At the beach

She would kill me if she knew this was on the internet. On Tuesday it stormed, bursts of rain landing on the dirty carpets, so strong we had to close the windows. We watched "Sweet Home Alabama" and made cocktails (mocktails for me) and squeezed onto the L-shaped couch, the perfect size for the six of us. This year's house liked to sway in the wind, even when there was very little of it--it's on stilts, it's normal, we're told--and as we rocked I was surprised at how many lines from the film I could quote from memory. I didn't think I'd seen it that often.

On our last full day I lay in bed a while, listening. There was a sharp breeze coming in the window next to me, a perfect beach wind, the kind you don't get on the mainland. Everyone else was up but they left me alone in my room and I felt that wind and thought about how the island is in my bones and blood, my genealogy. It's in my skin, too. Literally. On my first day of vacation I got two splinters in my palm from the deck chair; one so tiny I left it, hoping it'd work its way out. Ten days later it's still here, a beauty mark reminder of my vacation. A freckle, embedded.

One night after dinner my friends went to the local bar, an old favorite, but at six months pregnant I knew the bar stools would hurt so I visited my grandmother on her front porch; the house I grew up in, watching that special kind of island darkness fall over us. New York is never dark. I drink it in. Dark is important sometimes.

We rocked in our chairs and just watched. Earlier this summer we unearthed boxes of old photos in the attic and went through them, Instagramming the best ones, finding a sense of unexpected pride in my grandmother in her bathing suit, tan long legs, hair perfectly waved over her eyebrow. My family; the faces I'll never know but that kind of look like me. For every sepia woman we didn't recognize my grandmother would say, "Oh, that was probably one of my brother's girlfriends. He had a lot of them." And we would laugh and I would secretly be glad, because that's like my own brother, a guy who is never without a serious relationship; the antithesis of me before slipping into a marriage I now can't imagine my life without.

Later, when my friends were still at the bar but it was time for me to go, my mom drove me back to my rental. We took a detour to the south end of the island, looking through the knotty pines at the abandoned train station, dark and obviously haunted, and at her new favorite house on the bay, the one that seems too big for its lot. The streets there are wide, empty. Quiet.

This is what I always forget about when I'm not here: the space. There's so much of it for the taking.


Riding trains while pregnant

I decided once I popped and became visibly pregnant to keep a log about how often people offered me a seat on the subway, and what their demographics were. It's been interesting from a sociological perspective -- mostly women do it, but there are many who don't, and there have been some very kind men, too. But last night I had the most awkward train experience, the kind that made me flush purple, tears springing to my eyes.

Screen shot 2014-06-18 at 2.58.04 PMIt was crowded and there were no seats, so I grabbed a handle and opened my book. The thing about being visibly pregnant on a train is that it's blindingly obvious when people see your bump but pretend they didn't. It happens every day. The three folks seated in front of me very much saw my bump. In response, the young woman put on her sunglasses; the cute hipster wearing headphones rested his head back and closed his eyes, and the weird guy directly in front of me returned to staring off into nothingness.

No big. I rode six stops standing until the weird guy got off and I was able to snag his seat.

As soon as I sat down, though, a woman my age who had been standing next to me leaned over me.

"Did anyone offer you a seat?" She said. I told her no, and she was off and running, talking about how rude people are. I concurred but also shrugged and told her most people don't offer seats (based on my experience, about 1/3 of the time people do, although some weeks it's more). She continued, getting really worked up, and I started to flush. Pregnancy does weird things and lately I've been flushing when any attention is on me, and this felt like a spotlight shining down. See, the train had emptied quite a bit by this point, and people were listening.

Another woman jumped in. She'd apparently been keeping track too, and showed us her phone as proof, where she was penning a text to a friend about how she was watching a train full of people ignore the pregnant woman. She didn't want to say anything, she explained, because once when she was hugely pregnant and no one offered her a seat, a stranger began yelling at everyone on her behalf (unprompted) and nearly caused a fight.

I felt my flush travel and thicken, a snake wrapping around my neck.

They were super nice women and I'd like to get a drink with them, post-baby. But it was also awkward. I was sandwiched between two of the people we were all accusing of being rude. And I was pretty sure they were listening.

And then they confirmed it. A few minutes later, when the women had found their own seats across the way, the hipster with the headphones took them off and said lowly to me, in his British accent, "I'm really sorry. I didn't realize that's what I was supposed to do."

Which, first of all, I'm going to call a little BS on that one. But secondly, while that was very nice of him to acknowledge that, it put me in an uncomfortable position. (And I am already uncomfortable enough, thanks.) Because now I had to accept his apology and pretend it was no big deal, which felt almost like a manipulation, even though I am sure he was being sincere. What he did (or didn't do) isn't a big deal on a micro level, but it is kind of a big deal on a macro level.

People should offer seats to pregnant women. This is not groundbreaking. And yet when I googled this looking for news stories (like this one about the experiment on the London tube) I read a lot of comments from people saying they shouldn't have to give up their seats because, and I quote from a recent news article out of a San Francisco newspaper, "those ladies got themselves pregnant and they should live with their choices." (Oh, America! Never Please change.)

About four months into my pregnancy I passed out on the subway. I was on my way to a yoga class and stood at the pole (there were no seats, and I wasn't really visibly pregnant yet, unless you squinted) and next thing I knew I was keeled over, with people holding my arms and pushing water at me. I was so dazed that my first words when I came to (after "what happened?") were "Oh, I'm pregnant." The people who were helping me tsked. "You should have asked for a seat!" they said.

I guess I just feel like we shouldn't have to ask.

I know we are all tired and we've all had long days and there are very valid yet invisible reasons why some people can't and won't offer their seat. I don't know their lives. Maybe the guy whose seat I eventually got last night had been working on his feet for 12 hours straight and had the flu and really needed to rest. Maybe the girl with the sunglasses who wasn't even doing anything to keep herself occupied (I mean, if you have a seat, at least make use of it, for crying out loud) had her reasons.

But it would be nice if we all, collectively, opened our eyes and really saw what was in front of us now and then, and took action to make it better. When my husband had a broken foot and was on crutches, he still had to pointedly ask people if he could take their seat. Earlier this week I watched an elderly lady stand shakily in the middle of the train car and hold on for dear life. No one offered her their seat. Not even me, because I too didn't have one.

So, I don't know. Maybe I'm just being selfish because it's exhausting standing on a subway car when there's a tiny person kicking at you from the inside and your feet are swollen. But it's more likely that most of us are just so out of tune with the people and environment around us. Or, at worst, that most of us just don't care. But it would be nice if everyone, just once, reached out to someone pregnant, or elderly, or someone who's in a foot cast or with a crying kid or who looks more exhausted than we feel, and offered them something we have that we don't necessarily need. Like a seat.


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The hypocritcal writer explains

Screen shot 2014-06-03 at 10.49.46 AMA gorgeous friend of mine, an incredibly talented writer, just texted me to ask for advice on how to write what she really wants to write. "Should I pretend I'm writing a letter to my niece?" she asked, "What should be my homework? Can you direct me?" This time it's a book about living life while in tremendous pain. I have no doubts that whatever she writes will be lyrical, intense, soul-searching, important. But this is a common occurrence: people ask me for advice on writing. They want to know the tricks, the secret formula. I wish I knew it, if one exists. Perhaps it's something like one part grit, two parts free time (ha), one part outline, 17 parts passion.

I texted her back: "Remember there is no secret formula. Put your ass in a chair and write."

The thing is, I am such a hypocrite.

These past few weeks and months have been hectic; we just moved into a new place, and with it came the requisite stressors, compounded by my being in my fifth month of pregnancy, finishing up two semesters of adjuncting while also working my full-time day job...the list goes on. (Yes, we all suffer from busy syndrome. Sorry.)

I was in Florida in March to visit family, a lovely uncle who is now paralyzed after a stroke and massive heart attack, and while there had my first real writing inspiration in months. I started something new on my Notes app in my hotel room at 5am; I thought I'd come home, invigorated, and burst out a chapter book in a month. Ha, I say again. Instead I scribbled some notes in a blank Scrivener page a couple of times, and then took to the couch, napping before and after work and twice on weekends, bone-tired in a way I didn't realize pregnancy could cause. Grading papers for class took all my strength. Answering simple emails became my Everest. With pregnancy, everything takes twice as much energy, which would be okay if not for the feeling that I had only about half the energy per day that I used to. (I'm no mathematician, but that means I was doing a lot less than I used to.)

So now it's June, and I haven't looked at my work-in-progress in literally nearly two months. And my dear friend is asking me for writing advice, and I'm giving it, like I am some kind of expert.

My lesson here, a tough one, is that taking a break is okay. I am allowed to form a fortress of pillows around my body and lay down for hours at a time when I come home from work; it's okay for me to turn down invitations for Saturday nights because I can't imagine putting on clothes that aren't yoga pants. It's okay, even, to stop writing for a while, to be worried that all my creative energy is now circulating elsewhere and then to let go of that worry, because there is literally nothing I can do about it. This is who I am right now: someone who is tired, who is just trying to get through my days, who is excited and terrified and emotional and snappy and only occasionally able to see through the fog that has fallen over me like a dark curtain.

I've only just now forgiven myself for that.

Someone else I know just wrote about paring back her commitments for the summer to give herself a break; I was doing the same, subconsciously, but now I'm embracing it. Like Ross said: writing and I, WE WERE ON A BREAK. This is a time of transition, of self-care. I'm going to embrace it--or at least, not be angry at myself for it.

And I'm going to get back to writing. I will. It just might not happen this month.

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The house of...something

morgan_wharton_coverLast spring an unexpected offer had me teaching two classes this past semester, both for graduate students at NYU. It's something I never thought I'd do -- teach -- especially when I work full-time, sometimes more than full-time, at a job that keeps me engaged and checking my social platforms at midnight. (And especially considering I don't have, and don't want, a graduate degree.) I may have danced around with glee after I turned in my grades this week, but there's lots I'll miss about teaching. But oh, how nice it feels to have free weekends and Wednesday nights again. Just in time, too; next week we move into our new place, which means right now our apartment is part mess, part chaos, with boxes blocking the TV and random scraps of paper littering our floors. No one likes moving, of course, but we Cancers despise it most; my home is important to me, and a sense of unease has overtaken me when I walk in. It's temporary, but it's there.

All my books are packed (thanks, mom) and I have put myself on an ebook-buying hold, which means I'm currently reading a tattered old copy of The House of Mirth, a favorite. Or at least, I thought it was a favorite; I'm finding it tough to get through, but that's partly because the state of my mind these days is less than focused. It feels like a harkening back, though, like a visit to a memory; a piece of the familiar when everything else is changing. I'll take it.

Dancing shoes

astonish-me-by-maggie-shipsteadI'm reading a book set partly in the ballet world (Astonish Me, Maggie Shipshead) and eavesdropping on three young men, dancers too, on the A train tonight, talking about how their new choreographer actually respects them, how this dance is different from the others before it. How this choreographer saved them from walking out that day, from quitting dance altogether. Dancing is a commitment. If you ask me I'll tell you I was a dancer as a kid, but as an adult it's pretty clear that what I did back then wasn't dance, it was mime. Routines, memorized. Sometimes when the lights were just right, bouncing off the sequins dangling from our headbands, it was more than that, maybe, but only sometimes. At my tiny dancing school in New Jersey in the 1980s, dance was a jazz warm-up set to Janet Jackson; a series of back walkovers set to (still inexplicably) an old, slow, sad song called "Send in the Clowns." Dance was French braids backstage, blue eyeshadow, long rides in our minivan, clouds of hairspray. Dance was missing out on school field trips to Ellis Island because there was an important dance competition in rural Pennsylvania, and we needed the day for travel.

I was a dancer until one day I decided I wasn't, and that was that. Preteen me realized I was never going to be a professional dancer, so why continue? High school me realized I was never going to cheer in college,  so why continue? I suppose that's just who I am; I wake up sometimes and realize something that had been a part of me has broken away in the night. What did dance bring me, I wonder. Besides great memories and a flair for being onstage, what did all those years do for me? So what that I still perform tap routines when no one's looking? Was it worth it?

I've still never been to Ellis Island, even though I've lived in New York for years, and the answer is still yes, will always be yes.




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?



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!)




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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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.





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.

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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.


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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!).

The Princesses of Iowa, M. Molly Backes
Ask the Passengers, AS King
Beautiful Creatures, Margaret Stohl & Kami Garcia
I Hunt Killers (re-read), Barry Lyga
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
Stay with Me, Paul Griffin
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
17 & Gone, Nova Ren Suma
Going Vintage, Lindsay Leavitt
Gallagher Girls series, #1-4, Ally Carter
Someday, Someday Maybe, Lauren Graham
September Girls Bennett Madison
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Matthew Quick
Family Tree #1, Ann Martin
Game, Barry Lyga
The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani
The Engagements, J Courtney Sullivan
A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty
Austenland, Shannon Hale
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
The Silent Wife, ASA Harrison
Debutante Hill, Lois Duncan
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, Lynn Weingarten

And because we are a world of rankings, here are mine:

  • My favorite adult reads of the year: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls; A Hundred Summers; The Goldfinch; Where'd You Go, Bernadette.
  • My favorite YA: A Corner of White; Eleanor & Park; Game; Stay With Me.
  • My favorite MG: Ann M. Martin, whose new series, Family Tree, is just darling.

I'm in the middle of a couple of books already, but they'll count for the 2014 list. (Including another non-fiction title!! It's like I don't even know myself anymore.) I'll definitely keep going with this list -- it made book recommending this year so much easier, and it's super interesting to look back and remember what I've read.

If you've got any recommendations for me, please do leave them here!

*I didn't list all The Baby-sitters Club books I read. This is because a. that's embarrassing and b. they're so short I don't really count them. The other exception is various works-in-progress from my husband and my writing group. (One of which is a massive, thousand-page tome, so please note that if this list looks sparse, it's because I spent all of June immersed in that.)

**In general, please remember I work in children's publishing, but these opinions are my own.

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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.

Our room bordered the second floor porch, just next to the free cookies and drinks that were available 24/7. We’d been warned breakfast time might be a little noisy. The owner, chatty, had told us all about how she’d been ‘called’ to buy this property and give up her career as a real estate broker to refurbish it; the house was built around 1910, and had been a hotel in the 20s, and had just opened last year in its current incarnation. It felt like a movie set.

That first night there, my new husband fell asleep before me – a rarity. In our king-sized, four-poster bed, I tossed and turned, my brain still trying to process the fact that I was married now, that we’d just thrown a wedding, that nothing and everything had changed. I'd had no trouble sleeping in Savannah, with its open skies and mossy trees. It was disconcerting.

The thing we’d already realized about the South was this: it is quiet. Even on its noisiest streets, even in its honky-tonk bars at midnight on a Saturday, there’s a curtain of quiet that muffles out sound. It’s quiet enough that, at one in the morning in a b&b with a website that says “those seeking a Historic or Paranormal Adventure need search no further,” to hear any sound at all is enough to make your chest spasm in fear.

It was the wind chimes, singing their song in the earliest hours of the morning. I kept my eyes shut; I knew the drill. I just had to tell the ghosts I didn't want to see them today.

I have experience telling ghosts to hide from me. My senior year of college, I lived in a two-bedroom, first floor house on the outskirts of Trenton. For a host of reasons we’d only moved into the place in mid-September, so by the time we threw our first party the weekend before Halloween, any paranormal activity hadn’t quite had a chance to show itself yet. Someone there –maybe a roommate’s guest, or a friend of a friend – had declared himself a tarot card reader and general clairvoyant, and he roamed from room to room to get, he said, a feel for the spirituality of the place. He told me we had a fairy living here, and my Tori Amos-loving heart soared.

Then he stopped in the kitchen. His face changed. I got caught up in another conversation, in another guest, another beer, and he left.

That was the coldest house I’ve ever lived in. I would curl up in my comforter on the floor next to the radiator, trying to get warm. In the shower one winter day I finally felt comfortable, only then I grew too hot, lost my vision, fainted, and crawled out, naked and dripping water, into the dining room. I put my head between my legs. My vision returned, and with it a noise of roaring water so intense I turned around to see if some sort of tidal wave had breached the nearby river; it turned out to be my own blood rushing back to my brain.

That house had a second floor where a single woman lived, and most afternoons we’d hear her boyfriend with her, and she was loud, but I was never worried about upstairs. It was the downstairs that tricked us – a clichéd basement that felt off somehow; we kept the door closed.

One day in the middle of finals my roommate woke up before sunrise and found a little girl in an old-fashioned dress sitting on the edge of her bed. She wore ribbons, my roommate said. She was blonde. She stared. My roommate says she turned over, closed her eyes, and said out loud, “Please go away.”

I thought that was a good idea – a little politeness goes a long way – so I decided to do the same. I didn’t want to take any risks, you see. So every time I was alone in the house, in the big, cold, sprawling house with the terrifying basement we never ever went into, I would say out loud as I moved from room to room, “Hello, ghosts. I don’t want to see you today. Thank you!”

On the May morning of college graduation, I pulled up my comforter to make my bed and found a necklace tangled in the blanket, the same necklace that had been missing since fall; the same necklace that my roommates and I had searched high and low for.

I think it was the ghosts trying to make amends.

The wind chimes on Tybee stopped; I fell asleep. But there’s something about those old southern trees, the way their roots break up the cement under our feet like flowers reaching for sunshine. There’s something about the lazy sun in Georgia, in South Carolina. I am sure even the ghosts are different down south. I’m just happy I never got to find out.

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.


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.



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.