BY: VALERIE GILBERT
Psychic phenomenon, prophetic dreams, lost gloves, and found avocados. Join Valerie on her raucous personal journey toward greater self-knowledge, happiness and empowerment. Be inspired to commence your own sojourn and grow your intuition, wisdom, and joy.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Brilliance Brewing by Valerie Gilbert, Gilbert once again shares her experiences with us, along with her wit and humor. Relating the highlights of her unusual and fascinating life, she makes you laugh until you cry. Focusing on the metaphysical and how it applies to everyday life, Gilbert manages to both teach and entertain.
With her ability to see the hidden meanings, and the humor, in everyday events from illness to “passport malfunction,” the author takes us on an exhilarating journey that is both hilarious and through-provoking. A real gem of a read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Brilliance Brewing by Valerie Gilbert is another fine example of this talented author’s way with words. As with her other three books, this one is a fun and thought-provoking romp through Gilbert’s zany and fascinating life as a New Yorker. Everyday experiences become teaching points as Gilbert explores the metaphysical/spiritual side of things—like losing a pet and getting a new one, taking a trip to a foreign country, and getting a referral for physical therapy. I wonder why my everyday experiences never seem to be as funny as hers. Maybe it’s just her off-beat sense of humor and her willingness to keep an open mind about everything that happens.
Told in Gilbert’s unique and refreshing voice and filled with thought-provoking ideas, I found the book to be both enjoyable and stimulating. Whether you are looking for wisdom and ways to improve your own life, or you just want to laugh and have your spirits lifted, Brewing Brilliance does both with ease. Keep it on your shelf to read again and again whenever you’re feeling down.
A Day in the Life
I am a “weird” magnet. This kind of weird can only be attracted in New York, a vortex of concentrated human eccentricity. Contemplate my odd assortment of vignettes as an ambling film sequence.
Scene One, Take One: Returning home from tap class, I stop into my local wine shop, which I recently remembered used to be the neighborhood bakery when I grew up here. It’s still my treat corner since fourth grade.
As I left, a very attractive man was standing in the sun against one of the buildings, about thirty feet away. Someone I know and have avoided since the passing of my beloved dachshund Mimi almost nine months ago. He’s a silver fox from Mexico, gorgeous, gay, and a dog walker. He used to be particularly attached to my dog, even though no one ever walked her but me. He would see her and light up, as many people did, since she was such a supremely loving creature.
“I love you!” he’d gush to her with his accent as he scooped her up in his arms, cuddling her to his face and rocking with her in bliss, eyes closed, while other leashes and dogs radiated out from him like a maypole.
He saw me as I walked up the street, and I smiled at him. He mouthed and mimed as I approached, “Where is she?”
I shook my head soberly as I walked closer. His smile diminished as he awaited my explanation.
“She’s gone,” I said as I stood in front of him.
He was speechless.
Now, I’ve had some pretty hideous reactions upon informing people of Mimi’s passing. “You’re killing me!” screeched a morbid neighbor, a dog-owning widow with black shellacked hair and huge black sunglasses (reminiscent of Jackie O.) who allegedly poisoned her husband. Perhaps she was recalling her spouse’s final words? She offered not one word of comfort to me. Somehow, this was all about her.
One day, a fellow doxie owner approached, and I decided not to dodge her and her giant longhaired dachshund, who my baby used to french kiss. The two dogs were a love match, although it was clear Luigi was seeing other women. Norma adored my dog, joyously exclaiming as vociferously as my girl, who squealed in delight and flopped on her back, tail wagging, upon seeing the tiny old lady and her big dog. Mimi engaged in this super friendly behavior often.
My senior neighbor Shirley, who refused to touch her, but clearly delighted in her from afar, called her a slut.
Shirley screamed when I told her Mimi had died. “But I never let her into my apartment!”
No, she hadn’t. She missed out on having her home sniffed and searched by a very low, loopy dog who hopped and skipped due to her deformities.
Back to Norma. I thought Norma, who reveled in all things Mimi, would be devastated when I told her about Mimi’s passing. I sobbed as I choked out the sad tale. Norma was unmoved and said simply that I had to get another dog.
The next time I saw her was months later, and I was ready for her. I was better, less frail.
“Where’s the puppy?” she said.
Norma’s old, and I thought she was losing it. I sighed, patiently. “She passed, Norma.”
“I know,” she retorted. “Where’s the new puppy?” Not senile. Pushy.
“I’m not getting a new puppy, Norma,” I said quietly.
“Why not?” she barked.
“Because I’m not ready.”
“Why not?” she barked again.
“Because I don’t want another dog. I’m not ready” I defended.
“Why aren’t you ready?” she needled.
“I’m just not. I want other changes in my life, not another dog,” I tried to explain, but she persisted in pressing her dog dictate.
“Well, you can have other things and a dog, too. You’re just stubborn, that’s what you are!”
Suddenly, this, heretofore, cute little old lady I adored had become my prosecutor, while the Black Widow (who still has her dog) had acted as if my loss had been hers. That’s why I don’t talk about it.
But my Mexican friend, the silver fox standing in the sun, just looked and listened earnestly as I told the tale. “She became paralyzed, and I couldn’t put her through surgery with all her other health issues. I know you loved her.”
As I teared up, he reached into his pocket for a soft, neatly folded white paper towel, obviously a backup maintenance tool for his line of work. I demurred, used to wiping my fairly frequent tears on a sleeve. But he insisted and put it in my hand. I dabbed the folded rectangle to my eyes and continued. “I haven’t been able to talk about it. She was only five, and she meant the world to me. It’s just too sad.”
Sergio did the kindest thing a person can do when one is distraught. He offered no comfort (beyond the “quicker picker upper”) and no counsel. He just listened, beholding me while absorbing my story, a witness to my pain. It was the purest expression of love. Hugging him, I offered, “She loved you.”
He looked me in the eye and blurted, “Be careful,” his Mexican attempt at saying “take care,” I suppose. As I walked away he blurted, “I love you,” just like he used to say to my little baby.
“I love you, too.” I said.
Since I was now all weepy and in need of succor, I clutched my just purchased chilled sauvignon blanc and headed over to my old stomping ground, the Catholic Church across the street. No, I don’t drink in the pews. While not Catholic, I like the sanctuary to contemplate and regroup. Before Mimi, I used to sit there and weep when my mother was dying. With Mimi, I’d sneak her in in her bag, and we’d bask in the chill air on blisteringly hot days, or thaw and re-heat on the freezing cold ones. It is a modern church and usually quite empty, which is just the way I like it, a respite from the noisy world outside.
On this day it wasn’t empty at all. There was no mass in progress, but a dispersed and disparate “crowd” of six were praying in earnest. I could feel the energy of their prayers, providing a very Wings of Desire film set atmosphere.
A white woman to my right in corduroy jeans kneeled in front of a statue. A white woman to my left kneeled in front of St. Francis (a personal favorite of mine). A black woman in a powder blue suit and hat sat in front of me. A black man was to the left—human chess pieces spread out on an invisible Catholic game board.
The black lady in the blue suit started waving her right hand before her face, silently “testifying.” This went on for a while and I took in the spectacle, one I’d never seen at this church, concluding that she was conversing with Jesus. She dropped her hand briefly but waved it again for a stretch. To my far left was a very old, tall white priest who always sits in the same chair. He’s friendly but quiet and has a bum foot, his bones and bunions exploding out of his dirty, black, Velcro-trussed sneakers. His eyes were fixed on the bible in his lap, the same book he’s read over and over for decades. Doesn’t that tome get old after a while?
An attractive young Asian business woman was in church only to text, eyes glued to her glowing appliance in the back pew. Her phone rang. This was a first for me, and I was appalled that she’d add insult to injury by making noise on top of being so “textfully” disrespectful in this sacred space. She left the main area to turn it off, I supposed, but wouldn’t you just know it? She took the freaking call in the outer hall, which we could clearly hear. I departed, leaving the Six Characters In Search Of An Author behind.
Speaking of crass, I ventured boldly into an institution I’d spent my entire life near, but had never entered. Central Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in New York City, established in 1846, with the building dedicated in 1872. While I venture freely into churches because they have open doors and people coming in and out, I had never done so in a synagogue because they seemed formidable versus accessible.
But a young lady in business attire climbed the steps toward the entrance, which made me think it was open. In all my life it had never seemed open or active. The building was a mysterious, impenetrable fortress. I seized the opportunity.
On my way to physical therapy, I was wearing shorts, sneakers, and a tee-shirt. Now, I know God doesn’t mind about that kind of stuff ’cause God Is Everything, however, the people who run the synagogue might mind. That person that day was a big guy in a beige suit. He looked a bit like a Jewish bouncer. Given how he was dressed, I thought he might give me some tsuris for my getup (yes, I was the crass one in “church” this time). The pretty Israeli (I knew where she was from because she had an accent) business gal kept him busy with questions while I slipped in and sat. I explored the right to left, back to front, reading material in my Jewish pew and took in the décor. It looked just like a church. Throw in a Jesus here and a couple of crosses there, and you could house a whole other crowd.
Now, the physical therapy. I have a new insurance plan. I was very excited about this new insurance plan until I started using it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for it. My audio book work through my union entitled me to pay for the privilege of having this insurance. I was thrilled to find out that they covered chiropractic and acupuncture, both of which I rely on. I’m an alternative therapies type and don’t count on MDs for my well-being. I prefer preventative, holistic care and use MDs on an “as needed” basis only.
In the midst of enjoying my chiropractic and acupuncture benefits, I discovered that I was entitled to only half the number of treatments I thought I was. A real pity, for the healthier I am, the less actual medical treatment I need (the old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” thing). Getting weekly acupuncture and chiropractic was putting me in fine form and spirits. But I was also entitled to four physical therapy treatments, so I decided to cash in on that benefit, since I had wrist pain from my audio recording and editing work (I record, engineer and master the work myself) and knee pain from an old biking injury.
I needed a referral for physical therapy, so I selected the general practitioner closest to me, which wasn’t all that close. But she was a girl, which I wanted, and had a cushy address just opposite the exclusive Tavern On The Green restaurant in Central Park. And she could take me immediately, so I could start my physical therapy immediately, with only a month left to this insurance quarter to cash in on those four sessions. Strangely, she was open for walk-in appointments only. I was advised there usually wasn’t a long wait, and appointments lasted for only about twenty minutes.
Her office was on the main floor of a classic Central Park West building. The front door was on the sidewalk. I crossed the threshold and was suddenly starring in The Wizard of Oz in reverse. All the Technicolor drained from my day as I entered her desiccated den from another time period altogether—somewhere between the 1940s and the 1960s. This joint was untouched by time, money, renovations, or a cleaning crew. Everything was brown. The miniscule bathroom, which I needed to use, abutted the sidewalk. The toilet was right by the old thin window so I could hear loud footsteps on the street inches away from me as I sat exposed, pants down. My need to relieve myself vanished. I saddled up and went to the sink, which looked distinctly…unclean. I’ve seen tidier bathrooms in fast food restaurants. What kind of a doctor’s office was this?
The shop was run by three older women. A black woman was so large it proved difficult for her to get out of her chair. She remained seated against the wall in the anteroom for the duration of my visit. A petite Latina woman was friendly, efficient, and ran the desk and phone. When I’d asked if the doctor was nice, she responded that she’d been with the doctor for thirty years. And then there was the old battle-axe herself, a white gal who’d graduated from medical school in 1943. Now, I knew that little tidbit going in. The insurance site listed her stats. But I was not prepared for the full Grey Gardens effect generated by the doctor and her medical practice.
A ninety year-old former show-girl stood before me. The good doctor was rail thin, sporting bright red lipstick and long blonde hair coiffed to Barbie Doll perfection. Her breasts were reminiscent of Carol Burnett’s costume when she played “Charro’s Mother” since they were thin, long, low, and—it seemed—irregular. Her colorful polyester shirt and pencil skirt were a throwback to the 1970s (when they were undoubtedly purchased). She wore her purse around her neck hanging in front of her stomach, like the sporrans that Highland Scotsmen don over the front of their kilt. Her rectangular shoulder bag hung from a long, thin gold chain and was as thin and two dimensional as she was. The edges were totally frayed, and I could not tell whether it was made of decomposing black-patent-leather-faux “alligator” or authentic cardboard and plastic. In addition to assorted jewelry, her final accessory was a vintage stethoscope. My face registered the same shock exhibited in the countenances of the Broadway audience in Mel Brooks’s 1968 masterpiece, The Producers, upon realizing that they were watching a musical homage to Hitler.
I was frozen in an episode of The Twilight Zone, a David Lynch film, or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Take your pick. I was on set.
I signed a few forms, my uneasy smile trying to mask my mortification. What would happen to me in this medical house of horrors? There were piles of paper everywhere, on top of army-green metal filing cabinets and index card-holders from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Labels were hand scrawled “Medicaid” and “Medicare.” There was no computer visible anywhere, but a fax machine collected dust. My eyes scanned the joint from top to bottom. It was a museum exhibit. A total time warp to the 1960s New York City of my childhood.
“The doctor will see you now.”
The receptionist jarred me out of my reverie. I entered the examining room. The medical equipment was from the 1930s and 1940s, including a vintage baby scale and examination table. Young Frankenstein’s lab now came to mind. The antediluvian table had stirrups for gynecological use, and musty mechanical cranks beneath. Scalpels, tweezers, and antiquated metal tools were scattered about, mixed in with piles of rubber bands, vaccines, needles, and pens. More file cabinets were piled haphazardly on top of each other.
“What’s wrong with you?” blurted the old woman as she entered the room.
“Uh, nothing. I need a referral to see a physical therapist.”
She sat down across from me on one of her mismatched chairs. “I told you to sit on the other chair, it’s more comfortable,” she directed me.
She’d said “sit on the round chair” so I’d sat on the round wooden stool. Apparently, she told me to “sit on the brown chair,” which was cracked pleather and chrome.
The stool was white and the cleanest, newest thing in the room. I stayed put.
“Do you have any illnesses?”
“No,” I replied.
I gave her a brief rundown of how everyone died, including my mother’s death from cancer.
She took laborious longhand notes on an oversized index card, then looked up at me abruptly, “Breast cancer?”
“No,” I replied.
She didn’t bother to find out what kind of cancer my mother actually had. She asked me my weight and height without bothering to verify my claims. I grew a couple inches and lost a couple pounds. If she was living in a dream world, then so could I.
Dr. Norma Desmond instructed me to me hop up on the edge of the gruesome examining table. If ever a piece of equipment was haunted, this was it. I could feel the fear from myriad patients emanating from the frayed pad and rusted chrome. She listened to my heart with her trusty stethoscope. She felt my left breast then got distracted when I told her I had fibroid tumors in my uterus. She briefly palpated my lower abdomen and made no comment. So much for my right breast.
She looked in my ears with her ear-thingie then tried to get her flashlight to turn on so she could look down my throat. She fiddled with it, but it didn’t work, so she banged it hard on the stirrup. Bam. It was on.
That over, we discussed my wrist pain, the very reason I was there. She placed my wrist on the stirrup. I kid you not. Maybe this contraption did double duty back in the day, but to me, now, it was a gynecological stirrup, and my wrist was on it. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers leered at me from the side of the room.
She asked if I wanted blood work, and had she been a real doctor, I would have accepted the offer. But not trusting her to hit a forearm let alone a vein, I declined. Perhaps this was where the large black woman came in. It’s possible that she was a nurse. But drawing my blood would necessitate her getting up, and this seemed unlikely.
Norma Desmond hand scrawled my referral for the physical therapy, said “Anything else?” then suggested I take two more referrals, one for a gynecologist and another for an orthopedist. This, then, was her specialty. Penning referrals.
Relieved to be done, I was shocked to find other people in the waiting room. All women. All older. What were they doing here? What did this doctor do all day? Right. She handed out referrals. It was clear that neither she nor her staff were in any condition to treat anyone for anything.
I approached the front desk with $20 for my $10 co-pay. “Doctor,” her receptionist ventured, it seemed to me with trepidation. “Do you have $10 change for this lady’s co-pay?”
Here was the purpose of the shiny, dilapidated purse swinging from doc’s neck. It was the bank. She didn’t trust her employee of thirty years to hold the $10s? Well, just add that to the pile of crazy.
As I exited the joint, I walked to nearby Sheep’s Meadow on this glorious May day to regroup and slowly adjust to 2014. An iced coffee from Tavern on the Green’s pleasant take-out window aided in my recovery, and a Garage Band workshop at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue completed my reentry into today’s space-time coordinates.
The camera cuts to me, medium shot, walking the streets the next day wearing shorts, tee shirt, and sneakers, clutching my hard-won physical therapy referral as I exit Central Synagogue. From there I went directly to my new physical therapy practice in a very respectable office building, only to find that this operation had not been renovated since the early 1980s. This is not encouraging in a medical establishment. One wants the latest, the newest, and the best. I was having medical disappointment déjà vu.
Hoping for some nurturing medical massage as part of the package, all I saw were boring weights and machines. Looked like I’d have to do all the work. Sigh.
My therapist was a tall, no-nonsense gal, and her very basic equipment also seemed, well, quite old. She measured my wrist with a glorified tape measure from a plastic box of supplies that could have once housed a Lego set. The joint was uninspired. Even Norma Desmond had had some freaky flair.
I tried to crack a joke but my therapist was a tough customer. She alternately boiled and froze my wrist with very hot and very cold things then sono-waved it. She showed me a few stretches and the proper way to sit at my computer. Snore. This “therapy” basically boiled down to a lecture on posture.
While she was taking my carpal deposition, we sat inches away from each other, face to face in a little cubicle.
At one point she sighed. “You have to take better care of yourself.”
I’d been working like a dog producing audio books day and night in my home studio, a distraction from the grief of losing my dog. I’d pushed myself to the point of pain and had traded sentimental grief for physical maladies.
Tears started rolling down my face.
This threw her totally off her game when she looked up from my wrist. She was offering “physical” therapy, not “therapy” therapy. She tossed some rough paper towels at me so I could clean up my emotional mess, but not compassionately the way Sergio the dog walker had gently offered his soft towel to me. Her turf was repairing tendons and muscles, not the tender buttons she was pressing. But I needed nurturing, not needling.
That being said, she gave me some good advice about posture, and her seminal “You have to take better care of yourself” had struck a nerve.
I thought I already was doing that. But there’s always farther to go.
Taking better care of yourself emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually, and mentally, the whole shebang, is what it’s all about. Loving yourself has many facets.
A day in my life combines smiling, celebrating, crying, napping, pontificating, dancing, cooking, eating well, biking, blading, solitude, more solitude, writing, and recording. Day by day, gently (and sometimes more forcefully), I edge toward beautiful new vistas where grief abates and happiness abides. Sunset. Music swells. Fade to black.
© 2017 by Valerie Gilbert
Nicole Gan Singer:
“Valerie’s books are one of a kind – precious and rare. She brings an incredible wit to life’s spiritual journey that makes one’s own ride a little smoother. Her ability to encompass all aspects of life with such grace and humor is astonishing to me. She has a rare gift of combining a brilliant writing style with superb humor. Truly a remarkable example of genius in my humble opinion. Enjoy the ride! Namaste.” ~ Nicole Gans Singer, Channeler, Teachings of the Masters, teachingsofthemasters.org