Tuesday, June 26, 2012


It’s a bit nippy on the shady side of the street outside No Joes this morning as I sip my brew, aptly named: sledgehammer. This sunny, dry, fall-like weather won’t last. I already see thick clouds closing in—boding a return to the violent summer storms of the past few days.

And that’s okay by me. The storms may be inconvenient, but that doesn’t measure up to REAL summer weather. By that I mean FLORIDA weather. When the worst of the storm hit several days ago, turning the daytime black, with claps of thunder loud enough to shake the dog, I was alone and calm, feeling entirely SAFE. This old Dutch colonial is nothing if not sturdy, with plaster walls so thick you cannot hear from room to room.

At that very moment, my “home” in Sarasota was among the towns being battered and flooded by Tropical Storm Debby. Almost the entire state was underwater and threat of tornadoes, expected to continue for up to five days. Yes, folks, that DAYS, not hours. And it’s a trop storm, not even a hurricane!

As I hung out of my friends cozy couch to wait out the NJ storm, my thoughts flickered to a major drive in leaving the sunshine state in summer—and gratitude washed over me—gratitude for my friend,s generosity of spirit in opening her home to me each summer.

Until I moved to Florida a decade ago, storms were inconvenient, as a journalist there was a bit of a pain, but never were they fearful. As a child growing up on the north shore of Long Island, the hurricanes that reached us were fun times, lit with the glow of candles and flashlights. Of course, it’s easy to be brave in a brick split level under the protection of loving parents. Not having to travel to work also helps.

Unfortunately, I do not live in a condo of brick, or stone, or masonry of any sort. I am one of the other little pigs of story lore, who build—perhaps bought—her house of sticks. Yupper, it’s a 1970s wood condo with a metal roof. The sound of rain bouncing off said roof is enough to drown out the loudest of TV audio.

(An aside: this “house of sticks” is a grand metaphor for me life, eh? Unlike my friends and family who have built their “houses of brick.” Just thought I’d say it before someone like my son pointed it out.)

On the, albeit mild, plus side, Sarasota is considered a relatively secure site, storm wise. Longtime residents crow that the town is a “sacred” place, protected against extreme elements. They point to the area as one the native Indians fled to escape storms in years gone by. In my view however, such arrogance in unfounded, as Sarasota is merely the highest ground around. Note I said highEST which is not all that high. And my particular condo complex is on its crest.

The roads around me flood, but so far, the unit has remained dry. This is particularly fortunate as I no longer have a lick of insurance, sorta going commando.

I try not to think about the wind.

To sum up: Tropical storm there + me here = GRATITUDE

Sunday, June 24, 2012

what now?

Why is freedom so hard to handle?

I sit at a favorite small table at a favorite place, No Joe’s Coffee House, sipping a favorite dark brew. It’s a picture-perfect early summer morning downtown Red Bank, NJ. I am engaged in a favorite pastime, people-watching. Most of me is calm, approaching joy. Yet something tugs at me from the depths of my soul. There is a disquieting sense of emptiness, aimlessness, an essential aloneness that goes beyond loneliness. It gnaws at me, growing, demanding attention.

I recognize this. It is not new and I dread its return.

Once again, I am faced with building a “life”, without the familiar moorings. I have tried—and failed—several times before. And I knew, as I began again on my 65th birthday, this would most likely be my last chance--my last chance to build some kind of meaningful life, with a measure of abundance and a sprinkling of joy.

I am deliberately leaving out here, the underlying financial angst that comes with facing impending old age with no resources and the real chance of homelessness at age 70. There is no doubt creating this so-called-life would be easier without the base-level concern over enough money to survive. But honesty forces me to admit; even a lottery win wouldn’t cure these ills.

Free floating anxiety is kept at bay by writings such as this and list making. I tentatively reach out to family and friends, working to fit into their active lives.

For as long as I can recall, I have marveled at the ease others seem to have with the most ordinary of life’s interactions. When not at work, I would often go for days without human conversation, not counting the occasional store clerk. I envy those my age casually busy with family and grandchildren.

With my children and lone grandchild scattered thousands of miles east and west, our contact is rare and takes extraordinary effort and expense. I remain grateful for them and happy they appear to be leading rich productive lives. No, I don’t seriously consider moving closer to either as neither one needs me hanging on the fringes of their lives.

I have long understood that the lack is in me, but I am at a loss as to what to do about it. Even years of therapy didn’t much help.

I once thought of writing a novel about a woman who spends her time traveling from one family member/friend to another, finding her fulfillment by burrowing inside the lives of others.

Too close for comfort.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the morning after

I am not a party animal. That surprises many people. Yes, I am outgoing and not a bit shy, befitting a journalist. Yet, even as a child, my parents had to cajole or force me to attend family gatherings. The larger and more formal the event the less attracted was I.

And as I age it’s only gotten worse.

Firstly, I am not comfortable in formal dress. Regardless of my weight or fitness level, clothes and I have never been friends. I feel constricted and downright cranky by the demands of accommodating the female form.

I am also not much of a drinker, so an open bar is no draw.

Although I admire the scene, the effort, the expense, the food, et al, I almost always find myself on the edge of the action, observing. I am the odd-man-out. Nobody knows where to seat me. And I’ve never really had a reliable dancing partner.

At a recent such swanky Bat Mitzvah for my cousin’s daughter, I watched in silent joy—mingled with envy—as my young cousins danced the night away with their own daughters, each on the verge of adolescence. I flashed back to my own younger self, watching my now late parents partner up for dance after dance. They were quite the accomplished pair. Late in the evening, when my dad had enough to drink, I got my turn. We would Lindy around the floor. And that was all she wrote.

The major source of my joy is reconnecting with family and friends. But the throbbing music needed to rev such events makes it next to impossible to engage in any meaningful conversation.

Lucky for me, my Aunt Sally offered to share her room, so I was able to participate in my favorite part of these celebrations—the morning after.

Low key and mellow, these morning-after-breakfasts allow me to really chat up those family and friends that remain. And this was a particularly productive time. The buzz was tangible. Laptops, Facebook, photos, Ancestry.com etc. flew around the intimate gathering. Coming directly from my own family vacation I even had a bunch of those old sepia photos. You know the ones with some folks nobody alive can identify.

And there was no pounding beat and intense DJ to drown out the laughter.

It went a ways to sate my real hunger, not for fancy top-drawer food, but for a visceral infusion of memory—to help fill the void of those I can no longer reach out and touch.