Learning the Irish Language, Three-Thousand Miles from the Gaeltacht

Irish lessons from my maternal great-grandfatherUp the airy mountain / down the rushy glen / we daren’t go a-hunting / for fear of little men. If you smell sweet flowers in the house, then someone has passed over to the other side. An Irish farmboy can till Queens soil, and can grow rhubarb in the narrowest strip of earth cut from a cemented backyard. Your distant cousin was the original proprietor of McSorley’s Ale House. Don’t set foot in it. Keep a block of peat near your hearth. Not to burn, but to know that the homeland is always within reach.

Irish lessons from my maternal grandmother: We only drink Irish coffee after Sunday dinner. The Irish didn’t eat corned beef. The Irish-AMERICANS ate it here in the US because it was a cheap, stringy cut of meat and they were poor immigrants—and because it was cured, so it kept in their tins while they toiled all day digging tunnels and building railroads for this country. Remember that when you take a bite. Your family is from the north. You carry the Red Hand of Ulster. You are part Viking, because you are blue-eyed like your father. So mind your temper. You have people from the Sperrin Mountains in your lineage, so you can be wild. Mind that as well. Plan your funeral now, because no one is promised anything in this life–and because you’ll want to choose the hymns for yourself.

Irish lessons from my maternal grandfather:  When you die, be buried in a plain pine box like a soldier, like the boys from home. What you have been given can so easily be taken away, so don’t squander it. My mother said her people weren’t Johnny-come-latelys. They were lace-curtain, not shanty. This soda bread recipe isn’t from our ancestors. It’s from Woman’s Day.

Irish lessons from my paternal grandfather: Horse racing is in your blood, but the OTB is no place for a lady. Never tell them that you’re part Italian. Just tell them you’re French. Shine your shoes and wear a suit whenever possible. You may have hailed from wildness and fury and sorrow, but you can choose to live outside of it, and adjacent to it. You will see my ghost in Hell’s Kitchen whenever you walk there.

Irish lessons from my paternal grandmother: It’s a sin to say the rosary during mass. Meat should be gray. Never pink. Grudges can–and should–be lifelong. Don’t take a drop of the drink; it ruined my sister. Light a candle for me whenever you’re at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and genuflect before you leave.

Irish lessons from my father: Drunk people on New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day are amateurs. People who drink green beer are idiots. Always look for the Fighting 69th and the wolfhounds at the start of the parade. Spit on the ground whenever you hear the name Cromwell. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is the saddest song ever written, so sad it can never be sung. Instead, pour two fingers of whisky neat, sit quiet in the dark, and just listen.

Irish lessons from my mother: Your ancestors endured pillaging, slavery, oppression, starvation, poverty, wrongful imprisonment and execution. Their native language was ripped from their tongue, their culture ripped from their bones, their faith and rituals banished from their homes. And not so you can paint your face green and wear a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” pin, missy. So be proud. But not too proud. Listen to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. You are pagan, gypsy, ancient, wise, witchy. You inherently know bonfires and harvests and fields, and there are bits of thatch in your marrow–even though you are a city kid with dirt smudges and skinned knees and nothing more than sticks and Spaldeens for your pleasure. Don’t get in a car with a boy you don’t know. Always wear a slip. Only trust Irish butchers.

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Things That No One Knows

It’s Wednesday. I’m waiting for a guy from Home Depot to come over and measure something in our house so it can be fixed. Naturally, a writing prompt seems in order while I wait.

Here’s a good one:

Write down a list of things that you think no one knows about you.

1. I hate the furrowed lines between my eyebrows. They’ve developed from aging and from sun exposure and from my dogged refusal to wear my glasses as often as I should have throughout my twenties and thirties. I sometimes Google words like “Restylane” and “Botox” and “Juvederm” and then look at the accompanying images to see if I might be brave–and vain–enough to have the same treatments. I write down “call dermatologist” on my to-do list, but never seem to cross off that item.

2. I own too many pairs of jeans. Some pairs no longer fit me, but I still store them at the bottom of my bedroom dresser. Sometimes, I open the drawer and shame myself for not fitting into them.

3. I don’t care about chocolate. At all. I can’t stand that stereotypical connection between women and chocolate. I could give two shits about chocolate fondue or death by chocolate or Godiva anything. Yeesh.

4. I don’t like terms like “mommy juice” and “mommy’s sippy cup.” They actually trigger me a wee bit. I hail from a long family history of addiction, and have greatly suffered from (and triumphed over) its effects. I have felt guilty when I’ve made reference to wine and Bailey’s in my social media postings, because I don’t want to further stereotypes about frazzled, alcohol-swilling women and excessive drinking habits. I now drink less alcohol than I ever have before. Given my upbringing, I’m also slightly embarrassed at becoming a lightweight in my late forties. It’s an Irish badge of honor to hold your liquor and drink people under the table, which I used to be able to do. Not anymore. What a dichotomy I am.

5. I think I’m an introverted extrovert. Or an extroverted introvert. Not entirely sure which. I do know that I have every intention of attending the girls’ night/dinner/coffee/class/weekend/holiday get-together, but as the event date and time loom closer, I quietly panic and think that no one there actually likes me, or that I’ll say something so stupid that I’ll be banned from attending a subsequent outing. This is usually why I’m five to ten minutes late to everything.

6. I’m an only child. When parents of only children ask me if they should have another child–I want to say yes, but never say so. One of the greatest sadnesses in my life is that I don’t have siblings. How can you say that to parents who are facing fertility or financial issues surrounding additional pregnancies, and debating whether or not to risk their security or health for a larger family? You can’t. So I smile and say, “Birthdays and Christmases were wonderful in my house when I was growing up.” And I leave it at that.

7. I know that I shouldn’t wear high heels anymore, but I am short and I am vain and I am frightened of losing whatever sexiness I still possess–and heels feed all of those insecurities. So, I wear them. And then I hobble the next day. Which is decidedly un-sexy.

8. I would prefer to be at home, in my pajamas, under a blanket, watching a classic film or reading a book. Always. Yet, I also suffer from FOMO and am usually unsettled after an hour or so of such behavior, wondering what else I should be doing or where I should be going. I also suffer from the fear of being judged for using the term FOMO. I’m not kidding.

9. The weekend edition of The New York Times brings me great joy and unparalleled anxiety. I berate myself if I don’t read it cover to cover–which I never manage to do; I feel obsolete and provincial these days whenever I read the Styles section; I worry about international conflicts that I don’t fully understand, even though I’ve tried to read relevant articles several times over and still can’t follow the narrative; yet, I never fail to find an article in the Sunday paper that makes me cry, or which gives me hope for humanity.

10. People who meet me say that I am confident, and dynamic. (Also, a big mouth.) That might be true. I am also terribly shy, and have worked for the better part of 30 years to overcome that shyness. I may be “making it,” but that confidence undoubtedly arose from decades of “faking it.”

11. I love to be alone. I crave solitude. But only for a few hours, and then I get bored or worried. See #8.

12. I have struggled with my weight since I’ve been 9 years old. It has been a lifelong trauma for me–to be an overweight, then skinny, then once-again-overweight woman. A kind endocrinologist recently told me that I need to simply accept myself–my set point, my bone structure, my genetics, my muscle strength, my me-ness, all of it. I could tell that the endocrinologist found me somewhat attractive, and was trying to be appropriately encouraging. However, the endocrinologist was male. He was nice, but I don’t think he understands what it is to be a woman out here in the world.

13. I am really, really afraid to go to the doctor. Massively afraid.  I sometimes shake while sitting on the exam table, or have my blood pressure skyrocket so high that the nurse has to take it again at the end of the exam–once they’ve assured me that I’m not dying. I was never afraid of doctors until I was about 37, and my gynecologist mistakenly thought he found a lump in my breast. He didn’t handle it very well. It caused quite a mental ruckus for me for years afterward. I used to cry in the parking lot before going into a doctor’s office. I’m better now, and I go religiously, but I’m still really afraid. I realize now that the fear stems from the belief that I do not deserve all that I have been given, and that I will be punished for my many mistakes in life. I am sure that the other shoe will drop, any minute now. And it will be a big, clunky shoe of suffering or death.

14. I don’t take compliments well. I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still not so great at it. I deflect or discount them. I usually don’t believe people when they offer them to me.

15. I wish I lived in New York City. I know that I am lucky to live where I do, but after more than 15 years in an affluent New Jersey suburb, I still–STILL!–don’t feel like I fit in. I suppose that I’m just an innate city person. Yet, if I now lived in New York, I think that I’d have more stress and a shorter lifespan.

16. I am afraid of dying. For many reasons, I am no longer a practicing Catholic–but in some of my most worrisome moments, I think that if there is an afterlife, I won’t be allowed to attend–because I have left the Catholic Church. I’ll be Dustin Hoffman-like, perpetually banging on the glass a la “The Graduate,” shouting to all of my observant, deceased family members–and no one will hear me, or let me in. Catholic guilt is such a cruel bitch.

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17. I have never cheated on a boyfriend. Ever. I have had opportunities, but it’s just not my nature. I’m not sure if that makes me normal or strange or terribly boring.

18. I have phases where I wake up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly anxious or woefully sad. I don’t know what that means. When I say that out loud to other friends, they nod their heads and say the same. Regular exercise and meditation help me. Just in case you’re affected by that as well.

19. My hair is entirely gray and white. There’s not a brown hair left on my head. I started going gray when I was 18 years old. I worry that my vanity–in the form of chemical hair dye and highlights–is slowly, surely killing me.

20. Sometimes I fantasize about moving out and having my own apartment. Sometimes I want to get in my car and drive until I reach the ocean or the Canadian border. I don’t know what I would do once I got there, but I experience that feeling from time to time. I love my family more than I love myself, but sometimes I just need a break from the roles I play. I think we all do.

21. I wish I’d been wilder when I was younger. I realize now that I was wilder than many, but still. I could have upped my wild quotient a little bit. I think I might be wilder before I’m dead.

22. There is mental illness in my family history and I don’t talk about it much, because it is still so stigmatized and misunderstood in our society. It’s a silent shame for so many Americans who struggle with mental illness, whether within themselves or among family members. I believe that we could grow–and heal–so much as a culture if we shed more light on mental illness, and gave each other the freedom and support to discuss it more openly.

23. Sometimes I’m afraid of our attic or our basement or other dark places in our house, and I make my husband come with me to retrieve whatever I’m getting from said places. He thinks it’s adorable and hilarious. Most of the time.

24. I talk tough, but I really am a gentle person. However, if someone tried to harm one of my children or my husband–I’m actually shocked at how medieval I would get on their asses. There’s something in the blood on my father’s side of the family. We all have it–that quickness, that rage, that fire, that physicality of anger. It is inexplicable and quite possibly hails from our Viking blood.

25. I wasn’t nurtured exceptionally well, yet I have come to be a very nurturing person. I love that about myself, and I am so grateful for that development. I will seriously nurture the fuck out of you if you let me.

26. I waste a lot of time. A lot. See numbers 1-25. Also see years 1987-2018.

27. I wanted to add a music link to this blog post, because I am a colossal music fan and because music surrounds everything I do and think and feel. Yet, I am sure that “Behind Blue Eyes” is too obvious a choice, and that those of you reading this are mocking me for not having a more sophisticated musical palate. I’ve always related to this song–even though it’s about teenage boys. You know why? Because my father essentially raised me to be a teenage boy. He wanted me to have balls and guts and not get taken advantage of. It was the seventies and we lived in Queens–in the outer boroughs of New York City, back when New York City was nearly DOA–and he wanted me to stay alive and not get raped or stabbed, and I appreciate that. I really do. However, I still think I’m not feminine enough because of that upbringing, and that everyone can tell that about me. Right away. I’m sure that it’s handicapped me. Also the Catholic thing, mixed with sex and womanhood, kinda screwed me up. I never learned how to be girly. But what was I saying? Oh, right. “Behind Blue Eyes.” It’s The Fucking Who. So don’t fucking judge.

28. I still harbor crushes on famous men who are now old or dead. Paul Newman, for one. He’s so very dead. The youngest guy I crush on is 48. I don’t know if that’s normal.

29. I’m afraid of writing–and telling–too much. Especially here.

30. There are other things that I still can’t write down in this blog post. There are other things I still don’t want to admit about myself. See number 21. I’ll admit them before I’m dead, too. At least I think so.

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19 for 2019

Recently, I was listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, and I was intrigued by the episode’s theme. Gretchen and her sister and co-host, Elizabeth Craft, spoke about creating lists at the start of 2018 — aptly titled “18 for 2018″ — after hearing from a listener who had created her own happiness project by outlining 35 fun, fearless and fabulous things to do in her 35th year. The list had changed her for the better, leaving Gretchen and Elizabeth eager to create their own.

Elizabeth had tried to cross off all 18 items on her list, but only succeeded in accomplishing 5 or 6. Gretchen, a seemingly more diligent list-crafter and all-around do-er, had been able to enact all 18. The experience had been positive for both of them, and during the podcast, they shared their new lists for 2019.

I’m clearly more of an Elizabeth than a Gretchen, but since the podcast inspired me — I’m going to put together a list of of 19 items this year and see how things go. I’m a recovering overachiever and perfectionist, sprinkled with generous doses of self-sabotage and procrastination. (It’s a fun combo. Trust me on this.) Several years ago, I created a “bucket list” with more than 100 items. It was daunting, but strangely enough, the simple act of writing and reviewing allowed me to cross off several items in a short span of time. Most of them seemed out of reach when I first scribbled them on a notepad, but many of them became achievable — simply because I wrote them down. I actualized them, instead of mentally juggling them in my head and whipping them like dodgeballs at my psyche whenever I got off track. I also realized that I didn’t want to complete some of the items that I had initially listed. I  thought I did, but once I took pen to paper (or more accurately, fingertip to keyboard) — the passion for some of those seemingly crucial bullet points quickly dissipated. That meant no longer berating myself for things I didn’t really want to do, anyway.

I still keep my larger bucket list, but I’ve decided that the “19 for 2019″ is a worthy project to embrace in the coming year. I’ve been feeling a bit depleted recently — given the current political climate, my increasing age and roller-coaster hormones, and the many transitions that life continually asks me to experience. Let me put it this way: I have two teenagers. One of whom drives. So I’m pretty fucking exhausted. I have no expectation that I will complete all 19, but I like a challenge, and I like getting out of my comfort zone. Lists like these also allow me to see the progress I’ve made, even if it’s in small increments. They offer opportunities to slow down, think through, and reassess — all welcome activities in our fast-paced lives. List-making is a worthy pursuit for someone like me. Perhaps it is for you, too.

Here, then, is my 19 for 2019 list:

1. I want to return my supermarket shopping cart to its rightful place after I load my groceries into the car. An odd choice, right? Yet, I’ve come to realize that it is meaningful for several reasons. One: it’s probably safer for everyone in the parking lot not to have errant carts rolling all willy-nilly into car doors and parking spaces and lanes of traffic. Two: I can stand to take a few more steps to return it. It’s healthy. Three: It seems more respectful for some reason. I can’t fully explain it. But I want to make this a regular practice. 1a: I want to bring my reusable bags into the supermarket on EVERY SHOPPING TRIP. Not just on the off chance that I remember them. 

2. I want to send more birthday cards this year, and write out birthday cards for family and close friends ahead of time so I don’t forget. I’ve gotten out of the habit of sending cards. I blame Facebook for this. And texting. I suppose it isn’t good for the environment to mail them, but it still seems soul-nourishing to receive an hand-addressed envelope in the mail on your birthday. One of my sisters-in-law is a consistent card-sender and birthday-rememberer, and it has been truly meaningful for our children to be so lovingly remembered by their aunt throughout their childhood. It’s the stuff of life, really. I need to do that for other people in my life. Pay it forward with a Forever stamp, so to speak. So it goes on the list.

3. I want to consider running the NYC Marathon this year. I can’t fully commit yet, but I want to at least think about it. I have a nagging case of plantar fascitis, but it’s been healing well. Not to mention the fact that my 50th birthday will be here before I know it — and that I had secretly dreamed of running this race before that date arrived. So let’s say that I’m in the exploratory stages. I’ll keep you posted.

4. I want to take the dog for a walk every morning, and walk myself in the process. I am amazed at how calm and centered I feel whenever I take a walk. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts like On Being with Krista Tippett, or Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing. Other times, I listen to music — or to absolutely nothing at all, and simply observe the beauty of another morning unfolding. My brain and my creativity are always tickled awake during these walks. Too often, I lose the kernel of an idea that arises while I stroll — but a daily walk might help to strengthen those memory muscles, and allow me to capture more of the nonsense that swirls in my head. The dog really loves his walks, too — and during the winter, we slack off far too often. All treats and no walks makes our bernedoodle a very sad boy. Time to get the leash out, and make it a habit.

5. I want to meditate most days of the week. There’s no question that I benefit from this practice. I am saner, calmer and sleep better when I meditate. So it goes on the list.

6. I want to read a book a week. That’s not a lofty goal. That’s completely possible. Especially if I remember to bring my book along with me during the day. I am forever waiting in doctor’s offices, on checkout lines and in parking lots. I can sit there, twiddling my thumbs or scrolling on my phone mindlessly. Or — I can read. You do the math.  Leave the phone, McKitty. Take the hardcover novel.

7. I want to drink a shit-ton of water. I forget to drink water. And it shows. No more. Drink up, Irish.

8. I want to take our kids to some great New York restaurants this year.  We always say that we will. We need to do it this year.

9. I want to host Sunday dinners for friends 5 or 6 times this year. I used to entertain more often, but life has — per usual — gotten in the way. Years ago, when my husband and I were younger and living in San Francisco, I cooked nearly every Sunday, and usually invited someone to sit at our table. We hosted East Coast ex-pats like ourselves, single guys in desperate need of home cooking and comfort, many friends and neighbors, and just about everyone who came to visit us so they could get their first look at the Golden Gate Bridge. I loved those days. That practice has fallen by the wayside, but several friends have told me that they miss that same practice of breaking bread and wine drinking and laughter and dishes and little kids everywhere and camaraderie. So, 5 or 6 Sundays seem do-able.

10. I want to take our children to Ireland this summer. They’ve never been. I’d love to take them.

11. I want to finish the first draft of the screenplay that’s been rattling around in my head for the past five years. “The past five years.” Oy.

12. I want to commit to two restorative yoga sessions a week. I’m stiff and cramped and my back hurts and my hip is tight and…I need to stretch. Lordy, Lord, do I need to stretch. On the list. I also want to encourage my husband to get back to hot yoga classes. He had a brutal case of frozen shoulder last year, and hot yoga was the only cure. His new work situation has made class attendance difficult for him. I need to gently encourage him, and help him get back on track.

13. I want to host two or three storytelling events this year. I hosted one in my backyard in the fall. It was hard work — and incredibly rewarding. The best part? Guests who came up to me afterwards and said that they felt connection and comfort by taking part. They felt energized. Alive. Happy. Moved. Man, that’s everything for me. That’s life itself, isn’t it?

14. I want to have an essay published, one that is terribly close to the bone for me. I’m reticent to be so vulnerable, but I’ll never grow as a writer if I play it safe.

15. I want to continue to perform at storytelling events in the tristate area. The Moth? 650 Reads? A PBS program? I’m not sure yet. Storytelling has been life-changing for me, and has allowed me to meet some of the most dynamic and interesting people. Here’s to more of it in 2019!

16. Buy less crap. I’ve been happily Marie Kondo-ed. Less clutter, more joy.

17. Volunteer on a regular basis. Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I volunteered once a week at a food bank for residents living with HIV/AIDS. The work was heartbreaking and uplifting, and selfishly, I gained a great deal from the experience. Service to others gets you out of your head and into the real world. I need to stop bitching and moaning about the state of the world, get out of my head and make a difference — no matter how small it might be.

18. Get to a healthier weight. Gretchen and Elizabeth noted that these lists shouldn’t include things like “lose 30 pounds,” because the goal is too vague. So I guess this is good enough for now. I’ll say this. Genes are hard. Perimenopause is harder. It’s an uphill battle, but I want to win this fight. Or at least die by sugar detox while trying.

19. Get closer to my writing goals. I’ve had some success with my writing, but I need to keep moving the ball down the field. A collection of essays, a memoir and a novel are all possible for me in this lifetime — at least in final draft form, ready to send out into the world. I need and want to incorporate daily practice and discipline, workshopping, networking and community-building, and possible pursuit of an MFA program in the distant future to make this happen. I also need to sit ass in chair, as Anne Lamott says, and get it all down. To stop being afraid of failure — and success. To stop being afraid of being seen, being judged, and being disliked because of what I might have to say. It’s my voice. I may as well use it before it goes silent.

 

 

 

 

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The Last Time

As a young mother, I spent a great deal of time documenting “firsts.” I was there for my babies’ first smiles and laughs, their first steps and first words. I snapped pictures of their first tinseled Christmas mornings and first cellophane-wrapped Easter baskets, which, quite honestly, were a blur in the midst of fractured, new parent sleep. I wiped away my sudden, hot tears on their first days of school, their first wobbly executions on bikes without the aid of training wheels, and while witnessing their first home runs and first school concerts.

There were so many entries in their baby books. So many photographs, now stored away in computer hard drives and files. So many candles lit as rooms were darkened, and as off-key lyrics of “Happy Birthday” were sung. So many days of nervously watching as each child left the nest on their own remarkable terms, inching further and further down the branch at every opportunity before they took flight. So many days of letting go, when I wanted nothing more than to shamefully keep all of it for myself.

Now, as an older mother, I sense that my role has morphed into something like a reverse mortgage. I’ve put in nearly eighteen years of equity, and have looked on as my investments grew. My children are 17 and 13 now — a girl-woman and a boy-man, mocking my maternal sentimentality, my insistence on proper dishwasher loading and — thank you infant baby Jesus — still kissing me on the forehead before they turn in at night. They are innately good and flawed people, who care about stray animals and the state of our country, and who offer dignity and assistance to elderly people struggling to climb subway steps. They have my blue eyes and my temper, although they express the latter in ways that uniquely belong to each of them. I am desperately in love with both of them, and will forever be, in ways that I still cannot properly express but pray they will still sense, long after I am gone from this earth.

Last month, as we celebrated our daughter’s 17th birthday, it struck me that we would enjoy only one more birthday celebration together as a family unit before she heads off to college. Her birthday falls in October, and after next year, she’ll be in Boston or DC or Iowa or God knows where, taking poli sci classes in her fall semester, drinking cheap beer and making magnificent mistakes — and figuring out who she was born to be. After so many years of princess birthday cakes and streamers and sweet 16 party carpools, the realization was stunning. This would all end, which I understood in theory, of course — but was still so astonishing to comprehend.

I realized that in addition to “firsts,” we also come to experience many “lasts,” and that there aren’t any blank books or photo albums dedicated to their documentation. The “lasts”  catch us off-guard and unaware all of the damn time, and we never know to honor such moments until they are out of reach, and long past our line of sight. I didn’t bronze the last bottle that our daughter drank during a quiet midnight feeding, while we rocked together in the darkness and listened to cargo ships low their horns in the thick San Francisco fog. I didn’t think it would be the last time that I’d swoon to hear our son mispronounce his sister’s name when he was a toddler, before some neural pathway in his brain strengthened and redirected his small, rose-lipped mouth to say it correctly. I didn’t commemorate the last time I was “Mommy,” instead of “Ma.” I couldn’t have known that we’d choose the last book that I’d read to them at bedtime, or the last summer day that we’d spend together on the playground. I didn’t savor the last Christmas that they still believed, the last time we could all fit comfortably into our queen-sized bed, or the last time I’d need to drive her somewhere, before she got her license.

There were other lasts in my life before I became a mother, of course. There was the last Manhattan checkered cab ride I’d ever take, before the taxis were all decommissioned and scrapped in junkyards. The last time I’d cross East 19th Street and notice the glint of trolley car rails embedded in the asphalt — the same rails that my great-grandfather once rode as a ticket taker around “Dead Man’s Curve” circa 1903, and which strangely brought me comfort as a young woman living alone in New York City. The last breakfast I’d eat at The Paris Commune on Bleecker Street. The last time I’d hold my grandmother’s hand before she died, and the last time that my parents would pose together for a photograph before they divorced. The last time I’d see the World Trade Center, shimmering at the far end of Seventh Avenue on a hot summer afternoon, standing so tall and sure.

We cannot know when these “lasts” will happen, but we must live as if they are occurring all of the time. Not to clutch them too tightly to our bodies and psyches, but to savor them so sweetly when they have passed through us, to let them linger on our tongues and fingertips and minds, to ache so exquisitely for how it once was — as we let it all go, and marvel at what we are so blessed to have been given.

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September 11, 2018

(Each year, I post this essay as a remembrance of those whom we lost on September 11. As the years have passed, I have edited the piece, but the message is still the same. I will never forget those whose lives were taken that day.)

Today marks seventeen years. Seventeen years since I awoke at 6 am, to the sound of my husband trying to quiet his crying in our San Francisco kitchen. Seventeen years since I clutched my pregnant stomach and sank to the floor while watching the Twin Towers fall. Seventeen years since our lives were forever marked, lessened, and changed.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my husband was at his desk at JPMorgan’s West Coast office in downtown San Francisco. He arrived at work at 4:00 am Pacific Time that morning, as he did each morning — anticipating the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange while most of California was still asleep.

He had seen the first tower hit on live television while he worked on the trading floor, and he remembered that my father’s office at Aon was located on the 102nd floor of one of the buildings. There was confusion on the morning news, but not yet panic. Was it a commuter plane? Was it an air traffic controller error? What had happened?

My husband anxiously flipped through his Rolodex, trying to find my father’s business card. Which tower was he in? Which building was Tower Two?  The newscameras’ disorienting views were confusing. Seeking confirmation, he glanced up again at the wall of television screens on the trading floor, just as the second plane crashed into the second tower. Whenever he sees that video footage of the second plane’s impact, he sharply turns his head away.

Both towers were now in flames. Both towers had been attacked. It made no difference. He was certain that my father had been killed. My husband bolted upright from his desk, his co-workers later told me, without any explanation, and sprinted to the elevator. He drove home at a frightening speed to ensure that I hadn’t woken up and learned of the news by myself — at home, alone, and eight months pregnant with our first child. He was afraid that I would go into early labor at the sight of the morning news report, believing that my father had died in the attack.

He doesn’t remember the commute home, save for the sight of a woman running down Lombard Street — alone, naked and screaming. He couldn’t stop to help her because he needed to get to me, he said, so he kept driving. He was sure that the woman had just lost someone, either in those towers or on those planes. Nothing else could explain such raw, erratic behavior, timed so closely to the events that had just taken place. He still thinks of her when he remembers the details of that morning, and he still hears the muffled sound of her screams from behind his closed car windows.

While I lay asleep in bed, unaware of his return home, or of anything — my husband bore the initial shock of 9/11 alone in our still-darkened living room on the West Coast. He called everyone he knew, every person he could think of, every number in our phone book, everyone — to determine if my father was trapped in Tower Two, or if he had, somehow, miraculously escaped. Sometimes the phone lines worked when he called, and sometimes they didn’t, and he’d dial and redial and forget who he’d reached, who he hadn’t, and who he still had to call. He told me later that he had refrained from waking me for as long as possible — because, he believed, I was still safely asleep, in a stilled span of time where my father was still alive, and where I was still his child. This happened seventeen years ago, and I still cry when I read those words.

The phone rang in our kitchen, and my husband hurried to answer it. The voice on the other end was, shockingly, my father’s. He was calling from a train station somewhere in Westchester, New York. He hadn’t arrived in downtown Manhattan yet, because he’d simply been running late to work that day. When the attack occurred, all trains to Manhattan stopped service. Passengers were ushered off commuter trains at the nearest stops, left stranded to search for pay phones or borrow strangers’ cell phones to call loved ones, and to try and piece together what had happened.

My father stood in a long, snaking line at a pay phone at the train station, and listened to people ahead of him each speak the same string of words — I’m alive, I’m alright, I’m ok — to someone else on the other line before they hung up, to someone else who had been thrown from the daily ritual of morning into a place uncharted and unknown, as all of us had been. My father had also worried that I would go into early labor at the overwhelming news, and wanted me to know that he was alive and safe.

I awoke in the midst of that conversation, to hear my husband’s whispered voice addressing my father, “Billy, Billy, thank God you’re alright,” and to then hear him say to me in an oddly calm cadence that “the World Trade Center blew up,” as he tried to relay this information to me while in shock, as plainly as if describing what he’d just eaten for breakfast.

I had awoken to panic, to a full-blown attack and assault, and my actions were off-kilter. I felt disjointed, out of body, out of sync with my breath and my thoughts and my heartbeat now pulsing madly in my ears. I felt the slam of my feet hitting the floor before realizing that I’d actually gotten out of bed. I raced to the television set in our den for consolation, for proof to the contrary, because it didn’t seem possible, because this couldn’t be real, because that was New York City, and such things didn’t happen there.

The news reports offered no reassurance. Instead, the television screen displayed a camera shot of the smoking towers at the right of our television screen. The Empire State Building — a proud city’s marker and symbol — appeared at left in the foreground, seemingly askew and tilted, because the camera must have been jostled in the chaos. This was real. This was happening. What was happening?

New York City was my city, my birthplace, and my home. For my parents, ’50s-era children from Brooklyn and Queens, the Empire State Building was their Eighth Wonder of the World. For my generation of New York City outerborough kids — who visited the Twin Towers as schoolchildren, and who held them as a symbol of hope in a decaying, crime-ridden city in the 1970s — the Towers were ours. It was inconceivable that they would ever be anything but there.  Their identical silhouettes were the first I could recognize in the hazy city skyline when we flew back from California, the first mark of familiarity for me, and the first confirmation that I was truly home.

I watched the towers fall on the television that September morning, and remember hearing myself yell, “My city! My city!” as I dropped to my knees. I could only think of the structure, the steel, the permanence, all so callously challenged. Other people remarked to us later that we must have felt relief at being so far from New York. They weren’t New Yorkers themselves. They couldn’t possibly understand how much I yearned to be home.

As hours passed, I began to absorb the horrors of what the victims had to witness and endure. The enormity of loss, the magnitude of so many lives, lost in the attack with nothing of theirs to be recovered, was all too much for me to initially comprehend. My mind switched over into makeshift preservation mode that morning, a knee-jerk denial, and refused to acknowledge the scope of it until hours — if not days — had passed. I remember speaking to a friend on the phone later that afternoon. She was sobbing and heaving, overcome at the thought of the passengers’ terror on the hijacked planes. I didn’t understand her at first. In my shock, I had naively supposed that the planes were empty, stolen from jetways without any additional suffering, and that the only victims were the hijackers themselves. I cried along with her at the sudden, awful realization of what had happened to them.

My family was grazed that day, when so many others were terribly wounded. I lost no one, although there were too many “what if”s and “just a few minutes away” situations to permeate the bubble of safety in which I’d unwittingly traveled. Relatives and friends of mine were all within steps of those towers. My father should have been at work that morning. He should have been in that building. He simply wasn’t.

One of my cousins was an FDNY fire marshal — a first responder on 9/11 — and had those towers rain down on him. He walked away from the rubble unharmed — forever marked and changed, of course, but incomprehensibly, alive. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is unquestionably related to his exposure to toxic materials that day. Again, he has survived.

Friends of ours had been married in Connecticut the previous weekend, on September 8th. If I hadn’t been so far along in my pregnancy, my husband and I would have been in their wedding party. We would have been returning from the East Coast, quite possibly, on September 11th, with flowers from my bridesmaid’s bouquet, and stories never to be told. We might very well have had two seats on Flight 93 — the flight headed from Newark to San Francisco, which was also hijacked by terrorists, and which crashed in a Pennsylvania field. We had traveled on Flight 93 many times after family visits back east. My child — my precious, precious gleam of a daughter, born six weeks after the attacks — might never have been born.

Our story is the same as thousands of other New Yorkers and Americans. It touched us, but it didn’t destroy us. With that randomly fortunate place comes a sense of remorse, of survivors’ guilt, and the need to offer remembrance and respect. After seventeen years, the wound has closed over. As a nation, as a people, as a collective psyche, we had to want to heal. But with it comes a sense of guilt in doing so.

As much as this day is about our shared experience as a nation, it isn’t about me. My father is alive. I will not be a mourner attending the memorial at Ground Zero, nor a widowed mother having to navigate her children through another day of news coverage because the loss is so intimately ours. I was only a witness to a crime so inhumane, so impossible, that the memory is left with me, and with all of us, evermore.

Which is why I watch the reading of the names every year. It’s all I know how to do on these September mornings, when the air is cool and the sky is a calming, wide blue — just as it was on the morning of 9/11, 2001. And I cry. Terribly. Openly. Because after seventeen years, it is still unimaginable that it actually happened. After all of the “missing” posters and the ribbons and the memorials and the fundraisers and the commemorative plates and bumper stickers have faded away, all that remains is the victims’ continued absence. The people — all of those people — are still gone.

I want to acknowledge them, in my insignificant way — and in some semblance of magical thinking — and have them somehow know that we still see their pictures, their families, their names, their lives left behind. We know they were here. They loved, they cried, they won, they yelled, they laughed, they fought, they failed, they celebrated, they touched. They were. Somehow, for as long as those of us who witnessed the events of that day are alive —  they still are.

The wound is ripped open every year as the names are read, but we can never forget them — the secretaries, the Cantor traders, the firefighters, the Windows on the World busboys, the insurance adjusters at Aon, the tourists, the elevator operators, the IT guys, the airplane passengers, the Port Authority police officers, the office managers, the stewardesses, the people.

The people, the people, the people, the people.

 

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Love List – July 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. So much has been happening — both macro and micro — in my world. I’m guessing that it has in yours as well.

I’ve also been thinking differently about what I write and where I share it. I’d like to say that it’s all part of a strategic, long-range plan to publish several novels and essay collections, but it’s mostly because I’m more tired at night and worn out from news cycles and usually cleaning up other people’s shoes and drinking glasses in various rooms of my house — even though I am writing, just a bit more privately.

Every now and then, however, I crave an old-fashioned WordPress log-on and a tickling of the ivory keyboard, so to speak. I’ve always liked sharing thoughts and ideas and yummy bits with other people, and I’ve always enjoyed writing a list like this to remind me of happy little things in my life — and hopefully, to bring some of them to yours.

So, here’s a list of what I’m loving these days:

10 Percent Happier with Dan HarrisABC news reporter Dan Harris suffered an on-air panic attack several years ago, which prompted him to take stock of his life (NOTE: cocaine, ecstasy and Good Morning America co-hosting don’t mix) — and practice meditation as a way to overcome the trauma he endured as an investigative reporter in an Iraqi military zone. What resulted is a book, podcast and app called 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. I’ve been watching the online videos and following the guided meditations that his app offers — and I’m hooked. I had forgotten how meditation, mindful breathing and quiet can all redirect me, and bring a bit more peace and calm to my daily life. My husband has noticed the difference in me as well, in just a few weeks. I even noticed that I’ve been saying “fuck” a lot less. For this native New Yorker, that’s a dramatic change. Dan Harris is a mensch and he’s definitely onto something, and I’ve developed a bit of a nerd crush on him. Check it out for yourselves:

10 Percent Happier

Kosas Lipstick I’m a closet hippie by trade. Fine, maybe not so closeted. I eat organic produce and worry about the environment and I burn incense — and man, do I love me some Super Soul Sundays. That’s not to say that I don’t also enjoy a Jersey gel manicure that lasts three weeks without chipping — because UV what? and chemicals who? and because I’m sick like that. But I came across this brand of lipstick a few months ago, and I’m breathing a little bit easier — because I never leave the house without lipstick, and because I can’t even begin to read all of the ingredients printed on the packaging of that Bobbi Brown lip gloss I’ve been slathering on my faccia for the past twenty years, and which I have undoubtedly consumed in mass quantities while sipping hundreds of Starbucks lattes. So — enter Kosas, which is an organic lipstick brand that stays on my kisser, perks up my face and feels nice on my lips. Kosas has some killer shades of red that I’ve decided are my new signature lips this fall. Yup. SIGNATURE. LIPS. It’s what you do when you’re almost 48. YOU GET SIGNATURE LIPS.  I’m even wearing one of those SIGNATURE LIP shades today (Royal), in honor of Mick Jagger’s 75th birthday. Yeah. It’s like that.

Matcha green tea lattes Coffee and I no longer get along, or so my doctor tells me. It makes me too jittery and keeps me up at night and causes me to crash and burn somewhere around 2 pm. Enter matcha lattes. They allow for my ritual of morning beverage coziness and enable afternoon coffee dates with friends to continue — and I now sleep like a baby most nights. Except when I dream that I’m pregnant with twins, and wake up screaming in a cold sweat.

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley Look, I didn’t want to like her, because she’s basically living the life I want, and because I’m plainly jealous. But I like the way she thinks — and writes. Crosley is a master of one-liners, and an astute observer of things like Brooklyn and existentialism and Hollywood and dead downstairs neighbors, which all makes for fun, fertile reading before I go to bed. A thoughtful, quick read of essays while under the covers.

Michael Palin and Mick Jagger They’re both 75 this year — Palin this past May, and Jagger today. They’re thriving and working and at the top of their game — at seventy-fucking-five. Did you see Palin in “Death of Stalin?” You should. Aren’t the Stones touring again? Of course they are. At 75, my forebears were wearing housecoats and sensible black shoes and falling asleep in church on Sundays. Palin and Jagger are also both adorable in different sorts of ways, and I’ve crushed on them both since I’ve reached the age to develop crushes. Even if Mick does dance a little funny. There’s a Silly Walk connection here somewhere, but I need another matcha latte first.

“Reason To Believe” sung by Karen Dalton  I’ve recently become obsessed with this Billie Holiday-and-Bessie-Smith-like folk and blues singer, born in 1937 in Oklahoma and dying in Woodstock, New York in 1993 at the age of 55. Her voice is haunting and soulful and rich, and I’ve been listening to her album 1966 on repeat. Here’s her cover of: Reason To Believe / Karen Dalton

I’m hoping to be back in August with another Love List. Also — please watch this space for my new website. It will have pictures and videos and clips and stuff about where I’ll be reading or performing — and lots of other jolly good shit.

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Know Thyself: 25 Questions

Today, I had planned to meet one friend for morning coffee, and another for afternoon tea — but both of them are sick and needed to cancel. My husband and son have been coughing for weeks, and my daughter has just texted from school to say that she has a migraine and feels achy.

Ah, winter. You and your viruses. Trying to play a little farce with me and my peeps. You think you can sicken a McKitty? I’m washing my hands every six minutes. I’ve got my medicine cabinet stocked with elderberry syrup and zinc lozenges and oscillo…whatever the hell it’s called. So g’head. Do your worst. (I realize that I’ve just jinxed myself by typing this, and fully expect to be bedridden by Wednesday. Do I feel hot to you? Kiss my forehead.)

For an only child, a homebody, an introverted extrovert and a writer, the silver lining in cancelled plans is an opportunity to putter alone at home, and write. Especially when it’s blustering outside, and the makings of a steamy mug of matcha green tea are all within easy reach in my kitchen. There’s no other choice, really, but to put my ass in a chair and write it all down. I’d say that hygge is happening here, but that’s so 2017. Let’s just say I’m treating myself to a cozy hour or two indoors.

Sometimes, a good old-fashioned list of questions can prompt me to write — much like this list that I came across this morning. I haven’t blogged much lately, either. Figured it was a good day to do a little bit of both. So, then — my answers to 25 questions. Perhaps mine will prompt your own answers as well. Write them down. See where they take you.

25 QUESTIONS

1. What does your ideal day look like? Waking refreshed and energetic on a mild summer morning, with the windows open and the sun streaming into my bedroom. Meditating for a few minutes and sipping some tea. Spending some time laughing, snuggling or talking with my two children. Working out while listening to a great playlist, until I’m spent and sore and high on endorphins. Possibly with the kids and the dog, if they feel like coming along. Taking a long, hot shower and doing some sort of stretching thingie afterwards that releases my muscles and makes me feel good. Having a good hair day after time spent blow-drying and curling my hair. Having time to write down all of the ideas that popped into my head while I was exercising and showering, then going to eat a brunch-ish midday meal with my husband somewhere in Manhattan — and making him laugh the entire time. Visiting a museum or going to a matinee with him afterwards, and walking all over the city to window shop and grab coffee and sit on stoops and look at all the life around us. Running into Jon Hamm or Chris Hemsworth or Michael Palin or Tom Hardy in a small boutique and having them ask me to try on a dress or an item of jewelry, because I remind them of their wife/girlfriend/mistress — but that my eyes are even bluer, more intense, and that I’m even more beautiful. Catching them take a second glance at me as the shop doorbell tinkles behind me, and I decline and walk out happily with my husband. Eating dinner somewhere wonderful with my husband and a large group of friends, somewhere candlelit and quaint and delicious and relaxed, with bread and wine and laughter. Hugging a lot of people. Seeing a viewing of “The Graduate” or “When Harry Met Sally” or “The Producers” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “The Pope of Greenwich Village” or “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or “Moonstruck” or “Cinema Paradiso” or “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” or “The Godfather: Parts I and II” or “Casablanca” or “Rear Window” or “On the Waterfront” or “12 Angry Men” or “The Best Years of Our Lives” or “A Night at the Opera” at the Film Forum after dinner. Finding a place in the Village to have rounds of drinks and cappuccino and cannoli. Going to a late-night secret concert with Elton John or Neil Young or Patti Smith or the Avett Brothers or Dawes or Van Morrison (if he’s in a good mood) at a small, intimate venue. Buying the Sunday Times at a newsstand before we head back home. A late-night lavender and Epsom salts soak with a coconut oil finish. Not being too tired to have really great and life-affirming sex when we get into bed. Falling asleep immediately afterwards, knowing all the while that tomorrow is Sunday and that we can sleep in.

2. What did you want to be when you were younger? A Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” circa 1975-1978. A writer. A playwright. An actor. A drummer.

3. Who are you most inspired by? Why? Many people, but most of all, my husband — by his calmness, his kindness, his capacity to love, his faithfulness, his work ethic, and his willingness to keep trying.

4. Who would you love to meet? What would you ask? I’m really shy about meeting my heroes. Terrified, actually — that it would all be a letdown, or that they’d give me a dirty look or not like me very much, or be nothing at all like I imagined. If I got over all of that, then I’d love to meet all four Beatles and most of Monty Python and Katharine Hepburn and Abraham Lincoln and Tina Fey and Jon Hamm and Gilda Radner and Alice McDermott because she somehow writes my family’s stories and Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Paul Newman and Levon Helm and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau — and now I’m nauseous at the thought of it, so, no. Forget about it.

5. What habit would you most like to break? What habit would you most like to start? I have several habits that I’d like to break, which mostly revolve around overusing my smartphone, zoning out on social media, and  procrastinating. Also? Being an asshole to myself, and being unkind to myself. I’d like to start a daily habit of meditation, stretching and writing practice. I don’t do that every day, and the daily habit would help me to be calmer and more productive.

6. Think of a person you truly admire. What qualities do you like about that person? See #3.

7. How do you like to relax? Reading, listening to music, napping, daydreaming

8. When was the last time you did something you were afraid of? The last time I got on a plane.

9. What are you most proud of? Breaking the cycle of dysfunction, addiction and abuse. Being saner. Working hard at and nurturing the fuck out of a 20-year marriage. Raising two self-aware, kind, and funny human beings.

10. What are you most afraid of? Dying young — before my children are grown, before I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say, before I’ve fully lived my life.

11. If life stopped today, what would you regret not doing? Being too afraid to tell my stories, for fear of criticism and alienating others.

12. Who would you like to connect (or reconnect) with? Why? My grandparents, who have all passed away. I’d love to visit with them again.

13. What qualities do you admire in others? Kindness, self-awareness, humility, tenderness, a sense of humor, bravery, honesty, loyalty, gentleness, compassion, a desire for knowledge, empathy.

14. What practical skills do you wish you had? I wish I could easily change a flat, and perform more expert auto and home repair. I feel like I’m getting screwed whenever I drop my car off for servicing or hire a handyman to do something. I also wish I was better at math. I have math-phobia. Serious math-phobia.

15. Imagine you’re in your 90s. What memories would you like to have? What stories do you want to tell? I’d like to have memories of a happy family life with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a strong and loving marriage, a long-standing and ever-widening circle of friends, a productive creative career, and a lifetime of travel and experiences. I want to think that I was kind and brave and authentic.

16. What is your favorite book/movie/song? Why?

Book: impossible to say. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Charming Billy, A Sport and a Pastime, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, To Kill a Mockingbird, Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From…

Movie: can’t name one. Godfather Parts I&II, Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, Marx Brothers, the Pink Panther series, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Producers (1968), Napoleon Dynamite, Cinema Paradiso, All the President’s Men

Song: oh, honestly. Depends on the mood, day, year. Some are Van Morrison’s St. Dominic’s Preview, Fleetwood Mac’s Secondhand News, years of the Beatles (Dear Prudence, Good Day Sunshine, Hey Jude, Hello Goodbye, Something, Don’t Let Me Down, Here Comes the Sun, Let It Be, Two of Us, The Long and Winding Road, Oh! Darling, Golden Slumbers, All You Need is Love), the Stones (Loving Cup, Sympathy for the Devil, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Wild Horses, She’s a Rainbow, Dead Flowers, Shine a Light), The Who’s Substitute, The Clash’s Train in Vain, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Toots and the Maytals’ 54-46 Was My Number, Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, Allman Bros. Please Call Home, Simon & Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy in NY, The Boxer, Traffic’s Empty Pages, We Five’s You Were on My Mind, Jackson C. Frank’s cover of Blues Run the Game, The Band’s Cripple Creek and cover of Don’t Do It, Elton John’s Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Big Star’s Motel Blues — see? And that’s just today. Impossible to choose.

17. If you could make one change in the world, what would it be? For war and hatred to end. For humanity to live in equanimity and peace, and view itself as one sentient species of being — without the discrimination of boundaries, nationalities, class, wealth, religion, sexuality or gender to limit us from accepting and loving each other.

18. What do you love to do for, or give to others (not an object — something from you personally)? I love to love people. It sounds corny, but it’s true. I feel like I can heal the tiny paper cuts of life when I do so, and can better things somewhat. I was raised to be so tough, to be a rock and an island, to be so disconnected from others. At 47, I’ve learned how powerful and how healing my feminine ways can be. I can cook and soothe and scratch and hug and bake and listen and stroke and cover with a blanket and laugh and bring you soup and whisper and sit beside you in the midst of grief and encourage and tell you to be kinder to yourself and put out appetizers and drinks when you’re hungry and thirsty and let you sit by the fire when you’re cold and say nothing at all if need be and support you and tell you stories that make you laugh and offer gentleness and kindness. It’s literally taken me years to let that part of myself emerge. I don’t know why I was raised to lock all of that up, but I think it stems from Catholicism and the immigrant mindset and the fear of being labeled as a flirt or a hussy or a trollop — which is so sad to me, because the world needs so much feminine energy to get better.

I also love to write something that others can connect with, nod at, and say yes to. It’s everything for me.

19. What excites you? New York City, music, theater, photography, drum beats, art, color, driving a stick shift, acoustic guitars, Paris, books, making people laugh, his lips brushing my neck — still, after 27 years

20. What do you wish you did more of? I wish I had fewer responsibilities at the moment and could experience more of my life on a whim — i.e., spontaneously saying yes to more invitations and plane tickets and dinners in the city and museum exhibits and weekends in London or Paris and films in bed or at the Film Forum and the Angelika and week-long retreats about writing and meditation and yoga. I also wish I found more time to volunteer. I used to work at an AIDS food bank in San Francisco in the mid-nineties, and it’s selfish but true to say that I gained a great deal from it. I need to do that again — to be of service to others.

21. Pretend money is no object. What would you do? I’m never quite sure what this question means. Does it mean that I am infinitely wealthy? If so, then I’d give most of it away. I’d send kids to college and take care of other people’s expensive medical treatments that insurance plans won’t cover and fund medical research to cure cancer and anonymously pay off mortgages and student loans. But first, I’d probably travel to all the places I’ve always wanted to visit and haven’t yet — across and through America to the Grand Canyon, to Portland and Seattle and Sedona and Ojai; Italy; Austria; Morocco; Thailand; Macchu Pichu; the Great Pyramids; jetting to London and Paris and San Francisco whenever I’d like to visit. I’d love to own a townhouse in Manhattan, a flat in London and a farmhouse in Healdsburg, Sonoma. I’d tell my children to do the same, to travel and decide where they’re most themselves — and I’d pay for their tickets and houses.

22. What area of your life, right now, makes you feel the best? Which area makes you feel the worst? Why? I feel encouraged and positive about my relationships with my husband and teenaged children. We’ve been through a lot of shit together, and the experiences seem to have made our relationships stronger. I feel frustrated about my writing, sometimes. I’m not even sure that I’m meant to pursue writing, that I’m good enough, that I have anything of value or merit to say. I get embarrassed about the fact that I still care about what other people think of me. I’m still a little kid, sometimes. Still insecure.

23. Let’s jump forward a year. What would you like to have achieved in the past year? I’d like to be at a healthier weight and maintaining excellent health. I’d like to have several more essays published, and a first draft of a screenplay written. I’d like a publisher to accept my proposal for a collection of essays. I want to commit to daily meditation and writing practice, and weekly yoga practice. I’d like to have a lighter house, too. Less shit. Less clutter. I was inspired by a recent article where the author had committed to purchasing next to nothing over the course of a calendar year — only necessities like food and basic wardrobe supplies as needed. I’m trying to embrace that philosophy this year. I’d love to have fewer knickknacks, and an empty, organized attic. Swedish death cleaning is my current mantra.

I’d like to have been kinder to myself this year, too. Gentler.

24. What piece of advice would you give to five year old you? Sixteen year old you? Twenty-one year old you? Right now?

Dear Five Year-Old Me: You’re not weird because you’re smart.

Dear Sixteen Year-Old Me: Someone is going to love you, but you need to love yourself first. You are worthy of it. Take more risks. Then, you’ll have something to write about later.

Dear Twenty-One Year-Old Me: You don’t have to be so tough. Take that cigarette out of your mouth. Let people in. Embrace your softness. There’s strength in your gentleness.

Dear Forty-Seven Year-old Me: Don’t put it off. Work towards your passions today, and every day. That’s the only way you’ll reach your goals. Don’t be afraid to screw up, be wrong, look stupid. You’re doing all of those things right now, anyway. Also — stretch more and take more Epsom salt baths. Your Seventy-Year-Old Self will thank you.

25. How do you want to be remembered in life? As a loving, funny, open, giving, wise human being who wrung every drop out of her life, who made mistakes and kept going anyway, who made other people feel a little bit better while she was here on earth, and who smelled really good.

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This Will Be Our Year

I’m a little late to be writing about this, especially since many of us have already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions in favor of Netflix with a Ben & Jerry’s chaser. It’s January 10, for heaven’s sakes. The yoga mats and juicers are already getting dusty, and we’re skipping much-needed workouts in favor of much-needed sleep. Ah, the predictable humanity.

Yet, something dawned on me this year, as 2018 entered stage left. This is the year that I turn 48. Next year, in 2019 — if you follow along and do the math — I’ll be 49. I’ll be spending a great deal of THAT year fretting about “the last year of my forties,” about pounds not lost and books left unwritten and unread, about opportunities missed and moments squandered. As one tends to do, when closing out a decade of life and facing an older, creakier version.

So, this is my year to pre-empt that. I have no choice but to view it as such. And it’s a delightful feeling. This won’t be a year of relentless self-criticism, or of measuring myself against the achievements (or TBH, as the kids say, the filtered Instagram posts) of others. This won’t be a year of overthinking — as is so often the case for my guilt-addled, adult-child-of-dysfunction brain. This won’t be a year of fretting. Or whining. Or justifying. This will be the gap year I never had — because I was born in 1970 and we didn’t have those things. We just had Tang and Big Wheels and college and jobs. It’s never too late to have a gap year, I think. So long as you can pay your electric bill.

So? This will be a year of doing. A year of leaping. A year of failing. A year of exploring. A year of reading and writing and performing. The outcome isn’t the goal here. The daily process is. I’m putting my money where my still-47-year-old mouth is.

First things first. An action plan. A list of resolutions. It’s still January, isn’t it?

Oooooh, yay — a list!  God, how I love lists. I adore the sensory quality of sitting with a clean-lined sheet of paper and pen in hand, ready to dump all of the nonsense in my head out onto the page, and somehow make order of it all. I swoon over the spiral notebooks and black Sharpies and bulleted points and whiteboards and underlined subheads and swift, sharply-drawn lines through items completed and accomplished. I’m sick like that. I realize this.

The creation of this list isn’t to boast or brag, or to portray myself as manic or delusional, because it’s highly unlikely — yet infinitely possible — that some or all of these things will be achieved in 2018. Again, not looking for outcome. I’m interested in process. And accountability, too.

Two months ago, I decided to adopt a new lifestyle, one that limited my intake of sugar, carbs, caffeine, dairy and alcohol. I had told my doctor at my annual physical that I was frustrated with my weight, sleep habits, anxiety and rising cholesterol levels. Some of that was Trump’s fault, we decided, but still. She suggested that I try Dr. Mark Hyman’s sugar-detox plan. I listened politely and mentally rolled my eyes at the suggestion. I’d tried such things before — and wasn’t able to maintain such efforts. Too limiting. Too hungry. Too hangry. Too depleted.

This time, it worked. I’ve lost nearly 15 pounds, and my total cholesterol number has gone from 202 to an astonishing 146. I have greater focus, and less brain fog. I’m not so tired anymore. Trump still makes me anxious, but there doesn’t seem to be a recipe or nutritional supplement for that — so I close the internet browser and listen to music instead.

I’m not thinking too much these days — about the why or how or what if. I’m simply doing. I’m planning meals. I’m getting up in the morning and putting on my sneakers to workout. I’m making better choices for self-care (blech — isn’t there another phrase we can use?) instead of gorging on venti Starbucks drinks, red wine and the internet. In years past, I’d have all sorts of reasons why this wouldn’t work. This year, I’m just doing it. Shut up, Nike.

So here, then, is my list of New Year’s resolutions for a still 47-year-old’s gap year. I’m using subheads, because they’re yummy. If I had a whiteboard, I’d be making out with it right now. Hard.

 

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS 2018

 

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Continue to limit caffeine, sugar, carbs, dairy and alcohol.

2. Lose 35 pounds this year. Totally do-able. I’m on my way.

3. Practice restorative yoga twice a week. I tried to like yoga. Really, I did. But we just don’t get along. I can’t hold a crow pose in hot, overcrowded rooms, or do anything named Ashtanga or Iyengar, because if I can’t spell it, I’m not doing it. But simple stretching in a restorative class? That, a girl can get behind. Or in front of. I’m not sure, exactly. I get confused with the straps, and I can never tell which way to point in warrior pose. But I do realize that stretching, balancing and lengthening — as well as deep breathing and being still — are important for my health as I age. So it goes on the list.

4. Do cardio 5 times a week. That used to mean an hour of running or walking 8,000 miles or training for half marathons — and being in a great deal of pain and giving up afterwards. It can’t be about that anymore. My body is responding to my new eating habits and better sleep, and releasing more weight with simpler, consistent exercise. I ain’t questioning it. I’m just doing it.

5. Weight train twice a week. So important as we grow older. I prefer weight training to cardio. Not sure why, but I’m sticking to it.

6. Get off the fucking internet. Limit social media. This is a devil of a challenge for me, but my resolve has grown stronger in the past year. I used to post more often, as many of you have reminded me. Although — if you’ve seen how much I post, then you must have been on as much as I was. To cryptically quote “The Producers:” — “Then they’d see you. And you’d see them. And why aren’t THEY at the office?” 

Let’s not do that anymore, shall we?

7. Get massages. I’m older. I work hard. I’m sore. I have short, tight muscles. I carry a lot of deep-rooted shit in my bones, and it needs to get expunged. So. A Groupon for Massage Envy, then.

8. Take more baths. Epsom salts do a world of good for an achy, old broad who does five cardio and two weight-training sessions a day.

9. Get outside every day. Not an easy feat when it’s -5 degrees, but still necessary. Sunshine and air and trees and movement are all good for what ails you.

10. Get in bed by 9:30 pm whenever possible. Read a book. Listen to music. Watch a great movie. But no more scrolling, no mindless snacking, no fretting, no bluescreen business that impedes proper sleep. I laughed when my doctor prescribed this a few months ago. I see the results now.

11. Attend an Omega Institute workshop. For years, I’ve been reading the OI catalog and poring over course descriptions — and sighing when there’s yet another schedule conflict that prevents me from attending. This is my year, Omega.

12. Meditate. This has been a challenge for me. Which is ridiculous. Five minutes, kid. Sit still. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. That’s all it takes.

13. Stop being such an asshole to myself. Pretty self-explanatory. Love myself as much as other people in my life do.

 

WRITING/PERFORMING

1. Read like a writer. Write like a motherfucker. Hours given to mindless social media are hours lost to possibility and enrichment. Writers need to read. No getting around it. Writers need to get their asses in chairs every day and do the work, too. No getting around that, either.

2. Put the finishing touches on my office space in the basement. It’s taken some time, but we painted our old office a funky-doodle peacock blue, had shelves built and got a new desk — and created a space where I don’t have to feel badly about the wash or dirty kitchen counters or be Mommy or Mrs. Anything. Where I’m me — the person who I used to be, who I still am and who I’m still in the process of becoming. Where I can write, damnit. Because I’ve got a lot to say.

3. Perform at the MOTH. Win one MOTH storyslam this year. Maybe two. The MOTH scares me. It’s Flying-Walenda-style highwire without a net. No notes to keep you on track. No guarantee that you’ll be called up to perform, since you throw your name in a hat and hope for the best. But I want this. I really do. I want to do things that scare me, and be changed by the experience. I performed once at the MOTH last year, and garnered second place on my first run out of the gate — and on my home turf in Queens, yet. I know I’ve got the chops for this. It’s scary and embarrassing to write that, mostly because it’s true.

4. Perform at several other storytelling events this year. I’m slotted to read at an event in New Paltz in February, and I’m auditioning for Listen To Your Mother North Jersey 2018 next month. I’m on my way. Know of any other events? Want me to read at your event? Email me! mkharris1@mac.com. XO

5. Publish my essay about the Feast of St. Blaise. Long story. You can read it when it’s published. Which it will be, damnit. It’s been sitting with The Normal School for months. If not there, then somewhere else.

6. Finish the first draft of my screenplay. Blah, blah, blah. You’re sick of hearing me announce this. I’m sick of saying this. No more thinking. Just doing.

7. Flesh out ideas for a book. Fiction or memoir. Not sure yet. I smell chapters either way.

8. Put together a new website to showcase my work. It’s time.

9. Put together a podcast. Produce several episodes. Enough already. No more pussyfooting. That’s right. I said PUSSYFOOTING. And I might say it often on a podcast, too. SO THERE.

10. Publish another essay this year. Maybe two.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

1. Stop deflecting compliments. Just say thank you.

2. Stop apologizing for things I shouldn’t have to be sorry for. I’ve gotten far better at this in my forties, thanks to a friend who kindly drew my attention to my bad habit several years ago. Still, I could improve.

3. Cook for the week on Sunday. Life is so much better, and yummier, when I cook for the week on Sunday.

4. Put friends on the calendar, and keep them there. Don’t cancel unless absolutely necessary. My husband and I are social, but increasingly tired. We need to find a balance between over-scheduling and overpromising — and feeling out of the loop. It’s a delicate balance, but worth the pursuit.

5. Clean out the attic. Swedish death cleaning can be fun!

6. Dress up for my life. No more yoga pants and baseball caps. I’ve made a real commitment to this since my days as a young, exhausted, spit-up-streaked mommy. It’s important.

7. Remember family members’ and friends’ birthdays with cards — not just texts or Facebook messages. 

8. Think about opening that bookstore/coffeeshop/bar/performance space. Seriously.  Think about how. 

9. Play the drums. Buy a secondhand set of real drums. Drum like a motherfucker.

10. Nurture my husband, my marriage, my children, my friends — and most of all, myself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The things you don’t say out loud

1. that you’re a teensy bit resentful about having to be the organizer of the girls’ night/birthday party/Memorial Day Weekend barbecue/anniversary party/shiva/cocktail party/fifth grade moms’ night. Again. But it’s fine. Really. Because you’re blessed to have friends.

2. that you’d really rather be at home in your pajamas. Really. Rather. Be.

3. that you’re not fond of Brussels sprouts or octopus when asked to share appetizers at a restaurant with another couple. Especially when they and your husband are all agog about ordering such dishes, because they read in the Yelp review that they’re the best dishes on the menu. You eat the parsley garnish and sip wine instead.

4. that there are nights when you lie awake at 3 am and hear him snoring beside you, and berate yourself for never having driven that banged-up Subaru with a three-cylinder engine out to Second City in Chicago right after college to try out for the famed comedy troupe. Because maybe — just maybe — you could have had Cheri Oteri’s arc of a comedy career by now. Maybe.

5. that you have no idea what the fuck you’re doing as a parent, an investor, a wife, a person with iShit and multiple online security passwords, a daughter, a writer, an American, a class mom, a homeowner, a cook, a faux-Buddhist, or as a woman. Seriously. Actually no clue whatsoever.

6. that a friend has bad breath. That she’s had breath since college. That she should really see a dentist, because it might be an indicator of gum disease, poor hygiene, or a digestive illness. That you occasionally wonder how her husband kisses her with that mouth.

7. that you sort of wish your family would leave. Just for, like, a weekend. Just. Go. Away. So. I. Can. Miss. You.

8. that your right knee hurts a tad too much when you walk up the stairs at night, and that you think you might need surgery on your meniscus. Shhhh. Better to wait until something pops so you can be sure.

9. that you’re afraid of dying. That clean kitchen cabinets and folded wash and properly fluffed pillows are all some sort of secret covenant with God to ward off your demise. That you imagine St. Peter to have conversations like — “Hey, listen, Angel of Death? Oh, sorry, I forgot that you like to be called Phil when it’s just us in the office. Force of habit. My bad! Anyway, listen — don’t take that one down there. The one with the bad highlights in New Jersey. She’s a good housekeeper. You should see her linen closet. And her pantry. My God. She uses those clear bins to hold dry cereal and pasta — just like you see in Real Simple! And then she labels them with that thingie. Spectacular. She’s got shoes all lined up under the bed and sorted by color, too. It’s impressive. So let’s give her a few more years, shall we? The label thingie alone should guarantee her ten more years. Am I right? Although if she doesn’t get those highlights fixed — make it seven.”

10. that you wanted the dressing on the side. It’ll take too long to have them bring you another one, and everyone else at the table will wait until you’re served, and the waiter will spit in the food anyway. So you say nothing, sigh and dig in.

11. that you don’t think feminism is a bullshit concept thought up by angry, hormonal women; that we should still be giving Trump a chance; or that Obama was a terrible president — no matter what your Uncle Tommy insists. But it’s Christmas. You don’t want to argue. So you sip a candy cane cocktail and say nothing.

12. that someone has used the wrong form of “your/you’re,” “they’re/there/their,” “woman/woman,” “should of/should’ve,” or that they’ve committed some other grammatical faux-pas in their correspondence. And that I’m secretly judging them as a result.

13. that you miss your twentysomething ass, boobs, hair, legs and skin. Yes, it’s vain and shallow. So be it. You should have seen my twentysomething ass, boobs, hair, legs and skin. You’d miss them, too.

14. that she’s wrong. You just nod.

15. that yoga isn’t for everyone. Nor are skinny jeans.

16. that the dish needed more seasoning.

17. that she really needs to tweeze more often.

18. that she’s had far too many Botox and Restylane treatments.

19. that you’ve already heard that joke.

20. that you’re sure that everyone is having a better life than you are. Absolutely everyone. Even the woman crying in the Target parking lot with a dent in her car’s passenger door, and Saran wrap and duct tape serving as a makeshift side window. Definitely having a better life than you are. You’re sure of it.

21.  that you know that he farted. Right next to you. In the couch cushions. Where it’s trapped for all time in the washable microfiber fabric.

22. that they can’t sing. Or dance. That their kid didn’t inherit such talents from them. That they’re not naturals.

23. that you think he’s cheating on her. That you think you’re cheating on yourself.

24. that you’re wrong. About everything. All the time.

25. that you haven’t heard a word he’s said for at least thirteen miles.

26. that when you post it on Facebook, it’s funny. That when he posts it, it’s not funny.

27. that you deserve happiness/peace/love/success/a long and healthy life. Because Irish. Shhhh.

28. that this adult stuff is bullshit. That this motherhood stuff is even more bullshit to the tenth power. Seriously. Bullshit-O-Rama.

29. that he could rub your shoulders for another five minutes. Ten, actually. Because they’re still sore. But you hear him sighing behind you and feel his hands do that thing where they’re sort of miming the massaging and no longer actually massaging with any effort, so you say, “Thanks. That feels much better.” And take two Advil.

30. that Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the worst-written books ever. And then dutifully go out to see the movie on Girls’ Night instead.

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Groundhog Day

I needed to step away today. I needed to stop the cycle of news and terror and gaslighting. So, I made silly art. I recommend it highly, if you’re so inclined. I also recommend resisting. Always.

Click on the link below to see my Groundhog Day movie. We’re all in this together. We truly are.

Groundhog Day

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