January Stories

I have no January stories. January is a moment lost. Each day seemed to meld into the next, the hours indistinguishable from one another. Morning, midday and sunset all resembled dusk. And dusk was like the dead of night. The dead of night extended into morning.

There are no stories this month. We watched playoff football. We ate wings, burgers; drank beer. We passed the time looking forward or back, not wanting to acknowledge the here or now. Planning trips for months to come, not leaving home for days on end.

We binge watched. I managed every episode of “Felicity” before mid-month. We ran out of oil… again. One or both of us loses track at least once a year. I blamed him.

I started every morning with the news and each day I got angrier and more afraid. The anxiety of wondering what the year will bring, overwhelming at times. We went out to eat. Took the dog to the vet, to the groomer, for walks down the street.

We played music, but not nearly enough. When I sang I did it for the world to hear, but only a few did.

I worked about a hundred extra shifts at the bar. I made small talk about the weather. I reused old jokes. I asked myself what the hell happened to the extra money.

I worried about money.

I worried about the future.

I worried about the dog. The bar. The house. The neighbor’s sidewalk. The government. My weight. My writing and my consistent drowsiness. Our business and our relationship and family drama. And First Family drama.

I hurt my back and I don’t know how. I practiced yoga through a clenched jaw with a closed heart. I went through the motions. I kept breathing, but my mind has been racing all short year long.

I have no January stories, at least none I want to tell.

T Minus 40: Daddy

I don’t have many stories of my dad and me. I’ve spent the last 37 days trying to come up with one that doesn’t make either one of us the villain. I want to change the narrative. I don’t want the “dad” story to be one of anger or sadness or loss, but those are the themes that enter into my consciousness when I brainstorm on Daddy.

A month ago I thought I would air all of my grievances. I thought I would finally confront my anger at him. I thought I would write about the times he let me down or left me feeling forgotten and unimportant, unloved. When I picked up my pen though, paralysis overtook my hand. The emotions are still present, but I’m losing interest in the theme.

I didn’t know my father very well as an adult. After a certain point, our lives took very different paths. I spent a lot of years being angry about that. I don’t know that I handled the anger all that well, but I did my best. I think maybe he was afraid of that, of me and my anger.

I was born three weeks after my dad’s 25th birthday and merely 10 months after he married my mother. He could not have foreseen the impending dissolution of that marriage, in fact his Catholic upbringing wouldn’t allow him to conceive of such a thing. I have to believe he did the best he could.

I have a picture on my desk that fascinates me. I found it while I was gathering material for this project. It’s from before I was born. My father’s face is just barely visible through the driver’s side window of a bright red 1974 (or 5) AMC Javelin. It’s a hot car. My mother told me it was his.

My dad looks like a kid behind the wheel, a proud kid. I keep staring at the picture imagining the life he had before I was born. I bet he was fun to hang out with. I bet he worked his ass off to buy that car and I bet he washed and polished it every weekend. I imagine what the birth of his baby daughter in late 1976 meant to that life. I’m sure he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do: work, get married, have kids, get old – in that order.

I was in my mid-teens when my dad returned from his first move to Florida which he undertook a few weeks before my 14th birthday. I remember being incredibly sad and disappointed that he would miss my big day, but not as devastated as I had been when, at age 19, I received his phone call from Florida telling me that he had relocated for good. This time without so much as a goodbye.

My dad’s cousin used to throw a July 4th block party with his neighbors on Long Island. I got to go to it a couple of times. One of them stands out as a great day I spent with Daddy. I was 15, old enough for the cousins to sneak me beer, but too old to play with the kids. I was stuck in between. I had been born too early. My stepmother, Cary was busy talking with the other moms who were sitting at a nearby table keeping an eye on their young children as they ran and played in the closed street. My half brothers Bobby and Jason were young, about 5 and 3 respectively and were busy with pre-schooler activities. I had my dad to myself for a while, which was rare.

I don’t remember what we talked about or even if we talked. If we did it was likely about surfacey stuff like weather or cars. We stood by a giant pot of boiling water as he drank a Bud Light and pretended not to notice that the plastic cup I was sipping on had contraband keg beer in it. Someone had gone crabbing that morning, and they were boiling the blue crabs in batches. I think it was my dad’s turn to stir the pot.

He taught me how to pick and eat crabs that day, although mostly he pulled the meat out for me as we stood and talked to the cousins and drank our warm domestic macrobrews. One of the cousins offered to teach me how to surf. I said I’d love to learn and was excited to return for a lesson later that summer. I never saw him again.

As night fell the cousins and the neighbors set up for their massive Grucci style fireworks display at the end of the block. They had stockpiled massive amounts of illegal fireworks gathered from several road trips to Florida. They must’ve known the local cops, because no one ever busted them and the last show I’d seen put Macy’s to shame. I remembered how thrilling it had been and couldn’t wait for the excitement to begin.

When the first of the loud “blockbusters” went off, Bobby burst into tears and had to be taken inside. He was terrified of the nearby explosions. I just stood next to my dad and watched the display, a bit incredulous at the amount of fire power these people were packing, but reveling in the simple ease of my near wordless father-daughter bonding day.

The only time I ever truly talked to my dad was several years after his second move to Florida. Cary had just lost her long battle with cancer and I flew down to visit Dad for a few days. I thought I could be of some help or comfort. I wanted him to need me. It was 2000 or 2001. Bobby and Jason were still young, too young to lose their mom. Amber, my newest half-sibling, was only 6 or 7.

It was already dark when my plane landed and the kids went to bed shorty after we got back from the airport, but my father and I stayed up and talked. It was the first time ever as two adults. We talked about memories of the past and times we had shared when I was little before the other kids were born. He shared stories of his side of the family that I had never heard. We drank beer. We smoked cigarettes. I told him stories of my life, my music and my college experience. We went through hundreds of pictures. Pictures I had never seen. He went to his bedroom and came back with a men’s gold necklace that held a gold cross charm. He told me Cary had given it to him and he wanted me to have it.

I accepted the cross knowing that my status as a full-fledged agnostic would keep me from ever wearing it, but I knew it meant something to him and so I was honored to receive it.

We talked into the early hours of the morning and at some point my father got quiet for a few seconds before saying, I guess I’ve been a shitty dad, huh? 

Yeah, but it’s OK. I don’t know if I meant it or not. In that moment, I probably did.

The last time I talked to my father he told me he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I later found out that he had been diagnosed about 14 months prior to that conversation. My anger returned. Why didn’t he tell me sooner?

He promised that he would come see my house just as soon as he beat the cancer.

He asked me if I still smoked, and I told him I had quit. Good, he said. Don’t ever start again.

He asked me if I remembered the necklace and if I still had it.

Yes, I have it.

Could you send that to me?

…sure Dad, anything you want. I’ll do it today. I was angry though and I was hurt. It felt as though that was the only reason he called me, like he would’ve just died without me ever knowing. The same way he moved to Florida. The ultimate abandonment. Like the next year, one of my aunts or uncles would’ve jotted it down in a Christmas card. Merry Christmas Amy, your dad is dead.

Maybe death frightened him and he needed the necklace that his wife had given him for comfort. Maybe I was being selfish, but all I could see was that my dad had given me so little in life and then he asked for it back.

I went to my bedroom, dug out the necklace and handed it to Yves. Can you please send this to my dad? I never want to see it again.

Daddy died three months later.

T Minus 40: Some Days

Some days are just harder than others.

That’s just the way it is. It has nothing to do with what came before or what is approaching. Some days the connections just don’t get made. The pieces just don’t fit. It’s not for lack of trying and it’s nobody’s fault. The thing is to continue to push through those days, to keep trying to convince the pieces to fit.

You can’t force it, but you can’t ease up on it either. There has to be a balance, a give and take.

The real work is giving yourself the space and the permission to feel the hard days and begin to try to reason with them, and never take the easy days for granted.

write

without

the burden

self doubt replaced

it’s liberating

when you crave affection

music and material

expect the audience to love

with applause comes clarity, wisdom

I was being brave, not caring that I lost

T Minus 40: Bring It

There is only one week to go and it turns out that after 33 straight days of contemplation, information gathering and creation I’m ready for forty. Bring it! Ten years from now, when I’m composing T Minus 50, I know I will have an amazing collection of stories from the coming decade.

I’ve spent a lot of years imagining that there is some alternate universe in which my life went the “right” way. A universe where the record companies didn’t pass on me or I actually got the part and not just a call back. A life in which I had the stones to keep trying. An alternate universe that would let me create without the fear and sensitivity that held me back in my 20s and 30s. It’s a place where money doesn’t get in the way, it doesn’t factor in at all. A life in which people were nothing but supportive. A universe where I believed enough in myself to buy into what I was doing as an artist and create things that pleased me without worrying about commercial success. A world where the saying “do what you love and the money will follow” was a reality as opposed to a notion reserved for those who have already achieved financial success.

I’ve spent a lot of time ascribing blame. I’ve placed it everywhere, on the industry, on the clients, on circumstances, but mainly on myself. T Minus 40 has unlocked something I thought I’d lost. By committing to this project I gave myself permission to tap into my creativity again. I’m taking baby steps each day. I am only accountable to myself, so the blame has fallen away. It’s simply not useful to the process.

There have been some days that almost got the better of me (and I’m still not done) but I didn’t want to feed the demon of failure so I widened my definition of success. In so doing, I remembered that it’s OK to take pride in accomplishment. Humility has it’s place, but it’s not appropriate in every situation.

Spending all of this time reviewing my life and mining it for material has been incredibly eye-opening. About midway through the project I realized that the all of the topics that I thought would be “deep” or “sad” no longer interested me. I realized I had no desire to whine about loss or missteps or injustices. I wanted to enjoy the project, so I put a spotlight on the last 39 years and it revealed that there is no “right” way a life should go. It’s been going the way I’ve been leading it and I’ve got the memories and the material to show for it.

I started out afraid of turning 40 as a female and as a performer. I worried that I had missed all my chances. But unlike so many of my fears that I’ve simply avoided, this birthday is inevitable, so I chose to steer into the skid. I chose not to hide or lie and tell people I’m 32 (that starts next week). I chose to own it, to buy into myself and my own relevance. I gave myself the gift of finally accepting that all of the things I’ve done, the hats I’ve worn to facilitate my life don’t necessarily define it. I run a business, but I’m not a business woman. I handle the finances, but I’m not a bookkeeper. I know my way around the kitchen better than most, but I’m not a chef. I use social media for self-promotion, but I am in no way a marketing whiz.

I’m beginning to understand that change doesn’t have to be bad. Forty looks peaceful now. I know I can’t control the outside world (that’s the wisdom that comes with age), but I also can’t quiet what’s inside to fit into some pre-conceived notion of the perfect woman. Sometimes I have to drop the ball and trust that I’ll be able to pick it back up.

Thanks again to everyone that’s commented, liked, shared, emailed and supported. I didn’t know when I started if anyone would read any of this and no offense, I didn’t care, but sharing this event has been a truly wonderful part of the work.

T Minus 40: October 7, 2001

Something unthinkable happened. I am a sensitive person. I shut down. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t use it to make art, so I stopped.

On September 11, 2001 I was a 24-year-old budding songwriter just starting my career in NYC. After the attacks, I had nothing left to say.

About 4 weeks later, I made a pilgrimage to Ground Zero to try to achieve some closure. To wrap my brain around what had happened. When I arrived back home I learned that the US had declared war…

October 7, 2001

Today I went there.

I trekked down Broadway in a long line of tourists that came from all over with video cameras and regular cameras to point and shoot this horror. I don’t know why I went really. I think I needed it to be right in front of me to believe it.

First, you notice the smell, from the minute you ascend the subway stairs. Then there’s a glimpse every block of something familiar, but you don’t quite recognize it. Slowly, block by block you start to see more, recognize more. Things are eerily familiar. The Borders books on the ground level looks alright, but everything above it is blown out and scorched through. The smell thickens and so does the crowd. You get angry being surrounded by visitors coming to gawk at the carnage, destruction, the horrible reality. You notice the stores on the street that must’ve been open as the massive clouds of dust and debris rocketed through their windows. The final and most horrifying scene is the view from directly across the street. It’s the most recognizable remaining piece of the structure, the outer steel beam construction of one of the towers stands tall, but it’s burnt and it’s broken.

I was standing in the street staring at modern-day ruins. I couldn’t stay any longer. I saw a tomb before my eyes. A mausoleum for thousands. I saw suffering and fear and loss. I saw terror. I turned to leave, I don’t think I stood there much longer than a minute. The pictures on TV were real now – which was what I wanted for better or for worse.

I didn’t think I would break down, but I did. I turned to Yves and held onto him. I let out some of the tears I’ve held back for almost 4 weeks, not all of them. I’m not sure I’m done. I would like to be able to say it was cathartic, but even though I let emotions out I am still as full of them as I had been. It’s not going away for me. My immediate friends and family are safe, but I am scared.

I turned on the television tonight to find that while I was weeping at the sight where so many of my neighbors perished that we, as a country, and our allies had begun a military campaign that may last for quite some time against those we have found to be responsible. I’m not sure what to make of all of this right now, but I don’t think I’ll stop being scared any time soon.

I like peace. I like my way of life and I feel it’s being threatened. Sometimes I think I would rather die than live the way these men in Afghanistan who hate us would have us live.

T Minus 40: Back to School

Today is the first day of school in my town and I am super-jealous of those kids!

September has always felt like a beginning to me. Not only is it the start of a new year of life for me each calendar rotation, but no matter how old I get I still feel like going back to school. This year is no exception, last night I went to back to “class” in the form of an online meeting with my writer’s group and it felt great. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose just as mine was dwindling.

I was never one of those kids that dreaded the start of a new academic year. On the contrary, I eagerly awaited the opening bell. Summer is great. It brings freedom, relaxation and play, but the beginning of a fall semester was like the opening of a door to me. That door led to new classes, new activities and catching up with the friends that hadn’t been part of my summer crew. For some reason I always used to try out a new handwriting style in September too.

Of course, the shiny new belongings that September brought helped to fuel my desire to return to class. Fresh notebooks and pens, clothes and shoes and a new stack of text books made me feel reborn. The promise of a great year, of finally getting it right, was at my fingertips.

I would shake my head and commiserate every time a friend complained about having to go back, but I secretly thought they were crazy. Why wouldn’t you want this fresh start? It’s a gift.

In college, the start of the fall term was particularly awesome. At NYU the dorms opened a full week before classes started and I would always move in on the first day. That first week set the tone for the semester. I got reacquainted with my out-of-state friends and got to play house in Manhattan without the burden of classes or jobs or bills. I settled in, hung posters, made my bed, set up my space, then I partied. I loved it.

By October, my back to school verve would invariably wane, but those first few weeks were glorious. The teachers weren’t really strict yet, the workload was still ramping up. There were still plays to audition for, concertos to learn, half-time shows to plan and a year’s worth of my favorite activities on the horizon. The new world was there for me to conquer.

You only get a few “back to schools” in the grand scheme of life. I was always aware that one day they would end. I still feel a sense of renewal around labor day though – every year.

 

T Minus 40: Ghosts of Birthdays Past

Over coffee the other morning I turned to Yves and asked if he thought my project was totally narcissistic. I stopped him before he answered. I realized I didn’t care. I’ve never made things all about me.

Some birthdays are just supposed to be milestones.

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On my first birthday my mom made me a Winnie the Pooh cake. She drew Pooh in icing herself. I only know this from the pictures and the stories.

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On my 10th birthday I just remember being super-psyched that my age had two digits.

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My sweet 16 was a backyard BBQ with approximately 12 guests, two of which were my aunt and uncle. We weren’t fancy or rich and it was long before they invented reality shows about birthday parties that whipped young people into a frenzy of having to outdo one another’s lavish events.

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On my 21st birthday I went on my first real date with Yves. He arrived carrying a single red rose and a gift, Fiona Apple’s Tidal. We went for sushi and then went back to my friend Sarah’s apartment which she had lent me so that I wouldn’t have to bring my 30-something date back to my dorm. I had already planned to put out. Don’t judge me. I had known him for years and he turned out to be the love of my life. OK, maybe I was a being a little slutty, but the heart wants what it wants.

Amy bday Ca'Mea

My 30th birthday was on the same night as a friend’s 75th. My mom and grandfolks were visiting and we were in the country for the weekend at Yves’ dad’s. We skipped the dinner portion of the 75th and went to Ca’Mea in Hudson, NY. We didn’t want to overwhelm the hostess with extra dinner guests. After our meal we headed to the party to wish the guest of honor well and hear the band they had hired play. I danced with Yves a bit, but what I really remember is watching my grandparents dance. They had been married for 55 years then and had the most amazing moves. I had seen them dance so many times before, but there was something special about this night. Maybe it was the milestone birthday or the fact that I had recently married Yves or that Yves and I were quietly celebrating the ninth anniversary of our first date. I watched and wondered if we would ever get our moves as tight as Nammy and Grandad. They were a well-oiled machine on the dance floor.

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My 40th is coming fast, I have no formal plans for the day. I’ve been too busy working for the last couple of weeks to focus on them. In a way this project has been a wonderful distraction from the impending decade shift. It’s forcing me to think more about my life than my age. Maybe I’ll throw a T Minus 40 wrap party.

 

 

T Minus 40: Intermission

…and now a word from our sponsor, her name is… me!

I’m halfway to completing my project, so I thought this would be a good moment for reflection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude (that happens when you practice yoga every day) and I noticed my friend Sean is posting “30 days of gratitude” posts each day. He writes something he is grateful for on Facebook daily. I commented that I loved what he was doing and he responded that it has really helped change his perspective. I know first hand that focusing on gratitude does indeed change one’s perspective, but it is not an easy task. Inviting gratitude into your life is an active endeavor. It is human nature to focus on what we lack, to always want more. When you acknowledge what you have you begin to see things differently, it takes work though.

A year ago I set a goal for myself, to be a writer. I would work at it. I would not to be afraid to fail. I would take myself seriously as a creative person.

I am grateful beyond words for all of the support I’ve received in pursuit of that goal. I no longer say “I want to be a writer”. I write. I tell people I write. I share my work with friends and family and colleagues. I count myself lucky to have the space in my life (both physically and mentally) to work on my craft. I am beyond privileged to have a career that allows me this freedom. I am grateful for the vocal talent that got me here.

So, thank you. Thank you to my wonderful husband, Yves, for reading and rereading my work everyday and for being so supportive. I know you are my biggest fan. Thank you to my family. Thank you to my inspiring new friends and my talented coach Dara Lurie. I am lucky to have found you all. Thank you to all who are following along on this journey. Thanks for the shares and the likes and the comments and the love.

T Minus 40 started with an idea I had in mid July. A year ago, I would have had the idea, talked about it for a day or two and then let it go, but because of the love and support of my amazing friends and family, the idea seemed possible. For the first time in years, I believed I could follow through. I left my assignment to myself vague. I gave myself space. It was simple, post a story or poem or journal entry every day for 40 days as a precursor to my 40th birthday. I made a list of nearly 50 ideas (so I would have more material than I needed), but so many thoughts and memories have popped up since I started working that I’ve strayed from that original list several times. It will be fun to see where the second half leads.

I may never be published, but it’s secondary now to the work itself. I love it. I want it in my life, and so I will do it. Life’s too short not to.

 

 

T Minus 40: Oh Baby!

One of the upsides of turning 40 is that people will stop asking me when I’m going to have kids. They will, right?

A few years ago I was sitting at a table in Southwest Florida with my mother and my grandmother enjoying a cocktail. Yves and I had been married for a couple of years and my mom brought up the subject of kids. She said, you know, I’m not one of those women that’s afraid of being a ‘grandma’. I think she was half joking, but as I was preparing to tell her that her grandchildren would all be of the canine variety, my grandmother preempted my speech.

Leave her alone. If she doesn’t want kids, she doesn’t have to have kids. People have kids for the wrong reasons all the time.

I’m 39. I have a solid marriage to an amazing man who is a great father to his son and I do not want any children of my own. I’ve always known that being a mom was not something I wanted in life. I made the decision at a very young age. It doesn’t sit well with people.

In my 20s, all I heard was, you’ll change your mind someday or wait until your 30s, you’ll see things differently, as if my choice was not a valid one. Like having kids was a prerequisite of my femininity. It always pissed me off, but everything pissed me off back then. I was so hot-headed in those days that I probably could have remained childless for spite.

In my 30s, I waited for my “biological clock” to kick in, but I never heard it ticking. Not once. I used to joke that it was digital or that I had forgotten to wind it, but I never changed my mind. I wondered if the baby fever phenomenon was legit. I wondered if my choice made me selfish.

People assume that I hate kids and I may have even played into that stereotype when I was in my 20s, but I do not hate children. I think children are beautiful and magical and funny and should be raised by people who really want them, people who want to devote their lives to the care and education (both in school and out) of another human being. Children aren’t accessories and they shouldn’t be just another item on life’s to-do list. Parenting is hard, it’s a full time job and it’s not for everyone. I am awed and impressed on a daily basis by my friends who are parents. I watch their kids learn and grow both on social media and in person and it is amazing. I’ve watched my stepson grow from a handmade-stick-sword swashbuckling toddler to a handsome, witty, responsible young man and I’ve enjoyed whatever small role I played in his development (I hope I wasn’t a bad influence). I still don’t feel like I’m missing out.

Families come in all forms and attitudes have changed quite a bit in the last two decades. Society is beginning to accept that there are different lifestyles and different life models. Still, when people ask me if I have kids and I say no, they always ask if and when I plan to have kids. When I tell them that’s not a part of my plan I often receive a blank stare in return.

The last time I got asked the kid question I answered with a comment about my age. Figuring that revealing my near-40 status would solidify that I was childless by choice. Instead, I was offered fertility advice and an anecdote about a woman who had her first baby at 45. I’m happy for her, but her tale failed to wind my clock.

People have kids for the wrong reasons all the time. 

It felt like the truest sentence ever uttered and it came from a woman who has always loved babies. At that moment, at that table, with that simple statement, my grandmother (mother of two and grandmother of three) supported my choice. I felt validated for the first time in my life. I wasn’t being selfish by choosing a childless existence, if anything I was being selfless. Deciding to have a baby just so there would be someone to take care of me when I’m old would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

I sipped my drink and promised my mother that if I ever “changed my mind” she would be the first to know, but in the meantime she could pet my dog.

 

T Minus 40: Goodbye

Maturity, step one: Don’t be so hard on yourself, learn to let it go.

I’m getting really tired of thinking about my birthday. I gave myself this assignment, this challenge to explore my thoughts, memories and feelings for these pre-40th forty days and I’m already sick of thinking about what 40 means to me. It means what it means, which is different every day (or hour, lately). So, screw it.

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to throw a party, not because I want to hide in shame, but because I don’t want the responsibility. I’ve been slowly building a good guilt trip to lay on Yves in the hopes that he will handle all of the preparations. I think it’s working, but can control-freak me really lay back and let my husband handle all of the details for Aim-a-Palooza? (That’s just a working title I’m playing with).

I can’t help thinking of a song I wrote about two lifetimes ago that is sort of about today’s “screw it” attitude. If only I could really find the courage to “kiss it all goodbye” when it comes to self doubt. That’s one of those things I thought I would have conquered by this age. It’s cool, I’ve still got 27 days to go…

Goodbye

I was hoping for a Sunday afternoon

She was looking like she left the bar too soon

All of that’s inconsequential

She was walking like she couldn’t stand her shoes

I was wondering why I’m always so confused

All of that’s inconsequential

All of that’s inconsequential, today.

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

 

I was dreaming of the covers on my bed

She just stood there while the yellow turned to red

All of that’s inconsequential

She was trying hard to whisper every word

So I pretended that I hadn’t overheard

All of that’s inconsequential

All of that’s inconsequential today

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

 

I’m taking a long vacation

From all my deprivation

Engrave my invitation

I regret I won’t attend

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

I kissed it all Goodbye