Friday, August 29, 2014

Goodnight air

The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter



If you wan, 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 street...coffee 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 conversions...my 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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014



One of the -- if not the -- hardest books ever written in the English language (topped sometimes by Finnegans Wake but many don't consider that to be written in English and thereby discount it). The hardest (I'm told? I hope?) professor at Fordham for this condensed summer course. Kids with stomach viruses home when supposed to be not home. Late nights, early mornings, lots of time to read and write and so luxurious the green quiet of the campus enchants me a throwback to many many years ago or even just three years ago the idealist fair asking - what do I want to do with my life (held, I believe it was, at the Lincoln Center Fordham campus) and the now cliche aphorism (you don't say cliche and aphorism, one or the other, too late, too many words, too much post-structuralist post feminist marxist jargon--maybe apophthem?) Henry David Thoreau was it or Emerson the high-school yearbook quote I saw yesterday on the side of a bookbag in the store where one day I used to work (not in the store itself but in the publishing house that supplied the store with its material texts): it was really a slightly edited version to be fair "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams...live the life you imagined" and I thought--that always sounded so exhilarating but really it can be so - wow - tiring and kind of awkward and hard - but exhilarating, yes, even though but day to day it's trudging home on the D train swarmed to overflowing at Yankee Stadium at 10:30 carrying far too many books and wondering if there will be anything left at home to eat for dinner and how early I'll wake up to those loud, energetic voices and thinking - what? what? Signature of all things I am here to read...for how much longer, tonight.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recycling Bin Split-Second Symphony

When I dropped the recycling into the bin downstairs the bottles made the sound of the opening drums of “Just like Heaven. So I came upstairs and put on The Cure and that to me is so senior spring from High School, fresh cut grass, our parents' cars, slipping out during study hall to Philip's Coffee even though we didn't drink coffee, blasting The Cure out the car windows, so many promises at the end of high school, in love on Fridays, alone above the raging sea.

That's what made me come here to write, a recycling bin split-second symphony, the only way back into the fantasy world of my blog, a one-time-record of the interrupted life, madly, wildly interrupted in a different way from when I started writing it. Now I am entrenched more seriously in my freelance work, preparing to start grad school in two weeks with a James Joyce summer course, wading through the River Liffey, slipping into Viconian cycles. I have gotten away from writing and reading and thinking about parenting. It’s a topic that I realized sometimes drains me. It means that when you’re not actively taking care of your kids, you are reading about how to do a better job at taking care of your kids. It’s like you’re constantly putting out for others, with nothing filling you back up.

Just over a month ago I put Petra in three day a week daycare, which makes getting into this other stuff somewhat possible if still a bit implausible. I have even been able to wake up before the kids some days and turn to Dublin mid June 1904 with a text that cannot be rushed, cannot be skimmed, summarized, shrunk or scanned in any way. There is no way to condense it, no reward for an attempt to read through and “get the gist of” the single unremarkable day in an unremarkable man’s life that takes up nearly 900 pages in the Modern Library edition my parents sent me. There is only one way to read it and possibly enjoy it: line by inscrutable line.  

The garden too—so much to update, I’m sorry I didn’t record the events of it here because a little garden patch in the city has fulfilled some deep-seated Last American Childhood-like desire held since I first wished here for a patch of dirt and shovel for Wally—has proven unyielding to efforts to hurry it along.

Poetry, all writing, is the same. You have to give it time. Nothing meaningful will come from it otherwise.

Today, returned to the apartment after dropping off both kids to the smell of coffee and fresh cut grass. I am reading Alicia Ostriker who was born in 1937 in Brooklyn the birds are chirping and I think I could spend all day slipping into her dream of springtime.

There are many mornings like this, where I rush in with a surge of energy, newly light, sun poring in and the voices in my head not drowned out by any other demands at least for the walk home. It feels like the hint of another time, another life, where a morning could be spent indulging in whatever that smell of fresh-cut grass and coffee conjures up…a cafĂ©, a journal open on the table, years before I ever drank coffee. Now I run to pull out a book of Billy Collin poems as I find myself:

"buzzing around the house on espresso— 
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,"

But then eventually I go to the computer to confront the daily massive reality of real life in all its bite-size minutiae. Within an instant I’m sunk. Sunk into PTA staff appreciation day, whether Alex can leave work early Thursday to get Wally, health forms I need to send, photos for an ID I need to upload, a rental car I need to reserve, birthday presents I have to buy, a glance at “Fan of Whitney Houston buys her ‘80s mansion” which had “long been vacant”. And then there is the guy who randomly called EvalPros (one of the many names my dad and I have used for our nonprofit consulting work). He is a disabled vet involved in a court case. It has been bobbing around on my to do list, to call him back, but what can we do? That’s not what we do? How can we help him?

But that’s not even accurate, to suggest I am only lost by going into that outer world, because the inner is equally labyrinthine, more so. For example today, four hours after waking up, three train rides and many, many stairs, (both “schools” are at the top of steep flights of them) many head nods and little bits of small talk on the walk back home, wondering about “Tanya” the name on coffee cup in the garbage can on 26th street, whooshing home full of energy, songs or poetry, even a chance rhythm of glass bottles falling into the recycling bin, the voices harmonious, and telling myself I can have just a half hour to write. Okay, here I am, reminding myself of Natalie Goldberg. At my desk, keeping the internet closed, just taking in the smell of fresh cut grass and coffee.

First I think of Edie, a young woman who worked at Wally’s school last year who was suddenly not there for months. In her absence I neglected even to ask about her only half noticing if at all that day after day she wasn’t there. She was not in his classroom, just one of many kind people who worked there. She always said hi and often swooped Wally up in her arms when she saw him. When I did see her again after months of not realizing I hadn’t seen her, she said she’d been in a horrible car crash and almost died now she could not smell or taste. By that time I guess the brush with death had receded far enough into the past that this relatively minor concern had risen to the surface; that was what she focused on. That is what I think first today, when I do even allow myself the luxury of the blank page. Edie, whom I hardly know, with shining black eyes and I think a niece Wally’s age, who cannot smell coffee or freshly cut grass. She is not usually on my mind. But recently someone mentioned Gray Gardens. There is an Edie there, I think the daughter?

Now the sound of the lawnmower outside …which barely registers above the din of the city…din, a word hanging on the wall in Mr. McInerney’s 5th grade class. The lawnmower drove me nuts that sound when I lived in Drummer Farms and otherwise all was quiet on a summer morning. After school was over it seemed to me early and reasonable to get up at 9 and I resented being woken any earlier by that horrible sound.

I want to stay in that spell of "Just Like Heaven", thinking about spring mornings 20 years ago. It's I guess obvious why. I’m setting off once again for immersion in academia, or at least as much immersion as is possible with the school supply list already for next year, the demanding neighbors, the laundry scattered on the floor. I’m not going anywhere, except into my own magic treehouse full to overflowing with books to jump into, no car to blast music out of, but about to disconnect from one world and rush headlong into another.


It was cutting edge for Dartmouth in the fall of 1994, twenty years ago, to require all incoming freshmen to purchase a computer. Here I sit at mine, critical of all the virtual connection it has to offer, yet continuing to find something of value in it, engaged now in a practical search of the most mundane kind, not to read the dour (someone called him that, perfect) but insightful Stuart Gilbert’s thoughts on cosmology and the esoteric in the Proteus episode of Ulysses, but for dinner tonight. I am pleased to see someone in Irvine, California once had the same question as me: Can you peel and cut potatoes and get them ready ahead of time?



Friday, June 20, 2014

Still haven't gotten a chance to write. Better now at making sure I "Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past." (And reading Ulysses.)

Monday, June 2, 2014