Celebrating Animals at Easter

Garden - Lucky grave 2This Easter Sunday, daffodils are blooming in the back yard where we buried our golden retriever Lucky in early autumn a few years ago. I planted his grave with daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths, and a couple of years later, we buried our cat Beep beside him. A decade or two from now, we’ll probably have to leave this home for something more age-appropriate, unless of course we’re carried out feet first, but before then, chances are we’ll bury another pet or two beside them.

In any case, the spring flowers will probably flourish long after we’re gone. After this year’s brutal winter, they’re a bit scraggly, but they’re more robust than the other spring bulbs I’ve planted in our yard. I’m sure the nutrients Lucky and Beep have given back to the earth play a major role in sustaining them. For me, the cycle of life, and especially the way nature renews itself this time of year, is what Easter’s all about.

In our modern society, we seldom experience death first-hand, except of course for our own, but animals help ground us in the reality of mortality. I’ve been with beloved dogs and cats when they died, some at home, some at the vet’s, where they met a far more humane and gentle death than most of us can look forward to. I’ve grieved and mourned for them, even sunk into clinical depression over their loss.

Yet sooner or later I’ve welcomed other pets into my home and heart, and dared to love them even though I know that chances are

Sirius

Sirius

they’ll leave this world before I do. Lucky and Beep are gone, along with other beloved dogs and cats, but now we share our home with Sirius, a chow-Australian shepherd mix, and Lunesta, a beautiful tabby with orange patches modulating her stripes. Many studies have shown people with pets live longer, and this Easter I’m praying for a good long life for everyone in my family – people and animals alike.

Less beloved critters can teach us about mortality too. On Good Friday my daughter reported that my eight-year-old granddaughter Jasper watched one of their cats kill a mouse, slowly and with relish. Jasper composed a memorial tribute, which Stacey posted on Facebook: “Fred was a brave mouse. He survived many things – until he died.” She then buried him in a shoe box in their back yard, with no one else watching – “Eleanor Rigby style,” as Stacey put it.

The next day, Stacey mentioned seeing signs that there might be other mice in the house. Jasper’s response: “Then we’d better go shopping and buy a lot of shoes.”

On that happy note, I’ll sign off and wish you a joyful Easter, however you choose to celebrate it. Lacking any traditional rituals, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine, take it out to the garden, play in the dirt and see which perennials have resurrected themselves after the seemingly endless winter.

Lunesta with mice

Lunesta with mice

 

 

How the Beatles Broke Up My Marriage

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

I was online at precisely 10:00am this past Monday morning, when tickets to Paul McCartney’s July concert at the TU Center went on sale. I even got a seat reserved for me, but Ticketmaster hassled me about my password, so I lost out. I don’t feel too badly, though, because I saw Paul twice, along with the other Beatles, at their historic Shea Stadium concerts.

I recall the exact moment the Sixties blazed into my life, powered by an electric guitar. It was November of 1964, and I was in a studio at Columbia University, working on an oil painting about the Kennedy assassination, when a piercing guitar note blasted from my studio mate’s tinny AM radio, followed by an infectiously rhythmic riff. I put down my brush.

“What is THAT?” I asked.

“It’s the Beatles,” Susan said, shooting me an incredulous stare that suggested I’d just arrived from outer space. The song was “I Feel Fine,” the group’s sixth number one single that year, yet I’d barely heard of them, never heard their music. How could I have been so oblivious? The major culprit was probably jazz. I met the man who would become my first husband** at the Harvard radio station, where he was head of programming and I was a jazz disc jockey, and we bonded over our love of music. When he quit Harvard, I followed him to New York City. He got a job at WBAI-FM, the iconic independent radio station. We considered ourselves far too hip to own a television set, much less listen to AM radio.

When the Cuban missile crisis hit in October of 1962, I was still a child of the Fifties. I’d grown up convinced that the world wouldCubanMissileSplashimage1 end in a nuclear Armageddon, and that I’d never live past my twenties. Throughout the thirteen days we followed the conflict between the U.S.A. and Russia via public radio and the New York Times, I was terrified we were going to die. Therefore, I reasoned, it was absolutely imperative that we get married as soon as possible. We were already practically living together, so it wasn’t as if we had to recite our vows before consummating our love, but back then marriage was a major goal of every Ivy League coed.

I was still a conventional Fifties girl on November 22nd of 1963. I remember leaving a medieval art history class, emerging into the central rotunda of Barnard Hall, and hearing the din of women and girls abuzz with the news of Kennedy’s assassination. Beatles with Bruce Morrow 1965In February of 1964, I earned my Barnard degree and Phi Beta Kappa key. That same month, the Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. But I was oblivious, caught up in planning a summer wedding in Milwaukee and studying five days a week at the Art Students League, getting together a portfolio of paintings to submit for admission to the MFA program at Columbia. Figurative paintings featuring my jazz idols Miles, Mingus and Coltrane, and dark canvases depicting JFK’s motorcade in Dallas.

The big summer wedding never happened. Vietnam was increasingly in the news, and my Harvard man received a letter from Selective Service, so we pulled together a quickie April wedding in Manhattan to help keep him from the draft. Now I’d fulfilled two major dreams: an Ivy League degree and a Harvard husband. What lay ahead, I had no idea, beyond vague notions of becoming a successful artist, with my husband as the primary breadwinner. Motherhood wasn’t an option – we believed it would be wrong to bring children into a world that was bound to self-destruct before we were thirty.

Amazingly, I’m still here fifty years later, a mother and grandmother, in a sunny studio in upstate New York, typing away with the aid of technology no one could have envisioned all those decades ago. But getting back to Columbia: why did those twangy notes from John Lennon’s guitar*** mark the start of the Sixties for me? True, I’d already lived through a couple of major milestones of that decade, but before the Beatles, I was living out life scripts that had been written for me long before.

In a way, the Beatles destroyed my marriage, and not just because I came close to getting into their bedroom suite at the Warwick Hotel when they played Shea Stadium in 1965. No, it was the hedonistic intensity of their music and the way it inspired me to paint them, in ever larger and more idolatrous likenesses, that brought home the realization that in some ways I’d bypassed my adolescence. I’d been a good girl, focused on straight A’s and Ivy League schools, propelled into a premature marriage by outdated standards. I’d never had the chance to bust loose and explore my wild side.

By 1966, that marriage was over and I began making up for lost time. Thanks to the Beatles, I lived the Sixties to the fullest.

*At least I’ve got a ticket to see Ringo Starr at the Palace in June!

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

**Frank Haber (Franklin Richard Haber) died in 2012, a fact I learned only after the Harvard-Radcliffe 50th reunion book came out, and the editors had added “deceased 2012” after his name in my entry. He was known as FRH at the Harvard station and WBAI. He was a great guy, and I’d love to hear from anyone who knew him.

**Until I did some fact-checking for this post, I had always assumed George Harrison played the guitar riff at the beginning of “I Feel Fine,” but it was really John. Below is part of the Wickipedia entry. It was probably the feedback that grabbed me. “I Feel Fine” starts with a single, percussive (yet pure-sounding) feedback note produced by plucking the A string on Lennon’s guitar. This was the very first use of feedback preceding a song on a rock record. According to McCartney, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pickup on it so it could be amplified . . . We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it . . . it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”[3] Although it sounded very much like an electric guitar, Lennon actually played the riff on an acoustic-electric guitar (a Gibson model J-160E),[8] employing the guitar’s onboard pickup.

Hobnobbing with the Stars of General Hospital

HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL – especially after the General Hospital Fan Fantasy day last Saturday.*

With Michael Easton (Dr. Silas Clay)

With Michael Easton
(Dr. Silas Clay)

I’m feeling so blessed to have been able to attend the General Hospital Fan Fantasy event this past Saturday in Montclair, New Jersey. Last November, when I first learned about it online, I immediately splurged on a Platinum ticket, which included a 90-minute meet and greet, including a 1:1 photo opportunity with all ten stars. I’m so glad I did.

GH Fantasy Maura WestI managed to get my photo taken with all of them, and perhaps some of their glamour was contagious, because I photographed far better than I usually do. Unfortunately in the first couple of photos, my hair makes me look wild and crazy. Gisella, my great hairdresser at J.C. Penney, had given me a marvelous cut and blow dry the day before, but I was a few minutes late arriving, and I didn’t have time to check myself in the mirror. A stiff breeze wreaked havoc with my do on the way in. Maura West, aka Ava Jerome, was the first star I posed with, and when I checked the image on my Galaxy and said I looked crazy, she said, “That’s okay, we’re all crazy.”

The actors were uniformly upbeat and friendly, and several said how much

With Tyler Christopher (Nicholas Cassadine)

With Tyler Christopher (Nicholas Cassadine)

they appreciated my coming to the event. Overall, the women displayed more social graces than the men, with the exception of Michael Easton, whose presence was the main reason I splurged on that platinum ticket.

When I walked in to the conference center at Montclair College, Michael was the first star I spotted – the proverbial tall, dark and handsome guy across the crowded room, taller than the other actors and most of the fans, dressed entirely in black. My first thought: jeez, it’s really him, in the flesh, but he looks so small! Of course he was over a hundred feet away, and I was used to seeing him in close-up on a big TV screen.

I queued up with the other platinum fans to meet the stars, and Michael’s line was by far the longest, so I opted to start with some of the others. Tyler Christopher, aka Prince Nicholas Cassadine, was the first, and then I moved on to some of the actresses standing near Michael. When I finally did get to him, he was friendly and gracious, and he seemed genuinely impressed when I offered him a copy of my suspense novel, Eldercide. I inscribed it to him with a note saying he’d helped inspire the character Gabriel. I didn’t tell him Gabriel is a compassionate serial killer of little old ladies, but I hope he’ll read the book and find out.

With Laura Wright (Carly Jacks)

With Laura Wright (Carly Jacks)

Juggling my camera, finding folks to take photos of me with the stars, posing, getting autographs and handing out fliers for my books was a bit discombobulating. Near the end of the meet-and-greet, when I went back to Laura Wright for an autograph I’d missed, I told her I didn’t quite have my act together, she said, “That’s all right, none of us do. Anyone who says they have it together is lying.” She proved her point later, when she emceed the two-hour show with Tyler Christopher, but she was a hoot!

In my next post, I’ll tell you about that session and some of the terrific questions and answers, including how they cry on command and which star got poison ivy up his rectum, but in the meantime, here are some snaps of me with my favorites. Subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss it! And please leave comments: which stars are your favorites, and which photo makes you most jealous?

 

*HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL is the name of my new soap opera vampire novel. Look for it in May!

With Kelly Thiebaut (Dr. Britt Westbourne)

With Kelly Thiebaut (Dr. Britt Westbourne)

With Dom Zamprogna (Dante Falconeri)

With Dom Zamprogna (Dante Falconeri)

 

New Year’s Resolutions – to do or not to do?

New Year's clock midnightWishing all my friends and readers a joyous New Year! I wrote this poem yesterday afternoon, in the nick of time to read it last night at the Albany Poets’ POETS SPEAK LOUD open mic at McGeary’s Irish Pub. Nothing like a deadline and the prospect of a friendly, enthusiastic audience to get the creative juices flowing. Once I publish this post, I’ll make a run to the store for egg nog and other sundries, then kick back at home with my hubby for New Year’s Eve.

Cat New-Years-Resolution-Memes- 

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE NEW YEAR’S

 

Twas the night before New Year’s and all through my mind

Skittered thoughts of tasks undone and goals left behind.

 

Those fifteen new pounds I acquired this yearNew Year's apple and tape measure

Mean a new resolution to diet, I fear.

Those favorite noshes I thought wouldn’t matter

Have gone to my hips and I’m looking much fatter.

But giving them up? No, that’s out of the question,

So don’t give me all those nutritious suggestions.

No fasting, no juicing, no broccoli or tofu,

No counting of calories – to that I say screw you!

So bring on the pizza, the cheddar and brie,

The yummy dark chocolates to build more of me!

And bring on the box wines, the reds and the whites,

To lessen the chill of these cold winter nights.

 

Still, I can lose weight if I work out a lot,

Hit the Y every morning, get rid of my pot.

But it’s so much more pleasant to languish in bed

My cat Lunesta on my snowflake flannel sheets

My cat Lunesta on my snowflake flannel sheets

With my cat on my lap and my tummy well fed.

 

And my house is still messy, it only gets worse,

And probably will till they come with the hearse.

With cobwebs and closets with clothes overflowing,

And huge piles of books that I can’t resist stowing.

And everywhere paper is stacked up in hills,

Unread magazines, catalogs, unopened bills.

I solemnly vow that I’ll throw stuff away,

But what if I need it some bleak rainy day? 

 

I could banish the clutter if I hired a maid,

But sadly I guess she’d expect to get paid.

Still, I could afford it if I sold more books,

But marketing’s harder by far than it looks.

And I still haven’t finished my brilliant new story,

Remember Port Charles?

Remember Port Charles?

The first of a trilogy destined for glory.

 

So many distractions, they tempt me away

From the tasks I’m determined to tackle each day,

From the far better person I know I could be

If I didn’t procrastinate, weren’t so damn lazy.

So this New Year’s, once more I resolve to do better,

Rise early each morning and be a go-getter.

Lose more weight, sell more books, become famous and rich,

So by this time next year there’ll be no need to bitch.

New Year's Eve Times Square cleanup

 

         

The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkoutOnly eight days till Christmas, and I’m immersed in the holiday spirit. But there have been past Christmases when I was mired in depression or feeling very “bah humbug” about the holidays. I’m well aware that this season conjures up a wide range of emotions in shades from joy to despair, and that December can be a problematic time for many people, especially those living alone or with emotional, physical or financial problems – and doesn’t that include just about everybody? 

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

For this night’s Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentine’s in Albany,** I wanted to write something new to read at the open mic that precedes the actual poetry slam. Tonight’s theme, in keeping with the holidays, is the “Annual Airing of Grievances.” On my car radio, even the country station has been playing Andy Williams’s inescapable “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”*** and I’ve been thinking of writing a parody substituting “horrible” for “wonderful.” But I didn’t want to focus on negativity – not completely, at any rate.  

But walking my dog by the lake this morning, I came up with “over-hyped,” and by the time he’d finished pooping, I had the beginning of these lyrics in my head. Feel free to borrow them for your local sing-along. Or if you’re coming to Valentine’s, print them out or save them on your smart phone so you can join in.

OVER-HYPED TIME OF THE YEAR

 

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

So you’d better be happy, and best make it snappy

Or people will jeer.

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

 

All your family will want lots of gifts.

So you’d better go shopping, and don’t dream of stopping

Or you’ll cause a rift

If you don’t spring for pricy new gifts.

 

(bridge)

There’ll be parties each night and if you’re not invited,

Then you can just stay home and mope.

Drink your brandy-spiked eggnog till you’re in a deep fog.

You’ll wake up a hung-over dope!

 

It’s the season they sing about snow.

But you can’t shovel white stuff ‘less you’ve got the right stuff.

Head south now, just go –

Oops, you can’t, ‘cause you don’t have the dough.

 

(bridge)

Hang those lights, deck those halls. If being cheery seems false,

Just keep wearing that shit-eating grin.*

This will pass soon enough, just hang in and stay tough

Till the January bills trickle in!

 

(dramatic key change)

But for now, eat and drink, have no fear.

Though this season’s depressing, more turkey and dressing

Will fill you with cheer,

And you’ll gain ten more pounds for New Year!

 

(Repeat first stanza if desired)

*Substitute “big phony grin” as needed

blue Christmas tree in grand hall** For more about the Nitty Gritty Slam, visit www.albanypoets.com. This is the last slam of the year, and by next Christmas, Valentine’s will have been demolished to make way for a huge parking garage for Albany Med. Right now, the snow’s coming down hard, and I may not make it to tonight’s event after all. But I just poured some eggnog, and I can always sing this at “Poets Speak Loud” next Monday at McGeary’s. You can find info on that at the same website.  

***The song was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for the Andy Williams TV show and premiered in 1963. It wasn’t an overnight smash, but he sang it every year and it slowly gained popularity. Now, love it or hate it, it ranks among the top ten Christmas songs. Andy Williams died in September, 2012.

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Camelot, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the End of Innocence

CubanMissileSplashimage1The media coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy has been inescapable these past few weeks. Much has been made of our nation’s loss of innocence when Camelot came tumbling down, but if I had to choose a pivotal event that triggered my disenchantment in that era, it would be the Cuban missile crisis the year before, in October of 1962, when Kennedy and Kruschev played a game of brinksmanship that brought the world close to nuclear annihilation. 

I was a junior at Barnard that fall, living in an apartment on West 110th Street a few blocks from the Columbia campus and deeply in love with the man who would later become my first husband. I didn’t own a television. With the limited programming available back then, I considered it hip to do without, and my extensive collection of jazz LPs more than sufficed for entertainment. 

But I remember spending days with my boyfriend, glued to the radio, in a panic that the world was about to be blown to smithereens. Before it did, I was desperate to get married. Why this seemed so critically important, I can’t recall – I wasn’t religious, and we’d been lovers for over a year already. After nearly two interminable weeks, the crisis passed, and we remained single for the time being, but the emotional turmoil of that time remains vivid in my memory. 

I was a senior by the time Kennedy was killed the following year. I came out of a medieval art history class, where I’d been looking at black and white slides of sarcophagi in a class taught by an elderly lady professor nicknamed “the Barnard coffin,” into the venerable marble halls of the lobby, where everyone was in an uproar about the shooting. I hurried back to my apartment; by the time I got there, he’d been declared dead.  

I was shocked and saddened, but by then my “innocence” was already lost, and the assassination didn’t have the emotional impact of the Cuban missile crisis the year before. And I still didn’t own a television. As the child of two journalists, I was loyal to the print media, and the iconic still photos of the killing and its aftermath soon found their way into the imagery of my paintings.  

World's Fair - Flushing Meadows, NY 1964

World’s Fair – Flushing Meadows, NY 1964

Actually I had never expected to live till 1963. Like the rest of my pre-Boomer generation, I grew up with school civil defense drills, where we were taught to take shelter under our puny wooden desks, and with talk of bomb shelters and nuclear holocausts. Back in the late 1950’s, when there was talk of a World’s Fair planned for 1964 in New York City, I thought the idea was absurd – we’d all be nuked into oblivion by then. But the World’s Fair came to pass, and my husband and I visited as newlyweds. 

So all this talk about the loss of Camelot innocence is nothing but doggy doo doo, in my opinion. Even so, there was a special aura about the Kennedys. Though I didn’t watch them on TV, I did see Jack Kennedy twice in person. In 1956, my mother and I were in the audience at the Democratic National Convention, because she was “Madly for Adlai” –

Jack Kennedy in Chicago, 1956

Jack Kennedy in Chicago, 1956

Stevenson, that is. JFK came very close to winning the nomination for Vice President, and his gracious concession speech made him an overnight sensation. Like so many others, my mother was instantly smitten by his eloquence and good looks, and she rightly predicted we’d be seeing a lot more of him. 

My second sighting of Kennedy occurred in the Harvard Yard when I was a sophomore at Radcliffe. By now he was President, and word got out that he was on campus for a Harvard Board of Trustees meeting. A crowd gathered near the John Harvard statue outside Memorial Hall, and we were eventually rewarded by the sight of JFK descending the steps and waving a greeting before he was spirited away.

John Harvard, by Daniel Chester French

John Harvard, by Daniel Chester French

It was a cold winter day, as I recall, sunny with snow on the ground, with a thrilling sense of optimism and potential, and although the event isn’t graven in my brain like all the horrific images that came later, I prefer to remember Jack Kennedy the way he looked that day in the Harvard Yard.

Kennedy with flag

 

 

Lou Reed’s Graceful Exit

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Lou Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson describes his death on October 27th:

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed 2002He didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.

As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.

You can read the full interview by clicking on the following link:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/laurie-andersons-farewell-to-lou-reed-a-rolling-stone-exclusive-20131106#ixzz2kYzUEW8k

Lou Reed

What a beautiful description of an ideal way of dying, and what a contrast to people’s expectations at the height of Lou Reed’s fame in the early 1970’s, when he and Keith Richards were at the top of the lists of rock stars most likely to die next. As they grew older, both reportedly cleaned up their acts, abandoning the outrageously drug-addled ways of their youth. Against all odds, Lou made it to 71, and Keith will turn 70 this December. (May he rock on for many years to come!) 

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

No doubt it was their passion for music, along with the long-term love of good women, that sustained them into old age. Since Lou Reed’s passing, I’ve read many tributes to his music and his seminal influence on rock musicians from punk to grunge and beyond. I’ve got nothing to add in that regard – truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan – but all the eulogies call up vivid memories of the place and time we shared – lower Manhattan in the late 60’s and early 70’s. 

Though I never met Lou Reed, I did meet his early manager, Andy Warhol, one night on the corner of St. Marks Place and the Bowery. We’d paused for a red light, and somehow we struck up a conversation. Looking inscrutable behind his dark glasses, Andy asked where I was from, gave me what amounted to a mini-interview, but evidently decided I didn’t pass muster as a potential Chelsea girl, because we went our separate ways. 

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

This was the late 60’s, and no doubt I was on my way to or from the Fillmore East to hear Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead or some other band I found more musically exciting than the Velvet Underground, who were still very much under the radar of FM rock radio. Reading about Lou Reed in Rolling Stone, I realize I may have heard him in an early incarnation of the Velvets, because they used to play live accompaniment for experimental films in the small grubby theaters I frequented. If I did hear him, he didn’t make much of an impression. 

But he did impress me in the late 90’s at a concert in Bethel, New York, site of the original Woodstock Festival. On a makeshift temporary stage, he shared a bill with Joni Mitchell and Donovan – all artists I admired but had never heard live, and all marvellous. Typically, he dressed entirely in black and kept his dark glasses on throughout the performance – a cool hipster, not unlike Miles Davis with his shades in nightclubs in the 50’s. (Now I’m really dating myself, but hey, I’m only a year older than Lou Reed.) 

After the concert, I wandered around in pitch blackness searching for my car in the abandoned fields, an experience far removed from the festival I lived through and showed my paintings at three decades before. The Bethel Woods arts center now occupies the site, but I haven’t yet been back.  

In my Nia class this morning, near the end of the routine, our teacher guided us in moving our energy up through the chakras, through the belly and heart to the head. Afterwards, I told her about how Lou Reed died doing tai chi, and recommended she look up the article, but she was only vaguely aware of who he was. (She was born in 1964, the year I finished college.) 

Nonetheless, whenever I’m absorbed in a practice that involves moving my energy up through my body, I’ll remember Lou Reed and the way he died in a state of grace.

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