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.

 

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.

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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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?

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.

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

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.