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My Origin Story

November 10, 2015 — 117 Comments

subwayc-couple-kissing-nyc-c-1987

 

If I go back to the beginning, if I start all the way back…

maybe I can figure myself out.

 

—–

 

I wasn’t always the *happening* chick you see on social media. I was a skinny unattractive nerd, a white outcast in an all-black neighborhood who got her ass kicked on the regular.

I grew up on Staten Island –  The Land That Time Forgot. It’s the only borough the New York subway system doesn’t run through, and this isolation from civilization has turned it into a caricature of itself. The amount of hairspray used on Staten Island is solely responsible for the hole in the ozone.

It also houses the world’s largest dump. A metaphor if there ever was one.

 

I grew up in one of the worst housing projects in all of New York City – The Stapleton Projects. My mom was a widow with six kids, and we were poor as fuck.

Fuck you, we had an elephant.

But fuck you, we had an elephant.

 

Mom did the best she could raising the six of us, and that best included beating the snot out of us. I got my ass beat inside and outside the house, so I suppose my childhood wasn’t very safe. I wasn’t aware of it then. Who has time to process psychobabble when you’re scrambling around, dodging beatings?

I do know that my mother’s approval was sacred to me, and I never got it. Nor any attention, unless it was at the receiving end of her fist.

This was how I began to mistake abuse for love. This was how I learned that if I just tried hard enough, if I did better, was better, I could make abusive people love me. 

 

You know how kids just LOVE hearing about their parents’ childhood?

Little Dude’s favorite anecdote of mine?

The time I was walking down the dark, dank staircase in my building. I was 7. I grabbed the railing, and felt something furry and warm. There, sticking up out of the banister at the foot of the stairs, was a dead cat’s bloody dismembered head. Still warm.

Ah, memories…

 

Stapleton was made famous as the birthplace of the Wu-Tang Clan. They went to school with me and NO I DO NOT KNOW THEM.

Wu-Tang was a gangsta rap group, back in the day when gangsta rap meant you had a prison tattoo and an unlicensed gun, not a trust fund and a beach house. I was a flat chested nerdy ginger growing up in a gangsta rap video.

Pippi Longstocking meets Ghostface Killah.

 

I grew up confused. I possessed a white-hot rage, but a desperate desire to love and be loved. I had a profound appreciation for the underdog, and a project girl’s survival instinct. If you fuck with me, or my kid, I will Take You Down. My Stapleton instincts have quelled some, but not entirely. You can take the girl outta the projects, BUT.

 

 

 

As I kid I was desperate to find an escape and an outlet. So I read. Constantly, because we were poor and books were available. And I wrote stories, to make sense of the world around me.

At 9, I tried to wrap my brain around “A Wrinkle In Time,” a masterpiece of Inter-dimensional time travel and quantum physics. This book twisted my mind up to where 39 years later, it has still not fully recovered.

 

I came from a family of overachieving geniuses. Five brothers, all brilliant, all musicians. My older brothers gave me an invaluable education in every genre of music.

And then-

In one of the true defining moments of my life, my older brother put a copy of Patti Smith’s debut single “Hey Joe,” into my 11-year-old hands.

Patti Smith. Skinny, brainy, gangly, unpopular.

patti

 

In the 1970’s, Patti Smith put her poetry to punk music and was eventually crowned Godmother of Punk.

The B side of her first single is “Piss Factory,” an ode to New Jersey factory work, and the experience of getting her head shoved into the toilet by the other workers.

 

She became my idol. Patti Smith gave me hope that I could escape, and reinvent myself somewhere. Someday.

 

The only public transportation to get to Manhattan is via the Staten Island Ferry, which is like the Love Boat – only when you get off, you automatically have herpes.  When I was growing up, the ferry was seedy and dilapidated. It sells beer and used to allow cigarette smoking, so at 2 am on a Saturday night, it was filled with homeless people and drunken degenerates.

The summer of 1982, I was going on 13 and about to enter high school. I fell in with a group of older kids and we starting taking that sordid ferry into Manhattan, the gritty, grimy, pre-gentrified graffiti-ridden city of the 80’s.

The Village was our playground. We bought loose joints and hung out with street musicians. We carried a boom box the size of a suitcase and blasted it as we roamed downtown.

We had a THEME SONG (don’t judge):

 

The following summer I enrolled in a New York City program that allowed poor slum kids to obtain their working papers at 13.

My first job – The Public Library.

The library owned every banned book – but did not circulate them. All illicit books were sequestered away in a super-duper top-secret file cabinet with a big-ass sign labeling it “Banned Books.” I cleverly unearthed these nuggets of literary rebellion.

And read every motherfucker in that file.

 

I discovered On the Road, an American classic of crazy adventure and freedom, and riddled with drugs, jazz, drugs, sex, and drugs.

I tore through Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.

Naked Lunch? This isn’t a novel; it’s a twisted series of disturbing, drug ridden, sexually explicit vignettes. Burroughs wrote it while living in Tangiers, in a one-room apartment above a male whorehouse, strung out on smack and male prostitutes.

This was the shit I was feeding my 13 year old brain.

Are things starting to come together?

I THOUGHT THEY MIGHT.

 

We finally moved when I was in high school. Were you hoping for the happy ending?

Not. So. Fast.

Back in those days, if you were “bright,” you got “skipped” so I was 2 years younger than most kids in my grade. Get the picture? No more scary gangsta projects.

Instead, we’re talking TRAINING BRA in the GYM LOCKER ROOM. I think my pal Ghostface Killah did less damage to my psyche.

So, to heal all those psychic hits on my ego? I read. I listened to music. I wrote.

And I planned my escape.

 

I eventually got out of the projects when I left for college. The very first summer, I decided I would stay in my college town instead of going home for the summer. What was there for me?

 

I never went home again.

 

 

If I go back to the beginning, if I start all the way back

maybe I can figure it out…

 

To be continued. 

 

Have you ever tried to figure out how you came to be who you are? 
Tell me about your childhood. 
Talk to me. I’m listening.

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“It was a dark and stormy night…”

…and so begins an improbable adventure with one of the most deceptively simple first lines ever.

And so began my first, and most enduring, love affair.

 

Growing up, I created for myself, through the magic of books, the childhood I wanted. Books were my escape and solace. My partners on endless imaginative journeys.

But it was not until the age of 9, when I stumbled upon “A Wrinkle in Time,” that I felt my soul resonating in complete synchronicity with the protagonist of a story.

Meg Murry, the main character, was like me – trapped and unseen in a family of brothers. Just like me, she had wildly curly hair and glasses. Because she was so much smarter than her contemporaries, gifted with an incredible talent for math and science, and had absolutely no patience for bullshit or mediocrity, she felt alienated from the rest of the world.

I WAS MEG MURRY.

At nine, I found my literary Doppelganger. Is there any experience more profound in life or literature?

I had the same rebellious instincts as Meg. But she had 4 years on me. So I vicariously delighted in her smart-mouthed response to the principal’s demand that she “face facts” about her father’s disappearance:

“I do face facts. They’re lot’s easier to face than people, I can tell you.”

 

And – the story.

Ohhh, the story.

For over five decades kids even younger than nine have tried to wrap their minds around this tangled tale of quantum physics and intergalactic space. It didn’t matter if you fully understood. Because somehow, the message of the story transcended all of that.

But all that math and science lit my brain up like a pinball machine.

In 1962, Madeline L’Engle was way ahead of her time when she gave her readers the five-dimensional “tesseract” – a geometric construct which allowed the characters to time travel.

I bought it. Fully. Bought it? I EMBRACED it. This was a nerd’s DREAM.

tesseract

How cool is a tesseract?

 

The story follows the intergalactic exploits of Meg Murry and her beloved 5-year-old prodigy of a brother, Charles Wallace.

Their father, a physicist, has been missing from home for a year, whereabouts unknown.

With help from three loving aliens, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and accompanied by a school friend, they travel to the dystopian planet Camazotz to rescue their father. Camazotz is ruled by IT, a disembodied, pulsating brain that insists on conformity. “Differences create problems.”

 

When I read this book as a child, the most disturbing image for me was that of the town of Camazozt.

Each house is identical, down to the number of flowers in the front yard. Each front yard contains the same number of children dressed identically playing – but chillingly, they’re jumping rope and bouncing red balls to the exact same rhythm.

As an adult, the irony of this is not lost on me – who despairs at suburban conformity. From the age of 9, I’ve spent my entire life bouncing against that pulsing red rhythm of societal pressure.

 

 

Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin soon find themselves swept up in an epic galactic-scale battle against IT, also known as “The Black Thing,” “The Darkness,” or just “EVIL.”

IT has already ensnared their father, and Charles Wallace becomes imprisoned and brainwashed by IT. Meg is completely devastated that she cannot save her baby brother. She has been his protector and defender his whole life.

At the eleventh hour, Mrs. Which gives Meg the knowledge that she has something IT doesn’t have; that this is her only weapon to fight IT – but she must discover what it is herself. Meg is terrified and desperate. And at the very last moment, just when all hope is lost, (spoiler alert), Meg finds out that LOVE is the victorious weapon.

Meg uses the power of love to save her brother from the evil clutches of  IT. She simply stands and fiercely loves her brother, tears streaming down her face. “Charles. Charles, I love you. My baby brother who always takes care of me. Come back to me, Charles Wallace, come away from IT, come back, come home. I love you, Charles. Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.”

She doesn’t stop until he breaks loose and runs into her arms. They hold each other, sobbing, professing their love for one another.

Meg Murry, a 13-year-old-girl, is the hero of the story! She saves everyone, including her father! GIRL POWER!

 

 

“A Wrinkle in Time” has been relevant for over 50 years because it’s a masterfully written book that describes the timeless conflict between good and evil. It’s a mashup of science fiction and archetypal story telling with the best moral of all – that love WINS.

Even the back story is inspirational. Madeline L’Engle was rejected by 26 publishers before one was willing to take a chance on a book that was ahead of its time.

It was considered too complex, too scientific for young minds. To which L’Engle has replied:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

Don’t you just love her?

 

Tonight, my son read the ending pages to me. He loves this book, perhaps not the way I do; after all, he’s not an awkward misfit girl. But he does love the scene in which Meg saves Charles Wallace. As I child, I wept when I read that scene. Even today, I can’t hear it without welling up.

I needed to hear it. Too often I forget that unconditional love has unlimited power to transform even what appears to be the most hopeless situation.

I learned that at 9.

I just needed to be reminded of it.

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“Write what you know…”

What DON’T I know? My brain is an encyclopedia of everything I’ve ever encountered.

 

I know music.

Not just to listen to, to live to. I’ll talk vinyl vs digital.  Rock vs Bach.

I know music facts.

Facts that lived inside dusty leather bound volumes of Creem and Rolling Stone; vintage issues at the library on lazy Saturday afternoons.

I know the dates Jimi, Janis and Jim died, what American Pie is, and Keith Richard’s favorite drink. And yes, he really did have his blood cleansed of heroin at a clinic in Switzerland. By a dialysis machine.

 

I know theater. I’ve seen plays and read them, more than I can count. I’ve read all 36 plays in Shakespeare’s canon. I’ve seen most of them performed, too.

 

I know film.  I see everything. I’m an Oscar geek. I can tell you which actor has been nominated for best actor most (Jack Nicholson), who’s won for best actress most (Katherine Hepburn) and who’s been nominated 7 times but never won (Richard Burton).

 

I know food.  I know how to cook really well, and for a large group.

I know entertaining. I know how to set a beautiful table. I’m Martha Stewart, the leather version.
Totally incongruous with the rest of my personality, but true, nonetheless.
I set my table for holidays a day in advance. Sometimes two.

I know baking, which is in my opinion, a dying art.
Not enough people bake from scratch anymore, but if you do, I can tell you the perfect flour to use for the perfect pie crust.
And I’ll give you my best cookie recipes because even though I’m Jewish I spend an entire weekend baking Christmas cookies every year.

 

I know poverty. I know how it feels to have your toes press against the inside of your shoe, and not say anything because there’s 6 of you.
And never enough to go around.

I know wealth. I know flying first class to California and Europe; five star hotels, five star restaurants.
I know limos and champagne and things I have no right even saying I know, so I’ll just stop right here.

 

I know New York. I know it like you know a lover’s body, familiar and built for pleasure and you want to live there forever.

 

I know Ebonics and Spanglish. You can’t live in New York and not learn a little of both. Although truth be told, the Spanglish was more from all the Puerto Rican men I dated; they hiss at you in bed:

“ay, mami,
chupa mi pinga, mi puta blanca!”

 

And yes, while I’m on the subject, I know blowjobs.
But I’m only mentioning it because I’ve already blogged about it.
And because now my real life girlfriends are following me, and if I don’t give it a hey now, they’ll be all like, “what’s up with that? She’s all ABOUT smokin’ it.”

 

I know teenagers.

I know them better than you do, and I feel bad that I know what your kids are up to and you don’t but I’ll never tell.
I know rainbow parties and ABC parties and hooking up and “Turn Up!”

I know why you should let your daughter go to Wildwood after prom.
She hasn’t been a virgin since the 10th grade. Why don’t you just be sensible and put her on birth control?

Just don’t tell your husband.

I know…hes not ready for that.

I know what my teens have taught me.
I know they feel alienated and misunderstood by their parents. Which makes me want to be a different sort of mother.

I know how the education system has failed them. I know I desperately want to change that.

I don’t know how.

 

I know some famous people.

Mostly rock musicians, and mostly from doing drugs with them..
That’s all I’m going to say about that. But it had to be said.
Because it was all part of a big goddamn party I was invited to. And even though the party is way over, I’m glad I went.

 

I know books.
It’s the most passionate, enduring love affair I’ve ever had. It’s over 35 years since I fell in love with “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Quantum physics, witches, the timeless story of Good vs Evil, a bodiless telepathic brain, all mixed together in a mind bending story where I KNEW I was Meg, the protagonist, the outcast.
I was a fool for book love.
And never the same again.

And because of books, I know philosophers. And feminism. And history. And wicca. And architecture. And how all of those are connected, which they are.

 

I know drugs. So does everybody. Next.

 

I know addiction. Not addiction as partying. I know addiction as survival; addiction as coping.

I know recovery. Or really, just kicking stone cold turkey. No rehab. No detox. No money.
It took three grown men to hold me inside my apartment while I kicked dope.
It’s like a mother holding a car up to save her baby. You have the strength of a demon.

 

I know shooting galleries.

The kind you get raped in on Avenue D, but also

the kind you go to with your kid’s friend’s dad. Because, why not? Shooting guns sounded like a cool way to spend an afternoon.

It is.

 

I know sports.

Not organized sports, although I know I superbowl game when I don’t see one, and I’m glad the halftime show was at least a springboard to teach Little Dude some Peppers,

and there is that Yankees tramp stamp but girl, that’s a Bronx thing. Not a baseball thing.

I mean, I know athleticism. I know the sheer joy of the sweat, the burn,the endorphins, the high.
From lifting, or cycling, or hiking or yoga.

I know the bliss of a Low Lunge into a perfect Warrior Three. It feels like dance and mysticism all mixed together, especially with that trippy Indian music in the background.
Namaste, bitches.

 

I know fashion – or rather, style. Fashion is prepackaged. Style I invent. I take what’s left and make it right.
And when that obnoxious kid in the mall points at a woman and says,
“Just because she can FIT in those clothes doesn’t mean she should be WEARING them. Ugh.”

it’s ME she’s talking about.

And I know – I don’t give a fuck.

 

I know math. I know geometry which is useless, unless you’re a professional quilter.
And algebra. And I know averages and ratios and logic problems and calculus.
And percentages. And James Altucher is right – I’ve been saying that for years. If you don’t know at least percentages, you’re screwed.

I know I love math. I have a shirt that a student made for me “I love math.” I rarely wear it. It irritates people.

I know why.

 

I know LOVE.

I know love so hard that other people’s love paled in comparison.
We had a blue glow around us all the time, like moonlight. Even in the daytime.

 

I know loss of love. I know I’m on emotional lock down. I know I’m done with the kind of love I just described.
I know “Happy Ever After” really is just a fairy tale.

 

I know Death.

Too much and too close. AIDS, cancer, suicide, heart attacks.

Sometimes, I feel like I know death a little too personally, and that’s why I took some of the chances I did.
Come and get me.

 

I know friendship. unbelievable friendships. Friendship that have lasted over decades, and thousands of miles.

Fierce friendships. I love fiercely and am loved fiercely back.
I have friends who would literally give me the shirts off their backs.
She’s reading this, right now.

 

I know betrayal.

I know finding your life savings wiped out, your credit cards maxed out, your signature forged on loans you didn’t know existed.

I know being told lies. By people who abandon you when you need them most. When all hope is gone.
When you’re desperate to find one friend left you can trust.

 

I know depression.
I know post partum depression so severe I wanted to drown my own child.

And I crossed to the other side to a love so deep, I’m the one drowning now.

 

I know fear.

A fear that made me almost stop writing these words.

Until I realized that to stop these words

would make me lose MYSELF

because to write –

is to breathe.

 

“Write what you know”

I know Truth.

I know Courage.

I know Words.

I know

“Publish”

For a Jew I bake some mean-ass Christmas cookies

For a Jew I bake some bad ass Christmas cookies

Did you ever stop blogging? Or think about quitting? 

Talk to me. I’m listening. 

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