Summer’s over, and grief is complicated. Some days I’ll sit at my desk and think I feel Tim curling up on the back of my chair, behind my neck. I reach back to touch him, but he’s not there. No one will every replace him, but now we have kittens. I’d like to introduce you to three new members of the family: Orion, Ivy, and Patrick.Read More
It is foggy on this island off the coast of Nova Scotia, the fog so thick it blurs the spiky pines and jagged rocks. You can hear waves crashing, fishing and whale watch boats entering and leaving the harbor, and the foghorn at the Coast Guard station, but you can't see them.Read More
An essay about depression, disappearance, and returning.Read More
I wouldn't exactly call Maisie a "problem cat" (there-are-no-bad-cats) but ever since she was a kitten, she has had a certain personality: contrary, cantankerous, particular in whom she allows to approach (no one.) She was a rescue cat who had lived through the tragic circumstances of losing her mother too young and being left alone, sick, and flea-ridden until a kind vet in Old Lyme, Connecticut took her in. I and the old girls--Maggie and Mae Mae--adopted her. Time passed. We lived in New York, and for a while in Malibu. The dynamic of those three cats was of love, but separation. Each kept to herself. There were occasional stealth attacks--Maisie, stalking the others like a wild cat, pouncing, letting out lion-sounding snarls. Maggie would sit closest to me, on my desk while I wrote, and after she died, Mae Mae nuzzled her way in. After Mae Mae died, I waited for Maisie to claim her spot on the desk, but she never did. She was a loner cat, preferring to sit under chairs rather than on them, staring at me with her green eyes, coming out to be fed, but rarely petted.
Then along came Tim and Emelina. Like Maisie, they'd been rescued from life on the streets, and we adopted them from West Chelsea Vets.
The twins moved in, and I was a little worried that Maisie, although now fifteen and less angry, would intimidate them--maybe even attack them. They had such sweet personalities, loving to be held and petted, and often cuddling up with each other. I watched Maisie carefully, ready to pull her away from the kittens if I saw too aggressive a swat.
Emelina took the hint and stayed away from her. She made herself at home and kept her distance.
But not Tim. He loved Maisie from the beginning and was determined to make friends. His initial approach, however, didn't go very well.
But he's a brave and persistent cat, named for surfer Tim West, so he stayed close and watched.
And watched some more.
Maisie noticed, and after a while she began to semi-tolerate his attention, sometimes throwing him a glance.
After a while this happened:
They made friends.
Tim is also very sweet with Emelina, but this story is about him and Maisie. Emelina does, occasionally, hang out with them.
But mostly, if Maisie lets anyone close, it's Tim.
He taught her about love. She's almost a different cat. Amazing that love can do that.
This summer the cats and I spent several weeks at Point O'Woods. Maisie was born in Old Lyme, so for her it was a homecoming. Emelina and Tim, the kittens, had never been, so it was their first time there all together. Being NYC cats, they're used to the confines of a Chelsea apartment. Going to the country was summer vacation for them.
And Maisie returned to one of her favorite spots, a place she used to sit with the old girls, Maggie and Mae-Mae, on the back of the loveseat next to the fireplace, proving that--indeed--you can go home again.
For so long we were four. As someone who knows us well has said, I was the fourth cat. I think that is true. When you spend so much time with beings, and you are together most of the time, your species merge. I do know that I learned to speak their language. Cats are kindreds in the sense you never have to be your "best" (whatever that is) with them, and they meet you where you are on any given day, in any given mood. That has been true of my girls. They have sat on my desk through book after book, giving me love, being the best friends and companions.
Maya died on April 5. I called her Mae Mae for a long time, but when we moved to California she wanted to be called Maya and so that's what we called her. She was the sweetest, most loving kitty. I think back to when she was a kitten, those white whiskers and her bright green eyes, and the way she wanted to play and play.
Sickness never took the play out of her. She loved to take walks--back home in New York we would walk down the hallway of our apartment building, nothing much to see, but just being together as we strolled from one end of the hall to the other. She had the cutest habit of stopping, looking up to make sure I was following, taking a few more steps, glancing up again, continuing on.
In California I'd sometimes take her outside. I'm a believer in indoor kitties--too many dangers out in the world, and I am the biggest worrier around. I'd be afraid of coyotes, cars, hawks...but by the time we reached Malibu she had a diagnosis of lymphoma--the same disease that took Maggie and, decades ago, each of my parents--and I knew she didn't have long.
So one day when she stood at the screen door smelling the jasmine and salt scented air, I opened it up and let her out. I followed close by, never let her more than a few feet away. I had done the same for Maggie when, a year ago, she began to die.
Maya, like Maggie, loved those hours in the garden. We would sit together on the blue thing, and I can only imagine how good the warm sun felt on her black fur. Her hair had started falling out in patches--she wasn't having chemo so it couldn't have been from that, but she seemed to love the breeze and the fresh air. Heading back into the house she would stop on the stone path, glance back just the way she did in our Chelsea hallway walks, make sure I was right there, and keep going toward the house.
She died in my arms just past noon on April 5.
Each cat has her own story. Maggie was born on a sprawling farm of red barns and mountain laurel-covered hillsides in Old Lyme CT. Her mother was killed by foxes when Maggie was just days old, and this tiny kitten was taken into a stone wall and fed by a squirrel mother for just a few days--enough to keep her alive. A friend with super powers captured tiny Maggie--she was swift as a bird--and I fed her on a bottle, and she thought I was her mother, and we became each other's family.
Maggie was a wild kitty and I was a wild woman. This is true. My mother's life was ending, her long illness concluding, and my way of raging against the dying of the light was to behave as recklessly as possible.
Maggie was tiny and fast as a shooting star. She would hide in the most unlikely places. Once she disappeared so totally I thought she was gone forever, but then she jumped down the stone chimney into the fireplace and shook the soot off her fur--she had been hiding on the smoke shelf. Often I would climb into bed and find her under the covers--flattened and invisible to everyone but me.
Maya--"Mae Mae"--came into our lives when Maggie was one. She was also a rescue cat. I got her from Dr. Kathy Clarke, a vet in Old Lyme. Maya was the daughter of a brave cat named Cruella for her black and white streaks. One night when someone left the d00rs open, Cruella patrolled the kennels to keep the dogs at bay, away from her kittens. One of her kittens was Maya, and she inherited her mother's ferocity.
Maisie joined us a few years later. Also a rescue cat, the only survivor of a family who died of diptheria, Maisie is skittish and fears losing everyone and everything. She needs special attention. Traveling upsets her--to put it so mildly. All three were born in Old Lyme CT, raised in New York City, and traveled with me to California when, after lifetimes on the east coast and with little warning to anyone including myself, we just picked up and moved west.
I haven't written about Maya's death--or Maggie's--until now because what is there to say except that they were the dearest girls and I loved them and to say I miss them is the understatement of my lifetime? They are together in the garden now. Maisie and I are alone, and we are trying. It is not easy. For so long we were four, and now we were two. We feel the loss. Yes, we do.
Right now Maisie and I are forming a new relationship. Because she was the third, the baby, she has never been the only kitty--the favorite kitty. And for the first time in her life she is both.
To write you have to like being alone. Ideas have to flow in and out like air through cracks in the cabin wall. Physical space isn't important; the flow can happen in a tiny room. What counts is internal space. The voices you hear belong to your characters. I clear my life, days and weeks and months at a time, and I lie about it. It embarrasses me to need so much solitude. So I write this today with a sense of coming clean. I'm a terrible one for canceling. I make plans because I love the people I make them with. But sometimes even a single appointment can worry me, or shift my focus to that day, that moment on the calendar, and I wind up saying I'm sorry, I won't be able to. This might be extreme. Some writers might need groups or gatherings or just plain old daily contact more than I do. I need solitude. When I wake up in the morning I get to my writing without speaking a word. Talking before work shifts my focus away. It's not that what I'm writing is important, or beautiful, or noteworthy--it's just what I do. The words are important to me, maybe no one else. I tell stories because if I didn't I would stop breathing.
One can never be alone enough to write -- Susan Sontag
Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day -- Ernest Hemingway, 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech
The computer makes writing both easier and harder. It makes revision easier but it's a portal to the Internet which is a distraction. The internet has pluses and minuses. When I first discovered it I was distracted by it all the time. Email, constant contact--both wonderful and destructive, like the best addictions. Facebook provides the sense of a social life; Pinterest seems to me to be intuitive and wordless communication, a way to say who you are, or at least who you are at the moment of pinning a picture or poem; Twitter is immediate like speed or sugar; a comic artist introduced me to Tumblr, and I think I like the feeling of it. But let's face it, the Internet is hell on writing. My father, who sold and repaired Olympia typewriters, gave me an Olympia SM 9 when I was in school. I'm glad they still make ribbons for it. I've stocked up in case they stop. I think the sound of the keys comforts me; I know the cats like it. They sit close, as if the typewriter is a hearth. Most of the time I still write on my computer and sometimes on those nights I dream I am typing. Either way the stories get told. Life is writing and writing is life.
i'm writing about love in a lemon orchard, so some days i write under the lemon tree.
whether we are writing, or just hanging out on a fence rail or a tabletop, as i said, we're feeling pensive.
surely our friend the monk would understand...
two cats sit inside the screen door, watching and vigilant as white roses rustle in the breeze, waiting for who-knows-what to happen. they live in a constant state of anticipation, except, of course, when it exhausts them and they are forced, as happens with cats, to nap.
summer lasts another week, but fall migration is underway. new warblers heading south, are posted to nyc e-birds every day, and there's much excitement about a lark sparrow in the north end. autumn is my favorite season.
i've been sad lately, and i thank you for your kindness and comments. the tendency is to say i'm fine now, all is well, i'm going to be happy from now on. i think many of us do that, try to hurry unwished-for emotions along, reassure everyone that things are fine fine fine. the truth is happiness and sadness ebb and flow, they're the tide of life.
grief echoes love in the deepest way. to be able to feel that kind of love makes me think of the velveteen rabbit, what it means to be real. what it means to be human. still, and all, there is beauty in everything, even grief. in the words of a very wise young woman: "when life hands you a lemon tree, make lemonade."
my friend in new hampshire has a field of lupines. my friend in vermont feels like wilted petunias and invited me to have lemonade on her porch.
my sister in mystic is doing yard work, and i want to bring her herbs from mim's garden--rosemary, sage, and mint with roots that go down deep and go back forever. oh wait, she already has herbs from mim's garden.
in chelsea my little terrace has weeds between the stones and a hawk who perches on the rail eyeing pigeons.
maggie sits inside and watches the hawk.
I am hearing the Music of the Spheres this week before Christmas. On Tuesday there was a full moon, full lunar eclipse, and Winter Solstice, all at once. How could such events, especially during the holidays, fail to turn each of us into a mystic? Musica universalis--Pythagoras said "There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres." It's a harmonic philosophy regarding celestial bodies, space among the sun, moon, and planets.
Maybe it's because my mother told us that if we were very still and quiet on Christmas Eve, we could hear angels singing--the only night of the year that was possible. Of course that was a bold attempt to settle us down, wild with excitement for Christmas morning, but even as young children we felt the deeper meaning.
Everyone feels the holidays in their own way. For me Christmas is inseparable from my mother; after a very long illness, when she was constantly dying, the time finally came. Her final death started in mid-December. The doctor and a priest charged me with telling her what was happening. I remember sitting by my mother's bed at the nursing home, informing her that she was going to die.
She got really mad at me, and refused to speak to me for a week. I'd go see her, and she'd turn her head to the wall. I found a small tree and decorated it with lights and our family ornaments, irridescent balls decorated with twinkling snow, dating back to my grandmother's turn-of-the-century childhood. I brought her Scottish Terrier, Gelsey, to visit her. I introduced her to my new tiger kitten, Maggie.
Then, finally, one night I was sitting by her bed in the dark, with only the tree lights illuminating her small room. I looked over at her, and saw her staring at me--intensely, as if she was trying to memorize me. Her mouth moved--I read her lips: "I love you."
"I love you, too, Mom."
I held her hand, and we looked at each other for a long time. She slipped in and out, but talked to me when she could. The cold shoulder was forgotten. Having fought so hard for so long, she really didn't want to let go. It was a case of "blame the messenger," but that's okay. I understand, and am all the more grateful for our last few days together. She died soon afterwards, on January 2, 1995.
Music of the spheres.
Love the planet, love the moon, love the sky, love each other, love what is and not what you would have it to be, love music, love the beasts, love yourself. Peace on earth. Or as Peter Lehner of NRDC says, Peace With the Earth.
I have quoted this section from Shakespeare many times, on this site and in essays I have written--it speaks to me for so many reasons. Today, I'm hearing the "heavenly music" line...
From the Tempest, Act V, Scene I:
I have bedimm'd The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up The pine and cedar: graves at my command Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth By my so potent art. But this rough magic I here abjure, and, when I have required Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end upon their senses that This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff, Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, And deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book.
Ten ways it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas: 1) The tree sellers are back in Chelsea. They were my inspiration for Silver Bells, a Holiday Tale. From the first page: "Everyone knew the best Christmas trees came from the north, where the stars hung low in the sky. It was said that starlight lodged in the branches, the northern lights charged the needles with magic."
2) Pandora has a Classical Christmas station as well as good old Christmas radio with at least twelve versions (and counting) of Baby, it's Cold Outside. My mother's favorite song was Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. "Through the years we all will be together..." I miss her and am feeling nostalgic.
3) Yesterday I brought home a tiny boxwood tree and decorated it with white lights. While Maggie looks very sweet and Christmassy here, the photo was taken ten seconds before she began chewing on the leaves. Maisie has taken to batting the ornaments around. Only Mae-Mae keeps her distance (SO FAR.)
4) The days are getting shorter. I know about SAD and send love and support to those who suffer from it. But I love this time of year leading up to the solstice, when darkness covers the earth and drives us inward, to consider our lives, and to draw together--to actively need each other, as a way to chase the shadows... The stars are bright in the sky, and I dream of going far north to see the aurora borealis.
7a) Festivus. Our family will celebrate soon in Newport, RI. Twigg plays an integral role in this holiday. To keep the spirit alive, we have a festivus pole here in NYC. It's actually a hollow tree with an owl's roost hole, transported from the Maine woods to my apartment, but I wrapped it with colored lights, et voila. (That's Maggie, of course, on the sofa.)
7b) I made a pomander ball for the first time in forever. My grandmother always had one hanging in her closet, usually made by one of my sisters, Rosemary and Maureen. We had this set-up in the bedroom we shared (or sometimes the basement)--Santa's workshop, and my sisters were the best at making presents for the family. For a pomander ball you take an orange, a bunch of whole cloves, and some pretty red and green plaid ribbon. Create swirly patterns by sticking the cloves into the orange. Or you can cover the whole thing, or make stars or whatever you like. It smells good but, yikes, my fingers sting.
8.The Empire Diner is no more, and Dan's Chelsea Guitars has moved into smaller quarters a few feet down in the Hotel Chelsea. The neighborhood is changing, and that makes me sad. I miss the Diner, one of my favorite neighborhood places, and all the people who worked there. Renate, I'm thinking of you...
9) My fingers sting from the pomander ball, but also from playing my baby Martin guitar, on which I'm attempting to write a song, or maybe more like a story set to music. It involves snow, stars, the tallest spruce in the world, a very wayward cat, and snowflake fairies. It will be a huge hit on Pandora next year. There are a lot of C and E Minor chords.
10) I'm giving away Silver Bells--novel and DVD--on my Facebook fan page. If you haven't already, please friend me, then "like" the fan page to win. We have lots of fun and giveaways on Facebook...it's a bit more interactive than this site.
If you are on Facebook, I'll be asking about your top ten reasons and hoping you'll let me know. I'm so appreciative of my readers and all visitors to this site. I hope that you are enjoying the season as much as I am, and if you have cats (or dogs) they limit their love and attention for your holiday decorations to the occasional walk-by or curious gaze.
* The painting of of Santa in his magical swan sleigh is by William Holbrook Beard, ca. 1862. It's on display at Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art. When I lived in Providence, the image graced my Christmas cards. Now, saving trees, this serves as my Christmas card to all of you.
And now it's November. As if on cue--well, actually on cue--nature knows it's time for the thermometer to plummet, for the warblers and raptors to be on their way south, for leaves to fall so tree branches can scratch at the sky.
I have a great fondness for bare branches. They allow more sunlight through. At night they seem to cradle the moon. Walking through the park or a forest, if you look up and keep your gaze soft as you scan the branches' lacework above, you might see something that's not supposed to be there: a dark oval that is really an owl. You'll see it stir, then spread wings and silently fly, off on the hunt.
By day you might see corvids perched in the branches. Such intelligent birds. My friend in Old Lyme knew a crow when he was a boy. The bird had somehow sliced its tongue, so it was forked, and the bird could talk. My friend and the crow would carry on conversations. He has reported them to me, and I have no reason to believe he misquoted the crow.
While looking for an image of November trees or a corvid, I stumbled upon a beautiful print of both, in the illustration above: by the artist Amie Roman, it is called Bare Branches, and by way of homage, I so title this post. The image is a single block relief print, created by traditional printmaking methods.
I hadn't known Amie's work before, but I have now fallen in love with it. She loves nature, as I do, and her photo on her website shows her with a cat that reminds me of Maggie. I feel a connection to Amie's work, and parts of her life--just as I was inspired by my grandmother and mother, she was influenced by her talented grandmother, Caro Woloshyn, AFCA, and is inspired by her artist mother, Betty Cavin.
I'm grateful to Amie for allowing me to use her print, and I'm delighted by what came of a chilly November day, browsing images of bare branches and corvids, and discovering a kindred spirit a continent away from New York, in British Columbia.
Today was gray and overcast, the perfect time to curl up with a book ("The Wave Watcher's Companion" by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, a gift from Adrian,) some iced tea (made with mint from my sister's garden,) and three cats. They came and went--Maggie slept by my right knee, Maisie dropped a catnip apple at my feet and wanted to play, and Mae-Mae reclined on the windowsill watching birds fly by. Madeleine stopped on her way home from the library, and she had iced tea but wanted fresh ginger grated into her glass, and we visited for awhile, and told me she's currently rereading "Gift From the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. As you can see, Maggie is enjoying both the book and the catnip apple. Some summer days are nothing but bliss.
I feel so lucky to be surrounded with creative, amazing friends and colleagues. I have been with my literary agent, Andrea Cirillo, since the very beginning. We were young when first we began; my mother actually accompanied me to the agency for my first meeting. Long time ago, many books and much fun since then. Ron Bernstein has been my film agent forever. Thanks to him I've had movies and a mini-series made of my work, and gotten to spend much time on film sets. This website was created by Adrian Kinloch. I thank him for his knowledge, vision, and the beautiful photographs he took at two photo shoots--one in Chelsea, the other at Rockaway Beach. Jessie Cantrell is a writer, actress, and comedian who moonlights as my assistant. Mike O'Gorman is a writer, actor, and comedian, and does all our videos. Ted O'Gorman is a writer, actor, and comedian who fills in for Jessie when she's acting, and who also takes care of my three cats when I'm on the road. Sarah Walker, writer, actress, comedian, and author of Really, You've Done Enough, is integral to many projects.
The photo above shows me with Audrey Loggia, my friend and California sister. I'm godmother to her dog Maggie and she to my cat Maggie. Even though she's allergic to cats. A great friend indeed.
Jessie Cantrell Jessie is Luanne's assistant, friend, and fellow coffee lover. She considers herself very fortunate to have such a wise, talented, supportive, generous, gorgeous and, most importantly, fun boss. Jessie is an actress/comedian, so when she is not at The Half King with Luanne, she is auditioning for Coke commercials, making music, and/or working on sketch comedy shows for her group The Dan Ryan. You can check out her stuff at jessiecantrell.com.
Mike O' Gorman Mike is the director and editor of video content for LuanneRice.com. O'Gorman is also an actor and writer, and has appeared in upcoming episodes of Comedy Central's Ugly Americans, Cartoon Network's Delocated,and VH1's The Short List. When he's not working on Luanne's videos, you can find him performing with his sketch comedy group, The Dan Ryan. Mike O'Gorman lives in New York City. Follow Mike on facebook >
Sarah Walker Sarah is a writer and comedian living in NYC. Her column "Sarah Walker Shows You How" appears on McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She also blogs for Best Week Ever (bestweekever.tv). She enjoys cake and naps. For more about Sarah, go to her website: sarahwwalker.weebly.com
Ted O'Gorman Ted is an actor and comedian in New York. He is the former head writer for Black20.com's The Middle Show with David Price. In addition to his work in videos for LuanneRice.com he performs regularly as a member of the sketch comedy group The Dan Ryan.