Archives for: 2014

Humanity

10/10/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

It was a day off. I got up early and made my organic french roast, freshly ground, french pressed coffee. I wrote for a while, just to clear out some thoughts and then read until my deeper voice came. Mid-day my guy Patrick from the Pest Control people came to see if all was quiet on the western front. Sure enough another little rodent was caught in my attic crawl space. ”I think this is finally the last of them,” he said. ”I’ll check on you next week.” As he left, I felt safe. I felt well cared for. I am safe. I am very well cared for.

I went to the gym. I work out at Equinox, and my favorite of all their locations is downtown. As you get off the escalator, you are greeted by a magnificent waterfall in the center of a breath taking open courtyard . The buildings framed against a sky defining blue become modern art. The light and shade play against glass and metal and water, and often I think to come back and spend the day, right there. I am filled with gratitude each time I step off the elevator to head into the gym.

I rode the bike and watched the news, drank water, texted, read mail, instagrammed. I did some incline walking on the treadmill. I spent ten minutes on the rowing machine. I took time to breathe and stretch and do abs in the dance studio. Alone there in the quiet, I closed my eyes and felt the ease of my good life. I have a good life.

The night before last I began work on a poem it is long and intense. In one moment of it, I ask, “When the buildings fall, and when the bombs break, and when the guns blare, and when the hunger comes, and the babies starve, and the water rises, and land dries up and the mothers cry, Where is God? Where is God? Well….. where are you? Where are you?
Why suffering? Why pain and anguish? For us, perhaps, for us to pick up the job of humanity. Perhaps for us to learn to love beyond ourselves.

I stopped by my store. The air in the great space was fresh and the light clean. All was in order. I enjoyed my team and we studied a few new designs and spoke of our growth. It is so apparent to me that we are expanding organically, easily, beautifully and with so much love. The work we are doing with our amazing clients is very rewarding. I am rewarded.

I drove to the bank. I had checks to deposit. I still get residual checks from my days acting and had a 1700 dollar deposit to add to my normal earnings.

On my arrival I saw a young girl holding a large cardboard box of chocolate bars. She was in a plaid jumper and had on poor brown shoes, socks barely to her calves, a little yellow blouse. To her side was a child. Perhaps her sister. As I put money in my meter I felt the resentment come up in me, quickly. I felt it so quickly come up that feeling of “here we go… I don’t want to buy chocolate from her and I hate how she has been placed at the door of the bank, no less, and the little one too, to tug even more firmly on my heart. I have important things to think about, and I will look preoccupied, and I will be busy with myself, and perhaps I can put my face in my phone.”

I turned and saw her, petite, maybe 14, her thin brown hair parted to the side held with a plain bobby pin, and she caught my eye and smiled with timidity and eagerness at once. As I took the four shallow steps up to the bank door, I relented.
The mind and the heart sing in harmony so quickly, sometimes.
I turned to her, ”Are you selling those for your school?” “No,” she said, “I’m a senior and I am trying to save up to go to college.”

“How much are you selling them for?” I asked, looking into the box and a large collection of thin, poor chocolate bars. “A dollar each,” hopeful, smiling, her retainer catching the light. I nodded and with a sigh, ”Well, that is going to take a while.” I reached into my purse. I opened my wallet. “Are you a good student?” I looked at her. ”Yes, I am.” ”Good,” I said. ”Good, I am glad. What is it that you want to study when you go to college?” and she replied,”I want to study micro biology.” (Dear God, let me find a million dollars in my wallet.)

I asked the little waif, the little sprite by her side, looking at me with eyes like the moon, like a puddle, like a my own heart, I asked her with a teacherly sweetness if she could count out ten for me.

She moved so quickly to it, to live up to counting, to show me that she could, to respond as if to an order. There was so much desire to please and I held my breathing steadily to telepathically steady her. I passed a ten to my little sales girl and took the ten bars of chocolate from her assistant and I asked if at one dollar a bar she made any money on this. She nodded her head with an “of course” as if my question were ridiculous. “Yes,” she said, smiling so openly, “yes, I do”. She reassured me. She then blessed me.” God bless you,” she said. I thanked her and let her know that he does indeed bless me. I smiled at her a sad smile and turned away with my self satisfaction and ten bars of chocolate I didn’t need.

I went into the bank and made my deposit at the window. The teller smiled at me seeing the ten bars clutched awkwardly in my hand.
I took my receipt and as I passed the ATM I heard it, the harmonized voice of my mind and my heart and in an instant I decided to be God.
Why not? Who else? I withdrew 100 in cash, stepped out the door and said, “Count out the whole box. Lets see how many you have there.” I looked up and behind her now was our waif and she was in the arms of her mother and to her side, another woman, also a mother, or an aunt perhaps.
“You are done selling these for today.” And as she counted them, oddly in threes, I spoke into her heart, I placed it into her mind, I took her by the shoulders in the certainty of my voice alone….” I know you will get to college and I know you will do great things in this life. I am very proud of you for being so committed.” She counted 43 and I passed her 43 dollars. Out of her hands I took the box. She looked at me with disbelief, with gratitude with un-merited awe, “Thank you, God bless you.” And then both women,”God bless you”
I looked into her face and with all my heart I said, “I only wish I could send you to college. I wish I could take care of it all for you.”
She reached to touch my hand and we met at the edge of the box of chocolates, She said. “Oh, that’s ok. Thank you.”

I walked to my car and as I opened the door I felt my heart expand and wondered why I was crying.
My heart breaks for her.
My heart breaks for her.
I want to run back and find her, and take her, and make her mine. I would bust my ass every day to get her through college. I would lay it all down for that one little girl standing there, on the steps of the bank selling chocolate bars for a dollar a piece, having made 53 dollars today of which she may keep perhaps 20…. to save… to go to college.

She will get there. Not that way, but she will get there bit by bit, one person at a time, one ounce of love and consideration at a time.
I love her for her faith. I love her for her open heartedness. I love her for trusting that she will go to college to study microbiology.
She will.

Girl

09/18/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

Oh do not
Be a bored
Young lady
There is nothing
Less attractive
Your disinterest
Disinterests
And your detachment
Detaches
Do not be above it
All
No life but
Here
On earth
And your self
Elevation
Is without a string.
You are
Too young
To merit
Truth
Or to offer
Direction
And boredom
Makes
Only you
Boring.
Take
A deep
Interest
And be
Interesting.
The documentarian
Is the
One in power
Right?
The one who
Sees
Knows
The truth.
Be a truth seeker
Girl.
Be smart,
Wear glasses.

Shameless.

09/06/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

I will not be shamed
for loving
as much
as I
am able.

Your “too much”
perhaps..
my “barely enough".

I will not be hurt
because
your heart
had no
room for me.

I walked in
full hearted.
I have walked out
fuller still.

Can you not see
it spilling from
my eyes
that which
I had
to take back
with me?

I will not
have your
sympathy
for the humanity
of my painful
redirection.
There are
no bruises
on my
forehead.

Who needs a head
tilted to one side
when a dance
in the end zone
is in order?

Applause
is better
and right
and honoring.

How dare you
assume my vulnerability
when for me to love
Like this….
Like the tide rising
Like a dog panting
Like a cat wailing
And a woman
head back
laughing
is to embody the
fullness
of my strength.

I do not want
your sympathy
when I am not
at all hurt
but so ripe
on the vine.

I am not
at all bruised
but softened
to sweetness.

And always
a table set and
a door open.
a bed well made,
and a laugh to carry
You up and up and free.

Yes, girl.
Love like a maple tree
Tapped.

Life

08/20/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

A courtyard
Embraces
Four great oak.
Dappled light
Plays on
Tender
Green growth.
A breeze
Dances with
Yellow leaves
Dipping
Falling
Down
Down
To the earth
Below.
Into the
Arms
Of all
Of nature
The tree
Gracefully
Surrenders
It’s dead.

Melody

08/05/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

It was good to see Melody. She is medicine for my soul. She gives even by her presence alone, such is the integrity of her being. Some women shine a light so clearly upon you, as for you to see yourself under their love. The gift you take home is not so much the love they give, but the awareness of the love you have.
Driving home the distance of the length of LA, I dreamt of a fine future. I thanked her for allowing my mind flight. She does not waste our time on the past and things we cannot change. She does not draw us into argument nor debate. She sees me as whole, and lets me be. In her eyes, I see a picture of myself I recognize and can honor. Like this, she gives a gift of acceptance to me.
This morning I see her managing her beautiful little girls, two at two, as they are twins. God is a genius. He knew one alone would spill her love out. It would take two together to know her.

Behold

08/01/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

It is grey here.
We call it June gloom.
The mornings begin softly and under cover.
Those who come to vacation find it perhaps disappointing,
making their beach day somewhat foreshortened,
but I love these mornings that withdraw the obligation of a bold sun.
My patio is a gentle place for me to write this morning.
The air is cool and against a grey backdrop
all the flowers of this bit of nature I behold,
take this protected moment to call out with all the strength of their color.

Beauty

07/20/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

I look at a pine tree shimmering
Each needle dressed in light
And gently graced by a breeze.
It bows and dances and kisses the air
For me.
And this yellow oak made bright,
Each leaf turned open and upwards,
like hands lifted in praise of the sun.
They are breathing.
These leaves are breathing.

When I auditioned for the
Actors Studio in NY they had my scene
partner and I wait in the back courtyard of
the little theatre on west 44th street.
I stood in the center of the small concrete
space and there to one side was a yellow tree.
Until our names were called I stared into the tree.
I looked into the tree and shared its breath.
I grew so quiet and so still but something else
happened too.
I entered the realm of the miraculous
because I joined the miracle of the tree.
I became awe. I became beauty. I became
creativity because I entered grace.

I can still see my first moment of work there
as our scene began and it was everything
I was. The work was beautiful because I took
the miracle of the tree with me.

See something of beauty.
Look deeply.
Take it in and with you
that your day
may be graceful.

Forgiveness

06/17/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

It has taken half
Of my life
To understand
That everyone
Is doing
The best
They can.

If they could
Love better
They would.
They can’t
Is why
They don’t.

No one
Wants to
Love badly.
No one
Wants to
Get it wrong.

Failing
To know
Well,
That which
Makes reason
Of our humanity
Is a pain
Beyond measure.

If they could
Have loved
Better,
They would
Have

Forgiveness
Makes it
All right
For us all,
Limping along,
Reaching out
With no hands,
Into beautifully
Broken hearts

Love

04/15/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

The good thing about love is that
it doesn’t work backwards
What ever we have had before
we will have more the next time.
That is sure.
We will never again accept the
the truth we made of limitation.
A yearning to know more about
love strong enough to create separation
is a yearning that will be fulfilled

Love is reciprocal.
It is not just that we want love,
Love also wants us.
Reach for it.
It will reach back.

The Typing Test: Part 2

04/15/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

I walked out onto a wet Madison Avenue.

It was still raining. I was without an umbrella. I was so disturbed about my failed typing test that I didn’t care.
I walked without direction.
I knew the city but not well enough to be purposeful.

The rain splashed up onto the backs of my legs. My hose were getting ruined.
My feet hurt in my new pumps and I knew already that I would never wear them again.
I stopped at the first corner and looked at the backs of my calves. They were dotted with sooty spots. My hair was growing fuller and frizzier by the minute and my new suit was becoming darker with each drop.
I didn’t care.
I had been dreaming of this day for much of my life, and I honestly didn’t know if I would be capable of passing the test.
50 words a minute. Five mistakes. Five mistakes. 50 words a minute Five mistakes. I though of nothing else.

At the time, Conde Nast was housed in a grand brick building on Madison avenue between 44th and 45th streets. I wandered north and then west over to fifth avenue and then continued to Sixth.
I stumbled upon a La Fondue restaurant.
La fondu held a fond memory for me of a funny visit to Manhattan shared with my two dearest friends from Smith. Eda and Wendy and I had come into the city to run around for a day and we had lunch at La Fondue.
La fondu aptly serves fondu and fondu is served in little pots that have either very hot cheese in them or hot oil. The cheese is for the dipping of bread and the oil is for the cooking of meats.
The waitresses walk quickly through the narrow aisles saying hot oil, hot oil with heavy french accents and we found this unremarkable thing so funny. For months we mimicked them and cracked up as if we were actually amusing.
Hot oil, hot oil…..it was just one of those things that stuck.
I went in.
I had some French onion soup.
I thought of Wendy and Eda and tried to feel some sense of levity but I was numb with misery.
Ms Slavin had told me to come back when I was ready.
I was not yet ready. I felt terrible in fact.
I stumbled out and back over to Fifth avenue.
Having gone a bit north, I found myself facing St. Patrick’s cathedral.
In the movie version perhaps the music would change or maybe the rain would suddenly stop and the sun would break free .
Nothing dramatic happened. I was just desperate.
I climbed the wide grey steps of the cathedral.
I was not a catholic but you can bet I put my fingers in the holy water, I made the sign of the cross, I bowed before kneeling. I placed my lips over my clasped hands, and prayed. ” Dear God, please, please let me pass this typing test. Please let me do it right. I want to work at Conde Nast so badly. Please. I feel I have been good. I have worked so hard. I don’t want to work any where else. Just please let me pass this typing test.” Amen.

I walked back. By now I looked rather like a heavy metal singer.
My hair was outrageously undone, my hose were mottled and I didn’t care. I marched thought the revolving door, I went up to the 8th floor, I sat in the pristine white waiting room, and Ms Slavin came out.

“Are you ready", she queried.
I looked straight at her, “yes.”
“Yes I am", I said.
I sat down,
She handed me the copy and blessedly it was the same copy I’d had earlier.
I lifted my wrists, turned my head left to read and turning on the timer, she said, ” Begin".
52 words.
4 mistakes
She smiled.
I smiled.
I was invited back for an interview.

To be continued.

A Memoir: The Interview

04/15/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

I remember driving to my interview from Smith. I drove down alone in my little Audi Fox. My dad had given me the car in my sophomore year as a reward for getting good grades and because going to an all women’s college had made a social life difficult without a car.

It was pouring rain. I knew the 95 well but it still felt treacherous to be driving. I don’t think I had ever driven into Manhattan from school before and I was nervous. It was only mid March but I was interviewing for my first post college job early. I knew that I wouldn’t want to live at home for long before moving into the city so a job was an imperative.

I grew up loving fashion magazines.

I was obsessed with them.

I had to have Seventeen, Glamour, Mademoiselle and of course Vogue every month.

I was fiercely possessive over them. I never shared them with anyone and I read them privately and in silence.

I didn’t just read them, I studied them . I knew the names of every designer, all the photographers, and the models.

When I was at Smith there were only two things I wanted to do. I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to work at Vogue magazine.

My dad would have neither. Neither seemed good enough for him.

I studied medicine because he was a doctor and it was difficult and cost me a real experience of learning.

In my senior year I switched majors to french literature and before graduating decided that as I hadn’t been able to study acting, I could still perhaps work at Vogue.

And so I wrote to Conde Nast, the publishing company that hires for all their magazines. At the time they were, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Brides, GQ, House and Garden and I think, Gourmet.

I wrote and I was invited to come in for an interview.

I wore a bone colored suit with a little fitted jacket and a knee length skirt. With it, a short sleeved, nubby knitted crew neck little sweater and on my feet, spectator pumps. My curly hair was blown out smoothly and as it was raining I drove into the city with it twisted around my head tightly and covered with a stripped ski cap.

My plan was to brush out my hair at the last minute.

I do not remember arriving to the building or where I parked.

I do remember my interview with Ms. Sarah Slavin.

Ms. Slavin was a conservative brunette with a pretty face. It was challenging being interviewed by her as one of her eyes was either lazy or deformed and so I spent much of the interview wondering if she could tell that I was either looking into that eye, or not looking at it. I tried to look into both eyes normally. I wondered what was normal and whether or not one looks into both eyes at once . I tried to look from one eye to the other in a casual way. I finally decided to talk into her mouth and to listen there too and I wondered if she could tell.

I remember that she stood up and extended her hand and said, “Well, thank you, Shareen, lovely to meet you.” And I stopped for a second and thought, she is dismissing me. She is sending me away. And so I said, ” No, no, wait, I am going to work here. I am not going to leave here until I do work here. I have been offered jobs in the Bloomingdales buying program and the Macy’s buying program and I am going to turn them both down. I will sit out there in your waiting room unemployed for the next year if I have to but I am going to work here.”

Honestly, I do not know where I got that from or how I had that moxie but I was always outgoing and very confident and determined.. And she smiled at me. I can still see her. She smiled at me and said, ok, then, let me bring you back in for a typing test.

Conde Nast is a publishing company. At the time it was a tradition to take a typing test irrespective of which department you were to work in. It was required that you pass the typing test before moving forward with the interview process. One had to type 50 words a minute with only 5 mistakes.

Smith College does not have dorms. Rather it has houses in which you live for all four years. The houses house all four grades and you have singles or doubles depending on seniority. Everyone eats together in the “dining room” and there is a common living room and study room on the first floor.

For three weeks in April I was found in the study room typing. I had a basic typing instruction manual from which I read while typing on my IBM electric typewriter. At the time you only studied typing if you intended to be a secretary. It wasn’t like today when typing is a part of our every waking moment. And so I sat in the study practicing over and over and over.

THE TEST

I remember the tiny room in the personnel offices in which there was housed a simple metal table, an electric typewriter and a chair. I was seated there, a piece of copy was placed to my side, Ms. Slavin stood over me and I was timed for exactly 60 seconds. Ms Slavin circled each mistake in red. 8. I had failed.

I asked if I could take the test again and she permitted me. I took a deep breath.

It felt as if the keys were moving underneath my fingers. I lost control. 9. Failed.

I looked up at her blankly.

She asked if I could do better and I said, I know I can.

She suggested I go and take a walk, get some air and come back after lunch.

To be continued…

Published in Darling Magazine

03/22/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

Her Classic Plaids and Tweeds
Her’s are the first eyes into which we gaze. Her’s the first hair that enchants and the first necklace that entertains. She is the first model, the first fashion show, and our first icon. Some of us adopt our mother’s taste and some of us her manner, but all of us in some way can take from her a lesson in style.
My mother kept her cashmere sweaters in plastic bags, and her perfumed handkerchiefs ironed and folded into the top drawer of her dressing table. Her day clothing lived in a small tidy closet, shoes in boxes, jackets separated from dresses, skirts in a row.
By day she wore classics; slim skirts in plaids and tweeds, jewel necked twin sets and flats. By night she was all glamour, elegance and chic theatricality. The basement closets were reserved for her evening wear and they were her private costume house.
She would dress quietly and alone in her room. Sometimes I would peer in to see her sitting at her dressing table, an actress at half hour…taking out her pink rollers, brushing out her hair, applying her lipstick. Always a Revlon red.
My dad would round up the three of us into the car and pull down the driveway up to the base of the front walk and there the four of us would wait for Mom. From the middle of the back seat between my brother and baby sister I would sit, head turned to the left, eyes firmly fixed on the front door. Soon it would swing open, her long graceful arm would push out the screen and out she would step, 5’10, all legs, hair curled, red lipstick, painted nails and on this night in a cream pleated palazzo jumpsuit with gold and turquoise earrings, sandals and a simple gold bracelet high on her arm. Around her waist and dropping onto the pleats, a gold coin belt turning a queen (a proper English woman ) into an Egyptian dancer.
My dad would say, “Look at your mother. Isn’t she beautiful?” And we would all watch her round the front of the car, pull open the door and dip gracefully into the front seat. Glamour would become the air around us as it would fill with Chanel 5.
I see her too arriving to us many a Sunday morning before church and the entrance was always the same. The door sweeping open, her long legs reaching out over each long step of the walk, and now prim, she would be in a plum tweed Jaeger suit with a classic jacket and pencil skirt, always just past the knee, low heeled pumps, the small gold watch that always graced her wrist, and of course, her sunglasses.
If I wasn’t in the back seat waiting for show time, I was at the base of the staircase sitting in the blue chair to the left of the front door. I would hear her bedroom door open, my heart would tighten with anticipation and I would fix my eyes to the top step. She would round the stairwell and I can still see her hand reaching for the banister. I wouldn’t smile but instead with awe I would watch her like a movie star. Tonight gracing her long line, a slim black caftan trimmed with gold and bronze embroidery, slit up both sides revealing her legs, chandelier earrings, hair up and wrapped with a braid. The Queen of England had become the Queen of the Nile.
Over my head, just to the side of the door frame was a small mirror and often she would bend forward into it to make a final adjustment before stepping out. “Be good”, she would say on her way to meet my dad, always seated in the blue Cadillac at the bottom of the walk.
I do not own any of her clothing but I share her mixed heritage and a love for two sides of the world. We are the Queens of England and the Queens of the Nile. From her too, I took the value of quiet preparation and a grand entrance. These are the timeless pieces of womanhood I inherited.

Quilting

01/23/14 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

Life is so much quilting.

That was when I met that girl, and that was when I had that internship I hated.
And there is that guy who broke up with me, and then the loss of my grandmother.
And prom, and my first kiss, and there is that day I met my lifetime best friend.

And that is the dress I never really liked, which cost me that job, which made it possible for me to end up there, and that changed me forever. And there is the darkness of a winter, complicated and cold, the summer I risked to go to France, and there is that fall I learned how to dance.

And little did I know that because of that class, I would meet her, that woman who sent me to meet that man who healed my mind. And he helped me to be who I am, and showed me that it is safe to mix prints, and that I could take it all and put it together any way I wanted to become this me, beautiful and textured and fascinating and unique and a map for others to follow.

As a whole, it all makes sense, and I see now that the hard times are for those, that under this, the quilt of my life, may know warmth.