A Year and A Day

I have a love-hate with the iPhoto feature that shows only the photos from the Last 12 Months. Love is scrolling to the top for a visual wake-up call that reminds, “Look. See. You’ve come so far.” Hate is “Hold up, yo. Where’d last year go?”

Up until the turn of the year from oh-thirteen to oh-fourteen I could look at my Last 12 Months and still see my life in Missoula, even if it was just the tail end of a good, long run. Then, in the first few days of January I could no longer see my life in Missoula, but the images of my leaving of Missoula remained.

Friday marked the anniversary of the day I left, and was the last day these pictures were in the Last 12 Months folder.



Now, within a short span of time (short enough to be measured in hours) my life in Missoula has vanished from my iPhoto past year’s record. The oldest photos right now are of me saying goodbye to my friend Sam, in Jackson, and then there are photos from the road, followed by the ones of my car with an elk splattered on the windshield and hood. Some things are better forgotten, except they’re not because then we’d also lose the lessons and what a shame it would be to lose the opportunity to learn. 

And so it goes as a year peels away. What’s here today is tomorrow a year and a day away. 

January 3rd also marks the anniversary of both a departure and a fresh start for my dear Missoula friend, Mikey Heinbach. As it turns out that was the day after he lost his job and the day he decided to get sober. Not everyone does a bang-up job the first time around, but Mikey’s a real success story. You can read his store HERE, and I’d encourage it if you need a story of faith today or any day. 

Beneath Mikey’s you can also see the incredible support and comments from his friends and supporters, many of them in Missoula. And then, if you still don’t know, you can ask me why it was hard to leave a place I love, a place that gives great hugs. Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing, but Missoula really is a city that has human characteristics, its hug giving just one of them.

At times the hug of a close-knit town can feel like a net that says “Don’t worry we’re not going to let you fall. Trust us.” But it can also feel a bit like a noose. It’s a real yin-yang type of place, that Missoula, with a duality that’s deep-rooted.

There’s so much space in Montana, but sometimes it felt, to me, like there wasn’t enough to bounce off of. Living now in The City affords me more to bounce off of than any person could ever need in her entire lifetime, but here something else is lacking. Here you have to stay alert, pay attention. A person can’t just space out and go for a walk, and today I’d give just about any-any-anything to be able to hike up my beloved Waterworks Hill. I look this picture five (gasp!) years ago, on New Year’s Eve 2008. (The reason there’s nobody on the trail is because it was quite a few degrees below zero.)


When I first lived in Missoula there was a billboard-sized peace sign on top of the hill, and because i lived underneath it I used it to navigate my way home.

The thing is: I loved my life in Missoula and the people I met there are hands down the best I’ve met anywhere ever. If I ever live somewhere again and have friends half as good I’ll consider myself blessed. But despite that, when i was there I often wanted to go where nobody knew my name. I craved anonymity in a fierce way. When I left it felt like I was breaking up with the town I loved, not because of lack of love, but because we just weren’t as right for each other as we’d once been.

There were times I thought maybe we just needed to restructure our relationship. Or maybe we needed better boundaries. Or maybe just a little space, because no one person (place) can be everything to another. Then i realized maybe it wasn’t Missoula; maybe it was me. Maybe it was me in Missoula. 

We parted on good terms. I changed my driver’s license and plates, but still have a bank account and a storage unit there. It chokes me up in a weird way to think about giving up those things, but that could be because I’m currently in a lengthy limbo, which my friend Emily gently reminds me is not a destination. My Missoula roots are timeless, but like most breakups that don’t end with a circle reconciliation: I’ve (kinda) moved on. I’m not even in a committed relationship with another place, but still: I’ve moved on.

{But what I wouldn’t give to be there for an hour or two on a Sunday morning…..}

I first moved to Missoula as a twenty-six year old divorcée, which was not exactly how I’d pictured it. I was young enough to reclaim my twenties (I couldn’t have picked a better place for that task!), but too young to realize that my favorite parts of my life would be the ones that missed the mark and went off the grid.

I love planning, but as it turns out the best stuff is what happens in between everything you’ve planned, in the accidental gaps where there’s just enough space for a little magic to happen. And where does this magic happen: in the places where we pause and breathe. If anyone—even the world’s best psychic or astrologer—had suggested that I’d be living in NYC (under one roof!) with my mother and grandmother I’d have suggested that person throw in the towel on clairvoyance and sign up for some vocational school classes ASAP. I wouldn’t even have explained it like crazy, I’d just have simply said, “There’s no way that would work.”

Now, the situation here is far from perfect, so far that it’s at the top of the list of most frustrating scenarios I’ve ever been involved with. The end is only occasionally in sight, and it’s a squirrely little thing that moves toward and away as it fancies. Some days are better than others, but the fact that we get along enough that no blood’s been shed is nothing short of a miracle.

I’d have bet good money against us, and I’m 33.333% of us.


I lost my footing on Friday, and not just because of Winter Storm Hercules that dumped a lot of snow on a city that has nowhere to put it. Highways shutdown and airports closed—lives were affected in big ways. Lives were lost. At least sixteen people died as a result of Hercules, including a woman with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from her house. I just kind of lost my mind.

It was 100% unsafe for my grandmother to go out, yet Mimi gets antsy when she’s trapped inside the house so we were stuck with a lose-lose situation. When Mimi’s restless she asks more of the same questions with greater frequency. Her general confusion is heightened and her tears more frequent. Her anxiety skyrockets and you can’t be a part of our household and not be affected.

To have all three of us confined in the house on a snow day under the best of circumstances could be dicey, but a few other issues left me on the brink of implosion so I took one for the team and headed for the streets. Many sections of the sidewalks were unshoveled or only partially cleared because I’m not kidding when I say this city has nowhere to put the snow, and more than a couple inches cripples the place. I think we got around eight.

Despite the single digit temps and frigid wind, I doubled-down on my down, wore a thick hat, two pairs of gloves and a scarf that I wrapped around my face. I figured tears frozen to my face would only complicate my situation. I didn’t think about where I was going, I just went, and this was probably a good thing since I wasn’t exactly in an optimal position for decision-making. Somehow, instead of going to a neighborhood that I like, I went to a place called Jackson Heights.

A few weeks ago I went to Jackson Heights to meet someone who might’ve helped me navigate my healthcare options, but it was a frustrating bust and I hated almost everything about that day including the crux moment when I decided to walk home instead of getting on the subway. In the process of walking home from Jackson Heights I discovered what it felt like to be in a real-life version of Epcot where several ethnicities are represented on every single block. On many of those blocks I didn’t see another white person. I didn’t hear English.

NYC men aren’t known for their restraint, but in Jackson Heights they get right up in your face to call you precioso or caliente. The women are pushy too. One woman touched my eyebrows and attempted to drag me into a hole-in-the-wall salon for what I could only imagine (based on the dragger’s permanently surprised face) would have been a complete violation of my eyebrows. When I dug my heels in and used the sharpness of an affected Spanish accent to make my “No!” sound more serious, she effectively questioned my decision by raising one of her penciled eyebrows at me.

I said “no gracias” to a manicure when another over-coiffed women made it clear without words that I was either blind or stupid not to do something about my naked nubs, and although her price fell with every curt “no,” eventually our eyes locked in a moment of understanding and she let me go. For the rest of the walk home I kept my pace determined and my eyes locked and loaded.

That’s the thing about international travel, or a day in Jackson Heights, or communicating with animals: so much is said through gestures. It’s what’s critically missing in email, texting, and virtual communication, and why we need to take extra care with those modes.

Actions can be louder than words and words can be louder than actions and sometimes we’re wrong. And as much as my mother might disagree, I love to be wrong. I love to have my beliefs flipped inside out. I’m tickled to discover a new way of looking at something.

I’m living in Sunnyside, which this New York magazine article lists as reason #11 to love NYC because it has cuisines from twenty-seven countries and five continents within a seven-block stretch of Queens Boulevard.  It’s remarkable. While I may not be living in a bubble over here, Jackson Heights offers a completely elevated level of multicultural. I struggled to get a cup of coffee (despite knowing enough Spanish to do so), and even though I said no to azucar when asked how many I got enough in my cup to make my eyeballs twitch.

After my first trip to Jackson Heights I swore thought I’d never go back. It happened to be a rainy day, and by the time I got home my cotton pants had absorbed water nearly to the knee. They’d grown so heavy that I had to keep one hand on them to keep them from falling right off, so with one hand on my waistband and one on my umbrella I was quite a sight hobbling through Jackson Heights, though nobody noticed. It’s the kind of place where you can sing out loud and half walk-half dance as if you’re a backup dancer or in a Prancersize exercise video and nobody notices. They’re certainly not going to notice if you’re gimping your way down the street.

I wrung my pants out in the bathroom sink when I got home, and the water that filled it was nearly black. NYC’s streets are filthy—this is not a secret—but I think there’s extra soot and grim in Jackson Heights where the trains run overhead on an elevated track that’s open, like a roller coaster, to the ground below. Residue from the trains (including but not limited to steel dust from the tracks and asbestos particles from brake linings) falls to street level where we wear, breath and probably eat it.

So, yes the “real” Epcot even has its version of a monorail except the whole thing is far more exhilarating. At first it’s scary when a train flies by because you can’t hear the voice of a person standing a foot in front of you or the music blasting out of your earbuds. It’s hard not to imagine that at some point the track’s going to fall from the sky, but like all of the sensory onslaughts that NYC offers: you get used to it.Image

After that day I considered a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about how anyone craving an international vacation—but lacking time or cash—could just take a trip to Jackson Heights. When ready to repatriate to the United Stated, explorers could travel via Woodside (which was originally an Irish neighborhood, and still resembles Ireland in places) into Sunnyside, which after Queens’ 2-legit-2-quit Epcot, feels like a quaint, serene New England village.


 That night, under my covers and hiding from the world, I was positive that I’d never go back. But despite the fact that I’ve done considerable research in this department, I never cease to be amazed by the power of a perspective change, and yesterday that’s exactly what I needed. I needed to step outside my comfort zone in order to step back into myself. I could’ve gone anywhere, but I chose my nemesis.

I could’ve walked in the direction of my yoga studio in Astoria, or to the shops and restaurants in Hunter’s Point, which are right up my alley. I could’ve walked myself right across the 59th Street Bridge to Manhattan, or down to the East River for a view of Manhattan. (This was taken in September, but the view is good any time of day or night.)


But I wasn’t looking for up my alley, and I wasn’t looking for my comfort zone. I needed an experience that would transport me out of myself for a while, and so I chose the place that almost undid me a couple of weeks earlier. I wanted to see if I might find something different there, which was of course to find something different within. I questioned my questionable judgment, but figured that the worst that could happen was that it was a flop and I’d move on the Plan B, C, D etc.

The first thing that happened—before I was even out of my neighborhood—was that I started to laugh. It’s well founded that moving the body is important for mental health, and something I’ve known about myself since I discovered track in seventh grade. I wrote about it during the dark ages of September 2012 when I ran despite unhealthy air quality in Missoula as a result of forest fires.

As I walked into “Epcot”  I turned off my music, and I found that listening to the multitude of languages allowed me a mental vacation. Instead of focusing on my interior dialogue, I heard the unfamiliar words but focused on nothing in particular. I quieted. I found the pause. My laugh turned from a nervous response over entering into the unknown into a genuine chuckle. Just to play it safe, I kept walking.

All in all, I probably walked close to two hundred blocks on Friday, yet I could’ve walked a hundred more. The unfamiliar parts of the world—even the ones that are close by— ignite my curiosity and sense of discovery, and allow me to recharge and restore.

Or maybe it doesn’t so much matter where I walked, what I heard, or what I saw. Maybe I was ripe for a perspective shift, and the physical movement and change of scenery enabled me to tap into what was already inside me.

Just because time is trimming the past off my Last 12 Months photo folder doesn’t mean it’s gone. Not even close. Those pictures are like shadows. They’re there, they just don’t exist without the light.

Here’s a picture of me and Lucky in shadows almost a year ago on a rural road in New Mexico, and then another of us yesterday reflected again the side of a grocery store.



Here are a few more photos of some of the sights of Jackson Heights: 1) An Indian fabric store; location Noted, 2) Kababs and phone cards: one stop shopping, 3) I don’t think so….., 4) Discoteca, 5) Where to buy those white shoes from “Vacation,” 6) The mannequin has dance moves, 7) These kids are ready to party too…, 8) A few “everything stores,” 9) Pink Horse, 10) Hitting Lucid on the way home; lucid is one of my favorite words….What a perfect reintegration station.













Nothing to Hide (A Magic Show)

I’m not sure who else leaves a magic show willing to marry a guy who doesn’t know her name and who’s just played mind tricks on her for an hour, but that’s what happened to me yesterday. My affections leaned toward Helder, the smaller guy from Portugal, although Derek was more overtly funny. Maybe it was Helder’s red glasses or his incredible, expressive face or the way, when he was handing out cards for audience participation (though he wasn’t offering to me), and I said, “I want one,” he winked and said two magical words that everyone loves to hear: of course.

Yes, my heart went aflutter over their sleight-of-hand manipulations, illusions and the way they seamlessly wove comedy into the magic show without being too phony, precious or contrived. I liked how Helder and Derek’s rags-to-riches stories—two stories that became one—are incorporated right into the show, and how that’s exactly their point: life is really just series of happenstance. Everything we do and everyone we see, every yes and every no somehow lead us all to this. To right here, right now.

I went to the show with my boarding school friends, Melissa and Vanessa, and it was my idea but I didn’t feel too much pressure because I was backed by a great review from The New York Times. The review’s titled, “Playing With a Full Deck, and Your Head” and although a person can’t believe everything she reads in The Times, I consider it one of the more reliable news sources. (Reliable is sometimes what you want to hear.)

But The Times didn’t lie, and “Nothing to Hide” absolutely plays with your head. I mean….if you let it, but not everyone does, not everyone can, not everyone wants to. Director Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D. for those of you racking your brains) says, “There seem to be two ways to watch live magic performances: Either you try to figure out the method and must know how it’s done, or you simply enjoy it for what it’s worth and give in to the mystery of it all.” (from Playbill.)

I can be gullible, but I don’t consider mysef a total pushover. I challenge rules and protocol and depending on the day I question a lot of what I see, but when an experience makes me feel something all bets are off. Between the  laughs, gasps, and smirks, “Nothing to Hide” made me feel things.

Vanessa and I hooted and laughed our asses off, while Melissa kept a keen eye on the scene. She saw “sleeve magic” and wrists and fingers that seemed to have extra joints and reachability, and while she thought it was cool enough, she wasn’t wowed though I think she appreciated it for what it is: a show.

Any way you slice it: I loved that magic show. I shook hands with and thanked the performers in the post-show receiving line, then walked away but went back to have my card signed, then back a-gain, with Vanessa, for a picture.


There’s a humility and gentleness to “Nothing to Hide.” Derek and Helder talk about how unusual it is in the days of IMAX, iPad, special effects and constant stimulation to even conceive of getting a group of people to spend both their money and time being tricked by two guys on a stage with a few decks of cards. But is it that we’re tricked or that we’re transported, because who can’t use a little escape from reality? The value of an hour-long, midtown vacation is greater in a time when it’s so easy to Google, “How did he do that?” and more often than not to be rewarded with a YouTube video showing exactly how the deal/trick/deception goes down.

Helder and Derek capitalize on our (human) shortcomings in their performance. They ask us, “Is this enough?” and even as they give us more and more proof we’re questioning not only what we’re seeing (or not seeing), but also why enough is never enough. They rile us up so that we’re shouting “No!” even as they’re doing everything they can to build our trust. The joke’s on us. Enough is never enough, even, as Derek said, “When your mind’s been blown out your ass.”

And then we laugh. Or most of us do…

The New York Times review starts with the author looking at the card he got during the show and kept as a memento—in his case, the five of hearts. As I reread the review this morning I had to run to my purse and pull out my playbill to confirm the name of the card stuck inside: the five of hearts.


The five of hearts in the review and in my purse is obviously not part of Helder and Derek’s magic schtick, though the show was full of coincidences just like this. The kinds of things that make a person wonder, “What are the chances?” The kind of things that make you wonder, and isn’t that what the modern world lacks: Wonder, that beautiful marriage of admiration and surprise.

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” –Ray Bradbury

Despite the fact that half the audience is shaking their heads and looking for the deception in every trick, Derek reminds us that we go to magic shows to remember that we “live in a world beyond what we know.” His goal as a magician is that his performances encourage people to “ask themselves deeper questions,” and I’d say he can consider himself a success.

The routine examines issues like how altered context influences meaning, and how preconception changes experiences even as they continue to evolve. Sometimes, as in this show, it’s hard to keep up with the shifts and changes. One minute you know something you didn’t know but if you’d known it then you wouldn’t have thought what you did but now you do….so.

A friend of mine was married to—and subsequently divorced from—a man who grew up in a funhouse. It was the kind of place that promises visitors the opportunity to experience an alternate energy field, distorted perceptions, and the peculiar behavior of gravity. This House of Mystery sounds like a fun place to pass an hour, but live there? Yeah, my friend hadn’t though about what it would be like to be married to a guy who grew up with distorted perceptions, wobbly floors and daily anomalies as his norm.

Distorted perceptions. It feels both judgey and assuming to even say it, because it implies “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I think it’s bad-mannered for one person to tell another that what he sees isn’t what he sees, and even more to presume you know how another person feels. But in a world riddled with airbrushing, lip-synching and Ponzi-scheming we’re just not sure who or what to trust even (or especially) when we see it with out own eyes. Ever have a bad dream that sticks with you all day?

In a lot of cases we’ve forgotten how to trust our guts, and we don’t even know how to really trust ourselves. My world these days has been complicated, but I’m pretty solid on trusting myself. I might even say that’s one of my skills, though it took a good girlfriend to point it out to me a few years ago, “Jaime Stathis knows how to take care of herself,” she said right to Jaime Stathis. It was funny, but it also made me think and feel.

I think that trusting yourself and taking care of yourself are dependent on each other, but if a person only has one half of the equation that’s okay. Stick with it and the other will come. I’m in this spot in life where I’m doing what I need to because I want to but also because I have to. There’s need, want and have all in one sentence, except that makes it seem much tidier than it is.

Walking away is always a choice, but it’s not one that’s on my menu. On the other hand, trust in each present moment is the daily special and what will undoubtedly get us through this. The other things that will get us through are love and support, both of/with each other and from the outside. I could’ve done without the family hate mail of the last week, but I’m here to tell the truth not to win people over. You either see things through a similar lens or you’re looking through the big end of the telescope. I’m not invested in making anyone see my point of view, and it’s not for lack of caring it’s just that my fryer is full of different fish.

The Village Voice write-up of Nothing to Hide says that, “They want to make magic that means something—magic that, like art or poetry, relates to the real world.” So simple, so complicated, and what most creative people want. My writing is real; it’s not magic and it’s not even close. There’s no trickery and nothing fancy. In fact, I try to lay it out as simply as possible. I’m not trying to deceive, I just describe my experiences in detail.

One part of my family doesn’t like my truth-telling, and I received a blunt suggestion to write about happy times with my grandmother, which I’ve done plenty of, but in the process of caring for her I’ve learned some things that indicate she wasn’t as happy as she let on. In a sense: she tricked us. I know it stings, but it’s important to remember that her tricks weren’t nefarious—they were simply about self-preservation. I can only imagine how exhausting it was to expend so much energy making people believe she was happy and carefree, while at night she drew on her bedsheets and tucked garbage into closets.

She’s old and I think it’s time she get some respite from the exhausting job of pretending, and with me does. She cries, tells me she’s mixed up, and then she asks me not to tell anyone. In a way I’m going against her confidence, but I know she’s not suffering further by my telling of the truth. I think if she could wrap her head around it she’d be happy that I’m trying to alleviate suffering for others by writing about the too-common struggle of being afraid to show the world yourself unmasked.

A few years ago I saw a therapist who said that none of us should feel we have to “explain ourselves like crazy.” It took me awhile to get it, and in some cases I’m still a work-in-progress. I’m not here doing magic for the 50% of my audience that thinks I’m selfish or a jerk or a liar. I’m not here to make friends, or win over relatives or convince nonbelievers of anything: I’m just here to tell the truth as I see it. I’m not going to try to explain myself to a cousin who said, “Don’t bother answering me. I don’t care what you think.” {insert door slamming sound}

I don’t know exactly how many people from that section of my family are angry about what I’ve written, but I understand that they’re more comfortable when others see things from their perspective and that they believe there’s safety in numbers.

Names were named, “What does so-and-so think?” at the time of the interrogation, but my mother and I didn’t have those answers. Some of the people who thought I was “wrong” kept it to themselves, and some who believe in me hadn’t gotten around to telling me. I wasn’t keeping score like this is game of tic-tac-toe.

This is so not about a score; it’s about being human. One way to feel completely human is to laugh and connect, and after a day of laughs and tricks with old girlfriends I came home to a package from someone I think of as an uncle although he’s Mimi’s cousin. Jimmy’s son Michael was close like a son to my grandfather, but he died in 9/11 in his civilian clothes after he boarded Engine 33 at his East Village firehouse although he was off-duty.

Jimmy and I’ve become closer in the past few years, and although he has a big family of his own, he always finds the time to send me notes of encouragement and care packages with books, hats, candy and scratch-off tickets. My family is big on scratch-offs. In the early days of my blog he wrote to me almost every time I posted to support me and cheer me on. After I eulogized my grandfather Jimmy’s wife Barbara grabbed me in the church vestibule and told me that I’m “Our family’s version of Anne Lamott.” She she said it as if this was a good thing and not something to be afraid of, and it was absolutely one of the best writing compliments I’ve ever received.

Jimmy’s package contained a beautiful note where he said how much he loves his cousin (Mimi) and how my blog post was “one of the most loving and moving pieces of literature” he’s ever read. {These are generous folks…} He also enclosed a book by Maureen Corrigan “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books.” Jimmy knows this is a book I’d love, but it also happens that the author lived in the same building where Jimmy was raised which is exactly two blocks from where I sit now.

But Jimmy’s P.S. was the best: 

I knew Frank McCourt before he wrote Angela’s Ashes and he got some reaction from his family— don’t let it upset you.

Thanks, Jimmy. Case closed. Tonight I’m going to lose myself in a book. And maybe a little magic.