Monday, October 31, 2005

A good deed in a weary world...

“ Ssshhhhhhht.”

That’s the sound of you, striking a match.

A flash of yellow. It grows larger and brighter. You light a candle in the dark.

“There. Is that better?” you say.

There is just enough light available for you to see me when I nod.

“So. What do you want to talk about?”

The candle is between us. It is a tall white taper that we stole from church on Easter Eve. After the candlelight vigil, the other people drop them carelessly onto the little shelves that hold the hymnals. We eye them greedily until the sermon ends. Then, as the other worshippers file out of the pews and cram themselves into the aisle, inching towards the door, you and I furtively dash through the pews, stuffing the tapers into our coat pockets.

If we don’t, they will only be thrown away.

You remember doing this with me, don’t you, Reader? How we carry away as many as will fit in pockets and purse, and still more stuck up sleeves, held in my hands cupped over cuffs as we exit, hoping that the priest won’t see as we slip out into the night? But of course he never does, though he is standing at the door and we walk right past him. He is receiving congratulations on his beautifully delivered sermon, his words describing hope and transfiguration.

You ask, “Where are we, Cupcake?”

You just asked it now; I heard you think it. Not in the story where we are leaving the church, Reader. (In that story, we have managed to keep straight faces and are now scurrying down the sidewalk towards your car, gleeful and triumphant, pulling the candles from our sleeves and holding them before us like bouquets.)

Where are we, when we are sitting with the candle, afterwards. I think that’s what you meant.

I can’t tell you where we are though. Because I don’t know. The candle doesn’t throw its beam that far (so shines a good deed in a weary world). We might be in a cave, like Tom Sawyer and Becky. Or we might be camping, like a group of old friends. Or possibly we are on a picnic in a graveyard, or sitting on the steps in front of one of our houses. It's just you and me and as far as the glow surrounds us. That's as far as I can see.

For just a quick second, I have a feeling that we are on the ground in the middle of a baseball stadium. But why would that be? It must be your thought. I’m not much of a sports fan. (Although I do like the symbolism of baseball, like in Field of Dreams.)

It doesn’t matter. Where we are, or whose thinking put us there.

What matters is that it isn’t dark right now. And that we have each other to talk to in the dark. And that the candles from Easter Eve remind us that we are pilgrims, and poets, and partners in crime, and people who see opportunities where other people see trash.

See, that’s part of what I like about you.

“What did you want to talk about?” you ask again.

“Oh, nothing,” I say. “Everything.”

”I know,” you say. We just sit there for a while. And for that moment-- with the shadows on your features dancing a little as the flame bends and shimmies—a dance that obscures your visage even as it reveals it- For that moment, sitting there together, I know that although we have never met, Reader -that we are truly friends.

Thank you for that.

Easter next year is on April 16th. I guess I'll see you in church.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Once, driving home under a full moon, I passed a cemetery full of cows. They’d broken down the fence keeping them in their pasture across the street and were happily grazing on the fresh grass between the graves. Moonlit cows bending heads to the ground, silhouetted against tombstones. A sense of celebration, somehow, as if they were performing some sort of annual bovine full-moon ritual. One curious cow, chewing its cud in front of the wrought iron churchyard gate, raising her head to look at my car as I passed.

I parked the car and left it running. I remember how bright the headlights seemed compared to the gentle glow of the full moon over the fields. I banged on the front door of the farmhouse until a light went on. A few seconds later, the door was opened by farmwife in a nightgown. Her hair was dyed a cheap black and although it was flattened on one side, it had the stiffness of a coif thick with hairspray. She stood squinting at me with a mixture of defensiveness and confusion.

“Are your cows supposed to be in the cemetery?” I asked. I didn’t think they were, but Vermont has strange customs that even now I stumble upon with surprise.

She stepped out onto the porch where I was standing and squinted even more, aiming her gaze at the cemetery across the street. “Oh dear Lord!” she said, when she saw the herd enjoying their liberty above the sleeping generations of the parish.

”Mort!” she shouted into the house, in the general direction of the stairway behind her. “Mort, the cow’s are out!” Hastily, she thanked me as she ran back inside.

I got in my car and drove on, my headlights weaving against the shadows.

Somewhere, in a Robert Frost poem I can’t find, he wrote about the New England custom of pre-digging graves in late Fall. This is more practical than morbid. The ground here freezes to about 5 feet down in the winter. In the old days, and even now, it’s not always possible to dig six feet under. So they guess how many people will die over the next months, dig the graves and then cover them with tarps, waiting. Anybody who dies too late in the season, once all the graves are filled, just gets put on ice.

At least that’s how they used to do it. But Frost (who lived a few miles from here) makes the point that the unspecified graves make everyone a little nervous, a little cautious. Whose graves will they be?

What I wondered, as I drove away, was what would have happened if one of the cows had walked across the tarp, falling into one of the pre-dug graves. If she’d broken her leg, would that have had to shoot her? And having shot her, would they have simply buried her there, amongst the good Christian folk? Or would they have hoisted her, dead and limp, or alive and indignant, out onto the grass? If she was fine, would she have walked away with an angry swish and forgotten the whole thing? Or would she have been scarred for life, yielding sour milk, fussing at the milking hose?

Maybe Frost wrote about that, somewhere, in another poem that I can't find.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gods and Guests

There's still no power or heat at my house. Now there's no phone, either.

Here's a picture I took today of the path to my garden shed.

As you can see, the trees are straining with the weight of their burden. There were lots of downed branches on the road.

Fortunately, the snowplow guys had moved them to the side of the road. Otherwise, I'd still be home rather than sitting in a Vermonty cafe above a very Vermonty bookstore. There's wireless internet here, and cappucino, and I'm hanging out, wondering if the power/heat/phone situation at my house will magically fix itself or if it requires effort on my part. My entire town is without power, so I know they're working on it.

Somewhere, a reader is thinking, "But Cupcake, how can you get milky coffee drinks if there's no power in town?"

Clever reader, you caught me on that technicality. The answer is simple: I'm in the next town. My town is so small that all it is a town hall and a church. And they only open the church on Christmas Eve for a candlelight service. My town has no post office, and the only commerce used to be a guy who sold eggs out of his back porch, but he retired a few years ago.

This town, the big one, shown in this picture:
is a huge metropolis compared to that. For the record, though--they don't really have the Christmas tree lit yet. I used a stock photo from the internet. And in fact the town square doesn't look very festive at the moment, as it is glutted with broken branches from the maple trees in front of the spruce. But that is the town, and in fact the church in the picture just rang its bells as though to say, "Cupcake, tell your readers we say hi!"

I am in a shop you can see lit up to the right of the spruce. If the photo were a webcam, I could leap from my seat, run down the stairs and out into the street to wave at you.

Vermont is wonderful. Oh, it's quirky and weird, too. (If you've ever seen the Chevy Chase movie "Funny Farm", you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like.) For example, here in this cafe, where it's all pretty artsy --the password for the wireless internet is "Ilovekermit"-- there are a bunch of flannel-shirt wearing old guys, the kind you'd expect to see at a diner, not a place that sells chai. They talk with farmer twang and say "Y-yep" using two syllables.

I'll wax poetic about Vermont another time. I just wanted to take advantage of the wireless connection and the electricity (which is recharging my laptop battery so I can work on my novel tonight, by light of candles, if necessary)-- and to tell you all that as of this moment, anyway, I have not been nabbed by Big Foot or anything resembling "Deliverence."

And it wasn't even really that cold last night. It was in the high 20s, but that's nothing around here. One year, it was negative 40 for three weeks in a row.

Please, everyone-- send good power line vibes towards me. Although I will be a little disappointed when the lights and heat come back on. It's interesting to imagine what it would be like if it was always like this. It's not so bad. (Although ask me again when it's negative 40 and I may have a different attitude.)

Well, I'd better get back to my citadel in the forest. Please leave me comments because without phone or internet, I'll be starved for human interaction when I next emerge from the woods, or received the mixed gift of modern technology as a guest at my door again.

Remember how the Greeks thought all guests could be gods in disguise? I wonder if they would have had a god for technology. Maybe they did. (Mass? That's your kind of thing, isn't it?) Certainly, up here in the mountains, we remember that such luxuries are always transients.

Til whenever-- I remain your Green Mountain Cupcake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Falling, Snow, and Silence

The lights have gone out. And it's snowing.

There's a specific silence that falls with snow. I often think I should look it up, or ask someone who reads science books why that is. But I don't think I really want to know. It's enough, to look out the window, or to stand on the porch and hear the almost crystaline silence accompanying the descending flakes.

It has the air of a gentleman in hat and overcoat offering his arm to a veiled lady stepping out of a carriage. A veiled lady who might be young or old, fair or dark. That sort of decorum, respect, tradition, mystery. Something unshakable, timeless, and holy in the most humble, human way.

Before the lights went out, I was making a half-hearted chili. I forced myself to do it, having read what I'd written in the previous entry, where I announced to the blog world at large that sometimes I survive entirely on bacon and eggs. I read that, imagining a reader thinking, "How sad that she doesn't cook for herself!" Picturing the kind of reader who comes home after work and fixes herself a little plate of nice things, grapes and brie and stoned wheat thins, just a tiny plate to snack on with a glass of Pinot Noir, while she grills herself a salmon filet and stir-fries snow peas.

I thought, "You know, Cupcake, you might exert a little effort on your own behalf. You can cook. Why don't you make yourself something nice?"

This chili would not have counted as anything nice. This chili knew it was being forced, practically expressed like a boil, from the ingredients in the fridge and pantry. It refused to cooperate. Everyone-- cook, chili, and reading audience alike-- was done a great service when the electricity went out and the stove relinquished heat like a narcoleptic releasing consciousness. (Truth be told, what I really wanted was the bacon and eggs.)

Having been given a stay of execution-- or stay of dinner, anyway -I went outside on the porch to smoke a cigarette and stare at the falling flakes, white like stars shooting across a sky of unforgiving indigo.

Because the electricity is off, the heat is off. I reawakened the fire in the woodstove, which I'd let nap through the afternoon. And I lit candles around the living room, where, once I post this (from my battery charged laptop), I will curl up with a stack of books, reading by what light I have mustered. It should be enough. I have a wonderful chair, huge, that seems to hug the person sitting in it. And the dogs will come and find me, nestling into knees and edges of things until it will be cozy and peaceful and the quiet night will drift past like clouds.

Okay, maybe not quite like that. It's --well, it's a tad scary sitting here in the dark, miles from anyone else. I keep thinking about that tagline from Alien: "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream." It's so quiet that every noise sounds momentous. There was just a big cracking sound in the yard, probably (surely, yes, surely) a branch breaking under the weight of snow and ice. And that thumping sound that keeps happening on the roof is probably the just metal shifting as the house lets off the heat. Right? God only knows. All I can say is if, dear readers, you never hear from Cupcake again, you can at least know with satisfaction that, at the grisley end, she was thinking of you.

Maybe I will break out the bottle of wine. After all, a bottle of Pinot Noir really makes a girl feel like she's doing something nice for herself. And the heat's evaporating from the room around me. I'll need to stoke up the fire and wine will help to keep me warm.

Tomorrow, when the sun comes up, I'm pouring the chili out into the woods. And I'm making bacon and eggs. On the woodstove if the power's not back on.

Life's too short to eat things you don't really want. At any moment, the cataclysm might occur that will change everything.

Maybe that's why the silence comes with the snow. To let us think about that, in the quiet. To let us hear ourselves think about our own gentle descent into the end. We will all, one day, fall with just that much resolution and inevitability. Let us hope we have as much grace. And that our last meal is the thing we really wanted.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Night driving.

I drove to Vermont tonight, finally. It takes five hours.

Time in the car always sets the wheels in my head a-turning. It's worse after dark of course. I'm lost. I start thinking about the things I always wanted and never got. I start thinking about the men I might have ended up with, if I hadn't frozen them out for ridiculous reasons, and the men I longed for, dreamed of, even when I knew it was impossible, or in one case, never even really wanted to be with, just wanted to watch him the way other people watch sports.

I thought of all the letters I've never answered, and the letters I've never written, and the letters I've never sent. And the letters I have written that received no response.

I thought about my sweet dog Casey, who really really is gone, not lost, not downstairs in the basement looking for a frog like that one time I couldn't find her for hours, or the time she ran away in Queens. For a minute, I felt her, like she was there in the car. And I had to steel myself to not look in the rear view mirror to see if she was there in the back seat, her chin resting on the the back of the seat while she looked out the rear window. The way she used to sit. But I didn't look in the rear view mirror because I knew she wasn't there. And I hated that she wasn't, and that she never will be again.

And it made me think of the piece of her fur I found today when I was sweeping out under the dresser.

I thought of all the loss, and of the day I turned 20 in Rome, when I wore a white dress and walked on the white benches lining Via Delle Conciliazione singing Oh to live on Sugar Mountain--and how I wish I could go back to that day, like that episode of "Lost In Space" where the girl finds her younger self and tells her what to do, and what not to do.

And then finally I got here, to my house on the mountain. There's nobody for miles. I built a fire in my woodstove, and I wished for -- for -- for something. To have the kind of life where I don't drive five hours in the dark by myself to come to an empty house by myself. Where I don't carry in the groceries and to know that for the next several days I will be eating bacon and eggs because I won't see any reason to cook anything else for myself. I imagined a life where, when I opened the fridge to put away the bacon and eggs, I'd see the bottle of Chardonnay that a guest left for me and I'd actually have someone to turn to saying, "Hey, shall we open a bottle of wine?"

This is what's so, though. The solitude. And if I didn't want solitude, why did I buy a house on a mountain so far from anyone else? And why did I put a six foot fence around it? And why do I work mostly by myself, and not return phone calls, and freeze out men who like me?

I really should just start driving up during the day. That would make all the difference. I really should just make sure I get home before dark.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cupcake's Winged Secrets

Readers, your Cupcake has always believed that there are hidden laws to the universe. Because she sits very quietly under the tree of wisdom, some of the winged secrets that nest there have learned to trust her and have come, cautiously, to take breadcrumbs from her hand. At which point she snares them in a net and brings them home to share with you.

They are Winged Secrets because unless you really want to keep them, they will probably fly away. But perhaps, next time you see them from afar, you will recognize them and say to yourself, "Ah, that Cupcake. What a clever lass she is!"

Or possibly, "I must write Cupcake and ask for her address so that I can send her money." Or even, "I wonder what we're having for supper?"

A short list, then, of some Winged Secrets:

---The better the book, the greater the likelihood that your enjoyment of reading the last pages will be interrupted by a phone call, a knock at the door, or an unexpected leak from the ceiling above your head.

---Even the most elusive waiter will come immediately to the table when everyone at that table has a full mouth. This is common knowledge. The Winged Secret is that this rule can be used to your advantage. When unable to flag the server down, savvy diners will conspire for the entire party to cram as many ice cubes as possible into their mouths. The server will be drawn tableside through the force of the universal law. Be forwarned that the waiter will look appalled when a designated person then spits the ice cubes into a glass in order to make the group's request.

---Traffic lights will always remain red for slightly less time than it takes to dig a lipstick from the bottom of a purse. Also, holding an open tube of lipstick while you drive will guarantee that any traffic light you encounter will be green.

---For some reason, it almost always rains at 5:00 on Fridays. Noone knows why. Also, it almost always snows on baseball's opening day. A few flakes. But snow. (This Winged Secret applies only in MA, VT, and NJ. No guarantee is made for universal application.)

Have you trapped any Winged Secrets of your own? Cupcake invites you to share them if you have.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Missing Casey

Every time I go home and put the key in the lock, for just a second I think that when I open the door, I'll see Casey standing there.

Casey, for those of you who don't know me-- oh, wait, that's pretty much all 5 of my readers-- Casey is my dog. I still can't write "was" even though she died two months ago, on August 14th.

I spent most of that rainy Sunday on the floor beside her, petting her and talking to her. If I walked away for a minute, she whimpered a little. Other than that, she didn't seem in pain.

It was a relapse of an illness called Canine Vestibular Syndrome. I knew there was nothing that the vet could do. Either she'd recover or she wouldn't. She'd recovered from it before. This time--- well, you can't win them all.

So I spent that day lying on the floor next to her, telling her that she was beautiful and that she'd always be my doggie, and having periodic bouts of crying.

It felt surreal. As the light began truly fading not only from the late afternoon sky but also from her eyes, the rain intensified into a fierce storm. The electricity went out. And almost exactly then, my friend Kathleen, an astrologer, returned a call I'd left her the week before. The message had been something like, "Look, so I know I haven't talked to you in two years but my life has become very strange and -- dude, I need to know what the hell's going on and more importantly WHEN WILL IT END?"

I have always found astrologers -- good astrologers-- at least as useful as therapists, and certainly more cost efficient. An astrologer can, in an hour, tell me why what I'm experiencing is happening, what the next thing will be and when the change will take place. It's a decent bang for the buck and requires less caterwauling on my part. Sure, you might not buy into astrology. But trust me: a good astrologer can trump a bad shrink any day of the week. I like, for my money, being given AN ANSWER. I was happy to hear from Kathleen that the series of very bad months I was enduring would change for the better, right about now. That's part of the astrologists job-- to predict when things will be better. A therapist will never offer you that kind of certainty. And to my way of thinking, that's a shame.

Anyway-- Kathleen, who is amazing, told me things that were uncannily accurate considering that she'd not been updated on my life for quite a while. We talked about karmic ties and destiny v. free will. And she stayed with me on the phone while I was sitting on the candle-lit floor (because the lights stayed out for hours), while my sweet girl Casey chased the swift black rabbit out of this world and into the next.

Every day this week, I've meant to drive to Vermont. And yet I don't pack the car and go. It's because when I get there, I'll be looking for Casey. Some irrational part of me believes that she isn't really gone. That somehow she teleported from Jersey City to the forest, where she's there running through the woods, or lying on the front porch of my house keeping watch. Part of me believes that when the car crunches up the gravel road and turns into the driveway, when I get out of the car to open the iron gate, my girl will stand up from her corner of the porch and welcome me with her Bea-Arthur sounding bark.

I know that won't happen. She won't be there. And the sadness of that knowing weighs me down so that I can't seem to pick up my purse and car keys and other dogs (who seem unimportant and faceless now) and travel north to the place I love most in the world.

My girl is gone.

I feel like I don't belong anywhere now. Because wherever she was, was home.

To tell you the truth, I think that's why I've put my house up for sale.

And the Secret Garden house I like-- I haven't made an offer. There's no parking, and that seems impractical. As an insomniac, I often come home very late. If I buy that house, I'll circle and circle, ending up parking blocks away and having to cross through a rather rough bit of 'hood...So I'm still weighing pros and cons. Besides, my house hasn't even been seen yet, let alone sold.

And whatever house I come home to, there will be that moment where the key's in the lock. And my girl is not at the door.

Someday, I'm sure, I'll see that the experiences of this August have made me a stronger and wiser person. Right now, though, I just feel lonely and misunderstood. August was a bad month in a series of very bad months which, mercifully, seems to have ended. (As, perhaps coincidentally, Kathleen said it would.)Casey died. But before that, I did something stupid that got out of hand. There are lingering bad feelings about that, too. Someone I cared about and meant no harm to now hates me. And people who heard that person's version of the story think I am nuts. Which I am not. (Quirky, yes. Deranged, no. And many think the quirkiness is rather charming.) The story made my friends laughed their asses off. Yeah, they were laughing AT me, but they laughed with affection. Knowing me, having a background of how it all came about, they knew the whole absurd situation was closer to a Seinfeld episode (me as Elaine) than some psycho-drama thriller.

In other circles, I'm a pariah. Which hurts. There's nothing I can do about it but shrug and go about my life as I would otherwise, but it's hard to not care about it. I am conscious of being judged unfairly, and sad that a few people I respect have a skewed impression of me. It's a constant pebble in the shoe, and there's nothing I can do to cast it out.

If Casey were here, all that would matter less. If Casey were here, I'd bury my face in her neck and it would be better.

It's said that we miss things in proportion to how much we love them.

I miss that dog with all my heart.

Monday, October 17, 2005

On Writing

I've been working on my novel again.

Wait-- do I hear a reader somewhere begin to groan?

"Oh, God- no, Cupcake!" Please don't say you're going to be giving us snippets of your cheesy Chick-lit book. Haven't you learned, by now, that blogs and fiction do not mix?"

Fear not, gentle reader. I am not going to inflict the whimsical stylings of my story-telling pen upon you. At least not here. Maybe in another blog? I'm tempted.

I hadn't worked on the novel in some time, having been plying my craft in playwrighting, which is a horse of a different color. A novelist has it easy. If the character does something uncharacteristic, you can give the reader the inner thought to justify it. But in theatre, of course-- the character's motivation has to be externally obvious enough to make sense. Otherwise, the audience just gets annoyed.

In my play, one character is giving me trouble. I'm creating him, so I ought to know what he's thinking. But this guy seems to have a will of his own. He gets away from me, dancing in scenes where he ought to be mourning. Snapping at a woman who is kind to him. I don't know what to do with him, as though he's a misbehaving two year old I impulsively agreed to babysit.

And in the story, his thoughts must evolve convincingly. Since I am not sure what he's doing in the first place, I don't know how to poke him with my pencil to get him where I want him to go. I have to mull it over. I'll take a break.

It's like when pie crust won't roll itself out right, and you have to stick it in the freezer to re-think its stubborness. And for the butter to recongeal. And then you start over.

So-- play stuck in the figurative freezer-- I'm back to working on the novel. Fiction suddenly seems very easy compared to the Rubik's cube of drama. Marsha Norman wrote that you have to write plays twice-- once in your head and once on paper. Fiction lets you back-pedel more.

But that's not what I meant to write about. I meant to write about the actual process of writing, the way you stick your neck out the window into another world, shouting back over your shoulder, explaining what you see to your typewriter (which for the sake of this metaphor, takes dictation). Of how the best things I have written seem to have written themselves, because when I re-read them I am surprised to discover them laid out like that. As though I wrapped a package which, when unwrapped, is not the gift I remembered.

That's all, though, for the moment. The cardinal rule of successful writing is to write what you yourself would enjoy reading. And since I begin to wonder where I am going with this, I suspect you, dear reader, are wondering the same thing.

Just this: if I put up another blog with chapters of Dog Walker's Diary as I write them, would anyone read it?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

On Houses

I've listed my house with a realtor, but I don't think it knows that it's for sale. And I'm not telling it yet.

I keep re-examining the situation. It reminds me of times I've decided I was going to break up with someone but we hadn't had The Conversation. I watch the house, waiting for something to happen to make me to decide not to sell it.

I don't know what that something would be. Perhaps the house, sensing that I've never truly been in love with it, will make a last-ditch frantic effort to win my affections, by -- I don't know, miraculously self-painting rooms I never got around to. Perhaps if I walked in my bedroom and discovered that the walls were the delicate robin's egg blue of the paint sample sheet that's been sitting on my jewelry box for nearly a year-- perhaps then I would say, "Yes! I shall call the contractor and have him knock down this wall, expanding the room as I have often thought of doing! I will put in the french doors in the living room! I shall stay here! Together, we will make it work! And to think I nearly gave you up!"

And my house and I would fall madly in love with each other and whisper endearments in the dark, as I would fall asleep in its embrace, glad to be there rather than wishing I was somewhere else.

I keep waiting for something like that to happen.

There's no good time to break up. I'll wait til the first potential buyers come for a look-see. No point in playing the "It's over" card til it's necessary, til you're sure, ready to move out. It just makes for tense days, and those awkward nights where lying in the same bed, you jolt awake with horror if your foot accidentally brushes against the other's foot. (In this case, I guess that would be the wall my bed is pushed against.)

There I go, anthropomorphizing again.

Gibran wrote:
Then a mason came forth and said, "Speak to us of Houses."

And he answered and said:...Your house is your larger body. It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? and dreaming, leave the city for grove or hilltop?

I have another house, in Vermont. My house there is indeed both grove and hilltop-- or more precisely, in forest and on mountain. I think of that house constantly. It's my favorite place on the planet. But I don't get there very often.

I've tried living in Vermont full time. It doesn't work. At first, the quiet calms me. I feel at peace. I sink into the quiet, decompressing. But then the sinking into it begins to feel like free-falling through space. In a matter of weeks, the quiet roars in soul's ears, a deafening stillness. But then the howling erupts to break that stillness-- It is the fierce dogs in the cellar of my dark side, who begin with whining, then snarl and bark and emit such howling that even the Baskervilles would quake with terror.

And the next thing I know, I'm pacing through the night, chain-smoking, listening to Sarah McLaughlin, writing really bad poetry and self-absorbed entries in my journal, and weeping while I read Sylvia Plath aloud to myself.

I can deal with depression. But I do so hate indulging in cliches.

So I only go to Vermont for small pieces of time. Like this coming week, I think I am going. But I think about Vermont, and my house there almost hourly, wishing I were there.

It's like the chocolate pudding, which I never eat though it's my favorite dessert.

Just the Knowing that it's there, somewhere in the world--- often, that is enough.

Not always. But often. And often is pretty darn good.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Cupcake Answers Readers' Questions

First of all, I’d like to thank the multitudes of you who have been emailing me privately with comments and questions. I certainly understand the hesitation in commenting publicly on a blog. The knowledge that one’s position might someday be used as in evidence in a court case, or read by one’s mother (however charming the mother in question may be, as mine is---Hi, Mom!)-- Well, those possibilities are undeniably problematic. But as readers continue to write me to pose questions, and as many of the questions are similar, I have decided to devote a posting of Cupcake Central to the most popular themes of inquiry.

Cupcake, what would you do if you won a million dollars in the lottery?

Funny you should ask, dear reader, as only today I was wondering about that myself. The first thing I’d do is put a back porch on my house in Vermont because there’s a spot that’s just screaming for a back porch to be put on. I’d donate to animal rescue groups and the DNP, and then I’d put the rest into a trust and start a theatre and comedy club to develop new plays, mostly funny new plays because audiences are so often made to suffer. (How is it that what is considered "Art" is so rarely funny? Comedy had it's own Muse, one reflects...) Oh, and at some point I’d buy something that certifiably and unarguably belonged to Napoleon, ideally something that he’d held in his hand a lot, like a watch. Once, on eBay, I bid on some buttons from his coat. I stopped at $800, which seemed a lot, and though I lost them to a higher bidder, I wish I’d gone further. To be able to touch something that he held, something that he’d absently fingered while reviewing documents, looking over maps, pressing his hand inside his jacket in his idiosyncratic gesture that Davide made famous—That would be worth a lot to me. More than $800, unarguably.

What about Napoleon appeals to you so much? Wasn’t he a war-monger and the George W. Bush of his day?

Reader, for shame! I will not grace that irreverent question with an answer. But you can look for an upcoming post on The Little General on October 21, which will be the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Perhaps then, when you hear my take on him, you will take back your inelegant and inaccurate (to a point) dispersions.

What is your favorite dessert food?

While the title of this blog would imply otherwise, my favorite dessert food is chocolate pudding. But I don’t eat it because I sugar makes me crazy (wired, then narcoleptic and depressed) and artificial sweeteners just don’t do pudding right. It’s a consistency thing.

And perhaps this says something about me. Like many other things I value tremendously, I enjoy it without the need to consume it. To think about something wonderful can be every bit as intense as having it. Sometimes, sadly, more so. I have often reflected that nothing is more satisfying than the first drag of a cigarette. And nothing so disappointing as the second.

You’re so pretty, funny, sweet and wise. How is it that you are single?

Thank you, generous reader, for your kind words. I am especially flattered that you have guessed my pulchritude through my words, since shy as I am, I have not posted photographs of myself. I keep daring myself to, but haven’t yet worked up the necessary gumption. Perhaps this goes with the hesitation in commenting on other people’s blogs, as mentioned above—and why I neglected my own blog for a couple of months. And other stupid choices I have made along the way, the examples of which might be legion, should I parade them in formation. I dare not begin to count.
This fear of declaring myself, of daring to take a solid and public stand, I think—--that’s what’s held me back from many things, including marriage. (I was engaged once. Suddenly, I felt an irresistable need to bolt to Australia for a few months. Somehow I forgot to keep in touch with my fiancé while I was gone. Oddly, he took umbrage at this omission and…that was that. As I recall, I experienced only jet lag and relief.)

I sometimes puzzle over my solitary status, usually on nights when all my friends are nestled in domestic situations leaving me, the cheese, to stand alone. ("To sit, read, write long letters through the evening, and wander the boulevards restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing…")

My Singledom is very much of my own making. And yet it is a mystery even to me. Should you turn upside down the Eight-Ball of my solitude, I’m guessing some of the enigmatic answers that would float to top would be: “Too Many Canines”; “Inappropriate, (sometimes bizarre) Choices in Men”; “Gathering No Moss”; “Commitmentphobia”; “Groucho Marx Syndrome” (as in I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member)—and inevitably, “Ask Again.”

What gives you faith in mankind?

I often think that I don’t have faith in mankind. And then I remember September 11, standing on 6th Avenue watching the buildings burn. I remember the river of dust-covered people moving uptown that afternoon—the acrid smell in the air, the shell-shocked sense of doom. And that those of us who were not covered with dust, those of us who watched helplessly from a quarter mile away – kept offering help -- water, the use of a phone, a place to sit, a pair of better shoes for walking than the super-high heeled pumps the barefoot, crying woman was carrying—When I think of that, of how the instinctive response to that horror was the impulse to help--- then I think maybe the world isn’t as messed up as I sometimes believe.

Niven, Connory, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, or Brosnin?


I fell for him when he played Heathcliff in a weird 70’s version of Wuthering Heights. When I saw it on TV, I was enthralled. For the rest of that summer, when a thunderstorm erupted, I’d force my reluctant cousin John to play a game called “Heathcliff” in which I'd wrap an army blanket around myself in what I hoped looked like a cloak, chasing him through the rain while calling after him, with great longing and desperation, “Heathcliff! Come back!!!” John hated this game and complains about it to this day. He is soon to move to Jersey City and will be surprised to discover that I plan to resurrect it. (Just kidding, JR.) We were, I think, 11 at the time. Looking back, I impressed that I could pretend with sufficient diligence to turn our suburban cul-de-sac into the Yorkshire Moors.
So, yes, Dalton. Absolutely.

Why are we here? Is man the measure of all things? What is our relationship with God?

Oh, for Heaven’s sake. I’m a playwright, not a philosopher. If you really wish me to answer those questions, it will take me a year to compose the drama, and 90 minutes of your time in a darkened theatre to watch, followed by two more hours arguing with your friends over dinner about what the hell I meant.

So that's it for now...sorry if I didn't get to your question. And keep those emails and comments coming. I love hearing from you.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A world rich with good things

I've been very happy lately. Here are some of the reasons why:

My rabbit, Clover.

Clover used to live in a hutch like an ordinary rabbit. Then an old roommate built her a house and a play area in the basement. The way he set it up, she can come out any time she wants. When I go downstairs to do laundry, she dances around my ankles. It's the best way to do laundry, ever.

Sister Wendy.
I was looking at her book, 1000 Masterpieces. There's something very endearing about her. And I truly admire her. It must have been terrifying to emerge from the cloister to become an internationally recognized celebrity. But her passion for art and her faith in God kept her going. I find that inspiring.

A story I heard.

At my favorite artsy Jersey City cafe, the owner told me about a scientist who was probing an octopus with an electric shock thing. The octopus let him do it twice. But the third time the octopus grabbed the probe, hurling it back at the scientist like a spear.

For some reason, this delighted me. I couldn't stop smiling for hours.

These things speak to me. Nay, they sing with the voices of angels.

Oh, and also-- Monday is the last day of my soul-killing job.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Secret Garden House

I looked at the Lemony Snicket's house. Florescent lighting glared upon the hospital-white walls so that the whole place felt like that scene--not from Lemony Snicket's but from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder version) where Mick TeeVee gets broadcast across the room.

Even with better lighting and nicer colors-- that house had a bad vibe. Also, Mr. Trump is building a 55 story building that will block much of the view.

But I found something cool. It's on a gorgeous street, in what was the 'hood two years ago and is now a 'hood half filled with yuppies. It's a brick attached Edwardian home. It feels right. And the backyard has a secret garden. Really, it does.

Imagine a square. Each side is the wall of an enclosed backyard. So the middle square, between those four yards, is like a yard itself. It's about 25 by 25 feet. Except nobody owns it. The realtor looked it up on the town map. It's not deeded to anyone. Nobody's taxed on it. It's not town land, either. It's forgotten.

It probably hasn't been touched in decades. It's filled with tall trees, a little forest in the middle of the 'hood. And only one of those houses has a gate into that forest. The one I looked at, Number Sixty-One.

I stood in this room that, if I bought the house, I would make look like a castle tower. It's kind of round, the windows leaning out into the trees. I looked out at the secret garden and I thought, "This is my house."

The only problem is that it's just a shell right now. Needs a total gut rehab because it's uninhabitable as is. No plumbing, no lights, no heat, no nothing. In fact, no windows, just the spaces where they should be. But it called to me. It said, "Cupcake, we belong to each other. Welcome home."

Am I crazy?

I really want it. But I also know that if I get it, the stress and inevitable cashflow problems will torture me until the work is finished.

There's every likelihood that I could make a great deal of money, buying this place, fixing it up, living there for a year or two and then selling. (Although I'm already thinking, "No! I can't sell the secret garden house! I'll live there forever!")

It's not just because of the secret garden that I really liked the house. It had a feel -- a good feel. It felt welcoming. I could imagine living there and being my best self-- working on my stuff. Hanging out with my dogs. Cooking. Having friends over. The bus to Manhattan is on the corner.

It's worth it, though, isn't it? If at the end you get a home? If I can rebuild the way I want-- with a woodstove as backup in case we have some sort of catclysm? With a claw foot tub under a window that's part stained glass and part view of the secret garden? (I have the claw foot already, in the basement of my house in Vermont, just waiting to be put to use.)

Imagine having a house a stone's throw from Manhattan, with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and a secret garden full of trees? A little forest all to oneself?


I'm going to make an offer.

Remind me, later, when I'm posting about the ordeals of working with contractors, that I knew it would be like that, okay?

A secret garden would be worth it. A bedroom like a medieval tower.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005


This post is about my dad.

The picture above is not my dad. It's Ed Asner (aka Lou Grant from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show). Dad looks a lot like Ed Asner. And he's also that sort of blustery, good-natured-but-can-come-off-as-gruff-til-he-smiles kind of guy.

A cousin once described Dad as a cross between Shrek and the Dalai Lama. I've seen pictures of both of them that resembled him. But as he and Ed Asner have aged, they've started to look like twins.

Aged. They've aged.

Dad's almost 83. (For those of you counting on your fingers, let me leap right in emphasizing that my parents had children late in life. So although your Cupcake is admittedly d'une age certaine, she's still younger than Madonna. And at least that hot.)

Almost every day, I talk to my parents in Florida. (I know, I know-- a planet to choose from and they go from Dayton to Port Richey. What were they thinking?) But they're very cool people.

I work with Senior Citizens, and I know age is relative. Some at 74 are much much older than others at 104. My parents are still active people, taking trips, following current events, making plans. They're still in the game.

But then...yesterday, when I called home, Dad told me he'd had a car accident. He's fine. The other guy's fine. (The vehicles are not so fine. But who cares.)

"Honey, I coulda really clobbered the guy," Dad said. "I didn't even see him."

He's decided he's not driving any more.

When he told me that, in the car myself, I practically slammed on the brakes.

Did he mean it? If it's really at that point, I credit him for having enough self-awareness to make that huge concession. But if he does stop driving, if he steps down from that activity voluntarily, nobly, because it's time-- then what does that mean?

It's shaken me.

I mean, he's always driven. Ever since I've known him. He gets around.

Like, at 82, this past year, my father started dealing in vintage jewelry. He's never had interest in jewelry or shopping. But he's developed one, going several times a week to flea markets and estate sales, reading books on 20th century costume design, carrying magnifying glasses to look at tiny imprints in metal that he's learned to decode and classify. Why? Because he's smart, and he knows that at his age, he needs to keep learning new things, keep his mind active. And he's been having a blast, learning this stuff, making new friends, finding treasures.

And now he's going to give that up, because he's not going to drive. He's conceding to age with a shrug and a non-plussed "Oh, well." He'll just read more, he says. Play on the internet. Watch the news, regretting daily the choice he made at the polls. (Not that it matters, especially in Florida.)

Oh, Mom'll drive him around. His golfing buddies will pick him up for their weekly game, or to go hit balls at the driving range. The neighbor friend Dick will shuttle him sometimes. But to give up driving---! That's a huge chunk of independence. And he's not making a big deal about it because-- well, he's never been into drama.

I, on the other hand, am truly shaken. Are they really old now? Have I been in denial? THIS IS MY DAD, guys. Not some old man. But-- my dad's 83 in two months. I guess he is an old man. How did this happen?

Now it's my turn to count on my fingers and realize that I've been procrastinating about visiting them. Haven't been there since April. Meant to go August. And September. And October. But still have made no plans.

Now I'll go. Soon. Drive him to the flea markets, myself. Talk to him about rhinestones. Spend some quality time.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best TV shows in the history of television. But one day it was canceled. One day, it just wasn't there any more.

I'm making a reservation to Florida tomorrow. I gotta go see my dad.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Lemony Snicket's House

When I want to change my life, I shop. Except I don't look at shoes or clothes. Oh, no. I buy houses. I move.

It is time.

My sister says it's because, growing up in the suburbs of Dayton, we wished we lived anywhere else. Somehow the white-breaded Brady-world we lived in inked a "get me outta here" tattoo on our psyches. She moves a lot too. She calls it "geographic bulimia." Says she can't stomach one place for too long. She doesn't buy and sell houses, though. She changes countries. This weekend, she bought the plane ticket to Thailand. She's moving there on New Year's Day. Until then, she's leaving Barcelona, where she's lived for the past year, for a small town in France where she'll work on her novel.

Me? I'm just looking at a different part of Jersey City. Because I can't think of anywhere else to go. I've started doing my middle of the night "well, I can't sleep so I guess I'll drive around looking at houses" manuevers again. That's how I found this house I am sitting in, two and a half years ago. I drove past it and said, "That's the one."

It's a fine house. But I've never been in love with it. It's an investment, and I think the market's peaked. Time to sell. Buy something cheaper, smaller.

Yesterday, I drove past the house I want now. The Lemony Snicket's house.

That's not what the realtor calls it, but that's what it is.

It's perched on a cliff, facing Manhattan. It's the weirdest street, somehow, in an urban area but practically deserted. What buildings are there are derelict. A few vacant lots filled with broken furniture. It's not pretty.

But there's this ramshackle house, all by itself, sitting on a hill just above the cliff. It's a side-by-side two-family. Half of it is boarded up. The other half is for sale. Cheap. (Well, it would have to be, wouldn't it?)

When I saw it, I pulled the car over to the side of the road, at the edge of the cliff overlooking Manhattan. I sat there, like at Wimbledon, looking from side to side-- rickety, sloping Lemony Snicket's house to the left. Manhattan skyline to the right. I sighed. It's perfect. And who would live there but me?

I can't wait to see the inside. I hope the stairs wheeze when you walk on them. I hope you can roll a marble across the kitchen floor. I hope that when the light backs in over the afternoon, it casts long shadows and eerie beams to catch dustmotes that will dance for me as I look out over the Chryler building.

And I hope the boarded up half is drowning in back taxes so I can buy it too, get it zoned commercial and open an artsy cafe with outdoor tables in the summer in what is now the trash-filled vacant lot.

It will need mega-work. But it's so gothic (and so cheap) that I can't imagine not at least bidding on it.

And with that view. Amazing.

So I am house hunting again. And autumn tugs at my sleeve. "Find your way, Cupcake," it whispers. "Find your way home." I keep looking. Like the Baudelaire children, I keep looking.

Maybe this is the one.

("Who has no house now never will have one.
Who is alone will stay alone.
Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening.
And wander the boulevards, hither and yon, restlessly
while the dry leaves are blowing.")