Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


First Impressions (aka Got Popsicle?)

So, I’m here. In Vermont. Today is the fist official day of the residency, but I’ve been in the state since Friday night. My mind is mush. Partly because I’m slightly overwhelmed (to put it mildly). Partly because it’s 5am and partly because I’m hungover. They gave us wine last night at the reception, but I also had a bottle of my own (a parting gift from my sister), which I brought to the traditional “first night bonfire.”

I’ve said one phrase more than any other in the past 24 hours: “I’m a writer.” Since VSC accepts people from all disciplines, the first question people ask is “what do you do?” Or “where are you coming from?”

“I’m a writer,” I tell them. “I come from LA.” I might as well say I’m from a distant planet, because that’s how it feels. I’m in another world. A very white world – the ground, the trees, the sky, the people (I’ve seen one person of color in 3 days).

Other impressions:

Everything is made of wood. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t recall seeing a concrete or brick building yet

The rural roads seem to go on forever… long, gently curving two-lane roads with few stop signs and even fewer stop lights. Someone mentioned that I would want to come back and ride a motorcycle in the summer? Absolutely.

People are super friendly, but in a pragmatic, no-bullshit way. I think that’s called  being genuine.

There’s a quirkiness too.  Or a sense of humor. Or both. All I know is I passed a handwritten sign on Route 15 that said “Got Popsicle?” followed by another sign for “Popsicle Contest.”

It’s really quiet. No sirens. No buses or trains (or planes for that matter). No helicopters. The loudest noise so far is the snow plow, which passes by at least once ever 30 minutes. There’s  A LOT of snow.

Perhaps because of the quiet, it feels safe.

It better be safe. Our rooms don’t have locks. Rather, they only lock from the inside, so when we’re away the room is protected only by the moral code of our neighbors. I heard a couple of people quietly fretting about it at dinner. One lady was especially concerned because she has a bunch of computer equipment. I told her, “Well, they’re not going to suddenly put locks on the doors. I think we just have to trust. Maybe that’s the whole point.”

Coming from the person who wrote “Packing for Paranoia-ville”. Ha!

There is definitely an aspect of letting go. The founder of the studio, who wore a tunic and several beaded bracelets, mentioned this in his closing/opening remarks last night after dinner. He encouraged us to not only let go, but forget our past lives and disconnect from all our electronic “lifelines” to fully be present with our mind, body, soul and art during our stay here. He was very eloquent and compelling.

After dinner I asked a couple of others if they were going to heed his advice and turn everything off. One lady said, “I can’t. I have a baby at home.” Another said, “I’d like to, but I’m sort of addicted to that stuff.” A third lady said she was going to compromise by leaving her phone in her room while she’s working in her studio. We all agreed the founder’s suggestion was valid and everyone has to figure out what’s best for him/herself.

I had said I would try to blog daily, but we’ll see. It might be less frequent. If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I’m zoning out.

Until next time.

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Musical Memory

Yesterday I met up with a friend who works at Scholastic, the company that publishes Young Adult and Children’s books and educational material. She was kind enough to give me a tour of their very cool building, right in the middle of SoHo. In the lobby, they have about half a dozen letters from famous authors, journalists and (for some reason) Alec Baldwin, meant to inspire children writers. The best note was from Arthur Miller, which I will have to add later (I forgot to write it down).

At lunch my friend and I got to talking about my late husband K and how music played such a big role in his life. He used to work in the music department of DreamWorks Animation, contributing to the soundtracks of some of the biggest animated films like Shrek, Madagascar, The Prince of Egypt, and many others. Later he worked at Capitol Records (in the famous Capitol Records building), licensing their catalogue to films, television shows, commercials, sports, etc.

It still amazes me how much of our relationship revolved around music. When we first started dating he would give me CDs as gifts, both music that he received at work and thought I would like, and music compilations that he put together specifically. He was an expert at hip hop, heavy metal, rock and blues, he rarely went to see a band unless he was on the list (the exception being bands he really loved like The Black Keys), and he always got the VIP treatment.

We once had an argument at a Brother Ali concert at the El Rey (Brother Ali is a white albino rapper). He surprised me with tickets to Atmosphere (another hip hop group) for my birthday in 2008. We listened to hours upon hours of music during road trips. We saw shows at venues all over Los Angeles and Gogol Bordello, Clutch, The Roots and Wu Tang Clan at the 9:30 in D.C.

When he got sick we started going to less shows, and near the end, I was choosing the music for him. After his seizures, when he was unconscious, I played his favorite band Clutch on Pandora in the ICU, hoping somehow the music would bring him back. When he woke up, he couldn’t remember what year it was, but when the doctor asked him “What’s your favorite band?” he answered without hesitation, “Clutch!”

Later, when he was on hospice, I played blues and reggae softly in the background. I was surprised to find dozens of Chopin pieces on his iPod. “I didn’t know you liked Chopin,” I told him. “Lotta things you don’t know,” he replied with a smile.

At his memorial, I asked a friend of K’s to play two Chopin pieces live, including this one (which was also played at Chopin’s funeral):

To this day, my most treasured possession is K’s iPod. I take it with me everywhere I go and listen to it almost exclusively. It used to be ahead of its time because he was always listening to music before it came out. Now, it’s frozen in time because I will never change his playlists.

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Observations from NYC

Every time I visit New York City I tell myself I will move here one day, the sooner the better. People often assume I’m from here (apparently, I give off a “NY vibe”), but I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Still, I feel connected to the city. I’ve been coming here on a regular basis since I was a child, first with my mother, who used to bring me to visit friends and family, and  always managed to squeeze in a visit to the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney or one of the other major art museums.

When I was around 12 years old, my older sister moved here for graduate school and we would come to visit her. By the time I moved to LA to attend graduate school, my mother had passed away and my older brother and most of my childhood friends had moved away from Philly, so there was less reason to go back. It also held tons of memories that I found too painful to relive on every corner of every street. I sort of left and never looked back, opting to visit NY on school breaks. I thought I would move here after graduate school, but LA has a way of seducing you and keeping you comfortably nestled in her bosom, especially if you’re in the movie industry.

This is not to say that I don’t love LA. I do, more than I used to. It’s a beautiful city, and California is a stunning state. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing, but it still feels like a land of opportunity, like anything is possible. It feels newer, brighter and fresher than the East Coast. And of course there is the weather, which is a cliche but nevertheless, a factor in adding to the “brightness” and overall easier lifestyle.

One of my regrets is that my late husband and I never came to NY together. He was from Washington D.C. and that’s where he went every Christmas. I tried to get him to come to NY for a few days so I could show him the city but it just never happened. So, I would come without him. One time, I called him from a taxi speeding down the BQE at sunset (from which one can see the entire Manhattan skyline). “I wish you could see this,” I told him. “The city is gleaming!” He never let me forget that word, gleaming.

I’ve noticed more things about NYC on this visit, like the dog parks don’t have small and big dog sections, but offer just one large space for dogs of every size. Someone told me there’s a sectioned dog park near Prospect Park, “but no one uses the small dog side.”

More people talk about Hurricane Sandy here (for obvious reasons), especially in my sister’s neighborhood, where friends lost houses, cars, businesses and lives. Everyone seems to have either been affected or know someone who was. My nephew lost a classmate to the storm, and one of the oldest bars in Brooklyn, a cultural and historical landmark, is still struggling to re-open.

People walk on the sidewalks more than in LA (not a pedestrian city). Museums, cafes and bars are packed. There seems to be a diner or coffee shop on every street, and it feels more diverse, though this might be because everyone’s closer to each other. There is definitely an energy to this city. Then again, there is an energy to LA too. It’s just different. Like different pulses.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Vermont is like, to not being in a big city. I imagine it being much quieter, perhaps with clearer, more starry, skies.

Speaking of skies, yesterday I went to the Ann Hamilton show at the Park Avenue Armory, an amazing building which I had never been to before. The material in the middle of the space seemed to be parachute lining – or perhaps silk. People swung on swings which were attached to pulleys that lifted the curtain up and down in a constant, gentle movement, like waves. It was magical.

Anne Hamilton show
Ann Hamilton show2


Safe and Sound

Well, the puppy and I made it to the East Coast. Flight was smooth and uneventful. The most exciting thing was that we had a female pilot, which still seems rare. I asked one of the stewards to pass her a message, “Please tell the pilot there’s a 6 month old puppy down below and this is her first flight ever.” He said he would tell her.

I was a nervous wreck during take off and landing but the puppy managed just fine. When I left her she was falling asleep. When I picked her up, she was happy to see me but not traumatized or overly anxious. I was very impressed with how United took care of her and told them so.

Now we’re in Brooklyn, visiting with family and taking care of some business before heading to Vermont. Though I’ve been here countless times, this time I’m experiencing a bit of culture shock just because the dog is with me. It’s just so weird to be so far away from home, in New York of all places, where it snowed tonight. Nothing major, just some flurries, but still, when we took a walk it was pretty surreal. Mere hours ago we were walking in Hollywood under the palm trees!

I’m amazed at how easily she’s adapted to the new surroundings, a house full of people, including two teenagers and a large German Shepherd. Does she realize we’re 3,000 miles away from home? Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Home is wherever we are.

I’ve decided to keep blogging while I’m on the writer’s residency, daily if I can manage it. Hopefully, this won’t distract from my other writing (there’s so little time). But blogging has become a bit of a lifeline. I enjoy sharing the journey,  and feel like blogging actually keeps me on my toes as a writer. I also want to get faster at it, and less attached to the outcome.

I’m going to just post and let it be. People will either read and respond, or they won’t. I can’t think about it too much. The only way to make this residency work is to be as efficient with my time as possible. This means I won’t be responding to comments or checking in on other blogs as much as usual. I promise to follow up with people when I get back to LA in early February.

The residency officially begins January 6. In the meantime, there is much to do.

I wish for everyone a good night, and hope you are safe and sound in your part of the world as well.


Buggin’ Out

So, apparently my Vermont writer residency is not a done deal after all. I thought work had approved it but now I’m told it’s become a corporate tug-of-war between the head of my department and the head of HR. I’m blogging right now because I’m so nervous I can’t stand it. K used to call this, “buggin’ out.”

How I miss him. In moments of uncertainty, his presence always calmed me. He would distract me by making jokes, tease me about being too neurotic and “thinking too much.” All true, which is why I would always laugh.

I used to find it absolutely amazing – almost inconceivable – that he was always so chill and upbeat, so level-headed, able to see the positive in almost any situation, able to make me laugh about almost any situation. I used to feel reassured just by sitting beside him on the couch, watching TV, him bouncing my right hand in his left, ocasionally lifting it to his lips to kiss. There could have been zombies roaming the streets outside. I was safe.

Now I have the puppy, who distracts me in a different way. With her, I feel like the adult and laugh at her childish ways. With K, I used to feel like the child and he was the mature one. I looked up to him. I yearned for his approval (possibly too much) and would get terribly disappointed when I didn’t get it.

I still yearn for his approval. I want to feel like I’m doing what he would have advised me to do, like I’m making him proud. But I’m not sure.  He was so pragmatic. I am stubborn and willful. He was good with money. I seem incapable of saving, not spending. He was naturally diplomatic. I am naturally spacey. He was like an anchor. I am like a kite!

One thing is for sure. He would tell me to relax and not freak out. What will be, will be, and there’s nothing I can do about it right now. I’ll know soon enough what the verdict is. He would tell me to focus on the puppy tonight. She’s recovering from getting spayed and has been couped up inside most of the day while she mends. She’ll be very happy to see me when I get home. We’ll go for a nice stroll in the neighborhood and both get some fresh air. Maybe the skies will clear and we’ll be able to see the moon.

“Everything will be okay. Stop buggin’ out!” He said to me umpteen times, always with a smile.

So, that’s it. No more buggin’ out.