Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015

The sky was clear

I am finding it almost impossible to get back into writing on this blog. Every time I'm about to I think -- I can't start again after silence for months with something as mundane as listing strategies for studying while taking care of a 20-month old. (And I don't mean that these are two things you need to devote time to in your life, but actually during, like taking notes Winter's Tale on construction paper while a toddler scribbles next to you, for example). So as is often the case for me I have various pieces...a post I started...pages in my journal...notes in marker on construction paper...and I can't seem to compile them. I mean literally I can't get them all in the same place at the same time. 

Like right now she is napping in the room where I left the journals and the paper. Petra is right now screaming Mommy, Mommy but she woke up too soon from her nap and I'm hoping she'll go back because otherwise she gets up and she's just cranky and miserable so what is the point? So I'm waiting her out but the sound, not fully drowned out by the now inappropriate Sufjan Stevens Holiday album is making me a bit anxious and I'm afraid it's seeping into a rather manic style of writing.

The other day I finally for the first time followed through on my plan from last May to jog from Petra's daycare home. And on the way I was thinking how jogging alone without anything - no headphones, no podcast, no ipod, no running partner, no TV at the gym - is one time you are really forced into contemplation. That can happen with a soundtrack, too, but it's shaped by the soundtrack, whereas without it your thoughts take a more organic path. (The last ten seconds of this song "No One Can Save You From Christmas" sounds like Sigur Rós.) Within a few minutes I was jogging past Arturo's on Houston where I lost my blue sweater after a Kenny's Castaway gig where we first played Return to Guatemala. A few minutes later I passed Carmine street where I lived during 14 years ago with Kara above the UnOppressive Non-Imperialist Bookstore. On the other side are the little parks I played in with Wally last summer in between dropping Petra at daycare before dropping him at the YMCA camp. It was a throwback, to have that time in the playground just the two of us. The MacDougal-Bleeker corner is so depressing. None of the cafes Neeta and I used to love during our winter term are there anymore, and two of the four corners are empty. Next careful not to slip on black ice moved past the cozy top-floor ship-like apartment of my playwright professor from last term, then past Tartine where in spring once I drank rosé with Vince.

I don't know why I'm still listening to a Christmas station on pandora, but I think it has something to do with not recording the events of the past few months. There have been all these things in the past few days too that Wally said that I meant to write down and then when I have the time I can't remember it's just gone. I tell myself it will come back at some other time, but so far they haven't. 

It felt great to study so hard in the fall. I was aware of a lot of pressure and a certain kind of anxiety, but one that is tangible and tolerable. It just became really obvious to me why people pour themselves into their work and how relaxing that is in many ways. How that clear, all-consuming goal is so distracting and makes it much easier to fall asleep.

So I am beginning here again on January 15 an hour before I'll go get Wally from the bus, with Petra back asleep, with my classes just beginning again, with a little bit of time before I head to 17th-century in the Bronx and to Paradise always already lost. A little time before I pack my backs for Carolina. And here, from a few earlier days.

Jan 5

We should probably take our tree down. The Empire State is red and green tonight - I wonder what it's for. Tomorrow is the 12th day of Christmas, right? That might make sense. The Epiphany, Three Kings Day. We never had a tree growing up in our house because we always went to my grandparents'. Or I should say almost never - one Christmas Dara and I were both sick so we did not make it over the river and through the woods. That year I think my parents did get a tree? Or something resembling one. I got the Magical Musical Thing from Mattel. It was amazing. There was one button on there that made a sound exactly like the buzzer to our apartment. Heather and I loved tricking people with it. 

Magical Musical Thing

Last week I brought Wally to that apartment complex. We moved away when I was just about his age. I remember my parents telling us at dinner one night that my mom got a new job (the librarian at our elementary school) and that meant we'd be able to move to a bigger place. I surged up from the table and threw myself down on the floor sobbing. 

Did I already tell that story on this blog? I don't remember now. This spring it will be five years since I started it and lately, clearly, I've lost any kind of continuous storyline if there ever was one. I don't even know when the last time I wrote here reliably, probably before Petra was born, and she'll be two in April. 

I'm listening right now to the Dublin Gospel Choir sing Oh Holy Night, but I'm also writing. Do you ever sit and just listen to music? Not youtube where you are watching something at the same time and not background music when you're doing something else even eating dinner. Just listening to music. I hardly ever do it, and it's not lack of time. I have time. Keeping up with full time grad school, my graduate assistantship and my kids made it apparent just how much time I do have. 

I have to write the rest of this tomorrow. Something is calling me to send it out into the universe tonight even though it's only just begun. I guess sort of just wondering if I'll hear the echo of my own voice if I do. 

Jan 7
That was two nights ago. I posted it. Then I took it down. Reverted to a draft. It was only a draft, a fragment, a beginning, the part of the blog that after it's posted is the part that should be removed. But removing it would mean finding another way to begin. Because how I begin, most times, is in the present moment. The tree long past its prime (we promised Wally he could have it until the 8th), the white wine my friend brought over this afternoon—"whatever was on sale at Astor Wines"—the sound of Alex reading with Wally. They are reading Amelia Bedelia, which I always pronounced with the emphasis  on the second syllable whereas Wally emphasizes the third. It gives it a completely different sound, less clumsy seeming. 

I'm making sweet potato muffins with a leftover sweet potato from dinner. I felt so bad giving Wally the same sunflower butter half sandwich with a piece of fruit day after day and maybe string beans that never got unwrapped. The muffins were so easy - whole wheat flour, applesauce, a little sugar, cinnamon, vanilla...

The days have been moving at a nice slow pace. Even with company all weekend and various neighbors in and out Sunday and today. I have the evenings to myself mostly now, after cleaning up, various stray items to attend to like anybody else, a check to send or quick grocery-store run. The evenings stretch out ahead of me full of possibility...books or movies or letters or hot milk and early to bed (the last option always sounds so inviting but is one I almost never choose). 

Jan 8
Trying to be adults and get up earlier now. Working out much better except today Wally got up at 5:08, which was much earlier than we meant. We sang together in his bed. I asked him if he remembered when I used to sing him train songs every night before he went to sleep. Then we started singing "I've been working on the railroad" and at one point I thought - it's weird that this song has Dinah in it and so does that song about "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" and he laughed and said that's the same song. 

If you sleep more at night you'll live longer, but does it add up to the same amount of hours awake?

Yes I know, this isn't finished, it's not "ready" to send out, even as a blog post. But I have to send it. Otherwise I don't think I'll ever get myself to begin again. It's the slowest jog wearing pajamas and dirty sneakers where you are already out of breath after 6 minutes and have to stop holding your splitting side before you even get to the place you really wanted to run, the beach or the park or the river, but at least you got outside and started moving, at least you're breathing hard in the cold air, and when you finally catch your breath and look around and look up, the sky is clear.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Early December (whoosh)

A little piece from the vault was published last week in Fordham's paper. I think you can find it here ("We'll Always Have Sung Chu Mei"). Also last week one night I had to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies after the kids went to bed for Wally's school and Alex helped me and we listened to music in the kitchen and I thought wow most every night we are cyborgs listening to separate music but that was so much fun to just be present in the kitchen together making something. It was one of those chop wood, carry water moments and I realized in some ways grad school has removed me even further from those kinds of experiences.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Early September

I wish I had taken a picture of our garden patch at the start. Before and after, or even better, during, to show the progression of it. The chilly, barren April day we first came here to turn the dirt, shrieks of delight from Wally, horror from me, each time we lifted up a worm. We found a little tiny shell once and wondered how it got there - this space was covered by ocean, once, wasn't it? Remembering a plaque from The Museum of Natural History, something about the last ice age, there is a mythic history to every place we are when we are still for even a second to consider it. 

Place-based education. I had been so interested in that a few years ago, when I started this blog, I researched degree programs even (even! As if that shows a major investment). Much further ago than that—my first year out of college—I interned for John Kerry's in Environmental Affairs, writing letters pleading with constituents to accept policy that favored the interests of the whole over the few. I saw how complicated idealism could be, when the rule of eminent domain forced coastal residents from their long-time family homes, when fishing protection acts cost poor working-class fisherman their jobs, the contradictions in every decision. Digital media is better for the environment than the printing press. Yet the loss of books and papers that meant the world to me and so many others, not just the book but the materiality of it too, the text object, it's hard not to mourn that they've gone the way of the beloved album now, leaving us longing for days when words and new albums were something you could hold. Those high school days when breathless almost, flush with excitement, you popped it in the minute you got home from school, with a friend who came over specifically to listen to that album, who could only hear it at your house because she didn't own it, probably would not buy it herself or at least not for a while. Nightswimming deserved a quiet night, music through the windows, nothing less than our lifeblood.

I'm sitting here now in a rare moment - first of its kind - Wally in Queens, Petra in daycare. My intention was to race home to work on an Evaluation Report, yet could not resist this gray day here at the garden, the emptiness of it, the promise.

There is a woman in the garden who used to seethe every time she saw us. Seethe. I could never get her to smile. I thought she must just hate kids running around too loud, always threatening to yank someone else's hard-earned plants. And then one day I saw her reading (a book, full of notes and marked pages and things falling out of it). I commented on it and she stood up, came over, and told me about the series of women writers. Turns out she herself is one, with a recent book published, which I haven't bought yet because it's only available at amazon and Book Culture and I want to buy it at the latter but of course haven't yet. And now I can't even remember the name. Or her name. She told me she writes about how the city as she knew it disappearing. Every day there is another great little store gone, another bank or nail salon in its place. And I worry too much about it, about New York becoming as my dad puts it a Long Island strip mall. But what she does it much better. Much better to write. 

Yet this new New York will one day be longed for. Who wrote this,  "What we mourn our conquerers will one day mourn"? It is from some ancient myth. Another citation I can only gesture at and not actually cite. You can't just reference stuff without saying what you're referencing. But it is that or not write at all. Here. When I say here (in the garden) I also mean, here, on this site. I am still tenuously holding on to whatever invisible lines held me to the imagined fertile ground of this story.

The garden is so different that it was even a month ago. All around us are sunflowers. For a time ours was the lowest garden, just isolated little patches of things: lavender, thyme, beets, cilantro. All so small. Surrounded by overgrown iris and tomato plants. Now it's out of control. We took 8 feet off our pumpkin vine and still it is greedy and everywhere strangling the pole beans and choking off collard green. Two giant sunflower stalks of our own - no flowers yet. Cilantro seeding, beyond the point of eating; Wally now collects the coriander balls. 

Nature is fecund, I keep thinking. It's not the beauty of it that strikes me today, in fact it's almost creepy, the giant pumpkin vines, our "pumpkin problem" as Wally calls it, that started with seeds from Mimi (my mom) which it turns out we should not have planted in July. The pole beans are knocking over the poles, the horrible Ivy in the neighbor's patch, the terrible growth, spreading out in every direction, unstoppable growth. Annie Dillard occurs to me again and again, stalks me, like she stalks the muskrat at Tinker Creek. 

“Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.” 

Children, too. The growth. Just so fast, seeming to accelerate, popping through the knees in their pants, legs shooting out, lying so long in the bed at night...when did they get so long?

By wishing I'd taken pictures am I renouncing my duty to describe the garden? Writing is the task I've chosen, not photography, certainly not art. It was motherhood that gave me something I really wanted to write about, and there was a time a moment there when I thought I could write a mommy blog, when I fumed over the mommy blogs with their 1000s of hits a day. There is one in Oregon - I can't find it now, I deleted the bookmark, it drove me nuts- a woman who wrote about her four children in the most pedestrian, sentimental way, the tears at the birthdays, the view of the gorgeous pine trees from her window. She would just be sitting at her computer in such an overly confident way knowing 1000s were hanging on her every word, hoping she'd steal a moment from her incredibly fulfilling role as a mom making pinterest-worthy cake pops and—

But I realized somewhere along the way that even if I wanted to I couldn't pull it off. But I did want to write and learn to write better. And somehow I found myself now studying literature and craft, which leaves me with less time for motherhood, what is what lead me here. I have got to find the river, I tell myself. The verses are so unpleasant, which makes the chorus all the more gratifying.

One tiny block on 60th street between Central Park West and Columbus is this intersection of three totally different periods of my life, all from recent years, and each day when I get out of the subway I marvel at it. I am walking to Fordham's Lincoln Center campus for my Graduate Assistantship at Poets Out Loud. I pass Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall and I also pass, though unmarked, the sensory gym where I used to bring Wally Monday mornings so he could run and crash and fall into a pit of balls. I was so overwhelmed then. By what? Do we always say that looking back—"I was so overwhelmed then. By what?"

There is the coriander harvest to attend to but that's about it. I don't think we'll get any actual pumpkins this year. Three years ago I "found" the water near where we live. Twenty-two years ago I listened to Michael Stipe sing about how "strength and courage overrides the privileged and weary eyes of river poet search naiveté". Tonight I will listen to "Find the River", on youtube, as I can't even imagine digging out the actual CD of Automatic For the People (so you're just as bad, it's not like you still listen to your own CDs). There was coriander in that song, remember? "There is nothing left to throw of Ginger, lemon, indigo, Coriander stem and rose of hay". I can still feel the song, and still feel the old impulse that drew me to the water and to the poetry set to melody that kept me from really writing in any other way for so many years. 

I should water the garden and get on my way. Late summer, everything is still pushing sideways and upward and around. Soon that will change. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Goodnight air

The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter

If you want go see this exhibit at the New York Public Library before it closes September 7th.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

From Bangkok to Calgary

At just about half past four today it already felt like the day was leaving and I don't know why. I mean, I do know why, because the light is leaving, has been since June, and our apartment faces East, and I keep replaying "I will follow you into the dark" even though I'm not a huge Death Cab fan but my cousin played that song Sunday when we spontaneously stopped by my aunt's house by the beach and it really is a hauntingly beautiful song, better when my cousin sings it than the original. And that means I can't hear the version that is going around in my head. It's there somewhere, but I can't grasp it. It feels spectral. So much felt spectral in August 1999 when I first moved to this city into the apartment on West 87th with no kitchen where Kristin and I spent the evenings awash in toxic fumes from her paints, vodka splashed and I tried to write, our duffel bags and mattresses on the floor in the other room. Just for a short while really until we moved out. So much felt packed--was packed--into those 7 months and now years fly by in the same amount of time.

Other years we have been on vacation toward the end of August, and I think that is the time to be on vacation, because then you still feel that it is summer.

It's okay though that the summer went by in a blink because this time I was awash in Joyce, crickets chirping in that oasis in the Bronx, the late rides home on the D-train, the feminist and post-colonial jargon, my final paper seeping its way into my vacation this year up in Vermont.

For years I've been accused of over-analyzing, thinking too much about what someone said, reading too much into...strange currencies...into a word, a signal, a nod, a little breath...and then I went to get my master's in English...and oh my God, of course, of course that's what all these years in the back of my mind I thought I had to do. 

But it also feel crazy now, to be sorting out schedules constantly with two kids, my nonprofit work, my new poetry job, my new classes about to start. And I think with-- I don't know if it can accurately be called nostalgia? --I think back on days when I actually looked at cookbooks and thought about what I'd make for dinner that night, or clicked on mommypoppins and thought about where I'd take Wally that day. 

Somewhere I fell off where I was processing things though, and that's what I want to get back. I want to get back to where I am feeling and processing things enough and I did that that first year the sangria summer when I started this blog.

I remember nights at my dining room table with the air the perfect spring new air (I'm thinking about many many years ago now, high school) coming in through the window and my books and papers spread out in front of me overwhelming crushes all consuming and listening over and over and over again to "Half a World Away" - "This lonely world is wasted on pathetic eyes" after that I never understood what he said. You know how the chorus is not that satisfying, not very melodic, you just almost can't stand how perfect it is when it swoons back in turn to marigold I always thought, but it's miracle? I haven't watered the garden today we have a pumpkin problem we did not realize how long and greedy the vines were going to be. A pumpkin is not the thing to plant in July in a tiny NYC garden patch.

Back to the vacation timing. I think I didn't realize that by this time even just half way through August everyone is in back-to-school mode. I know stores are, because they want to sell college-ruled paper and compasses. But was everyone always like this so early on? I thought August was legit full summer, but I swear everyone for a good week now has been moaning bemoaning the end of summer. And I think because we were usually up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at this time or at least the back porch in Massachusetts I never until now thought of it that way. 

Last year on this exact day I believe we were visiting my friend Heather and her family, the boys roasting marshmallows maybe at this very minute, Alex and Heather's husband drinking the choc au vin we'd gotten at a roadside store. I got a voicemail on August 21 from a school downtown saying they had a seat for Wally and my stomach was in knots for the entire night trying to figure out if I should keep him at our local school -- community was so important, I'd been talking about it for months, trying to help improve prospects for under privileged students (the majority of the student population there) for nearly my entire adult life -- or send him downtown. It created this haze of the next few days. 

He's in Queens now, where he is king. The house is quiet. I have a chance to work. But the quiet means that my mind stirs. Calgary, that's Canada, right, not a holy place outside Jerusalem where Christ died. 

In all these songs, it's what you think they say or mean that matters. Once you find out the actual words, that can't change the way the song was imprinted in your memory. August was always the hottest month, the longest playing outside after dinner firefly evenings, the lambent, swelling, dog days of our green and crazy summers, even if for days now for all these years we've been slowly tilting away from the sun.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I don't think I am that good at catching people up on what I've been doing. Not keeping people caught up, that elusive covenant of the blog, that I've clearly been terrible at lately, but, after a break, letting them know in broad terms what I've been up to. Like a recap. It feels overly committed and final. My sister has joked for years that she can talk to me for an hour hang up the phone and have no idea that I got laid off from my job or applied to grad school. I am too invested in what's going through my head right now. That's all I usually want to talk about. Not that it doesn't often refer to the past or become completely swallowed up by it but it's all based on what I'm feeling at any given moment.

This morning was madness...bubble solution spilling in the hall, mashed corn muffins, babies wailing, water buckets dumping out, my friend M. leaving with her one and a half year old to go back to Chicago and I just wanted to talk to her for like five minutes, or even just one, but I had to keep chasing Petra and then realized at one point feeling this frustration like there I am out there on the mug in hand...with M. back at my parents' house and then it hit me that, wow, there I was out in the morning sun drinking coffee, that is what I'd wanted so long during vacation that little tiny thing, coffee in the sun, and there in the midst of the chaos and Petra-chasing I couldn't escape from, I escaped.

Four years ago I remember writing in a dark hotel room about the unbelievably sober family reunion going on right that moment. Writing here had an energy and urgency then a feeling like I had (created) some responsibility to report on the goings on in my life - the mystery weddings the unspoken grandmother's unveiling was coming up and after that up to New Hampshire but I'm getting away from what I meant to write about. We just had the same reunion, the same crowd I should say, this time up in Vermont, same crazily hydrated seltzer-drinking Jews but Wally is such a different person it's hard for me to wrap my mind around, not just that he's calmer but I mean he is a person to talk to and relate to and it's like - where did you come from? It's just amazing all these experiences that I remember and he does not but now here he is inside every moment and understanding things in such an intuitive way. 

In the middle of the day I brought W and P to the Acton Library playground and was disappointed to see it had completely changed since the last time I brought Wally there...I was caught in my usual loop, "I can't believe they changed it" (even though even the one I am now attached to is not the one from my childhood) and Wally said, "Change is good" as he scampered off.

I found out yesterday that Sky our (former - don't like to call her that) dog is not doing well and had a series of tests today. I had expected to hear something like this for a few years now maybe she is after all 13. Today I went with W and P to say goodbye to her. It could be that we'll see her again, but I prepared Wally for the high probability that we will not - he is super-attached to her even though he can't possibly remember the 6 months they lived and napped and walked together every day but maybe it was stored somewhere, imprinted. The new owner said she'd let us know tomorrow (about the test results).

Saying goodbye to Sky was so sad. She kept staring at us as we left and I waited and waited because I wanted her to be the one to leave, not watch us, and finally the new owner took her and they went through the door and it closed behind them. Wally looked up at me voice shaking a little at first. "It's okay," he said, "We'll hear about her tomorrow". It was such a hopeful thing to say.