sarasota, a place of strange zen

i have been coming to sarasota my whole life, but i was 19 the summer i first lived here. i knew no one but my sister, who had a new baby at home, meaning we could rarely go out together. i looked in the newspaper to see if there was any live music in town and went to the only place with punk shows: the monterey. that summer i met my friends at the monterey, it was a fun place to be, using my sister’s id to buy a beer or two, listening to the dollyrots and other lo-fi local acts. i was blonde and punkrock and curvier than i am now. i spent days looking after my infant nephew, taking him to the beach or the music store, the aquarium, the bayfront. but even then, sarasota infected me with her strange zen. it is rare that i can be here without feeling like it will all be ok, like sarasota’s little bay is somehow protected and the slings and arrows of troubled relationships mostly cannot penetrate.

the second time i lived here, i was fresh out of college, nearly as unsure about my next move as i am now. that was when i met my best friend of several years, fell in love long distance with the last man i was truly in love with, and met neil gaiman, who is a real kindred spirit. i got my “dream job” writing for a magazine, covering the film festival. once again that sarasota zen brought me what i wanted, what i needed. we were in love, though far enough removed that we were able to cultivate some wonderful communication about our separate lives for one another to bring us together. these were truly halcyon days, filled with dominoes and the brownstone, music, art, friendship, and of course, love. all was possible.

i came back a third time, after i’d left to pursue that love, after things went terribly awry and i found myself wondering what had happened to our perfect union, knowing there was nothing i could do to fix it. i had gone to india, alone, and when i returned, i eventually found myself again in sarasota.  found what seemed like a perfect situation at a new age store, elysian fields. found myself figuring out how to be an american again. that time around, the hangout was the cabana inn, where we would gather on sunday and tuesday nights to sing karaoke in the dingy motel bar. sarasota cast her old florida glamour on me, and it was the ideal place to be for the winter before i moved to the northeast.

and now, here i am. sarasota again. even working at elysian fields for the holiday rush, where the vibes are so familiar and pleasant and refreshing. we’ve all grown older and it is strange to see again the precipice of another indian journey before me. i’m planning to pull the trigger, to return to that land of magic and mystery and continue my pilgrimage until i know where i belong. i’m afraid, though, that it isn’t here. not now, anyway. how i’d love to settle down somewhere and get to work on the stuff of my life, but i’ve got more bases to cover. i love this town, and weirdly, even love seeing friends here who i’m no longer friends with. unlike new york, it is not possible to hide out completely here. relations stay civil, because there is no sea of people to lose yourself in. well, mostly civil. and i feel my zen setting in, happy to be here, with my grandmother and mother, my sister and niece and nephew. last weekend i dressed in strange spandex and met up with new and old friends, somehow ended up at the ritz in the hot tub till the wee hours. i drove home as the sun pinkened the sky along the bay to sleep like a baby in my grandmother’s art studio – my “home” in sarasota.

but into every life, some rain must fall. first, some literal rain,which sarasota needed after a dry spell. then, the same morning i learned of the death of my uncle – not a surprise, since he had been suffering from early-onset dementia for several years, but still emotional for all of us – i was working at the store when i heard about the shooting in sandy hook. the already frenetic energy of this particular time of this particular year is painfully apparent at a new age store. so many people come there for solace, for guidance, for help. i too am unabashed about enjoying the environment there, mostly because one really feels of service to others. a woman came in looking for something to protect her family from the terror of so much needless violence and when i gave her a piece of black tourmaline to hold she found it so comforting she didn’t want to let it go. be it placebo effect or the power of that stone, it feels good to help others find peace.

i have some wonderful memories of spending time with my uncle, a juggler and comedian named philip wellford (aka “flip”) here is sarasota over the years. in my early twenties, we played pool and drank beers and chatted in dingy gulf gate bars, before we knew what was happening to him. he told me about having psychic abilities and how he’d once rented a room in a widow’s house, only to receive nightly visits from her deceased husband! we spent time together on later visits through the years: he came to town when i was here after india and we tried to play pool, but his right arm had developed a tremor that made it frustrating for him, and his memory was receding more and more; he loved to walk along the beach and gather shells and just be. sarasota is his home, a place he wanted to return to with increasing desperation as the years passed and his condition grew worse. he couldn’t understand why his wife wouldn’t let him go home – meaning sarasota – not comprehending that he was in kansas city, that he could no longer drive himself there.

through all of his long, painful decline, as the man who he used to be slipped further and further away, my aunt susan took such amazing care of him. it has been so faith affirming to see the depth of her love for him, and his for her. though his disease was insurmountable, their love held steady and strong and we have all been so moved by her commitment, not just to making sure that he was comfortable, but to making sure that he truly felt loved, even if he couldn’t remember her anymore, couldn’t communicate clearly or even walk to her. this more than anything is the takeaway of the tragedy of a life cut short: none of us knows how long we have here. let us remember to fill our days with love. other things may seem important, but love is what we regret not giving. it is what we regret not expressing. it is what fills our lives with meaning that transcends the temporal. i have seen a lot of people my age who seem afraid of the idea of love, having seen that it cane mean loss and pain. but these are just incidental, inevitable parts of life. should the fact that we will someday die keep us from living?

should my aunt have feared love because she would one day lose it?

no – they took the risk and saw it through and outcome has been transformative for everyone whose lives were touched by their love.

people like to say that we are born alone and we die alone, probably because they fear it is true. but that doesn’t have to be true. even in the final moments of life, we can offer love and hope to others. we can send our thoughts and prayers – we can show those around us that they matter to us, that we care. that we acknowledge the ties that bind us all together. in fact, no one is born alone: every child is born of a mother. i think in some sense, that feeling of unification, trust, love, comfort, is what we are all searching for from birth on. it is something universal, and yet we have forgotten it, consumed with false ideas about our sinful natures, taught by religions to despise and distrust our physical selves while attempting to limit our spirits to some definition either from religious texts or scientific treatises (two sides of the same dogmatic coin, if you ask me).

there are more things in heaven and on earth, horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.

love and miss,




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