• nature,  new york,  ocean,  parenting

    Summer on the South Shore

    Summer is a damn sweet season.

    There are things that I don’t love about Long Island. It’s expensive. The native culture is…interesting. Aggressive. Abrasive. Extremely honest. Filled with weird acts of generosity and indignation. The local government is so corrupt that our DA regularly sends career politicians to jail. And did I mention that it’s expensive?

    But I moved out here because it’s by the water. Long Island is sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Long Island Sound. I live on the south shore, which is the Atlantic side. I can have my feet in the water ten minutes after leaving home. My train rolls over a channel on the backside of a barrier island. When the doors open, I can smell the state of the tide.

    My flood insurance is high. My summers are wonderful.

    Last year we joined a local beach club with some friends, which has completely changed my life. My whole summer has restructured to surround the weekend. My house is falling apart. My garden is unplanted. I’ve had weeds growing in pots on my front doorstep all summer long. But who has time to take care of these things? There are sandcastles to be built.

    The weather has been strange this year. For the first month of beach season, we got rained on or the wind made sandstorms that pelted our legs in a most unpleasant way. We went to the beach anyway.

    We sat on our picnic table, eating snacks with the kids as the rain poured down around our sun umbrellas.

    As the summer progressed, the weather got better, but now that we are coming to the end, I find that I feel cheated by that first month of missed opportunities. We had fun. We were there nearly every weekend. And we’re still going, for as long as we possibly can, even though the pools have closed and the lifeguards have gone home for the summer. The water is too cold to linger in, but it can still suck eddies around your shoes. The terns still scold if you get too near.

    Boy vs tern flock

    There’s just something about that place that’s magic. Hours pass before you realize it. Life gets refined down to surviving the heat and sun. We find sand crabs and feed the seagulls our rejected plums. We dig in the sand like children.

    I made some good shovel choices this year.

    It is these moments in which life feels so simple, so clear. I don’t want the summer to end. I’m not ready to lose my escape from reality.

  • culture,  ethics,  grief,  motherhood,  parenting,  politics,  racism,  writing

    I Thought We Were Going to Be Better by Now

    It’s been a heck of a week and so today I went and ate lunch in the break room, which is an unusual thing. 

    The going conversation was about TV competitions and we ended up talking about the women’s leagues of the UFC, which reminded me of the women who made an official ride of the Tour de France this year.  The did their own Tour de France, because in 2019, there is no women’s equivalent.  In the era of #MeToo and widely watched women’s soccer, that got some attention.

    “It was cool,” I said.  Then I paused.  “Except that they had to do it as a protest, of course. That’s not really cool, is it?”

    I’ve worked in networking and sysadmin for twenty years.  Once I would have told you what it is to be the only woman in the room everywhere you go.  That’s still mostly true. But there’s a second disparity now — my peers have gotten younger, while I, well, obviously, have stayed precisely the same age.  And that’s fortunate, because age discrimination is very real in my industry. 

    But anyway, I was the only woman in the room surrounded by much younger peers, sharing the perspective of a woman watching sports.  And it was only later that I realized how depressing it was, because the problems I was talking about in terms of representation, equality and fair pay were the exact same problems that I was talking about twenty years ago.

    And it’s just…it’s just that I thought we were going to be better by now.

    Perhaps we are.  In 1998, I would probably have been laughed at for having that conversation.  Women’s sports. Who would watch that?  But in 2019, it still wasn’t a serious concern for anyone except me.

    After all, I have a daughter.  Not one of them are parents yet.

    But televised sports are the least of it.  The #MeToo movement really got to me.  I’m glad it happened, but the horrifying thing was how many men really had no idea how common sexual harassment and assault are.  Many of the men that I love — that I have been telling my stories of assault and harassment to — responded with surprise.

    Really?  It’s all of you?  I knew it happened but….all of you?

    Yes.  It’s all of us.  Every woman you know has been harassed, every woman you know has been assaulted to some degree.  For me, it began in earnest when I was 12 and mostly tapered down when I got a car at 18.  It was solved for me when I stopped existing in public quite so much.

    Is the world safer today?  Perhaps in some ways, but it’s not because we’ve solved the problem.  It’s because, at least in the U.S., we’ve locked our children away.  They can’t even ride a bike down the street without a parent three feet away.  We have an entire generation of incarcerated children, jailed for their own protection, who never get to experience the independence and freedom that roaming unsupervised creates.

    And of course, they still aren’t protected from their peers.

    My mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 70s.  She passed in December of 2007, still disappointed to be living in a country where we could not guarantee equal civil rights to men and women.  In the world she grew up in, women could not legally take out a credit card without a man signing for it.  Sexual harassment at work was legal.  Abortions were not.  

    In 2015, when I took maternity leave, it would have been perfectly legal for my employer to fire me.  They didn’t, thank goodness, but women who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA.  That is still true today.  And of course, we still haven’t passed the ERA – nearly a century after it was introduced.  The Lily Ledbetter act of 2009 — extending the statue of limitations in unequal pay lawsuits — was actually controversial.

    It’s just that I thought…we were going to be better by now.  That is the truth that I was sold as an 80s child.  I was promised that I would be able to have the same opportunities, that I could go and be anything that a man could.  And maybe we’re getting closer, but it’s hard not to lose hope, in a time when we have #MeToo but also a strong conservative movement that’s dedicated to making sure that the ladies are available to do all the unpaid labor of home and hearth.  Abortion rights are back on the table. I try not to fear for the reversal of laws that protect my right to work, but it doesn’t take a large leap of the imagination to see them as next.  

    And, to be honest, these worries are taking a backseat right now.  It feels like all of that can wait, because there are literal concentration camps within our borders.  Guantanamo Bay is terrible – we are supposed to believe in justice and fair trials – but what we are doing to our asylum seekers, who have done nothing but ask for help…

    I definitely thought were going to be better than that.  Until the last Presidential election, I was naively going along with the presumption that we all agreed that the Nazis were bad.  That Never Again, taught over and over again to every American child, really meant Never Again.  I don’t have faith in much, but I had a rock solid belief in that one.

    No longer.

    I admit that I, like many people, was ignorant about our immigration system.  I listened to the news about the Dreamers and their parents, but I was mostly confused by the nuances of the laws.  I’ve known a lot of undocumented people, because I’ve lived in cities with large immigrant populations all of my life. I married a former undocumented immigrant and I cried at his naturalization ceremony.  And I still didn’t fully realize that the people coming to our border and turning themselves in are doing it perfectly legally.

    And we are treating these brave and desperate people like animals.  We’re tearing their children away from them, separating families that have so little that they can carry it on their backs.  We’re throwing them into overheated metal cages and denying them basic necessities, like the room to lie down and rest.  We’re doing it while tearing down the authority of our democracy, while Nazis heed the dog whistle and come out of the woodwork and march in our cities.  They go to food festivals and shoot children for daring to exist in public. They run over protesters with cars.

    My writing has been a relief, because I am writing about the 18th century.  It was a pre-Nazi world.  They certainly knew the evils of war and starvation through poverty, but they didn’t know systematic genocide.  

    But we do. 

    We know what intolerance combined with power can do to the humanity of ordinary people.  And when our government goes after immigrants as economic scapegoats while refusing to secure our elections, it’s hard not to fear that by looking at the worst of our past that we are also looking at our future.

    Even when our government knew of the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, we lowered our immigration quotas for Jews.  Does this sound familiar?

    My childhood promised me a better world, if I could just wait for our culture to evolve.  But we’ve gone backwards to such a frightening place, so quickly, that I am lost when I look forward. 

    What kind of world am I leaving to my daughter?

     

     

     

     

     

  • storytelling,  writing

    If You Need Me, I’ll Be in My Head

    Hi there. Remember me?

    I realize that it’s been a while, but just in case you’ve never heard this before, writing a book is a lot of work.

    I had to dispel the illusion, just in case you happen to have also read Stephen King’s memoir, in which he makes a flippant comment that it should take 3 months to write a first draft, but that’s really not how it works. Or, at least, it’s not how it worked for me.

    I am steadily moving forward with the first revision of my novel and each day’s work delights me with how much tighter my ideas are getting and how many things I can see now that I couldn’t when I was writing my first draft. I had hoped to be done by now with this revision, but life has a terrific way of interfering. But you keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually, eventually you get there. Even when there is tortuously far away and you know you just have another revision in front of you again.

    One step at a time, one chapter at a time. I steal minutes when I can to work on it. I carry around a printed copy of the 668 page first draft so that I can edit anywhere, even if it’s not handy to pull out of laptop. The weight reminds me of how much work there is left to do, even though I’ve put notes of encouragement at key points. 25%! 50%! Only 100 pages left!

    There have been days when I wanted to set the entire manuscript on fire. And there have been days where the revision goes so smoothly that I feel like I’m cheating someone. And sometimes, editing is both of those things simultaneously.

    Perhaps this is the journey. It is my first time down this road and I feel like I’m learning from every aspect of it. Perhaps what there is to learn is more than about just the writing.

  • art,  new york,  photography

    365 Photos

    I love challenges with deadlines, if my three completed Nanowrimo events last year weren’t a strong indicator of such unfortunate tendencies. I often pick them up on a whim, generally for no better reason than that I get bored a little too easily.

    Read 30 books in a year? Scandalously easy. Alter my diet to some crazy version that makes baking an egg in an avocado seem like a reasonable breakfast choice? Sure. No problem.

    By the end of the challenge, I always walk away with some new insight. After Whole 30, I learned that I like salt a whole lot more than cheese. My week long Fitbit challenges with total strangers take me to strange lengths — and down strange streets — out of determination not to let an Internet stranger win. (And when they inevitably do, I just decide that they must be nurses. Or perhaps, Olympic level race walkers. There can be no other explanation.) And, well, Nanowrimo, repeated about a dozen times, finally taught me how to write a novel.

    I’ve even taken selfies.

    So on January 2nd, without any planning or much thought, I decided to do another 365 photography challenge. The goal is to take a single photo every day for a full year, which sounds really simple. The last time I tried, I gave up in May, after nearly a hundred photographs. What got me in 2013 was that, like most people, my daily environment doesn’t change all that much. I go to work in the same neighborhood that I’ve worked in for the past eleven years. I come home on the same train and walk the same blocks to go to the same house nearly every day. I lost my inspiration.

    But what I love about the 365 photography challenge is that it changes your perspective. With photography in mind, I see things that I would normally ignore. The first photograph I took, on January 2nd, was of a building decorated by seahorses sporting unicorn horns. I had walked past that building nearly every day for years without ever noticing that wonderfully nutty detail, but armed with a photography deadline, I finally noticed what had been in front of my eyes all that time.

    Even if the photographs fail, it forces me to look around me with the eyes of an artist. I love that. And I’ve rediscovered Flikr, which is a hotbed of amazing photographers doing wonderful things. I can’t even pretend that my pictures stand up to much of what I see there, but being involved in thinking and talking about photography every day can only improve my work.

    And, of course, since we are only 60 photographs in to the year, I am still filled with hope and ambition for completing it this time. It’s been six years and so much has changed. I am different, but also, my eye is different.

  • dogs,  family,  writing

    Revisioning

    January has passed in a haze of newness, as January is supposed to. Is there anything better than taking your mind off the bleakness of the low point of the year than to start new projects?

    And so I have. I have been off figuring out the best way of revising the 656 page manuscript that I wrote (snip, snip). I printed it out so that I might carry it around everywhere until revisions are done. It’s intimidating enough that it also doubles as a security device, for if anyone tried to mug me, I could certainly swing it at their head and make my escape.

    The print shop called me to tell me they were having some trouble finding a wide enough coil to bind it.

    At the moment, I’m hoping to get through my first round of revisions by April, which is ambitious. But it’s nice to switch gears. I have always preferred revision to first draft writing because now is when the magic really begins to happen. I’m finding connections between my characters that weren’t obvious until I wrote the story to the end, so changing the text to bring those out to someplace useful is really fun.

    And while I revise, I have a new companion and friend to keep my feet warm, which might be the best bit of all.

    Lilly Bella, Beagle Extraordinaire @ 3 months

  • art,  book,  books,  storytelling,  writing

    A Thing That Happened

    Sometime in the middle of the month, I wrote THE END on the first draft of my novel, THE MOZART GIRL.

    It’s a biopic about Nannerl Mozart and yes, there is a tremendous amount of work to do yet, and I am getting ready to jump with both feet into the revisions now that Christmas has passed.

    I’m excited.

    This is the first completed novel that I’ve written as an adult and it has been a long and meandering journey to do it. I’ve already learned so much about what to do next time, because it has taken me three times as long as it should have to complete what I have. I’ll be throwing out a lot of material, since it’s about twice as long as it ought to be, but I love that, because it means that what I keep will be improved for it.

    It’s the time of year where we set our resolutions and intentions for the new year and there can only be one for me, which is to finish the damn novel already. I took my first steps in this story line four years ago, though the story that I began to write back then was a completely different story arc from the one I settled on. But I have been thinking about the Mozart family for half a decade now and I am, dare I say it, pleased with where the work has taken me.

    This is a book that has been written in the margins of my life, in the crevices formed between other obligations, in the hours after bedtime and before the work day, in the minutes stolen between the endless march of all my other responsibilities. And it has been written in dribs and drabs, sometimes in little spurts of energy, and sometimes in long months of sustained effort that have required sacrificing personal relationships as I raced to a word count that was both arbitrary and exhausting.

    2016 and 2017 were the years I researched my novel. 2018 was the year that I wrote it. 2019 is the year in which I remold it until it is fit to be shown to the world. And then, what will happen then? Will I finally believe that this is a thing that I can do?

  • writing

    Nanowrimo 2018

    I am writing to you-in-the-future, which, thanks to the wonder of being able to schedule when a blog post publishes, is something I generally do.  But I’m not used to speaking to you from several weeks in the past and I find it a little nerve-wracking.  There’s an election between now and when you are reading these words and perhaps the world has changed in ways that make these words seem trivial.  It has always been an uncertain world out there, but we have been on such a trajectory over the last two years that it feels even more perilous to hope to chat to you about cheerful things two weeks from now.

    Presuming that the world is still mostly in place and we can spend some time talking of dreams, then I will tell you that the me of today, of November 15th, 2018, is certainly a more exhausted and exhilarated soul than the one that actually typed these words.

    That is to say, it is Nanowrimo time and 2018 has been, quite simply, the year that I write my novel.  The November Nanowrimo event is my third Nanowrimo event of the year.  I wrote 50,000 words for Camp Nanowrimo in April, then another 30,000 words in the July Camp Nanowrimo.  And here I am, about to set off the journey of putting the final 50,000 words on the first draft of my manuscript, or, well, however many it takes me to get to THE END.  

    That’s hardly the end of the work, of course.  Then there will be the months of heavy rewriting, revising the early chapters of the novel with what I know about the characters now — but I am looking forward to finally being able to get the bear of the first draft off my back.  When I logged into the Nanowrimo site this year, I couldn’t help but notice my first attempt at conquering these characters was nearly four years ago.

    I’m several versions down the road from there, because I struggled with the right way to tell this story, which is not really mine.  But now I understand where I am and where I’m going with it, so I can only hope that by the time you read this, I will be nearly there.  I’ve learned so much about writing a story of this length this year and I can’t wait to share the results with you all.

    Until then, I hope you are well.  We will have so much to tell each other in December.

  • climate change,  environment,  ethics,  nature,  politics

    Zero Waste Guilt

    I recently joined a zero waste community on Facebook, in a panic over the news that my neighborhood will likely be under water in another thirty years. It has definitely been an interesting experience — anthropological in part, but also educational. But, ignoring the anxiety of joining any public group with zillions of people who cannot be polite online, there was something bugging me about it all. 

    Well, two things. 

    The first was that in order to become more zero waste, I had to do a lot of purchasing, which naturally produces waste. Of course, if you don’t have reusable bags, you’re going to have to buy some. If you’re using Ziplocks, then you need to purchase the silicone replacements. And shampoo. Good luck finding zero waste shampoo unless you happen to have a Lush near you, where you can buy $12 shampoo bars in person and put them in your reusable bag.   You’ll be wanting a $30 safety shave razor too, which will save you money in the long run.  And don’t you have a compost set up in your yard, which naturally you own and control?

    And then someone finally shared a post to the community that made so much sense to me.  Why does going zero waste feel like an eating disorder? 

    And voila, there it was. The guilt of every piece of plastic that I used was beginning to eat me up in the same way that I used to feel guilty for eating food at the height of the years when I constantly starved myself. My guilt over the waste my family produces has been eating me up for ages, but now I’d found a community of people that were feeding into my need to have some control — at any cost — over it. It was consuming me, making me feel like a bad person for needing to ever buy things for my family.

    Try to explain to a 3 year old that you don’t need to buy her pants in her size because it’s going to create a box and a plastic bag. And the alternative is to zoom around to all the used goods places you can to find used clothes instead, which takes a huge amount of time. As a working parent, the very idea of having that much time seems so laughable and that’s if you ignore, for a moment, that thrift stores were set up to help people who cannot afford new clothes, so now you have well off people creating a competition for goods with people who don’t have the same choices.

    I think about that because I was one of those kids growing up.  Thrifting, as a middle-class activity, has always sat uncomfortably with me, because I remember well going to the Goodwill every Saturday to see what treasures might have turned up that we could actually afford.

    Which is not to say that you shouldn’t refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle as much as you can. It’s just that it’s a more complicated problem than an individual can solve. But the zero waste movement sells this idea that you’re the problem, not the overarching systems put in place by our economic system and government policies. We should, absolutely, try to consume less and demand better choices. But driving yourself mad because it’s impossible to buy meat for your family without styrofoam and plastic isn’t helping. Do you use cereal and don’t have a bulk foods store nearby? Then it’ll be cardboard and plastic. Are you planning on ordering anything online ever again? Then it’s cardboard and plastic.  And just forget eating in a restaurant ever again.  Think!  Think of all the boxes that their food came in!

    The system is bad. I want to have hope that there’s change coming, but it’s hard to see from where I’m sitting.  Here in Long Island, a single stream recycling company has recently announced they’re going out of business because what China is willing to pay is not enough to keep the plant open.  The towns that rely on it are now scrambling to find a replacement, but it’s an industry problem.  How many years did we think we could casually throw things in the recycling bin guilt-free before there was a reckoning?

    In the meantime, there are folks in the zero waste community cutting down on showers and toilet paper in their need to waste less. And that’s an interesting choice, because all of those reusables require so much more washing than anything disposable, so if soap and water are a problem… 

    How do you win? 

  • gun violence,  holidays,  new york,  politics,  racism

    A Horror Holiday

    The religious education wing of the Unitarian congregation’s building is a spare thing, a square room with creamy partitioned walls that can be moved to accommodate the varying class sizes of the children.  On the walls, large rectangles of paper list the birthdays of the children by months, for what is a community without celebration?  Children’s art fills the other walls, which watch over a carpet ringed by black bed rest pillows, where the children sit in communion with one another every Sunday.

    We joined the congregation when Baba was 10 months old and she is nearly 4 now, so this room is a familiar haven.  She runs to it every week, jumping down the hallway in uncoordinated hops and skips that makes the aging congregation smile as they dodge out of the way of her slippery energy.  

    It is October and this is a Unitarian sanctuary, which means that Halloween is in full swing, with a costume parade and a party planned with food masquerading as various creepy and crawly things.  And in my delight, I asked one of the teachers there, “Don’t you just love Halloween?”

    And she said, “No…no, I actually hate this time of year.”

    And then she explained to me how she, as the child of Holocaust survivors, was never allowed out on Halloween, because if you were Jewish and in Eastern Europe, this was one of the most dangerous times of the year for pogroms.  And I thought to myself, for I have grown to really admire and love this woman, who has created such a sanctuary for a generation of children, that that was such a sad thing that she has missed out on a tradition that I love so much.  Understandable, of course, that her parents would not have been able to let her go out to celebrate like so many American children do, but a sad thing.  After all, this is America.  We don’t have the same history of anti-Semitic riots that they do in Europe.  Surely, surely, she would have been safe here.

    We have done a lot of terrible things here, but at least we have not done that.  Have we?  (It turns out, yes, yes we have.  In 1991.  In a neighborhood that I travel through five days a week.)

    I thanked her for explaining to me why so many people in New York ask you if you’re celebrating Halloween before they talk about it with your children, because I had not known.

    And then, a few days later, a gunman walked into a synagogue and murdered 11 people, five days before Halloween.  And I shivered, thinking about what she had told me, knowing that her parents were right.  They were right to hide their children away from their neighbors, in the same way that I always kept my black cat indoors this entire week.  Some risks are simply not worth taking.

    On Sunday, I went to sanctuary, where many of the congregants are Jewish, in heritage, if not in practiced religion.  And I looked at their faces and I thought about all the worries that I do not have, about how once again, evil is here, but, as it always does in this country, my appearance gives me a choice whether or not to care.

    Unitarian services have a moment where you can speak the names of people that you wish to “lift up,” which is as close as Unitarians come to public prayer.  Most weeks, the sanctuary is filled with the names of individuals, names spoken aloud, colliding and enmeshing with each other as multiple people speak the names of those they love at once.  This week, the prayers were for groups; transgender people, Jewish people, the migrant caravan so desperate for safety that they are walking hundreds of miles towards a border where our government is right now placing armed troops to stop them.

    Who are we, as a country? Are we truly this lost?

    There are days where I look around and I barely recognize the country that I was raised in.  And then there are the days where I wonder if I ever really knew it at all.

  • ethics,  film,  politics,  racism

    Voting is Harm Reduction

    Lately, my Beloved and I have been binge watching Call the Midwife, which he is enjoying because of a personal connection to his family history and culture.  I’m enjoying it because I love stories about women interacting with women.  The midwives live in a convent, along with a small order of nuns, who organize the medical practice, and create a loving family of women.  I desperately want to join the sisterhood.  But it is the compassion of the nurses, who are young women that get involved in the lives of their patients, that carry the show along. 

    And it’s amazing how a story set so far away can resonate with us so closely.  One night, the episode was about an elderly woman who had been separated from her five children when she entered a workhouse after she was widowed.  She was never given the fate of her children, who all died of illnesses in the unsanitary conditions of the workhouse.  She is tormented by this all of her life, until the midwife nurse charged with her care follows the parish records and finds the burial place of her youngest child.

    “The Boys’ Workhouse”, Albert Edelfelt (1885)

    In the final scene, the woman bends down and plants her body over the resting place of her child, at peace at last.

    My Beloved turned to me to talk to me about the work houses, public houses that were established for the destitute of the parish to have a place to go.  Families were separated from each other upon entry, kept in separate wings of the work houses with no contact.  Conditions were poor and disease was rampant because of the crowding, although the workers were given a safe place to sleep at night.

    And then we were silent, because the similarity to the news was obvious and painful.  Here we are, nearly a century after the work houses were shut down in the U.K. for their inhumane conditions, living in a country that is currently taking children from their parents in order to disincentivize refugees from central and southern America.

    An inside view of one of the tents we are using to house detained migrant children, 2018

    One father, not understanding what had happened, killed himself.  Other children have been lost, separated from their families and moved into an overwhelmed bureaucracy that is losing records and losing people.  Guards have raped the children, who have been housed in chain cages, on floors without blankets.

    Here, in America, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  Here, we take refugee children and do the same thing that the Victorians did for their poor.  Like in the workhouses, the children are not receiving an education.  They have little in the way of legal representation.  Their environment has been designed to demoralize them.

    They have been taken from their families.

    They have been taken from their families, to punish their parents for seeking our help. 

    The episode was a haunting episode, that has lingered with me since we watched it.  And all I can think, as the midterms approach and I feel so helpless to create actual change, is that voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    This administration has actively sought — and continues to seek — to do harm, to the environment, to people fleeing violence and wars that we have instigated, to LGBTQ civil rights, to healthcare, to the rights of women.  And all we seem to be able to do is to try to reduce the onslaught, to speak up and say, no, this is so very wrong.  I have to place my desperate hope on the thought that there are enough people out there that we can make enough of a difference to slow down the harm.

    I have been wrong too many times before.  I envy the faith of the sisters in Call the Midwife, who reach for the humanity in every soul of the parish that they tend.

    But how I want to believe.

Bitnami