Finding Inspiration In A New Place

Today is Sunday.  I feel hopeful.  After struggling with conflicting desires of wanting to write and unyielding inertia, desire won out and trickled onto the page, aiding me in my ever-expanding quest to write a third solid full-length play.

I’m a slow worker.  I’m a slow thinker.  I get distracted and discouraged easily and often.  I find it hard to concentrate.  I find myself wondering how I’ve ever committed to completing anything I found ultimately satisfying, and how to repeat that success.  I am beginning to believe that there is some magic involved.  But also, faith.

Since September 2017, I’ve been living and working in Quincy, Massachusetts.  I never dreamed of any circumstances that would cause me to leave my hometown in New York, but here I am.  I’m making a living, learning to grow with my partner, and willing myself to face everyday challenges at work.  So that we may continue to pay rent and call these four walls our home.  And fill it with food and other necessities.  And thrive, together.

Today I will write, because I believe in the story I’m trying to tell.  That’s all that should matter.  I have faith that I’ll finish it.


The Price of a Cup of Coffee


Today, after work, I walked to a cafe I’d never been before, and bought a medium cappuccino.  I was waiting for a ride.  The coffee was about $5, (really $4 and change, but the tip jar dares you to keep it and not feel guilty about it afterwards).  Too much for coffee really, for me.  I’m used to brewing my own pot o’ joe at home, on my own time, gleaning pleasure from the waft of steam easing out of the spout.  It wasn’t too cold outside today, but the idea of waiting inside rather than out was alluring enough to make me part with one of the few dollar bills I’ve been carrying around lately.  (A side note about money:  I notice I’ve been using it less and less, relying on plastic to complete my transactions, from my weekly groceries, down to a bag of chips.  It’s not alarming, just something I’ve noticed).

I took my cup and sat down.  I didn’t bother to check where the sugar was.  I didn’t expect to taste anything besides hot.  For the first five minutes I didn’t even look at my cup.  I stared at the scene outside:  a busy intersection in a still relatively new city, the sky growing dark as the cars passed.  I noticed a bar across the street, which I’m sure to visit soon enough.  There was a restaurant, stores, and huffy pedestrians eager to reach home.  I could be one of them, only I was too far from the subway, to close to my ride.  What was I doing there?

I was drinking coffee.  Not drinking coffee.  Watching.  Waiting.  Anticipating.  Planning.  Planning my escape.  My next visit.  Tomorrow… And I was doing all of this Inside.  Shielded from the slight cold.  Protected from the darkness.  Accompanied by strangers, sharing the experience of lingering in a holding area.  A terrestrial limbo.  A white screen between then and later.

But why was I there?  Because it was warm.  Because it seemed inviting.  Because I had five dollars to spend.  On coffee.  But I realized something.  Something that has rung true for me before, and will ring true again in the future:  I didn’t buy the coffee.  Hell, I barely tasted it.  I was buying time.  I bought my right to sit there, in an occupied, well-lit place.  I bought the right to call myself a customer, and enjoy sitting in a comfortable chair for as long as it took for my ride to arrive.

A little comfort, in the midst of chaos.  I bought an opportunity to sit down and breathe freely.  And I bought a medium cup of cappuccino, for the price of $4.62.  A bargain, wouldn’t ya say?

Settling In


It’s been quite a while since I last posted.  The truth is I haven’t felt like a writer lately.  I haven’t felt much like anything these days.  Which is strange, considering the milestones I’ve recently reached, including turning the Big 3-0.  I don’t know if it’s burnout  or something else.

The picture above is of the Peabody Museum at Harvard.  My first visit (of many, I hope) to Cambridge.  I’ve been living in Massachusetts since September.  Miles away from the comforts of New York, and family.  But I’m making it work.  Surviving.  Eking out a living.  Paying rent.  Loving my girlfriend.  Not loving the subway system.  Adjusting.  Everything’s a process.  Everything takes time.  I’ve been struggling with issues of belonging, probably all my life.  Do I belong here?  Am I a writer?  Am I welcome?

That remains to be seen.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the perks where I find them.  Like the fresh brew of Bustelo.  An empty seat on the red line.  Pay day.  Lazy Saturdays on the couch.  All the Christmas shopping done…almost done.  Well, three out of four ain’t bad.

I’m making a life here.  It isn’t perfect.  I’ve had many setbacks.  But it’s getting better.

Why I Don’t Talk To Strangers

I don’t know what it is about me that draws women near, and for the wrong reasons.  They think I can save them.  This is not to say I’m a ladies’ man–don’t misunderstand me.  It’s just that, I don’t know, I guess in my efforts to appear open and friendly, they–women–think they can confide in me.  They tell me things I probably shouldn’t hear.  I do not mean to say I pose a threat (I have no interest in the information they reveal).  I don’t even know what to do with most of what I listen to.  I’m no therapist.  I’m hardly a good friend to those who claim to know me.  And yet I keep attracting them,  over and over, at any time of the day.  They see me in a quiet corner or seated in an unobtrusive couch and confuse it for a welcoming gesture.  I don’t mean to convey that I wish not to be bothered, but I’m not exactly spreading my arms out either.

Take, for instance, this girl I met last week.  She spotted me on my lunch hour out in a communal park, savoring the last bits of my peanut butter sandwich.  I guess she noticed the label on my laptop case because she asked me if I worked for Ms. Kajoshi.  When I nodded that I did, she took that to mean that I was inviting her to sit with me, and proceeded to ask a series of questions regarding the job environment and my boss’ personality.  Was she a hard person?  Was the job tough?  Was it difficult to move ahead?  I didn’t know how to answer, so I just sort of shook my head from side to side and kept eating.  Then her face contorted into this terrified expression that reminded me at once of the answer to the question which I posed to you at the beginning of this pondering:  What draws these women to me?  What makes them trust me?  No, no, I’ve got it wrong.  That’s not what her face made me think of when I stopped chewing long enough to really look at her.  The question I’d been striving to answer is:  Why do I listen?  Why do I stop and listen when I’ve got so many problems of my own?  Is it because I think I can actually help?  …or am I just lonely.

Well, it turns out her name is Erica and she’s just fled from an abusive relationship with two young children in tow.  She’s sought asylum in this big city with little money and limited opportunities to get ahead.  Very plainly she was communicating to me that she desperately needed the job, maybe even more than I did, or thought I did.  Suddenly I had a whole new set of problems to consider.  Where would Erica and her children sleep that night?  Where were they sleeping now?  She did mention staying in a shelter for the time being.  What did they have to eat?  They couldn’t have faired much better than what I was having at that moment.  I looked down at my sandwich and then back into Erica’s deep, beautiful, sea-green eyes.

“Are you hungry?”  She shook her head hurriedly and then cast a downward glance so pregnant with intent that made me immediately regret ever opening my mouth.  “No, thank you,” she said.  “I’m sorry, I’m bothering you.”

She stood up and then I stood up, not knowing if I was truly prepared to follow this through, no matter where it took me.  I’m not even sure if I remembered I had to be back at my desk in fifteen minutes.  She made a dismissive gesture with her hand which seemed to mean “don’t get involved”.  But of course it was too late

Happy Left Hander’s Day!

Today is officially “Left-Handers Day”, and I usually don’t think about the fact that I belong to this exclusive club, which only boasts 10% of the world’s population as its “members”.  But once in a while, say, when I am opening a can of corn, or using scissors, or signing off a credit card purchase, I’ll think:  “Oh yeah, I’m left-handed.  Kinda cool.”

I guess it is fitting, in a way.  I never felt that I belonged.  My perpetual fear, even in adulthood, has been:  Will I find a welcoming seat at the lunch table?  That table has been the source of dread and excitement and stress, whether it now be of the conference, dinner, or bar variety.  I just never found my place, I guess.  Even when pursuing my passion, this writing thang, more often in a theater than anywhere else, I always sensed there were barriers.  And this has had little to do with the instinct to pick up a crayon or a five-dollar bill with my sinister limb.

Or has it?  At first, I enjoyed the attention that came with being left-handed.  It was looked at as a quirk or even a talent, like being able to juggle, squirt water through your nose, belch the alphabet.  It felt like a secret weapon, the ace up my sleeve, my go-to super power.  There’s a robbery taking place?  “Nobody panic,” I would assure the alarmed crowd, “I’ll stop him–I’m left-handed!”  It was like harboring this long sought-after treasure, the last human being on earth able to understand Latin.  Something like that.

Now I guess when I think of my left-handedness, I’m hoping it will be an interesting piece of trivia overshadowed by my immensely successful career as a playwright/diarist/domino player.  Or perhaps I’ll remain anonymous, only discovered posthumously in the heaps of dusty spiral notebooks I’ll leave behind.  Archaeologists and graphologists will pore over my manuscripts, and after concluding that I was a genius, also note: “See the curves in his ‘l’s and ‘z’s?  Undoubtedly left-handed.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I don’t know if I want all that.  I think what I really want is: a day job that doesn’t make me go crazy wondering if I’m having a nervous breakdown; an affordable space that is close to civilization and allows me to pivot comfortably without bruising my elbow; a working stove that is able to handle coffee and rice (the essentials); enough time and concentration to plot out my memoir of a turbulent upbringing in Queens, set out in plays, poems and novels; and a tremendously patient and understanding partner who will share that coffee with me and a foot rub every now and then (I walk a LOT.  It helps me think.).  Is that too much to ask?

Don’t blame me.  Blame my left-handedness.  Everyone else will.

A New Beginning

I feel a change happening soon.  I feel I am at the end of my rope.  As the popular refrain goes:  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  By that definition, I confess I may have been insane for a very long time.  Only now am I beginning to awaken and recognize the symptoms of my illness.  A false hope brewed by the popular ingredients of hardnosed determination coupled with a stifling ignorance of how you advance in this world has left me suffering from a crippling sense of inertia.  I am not working towards something, and the actions I have taken (my efforts), cannot strictly be defined as work.  For the simple fact that I haven’t made progress towards my goal; that hazy, disfigured four-letter word that beckons me forward into the fog, but keeps me blind.  I remain lost.

Eight months ago I was starting a new occupation in downtown Manhattan, in the hubbub of the financial district.  I was not (and am still not) making a respectable living wage for this city’s standards, but I was surviving.  The workload seemed manageable and I was convinced that I was working for an admirable cause:  the wellbeing of New Yorkers.  Gradually, I came to realize that my role is limited and severely hindered to the point where I am merely a mouthpiece for the organization I have agreed to represent.  Such is the fate of anyone tasked with working in customer service.  To a certain extent, I knew this coming into the business.  I can’t make excuses for my inevitable disappointment.  It is still frustrating, though.

A successful writing career—what is that, exactly?  A successful writer…can anyone point one out for me?  I know, there are countless.  Things get complicated when you consider the myriad definitions you can have of “success”.  I guess I’m trying to figure that out.  For a while I molded my image of success after the titans who emerged from Scribner’s and Sons Publishers:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, et al.  But those were different times where you had more face-to-face interactions and there weren’t as many people around, so you didn’t have a five year waiting list to discover your place in a contest that paid money or at least brought your work into the hands of someone who could do something for you.  Well, that was the Great White American Dream, packaged and sold to millions of starry-eyed kids around the world, no matter what color they were.  I didn’t realize it until much later, but I bought into that dream at ten times its sale value, framed it in gold and hung it high up on my bedroom wall, several feet above a magazine cutout of Cindy Crawford in ripped jean shorts and that flirty look she reserved just for me.  Great things lay ahead!

I don’t know what the hell this whole post is about, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I guess this is about a new beginning, as the title suggests.  I am doing something new, to cure my insanity.  Or perhaps I can just curb it.  Either way, this is therapeutic.  I just thought of something:  This will be my new definition of success.  This right now—I’m writing!  You, you sitting there—you’re a witness.  Here I am, wondering how to cope with the drudgery of odd, uninspiring and demeaning jobs and still find a way to keep this little light shining… and suddenly I see you there!  I can just make out your face.  Maybe you look like me, or maybe I’m staring at a mirror.  In any case, I think I feel a change from when I began this post.  I’m at 648 words now, if you count “648” as a word.  Oh, now it’s 660.  How did that happen?  Pure determination!  The inertia is gone!  I feel I’ve made progress.  I’m a writer after all, and here we are at the end of a lengthy post.  Are you still with me?  I think I remember my goal now.  Can you keep a secret?  My goal is this:  To write about the world I live in, have lived in and will continue to struggle in, for as long as my heart keeps beating.  I’ve been doing that already, but somewhere along the line I lost my way.  I must get back on track.  And unfortunately, my old pal O.J. (Odd Job) might be sticking around longer than I’d like.  Ah well, maybe I’ll learn to like him.  Writing, after all, is a lonely occupation…

What’s that I hear?  Is that a phone ringing?  Excuse me, please.  Looks like I’ve still got some work to do.

Tribute To Anne Sexton

Hello, faithful reader(s).  The posts that follow are ones that I wrote for a previous site.  Why?  Because I can.  Also, I realized that to apply to writing jobs, you need a portfolio.  So, without further ado…


Today would have been Anne Sexton’s 87th birthday, and as she happens to be one of my favorite poets, I thought I’d write something about her.  Oddly enough, I came to know of her work indirectly through the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.  Let me explain:

It was 2001 and that movie had just come out.  I wasn’t able to see it at the time, but on TV they had a movie with the same title playing, probably on Turner Classic.  Anyway, this version was from 1960 and starred Frank Sinatra and the “Rat Pack”.  I wasn’t into “old stuff” back then, but I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a chance.  Thus began my love affair with Sinatra, fedoras, and movies in black and white.  Through him I met Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, John Huston, Ava Gardner (duh!) and anything else that the oldies channel had to offer.

As I coursed through high school, my appreciation for the written word grew to such a state that I found myself belting 50′s ballads in the shower and jotting down lines of inspiration in spiral notebooks.  I had been bit.  Mostly by mosquitoes and other nameless pests, but also by the urge to scribble.  I think I really started writing poetry but didn’t read much of it until I was in college.  My major was playwriting, but I was grabbing inspiration from everywhere!  As a playwright, it was sort of a guilty pleasure to escape into a novel or lines of verse that weren’t “required reading”.  I guess I was fascinated by the idea of a talent being pulled into so many different paths that at once felt foreign yet familiar.  Anne Sexton’s was a voice that spoke so directly to me that I couldn’t help but listen intently.

One fact I could not shake from my consciousness is that she chose to take her life on my birthday.  Not the year, but the month and day:  October 4th.  From that point forward I knew we’d be connected somehow.  Or rather, I’d feel connected to her.

“Menstruation at Forty”, “The Breast”, “For My Lover, Returning to His Wife”, “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator”–these are not poems you read at the dinner table.  I was intrigued, shocked, embarrassed, and yes, sometimes aroused–but!– I was also inspired.  Inspired by Sexton’s courage to just lay it all out there, bare.  Exposed.  Unrelenting.  Unapologetic.  She was a badass.  She was not just a poet, which would have been enough.  She was a performer.  She was a personality.  She was alive!  And you can hear it in the recordings we’re lucky to have through the magic of YouTube. She felt the words.  She lived the verses.  She bled on the page.  She rocked in tune to the rhythm of the limerick.

This all sounds cliche, I know.  But Anne Sexton was all these things.  Strangely, I feel confident in saying this, despite never having the opportunity to see her live.  As with every other artist who leaves an impact, the evidence is in the works themselves.  I don’t need to see a video to be moved by one of her poems.  The words are enough to make me feel that a 1950′s “suburban housewife” living in Newton, Massachusetts gets me.  She wrote about urges, heartache, lust, impulse, anxiety, sadness, suicide, bodily fluids, crazy aunts and distant fathers.  She knew her material intimately, and wore it with an authority that was hard-won.  So tonight, I’m raising my glass in a tribute to a “hell of a dame”, to borrow the words of another great poet.

Happy Birthday Ms. Dog!