~with my memories, i’ve lit a fire~

October 7th, 2006

Tonight we went to The Moth story series at the NYPL. People, writers, some famous, some not, get up and tell stories grouped loosely by theme. This time everyone had been a guest at Yaddo, an artist’s residency in Saratoga Springs, and were there to dish the dirt. A few days earlier this week I was waitlisted by Yaddo—it was my first time applying. Given I don’t have a book published and submitted the first thirty pages I ever wrote to stand alone, that’s not bad. Next time perhaps they’ll say yes.
It’s one of many steps I’ve made lately toward taking my work seriously again, giving it as much or more importance as making money has come to have in my adult life.
In my twenties that was a given–creative time beat out money every time–but its hard to maintain that imbalance when you want a house, to travel, for things to be comfortable, whatever that means to you.

I walk to the library from union square and arrive early from teaching, happy to see the end of a rather exhausting day of technical trouble-shooting machines, the least favorite hitch of my accidental profession (excepting being cornered at parties and forced to discuss the relative merits of the latest software release.)

It is the first night that feels like autumn, a cool nearly cold breeze in the trees, so I decide to walk through Bryant Park, a kind of backyard of the NYPL. In 1863 this area was a site of the riots caused by the Colored Orphan Asylum burning down, and in 1884 it became a park named after abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. By the 1970s it had morphed into “Needle Park”, a favorite hangout of hookers and junkies.

As I stroll past a slumping sculpture of Gertrude Stein, I hear the voice of Edith Piaf through the trees. I discover a small lit carousel surrounded by café tables. It looks refurbished, but the cute young actor who sells me a ticket and then takes it again tells me it’s a new carrousel built in replica of the old styles. It’s called Le Carrousel.

The top is frosted and dotted with cherubs and butterflies, and there is a menagerie of animals to ride: a llamaish creature, a leaping frog, and horses of course. I choose the pale blue bunny with long pointed ears and slide into the saddle.

The light turns a magical twilight blue, the rows of round white lights that outline the ribs of the carousel reflect in the warbly mirrors and Edith sings: “Non, Rien De Rien, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

No, nothing. No, I regret nothing.
Neither the good done to me, nor the bad;
to me, they’re all the same.

No, nothing at all. No, I regret nothing.
It’s all paid for, swept away, forgotten;
I don’t care about the past.

With my memories, I’ve lit a fire.
My sorrows, my pleasures,
I need them no more.
Swept away are my loves
and all their tremors.
Swept away forever. I start from scratch.

No, nothing really. No, I have no regrets.
Because my life, because my joys, today, begin with you.

I imagine she is singing to herself, the Sparrow. I wonder about Lilly, why she could never make a break with her own past–the idea of herself as victim, outsider, uneducated, underprivileged–and just get on with her life. I wonder if I have that same issue. Maybe we all do, set store by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why.

When I visited Paris for the first time, for a film screening in October of 99, I visited the grave of Piaf at Père Lachaise cemetery. I came upon her while looking for Oscar Wilde, whose monument is huge and strangely austere, though littered with roses and whiskey and cigarettes. As it happened, it was the anniversary of her death, Oct 10th.

The heel of my shoe–the funky high heels I bought specifically to tour Paris in, along with thick old-fashioned stockings and garters which I discovered just poked out from the bottom of my skirt when I sat—the heel of those shoes broke at her grave site. It snapped and then kind of dangled from the sole. It was lunch-time and nothing was open, I would have to wait to mangle the language at the cobblers for an hour or more.

I hobbled around what is thus far my favorite cemetery of all time, and asked a stranger shoot some footage of me on my Super 8 camera while I stood under the arbor. Then I left and bought some epoxy glue.

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2 Responses to “~with my memories, i’ve lit a fire~”

  1. Iline Harrington says:

    Looking at you riding the Blue Bunny Express, it seemed as if you were departing land and leaping to the stars. You could use the ears for steering and navigation, flying easily aloft. We mortals swoon with delight and envy, watching the voyage.
    We speak of earning a living. If we were to mean those words literally, it would be one thing. Alas, typically we do not. What we mean is earning enough money to survive. Living is another, infinitely greater matter.

  2. Habib says:

    As if the children at the Colored Orphan Asylum didn’t have enough problems!

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