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.)