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. 




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.

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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.


Treehouse parties

Screen shot 2013-07-13 at 9.09.02 PMToday 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.

Turquoise friends

Last week I got a pedicure in a shiny turquoise blue, and today it matches my shirt, and it makes me think of my dear friend K. in London, whom I haven't seen since September. These days I only see her twice a year or so, and even then that's just luck, based on her annual jaunts here and my annual jaunts there. If people are colors, she is turquoise, or aqua, or chlorine blue -- whatever you want to call it. She is bright and clear and smooth and vivid. At her wedding she wore satin turquoise heels and he wore a turquoise bow tie and the bridesmaids wore turquoise dresses and so here I am, 3,000 miles away, thinking of her because of my toes, thinking of the baby's breath in her hair and the bagpipes playing and the walk across the Royal Naval Academy in Greenwich that fine spring day in our heels.

All of the best people in my life, except for my family and a couple of childhood friends, I've met mostly as an adult. Is that normal? Is it a result of having changed so much in the past 15 years of my life, of, to borrow a phrase from a book I'm currently reading (The Vanishers), giving birth to my true self and then willing those people into existence?

As a teenager I couldn't imagine where I'd be in my early thirties. Did I think I would have friends scattered across the world, with accents I'd never heard, with careers and lives and perspectives that make me shine? Did I know things would be this incredible? I mean, is anyone where they thought they'd be, with lives they thought they'd have?

All the girls here are freezing cold

The lights moved over me but mostly, I was thankful for the darkness, the space to embrace some stillness. Next to me, T. was silent, a hand over her mouth, eyes straining to watch the French quartet, whose strings were plucked with something between precision and abandon. They were beautiful. We had just had an overdue conversation -- she's one of those friends we've dubbed "the extra Baden sister" -- that was cut short when the lights went down and the music started. I'm having trouble writing this post, and have stopped and re-started multiple times. I don't want to be dramatic. But it's hard not to be when I think about Tori Amos; my life with her. This weekend I saw both shows at The Beacon; I've lost count, but I think they were shows 41 and 42. (It's important to note my number is actually quite small in comparison to many other Tori fans; I remember talking to some people at a show during my college years who were on their 100th viewing, and that was 10 years ago.)

The thing is, Tori is a barometer for me. She is a photo album. When she sings "Beauty Queens" and leads right into "Horses," I cry, remembering being 16 and 17, sitting on the carpeted floor of my bedroom in front of my 7-disc CD changer; how I was a senior in high school, driving my first car and stalling out on a perfect Fall day, what that meant, who I thought I was. Then she pulls out a U2 cover, and then does a "God"/"Running Up That Hill" (Kate Bush) mash-up, and I think about being 15, or 22, and the same things happens -- a tide of memories.

I hope everyone has a musician, or something, they can mark their lives against the way I can with Tori.

My best girls either came to the shows with me or met up with us beforehand, or after, and it was like I felt the shift happen right under me: that, before, wasn't a memory, but this, here, now, is.