Friday, September 30, 2016

I've been trying to wake up before the kids so I have time to write first thing in the morning. But however early I get up, they get up too.

Petra is confused about why it's still "night" for another hour or so. She thinks we should do Goodnight Yoga. No, if anything, we should do Good Morning Yoga - perfect, magical time with a candle pre-dawn. But really, you (Petra) should still be in bed. Wally up early is fine. He just reads. 

I don't know why in the evening (now) I can't sink into the mood of writing here anymore. I used to love writing in the evenings. 

All I can think of now is a jumble. 

That was last night. Let's see if I can find any more clarity today. Wally is behind me reading. He's reading great books this year. Books I remember from around his age (although I remember them being read to us at floor time). James and the Giant Peach. The Wind in the Willows. He also read The Dragon of Lonely Island, by an author I hadn't heard of -- Rebecca Rupp. She has a fantastic web site where she organizes children's books by category, for example letter writing books , books inspired by Shakespeare, and gardening books. Oh she has a great section on banned books too. She's a Ph.D. in cell biology and biochemistry from Vermont. 

Okay so Wally is quietly reading behind me. The light is ever so slowly just beginning to appear. Not even the light yet, it's just that the sky isn ow a lovely gray blue. the lights of the Empire State Building still shine bright against it. 

"Where's that hot chocolate?" Wally asks. (Friday is hot chocolate day.)

"Coming soon," I tell him. I am selfishly trying to write, but you see I'm not getting far. If I had gone for Twitter, I could have gotten a nice pick and an attempt at a pithy message out into the world. 

Maybe I could have checked email and - answered something about work that would have felt like "checking something off" an infinite, impossibly entangled and constantly renewing To Do? Or answered (or at least read) something from a friend? More on that soon. I've noticed just in the past several weeks a dramatic drop-off from email. I know "no one uses it anymore" but something really suddenly seems to have changed.

Yesterday I rode a bike down to Wally's school and back. I have hardly ridden at all in NYC. Once or twice briefly I took Alex's citibike out to the river and back. I saw my friend Kara on Monday. She biked up to meet me and said she rides all the time. I kept thinking -- that must totally change your perception of the city. Instead of the crowded, frustrating, stressful subway, riding out there by the river, past the Wisteria and the boats and the Honeysuckle.

So yesterday, when Wally got on the bus then turned around and said, "It's the second year in a row I forgot it was picture day," I quickly dropped Petra off then came home and scrambled through his closet. Aha! One kinda nice button-down shirt he's had a few years but should still fit. I grabbed it, gave it a quick glance before stuffing it in a bag, and realized it had red paint on it. Pulled other things out and finally settled on a nice blue plaid shirt my mom had gotten him in June. As I was zipping my backpack I checked the clock and realized the only possible way to get to the school before it started was to ride a bike. I don't have the citibike membership but you can pay for a day (total would only be $6 more than the subway, and well worth the workout I thought). I raced down, not knowing which streets were best, ending up on cobblestone for an uncomfortable stretch. Wally didn't want the clothes after all. I hopped on the bike and road back, this time along the glorious river, past the Wisteria, the Heather, the boats and the Honeysuckle.

Yes it does, absolutely, change one's view of the city. I almost imagined myself in Provence. I near-swooned picturing cooking something later that night with the adorable herbs by Provence Trade Joe's now cells in a little glass bottle with a wooden spoon.

(Instead I spent the day lost in data spreadsheets and sore beyond belief! Rubbing Icy Hot with happy memories of my grandmother - the apartment was full of that minty smell.)

Much lighter now the sky just in the past 10 minutes since I began. Time to turn to other duties. Even wake Petra! Get the kids off. Greet the day without so many racing thoughts for once I hope. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Not hard to take today's Outdoors Family Challenge - Eat Local from this blog, eating swiss chard fresh (cooked) from the garden tonight. Petra with her look-alike friend (or maybe it's just the t-shirts and same height?)



Saturday, September 24, 2016

From one moment to the next


Working on a mindful gardening project, which has led me to pick up Louise Dickinson Rich's book We Took to the Woods again. Not sure why--does she garden much in particular? She's out in the woods and there is some kind of garden I think. She's very mindful. Very deliberate. Very able to live in the present and not give into any fear of missing out. I was flipping through the section where she presents a defense to people who worry that she's "out of touch" with culture/news etc. In response she talks about how much she has been able to read out there (all of Proust, for example, which didn't impress her (!?)) and "The Education of Henry Adams" among other works. Here she talks about what she sees as the benefit of waiting for Friday to get a summary of that week's news. "We get our news a little late, but I wouldn't be surprised if in the long run we have a clearer and more sensible idea of what is going on that those who read every special edition and listen to the special spot-news broadcasts on the radio all day long. Frankly, I don't see how they can possibly know where they're at from one moment to the next, and I should think they'd all go raving mad" (255). 

So of course you know that I'm thinking--doesn't that sound like today's, say, New York Times reader, who get the paper delivered to the door, versus those of us who refresh Huffpo and Twitter constantly to see if we missed any major happenings in the last 5 minutes? Yes, partly I am thinking that. And my initial take is that it's all the worse now. You thought that was bad? The all-day radio listener was the addict? Just like in The Gift from the Sea when Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about housewives no longer able to draw on their imaginations anymore because of radio. Or a 1979 article from the Times that talked about people getting rid of their answering machines when being tracked down became too burdensome and annoying. Or early revolts against the telephone for displacing the once beloved art of the letter. At first these anachronistic complaints of speed or distraction highlight how far we've fallen away from having time and space and room to think and be alone. But then I also wonder if the problem of new technology's disorientating effects has always been in place. In his 2004 In Praise of Slowness Carl Honore talks about the reaction against ancient writing systems and the hysteria about its corrosive effects on memory. 

I don't think that's the right conclusion either. To say - every age reacts against change. But I just want to acknowledge that possible interpretation, before making a claim for exponential growth of speed and distraction. Except I can't make that claim tonight. I must get back to a bunch of tasks here, big and small ones, mostly small. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Worth reading: My Distraction Sickness -- And Yours, by Andrew Sullivan. 

Even though pulling out a few quotes (rather than letting you go a read the whole article) seems maybe counterproductive, more speed, more distraction, more imperfect distillation, I'm worried that you, the few who still venture into the quiet, won't have/make the time to read the whole article and I want to make sure you know how good it is. So here are a few of the most important points. 

"I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living."

"Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time." 

Sullivan chooses to be a human being for a while, and in the end returns to a half real/half virtual playing field, the one where we all battle. 

Monday, September 19, 2016


This woman lives up on a hill with a bunch of animals in a book called Ideas Are All Around Us by Philip C. Stead. We had just twenty extra minutes to get ready today, and it made all the difference. We read this book out on the porch with coffee (for me) and the rain coming down outside. I remembered everything I was supposed to pack or bring for both kids. Later we made banana bread and homemade cookies. And even did yoga. Alex played jazz and we danced. (The kitchen is a mess.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Time and Pancakes

I'm not going to begin this post with..."This morning I was making pancakes" or something that sounds sort of functionally like the beginning of a post. I just have to quickly pass along something else about time. 

Speeding along, whizzing between projects, trying to sneak in one little thing about slow writing. Yes I realize how ridiculous that is. (I am reading, finally, Carl Honore's 2004 In Praise of Slowness, which is really sort of history of speed and expansive catalogue of slow movements). 

Anyway - (I really did make 2-ingredient pancakes this morning and they came out nothing at all like the pix, but tasted great) - here is point 6 from Rebecca Solnit's "How To Be a Writer" published September 13 on Literary Hub.
6) Time. It takes time. This means that you need to find that time. Don’t be too social. Live below your means and keep the means modest (people with trust funds and other cushions: I’m not talking to you, though money makes many, many things easy, and often, vocation and passion harder). You probably have to do something else for a living at the outset or all along, but don’t develop expensive habits or consuming hobbies. I knew a waitress once who thought fate was keeping her from her painting but taste was: if she’d given up always being the person who turned going out for a burrito into ordering the expensive wine at the bistro she would’ve had one more free day a week for art.
Also I totally love that she has "When all else fails, put on the gospel song “Steal My Joy” and even includes the link.

My go-to song is "I've Got a Feeling" by Albertina Walker. Go listen! And take your time today if you can.

Never, never, never come out like any picture ever


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beginning again.

Again beginning again. 

The blank page.

A million projects. 

Tempted to maybe start keeping track of them with a Bullet Journal as my friend Sarah recommended here.

Beginning again with a new school-year schedule, with excessive back-to-school-year forms. The pot-luck welcome back dinners. The sign ups. The packed lunches. The new routines. The inevitable hiccups of getting used to who has to be picked up or dropped off where. Yesterday bringing the wrong child to the doctor’s appointment over on the East side. Picking Petra up early from daycare with a bit of an awkward shuffle interrupting snack time and then pushing her through the crazy scaffolding siren streets over in the stroller in the heat.

(Already I anticipate the criticism of readers questioning why a three-year-old would need a stroller, but also maybe many of those readers have cars and wouldn’t walk 2.5 miles in the heat in the afternoon for a doctor appointment? Already as I write I am racing ahead to try to defend myself against imagined attacks. Why? Is that the nature of so much online interaction that I’ve let it seep into how I think and how I write?)

It would have been so easy to run over to the doc with Wally. He was off already from school and so was Alex and they were watering the garden while I was getting an entire hour “to myself” to work (after grocery-shopping and school-supply-shopping and helping Wally organize his room with a semi-functional homework area, which will last a day. Interrupting this hour “to myself” to work to bring the wrong kid over. Anyway, it turned out fine because Alex came over with Wally and both kids got the flu shot, Wally disappointed they no longer recommend the mist and Petra happily volunteering to go first, as these days she wants to be first for everything.

Beginning again with trying to get into some kind of reasonable shape. And by that I mean jogging a couple miles at a decent pace without being horribly out of breath on the brink of throwing up when I’m done.

Beginning again with the evaluation of a teacher training program, work I’d taken a break from for the past several years. Thinking about the teachers in their first difficult years reminds me—do I need to be reminded?—of how much I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and yet I’ve never even gotten close to a classroom outside of a few months as a substitute at MS 54 so many years ago. But that is just one dream of so many. Chase two rabbits and you won’t catch either one. Another dream, a lost one, playing music.


Out on the river today listening to a song of Alex’s without any vocals I came up with them myself and thought—I have to record that tonight! Beginning again to record music? Maybe I am prompted by a totally unexpected re-stock notice from CD Baby. They want us to send in more copies of Gowanus Sessions. 

That is good, because I looked at all the copies on the closet shelf the other day and wondered if I should just finally recycle them.

Daydreaming about beginnings, like the one Pip Lincolne writes about in Craft for the Soul: How to make the most out of your creative life. Her morning routine is so comforting sounding (although I don’t understand putting the TV on, even with the volume down—why?). She gets up super early. Greets the dogs. Makes coffee and toast, writes three pages (adapting Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages") and then takes a walk. Simple enough routine, right? And when I read it I thought - she obviously doesn't have kids. But, turns out that's not true! She has three of them! Amazing.


I am beginning to have some time to work without resorting to crazy acrobatics like the kind my friend Hein Koh has been talking about lately. Actually I've never had to work breast-feeding two babies at the same time, and don't think I ever could. If I managed, I'd have to add it to the list of things I learned from her.


I didn't enjoy Louise DeSalvo's The Art of Slow Writing nearly as much as I thought I would. 


As I've written here, DeSalvo's book Writing as a Way of Healing has been a touchstone for over a decade, and from the name of the new one, I had so many expectations about how she would help me get away from the racing and the relentless cacophony and the feeling of being hounded by social media and up-to-the-minute news and updates. But what she says, essentially, in The Art of Slow Writing, is that writing itself is a slow art. She brings a lot of research and great examples to her work to show the necessity of slowness. (And to debunk the myths of speed, pointing, for example, to Jack Kerouac's hidden revisions.) But any of us who'd ever attempted writing have known already how long we must stare at blank pages. How many times we have to retrace the same steps. Erase. Start over. Go back to the beginning. Tandem breast-feeding at the same time or not, begin again.


Sunday, September 11, 2016


Outside St. Paul's Chapel they played Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (with horns) and gave us white ribbons to tie around the fences there. Kristin recognized the music, not me.  

St. Paul's Chapel across from the WTC

At various points today I tried to think through September 11, through the other days when I attempted. For instance, here, and here, and here

The view today

I decided at one point to stop and be still. No book or journal even. Just still and quiet on the porch. I noticed--I can't believe I hadn't noticed this before--a picture of the old pre-9/11 NYC skyline, taken by Alex's friend Marcio, who has since moved back to Brazil.

Marcio's picture


Friday, September 2, 2016

The promise of gray days

Bright and sunny today. But this post (below) was from yesterday. Only begun, which is the most I can do most days. If that. Only begin is zen advice for accomplishing any goal. The idea of course being that if you only begin you can easily continue on. With young kids swirling around the house in the last, mad days of summer, only begin, a few dashed off sentences, that's all you can usually get to. Will all these scraps of beginnings, is it possible to patch together a path forward?

Sometimes I wonder about the Venn diagram that would show the overlapping set of elements converging in an inability to concentrate, massive failure at the goal of slow writing, failure to access the sacred space of creativity, or if I do, to hold onto it for very long. One is just adulthood. We can't wander in that cathedral space anymore. Another is specifically having young children. In my 20s, it wasn't hard to write songs after work and on the weekends. The nights stretched out with nothing but time. And now these past maybe 8 years or not even, there is a new level of hyper-connectivity. Smart phones/texting/constant status updates. I think a big change was the cable modem. When you had to dial up for email or the internet, you went online, but it was contained. People still used the phone, and if you had roommates you couldn't just stay online all day. It's not only the distraction of FB/Huffpo or whatever else pulls at us. I think it's just knowing it's there. To me, it has infected the computer as a workspace. Even if I turn off the airport, and not just by turning it off with the mouse but even going into the cable box and unplugging it, to me, there's still some kind of noise now buzzing in the background associated with working in this space. 

In high school when I would go down to my dad's office to work on the computer, it was silent. Not literally - I would often play Van Morrison or U2 or REM while I worked - but sort of figuratively silent. I was present there with my writing in a way I find it so hard to be now, unless I am writing in a screen-free place. 

Here, from yesterday.

Sept 1

A gray morning. 

The sky is giving me permission not to make any grand plans for today. Not to pack the stroller full of bathing suits and beach towels and sunscreen and snacks.

A day to rest. To contemplate the abundance of these end-of-summer days. The mysterious vine tangled all over the garden. The cosmos that have grown so very tall and finally blossomed, with a single pink flower. Petra dancing with collard greens. 


The abundance of books. Wally's scattered out all over the house. BFG, The Whipping Boy, The Lightning Thief. Tons of Wimpy Kids and Big Nates, piled on every surface, propped open on every chair. Sometimes he will read while we are eating lunch at the table and I am about to say, "Put that book away!" but then I stop myself.  

It drives me crazy that he reads so many books at once. 

But that is precisely what I do too. And writing this post now, I am going to be happy at the abundance of books that are all open. All bookmarked. All in media res. Right now I've started three of Wally's books. I'm also reading Christina Crook's The Joy of Missing Out (very slowly, because it is comforting and guiding me and I don't want that to stop). I'm about two thirds of the way into Tovah Klein's How Toddlers Thrive, given to me by my friend Kara and I am learning so very much from it even this far into toddlerhood of my second child. Once or twice a day I read a few sections from Slow Family Living by Bernadette Noll. It was really strange to immerse myself in the slow, peaceful pace of her life married with four kids and then go on her website and find out she is now divorced. How? How could that be? You and Ken were so happy drinking beers on the porch together! Telling stories with the whole family piled on the bed!  

Other books people have given me to read. Or book they have written. Two manuscripts my friends sent me. Issues of Rolling Stone from our neighbor. A new book of short stories by Lauren Acampora called The Wonder Garden I couldn't resist picking up at the library the other day when I went to get Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo, on hold for me (I am nearly halfway through that). 

Instead of five-minute checks throughout the day (to email or social media or to read an article), I've been trying instead to jot something down in a journal. Put something away. Clip a recipe or a picture I want to save from a magazine. Pet the cat. Look at a printed photograph, like the one of my grandmother Elinor and I at the beach in Milford, circa 2001. There are photos from some Christmases and Easters and July 4ths there, when the whole Riordan clan assembled, but of all the many visits I made by myself to the cottage over the years, I think that is the only picture. My friend Kara, the one who gave me the toddler book, came on a visit with me once when we lived together on Carmine street. I am pretty sure she took the picture. 

Yesterday when we got back in the early afternoon from a fun but exhausting morning at playgrounds and fountains at Washington Square Park (it was a sunny summer morning with its mandate for fun and activity), walking there and back, Petra in the stroller, I almost came in and ran to the computer and checked online first thing, but stopped myself. (I think I am much more tied into the computer than most others who use their phones more. Friends remind me there is no such thing for them anymore as "checking" email or Facebook or anything else. It is constantly pinging them.)

Instead I put on opera, Bellini's "La Sonnambula." I gave the kids a bubble bath. Dried them off and gave them lemon ices. The dropped their towels on the bedroom floor and pushed around a mismatched family of 9 in a Peppa Pig camper van. Again I had to resist the run to the computer or the phone. The weird, panicked dash, like an addict, the click, the hit.  

I went out on the porch and flipped through a tiny book of photographs called At the Water's Edge. I keep the book on the porch, hoping maybe the book will trick me into thinking we live in a seaside town. I mean, technically we do, but it's such an outrageously big town that we're pretty far from Brighton Beach or City Island or the Rockaways. I paused over this section of the book's introduction: "By midafternoon the sun is so hot we return to our rooms for a nap. Even with our eyes closed we can hear the gentle slap or surf-breaking pound of water on sand. We drift off on the edge of sound, a lullaby. An hour later, bodies lazy with heat and dreamy with sleep, we sit up, look out the window, and there it is, twinkling like jewels through a lace curtain. Or perhaps we forgot to pull the shade, and sky and sea are huge before our eyes, so that for a minute our little room becomes a ship and we, the mighty captains."

In the kitchen, all the cookbooks have been taken down from the shelf. Wally made muffins from a Kids Can Cook book he got for Christmas last year. I think he forgot to beat the eggs; they turned out incredibly dense. Another day we all made pancakes from the Cricket Cookery book my mom gave my sister and me in 1980. lex made Tofu Provencale from a paperback Vegetarian cookbook with the cover ripped off. Another night, Summer vegetable minestrone from a clipped Real Simple recipe that had been hanging around, wrinkled and stained.

Back to today. September 2. 

I didn't get to pull and tug at what these abundant last days of summer might mean. I didn't get to sink into the words on the page, the electronic page that to me feels partly infected, with knowing, because of a few simple google clicks, that Tony Hendra, who wrote the book Father Joe I just finished, passed on to me from my aunt in Connecticut, was accused of molesting his daughter. Something the whole time in the book felt not right to me. Not that I regret knowing this about Tony Hendra. And not that I should be sheltered and protected as I write from all the terror and horror going on in the world. 

The garden over-flowing. Books over-flowing. Giant pancakes. Sand and wet towels strewn over the house. Fireflies in the evening. Lots of fighting, too. Tons of screaming. Petra tantrumming more this past week than she's tantrummed total in three years. 

So many projects only begun. Beads spilled out all over the floor. Dried out play-doh making unsatisfying projects, snakes that don't hold together, pretend tea parties that crumble apart. 

Right now, as I try to finish this post, yelling and door slamming. Explosions. Meltdowns. Even though I'm about to take them for donuts and to the Vesuvio pool. 

Vesuvius. The volcano that in AD 79 destroyed the city of Pompeii, right? 

But I don't have time now, to let that floating feeling come over me as I write into the page and then leave the page so that the room becomes a ship. For now I have to go stop the yelling that the morning yoga didn't stop, that the meditation music didn't stop, that the failed attempt at journal time, at gratitude lists, at a peaceful collage that became a sticky mess didn't stop. Out into the bright sun. To make meaning of this, maybe, if I'm lucky, at some later date. But to live it now.