Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 11 reasons why having a kid won't save your marriage

1. You can't take a walk or go meet friends on impulse, to blow off steam.
2. You can't say, "I'm just irritable because I'm overtired. Once I get a good night's sleep I'll be okay." I mean you can say that, but you can't reasonably expect it to happen.
3. Before, most time outside work was fun and then every now and then there was an errand to run, a dish to clean or something to worry about. Reverse that ratio.
4. Co-sleeping (a.k.a. The Family Bed)
5. Downtime
6. Privacy
7. Vacations used to be: sitting on the beach for hours, taking a dip every now and then, gazing out at the water, then casually discussing a vague plan for dinner, or drinks first, or maybe a nap. Vacations now: How do we fit this all in the trunk? I can't believe you forgot the sleep machine. Is there a place that sells Children's Tylenol anywhere in this damn state? I really don't want to be "that family" on the train again. Can we have the check please? As soon as humanly possible? Are we having fun yet? Stewardesses handing you whiskey. Realizing you should have put more sunscreen on. Telling strangers, "That will come right out in the wash" or "That didn't look like it would break." You only brought four diapers? For the whole day? How do we get the stroller up there? Should we just go back to the hotel? Sorry, he's not usually this cranky. Oh well, we tried.
8. What a 10-year-old said to me at a bbq a few weeks ago when he saw Alex and I cracking open a few Sam Adams: "If you own a kid, you shouldn't drink wine or beer." Very funny, charming little guy. I don't agree, but you certainly can't drink as much and there's always the issue of getting home and lifting heavy objects and no such thing as "crashing".
9. Candlelight penne a la vodka  ---> Mac & cheese + Sponge Bob
10. If you thought it was hard to agree on where to put your couch and whether to eat whole wheat pasta or plain, well, I can't even get started on this, because suddenly it seems like every waking second you have to agree on how you're going to proceed in life. You cannot do a single thing, even meet a friend for a half pint, without it being discussed and agreed upon. You can, at least, autonomously decide on the kind of beer that goes into that half-pint glass.
11. Overheard:  "They used to be so much fun."

But, all this is not to say that having a kid isn't the absolute greatest thing in the universe. It is. I mean that way of describing it sounds hyperbolically annoying but it really is, I just can't think of anything more incredible to experience. Sometimes I worry my blog makes it sound like I don't feel that way. But my sense is that to let myself feel that wonder and happiness of it I have to be honest about the whole range of experience. And that includes frustration with not knowing what it's like to wake up on my own anymore, because I was done sleeping. Can you imagine what that would be like? To wake up and look around to see what time it is, then pull the blankets up and close your eyes for a little while longer and try to remember your dreams? And I just have one kid. ONE KID. You people with multiple...I don't know how you do it. ("It gets easier." "They keep each other occupied." "I sleep through it.")

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You can’t trick the universe.

I wondered --in dreams, are other people themselves or parts of you? It doesn’t matter, it’s the same thing as in real life – they're both.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lightning is sometimes hard to see by

I am slowly going through the boxes of papers my parents made me take when they moved two years ago. (Wide they have to rush me out of there? Why didn't they have their hands under my chin?) In the Fall of 2008 we rented a car and packed it to the brim with little infant Wally squeezed in the back seat  between my mix tapes and Quadra 605 and papers on The Odyssey. Oh and all the letters from all those years of real correspondence. You will not believe how many I've saved. My parents had held that stuff and more for over 7 years after I left on that Greyhound bus for New York. But now they were moving to a bigger house, and wisely wanted less stuff. In the new house I'd have plenty of places I could stay but no room of my own. Dara and I had always shared the master bedroom, even back in the apartment we lived in before the condo we spent most of our lives. She'd managed to pack up her things, throw most of them out, and carry the rest away I think on her first big post-college move (to Buffalo) and unsurprisingly I never had. Even after having a boyfriend and a baby and eight jobs in NY and a band and most of my adult life spent here, when I slept in that room at 38 D-- Rd it felt like not too many things had changed. Sure they'd moved in the de rigueur empty nest treadmill and my mom's clothes took over the closet and eventually my dad even had his computer set up on my little wooden desk, but I had As I Lay Dying and my Bishop collections up on the shelves, plenty of clothes to wear, jewelry and old chapsticks to dig through, my yearbooks, and Dartmouth memorabilia. Embarrassing to admit but I've never actually read Thomas Wolfe, yet I sometimes disagreed with him: you could go home again. At least for a while.

And though we are in a big apartment by Manhattan standards, the timing was kind of ridiculous. Here's a piece of advice that I think will come in handy: Don't wait for years then finally haul out boxes of stuff you should have taken off your parents' hands after graduation at the same time as you've been recently inundated with bags of miniature clothes and indoor swings and exosaucers and also have your grandmother's belongings to sort through and definitely don't on top of that soon after get laid off and send your winter boots and extra umbrellas and unlabeled cables back home.

Back home. Back to the place that you live, play guitar, make dinner, set up your Ikea bed, raise a family, store boxes of old mix tapes?

My parents only moved a few towns over. So while their main grocery store has changed and they had to switch gyms from a beautiful, almost country club with a fireplace to an ugly, strip-mall operation, and we no longer have a pool to go to in summer, the landscape and points of reference all pretty much the same. Still even remembering to say one town and not the other, especially when the other was not only a town but a whole way of life, a whole world, a childhood, it's weird. The zip code looks wrong. There's no middle-of-the-night motor memory to lead you in the dark. And now I have to catch myself. Change "home" to "my parents' place." Answer "Where will you be at Thanksgiving?" with the name of a town, a few towns over. Sleep on a mattress on the floor and look around for a book I feel like reading which more often than not turns out to be the DSM-IV. Say when something is so wonderfully, unbearably familiar, when the smell of Madeleines is just rushing in from the kitchen, "This reminds me of home" and know that place has no location. That it's in my head.

I am glad they made me take this stuff. It's fun going through it. And it feels good to get rid of most of it. My sister, if she has time to read this, will surely be doing air high-fives to me from Brooklyn. So will Margaret whose world really is lit by lightning now. Maybe the parts we haven't read should remain that way.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fear of asking to be removed from mailing lists

In the category of not wanting to annoy a cashier by giving them a $20 when the total is less than $10, and avoiding returns even to giant stores like Staples even on unopened items, I have to add fear of calling to have my name removed from mailing lists. I always feel a mix of apologetic and defensive. I'm quick to give an email address (real) instead, and explain that I don't like to waste the paper and I'm just so overwhelmed with papers and a baby (toddler now, but baby sounds better) and my grandmother's paperwork that it ends up getting lost in the pile anyway. It's not that I don't support meals on sustainable wheels for minority wildlife, I do, and will continue to, but I don't need the reminders. I don't think it's an exxagerachel* to say the people on the other end sometimes sound quite irritated -- don't they? has anyone else noticed that or do I just always assume the entire world is irritated?-- but no one I've called for this purpose has ever actually grilled me or demanded I make a persuasive case for why I am choosing to no longer receive their catalog, weighed it over and decided he or she could not support it. Does anyone have any to add? By the way I haven't even scraped the surface of my real irrational fears. Okay I'm off to make a bunch of Do-not-call calls now. Gotta psych myself up!

*coined by Alex, can't imagine what inspired it

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Dismantle Your Band

I vaguely knew M. because she worked 2 floors down from me at Barnes & Noble in Managing Ed and was always cheerful no matter how many times we changed the page count or trim size of a book. Joe from Bayonne I knew because he was the drummer in my band and one of my best friends. I went to watch the B&N softball game on the East River sometime in late August of 2006, and afterward a few peeps went out for $3 strawberry margaritas at LIVE and M. was one of them. At one point during a conversation where it came up that M. was single I shouted diagonal across the table in my usual style that she'd be a good match for my friend Joe. Twice I've done this, and in both cases it led to marriage. (To be fair in the other case the two parties had already met and at least one was already attracted to the other.) It wasn't until October 20 I think that Joe and M. finally went out for dinner. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day I met my cousin Leah, the re-organizer, coiner of the term "fomo" and Life in Gratitudes author. Leah was over that night and we were all having dinner with Alex and Miriam. Of course Leah and I had known each other since childhood, but that was the day she crossed over to a friend and not just someone I saw at bat mitzvahs and funerals whose mom grew up with my dad, who looked like me, who lived sometimes on MacDougal Street and sometimes in London.

The reason it crossed over to friends mode was this: Joe from Bayonne swung by Miriam's after his first  date with M. from my office. Joe, Alex and I drove down to drop Leah at MacDougal but all four of us ended up getting a drink. Later that night Joe drove Leah to catch a 5 AM flight out of Newark only to arrive there and find out it was a 5 AM flight out of Laguardia. They turned around and swung back under two rivers and she made it on time. It did not seem, for a few weeks, that anything was going to come of that dinner with M. But by mid-November it turned out that Joe and M. were in fact "together" and as things got better with Joe and M. they got much worse with Joe and Alex and me. Joe's "I'll be there in five minutes" turned into an hour or two, or not coming at all. Not a Yoko Ono thing, just a shifting away from one priority to another. Joe had always been so torn, and I guess he didn't have to be torn anymore. And I guess too that his outrageously grand dreams for Dimestore Scenario began to appear to be what they always were, outrageously grand, so even though we finally put out our EP in January, we played our last show together at the Delancey in March.  When we said goodbye at the Williamsburg Bridge Joe's suit was hanging down from the window in his car; he was headed upstate for a wedding the following day, friends of his new girlfriend. It was clear which way he was going. I had thought that things could maybe gradually come to a close with lots of red wine stained evenings and sad renditions of "Ozone Fantasy" and teary walks in the park together with Sky but as it happened I did not see Joe, Joe from Bayonne who at that time I saw just about every waking hour, again until I was 8 months pregnant the following winter. He had been one of the only everyday friends I had in New York. The ones that you hang out with until 3 in the morning and then still email first thing  as soon as you get to work. The ones who accompany you to do laundry, who know what your nieces are wearing for Halloween, who come to family dinners, who are equally close to your boyfriend as to you.

In the middle of October 2007, just one year almost exactly from that night when there was no question at all that of course Joe would come by and pick us up after he had dinner with M., I was walking with my dad up the hill of an apple orchard near where I grew up. Actually I think it was the day of the picture of me near Bursaw's with the leaves all in full color that I stuck in at the end of the Move to Texas post. I wasn't pregnant from the back yet but from the front I clearly was. So I was huffing and puffing up that apple orchard hill and my dad and I were both sad about the dissolution of the band and the friendship with Joe from Bayonne. "It was his dream," I kept saying. "His, I mean mine too, but he was the one that pushed, that believed in it so much, that seemed to think that the sun rose and set with Dimestore."

There were apples scattered over the ground and they crushed easily under our feet. The light was hitting straight through up there, but it was a weak October sun and on its way down. "Where is that other Joe?" I asked. "The band was so who he was. It was such a dream of his--why couldn't he do both?" My dad didn't answer for a while. I walked a little bit ahead of him further up the hill. "It was a great dream to have," I heard him say a few minutes later from somewhere behind me, in front of me, really, since I'd have to turn around soon. Playing in a rock band was a dream of mine too, for as long as I could remember. I was four months away from having a baby. I agreed with my dad, it was a great dream to have, to have had. But I wasn't ready to stop walking long enough to answer, to take in the changing view, to turn around and begin the descent.

I think I do say "Screw you" constantly, in my head. Kind of a perverted version of "Keep your f*cking wrench" cited by Hawkeye a while back.

Friday, September 24, 2010

You're okay but I'm okay only if you say so

As I send off yet another ridiculously long email explaining why I am choosing not to say yes to an event a friend invited me to, something is finally made clear. It's not that I can't simply say, "No thanks, sorry." I am semi-capable of doing that, on a good day, sort of. The therapist M. that I saw for 3 months last year once asked me to practice saying the word "No" in her office.
("Can you say that word out loud?"
"No, I can't."
Awkward laughter. A ticking clock.) I run into her fairly often at Whole Foods or Duane Reade. There's no acknowledgement on either side, protocol I guess for her. Still I feel totally jittery until we part ways. Which is how I feel walking by the vendor I used to buy coffee from. Or the lady who once I think once gave me a stare down in the laundry room. My dad's cousin Suzie once said I remind her of a friend who felt awkward running into a guy who had mugged him. "What should I say?" the friend asked.

Back to mothers sending back all your invitations (free Three Muskateers bar to the first reader to name that song). I am unsettled when I say I can't do something. If the person says, "Why not? But I thought you loved them (a certain band)" I feel I need to explain that I do, but there's some other totally valid and acceptable reason why I won't be joining them. It's not that I can't turn something down, it's that I'm not comfortable with being a person who turns things down without a good reason. I want permission from the other person that it makes sense, that my reasons are good. Reasons, mind you, not for adopting a 12-year-old or quitting my job or moving to Japan but for not going to see let's say The Dismemberment plan next January. Oh, by the way, Jim pointed out that you know you are old when your favorite bands from college are playing reunion tours with expensive ticketmaster prices which I thought that was a great--if cringe-inducing--point.

Anyway, the reasons for not going to almost anything at all have to be irrefutable, the argument has to be airtight. That need for constant validation. Not validation as in "You're great, you're amazing, you're intelligent" but "You're not a jerk." "You're not selfish." I used to even go so far as to not want to meet at places near me even if the other person, who lived further away, suggested it because I didn't want it to look like, "Wow, that was convenient for Rachel. She sure does what's good for her." With invites, I could simply say no, but I'd fear the person's response would be, "Screw you." In the case of a wedding, maybe it would be. But in the case of most of these situations that I struggle over, Sunset Yoga or drinks in Williamsburg, it would not. So I have to ask myself, would *I* think Screw you? Is that what I think when I ask someone to do something and he or she can't or won't or doesn't want to or "might have in-laws in town that weekend" nevermind the in-laws live in New Rochelle. [Just remembered a funny moment from about 8 years ago. My friend Evening, the one I'm right now on a bus headed to DC to visit, and I were coming out of the subway in front of Dizzy's in Park Slope. We ran into a vague, tangential, friend of a friend who invited us to a party she was having in a few weeks, without specifying the date. Evening's response "I think I have something going on that weekend". Nobody mentioned the fact that we hadn't established which weekend was in question. That was the end of the conversation.]

Last year I wanted to get out of going to a super late party that I had only half agreed to attend. The host didn't care one way or the other, it was one of the people I'd planned to go with. I realized I couldn't go to a midnight party and then be up for the day with Wally at 4. It just wasn't fair to him or me. It was not healthy. He was too demanding. (Sometimes, when caring for Wally during his more taxing periods, I found myself wincing as I quoted Sarah Palin to myself, "You can't blink".) Anyway, the friend kept coming back with why I should go and how it wouldn't work for her if I didn't go. My feeling was she wouldn't let me out of it. She wouldn't let me feel it was okay, that I was an okay person, a decent human being, if I said no. The upshot was the party she went to beforehand lasted too long for her to make it to the midnight party. So it wasn't a "growth opportunity" for me. It was a passive retreat.

Now, before you start throwing tomatoes at me for being so ridiculously afraid of not meeting other people's needs, you should know that my mom recently refrained from calling neighbors to ask them a question about a favor she was doing for them, because they "might be watching TV." We laughed but realized she was not kidding.

"Is there anything at all it would be okay to interrupt?" We asked her.

She thought about it for a while but couldn't come up with anything.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Triple Date

Today was a good day. We finally had a triple date with new neighborhood friends (who are, of course, planning to move, maybe to Brooklyn, maybe to Seattle--really, those are their choices.) Actually the great thing was that it was not a date. Those don't work with kids. Nothing with a definite time or place seems to. This was just me emailing an hour or so after Wally woke up from his nap that we were going out to do some errands and would end up at the playground and that my cell phone wasn't working and my home phone wasn't working but hopefully we'd see them there because that's where they usually go at that time. The 3 of them showed up, and Alex came too, after the gym. Wally chased their little guy E. and E. impressively dribbled a ball for quite a long time and sometimes passed it to me. The best part was near the end when it was kind of last call on the playground -- last chance to go on the slide or play with someone's doll stroller that he or she was going to bring home. It was getting dark (there's never much sun on that playground to begin with) and only Wally and E. were up on the playground structure, running back and forth. Every now and then, at regular intervals, they'd stop. Wally would sort of kiss E.'s arm, then E. would take Wally's face and hold it, then finally they'd hug and smoosh their faces together for a minute. The mom tried to take a picture--we were desperate to have one. It was too sweet, too wonderful, the kind of thing you can never capture--but she said they all came out blurry. Even though we might remember it and they never will, it was their own little moment, not ours. The best thing we could do was watch and laugh. And feel amazed that sometimes the playground really is fun, even with toddlers, even with potential disasters and irritated parents lurking at every turn. I don't know if I can use their real names or not. Probably not. Maybe they have cool code names I can appropriate. Anyway, they're moving soon. One day they'll look at the picture with Wally in it and say, who was that kid again? I kind of remember him. No name will come to mind. They'll shrug and click to the next picture and then check email and maybe head out to the local park.

Sending in photos

Just wanted to say that if you've sent in a photo and you don't see it on the slideshow from yesterday, let me know. Some went to Spam, so I just want to be sure I didn't miss any. Keep them coming!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Red Alert: That's fingerpaint, not toothpaste

I need some kind of label for posts that are totally mom-in-sweatpants--nursery rhymes playing--non-washable crayon drawings on the wall--kids screaming--phone ringing but no one can find the phone type of entries. The ones that someone who is not a mom or dad or caretaker and not planning to ever be one would need toothpicks in order to read (to hold their eyes open).

I like to write those sometimes, but I also want to have a disclaimer about them. Because I know it's like
Oh God shoot me why would I care about cup-holders in strollers? But, I have to admit, now that I have crossed over to adding to the problem of overpopulation, I do kind of like a lot of the blogs and articles that talk about all the daily minutiae of sippy cups and witching hours and 5-minute-quick and healthy dinners that your kids might actually eat.

Any ideas? I thought of Toddler Time but it sounds overly upbeat and generic and weird, plus it's used for just about every toddler dance and sing class on the upper west side. Or should there just be like a warning at the top of each? For example yesterday's I would put in that category. Let me know if you think of anything. And those of you without kids who aren't planning to back up your hard drive (stole that from Ivan), let me know how you feel. Can you stomach hearing about potty training or does it make you want to run for the porcelain bus?

Ladies & Gentlemen, Children of All Ages! Forget the tightrope walkers and the fire-eaters, You've never seen this before!

About three months ago we finally switched from a baby stroller to a toddler stroller, the red McClaren hand-me-down from my sister that got recalled for amputating fingers (we got the safety covers, so no experimenting there). Upside: smaller, lighter to push, feasible for me to carry up and down subway stairs by myself with Wally in it. Downside: No cup holder (for me, W can hold his own damn cup), can't pile groceries in basket underneath (too small), and Wally can grab everything in arm's reach. That radius extends to the funny/charming: a Three Musketeers bar which I find after we're out on the sidewalk and return to the counter, always hoping someone else will find it funny too (no one does), to the infuriating: shiny police cars and fire trucks otherwise known as instant temper tantrums, to the downright hazardous --glass tomato sauce jars and the like.

In this toddler stroller, Wally currently has two modes of transport. The first is to bend all the way over and grab the wheels with his hands while chanting, "gonna get hurt, gonna get hurt". (I think I should do a whole list of translations because "gonna get hurt" in toddler world, or at least sensation-seeker toddler world, is basically "Step right up".) This morning Wally got yelled at by a scary drunk guy to "Sit up sit up sit up" when he was bent over in that fashion. I felt like maybe I should be say something back, but I also figured the guy might just be trying to help. After all, it was clearly asking for an accident. And I can't fault Wally too much. I was 12 when I figured out the sound of my jelly shoe (with my foot in it) made a pleasing sound when I stuck it into the front wheel of my 10-speed going fast around a curve on Drummer Road. I did it again and again, until my foot finally caught and I went spinning head first over and splat on the sidewalk, bike on top of me, leg twisted into the spokes of the wheel. And I know, I know, I can't fault Wally at all. He's 2. I'm the mom who "can't control her kid" which is another reason I appreciated the scary stranger taking notice. I thought Wally might listen better to him than to me. Outcome: no change.

The second mode is standing up (still strapped in) walking with the stroller attached to him. Today it was the stroller and two giant canvas bags of groceries, heavy stuff like a gallon of milk and OJ and beer. What happens is I'll sometimes "park" Wally like five feet from a counter in a small store (hardware store today) so there's lots of arm's-reach clearance. I stand over by the counter, that is, five feet from Wally. But just as the guy is handing me the copies of the keys I asked for, a miniature person grabs my legs and says, "Hi Moma." Sometimes he scoots over, you know sort of pumping your legs so you inch forward bit by bit. But usually he simply walks. He does it on the sidewalk too. And he really makes tracks, I'd say he sometimes gets up to a good 4 mile/hour pace that way. Similarly the weighted vest we bought which was supposed to slow him down and "ground" him did the opposite. His energy spikes every time he puts it on. The added challenge is just a thrill, which is a good way to live. Could have saved $107 figuring that out though by tying soup cans onto a vest he already had.

When Wally walks that way, pulling the stroller behind him, people take notice. They laugh and comment, even in New York, even in the city that didn't look twice at my dad wearing womens' yellow, flower pajama bottoms to a bar on 23rd street, to play POOL, he reminded me, after I wrote that post, not simply to duck his head and slip into a booth and order a Bass Ale, wallflower style. No, to strut around in the wallpaper pajamas calling shots and shooting 8-ball with my brother-in-law. Still no second glance. But Wally walking himself around in his toddler stroller is a real sideshow. Might as well step right up.

Dragons live forever

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Send me your photos

Maybe you know that someone named Garbage Guru's Wife who writes understanding comments and tells funny stories succinctly wrote this a few days ago: "As you titled this the Last American Childhood, I assume you are trying to connect everything either to your youth or raising your son, kind of a parallal universe thing."

She is right that I had some vague intention of connecting things. But for now, separate from me, and separate from Wally (although those have been by-in-large the dominant subjects of this blog, "It's all about me folks!") what do you picture when you hear the phrase, "Last American Childhood"? Does it conjure up anything for you? Climbing trees? Making forts? Having tea parties? Kids not doing those things anymore? Lakes that aren't safe to swim in? Forests that we imagine aren't safe to wander in? Little kids who aren't allowed to get dirty, who have to learn Mandarin by the time they're 3? Maybe it’s little girls catching giant bubbles. Scrappy, Tom Sawyer boys covered in paint. (Or the other way around.) Abandoned bikes by the side of the road. Hulu hoops and hopscotch. Your grandfather fishing. A sled named Rosebud. Hopi children playing with dolls. Your mom on a backyard swing. Your kids eating ice cream on a blistering hot day. Or an empty playground.

I'm hereby requesting you send in something visual--a photo, painting, sketch, collage--to illustrate what that phrase means to you. You could take a brand new photo today or scan in a disintegrating one you peel out of an old album. Send credit info with permission for it to be posted on this site. We can use a fake name if you'd prefer.

You can send it here:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Setting Out for Ithaca

Being in the moment with a 2-year-old requires tuning out a lot of other stimuli, a lot of have-tos and shoulds and want-tos. Lately I find myself cheerfully waiting while Wally sits on the potty saying, "agua coming" and absolutely no agua comes. (Of course it does, in a flood, the minute he stands up and walks off.) But when I'm not rushing, not worried about cleaning the house for company or anxious about meeting a deadline, it's fine. I tell him we'll try again tomorrow. Tomorrow he'll wave again, with surprise and delight, at the little curly-head boy in the mirror. He won’t think it's strange that the boy looks just like him. That he waves at exactly the same time.

Locating all the obsessive thoughts on this blog takes them out of my head. They don't have to spin and spin. They're not final but they're trapped. I can move on. I like the chance it gives for others to say, "You're being ridiculous" or "I would never think that" or "I feel that too" or "I can completely relate." It's all great. (And I don't mean that horrifically phony "It's all good" which always sounds like you are gritting your teeth and clenching your hands under the table.) I mean it's helpful. It's part of a dialogue that I no longer have running through my days the way I did in the past. Which leads me to that cringe-inducing statement I try to avoid: "Having a blog makes you feel less isolated."

It sounds small. Sounds like a Jell-O party. A mom's group with moms you don't like. Freshman fall mixers. Yet posting here helps me to stay focused on "real" writing, has allowed me to slowly, eyes squinting as if into a solar eclipse, face the unwieldy drafts of my two novels, which always call to mind Jay Gatsby's "giant incoherent failure" of a house on West Egg. But more important than breaking through a sense of isolation in the day-to-day (and the desperate feel that conjures up) the blog has helped me be less isolated from the people in front of me. Less separate. Less of an island. (Isolated, from the Latin, to be made into an island.) I don’t feel as much of the push and pull of life in New York. The tug of wars I'd always imagined going on in every conversation, usually with me losing, without the other person knowing there was even a tug.

I have always had to write. I don't understand not doing it. How do you make sense of things without it? I know some people reading this think --how can you make sense of things without knowing where your mailbox key is? Without religion? Without baking fresh pumpkin bread? Without having a meaningful career or a complete set of china or studying the natural world or tending a garden? And I can imagine a compelling argument for the life-blood importance of all of those pursuits.

I just happen to have that dedication to words on paper. It feels like a deal I made a long time ago, in kindergarten maybe, when I first began the painstaking process of inscribing tiny symbols on nearly weightless piece of dead wood. Now I clatter away on the keyboard, in a dark room, face lit by an unnatural blue light. It's making good on that promise, to use those symbols to try to make sense of what is dark and tangled, to try to give purpose and shape to the things that feel meaningful but aren’t clear. I like the idea of having a document, real or virtual, that says we were here, singing showtunes on the steps of the Chin-Rub (Liz, I had forgotten Mailman called it that, but I'm glad you reminded me), that we broke out “See You Boys” at Elinor's wedding, that we had late-night jams in the basement of Panarchy, that we made lists of ridiculous corporate-speak and named it vobabulary, that we drank wine and wrote poetry on rooftops, that we got caught in a lightning storm on the Plains of Abraham, that we sat on the Green at midnight and spoke until our throats hurt, that on workdays we played 1 AM gigs at Trash Bar then came home and made dinner and said, "As long as I'm in bed by 5, I'll be okay", that we broke painted doors in half in the rain and each took one half home, that we drew little towns in the sand at the beach, that we lined up to ride pogo-balls at recess, that we went down to the lake to swim at night, that we screamed in the cafeteria over politics, that we did fake falls in my parents' backyard, that our whole lives we loved a little house called the cottage and then one day we had to give it up. It's like engraving your name into tree trunks. In a few years, it won't mean much of anything to anyone. But for now it's a marker, a record, a sense that we did not simply live a Raisin Bran existence.

But not just that. Not just a virtual yearbook or scrapbook or collection of memories. That would mostly only matter to the people who know me. Can it also be one of those orange flags you wrap around a tree that says -- this is the path we took and we're hoping it's the way out?

If we don't keep twisting and tripping and untangling ourselves in the direction of the light, if we can't take the time to figure things out, if we can't say -- that makes sense but that does not -- if we can't write -- I'm glad I stood up for myself this time, but that time I was stubborn, small-minded -- if we can't see that we're getting better in some ways but worse in others, if we're so caught up in which way other people are going or telling us to go that we can't stop long enough to look at the direction of our own shadows, if we keep circling around and around the same tree, if we look down at the ground and things aren't growing, if we keep seeing that same orange flag, if the light is fading, if we're not covering any new ground, if we're not moving forward, then we're lost.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I heard Austin is a really great town

This is advice I've received lately about the blog (sorry, didn't mean for this to be, as Alex puts it, "artsy-confusing, totally incoherent." The first 3 comments were posted prior to this clarification).

1. Post at least once a day.
2. Don't post random thoughts or rough drafts of stuff. Work on each piece until it's a finished essay. Only post every once in a while.
3. Don't talk anymore about sensory integration disorder.
4. Pick a centralized theme and stick to it (motherhood, memoir, music, running, NYC stuff).
5. Read more.
6. Twitter out when you have a new post.
7. Do more to promote it.
8. Don't make yourself sound like an as*hole or a bad mother.
9. Try to get one main point across in every entry (the same point each time, a la Free-Range Kids).
10. Shorter posts.
11. Longer posts.
12. Answer the comments. [Thank you for that! You're completely right. Will try to be better about it.]
13. Alex is not always the zen master you portray him to be.
14. Add more day-to-day narrative.
15. Take out the day-to-day updates and keep it more abstract.
16. Don't give people too much info about yourself -- they'll use it against you.
17. Invite discussion.
18. What actually happened with your job? band? Joe from Bayonne? Sky?
19. Can't tell when you are kidding or serious.
20. Don't listen to what others tell you to do. (Is this a logical fallacy or liar's paradox kind of thing along the lines of: "This statement is false"?)
21. Keep all lists in multiples of 10.
22. Do more newsy-up-to-the-minute blog posts with links to other sites, twitter comments, updates, etc.
23. Add more pictures.
24. The pictures are distracting.
25. Branch out.
26. Narrow the focus.
27. Don't use my real name.
28. Don't be too honest.
29. Move to Texas.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why is that important?

I finally got up the -- I don't know if you'd say "guts" -- more like hutzpah? -- to start posting my blog posts on my Facebook account. I guess overcoming the embarassment of it -- the self-promoting
aspect -- the idea that you can't both constantly make fun of FB and use it for your own evil ends. But anyway, I'll see if I can get away with it.

After three months of keeping up this blog, more or less, it feels like what someone, somewhere, after a few glasses of Prosecco (**acceptable pre-noon drink) could call a legitimate beginning of something. Well maybe not legitimate, but a beginning nonetheless. Not just one or two entries scattered out over half a decade. So, we'll see where things go from here. Or we won't. Have you tried the Hide feature on FB? It's fabulous. Stop seeing updates that irritate you. If you want to, stop seeing mine.

In other news, I just found out I'll receive credit as a contributor (one of two names after the "with" on the cover) of a factoid book I wrote a few sections of for HarperCollins. Why is that important? It's not really. It just gives me a little more observable data to point to when asked what exactly are these vague projects I'm working on (most are behind-the-scenes work for hire, which can sound a bit dubious). I can't argue that it's important to be recognized for pointing out that Henry David Thoreau was born David Henry Thoreau or that the Spanish brought marijuana to America in 1545 or that it was illegal for a time to swim in Australia during the day. But it's reasonably interesting cocktail chatter I suppose.

"Why is that important?" ---This is a question the mother of one of my best friends would often ask in response to almost any story that emphasized public affirmation or rebuke. Why is it important to get attention like that? And we'd feel sheepish and schlumpy and bow our heads and admit that you're right, you're right, we shouldn't want that attention for carrying rocks down the high school hall or singing happy birthday with barbershop harmonies to our chemistry teacher or wearing cheerleader sweaters or sucking inordinate amounts of helium and shrieking Desolation Row on the Porter Square platform, waiting for the last commuter train heading home. (It was just odd luck that the father of that same friend was taking that exact 11:11 train.) I don't know what the answer is. We never felt that we did it for the attention. But if it wasn't for the attention at all, why was it often so public? Why did it have a testing feel to it? There's just something oddly satisfying and liberating about it. I guess like Rhonda said about her life which is not open to too many people. It's --this is what I am -- this is what I feel like doing. I'm not going to apologize [or hide from it, except in parentheticals].

And there's an element of having too much energy around it. Not energy to accomplish something worthwhile, necessarily, (although that aforementioned amazing friend of mine absolutely did) but just this frenetic, pulsing-to-get-out feeling, which drove me to write songs, to write stories, to play music, to keep pushing the issue, to keep walking deeper into the park with Sky on snowy nights, to keep talking when I should have given up or gone to bed or both, to keep wondering what would happen next, to keep doing whatever I possibly could do to keep the story from ending.

"When I see you in my dreams, you're always little."

My friend Miss Charming Melodee made two beautiful little kites with neon colors. She was inspired by a woman she saw making them in Berlin. We flew them out by the river last night. The heart-shaped one had a really good ride. At one point the two swooped and spun around each other. Passers-by on the pier were amused, confused, but somehow no one got tangled up (in blue). I said I felt like we were kids, flying kites after dinner. She agreed, but said this time we were big and the kites were small. Miss Charming Melodee gave me the heart-shaped one to take home to Wally. I started to walk home along the river, but it was dark by then and it began to seem like there was nobody out there walking but me, so I cut over to Broadway, and took the 1 train home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I think (way too much about dumb stuff) therefore I am (neurotic)

One friend wrote today and said I must be exhausted thinking about stuff this much. And I am. I am.

Although I'm obviously used to it. And used to being around others like me. First of all Jews. I guess after 6,000 years of not being liked it makes sense that we're desperate to curb the tide of that disapproval. And second, I often have a lot to relate to with people who, like me, leave every conversation thinking, "Oh God, was that the wrong thing to say?" so we tend to attract each other.

But I'm not only Jewish--I'm only half (or to some people, not at all. Just ask the Rabbi from Jersey we once found in the studio--sitting on an amp he'd brought to trade that night--playing guitar and speaking Portuguese with Alex). Growing up, I always thought of myself as half-Irish, half-Jewish, in an uncomplicated way. We celebrated Hanukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter. We lit a candle on Yom Kippur. We didn't speak Hebrew and we didn't say the Lord's Prayer. Heather called every night of Hanukah and asked me what I got (though by the 5th night or so it had usually dwindled down to a sparkly pencil or something equivalent). We made Christmas cookies and sang carols. My 10th-grade ethnic heritage pie chart was actually much simpler than most people's. Half and half. Some kids had 16 slices. Half a dozen squeezed in a Mohican great-great-aunt or uncle.

It was only in college that I became identified as Jewish. My name is Rachel Federman. I look Jewish. I walk into a room sliding against the wall, eyes down at the floor. Many of my friends were what would be considered "minorities" and I became one as well.

Anyway it was my mom, from that good, non-neurotic, guilty but silent, I said I hope the road-rises-up-to-meet you and I meant it stock, who reached her limit one night about a decade ago when she was trying to sleep but could hear my dad and I talking in the basement (through the heating vent). It was close to midnight, the conversation had gone on for an hour at least without making much progress. When one of us launched into the 10th round of "Then again, maybe what he meant was..." my mom screamed out, "Make it stop, make it stop!" We later asked if she was annoyed that the noise was keeping her up. Not at all. It was the conversation itself, it just didn't sound like it would ever, ever end.


We haven't made many changes to the apartment, but Wally did a little redecorating last night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No thanks, that doesn't sound particularly interesting and I don't like you enough to take time away from reading people's Facebook status updates

I have a question: What is the best way to turn down an offer or invite for something you don't want to do?

Until about two years ago, I always thought if you could potentially squeeze something into your day you should. Even if it inevitably led to misunderstandings and sprints down subway stairs and headaches and panic over being late. I thought when someone said, "Can you go to the movies Saturday?" that, unless you'd be in another country or giving birth or at a wedding or funeral during that exact time the movie was showing--unless you literally could not go--the answer was yes, you could and therefore you would.

I figured out finally that wasn't always true, that you were allowed to not want to do something. But then I ran into trouble over what exactly to say when that happened. We're all taught to give polite excuses, along the lines of "I'd love to but I have a lot of work to do tonight" or "That sounds great but I have out of town guests."

The excuse can be adorned with all kinds of peppy and misleading phrases: Next time. Too bad I didn't know about it sooner. If there's any way I can get out of x I will. Let me try to make it work; I'll let you know if something changes.

The more specific and testable the better -- I'm meeting Kristin. It's my dad's birthday. I have after- work drinks. Those kinds of reasons leave the inviter feeling disappointed, but not dejected. Even a vague excuse can sometimes do the trick: "I don't think I can squeeze it in" is often acceptable, without reference to what would potentially get squooshed. It's assumed to be something legit like work or dentist appointments and not simply reading In Touch magazine and ordering Chinese food.

What all these excuses have in common is the suggestion that you would if you could. Saying yes might be your first choice, but you don't feel that you have a choice. All the polite excuses, even vague ones, imply that you're not allowed to make your own decisions about how you spend your time. So is the best approach to say that since your free time is limited you'd rather do something else with the person? (Unless you'd rather not see that person at all, in which case it becomes a much bigger problem.) Recently my friend Ivan said he doesn't want to keep saying "I didn't call because I've been so busy with work" or "Sorry I haven't called you back, there's been a lot going on" but just, "I didn't call because I didn't call." [He also pointed out that people don't need a reason that makes sense for why you didn't do something, but any reason at all, even something totally unrelated, like your girlfriends' best friend is moving to Paris. "Oh! Okay, now I get it."]

So -- recently I began to try for more clarity, fewer excuses, more "ownership" over decisions. But I've been so clumsy about it. I liked something my friend H. said to me a few months ago: "I won't be joining you." It works for short-term plans. But I tried it today in regards to a trip overseas and it sounded ridiculous. Like a computer.

"Would you like to go to Italy with us?"
"I won't be joining you."

Alex has a friend who used to say, in response to anything that involved opening his wallet, "Guy, I don't have the money." Alex would point out that he'd just spent $80 on a Metallica concert and they were only talking about getting a $3 beer. The friend now obligingly offers a revise: "I don't have the money for that."

Recently H. asked me about going to a Shonen Knife concert. I responded that I appreciated the invite and would like to see her soon but, "That's not something I would prioritize doing."

Again, robotic. Laughable. My friend H. understood what I meant but said she thought it could across as rude. She suggested saying something about not wanting to pay that much to see that particular band. It's better than saying you can't afford something, which in most cases, for most people I know, isn't true, but either way I usually feel references to how much something costs sound critical. I guess we all have our own idiosyncrasies about what feels right and what doesn't when we're being turned down.

Then again any excuse at all leaves an opening for a comeback. But -- you had time to call back your sister. But -- the birthday party won't last all night and we can meet after. But -- I can lend you the money. I don't know who said this, but my friend at work used to quote it all the time, usually in reference to coming back mildly buzzed from a 3-hour lunch: "Never explain, never apologize."

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Can you give me examples of clear, straight-forward, self-actualized answers that come across well, in word or in print or both?

Can we, like tired 2-year-olds, look someone point blank in the eye when he or she asks if we'd like to go to the park and unapologetically tell them we don't want to?

Instead of giving excuses, can we simply be excused?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11

Buried in the top drawer of my dresser at home is a tiny little pink plastic cup, one that collapses, with worn-off gold metallic printing on the lid. I picked it out when I was four years old, from a little spinning souvenir rack covered with magnets and key chains. I had just come inside from the 107th floor observation deck of a new building, one just about my age.

My sister was still out on the deck, looking through the binoculars. When she came in, cheeks flushed from the wind, I showed her the little pink cup, how quickly it opened and closed. She read the printing on the lid ---Top of the World. “Are we really on the very top?” we asked our parents. They smiled. “Just about.”

Who wouldn’t have felt, looking out at the “air bridged-harbor that twin cities frame”, that the world was windy and infinite and that they were on top of it? Who wouldn't have believed that enchanting stories had been and would continue to be written against the backdrop of that dark ocean and that endless sky? Who wouldn’t have agreed, standing at the top of that impossible building, that impossible dream of glass and steal, that they lived at an amazing time in an amazing place, that anything really was possible, that the whole unreal and radiant city stretching out in every direction below them promised incredible things?

And yet I couldn't stop playing with the little pink cup, on the elevator ride down, on the taxi ride home, and later that night. Strange, that childlike sense of wonder, that looks with almost equal regard on a beautiful wide sky and miniature stretching city, on a fairy tale building so tall it scraped that sky, and on a little plastic cup found at the very top. How easily it collapsed in on itself, and rose back up each time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Get on with things

I thought I was posting too frequently. But now I am being criticized for not posting often enough lately (which is a good thing to be criticized for). Alex made homemade pizza tonight. Wally has a little fever but is in a great mood. My dad's here to help us go through my grandmother's stuff. I finished the revisions for my Jell-O Shots book today. Should be in stores -- Urban Outfitters first -- for spring. The photographer came a few weeks ago and carted all the leftover alcohol away. Made Sangria one last time tonight but it didn't work. Past end-of-summer feeling. Onto early fall. Feels like pushing iced coffee and tank tops too far into September. Give it up already. Get on with things.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brooklyn Swingers

There are a number of odd things about this photo -- first no one knows whose wedding that bride and groom piece is from, and second why am I posting it on my blog while Yani is out on the porch describing his theory about aliens in ancient Egypt, but most confounding of all for me was the book of matches. I just puzzled and puzzled over it when my aunt sent this picture which was taken in this apartment about a month ago. La Villa. It sounds familiar. I've heard of it before. But I kept running through the name of every Italian place in New York with any meaning that I could think of: Birrichinos, Buon Gusto, Osso Bucco -- there were lots of them. But La Villa, La escaped me. For three days. Was it something from a fairy tale? From an ad I saw somewhere? It felt important, like a missing piece.

Then today walking on this dark and suddenly cool afternoon in Park Slope to my sister's for Rosh Hashanah dinner it hit me in one swoop -- La Villa, on 5th Avenue, steps from where we were walking, but ages and ages ago. It made me wonder if I ever actually did live in Park Slope, if we had the band there, if we took pictures by that poisoned canal, if any of that happened, or if those were stories I told, something from a fairy tale, or like Kaiser Soze, from an ad I saw somewhere.

We're drinking ridiculously sweet wine now and setting our sights on the day of atonement. Maybe this time, four years--so many sleepless nights and bleary-eyed mornings--later, we finally won't be judged, and mostly not by ourselves.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

And on that farm he had some cage-free chickens

My first Guest Post -- Elinor Actipis is an animal activist with an apartment full of bats and cats and a twitter account that's gaining momentum. She's living proof that once in a while dyed-in-the-wool right wingers can be the most caring and generous people around. Read on for simple ways to help farm animals lead better lives.-RF


Rachel has been kind enough to let me guest blog on a subject we both care a lot about: animal welfare. I am in the process of learning more about the cause and figuring out what I can do to help. While there are many important issues—wildlife habitat protection, animal testing, pet overpopulation, etc.—what speaks to me most is the plight of farm animals. I believe that most people are not cruel and would genuinely be shocked at what goes on in intensive confinement operations, a.k.a. factory farms.

Want to help but don’t have a ton of time or a high level of commitment? That’s OK. Here are some easy (repeat: EASY) ways to help these animals.

1. Have a basic understanding of the issues.

It is genuinely awful to contemplate what farm animals go through before they reach our plates, but it is also important to have some knowledge and not dissociate.

In the US alone, 10 billion animals a year are raised and killed for meat, dairy, and eggs—and the vast majority of them spend their short lives confined in “animal factories”, not picturesque farms. This number is so huge as to be unfathomable, so instead of 10 billion, try to picture one pig—just one pig who lives out the majority of her life in a metal gestation crate so small she can’t even turn around, pumping out litter after litter of piglets who are taken from her, before she is brutally slaughtered.

Don’t care about pigs? Imagine your beloved dog or cat living in a filthy cage with no sunlight or room to turn around, and wire mesh damaging his paws; the dog would suffer and the pig suffers just as much. You’d be locked up for treating a dog this way, so why is it legal for farm animals?

2. Make small changes.

Consumer behavior is a hugely important driver of change, so vote with your dollars (or lack thereof!). I’ve also found that making small changes leads to bigger ones. For example, I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since I was a teenager, but reducing dairy consumption seemed insurmountable: how would I do without half and half in my coffee? Also, not having milk in my cereal seemed gross for some reason. I finally told myself to stop being ridiculous and sampled soy milk. Guess what? It wasn’t bad at all, and I made the switch. Then I experimented and discovered I like almond milk even more. Now I’ve significantly reduced dairy, and milk (a.k.a. cow squirt) is what seems gross!

Some other easy switches:

This is a huge one—only buy cage-free eggs. [And no, organic does NOT mean cage-free.] 97% of egg-laying hens are crammed into massive warehouses with stacks of battery cages the size of a piece of a paper for their whole lives. They are de-beaked because the stress of confinement causes aggression. We can do better than this.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s sell only cage-free; elsewhere, shop carefully. Certified Humane is a highly respected label that indicates a humanely sourced product. Look for the blue and green label, or click here to find humane brands in your area.

Meatless Mondays Do you eat meat daily? OK, then, try to give it up just one day a week. Inspiration and recipes here. Starting small leads to big changes over time.

3. Don’t get overwhelmed.

While a shocking amount of violence goes on, I strongly believe we’re near a turning point. Most encouragingly, and due to strong citizen support, California, Michigan, and Ohio have put laws on the books phasing out the most egregious practices (e.g., battery cages for hens, tiny crates for veal calves, etc.). This is sending a strong message to the entrenched agriculture interests that people are NOT in favor of the current “anything goes” policies.

4. Support the Humane Society of the United States

Donate money and support what I believe is the most effective advocate for farm animals in the United States. The HSUS has been behind much of the recent legislation improving the lot of farm animals and has agri-business running scared. They also work with large corporations to effect change on a huge scale. For example, Compass, the world’s leading foodservice company, switched to cage-free eggs in 2007, creating demand for tens of millions of cage-free eggs.

I follow the Humane Society closely and am incredibly impressed by their leadership and effectiveness on behalf of ALL ANIMALS. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

Want to learn more? Some good overviews can be found here:

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production

The Humane Society’s Report on Factory Farming

A Hen’s Space to Roost