The one with the boots

friends_episode180_337x233_032020061517At an old job I had a sharply-dressed coworker who let me tag along to sample sales. At one, held at an old bank in midtown with ornate architecture and a world-class view of the Empire State Building, we walked up and down rows of shoes, their boxes open, tissue paper raining down. It was winter and we carried our bulky coats and kept a close eye on our Blackberrys. We were on the clock.

C.’s style of dress was city chic but approachable, punctuated with a range of heeled boots I always coveted. So when we shopped together that cold day I must have been subconsciously inspired by her and my eyes landed on a pair of structured ankle boots I knew I had to have. The heel was a little taller than I normally wear – I’d learned my lesson by then after years of crossing the river by train and bus in heels that left their marks – but it was a wedge, and the boot was lined with buckles that served no utility but screamed confidence.

I bought them. They were more than any other shoe I’d bought, ever.

When I wore them for the first time, the unthinkable happened: they hurt. Like, badly. Like The One with Monica’s Boots. I tried again, and then again. Both times I had to give up before I even left my apartment, switching into something that fit me properly.

So they went in a pile in the back of my closet, where I would occasionally spot them and wince. For years those boots stayed on my mind. I thought if I could just wear them one more time I’d break them in perfectly; I thought if I just wanted it enough, I could learn to withstand the pain. They moved with me from apartment to apartment, across two rivers, through a wedding, a baby. I still loved the look of them, and as my style evolved I realized they would fit me (aesthetically, anyway) even better now than they did when I bought them. So out of the closet they came. I was going to give them another try, dammit.

So I brought them into work one day last year, intent on wearing them, finally. I changed out of flats and buckled in, ready to take on the day (and with it, the world). But I guess I forgot that even though my style changed, my feet, alas, did not. The boots still hurt. They hurt so much I hobbled right back to my office and took them off. It took years, but they finally broke my of my will.

I’m back at work after a maternity leave and today I found those boots in a drawer. They’re still beautiful, and they’re certainly not doing anyone any good sitting in there. So tonight I’ll take them home and leave them on the stoop outside my apartment, which is the Brooklyn way of donating things we no longer need. I’ll think of C. when I do it, and of the job where I met her, the friends I made there; the way the city, the world, seemed so close to me then. How everything felt possible. How it all was possible.

But mostly I’ll be thinking of how good it feels, how free, to let go of things you’ve been carrying for years and have never really needed.

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Space and noise

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 11.04.38 AMMy mother has begun telling me how gentle I am, how quiet. When I tap my iPad, even. When I speak, when I close kitchen cabinets. I start to take notice. It turns out I’ve even been saving the unloading of the dishwasher for nighttime, when I can see how quiet I can be, like it’s some kind of personal goal.

When I watch TV I keep the volume low, so low even I sometimes have trouble hearing it. I mute commercials. Daytimes are fine, but when the sun sets noises seem to multiply. I speak in a hush starting at 7pm. I sit on my couch, baby asleep in her nearby room, and keep the remote close, finger poised over the volume button.

We are very close here in my Brooklyn apartment, and something about that closeness makes me shrink up and drop to a whisper. There are three bedrooms here but they are small, and that is being generous. I watch House Hunters and cringe at the greedy needs of the homebuyers who decline entire houses because their walk-in closets are too cramped. I think back to Sri Lanka, where I helped build a house for an entire family. They were thrilled to be getting two rooms to share between them, to be getting one bed.

I’ve been pondering space lately. What we need, what we deserve. Whether. I love this city but in my long park walks with the baby I breathe in the wide roads, the stretches of snow-covered fields, the frozen lake, the geese. My lungs expand there in ways they can’t just a few blocks over, where the brownstones block the wind.

Last week I visited my sister’s new house and got turned around coming out of her master suite. For real. Then I put the baby to bed in the guest room (a guest room!) and even downstairs kept my voice low. “You can talk at normal volume,” everyone reminded me. But I kept forgetting. Normal volume, to me, has changed.

 

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Writing in Real Life

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.45.54 PMMy husband has been listening to podcasts for years. Since before Serial, which means before they were cool, which I guess means he’s ahead of the times, or something.

Anyway we always said we’d never collaborate but here we are, collaborating: we’ve just launched Writing in Real Life, a podcast series about writing, publishing, parenting, and marriage. Heady topics! Our first one is now up.

Fun fact: we recorded it on Monday night. By Tuesday I decided I hated what I said, so we re-recorded it Tuesday night, right after the State of the Union, when my head was spinning from all the live tweeting I was doing. I think this session is perhaps a bit less fun, but hopefully more informative than the original one.

I hope you’ll follow along!

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Mirror/lines

I’ve begun noticing in earnest the lines around my eyes. Before, spotting them was a sign: of fatigue, of dehydration, of too many martinis, too much dancing. After a power nap, a Gatorade, they dissolved. Now they’re permanent; part of the angles of my face. They out me as a 30-something. They, more than any other part of my body, remind me that time moves quickly. That time is running out.

I have fallen in love with them.

In the mornings I take baby girl around the apartment to say hello to each room. Hello, kitchen. Hello, living room. Hello, office. Hello, daddy’s books, and mommy’s, and hello to g-mom, my baby’s late great grandmother, her laughing face in a frame on a shelf. Our final stop is always the hallway mirror, where we say hello to the pretty baby and her mommy.

Looking in a mirror while I hold my baby is when I feel most like a parent, when it hits me that I have done this Thing that cannot be undone. I have built a person. We look back at ourselves and smile. The weight of her sits in the crook of my neck, in my elbow, while we make silly faces and nuzzle each other like horses, like puppies, her body still warm from sleep.

In that mirror where I stick my tongue out at my baby I spot those lines around my eyes and wait for that sinking feeling, the one where I feel bad about getting older, about not using enough eye cream, about being a feminist who cares whether I have lines.

Today that feeling didn’t come. Instead, I smiled at my lines. Like my baby, they’re mine. I built those, too.

On Instagram, later, I scrolled past a photo of a celebrity, an actress my age. She has those lines and she is radiant, with her white hair and red lips and floundering career. So what. She has lines, and so do I, and you probably do too, and lines means we’re living. Lines mean we’ve laughed more often than not.

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The privilege of reading

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 9.21.29 AMLast night we put our baby in her crib for the first time. She cried for five minutes and then dropped right off to sleep. We thought we got off easy, but then she woke up an hour later, cried for 38 minutes* (yes, we counted), and then seemed to look directly at the monitor to give us a Look. After a few minutes, she closed her eyes and slept.

She slept from 9pm to 5:45am straight, which means–if this trend continues–my husband and I have been given the gift of time.

With all that glorious time, I started thinking about what I should do with it. Not surprisingly, one of the first things that I had to set aside when I had a baby was reading. I knew it was a temporary break, but it was a break nonetheless. (I keep joking that I’m mostly excited about going back to work in February because I’ll have an hour of commute time…think of all I can read during that hour!) And I miss those worlds I used to visit. I miss the artfully arranged words, the universal truths, the racing action.

We all know books are a privilege, of course, and entire organizations are dedicated to helping underserved kids snatch some scraps of that privilege. (Like First Book, and Reach Out and Read, and Reading is Fundamental, in case you’ve got out your checkbook for end-of-year donations). But I started thinking about how reading itself is a privilege. Because, for most people, being able to read for pleasure means you have leisure time. It means you’re not working a second or third job during your off hours; it means you’re not taking care of someone or something. There might be chores to do or errands to run, but if you’re reading, chances are they’re not urgent.

I’m staying in this New Year’s Eve. My husband and I will put our gorgeous baby to bed and then have a crab cake feast, shipped from Maryland, and finally open that mead we bought on our honeymoon. My sister will be stopping by on her way to a party to lend me her ereader, which is shored up with books she’s assured me I’ll love. And while I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get to all of them, I know I will have some time in 2015 to read some things for pleasure. And for that I am so, so grateful.

Happy New Year–I hope it’s filled with things you’re grateful for too, whether it’s books or time or perfect babies or something else entirely.

* We practiced a version of sleep training recommended by our pediatrician. 

Image via

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My year in books (2014)

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 7.28.05 PMAh, books. I remember those…I think.

So I began logging the books I’ve read last year and, amazingly, stuck with it this year, too. That’s the good news! The bad news is, since having a baby in October, I have read exactly one book (and, cough, I haven’t even finished it yet). So when I began tallying this year’s booklist I expected it to be much shorter than last year’s, which clocked in at 34. But surprise! I hit 33 books this year!

Another interesting thing about this year was the Amazon issue. I mostly read on a Kindle and stopped purchasing ebooks from Amazon in the spring due to their shady activities with publishers. That changed my reading plans quite a bit! So I got a library card and made do, but there are definitely books on this list that might not have otherwise been on it had the Amazon shenanigans not happened.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown: 11 Adult titles, 13 Young Adult titles, 5 Middle Grade titles, and 3 nonfiction titles. Here’s the full list:

Continue reading

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On being thankful

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 8.48.46 PMA month ago I had a baby*. It’s hard to get out of the house with a newborn, but when we do, the world feels more vibrant, brighter than I remember it being before the baby’s arrival. The first time I left, I was shocked by what I saw — there were people, and they were doing things, and there were coffee shops and drugstores and cars and I couldn’t believe the world hadn’t stopped for us.

Anyway, there are lots of stories I could tell about the past month, but I’m inspired by Libba Bray’s post on kindness today.

Real talk: the first week after giving birth is brutal. In retrospect, I feel like I was in shock, in the medical sense. I was in physical pain, which also doesn’t help, and I hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep in four days (since two nights before going into labor), so I was exhausted and terrifyingly resigned to the fact that I would be more exhausted as the days went on. Hormones were (are) crashing into every part of me, leaving me feeling like an alien in my own body. I am only just now beginning to feel like parts of myself have returned, commingling with all the new parts.

And of course, most pressingly, there was this…creature I had to take care of. This beautiful, fragile stranger that needed things from me. And I had no idea how to provide most of those things.

And this is where kindness matters. Because so many people have been so kind that many days, my tears are tears of gratitude. There are too many acts of kindness to list here, but most of them were simple, easy things that made all the difference. An old friend from childhood, for example, sent me an email that, quite frankly, saved my sanity. It was out of the blue (we don’t email much) but it came at the perfect time and was exactly what I needed to hear. Other friends dropped off baby things they no longer needed; almost daily, gifts arrived. People texted and messaged with offers of help and words of advice, and people visited for just the right amount of time.

Next week is Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday, but also, how is it Thanksgiving already?) and as I raise my glass at a gorgeous meal, I’ll be acknowledging the kindness of family and friends (and, sometimes, perfect strangers) who have helped me. Among many other things, the first few weeks of having a newborn are a lesson in accepting and asking for support, and finding grace somewhere in the messy whirlwind of the day.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

 

* Baby’s online code name is Leia. As in Princess. (My husband is a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen it once, at his urging.) If I reference Leia in future posts, I’m talking about my daughter. 

 

 

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Boo

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 5.09.05 PMWhen October comes I think about witches.

Okay, really, I think about witches all the time, practically. But October feels like the only appropriate month to talk about them out loud, to hang their likenesses in our living rooms, to show off the warts on the ends of our own noses. I spend the month reading witchy stories (currently: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane; on deck: The Penguin Book of Witches) and Netflixing witchy movies and thinking about that witch tattoo I’ve been wanting for years.

Maybe what I love most about witches is the fact that, this time of year, they’re everywhere, despite people’s efforts to stamp them out for so many centuries now.

In my neighborhood, signs of Halloween are just beginning to peep forth the way flowers bud in the spring: first you spot one, then two, then you blink and the whole ground is covered with them. It started with a single brownstone stretching out fake spiderwebs across its front stoop; now, every third house has its own spiderwebs, and the fresh fruit stands at the bodegas have been replaced with pumpkins and gourds, and we all just seem to be waiting for the ghosts, the monsters, the magic to appear.

I’m waiting for lots of things these days–namely, my labor to begin. As much as I love Halloween, I don’t want a Halloween baby, and as I wind down at work this week I find myself Googling “how to induce labor.” Apparently there’s a restaurant nearby that’s famous for its baked ziti, said to be just the key for women past their due dates. (Let’s hope it doesn’t have meat in it, because I plan on trying it next week!)

I know this is all silly: the baby will come when she comes, no matter how much delicious Italian food I consume; the shining, brief focus on witches won’t spur many people to consider their history, their tragedy.

But I’ll still scour Google while watching Practical Magic.

 

 

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Summer reading, or not

Beach reading is the best. I usually plan my beach reading weeks — months! — in advance, curating what I hope will be the perfect books to complement my summer days.

This summer, though, I didn’t. Partly that’s due to Amazon. Because of their business practices (read more here), I stopped purchasing from Amazon sometime in the early spring. And considering I was exclusively reading from my Kindle, that means my book habits have changed significantly.

Basically, I find it difficult to actually access the books I want to read now. (The New York Public Library has been helpful for older e-titles, and I’ve been reading more print books than I have in years. Also, lots of magazines!) So when I went to the beach for a week in July, I didn’t bring any books with me and decided instead that I would read whatever I could get my hands on — leftover books found at the rental house, borrowed titles from my friends, etc.

I wrote about my week without books here on Medium.

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August is restless

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 11.06.10 PMThese days I lack the long-term focus to watch movies. An hour-long drama pushes my limits; halfway through I think “What was I just doing?” which turns into “Is it me, or is this show not terribly interesting?”

It’s me. Right now, it’s always me.

Even reading books takes up more concentration than I can sometimes handle; on the F train I catch myself re-reading the same page again and again, forcing myself to process the words, feeling them, recognizing them, but somehow not understanding them, until finally I arrive at my stop and join the crowd going up the often-broken escalator.

August is restless for me but it’s also cool, transformative, unlike any other month I’ve experienced. This year, August mornings are autumnal. I walk down Lafayette Street and notice the shadows are longer. The sun is always moving but somehow we never really see it until August is almost over, when it’s too late to remember to do anything about it.

So August moves on and with it the summer and the world and the news. Too much news. Back in the early aughts when the Iraq war first began I had a coworker who would come into the office bleary-eyed and late, behind on deadlines. “I just can’t stop watching war coverage,” she would say. That’s how I feel this week. I check the #ferguson stream constantly; I stew, I cry, I seethe. I can’t focus on much, but I can focus on that hashtag, I guess.

There is nothing for me to do but breathe through it all: the restlessness, the anger, the fear, the fatigue. The time passing. The future. I take so many deep breaths, so many sighs, that people ask me if I’m okay, what’s wrong, why are you sighing. But it’s just the way I try to recenter myself. It’s just me, getting through the month and the world the only way I know how.

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