Once upon a time 8 1/2 was a Fellini film and not a kid’s age… Happy Valentine’s Day

I have been largely remiss in this blog because I have not really admitted that I’ve learned almost everything I know about parenting (that is everything positive which I would care to share with others who sincerely try to be good parents) from my wife, Andy.

I am no Prince Charming, nor Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.  But as they say, unlucky in cards, lucky in love… and I always lose at cards.

And so it was that, just about twenty-four years ago, shortly after coming to the inexorable conclusion that I would die alone and unloved (probably in a cardboard box), I stepped out of a blustery New York day and into the solemn portent of Lincoln Center to lay eyes upon my soul-mate.  I can’t say that I immediately knew she was my soul-mate, only that I though she was very pretty.  Meanwhile, the friend who had invited me there whispered into my ear that this woman, a friend of hers, was practically engaged to her current boyfriend.  Handshakes, chitchat and longing (solely on my part) were followed by continued certainty that I would die alone and unloved.

Perhaps it was a propitious meeting nonetheless, as Federico Fellini was there, being honored for his body of work.  The film screened was Fred and Ginger, about love and long partnership (or so I think… I really couldn’t stop thinking about the fetching woman who was practically engaged).  I had seen parts of La Dolce Vita as a kid on PBS and watched with riveted wonder as Marcello Mastrioanni ran down deserted Rome streets looking for his love; I adored the echoing sound of footsteps, the evocative shadings of light and mystery, the panting of Italian.  This was a world that seemed to oddly reflect something about my own inner world where everything was alive; Fellini’s films were the dreams of a dreamer I knew already in my sleep… encouragement to keep seeking life that would be more alive than the suburban Chicago play I seemed to be trapped in—sort of Death of a Salesman meets Pirandello.  The more Fellini I saw in college, the more I wanted to make films, films like that where life was better than the circus (which I never much liked anyway).

And there was Fellini himself, a film icon totemically inspiring… Still, I went home alone, perhaps dreaming that one day I could be something like Fellini.  Or like Marcello and understand love, even if it hurt.

Flash-forward to early summer; the friend who had briefly introduced us was off to Paris and she had asked her two good friends, the fetching woman and yours truly, to take in her mail on alternating East Village dog days.  We left little notes for each other, and then made plans to meet, platonically of course.  But alas to my good fortune, one woman’s “practically engaged” is another woman’s “practically finished with a relationship.”  She showed up in front of the theater with two plums that had simply looked too beautiful to pass up on a West Village fruit stand.  Apples shmapples, I’ll take plums from a beautiful woman you’re destined to have children with on any summer day—especially on Bastille Day.

After the movie, the cinema-altering film-version of the TV Show, Dragnet, we went to my favorite restaurant, a now-vanished gem called Florent, down the squalid cobble bricks of a not yet gentrified Gansevoort Street, a place back then where butchers, trannies and hipsters mingled over a shifting 24 hour always open clock.  We sat at the counter drinking red wine, eating goat cheese and potato salad and roasted chicken with French fries… and certainly falling in deep like, realizing that we were more like the oldest of old friends even though we were new friends.  Later we sat on the rusted fire-escape of the loft she shared with other artsy friends on Renwick Street, around the corner from a CIA bar, watching giant rats prowl the empty street at 3am.

It seems that we were never apart after that night.  We kissed under an umbrella in the pouring rain, drove cross-country together, leaving our beloved Manhattan on New Year’s day of nineteen eighty eight, stopping at Graceland and ending up at Musso & Franks with her parents, welcomed into what has since become my family.

Missing New York, we tried to approximate it at the Ravenswood Apartments, the very place where Mae West meant when she said, “Come up and see me some time.”  We bonded through the LA Riots, when our front door was blown out by gunfire, literally clung to each other through the ‘94 earthquake, and grew into parents through arrivals of kids one and two.

I grew up with little affection, while Andy grew up infused with it… slowly helping me out of my own rather Rain Man shell shock.  She grew up with good therapy, while my childhood psychiatrist/sadist only yelled at me; she encouraged me to try it again… and I liked it so much I joined the business.  She challenged me to engage challenging art and not just sweat with feelings of inadequacy, and not have to come up with something smart to say.  She challenged me to become unblocked.  She loved me into being real.

Andy is a photographer who has taught me how to see; a writer who is still teaching me the art of brevity and being concise (some day my posts will be right-sized and my sleep will no longer be deprived) as I journey to find my own voice; she is an artist who teaches me the essence of art which, if it could be put into words would certainly not be the essence of art; this is true of the essence of love as well.  She is a friend who inspires me to be a better and more giving friend; she is a parent who gives and loves when I’m still talking and thinking.

This fall we will be married twenty years.  So in my own Quasimodo manner, I want to ring the bell for her today.

Some of Andy’s friends have wondered where she was in this blog; I fear this has made me appear as if I am taking credit where much less credit is due.  I must say that I have hesitated to write about love and my good fortune in this area for the long-standing fear of evoking envy in others—something I think I learned from envious and competitive parents who needed me to be their shrink more than their child.  But as a psychologist and parent I have learned how truly happy I am for the good fortune of others, and how truly sorry I am for the misfortune; I am also learning, more and more assuredly, that we are all in something much bigger than any one of our single stories, but together, like some sort of ever-expanding Fellini film.

As my own life, love and consciousness expands, perhaps this blogging thing may be but a pretext to meet you, my readers (and for you to meet both Andy and me in the parenting ethic we both hope to stand for, and which is every bit as much hers as it is mine, and really all of ours who care to take care of whatever little part of our world is our portion).  So we meet in the sort of surreal space I always dreamed of since childhood, something free of hype and posturing, something free of money and “stuff,” something free of Newtonian logic, someplace that exists out of love and because of love, a place where we can “only connect.”

So, I dedicate today to Andy, my love and my lover, in honor of you, the reader of these words and images, in honor of your love, your lovers and all our collective children—the bitter and the sweet loves, the romantic and the parental, the erotic and the platonic… I dream of us all, spread out around rustic picnic tables on an Italian hillside under ancient olive trees, eating, laughing, dancing, playing, loving, quarrelling and making up, watching the children, drifting off for lovely naps, confident that we will meet again in the evening of our collective soul, and that there will be love, and wine, and transcendence in the simple here and now, and that it will be very very good.

Happy Valentine to all, but especially to Andy, my beloved and very funny Valentine.

Namaste, Bruce


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6 Responses to “Once upon a time 8 1/2 was a Fellini film and not a kid’s age… Happy Valentine’s Day”

  1. Laurie Says:

    I read this post with the sweetest smile on my face. Thank you Bruce and thank you Andy. A very happy Valentine’s Day to you both.

  2. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    My own Valentine is away this weekend so I will nourish myself today with your love story, with gratitude for your words today and everyday, and for the parenting inspiration you and Andy provide each day.

  3. Hermes Says:

  4. Stephanie Says:

    Thanks Bruce –

    I think we should have the Privilege of Parenting Italy trip this summer – who wants to book the chartered plane?

    Happy Valentines day, And thanks so much for sharing!



  5. khim Says:

    Such a lovely, lovely, love story. Thank you for sharing. Warmed me heart! xxoo

  6. Katrina Says:

    All that you have written here, how truly beautiful! And your love for each other and for your children has spilled over to reach all of us who read your blog. Thank you both, Andy and Bruce.

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