Thursday, November 21, 2013


Had a tumultuous thirty-six hours, in which there was the possibility that I owned a masterpiece, had lost a piece of myself, had outlived my own productivity, and was going to give up my quixotic determination to demonstrate that Life was not over just because you were past the Magic Marker of Youth, and a woman in the bargain.
     First, the Picasso print, Mother and Child, left to me by my mother, hanging on my studio wall was opined by an insurance inspector to be NOT a print, but, quite possibly the original.  True, there was damage, a repaired rent beneath the white wash-- something the inspector said was clearly Picasso, --from the time my mother broke the painting over my stepfather's head--(Do read THE MOTHERLAND.)  But the value would still be enormous.
    Since I had an appointment with the paper conservator for the next morning, I did not want to even try to go early to bed, as I would obviously be unable to sleep, knowing that I might have the means to produce my own musical, after saving an African nation.  So I stopped by Carnegie Hall for that evening's presentation, Lena Dunham, the young woman with a hit series, GIRLS, on HBO, and David Sedaris, who gets his writings so effortlessly into The New Yorker, the dream of every young writer, which I was once.  The crowd, and it WAS. jammed to the many tiered gills, was clearly elated to be there.  The person next to me, a softly strong fortyish woman from Capetown was in New York for a conference at the UN of cyber-bio-scientists, all those half-word things that mean, I think, they are still imagining they can save the planet.  So if she wasn't giving up, I thought, re-fortified, neither should I.
    Then the reading began.  To be fair, I hope, and objective, Lena Dunham is kind of sweet and appealing in a self-deprcating young way, welcoming her parents before she began her launch, which featured butt-cracks, hair growing out of her nipple, and several vaginas.   The hall was awash in laughter, none of which was mine. I thought it was clearly me, that I was probably jealous, and, at that moment, let go of SYLVIA WHO?, retitled that day for my lunch with the Shuberts, THE WOMAN WHO CAME TO DINNER(Which title do you like better?) opening on Broadway. Then I went home, sad, because I thought maybe I should be realistic, and understand that I was over.
     Still, as I lay down, I finished a new song for the show.  Came the dawn, I had a call from my beloved Jamie, one of the smartest women on the planet, and I told what had transpired, and my puzzlement at all the laughter.  She explained to me, in just these words, that Lena "had her finger on the clitoris of every young woman in America." That brilliant observation quoted several times during the day, tickled the fancy(if that's not too clean) of those I told it to, who said it was "a generational thing."  So hope began a new little re-dance in my heart.
    Then I took the Picasso in a cab, down to Alvarez, the paper conservator.  Taking it out of its frame, after careful examination, he told me it was NOT an original.  My heart did not sink, because the truth was, I have never wished for any rewards that were not through my own efforts.  I told that gentleman, too, about Carnegie Hall.  And he, too, said "It's a generational thing." Then I went home, hung my not-really-an-original back on the wall, and thought to continue my day.
    At that hour, Cerene, the dark angel who cleans, came to change my sheets and Jeannie, the housekeeper for the Hampshire House helped her by vacuuming.  SIDEBAR: last week I met a delightful duo of young Southerners recently come to the William Morris agency to handle events, loved them and after they were gone, had a feverish search for my book, the TRAVELS OF MIMI, my beloved Bichon, no longer here except in photographs and this collection of poems, writ during our adventures together, while I was writing travel for The Wall Street Journal Europe, and she was in my pocket.  Barry, the young man of the Southern duo, had two bichons, so I had gone to Fedex and had a copy made for an exorbitant sum, so the book and Mimi would not perish from this earth.  That is, of course, the end of the Gettysburg Address which I had recited at two years old and three months, which made me a celebrity in Pittsburgh, but I was still not as lovable as Mimi.  The original book and the copy I'd made for security were both in a plastic bag on the chair. When I went to get them, after the apartment was cleaned, they were gone.
      Now THERE was a loss.  There was the heart-sink I hadn't felt when Pablo turned out to be less than real.  Along with Teddy, who works in the basement, with rubber gloves on, I went through the huge containers of tossed-down-the-chute garbage, but the plastic bag was not there.  Desolate, I went back to my apartment.  Sure, I had the poems, but they were only an expression of myself. The doggie, and the settings where we had journeyed, were an expression of much that was glorious in my history. And Mimi herself, unique, the expression of all that is loving and giving in humanity, which is oft better expressed in dogs.  "I'll go through the laundry," Jeannie said, because she had loved Mimi, too, the only little dog who had ever totally captured her (she has Great Danes.)
     I prayed, feverishly.  Finally the phone rang.  "I have it," Jeannie said triumphantly.
     "Was it in the laundry?"
     "It's on my computer," she said.  As my friends know, I have had few occasions to love computers, and had absolutely no memory of even sending it to her.  Several years had passed since I apparently did.
     SO HERE IT IS, that all of you might know, and if you care to, remember her.  And even if you don't wish to tiptoe around in that kind of light-hearted sentimentality, you might stop to consider what is the true meaning of LOSS.  What is it, that if gone from your life, would leave a hole in your soul? Surely not that which you had given to Bernie Madoff.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


One of the best things about living in New York is, of course, The New York Times.  But having been so long a Californian, where most of the news is gossip, I find the paper overwhelming from the sheer bulk of it, all the while worrying about the trees.  I heard once how many trees have to fall in the forest for there to be a New York Times, and the part of my heart that is heavy with compassion has obliterated it, as for me compassion includes forgetfulness.
     But I do get it on weekends, so was up on the news about China, just in time to go to Petrossian on my way to the theater, where lunched at the corner table a beautiful young Chinese couple. clearly married, newly it looked like.  I greeted them on their way out, knowing how to say Thank You in Chinese, but looking to enlarge my vocabulary. I asked if they had children and they said 'Not yet,' but were going to.  "Now you can have two," I said, having absorbed the headline, relieved, as Obama must be, that it's not about him.
    "Oh you are up on the news," they said, somewhat amazed.  "That is only from yesterday."
    And then I could not help but alert them to the truth that the first child would be jealous of the second, having some experience in that area, and coming as I just had from my beloved Jack Kornfield's morning lecture on Mindfulness, which mercifully materialized in time to soothe my soul.  It was given at the Society of Ethical Culture, where, strangely, I had gone to a service last Sunday, where I was, I think, the only white person, moved to go there as much by curiosity as the need to connect.  Pretty Asian girls had stood in the balcony, swirling as much as waving giant metal fans, a kind of exotic dance it seemed like, the metal bronze or brass, threaded.  I looked for them today, but in the balcony instead was a pond-- not quite a sea-- of mostly white faces, almost all of them in the mental health field.
       Jack was teaching along with Dan Siegel, another Mental Health practitioner on a very high level, professorial but genial and at moments, actually adorable, leaping into Jack's lap as he spoke of attachment, that the experiences babies have shape development in the brain, a need to depend on caregivers, speaking of the 3 Esses, See, Safe, and Soothed.  I am probably getting much this inexcact and probably wrong, simplifying of course because that is all I can do.  But it was quite wonderful and coming as it did, not a moment too soon.
      Jack is known to my friends as my Jewru, having entered my life a long time ago, a crystal writer and diamond-like thinker, one of the brilliantly intellectual Jews who became Buddhists.  Sitting next to me in one of the pews-- the building serves also as a church, so pews is indeed what they are, was a  youngish woman, a Mormon, who had a dog-eared, underlined copy of his book The Wise Heart, and had flown in from Colorado for this event, and was clearly transfixed, asking me if he is accessible, which he is, one of the miracles of my life, although I am not sure Buddhists believe in miracles.  He has seen me through the death of my husband and the death and I hope transformation of many things in me, as well as many things that are not as much uplifting, as painful.  So it was a gift from the God that Buddhists don't believe in that he was here this weekend, and called to invite me to this seminar.  Besides the wisdom and playfulness of his words, his voice casts the very most calming of spells.
       It was at one of his retreats that songwriting, which I had left behind in college, came back to me, and although it was supposed  to be a silent retreat, I went for long walks and some of the songs in my musical started up there.  i have remained over the years, consistently an Upstart, and as my LA friends know, I was just thrown out of my Beverly Hills abode for singing, have the paper from my landlord to prove I am not making it up, the neighbor who wanted me out of there for singing, a woman named Song.  So as writ before, i never have to make anything up, my life is so improbable.
      But one of the best parts of it has been Jack.  During the break I told him I was conflicted, because not knowing he would be here and there would be an all-day workshop,  I had bought a ticket for a matinee at City Center this afternoon, with Wynton Marsalis and Bernadette Peters doing Sondheim.  And gracious as he is smart and kind, he said to go to that instead of coming back to the seminar, because my focus now should be my musical, and I had had my meditation. Sometimes, as Blanche DuBois said, there's God so quickly.  And in this case, so mindfully.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Am still anguishing slightly in Gore Vidal's behalf over the pitiless article in the Sunday NY TIMES.  Gore himself was not a pitying man, but he was proud and made some fine contributions to our culture, such as it is, so he did not deserve to be humiliated, even post-mortem.  And as I was shown an act of completely unexpected kindness-- a beautiful family of Danes I found a while ago on the streets of New York, when they were seeking direction-- have given me some.  I got an e-mail, your most uncaring mode of communication, loaded with caring.  They invited me to come and stay with them after my coming surgery.  If there were still Victor Herbert songs, my heart would swell.
   So I am remembering, as often comes to mind, Aldous Huxley saying, "In the end, what matters is to be kind."  I had a beautiful friend a long time ago, a harpist with glorious flaxen hair, as in the Fairy Tales,  Indus Arthur, named after that exotic river.  I found her on lonely Sundays when I would go to the Four Oaks, a restaurant in one of the canyons-- Beverly Glen I think it was, where she played her harp during brunch.  She was truly exquisite, delicate and soft in the very best sense of that word.  So when Marge Champion, a good friend, married Boris Sagal, a director I knew and liked, I gave them a wedding dinner-- just the two of them and us-- and had Indus come and play the harp.
    Sometime in the course of the evening I told Boris about a folk song I had written at Bryn Mawr, one that had subsequently been recorded by Theo Bikel and Miriam Makeba, and, No Kidding, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  When I'd lived in London after college, I'd stayed briefly with a folk singer named Isla Cameron, and she'd learned the song and sung it to Theo, who found me at the Purple Onion when I was doing my act there in Hollywood, told me he'd recorded it, and published it, and for a while, actually sent me royalties.  
     In the midst of my telling the story, Indus, flaxen hair flowing beside her harp, suddenly sat up straight and said "YOU wrote WHERE DOES IT LEAD?" and started to play it and sing it.  Boris, not surprisingly said: "You set this up."
    But I hadn't, and it was genuinely thrilling, in the best sense of that word.  Not long enough after that, Don's cancer was discovered.  And when he died, I asked Indus if she would play at his funeral.  She did so unhesitatingly and beautifully, lending her beauty and grace to that sad occasion.  It was only a few short weeks later that I found out she had cancer, too, and had gotten up from her bed to play the harp for Don.
    So I visited her as much as I could, for what time she had left, which was not very long.  And I remember best how beautiful she still was, her lover, a sweet young man who had been consulting fakirs and phony healers in his desperation-- "It's just that I love her so," he explained, "I don't want to let her go."
    But most of all I remember how beautiful she still was, her beauty incredibly intensified by how generous she was, radiant, holding my hand and telling me how beautiful I was-- something I have never really been, except maybe that moment, because of her presence.  And I think of Aldous Huxley, meaner, more acerbic in his early works than even Gore Vidal, saying "In the end, what matters is to be kind."
      That says it all.

Monday, November 11, 2013


I know that it isn't going to matter to me, what those who are left behind say about me after I am gone.  But I am sad for Gore Vidal, one of the more elegant and arguably the most eloquent of people I have been lucky enough to know in my lifetime, because of the article in the Sunday Arts section of the New York Times.  One of his disappointed familial survivors, to whom Gore apparently left nothing, spoke with gargantuan insensitivity of the writer's loss of control over bodily functions.  Dead though he might be, I can still feel him flinching.
    I met him when my husband Don and I, early in our marriage, were living in Europe, and our then close friend, Sue Mengers, my agent, gave us Gore's number when we were going to visit Rome.  He invited us for drinks atop his terraced rooftop apartment; having apparently passed the audition, we were asked on to dinner, with his companion, Howard Austen, and one of Andy Warhol's current flashes, Ultra Violet. At that meal Gore spoke openly of his sexual proclivities and preferences, and young and innocent though we might have been, as it was Gore, to me it seemed fascinating.
    At one point he fixed me with his amazing, dark gaze, and looking deeply, asked if I was wearing contact lenses. I answered No.
   "It's just that your eyes are so beautiful," he said, "I thought you must have something in them."
   Oddly, it was dazzling being hit on by one of the world's most notorious homosexuals.
   When we got back to our hotel, Don, one of the sweet, straight men in the world, said to me: "It just shows what a pervert you are, that you enjoy the company of Gore Vidal."
    Not too long after that, back in Los Angeles, Don died.  My good friend, the actress Betty Garrett, who had also lost a husband, Larry Parks, too young, said to me: "Now you must do what you wouldn't have done if Don were alive."  So the first thing I did was buy a hat-- Don didn't think I had "a hat face,"-- and then I went to Italy, to Ravello, to visit Gore Vidal.
    "Gore didn't tell me you were coming," Howard mewed.  I was, nonetheless, invited for dinner in their beautiful hillside home, looking down at sea.
    "This is ONE of our views," Gore said, opening his arms wide to embrace the horizon.
     At dinner, I brought him a copy of my latest, and, I hoped, best novel, MARRIAGE.   "I know this isn't your favorite subject," I said.  "But it's different than other books."
    "Different FROM," he baritoned.
    In the years after that I saw him from time to time in different places, at parties, at dinners, at book signings.  Always there were warm exchanges, all of them witty, many of them affectionate and/or piercing. I was of course sad to see him growing older and less forgiving, but forgiveness had never been one of his stronger suits.  Still, I was glad to know he was still alive.
     "The evil that men do live after them," Mark Antony said at Caesar's funeral, which eloquent durability Gore opined would not particularly please Shakespeare, since he was dead.  But to have his physical degeneration written of in the Sunday Styles section, I am sure would have mortified Gore, so I am hurt and angry for him.
    And though the Times said the crass-detail-giving relative spoke in "affectionate tones," I don't really believe that.  I think it was probably, a timbre far from aligned with Jay Gatsby's enamored description of Daisy's, voice as "full of money;" but one more aptly filled with bitterness at not having gotten any.   

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Autumn Leaves

I am sorry that song was already written, because there is truly nothing lovelier, more inspirational or soothing to the spirit than the colors of autumn.  I walked through parts of Central Park yesterday, just eating it with my eyes, wondering if there was any way to describe the tones, more glorious as they faded than at their most brilliant.
  A little girl in pink, not that wondrous a shade, even when worn in a hooded jacket by a three-year old, from Norway she was, where it is probably already well into winter weather, collected a pile of them and set them on a park bench.  I would have liked to congratulate her on her sense of organization
but of course do not know the tongue.  But she was dear, as most children are-- my friend the mystery writer Bill McGivern used to regret that he could not invent something called 'STAY BABY,' because it was never going to be that wonderful again.  How well he knew.
   But the same cannot be said about the leaves changing.  Green is only green, except in Ireland, where it comes in as many shades as the people.  But oh, the hues of Autumn. How sad it would be to be blind on a day like yesterday in Central Park, where even the ducks on the pond appeared to be taking notice. In-between bobbling and gliding across the mirrored surface, speckled slightly with the soggy leaves that hadn't landed on shore, they seemed curiously attentive to the quiet spectacle around them, respectful of the beauty.
    I am in a constant struggle to gentle my spirit, nowhere more than in New York, with its electric air of Expectations, from which almost inevitably come Disappointments. But if my soul could carry with it the colors of Central Park on the day that was yesterday, I think I would be serene.
   Ah, but there are stairs at the end of the walk that lead back up to the street, and the crosswalk where pedestrians supposedly have the right of way, but the cars might run you down just the same, because the drivers are not particularly paying attention.  Oh, if only we all could be living in the park, or at least be walking through it in our minds.  Or gliding across the pond with our sensibilities.
   But I do have a bowl now filled with the leaves I collected.  And maybe if I study it long enough and often enough I will understand.
   Everything fades.  And maybe that is a part of the Beauty.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

I Heart/Spade/Diamond/Club NY

So if you have to move back here after a long and spiritually disenfranchised time away, in some of the great cities of the world, (Paris, Rome, London, Venice, Seminyak(HUH?) and arguably one of the worst, at least in the opinion of those who are judgmental-- Beverly Hills--Autumn is the best time to return to New York.  Besides that it is one of our best standards, the composer notwithstanding-- Vernon Duke--it is a picturesque Fairy Tale of images: the leaves in Central Park changing with a quiet, palpable ferocity into what is, in my opinion, the best colors we have, the oppressive heat of summer left behind, people's natures softening with the season, there is the Marathon, something like a Flag of All Nations for the legs.  Friday night as I made my way to Whole Foods in the Time Warner building on Columbus Circle, there was a burst of such spectacular pageantry over Central Park as would outdo the fireworks at the Biennale in Venice, and the biggest show-off events(which is all there are) in Cannes.  I, having spent my whole life trying to learn not to take things personally, decided to take this personally indeed, an argument for my having returned to live in this city I have never really loved since I graduated from PS9 on West End Avenue, where I experienced the first of what it was to be under the wing of a great educator, now a school for "special children," not in the happiest sense.
    But there they were, high in the sky, fireworks to welcome me, to assure me I had made the right decision, moving back here.  So I sat down on a fire hydrant, not the most comfortable of perches for a woman, and enjoyed-- celebrated, really, with my eyes.  After all, if they were going to all this trouble...
    It lasted for a good and spectacular time.  People mused, passing by, at the possible reason for such a display-- "It's  November," one young man said.  Finally a youngish, pretty and sad woman of my acquaintance, who I would guess is having relationship problems judging from the sorrow around her eyes, told me it was for the Marathon, which I had all but forgotten was this weekend.  From Columbus Circle I went up Broadway, and in the next day and a half went to two movies, (one example of the unsung wonders of this city--there they are, everywhere and accessible) one film tedious and endless in spite of its eroticism(Blue is the Warmest Color, you have to wonder about A.O, Scott AND the Cannes Film Festival), one magnificent, but non-stop painful, so you have to admire Brad Pitt, a bit player, producer and one supposes, rightly, its main engine.  Still agonizing to consider this ever happened in this country, that we as humans could have treated other humans like that, although it helps you understand how there could be a Ted Cruz.
      Then Voila! It's Sunday.
     And here everybody is, and just try to get anywhere.  Everything blocked off and crazy, and just to make your way to the other side of town is an achievement.  But over Sheep's Meadow and into the woods, NOT to Grandmother's House we go.  This year some of the patrols wear jackets marked CounterTerrorism, and that's as disturbing as it seems to me unintelligent.  But oh, well.
     I finally arrive at Bar Bouloud on Broadway, a more than pleasant restaurant I have targeted as the rendezvous for the beautiful Danish family I connected with a year and a half ago when they were a little lost in the address sense, and I in the personal one, and we became friends.  I noted at the time You Can Always Make a Friend in New York, as long as they are from Someplace Else.  They had the most beautiful child I had ever seen, and have since augmented that by one.  Now the grandparents, both doctors in Denmark, are here for another visit.  Interesting to hear that things in Denmark, like everywhere else in the world, are not as good, but they still take care of their own.
    Then it's time to try and return to where I live.  Sidewalks jammed, streets roped off, another struggle. I have no choice but to stop into a shop and buy (on SALE, of course) an over-the-top top that I can wear if Rex Reed ever invites me anywhere.
    Finally there's an open street, and I can get home.
    But is it?  We shall see.