City Girl, City Brain

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Checker Cab

There’s a freaked-out, big-eyed child sitting in the back of a cavernous Checker cab, thinking she’s going to be left with nothing.

                                                                                                                                                       
Nowadays, the New York City Checker taxicab is a novelty and movie prop.  But when I was a little girl, Manhattan was filled with them up and down every avenue.  I had just moved to New York with my family from Iran, and I was nine.

I had expected everything to be big in America.  Big cars, tall buildings, tall people, big spenders.  My cells were already those of a city girl, so I didn’t experience huge culture shock.  I was from Teheran, a smoggy, cosmopolitan capital, and by then I’d visited an assortment of European cities.  It made sense to me that we were settling in a place considered by much of the world’s population as the greatest of all cities.  Also, as a child, I was on a permanent groovy trip – better known as a sense of wonder – so every day already had an element of magic without having to be new or New York.

In some ways, my heart was in Rome, because my father’s heart was in Rome, and I was a girl who worshipped her kind, worldly dad.  When he brought us to Italy, I understood why his amber eyes shone whenever he spoke of the part of his youth spent there.  Rome had Piazza Di Spagna with those timeless steps perched with bohemians and their guitars.  Rome had Fontana Di Trevi, a cascading water and marble sculpture straight out of dreamscapes.  It lit up at night with statues of oceanic gods whose heads you could climb to reside over the aquatic world.

Rome had vast, open Piazza Navona where my father would hand gelato cones to me and my little brother.  My non-negotioable flavors were banana, nocello and stracciatella, and those delightful Roman gelaterias imposed no caps on scoops.  Nor did our parents limit ice-creams per day while we were on vacation, because at home, we all ate a lot of salad.  In fact, if my family were a nation, our national food would be a giant, leafy salad with lemon juice and olive oil.  We deserved this unlimited gelato indulgence.

So in Rome, my brother and I were two sets of walking eyes behind towering ice-cream skyscrapers.  Every day, the four of us spent noon to midnight walking over cobblestone through narrow alleys opening into piazzas, and we never tired of it.

Rome either works for you or it doesn’t, but if does, it becomes part of your blood and you’ll always return.

When we moved to New York, and before we found our apartment, we stayed in a hotel on 26th street and Madison.  We walked all over Manhattan just as we had in Rome, but we also took Checker cabs.  Sitting in the back of those cartoonish vehicles gave birth to a special neurosis in little me that I thankfully outgrew that same year.

It was the clacking analog meter.

Every few seconds, it dropped another number, another dime, with an ominous CLUNK that made me witless with anxiety.  The more streets we covered, the more clunking I was subjected to, and the more grew my panic.

The number keeps adding up!  Clunk…clunk…clunk.

My breathing would quicken, my eyes would widen and my little brother would stare at me uncomprehendingly.  My father did his best to assure me that the meter wasn’t some out-of-control, sentient mechanical monster who fed on dimes and was intent on making him bankrupt, and all of us, destitute on the streets of New York.

Meter

Flash to now, when my mind has become a clacking meter.  Ideas drop endlessly into my skull, and with it, the panic that I will lose them all.  The very same creative notions flying at me like sharp objects have made it problematic to execute any.  I’ve called this process the crazy tree and the crazy carousel, but most fraying to my nerves has been the crazy meter.

My own brain, which for years refused to believe attention deficit was real, has turned on me to mercilessly rub dysfunction in my face.

It’s often physical motion that’s vital to my psyche.  Driving, hiking, snowboarding.   Passing by things cleanses my brain’s pathways.  In the same way, speeding or inching along the arteries of a city repopulates my mind.  In dreams too, I’m in constant motion, gliding by land and cityscapes.  My affinity for asphalt and roads, walking on them, skating through them, flying over them, zipping by them on a motorcycle, has been lifelong.

When my brain revolts against itself, in between all the whirring and clacking, there’s a freaked-out, big-eyed child sitting in the back of a cavernous Checker cab, thinking she’s going to be left with nothing because there are too many things firing off at once.

Luckily, she doesn’t have a day job.

After all, who has time for a job when writing a book, in pre-production for a short film, auditioning, learning the guitar, managing a blog, insisting on an active social life and arbitrarily overcome with the urge to write a song?

Balls.  I’m a freaking dilettante!

An unpleasant thought, which, as always, meant it was time for an outing to reset the brain, to get out of it and into the world.  You’re not a dilettante.  You’re…scattered.  Just gather yourself.

“Just.”  As if it’s simple.  In the meantime, I did go on an outing.

I got on the back of a motorcycle and there it occurred to me, I really need a bike of my own at this point.  The vision of motorcycle chrome meandered its way to thoughts of my newly acquired electric guitar, which in turn, caused me panic again:

BALLS!  I’m not merely a dilettante; I’m a dilettante in the midst of a midlife crisis!

My present on my midlife birthday

A gift on my midlife birthday

Of course, I only panicked for a minute because since I’d never actually grown up, I couldn’t be experiencing midlife.  In fact, there is very little difference between now and when I was nine and my mother sat me down with crayons and crafts.

Somehow, the body of an adult took over me even though I wasn’t done with creative activities and the groovy trip.  Certainly, adulthood invaded me when I wasn’t ready at all for responsibility.

I wasn’t done with somebody else being in charge of whisking me and my little brother to Rome.  In charge of my passport.  My luggage.  My plane ticket.  I wasn’t done with somebody else being in charge of me, and I wonder if I haven’t been protesting ever since.

How dare they force me to grow up?  Not even I can reign me in…

I forgive my brain for all its clacking, because without it, today I wouldn’t have revisited Rome and Checker cabs.

Recently, when someone told me to “stop dwelling in the past,” I chuckled.  He seemed naïve to me to deny that the past makes up the present.  I prefer Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez’s view on the past:

Nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.

Fontana di Trevi

Things pass, just as when one speeds by on a road.  I left Iran for New York, my brother and I became adults, our parents divorced, I moved to Los Angeles, and I began dyeing the white in my hair.  Shane and Steve died…

But gelato in Italy with my parents won’t unhappen.  Laughing at Shane paddle down a creek in Ireland in a plastic trough won’t unhappen.  Doing the Hustle with Steve at 3 a.m. in his West Hollywood apartment won’t unhappen.  The boy I called a superhero when he carried me in his arms while racing down a mountain on his snowboard won’t unhappen.

The truth is, I am in midlife.  I’m unemployed and still pursuing the dreams of a bright-eyed kid.  My family is not rich and I live off of pizza.  I go out of my way to nurture friendships with the majority of people who played a role in my past because they have a hand in who I am in the present.

I sat across one such person last week, a man I hadn’t seen for over twenty years, and had met perhaps three times in total.  He was now in his forties and father to two small girls.  In a café, he asked about my life and I told him.

“I’m in midlife, I’m unemployed, and I’m broke.”

“But I’ve only ever done exactly what I want,” I added.

“How?”  He asked.

“Well, I never settled.  If I have one thing only, it’s a strong sense of self.”

Again he asked, “How?”

“My father,” I said pointedly, thinking of my friend’s two little daughters.  “No single factor contributed to my confidence more than my relationship with him.”

Everything passes, but nothing unhappens.  Meanwhile, every unfinished story has the potential of being realized how one wants, given the right amount of self-esteem.

Last week, I embarked on a poetry duet.  My partner’s verses were about the deserted alleys and forsaken people of a city; mine were about repopulating the deserted paths and forsaken edifices of the brain.

After all, a city girl has a city brain.
 

Cathartic Monkeyism

  • Most of the time, you get to write your story however you want.

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53 comments

  1. Jana · · Reply

    Fathers and their daughter’s self-esteem (or lack of) — I think the two are inexorably intertwined. I congratulate you and envy you for never settling and doing what you wanted throughout life. I did not — and I regret it — but one cannot change the past, only the future. I hope the next chapter of my life is different!

    1. It is fascinating, fathers and daughters.

      I usually say regret is pointless, but if it changes the future, then maybe not.

    2. Dangit, I was gonna go with that, but you got it in there first 😀

  2. You ARE an inspiration…and may very well inspire me to write again.

    1. Well, hurry already! You are missed. (I miss you.)

      1. GG, I posted…feels a bit off though, like I took a long time to say something and yet it still wasn’t what I wanted to say…whatevs

      2. Reading it now with my morning coffee…

  3. Paul · · Reply

    So much here GG. Every time a read a post of yours, the reality and density of the material always astonishes me yet again – as if I ate pizza and hamburgers daily and then sat down to a $500 six course meal at Trois Mec in Hollywood.

    Well, where to start? I could write a book (in fact many have been written) about how your words impact me – unfortunately (ha! or fortunately) I have to keep it down to readable volume. 😀 Love the phrase: “…repopulates my mind.” Awesome and it feels exactly like that too. Socrates theorized that all knowledge was already known by everyone and only had to be uncovered, not learned. In other words, observing the world is “repopulating” – emphasis on “re-“.

    The whole concept of the past being fixed and a future full of possibilities is a way of putting quantum mechanics into prose. All exists as probabilty only until it is actualized. Then the probabilty rises to 100% and remains there forever – no one can change your memories. You can depend on them. And some studies appear to suggest that we, as mortal humans, can actually direct how quantum particles move based on our “will”. Which, in the macro world, translates into: we create our world by our choices. We are the mechanism by which probablilities are converted into reality. And once we do that those choices cannot be undone – they can often be re-done but not undone. We are in fact creating eternity with our actions.

    And then we get to the discussion of fate vs choice. An ongoing discussion that has consumed Mankind for as long as we have existed. As yet unanswered. As you are aware I am of the opinion that this question is unanswerable. And the reason why is that both are true at different times (often not of our choosing) and that the truth lies, as it says in the Talmud, with a higher “umbrella” concpet under which both fate amd choice co-exist in harmony. You have put this so in my face with this post GG. As a young girl, a lot of your opportunity to observe and interact with the world was at the behset of your parents (or your Dad). They made the choices that determoned what you experienced in your early life – Rome, New York, Iran, etc. (as well as placing you within a context in each of those places and often determining your approach and attitude to your experiences). “Fate” pre-determination, whatever word you like – they set you up and made a lot of your initial choices that lead to your memories. Without them, you would have no context with which to view the world and they “created ” you, literally and figuratively Then as you grew, you gradually began setting that stage yourself by making your own choices. “Choice.” The knife edge over which the future flows to become the past. So GG is a perfect combination of fate and choice – and she is creating herself for eternity as she changes probability into reality.

    Anyway, that’s just the start of what your post said to me GG. Whew. Awesome writing. I’m not sure what you’re doing but your work gets better and better with every post. Hope all is well with you and thanks for repopulating my brain. Ha! 😛

    1. Surely you know I cherish your “books” of comments… You think everything out and delve deep, which makes the blogging experience interactive and multi-faceted. Then you share fascinating bits about yourself and your life, which you can eventually gather and make into a cohesive whole.

      I’m going to have to look up Trois Mec now. Better yet, find my way there. You know, for research, repopulation of the pathways…

  4. See Gigi, even here the Italian sounds better, and this, THIS is beautiful. Makes me want to go to Rome, right now, and understand why your father’s eyes sparkled when he talked of it.

    As to the crazy meter, you seem to be finding ways to manage it, which is fine, but it would be much, much worse if it wasn’t there, no matter how fraying you find it. It is nothing if not some form of motivation, and when you write like this, I can only be grateful.

    I love the idea that things can’t unhappen, and that all of those good, unhappenable things make up the lighter, bright points of our memories.

    As to midlife, pffft sure you’re only 17 🙂 Always keep the wonder.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more — crazy meter is eternally better than no meter. É certo, mia bella amica.

      1. Muy bueno (and that’s the extent of *that*, too)

      2. Yes, except my Spanish is worse than my math. So let’s just say “molto bene” instead.

      3. Now math I love, but cannot do. I have the Fibonacci sequence tattooed over my spine, and I have a fascination for all things math-in-nature related, especially if it can be linked to the Golden Ratio or spirals or the intricate, perfect beauty of the way so many things reflect one another throughout creation…but only the other week I couldn’t do 4 x 9…even when I used my fingers.

      4. You do not! Picture, or it didn’t happen, as I believe Twindaddy above likes to say.

      5. I do too! had it in January…get thy arse to FB

      6. Oh you’re gonna make me work for it?!

      7. I linked you in messages – ONE CLICK honey, how hard can it really be? (yes that was intentional)

      8. Listen, you, not everyone has your social media superpower where they could be on ten platforms at the same time, talking to thirty-five people simultaneously…

      9. Clearly not, ma’am *curls lip*

        There *saccharine smile* better?

      10. (Ten additional Awesome Points if you know why the typeface…)

      11. An old, old typeface, and not the Da Vinci font. That’s gotta be good for 5 pts. I would say Palatino, but it doesn’t look like it.

      12. nil points.

        Ah well. I shall tell you, and you might remember – I would be surprised if you and I haven’t had this conversation yet – it’s Times New Roman – the font I dream in…

      13. Truthfully, it didn’t look like Times New Roman. And we shall have to revisit the conversation if we’ve already had it.

      14. That’s because it’s in numerals, but I designed it, so it definitely is. 14pt (or thereabouts – should be 12pt by rights, but never mind).

        When I am dropping off to sleep sometimes I find myself dream-reading, and the closer I get to sleep, the more bizarre the spellings of the words become, but they still make perfect sense to me within the context of the passage, so I know I’m falling asleep. And it’s always the page of a book, and always Times New Roman.

        I discovered this week that this phenomenon is called the ‘Tetris Effect’, and I am considering writing a post on it.

      15. That’s truly fascinating and I would love to read a post on it written by you. Assume no previous knowledge, I’ve never heard of the ‘Tetris Effect.’

      16. Nor had I until I discovered it quite by accident this week, after reading a piece on Wikipedia about hallucinations. I will write. At some point 🙂

        (given WP though, you’d think my font would change to icky Arial, but thank goodness it remains in my favourite for now…)

  5. I want a gift like that for my midlife birthday, but, I want it to be a funky bass instead, actually. Preferably a Fender.

    1. I know, right? It was definitely one of my top-five best gifts of all time. A Fender bass would be brilliant.

  6. It’s so reassuring to know that there is at least one adult in the world living with the spirit of the bright-eyed nine year old! I enjoyed reading this so much that I have no words for it. I don’t know how you do it, but it is as if you say it all but still keep your integrity. You take us with you into your soul… but hang on, who put that mirror up into my own soul, was that you? Yes, it was you, and that’s what I love in reading this.

    I confess to being very settled in life, projects happen in tiny time slots squeezed in between routine and regular working hours. I do re-live the child’s view through the eyes of our daughter, though, and I hope I’ll be able to support her to keep that spirit, for many many years.

    1. It’s a treat to receive such a positive reaction from you because I put great value on your opinion. You are simply lovely and I want to thank you.

      How old is your daughter?

      1. Our daughter will be eleven in a few months. She’s a gifted child and in certain aspects ahead of her age. When she was seven, her father got health problems and that is a difficult thing, to live with ups-and-downs, limitations and moments of insecurity, and knowing that it marks her childhood. She has lost the “life-is-a-party” view she naturally had as a six year old.

    2. The fact that she has you to remind her of all the things that remain wonderful is key. In describing my father’s impact on me, I left out the part about my mother and I having a difficult relationship. I get into it a little bit below in response to Waterpig, so I won’t repeat it here.

  7. I have always wanted to go to Italy and now that urge is that much stronger.

    I admire the way you live your life and I’m happy to know that you had that influence from you father. It is serving you well. I think in some instances, with daughters, fathers have more of an impact than mothers.

    I like your midlife and I say keep doing what you’re doing. It seems to be working.

    1. You would not regret a visit to Italy. It’s a tiny country, meanwhile every corner is beautiful and different.

      Thanks for the kind words, Sandy.

  8. Ummm… so…. I think this might be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. I remember the first thing of yours that I ever read and it’s always remained my favorite– it was about beauty and the fear of losing it (sad paraphrase). But there are so many aspects of this that I relate to– living life on your own terms, the fear of losing your ideas, the realization that you’re not matching up to other people’s prescriptions for where you ought to be in life.

    I love pizza. I could eat it everyday and sometimes I do. Ordering a large pizza = securing your next three, maybe four, meals.

    As soon as I get to a computer that will let me, I’m sharing this.

    1. Thanks Aussa! Also, yes, pizza has contributed to my math skills based on those very types of calculations.

  9. You can’t unhappen the past. I like that. It’s of particular relevance to me at the moment. It strikes a chord. Thanks GG.

    1. The statement is soothing — at least to me — because it’s true.

  10. Mike Vogler · · Reply

    This is ironic because I was talking about you the other day with a couple buddies of mine. They read my blog, don’t comment, but ask about all of these people they see that do stop by sometimes. I was talking about some of the different blogs that fascinate me and the conversation rolled around to your’s! I told them that there is something off the mainstream and unique that I have been drawn to in your writing and you as an online friend right from the start. My gut reaction was spot on and has been ever since.

    Fast forward to this post and you had me once again saying “Wow!” and “that is fascinating…” and “no way, I didn’t know that…” out loud into the ether.

    Somewhere along the line early on in getting to know you I missed the part about you being from Iran. That only adds to my intrigue about the incredible depth and beauty you have in your eyes. I didn’t know what nocello and stracciatella gelato was…looked them up…and I will most definitely have some please! “When my brain revolts against itself, in between all the whirring and clacking, there’s a freaked-out big-eyed child”. I don’t consider myself big-eyed (my nose took ownership of all of that real estate) but for rest….I’m raising my hand in the air saying to you, “Me tool!”

    I need to cleanse the pathways in brain frequently as well. Last Saturday I had a bucket list road trip with my Golden Retriever that far exceeded my wildest spiritual expectations. It would be my #1 Groundhog Day. Those are the kind of moments I must always have away from reality…to ironically bring me back to some sense of it (reality).

    I will be clacking right along with you…thank you for moving me immensely with your writing yet again, Gunmetal. Happy 4th of July to you and your family and be safe please:)

    1. I can’t say enough how much it means to me be “gotten” by people, especially because I am off the mainstream, as you say. Mike, you are always open and warm, which makes all this worthwhile.

      I’m trying to remember if you could’ve already read something that mentioned me being from Iran. I’ll have to devote a proper piece to it at some point.

      Your facial real-estate comment seriously had me giggling!

      Is your bucket list trip with Phoenix something I can read about on your blog?

      1. Mike · ·

        To the latter that will be soon. You have no idea what this post opened up inside of me. Very emotional. Still contemplating my Facebook post (for 2 hours now) as 500 of my 568 Friends do not and will not read my blog. And that is ok! You truly spun my head around with this post. I just want to share something…and folks are going to say, “Whoa, didn’t see that coming…” Just my life past, Gunmetai 🙂

  11. first let me say I can totally relate to this: “I was on a permanent groovy acid trip – better known as a sense of wonder – so everyday matters already had an element of magic…”

    My husband always jokes at how easily amused I am, or how I notice the magic in things he finds mundane. I love how you articulated it. Perfect.

    I can also relate to not wanting to lose yourself, your ideas…your hopes. So much.

    oh, and pizza. And also now I want to go to Rome. Really bad.

    I adore the sentiments about your father. So sweet. I wrote about my dad this week over on the sisterwives speak blog. He’s been on my mind, so reading about your relationship was extra poignant.

    1. I see how universally well-loved you are, and now I understand that part of it has to do with the sense of magic you never outgrew.

      Initially, it was difficult for me to recognize that the father / daughter subject hits a poignant chord in so many. Each time, I truly feel an ache in my heart. But then I realize that I left out a crucial part — a not-ideal childhood relationship with my mother, which I touch on a bit below in response to Waterpig.

  12. I love big cities too since I come from the equally (or more) smokey, dusty, busy city of Calcutta! I love New York!

    1. I’ve often been compared to a Calcutta driver, and I have to say, I take it as compliment. By the way, I may be visiting India in October, which is beyond exciting to me!

  13. maurnas · · Reply

    I always miss you when you are gone. You perfectly capture these experiences. I love so many phrases in this.

    Nobody can take away the good memories. Or that sense of wonder I didn’t get to have as a child, but was saving inside myself to have now.

    I think my father gave me a sense of self in the opposite way as yours. My parents gave me something to fight against, to stand up to. And my little sister gave me someone to be strong for when I couldn’t do it for myself. And that has made me the confident woman I am now.

    1. I need to know more about these stories. Have you written about them? If so, can you give a few links?

      You have no idea how much I adore the following:

      “…That sense of wonder I didn’t get to have as a child, but was saving inside myself to have now.”

      “I think my father gave me a sense of self in the opposite way as yours.”

      “…My little sister gave me someone to be strong for…and that has made me the confident woman I am now.”

  14. The part about self-esteem and fathers and daughters, it’s making my own brain tick (and I teared up a bit!). I’m filing away an idea for a blog post myself now. I had a horrible relationship with my father growing up. Horrible in that I so deeply loved him and yearned for his acceptance but I always felt like I fell short. I’m in midlife myself, employed, but still broke, and many other things. Other things that are good and bad and sad and difficult and happy and perfect. I lacked those two things that you credit your father for having developed in you so strongly, and I am saddened by it – but I am also coming into my own now and I’m happier with me than I ever have been before. Plus I learned to believe my dad loved and accepted me, because he did and he does. I would love to read stories about your dad, and why/how you think your relationship with him gave you such a strong sense of self. Maybe you’ve already written it? Must explore your blog further!

    1. I love and respect my mother dearly, in fact, I look up to her in numerous ways. But growing up, I also had a painfully difficult relationship with her. So I often tend to credit my father for building me up — and it’s simply that: he built me up. Does that makes sense? When I read your words about being saddened, I felt it in my heart. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be about fathers and daughters, that early sense of self. I also had two aunts who built me up when I was a child. Every child is extremely vulnerable by nature, and maybe the early father figure represents protection and strength. But this sense of protection and strength can come from anywhere, and eventually, it comes from ourselves. I suppose for young women, a past dysfunctional father relationship can color how they navigate through life before they come into their own like you and I have. But really, all early dysfunctional relationships have an impact. And I could tell you that like you, I spent an entire childhood seeking acceptance. That of my mother.

  15. The photo of you w/ the electric guitar is KICK ASS! Superb for the back of your book. x

  16. A delectable visual journey through Rome and a Marquez quote in one post? You’re doing something right! This was freeing for me to read, as I’m sure it was for you to write (and now to live!)

    1. Yes, “freeing” is a good word, I think, for this entire blogging endeavor. I haven’t forgotten “Voi Que Sapete!” I know I keep saying that. I have the video of it from a long time ago, but if you’ve seen any of the videos I’ve posted lately, I’m insane about editing.

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