Very Small Things

As the lesson said, “mustard seed,” I thought there must be smaller things than that, things so small that is the size of the faith that I have, like, perhaps a speck of dust.  Last night I was taking the train home and suddenly realized that I had no money, and would never have any money again.

Then I played this game I like, which is, I need something/what do you need?  Feeling poor (as opposed to actually being poor, which I am not) is about thinking there is something that would make you happy, you just can’t afford it.

This game worked well, as the 4 train stopped and went and stopped and went along back to Brooklyn.  I couldn’t figure out what I wanted that I couldn’t have it seemed like I actually had what I wanted.

I had spent the evening watching a documentary about the New York pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.  Many people have tried to protect and preserve the flying saucers on sticks that sit in Queens, patiently rotting.

The documentary was shown at City Reliquary, a place that was on my list of spots to visit in the city.  When I walked in, a woman with nicely curled hair said, “Welcome, admission is free,” and I walked through a turnstile for no apparent reason but the love of turnstiles.

Among the incredibly adorable things they have are:

  • a dancing mannequin in tribute to Little Egypt, the famous burlesque dancer, and a (formerly) nearby theater founded by Fanny Brice
  • samples of soil from each of the five boroughs
  • a pretend wedding cake from a beloved Mexican bakery now out of business
  • rocks collected at Rockaway Beach
  • a listening station to hear “The Bridge” by Sonny Rollins, surrounded by information about the Williamsburg Bridge, which inspired the piece
  • pieces of stone from famous building of New York: the Waldorf Astoria, the Guggenheim
  • a hammer labeled “very old hammer”

The hammer was my favorite.

Earlier in the week, I had been to the Met’s exhibit about Jerusalem.  (For the bargain price of $1.)  They had stained glass windows, marble carvings, gold trays, Bibles and prayer books and Korans, it was all beautifully done.  It didn’t move me nearly as much as the grubby City Reliquary, though.

They did have two manuscripts written in Maimonedes’s own hand, as the label said, and that blew my mind.  In one of them, he is raising money to ransom people who have been kidnapped.  In his own hand.

Six years ago, I went into a junk shop in Iowa City and found this little bronze Arab-looking guy sitting cross-legged, and I loved him, and bought him, and took him home, and then I figured out he was Maimonides.  Maimonides is a strange person for me to love, since he is most known for his interest in the law and science, two areas which aren’t exactly my greatest passions.

After church I took the train to coffee, and on the way, I, and many of my fellow New Yorkers, had to walk a million miles under the Fulton Street station because  not only is the 3 train not running today, the A and the C and the 1 are not running, either.

When I finally got on a train, there was this foursome standing next to me, four adults and a baby I was making eyes at, they were trying to figure out how to get to 96th Street, they had taken the train downtown to get uptown, which is the worst thing in the world except taking it from Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to Brooklyn again.  “The weekend train is so awful, especially today,” I said, and then I chatted with one of the ladies.  “You just gotta have patience, what else can you do?”

We chatted a while until the guy with her tried to interrupt, and she said, “Excuse me, I’m talking to this nice lady.”

Then I told her to have a nice afternoon, and I got off at 14th Street, and I felt like I had what I needed.

Wind

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Maybe you did not go to church because God lets crazy people shoot fifty strangers.  I have not been going because God has ruined my life in other ways.

 

I walked into a church, a church where no one knew me, so maybe I would feel different, and an usher told me not to sit down because they were in the middle of reading the lesson.  Wouldn’t it be much less disruptive to let me sit down than to tell me not to?  What kind of person tells people not to sit in church?  It wasn’t even the gospel.  I was going to leave.

I wasn’t going to leave.

The lesson was about Ahab and Jezebel and a garden, a long lesson no one would want to talk about.  I had to confirm it was really about Ahab, and I didn’t just have Ahab on my mind, the way I always do when I am downtown, in Melville’s neighborhood.

I sat.  On one side of me, a woman who also was doing the whole thing, on the other, a woman who didn’t seem to know the drill.  In front of us, three people who were Asian and  just sat.  It’s a funny phenomena, here where churches are tourist attractions, so that church, and the big cathedrals, are both holy places and places people come to see holiness played out.  Through the whole service, there was a group of people in back taking photos.  The woman next to me was texting someone.

This is all fine, it’s just weird.

Why were they there?  We were animals in the zoo?  In Asia, we would go to temples and take photos and not pray.  Why was I there?  To feel better for a minute, to feel not trapped in being angry the church I had joined, that no one might notice I was gone, so petty.  Or I was there because I had several times hit this church after a bad day, it was on my way home from my Manhattan job, and the side chapel is small and sweet and quiet, and the subway is right there, and it was bigger and more fancy town than my church.

The priest had to talk about the shooting.  I had heard something bad in a minute of NPR.  I am in full self-protection/healing mode, which means No politics, but still I had heard that.  I hadn’t heard it was a gay club.

I’ve spent some small happy times in gay bars for the dancing or the singing.  The reason a gay bar feels so safe is that I figure everyone there is at peace with him/herself, they had to work harder to become so, and they value tolerance more than other people, so I feel safe.

Like people should feel safe at church, but then, it’s been a year since another lunatic shot up a Bible study.

I got communion. I got to sing.  I didn’t feel particularly better about God, in a narrative sense, but I did feel that things that hurt me were like pieces of armor or extra bones that I could shake off, rather than a part of my structure.

I was not feeling brave enough to go to doughnut time afterward.

I went down to the water.  I am preparing this costume for the Mermaid Parade next week. I am going as The Sea.  So it was research.  What is water?  It has four or five inch ruffles of white foam from the wind and the passings of the jet skis and the ferry and the Statue cruise boats, which could be rendered with white acrylic paint and dabbing with a bristly brush.  I was watching the happy painter earlier in the week.  His technique could help me.

Monday I went to the East River and looked out at it for a while.  My anxiety brain cloud has been reactivating ferociously, so I was looking at the East River and waiting for my good drugs to take effect.  It was windy that day, walking out on a pier to be surrounded by water.

It was so windy today, I lay back on a bench, with the Statue of Liberty to my left, and even though I was holding it down, the wind was so strong, my skirt a sail, it blew up and I was glad I wore clean and uninteresting underwear.

I don’t think a single soul noticed.

The priest said we can’t let people who use freedom another way take it away from us.  What freedom really means.  FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear.  Why does God let people do that, frighten us for their freedom.  Why do we let them?

I am used to wind.  I don’t know why now I need water, water does scare me, big quantities of it seem like too much, for this midwesterner.  It never scares me as much as buildings too big or too much sky, though.  I was always a good swimmer, in my dreams, I can always breathe underwater.

Image: “Evening Wind,” Edward Hopper, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Get and Take

DP210179The woman was pleased that I was buying an umbrella.  I had just splashed through Rockefeller Center, in three inches of rain, this made me laugh.  Nothing was making me laugh at all, only actually wading in my sandals, running between the buildings there.

“Once we sold almost every umbrella we had, to this whole bus of people from China,” she said.  She was so pleased, and so pleasant, I wondered if she had stock in the store, or the umbrella company.

That afternoon I was going to meet all these agents who could either tell me my life was worth living or not.  So I thought I would try to calm down.

Under the red umbrella, I crossed the street to the cathedral.  They were starting a service.  I didn’t have time to stay for the service.  I stopped at the St. John altar.

I did not believe in anything, except maybe I did believe in St. John, I felt nothing was his fault, not that I was again without a job, my career a mess, or that my ovaries had given up, or that, the previous evening, after I got home, I flossed and a crown popped right out of the row of my teeth.  I don’t belong here! the crown said, just as I had crowned a whole afternoon of def con anxiety and thirty read-throughs, editing every other time and making marks for pauses and longer beats, then careful ingestion of exactly one and a half glasses of wine while I waited to go on so that I could stand in front of people and look and sound spontaneous and fresh and people could say to me, “You’re a natural performer.”

They were being kind, I know, but I was ungrateful and wanted to hear, “You worked really hard and persevered through the train you wanted to take not running and having to walk extra blocks, as usual, going the wrong way first, in the rain, in heels, on the brick and uneven streets of downtown, and you showed up late even though you thought people who are late for their own readings ought to be shot, what disrespect, what disrespect, why can’t you get it together?”

The sign at the St. John altar said candles $2, I realized I didn’t care what the sign said, I took out all my change and plunked it through the slot and took the candle and lit it, and God, the church universal, or St. John himself could take it up with me later that it wasn’t $2.

I got a pew and started the service with everyone, sang the parts.

I lost my St. John medal about six months after I moved here.

On my way out of the cathedral, I turned into the gift shop and in a revolving case there was a St. John medal, a heavy one on a heavy chain, right there.

I went to the counter and asked for it.  The woman brought back a Joan of Arc medal, which was more than a little weird because the novel I was trying to get an agent to want to sell, thus telling me my life was worth living, the novel is about Joan of Arc (obliquely).

“No,” I said, “John.”  Then I wondered if I should have bought the Joan one.

She brought back the John, I gave her a credit card because I am so out of my mind with exhaustion my checking account has too much money in it, I don’t know why, but I’m expecting that means any moment I will be overdrawn because of something I forgot.

I went back to the agent meetings.  They went well.  I enjoy talking about my work.

At the end of the meetings, a woman I had been talking with was suddenly a friend and we walked to an outdoor cafe and ordered drinks.  She talked very fast and so did I and we had plenty to talk about.  The waiter asked us to pay because he said it was about to rain.  Then the heavens did open up, we leaned back under our umbrella and still we were misted.  Heavy rain in New York City means nothing.  When you are from tornado territory, nothing less than Shiva-level destruction impresses.

I got back to Brooklyn and in the last block before I was home, I looked over at a huge rainbow, I could see because there is a school across the street from us, an open piece of land, giving us some sky, and a huge rainbow.

 

Happy postscript: the crown that fell out was just a temporary one.  Dentist stuck it back on in five minutes and $50.

Image: “Man With Umbrella In Times Square,” Ted Croner, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Patience

temp29552Although I was in a neighborhood that is that supercool Brooklyn, I entered none of the charming places, instead I went into Dunkin Donuts.

Although it was a full sunny day and I had had a perfectly restful and productive morning, I hated everyone and everything, and I had decided the only thing that would make me feel better was a blueberry doughnut.  I walked up to the counter and I said, “I’d like a blueberry doughnut, please.”  I added, “If you have one,” and this jinxed me, as the woman said, “We don’t have any blueberry,” and I thought a beat, about not looking like the kind of person who can only eat one kind of doughnut, or eating a doughnut that was not really what I wanted, if I was going to eat a doughnut, I want to enjoy it like a little pig in mud.

I swept everything off the counter with one foul swept and I said “Yes, you do!  Go get it!”

No, I just said, “Okay, thanks,” and walked out and told this lady who asked me where the subway was where it was and went down the stairs and waited for the train while someone played the banjo and I hated him for playing the banjo, what kind of hipster nonsense was that, the fucking banjo.

I couldn’t wait to get to Manhattan where everyone wasn’t trying so hard, we were just going about our business.

(Right.)

I was reading about the bombing of Berlin, and it should have cheered me either that my city was not being bombed to kingdom come, or that the Nazis were about to be defeated in my book.

I considered going on a hunger strike to prove how angry I was at life, but then I decided I should go to Chipotle like a reasonable human being, and just eat another burrito even though all I ever eat is burritos, half of them from Chipotle, $9 at a time, an outrageous price for beans, rice, and a tortilla that costs the corporation 78 cents.  A guy was standing in front of Chipotle’s door.  “I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re closed.  We’re having trouble with some of our equipment.”

I was denied a blueberry bagel for my heart, and a burrito for my body.

I had taken a cab to my meeting this morning, and the guy drove me through Williamsburg, I was looking at all the Hasidic people who were walking around as if there was God, and I thought, I should really get out of the car and tell them there is no God.

Frequently I find seeing someone who is orthodox or Hasidic gives me a good feeling, like, well, at least someone thinks God (well, G-d) is real and tries to do something about it.  It’s not the something I want to do, but, still.

When I went to church on Saturday, I was walking down the beautifully treed and brownstoned street to church thinking, I don’t want to go.  Which is a rare thing for me, I pretty much always want to go, whether I’m getting off on the spiritual stuff, or hearing great literature, or seeing everybody there are so few of us, I will be missed, or sitting in the beautiful room with the blue and the gold angels and the dark wood, or just carrying out my routine, which I find so soothing.

Usually it’s enough that I want to say I’m a practicing Christian.  I don’t know why I’m practicing, exactly, but I practice.

I believe in commitment, I guess, and practice, I believe in them, I just hate them, too.

I wasn’t mad at God, exactly, that would be cleaner, I was more just so sick of His shit that I was shut down.  I listened, I took communion, because you only have to shut up and take it, and it might improve you.  I got to hear a baby gurgle through the prayers.

I become sane and sober and mature, but it does not follow that my life is happier or easier.  Life always has difficulties and sadnesses.  And that pisses me off.

I miss people, it’s been a long time since I’ve been with my family , I feel exhausted from not knowing what’s going to become of me, and maybe mostly, there’s the fact that it is dark at 4:00 now.  I really don’t wake up until like 3 pm, so this is bad, bad, bad, I already feel like a vampire.

I was back teaching in the afternoon.  Another teacher told me about teaching “Harrison Bergeron” and talking about the Constitution and how fun that was.  One of the kids came by and told me the Royals sucked, which was way delayed conversation from when I gave him shit about the Mets last week.  Another kid asked me how much money I made, and then we talked about taxes and how they work, and then this:

“I’m never gonna be a teacher.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to be.”

“I could never.  I don’t got the patience.  Teachers got so much patience, man, I would strangle a kid.”

“Well, you’ll probably get more patience as you get older, if you work on it,” I said.

“I don’t know.”

“You will,” I said.

Image: a portion of “Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter,” made in Cologne, around 1315, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some Sheep

183118Today at noon mass, our flock was 70% hidden crazies and 30% out of the closet crazies.  It was great.  One thing I’ve always loved about the cathedral in Kansas City is that, being downtown, it attracts walk-ins.  One thing I like about church is it’s almost impossible to get kicked out (witness, sadly, lunatic shooters being welcomed).  Without that everyone’s welcome, though, we have nothing.  Everyone.  Welcome.  Seriously.

One sheep piped up before the service, and during the sermon, when us subtler crazies were trying to enjoy being very quiet and listening to our priest talk very seriously about serious things.  After church, another lamb insisted on writing down a recipe for me, and telling me how good it would be for me, apropos of absolutely nothing, and reading back the recipe with careful directions and injunctions about how my health would be so improved.

Most of us are so conniving in our ways of getting attention, a kind word, a listen.  On occasion it’s a pleasure to interact with people who are completely out in the open.  I would like to talk to you about something.  Okay.

I know this must be much harder on the clergy, who can attract and maintain a group of people who are practically speaking, unreliable, people who are without resources.  In fact, you are not sure their disconnection won’t turn violent or destructive.  We never know about any of us.

Anyway that is the church to me, for sure, straight up, crazy, emotionally disturbed people that we all are, welcomed and put up with, we try to figure out what people have to offer our community and use it.

One of our lambs is amazing at prayer.  He has no self-consciousness about it.  And he requests hugs, which means that I don’t have to wonder, he asks, and I get one.  I’m too uptight to ask.

It seems a distinct pleasure to have a moment with crazy people since in New York, there are so many of them, and you encounter them often in places where you are both trapped, i.e., the subway.  I am reluctant to engage them in conversation.  It breaks the social code of the train which is that we won’t add to the crazy if we don’t have to.  I have prayed for them.

My crazy: I have not done enough to get a new job.  I won’t get a job.  I will get one, it will be awful.  I have to go back to New York.  No one loves me there.  I am never happy there.  What will I do in that week before school starts?  I’ll have to stay busy.  No, it’s not good to stay busy, just take it as it comes.  I am never happy here, either, anyway.  Why is life so hard.  At least I had a fun time last night.  That was really fun.  I should just have more fun.  I need to pay my rent.  And that was only while the priest was blessing the communion stuff.

So I knelt an extra moment after I got my bread and wine.

Priest talked about prayer today, that your actions come from prayer.  That being a praying person makes good things happen.  I would prefer to try to make good things happen on my own, and then complain to God that they are not happening in the way I want.

It’s an interesting thought, though.

I guess when I am at the monastery, as I will be next week, there is a lot of prayer, not like long dialogues, but so much quiet I can hear my thoughts and there is space between them.  It’s not always comfortable.  One of the great gifts of the place is that it is immediately clear, from how fast I walk from my car to get the keys to my room, that I am the craziest person on the property.  The most mixed up, the most unconscious, the most making a scene to hide the fact that I don’t even know how I feel or what I think.

Everything that hurts pops up at some point.  At some point, I’ll have a good cry.  But I always leave there having my head on straight, my heart turned forward.

Image: Standing Sheep, possibly by Nicola Vassalo, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sirens

DT2002The ceiling of our church is the underside of a piano, those rolls and baubles, carved rods, that make fancy furniture from rude trees.  The service had been: nine slain.  People had cried, well, Episcopalian cried– sniffling and wiping eyes.

When I stood in the water the evening after the day at the beach, I knew how warm and loose and filling of holes a good shower was  We had read how Jesus calms the water, though only after they said, “Lord, do you not care that we are all about to perish?”

I knew it was like that, that Jesus did not care I was about to die of loneliness, or of wanting a husband whose shirt I would even iron, poorly, and would tell me I could and should be a mother, and that I was beautiful, in a different way than other people said it.  I knew Jesus didn’t care if you asked to make the kids shut up so you could talk, please, just for a minute, so we can go on, so people will say, You’re a good teacher, you demand respect, Jesus slept through you even when you cried sitting on the floor or sitting on the steps.  Jesus slept through all of it, like my baby brother slept through his first Easter when he was a week old.

I believe in church, more than I believe in anything.  I know God, Christ, The Divine.  I know Art, including The Text.  But I believe in church.  So although I had slept fitfully all night, woken again and again, hot and cold, remembering dreams and what my life was, what to gird for, and dreams again, I happened to be awake at 9:50 AM, I had been to my usual service the night before, and I didn’t feel great, but I thought, people at my church wanted to speak, were hurt, church was at 11, and it was a good day for white people to go to church, you know, unarmed.

Our priest told us she loved us.  That made me tear up, too.  What does it mean for someone who doesn’t know whow awful you can be to say, I love you?  Or if she does?  I will take either.

A poet read a poem, and another woman read a prayer she had specially chosen, she managed to read it with great effort.

I was too full, too nearsighted, to accept Charleston’s story, but I felt betrayal for them, abandonment.  Jesus did not show up and spare anyone.  Their reverence, politeness, kindness, does not stop bullets.

Moving to New York did not fix everything about me.  I mean, I knew it would not fix everything, only one small what if about moving to New York.  And it broke things.  That happens.

The awning across the street says, “Crown Hights Beauty.”

When you try so hard.  We who are church people, we have problems, maybe more than people who don’t go to church, but I would say our virtue, if we have one, is that we try so hard.

Those people in that church, they were really trying, man, they were showing up.

I showed up at church.  Singing helped.  We sang “Let Us Break Bread,” and “There Is A Balm in Gilead” (which, oddly, I didn’t know), and “Go Down Moses,” which felt funny with an organ and a classical signature.  And “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”

I knelt and thought about if I would get a bagel, how hungry I was, or maybe I would make breakfast at home.  Maybe French toast.  I would be tired forever.  I should have gone back to sleep.

Jesus was just a person, he slept like people do, he had to.  Christ, though, is always awake, and you should call him when you’re upset, how else will He know?  All those numbers in your phone, a good number of those are Christ, as are most people standing next to you waiting for the light to change and the people sitting at the bar.

I was walking up from the subway, on the way home, when I felt really tired, though, it all fell down on me, and I delayed-reaction wanted to cry.   I remembered the Orthodox people I had seen the last time I got off at my stop, three young women walking together, two young men walking together.  The women in their long sleeves and tights, even in the heat, and the men in their beards and hats, though they were young.  Sabbath was over.  The Saturday sun had gone down.  There is a siren on Fridays, the first time I heard it, I was like, tornado?  Where?  There is no siren for the end of Sabbath, you just see the sun is down.

Parade

photo-5The Mermaid Parade was nice, the ride there was nicer.  A female “sailor” with a “mustache” was standing next to a cooler, and what would probably become a tail.  We got on the D train, and a guy asked us if anyone was going to Coney Island.  Yes, I said.  What is it like, he said, we’re visiting.  I don’t know, I said.  I think she’s going though, referring to the “sailor,” who happily talked up the parade, she was meeting her girlfriend, who would be mermaided, and the trains were all messed up, she was late, she hoped not too late, they were supposed to sign up to march at 1.

The subway on the weekends is like me on the weekends, except unpredictable.  It hardly does much, it is not clear what it is doing, though it still has a routine.

There was also, in our car, a self-appointed subway director of traffic, who told everyone that the N was running on the R track, and if they wanted the R, they should just get on this train.

For a while, he and the “sailor” chatted about how bad the trains were.

I realized the woman going for the same seat as me was really first, and I let her, she said, She needs to sit down, and someone somewhat frail-looking sat down there instead.  Of course, I said.

A woman sitting facing me looked at me and smiled broadly, we all knew many of us were on our way to the Mermaid Parade.

I watched the train as it rounded turns and could see itself, and the top of that Chinese-looking building, and the ancient painted signs that Brooklyn is still that Brooklyn, in places, especially in the south of it.  The trash along the train tracks, and the graffiti, and the half-done repairs, the 100-years-agoness and never-nowness of New York, I loved, and the shared suffering, the weekend trains that do what they feel.

I was reading Brain on Fire, the memoir about the woman who had a psychotic break because of an autoimmune problem, and the mention of EKGs reminded me that though I skipped many traumatic experiences in childhood, I happened to spend two nights keeping two different kids awake all night long, in anticipation of an EKG.  You were supposed to keep the kid up all night so that during a daytime appointment, kid would sleep and get brain waves measured.  I had made play-doh late at night, watched movie after movie and then MTV, eating candy in a ranch that overlooked the golf course.  I had known two kids with brain issues.

I tolerated the cattle march that is the spectators of the parade, finally found a spot to see, though I could really only photograph the backs of paraders.  Neptune, mermaids, jellyfish, octopi, babies, old people, modesty, pasties, bubbles.  It was longer and slower than I thought.

I went down to the beach and lay down on a sheet, on my stomach.  It was chilly.  I wore a hoodie and I put the hood up.  Sometimes the beach feels too big to me. It reminds me of the zooming agoraphobia I’ve had with panic attacks.  It doesn’t hurt, it just reminds me.

Walking back to the train, I realized I had forgotten my mother’s most important rule and not brought food with me.  I felt thin.  Nothing looked or sounded good.  I waited until my transfer, bought peanuts and Gatorade, and when I ate, I felt how hungry I was.

I went to church.  I felt a little silly wearing a mermaid t-shirt.  I like to look kind of reverent.  That’s just for me.

Our priest talked about the shooting in the church.  She was burning with the horror of it.  I hadn’t even felt it.

This happened before, me not feeling a big tragedy, when Sandy Hook happened, there had been a gun incident at my school, and the far-away gun thing just didn’t register, I was already so full of agony at what was closer.  Right now, I’m full of ending the school year, limping one more week, and job interviews, which take a lot out of you.

Like the one in South Carolina, our church has a historical connection to the abolition of slavery.  Most of our congregation is black.  I hadn’t even thought about this, honestly.  I liked Jon Stewart’s bit about this, I feel similarly, this just happens, and it doesn’t matter.  In America, freedom for individuals matters more than the health of groups.

I didn’t feel it, I don’t, yet, but our priest had special prayers, readings, there is a special service tomorrow, a vigil the bishop has asked us to go to.

One of the kids I knew, she had seizures.  We didn’t talk a lot about it.  Doctors knew best.  They would work it out.

Evil doesn’t usually surprise me.  I don’t know if that’s good.

I think the water makes me write poetry, or maybe being alone more, as I am here.  Here I’ve written more poetry than I have since I was in high school.  I thought I was done with poetry.  Water, being alone, being on the edge of the continent, one of those things.