It’s never too late

I recently ran across a wonderfully uplifting quote by Victorian writer George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” And that, my dear reader, is very much the template (I wonder what Ms. Evans would think about this last word) for the next phase of my life.

One of the things few understand about living with a brain injury is that one’s relationship with the injury, the brain damage, is not a fixed thing. Living with a brain injury is, in a very real way, living with an influence that is in perpetual motion. This, of course, requires perpetual management of the injury. And so, for me, fatigue is more of a factor than it was, say, when I suffered my injury early one overcast summer morning in 1984. I’d been held-up and shot in the head at point blank range. I was 30. For some years following this, once I returned to work, I was able to work, 40, 50, 60 and more hours a week. But, as I said, a brain injury’s role changes. On our about 2005 or so, my ability to work regular hours came to an end.

Do not, for a moment, think I am saddened by this; I am damned glad to be alive to do anything.

The thing is, when fatigue is a factor, like it is for me, one needs to be selective about where one invests one’s energy. For me, for now, it will be invested in writing. If I am offered a speaking engagement or asked to conduct a standalone seminar or presentation of some kind, I’d be inclined to accept (depending, of course, on the issuer of the invitation). I will also keep my “foot” in the advocacy arena. But, writing will be the focus, quite possible for the rest of my life.

Why writing?

At first glance, not an easy question to answer. Perhaps the closest I can come to answering the question accurately is this: writing and books have been my constant companions for as long as I have memory. I have several boxes (this is not an exaggeration) filled with journals I’ve kept over the years. As for books, well, let me just say that I recently donated something in the neighborhood of 15 boxes of books to the Salvation Army leaving me with something along the lines of 45 boxes that are waiting for me to unpack them.

Now that I think of it, the answer to Why writing? is actually simple and obvious: I can always go there. So it is with books. They always give me a place to go.

My life has taught me something about loss. The unbiased hand of death plucks people from our midst, often without warning and, equally often, without any damned good reason I can think of.

And then, of course, life too happens to each of us whether we like it or not. I was not planning on getting shot and living with a brain injury. I was not planning on experiencing homelessness when I was in my teens and I know damned well I wasn’t planning on enduring the suicide of my mother and, perhaps the most savage blow of all, I was not planning on my father dying when I was 15. Hell, when I was 15 I was dancing a principal role with the Joffrey Ballet and was expected by the ballet world to have a stellar career as a dancer. But, my father died and 16 weeks later my mother placed me in reform school and all that had been came to a crashing end, including my life with a family. But! I could always write what I was thinking and feeling and I could always find a book to read. Because of them I always had a place to go.

And I would not be denied.

When I was homeless, or lived on the streets as we called it then, I became dazzlingly skilled at stealing paperback books off the rotating wire racks in pharmacies; not an easy task when one considers that one feature factored into the design of each and every one of those wire racks was that they emit a loud squeak when turned. I could tell you I’m sorry  I stole all those books but this has been an honest essay and I see no reason to change that.

Anyway, this is enough for now. I have to go somewhere (this is where you smile).

A Citizen of Writing

Writing is a place I’ve been visiting for quite awhile now. I’ve discovered that if you visit often enough you look up one day, and you’re a citizen of writing. I’d have it no other way.

Being a writer simply means one thing: write. What you do with it is up to you. Whether you send it out for publication, keep your work in a drawer, or throw it away,  you’re still a writer. It is easy to get trapped in the propaganda quicksand of marketing and making money and the quest for fame. And if you do become famous and make lots of money, what, in the long run, would that mean?  In the long run, not a damn thing. Because in the long run you’ll be gone, but your writing won’t.  And that there’s some good news.

I have a wide-ranging relationship with writing. Sometimes  my words become journal entries, poems, short stories, books, memoir, essays. And of course there are the blog pieces, many of them op-ed in nature as they take some to task, put folks on the spot. Oh well…

Now I’ve been on my own for a long time now, since I was 16 to be exact. That’s forty years and counting. I think people who find themselves without family find places of refuge, some healthy some not. God knows I sought refuge in some unhealthy places. But there were some healthy places of refuge too: writing, reading, music and the sanctuary of nature.

It’s nice being a citizen of writing, of reading, of music, nature,  life.

My thought for you, my dear reader? Remember to live. You are a citizen of life, and maybe writing too.

_______________________________

Write the Words

You write the words in front of you, just as they are. If truth be your guide and courage your light, it is your only choice. You write the words in front of you and hope they reach the page before the influence of media, hunger, agendas, wounds of history, stain them. Sometimes you will not know if this has happened for some time. Sometimes you will never know.

You write the words in front of you, the ones that stand before your heart and soul, the ones you know wear your realities. Set them down, straight, true, clear. There are times their at-first meaning will lift like a mist and their core meaning will appear. I am back to fearless (I think). Reality, the experience of it, the exposing of it in all its ineffable shapes, tones, rhythms, sounds, movements, mores, tricks, blemishes, heartbeats, lives and deaths, relationships, lands and cultures, are the aim of your pen.

You write the words. Write, retreat, write again. You cannot – though like me, you likely will, at least at times – worry over what others will think. Have your worry, but give it no say. Write the words, write them anyway.

Live.

__________________

PIZZA ON HER HEAD

In 1985 President Ronald Reagan begins his second term in office, Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary in the Soviet Union, Jason Robards stars on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” Boris Becker becomes the youngest man to win the Wimbledon’s single’s championship, and Yankee legend Roger Maris dies. In 1985, I can not get myself to leave my home.



The idea of taking part in life outside my home is not just preposterous, it’s terrifying.



Those who pass my second floor apartment door often see a sign taped there that reads, “DO NOT DISTURB FOR ANY REASON.” If someone does knock when the sign is posted, I do not answer the door.



My friends, many of whom live in the same building with me at 286 East 2nd Street, take me under their wing. They keep me supplied with food, coffee, cigarettes, pot – anything I want and need.



Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning and shuffle into the kitchen wearing only my bathrobe, I see an envelope has been slipped under my door during the night. In it, there is always cash and occasionally, the cash is accompanied by a joint. Sometimes a particular style of knocking on the front door signals me that someone is leaving bags of groceries for me.



I am blessed to have friends like this. Dane, my brother in the heart. My apartment mate, an amazing chef named David; my landlords Dorrill and Kathy Semper, and then an array of loving friends: Hart Faber, Kenny Mencher, Arty May, Dominique Nadel, Zeke, Joshua and a scattering of others.



I am kept fed and protecting which is wonderful because I am afraid to leave my home, I am afraid to live; at times, I am afraid to get out of bed. Sometimes I don’t.



The only person on the planet who can get me to leave the house is Michael. From the day we met there has always been something about Michael that lets me know I am safe at all times being me with him.



One time after several days of flashbacks, hideous events that leave me freezing cold and sweating profusely while wrapped in a pyramid of blankets while I wait for the terrors to pass, I call Michael and tell him what is going on.



Michael, who lives in Staten Island, says, “I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Listen for the horn. Hang in there Babaloo.”



Less than two hours later, I hear his Karmann Ghia’s horn. I rush down the stairs, out of the building, and into his car.



We drive off and fire up a joint. Moments later, stopped at a red light at the corner of Avenue A and East 2nd Street, Michael says, “Hey, you’d agree the two of us are a little fucked up, wouldn’t you?”



“A little I suppose, sure.”



“I mean you’ve got a bullet in your head, hole in your skull, I’ve got no legs and a bunch of shrapnel in me, I’d say we’re a little fucked up.



“That’s true.”



“You think so? You see that woman?” he says, pointing at a woman who is crossing Avenue A holding hands with her boyfriend. Both are model gorgeous, beautifully dressed. He looks like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ and she looks like she stepped out of the pages of Cosmopolitan. The one curious thing in this image is she is walking across the street with a pizza balanced on her head.



Michael says, “You see that? That woman’s never stepped on a fucking mine and she’s never been shot in the head and there she is walking across the street with a pizza on her head. And you think we’re fucked up?”



We dissolve into warmly welcomed and, for me, desperately needed, laughter. The light turns green, the car behind us honks, and off we go.



A few minutes later we are parked on 2nd Avenue drinking coffee. We in one of our feigned debates over the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation, with the likes of Hulk Hogan, the Rock, and a muscular beyond-belief female wrestler named China. Michael believes China is as hot as a woman can get and strenuously feigns an insistence that the wrestling is real. I, of course, insist it’s all a bunch of phony position.



“Phony! Whattaya mean phony? You call yourself an American and say something like that? That’s real blood, bro. How can you call yourself an American and call a real American hero like Hulk Hogan a fake? And you don’t think China’s hot? Are fucking crazy?”



“Hot? She looks like a clenched bicep with a head on top.”



“Do me a favor, Peter,” he says, his eyes twinkling laughter a mile a minute, “Don’t embarrass yourself by talking like this in public. Keep it in the car. You’re going through enough as it is. You don’t want your country turning on you.”



“That’s true.”



“Not real… You know that bullet fucked up you’re thinking, bro.”



I am, for the moment, happy again.



There is an unspoken understanding between the two of us. We know things like flashbacks, the darker moments of life, are things you simply need to go through, or let them go through you, I’m not always sure how it works. It’s kind of like sweating on a summer day, it’s unavoidable. Thinking and reasoning never spared anyone their life experience. You just keep going, catch the breaks you can, and remember the basics like bathing, eating, brushing your teeth, washing you hair, keeping you clothes and your bedding clean. Other than that, you let the storms of life have their say and then move on.



Michael pulls up in front of 286 to drop me off. “Hey, listen, next time you start having those flashbacks?”



“Yeah?”



“Just stop it.”



I laugh. “Why the fuck I didn’t think of that is beyond me.”

________________________________________________________________

My Task

And now, to the writing of it. The telling of it, knowing beforehand that no words get close to the realities of those here and gone from life; those we have loved and love still from the center of our beings, our souls if you will. Yet, it seems to me, to not write about them, write for them, tell others about them, would be an injustice of the heart.

I cannot tell you the glory of an Oak tree by phone or on the page. Nor can I tell you in full measure the exquisite beautiful mystery of the always enchanting morning mist. But I can tell you something, and that is my task.

I cannot possibly tell you or explain in any full and complete measure how a woman hours from me warms my heart and lifts my soul with so much love and comfort I find the experience baffling, wondrous, soaring. So much so I hardly dare to believe it. But I can tell you something and that is my task.

I cannot possible tell you in full accurate detail and scope how it sickens my heart and soul when I see people being treated with hatred because of some aspect of who they are. The damage of this kind of hatred and bigotry is wide ranging. It is aimed at those who are gay, lesbian, disabled, black, Latino, Asian, female, Jewish, Muslim and so forth. But I can tell you something and that is my task.

I think, now, as the memoir pushes to its conclusion and I gear up for the next writing task, I need to and must accept that I can never tell the all of life, just, if I work hard enough, glimpses of it.

And that is my task.
__________________________________________________________________________________