Well it’s an auspicious occasion for me tonight, I am six days away from my one year anniversary on WordPress. To coin a well-worn phrase it’s “been a long strange trip” but really not so strange and actually it has been wonderful! When I started this BLOG a year ago I was home sick from my many wanderings in New York City, burning the candle at both ends as it were. But when I wrote my “About” page and my first post “Now with Subtitles” I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead and how it would change me as an artist and as a writer.
While I always knew that I could write pretty good at least as far as my school teachers grades indicated, it wasn’t till I attended college that my English 101 teacher Prof. Wigetow told me when asked that I could be a writer, he said it with conviction and without hesitation. But it was on a cool night on Oct 22nd 2008 that my world was changed when I; waiting for Duffy to take to the stage, was questioned by a woman asking what I was writing in my notebook. While I told her she was joined by her brother W.B.Wilkins, Wilkins (a former english teacher and actor) upon finding out that I intended to wait until the winter to start writing, gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. He covered how one goes about writing, but more importantly how I should go about writing about my experiences. He told me to do this in two days not two months!,and to try to convey what I’m feeling and what others are feeling. If I can write a piece that speaks to 80% of the people then I turn writing into saleable art.
But he warns me not to expect to make money at it, just like painting the pleasure is in the doing, the experience of the work and the love of the written word. If you are very lucky, people will pay you for it! This is all punctuated by light taps on my chest, a rub to my arm and a squeeze of my bicep. It’s done in a fatherly reinforcing way and with a handshake he and his sister who is also a teacher, moved off to get a good spot for the concert that was starting.
I left that episode out of the Duffy piece because I thought it broke the flow of the story but now give the credit where it is due, I have tried to convey in all my NY travel stories exactly what he said, how it feels to be there at that moment. To give my readers the sights, smells, and tastes around me and also the people moving around me and how they might feel too. I feel as if I’ve done a good job of this but there is always room for improvement. I also have to acknowledge the influence of Jack Kerouack, his hand written notebooks and in the moment style have had immeasurable influence on me. The sheer brilliance of his raw novelist as reporter approach to his writing have served me very well and I really don’t think I would be this far along if it wasn’t for him. But I also have to give as much credit to William Burroughs, his loose yet careful words have shown me how a writer can be like a jazz musician, light and dark, fast and slow, all at once or each emotion on it’s own terms. There is also room to mention Tolkien and James P. Blaylock both created antediluvian worlds that made me want to live there, where good quiet folk found themselves fighting evil and having adventures. They are still favorite reads for me and the work never gets old even after multiple readings of Tolkiens “The Hobbit” and Blaylocks best “The Disappearing Dwarf” and “The Elven Ship” they will be read again and again till I am gone from this world.
The influence of another figure who is not only a writer but also a well-known former executive chef and star of two hit shows, one for the food network (which is no longer on the air) and currently an Emmy Award winning show for the Travel Channel. I’m talking about the loveably snarky and iconoclastic Anthony Bourdain. He has been my mentor, my man-crush, and my pick-me-up on Monday nights at the beginning of a long week of work. I listen closely especially to the voice over at the end of the show where he tries to sum up his experience in a particular place or country. While images of the trip flash by he recites his words, the liquid wisdom he has written in the moment. Very often the insight about the world and the human condition become (for me at least) the best part of an already excellent show. These programs have fired my imagination and along with my trip to England and France in 2005, have given me a wanderlust that right now…I can’t satisfy. The lack of expendable cash and responsibilities on the home front have kept me from journeying away. But I know that someday Tony, I too will swing in my hammock on the edge of the lake in Indonesia, in my little house and wait for “pancake man” to come in his boat on a sunny morning to give me breakfast. Yes, this at least I’ve promised to myself.
But since I will probably never get to meet you face to face and tell you this story I’ll write it now, and maybe you’ll read this someday. I have never been a great lover of seafood, even though I have Swedish and Norwegian blood and my Great Grandfather was a sea capitan I have never much liked the water and could only stomach a few kinds of fish even into my twenties and thirties. In grammar school of course I ate tunafish sandwich and I liked fish sticks as long as it was all white, no discoloration please! Frozen deep-fried Howard Johnson’s clam strips or shrimp were a favorite too…thanks Mom.
But I could not stomach the real hardcore seafood, I’m talking about the shellfish. On a good day I could handle a lobster tail (when I was older) but drew the line at a whole lobster or even crab legs, I had no desire at all to perform an autopsy on my dinner! The humble Mussel was enough to make me hurl, the sight of the chambered form inside with its Lovecraftian appendages, bubbling and blaspheming in a pot of Cioppino at my cousin Chrissy’s house, could send me screaming about the “Old Ones” into the night, and don’t even get me started on snails! But in 2006 things would change in a special way.
My aforementioned cousin Chrissy had been battling cancer since 2003, and had survived an operation that would have killed most people, they are probably still studying her case. The cancer had spread from the intestines to the liver and ovaries, kidneys, stomach-the lot. They removed so much tissue from her body it was a miracle she lived, but live she did. She would live to vacation in Jamaica and take many other trips away with her husband and two girls, and I living nearby would drop in to see her without notice just to sit and tell her of my adventures or problems, you could always count on honesty with Chrissy, even if she didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear.
We had a special bond as painters but had gone to only one art show together since I started to paint in 1999,she was raising a family and I was busy with my own life. So in 2006 Chrissy and her husband Bruce decided to host Christmas for all the family, these were always happy times for me, I loved sitting at the table with my cousin Chrissy and her sister Donna, Bruce and Pat their husbands, my cousins daughters Sharon, Michelle, and Jennifer and my brother Chris as well as all the parents of our tribe. We would go off telling war stories and riffing on each other in a friendly way that would be punctuated by the raucous laugh of Chrissy and high-pitched guffaw of Donna and my own explosive laugh. So on this night things were a little more subdued but not much and when the hot food was served I saw that there was many seafood items to be eaten tonight. I realized that this may be Chrissy’s last Xmas with us and when I had already tried the other dishes of chicken, various pastas, eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and mushrooms. I went to the table of freshly laid out seafood and scanned the offerings, there was Cioppino, small snails in tomato and garlic tapenade, crab legs with butter, stuffed clams in garlic butter, seafood stew, a feast of garlicy tomato Italian tradition.
I took it all back to the table and bravely tucked right in with my cousin sitting across from me beaming as I discovered that some of this was actually very good! I ate and talked with her enjoying the face time with her and for a while it was not very obvious that she was sick. There was no way I wasn’t going to do so, like Tony says on the show when people are giving till it hurts, even if you don’t like it-you eat it and you smile and you ask for more, to do anything else would be an insult.
My cousin died eleven months later in November of 2007 and it was touching that she seemed to wait until Stanly Kramer, her old art teacher in grammar school, now the school principal. Had to come to see her before she would let go, that’s how strong her bond was with him and with her art. We get together now without her and it’s cool to see how her daughter Jennifer has taken over Chrissy’s role as the raucous storyteller, regaling us with her tales of working in the fashion industry in New York City and Donna too seems to have joined her as well filling the gap left by Chrissy’s passing, and Chrissy’s other daughter Michelle, (a photographer who looks like her mother) quietly takes embarrassing pictures of all of us-yes we will get you for it too Michelle just wait.
I did some growing up that night and since then I have found myself trying more foods that take me out of my comfort zone, even though I might not like them at least I try them now, veal, seafood, unfamilair meats, blood sausage, lagastino lobster, and anything else offered to me I eat without hesitation. I no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as others enjoy and encourage me to do the same and refuse, too caught up in myself to be polite and join in. I learned there is a big difference between taking a stand against a certain type of food for health reasons or moral obligation, and not trying a certain food out of immaturity.
So thank you Anthony Bourdain for helping me to grow a lot, and for putting a smile on my dying cousin’s heart. Indeed with your own writing not just for your show (and it’s accompanying books) but also your fiction, which I have also enjoyed very much. You have informed my writing too, just like the master writers of this century and I hope you stay here in New York and keep doing No Reservations for many more years to come. This viewer will never grow tired of it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing that my writing has given me, the most important thing…a friend. When I started reading others work I came across the blog of Maureenj aka White Orchid and after commenting on something she wrote, found her also looking at my page and since then we have become good friends. The fact is that only a few other people have bothered to comment on my posts and the comments have all been good, but no one follows my blog like Maureen. This past year we have weathered many storms in our own life but still find time and energy to encourage each other and comment on each others blog posts. She has become the older sister I was supposed to have in many ways and although I have not shared some of my deeper problems and fears with her, (especially since she had a medical scare this year and a death in the family) I have come to realize she is my true friend. We talk of our desire to meet one day and I often find myself day dreaming about my trip to Australia or hers to New York, where I would undoubtedly be the personal tour guide for her that I want to be in the near future, and was with my relatives from England in April of this past year.
Mark and Sharon came over and changed my life without even knowing it at the time, the days spent showing them the Village and Midtown Manhattan were the happiest this year, and led to my realizing that this might be my true calling. This was reinforced by meeting Robert Fogelnest; a former tour guide and Village authority whose book I bought and study along with many others on all things good and bad about New York City.
So right now while I weather the storm of debt consolidation and zero credit available to me I cannot indulge in the finer things in New York City. I have to learn to write about other topics anyway, still have some story’s to tell about New York and some experiences I had before all this blogging, theater-going, tour guiding study and hardcore foodie stuff started. The very first story I wrote as an intentional piece of journalism was a story about street art that I wrote in 2007 when I was so wrapped up in my story that I didn’t even review the food I was eating in a now closed Sri Lankan restaurant, which is strange because I remember it was good. The story of our trip to England and Paris is all a blur now but I can try to look at pictures and piece it together to make it live. I also have the hope of coming into some money soon, by legal means I assure you which will be enough to pay off a few bills not covered by the debt consolidation in which case I could be in a few months very close to breathing a sigh of relief and able to continue my adventures.
So right now after watching Paradise Found with Keifer Sutherland last night I am also trying to become an artist again, and trying to meld both my writing and my art into switches I can throw on or off depending on my mood instead of one or the other, which is the way it’s been since early 2007, I haven’t painted a thing in two years,why…I don’t know.
I am grateful to Word Press for their support and presence on the web, and to Cheru Jackson of Alphainventions for helping me to promote my page, and to my Mom, whose diary writing, and her repeatedly showing and speaking aloud the first three letters of the alphabet to me as a baby, have undoubtedly had a lasting effect on me as a writer and reader. As always it’s the little things like this that mean the most.
It has been a great ride and I hope to continue this for the rest of my life, even if I never make it as a writer or an artist it’s OK. The most important thing is that while I write or paint I’m alive, doing what I enjoy and not wasting time with mindless activities or destructive behavior. Thanks to all the cast of characters in my life, which is my work of art, as I am in others casts…so may all of us grow. Thanks for reading and influencing my life and art, and if your ever in New York City drop me a line and we’ll have a drink or two, and one more thing…try the veal at Le Rivage on W. 46th St…it’s really good.
Long Island, NY 2009