words and phrases

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“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

– Susan Sontag

 

Perhaps it’s because I’m an only child, and didn’t grow up amidst the distracting ambient noise of siblings.

It might be because my parents often argued in other, further rooms of our house, while I listened behind my closed bedroom door for key words and silences to signify my safe emergence.

It could be due to the fact that that my earliest years were spent in New York City, in a rhythmic patter of dialect and language, in the call and answer of shrieks, sirens and horn blares, and in the random, sudden amplification of conversations and radio stations from passersby underneath second-story bedroom windows.

It’s possible that my ear for accents and gift for mimicry have allowed me to hone in on turns of phrases, and pay attention to the minutia that makes such things so.

It could be all of these things. I know this: I listen. I have always been attuned to nuances. I notice the ordinary. So much can be mined from the seeming plainness of an everyday interaction.

On my smartphone, I keep a list of overheard discussions and head-cocking phrases uttered by nearby strangers. Sometimes, I find myself listening in, and write down dozens of phrases that graze and tickle me. At other times, I’m on autopilot, I think, and the list lies dormant for months. For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing down phrases again. There’s an uncharted rhythm to my list-making. Entries from April, then May, and again in August and September, all plot points of creativity, and bursts of energy and thought. It’s a random ebb and flow. This, I’m learning, is how life works.

I want to document what I see, feel and experience. Sometimes, I am pained at the thought of moments incidentally lost, like wisps of smoke dissipating and mixing into the greater mass. I mourn unknown recluses dying in cramped, hoarded apartments on Second Avenue, with stacks of photographs at their bedside, and their stories untold. I am heartbroken at the mysteries, revelations and tendernesses enmeshed and locked up in the grips of fear and silence. As I grow older, I sense that these wisps exemplify the nature of life itself — that we are all temporal movements of molecular energy. But what fire, what flame had licked at life before it was extinguished? That’s what I want to know. That’s what I want to search out and describe, because I believe that such a process is significant. The surface meaninglessness of random events, when linked together, sometimes reveals something greater, something that we ourselves often cannot discern. Yet, we find comfort in the telling, because there is communal understanding in its reveal. The urge to witness and testify is within all of us. To be seen. And to be heard. So, I listen. I often like what life has to say.

A recent list of words and phrases:

[AT THE 826 VALENCIA PIRATE SUPPLY STORE IN SAN FRANCISCO, FROM A MUFFLED, UNSEEN MALE VOICE BOOMING BEHIND A LUSH MAROON VELVET CURTAIN, WHICH SEPARATES THE RETAIL STORE FROM AN EVENT SPACE AT THE BACK:] Do you think the benches should be ad hoc? Or more purposeful?

[AT A NEARBY TABLE IN A SEAFOOD RESTAURANT IN MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY:] Do you have anything non-oyster-related?

[ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE, OUTSIDE AN APARTMENT BUILDING, AS A MAILMAN AND FEMALE RESIDENT TALK OVER HER BARKING SCHNAUZER AND THE MAIL CARRIER'S ROLLING CART:] I’ve been everywhere in the world, and now I don’t know where to live.

[IN AN ORGANIC SUPERMARKET IN NEW JERSEY:] California notice. What’s a California notice?

[AT THE DIANE ARBUS EXHIBIT:] You see this? They had a couch. Where was this taken? Levittown? We lived in Levittown. We never had a couch. Couches were for other people.

[AT THE DIANE ARBUS EXHIBIT:] This one looks perfectly normal. This could be me in the picture.

[ON A STREET CORNER OUTSIDE THE MET BREUER IN MANHATTAN:] Is God even effective anymore? Has anyone asked that lately?

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9/11 2016

(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 fifteen years. Fifteen years since I awoke at 6 am, to the sound of my husband trying to quiet his crying in our San Francisco kitchen. Fifteen years since I clutched my pregnant stomach and sank to the floor while watching the Twin Towers fall. Fifteen 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 that video footage airs now, on a news report or television documentary, he sharply turns his head.

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 fourteen 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 startling 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. Last year, 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 fifteen 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 fifteen 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 been boxed up, torn down and 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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52 Lists Project: List your childhood and current dream jobs.

I was a weird kid.

I was an awesome kid, to be sure, but I was one hell of a quirky little girl. This is one of the reasons that I have come to desperately love myself. I fall in love with the brokenness of people — and even more so, my own.

I was a funny kid, too. I wanted to make people laugh. I was shy sometimes, and reserved, but my brain was always taking notes.

I’m an only child, and I talked to myself a lot to break up the terminal quiet. I’d chatter away in my crib, my mother said, when I was supposed to be napping, and I’d drum on the wooden sides with my feet.

I got drunk when I was two. No, that’s not a typo.

I loved to imitate the surfer dude riding the waves in the “Hawaii Five-O” opening, and hung ten on our small coffee table-cum-longboard whenever my mother left our apartment. I wiped out once, and she became hysterical, thinking I had suffered a concussion. So, no furniture-surfing with Ma in sight. My father didn’t care if I surfed. It kept me busy, so he could watch one of his favorite programs in peace. Imagine that scene. A three year-old kid, barefoot in Health-Tex bell bottoms, surfing through Marlboro cigarette smoke, while my mutton-chopped father sprawled on the couch nearby — and occasionally reached for a double-old-fashioned glass of whisky carefully positioned on the shag rug.

I apparently cursed a blue streak at the tender age of five or six, when I tried to learn to ride my secondhand bike on our Queens driveway. My mother was washing dishes at the sink near the alleyway window, and could hear me yelling — “YOU GODDAMN BIKE! YOU STUPID GODDAMN BIKE!”  –every time it clattered to the asphalt. She only realized that I got the hang of it once the swearing stopped.

I was sure that ghosts were around every corner of our house, and lurking in the basement — and that they had to give me important messages for other people. And also that they’d forget what they looked like, and be all dead and yucky and stuff, and keep their scary decaying faces and moldy old bodies on when they appeared to me.

I was afraid to light matches. Advent wreaths were my nemesis between the ages of five and ten. Couldn’t light those damn pink and purple candles for shit.

I had an earthworm for a pet. For, like, a week, until it dried out.

I often preferred the company of adults over other children. I couldn’t figure out fractions, but I could expertly mimic all of our neighbors.

I was afraid of the Count on Sesame Street. What kid ever feared a Muppet? I was also afraid of gorillas. Not chimpanzees. Just gorillas. It may have been Samsonite-related. I’m not sure. But they seemed violent in the commercials. Remember those? Dear God. What those gorillas did to train cases.

As you can imagine — a quirky kid like myself had no garden-variety childhood career dreams. Some of my friends liked to play school and teacher. A lot of girls in the seventies wanted to be nurses. Others liked to play doctor, but those were usually boys — whose mothers led them to confessionals by their ears the following week. Not me. Like I said, weird. Awesome, but weird. So, in keeping with Moorea Seal’s 52 Lists Project — designed to inspire creativity and encourage journaling — here’s my list of childhood — and current — dream jobs.

Childhood Dream Jobs:

  • Joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” circa 1975-1978.
  • Baddest-ass drummer for the baddest-ass rock band in the world..
  • Baddest-ass lead singer for the baddest-ass rock band in the world. (Not necessarily the same one.)
  • Peggy Lipton in “The Mod Squad” — although I didn’t really know what she did, other than run through dark alleys in kick-ass leather trenchcoats
  • I used to say that I wanted to be a veterinarian, but only because one of my friends often expressed her desire in becoming a vet, and I followed suit — since I thought it sounded like a good gig. Also, I liked puppies. But I didn’t even like cats that much.
  • Writer
  • Playwright — my best line, banged out on my father’s college typewriter: “Why do you want to be a nun? You want a habit? Start biting your nails.”
  • Undefined cool person of semi-importance who strolled through Manhattan in culottes, boots and Jackie O glasses
  • Journalist at New York MagazineThe New York Times, or Newsday (because I read their funnies every weekend as a kid)
  • Professor of Irish literature (brief college phase when I basically wanted to be Seamus Heaney)
  • Actress
  • Groupie for the Beatles (even though I didn’t exactly know what the job description entailed)
  • Head writer for “Late Night with David Letterman”

Current Dream Jobs:

  • Head writer for “Saturday Night Live”
  • Baddest-ass drummer for the baddest-ass rock band in the world
  • Race car driver
  • Screenwriter
  • Boxer (sick, I know)
  • Actress
  • Baker
  • Eyewear model who gets to keep all the frames for free after the shoot
  • Massage therapist — I think this could be meaningful, happy work. Might just be my next calling. Hold still and let me nurture you, damnit.
  • Spin instructor — but only for those over 40, with the baddest-ass old-school rock playlists that Bergen County’s ever seen
  • Kept woman (that’s right, I said it)
  • Jon Hamm’s love interest
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Gonna Fly Now, Birthday Update

(I wrote this in January 2016. See updates below.)

This weekend, I read another writer’s list of New Year’s resolutions. Boy, did it get my thong in a twist. No, I don’t really wear those.

I subscribe to the guy’s blog. Like all of his other posts, it arrived via e-mail. But this one? Oh, this über-lofty index of 2016 personal and professional goals quietly lurked in my in-box, just waiting to be opened and read — and to smash my head repeatedly into a virtual row of middle school lockers. I innocently clicked on the message while emptying my trove of MacMail, thinking it was an ordinary post about his kids, his wife or his car — and I got swiftly knocked on my sweet, middle-aged ass.

This guy didn’t want to finish his first novel. He wanted to complete his sixth. BECAUSE HE’D ALREADY WRITTEN FIVE. He wanted to write three picture books. He wanted to win not one, not two, but THREE Moth storyslams in 2016. This, from a man who had already won eighteen storyslams in the past four years. And get this. He wanted to do yoga. Mother. Fucking. Yoga. I mean, Jesus H. — we  all “want” to do yoga — but this guy planned on going to class consistently. As in, three times a week consistently. And he shared that with other people, as if it were actually possible. Like it was nothing. Honestly? I fool myself into believing that bending over to move the rolled-up, dusty yoga mat in the basement while I’m vacuuming is something akin to a sun salutation. I’m stretching something in my lower back, because ow ow ow holding the wall OK I’m back up to a standing position while I lean on the vacuum. That counts for something Kundalinesque, doesn’t it? Fine. Hatha. Let’s call it downward mother pose. It counts, damnit. It just does. I’m too tired to even Google “yoga schedule” and just READ ABOUT when classes are available.

As I stared at this guy’s words on my glowing — nay, mocking — computer screen, I felt brutally beaten about the midsection. I felt like I’d been kidney-punched. Seven times. By God. And then chatch-kicked twice by Buddha, for good measure. I heard Burgess Meredith yelling in my head, growling at me to get up, Rocky McKitty, get back up. Eat lightning and crap thunder, kid! But I couldn’t. Not right away. God, I felt so flattened by his statements. So many worthy goals that this writer set before me. So much that he had already achieved. Like any good self-sabotager worth her salt in the ring, I kept reading. With my one good eye that didn’t need to get cut open.

This writer had lost thirty-three pounds, and wanted to lose twenty more. He wanted to launch a podcast. He wanted to publish AT LEAST one Op-Ed in The New York Times. At. Least. He hoped to deliver the kind of talk whose name we shall not name because it just hurts too much to say, but which rhymes with FRED. A goddamn SOUNDS-LIKE-FRED TALK. But that’s not all. He wants to pen a musical. Of course he does. For a summer camp. For the kids who go there and roast marshmallows. Of course he wants to write a musical for the happy summer camp for the kids who go there and roast marshmallows. This isn’t a goal so far out of reach for him, apparently. Because he has a composer-slash-lyricist in his virtual Rolodex, with whom he’s previously collaborated. Kill me now.

I reared up from my desk chair in a burst of adrenaline, reeling from the blows, and staggered over to the kitchen counter. My unsuspecting husband entered the room. I implored him to read the list while I lay my head on the cool granite counter, whimpering. He sat in silence for a few minutes, and then exploded while reading the text. “WHO IS THIS GUY?” he said, almost too conspiratorially. “DOES HE HAVE A JOB? WHEN DOES HE EAT?”

At that very moment, I wanted nothing more than to jump on the resulting bandwagon of snark, and summarily take this dude down, with my husband riding snarky-snark shotgun. How dare he flaunt his desires in front of all of us? (YEAH!) How dare he achieve, and make us all look woefully bad? (YEAH!) Entertaining and moral-building musicals geared towards children, for Chrissakes? Will this man stop at nothing? HARUMPH!

Then, I decided to look back at his earlier posts — ones he had written about resolutions in earlier years. This, from 2010: “Participate in The Moth as a storyteller.” For the first time. Ever. In 2009: “Land at least one paying client for my fledgling life coach business.” He admitted that he had failed in the pursuit so far. In 2011: “Publish an Op-Ed in a national newspaper. A failed resolution from last year.” He went on to list three more goals, all of which he failed at achieving in the prior year. I softened. I liked him a little bit more. Most of all — I admired him. He’s fucking accountable, a quality in which I am seemingly, perpetually lacking. He’d endured a great deal of hardship in his childhood, as I’d read in other posts. He simply wanted the most he could possibly squeeze out of his life, and he wasn’t afraid to fail at the attempt, year after glorious year. Good on him, I thought.

Some things would come to pass, I realized, as I read his yearly entries. Others would be achieved. Still others would fall off the radar. I thought about this for a few minutes. While I did so, the skies opened outside. My daughter gasped at the sound and sight of it. God had clearly left the hose running while he was away on vacation. Torrents, sheets, buckets — what have you — fell from the darkened skies. Then, as soon as it started — the rain stopped.

Just then, my daughter noticed a text from a friend. “Jessica says there’s a double rainbow outside!” she yelled, and bolted from the table to get a glimpse of it from our back porch. I followed behind her. One colorful arch, and a second, somewhat fainter, appeared above our garage. We called for my husband and son to join us, and stood in momentary quiet — considering the apparition.

I’d like to say that this event tied everything up neatly for me this afternoon — but of course, it didn’t. The rainbow faded as the sunlight receded. There was more homework to do, more cleaning, more messiness of life. The beauty was, as always, temporary.

[Writer’s postscript: Later news accounts indicated that this seems to have been the same time when David Bowie was passing through this life and entering the next. That moment stays with me, foolish and fabricated though it may seem. That much energy, that much creativity, that much life still left within him — producing such an effect on the world. I need to use all of mine up before I go. Even if it only amounts to an organized attic and a well-documented family history for future generations.)

The event did, however, cause me to think about the way I view difficult, dark times in my life, and how I view goals so often left by the side of my road. I see them as insurmountable and impossible, as forever, never-ending, Jesus oh Jesus why are things going to be like this until the very end of time don’t tell me any different because they will be they just will be. So what’s the use of trying? What’s the point of doing?

Because maybe they won’t. Maybe you’ll shift things, McKitty. Maybe you’ll make it happen this time. Maybe you’ll get there, kid. So get up off the mat. Eat lightning and crap thunder. Just like you always have. Risk it. Give yourself another fucking chance. Do this. Go and get your goddamned life.

That hard-working writer assumes nothing is owed to him in this life. That’s the right approach. He shoots at all the targets with bravado. And he’s bound to hit something. God bless him for never losing aim, or looking away. His brass-coated cojones inspired the fuck out of me today. Mostly because I got pissed. Which is often the very best way to motivate my Irish tuchus.

What angered me most — and what shamefully lessened me — was not his own achievement. I truly don’t begrudge him that. I was angry about the fact that forced me to look at my own damn self, and at every excuse I’d offered up to bypass accomplishments. He’s earned every goddamned minute of whatever glory he feels. I’ve earned every small feeling I have about being less-than, underachieving, and unproductive. If happy little fucking bluebirds and writers fly beyond the rainbow — then, why oh why, can’t I?

There’s no good reason why, Judy. Simply no good reason.

So here then, are my goals for 2016. They are lofty and cocky. Far-reaching and exhausting. I’ll fail at most of them. But I’m gonna fly now, ummmkay? So stand back. I don’t know how big my wingspan gets. XO k.

Writer’s postscript: I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before and I’ve been moved by her observations. I seem to be an Obliger — one who is accountable to others, but not to herself. Like all of you didn’t know that already. If you’re struggling with habit-making, it’s an interesting book to read, and consider. 

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR 2016 — MID-YEAR ASSESSMENT AS MY BIRTHDAY NEARS:

HEALTH

1. Lose 30 pounds in 2016. I’m going to San Francisco and Sonoma County for eight days. We’ll table that one until I get back from vacation.

2. Meditate several nights and several mornings a week. I had meditated most nights throughout much of the school year with my husband and son, but the practice has falled by the wayside during the summer. Just told my husband at dinner last night that we need to be 10 percent slower in our lives, once the school year begins again. “How can we take things away from the schedule and do that?” he said. “We can’t,” I answered. “We can only add something to make it so.”

3. Take a restorative yoga class once a week. I’m not meant for Kundalini or Iyengar. I know this about myself. And I’m really fine with that. But I do need to be very, very gentle with myself. I know this about myself now, too. I need to be still. To rest. To stretch and relax. It is not weak to lie down somewhere for 45 minutes and breathe deeply, and feel loved and cared for. It is necessary. I attended a gentle yoga class with my daughter last week and loved it. I’m returning at the end of August.

4. Recommit to twice-weekly weightlifting and several days of cardio exercise. It’s happening! Back on the horse. I’m up at 5:30 am several days a week — because I have to meet someone else at the gym. Again with the Obliging thing.

WRITING

5.  Have an essay published in the New York Times’s Motherlode column. No longer possible. Column is closed. 

6. Have an essay published in the Boston Globe’s Connections column.  This is possible.

7. Write several days a week. About anything. I’ve been doubting my ability. I need to get back into practice and not give a shit about the outcome.

8. Write the first draft of my screenplay. I have twenty-five pages written. More pages are possible. Just not right now.

9. Have an essay published in a print anthology somewhere. Could be about hats. Could be about French fries and the aiolis I have loved. Could be about being a survivor. I’m not picky. Sent one essay out. Need to send more.

10. Be diligent about submitting regularly to a variety of magazines. DONE! Two essays out now for literary journals. One essay hanging in limbo until I receive confirmation of publication from the editor.

11. Work on the elderly storytelling project with Nicki. Not sure about the status of this project. What is it? Why are we doing it?

STORYTELLING

12. Perform in — at least — one Moth StorySlam this year. Preferably before mid-year 2016. Win one, too.  I just have to get the damn tickets. These shows sell out in minutes these days. Thanks a lot, Lena Dunham.

13. Perform at the Woodstock Writers Festival StorySlam this year, and win it. DONE! Performed and won!

14. Perform at several other storytelling events in the Northeast. At least two other venues. Need to research this.

NEW PROJECTS

15. Build a creative writing space for me to hole up in and make epic shit. DONE! We even made a crafty space for my daughter nearby.

16. Organize all photos/video so you don’t panic at 3 am about losing the visual talismans of your children’s lives, when DVDs get scratched and computer files get corrupted. Make photo books. Print out hard copies. Organize them by year. Make duplicates, so there’s no fighting over photos when they move out, or if they’re lost to the ages. Terrified of the enormity of this project. Not happening as of yet.

17. Continue the Creative Coven. Not sure where this stands. What should this become? Is it still needed? 

18. Volunteer regularly and include my children in this activity. Head out of ass. Ditto for kids. Be a better human being. Consider others more often. Give away more of myself. Help people.

19. Clean out and organize our attic. Make better use of available space. Give away things no longer needed. Let go. Still in process. Made progress in the spring.

MISCELLANEOUS

20. Get into New York City more often. I am me, I am alive, I am closer to everything I am capable of becoming when I am at home in that world. Go time is September – November, and again between April – June. Make plans. Write things down. GO.

21. Spend more time with my husband. I fucking hate the phrase “date night.” Ewww. But there it is. I love him awful, Ma. Even more important, I like him. I want to be around him more — you know, when we’re both conscious. Happening. See CA trip above. 

22. See more movies.  They spark my creativity. Need to do more of that.

23. Read. Crucial to my progression as a writer. Why am I avoiding it? Because my attention span has been shot to shit by social media. I want to severely limit my presence there. See below. 

24. Make peace with social media. I can’t eliminate it from my life. But I can continue to lessen it. Major goal for me throughout the rest of the year. I need to step away from social media. 

25. Keep playing drums. Don’t give a fuck about how good or bad I may be.

26. Play my guitar more often. Not happening. 

27. Learn to crochet or knit. Make something warm and comforting for someone whom I love. Not happening. 

28. Fall deeply in love with myself.  Not like an asshole. Like a good, caring, decent, kind and wise woman should. Fits and spurts. 

 

 

 

 

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The 52 Lists Project: List the wildest things you want to try.

I have always lamented my abject wussiness.

As a small child, I watched from the sure safety of ground level as my peers clambered to the top of city schoolyard monkey bars, and swung upside down from metal-chained swings. This was the seventies, of course, before a generation of fearful parents nullified — or at least, successfully sued against — risky, lead-paint-adorned, and terribly fun playgrounds, replacing them instead with injury-proof play structures formed from molded plastic, and banality.

I was perpetually reticent at such a young age — opting far too long, for example, for the less-popular “uniskate” option, while my more daring friends sailed past me, balanced and confident, on the more popular choice of two rainbow-laced disco skates. I didn’t cheat on tests. Because nuns. I shied away from MTA-bus-surfing, as so many other kids did in the city — clutching to back bumpers from their ten-speed bikes and skateboards. I didn’t ring and run. I never even progressed to Double Dutch jump roping, for fear of tripping and breaking a limb. Quite the shonda, for a Queens kid. An embarrassment, really.

Some might argue that I was simply more aware, more astute, more mature than others, at that tender age. Others would say that such anxieties are inborn, or the product of, say, a girl’s city childhood during a tempestuous, crime-ridden era. I don’t know. I was mostly watching “The Love Boat” with the air conditioning on full blast, and afraid to answer the door in case the Son of Sam was on the front stoop.

What I do know is this: I wish I’d taken more risks. I’m glad that I’ve chosen to be more of a risk-taker, as I’ve grown older. I’m sure that some of my life choices which I’ve viewed as commonplace — living in downtown Manhattan, for example, doing stand-up comedy in New York, or choosing to travel to foreign countries alone — would be viewed as wild by others. Perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit.

This week, I’m writing another list from Moorea Seal’s 52 Lists Project: The wildest things I want to try. See below.

List the wildest things you want to try.

  1. Race at Lime Rock Park.
  2. Perform at — and win — MOTH storytelling events.
  3. Write — and sell — a screenplay.
  4. Write — and publish — a novel or memoir.
  5. Buy myself a vintage drum kit and play it really fucking well.
  6. Take a cross-country road trip with my husband and kids.
  7. Host a girls’ weekend in Vegas.
  8. Wake up and buy a plane ticket on a whim to a random destination — and travel there that day.
  9. Live in AirBnbs — or whatever the fuck they call those things — for weeks at a time and being able to live temporarily in: NYC, San Francisco, Sonoma County, LA, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, New Mexico, New Orleans, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Toronto, St. Bart’s, Cuba, Paris, London, Dublin, Rome/Venice/Florence, Madrid/Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Mykonos, Santorini, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore…
  10. Swim naked in the ocean. Just not bodysurfing. Ouch.
  11. Run the NYC Marathon. Just once before I’m dead.
  12. Audition for a movie.
  13. Write and perform in a one-woman show in an NYC theater.
  14. Drive a motorcycle.
  15. Spend a night in a haunted house.
  16. Meet with a psychic (I’ve seen a few in the past) and ask questions.
  17. Take an underground tour of NYC, and find abandoned subway stations.
  18. Host a ridiculous party. An insane party. With live music and fire and couches and tattoo artists and whiskey and swings and pie.
  19. Form an improv troupe.
  20. Host a podcast.

There are several other items on my list — which I will not mention in public. Because I’m a nice girl. Or at least play one on TV. Cough.

What’s on your list?

 

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52 Lists Project, continued

Several years ago, I stumbled across something called the 52 Lists Project, which was conjured up by Moorea Seal, a creative soul and lover of lists.

I began scribbling — or more accurately, typing — lists based on Moorea’s weekly prompts, which inspired me and ignited my brain cells. After about three months, I noticed that the prompts stopped coming. Moorea had pitched her idea for weekly list-making to a book publisher. And sold it. Good on her. So, I bought the book and delved back in. If you’re interested, it’s titled The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration.

Seal’s structure allows you to start at any point during the year. I like that. There’s too much pressure in January to develop new habits and clean chalky slates. I’m starting up again today, simply because it’s Wednesday, and because I want to do something positive, no matter how small it might seem. XO

 

List the things that make you feel healthy: mind, body, and soul.

1. Rising early in the morning with the sun. The days are growing shorter, as the summer fades into another blessed memory. This winter, I promise to employ one of those cool blue lightboxes to help me wake more gently. Without wanting to bludgeon someone with my bedroom slipper or smother them with a decorative bed pillow. That kind of thing.

2. Getting enough rest. I’m waking more often in the middle of the night. Not sure if it’s hormones, age or worry — or my beloved’s involuntary snoring. Or all of the above. I’m using every trick in the book to log enough hours of shut-eye, and stay asleep.

3. Meditating for a few minutes each (or at least most) nights. I feel relaxed, calmer and softer afterwards.

4. Exercising. I love boxing. But Gawd, I hate running. I might have to let that activity go. Everything hurts for too long afterwards when I run. I have to exercise. I always need to be doing something — to somehow move my body. I get ornery after a few days if I don’t. Exercising — and sweating — keep me sane.

5. Yoga. Why have I fought this practice? Why have I fought so many practices that are good for me? What if I didn’t do that anymore? I’m going back to yoga again. My back and my hips and my shoulders all opened and softened last week, after a 45-minute class.

6. Drinking a shit-ton of water. Preferably lemon-lime seltzer.

7. Avoiding sugar. I’m the proud descendant of generations of superlatively Irish drunks, ergo — sugar doesn’t agree with my genetic makeup. When I have too much of it, I spike and rush and crash every damn time. And then seek out more of it, like a textbook junkie. I need to stop seeing the limitation of it in my diet as deprivation. It isn’t. It’s self-love, sweet fool.

8. Not taking as much shit as I used to. I recently had a showdown with a family member. At least in my own mind. Enough, I said to myself. Basta, O Not So Nice Person. I’m not a toy, or a punching bag, or a repository. I’m no longer a defenseless little girl, who should have been protected from such harm in the first place. So, I’m drawing a kind line in the sand. Detaching with love. I am vulnerable and open. But I’m not stupid. Far from it. So why be a victim? I say no now. And that feels healthy.

9. Crunching on mini bell peppers throughout the day. I wash a bag of them in the morning, empty them into a bowl, and leave them on the kitchen counter for all-day grazing. There’s satisfaction in the snap of biting into them. Nom nom nom.

10. Reading. It’s been difficult during the summer. I need to make that less so in the fall.

11. Writing.

12. Sleeping in bed with my husband sidled up next to me. I speak of this often. Other people don’t always like to sleep this way. That’s fine for them. Do whatever feels good, peeps. This is everything for me — this is the peace of a thousand years, the sense that his muscles, his mind and his soul are so relaxed and eased by the nearness of me, and that he senses the same within me, as we both breathe deeply and drift into sleep. This isn’t found in a casual relationship or a friend with benefits. This is hard-won, from years of marriage and searching, soulful work. I feel healthy and sane in such a thought — that I’ve been a partner in creating such an emotional place of being. We’ll be married twenty years in the fall. That feels so healthy.

13. Working out at the gym. I’m getting older, but I still lift shit. I still slam sledgehammers on tires, still do bicep curls and skullcrushers, still row and pull and push and lunge. I still exert myself. My grandmother was wearing old-lady lace-up shoes and letting her hair go gray at my age. Fuck, no. I’m in perpetual pursuit of guns. (I mean delts, not weapons. Sheesh.)

14. Getting massages. It took me years to allow myself to be touched. I started massage therapy in my twenties, when I was running long races, and hobbling around with tight muscles. What resulted was an unexpected bonus — laying my head in kind strangers’ hands, and letting them heal me. I’ve cried on massage tables when it’s been safe to do so. I’ve made weird noises when prompted, and even cursed a bit under my breath, too, at the pain. These sessions have helped me so much — to relieve the hurt in my muscles and in other tender places.

15. Nurturing my children, and my ever-evolving relationship with them as they grow older. I came from a home that did the best that it could — but, to be honest, never should have been built in the first place. I didn’t necessarily come from a place of love, but instead — mostly from a place of sadness and unintentioned mistakes. That makes some people uncomfortable when I write such things, but it’s freeing to me to say so. I shed light on it, and it grows smaller each time. Many people have experienced the same childhood pain. My greatest goal in life is to end that thread, to set that baggage aside, and heal the karmic hurt that I — and so many generations before me — have felt. I want our children to know an inordinate amount of love, for themselves and each other, and for everything that my husband and I have built here — so they can build their own structures, their own homes, their own places, and love so much more.  I want them to know what kind of love they blossomed from. I don’t want to perpetuate the pain that so many of my ancestors have felt. I want to heal it. That feels like a healthy pursuit.

16. Seeing friends. Having friends. Knowing funny and kind people. Being a friend to others. Feeling full up with so many characters in my life.

17. Setting limits. Saying no more often. Not spreading myself too thin anymore. I can’t.

18. Seeing a doctor who specializes in integrative medicine. Not focusing on random symptoms. Looking at the whole picture, and the whole person, seems so much healthier.

19. Asking for help when I need it.

20. Forgiving myself. Being kind to myself. Accepting more of myself.

21. Not responding right away. Waiting. Counting to ten. Breathing.

22. Eating less carbs and more protein and veggies.

23. Not fucking around. Just saying what I feel — as honestly, clearly and kindly as I can.

 

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What I Wish I’d Known (in homage to Nora Ephron)

It’s better to be interesting than impeccable.

 

If you’re lucky to live long enough, you’ll see it again — but it will cost you more the second time. Examples: Bob Dylan, the Musée d’Orsay, the revival of the Broadway musical, childhood toys and vinyl albums happened upon at antique stores.

 

The person she was at twenty-five is the very same person she is at forty-five — but now she just has slightly more expensive shoes in her closet.

 

Don’t give too much of yourself away. You are not common.

 

Stretching is no joke.

 

Social media isn’t getting you more exposure.

 

Let him make you breakfast. Eat it naked in bed with him.

 

Time is far better spent in the devouring of novels, than in tubs of popcorn at forgettable summer blockbusters.

 

No one is sane. Especially you. So stop trying so hard.

 

Waterproof mascara has its cons.

 

Don’t sleep so far away from him.

 

People who say “I don’t judge” are most assuredly doing so — at precisely the time they’re uttering that very sentence.

 

Let the saleswoman fit you properly for a bra.

 

White zinfandel and port give the worst hangovers.

 

The dishes can wait.

 

You don’t have to vacuum if you have dimmer switches.

 

No one is happy all of the time, no matter what their voicemail message sounds like, what their Christmas letter says, or how clean their car interior is.

 

Don’t lend people any amount of money greater than twenty dollars, unless it’s a matter of life and death. Otherwise, it shifts the balance of things.

 

People who have no regrets are delusional liars.

 

White upholstery and young children are a bad mix. Upholster everything in chocolate brown, and let them build forts and bounce in knee socks.

 

You were far prettier than you ever realized.

 

You will have nothing to show for a half-hour spent with your wet hair, a round hairbrush and a nozzle hair dryer, once you step out the door into a humid August morning.

 

Read a few books about pregnancy. Read none about menopause.

 

There’s no end date on the parenting gig. Ever.

 

A cluster of candles in a softly-lit room is a woman’s best accessory.

 

Wear what makes you appear trust-worthy, wise and touchable.

 

You’ll own the room if you order scotch instead of white wine.

 

Get in the pictures more often. Even if you’re ten pounds heavier than you want to be, even if you don’t like your haircut, or even if you haven’t put on makeup yet. They won’t notice any of that when they discover those pictures of you after you’re gone. They’ll just feel your love around them a little bit more, and say how beautiful you look.

 

No one will ever love you in the way that your mother does. Your father loves you, but not in the same way that your mother does.

 

Dogs are problematic and messy and worth it. So are children.

 

Flirt more. Let life fall more sweetly in love with you.

 

Take off one item of jewelry before you go out to the party.

 

When you find the right shade of red lipstick that suits you, buy as many tubes of it as you can possibly afford. And then buy two more.

 

Stick with the instrument lessons.

 

It doesn’t matter if they’re first or second cousins.

 

There’s no shame in believing that they have to earn it. That’s not arrogance. That’s self-preservation.

 

Ask your grandmother or mother to make your favorite dish, pie or cookie for as long she’s able. Stay in the kitchen with her while she sifts and stirs. You will never replicate the exact texture, taste or aroma — but each time you cook with her, you will more deeply imprint the sensory memory, and it will then be more easily conjured and comforting to you, when the loss of the dish — and of her — clutches you in the randomness of subway commutes, and in drives late at night on the highway.

 

Love them anyway.

 

Love yourself a whole lot more.

 

New York City outlives everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Decisions I’m Glad About When I Think of Them, Even Now, Years Later

  1. Taking a punch in the stomach at age eight or nine, and not tattling. Not even crying when it happened. Just sucking the air in and staying still in a curled position, but still upright, until the pain passed. The kid was stunned at my reaction, and I lorded that punch over him for years. It taught me something about myself — and that one should never be quick to react.
  2. Not getting into a stranger’s car on 88th Street in Queens that morning in 1981, while walking to school by myself. Looking away when the window rolled down and I was offered a ride to school, and holding my chin higher while I said “no, thank you” and kept walking.
  3. Refraining from drinking Yoo-Hoos. Something never seemed quite right about that chocolate-y drink.
  4. Saying no to the joint passed to me in the woods between the Myrtle Avenue playground and the Interboro Parkway when I was twelve.
  5. Trying out for the play in my sophomore year of high school.
  6. Learning to drive a stick shift.
  7. Listening to the ex-boyfriend who chastised me for only eating salad in his presence, and suggested that I have a burger instead.
  8. Letting him stay all those nights in my dorm room. Staying in his when he encircled my wrist with his finger and thumb, and asked me to. Letting him break my heart. Knowing it would happen from the very first time I let him kiss me. Choosing the path anyway. Having the experience.
  9. Applying to the study-abroad program and spending a semester in London during my junior year of college.
  10. Not getting on a plane and returning home to the US, once I had landed in London for that spring semester, and witnessing the breakout of the First Gulf War three days later.
  11. Not going home with that guy I met in the London club near Trafalgar Square. Letting him kiss me very softly and expertly for a long time in a dark corner, but not going home with him. Going home with that cute boy who became my husband instead.
  12. Deciding that I loved him as soon as he kissed me the first time, but saying nothing about that for at least four months.
  13. Traveling through Europe with not much more than a cigarette lighter and a passport.
  14. Taking the ballroom dancing class in college.
  15. Politely rebuffing my mother’s offer to set up their Connecticut basement as a makeshift apartment after graduating from college, and living in a crawlspace of a Manhattan apartment instead. For letting my father help me pack the U-Haul, while knowing that was the truest declaration of love he’d ever given me. For letting him let me go.
  16. Accepting the fact that I hate to ski, and freeing myself from ever having to do it again.
  17. Signing myself up for long running races and completing them, even while cursing, crying, crapping or dry-heaving through some of them.
  18. Getting onstage in a New York basement comedy club. Squinting at the lights. Sticking my hands in my pockets so the audience wouldn’t see them shake. Telling my story. Failing. Telling it again.
  19. Throwing away the cigarettes. Choosing to run instead.
  20. That black leather skirt. Still keeping it in the closet, twenty years later.
  21. Restraining a guy from hitting me a second time. Having my surge of instinct be stop and end this and never again and no. Making him cry and regret it. Walking away, even though my hands shook all the way down Seventh Avenue.
  22. For living in Manhattan. For living in San Francisco. For being afraid and feeling alone, and signing the leases anyway.
  23. Saying yes to his marriage proposal. Saying yes to his love every day. Thanking God and Life and my ancestors for all that I have been given.
  24. Stopping at the second drink, on any number of occasions throughout my life.
  25.  Accepting the challenging gift of childbirth twice, and overcoming the fear that accompanied it on both occasions. All of the machines and syringes and monitors and pills and breathing and positions and oxygen masks and tennis balls and ice chips and stirrups and showers and inflatable pools and hands on your forehead and on the small of your back and crooks of arms hooking into the crooks of your legs and cold, wet cloths and cold, hard stirrups and call buttons and beds and wires and cords and clamps and stitches and sutures and suction and scalpels — none of it elevates you from the baseness, from the primal wonder and terror and thrill of life passing through you. You know the ancients in such moments. You sense the tension of bitten wood in your mouth, the give of fiber and tissue and bone and blood that is not solely your own. Life and death are intertwined in the slowest dance and most tender embrace as children are born. You are nothing more than a conduit for Life’s unadulterated greatness. You say yes. You let your body go. You let life come through. You succumb.
  26. Letting people love me.
  27. Embracing my past. Wearing it proudly.
  28. For deciding to have two children, even though I felt so utterly incapable of mothering them.
  29. Making the drive to south Jersey to sit with my aunt in an Alzheimer’s unit, even when she no longer knew me, or the faces in the pictures I hung on the walls of her room. For finding the joy of my four year-old son’s preschool songs, which he sang while I cried in the driver’s seat on the ride home on the parkway. For letting her — and him — teach me important lessons.
  30. Letting myself be wrong in front of my husband and children.
  31. Apologizing to my husband and children.
  32. Thanking my mother for having me.
  33. Getting in the car and driving to Levon Helm’s memorial service. It strangely changed my life. I wish it had been a Ramble, and I wish he was still here. But I am grateful for the door it somehow opened. I found myself again, somewhere on the New York State Thruway.
  34. Calling a relative and saying “I love you” to him during an unimaginably difficult time in his life. Hearing him say it back to me.
  35. Telling a great many people how I feel about them — that I admire them, love them, like them, miss them, am angry with them, need them, support them, respect them, desire them. It has never been regrettable.
  36. Signing up for a writing class. Crying a little bit in the car on the drive towards the studio on the very first day. Listening to the kid still inside of me.
  37. Attending a Buddhist retreat. Being quiet. Slowing down. Offering. Receiving. Knowing. Not knowing.
  38. Making Woodstock my spiritual home. For letting it choose me.
  39. Deciding to conquer fear and dive into the deep end of the pool, finally, at 44. While naked.
  40. Getting the drum lessons.
  41. Becoming who I believe I’m meant to be — who I was born to be, on a hot August night somewhere on 95th Street. For no longer hiding myself away for fear of criticism, disapproval or mockery.
  42. Wearing the heels. Packing the flats for the walk home.
  43. Forgiving myself.
  44. Calling myself out on total bullshit.
  45. Telling what happened.
  46. Speaking the truth.
  47. Encouraging other people to do the same.
  48. Submitting my story.
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Pieces of Me

I am ten and I am crying, because I am scared and my stomach hurts. My mother is pale and stern, standing before the lacquered mahogany door to my bedroom. Her hand rests on the old glass doorknob, which is cut like a faceted diamond. She is yelling at me, but I don’t know what she is saying. I know that she wants me to stop crying, to stop being like this. My father enters the room and crosses in front of her. He kneels in front of me, and asks me why I’m upset. My mother doesn’t move from the doorway. I tell him I don’t know, and I cry harder. My words catch in clutches and the back of my throat tightens and burns, and it’s hard for me to talk. He kneels down and he puts his arms around me, and he hugs me until my diaphragm stops spasming. The palm of his hand rests on the crown of my head, and I feel mostly safe — but not entirely, because I think that we are both somehow betraying my mother, and that I will suffer for his kindness.

***

My husband and I are sitting together on the couch in the beginnings of a Sunday morning. We are in a small town in the Catskills, and we are both reading from books that we’ve purchased from the small bookstore in the town center. Birds are chirping and trilling somewhere outside the house. My husband gets up to look for the feathery source, and calls me to our front door. A large, gray bird trills in the snowball hydrangea bush near our front steps, and we watch him from behind the panes of glass. He — or she, we’re not sure — is twitching and fussing at a nest secured in the boughs. We had noticed the nest earlier in the winter, and assumed it was unoccupied, or left behind from a pregnant spring. Still, we left it untouched. Places like the Catskills lend themselves to letting nature lie fallow and run its course — trees upturned and rotting in clearings; the bones of animals left to whiten in the sun in undiscovered places; groupings of twigs and pillars of stones that give meaning to other builders in their fragile construction. A second bird alights outside our door, and the nested bird puffs up and trills. We make a joke about summer rentals and latecomers to BnB websites. Are they together? I ask my husband. Or is he an intruder? How do they know who to pick, who to reproduce and nestle and settle with in the small space of life? I think. How do any of us decide?

***

I often find myself explaining things like air-conditioning wall units and pay phones and cathode ray tube televisions and rotary dials and hot rollers and flip calendars and metal Rolodexes and suntan lotions that offer no greater protection than SPF 8 and crank windows in large American cars and typewriters and transistor radios and the gasoline shortage and the whole notion of UHF and VHF to my children, but not for very long, because then they’re off to something else. I sit in the hyphen of space that separates the telling and the next moment of our lives — and wonder what will happen when my generation is gone, and no one remembers these things anymore. I decide that I’m just alligator-wrestling with my own mortality in those moments, personifying myself in cast-off objects that end up oddly stacked together on thrift-store shelves.

***

My husband and I are planning a trip to Big Sur this summer, to celebrate our twentieth anniversary. We haven’t been to Big Sur in more than fifteen years. I was young and lithe and smooth when we last visited. We were transplanted newlyweds living in San Francisco then, trying to make some sense of California, and where — and if — we belonged. We stayed at the Ventana Inn, a cliffside resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and brought along a camera that neither of us were particularly skilled in using. An unseen hotel employee laid a fire for us before we returned to our room each night. I was embarrassed at such a gesture. Who was I to deserve such labors?  I felt uncomfortable about the exertion and the transference of energy, about the wood breaking down and the ashes that remained, just so I could have misappropriated comfort and luxury. We stayed for several days, and I often lay naked on the white, white pillows that adorned the hotel room’s gargantuan bed. It was too big for us. We hadn’t grown into our lives — or our marriage — yet. One morning during our stay, my husband grabbed the camera, stood over my naked form on the white, white bed and asked to photograph me. I complied, denying my beauty, even as he sighed at the sight of me. After he shot several photos, we lay together and looked at the images on the digital screen at the back of our Canon Rebel. My husband gripped the black case and gasped at my beauty, eager to show me what he had seen. I waved away his love with criticisms of my skin tone, my lopsided breasts, and my soft double chin that emerged when I propped my head up awkwardly on those white, white pillows. So young, so embarrassed, so undeserving. He refused to delete the photos, even when I protested. We left Big Sur and grew older and moved away, and hid the photographs somewhere in the digital folds of our hard drive, once our children were old enough to navigate the computer. This morning, before the children woke up, I wondered aloud where those pictures had gone. My husband jokingly asked if I’d like to have large matte prints made of them. Yes, I said — but just the one where I’m lying in bed looking away from you, I said, and you can really see me. Yes, he said. I remember that one. And he smiled at me, and we were still sort of young — but we are mostly glad to be this old now.

 

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City Spring, 1978 — A Monday Haiku

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City Spring, 1978 — A Monday Haiku

 
On Avenue H
Near a Brooklyn chainlink fence
Honeysuckle grew

***

My grandmother sat
On a bench nearby and talked
I breathed in sweetness

***
Up from the asphalt
This wild aromatic bush
Offered me pleasure

***

Soft scent, cold metal
Caressed the tip of my nose
Reaching through the wire

***

I must have been eight
Two springs after Pop had died
The memory stays

***

Near cigarette butts
And broken beer bottles
Hope bloomed on the vine

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