• house,  nature,  new york

    Mercury

    1-1237928534hqIcThe weather has been the very definition of mercurial here in sunny New York.  On Sunday, someone made off with all of our Fahrenheits, and we had to pull out every item of our much neglected winter wardrobes to run our errands, shivering in the stiff wind that registered somewhere around -17.  By Monday, the temperature had risen thirty degrees, which made admiring the new snow that started to fall on Baba’s face much easier.  She blinked as it fell on her cheeks, eyes wide open and staring as her second Presidents’ Day turned into something magical.

    On Tuesday, the transit system failed me, but the weather had risen another twenty degrees, making me wonder why I bothered with a jacket at all.  If you’re going to spend an hour outside, wondering about how your life would change if another train never arrived, you could do worse than to be doing it in a delightfully warm rain.

    When the trains are screwy, I remind myself that if a late train is the worst thing that happens to me all day, then I have had a pretty good day.  It makes me feel better (and not even entirely because it makes me feel superior to my fellow commuters, who are often not displaying their best behavior).  But it is true — if being late to work is the worst thing that happens to me in a day — in brilliantly spring-like weather — I’ve had a pretty darned good day.  And the train did, eventually, arrive.


    Beyond the weather, it is a season of change for us.  Perhaps it is having Baba to measure things by, but it has become much easier to track the passage of time.  We are planning on moving this year, which means finishing up all of those projects around the house that we’ve been meaning to get to for ages.

    Perhaps the biggest change is that after a stay of seven years, my kid brother has moved out of our house.  It’s changed our family dynamic, but also given us a new project in changing his former bedroom into something fresh, something new.  There are certain perils to objects like drywall and carpets when you have a teenager living in your home and over the course of seven years, his bedroom took some significant damage.  So we have had to take stock about what to mend and what to replace.  In the end, we are fixing the walls and replacing everything else.  We threw out a bed, but kept a bookshelf. We have been patching, sanding, priming and painting, which is a very different type of work than what I usually spend my time doing.

    In true Dickensian style, I hate painting.  I love painting.  It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.  Painting is awful.  Painting ceilings, as I had to do in my brother’s former room, is absolutely awful.  And yet, there is something so deeply satisfying in looking at a freshly painted wall and knowing that my hands made it nice again.  I go to bed exhausted and satisfied, knowing that my efforts of the day are permanent.  For a while, at least.

  • culture,  ethics,  introspection,  new york

    The Eating Season!

    _DSC5068

    Earlier this week, Baba crawled right out of her pants.  She was nursing, which gives you an idea of what nursing a very active baby is like, and I didn’t immediately notice because I had covered us both with a sheet.  I laughed when I discovered her bare, chubby thighs and tried to hold her as close to me as she would allow.

    This last month has been filled with moments like this — as the world has literally and metaphorically darkened, tiny moments of beauty keep filtering through.  My neighborhood is covered with an impressive array of Christmas lights, which make driving home through the darkness a delightful experience.  It is the first year since Hurricane Sandy that I’ve seen such an impressive display, and I am deeply grateful to see the world return to normal.  It is so reassuring to contrast the rising hatred in the world with festive frivolity, with beauty, with art.

    It has been a remarkably sane holiday season for us.  I made a conscious decision to keep it simple this year.  Instead of trying to do all of the things, we picked the ones that mattered.  Cards, because sitting down to write my extended social circle once a year fills me with joy.  Small presents for family.  Our own contribution to the neighborhood lights.  Visiting with friends.  Loving our daughter in the fierce way that has become normal.  Bringing food to share with people that we love.

    It is Baba’s first Christmas.  We went last night to a Christmas Eve dinner at a friend’s, in what has become a treasured annual tradition.  The food itself comes from the American Italian tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, where seafood is served to both celebrate bounty and because it is a period of fasting from red meat in the Catholic tradition.  It is not my tradition, by heritage or religion, but it has been such a part of my experience since moving to New York that it has come to feel like mine.  Last night, as I fed Baba fish cakes and pasta baked in clam sauce, it felt like even more like home.

    We let her stay up hours past her bedtime, which is why I can write this in the sweet silence of a sleeping house.  She took her first steps last night, after dinner and in front of an audience of kind and fine people.  We clapped and cheered for her, while her face exploded in glee at her new freedom.

    Today, we will go to celebrate with a different set of lifelong friends, as we always do.  I have bought a cake for dessert that is covered in a more traditional design that I could have ever imagined picking out before — and yet, I found that I could not resist it.  I have, perhaps for the first time in my life, put on Christmas music in my home, just like my mother always used to do.

    It is a season of music, of eating, of feasting, of remembering what is important in life.  This year, for me, Christmas is about love and charity.  It is about the ideals of a peaceful world; it is a reminder of what we must continue fighting for.  I can only hope to share this peace and joy that I feel in my heart with you.

     

     

  • culture,  ethics,  motherhood,  new york,  racism

    Make It Stop

    It is a dark and rainy night here in the Big Apple. No different from many fall evenings, except that videos have surfaced of terrorists threatening Times Square, only a few days after the slaughter in Paris. The city is on high alert, with the much criticized NYPD doing extra patrols and sweeps to try to stop murder before it happens. Tonight, I was followed onto my train by a counter terrorism cop, who visually swept the car before nodding that the train could go on.

    I usually resent the police presence in the subway. They stand
    with assault weapons across their chest, the business end pointed down.  How easy, I think, for them to accidentally shoot so many, if something goes wrong. They are often young and I wonder how many years they’ve been out of the police academy. They stand for hours, usually vigilant, usually watching. Watching us. Nodding one or two out of a hundred over to their tables, they swipe our bags with little cloths, analyzing the molecules that they pick up for evidence of planned destruction. When it is not my turn for inspection, I slide by them with a resentful glance at the fire power that has become normal to me, because I live in a world of increasing militarization.

    This man, who was clad head to toe in thick padding underneath his dark blue uniform, carried only a pistol in his belt. And tonight, he reminded me that the city was under threat, which I had forgotten after my busy day in the office. And yet, I was glad to see him. What a brave man, I thought, to do this day after day. That’s admirable. I took a
    long look at his dark brown eyes and curly hair. I took in the intense,
    trained gaze, the dark embroidery of his name and unit on his pocket.

    I should really work on my will, I thought. Just in case.  You never know.


    Today, too, my government began the legislation to deny refuge to 10,000 Syrians. It is couched and marketed with words that make it sound like something different. They called it screening, as though the multi-year screening process that we already had in place wasn’t sufficient. What it is, in reality, is a requirement that a single person sign off on every Syrian that we allow to come here. A single busy person.  In reality, it means that we will deny even the paltry 10,000 that we’ve already promised to help. We will be as bad as Hungary. We will close our doors to the victims of our enemies.

    Two hundred and eighty nine people got together in a room today and cast their vote that we should do this, even though every American school child is taught about how the U.S. made their immigration policies stricter for the German Jews during World War II. Even after we knew about genocide, we closed our doors. We are taught about how shameful that was, about how afraid Americans were. And yet, here we are, with an opportunity to redeem our country’s actions in those dark days….and two hundred and eighty nine of our elected officials thought we should repeat history instead.

    The worst part, of course, is that this is in response to an attack by French and Belgian murderers. And yet, the call to keep French and Belgian visitors and immigrants out of our country has not come.  It is the Syrian refugees who are being given the blame, as my country seeks to punish the victims of ISIS for something a bunch of Europeans did.

    A few months after Baba was born, I joined the local parenting group on Facebook. The main topic of the last few weeks has been how the local shopping mall has replaced Santa’s giant Christmas tree with a
    glacier display. The presumption was that the Christmas tree was somehow offensive and that the PC police were at it again. Surely, this was a sign of American values under fire, as those other people had to be accommodated. Christianity, itself, is under fire by the loss of the tree.

    I admit to some confusion as to how a Christmas tree, but not Santa, would be insulting. In any case, the outrage was so ferocious that a small tree was added to the display. The parenting group was horrified; how could the mall insult them by putting such a small tree in place?

    In the middle of this discussion, one hundred and twenty nine lives were taken in Paris. And then the bigots came straight out.  It’s the immigrants. We need to stop the immigrants, they said.

    My husband is an immigrant, I said. He’s worked here and paid taxes for over twenty years. What is your problem with immigrants?

    Well, fine, they said. It’s the immigrants who are terrorists. Like the
    ones who blew up our neighbors in 9/11.

    None of those attackers were immigrants, I reminded them. I know that many people here lost people that they knew, that they loved. But immigrants didn’t do it. Immigrants want what you do — a better life for their children. A safer world. A place where there is plenty to eat.

    Next you’re going to tell me what a great president Obama is, they said.  Thank God these governors have the sense to not let Syrians come to their states. You won’t agree, but you must agree that it’s understandable.

    But the attackers in France weren’t Syrians! I said. And that’s not even something a governor can do! Does anyone here think at all?

    I am, as you might imagine, very popular in this group. The whole discussion disturbed me so much that I have been really considering if this is a place where I want to raise Baba, knowing that she will come into contact with people who speak so hatefully about people just like her father.  We have been talking about selling our house and buying another in the same neighborhood, but now I am not so sure.


    It was inevitable that I would find a news article that showed pictures of the French victims. My mouse hovered over the first picture, but then I had to look away. It is too much for me now. I see Baba in all of them. I think of the mothers that have been gutted by the loss of their children. I feel it too deeply. It is just another story of families torn apart by mass violence, just like the attacks in Lebanon the day before or the shooting in Kenya or the buses and markets that are attacked so regularly that we lose count of the dead.  I have victim fatigue. I can no longer look at the victims of Virginia Tech or Oregon State or Sandy Hook. I can’t even watch the videos that the UNHCR publishes. I can’t read the stories.

    Anger comes easier.   Anger is so easy when I see the hate continue. I can only ask why we have a world in which young men become radicalized, in which they are taught to hate so much that they don’t even see their victims as other people. I want to know, to understand, why the world has become a place in which they can see no future for themselves. And then I want us to put systems in place to Make. It. Stop.

    It seems so hopeless when all I can hear are my neighbors screaming for blood — the wrong blood.  Can’t we please move past the fear and reach out to each other? Can we please just Make. It. Stop?

  • family,  knitting,  motherhood,  new york

    A Slow Motion, A Mad Dash

    mohair-bias-cowl-detail
    Knit, knit, knit, knit.

    This week, I finished a knitting project (the Mohair Bias Loop BY Churchmouse Yarns and Teas) that I started two weeks after Cora was born.  It is a fuzzy cowl of indeterminate length, knit on the bias, which can also double as a shawl.  It is the simplest of knitting patterns, with two rows that repeat until the desired length.  I usually go for intricate projects that bring me a lot of mental interest – either in their construction or the new techniques that I’ll have to learn to complete them, but with a baby in immediate view, I thought the simpler that I could go, the more likely I would be able to work on it.

    I didn’t even get creative with the yarn.  I admired a friend’s cowl so much that she led me to the same booth at Rhinebeck where she had bought her yarn and I picked out a color that I liked.  In the fiber world, we call this mindless knitting — the knitting your fingers do while your mind goes elsewhere.  It’s knitting as meditation, a way to free your mind to be calmed by the simple repetitive movements of your fingers as you loop and pass the yarn from one stitch to the next, from one needle to the next.  The only challenge in the pattern was the yarn itself — it takes a brave or foolhardy knitter to commit to a large project in mohair, but I was not afraid.

    mohair-bias-cowl
    If you think this bears a resemblance to a certain muppet, you wouldn’t be the first to suggest it.

    For the first time since Cora was born, I’ve taken my knitting with me on the train to work.  I was so close to the end of the cowl that I wanted to use the train time to sew the final seam.  I want to start other things because it’s taken me nearly five months to knit a single, simple project.  As I sat on the train this past week, I put in my headphones and plugged into my Audible account, picking up with listening to Patrick Rothfuss‘s The Name of the Wind, which I started listening to a very long time ago. Is there anything more relaxing than quietly creating while having someone read you a story?  Combined with the motion of the train as we whizzed through the suburbs of Queens, I rediscovered a place of tranquillity that I have missed over the last year.

    I was so relaxed, in fact, that on Thursday night I walked off the train without my cooler of breast milk — which is perhaps the most important thing that I do all day long.  Losing it would be such a disaster that I’ve occasionally dreamt about misplacing it and woken up in a panic.  It’s taken a special significance lately, as my body seems to be steadily producing less milk, despite my many efforts to encourage it to increase.  Thursday was a good day — four bottles — and the thought of losing them threw me into a panic.

    I ran.  I ran to my car and whipped out of the parking lot and down the road to catch the train.  I live two stops from the end of the line, so there was a possibility that I could catch the train before it turned around again to go back into Manhattan, but I knew I had to hurry.

    It’s amazing how long four miles can seem.  Every light that turned red against me seemed to take forever, though in reality they were not red long enough for me to unlock my phone and send a message to my Beloved to let him know why the milk cow was late. The thought of delaying Cora’s last feeding as I chased her bottles was horrible, but the thought of losing them was even worse.

    I got the cooler back.  I ran up and down the platform like a crazy thing until a kind MTA employee unlocked the closed cars and let me retrieve it.  Panting and sweating, I made it back to my car and raced home.  Parking as fast as I could, I walked around the corner to the sight of my Beloved and Cora standing in my doorway, waiting for me to come home.

    A smile broke out across my face and my anger at my carelessness was forgotten.  My family.  My home.  My everything, right there in the doorway, waiting for me, despite my mistakes.

  • introspection,  motherhood,  nature,  new york

    Transition

    Yesterday morning, I woke to a few inches of snow covering the asphalt parking lot that the back of my house faces.  My neighborhood is a densely packed New York City suburb of 30,000 people, which could be far worse than what it is, but isn’t precisely what I would call a picturesque environment.  Snow significantly augments its beauty by hiding all the pavement and letting me pretend that I live somewhere far more pastoral and charming than I really do.

    Although it is already the end of January, we’re still awaiting our first snowstorm of any significance.  Yesterday, the snow turned to sleet within a few hours and the plows were out in full force, so the beauty of the snowfall disappeared rapidly under their combined efforts.  We are due more snow tomorrow and on Tuesday, which does make it feel like winter has finally hit us here.  The seasonal transition is late this year, but it feels appropriately timed for the events of my life, as I wind down my professional life and move into my last few days before motherhood really begins.

    deskviewOn Wednesday, I worked my last day in the office before my maternity leave.  I was filled with a remarkable amount of sorrow, despite the fact that I am still working from home until my labor begins.  I am coming back to work after my maternity leave, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly cleaning out my office and bringing home the things that I’ll need to function as a telecommuter, so my office feels echoey and empty. I took a picture of the view from my desk and joked with my Beloved that I should hang it on the wall in front of my desk at home so that I can still feel like I’m part of the energy of my department. Perhaps I have spent far too much time around cats, but the idea of not following following the same routine that I’ve had for the last seven years has thrown me for a bit of a loop.  Logically, I know that it is a temporary change, but my hindbrain hasn’t quite gotten the memo.  I had tears in my eyes as I snuck out the door at the end of the day.

    I am fortunate enough to like my coworkers very much. I’ve realized that I will miss seeing them while I’m on leave.  Working from home is not something that I enjoy nearly as much as I feel that I should — I do miss the variety of the small social interactions of our team as we navigate around each other on our way to the water fountain and the coffee machine and the fridge.  We often eat lunch together. I don’t go to work to socialize, but the social life is a big part of why I’ve worked there for so long.  Working from my desk in my basement in my pyjamas is comfortable, but it is lonelier than I would like.  All the same, I do see how fortunate I am that it’s an option for me.

    At home, we are quite busy arranging for the last minute provisions and needs of our incoming infant.  I’ve been working hard to try and speed up the labor, as I’ve now been given a deadline for an induction.  Having heard some horror stories about induction, I am  very motivated to invite our daughter out into the world as soon as possible.  This morning, we went out for breakfast in the nearby beach town so that I could waddle down the boardwalk for a while.  I watched the ocean waves coming in, pounding on top of each other in the January winds, and thought about all the fluid surrounding our womb girl.  I’m sipping on raspberry leaf tea and taking my evening primrose oil tablets, as per my midwife’s advice.  I’m waiting and counting false contractions and waiting some more.  I’m writing and knitting at a furious pace, trying to finish up projects before I have a rather less understanding project demanding my attention.  I am spending a lot of time with my Beloved and dreaming of the future.  I can’t decide if I want her to hurry up or if I want these final days of preparation to linger.  All I do know is that change is coming–and it’s coming very soon.

     

  • amusement,  nature,  new york

    Woe to the Pears

    Shinko Asian Pears“I have some sad news for you.”  Me Beloved’s face was mournful, but his mouth was twitching, which is never a good sign.

    “Uh-oh.”

    “About the pear tree.”

    “No.”

    “Yes.”

    “No!”

    My favorite fruit in all the world is the Asian pear. I presume that this is because I am a Taurus and value expensive things, because the Asian pear is the most expensive pear I could possibly desire.  Even in Asia, they’re considered delicacies that are often saved for guests, or shared between people, because they are expensive and difficult to cultivate. In Korea, there’s even an entire museum dedicated to them, which gives you an idea of its economic and cultural importance.

    They are hard to find here.  When they do come in, they sell out quickly, despite their price tags of $2 to $3 per pear. And while I adore them, I also have a difficult time spending that type of money as often as I would like to indulge my habit.  My delicious, juicy habit.

    So I thought I would be clever, since I had just moved into a house with a garden — I thought that I would make my own pears, to give myself the quantity that I would like. I did my research and purchased two Asian pear trees, because fruit trees need to cross-pollinate.   I wasn’t able to get two of the same type, due to limited supply, and one was advertised as less delicious than the other.  I put the less delicious tree on the median between the street and the sidewalk in front of our house as a sacrifice to neighborhood children.  I am not a fool.

    The good pears, I put in our front garden, inside our fence.  Then I waited for them to grow.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    Because they are fruit trees, in the third year, I expected to see a few pears.  I picked them, but I picked them too soon and they weren’t very good.  So I waited another turn of the year, leaving the pears on the trees until they were fat and plump.  Then, I came home on picking day…and discovered that they were all gone.

    Every single pear.  Taken.

    They say that there are five stages of grief.  The first is denial.  I went inside the house and asked my Beloved if he had picked the pears.  He hadn’t.  The second is anger.  What kind of person would have taken ALL of the pears?  What special kind of blanketyblank do you have to be? Are you freaking kidding me?

    Then, bargaining. Do you think if we hadn’t planted one of the pear trees on the street…?  Depression follows.  There will be no pears.  I don’t deserve these pears if I couldn’t protect them.  Then, finally, acceptance.  We’ll grow more next year.

    So we did.  And they disappeared, en masse, yesterday evening.  I wish that I could blame it on kids, but a neighbor saw who took them last year, so I have my suspicions.  My very adult suspicions.

    I printed out a LOST PEAR poster and put it out on the telephone pole on our curb, with a picture of our missing pears.  After all, I’m back in denial.  Mourning will come later.  How could it have happened again?

  • introspection,  nature,  new york,  yoga

    Winter

    Like a good part of the country, we experienced abnormally cold temperatures early this week.  The coldest we felt was about -17F with the wind chill, which doesn’t compare to a good part of the rest of the country, but is cold enough for your breath to get your scarf wet enough that it will freeze to your face.

    Ask me how I know.

    I struggle in the winter months.  I’ve been in New York long enough that I’ve learned to cope with temperatures of 20F as a normality, but anything below that literally terrifies me.  Each year, I dread January and February, which are the coldest months here, because I spend so much time just trying to survive. There’s very little energy left to do much of anything else.  I am very much a homebody, so you would think that the plummeting outdoors temperatures wouldn’t matter so much, but the house and my office are drafty and I spend two months a year shivering everywhere I go.  I walk two miles each day as part of my commute and figuring out how to survive that involves a lot of strategy and planning in my clothing selection.  That — and my actual fear of the cold — is distracting enough that it’s easy to allow myself to slip into apathy as life becomes a fight with the outdoors.

    Me, Trying to Make it to the Train
    Me — Trying to Make it to the Train

    In yoga class on Saturday morning, my excellent teacher told a story about what we think we can and cannot do and invited us to push the envelope of our definitions of ‘can’t’.  Obviously, she was talking about the more challenging yoga poses; the focus of the class was an arm balance that I did not and have not ever attained.  Certainly, one of the best ways to move along in challenging poses in yoga is to ignore your brain’s laughter at the idea that you might be able to contort your body into that of an acrobat and to just keep on trying them until you can.

    Yet I found myself thinking about the weather instead; about how this week’s temperatures had pushed my own definition of what I can and can’t deal with.  In my brain, I think, “oh yes, I can thrive when it’s 20F or warmer outside.  I’ve done that now often enough in the decade since I’ve moved here that I’ve nearly gotten used to it.  No problem.”  20F?  Can.  When we saw the weather reports for -17F, my brain immediately said, “Panic!  Can’t.”  As a result, I was exhausted on Tuesday and Wednesday, not because the weather was so terrible (well, it was really, really awful but never mind that) but because my brain got into this exhausting panic state and put me into fight-or-flight mode.  This is not a useful reaction to have about the weather.  The weather is non-negotiable.  It’s going to happen regardless of my feelings about it.  What I did have a choice about was how much I was going to let the weather affect my spirits. I admit that I lost badly.  I can’t.  I can’t.

    My eyelashes did freeze with all the tears from the wind in my face.  That’s got to count for something.

    It warmed up and by Friday and Saturday I found myself able to go outside in my favorite uniform of jeans, loafers-without-socks and a cardigan.   My entire being thrilled with the warmer weather.  I got out on my scooter and left the house no fewer than three separate times, which is pretty remarkable for me on a weekend. I danced through the house, throwing open windows and pulling down Christmas decorations.  I was filled with the energy that I find so difficult to find at this time of year and it was glorious.

    But I had to wonder — would I have enjoyed the 50F day on Saturday if I hadn’t experienced the -17F day on Tuesday?  Maybe, but probably not.  We learn by contrast, by comparing our experiences with those of others, but mostly with our own experiences.  There was a time where I thought a 20F degree day would be too much to survive, but it’s become normal.  I can’t turned into I can.  And every year I get a little better at still being able to function when it’s freezing outside, but this is definitely still a pretty low time of year for me.  For those of you that thrive in cold temperatures — how do you do it?  How do you keep your energy up when the landscape is bleak and the air is painful and cold?  How do you still find the energy to create?  I want to try your secrets.  I want to turn I can’t into I can.

  • culture,  introspection,  new york

    The Ghost of New Years Eve Past

    fireworks1There are some New Years Eves that I remember distinctly. The turn of the year from 1989 into 1990 is my oldest memory. I was nearly a decade old and it was the first decade turn that I had ever experienced. I spent the evening reading on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room with my mom next to me, who was probably grading papers (she was always grading papers), but I kept glancing at the clock as it inched closer and closer to midnight.  I was finishing up the fourth book of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet for the first time, reaching that final scene where the earth itself begins to break apart.  I don’t think there has ever been another series of books quite so influential on me as that one and I’m sure that reading that scene at that moment is why I remember that New Year so well.  There is a new generation that sees the characters of Harry Potter that way — that find themselves in Hermione or Ron or Harry — but for me, it was always Alanna of Trebond, who disguised herself as a boy so that she could go off and have adventures.  There’s a pretty close connection to what I did with my own life.  I often wonder if I would have chosen the same path if I hadn’t wanted so badly to be Alanna.

    Another New Years Eve — a little over a decade later.  I can’t seem to remember any in between, though there must have been some good times.  I had just moved — or perhaps was just about to move — to New York and couldn’t have been much older than 23.  I was dating a socialite and we hopped from one party to another, all hosted by people I had never met before.  I talked to so many different kinds of people that night and was bedazzled by the New York scene, where everyone knows their focaccia from their semolina and kisses in the European style.  I am not a very touchy person, particularly with strangers, but I liked the casual intimacy.  It smacked of the sophistication that I love so much about this city — the small touches of a different culture that are there to embrace if you want to.

    The next one that sticks out in infamy.  It was the first year I was dating my Beloved and he enjoyed going into Manhattan to be near the Times Square Madness.  I am not that type, so I wished him well and invited a few friends over my house instead for a quiet evening of wine and movies.  We were settling down when he showed up on my doorstep like an oversized manic elf in a striped knit hat, carrying a case of champagne and a gallon of orange juice.  Given the total party attendance of five and the six new bottles of champagne, things quickly went downhill, as the Times Square Madness transcended to my living room.  Bonds were forged through alcohol-induced illness, one maybe-not-so-good-friendship ended and my new back yard was christened after my one bathroom was taken over by an overindulger that refused to be parted from the refreshing coolness of the tile floor.  Infamy.  We emerged the next morning like gladiators that had run the gauntlet — exhausted and bruised, but triumphant.  The next summer, my Beloved installed a second bathroom.

    The last one that I remember and, perhaps, the most important one of my life, involved a Spanish restaurant in Dublin, tapas, friends, a bridge, a very shiny ring and one Beloved Elf that forgot to get on one knee first.  When the fireworks went off at midnight, five hours before my East Coast, one of my new brothers hugged me and called me his new sister, which I think I will remember forever.  Then we ate white grapes in the Spanish style, quickly as we could, trying not to choke on the sweetness of the night.

    Tonight we have plans that involve none of those things  — it is a fresh start, as the end of a year ought to be. I have been talked into staying in Manhattan for the New Year, relatively close to where the Times Square Madness is happening.  (Actually, somehow that didn’t occur to me until I just thought about it now…my Beloved is a trixsy elf.)  One of my Beloved’s many BFFs has a spouse that is playing a show at a bar and we’re going to join them.  Given the general madness of the transit system on New Years Eve, we’ve also treated ourselves to a hotel room within stumbling distance.  This works out well, as one of my BFFs is meeting me in the morning — a rare treat, as she moved to the West Coast a number of years back and I don’t see her often.  I can’t think of a better way to begin the new year than a day spent with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  My bag is packed for our little adventure and I find myself feeling carefree and joyous, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

    To all the revelers, the nondrinkers, the stay home wine-and-movie-watchers, the people who find themselves alone on International Party Night, the workers, the bed-by-niners and those that are just drunk-people-phobic — I wish you all a beautiful New Years Evening.  It is one of the few times nearly the whole world comes together to celebrate hope – and that alone is something that is worth celebrating, no matter how you find yourself doing it.

    10…9…8…7…

  • new york

    The Howl

    I could hear the howl from three blocks away.  This was, in part, because to get to work I must walk through canyons formed by the wall-to-wall skyscrapers of lower Manhattan– and canyons echo.  It did that rare and unusual thing in this jaded town; it elicited a response.  My head lifted, as did the heads of the pedestrians around me, because it was the saddest sound I have heard in a very long time.

    When I reached the source of the noise, I saw him, a tall homeless man with ragged hair, his back arched so that his entire body looked like a taut bow.  His face was upturned and he was still howling, repeating that bone-chilling noise that I had heard before.  A porter stood with him, with a hose in his hand, pointing at the cardboard box that was the source of the contention.

    Each morning, I see this porter washing the sidewalk.  He works for a building with posh apartments; so posh that the rent is $4,000+ a month.  While sidewalk cleanliness is desirable, a large part of why this is done is to make people sleeping on the sidewalks move somewhere else.  It’s part of what their clientele is paying for.

    But the porter was begging with the man.  “Take your cardboard box, it’s okay, just take it and move it over there.  I have to wash the sidewalk.”  It’s hard to know what was going through the head of the howling man, but he would not.  Perhaps he was just crazy; mental illness and homelessness are often combined. Perhaps this was the fifth or tenth or fiftieth time that he’s been told that he’s not wanted in the place that he’s occupying.  Maybe it wasn’t about the box at all.  Or maybe it was because this box was the one thing he owned and here was a man with a hose, about to destroy it.  The edges were already wet.  I could see the cardboard breaking down.

    It has been a few days and I can still hear the timbre of the howl in my head.  It wasn’t a scene that was easy to forget, if only because I know it to be one that plays out every morning all across this city of money.  This, more than anything, is New York to me.  On the same corner as a building with housing only accessible to the wealthy lies a man with nothing more than a cardboard box to his name.  Some may see this as a sin against big city living (like homelessness is just an urban vice), but here we are not protected from reality.  We see every side of life, placed cheek by jowl.  We are not protected by cars and distance and highways.  But that doesn’t mean that we know what to do with it.

    Just like everyone else, I did nothing but hope that the howling man finds some peace and a place of respite, and wonder if there’s anything in my life that I value so much as that man valued his box; a piece of trash for me and the porter, but for the howling man — shelter.  Home.

     

  • family,  friends,  new york,  writing

    The Writer’s Birthday

    My birthday snuck up on me this year, hiding behind the projects that I have going on this month. Somewhere around the halfway point of the month, people started asking me what I would like for a present. Each time, I was taken by surprise, because I’ve been so distracted writing for Camp Nanowrimo. Real world details like birthdays and dates and obligations have had very little impact on my consciousness, because they don’t have anything to do with medieval Iceland and the people that live in my head.

    I had set my birthday as a loose target for having the first draft of my manuscript finished, but I am not there and will not be by the end of my 50,000 word goal target for Camp Nanowrimo.  That’s a little disappointing, but it is because the story has expanded in ways that I couldn’t have predicted at the beginning of April.  It’s going to be for the best, I think.  I hope.  We’ll find out in draft two.

    There’s a point in each yoga class when I am reaching the end of my energy and I have to reach deep within to do what my teacher is asking me to do next.  I breathe, reaching into my body for some hidden reserves of strength and then move into the next pose.  I’m at that point with the first draft – I am so close to being complete and I have been working so intensively on it for the last month that I am running out of reserves, but I know that if I keep pushing and looking for more strength and creativity within myself, I will find it.  I will finish it and, and as a (belated) birthday present to myself, I will at long last have a finished first draft of a novel.  It’s an achievement I’ve been dreaming about for years, but this year, I will have done it.

    It’ll feel so good, if I can just get there.  Camp Nanowrimo is winding down to a close and I have a few thousand words left to write to reach my goal, which feels like it shouldn’t be hard at all at this point, because I’m in good practice.  Even if I didn’t finish the first draft, I have doubled the length of my manuscript in a month, so it’s been a worthy task.  I can walk away proud of that.

    As for my birthday, it was a quiet and lovely day, capped off with a fabulous evening out with my family.  We went to a restaurant called Akbar in Garden City that has some seriously delicious cuisine. It doubles as a banquet hall, so the facilities are top notch, which appealed to my inner Taurus. Since it was my birthday, I decided that I would ignore the food preferences prejudices of my family. The Kid turned into a fan of Indian cuisine seconds after the chicken lollipops arrived, which was just an added birthday present.  A good day all around, with good work done (both at work and outside of it), good people, good phone calls and good food.  That’s what it’s all about.

Bitnami