One night this past August, I found myself on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, directly across from the House of Blues, a building I’d heretofore managed to avoid on my trips out to California over the last several years.

I was standing on the sidewalk opposite this place I’d held directly responsible for what was the biggest heartbreak of my early “adulthood,” when my boyfriend, who’d sworn that his feelings for me were unprecedented and that he was “in it for the long haul,” decided – seemingly overnight – that working at the (then) brand-new House of Blues in Los Angeles looked much more promising than staying in Boston with me. I was devastated, and it threw me into a depression (and an accompanying riot of poor life decisions) that would take several years to navigate my way out of.

So here I was, nearly two decades later, regarding this building, and its deliberately weather-beaten façade, with a mixture of curiosity and bitterness, as if the House of Blues itself called the shots and determined what would become of that relationship. It was like observing a new flame in the aftermath of an imploded romance. What did the House of Blues have that I didn’t? I watched several young women totter across West Sunset — wearing impossibly high heels and tiny dresses — and make their way into the club. It was certainly no place where I, a forty-something sober woman wearing sensible footwear and a jaded smirk, belonged. Even in my twenties, when I was truly honing my chops as a drunken hot mess, I suspect I would’ve hated it in there.

And while I wouldn’t trade my life now (sober, reasonably serene, filled with love and friendship and creativity) for any other, I still couldn’t help but feel a little resentful at the House of Blues, and the look on my face as I regarded it must have given me away, because my best friend squeezed my hand and said, “I know.” Not because I was still pining for what was lost, but because sometimes an old scar can still flare up like an emotional charley horse. Muscle memory. The heart is a muscle, and it remembers.

We place a lot of stock in structures. I still have dreams about the houses in which I grew up or spent considerable time. In my dreams they become much bigger than they actually were, they have additional rooms (and in some cases, ballrooms and chapels). When we move on from these places, we almost feel like we owe them an apology for leaving. I did so when my parents sold the last house in which we’d lived as a family. We want to believe that these places will remember us, miss us.

A few years ago I went back to my high school, to see the Drama Club’s annual musical. I wanted desperately to go backstage, into the classroom that’s still being used as the “green room,” to remember the smell of Ben Nye cake foundation applied with little foam rubber wedges. I wanted the auditorium to somehow psychically convey my “homecoming.”

And that night in Los Angeles, I wanted to march across West Sunset Boulevard and tell the House of Blues that it didn’t break me, as ridiculous as that sounds. The House of Blues merely provided the catalyst my then-boyfriend needed to extract himself from something that had become too much for him. For me, it was a symbol of my failure to keep him with me. But for someone else, it might be the place she met her true love. For another, it’s the place where he saw the best concert of his life.

I wonder what buildings are in my future.

The Dead


You know as well as I do that the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually, gradually, they lose hold of the earth … and the ambitions they had … and the pleasures they had … and the things they suffered .. and the people they loved.

Of all the themes explored in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, this is the one that always kills me, in every production I’ve seen and in every re-reading I’ve given it.

“..the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long.”

It flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught, particularly if we were raised Catholic. What are saints after all but the dead, whose very purpose is to take a keen interest in the living, delivering our petitions to God himself and interceding on our behalf? And have not most of us, at some time, believed that our loved ones are “smiling down on us,” or somehow present in our times of despair?

I grew up with ghosts. One in particular lived in my Nana’s house. He had followed her and Pa from Ireland, to take up residency in a third floor bedroom. We lived in terror of Monaghan (although for later generations of cousins, he was the friendly spirit who inhabited lamps that suddenly grew brighter). My sister and I have seen “ghosts” for as long as we can remember…but what exactly have we seen, really? Psychic imprints that we’re more in tune with than are others, perhaps. Residual energy from lambent happiness, or abject despair. Certainly these things don’t come when called, or we’d have gone into the paranormal connectivity business long ago.

“..the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long.”

It’s a series of lines that shake me every time I hear them or read them, even though I am no longer affiliated with any formal religion or religious practice.

This is, I think, because I want to be more important than I am. It’s standard formula in tragedy: one loves, and the other is loved. When loved ones depart, I want them to miss me, be as involved with and interested in me as they were when they were here…more so, since the shedding of one’s mortal coil would imply an immediate grant of omnipresence. You can be with me all the time now. I can sit here sobbing on my bathroom floor and I will somehow be comforted by you, because you cannot bear to see me grieve.

I suppose it makes sense that Wilder’s line is still something I cannot quite wrap my brain around, after all these years. When you have been hurt by living people long enough (and we all have; I don’t pretend or presume that I’ve been hurt more than anyone else), sometimes you want to believe that the dead will intercede, drifting in as haze and enveloping us in some misty and mystical comfort.

“..the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long.”

The living don’t stay interested in the living for very long, either. At the absolute nadir of what was the biggest heartbreak of my young “adult” life, I wanted to believe I could send my pain in a telepathic package, to the other side of the country where my erstwhile beloved had gone. (Oddly enough, I had enough good sense to not rack up horrific phone bills by calling him, to vocally plead my case and beg him to come back. Even at drunk o’clock in the morning, an odd sense of self-preservation would kick in and keep me from making an ass of myself, at least in that regard.) I wanted to believe that we were so connected that he would feel my sorrow from 3,000 miles away. Comebackcomebackcomeback. He did, but with his new girlfriend in tow.

The living move on. We lose, and we lose, and we lose again, and yet most of us eventually will laugh at a joke again. Most of us will find new loves, new things to be fascinated by. We are scarred, certainly, but we move on. We do this in part because we are programmed for survival.

And this is, perhaps, what Wilder had in mind when he wrote those lines. The living move on because they must. And so it stands to reason that the dead do the same.

“I live my life like there’s no tomorrow…”


On Sundays, we go to the Linden Diner for brekkies (no – not brunch; we are there far too early for it to be considered brunch, and there is no cantaloupe garnish on the plate). As is our custom, we take certain sections of the Sunday paper with us. I read the Magazine, the Arts section, and the “Ideas” section. In that order, always.

Yesterday I drank my diner coffee, one eyebrow raised, lips pursed about to deliver the snark, as I read this article, an interview with an scholar/sociologist who has written a book suggesting that Van Halen are misunderstood and under-appreciated Zen philosophers.

Sort of. The author doesn’t go quite as far as to say that David Lee Roth was some kind of deep thinker, but asserts that he was “an adherent of Zen philosophy.”

The idea of Diamond Dave as a lion-maned, hairy-chested, spandex-clad Zen Master is sort of ridiculous on paper, but is it totally unfounded?

Zen teaches us to live in the present moment, or as Roth teaches us in “Runnin’ With The Devil,” to live our lives “like there’s no tomorrow,” although he later posits that the “simple life ain’t so simple.”

Still, one “might as well jump.” “Reach down between my legs n’ ease the seat back,” and search for satori.

I withheld the snark yesterday in the Linden Diner, and went home to reflect on what I had read, helped along with Zen Master Roth’s isolated vocal track from “Runnin’ With The Devil,” which my friend Jon had sent me many years ago when I was in the midst of heartbreak. “See if this doesn’t bring you some moment of joy in all of this,” he instructed me. Because Jon and I have been friends since we were teenagers, I grokked that he perhaps understood me better than I did myself, so I listened. And, lo, I was clean amazed and did laugh for the first time in many days. All these years later, it’s still my go-to for joy.

Woooo!  WOOOOOO!  Indeed.

Muscle memory


Memory (or – more to the point – memories ) is a subject that’s obviously been bandied about our house quite a bit lately.

What Coombsie and I are learning about Alzheimer’s is that the things we’ve done for as long as we can remember, the things that just come naturally to us because of years of repetition, are the last things to leave the building, so to speak. My mother-in-law zips through her gardening tasks like a ruthless whippet: weeding, pulling, snipping. Watching her, you wouldn’t think that just a couple of hours before, she couldn’t explain that there was something wrong with her television set.

I’ve read about people with Alzheimer’s who don’t remember their own children, but can sit in front of a piano and play sonatas flawlessly. It’s muscle memory. My mother-in-law has always been an excellent gardener, and so this is one thing she doesn’t have to be reminded of how to do.

There are many, many things we’re going to learn as we continue to take this journey with her. And we’re going to have to learn to accept these things. Currently, it bothers her when she can’t remember something, or someone. Eventually, that’s not going to bother her. I feel, sometimes, that we’re expediting that process, whenever we try to ease her anxiety over not remembering. It’s difficult to not try and gloss over it, for the sake of keeping the peace. Taking the easy route by telling her, “Don’t worry about it; we’ll take care of it.” I have to remember to acknowledge the frustration. I have to remember to say, “I know this upsets you, but it’s not your fault.”

I cannot fathom losing my memories. I think about this frequently nowadays. So much of what I do from a creative/artistic standpoint is almost entirely reliant upon being able to call up specific memories. When I do any work with Mortified, whether it’s something of my own or something I am helping another reader with, memories are crucial in developing the direction in which the piece will go. I assign value to my closest relationships via the currency of memories. I go out of my way to keep my oldest friends a part of my life, because the memories I have of them are that important to me.

Today I heard a song (link below) I hadn’t heard in years, and it was as if the long-dormant heartbreak associated with that song roared up from a dusty corner in my head. It made the old healed scar on my heart flare up like an emotional charley horse. I audibly gasped at my desk. It was terrible, remembering that heartbreak, but could I ever afford to completely lose it? Because once I regained my footing, it made me think, Jesus God am I glad I’m not in my twenties anymore. It gave me a moment or two of tender reflection on the unholy mess I was at 23. And then I went back to my spreadsheets.

The heart, after all, is a muscle. And it remembers.

I know, it’s all terribly “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I wouldn’t want any of this wiped from my brain, and yet I may or may not have a say in the matter as I get older. Things are being erased from my mother-in-law’s mind, and she has no choice. But for now, she has the memory of weeding, of pulling out what she doesn’t want, in order to protect the things she does. Muscle memory.