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

waves

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

fall

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 taste like old flesh in the back of your throat -- 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

bugs

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

reunions

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.)

Saturday, June 07, 2014

ancient beads and old friends

We met by the clock in Grand Central Station yesterday evening, in the midst of the rushing Friday night post-work crowds.  She was wearing these beautifully bright and simple beaded necklaces, white and blue and yellow and green and all the colors of the rainbow. I complimented her on them and she just looked at me, surprised, and laughed, and said, "Emma, you made these for me!"

As soon as she said it, of course, it all came rushing back: that year or so in high school of obsessively stringing beads and crocheting skull caps (mostly burgundy and, of course, black). And I couldn't believe that she still had these necklaces, tucked away somewhere safe for over twenty years. She looked beautiful and happy in a flirty summery outfit and those bright and cheerful beads, and it felt indescribably warm -- this realization that she'd saved them all this time.

What's magical and heartbreaking in the world so often revolves around the waxing and waning of relationships. I've written a lot over the years about the waning part of things, have perhaps (some would say definitely) wallowed more than is helpful in the endings of things. But lately, over this past year, these past few months, even just this past week, I've found myself reveling at the pure good fortune of having the people that I have in my life.

Erica and the fact that despite long stretches of little communication, somehow our conversations and letters always feel, to me, deeply connected.

Jill and our sometimes prickly but life-long love for each other.

Nick and his willingness to accompany me to random dinners and random parties and weekly lunches and long walks-and-talks down Broadway or Riverside or Central Park West of a beautiful spring evening.

Lauren and her gorgeous New York brashness and deep understanding of some of my inner most insecurities.

Johanna and our friendship's propensity for being a safe place for endless conversations about grief (though also about silly movies and wonderful books and what's really the best ramen place in this town).

Ari-love and, well, everything.

And Cindy, my friend of the beaded necklaces and flirty sundresses and crazy beautiful curls. Cindy with whom my friendship has been waxing and waning since middle school, but mostly waxing. We two are so awkward, sometimes, in the world and with each other and yet I don't know that it is possible to love a friend more than I love this woman.

So we met up yesterday at Grand Central and headed down to BAM, where we joined her brother and his husband for dinner and wine and the wonderful hilarity that was Ask Me Another.  Afterwards we wandered around Brooklyn, ostensibly looking for the C but secretly enjoying the wandering and the beautiful June night. We got home to my place just before midnight and promptly went to bed, both of us early risers and done in after a long day.

This morning was filled with tea and talk and apples with peanut butter, and then it was time to leave for work. She waited with me at the bus stop and then made her way home, and I've been left with this sense of warmth, this sense of being suffused with love and well-being, ever since.

A woman I knew in college once wrote a piece about her father's death and the "boundless luck" that had exemplified an adventurous and fulfilling life.  I've always remembered that phrase, and peered at it suspiciously, but perhaps in my old age I am beginning finally to understand it. Perhaps not the adventuring, exactly, but the sense of contentment that she also seemed to imply.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

'i've lived in new york for five years...'

"I’ve lived in New York for five years, long enough to understand why some people hate it here: the crowds, the noise, the traffic, the expense, the rents, the messed-up sidewalks, the weather that brings hurricanes named after girls that break your heart.

It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here. But New York repays you in time in memorable encounters. Just remember: Ask first, don’t grab, be fair, say please and thank you, always say thank you — even if you don’t get something back right away. You will."
(Bill Hayes, Lessons From the Smoke Shop)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

(not) at the bus stop

I've written before about my recent habit of walking in the morning to a different bus stop -- for the bit of extra exercise, for the bit of extra time outside in the light and the air before a day in my humble basement library, for a few extra minutes of looking up at the branches and the sky and feeling the wind on my face.

I catch the same bus most mornings, and the bus driver -- jovial and talkative and funny -- always has a boisterous greeting, a cheerful question, a humorous quip.  Last week for some reason I left earlier than usual one morning and caught a different bus down to work.  I was crossing Broadway at 114th and suddenly the bus that was stopped at the light started honking. I ignored it at first but eventually looked up and realized it was my bus, the one I hadn't taken that morning, and my crazy awesome bus driver was waving wildly at me and grinning and honking his horn.

He hasn't let me forget it yet: the day I spurned him for another driver.

Friday, May 30, 2014

'roland ducked beneath the tape...'

"Roland ducked beneath the tape and then just stood where he was for a moment, listening to the honk and pound of the city on this bright June day, relishing its adolescent vitality. He would never see another city, of that much he was almost positive. And perhaps that was just as well. He had an idea that after New York, all others would be a step down."
(Stephen King, The Dark Tower)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

facial recognition

I found myself chatting with a woman last weekend at Bill's wife's memorial service. I knew who she was -- a friend and colleague of Bill's at ISERP -- immediately, having met her several years ago at Bill's and Jill's wedding.  But apparently she's come in to my library on a semi-regular basis in the intervening years, and apparently I never recognize her.

Context can be everything, I suppose -- bring back the Bill factor and of course I knew who she was.  But I think at some point in the sordid, distant past I stopped looking closely at other people's faces. I was too busy looking at the cracks in the sidewalk in front of my feet, at the sky, at shoes and clothes and bodies hurtling through space. I was too busy obsessing over books or drugs or people I didn't know how to love very well.

Once, towards the end of college, I was walking across campus and eventually noticed a girl laughing and waving animatedly at me. I'd almost passed her by, this girl I happened to be deeply in love with, or crushing on, or whatever the proper terminology might have been at the time.  She finally stopped chuckling at my obliviousness and we went and got coffees and chatted out on the steps as the late autumn dusk settled in around us.

Later she asked me what it was I was thinking about all those times when my mind went wandering off and stopped seeing anyone. I don't think I knew what to tell her.

Later even than that, I think I more intentionally stopped looking at faces when I was out in the world. So many times I thought those faces passing by were people I knew, sometimes people I loved, and so many times I found myself smiling joyfully, longingly, only to discover it was someone else entirely, someone strange and unknown and not who I had thought it was at all.

Eventually it just seemed easier to stop looking, in the hopes that other people would stop looking, too.

I've gotten better about it in recent years. I try to look people in the eye, absorb their faces, remember their names, stop hiding behind my own lack of recognition. It helps to be dating a man who, I know, will always find me in a crowd even when I can't find him.  It helps to mind less about the embarrassment of introducing myself to the same person again and again. It helps to be able to just tell people that chances are I might not recognize them the next time we meet, and that they should just speak up for god's sake and say, "I'm So-and-so. So-and-so's friend. We've met twice before."

bridge, 5.24.14


Friday, May 16, 2014

humidity

I grew up in the northeast but we spent all of our summers out west. Northern Idaho is pretty dry, at least compared to New York. The hills surrounding the lake would be mottled with shades of green and brown, and beautiful, and the grasses would burn, and we'd sometimes lug buckets of water up the hill to water some of the younger apple trees and later, the flowers Grandma planted every spring at my father's grave.

You got used to it after awhile: the crisp, dry air and evenings cool enough for a campfire and cups of coffee out on the dock watching the early morning sun burn off the mist across the lake.

It was always something of a shock to deplane at LaGuardia or JFK or Westchester County Airport after two months of being at the lake cabin in Idaho. You'd walk out of the airport into that muggy, sticky, sweaty New York air and feel something akin to walking into a brick wall.

This morning, walking up to the bus stop, the air was sticky and humid and warm, and the branches I've been watching since deep winter are losing their stark shapes in cascading bowers of green.  My city's on its way to becoming its summertime jungle self again, and even the air seemed green and pregnant with rain.

'some of the books had actually become migratory...'

I did not particularly like this book, but I LOVED this passage.

"I don't see anything."

"That's right. And where on campus does even a very good locator spell not work?"

"I have no idea." Admitting ignorance promptly was the fastest way to get information out of a Brakebills professor.

"Try the library." Professor Brzezinski closed his eyes again, like an old walrus settling back down onto a sunny rock. "There are so many old seek-and-finds in that room, you can't find a Goddamned ting."

Quentin had spent very little time in the Brakebills library. Hardly anybody did if they could help it. Visiting scholars had been so aggressive over the centuries in casting locator spells to find the books they wanted, and spells of concealment to hide those same books from rival scholars, that the entire area was more or less opaque to magic, like a palimpsest that has been scribbled on over and over, past the point of legibility.

To make matters worse, some of the books had actually become migratory. In the nineteenth century Brakebills had appointed a librarian with a highly Romantic imagination who had envisioned a mobile library in which the books fluttered from shelf to shelf like birds, reorganizing themselves spontaneously under their own power in response to searches.  For the first few months the effect was said to have been quite dramatic. A painting of the scene survived as a mural behind the circulation desk, with enormous atlases soaring around the place like condors.

But the system turned out to be totally impractical.  The wear and tear on the spines alone was too costly, and the books were horribly disobedient. The librarian had imagined he could summon a given book to perch on his hand just by shouting out its call number, but in actuality they were just too willful, and some were actively predatory. The librarian was swiftly deposed, and his successor set about domesticating the books again, but even now there were stragglers, notably in Swiss History and Architecture 300-1399, that stubbornly flapped around near the ceiling. Once in a while an entire sub-sub-category that had long been thought safely dormant would take wing with an indescribable papery susurrus.

So the library was mostly empty, and it wasn't hard to spot Josh in an alcove off the second floor, sitting at a small square table across from a tall, cadaverously thing man with chiseled cheekbones and a pencil mustache. The man wore a black suit that hung on him. He looked like an undertaker.

(Lev Grossman, The Magicians, p, 127-128)

Monday, May 12, 2014

'when i am an old woman...'

There's a tunnel at the down-the-hill entrance to the A train at 190th Street. It's long and damp and warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and footsteps and voices echo up and down its length in distorted and sometimes funny ways.

Yesterday morning I was up and out the door by 6:30 and jogging along Bennett Avenue, admiring the steady thump of my feet against pavement and the lush green that's finally exploded throughout the city. Out of the corner of my eye, just before Bennett starts to curve down toward Broadway, I noticed an old woman standing in the entrance to that tunnel. She was wearing an ankle-length mostly cream-colored patterned skirt and a bright purple wide-brimmed hat, a stylin' purple purse caught over one arm. She was just standing there, one hand propping the door open, leaning in.

And as I approached her, I thought I heard an odd noise. A hooting, chirping, giggling sort of noise. And I realized, after a moment, that this little old woman was hooting into the tunnel, and seemed to be giggling at her own voice echoing back at her.

And I loved this so much, loved this woman so much that in that moment I wanted to run over and give her a great big hug. I don't know whether she was going to the subway or just walking by when the compulsion to shout out into this long tunnel overtook her -- a compulsion I understand all too well.  And why not, I imagine her asking herself. Who's to know, so early on a Sunday morning, that she is not always decorous or demure, who's awake and around to see such shenanigans?

I'm glad I was awake and around to see them, and hope that she found it as pleasing as I imagine she must have.

Friday, May 02, 2014

branches

It's been awhile since I dreamt of apocalypse, though I always know it's lurking out there somewhere in the dark.  (The stories I tell myself, the stories of myself that I have for so long been telling everyone else, seem too often to revolve around the world as we know it coming to an end.)

Last night's dream, ridiculously enough, was about Thanksgiving. Specifically it was about an anxiety-filled last-minute afternoon of preparing shopping lists and going to the grocery store only to find that we couldn't get enough food. We didn't have the right IDs, the right stamps, the right paperwork in the face of massive food shortages to get what we needed, and our Thanksgiving was ruined.

I woke up frustrated and hungry and sad, got up and pulled on my jogging clothes and sneakers. I did a few stretches and went for my thrice-weekly walk/jog, and the sun was just coming up and making the very tops of the trees glow.

And it occurred to me, as I lumbered along with my face tilted up at the slowly lightening sky, that I've become somewhat obsessed these past few months with a certain stretch of boulevard in my neighborhood. I go out of my way to walk this stretch because there is something completely enchanting about these particular branches so delicately etched against this particular expanse of ever-changing  sky. Almost inevitably I find myself staring so intently upwards that at some point I trip and stumble and nearly come tumbling down.

It's worth it though, every morning, to feel washed clean by this little stretch of road. To feel so far from the city, so far from my dreams, perched on the edge of the river beneath these trees, beneath this field of sky.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

birthdays

Last week, my mother sent me and my brother a handful of old pictures of Dad in his various incarnations. A few with us kids. A few from his own childhood (he idolized and dressed up as Roy Rogers -- I have the proof!). One or two lovelies of him and Mom back in their California days.

This one, in particular, I love so much -- that hat, that hair, that quiet, pensive, far-away look. I wonder what he was thinking about, caught there in that beautiful moment, or if he was thinking about anything at all.

I sent it to family friend Bill, with whom I've been spending quite a bit of time these last few months. He wrote back almost immediately saying, "That was a Bill I didn't know. Goddamn long-haired Berkeley hippie, I suspect!"

This made me laugh, and in a funny way made me feel a little better about the fact that I didn't really know him in those days, either. Today would have been his 68th birthday.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

on growing old(er)

I got carded at 1020 the other night, and this made me laugh: I am nearly 38 years old and have been drinking at 1020 since I was a wee young thing of 18. But they had a different bartender for the first time that I can remember and he is young, and new, and covering all the bases.

The only problem, other than the surprise of being carded, was that I actually didn't have my ID on me.

As you, my dear loyal readers, may have gathered, I have begun walk/jogging a few mornings a week this spring. And I figure if anyone is likely to walk in front of an oncoming bus or trip over a (possibly non-existent) crack in the sidewalk and fall on one's head, well, it would be yours truly. So I've been making a point of sticking my ID in my pocket whenever I venture out on these early morning excursions, and last Thursday morning I forgot to transfer it back to my wallet.

The nice young bartender looked me up and down and finally, having already poured my drink, said, "Well, I guess if your friends show me their IDs, I'll assume you're old enough too..."

Thank you, new young bartender, for making an old lady like me feel like a young whippersnapper all over again. Just, you know, more plump and less miserable.

Friday, April 18, 2014

people you may know

There was this kid in high school I could never quite get my head around. He was a little goofy, a little sweet, trying to be something of a badass in a teenage-y, angry music and shredded jeans sort of way. He was a long way from the typical nerdy honors kid, but we were in a bunch of the same classes and it was obvious he was damned smart and nervy as hell. And he showed up recently in 'People You May Know' so I thought what the hell and so now here we are, 'friends.'

And he's still all those things, except grown up now, and funny! (Even better, he's an English teacher who thinks books should be tax-free, because duh, books.) It's nice to have fuzzy, faded memories validated decades later, if only from afar. And, and, he has a blog! So I found myself chuckling my way through this longish, foul-mouthed, hilarious rant yesterday morning about bachelor parties, and it made me glad for this insight into the male mind, or at least a particular male mind, and one that seems to be pretty different from most of the male minds that I know.

Viva la Facebook.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

contrasts

Monday morning, 6:30am, I took the elevator from Bennett up to Fort Washington Avenue. I love that particular subway station, especially coming out of the elevator at the top. The old stone station building opens unexpectedly into a little sloping park. A woman walking in front of me started to go up the steps to street level but abruptly stopped, turned back, and stood there for a moment contentedly sniffing at the hyacinths and daffodils cheerily growing along the embankment. She looked so pleased, in that moment, and it was warm and bright and still quiet in the early morning light, and we smiled at each other and rhapsodized about the scent and then went our separate ways.

This morning I got a mass-distribution Public Safety text from my employer warning about "large chunks of ice" falling off one of the buildings on campus, with admonishments to try to steer well clear of it if at all possible.

Oh spring, where have you gone?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

another april eighteenth, almost

Last year was a lovely eighteenth of April: a simple, delicious dinner of some of my father's favorite things shared with three of my favorite people. My mother, my Jill, my boy. This year will be a quieter eighteenth of April, more solitary perhaps yet still emotionally rich.

I will get up at quarter to six, throw on my running clothes, do some stretches, and go for my thrice-weekly walk/jog/stumble. I will come back and prepare for the day. I will get my usual seat on the bus and spend a lovely half-hour reading. (I am undeniably a creature of habit, and this is okay.) I will spend the day with colleagues I love, in a place that I have loved since I was a little girl.

I will, perhaps, finally get around to replying to a beautifully intimate and family-history-filled letter I received last week from my uncle. I will be amazed at how despite knowing this uncle for thirty-seven years, there are whole worlds still to learn, entire histories about which I know nothing at all.

I will go home after work and meditate, my closed eyes facing the sunshine that will likely be streaming in through my living room windows. I will breathe, and try to remain calm in the face of the Llama-monster's likely yowling in my face. I will not get the giggles (though it will be alright if I do), and eventually the bell will chime and I will re-enter the waking world and scratch behind the Llama-monster's ears and we will sprawl contentedly on the sun-dappled wood floor of my apartment (though it will be alright if it's instead gray and dreary).

I will cherish my father's memory by learning to cherish even more the lives he helped to shape, and by continuing to tell the story of him as I know it.

"And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story."
-Tim O'Brien, from The Things They Carried

morning walk, 4.15.14


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

at the bus stop, continued

Yesterday, in the barely misting rain, it was, "Quite the dedicated walker, even out in the rain, eh?"

This morning it was an exuberant, "How are you today, Miss Walkin' Lady?" I said wonderfully, and that it's such a beautiful day! He replied, "It is indeed, it is indeed..."

Perhaps it's silly that I get such pleasure out of these moments, but they're just such a nice way to start yet another work day. I probably should've started doing this years ago.

Monday, March 31, 2014

on the train

1.  Friday evening, heading home from work, I got on the A-train, grabbed an overhead pole and immediately lost myself in the book I'm reading these days.  At the next stop a seat opened up in front of me and a young woman pushed her way through to it, lost in whatever she had playing on her headphones and not making eye contact with anyone around her.  When she got herself comfortably settled, though, she glanced up at me, suddenly grinned and said, "Oh! I love that book!"

I myself am having a love/hate relationship with this book (to be honest, mostly hate), but for that moment I was so glad to be reading it -- and in paper form. And I've been thinking ever since about how communal the act of reading has traditionally been -- a place of shared opinions, shared experience, with people we love, people we know, and people who up until a sudden moment of recognition have been complete strangers.  The electronic revolution is a wonderful thing, of course, but not without its sacrifices.

2.  Yesterday I met some friends for a Sunday matinee down near Lincoln Center, then meandered my way north and eventually hopped on the train at 109th Street. A couple stops before mine, a couple boarded the train, guitars in hand, and stood in the middle of the car and sang the most beautiful song, filled with gorgeously lush harmonies. I, apparently a sucker for gorgeously lush harmonies closed my book and craned forward, peering down the train at this singing couple, completely enthralled.  As we pulled into my station I hopped up and dug a dollar out of my bag and ran down the length of the car to give it to them. I'd never heard this sort of music on the train before, and clearly I wasn't the only one impressed -- two or three others were making that dash with me.

In the elevator up to the street I again opened my book and tried, as I often do, to tune out my fellow elevator riders.  But this time I couldn't help smiling -- two different pairs of my fellow subway riders were discussing how beautiful the music had been.  And I was thinking how lovely it was that this guitar-playing angelically-voiced duo had managed to break through our usual interpersonal barriers. When you've managed to get a bunch of New Yorkers talking about you in hushed, reverent voices after a long subway ride, you know you're doing something right.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

urban ocean

Every once in awhile, when the traffic is just right along the West Side Highway and the air is heavy with rain, it sounds a little bit like the sea.

This afternoon as I sat meditating there was a lull in the usual neighborhood noise -- no childish shouting, no garbage trucks, no sirens or dogs barking or skater kids showing off out on the square.  .  In moments like that, when the neighborhood is quiet and my head is quiet and the traffic, as I said, is just right -- swelling and receding in intermittent waves on a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon -- I can almost smell it: the briny, comforting salty edges of an ocean shore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

at the bus stop, or, getting my stroll on

I've taken to walking some mornings to a bus stop a little further away from my apartment than my normal one just around the corner. It's a pretty walk up towards the park and the very beginning of the bus route, with the Hudson and the trees lining the Hudson and all that great big sky opening up on my left, schools and apartment buildings and playgrounds to my right. It seems a nice thing to do in the morning -- this extra bit of outdoor time, these extra moments of sky -- before getting on the bus and heading (relatively) downtown and into my basement office for the day.

One of my regular bus drivers noticed this change in routine last week and demanded, all serious-like, "What are you doing at this stop, young lady, going undercover or something?" I laughed and said I was just taking a little walk before work, and he laughed and said, "Well, that sounds just nice."

This morning I walked up there again, enjoying the wind blowing off the river and up the hill and through my hair. There are always a couple buses parked around the circle in front of the entrance to the park waiting to start their trips south, winding their slow and ponderous way through Manhattan.  As soon as I got to the bus stop today, the second in line rumbled to life and pulled up to the stop too. I climbed aboard, windblown and smiling contentedly and the bus driver, my bus driver, grinned at me and said, quite happily it seemed, "Getting our morning stroll on, were we?"

I, fingers slightly numbed by the cold (or perhaps flustered by being noticed and remembered quite this much), managed to put my metrocard in upside down and backwards. He just chuckled and waved me back to my usual seat, where I spent the next twenty minutes or so ostensibly ensconced in a book but really kind of glowing from the brisk morning air and the simple joy of being known in the big city.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

this strange and lovely thing called family

I can't begin to tell you how much I love this picture.
 
It came the other day in a rare and unexpected email from a relative, my father's big brother, my formidable Uncle Earle. I say rare and unexpected because he and I are not often in touch directly, though I hear about his goings-on from my mother and I imagine he hears about mine.

But clearly I don't hear nearly enough about his goings-on because the message* that came with this wonderful picture took me completely by surprise. It also managed to make me feel both very, very happy and indescribably sad, all mixed up and at the same time.

When I was a little girl I always loved visiting my aunt and uncle and their magical house of mysteries. But then adolescence kicked in, and then college, and then jobs and bills and all that fun adult stuff, and somehow years go by now in between visits. 

My uncle of the constantly wry expression (due largely but I would guess not entirely to a long-ago medical issue about which I am fuzzy on the specifics), the brilliantly dry wit, and the deep, gruff voice, I confess, intimidated me a little when I was growing up. He seemed not to share my father's innate goofiness and playful laughter, and somehow the fact that he so loved gardening (and the fact that my father so loved him) didn't quite soften the edges I'd built up around him in my head. I began to suspect my childish impressions weren't entirely accurate quite a few years ago, though, and this most recent email is just further proof that clearly I've been missing out on something beautiful.

This picture of Earle -- smiling shyly amidst armfuls of gorgeous daffodils with his beautiful garden spreading out behind him -- momentarily took my breath away. It made me miss my father and his quirky grin with a particular sweet ache I haven't felt in a long time. It made me miss the idea of him growing older, graying, balding, surrounded by daffodils on a first day of spring. It made me crave watching him settle into retirement, into his golden years, with as much gentleness and grace as my perhaps not-so-formidable-after-all Uncle Earle.

I have this fantasy - this idea - of moving west and falling into the warm embrace of these people, this amazing family that sometimes I fear I barely know.


  *"Hi M - this is one of my "art" projects. Delivering 550 daffodils around town to businesses and people I care about. Wish i could smile better.  Hope all is well with you. Love Uncle Earle"

Friday, March 14, 2014

a confident stumble

Somehow I've gotten in to my oh-so-embarrassingly couch-potato-y head a notion to take up jogging this spring. I was talking about this to friend Nick not to long ago and he said, "That'd be great! I always like running. We'll run together."

To which I replied, "Well, running might be a strong word. It will probably be more of a leisurely jog."

To which he replied, "Oh, okay. We can stumble along together at a slightly faster rate than usual then."

This morning I emailed two of my neighborhood friends exhorting them to join me in this perhaps ludicrous effort. I told them not to worry, though, and relayed Nick's quip.

To which one of them just replied, "I was going to say: I can do a confident stumble!"

So, there you go. Our modus operandi, our rallying cry, our raison d'etre: to achieve the confident stumble.

Monday, March 10, 2014

class wars. also family histories.

One of the nice things about spending so much time with family friend Bill these past weeks has been hearing little stories -- beautiful little fragments -- about my father.

As you may have gathered by now, family friend Bill was one of my father's best friends. The two Bills, if  you will! (Though thinking about it now, as an adult, I am sort of amazed that they became such close friends. They are very, very different in so many ways -- my father the westerner, rugged, a little ragged, a country mouse in the big city.  Bill comparatively sophisticated, in touch with his feelings, urban and urbane, well-versed in cosmopolitan living.)

Somehow last week, during our weekly get-together, we ended up talking about money. Specifically, we were talking about how some people just seem to have too damned much of it.*  Suddenly Bill said, "Now, your father, his politics were good of course. But he wasn't by any means a radical when you guys first got to New York."

He went on to tell me how, not too long after we moved here from the west coast, Dad had taken Mom out on the town.  Part of their wanderings that day involved a leisurely stroll down 5th Avenue, and this leisurely afternoon stroll led to some surprising results.

"After that walk," Bill said, "he came to the conclusion that it was time for a revolution."
 
*When there are hotel rooms that go for tens of thousands a night, and hamburgers in the hundreds, well, clearly some people just have too much money! But on a more serious note, this is of course a real and growing problem here in America. Check it out.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

split pea coconut curry soup

I have a confession. I only made this soup because I fell in love with the color of the yellow split peas in the bulk section of the Columbus Avenue Whole Foods a few weeks ago. They were such a warm buttery orange-y color that I found them absolutely irresistible. They've been hiding in one of my cupboards until this morning.

Split pea coconut curry soup:
1.6 pounds of yellow split peas
1 can coconut milk
a whole lotta ginger, finely chopped
a whole lotta garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
a tablespoon or two of tomato paste
some butter
pinch of saffron
broth/water/bullion cubes
cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the split peas, then cover with water or broth, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or so, until they come apart and the liquid thickens. (I used water but added a couple bullion cubes.)

While the lentils are cooking, toast the curry powder in a dry pan until it just begins to smoke but not burn (a few minutes over medium heat). Transfer powder to a bowl and then melt some butter in the pan and add the ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until soft, stir in the tomato paste, curry powder, and saffron. Add this mess to your soup pot, stir, and let simmer for a few more minutes.

Shake your can of coconut milk and stir that into the soup.

Serve over quinoa or rice or just on its own, with lime and cilantro. Scallions would be delicious too. And you could add things like diced sweet potatoes, bell peppers, whatever.

Will definitely be making this again. Yum.