Feb 17 2017

Youth is Wasted

Baby Girl.

Baby Girl.

I was 20. This was taken for some ad in some periodical about some thing.

I hated this photo at the time. I thought my puffy face gave away the fact that I was spinning out of control, my bulimia relapse triggered by the sudden death of my mother, my greatest supporter, one year earlier.

Today, I see none of that in my face in this photo. I see a beautiful young woman, so much life ahead of her, who was convinced things would never get better. I wish I could go back and tell her that they absolutely would.

Of course I can’t do that. Still, it’s a good reminder. Things are not near so bleak now as they seemed then. Still, sometimes, it’s so hard to see light. But it’s there. Trust yourself.


Sep 3 2013

Going Underground: In Praise of Basements


A new environment has the power to change not just what we see, but how we see.

I like basements. I love basements, places where I feel oddly at home. And happy.

We had a basement once, when I was seven, when my parents rented a house for one year in Middletown, New Jersey. Since we were staying only a year, and it was the first time I’d lived in a house that was neither, A) my family’s home prior to my birth, nor B) brand new, we being the first and only occupants; this house didn’t feel like ours. It was someone else’s choice of wallpaper, someone else’s choice of carpet… someone else’s home. But it did have a basement. I’d never seen one before — it was like a secret room!

Only one item was in that Middletown basement when we arrived: a cardboard house. It was gender-neutral, so any child could make it whatever he or she wished. I would play for hours there, in that cardboard house, that kind of play that happens deep within a child’s imagination; existing only in that moment, living in a world completely invisible to everyone else. But it is real.

That was the first (and only) time growing up that we were surrounded by forest (prior to that, it was either the streets of Brooklyn or the desert of Las Vegas). Flora, flora everywhere! The Garden State. I learned to figure skate on the frozen Navesink River. When it snowed, we slid down the street (a slight hill) on sleds, and our father took us to chop down our own Christmas tree. It was all pretty magical stuff to a seven year-old, right down to the hours I passed in the basement.

We moved back to Las Vegas the following summer, where I remained until high school graduation. At seventeen, I couldn’t get out of that town fast enough, get back to the east coast, where naturally I’d decided to go to college. Because I had an opportunity to fly back on a family friend’s private plane, I arrived in New York a full month before classes were to begin, and stayed with my father at his sister Helen’s house in Bayside, Queens (he and my mother had divorced the year before, and being Greeks, family always lives with family). A month is a long time to live with your overly-protective Greek father and his widowed sister in a town where you know no one (and have no car), so I went around visiting relatives: one grandmother, five aunts, five uncles, and ten cousins.

With Georgia and her boys and my brothers in front of Caesars Palace. It's changed since then.

With Georgia and her boys and my brothers in front of Caesars Palace. It’s changed since then.

I made my way to the family home of Georgia, my father’s first cousin, and her family. They had come to see us in Las Vegas years earlier (that’s them, in the photo on the right), and I really liked them. They were a fun family. And calm, compared to the most of the Greek relatives.

Naturally, I stayed in their basement (which I’d decided were indigenous to New Jersey). Theirs was very different than our basement in Middletown ten years earlier: it was their game room, with a pool table, concert and sports memorabilia on the walls, and a vinyl collection that would make Cameron Crowe cringe with envy. It was my last stop before moving into the dorm, so Georgia took me to buy towels and beddings and clothes for an East Coast winter. After shopping, I’d disappear into the basement and get lost in those records, discovering new artists and their stories, new worlds within those songs –while I was  eagerly counting down the days until I was to go off and discover a whole new world myself at SUNY Stony Brook. It was another magical time.

I write this from yet another basement, this one on the west coast, as I dogsit for my beau’s sister in Seattle. This basement, as you can see in the above picture, is also surrounded by lush greenery outside. Inside, hundreds of movies. It’s their movie room. The beau… it’s still a fairly new relationship, less than a year. I moved back to Las Vegas — none of the lush greenery I love so there — to be with him. So it’s an exciting time, another new beginning. And though I’m welcome to stay in the master bedroom while his sister and family are away, I prefer the basement. It just feels right. These basements are the waiting rooms for life’s next chapter. They’re a place where I naturally, optimistically, look forward to What’s Next — which has been harder and harder for me to do as I’ve gotten older. With age comes the ice cold water realization of What’s Not Next — which I’ve been focusing on too much as of late. It’s much better to focus on not only What’s Next, but What’s Right Here, Right Now.

This “naturally, optimistically” part of my brain is still there — it wasn’t just part of me at seven or seventeen — but it’s gotten very little airtime of late, this basement has made me realize. So I’ll be tapping into it now more and more now. Because having a What’s Next is an important aspect of feeling alive, for me. Here in this basement, I see nothing but a life of unlimited adventure awaiting me. It’s not the adventure I expected — but isn’t that exactly what adventure is? Not to mention, what’s Right Here, Right Now is pretty darn good!

Today's "basement."

Today’s “basement.”

I’ll create a What’s Next environment (without the basement, which is architecturally impossible in our second-story condo) when I return to Vegas. Armed with only my imagination, I once turned a cardboard house in a cement-floored Middletown basement into a log castle with a fireplace high on a cliff, waves crashing against the rocks below. I’m curious to see what my view will be out the window at my desk.