ve had a rather cavalier attitude about going out in the city. Having traveled by subway both ways with stops at Grand Central, I attended a Broadway show matinee, and the next day the blackout was announced. Now the only show in town is the real Theater of the Absurd we are living.

Shortly after, the mayor declared a state of emergency and banned large gatherings. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with my 30 year-old son sitting on the stoop at his apartment that the seriousness of it hit me.

Not feeling well the night before, he and his girlfriend decided to self quarantine. After our initial no-touch greeting, he reassured me they were feeling much better. And then he looked directly into my eyes. Because there is no one whose opinion I value more, or whose gentle criticisms of me I intently listen to and take to heart, I knew what he was going to say was important: “Mom, you need to be more careful. I want you to be safe.”

Apparently, I’m not the only parent getting this kind advice. Later on Facebook, I read a post from a friend from Maine who asked if anyone else’s millennial son or daughter had sat them down and explained how serious the situation was. My friend’s daughter had contacted her from Brooklyn alerting her to what was potentially coming. I also heard from a sister in Maine whose son and daughter chided both of them about their plans to attend a play. Their father has suffered two heart attacks and currently has a stent in place.

Things are getting real.

We all need to be careful including young people who naturally feel invincible. There are those who avoid large public gatherings and work from home by day and avoid the customary night life, and others who throw caution to the wind and risk spreading this invisible infection and insist on going out. It was just a week ago that I walked home and looked across the street into the open door of a popular watering hole that was filled with young people. The business didn’t look to be running at half capacity allowing for safe distancing as suggested. Patrons didn’t seem to be taking the necessary cautions either.

That has since changed.

I can’t just blame this behavior on the young people who are a lower risk. I’m healthy, take no medications, and have no medical conditions. Until recently, I’ve displayed hubris taking more chances then I should even though people in my age group have been issued guidance by the federal government how to stay safe.

So I’ve decided to become more conscious and regularly monitor my attitude. I accept that this is my NYC experience, and I am grateful to be here near my son. I will take better care not only of myself but also my fellow man because we are all in this together.

When I was called to this adventure, I knew there were bound to be risks, uncertainties, and trials along the way. I had no idea the extent to which I’d be tested.

I will practice taking one day at a time. Because:

This was not what I had planned.

This is pretty absurd.

To quote Camus: “To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer.”

Embark on a Hero’s Quest. It’s not Just for the Young.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.  Follow your bliss, and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.   Joseph Campbell.

A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, The Last Knight: The Art, Armor,and Ambition of Maximilian I before it closed, happened to coincide with rereading a couple of inspiring books, The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, and Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield. Together they inspire a call to action: create a new vision of the future, embark on a quest, slay the dragon of resistance to bring it to fruition.

IMG_3073

His horse couldn’t be lacking in sumptuous adornment. A similar Bard (body armor for war horses) was presented by Maximilian I to Henry VIII.

Campbell’s quote could apply to Maximilian I. Although he was the son of a Holy Roman Emperor, he got little kingly guidance at home. He realized his own “unique potentiality for experience” and created a vision of what constituted a great ruler. With little money, land, prestige, or political clout, he forged a new identity with a marriage to Marie of Burgundy, a full-on propaganda campaign, crafted armor befitting the gods, and dazzling jousting tournaments. In today’s lingo, he knew how to create a brand.

His alliances and military strategies earned him the title of one of the most powerful leaders in European history and probably the label “hero.” I imagine him, with the flick of his fingers, casting off the past and then plunging himself headlong into an uncertain future.

According to Campbell, most hero stories are about the young–finding themselves confronting the unknown in a place, a forest perhaps. The hero embarks on this journey and must leave dependency and immaturity behind and then find the passion and courage deep within to overcome many trials.  If she or he is strong enough, the end result and revelations learned along the way will bring the hero to a richer and mature new life, a new consciousness– a mythological death and a rebirth.

But a hero’s quest isn’t just for the young!

IMG_3075

Ceremonial Armor of Charles V, grandson of Maximilian I and future Emperor.  The cost of this armor would be equal to the price of a Manhattan townhouse in today’s market. Original photo

A hero’s journey is exactly what we need in the later stages of our lives. To look inward, To be reborn. To save ourselves.

When we’re older, past childbearing/ child rearing years, or in retirement, we can find ourselves suddenly lost too, wondering what it all means?  Our trials are different– lost youth, declining bodily functions, confronting mortality (technology!)–but no less difficult. Shouldn’t  we to go forth and participate in life with as much courage and vitality as we did when we were young?

I think so. We Boomers are leading the way.

Now that we’re living longer we have another chance to take this adventure. Maybe it’s finally taking a cross-country trip, committing to a healthy life style, writing that book, or starting that business venture. You don’t have to go far or put yourself in much danger. But you do have to get out of your comfort zone.

Getting started and staying the course is the hard part.  In his book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield puts is this way:

On a field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.  You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

Resistance will probably be the greatest trial, and some of the “greatest hits” that elicit the dragon of resistance according to Pressfield are any creative art, any course or program designed to overcome a bad habit or addiction, education of any kind, any act that entails commitment of the heart. In essence, “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”

Pressfield says we can use resistance as a compass.

Rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.”

Next to resistance, Pressfield, goes on to say, “…rational thought is the soul’s worst enemy. “Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego.” Rational thought or the ego will find a multitude of reasons why this adventure is a bad idea. It wants to play it safe, quell those fears that arise. What’s the solution?

Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

Working from the self requires spending some quiet time away from social media, texting, anything that constantly grabs our attention.  Long walks, keeping a journal, enjoying nature, prayer/meditation help to cultivate intuition and shed light on the unconscious. These are simple undertakings, yet they require the most effort. But what a thrill it will be to live a second self– a new version of you.

IMG_3076

Steel Gloves–Gauntlets– of Maximilian I.  These give new meaning to the expression: Throwing down the Gauntlet. Original photo

Joseph Campbell coined the phrase follow your bliss.  He affirmed living life as an adventure.

What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.

So, throw down the gauntlet.

And with your higher self, pick it up.

Embrace the challenge.

NYC Artist Poogy (Briggs) Bjerklie, a Hallowell, Maine Native, has a One-Woman Show at the Sears Peyton Gallery, New York, NY.

New York City is still a mecca for artists the world over, and the neighborhood of Chelsea, home to hundreds of galleries, is often hailed as one of the city’s most important and influential art districts.

One of the many exciting things about living here is being exposed to all this stimulating creativity and attending art openings.  What’s even more exciting is when the one-woman show at the Sears Peyton Gallery, in Chelsea, belongs to a childhood friend who grew up in Hallowell, Maine, and graduated from the Maine College of Art.

IMG_3084

Early Morning, oil on panel 20x 20 inches.

IMG_3087

Between the Trees, oil on panel, 27×27 inches.

Along with a festive and colorful crowd, I was able to celebrate, Poogy Bjerklie, The In-Between, her second exhibition with the gallery.  Described as “…landscape paintings, rendered both intimate and anonymous, imagined and reimagined, on dreamy, luscious surfaces,” I would add that her work has an old world, other worldly quality, which draws you in to reflect on happy childhood memories playing outdoors hoping for talking animals and fairy sightings. Her paintings evoke a response.

IMG_3086

Poogy and husband, John opening night..

IMG_3088

An art patron at the opening. Love the coat.

Poogy’s story is interesting.  After graduating from Maine College of Art, where she met her husband, John, she somewhat reluctantly agreed to move to Brooklyn.  Back in the 90’s, they rented a huge apartment that included studio space in what was then an AIR (Artist in Residence) building, which housed about 13 other artists.

At the time, Poogy was creating hand-painted clothing in addition to oil paintings.  It was common back then for landlords to ask tenants to hold open studio weekends to showcase their art. Many artists became suspicious because more and more, landlords saw this as an opportunity for real estate developers to have easy access to view the entire building and then make an offer on the property. This wasn’t the case with her landlord.

Not wanting people traipsing through her space, she reluctantly agreed, and, instead, built a temporary wall about four feet into her studio that prevented the public not only passage into her work area but also her living space. She painted and distressed the wall a rich bronze color that captured the light and beautifully enhanced seven small paintings.

Her display caught the eye of one woman in particular during the event.  After admiring Poogy’s work, she bought one painting and announced, “I’m scheduling a one person show of your work in October.” This patron happened to represent the Phatory, an East Village art gallery, still open today, specializing in contemporary art.

Every painting sold.

The rest is history.

In 2018, The Maine Museum of Art located in Bangor, part of the University of Maine, Orono, selected Poogy to exhibit her work entitled, Poogy Bjerklie, Nowhere in Particular, at one of its five separate exhibition spaces. The Museum had found her through the Sears Peyton Gallery and had been looking at her work over the years. Oddly enough, they didn’t realize at the time she was a Maine native.

Her work was displayed at the museum from January 12–May 5, 2018.  Typically, artists don’t usually sell paintings at museum shows, but as luck, or should I say, talent would have it, Poogy sold four paintings to one collector.

IMG_3093

Distant Mountains, oil on paper mounted on wood 11 1/4 x 11 1/4.

IMG_3091

Proud moment with a dear friend at her solo show.

While New York City (Queens to be exact) continues to be her primary residence, she still owns seasonal lake property in Maine where she draws inspiration from its natural beauty like so many artists before her. In fact most, if not all, her pieces in this current show were done in Maine this summer.

What makes this a particularly significant event for Poogy is that the year 2020 is proving to be an exciting time for women in the arts as museums everywhere are focusing requisitions and programming on long, underappreciated female artists.The Baltimore Museum of Art has even dedicated all its 2020 programs and exhibitions to women. There couldn’t be a better time to be recognized with a solo show.

Her journey from small town Maine to New York City and having gained entree into its high velocity art scene is notable. Surrounded by lush and graceful paintings representing years of hard work and well honed talent was profound. The vitality and enthusiasm in the room opening night was palpable.

It is inspiring to see an artist still opening her heart–still following her bliss.

Why You Should Ride the NYC Subway. In a world of growing divisions, it has taught me, instead, to see our similarities and shared humanity.

I’m not Ubering around here. 

What I am doing is trying to master NYC mass transit. Like Luke Skywalker, introduced to the ways of the Jedi, I’ve got it in my head this self imposed, home schooled education will earn me my way to the title of Resident New Yorker.

Each trip is a revelation about living here… and a revelation about my 66 year-young- self. I’ve been venturing out of my Brooklyn neighborhood to other locations in Manhattan on a regular basis, sometimes during the comfort of daylight other times under the cover of darkness and long shadows late at night (well, 11:00PM is late for me).

Every ride on the subway is akin to finding yourself suddenly cast in some kind of bizarre Best Short Film.

The NYC subway car is a microcosm of the world young and old, rich and poor, fresh and scrubbed, ripe and unwashed, from far and away, born and raised, unpretentious, ultra glamorous, inconspicuous, and ostentatious, blowzy, mangy, kind, and surly.   Thrown together hurly-burly.

Often times, uncomfortably, up close and personal.

On an 8:00AM rush hour car, I find myself crammed like cattle nose to cheek, desperately seeking not only something solid to grip but also a place to rest my eyes. For some insane reason, people do not, “Stand clear of closing doors,” and move to the center of the car where lucky patrons enjoy ample room.  NOooo.  Everyone prefers to keep their back-packs on and inflict pain on each other squeezing in near the exits. And people put up with it! Occasionally the herd isn’t so docile, and an angry bellow, “MOVE!” causes a seismic shift.

It pays to have both a sense of humor and sense of the ridiculous. I choose viewing this situation through a playful lens. It’s fascinating. Each ride unique.

And then it’s not so amusing. Some poor, afflicted creature displaying an I’m-off-my-meds-I’m-high behavior sends a slight ripple of unease through the air. I witness a young guy in army green, ear phones plugged in, pacing back and forth the entire length of the car, weaving around the poles, arms flailing playing air guitar. We ride four stops this way until other passengers board and fill the space.

IMG_3121

There’s often good entertainment while catching a connecting train.

Sometimes you get a double feature. A hopeful singer looking to raise money for recording fees bursts into song with finesse and surprising range. Time stands still, and for a few moments there’s a unified field of good will, dollars collected. Panhandlers of every design, too, share this captive audience. This one, a mountain of a man, bearded with long dark hair, wearing a DIY muumuu from what appears to be a bed sheet. He eventually shuffles along.

But wait….amazingly, chivalry is alive and well. Standing in a crowded train, I feel a slight tug on my coat sleeve. As I look down into the face of an earnest young man, he silently gestures to me to take his seat.  On the one hand, I groan inwardly thinking, do I look that old? But on the other hand, I think, how can I refuse such a courtly gesture? It’s obvious he loves his Momma, and she’d be proud of this outward show of manners.

IMG_3122

The Q train at East 72nd Street, Manhattan. So this is how the other half lives.

These subway, mini-adventures have made me realize that we sacrifice a lot of living today for the comforts of convenience. Our lives have become so busy and outwardly projected, heads down, eyes to phones, that we no longer really see each other and lose those fleeting, often joyous moments of connection with total strangers reminding us that in the end, we’re all just trying to make it through the night.

Of course, at some point, I’ll dial up an Uber.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy commiserating and communing on the subway with my “Human Family.”  Maya Angelou expressed it poignantly in her like-named poem:

I note the obvious difference

between each sort and type,

but we are more alike my friends,

than we are  unalike.

In order to follow your Heart, you have to roll with the punches AND with the bed springs when pursuing a New Adventure.

As we get older, we tend to like coming home and sleeping in the security of our own, comfy cocoons.  I figure in the last five weeks, I’ve had to sleep in ten strange beds, and variations of beds, (alone) in a variety of different places.  No easy feat for a boomer since getting enough shut eye is essential to our well being. And let’s face it. A good night’s sleep is harder to get than… a seat on the G train at rush hour. Like the princess and the pea, I’ve had to stay honest and true to myself by suffering some minor inconveniences like this.

But stepping out of my comfort zone is a constant requirement, and everything is just more strenuous here.  For example, moving into my place took a Herculean effort.  I had to GPS it from Irvington to Brooklyn in gridlock, hope for a place to park without parking restrictions close to my building, and then make eight (I counted) trips that consisted of :  a) unloading an item; b) locking my car; c) carrying heavy item about 200 feet; d) use other set of keys to unlock outside door; e) cart my heavy bag/ plastic tub up two flights of stairs; e) unlock apartment door; f) drop the stuff off; g) lock the door; h) head back down to the car;  i) unlock the car;  j) …w,x,y,z; REPEAT.   Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, I have my Camu moments of thinking this undertaking is absurd, but they evaporate and the excitement returns.

IMG_3029

Heading home from the G train.

Still… unconscious fears lurk below the surface.

During my first week in the apartment, on the night of the full moon, (December 12th at 12:00PM) I had a vivid dream of being pursued by a crazed and unruly rabble, fueled on alcohol, since I had the distinct feeling that all sense of reason was gone.  And what really ratcheted things up was that everyone was naked. It reminded me of a funeral march of Jacques during the French Revolution, in a scene from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that suddenly turns in to a bloodthirsty, murderous mob.

Chased from one place to another, I was trying to out run them. But I was getting more and more tired, and there were fewer and fewer places to hide.  Although quite terrifying, I managed to out maneuver them each time, and in my gut, I felt I was going to be OK.  But the question remained: How long was I able to keep this up?

In trying to analyze this, I figured it was about raw, animal fear. Was I able to survive in this jungle of a city?  After all, I am kinda high on the food chain as vulnerable, older  prey. Will I be taken down, or can I keep up–out run its perils and survive?  I have to keep my wits about me and stay present.

And yet, it’s all part of the adventure. The good and the bad. Time slows down when you  find yourself in a new environment, and you’re much more present. Meditating helps foster this too.

The young woman I’m subleasing from has left a pretty good library of books.  I’ve just finished Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which explores the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband of forty years.  It begins with these lines:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Sobering to read at our age as we tend to bump up against death more and more in the guise of friends and family members dying too soon, and we see, too, our own mortality reflected in death’s face.

And then, interestingly enough, I followed up with The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers.  It’s a wonderful discussion of mythology and what myths can tell us about our own lives. When I came upon this passage, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had a very visceral response:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking.  I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own inner most being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Enjoying the first night in my new home, I was sitting quietly waiting for my roommate to come home.  Somewhat intoxicated with a feeling of bliss (and the pungent smell of pot that often wafts through the building) I suddenly heard from somewhere above the vibrato trills of a beautiful soprano voice practicing scales.

WHOA….

I gotta admit. I’m feeling the rapture from time to time.

IMG_3030

Ginger lives happily at Jerannie Deli Grocery on the corner of Clifton Place and Nostrand Ave.

Making the Transition from Maine to NYC,the village of Irvington,on the Hudson,offers the best of both worlds with scenic water views, parks, and a short train ride to Grand Central.

With its many amenities and progressive vibe, Irvington, home to legendary Washington Irving, is the kind of friendly place Millennials want to move to after a stint in the City and babies start arriving.  My sister and her family moved to the village center over twenty years ago because of great public schools and an easy commute to Manhattan (36 to 55 minutes) on Metro North Railroad’s Hudson line.  An almost empty-nester, she’s given me a place to stay (I’ve been as helpful as I can possibly be) while looking for a room to rent in Brooklyn.

Irvington has attracted industry big names and celebrities alike. The first African American woman millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, made her fortune creating a hair straightening formula. Eileen Fisher has her corporate headquarters here, along with a retail shop and second hand outlet. I recently passed Meredith Vieira on a walk in the woods, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are the newest neighbors.

While Irvington has its mansions and tony neighborhoods, it does offer condominiums, cooperative apartments, rental units, and some affordable housing. Taxes are high, then again, garbage pick up each week is Monday, Thursday, and recycling Wednesday.

I feel like I’ve been on vacation as my days include reading the New York Times each morning starting with the Arts and Business sections, taking long walks on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, walking the dog, Cactus, in the 400-acre Irvington Woods, and enjoying train excursions to Manhattan.  Irvington is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll 19 miles away.

IMG_2936

Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

IMG_2917

One of my favorite houses on the trail.

IMG_2924

Another view on the Croton Aqueduct trail. I love trees, even more so since reading “The Overstory.”

I  so love the train!  Riding off-peak is $19.50 round trip. In less than an hour, Metro North deposits you in the magical world of Grand Central, and you are swept along with the tides of humanity to all the dizzying din that is NYC. This apt quote by Charles Baudelaire captures it: “What strange phenomena we find in a great city. All we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” Check out on Instagram, Subway Creatures.

I recently met up with a friend from Maine who was baby sitting her grand child in Manhattan.  When I explained taking the subway and locating her address, she responded, “Wow, I don’t know how to do that.” Another recent field trip was to“The Whitney”, The High Line, and a new Swedish Bakery Fabrique, that boasts the best, ever, cardamon Rolls. I’m getting around.

Best of all, I qualify for senior discount MTA subway and buss fares!  A single ride is $2.75: senior, $1.35;  A 30-day unlimited pass is $127.00 a month:  Senior, $63.50; A 7-day unlimited pass is $33.00: senior, $16.50  Something to be grateful for (I list them daily) in this youth-obsessed culture.

How lucky am I to be living again with one of my siblings at this age!  We’ve been able to support each other during times of big change for us both.  After being the sole occupant of my home for so long, I’m really enjoying sharing my space. I even think I said a few years ago, I’m kinda tired of living alone.

Well, this will sorely be tested as I try to find a room to rent in the city and live again with a roommate, more likely roommates, after 40 years. It would be so easy to just pay rent here with my sister, but I know deep in my heart, I’d disappoint myself.  So… this begs the question:

Can a woman my age find a room to rent in the fresh, young, cutting edge world of Brooklyn?

The answer will surprise you.

I’ve always wanted to live in NYC for a year. With my house rented, again, I’m going on a wing and a prayer (and a home equity line of credit) this time at age 66!

My nine month sojourn traveling solo Down Under almost four years ago did change me.  Although I have enjoyed being home again in Maine for a couple of years, it’s difficult to return home after a long time because I can’t go home and be the person I was.  There’s been a change. Another adventure has been beckoning.  This time to New York City… a place many consider the greatest city in the world!

How this all came about started with an article about the twenty-fifth anniversary of Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.” Billed as “Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self,” it has sold over four million copies since its publication, and advocates writing free form in longhand three pages each morning, and taking yourself out once a week on an artist date.  Doing the morning pages first thing, allows you to dump any negative monkey mind thinking clogging up your brain and be more open (mindful) to being creative–a buzzword that seems to be every where in today’s market/workplace.

I had completed the eight week course a couple of times in the past, and in February found a box of books, including ‘The Artist’s Way” and a binder of morning pages I’d written before making my solo trip, which wasn’t even on my radar at the time.  I took this as a sign (synchronicity) and wrote the pages again.  My practice also included meditation, and, low and behold, the winds of change swept me up again.  Before I knew what I was doing, I had my house rented…  to the perfect couple (he’s from New Zealand).  Just like before, everything seems to be falling into place.

New York City is a different animal.  A beast of many wiles with an insatiable appetite for culture, fashion, entertainment, celebrity, and fabulous food.  It has to be tamed or its sharp claws will slice into your pockets and leave you destitute.  But it also has an infectious energy that lures you in.  And finding an apartment! My brother jokingly said recently he had to get married to find a place.

That younger brother has been in NYC since the late 80s and was smart to buy a place in Brooklyn in 2001. The house was in a seedy, dangerous neighborhood with burned out buildings around the corner and across the street (and always a place to park).  It is now hip and gentrified (and hard to park) and a great investment.  My son, a Pratt Institute grad, rents from him, but no room in the inn for me. Fortunately, a sister lives a 50- minute- Metro North train ride away in the lovely village of Irvington, on the Hudson. I have a soft place to fall.  And Costco is nearby!

I’m living out of my car again with the basics I think I’ll need.  Renting my home and moving again has been stressful, but I’ve become a minimalist and that has alleviated some of the pain.

I’ve sworn this is the last time I’ll do this.

But then again… Asheville, NC, sounds nice.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out: Traveling Solo at 63… on a Budget!

Perth, the most isolated city in the world: No longer a well-kept secret.

img_1399

Kings Park state war memorial looking out over Matilda Bay, Perth.

I consider myself lucky…again… to have had the experience of visiting one of Australia’s other great cities, for an entire month, and as the guest of a well connected native, my friend and travel mentor, Gayl.  I had planned this to be the final destination of my Australian travels because I knew I could let my guard down and really relax, all the while enjoying 5 star hospitality.

Perth, the most isolated city in the world, is the capital of the Australian state of Western Australia and is the fastest growing capital in the country with a population close to two million.  It also became known as the “City of Light” when city residents lit their house lights and street lights as American astronaut John Glenn passed overhead while orbiting the earth on  Friendship 7 in 1962.  The city repeated the act as Glenn passed overhead in the space shuttle Discovery in 1998.  By all accounts, Perth is a fantastic, sunny place to live, especially for those who love outdoor living.

A center piece of the city is Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, one of the largest inner city parks in the world( 400.6 hectares/989 acres).  It’s a restful place to amble through grassy lawns and cultivated gardens containing a diversity of Western Australia flora or explore untamed bush land.  During the summer months, residents can enjoy outdoor cinema, listen to concerts under the stars, or run with their children in play areas. One thing I immediately noticed about Perth was its good city planning.  Public access to river frontage, beaches, and reserves on beautiful walkways and bike paths are plentiful.

 

I happened to be visiting Perth during the late winter/early spring (late August mid September) and found it quite cold–and that coming from a Northern New England woman!  The fact is a lot of folks don’t heat their homes much since most of the year is quite warm.  Funny how quickly you can become acclimated to warmer temperatures!

Perth has a bustling central business district that includes a 700 million dollar Cathedral Square redevelopment.  At the center is the former state Treasury Building (called by locals “The Treasury”) that now houses numerous high end shops and restaurants and the luxury Como, the Treasury Hotel.  Featured at the Como is a diverse collection of art works including a series of botanical illustrations by well known WA artist Philippa Nikulinsky.  A neighbor of Gayl’s, I was able to meet her and visit her studio.

Fremantle is a neighboring part of Perth’s metropolitan area and a port city known for its maritime history,  Victorian architecture, and Fremantle Prison, which housed  convicts from the 1850s to 1991.  Home to Gayl’s husband Tom growing up, he treated me to a private tour of his favorite hang outs in this trendy, and laid back city.

Ever the consummate host, Gayl kept me busy with a wide array of activities, great books to read, and, especially, interesting people to meet, many living right in her neighborhood, in the suburb of Dalkeith.   Through a friend of hers, I was invited to join a group of women artists who get together each week to paint.  I met yet another  artist and neighbor, Jennifer Hopewell, known for her beautiful landscapes of WA, who was getting her home studio ready for big exhibition in December.

Another neighbor, a vivacious and spry 80 year-0ld Betty, is an expert in Orthomolecular Medicine (nutritional medicine) and gave me a reading of vitamin and mineral deficiencies I had by looking at my face and hands and doing some muscle testing.  Another time Gayl took me to a yoga sound healing class where for almost two hours, the instructor played an assortment of  vibrating instruments like the didgeridoo, while we lay prone or in any comfortable position. I tingled for two days!

A short walk from Gayl’s home is the Chapel at Carmelite Monastery.  The chapel features paintings of the stations of the Cross, done by the well know Australian artist, Wim Boissevain when he was only twenty-two.

Other excursions included a trip to Tom’s farm in Keysbrook, an hour south of Perth.  Tom grows a variety of fruits and vegetables including edible, sweet, lemons called lemonades, which are delicious!

A neighbor of Tom’s near Keysbrook recently completed building a spectacular home high is the hills and celebrated with a Friday night bonfire/ cookout party featuring fabulous views.

I visited with Gayl’s friend Robyn and husband Jon, who over the years, have created a beautiful home and garden oasis.  Robyn has started a second career creating The Short Street Kitchen, which includes her raw food cooking demonstrations, a gourmet lunch, and garden tours, proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

My visit to Perth was really a family affair and even Gayl’s mother Mabs got in on the act and took me to a reserve of native flora and introduced me to many of Western Australia’s unique flowers that grow in the wild.

There are many places to eat and enjoy the scenery in Perth, but a favorite is the Odyssea Beach Cafe in City Beach, with its stunning ocean views and modern Australian menu.

But there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal to feed both body and soul, and most nights Gayl put her culinary talents to work with a dinner that rivaled any restaurant in town.

img_1301

One of many terrific dinners prepared by Gayl, with Tom, Gayl, Katrina, and Gayl’s mom, Mabs.

How was I ever going to leave all his behind and return to Maine?  This question kept replaying in my mind as the weeks went by and my departure day drew closer.  Of course, I missed family and friends, but returning to my old life is impossible because I am not the same person.  I”m reminded of a quote I heard some where: “Each stage of your life will require a different you.”  I’ve since rented my house for another 10 months.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

In the meantime, the Porters had one more treat in store for me before I left, and that was a three day trip to the Margaret River region three hours south of Perth.  Tucked away in Australia’s southwest corner, the area is known for its premium wines (over 120 wineries to explore), food, and surf beaches on the Indian Ocean.

I really don’t want this adventure to end.  Big question:  Does it have to?