Thursday, December 27, 2012

"I believe the curse you've cast is over..."

After leaving The Newburyport Daily News, that job everyone has that makes them what they're going to be when they grow up, I took a job writing about technology because it was only 20 minutes from my house. Newburyport was about 50 miles. Fifty highway miles. It took me a long time to get there, and sometimes Victor would wonder if I had a night meeting and call me to make sure I was still coming to work, when really, I just lived so far away that being late was, well, a huge pain in everyone's ass. But I did my work, and I did it well, and even if I showed up real, real late, I got my shit done on time.

Swift writing is one of my gifts.

When I moved to TT, as we'll call it, I began writing about Microsoft and my drive came between let's call it 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning. I would wind my way through Cambridge, across the river and up Memorial Drive into Needham. I remember mornings when the winter sun would hang low and create such a glare on my Honda Civic's windshield that I would nearly have to close my eyes to see. I remember weaving through Needham, through Cambridge, listening to WERS, 88.9 FM, the Emerson College radio station.

It was the winter of 2004/2005. The last winter I would spend in Boston. The winter my best friend withered. The winter I spent with Tony, who I broke up with then let move in with me, because I needed to have something to do with my mind. I gained weight. I drank pinot grigio by the gallon. I cried all the time.

And every morning, every morning as I drove to work, drinking coffee in my travel mug, I listened to WERS. That's where I first heard The Decemberists, a band who I've loved enough to see on consecutive nights in cities 100 miles apart. Their morning show, The Coffee House, was folk and indie rock and singer/songwriter pieces. The commute home was reggae and then it turned hip-hop after I went to the gym. It's still the best radio station ever.

I made a mix recently of the songs I first heard on that radio station during those morning drives to Needham. The names you won't recognize: Mia Doi Todd, Antje Duvekot, Meg Hutchinson. Shivaree.

But those songs still carry weight. Their lyrics are still powerful, uplifting and can still bring my whole body back to a freezing Massachusetts morning, when I'd totter over to my car, warm her up, and sing along the whole way to work.

You were looking for an orchid,
and I will always be...
You were looking for a tealight, 
and I will always be....
A forest fire. A dandelion.

Last week I had to erase my Mac, and restore just my music and photos and documents (I think I forgot the documents, but... I've got backups?) but I digress. I had to choose new music to sync with my iPhone, which I use as an iPod for my commute. I chose the WERS mix.

Today, I woke up late. As you've read, I've been having some trouble with my employment situation. I'm trying, but I don't know what to do right now.

I got dressed, washed my face, brushed my teeth, gathered my things... But today instead of putting on a podcast, I put on the WERS songs. "I can fall in love again, I believe the curse you've cast is over... No more, no more casa nova..." and then "But you're still the one by which I chart my course..." (Meg Hutchinson's beautiful, heartbreaking song True North. Go buy it.)

Can't you feel we're moving in new directions...
Can't you feel the pull? 

But you'e still the one by which I chart my course.

You're still my, still my, true north.

I stopped in the Blue Sky Bakery and spent too much money on an iced coffee that I would drink on the train and on a blackberry cherry bran muffin that I would eat three-quarters of while pretending to concentrate in my office.

That song came on -- "True North" -- as I was walking from the bakery to the N train. I took a sip of my coffee, and the past seven years melted. I was back in my Civic driving up a frozen hillside into the sunlight on a January morning outside Boston, and I had no idea who I was going to become.

I didn't know that in six months my best friend's cancer would take her life, and that just two months later I'd have a new job and an apartment in Manhattan, four blocks from one sister and nine from another. That I'd move to New York ten days after my one and only job interview there for a job that I stayed at for three years, where I made good, good friends and learned how to really be a reporter. Where I would learn about office politics, where I would adopt Harold, the old-man butler of a cat, who would die on my Brooklyn living room floor five years later from liver cancer. That the people that would still be with me fifteen years on were those people. In retrospect, of course. Of course it was them. But then again, nothing ever is what it seems at the time.

I walked listening to Antje Duvekot's "A Long Way," remembering that night Phatiwe and I sat in my car, smoking cigarettes together, parked in front of my house, because it felt like some kind of rebellion.  And she cried, talking about her surgeries and her scars, and it was the one and only time my battered body and my years of reconstructive surgery made me able to make someone else feel better. She felt like a freak, I told her to shut the fuck up. She was beautiful and perfect and we would buy a duplex house in Brookline and live happily ever after, and I knew how much it hurt to have your body pulled apart and moved, and how much it hurt to have your skin pulled so tight it felt like breathing would rip it.

We sat in that car, talking talking talking so late I don't know when we decided it was silly to be still in the car, and went back inside. Slept. Went to work. She died a few months later.

And if you don't love me let me go...
And if you don't love me let me go...

The Decemberists' "The Engine Driver" was playing when I slinked into the Subway this morning. Songs and songs later. And I remembered the night, after a session with my therapist Esther, who made it ok for me to cry and for me to talk about everything, eventually, this song came on. "And if you don't love me let me go..."

It's the kind thing to do, she said. But sometimes you have to let what you love go too.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Going Back, Pondering Home

The past few months have been pretty eventful, to say the very least. I moved on from a job that wasn't taking me where I wanted to go. I found a new gig blogging for The Stir, which is fun and challenging in ways that are surprising and make me strive to be better at it, and I reconnected with a lot of old friends.

It's been refreshing and sometimes a little daunting -- making big changes, revisiting your old self as your new self. I went back to Boston for the first time in seven years in October, and the things I saw were both familiar and alien in ways I hadn't anticipated. I went to see J and M and their kids, which was wonderful and I loved spending time with all of them. It was the city, though, and the memories it held that left me curious and conflicted.

I got up early on a Saturday to fly up, and made it to Boston in less time than it typically takes to get to the Upper East Side. And as we began our descent, lowering over the city, I looked out across it and the first thought I had was: "I wonder where the cemetery is... Where Phatiwe is now..." I know I could see it. I wasn't sure which direction, South, I think. But I looked out and wondered how it would feel to be back in the city where I'd watched her die.

Recently my aunt and I talked about who our people were -- the ones we could say anything to -- she had been mine. So when she passed away in 2005, I lost more than a friend. I lost my person. The one who did not judge. I know many of my dear friends also do not judge, but... but you know what I mean. We all have those people. Who we trust with our deepest, darkest selves. And who handle them with care and love us more fiercely for it.

I was going back to our home, and I was afraid.

M picked me up though, after my failed attempt to enjoy a pumpkin spice latte (those things are like sugar and chemicals mixed with caffeine. poison!) and I got to spend time with her and the kids. I was pretty psyched that by the end of day 2, the little one felt comfortable enough to plunk herself down on my lap. Auntie win! But I digress. I spent some time with them, then went to Harvard Square, to see it. I felt older. I felt wiser. I felt more worldly than this little brick square that I'd found so captivating when I'd been 20-something. New York does that to a girl. Brooklyn is no small town. Cambridge is.

I went to Urban Outfitters, because I hadn't packed warmly enough, and that seemed like a good idea. I got a granola bar and a coffee in a cafe and ate it on a bench. I walked past the two streets of things... Then down Mass. Ave. toward Central. Everything was so much closer than I had remembered. Or else my concept of scale had grown. Now a 20 block walk is normal. Unless I'm lazy and get a cab.

I lived here.
I walked past my first apartment after grad school. 334 Harvard Street, apt 6E, I believe. I forgot the building's weird 60's architectural flare. It was a misfit in that neighborhood. I took a photo and kept walking, back into Central Square. Past restaurants and cafes and bars that I knew I'd been to, but which felt... It felt like being in a movie. I recognized things, I remembered being in these places, but I couldn't remember what it felt like for that to be my life.

That afternoon, though, we drove up to the North Shore -- to Amesbury to go apple picking. And we drove through Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Ipwsich and Essex. The stomping grounds from my first newspaper job. I told M and C about those towns, what I knew of them when I covered them for the paper there. I passed things I'd passed every day, and that, somehow, felt real. I knew this town. It was a part of my life that was, actually, mine alone. My days roving around, scouting for news. Visting town halls, libraries, the schools. Figuring out what people thought, what they cared about.

It was so wonderful to drive down 1A and see them all. Then we had an amazing fried seafood dinner and I got to drive home with J, talking about stuff and things.

Once we got back to Cambridge, it was bedtime for the kiddies, and I was going out to meet some other old friends to drink beers and listen to some music. They are an entire other story, but that... I didn't recognize the streets that had been like five blocks from where I had lived for 2 years, but falling back into hanging out with them was effortless. It was like not a minute had passed, let alone 7 years.

Sunday we had some apple scones made from our apple-picking bounty, went to the MIT Museum, which is really great, and then I went and hung out with other J. Watching football, catching up, having a lovely day. I flew home Sunday night, uneventful.

The thing that was striking to me was how faulty the memory can be, how things are erased to make room for new things. Streets go missing in one's mental map, but somehow the menu at Mr. and Mrs. Bartley's is forever. Storrow Drive was longer than I remembered. Mass Ave much, much shorter. I didn't venture toward Kendall Square or Inman Square, my last stomping grounds there. The heart of Cambridge was enough for a first trip.

I told an ex in Boston once, after he asked why I didn't live in New York, because it seemed to suit me so much better than Boston... Why I still lived in Boston. I told him then that I knew once I moved to New York, I'd be home. And so I didn't want to do it until I was ready to mean it. And then one day I was.

Now that other life I had feels like a hazy dream. A dream in a small town with brick sidewalks and a Trader Joe's with a parking lot. With Harvard Square. Places I went from being a kid to being too old for my own good. It was a very good weekend. And then I came home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Rainy Night on Which I Was Supposed to Listen to Music

Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in...

I came here, to Park Slope, because it would cost me half of what it cost to live on the Upper East Side, in a fifth-floor walk-up, slowly going crazy at 28. Or was I 29. Those times are kind of a blur. I remember my birthday party, where a cassoulet was spilled on a girl. She was hurt. No one was adequately kind about it. I wish we'd been nicer. Nobody liked her. But that's no excuse for callousness. We were cruel. We were young. 

You may not think 29 is young, but it is. And looking back, from the young-old-age of 35, I wonder what kinds of mistakes I'll make now that I see with simliar eyes someday. 

I came here with a friend, and met a new friend. I met a dozen others. We lived across the street from a Hagen Daaz we never really let ourselves get used to. We sometimes had fresh bagels for breakfast. We were not often sober. We had roommate fights. Who would clean, who would buy things, who made the coffee, who was allowed to sleep over... Nobody ever asked. Everyone always just did. We got angry. We got mean. We turned on each other. We regretted that. Because we really did, I still believe, really like each other a lot. We were just shitty roommates. 

I turned 30 there, and with a mix of fear and relief, I moved out. 

I bought my home and I now live here, and have ever since. And I have to say living alone is a mixed bag. Sometimes, on sunny, warm mornings, I make coffee and I watch trashy TV sitting in a patch of sunshine. Or there's snow outside and I revel in making a giant batch of chili to freeze to get me through the coming chilly weeks. 

But other times, like tonight, when the concert was postponed, and I had nothing planned... I dreaded going home to my apartment alone. I had no plan. Sure, there's always plenty to do in life. I could organize things. I could fold things. I could clean things. I could read things. 

Sure. I have dozens of books I've bought with every intention of reading. 

But on a night when you were supposed to be "not at home" to suddenly be "at home"... It stirs up some shit. Those fears that you'll be alone in this little apartment forever. That you're so easily cast off. That nothing you ever do matters, and that you'll always be the one making invitations. That nobody will ever think to remember you... And it makes me hate being single. Hate having no one here to wonder where I am. To curl up with on the sofa. 

Anyway. It obviously makes me feel sorry for myself, which is kind of weird. Self-pity is the most poisonous of feelings. 

If only I had just let it be a thunderstorm. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Crossroads

I left my job in August 2009 because it broke me. The late night hours alone. The shift in schedule. And a manager whose style of management left me feeling like, well, frankly, like a worthless piece of shit.

So one day, calculated so that my first day off would coincide with the first day of my sister's visit from San Diego, I quit. I quit saying I didn't want to be a web producer. That I wanted to write. That this wasn't for me. And they let me go.

I spent 15 or so months as a freelancer, writing and web producing for national food, news and business publications. It was hard to be that alone for that long. And hard to keep the work coming as bosses changed, budgets changed and rules changed. I got tired. And COBRA was running out.

And just then, S.W. had a job for me at Ziff Davis Enterprise. And I became what I am. Writer, editor, web producer for business technology sites. And it has been a windy road. We've had ups and downs. And some things were easier than others. It's hard to be evocative yet vague enough to make sure those you worked with and cared about are protected so that you can talk about your feelings without offending or being misunderstood to offend... I valued everyone I worked with. I truly did. But it was never the job I wanted. 

But going to work with N. and F. every day. That was the best thing that ever happened. When N. would laugh too loud to get my attention to read me something. When I'd gasp out loud at a Gawker post to gush about it with them. When F. asked me a question about "Die Hard" and I was all "Dude, there's a boy right there... Why are you asking me???" 

We had fun. I confess I wasn't in love with my work, but going to work was fun. 

Then, on February 2, we were sold. Twenty-six of us survived the transition. The other 100 or so did not. Some stayed for two weeks. Some for four. But in the end... For seven months I tried very, very hard to keep doing what I did. To keep these publications running smoothly and to keep the readers oblivious to the chaos behind the scenes. 

But today. Today my boss, bless her heart, she told me she got another job. She was leaving us. Our captain, who two days before had told me it was time to abandon ship, jumped. 

I am not angry. 

I am not bitter. 

I am deeply conflicted about what I should do now... 

I want to write many things. I have novels and romances and nonfiction pieces in mind. I have a memoir I have mentioned enough that you're probably all angry at me for still just talking about it. So. Two people today said to me that if there is some kind of higher power, it's tired of me resisting it and I should really just fucking write. 

But the rest of me is practical. I might get a better job title, but at what cost? I have been full of despair for seven months. Left to do this job alone, do I even want to bother? They've been cruel since day one. Do I give them more? I don't know. How much more is worth it? Is any more worth it? I'll make it a while on my own... And friend editors have offered me work. 

My gut is telling me one thing and common sense is telling me to wait. But I'm worried about waiting. I'm worried about what happens to me in this crap new world. 

I want to go back to writing, and writing for myself. I think that is what's in my bones. But it's scary. I ran out of money last time after about 15 months. But by then I was also lonely. But also in really great shape from having made working out a part of every freelance day. I never got that back in staff-world. 

This piece isn't graceful or enlightening. I'm brain-dumping into the void trying to give myself permission to do the scary thing. The un-wise thing. 

Everything in the universe is enabling me to be something I'm fighting tooth and nail. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

On Wanting More Space...

I live in a small apartment. I have no bedroom door. My space has clearly defined rooms, but it works in a context of me. I would probably be able to let someone else live here too... Someone who didn't come with a lot of baggage. Literally. I have way too many things.

Today, however, I indulged the idea that I would not always be a team of me. I don't mean that to sound sad. On the contrary, I looked at a two-bedroom apartment with the full intention of making an offer on it, if it... if it struck me. 

I am a believer in knowing what is right when you see it. In following my gut. At least I try to be. I know that every time I have followed that instinct, I have been right, and when things have gone awry, I can, in retrospect, see my own misgivings before following through with something I did not trust. 

The small apartment in which I live now, to tell a brief story. I saw it first online when I was at a hotel, at a convention, in Hilton Head, during Georgia forest fires. The hotel was full of smoke. I walked on the beach. I got bored and checked the new listings on a Thursday. 

There it was. Photos that were just so. Of this small apartment with a navy bedroom, an odd sense of living-room space and a long marble kitchen counter. "That is my home," I thought. I felt it. I had been to two dozen open houses. I had seen hundreds of listings. That one. I knew it. It wasn't even extraordinary. But I knew that was my home.

I write this from that room. 

That was a Thursday. On Saturday morning, I was home in Park Slope, wearing a slouchy sweatshirt, and it was raining. I knew it was the time of the first open house. There would be another tomorrow... And I slumped down in my chair. And thought to myself: "If you lose your house because you're lazy, you will hate your lazy ass forever." 

And I got up. Put on a hoodie. Got an umbrella. And came here. It was, so different from this place I'm in now. It had an Eames-like table, artsy dining chairs and a clumsy leather sofa sectional set in different parts of the room. The hallway was black. But I knew. I saw. This was my home. 

I put in an offer the next day, when I made my brother in law (slash-broker), friends and sister come with. 

Nate made us coffee in some fancy double-drip thing he had going on. And then I took over his home. 

I have moved my bed from this wall to that in the subsequent five years. Oh, I wish I had a window. Oh, I wish, I wish... Oh, asshole. Go to sleep. 

The moral of my story is this; I saw a photograph of a living room on the Internet while I was at a Carolina beach hotel for a conference, and knew. Even then I knew. 

Today I walked into a beautiful apartment and I knew. I knew I was buying an apartment, even though I'm not married, for me and my children. I knew I didn't want to walk up to the fourth floor carrying a baby. I don't have a partner right now, I haven't made that choice yet. But I decided that my next home needed to be ready for that.

And not being ready for that, I have decided to get a new couch. It's blue I will have to repaint the living room. I think that saved me about $100,000, and a lot of hassle. Someday, I'll have to make that move. But not yet. 

But it's nice to know that I expect it. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

On the idea of being an artist...

Several things have happened lately that have had me thinking about the nature of writing, of creating art and of thinking about how we interpret our experiences. In brief, my mother wrote me a beautiful piece that was a response to an earlier post that I'm going to type in this week as its own post, I talked to a friend who despite my own misgivings sees me as a writer worth investing time and resources in (it makes me both proud and shy...) and I listened to a bunch of Tom Waits songs on YouTube, recorded in 1977 -- the year I was born.

Waits was 27. He was more handsome than I had thought was possible, having only seen him after his years of... whatever it was he did that made him earn the face his voice always owned. I watched these videos with this youthful, smooth face, with this voice that carried the weight of the fallen angels... fingers dancing over the piano keys like fairies flitting among the fireflies... It was youth and delicacy that found its gravity in this soulful, earth-raking voice. It was the voice of the continental drift. The oldest of stones, grating against each other. But his words. His words have always, since I was 16 and Nancy first gave me a mix tape, his words can still make me pause and listen to their poetry. 

I am a dismal poet, but I know what I like. 

Tom Waits has a gift I will never have for lyrics, for poetry. For creating melodic music that takes a raw machete and slings it through your unsuspecting chest, leaving you with the feeling that you too were there on that barstool, unrequited. 

And they all pretend they're orphans
And the memory's like a train
You can feel it getting smaller as it moves away....

Watching the 27-year-old Waits sing made me both question and falter as I contemplate my own position in the world as an artist. 

I have these two ideas of myself -- the writer, musician, photographer, artist... and the me that's a logical, mathematical, overachieving worker who thinks of success in traditional, money-making ways. So, I want to be both the writer and the achiever, so I try to find successful editing jobs. 

I think watching Waits was a... 

I think of Keats, younger than me, writing his Odes. 

I wait for what, exactly? 

Am I waiting to feel I've earned a wisdom that allows me to profess, assert, to create? 

Or am I afraid? Afraid that what I offer is trite? Done? Shit? 

Maybe that shit is the thing that keeps me in this state of paralysis. 

I want to ask Patti Smith how she so easily seems to have embraced the idea that she was an artist despite all of the other roads she walked to make money, to make ends meet, to make sense of things. That is the thing I have the most trouble embracing. She starved, she struggled, but she always believed in her poetry, in her art.  I have always made sure I was comfortable, yet I have always struggled with the idea that what I wanted to make was art. It never seemed "important" enough, on one level. And on the other it was always the only thing that mattered. 

I could always draw. I could sculpt. I could paint, when I tried. I loved photography. I studied it. I practiced it. I write every day. In some way. But I need to get back to being more like Joan Didion. Making lessons of my own days. Writing the world I see. 

I know the Brooklyn I inhabit is the playground of thousands of wanna-be writers. It's almost a cliche of a setting. Maybe I'll imagine something different... 

I think the biggest obstacles to writing those things I've always talked about writing are the contentment one finds growing out of the 20-something angst, and the lack of urgency to "get it out"... And the need to process how that change then changes what you thought was your "thing to say"... 

I no longer feel unique. I no longer feel like what I experienced was a one and only. True, my life is only ever my own, but... But what really is it that I want to say? Maybe the lack of uniqueness is what will make it a tell-able story. It's no longer a horror story. It's just real. 

But for me, therein lies the rub.

I've recently had my first adult injury. A sprain. Ankle. I lived 35 years without ever thinking my "actual body" would ever really let me down. Last December I fell down some Subway stairs in the rain and had a strain, and my foot hurt for a long time... But this was, this was debilitating. I was broken. And not just skin-broken, which was how I think about all my childhood injuries. In a lot of ways, I always prided myself on my body's structural integrity. I may have lost my scalp, but motherfuckers, my skeleton was a force to be reckoned with.

So, I have a sprained ankle and after a whole week, I am still limping. I am still broken. Whatever a "sprain" is -- it is no joke.

It makes me feel my age, when I think about my now-damaged body, my hesitancy to be creative, and the line-free face of Tom Waits, singing Waltzing Matilda...

For so many years, my excuse was that I wasn't old enough to be a real writer. Toni Morrison wasn't... She was 39 when she wrote The Bluest Eye. I still have time, right?

My crisis is a crisis of confidence. Confessing that is hopefully part of rendering it powerless. I know somehow that writing is my gift, the ability to tell you the story that happens in my head, but that that story happens to be... as it is. I told my cousin the trick to writing a paper is to tell the story on paper as you would explain in to me right now...

That is storytelling. Which is most of the battle.

To make it a craft, that takes more. Unless the story is best told plain. But that's the kind of story I aim to tell. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Remarkable, Unremarkable Day

Today started off as a normal day. 

It was too sticky in my bedroom, and several times between the first alarm and the actual-wake-up, a cat either nuzzled my cheek, stepped on my head, or ran across my stomach. I went to my job and did my job-things. On the way I got my iced coffee at Gorilla, and paid for the iced coffee and a muffin that I got last week and didn't have enough cash to actually buy. It's nice to know your neighbors. 

I listened to some Planet Money on the D train to Herald Square. I syndicated some stories. I changed the Interwebs. And then I had my first trip to The Dermatologist.

I had this little red bump on my nose. It was very tiny, just a couple of millimeters across, at most, but it was red, and it has been there long enough so that I couldn't tell you how long its been there, but I know it wasn't always there. Of course, you use the Googles, you WebMD, and you really do think at the end of the day you have cancer. It was a bump, it was red, and that is the potentially WORST POSSIBLE KIND. 

So, for a few weeks after doing the Googling, I lived in a state of subdued mini-panic. "This thing on my face? Yeah. You can't see it but it's totally murdering me." (Basically the same level of internal-monologue-drama as Hannah had in 'Girls' when she found out she had the HPV, which is really basically like having a cold, unless that also gives you cancer... But it usually never ever does.) 

I went to The Dermatologist to have my potential murder speck analyzed. 

The Dermatologist, a gorgeous, really-really-skinny woman roughly of my own age, who had total fake eyelashes, gave it a technical name, "or maybe its another (insert latin but normal thing here...) but either way she thought I was cute, and shouldn't worry even a little bit, but let's cut that bugger off and then biopsy that shit and you won't have to worry about it ever again. 

After that, I got a needle in the nose, pretty lady went at my nostril with a razor blade, scooped out a "look how tiny that is" thing, and then cauterized it, which HURT LIKE HADES. That super painful nose numbing needle? Yeah. We should have given that a few more minutes. 

She also recommended a powder sunscreen, since I sweat in the humidity and heat very quickly, especially if I have wet hair, and then my moisturizer beads up and and sweats off. Especially if it has sunscreen. She recommended this stuff from Colorescience. Powder! No face sweat! But based on the alacrity with which she excised my fear of face cancer, I was prone to trust her, despite her lashiness.

Which brings me back to work, which I attended like a good worker bee until 5:20, at which time I had to book my ass down to Babbo, the flagship piece-de-resistance of Celebrity Chef I Once Interviewed Mario Batali. (If you use the Googles, search "Lawinski Batali". There is a result.) 

To go into the details of THE BEST MEAL OF MY ENTIRE LIFE COUNTING EVERYTHING ELSE I EVER ATE, well, that is a post I will write tomorrow when I am trying to sort my thoughts on the Cloud Expo thing I have to go to in the morning. I took a lot of photos. They turned out pretty nice, for a phone thing. 

After dinner I came home and threw on some pajamas, washed my face and put some ointment on my nose wound, and put on the series finale of "House" that's been on my DVR, waiting for me to watch it. 

I did, indeed, cry at the end. But not for the reasons I had assumed I would, considering TV finales of the past. (The oddly haunting, disappointing "LOST" finale...) 

Old readers know about Phatiwe, my dear, dear friend who I lost to uterine cancer in 2005. 

In the final episodes of "House," Wilson is diagnosed with cancer which cannot be treated. Which will leave him with six months of life, which will end painfully... or he can fight it and live the rest of his life sick from chemotherapy, hoping to hold onto something he, as an oncologist, believes is a lost cause. A futile fight. 

How do I live those last months? Fighting yet suffering, ultimately futile. Or do I choose my exit. In the episode, (MAD CRAZY SPOILER ALERT) House fakes his own death, about to face being returned to prison after some antics go awry and a hospital ceiling crashes in after he floods a bathroom... Yeah yeah, a series of implausible events... But he fakes his death so that he can stay with Wilson during his last few months. And as the series concludes, Wilson is on a motorcycle beside House, and they're strapping on helmets, and Wilson wonders, about to warn House that the cancer will get bad... and House goes, "Cancer is boring..." and they strap on and ride. 

I wonder if I would make that choice. If my friend would have made that choice. If she had chosen differently if that last year would have been less scary. If she would have spent more time with me instead of trying to shield me from the horror of what she was experiencing. Which she did. Which just filled me with more sorrow. To be loved so much by someone who was willing to suffer alone rather than have it hurt you... Wilson and House talked about that. Wilson made his choice. House got to make one too. And he chose to throw his own life away to spend the rest of Wilson's with him. 

Yes, it is fiction. But it is a beautiful demonstration of what it means to really love someone. On just another normal day, when everything we do is actually kind of extraordinary. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Medias Res...

In my last post, I wrote that I wanted perspectives. I wanted to know how other people saw my life. Because it was theirs as well. And my sister told my mother I had written that.

And my mother, who I have never had the strength to question, wrote to me. She spent hours typing out her memory of the events, what she saw, what she felt. What happened outside my own head. And as importantly, what happened in hers.

The first time I read it, I read it fascinated by the story. The second time, it was about my mother's life. The third time, still reading on my iPad laying in bed on the Saturday morning she sent it, it was my story. And I began to cry.

The circumstances of my life have been in flux. My company was sold and the aftermath is unsettling. I have no direction, no idea what I'm supposed to do... I do not know if this will settle in a way I am able to... I don't know if I'm gonna get fucked over, frankly. Or if I'll get a chance to take this company who has no idea what I did and create something awesome that will give other journalists great opportunities. That's my fantasy upside. I'm betting on fucked over.

So of course, in times like these, you reevaluate your dreams, your goals and who you thought you'd be.

I emailed N**k my essay from 10 years ago. It began as two paragraphs in my Boston University graduate application essay. They asked me if they could "publish my application essay" but if I could "actually just elaborate on this bit..."

I wrote it and didn't ever re-read it. I wrote it and emailed it to them. It was edited for punctuation. It was published.

I wonder if I'd had the capacity (I wrote balls, but that's too hard on myself... my PTSD teen self who would freeze in terror if anyone ever asked why she had a scar...) if I could have written about it at the time, if I'd have gotten into Harvard. They love that shit.

I almost love Dartmouth more for taking me with my good grades, tennis playing, play-starring-in, mock-trial-lawyering, over-achieving self who wrote about what it meant to learn about art history and then stumble upon the Mona Lisa... To taste both independence and history and art in one event...

I could have exploited myself into Oxford, probably. But it never occurred to me at the time. Instead, I wanted to come up with something "creative" and clever. I wound up in the best place I could have possibly found. Dartmouth banks its success on its alumni remembering how they fell in love with life there, and it still holds true. They thought I was awesome. I portrayed myself as I wanted to be seen. We were both happy.

Anyway.

One thing that's probably more interesting to me than to other people -- I love being on the subway in the winter and wearing hats. Hats cover my scars, and so when people stare at me on the train when I'm wearing a hat, I have a totally different experience than when I'm not. When I wear a hat, I wonder what it is they find interesting. Am I pretty? Is my hair a mess beneath the hat? Am I drooling?

When I'm not wearing the hat and someone stares at me, I think they're staring at my scar, my crooked hairline and my sparse forelocks. I see their stares and sometimes I can tell. Those that look at my face then whose eyes travel up and linger... they are staring. Others, maybe they're not staring? Fuck it, most people are.

Everyone always tells me that after a few times, they "don't notice" anymore. Having seen it more times than any of you, having examined it every day, it's not really something you don't notice. Maybe you mean it doesn't define me? And maybe that's something I have made happen on purpose. Through years of distracting you with me.

I am an expert.

I love wearing hats on the subway. I get to disappear for real into the fray on the train. To really be an invisibile, normal New Yorker. Few of you can really, truly appreciate how glorious it is to really disappear into the crowd because usually you are the one face the security guard remembers...

It's fun to prentend, sometimes, that I'm not that interesting.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Learning How to Write, All Over Again

I haven't written in a long, long time. It's the longest span of not-writing I've ever had in my life. I'm 34. I haven't posted in over half a year. I haven't written more than an email or an article for work. I have had... I have taken some time to think about if and how and what it is I want to do with this thing I can do... And I'm still not there, but it's time to start writing again.

I have begun doing "those little things that need doing" around my home. I got a new shelf for my cabinet. I figured out how to replace the little bulbs that illuminate my stove (Ikea.  Duh.) and a new spice rack. I bought a mirror to hang over my bed. I got frames for the photos I mean to hang. I figured out how to arrange my books to look less hoarder and more... just organized and good at life.

That's a phrase a friend uses when she's flummoxed or has hit a roadblock or needs to figure something out. "I'm not good at life." It just means there's a new problem that you have to work out, and it's not "right there", but it's a cute, yet self deprecating, way to think about it.

If you're not dead, you're good at life.

And I haven't always been that good at life.

(Jump ship and forward to the end if you want to skip the parts where things get hard.)

I've been thinking a lot about why I haven't been writing, what it is I would write if I could, and what it will cost me to be that honest. Yet, as I have grown, I have realized that the honesty I so feared has disappeared. I can no longer espouse absolute truths. I can offer my perspective on this that happened to me. But nothing ever happened just to me. That is the gift of growing up. Realizing that even in the deep, dark, bloody center of your own universe, you are a point at which dozens of lives interact. You are your mother's child. Your father's daughter. Several people's grandchild. The sister of many. The cousin of dozens.

More people were intimately involved in "that thing about you" than you realized were possible.

I know what I did. I know how it happened. But I know how it happened to me. Now how you saw it, or she saw it or he saw it. Or they saw it.

You get the point.

It took me... 28 years to learn the difference between these things, and again come around to being able to say "this is what happened" and accept that it was just my point of view, yet accept that as a story worth telling. It is not an absolute. It is never complete. But I am embarking on a quest. I hope to interview my doctors. Ask others to write (please reach out if you'd like to write?) and hopefully craft both a first-person memoir of a horrible thing, and a story that views a thing from different perspectives, which I hope will also touch and enlighten me. I want to know. I am finally, finally, not afraid of asking questions.

I finally learned what my old therapist always told me. That my stories of suffering hurt me to tell more than it will ever hurt anyone to listen. Because our listeners offer us love and comfort and do not share our pain, guilt, fear and shame.

They listen to help us feel better, because telling is the ultimate salvation.

When we share who we are, we forgive ourselves. I want us all to forgive ourselves. Lofty, yes. But I think hearing how we think things went down.

Case in point. A child sat in the front seat of a go cart and she couldn't reach the pedals. She put her hands on the edge of the seat. She pulled her body down so that her legs reached out, her back lay flat against the bottom of the seat. Her long, brown hair fell into the crack between the seat bottom and its back. No axel cover protected the whirling bar, covered with sticky grease. That bar curled her hair and pulled so hard it tore her scalp from her head.

Her mother ran behind the go cart, she told her. She pushed it, to make it go faster, and pushed too hard. The child fell backwards, the force knocked her down. Her hair caught. It was her fault She pushed too hard.

Who is right almost doesn't matter, since both stories will forever dictate how the teller lives her life. Unfortunate. I could have saved her so much sorrow, if she just knew I did it by accident.

I can't remember, now, ever having been angry with myself for that slip -- the slide and the catch and the fall... I never blamed anyone, Christ, let alone my parents. I always knew I lived only because they were right there to save me from what was just a terrible accident. I wrote "tragic" and erased it, because my life, while it has had its trials, has been anything but a tragedy.