The giveaway happened this morning. It came in the form of a sneeze—several, actually, all so forceful that my coffee flew out of my cup into my face. No burns, only embarrassed, accompanied by NY1’s confirmation of my suspicions: ragweed had launched its ugly spores into the air. Zyrtec, take me away.
In this way one season makes way for another. The turning never fails to shock, but this year the jolt feels more severe. Maybe it’s because of the summer I’ve had: in and out of town I’ve been, wrestling with the demands of fellowships and residencies, yes, but also the ongoing vagaries of a freelance writing. Free days are spent trolling, and juggling work as it dribbles in, a state of coping that always leaves me feeling not quite here or there. I am now the protagonist of Harold Arlen’s “Like a Straw in the Wind,” and as I suck it up I also embrace whatever fortunes fall into my lap with cautious optimism.
Someone once said, “Nowhere else does time pass more quickly than in New York.” These last months…how you say? Accelerando?” But when the time paused, what bliss. I’m thinking of June at the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, coffee mornings and evening bakeoffs with the talented Julia Johnson, Lucy Gillespie, Lisa Allen and Matthew Hough (to name but a precious few of the astounding artists who were also in residence), not to mention those magical afternoons both inside my studio (viva writing breakthroughs!) and outside, where I’d spy a family of deer scarfing down mulberries that had fallen to the ground. There were those L.A. sunsets courtesy of a Lambda Literary Fellowship, along with kosher meals that turned out to be better than I’d thought, and the company of talented writers who left me basking in the glow of possibilities. The precious vacation days I spent on Shelter Island were brief, but the beaches and bays, the Ram’s Head Inn and the undivided attention of my spouse suspended not only time, but also all my Manhattan concerns that of late, threaten to swallow me whole.
Outside everything’s still green, but Demeter’s harbingers are pervasive. All summer long, I’ve been struck by the deaths of those men and women who’ve defined our era for most of our lives. No need to give sorrow words; the names alone tell the tale. Gore Vidal. Sally Ride. Marvin Hamlisch. Ron Palillo. Phyllis Diller. Neil Armstrong. Helen Gurley Brown. Nora Ephron. Sylvia Woods. Tony Scott. William Windom. Ray Bradbury. Richard Dawson. Al Freeman, Jr. Rosa Guy. Rodney King. LeRoy Neiman. Andy Griffith. Ernest Borgnine. Celeste Holm. Maeve Binchy. Sherman Helmsley. Alexander Cockburn. Robert Hughes. Judith Crist. Kitty Wells. R. Peter Straus. Martin E. Segal. Marvin S. Traub. David Rakoff. Mark O’Donnell.
At such moments so many quotes come to mind. Some are a touch arch, even glib—“my, people come and go so quickly here.” But one that haunts goes a bit like this: “Missing people and wanting them back. That’s the price we pay for being alive.” Make no mistake, life’s happiness cannot be denied. But all that joy evens out every time we’re forced to suck it up whenever our friends say goodbye for good. The bold-faced names have the history books; the rest have only the hearts and minds of those they knew. How easily we forget that our grip on them, and the seasons, is tenuous. A worthy goal: relish them now.