Monday, December 31, 2012

Moving Forward Still

End of year reflection has often been difficult for me. Always, I look forward. I push to get somewhere, anywhere.  Permanence is, in many ways, my greatest fear.  I think, if I stay in a moment or hold on too tight or get caught in being, the current won't take me, I'll be left behind.

For many months this year, I was frantic, that I wasn't where I was supposed to be, not behind or ahead, just in the wrong space, the wrong job, the wrong me.  I worried that I had pushed so far forward I had lost my way. 

I'd like to say I changed all that, forced a shift.  I'd like to say that, like a train, I pulled into the station, took this desperate, gulping gasp, and exhaled.  

I remember getting caught in an elevator at work.  I remember remaining calm.  I remember thinking in whispers, for just a moment, maybe I'm new.


This fall I grew quiet. A birthday came and I didn't have a party.  Instead, I walked a trail of leaves with Tyler and felt happy. A week later, I visited faraway friends, the best of friends, and I remember how strange it felt to take the train back to Brooklyn, the irony of heading to a city that was being evacuated.  

The storm came up and over and I had never felt so quiet and strange as I did when I found our street the same and all the others around us overturned.  The days that followed silenced me. It forced someone who doesn't like to stay anywhere, not to move, and it reminded me how, when I'm cold, I don't fidget because I believe, against all logic, that if I remain perfectly still the cold can't touch me.

On the first day of December, I met with friends for a long dinner and we talked about the week before, named the best moment, and it felt so perfect to remember just one small thing.  Now I know what came the week after, my father's emergency surgery, and the sudden, terrible thought, oh, my parents aren't immoral, are they?  And then.  

Oh. Neither am I.

Maybe I learned a little more about reflection this year. And about being quiet.  Mainly, that it's never been about permanence at all. That's a bigger thing. It's about standing still for a bit to see all that flew forward.  And moving forward still. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

So I Went To the Movies (Thoughts)

I went to the movies this fall and saw more in the theaters than I have in years.  Our local theater in Brooklyn is my favorite. It's an independent chain and, before the movie, they play this amazingly retro video with galaxy-flying popcorn (which someone captured on youtube here.  You must watch it.) and I always say, if I see a dud film there, it is okay because we'll always have the intro, in the way some others have Paris.

I mainly saw the big films this year and I have thoughts.  I'll put them here because I can't find any other place to keep them.


I went into this film thinking it was one of these epic biographical films spanning the life of an American hero. As it turns out, it's less biographical in nature and more political, featuring the swift negotiations that took place during Lincoln's final weeks in office.  It's The West Wing, just Civil War style, complete with the wheelie camera following walking conversations but without Sorkin nerd dialogue.  It's long. Most of the time, I wasn't smart enough to understand what was happening. But Daniel Day Lewis is spectacular.  Each time he came on screen, I was riveted. It's clear he won the Academy Award before he even walked on set.  My history buff husband walked out of the theater as giddy as a child with loot from a candy store.  I left wondering things like Do you think Lincoln really loved Mary Todd? and other important musings.

Life of Pi

I enjoyed reading this book and, when film rights were sold, I had no idea how someone could re-imagine this story as a film.  I'm going to go out on a limb and make one of those extreme statements and say it is one of the most visually stunning pictures I've ever seen.  It's exactly the kind of aesthetic I love.  Hypercolor.  Rainbow magic. Crayon blue skies. I love this kind of style. In my mind, the book left bigger questions and the film preferred to take the neat-bow-tying approach.  For me, this is a must-see in that, you must sit back and, simply, see it and not reach further for meaning than you have to reach.

Les Miserables

I saw this musical when I was fourteen years old and listened to the tape (double cassettes) more times than I can count.  As soon as I saw the preview I knew that no matter how epic, dramatic, drape over a dying body, fist-shake at the heavens, throw yourself off a tower, remember the time the French Revolution spit up over some broken furniture, this film might be (and oh-it-was, good God, dramatic) I would pay the money, see it immediately, sing the songs in my heart, and cry like a baby.  Did it.  Done.  And now we can all move on with our lives.  Oh.  Sigh.  But I can't.  I love.


Surprise of the year for me. I rarely pay attention to what a film is about (unless, ya know, someone is singing in the preview) so I walked in clueless and then Tyler said it was about the Iran hostage crisis and the lights dimmed and I thought what I always think, we'll always have the intro.  Well. I loved it.  Truly loved it. Favorite of all I've seen this year.  Except for one scene in which Ben Affleck looks longingly at a photo of his estranged son and wife (cheap, cheap attempt at exposition, Affleck, just cheap. A Melissa pet-peeve.) I thought the script (and everything else) was pretty much perfect.

Looking for your thoughts on what you've seen this fall.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Starry Christmas


Purple starred fish the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

And falling snow to wish upon at night.

Wishing you all a very, merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tribute In Purple

My African Violet is in full bloom (the third bloom of the year!)  It's no secret how much I love purple. So, today, I pay tribute to the color purple and honor the life of a little girl who loved it too.

Friday, December 21, 2012


I meant to write this month, meant to spend the 24 days before the holidays revising and working through a new draft for the new year.  Instead, life nosed its way in, as it has a habit of doing, and I wrote very little and, when there was time, I chose to spend it, not at my desk, but elsewhere.

The other day, I waited on line at the store and the old man in front of me lingered after all had been sorted and packed and paid.  He wondered if he had been given the right prescription and the cashier smiled as if he was about to take a familiar step, as if he rolled his wrist to catch the time and found that the conversation had happened according to schedule.  Then he assured him, as he must always assure him, that he had.  Still the old man waited, like he didn't want to go but didn't know how to find any more words to make it okay to stay and, if I could, I would have given him all the words I ever had and, then, waited there forever while he stalled.

It's raining now and from here I see the tree branches dancing, not as if they want to, almost as if they are being forced to by an eager partner they want to please.  The wind blows inside, right up the stairs of our building, and under the door to me.  It's the kind of rustling you hear in Christmas poems and it feels like standing on a balcony, smiling, knowing that something comes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I took this photo from my fire escape last Friday. Somehow the day ended with such beauty. Certainly one of the most extraordinary sunsets I've seen in a long while.

It's been a strange month in these parts.  In just a few short weeks, my perspective has shifted drastically. The schemes of all things changed first with my father's heart surgery (he is home and recovering well, thank you for all your well wishes) and, then, as I sat in traffic to visit him on his final day in the hospital, NPR news reported, calm and steady, about the tragedy at Sandy Hook and my own heart broke.

At that point, it seemed that all froze, and as life picks back up, I feel caught in a kind of delirium, stuck somewhere between hurt, anger, confusion, and deep gratitude for all I have.

Yesterday, after a night of sudden fever and a severe pain in my foot, I limped to the doctor to learn I had bruised a tendon and would have to be off of my feet until Saturday. My mind raced as I ran through all that needed to be done, the Christmas presents I haven't bought, the wrap-up at work as we finalize all of our projects for the 2013 season, all the end-of-year parties I would miss, and then the frantic thought that there would be no major walking and certainly no running or biking until the new year (the new year?! I nearly shouted across the office of bunioned and heel-spurred elderly ladies who seemed to be welcoming me to their club.)

Well, you could put pressure on it and bruise it further, the Doctor said, or you could heal.

I reflect on that now, today. How natural it is to want to run forward, race through pain.  But how important it is to give ourselves the time and permission to heal.


On another healing note, I discovered this social media campaign #20Acts (later increased to #26Acts) started by my girl Ann Curry.  It started with this simple tweet from Ann (I like to think we're on a first name basis):

Imagine if all of us committed to 20 mitvahs/acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown. I'm in. If you are RT 

It's as simple as that. And so 26 Acts of Kindness began.  Check it out.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Finding Words

Yesterday, I listened only to radio news because I couldn't bear to look.  I searched for words of comfort, in lyrics and song.  I scrolled through Facebook statuses and read all that people had to say and discovered I had nothing to say. I felt compelled to prepare my own statement.  My own ahem.   It seemed that everyone had one. And I'm a writer.  But silence. Stillness. That felt more appropriate to me.

On September 12, 2001, I sat at a long wood table in Goldwyn Smith Hall.  We were a group of sixteen creative writing students that later dwindled to ten.  Our first assignments were due.  My professor, Dan McCall, collected our words, piled them up in a neat, organized stack of typed pages.  He sat back, at the head of our table, and asked us who had written of the tragedy the day before.  No one raised a hand.

I remember, of all things about him, his voice.  It was ragged and unkempt, this thick, almost bearded-like garble and he spoke slowly, like guiding a cane forward.  He said that when he began teaching forty years ago every student in his class would have turned in a piece about the day that would come to be known as 9/11.  He said they would have stayed up all night, ripped it from the pages of their notebooks, still warm from the pen.  He said the stack before him would have been made of yellow legal pad paper and stained napkins, that the room we sat in would be a rupturing volcano, it is with that kind of urgency his students in the 60's would write.  Look at what happened yesterday, he said. And none of you have written a word.

On this kind of yesterday, I listened, as many did, to the President's speech.  Maybe it is telling, of our culture, of these times, that what struck us most was not the words he spoke but his long pause as he struggled to speak (5 seconds, the papers noted and reported.)   In that silence, we realized the weight of what had happened.

I woke this morning, with a stirring, to come to this space, to assign words to all I feel.  But in tragedies like these words still fail me.  I worry that, in truth, I have failed them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Upside Down

Late last night on a G train, I looked up from my book and found this.

He looks how I feel.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When I Read A Book

While reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, I came across this sentence and I loved it, so I wanted to share it here:

When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it -- or rather, it is like living it. 

I love this idea that reading is just as active as writing.  As living.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fixing A Heart

I often feel helpless in medical situations.  With my father's health issues last week, there came the unexpected frustration that I have never been smart enough to understand the sciences.  

A cardiac surgeon with kind eyes and soft hands would leave the room and I'd say,  I should have been a surgeon.  

A nurse might explain the unreliability of EKGs and I'd lament that I should have been a nurse. 

After asking five hundred questions about the role of a cosmetologist in the hospital, I was about to speak up before my father chimed in and said, Let me guess, you want to be a cosmetologist in a hospital?   I nodded.

I think, no matter what field we study or what path we walk, we'd all like to be the kind of someone who can  fix a person's heart.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rethinking Urgent

After an emotional and scary week (my father had emergency surgery but all went well and he is in recovery) I came into the office to catch up.  Perhaps my head was elsewhere, still with my Dad in his hospital room where I will return soon, but I was focused enough to laugh loudly in the face of a red-bolded, exclamation-marked email labelled URGENT in the subject line.

I scrolled through the frenzy, then went through my files and sent the necessary information.  This urgently needed information.  After, I watched the silence and the long breath, a mad email chain officially over with no response, no thank you, just the taking and the running until the next inevitable whirling dervish spin.

This is something that's been on my mind for a while, but even more so after this week's life events: I've decided to rethink urgent.  The way I request urgency in others and how I respond to those who ask it of me.  

I think I need a new priority of urgent.  Attending a birthday party. That sounds pretty urgent. Seeing the baby. (As in: You gotta see the baby! Seinfeld, anyone?)  Catching the sunset before it drops from the sky.  A girl's weekend. Dinner, or a walk, or a phone-call with family and friends. 

So, rethinking urgent. Who's with me?

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Familiar Journey

The morning was damp, hazy. I rode my bicycle to work for the first time in weeks, took the familiar journey.  It went (it goes) like this:

My bike plunks off the curb.  I adjust to the concrete, to the wobble of my handlebars. I ride the wrong way, for just a brief moment, in that I know the way but traffic along this one small street runs opposite, so I tuck myself at the edge, aware that I'm where I shouldn't be.

The stoplight is never long but I watch the corner market.  I remember when it burned, the notes that were left on the windows, we miss you.  Now it's bright and open and I know the owner's smile because it sits beneath an unshaven gray shadow and it's kinder than most.

Clinton Street is wet and crowded but the crossing guard, our favorite, stands at the park, the one where we sat with Tyler's cousins and a little girl, lost in play, wandered towards us because she thought she was ours until she realized she wasn't and toddled away.  The crossing guard is little but sturdy and her glasses are fogged or maybe they're smudged and she doesn't mind it.  She shouts things we've come to expect, Come on bikers!  Hey baby doll!  Watch out for these maniacs!  She points at cars and shakes her head.  In the summer we miss her, and those weeks, this fall, when the road was closed, we wondered where she went.  Because her voice is my morning.  Her voice is the moment you think you are sitting alone and someone sits beside you.

I take the road up and around towards the Manhattan bridge.  I know the ground beneath me, the way it curls first, then slopes just enough for my tires to slow.  Soon, I mark the East river, it's middle.  This is where the road flattens, then slips away from itself, a downhill sled. This is where the air changes. The faint smell of fish.  Cooking oil climbs like a chimney swell from unknown stoves.  No one glances from the rushing carts and they take chances, like a gazelle's very first leap, across the painted lines of street.

I always want to stop here, on the path, where the old women in their winter bundle coats stand in Tai Chi formation across the damp grass.  I always think I will stop, someday, to take their photograph, to capture something I've otherwise been unable to keep.  Sometimes they are still and I think I'm caught in the hush of their whisper.

Sometimes they are dancing.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Power of Story

Last week, I saw The Twenty-Seventh Man, a play by Nathan Englander.  I wanted to briefly mention it here because the ideas are big and they are relevant to those of us trying to create something with words.

The gist of the play here, (a true story) : In 1952 Stalin imprisoned and executed 26 Yiddish writers, an incident also known as the Night Of the Murdered Poets. Englander invents a 27th prisoner, a young, unpublished writer mistakenly taken into custody.

The play is about many things but, at the heart of it, it's about extinguishing the soul of a group of people, which, Englander suggests (and I would agree), is its stories.

I think, most of the time, we see this as a part of a time gone by or a foreign country tucked safely in the folds of newspapers.  But it happens here, too, through censorship, banned books, white-washed covers.

This play reminded me that it's important to tell any story and, if we can, to speak for groups of people who have been silenced.  Story is powerful. Don't let anyone tell you it's not. People will go to great lengths to capture and contain the spin of words, then eliminate them all together.