5.31.2010

To wander, to wander.

The other night after a delicious dinner at Char No.4, we took a short walk to digest before ice cream. We wandered up to Warren Place, an adorable little section of workman's cottages from the late-1800s. It was a perfect time of evening for a walk and we were proud to show Chris' family around the neighborhood. It's awesome when you live in a place you're proud of.

The times in my life that I've had the most healthy lifestyle (including eating well, getting some exercise and generally feeling happy) have been periods of time spent living in beautiful and walkable neighborhoods. When I lived in Clermont, I took an hour-long walk each night just to get to know the smaller roads and the shortest routes to different places around town (it helped that Clermont only takes about 20 minutes to cross the entire centre-ville...).

Paris was, obviously, another good place for walking. I would often leave my place 30 minutes early just to walk to a further subway stop, enjoying the scenery along the way. It made me enjoy the city more and it helped me slim down.

Now that I'm walking over the bridge in the mornings, I'm starting to remember how it felt to walk among beautiful places. And when I'm not walking towards work, I like to stroll around Brooklyn Heights. It is seriously the most interesting and aesthetically pretty place in the city to me and I love (really, really love) that we're so close to it.

All of this has made me think of past places I've lived that worked on many levels (rent, ease of commute, etc.), but rarely motivated me to wander. I suppose it's pretty obvious, but living in a beautiful setting can do much for feeling beautiful oneself. Important thoughts to keep in mind for our post-city-dwelling days...

5.30.2010

Hey! It's my blog-i-versary!

I've been watching the date for a week or so now, well aware that the anniversary of this blog was coming up. And it was only tonight that I clicked to see what the content of that first post was. You can read it right here.

Very appropriate! Because four years ago when I was leaving New York, I could not have guessed that one day I'd be living here and spending the weekend showing my boyfriend's dad and step-mom around the city. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge and hung out in lower Manhattan; we took a Circle Line boat tour and took evening strolls in Brooklyn. It certainly was a NY-filled weekend.

Last night my parents came down to meet us all for dinner and it was the loveliest night that we've had in a while, four parents and us and French food and amazing ice cream afterwards. And as we told stories and laughed about life stuff, I realized how much of that is chronicled on this blog and how grateful I am to have it recorded somewhere.

So happy blog-i-versary, little blog. You make me happy.

5.24.2010

"... one day I'll be sand on a beach by the sea."

Me: "I hope there's an afterlife."

Him: "Me too."

After our guests were gone and the television was turned off and LOST was over, this is what we spoke of. We only got a few sentences into the conversation about one of us dying first before we had to stop. We were already too sad. Death on an individual level is fascinating, frightening and inevitable. Death for the one you love? Too tragic to utter the words.

I went to Sunday School almost every Sunday growing up. It was terrible, but not because of the religious aspect of it. The other kids in my class were very unlike me; we ran in different social circles at school and my curiosity with regard to religion and the world was squashed by social pressure. So I never asked many questions. I did, however, internally think about religion and Jesus and God. I would never have admitted it to my parents at the time, but a life of Sunday School did wonders for the way I was able to later handle literary analysis and appreciate art. At some point you lose out in society if you don't have a basic knowledge of some religion.

For all those years, we attended a Lutheran church. I did mazes and word finds with the names of the apostles. Eventually I became a Sunday School teacher myself; my first act was to throw out the curriculum and create my own in which I taught my students about Lutheranism in conversation with Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism. I wrote an Easter pageant and got a bunch of kids to put it on. I wrote the Christmas pageant and coordinated dress rehearsals. Church had become my sandbox to play in; it is where I first saw myself as a leader.

All the while, people I knew and loved died. Not often, but with the kind of stark rhythm that reminds you to never turn your back on it. First it was a great-grandmother, a great-aunt and uncle. My Pop-pop in 9th grade, when I cried for the first time at school in the hallway and felt embarrassed about it. A classmate in the 10th grade. They all felt like celebrities, people I'd known and talked to, people who got the answer to the only question that felt like it mattered: where do you go when you die?

In more recent years it's been people I've known even more intimately. My Nana. My Nana Epting. My mom's best friend. Each time, a reminder that the party I live in my 20s doesn't go on forever. Death is coming and so is the answer to that question.

It's not important to me what it is, only that there is an it. Surely after all of this, after the kind of beauty and terribleness that exists in life, there's a finale that pulls it all together. I don't know there is, but I hope for it. This chapter, this time spent as a woman, as an American, all of it arbitrary and un-chosen: surely there is someplace that allows us out of these blinders, allows us to see the whole picture.

Surely.

5.20.2010

Tucked paw and all.

I've had a lot on my mind lately and have tried writing for the blog everyday, but alas, nothing was publishable. Here then instead of words are some snuggly Oscar photos... to tide you over until I get things straight up in this old brain.




5.16.2010

Another weekend bites the dust

We had a visitor this weekend, the lovely British Katie. I would post a photo of the two of us on the Brooklyn Bridge, but I am too tired to find my camera, find my charger, upload the photos and name them. So you'll have to trust me on this one: she was here and it was a good time.

Some highlights from the weekend:
  • Taking Katie out for Mexican food on Friday (her first time!)
  • Farmer's market and flower shopping on Saturday
  • Meeting up with Tejal, Avi and Saurabh at the Brooklyn Bridge and bringing them back here to play with Oscar and check out the views
  • Blue Marble ice cream (and the laborious decision of choosing flavors)
  • Brunch with Eliza this morning (Katie requested American pancakes and so I obliged... willingly!)

Literally all I want to do right now is watch bad TV.

Somehow May 2010 has shot us into an insane social life. I haven't had ONE EVENING free so far and that won't let up this week either. After Katie left for a train this afternoon, I looked at Chris and said "who are you again?" We haven't had much time together lately and have designated next weekend OUR TIME. Can't wait.

5.09.2010

Literary check-in (excerpts and books)

Now that my writing class is over and I'm registered for Iowa (Yes! I did it!), I cleaned out the writing folder that was overtaking my small desk. Throughout the semester, we had to read several short pieces of published fiction to discuss each class. I thought many of them were useful, but I decided to keep my favorites and recycle the rest. Someone out there might find them inspiring:
  • the first paragraph of An Almost Perfect Moment by Binnie Kirshenbaum
  • the ending of "How I Met My Husband" by Alice Munro
  • the first paragraph of "How to Become a Writer" by Lorrie Moore
  • the short story, Sluts by Hollis Seamon (I literally can't get this story out of my head. Stunning.)
I'm back working on the piece I read last week. It will be published in its short story form sometime in late June, but I'm now getting it ready for a novel workshop in Iowa. I had such an interesting response from friends who came to the reading that I feel even more compelled to tell the whole story... no doubt the work will be difficult (it was hard enough getting it to short story land!), but it's a good project and, maybe most importantly, I'm not sick of it yet.

This feels like a big literary period for me and I think I'll look back and wonder what I was reading (or attempting to read) while I was writing this story. For my own future curiosity, here's a list of books that are currently on my nightstand with bookmarks in them:

The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille
Washington Square by Henry James
Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill
1776 by David McCullough
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
... and, still unfinished, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My Mother Tongue.

It is somewhat of a Mother’s Day tradition for me to come back up home and help my Mom plant flowers. Much like the baking and decorating of Christmas cookies, I seem to be the only kid interested in helping with such work. I don’t mind though; these are memories that belong to Mom and me. When you’re nearing 30 and you have two younger siblings, Mom & Me memories are hard to come by.

My mom was a nurse for many years. This simple fact paints much of what I remember about my childhood. Staying home sick from school usually meant going with Mom to the hospital where empty beds were made available for employee’s sick children. I remember cuddling up in the large hospital bed and watching television. Nurses came by to check on me and take my temperature all day until my mom’s shift was over.

When I was older, I volunteered weekends and summers as a Candy Striper. I delivered flowers to patients’ rooms, took others to X-Ray, wheeled mothers with their new babies out to the curb where new fathers fumbled with car seats. The hospitals I see on television shows scare me; the hospital I grew up in was, in a way, as familiar as the church we attended or the stretch of highway between school and home.

Mom hasn’t worked at the hospital for a long time. She travels the country for a pharmaceutical company now, educating nurses and doctors about how to treat cancer patients. Indications of her many years spent on the ground still show, though. Yesterday when I asked how I should open a large bag of soil, she suggested laying it on the ground.

“I usually cut it open like I would an autopsy,” she said, matter-of-fact. “Cut it once long-ways and then once across the middle.”

Yiiiikes,” I thought to myself. “That is quite a description.”

I also noticed that she still uses nurse-speak on things as banal as the grocery list. She writes a C with a line over it to mean “with.” She leaves notes about H2Oing the plants while she’s away. Medicine is not a language that I speak, but it is one that I certainly understand.

And yet the concept of Mother Tongue extends far beyond linguistics. Mother Tongue is, in so many ways, the way a mother sees the world and how her children learn that example second-hand. My mom will spend hours on the phone helping someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer. These candidates for help can be anyone: a woman behind her on line at Sears, someone from church, the mother of someone I know. She brings pamphlets to recently diagnosed friends and talks my great aunt through biopsy scares and radiation scars. Cancer is the unknown. My Mom makes it less frightening.

It occurs to me that I have picked this up from her as well. Not so much the cancer knowledge (though I admit to having some basic knowledge of the drugs and treatments related to the disease). Last weekend I spent over an hour talking to a young woman headed to live in France for the first time. She randomly ran into my brother in Washington and within a minute he suggested talking to me for tips and advice. “Holy crap,” Chris said when I hung up the phone. “That was a long conversation!”

In the world of everyday people, living abroad is unknown. I like making this experience seem less frightening. The young woman thanked me at the end for taking the time to talk with her and I insisted it was totally my pleasure.

What can I say? I speak my Mother Tongue.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I'm a nicer person because of you.

5.06.2010

The morning after.

It is the morning after my reading and I'm sitting here, having gotten up early, without the mojo to write fiction. It's a temporary problem, I can tell; it seems natural to need to take a day off after the big hurrah. And oh, what a time it was.

I need to publicly thank all of my awesome friends who came to hear the reading: Kelley, Chris, Britt, Sarah, Kristen, Anne, Tyler, Doug, Courtney, Sima, Avi, Rama and Andy. You'd better believe I had the biggest crowd there! It was so humbling to feel all that support. There was a moment while reading when I looked up and thought "Geez, this is like an Arc90 event." You know you have a good thing going when half of your software company comes to hear your fiction.

You also know you have a good thing going when your boyfriend does everything he can to help you avoid being nervous. A very public thank-you to Mr. Chris, who is always there when I need him.

The apartment is a wreck and our suitcases are still unpacked; I'm already one weekend into a month that has its weekends booked with visitors and Mother's Day trips and the like. But I am feeling loved right now, loved and proud of my creative endeavors.

And really, that's all you can ask for.

P.S. I'll link you all to my piece when it's published in Podium early this summer. I'll also try to get some photos from last night when I have a minute... for you, mostly. It was a night I won't soon forget.

5.05.2010

Reading.

Hi folks. Sorry for the absence of posts lately- we've been in Boston for work for the past few days. Here's the info for tonight's reading (for those who are in the neighborhood and interested):

  • 7pm (there are 12 students who each read for 8 minutes, not sure where I am in the line-up)
  • 92-Y (92nd and Lexington)
  • It looks like there will be a nice little group coming, so we'll probably try to get a drink or two after the reading. It IS Cinco de Mayo, afterall.
Ok, that's it! Here's to no nerves. I'll be practicing all the way home on the train.