Sunday, October 4, 2015


"Many today challenge the government's role and right in the education of our children...We must affirm our faith in the wisdom of our people and in the belief that they can be trusted to establish a system of training in cooperation with the government. The present deliberate efforts by certain segments of society to belittle, harass, and weaken our public school system must be resisted. A varied system of education, directed by groups closely knit, can weaken and destroy the vitality of our people and bring the American system of free public education tottering, thus destroying our most cherished institution and threatening democracy itself.

The insight, courage, and labors of Horace Mann, a century ago, give us fortitude to engage our opponents in battle and to continue the fight for the children of all the people. Apparently this fight can never be won—it must be fought and partially won by each generation." 

—Maurice J. Thomas, 1953

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Right now

There are things I keep wanting to say about Alex—not just Alex, but any partner really—and questions I want to ask like: how is it possible that after seven years of living here he does not know where I buy milk and what kind I get? Like tonight he phone-terrorized me to find out whether to get sweetened or unsweetened applesauce. Isn't that obvious? What kind would you get? But then again my friend Eli (remember her? I don't know if I've mentioned her in a long time...not during my solipsistic narcissistic years of graduate study in a field that no longer exists) and I were talking about all these areas where we take too much control over things and then resent that we have to do all the work. I should be happy with any kind of milk, really, that I don't have to carry. But I think for some reason irritations with my domestic partner/spouse/not-husband/roommate/co-parent are always an entry point into thinking about more important things. I don't know why.

The Empire State is just plain white today. I haven't looked at it in a long time. It's only when I write free-form that I think to look out at it, when I'm not writing about 18th century contingencies of colonialism or something out that makes me hunch over and (try to) block everything out. The last time I remember really thinking about it was a night my cousin Moira was here when they were projecting endangered animals onto it. August 3. Moira's in Spain now. I haven't heard a word from her. When I started this blog, she was just a kid. It's strange. It's also weird to think that Wally was a toddler then, a toddler who didn't really talk. And now he's like this essential person in my life and he changes the way I think almost daily. And I think, "Who who who is the person?" And that it makes me think of that scene from Sports Night where Dana interviews Jeremy. 

I have to write a couple things that are due tomorrow. I have time. There's lots of time until tomorrow.

I'm having a completely different experience this year at grad school so far. I am on the one hand aware of how completely overwhelming it all is. I think last year I had some kind of protective layer where I just wasn't going to admit to myself that it was really pretty much almost impossible to manage, just switching from mom-world to student-world alone, from packing lunch and figuring out pickup to understanding what Hugh Grady means when he talks about the impure aesthetic in A MidSummer Night's Dream. This alone was some kind of circus act, and I felt like I was was pretending to eat fire every time I flipped from one to the other. 

(Listen to this song while you're reading this post.)

This fall I am more aware of the crazy balancing act required, more patient with myself, more understanding of the time I have to devote to each and how much they each wear me down, but I am also just letting myself soak it all in. I know I most likely won't continue on in graduate school. I know—after dreaming for years of being exactly where I am—these three classes are very likely the last three I'll ever take. I can't do anything but enjoy it.

And here we are on the eve of Yom Kippur, long after the first three stars appeared in the September sky, on the last day of summer, and Alex is in the kitchen stirring polenta and a survey from Fordham today asked my religious affiliation and I answered that I don't have any at all, because the truth is, I don't. I am not fasting. I have never fasted. I don't have any great task to accomplish tonight. No one's talking in their sleep. But I did write a song about the day of atonement, and suddenly I am seized with trying to find it. I am still that same Rachel who played that song to whiskey-soaked crowds on Bowery back before New York became a Long Island strip mall. I am still that same Rachel, but in so many other ways I'm not.

Here are Wally and Petra on the first day of school.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Subtle and Cataclysmic

What I am thinking about now —or I should say what my thoughts begin to coalesce around at night when the dishes are halfway done and phone calls halfway returned and kids more than halfway asleep and I have almost almost this feeling of space opening up to think—is how things keep circling back—like the beginning and end of Finnegan's Wake, a commodius vicus of recirculation, how I keep stumbling into set pieces from past roles I used to play. Like right now, for example, in my vagrant day trying to find a place to work, with the library closed, a day happily interrupted by an hour’s brunch with my beloved professor from Dartmouth and her husband (also a professor there, whose beguilingly difficult book Unredeemed Rhetoric I wrestled with in class last May), I hop from coffee shop to coffee shop drinking too many decaf lattes, big sizes, so I can stay put longer. I leave when it seems like I am beginning to bump up against the limits of how much time a venti latte buys you…and just now I walked out of some random midtown Starbucks and ran smack into Blaggards, an Irish Bar we played at once when we began Dimestore Scenario part II, Alex and me and three people I don’t see or speak to anymore. One refuses to speak to us, that is, and the other two have faded away from us or we’ve faded away from them, and either way even the “We should get together emails” have vanished into the distant past, phone numbers left on old phones that don't get transferred.

And here I am now in Bryant Park, and I remember the group drinks with the group I worked with briefly at my brother-in-law’s company way back in the early New York years. But layered on top of that is Bryant Park where two years ago I brought Wally to a yoga class one spring morning. Or before that, Bryant Park, where Kara and I first came to watch an outdoor movie, maybe On the Waterfront, something with Brando I think, years ago, with that glee and exhilaration that we lived in the city now where things like this were just every day things, movies outside in the summer and noise and commotion and people with so many places to be. In between there's Bryant Park where seven years ago I bought a pass to the Carousel that still has many unused punches that for some reason makes me sad. Carousels are something you grow out of faster than you want to let on. You ride them after they’re no longer fun so you end up putting on a performance for those watching you, smiling and waving each time you catch sight of your family smiling at you from the sidelines, blurry and ephemeral, and what the camera doesn’t catch is your face just after you’ve passed them by, the way the smile loses its spirit, becomes stiff, your eyes vacant.

But inevitably just as I am beginning to let these images swirl up and see how they might converge or overlap or string together, one or the other of miniature creatures that share our apartment appears before me, blinking and seeming to have emerged from the violet forest of a LateSummer Night’s Dream, and I am yanked out of that near-reverie, yanked into a bed too small for three people, with too many elbows, but a happiness too, undeniably a cozy happiness about it, too.

Five years ago just at this time in early September my father visited to finally help us clear out the apartment that had been for two years a museum. The pressure had been building for months because of the paintings on the wall and the long delayed unveiling and the various family tensions but I remember feeling this huge release at that time after the hot August days in Virginia, the brief strange in-between time in New York, and the pure mountain escape in New Hampshire where every day we had to pack up and move. Then the visit with Charlie, my little cousin who was on the verge of leaving childhood, a year older than my oldest niece is now. I keep making these comparisons that become non-sensical, seeming at first to trace a kind of logical map that reveals the strangeness of things but quickly starts to lose meaning, as anyone at any given age can be linked to someone else without unpacking what that signifies: Petra is the age now that Wally was then; Wally is the age that Charlie was when I visited his country house in Coventry with my band, when we poured into my uncle Billy’s over-the-garage studio and sang Ozone Fantasy and got chills listening to Alex’s wavering guitar. Charlie was out in the woods building a fort and spying on the neighbors across the street. He was seven, Wally's age now. Yeah, okay; time passes; so what?

What I feel, in that in-between about to be stolen moment in the evenings, is that there was a sense of hopefulness at that time five years ago that for some reason I can't grasp now. That's what I'm trying to figure out. Except when I go back and read it, I don't know if I actually felt that then, or if I only think I felt it then, looking back. That's when I start to get lost in a feedback loop of sorts, which is maybe what happens the older you get, feedback loop of cascading decades, overlapping childhoods, kids who are now adults, adults who think they are kids, my father’s letter written to an older version of me for my 5th grade Time Capsule that I opened earlier that year (2010) that said something along the lines of: “Of course as I'm writing I am imagining you now, 10 year old Rachel.” I think of that when I imagine telling some older version of Wally about Wally now and about these summer days in the garden waiting and hoping the Swiss chard will magically appear, or the seeds we grew one winter in his room and how it was like we could almost hear them growing at night. I imagine telling Wally then about Wally now but of course only envision him as the Wally I know now. In some microscopically tiny way these circling perambulations feel like how Cathy Davidson describes changes in the field in English; they are “both subtle and cataclysmic.” Does she mean they can happen both ways? I mean the same changes could be described or understood either way. 

Yesterday I found a story called “A Time Before CBGB’s” in a literary journal published in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1999. The journal was sent to me by an ex-boyfriend because he was published in it, Vol 21. You’re in it, the ex-boyfriend had assured me in a hand-written letter, back in those final days of their existence. But I was in it in only the most insultingly inconsequential way.“And it turns out this ex-grrlfriend, Rachel, actually introduced David to Emily, the turning point of this story.” He reversed the name of my band then with the name of the song about him that he ruined at the only show we ever played together. He changed other insignificant details. None of it has any meaning for me now, not even nostalgia. I brought it down to the laundry-room book giveaway, and left it there, flies buzzing around. It was more the Pre-CBGB's title that struck me, in this post-CBGB's era. Which brings me to the streets of New York, where I am now. Where I have been...lost? Like in the Natalie Merchant song?

And I have determined now that it is one thing to walk around New York and constantly reverberate back to other times I walked there in other lives, my band life or my granddaughter life, but in the past year I’d say dramatically there is a shift now where the rate of change of the landscape has radically accelerated, where it just feels that everything is closing, public libraries being sold, luxury buildings shooting up some kind of blight, empty and soulless, blinding reflecting glass blocking every view. And because of this, as I walk, my heart sinks constantly, at the little bar coffee shops closing their doors, at the Thai place near us that literally overnight disappeared, at Rodeo with its peanut shells on the floor on 3rd ave where I went on my 30th birthday and many times with Sugar Bear, or Osso Bucco on University, so many times with Grandma and Big Syd and the rest of the Old Guard that stood for so long, or even the junky shoe places on Madison or the antiquarian bookstore where I never stepped foot, just everything that is being torn down and replaced with chains and cheap manicures. The rate of change now, the sweeping transformation of Manhattan into a Long Island Strip Mall, it’s staggering. I have to steal myself but I realized this summer I can’t react so intensely to capitalism’s scorched earth march to the sea; if anything, such responsiveness will only render me powerless to contribute to whatever quiet gathering forces might one day rise up to defy it.

I found this note, too about "a lost little dollie" and I don’t know if I was writing down something Wally said a few years ago, or Eliana, my niece, said longer ago, or was it me writing as a child on a slip of paper that survived in the archives of this apartment?

Five years ago I was holding onto the summer with tank tops and sangria, and I felt somehow energized because I’d written enough that summer to feel that I was at least tracing out a shaky, uneven path for my future self to follow and improve upon. The following September I discovered that I lived in a seaside town. By the one after that I was pregnant again, getting ready to take the GRE’s. Two years ago I was so nervous at this time to let Wally know he wouldn't, after all the talk and preparations about it, all my commitment to it and plans for change, be going to our neighborhood school after all. He was about to start Kindergarten, and he didn't know enough then to be nervous. We were river people then, but we’re less so now. I’m going deeper into the interior, by this time next year, I’ll be done with this program at Fordham.

At that moment when I wrote in a flash, drinking the failed sangria, happy to eat in the dark quiet livingroom with Alex and my dad, I was only a few years away from my transient Brooklyn band life that always felt like a road trip, I had only recently begun to venture into the land of parenting and still felt legitimately new to it (one year into SAHM-land). And now, even as I feel in my grad classes like an imposter mom posing as a student and outside Wally's school or on the playground as an imposter student posing as a mom, as I read Bachelard saying "the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home" even I publish a second edition of a book on how to test your dog, I am in more of a settled place in some unavoidable way; no longer able to kid myself that tomorrow I'll be on the road, in Chicago or Detroit.

It's so much harder for me in writing sometimes to capture what felt graspable in music easily. So why am I pursuing writing now? Why have I all but given up writing songs? I'm so far behind everyone who spent all these years reading and writing about poststructuralist theory when I was listening to the sound of slamming doors and folding chairs. No, we never had anyone to slam doors or fold chairs—we did that ourselves, hauling our amps, spilling battery acid, thinking one day all this would make a great story if we could ever stop riding long enough to tell it. We were the ones who had to take things apart and carry them away.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Night Watch

Without my camera, I am more in the moment, even though I risk losing those same moment later on. Without my journal, I tend to float through the days, disconnected, less aware, not as intensely immersed in what the various layers of experience can converge into and come to mean. 

Right now I hear the sound of the ice cream man. It makes me think of screen-free week—I think it was April of last year—how at night after dinner we enjoyed the pink trees and read books and one time got ice cream from the ice cream man. Tonight Alex is off playing soccer and his mother is here with me—in the livingroom watching TV—and Alex’s sister took Wally for ice cream all the way down to 16 Handles, a bit of a walk, almost in the Village. And now here is the magical, ever-elusive ice cream man passing right by our house. 

Petra is unbelievably staying in bed—not asleep—but responding to this new round of training very well. I will come and check on her in three minutes if she stays there, no pop-ups or screaming. She is staying there in the bed that she could easily climb out of and she’s not screaming. Just a few nights ago I think it was maybe Sunday night I had had it with the protracted bedtimes and the fact that really the only way she could sleep was with Alex falling asleep next to her so I tried this again (we've "sleep trained" so many times I've lost count but this is the third with this method) and she screamed and protested and kept running out at first and Wally felt so bad for her and said, “She’s just a little girl back there and she’s been moving all around from house to house this summer and she’s not used to it.” I tried to explain to him that I was doing this really for her own good, too, not just my sanity but for her to be able to get enough sleep. It’s so true what one of the baby sleep books said way back when I read them in 2008 that however the baby falls asleep he’s going to need that to get back to sleep in the middle of the night. Is that conditioning? Any of the things we do – at first breastfeeding, or a bottle, or rocking to sleep, singing to sleeping, lying next to – most likely the baby will need those again to get back during the night and that’s going to be a huge problem. There are people I know who haven’t run up against this. One neighbor mom soothes her babies to sleep every night for an hour but after that the kids are down for the count until 8 in the morning or something. 

I have to keep jumping paragraphs in illogical places—I am thinking all in one paragraph these days. I am really so happy these days spending time with Wally and Petra. I’m glad that we have followed through on a lot of the projects we said we would do – like the birdhouse Wally made for my mom and the nature journal and the blue shelves Wally and Alex painted for Wally’s room. I have this problem where I am always too enthusiastic about too many ideas and scattered and starting them all with Wally just the same way I do with my own stuff. It’s crazy. I don’t know why I’ve never been thought of as a distracted person. I think I’m so hyper and distracted and skipping from one thing to the next all the time and so unable to reign myself in and stay small and just move forward at a reasonable pace.

My mother & sister in law left. Both kids are asleep. This is amazing, it’s not even 9 o’clock. The kids are asleep and Alex isn’t home yet. Because I have a babysitter tomorrow I feel justified in not working on anything tonight. It’s backbreaking sometimes, to have to work after the kids go to bed. Especially with the constant nerve-wracking possibility with every passing siren that Petra might wake up.

I kind of miss my grandmother’s couch that was here until a month or so ago. It really needed to go. Still the couch with the mirror and coffee table, those three things remained constant while for seven years nearly everything else in the apartment changed. But that meant that from the right angle it could seem like maybe nothing had changed. I could sit on the couch and kind of sink back in to how it used to feel to be here, and now it's really hard to do that.

Five years ago when I started this blog and was super into it that first summer I remember returning from Virginia for a few days—for my grandmother’s unveiling—and how it was only when I came back from a trip that I could sometimes catch in an evanescent moment the smell that I associated with the apartment. I don't even know what it was, exactly. Every once in a great while I catch like a sliver of that smell, Icy Hot mixed with something else I can't put my finger on, and that's really the only thing that can fully return to me the memory of what it was like to be here in this apartment when it was my grandmother's. Now it's the same place, but not.

I thought the mirror had always been there - but apparently not.

I feel like an adult sitting here now on the couch—is Ikea adult? Maybe not ones our age, but what I mean is it’s a couch we picked out and bought and one Alex carried by himself from the car. God I don’t even remember whose car that was. It must have been the beat-up black SUV we borrowed from Alex’s friend Steve in Queens. He lent it to us one August and somehow we still had it the next August and in between we got the couch and Alex chipped his tooth but he managed to get the couch in here himself.

I feel I guess a little lighter, like adulthood before parenthood, because there is a little bit of time now and it is mine. I think I’ve said this before but what a co-worker once warned me about vacations with kids is true—they’re not really vacations anymore, not in any of the ways you defined them as vacations before. At least not with young toddler about-to-break-everything melting-down-and asking to go to the bathroom 15 times while you’re out at a nice restaurant where you shouldn’t have brought kids kind of kids. Maybe when they’re more my nieces age, 10 and 11. Which, by the way, how are they 10 and 11? They were little kids. Again something blipped out, and they're not anymore. 

She's up! (Petra) And calling me. There's no way to follow this line of thought, no way to make it into a line of flight.

Most things in our garden died while we were away. Two beautiful zucchinis Wally grew, shriveled up--he never got see them. The rest of the garden is a jungle now, but not our plot, it's completely empty. We had to pull everything out and start again.