My year in books

Screen shot 2013-12-26 at 1.18.02 PMI once met a girl in high school who kept track of all the books she’d read in a tiny, fat spiral-bound notebook, and I’ve never forgotten her. (That’s a lie, of course; I have no idea her name or how I met her.)

Since then, each December I’ve caught myself remembering some vague promise to keep track of the books I’d read that year. “Oh, that?” I’d think. “Yeah, I was supposed to do that. Oh well.”

Oh well indeed. Because guess what, folks? I finally did it. Take that, past self! In January I started a spreadsheet and dutifully tracked every book I read, with two exceptions.*

Pre-2013, I made an effort to read more adult novels this year (for many reasons, none of which anyone else cares about); and I think it shows, especially compared to last year. In total, I read 20 children’s books (Young Adult and Middle Grade) and 14 adult, for a grand total of 34 books (again, see exceptions below). I’m pretty proud of that number.

I always like to know what other people read, so if you’re interested, here’s my list (it’s even in order!).

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Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 6.34.56 PMI am taking this all in to hoard for later — the lights, the songs, the frantic rush, and too the mess of it all, the cold, the long receipts that curl up at the bottom of my purse. I love Christmas time, a love that’s so intense it’s a little scary, and odder still because I’m not even Christian. But then again I like the pagan parts of it, the way most of what we do today is based in ancient myths, like setting up trees in living rooms as a way of warding off darkness and evil, a remembrance of summer months. (I like this plea to “spare a thought for the Blackheads,” a brotherhood of German merchants, who sort of reinvented the burning of spruces at this time of year in the mid-16th century.) (I like too the reminder that everything we do comes from somewhere else, morphed and re-mythologized; it’s the closest to honoring tradition I get.)

A two-and-a-half hour winter solstice yoga workshop yesterday was like a burning of its own kind. A new start. Fire in our bellies, in our thighs, in our shoulders as we hovered in planks for longer than I’d like. We hung out in goddess pose, we moved, we chanted. I understand finally how ritual can be a binding, can be a call to ancestors. After class our instructor asked us to drop yellow roses into the Hudson, and we did, and the sun was putting on a show, and the Empire State Building saluted back.

I took the long way home after the workshop, after sharing a Witch’s Brew beer with my sister, more images of burning; fire everywhere, always. The sun had set and I had nowhere to be, and I got off at my old subway stop and walked through my favorite streets, streets I hadn’t visited in a while. More lights; festivity everywhere. When is the last time I didn’t have someplace to be? My walk felt like its own rebirth, its own solstice gift, its own stocking stuffer.

December always moves too fast for me, blurry and spinning. I am trying to hold on to it, to remember it, before so many things change. But it has its own mission — to get us to a new year — and it’s slipping through my hands too quickly, a wave of red and green sparkles in its wake.

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Museum dreams

I don’t go to museums enough, and living in New York, the fault lies with me and my laziness.

6885325696_b5f26398bdSo a few weekends ago my friends and I went to the Met to see an exhibit about girls and cats, only it turned out to be kind of a gross exhibit and the artist was surely breaking some laws when he painted those pre-teen muses, but that’s not the story here. What is the story is this: I went to the Met for the first time in years right as I was reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which (no spoilers, don’t worry) has a Met component, and the book is lush and intense and I get lost in it on my morning commute, and now I can’t stop dreaming of museums.

The high ceilings, the long walls. Room after room of the European masters, which makes me repeat Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts from memory; gift shops where I nearly become convinced that I could do this, I could be someone who frequents the Met and has art books on my (nonexistent) coffee table. Museums and their corresponding dreams make me want to be a better person.

Instead, I go home to my old sketchbooks, my certificate from high school declaring me “best artist,” my charcoals. I go home and think about my art again, and what I could and should do with it, how it’s a form of meditation. How it’s just another way of telling stories.

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Doing it till it’s done

3427826247_d02281da2cI am working on revisions for some agents. They are a slog. They are why I am nowhere online this month.

That’s a lie: they are actually kind of fun, in a way. They are illuminating. They are necessary. They are challenging, but worth it.

This isn’t a NaNoWriMo post, but I’m liking the symmetry; I’m finding editing inspiration in all the tweets I see from writers logging their minutes. I have edited before — top to bottom, heavily and lightly, successfully and less so. But now, for the first time, maybe, I’m editing and rewriting with every word in mind. Literally, every one. With each keystroke I pause and think, “Did I mean that? Is that the best way to phrase it? Would she really react like that?” I’m finally understanding one of my main characters, whose personality has always been a bit fuzzy. Now I hear her. Now I get her. Now I finally like her.

The revisions are taking time. It’s all justifiable — wedding, work, other deadlines — but it’s still hard for me to sit with. New things are landing on the tips of my ears, whispering. Shinier things. Sitting down and starting each day is more than half the battle, especially when your days are (lately) extremely mentally exhausting, and you’re feeling the urge to hibernate and string up some Christmas lights.

Part of what I need to do with this revision is change the working title; something I’ve always known, but all my beta readers seemed to like it so I kept it a secret from myself. The new title is on the tip of my tongue — so close, I can hear the words ringing in my ear, but not clear enough for me to make them out yet. So I keep brainstorming. I have lists and lists of titles; I have iPhone Notes and emails to myself and scrap post-its that are all tucked into the piles of my desk. At my last writing group (shout-out to the incomparable ladies who comprise it), when I realized I needed to rip up the beginning, I opened up a new Scrivener document and called it BURN DOWN THE HOUSE. I set the first 10 chapters on fire, so I may as well just call it what it is. Arson.

So, yes, this is where I’ve been. All my writing energy is going to work and to burning down a house that I love so, so much but know it can be better. So I need a name. Names are important.

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Ghost dreams

600254_10151973891963428_167525136_nIf you browse the tourist traps lining the South’s historic, wide streets, with their rows of books about spooky houses and battlefields, you’ll soon discover the South is full of ghosts. Or at least, it wants desperately to be.

On Tybee Island we stayed in a sparkling yellow bed & breakfast, so ripe with butterflies that I had to swat them away. There were bunnies – four, though we only saw three – who roamed the grounds, freed from their cages. There was a cat, but I don’t really like cats and today, two full weeks later, I couldn’t even tell you what color it was. There were wind chimes on its sprawling second-floor porch, but our time on Tybee was hot and I didn’t hear them move.

I wasn’t thinking about the ghosts of the south at all, that first night on the island.

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If I could only remember one thing, let it be this single moment

1016661_10201547573863635_812159393_nOn the dance floor, halfway through our first dance, which we almost didn’t even do, the DJ announced that everyone was invited to join us. No one moved. My heart pounded; already it had been too long a time of people staring at us, too much time in the spotlight. So she repeated it, insistently, and I laughed out loud, grateful to her, and suddenly the floor was bursting with people, overflowing with couples dancing. We swirled around in the middle and I gripped my new husband tighter and I saw my parents, my aunt and uncle, all our friends flooding into us, and right then, I thought, “This is it, this is the moment that encapsulates everything.”

I was so much more affected by that first dance than I ever expected to be. And that is the cool thing about weddings, about big life events, about life in general: what you don’t expect to gut you sometimes does, and it’s everything.

As the song ended — Ingrid Michaelson’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” — the DJ seamlessly started the next one. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” had never sounded more beautiful; suddenly, the room was pumped, and I felt electric.

I barely left the dance floor all night.

Je ne regrette rien.

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994623_10151909679348428_1313082205_nThere’s something both kitschy and sad about a Jersey boardwalk, but also comforting. Especially in September, when the crowds have gone but the sun still lingers, and you’re with your friends for the weekend in a gorgeous house your sister’s father-in-law owns, and everyone is taking care of you, and the weather is perfect, and you watch a wedding take place on the beach, and you chuckle and think you made the right decision by sticking to the city for your own wedding.

And then you forget all about it when a dead dolphin washes ashore, and your thoughts change to the impermanence of this all, to how sinkholes can swallow towns in Louisiana and new islands can appear after Pakistani earthquakes, and then you circle back to the reason you’re getting married to begin with, which is, at its core, an attempt to forge something permanent in a place so temporary, so ever-shifting.

We indulged all weekend. A lot. But I feel greedily at peace with it all — the 11am cocktails, the double cupcakes. So much cheese, so much pizza. The lounging, the laughter. My whole body has felt light and fluid since then. I came home overwhelmed; too much friendship, too much love, too much grace. Our house is a mess — boxes everywhere, bags and bags of books (decoration for the wedding). There’s still so much to do, only not really, just some stuff that needs to be wrapped up, and I’ve reached the point anyway where I don’t care. The details don’t matter anymore. All the important stuff is done. All the love has surfaced.


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Tonight I saw some leaves fall, the first of the season, and I tucked myself deeper into my jacket and laughed out my excitement. It’s autumn, my favorite precursor to my favorite season. Everyone gets back to business this month; everyone tries to remember what it is they’re paid to do. Everyone lets the laziness linger as long as possible, sure, but there’s no escaping the lost sunlight, the passing of time, the packed agendas.

I had a board meeting tonight and during it I had to remind myself being present is a choice; good ideas sprout from listening. When I came up with something well-received it was like digging up a grave I’d forgotten was buried; a hand reaching up through the dirt. My mom once asked me if I spent my days in meetings, wonder lacing through her words, and when I told her yes, and some nights too, she sighed and said she was jealous; my mom, whose work taxes her muscles and forces a diet of Advil and early bedtimes.

So fall is ringing the bell, and this weekend I’ll spend one last weekend on the beach, only it’ll be a different beach, in a stunning house with my closest friends for my bachelorette party. In three weeks I’m getting married and I can’t wait. I can’t wait for the day and I can’t wait for my life and I can’t wait, honestly, for it all to be over so life can be normal again, so life can be about what’s for dinner and who paid the cable bill and where are we going for Thanksgiving and what’s on TV instead of crossing things off a spreadsheet. When fall finally settles in here in New York, I’ll be away, chasing the sun down south, clinging on to what’s left of summer, and I’ll return in end-October with a new season of my own.

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Lucky stars

What do you do when you have too much on your plate? Count your lucky stars.

I’ve been accused of being too Pollyanna-y, and that’s a fair assessment, but the truth is the world is sweaty and exhausting and we all end up the same anyway, so why not make it a point to find the light in darkness? Why not try?

This morning I attended an event held by New York Women in Communications, where a panelist relayed the above quote, and last night I (finally) read the Entertainment Weekly interview with Josh Whedon, and I swear these two things are related, because together they have re-lit a spark in me that I thought was gone: Do what you love. You are not stuck. People believe in you, believe you can do more than you yourself think you can do.

During my annual girls’ beach week vacation last month, one bright day we were walking from our rental house to the beach, a straight shot of four blocks, past the LBI historical society, past all the Victorian houses that serve as bed & breakfasts, past my childhood, when a teenage girl pulled out in her car in front of us. “Class of 2013″ and “Vassar-bound” was soaped on her windows, and I thought, wow, there’s a girl who’s excited about her next steps. And I felt it, that unmistakable pang of regret that I never felt the same about college. My own journey was less exciting; through various circumstances I ended up at a school I didn’t care about (and soon actively disliked), and so I transferred second semester freshman year, and my new school was fine, it was great, even (it was just voted top public college in the north!); but I’ll always be missing that sheen of anticipation that high school seniors should have. That will always be a gap in the conversation when I talk about that time of my life. And I don’t want anymore gaps in conversations.

Basically, I had a bit of a revelation this morning, and it has me wondering, what’s holding so many of us back, and why.

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