Happy New Year

New Yearhappy-new-year’s Eve in the late 1950s, when you were too young to look back and not old enough to look forward, but you remember those magical nights when you could stay up till midnight in New York City. When you and your sisters and brother were given pan lids to bang together like cymbals as you leaned out your ninth story window protected by curved window guards. You didn’t need special hats or blowers, just a couple of ordinary kitchen pan lids you will bang and clang together as if to say, Hello world! I’m here! I exist!

In the teeming, grownup city that pays you no mind, living above neighbors who complain about four pairs of little feet pounding bare floorboards as they run about the house, this one night of the year it’s permissible to make a racket.

You keep awake till midnight by watching The Twilight Zone as you devour wedges of Drakes Frosted Coffee Cake, washed down with (normally) forbidden cokes. Then at last it’s time. Everyone grabs their pan lids. The windows are thrown open. Cold winter air rushes in and nobody cares. You charge over to the window. The blaring cacophony begins. Bang-bang! Clang-clang!

Time’s up, and you are shooed off to bed. But you don’t mind. You have said your piece and done your bit, and you’re sleepy anyway. So off you go on this cold black night, knowing that although you are little, you have made a big noise.

Happy New Year!

 

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In Sync with the Universe

Yesterday, when I spilled the split peas before I’d even had my coffee, I thought it was going to be one of those days. Instead, it was one of THOSE days.

First I realized the kitchen floor needed a good sweep anyway.

nickelThen I went out and saw a penny on the sidewalk. I’d done enough bending down with the spilled peas, and left it for somebody else to pick up. But on the next block when I saw a nickel on the sidewalk, that was different. Pennies may be good luck, but when I find a nickel it always seems like a wink from the universe.

I continued on. As I passed the subway entrance I saw a man tumble down the last couple of steps and land on his back. In that fraction of a second when I wondered if I should go down and help, a woman appeared and helped him up.

I continued on to the pet food store and found kitty grass was in stock. It’s only delivered every other week, and I never remember which is the ‘on’ week. What luck. Someone at home was going to be very pleased.

Then when I got home I found my ‘lucky pen.’ I’d been searching for it for days and thought it was gone forever.

Since this was turning out to be such a pleasant day, I thought I’d write down all these good things that were happening. When I had to go out again I took the list with me in case I found more to add.

This time I had to take the subway. As I was coming down the first flight of steps to the platform I heard a train coming in. I didn’t know if it was an F or a G. I wanted the G. The F train has twice as many cars and takes up the entire platform, but the G only stops in the middle, so I hurried down the second flight of steps in case it was a G. It was. So now I had to run to the middle of the platform. I ran fast enough to slip in before the doors closed. There was a seat. After I caught my breath I took out my list and wrote, ran fast enough to catch the train.

Later that evening I was carrying a bag of groceries. I wasn’t looking forward to the long walk up the hill but it was too cold to wait for the bus. Then a bus appeared. I had just enough time to dash across the street and fish out my metro card. I was too tired to take out my list to write, “caught the bus.” It was enough that I had.

Last night before I went to sleep I remembered the reason I liked finding nickels so much. They represent the number five, the balancing point between the one and the nine. (There is no ten in numerology.) Five is the median, the place between. I see it as the place between Above and Below, the balancing point between Heaven and Earth. And because I know how to count to five in French and Spanish, I knew five was cinq (sank) in one, and cinco (sink-o) in the other. In those languages just saying the word five is like saying sync. Five, that in-between place I know and love. I can’t be both on Earth and in Heaven at the same time, but when I’m in sync with the universe, it’s a little like heaven on earth.

Sync is a verb that means making things work together. (Wouldn’t that be Heaven on Earth?) It’s short for “synchronize,” which came into use in 1929 to describe linking sound and picture in the new “talkies.” The idea of being “in sync” with another person didn’t come about until 1961. (Ah, the Sixties…when we spoke of being simpatico…) Nowadays, we’re more likely to describe “synching” our personal electronic devices.

But whether it’s cinq, cinco or synched, whenever I find a nickel it always means more to me than five cents. (I remember being able to buy a whole candy bar for a nickel!) Even though I had to run for the bus and the train yesterday, I felt in sync. Even if it was only in my little corner of the world, that corner is part of the universe. On the back of the nickel it says, E PLURIBUS UNUM. “Out of many, one.” On the sidewalks of New York.

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The Dark Light

Last night I dreamed about the Shadow. In my dream it was an alien virus, and I was

the-shadow

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

with one of the doctors (picture a white coat) trying to find a cure, or at least a containment. But this seemed impossible because the virus appeared as a shadow—and was as difficult to catch!

The one I saw was no bigger than a quarter. I saw it on the throat chakra, the vehicle of speech. You know when you shine a flashlight on an object, how it appears as a small round beam of light? Well imagine you’re in a very light, white space like I was—the room was white, all the furniture and fabrics were white, and when you shine the ‘light’ it is DARK. A shadow light!

But how do you cure (or contain) a shadow? I saw a watch-face—signifying it was Time. Or This was the time. I was in the kitchen, trying to cook something up, but I didn’t have all the ingredients… Oh dear, I thought. Oh dear, oh dear…

shadow-3

Sketchbook drawing by N.Wait 1980s

Ahhhh, the same feeling of “Oh dear,” when I heard Trump won the election. The same feeling I’ve had all through this election cycle. But this is not an ‘alien’ virus. It is us. (Dear us!) Ours. Indigenous to this wondrous planet of polarities. I read that as of yesterday there were already 900 cases of hate crimes or hate speech in the three weeks since the election.

The Shadow Self. (Fear, anger, terror, hatred—take your pick of negative energies.)

The Shadow will out. It must. In order to be dispelled it must out. And so we shine our light, no matter what the degree of darkness or light…it is still Light is it not?

(And the missing ingredient in my dream? Why, it must have been Love. Love and Acceptance. How could it have been otherwise…)

shadow-4

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

 

shadow-2

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

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Bygone Times

Nothing makes me feel part of a bygone time more than walking around my neighborhood, remembering there was a grocery store where now stands a bank, or a laundromat (so long a fixture that they displayed a washing board in the window!) replaced by a restaurant replaced by yet another bank. A real estate place is where the Cheese Shop used to be…

But what’s the point in going on about it. We still have lots of neighborhood places like the ones here on my last postcard of Seventh Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets. 7th Ave scene

I plan to do more of these little shops. They are an example of what I like about city life. The little shops. They come and go too, but at least for now they outnumber banks and estate agents.

When I moved to Park Slope in the early 90s there were two art supply stores on Seventh Avenue. Then one was replaced by a shoe store. The other one disappeared more recently, and now it’s (yet another) nail salon.

Pearl PaintTwo famous art supply stores in Manhattan have recently closed their doors. Pearl Paint, down on Canal Street, which I began visiting in the late 70s, closed last spring (or was it the spring before last…).

Lee's Art ShopAnd now Lee’s Art Supply on 57th Street is shutting up shop as well, having sold their building for 85 million dollars. (They call 57th Street Billionaire’s Row.)

Artist and CraftsmanAnd yet a new art supply store opened in Park Slope a few years ago—the Artist and Craftsman Supply on 2nd Street—and they’ve got a huge selection in a warehouse like space.

I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 50s and 60s, and it’s changed so much I can hardly bear to go back there. I remember Gitliz and The Tip-Toe-Inn, and the Beacon when it was a movie theater and those little shops that just sold candy. The little bookstore called Womrath’s. Even Zabar’s was only a small deli then.

I like reminders of the time when most us were much smaller than we are today, like when I visit costume exhibits in museums and marvel at how short the people were, what tiny waists they had. Or when I see a door with its knob about six inches further down than the ones we have today. When we were smaller, and the world seemed a much bigger place. We can’t go back, but we can remember…

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Aligning with Enchantment

watercolor and pencil by N. Wait 1987

watercolor and pencil by N. Wait 1987

As the din of gunfire around us grows louder and more outrageous with no end in sight, I think of the illustration I once did of the man and the bear.

The client said, “I want a picture of a bear and a man drinking beer in the bear’s cage at the zoo.” He added that the man was more of a caretaker than a zookeeper, the cage was more of a stage set, and the bear was really a man in a bear suit.

When I showed him the preliminary sketches he said, “Can you give it an air of enchantment?”

I looked up enchantment in the dictionary. To attract, delight, cast a spell over.

If I had been given the assignment today no doubt I would have waved my digital wand at one of the many filtering options at my disposal on phone and computer. But this was thirty years ago. Back in the old days I had to manipulate the image with paints and brushes and colored pencils. If there were to be any special effects, they would come about with actual water dousing actual paper, an actual eraser rubbing that paper. A sensory, touchy-feely exercise geared towards “attracting, delighting, casting a spell over.”

Now, being that my goal was actually to delight the client, enchant him with my artistry, I had to get myself into the right frame of mind. Which is to say, I had to align myself with his intention. This meant getting into alignment with the idea of being enchanted. I knew exactly what to do first—put on the right music—the music that enchanted me—the record of medieval choir singing that sounded like a chorus of angels.

This angelic music filled the room when I took out my watercolors and a fresh sheet of paper. Angelic voices filled my ears as I began putting color in and taking it out, over and over again, creating layers, a feeling of depth, a sense of mystery. The angels continued to sing as I smudged and softened the borders between things, creating a diffused space where anything might happen.

(The picture above is a photo of a photo…of the original, and as such it is darker and more dense here, which cannot be helped.)

As the voices guided my brush, painting felt like an act of surrender. I abandoned myself to the picture, submitted to the client’s desire. He, after all, had given me the idea, planted it in my brain, as it were. To give him what he wanted I had to make it my idea too. And so I went on smudging, defining, then smudging again. When objects became too fuzzy I used colored pencils to add definition, then softened the lines again with a wet brush. I toned down the light at the edges, making it more shadowy. I went as far as I dared with the blurring and the smudging and the softening of edges to give it a dream-like quality, the sense of a different dimension.

But in the end I think it worked because of my sincerity. My commitment to making this unreal scene look absolutely real. So that I could believe in it too.

I am still in alignment with the idea of being enchanted.

As the din of gunfire around us grows louder still, and still more outrageous, I still think of the man and the bear. I think of bearing. I think of what must be borne, and what cannot be borne anymore.

(I would like to turn all those deadly metal bullets into flakes of snow. Let the snow fall—not the bodies. And let the snow melt, and create a new stream. And let the stream nourish the fields where the flowers bloom…)

The man and the bear are drinking Amstel Light. It was my favorite beer in those days because of its name, Amstel Light, which to me meant, I’m-still-light.

I drank in the fact that I was still light. I gave it to the man to share with the bear (in his bowl on the ground), and now I give it to you.

They can’t shoot the light.

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Connections Never Die

 

tree lovers

Pastel on paper by N.Wait 1996

Strange how you can meet someone and a spark ignites, yet seems to burn out quickly. The song becomes a memory, till one day  40 years later, you google him…

…and find that the music hasn’t stopped after all. It has only shifted to an underground stream. You were listening all along, with your inner ear…

 

Yesterday, walking on a Brooklyn street, I was suddenly impelled to take out my phone and google this man I knew briefly long ago, only to learn we had been playing in parallel streams all this time. For while he played the Green Man at the annual festival in an ancient English village, I was in Brooklyn writing a story about a girl who turned into a tree. I was drawing trees as the masculine/feminine joined as one. The would-be lovers transformed into tree bark, in the woods.

Or on opposite sides of the street, leaning towards one another.trees on 10th ST.JPG

 

green man

The Green Man by Pete OMalley

I also learned that he died year before last. But energy doesn’t die, it merely changes form. And if perchance we meet someone, it doesn’t have to last more than a few weeks or months in order for the angels to strike up the band. Just because the lovers part, doesn’t mean the music stops. It plays on, in some other stream. Every meeting is significant. And sometimes the ones that burnish the heart are the most meaningful of all.

Dedicated to the one who once drew me, and I drew back…

 

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The Sneezy-Wheezy Gift

IMG_0714This writer’s new BFF – is a Cold!

I admit it’s strange considering I’ve often boasted of never getting colds except on extremely rare occasions… Well, “Pride always goes before a fall,” and after this particular surprise, my thinking about colds is undergoing an about-face.

This wasn’t so when the first symptom appeared – an exhaustion I couldn’t account for. Extra sleep was called for and arranged, but to no avail. Still I did not relent. “I’m fighting off a cold,” I said with a bright smile, as if I already had it licked.

Not so fast, said the cold. Every day I seemed to get worse, and finally I had to admit I had a zinger. But how could this have happened? How could I let my frequencies drop to such a low point where I would fall prey to germs? I’ve always equated my good immune system with my energy level. With staying in that “good” energy band, above the fray. 

It was humbling. And yet enlightening too. Because the upshot was some new writing this morning. Amidst the coughing and the sneezing, thoughts I hadn’t considered before started to pour out. And then I remembered someone once told me that a cold means the soul is crying…

It’s like when you want to cry but you can’t. You might not even know that you want to cry. And then you get a cold. And you suffer through the cold. And all the while, though you may not know it, your soul is releasing whatever it was that made you feel like crying.

It’s all about releasing. Call it a cough or a cold but do call it humbling. When you’re humble you’re vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be open, maybe in ways that don’t feel good. But if you’re a writer you have to be open, and keep opening more and more to get to the core. 

Today I got to some good stuff. I’ve been writing memoir for too many years not to recognize when I’ve hit the mark, and how hard it can be to get there. So bless me, and bless my cold for being such a gift. A sneezy-wheezy gift – but a gift, nevertheless.     

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