There is beauty
in such brevity.
There amidst
the whisper of
ancient secrets
and sweet exchanges —
one shared moment.
Timeless and time-full.
Brushed shoulders
on a crowded street,
“I’m sorry.
I loved you.

• • •

Words ©2013, Jen Payne.
New York City street photo by Bernard Safran.


I’m Not the Only One

I was born after Yesterday and before Good Morning. I missed the mania and the invasion. When the older kids were drawing their logo on book covers and bathroom stalls, I was pinning up Shaun Cassidy posters on my wall. I know more lyrics from the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton movie than I do the actual Beatle’s classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was only 14 when John Lennon died.

In New York City on Thursday, though, I wanted to visit Strawberry Fields – a two-and-a-half acre Garden of Peace – and the IMAGINE memorial, dedicated to John Lennon. It seemed the thing to do.

We made our way up a small incline, through a crowd of tourists and a tour group being led by a man waving a giant red hand in the air. There were Vietnam vets at a card table selling Peace buttons, and a few people sitting on benches with guitars. Three teenage girls posed for joyful photos, while a woman who looked like Joan Baez slowly outlined the mosaic tiles with her fingers.

I snapped a few photos in between arms and legs, and started to walk away, when I heard the first few notes of that song. Tears caught in my throat and I remembered.

I may have been too young, or too preoccupied by Tiger Beat, to have been part of the fan club, but I was not too young to absorb the beautiful idealism and heartfelt intentions of the man or the movement. It is a part of who I am and how I see the world.

For better or for worse, it is how I see the world.

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

I Went to New York City Yesterday and It’s All Doreen’s Fault

I’m a planner. Anyone who knows me knows this. I like to have a plan. It’s not a bad thing. It just means that “spontaneous” does not appear in my Top 10 Vocabulary List.

So, when a little voice suggests “Why not go to New York City tomorrow?” all sorts of warning bells go off. That’s almost what happened a week ago. Almost…

A week ago, I was watching some Saturday evening TV and a show called Mike Colameco’s Real Food on PBS. The episode featured a number of cool restaurants in New York City, and I watched intently, taking notes for places I might explore on my next visit.

That’s when that little voice made its suggestion: “Why not go to New York City tomorrow?”

I played with the idea a little — where would I go? what would I see? where would I eat? I thought about the museums I want to see. I thought about my list of foodie hot spots, and the other list of iconic sights. I remembered the French bistro I’d seen on a recent visit, and the “Moroccan Bloody Mary” temptress on their menu.

I mentioned the idea to a friend: “I’m thinking of going to New York tomorrow, sort of s-p-o-n-t-a-n-e-o-u-s-l-y.” Like it was a foreign language.

“Do it!” he emailed back right away.

But I could still feel the tethers of resistance.

Then a second email arrived, this one from my friend Doreen, who is two years out of treatment for breast cancer. She told me about her summer with her son and the adventures they’d had at the beach. She talked about the start of school. She suggested we meet for a drink soon. Before signing off, she wrote “Go do something fun. Just for fun’s sake.”

She had no idea I was thinking of going to New York the next day.

Now, while I might not be a spontaneous-hop-on-a-train-tomorrow kind of girl, I do know a message from the Universe when I hear one. “Go,” it was telling me. “Just do it.”

And that’s how, in a hybrid planned-spontaneous flurry of activity, my dear friend MaryAnne and I arranged to meet up a week later, hop on a train at 9 a.m. and find ourselves enjoying brunch in New York City yesterday.

We wandered through Time Square. We walked down Broadway. We explored Macy’s. We saw the lions of the Public Library, the ceiling of Grand Central Station. And we toasted Moroccan bloody marys to spontaneity — and to Doreen.

We love you, lady! And thank you!

• • •

©2012, Jen Payne

What Purgation Blooms?

Lovely and mysterious Hellebore, here blooms in Central Park at the beginning of March. She is known by many names: Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, Snow Rose, Black Nisewort.

Though strikingly beautiful set against the gray of winter, do not be fooled. Hellebore is one of the four classic poisons — cousin to nightshade, hemlock and aconite. It was, for example, the charms of Hellebore that are said to have brought Alexander the Great to his knees.

But she is toxin and healer both. Various hellebores have been used for centuries as treatment for insanity, paralysis, gout, cardiac and respiratory issues, as a diuretic and purgative. In Greek mythology, it is said that the great healer Melampus used the wiles of Hellebore to cure the raging daughters of King Proetus.

As elixir, she eases the mind. John Gerarde’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes explains that “a purgation of hellebore is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy, dull and heavie persons, and briefly for all those that are troubled with black choler, and molested with melancholy.”

As magician, she transforms. “Scatter powdered hellebore before you as you move and you shall be invisible,” write Scott Cunningham in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. “Hellebore was also used in exorcism rituals, and was at one time used in inducing astral projections.”

As inspiration, Horace, the great Roman poet, in his treatise The Art of Poetry, gives nod to affecting quality of Hellebore, suggesting she “was supposed to render the mind alert and inventive.”* (Though I wonder…is this not further proof of her duplicity? That she might both cure madness and stimulate creativity?)

Lovely and mysterious Hellebore. Has she cast her spell on you yet this spring?

• • •

Photo ©2012, Jen Payne, Hellebores in Central Park, New York City.

* O.N. Hardison and Leon Golden’ Horace for Students of Literature—The “Ars Poetica” and Its Tradition

*And Thee, Across the Harbor

“I love to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. To be standing out in the center of the Brooklyn Bridge on a good spring day in the city of New York with the wind blowing. It is one of the great places in America. It’s like being on the rim of the Grand Canyon and nobody should miss it. And the fact that’s a man-created environment to me makes it all the more exciting.”

— David McCullough
Ken Burns’ America: Brooklyn Bridg

• • •

The title references the Harold Hart Crane poem “To Brooklyn Bridge.”

Photos ©2011, Jen Payne.

Making It So

“Make it so,” is the often-heard directive from Captain Jean Luc Picard on the Star Trek series The Next Generation, and I am more and more inclined to make it my own.

This week marks my 45th anniversary here on planet Earth. If you’re anywhere near my age, you know this feeling: things are beginning to feel a little familiar. The things I’ve always wanted to do, the places I’ve always wanted to go, the hopes and dreams, follow me along like a satellite on a fairly consistent trajectory. Round and round they go.

But for several years now, I have made it my mission to boldly go where I have not gone before—those places I’ve always thought about or talked about or dreamed about.

In 2006, it was le grande voyage—a two-week adventure in France. “For my fortieth birthday,” I told my friend DeLinda, “I want to go to Paris.” And somehow, we planned and saved and took the time off and made it so.

Since then, my adventures have been a little closer to home. I travel as I can, where I can. But, each birthday, I ask myself: what new thing do I want to do this year?

“I want to explore New York City more,” I said to my friend Martha a few years back. So, for my birthday in 2008, I hopped on a train and spent the day in Central Park and the halls and galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2009, I stood at the top of the Empire State Building, and this year, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with my dear friend Tara.

It may sound a little pompous, but as I stood at the center of the bridge yesterday I thought: I am here because I said so. And that is the key!

I have spent a lot of time these past few weeks thinking about the familiarity of my life; the constant of those hopes and dreams that remain just that. What I realized (read: remembered) yesterday is that if never give them the directive—if I never say “I am going to France,” or “I am going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge”—I never will.

“To seek out new life,” reads the Starship Enterprise’s mission statement. Starting this week, so does mine!

“It’s kind of symbolic, walking across a bridge mid-life,” noted my friend MaryAnne. Indeed—about as symbolic as this message I spotted on the other side of the bridge: Seize the day. The Hour Flies.