The many labels of me

NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful. “You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza. “Said what twice?” I asked. “That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth. He watched me with the resolute bearing of someone convinced I couldn’t possibly come back with a logical response, waiting, I imagined, for me to wipe Sriracha Mayo from my lips and acknowledge that he was right. “But I do have two lives. My husband has one, I have two. He has his work, his children and me, sort of like a TV show in which I’m a special guest. When I’m in New York, if you’re lucky, you might catch me on my own show, in which my friends accuse me of appearing so infrequently they’re surprised it hasn’t been cancelled. I live and work here and carry my costumes and props back and forth between my reality and his reality, where it’s sort of like hanging out in a green room waiting to film my cameo,” I said confidently, but more than a little miffed that the unconvinced look on his face meant I would have to further explain my meaning. Fortifying myself, I dove into another fish taco. Taking advantage of my silence Hartley insisted, “But you don’t. It’s… Continue reading The many labels of me

A Room of My Own in My Father’s New York…

I ought to have been born between the World Wars, when it was romantic to be sentimental, when having an attachment to the past was normal, when lovers would hand-write nostalgia-filled letters whenever apart, when taking a journey down a memory lane strewn with tales of adventures and friends and events long gone by could rouse a spontaneous and unembarrassed launch into Doris Day’s and Les Brown’s rendition of A Sentimental Journey. Gonna take a sentimental journey Gonna set my heart at ease Gonna make a sentimental journey To renew old me-emories… My parents, unapologetic romantics, loved Doris Day. They listened to big band music, wrote long letters and took countless black and white photographs of people long passed into the Al di là, which my mother tucked away in envelopes or framed and hung on the walls of the house I grew up in – the house my father built for her with his own hands, the ultimate amorous gesture – with a multitude of framed memories from their individual and collective lives. Artworks suspended on stuccoed walls next to pen and inks of places I thought I would never have an opportunity to visit conjured imaginary blueprints of the imaginary house with the imaginary rooms I dreamed of building for myself one day, the walls of which I would hang with art and photographs curated from my own memory lanes.

The Mythical Presence of Eros & Psyche: A Dialogue about the Bedroom, the Boardroom…and a Piece of Bread… (by Giselle Minoli and Meg Tufano)

I don’t watch much television, but these past few months I have looked forward to late Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, an update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980 to mesmerized viewing. Standing on the barren landscape of what was once Uruk in ancient Sumer, now known as Iraq, in The Immortals (Episode 11 of the modernized series), Tyson tells us about Enheduanna, an Akkadian Princess (2285-2250 BCE) about whom I had never heard until The Immortals aired on May 18, 2014. Enheduanna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, who appointed her High Priestess of the Moon, a role of political importance often held by daughters of royalty. But Princess and Priestess Enheduanna was also a respected poet, who made a decision about herself and the words she penned that had an everlasting impact on literature – Enheduanna became the first person we know of to sign her name to what she wrote and, in so doing, she became an author. Tyson relayed that Enheduanna is “…the first person about whom we can say we know who she was, and what she dreamed. She dreamed of stepping through the Gate of Wonder. Here’s a thought Enheduanna sent across more than 4,000 years to you. It’s from her work, entitled Lady of the Largest Heart:” Inanna, the Planet Venus, Goddess of Love, will have a great destiny throughout the entire Universe. – Enheduanna Tyson followed the story about Enheduanna with that of another ancient Sumerian, whose name was Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, the very first real life epic hero, whose travels and superhuman feats were chronicled in The Epic of Gilgamesh, an early Mesopotamian work of poetic literature that, in contrast to the writings of Enheduanna, was the work of numerous… Continue reading The Mythical Presence of Eros & Psyche: A Dialogue about the Bedroom, the Boardroom…and a Piece of Bread… (by Giselle Minoli and Meg Tufano)

Remembering a Friend…

The news did not exactly come as a shock. I had filed away the possibility that his life would end one day in the part of my brain reserved for things I simply did not want to think about happening. A less willful, less stubborn, less enthusiastically alive man would have long ago succumbed to the many illnesses he had endured over the last 2 decades. His ability to push back had convinced me that nothing could kill him. An email in mid-March relaying that he was in hospice care switched on the emotional regulator that controlled my reservoir of memories about him, sending through a few at a time, as though dropping them into my consciousness in a metered manner would avoid a flood tide the day he finally decided to part this Earth. I called and left a message on his home answering machine – announcing, asking, hinting – that I would get on a plane to see him if I could be sure I wouldn’t be intruding. When his wife called back minutes later, I hoped she would say, ‘Yes, of course! Come!,’ but instead I heard, “No one has told you…Jim died last night.” I had not seen Jim and his wife since the Summer of 2011, when I accompanied my husband to New Mexico for the unveiling of his mother’s tombstone. The four of us had gotten together for lunch, a lunch that was interrupted by an unexpected visit from my family, a lunch over which I had wanted to talk to him about so many things suddenly shared with too many people, a lunch I did not know would be the last one over which I would enjoy his company. “No!,” I wailed, then apologized, embarrassed. How could I commandeer this sorrow for myself… Continue reading Remembering a Friend…

A Writer’s Introduction to Google+

While certain life experiences are more or less universal – falling in or out of love, winning or losing a job, saying goodbye to one’s parents at the end of their lives – there are times when our individual realities are so idiosyncratic it’s hard for anyone else to relate, times when things can look calm and ordered on the outside, but underneath roils a breeding ground of anxiety. The sort of uncertainty that washes over one in a business meeting for instance, when a casual downward glance might reveal that one’s jacket is missbuttoned, which inspires a swift hand clutch to the bosom, which in turn reveals a cuff button visibly hanging by a thread. And although everyone knows that buttons on even well-made suits are virtually spit stuck in place, this knowledge provides no consolation whatsoever to the afflicted in this case, nor does it offer the slightest barrier against the oblique stares of judgmental colleagues, each of whom begins to free associate various reasons for their missbuttoned colleague’s public dishelvelment. Panic kicks in, which leads to an instant replay of the morning’s toilette. Do my shoes match? Did I forget to put my skirt on? Do I have eyeliner on only one eye? Do I have last month’s steamed spinach between my two front teeth? Since it is hard in such a situation to be sure that all is in fact in order, save for the unfortunate lapel misalignment and errant button, a sudden flourish of nervous perspiration at the nape of the neck makes it impossible to concentrate on the business at hand. An official silent reconnaisance begins. Skirt on? Check. Price tag removed? Check. Nail polish on all fingers and thumbs? Check. Two earrings? Check. Still, failing an appropriate opportunity to visit the nearest lady’s room,… Continue reading A Writer’s Introduction to Google+

Overdue reflections on days gone by…

People from my early professional life seem to be popping up everywhere.  I’ll receive an out of the blue email from one person, while the smiling face of another emerges from a sea of faintly recognizable features somewhere on social media. Funny how these old friends seem to know that all these years later I still have a land line, their instantly recognizable voices sometimes leaving long and detailed hellos from various places around the world. Yet the sudden reappearance of someone I used to know well, after so many decades of silence, always jars me, for I have to remind myself that in truth we no longer know one another all that well, the years in between having claimed the real lives we all hoped we would eventually have and leaving us merely with memories of what we used to be like and perhaps a few fantasies about what we are like now. When I moved to New York little more than three years out of college, I had no idea that life wasn’t about getting a job, making money and climbing the ladder of success, something I couldn’t possibly have suspected at the time because I’d moved there specifically to work with CBS Records as the (very young) National Director of Customer Merchandising.  As an apprentice to the nascent women’s movement, surely there wasn’t a more fortuitous title for a young woman who had won every regional and national award for merchandising, prompting her company to summarily airlift her out of her sea foam-kissed life in San Francisco and plop her onto the concrete-encrusted island of Manhattan to begin a clamber to the top that would have been the dream of any college graduate. New York City!  Carnegie Hall!  Wall Street!  Lincoln Center!  MoMA!  Broadway!  The Public Theatre!… Continue reading Overdue reflections on days gone by…

New York, Italy, Virginia, Italy, Kentucky…Italy

My mother was a collector of letters and photographs.  She filled old shoeboxes with meticulously hand-written communications from my father’s Italian relatives, their fragile parchment leaves folded within envelopes bearing intriguing foreign stamps and exotic return addresses.  Bunches of letters bound together with thin rubber bands, their cohesive elasticity pushed to the limit, filled the corners of her closet, were tucked under her bed, and occupied the shelves in the green-painted hutch originally intended for crockery, while oversized and heartier legal documents were crammed into manila envelopes marked Soragna Farm, Liguria Affair, or, simply, Italy.  The years passed, she ran out of room, and even more letters eventually took the place of the spirits bottles in her elegant old liquor cabinet. Yet there was a decided devotion to the care she took in maintaining the scores of letters exchanged with my father before and during their marriage, most of which were shielded from the harsh New Mexico sunlight by an inexpensive desk centered under her bedroom window.  Occasionally, when she was out watering the garden, I would sneak in to read whatever I could easily access in an unlocked drawer, a far safer way to snoop than staying longer when she would go out shopping.  If I had too much time, I feared, I would disturb whatever invisible order there was in her placement of the letters and she would surely know I had been going through her things.