Saturday, November 15, 2014

there was no more sleep

Woke up just before 5 this morning from strange dreams of frantically running through subway stations, missing trains, losing myself in miles and miles of concrete and the dark. The Llama-monster decided it was the perfect time for a rare moment of being all snuggly lovey-dovey, though, purring and crashing her head into my hands demanding petting, making her funny chirpy contented noises and offering her fluffy soft belly for rubs. There was no more sleep to be had.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Today, just before the alarm went off at quarter to six, it was a tsunami that was on the verge of wreaking havoc in my dreams.

They come in waves, these dreams of a breaking future, but usually they involve nuclear war, and winter, and ash. This morning I was in Brooklyn (in my sleep), trying desperately to get to higher ground. I and the others around me climbed up to the roof of an old stone church and listened for awhile to a crazy preacher-man extolling the coming end times. Then I was in my apartment up in the Heights, fingers crossed that it was high enough, trying to call my mother before the wave came crashing up the Hudson, frustrated because all that came out of the phone was that same crazy preacher-man.

This morning, at least, I slept through till my alarm clock went off despite the roaring water in my head. I spend more time than I'd like wrestling in the wee hours with sleep. Sometimes I think I should curb my reading habits, start reading things like Nora Roberts and Tuesdays with Morrie.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

reason number 1,359,127 i love my brother

I came home this evening to find a huge box on my doormat. It was addressed to me, but the return address was for a company I'd never heard of before. I spent a few minutes racking my brain, trying to remember if I'd ordered something and forgotten about it -- one of those things from Amazon, maybe, that come from a different seller. Finally I opened it up to find it full of snack-size packages of PopCorners. No invoice, no note, no packing slip, no nothing. Just bags and bags of PopCorners.

After having my credit card number stolen not once but twice in the last eighteen months, I had a moment of panic -- until realizing, of course, that it'd be a hilariously inept credit card thief who used said stolen credit card to send the credit card owner a box of snacks. So I looked up the company and sent them an email asking what this box was about, thinking maybe they'd made a mistake and sent an order to the wrong person.

Later, in the midst of a long catch-up conversation with my mother, I mentioned the mysterious box. She said, "Huh. Sounds like something Nate and Shanna might do..."

So later still I asked him and he said (and I quote), "They have PopCorners on JetBlue. Delicious."

And that was it. About a month ago I spent a day with Nate in Boston, and somewhere in a full day's worth of rambling sibling talk he mentioned that they were flying home on JetBlue. I said that when the basket of snacks came around, he should try the PopCorners. Because they're delicious, and I've only ever had them on JetBlue flights.

But now, now, I have 40 bags of them in all the different flavors. Because of two sentences caught in the middle of thousands of words of conversation almost a month ago. (Okay, 39 bags. Turns out the Sweet Chili ones are pretty good.)

As if I needed yet another reason to appreciate and adore that incredible brother of mine.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


It felt like fall this morning, when I stepped out of my apartment building into the quiet street, and a crisp beautiful sadness lingered in the air like the scent of fermenting apples, of smoke, in the pre-dawn light.

I walked beneath the lightening sky, face turned to the sun just beginning to rise in the east, and then came home for tea and kitty-snuggling and yarn-winding. Eventually left again to meet Nick for a wander through downtown Brooklyn, across the Brooklyn Bridge and on into Chinatown for a late lunch.

The day was as beautiful as the morning, and felt less sad.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

eulogy (in which i come clean)

Kristen Purcell Fundraiser

The first concrete memory I have of her involved a sand castle and an elvish battle and her, looking quizzically at me from behind that lanky reddish-brown hair that often fell in wisps in front of her eyes.  She had let me draw her into one of my many make-believe worlds probably involving pitched warfare and dramatic chases and all kinds of magical goings-on.

But what I remember best is her 9-year-old face crinkling up into a skeptical-beyond-her-years look and saying something along the lines of, "Okay, but WHY would Roquat the Red be trapped in his tunnels if he and the fairy queen have a secret alliance?"

She was always looking for an explanation, that girl.

I was talking recently with my Ari-love about our memories of Kristen and she said that she'd always felt like there was a question mark hovering over their friendship, going back to our high school years.  I said from what I remembered of her, that I imagined she wasn't alone in feeling that way.  We agreed, though, that she had what seemed like an unusually developed sense of both fairness and acceptance for someone so young, at least for other people -- I imagine she was harder on her self.

The last concrete memory I have of her involved a missed train, a frantic 19-year-old me trying to get back to the city, and her, unquestioningly willing to pick me up in Shrub Oak and drive me to the Croton Harmon station at what was probably an ungodly hour of the morning.

That would have been 1995, at the waning of the year and mere weeks before I ended up dropping out of Barnard, much to the confusion and dismay of friends and relatives alike.

She lived another nine and a half years and I have no idea what she fell into, other than brief snippets of information from mutual friends. She was having fun and being smart with her drug use.  She had a job as an au paire. She was doing great. She had OD'd. She was fine. And eventually, one warm summer afternoon in 2005, a sobbing, near-hysterical phone call with the news:  Kristen was dead, found in her apartment by a friend who had started worrying.

I sometimes wish we'd intersected during those intervening years, as we each played with and struggled over our particular demons. We both skipped along from one drug of choice to the next but I, at least, eventually skipped along to less scary playgrounds with less dire consequences. (Even then, though, it's hard to stop, and easy to explain away one's drugs when partaking mostly with friends who love you, who are dabblers, who are respectable and smart and don't quite see your desperation, the extra pills you secretly take, the light-headedness and nausea you feel afterwards sometimes for days, the miserable crashing cross-country plane trips during which you kind of almost wish you were already dead. It's also hard to stop when the most magical thing in the world is wandering through Times Square alone at 3am, fairyfied by the wonder that is ecstasy and a summer rain, feeling such deep connection to the sparkly shining air and the laughing giddy people around you that you have to stop moving just to breathe, and so you find a quiet dark stoop somewhere to write out all of this passion you are feeling, only the next day you discover that your treatise on the beauty of life is completely and utterly illegible. Not unintelligible, mind you, but actually illegible. You, with the once-pretty cursive meticulously cultivated ever since grade school, find pages and pages of toddler-scrawl and not much memory of getting home.)

The main difference between us, of course, was that I got out alive and she didn't. I was very lucky in those years after college.

I had a steady, stable, embracing job that provided a reliable paycheck and a place for me to have to go to every day -- a place I actually wanted to go to every day. I'm pretty sure my colleagues didn't know the extent of my after-hours doings, but their warmth in the face of my headaches, my sometimes glassy-eyed stare and exhaustion, was at times more than I could bare. (I imagine they knew a little, perhaps, in the face of (for example) me trying not to stare too intently at my beloved boss as she explained our next project, unaware that her hair, wonderfully curly on a good day, was spiraling and writhing around her head Medusa-like, at least to me, at least after a particularly beautiful but ill-planned night of ecstasy and acid at the same time. Because why not, if you have it.)

I also had friends who, despite enjoying the odd evening of substance-induced debauchery with me, were ultimately supportive and respectful when I finally came to the realization that even these fun drugs -- you know the kinds I mean: the pleasingly multicolored tabs of acid, the ecstasy pills with their fanciful little stamps, the dried 'shrooms that make you think of old flesh -- were too much for me.

I do not know the specifics of Kristen's story, and part of me is glad not to. But I wish, in moments, that we had been more aware of each other during those years; that we could have shared our stories, perhaps shared our burdens, a little bit.

She died alone in the summer of 2005, two years after I finally decided to give it all up, when we were 29 years old. Later this month a few of us are congregating not far from our old stomping grounds to celebrate our 20th high school reunion. It's hard to fathom not her absence at this reunion, as I can't quite imagine she'd have been into such silliness anyway, but her absence in the world  -- this girl we knew, for me practically the girl next door.

We're raising some money in memory of her own personal demons but also in honor of her intellect and inquisitiveness and desire to have everybody get a fair shot -- even Roquat the Red in his underground tunnels, even each of us in our failings, in our disappointments.

We're raising money in particular for a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those struggling with drug issues in legal and medical and practical ways.

Please take a look at the link at the top of this ramble, please consider donating. I think Kristen would appreciate that this money may not only help people get the treatment they need, but may help people get the meal they need, the shower they need, the needle they need.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

ghosts & glorious golden beets

I was going to get some, and then decided not to, but then Lauren decided to get some, and then we wandered on through the market and came across some more, so then I just had to get some too.

Golden beets. They draw me in every time, even when I don't particularly want beets. They're. Just. So. Goddamned. Beautiful.

We met at Union Square, took the L out to Bedford Avenue (oh lord how I detest Bedford Avenue),  and walked west towards the East River and all the deliciousness awaiting us at Smorgasburg. We indulged in Dough doughnuts and shared a bowl of Noodle Lane noodles and split the best fish sandwich and finished it all off with cups of strong-enough-to-make-your-toes-curl cold-brewed iced coffee. We sat in the sun and traded stories, she resplendently pregnant and happy, me feeling grateful for the lunch, for her, for this magnificent day.

We took the L back into Manhattan and decided to wander the Union Square farmers market where we bought golden beets and where I bought local linden honey for me and wine for a friend's apartment-warming party.

I swiped her back into the train station, took myself back up to street level, and headed west to catch the A-train home, anxious to have a couple hours before heading back out to the aforementioned party.

As happens because it's so beautiful, I found myself walking along 16th Street and, as also happens (and yet somehow always manages to take me by surprise), I found myself passing Xavier High School.

One of my brother's dearest friends, and something akin to another little brother to me, killed himself during his senior year of high school. Xavier was the last place either of us saw him, on a gray and cold December afternoon when my brother was visiting me at Barnard and I took him downtown to watch this friend compete in a debate tournament.

And even now, almost twenty years later, Xavier jolts me into a moment of grief every time, a moment of having the air punched out of my chest. But yesterday as I was walking, for that moment, for that block, I felt as if some of my ghosts were walking next to me, and it felt warm and golden and good.

I've been contemplating abandoning New York City, heading west, finding my love and my next move. I am excited about this, even if moving almost imperceptibly, glacier-like, in that direction.

But I will miss these streets, and I worry that I will be abandoning these ghosts. There's been a certain comfort, over two decades of walking the streets of this city, in coming knowingly or unknowingly across my particular haunted places.

Every time I walk down 113th Street (which for some reason is less often than one might think), I smile at the memory of a Symposium dinner with my father at the end of a childhood going-to-work-with-Dad day.

The rock wall overlooking Riverside Park, especially in the gloaming-time when the sun is just going down across the Hudson and the shadows come swirling in, brings back hours-long conversations with Mick, perched up there on the wall and thinking, I think, about falling.

And then there's Matt, heartbreaking Matt and the reminder, walking down 16th street every once in awhile, that you rarely know that this time -- this moment right now -- may be the last time you see someone you love.

And I know of course that these places are not my ghosts, but the deep pleasure in still being able to walk fragments of their worlds is real. I wonder, sometimes, if pieces of people can be caught in their multitudes of geography -- in concrete and leaves, in rivers and libraries and ash. I'm hoping, of course, that I will take them with me when I go.

So I walked along 16th Street yesterday, basking in the afterglow of a lovely afternoon with my Lauren, wondering what to do with my beautiful golden beets, and also thinking about my dead. And I felt, in that moment, very, very lucky. Is that really so strange?

Friday, August 29, 2014

boston to new york, or, twenty years can change things sometimes, but sometimes not

I've logged quite a few hours on trains in my time, but last weekend was only the second time I made the run from Boston to New York City. I hitched a ride north with a dear friend and his wonderful girlfriend, stayed with them that night, and then made my way into Boston proper Saturday morning.

I spent a sad, wonderful, gorgeous day wandering along Newbury Street and Commonwealth Avenue and the neighborhoods and trails down by the river with my brother and my sister-in-law and my adorably sweet little nephew, who were in town for some appointments at Boston Children's Hospital.

Later our cousin Jenna came to meet us for dinner and yet more wandering in search of the perfect dessert and eventually, because she is quite possibly one of the sweetest women to ever walk this earth, gave me a ride to South Street Station and a loving, sisterly send-off back into the non-familial world.

I spent the five hours on the train reading, knitting, staring out the window, listening to Abigail Washburn and Sam Smith and Daughter, trying not to embarrass myself by crying much. I found myself remembering that last Boston to New York run, back in the fall of 1994.

Like I said, it's been awhile.

My grandmother's brother, my Great-Uncle Jerry, had died that October and I, being the only one left on the east coast, got roped into representing our particular branch of his family tree at a memorial service held for him at MIT. Then, like now, I hitched a ride up to Boston, though I can no longer remember with whom. I stayed with a friend at Tufts, a fellow recent Lakeland High School graduate still trying to get a grip on that whole college thing.

I remember I had a cold, as I often did in those years, and I remember being worried about coughing through the service. I also remember that my dad's cousin Zack, whom I didn't know well and whom I hadn't seen since my dad's memorial service a year and a half earlier, came to pick me up at my friend's dorm at Tufts, drove me to his dad's memorial service at MIT, and then drove me back to Tufts.

I haven't seen him since, nor anyone from my grandmother's family, but won't ever forget the warmth and kindness with which he tried to draw me in to the family that day.

As I recall, I managed to make it through the service without coughing too much, but then later my Tufts friends took me out drinking somewhere, which is always a great idea when one is sick with a nasty cold.

The next morning I caught the train back to my own city and spent the five hours coughing uncontrollably and probably annoying everyone in my car. But I didn't care. I had my headphones on and was playing Ani Difranco, oblivious to pretty much everything other than, not to be too melodramatic, staring out the window contemplating death and loneliness and loss.

God, I'm so glad I never, ever have to be eighteen years old again.  I still love this song, though. Also this one. And so many others.

Monday, August 25, 2014

love letter to libraries

(Somehow I wrote this months and months ago but never got around to posting. Now, on the eve of a new semester which is always hectic and fun and ridiculous in the libraries, I thought it worth posting even if it is outdated -- better late than never?)

CUL (that would be Columbia University Libraries) holds a couple Staff Forums every semester, both morning and afternoon sessions so that as many as possible of us several hundred library staff have the opportunity to attend. (That tidbit of information may seem like overkill, but it plays into my larger narrative here. Have patience.)

I haven't been to one in awhile and so made a point of attending this semester's first forum yesterday afternoon (partly, it cannot in all honesty be denied, for those delicious brownies they tend to serve at these things).

Each Forum generally has three mini presentations, each about fifteen minutes or so followed by a few minutes of question and answer time. Often it's about new technology in the libraries, or new and noteworthy collection development, and so on and so forth. Every once in awhile it's about more controversial stuff (oh, the terrible staff forum that happened in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when CUL was forced to shrink its staff by almost 10%).

But yesterday, while listening to this particular forum's three little presentations, I found myself powerfully moved. What I was reminded of, unexpectedly, is that what I cherish and love about libraries (what so many of us cherish and love about libraries) is their drive to make as much knowledge as humanly possible accessible to as many people as humanly possible

My university co-runs a library storage facility with Princeton University and the New York Public Library. As of now, between these three world-class institutions, there are over 10 million items stored in this temperature- and humidity-controlled preservation-oriented facility, and it's growing every day. Eventually it's expected to hold 37.5 million items, and will be by far the largest print collection in the world.

What struck me yesterday, in part, was the very language that librarians use to discuss their work. They talk about creating storehouses of knowledge, about providing access to those storehouses, about preserving all of that knowledge for future generations.

And the thing is, of course, that though not everyone has direct access to these particular vast print collections, all you have to do (all anyone has to do) is go to your nearest public library and fill out an Interlibrary Loan request. And suddenly, magically, those 37.5 million items (and almost anything else you can imagine) becomes accessible through the vast interconnectedness of the world's libraries.

Oh sure, it can sometimes take a while, but just wait. I haven't had Interlibrary Loan fail me yet. Because, as I've said before, ILL is like a pitbull. And if having all the written words of the world at your fingertips isn't magic, I don't know what is.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

'and we can whisper things, secrets from our american dreams...'

I have a confession: I try to act all tough, but I think pretty much everyone knows I'm basically just a big mush.

Yesterday I went to see Boyhood, the most recent (and possibly the most ingenious) film to come out of the strangely beautiful (and endearingly funny) mind of Richard Linklater. And I've had this song stuck in my head ever since.

I was just talking on the phone with my boy, and of course mentioned my new favorite song.

"It's kind of cheesy," I said, "but it's so damned sweet..."

"That sounds about right for you," he said, an affectionate chuckle hovering just beneath the surface.

And I couldn't help but grin, even through the tears this song somehow induces (no, I'm sure, this has nothing at all to do with those wonderful Boyhood father scenes, with protesting or not protesting, laughing or not laughing with my own father, with being or not being in the world with him) -- because that's what I do sometimes.

Let me go
I don't wanna be your hero
I don't wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else

Your masquerade
I don't wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else

While holding down
A job to keep my girl around
And maybe buy me some new strings
And her a night out on the weekend

And we can whisper things
Secrets from our American dreams
Baby needs some protection
But I'm a kid like everyone else

So let me go
I don't wanna be your hero
I don't wanna be a big man
I Just wanna fight like everyone else...
(Family of the Year, Hero)

Friday, August 22, 2014


I woke up early this morning, well before my 5:45 alarm. I sat up in bed, confused, and then lay back down on my side and that's when I felt it. Something crinkling in my left ear like when you step out of the shower and begin drying off and you shake the water out of your hair, and the water in your ears crinkles and breaks and you feel them open up again and the world comes rushing back in.

Except the crinkling, the tickly uncomfortable crawling feeling, continued and there was no water to explain it, and I had a momentary early morning meltdown.

I found myself shaking and twitching my head about, slapping at my ear, bordering on frantic while the Llama-monster, of course, looked on, unperturbed. (I saw The Wrath of Khan when I was little! I know what things crawling around in your ears can do to you! And just a couple weeks ago, mid-shower, I felt something in my hair as I was rinsing the shampoo out, brushed it aside, looked down to find an itty bitty water bug at my feet. Ick!)

I had the distinct impression that there were only three possibilities: either I had abruptly and inexplicably gone  (as they say) bat-shit crazy, or I was having some weird acid flashback (though flashbacking to what exactly, I couldn't tell you, as my few acid trips were beautiful and flowery and (almost entirely) fun, and definitely 100% bug-free), or there was in fact something in there, tickling and twitching its way toward my brain.

So I got up and made some tea (because in a state of crisis, what else is a girl to do?) and fed the cat and thought about how I would explain this to the receptionist at the doctor's office when I called later in the morning. ("Umh, yeah, I think there might be a bug in my near. No, not a spy device, a bug! Like a cock roach! Help!")

And then it stopped (though writing about it now, fifteen hours later, is making my skin crawl ever so slightly and my ear tingle with just the hint of an itch). And I went to work and dealt with a ridiculous library-documents-move situation for a few hours interspersed with rants to my coworker about my weird ear thing. He of course reassured me that there was probably just some water caught in there, or maybe a slight infection, and some drops should clear it right up.

Even so, though I'm not generally a hypochondriac, I just might call the doctor Monday morning anyway. Or be forced to find something else with which to self-medicate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


My father's 50th high school reunion was last weekend. He couldn't make it, of course, but I remember the summer he and my mom went to his 20th high school reunion. We were staying with my grandparents in the same house on Myrtle Street that my father had grown up in, with the same furniture and the same wall paper and the same books.  (I always loved that house, with the cherry tree out back, the clothes line perfect for making blanket forts, and especially the attic -- dust motes hanging in the heavy warm air, caught in rays of sunshine slanting through dust-covered windows, and my Aunt Ellen's dolls still tucked away in boxes just begging to come out and play.)

I was little, only eight years old, but I remember watching them get dressed up for the evening -- she in a dress, hair curled, a touch of make-up; he in a suit, awkward and gangly, excited to be showing off his wonderful wife, his professional success (small town boy makes good in the big city, well on his way to academic renown), pictures of his adorable kids.

Some of this may be me projecting backward on to him as I face my own 20th high school reunion, which is happening next month, with a somewhat disconcerting mixture of trepidation and joy.

A part of me wishes I had more of what he had at my age -- the wonderful spouse, the children, the academic career, the house complete with, yes, a cat, a dog, and at various times fishes, turtles, guinea pigs and parakeets -- to show off at this upcoming reunion.

A part of me is relieved that I don't have those responsibilities and am able to focus all my energies on my friends, on my library, on my craft. (Though who at a high school reunion wants to talk about knitting, and the pros and cons of various fibers, is beyond me.)

A part of me is pleased at the opportunity to present my re-invented self, this happier, lighter, less dramatic self in lieu of that somewhat broken teenager so often lingering on the edges of things, in dark clothes, crying sometimes in dark corners.

Transformation can be such a beautiful thing when it's genuine, when it's carefully, intimately shaped both individually and between people who care about each other. I am wishing that my father -- the man he was at his 20th reunion, the man he would have been now, thirty years later -- were here to share our transformations between us, in all the myriad ways that people can change.

(I also wish that he were around for a good post-reunion gossip, but other people I love will just have to do.)