Last week, two longtime friends took me out for my 70th birthday: Stephanie to an Italian restaurant and Cindy to a cool place in her hood. Stephanie brought the essay she wrote in my Strand Bookstore workshop and just had published. A gem. So is the piece she wrote in my New School workshop. It will be published next month. Even with regular emailing and getting together, Stephanie attends and pays for my workshops, claiming the exercises and space get her going. I love watching her ‘go.'
Two nights later, Cindy reminded me of two things her mother constantly said: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
I’m blessed with honey friends.
The other: "a leopard doesn’t change its spots" after I told her about a leopard who disappointed me. Again.
Since seventh grade, Cindy and I have been through leopards and everything else. When her first marriage ended, I plied her with liquor. When my first marriage ended, she called every morning before 7:30. For my 17th birthday, she made me a surprise party. At her 50th birthday luncheon, I gave the toast. She flew to Buffalo for my mother’s funeral, was the first person to send a food basket when my father died, made sure I wasn't alone for every birthday and holiday when I was single and bought 15 copies of my memoir. In high school, I regularly jumped into her moving car with the lousy breaks.
58 years of laughing, sharing, and saying things we’d never tell another living soul.
After dinner the other night, we walked through her neighborhood, taking in the beautiful homes with their pumpkins, witches, and ghosts. Nothing tricky! An enormous treat!
So was getting another letter—the third—from my prison fan. He read James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk which I recommended, gave his opinion, wrote about the things in Finding Mr. Rightstein he and his friends—incarcerated and not—discussed, and what about my voice, letters, and writing book are helping him with his memoir.
It is the New School. And it was Halloween, but when I saw my student, Darren, at 12th and 5th, I had no clue who it was at first even though he told me last week he’d be coming to class and to our one-on-one conference beforehand as a ‘slut.’ When I got it, we started our conference as we walked.
Darren showed his vulnerability at the first class five weeks ago when he announced that he checked out the classroom the day before, so he might be a little less scared. I said I did, too. We’ve been connecting ever since. His life—and hair, it’s purple-- could not be more different from mine, but his writing and truths resonate with me. Darren and the rest of my Tuesday students have dared to reveal themselves. For me, another treat.