On 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.
There’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.
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.
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.
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.
I tried fresh coconut for the first time in Sri Lanka, sipping the warm liquid straight from the shell, and it tasted like the opposite of how it smelled, sweet and dewy and mild. An impromptu game of cricket had started, and I took the opportunity to rest my feet, my back. Six days of labor were behind me, but two remained ahead, stretched out like impossible scenarios.
In 2006 I went to Hikkaduwa, a coastal town in southern Sri Lanka that had been washed away by the 2004 tsunami. When I got off the plane, a 13 hour flight from London, the air was so thick — it was mid-January, their summer — that it lodged itself in my throat and stayed there all eight days, wrestling with my airways. My hair hung in limp ringlets, thin against my head. Everything everywhere around me drooped.
Crossing the street from the hotel to the line of shops, bursting with tarnished jewelry and buddha statues, was a risk. There are no real traffic laws in Sri Lanka. Limbs hung out of buses where windows should be, person on person; stray hands that rested flat against the rusting bus, resigned to the kind of heat that no breeze can shake.
One night we took a canoe through the river, rounding bends over alligators. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so still. I had never felt more different. We ate a meal I can’t remember in a backyard lit up with torches, but I bet the fish was still on the bone; I bet I thought, this fish survived the tsunami only to be eaten by me, a stray American.
Today I am working on some revisions — converting a series of third person chapters into first — and Mike Doughty is playing on my iPod. For some reason I was really into “I Hear the Bells” that winter of 2006, and when I mixed the cement that week, turning heavy piles of stone and paste over and over with impossible shovels, I sang that chorus in my head; the same refrain over and over. Now I can’t hear it without feeling that blanket of heat, that angry sun. That last day, the day of coconut drinking and cricket, the day I watched a group of local kids tease the Aussies and Brits about their game play, was the day my arms gave out. Too much cement, too much shoveling. Too much left to do; what was the point when 15 people couldn’t even build a single house that week, when so many people had lost everything.
The moments of kindness still stick out the most. Afternoon tea breaks, steaming hot and sugary, still the best tea I’ve ever experienced, and the best company — a family of seven, living in a house of two rooms, sharing a single bed, and still offering us all they had, all they could think of. A colleague, seeing my collapse, who said, “You’re good, you’re good, here, come sit next to me,” and every year after that we’d still meet up for lunch in London, until one year we didn’t anymore, and now I can’t even remember his name.
But I remember his eyes and the way they helped me that day. I remember the cement, and the shovels; the ladders we stood on to reach the rooftops, the creaking of my hips each night as I stretched out, sore and stiff. The soupy air. The Buddha statue in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The lapping of the water over my ankles, the sunsets, the tourist bars. The knowledge that I would forget most of this soon, that I’d never see these people again.
In the summer I listen to Jackson Browne because that was the music of my sixteenth summer, and even then it was old, it was the music of my boss at my summer job, but it played in our store on the best corner of Long Beach Island and I memorized every word without realizing it. My boss loved him so much she even named her son Jackson; I babysat him one winter, in the off-season, and I kept dashing into his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing. Babies are terrifying and also too simple.
A few summers later her car wrapped around a tree on her way home. I can’t remember how I found out about it – I suspect my mom broke the news – but I do remember standing around the kitchen of my summer restaurant, hating the looks of sympathy my coworkers were sending me in between waiting tables. This wasn’t about me; I didn’t want their emotions.
I can’t think of summer, I can’t live summer, without thinking about her. Or this: the lingering concern that I spend too much time trying to get back to those July days when a cut of blue air would land on my heart, when the hours drifted by in a haze of cotton, a distant radio, sand tracked on tile floors. Shift work. Lunch breaks. A register ringing. Crushes on the coffee boys, a car that rarely started.
My favorite place to stretch out, to escape, is the floor of my living room. I’m below the line of earth outside the front windows when I’m that low; I can see the sky, the growing building across the street; a different view every day.
I have always felt airy and so this recent need to be at level with the ground outside is interesting for me to watch. No judgment. Just now, I left the counter, where I have piles of papers spread out, working on a memoir project for a new imprint, to take to the floor. The pull was intense. (Maybe I didn’t get enough savasana in yoga today.)
This weekend, our neighbors are away in Ireland, along with another group of friends, there for a separate wedding, so in addition to suddenly feeling like Ireland is the place to be we are babysitting some plants they left in our care: basil, peppers, an unnamed leafy thing that is flourishing. Lying down in my spot, all three loom over me from the windowsills, bigger than they actually are, curving towards the late afternoon sunlight. The very sunlight that, I fear, will be much changed once the building across the street is fully erect.
When our plant-sitting stint is over, the only greenery we’ll be left with is the bamboo a dear friend gifted us when we moved in together last year; a Chinese tradition. I always say I don’t want a garden but when in one’s vicinity I find myself swayed, picturing weekends filled with sore backs and muddy knees and a bounty. I imagine myself with a pride in growing something from scratch, from seed. Something beautiful, or delicious. Something to make ourselves remember the ground is a gift; a surprise.
Today the sun fought with the rain, a war I watched from a treehouse in Princeton. Off and on the clouds breathed on the tall windows, surrounding us in a gray sweater, only to be pushed away a few minutes later by rays of sun that just wouldn’t give in.
I appreciate a good set of windows. My friend — the one who lives in the treehouse, which is really a detached garage apartment that sparkles with colors and patterns and rainbows, with framed photos and homemade artwork and coziness, with skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass that overlooks a greenery I never fully appreciate until I see it in person — shares her space with deer and rushing creeks and a wall of trees that manages to startle me each time I visit. I miss certain kinds of trees here in Brooklyn, and the ones in Princeton — old, peeling, with branches that crack and fall to the tune of thunder — are what one thinks of when one hears the word ‘forest.’
It is nice, to say the least, when a group of women comes together with no purpose other than marking a passing of time. My friend always has a plan for her birthday. It’s a day she celebrates by inviting a curated list of people, which sounds exclusive but is handled deftly in a way I admire, and creating an agenda of food and poetry and yoga and sangria. She hosts us in an old-fashioned way — hands out goodie bags and treats on our way out the door, down the treehouse steps. We never get to the poetry reading part; we spend all our time catching up instead.
At a certain point in your life it’s easy to say no, to say that’s so far for a day’s trip, to say I’m busy and I’m tired and I just saw you last month and I’ll see you again next month and can’t we just Facebook instead? It is easy, and sad, and each time I say yes, each time I make the effort to see my old friends face-to-face, in their own treehouses, I am greatly rewarded.
There’s a photo taken of me from two summers ago, standing in tree pose on a ledge overlooking the southernmost tip of Long Beach Island; a 20-foot drop to a rocky bottom. The late August sun burned into my shoulders. We had driven down to the end of the island just to show off the view to our friends — a faraway Atlantic City skyline — and to dance in a different ocean for a few moments. I saw my opportunity, eager for an audience, and stepped up; a one-legged balancing act, looking out to the sea.
I inherited the panic gene from my mother, who wears it like a bracelet, jingling with every flick of her wrist. And I’ve come to terms with it — the tingle in the stomach, the train of adrenaline that rushes by and pools in my fingers. So at odd moments – the breath before sleep, the split second before the phone rings — I find myself always back on that ledge, considering the drop, remembering the sun, squinting my eyes. What a foolish act, I think, getting up on there and standing like a tree, breathing in deep, trying to find an om somewhere on the ocean. What if my balance had been off that day? What if a gust of wind, a rogue wave, had taken up more space than I had accounted for? How much damage could have been done?
Worry is a funny friend. I can laugh at some of the things that used to pinch my insides with fear now, years after the fact, but there’s a danger in cockiness. Just when you think you have both shoes in the ground, a third one comes falling out of the sky. So I’ve learned to like my panic, or appreciate it, at least; a little anxiety is preferable to a fall over a ledge, to a broken bone, to a gun pointed at your stomach in a foreign country.
I don’t know how many diaries I bought as a kid. I just know it was a lot, considering I never (ever) filled them up and never had a lot of money to spend. But diaries were my downfall. The key, the lock, the smooth covers, the fresh, blank pages…there was so much potential in them. In the Thrift Drug in the center of town there was a case of them, pale blues and pinks, and I would run my finger over them and think, “I can say so much in here!”
I never did, though. After a few half-hearted entries they’d fall to the wayside, one by one; a graveyard of calm colors dumped under my bed.
I had this yearning to be the kind of girl who wrote in diaries back then, similar to my yearning to always be acting out a scene from Teen magazine, like how, the night before the first day of school, I would almost always hot-roll my hair and put on a face mask and call my friends on the phone, even when I didn’t have anything to say and besides, I hate talking on phones, because that is what I thought I was supposed to do as a pre-teen girl; that is the story I wanted to convey. (One year, the mask took so long to dry, and my mom was working that night, and my dad got annoyed at me for not being in bed yet, but I couldn’t go to bed because I had to let the mask dry. And then it was too late to call my friends, and even my sisters were near-asleep already, and my whole staged scene was ruined that night. I woke up with red eyes and a lingering hiss of betrayal at Teen.)
Back to diaries: sophomore year of high school my friends and I had a little, fat notebook we called Phat. We used it in lieu of passing notes to each other — instead, we just passed around Phat, which was filled to bursting with secrets and doodles and song lyrics and crushes and recaps of that day’s General Hospital episode. A core group of us shared Phat, with occasional guest posts from other friends. (I like to think of it as my very first shared blog.) Sometime in college when K and I found Phat in our bedroom, its green cover tattered, we realized how dangerous it was. All the original writers were off at college, steeped in new lives and new allegiances, and the level of change made Phat risky. So we shredded it. the only real diary I’ve ever finished. I still regret it.
Today I found this article about a new kind of digital locked diary, and my heart leapt. I found myself thinking, how could I use this? Would people laugh at me? But what if I kept it secret? Then I would have a secret about a secret diary and…maybe that feels a little much. The drive for a locked book where I could dump everything hasn’t gone away, it seems. Even though I know better now. I know I would never write in them.
Today, when I hear other writers talking about how they filled diary after diary as a kid, graduating to proper journals as a teenager, I can’t help but think, “Liars.” But maybe they’re not like me, is all. Maybe they haven’t saved it all up to parcel it out, piecemeal, into various manuscripts.