A Willa Cather winter

9780307959300_custom-b74b240940d1f5c0fca7134c17ea2e56d0164a7e-s6-c30It’s been a long winter, says everyone in the US. Me too. Despite my insisting for years that winter is my favorite season, that I crave the cold and dark, I’m leaving it behind this time. No more winter love from me.

This winter has been a season of mismanaged expectations. Things I thought would happen never did; things I thought would take longer happened right away. A few times I gave up on things I’d long counted on, only to have them snap open by themselves in the middle of the night like haunted books.

It feels like a Willa Cather winter. If you read My Antonia, you know what I’m talking about: a season you might not survive. Some nights I pick up her Selected Letters, heaving that brick of a book onto my stomach; it’s so uncomfortable to hold when you’re used to a tiny Kindle. (How did I manage textbooks back in the day? Are my wrists out of shape?)  Still, I read on, enthralled. I’m struck by her challenges, her gifts; Willa the person, not the author. How her dimples shine through her old photos, how through her old letters I start to think of her as a friend.

I didn’t keep any letters from my childhood. These days I don’t even save emails; I’m purging things wherever I go, trying to make space for something new. I wonder, what kinds of nonfiction collections will be published in the next hundred years, since no one writes letters anymore? How will our future descendants get to know us? How will they know what our winters were like?



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Teenage fandom

137964I just saw a selfie some fans took at the “Divergent” premiere and got a serious pang of jealousy.

I have never read Divergent and don’t plan on seeing the film, so this is not about Divergent, but it’s about fandom, and more specifically, teenage fandom. Here’s where I’m going with this: a lot of people read and loved Divergent. And just like with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Twilight, they get to see every part of its journey, from being something a friend told them about in geometry to being a household name that people get tattooed on themselves. From being a cool book you and your friends read to being a real brand, with actual merchandise.

I wish I had had that as a kid. I’m trying to imagine what it must be like, at that formative age, to have something you love become so…big. When it’s already all-consuming in your head and then it turns an all-consuming love of the larger world around you, I just can’t even picture it. It must be like what my first Tori Amos concerts felt like, magnified by a billion.I would have passed out if something I love(d) as much as Tori was mainstream the way young adult literature is these days. Do you all even know how cool that is? How new? How lucky you are? *now get off my lawn*

Sometimes I worry I picked the wrong time to be a teenager. Teens in the eighties had malls (and I am sorry/not sorry to see their mall culture eroding), and teens in the aughts had/have the Internet, but what did we nineties teens have, apart from some flannel and Spice Girls? Was there even a defining book of my teenage generation?

Since there’s not, I’m thinking of the ones I wish could be it. Like the Sunset Island series. No, wait! It would be the entire Christopher Pike oeuvre. In fact, here it is; I’m declaring it now. Dear fellow peers who are couched on the border between Generations X and Y, Christopher Pike was our Divergent, our Hunger Games. (It wasn’t our Harry, because let’s be real, nothing can compare to the Harry phenomenon.)

Now. Where’s my movie premiere? (I’ll settle for a tee shirt.)

(Also, I had no idea Christopher Pike was a pseudonym!)



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


220px-Sylvia_plathThe first Sylvia Plath poem I ever read was Mirror, and I read it out loud in English class my senior year of high school, sometime during those long days between winter and spring. I don’t think I ever stopped reading it.

I was dying to get out of high school then. I’d long since quit being captain of the cheerleading team; the vice principal had called me and my sister into his office to make sure we weren’t heading down a wrong path — since obviously quitting something as important as cheerleading is a blazing red flag, a sign that we were about to go out big, burning everything in our path — and everyone was annoying me, with their fake nostalgia for childhood. Like they weren’t desperate to escape our tiny town, too; like they weren’t equally terrified the way I was.

So I found Plath, thanks to a teacher who passed away last year. She’s the same teacher who introduced me to the New Yorker. She was a gem, that lady.

The year of Plath is also the year I became close with a friend who, despite our drifts, despite the bad turns our friendship occasionally took, is still someone I think of often. She, like Plath, marked me in concrete ways. The two are oddly intertwined in my mind; today, the day of Plath’s suicide, is my old friend’s birthday. It’s like some kind of fate.

I think of Plath as a rite of passage; a book of collected poems, a bell jar, handed down between generations of college women. Maybe my friend is, too — someone you love even though you’ve both done wrong, even though you communicate by text only once a year or so. They’re both treasures in their own way.

Image via Wikipedia


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Maiden, mother, crone

410px-Poisonwood_Bible“But look at old women and bear in mind we are another country.”  (The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver)

This morning I finished reading The Poisonwood Bible (here’s the story behind that). It is stunning; the kind of book that changes you. The kind of book that makes you roar with injustice, with hope. It murmurs sentences like the one above, lines that made me cry, on nearly every page.

It should be required reading. Forget Catcher in the Rye; forget my love for The Great Gatsby, for the Whartons of the world. (Sorry, Edith. Love you always.) Make this the title all seniors in high school have to read before graduating.

It’s also the kind of book that makes a writer go, well, fudge. I didn’t write that. And how can we all go on breathing when there are people writing things like this among us, and we are not revering them as gods?

I’ve been on a writing break since I finished revisions to a manuscript and sent them off in December. Now I am waiting. The trick to this long, neverending game is knowing that the waiting will creep in and settle down into your pores if you’re not careful, turning you into a bottle of impatience, ready to pop.

The trick, also, is wondering if maybe I will be an old woman, my own country, too, before this, this big goal, happens for me. And maybe that’s just the train I’m on, carrying a ticket I can’t remember buying, but resigning myself to the ride. And maybe I just have to be okay with that, and keep taking day trips to other cities in the meantime.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments


Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.09.39 PM

When I wake up in the dark an innate, ancestral rage roars from my bones. It disappears, yes, eventually, and I feel guilty after the roar. I am an adult and should be able to wake up on demand.

This first reaction, a gut one, means that when my alarm went off at 5 this morning I got angry. It’s so stupid — I was angry at the alarm, which is my phone, which despite Siri’s responses to my questions doesn’t actually have feelings or agency. It must be an evolutionary holdover. Our cave ancestors feared the dark and when they woke up without the sun it was theoretically because of an approaching bear or enemy, maybe an antelope. And so they got angry. And so here we are.

Anyway, at 34 I’ve learned the trick: hang on until the first light. Fight off the nausea until a hint of dawn breaks through and you’re rendered speechless by the possibility of mornings. A whole day lies ahead; a whole life.

Image via

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Slow Sundays

Screen shot 2014-01-16 at 3.14.34 PMMy problem with baking is that baking is a science, requiring precision I’ve always lacked. (I was the girl in advanced Chem who had to ask for extra credit assignments because my labs always exploded.)

I’ve tried baking on — like sweaters, like formal dresses — and just as quickly I’ve flung it over the dressing room door, screaming about it being too tight, too scratchy. I never had any shoes to go with it. And then there is this: I have always been doubtful of anything that turns its nose at my adding an extra pinch of salt.

Slow cookers, though – they let me add anything.

My Sundays lately have been reserved just for this: shopping for carrots, chopping onions as that space behind my eyeballs screams at me (I inevitably end up the opposite of Sylvia Plath, sticking my head in the freezer to clear the tears), tossing raw chicken into slow cookers and topping all of it with spices. So many ingredients that used to be foreign to me, cumin and nutmeg, fresh parsley and cilantro; there’s one soup I make that calls for salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, oregano, and bay leaf, and together they make a gorgeous, muted rainbow that makes me feel like a real chef.

You can make fun of food pics on Instagram, but I like them. I see the pride in between the leaves of lettuce. I’m not a builder of anything physical; my hands are soft and well-lotioned. So I like to look at something I’ve cooked, something I’ve created, even if it’s only a stew and a crock pot did most of the work, and see a success. Something accomplished on a Sunday.


Image via

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

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!).

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment


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.

Image via

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

image via


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

image via

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment