Saturday, January 26, 2013


My grandparents' house on Long Island is perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean bay. Over 100 wooden steps lead down to the water. Over the past decade or so, beach erosion and some monster storms have changed the landscape of the small patch of sand down there, and most of the time, the ocean comes right up to a manmade wooden bulkhead. Above that bulkhead, my family kept two kayaks -- a single-person kayak and a double-person one. 

In the two summers during college that I spent living with my Grandma and waitressing down there, I would often take out the single kayak on my free afternoons. I'd pack the only three things I needed -- my paddle, a life vest, and a book that I wrapped up in a washcloth and ziplock bag so that it didn't get wet. Then I would kayak out a few hundred yards and start to follow the shoreline until I reached an area known as Louse Point. I could never understand how a place so beautiful could end up with a name like Louse Point, although the name carried with it images of such a spectacular place that even the word louse somehow still sounds pretty to me.

Louse Point is an inner area of Gardiner's Bay that includes a few tiny grass-covered islands inhabited only by birds and other wildlife. Some people keep their boats in a small harbor there, but it's never busy. In fact, most of the times that I kayaked out around the small islands, I never even saw another human being; just cranes, other birds, and schools of fish below. Pure peaceful bliss.

When I kayaked over to Louse Point, I paddled hard. I loved the feeling of pulling on the water, fighting the tide one way or the other, and working up a sweat. The cold salty splashes felt so good on my bare skin and the sun felt even better.

Once I made it to Louse Point, I'd pull the kayak onto shore, jump in for a quick swim, then head out around the biggest of the little islands. Then came the best part of the afternoon -- I'd pull my paddle up into the kayak and unwrap my book from the plastic bag. I'd let the tide take me as I sat in the sun and read. On this freezing cold January day, I'm feeling warmer at the mere thought of those summer afternoons.

During those summers with my Grandma, I read at least a book a week, and usually more. After college, that pace slowed down, and when I became a lawyer and a parent it completely stalled out (unless you count kids books or work-related reading). Every now and then, I'd get on a kick of reading on the train, but it didn't usually last past the completion of one book. Then I'd be back to my usual routine of answering emails, editing a document, making to do lists, or, when I was most relaxed, listening to music.

Last week I picked up a book that our friend, Conor, had sent me after I was diagnosed. It is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, and given the little funk I felt like I had fallen in, I thought I could use some deeper guidance.

This book doesn't mess around. I'm only half way through it (can't quite find the time to read like I used to) and so far, Dr. Frankl has provided an incredible account of his days in a Nazi concentration camp. Not light reading, by any means, but incredibly enlightening, for sure. The book is full of countless excerpts that could stand alone as amazing quotes (in fact, on page 48, I found the quote that I posted in a prior POST). It's also packed with stories of awesome courage in the face of unfathomable suffering. I've got lots more to say about this book, and it will come as I digest it all myself.

In the meantime, today I just want to write about what I feel like when I read, because until this past week, I almost forgot. I feel this way whether I'm sitting in the middle of a bay in a kayak, or on the commuter train to Boston. It's the same feeling I get when I write, and it's really hard to explain.

Luckily, someone has already explained it really well, so I'll use his words, at least, for now. He is Billy Elliot, and he's not a real person. Brian always laughs at how much I love that movie and the subsequent musical, and I know he wants to cover his ears when I break out in song. Let's just say that when I saw the show on Broadway a few years ago, I already knew the entire soundtrack and I pretty much cried through the whole thing -- happy, inspired cries, and a few sad ones (for example, thanks to "The Letter" -- a song sung by Billy's deceased mother about all that she missed seeing him do -- can you say heart-breaking?!? Don't think I'll be listening to that one any time soon).

Anyways, if you're unfamiliar with the story, it's about (shocker) Billy Elliot -- a young boy in northern England in the mid-1980s. Billy's father and older brother are coal miners struggling through life and through the strikes that are occupying the nation at the time. Billy soon discovers his love of dance and he wants nothing more than to become a ballet dancer; not exactly the traditional dream of a young boy in that place at that time.

In one scene, Billy is asked at an audition what he feels like when he dances. Here's his answer.

This is how I feel when I read a good book. And it's how I feel when I write, even when it's as difficult as it was in the last few days. Don't worry -- I don't break out in dance like this once I post a blog or as I hop down the stairs of my commuter train. Although, come to think of it, that may be fun. I wonder how long Brian would leave me in the MBTA looney bin. Probably just until I promise to stop singing Billy Elliot songs.



Billy Elliot 
The Musical

I can't really explain it,
I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole
It's like that there's a music playing in your ear
And I'm listening, and I'm listening and then I disappear

And then I feel a change
Like a fire deep inside
Something bursting me wide open impossible to hide
And suddenly I'm flying, flying like a bird
Like electricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me
And I'm free I'm free

It's a bit like being angry,
it's a bit like being scared
Confused and all mixed up and mad as hell
It's like when you've been crying
And you're empty and you're full
I don't know what it is, it's hard to tell
It's like that there's a music playing in your ear
But the music is impossible, impossible to hear
But then I feel it move me
Like a burning deep inside
Something bursting me wide open impossible to hide
And suddenly I'm flying, flying like a bird
Like electricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me
And I'm free I'm free
Electricity, sparks inside of me
And I'm free, I'm free
I'm free. Free I'm free

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