Saturday, December 31, 2011

on a new year

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

on a winter song

We stayed up late on Christmas Eve Eve playing music and telling stories and drinking just a few too many drinks that tasted like candy but were definitely not candy.  At some point my brother and I attempted this song.  It's rough, and we had never sung it together before, but I kind of love it.  As my sister-in-law said, it was a moment: Winter Song by the Driscoll kids.

Friday, December 23, 2011

on Christmas Eve believing

I used to sleep in my brother's room on Christmas Eve.  We'd build a fort out of his mattress and sheets and stay up late listening to funny Christmas music on Z100.  I'd lay on his floor and look up at his window, listening past the radio for sounds of reindeer on the roof.  I believed long after I should have believed.  I knew it wasn't practical.  I knew it wasn't possible.  But I believed.  And I waited.  The radio would turn off and my brother would fall asleep as the blue light from his alarm clock cast a wintery glow over his room.  Maybe it was just the same blue as the day before.  But on that night it would look magical.

We stayed together on that night even after we were too old to share a room.  Even when the childhood home was sold and the great big divorce forced us to travel between parents, we had each other.  Years after college I would still meet him at our Dad and Stepmom's in the city or later at his own home in Boston with his growing family. 

Mike and I are heading to my brother's house today and will leave him and his family tomorrow afternoon, just a few hours shy of the settling in of Christmas Eve.  But I love knowing that tomorrow night in my brother's house my oldest nephew will be looking out his bedroom window waiting and listening and believing.  That the tradition continues.  That it's not just ours to remember, but ours to pass along. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

on December

So I spoke a little too soon.  I wrote Monday's post before I left for work Monday morning but by the time I met up with Mike at the grocery store later that day, I could tell that my post was premature.  Or maybe just optimistic.  As soon as I saw him, I knew something had changed.  Once the events of the weekend had ended, a quiet slipped over him.

That night as he was falling asleep he whispered that he was sorry he was still so sad.  And my heart broke just a little bit.  Because I know that there is no timeline for this.  No end date to when the feeling of missing won't overwhelm him.  And I don't want him feeling like I think there should be. 

But I can be thankful that, for a short time last weekend, he was happy.  That is more than he had last year, and so I know it gets better.  And so I'll try to do the same this weekend.  Fill it with friends and badly sung carols at my office holiday party tonight and then enough space for him to just be what he needs to be.  And the rest will be here for him when he's ready*.     

"They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him."-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

*In case anyone is wondering, each post that talks about Mike in this personal way is sent to him for his ok before I hit publish.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

on a letter to the sports guy

Two years ago Bill Simmons came to a signing at my friend's bar as part of his book tour for The Book of Basketball.  I wrote in a previous post that I sent him an email afterward and he never wrote back, not even an intern's stock one line response, nothing.  And so we were in a bit of a fight.  A one-sided only I knew was happening fight.  But I was cleaning out my email archives last night and I came across the email.  Turns out it's basically the length of a small novel.  No wonder he never replied.  My wordiness gets me every time:


Hey Bill,

I came out to the signing at Professor Thom’s a few weeks ago with my boyfriend (technically he’s my fiancĂ©, but we hate that word). We arrived early, book already in hand, got a bracelet from Pete and watched as the crowd filled in. It felt like Christmas. Like Santa was coming or something. (You’re Santa in this scenario, or maybe Christmas itself?)

I asked Mike what we should ask you. Maybe about my friend whose husband was a huge Steelers fan but since they’re divorcing, would it be wrong to get her to not be a Steelers fan anymore? Since they’re just the epitome of evil? Or maybe about how I love the Irish so much that during the tense scene in a scary movie I close my eyes, shut my ears, and hum the fight song to make everything better but still think that Ann Arbor would be a lovely place to live, and wondering if that makes me a bad fan?

So I’m running them over in my head, what to ask the wise man (now it seems you are one of the wise men, no longer Santa) his opinion on my most perplexing sports questions. And then the line was forming. And we were pushed to the front. And then we were up at your table and you were signing our book and I felt like Ralphie when he meets Santa in the mall and all he wants is an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle but he asks for a football instead because it’s nerve wracking being up there with Santa (ok, you’re Santa again).  And the only thing that I could think to ask when we were standing up there next to you was, “If the Bills go to Toronto, can I make Mike a Pats fan”. You said yes, which is a huge relief since the prospect of spending eternity with a Bills fan is just so depressing. But really? That’s what I went with? And that chick from Astoria who you talked about in your mail bag was there with the printed out e-mail for you to sign and, well, how do you top that? Who knew there’d be such pressure?

So Bill, for all the unanswered questions, it was still great to shake your hand and say hi. We wish we could have bought you a beer but, you know, the five hundred people on line probably would have been ticked. The boyfriend and I have been long time readers and are loving the new book. Thanks for being our go to man for life’s, and sport's, greatest questions. 

Caitlin Driscoll
Astoria, NY

me and Ralphie, such kindred spirits. Except he does get that Red Ryder in the end.

Monday, December 12, 2011

on the weekend

Saturday morning, a trip to the corner stand to pick out our tree and then an unexpected visit from Mike's sister.  We decorated and re-taught ourselves how to make paper snowflakes (a little more folding than we remembered), watched Elf and listened to Mike nearly laugh himself off the couch.  Sunday a cookie baking afternoon with Mike's girlfriends from high school and then a late night show from my friend Will.

We've come so far from last December when we spent each day wishing for time to move faster, to get us through the month, for the entire holiday season to just be over.  So I think we were a little surprised at ourselves this weekend.  That we actually felt festive.  I might even say cheery.  So here's to time.  Seems a little more of it has made the difference this year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

on The Nutcracker

I found this photo the other day.  It's cracked and faded, but the second I held it I felt what it was like to be on that stage.  The music pouring out around me, the theater full, my eyes staring at the floor, "don't mess up, don't mess up, don't mess up".  For years I performed small roles in my ballet school's performances of The Nutcracker.  It was decades ago, but when I walk into a store in December and hear the familiar soundtrack of the Nutcracker suite, I still remember every minute of it.

I wasn't a very good ballerina, but I was in my mind, which is enough when you're 8 and 9 and 10.  The Nutcracker performances were these amazing little pieces of perfection in my world.  I loved these shows: the backstage chaos, the costumes, the professional ballerinas walking among us looking statuesque and beautiful and other-worldly. 

Last night I found a clip on youtube of the ballet.  I pressed play, cleared a spot away in the living room, traced my toe in an arc from in front of me to behind, spotted a place on the wall, and turned.  I only made it two times around before teetering off my tippy toes, but I felt just a little like I used to.  And that was enough. 

Sondra Forsyth was my amazing teacher during those years.  I looked up to her then and even more now in her role as Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors.  The group brings the magic of ballet to economically and culturally underserved children and, as someone who still points to those years with Miss Sondra (as she was known to me then) as some of the proudest of my childhood, I know how important this work is.  This program has the power to make kids feel special, confident, beautiful, proud.  It's a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

on A Practical Wedding, the book

I've mentioned before that I started writing this blog after a piece I wrote appeared on A Practical Wedding.  When I wrote it I just thought of what I wanted to say to other people who were dealing with loss, or something less tragic but still overwhelming, around the time of their wedding.  I wanted them to know that there was room for being both sad and joyful and that, most of all, you don't know how strong you are until the world shows you.    

I thought I would write the post and that would be the end of it.  I didn't know that I would start writing here which would lead me to you and the writing class and a confidence I didn't know I had.  I didn't know I would write a follow-up on the site a few months later.  And I certainly didn't think it would bring me the email last Spring from Meg's copy editor asking for permission to use a few lines from my post in her book (which I just bought today, and if you know of anyone who is or will be planning a wedding anytime in the future, you should too. It's filled with advice that is sane, reasonable, meaningful and, well, practical.)

It's just a few sentences, but I am so proud to be a part of this.  I am inspired daily by the people who are the community on the APW site.  It is not a wedding site.  I wouldn't be reading 16 months after my wedding if it were.  And this is not solely a wedding book.  The community Meg has built talks and writes about partnership and loss and love and children and not wanting children and not being able to have children and gender equality and marriage equality and everything else in between.  I am honored to be along for the ride.

available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

on a letter to 16 year-old me

Inspired by Dear 16 Year-Old Me, the amazing PSA for melanoma, and Jason Good's Hey 15-year old me (exactly what you'll need after crying through the end of the first example) I thought I'd write a little note to my teenage self. 

Dear 16 year-old me,

Hi.  It's me here.  Well, you here.  Just nearly twice as old as you are now.  Which means that I should probably know more than I do.  But here are a few things that stand out:
  • Mom and Dad and Steph?  Brace yourself.  It takes a while, but they become your friends.  All three of them.  Do you need a minute to compose yourself before I go on?  I know it's pretty hard to believe.
  • Those boys you're hanging out with will become some of your closest friends too.  You think they're just high school buddies, but they're still with you now.  They're even kind of mature.  But, no, neither of them will ever want to make out with you.  You'll be ok with that.
  • Because you'll meet a guy in college.  And he likes you.  Likes you without you even having to pretend to be someone else.  It's weird, but you get used to it.  He's a republican though.  I know, I know, I'll explain another time. 
  • You have the best brother. I mean, I know you love him now, but just wait, he and his wife and three boys (three!) give you the most solid foundation of family and they are funny too.  Funny and solid.  Good things. 
  • Oh, and if you could just not wear that red dress to the prom this year, that would be great.  The thought of you in it still gives me the embarrassing Doh! moment at the most random times.  You'll think it's kind of hot.  But it will be years until you wear something that actually makes you look hot.  Even then we aim for hot and settle for "cute" most of the time. 
  • And please make a note somewhere to remember to tell Liz to pull over about two minutes before you say "Liz your car feels like a roller coaster" when she's driving you home from Gina's graduation party.  There will be less friendship fallout if you do.  But, if you don't, at least you learn to try not to sit in the back seat with a bad driver after drinking. 
  • I'd say to skip on that experience with Mark from the 2nd floor of your dorm your sophomore year of college but I won't, because it's not so bad, just maybe stop watching so many John Hughes movies.  And Say Anything.  And reruns of My So Called Life on MTV (they never bring it back, but don't worry we still talk about that one season even now).  It all warps you a bit.  Because there definitely won't be any boom box holding outside your window after it happens.
  • So you knew we had to do this, we've got to get serious for a minute.  It gets better.  I know what you've been thinking about lately (I have your journals) and it's a good thing you don't follow through.  I know it all seems so world-ending now but you're being just a little dramatic.  Ophelia is totally fictional and ending it all isn't as romantic as you're building it up to be.  It gets better. 
  • And you know those extra-curricular activities everyone keeps saying that you need to get into college?  It's made up.  You end up going to SUNY Albany where I'm pretty sure they accept you without even reading your personal essay.  All those hours of Literary Magazine, Choir, Orchestra, Show Choir, Amnesty, SHARE, LEAD, the play, the other's great, but you can take some time off.  
  • Leave Dad's boy scout shirt in the box where you found it.  I know you think that wearing it over a pair of overalls and a Phish shirt and birkenstocks over socks is a statement, but it's the wrong one.  This is most likely why no one will make out with you for the rest of your high school career. 
  • Yesterday I wrote in this blog I have (right, a blog, basically we've just made our journals public, not sure whose bright idea that was) that I was sad about how I had let myself go.  But it's a funny thing.  Because I'm happier than I was when we were you.  See?  It does get better.  Just give it a few years.
I love you Cait.  All the messiness you're getting us into turns out alright.  So be careful and don't screw anything up and force me to disappear like someone in Marty McFly's family photo.   I like it here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

on letting go part II

I have been hesitant to write about this.  Because even though much, or all, of what I talk about here is personal, there is nothing as intensely personal to me as the way I feel about myself now that I've let myself go.  As of yesterday I am thirty pounds heavier than I was a year ago.  It hurts to admit that.   I'm 5'9" so I can usually hide a few pounds pretty well but this is different.  This is nothing fits need new wardrobe different.  This is catching myself in the subway window reflection and being embarrassed at what I see different.

I've never been skinny, or thin, but I felt healthy for the few years before getting hurt.  The first time I was able to slow down long enough to associate the pain in my foot with something that needed to be taken care of was on our honeymoon and that was over a year ago.  So that's over a year since I've been able to exercise*.   Do you know what happens when you like craft beer and good food and you don't workout?  Scary things happen.  Like 30 pounds in a year scary.

Last week I was given the green light by my physical therapist to try swimming.  She says it's still too risky for the bike (the muscles in my legs are so tight that the wrong move on a bike might tear a different ligament, a frightening prospect) and I knew to not even ask about my old friend the elliptical.  But swimming involves finding a place to swim, and, well, it means getting wet.  I used to walk the block to the gym in my workout clothes, get on the elliptical for 45 minutes, and walk out and home.  Getting wet just feels like such a hassle.  Spending time at the gym to shower and dry and change feels like more than my low workout enthusiasm can handle.  But there is another part of me, a small still not sold part, that feels hopeful again.  That this may finally be the thing that allows me to move in a pain-free way.  That I may actually feel good enough to shed some pounds**.

I see a slightly humiliating account of my public outing in a bathing suit in the near future.  

is this not what the cool kids mean when they say "vintage"? Because this I could pull off.

*I wrote about letting myself go and getting back in March, and the first outing to the gym in April, but the next day the repercussions were pretty painful and I knew I was more hurt than I thought. I never went back.

**That's the funny thing about weight gain. I probably could have fixed most of it this Spring by cutting back on food once I realized I couldn't work out, but by then I was already feeling bad, and it just can't happen when you're feeling bad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

on fruitcake weather...

Walking to the subway yesterday morning I thought, "it's fruitcake weather."  I felt it just as I do every year, the morning when, just as Capote wrote all those years ago, things sound cold and clear and there are no birds singing.  Winter is coming.
"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town...A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"....
the first scenes

...and the lasts

..."For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me 'the best of the batch.' Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: 'See a picture show and write me the story.' But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880's; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: 'Oh my, it's fruitcake weather!'

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven."

That last part gets me every time. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

on luck

I was out Tuesday night with a few new friends from my writing class.  We talked about what we wanted to write about and how factual fiction can be, how we all used real life to help our stories along.  I said that I would attempt something more lighthearted next* since I had gone a little heavy on my short story this time around.  I didn't meant to but then I segued into why my writing felt a little darker lately and in a few sentences I listed off the sad things from the past few years.  When I was finished one of them said she couldn't believe it, that Mike had been so unlucky.  I told her that I didn't believe in luck, especially since there was also so much good in those years.  That it was just an unfortunate series of events.

But, then again, Mike and I were walking home from dinner a few weeks ago when a black cat sat down on the sidewalk a few feet away.  We didn't say anything to each other, no nod or word between us, but we both stopped walking.  Because I'm pretty sure we were thinking the same thing, that there was no way we were letting that cat walk in front of us.

I say I don't believe in such things but that doesn't mean I'll start opening umbrellas inside or breaking mirrors just for fun.  I'll play it safe around ladders too.  And I'll still make wishes on night's first star.  Or when the clock says 11:11.  And I'll rifle through a tuft of clovers looking for a four-leafed one.  So maybe that means I do believe in it.  Just a little more than I pretend to.

from here

*yes there will be a next time.  The four of us just signed up for Advanced Fiction class which starts up in January.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

on someone else's words for today

Essay on the Personal
by Stephen Dunn

Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses-
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.

sunrise and the last leaves out the kitchen window this morning

Monday, November 28, 2011

on thanks and giving

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of being back in the office, of the frenzied energy that slammed me as soon as I walked in this morning, of this first day of the busiest eight weeks of our work year.  So for now I will stay in the last four days. When there was plenty of time for walks on the beach and cooking and eating and catching up with my family.  It was a good weekend.  A happy and belated thanksgiving to you.

the Little Peconic Bay, morning after thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

on ego and a pie

Sunday night, after a few hours of revising my short story attempt for Monday night's class, I started to panic.  Just a little.  I worried that the story didn't change enough from draft one to draft two, that I did too much telling instead of showing, that I had missed the boat on fiction because I chose to write a character who was real to me.  I read the 11 pages again and again and the more I read the more I panicked about having to hand it in.  So I took a break.

I went to the store and picked up apples and a Pilsbury pie crust* and came home and made three apple galettes for my office Pie Fest the next day.  I peeled and cored and preheated and folded and then cut tiny little leaves out of extra dough to make it pretty.  Forty minutes in the oven for each and they came out looking like something that should be photographed.

Except I didn't photograph them because by the time they were finished it was late, my draft wasn't ready, and I was just a little too far on the wrong side of cranky (ahem, crazy) to take out the camera.  And then when I moved them from the cooling rack to the tupperware for transport, they broke into pieces.  So I threw a minor temper tantrum.  I announced to Mike that I would not enter them into the Pie Fest the next day and felt pretty strongly that they were rotten no good ugly pieces of apple worthlessness.  When I took them out of their tupperware at work (I brought them in because, crumbled or no, they were still pretty tasty) I left them on the kitchen counter, two floors above the Pie Fest festivities in the conference room below.  There may have been some huffing and pouting as I walked away from them.

An hour later when people returned to their desk from the party they passed by the kitchen and saw my disaster.  Only it wasn't a disaster.  I hadn't looked at the galettes as I tossed them out of the tupperware when I got to work and somehow overnight the pieces had cooled and gelled back together.  What was left were two pretty pies that I had been too ashamed of to offer up to my colleagues at the Fest**.  People kept stopping by my desk asking why I hadn't brought them down and I had to fumble for a reason that wasn't, "well I had a mini breakdown last night when I thought they were ugly and was too embarrassed and angry to bring them to you all."  There's a moral there somewhere.  Maybe even several.

photo of Dinner A Love Story's galette

*sorry Dad, no time to make a homemade one.
** Mind you this was just a Pie party, at work, where very little culinary scrutiny takes place.

Friday, November 18, 2011

on an end

It was a Sunday morning.  Mid-September.  Fall was on its way and the last of the garden roses sat in a vase in the center of the table.  As we finished breakfast I noticed that there was something different about the way the silence filled the room.  It was not an easy quiet as it usually was, instead it felt tense, strained, something about the way my Dad looked at the paper in front of him without really reading it, the way my Mom kept her eyes on him, the way my brother noisily moved the last piece of pancake around the plate with a scratching sound that made my shoulders shudder.

And then my Dad said it, they were separating.  They found an apartment and were going to take turns living in our house and this new place.  They assured me not to worry, nothing would change for me, I wouldn't have to be the one to move.

The tears were triggered instantly and I raised my eyebrows and blinked hard to force them back to where they came from.  They said something else but I was no longer paying attention, I was too concerned with the feeling of crying that was quickly coming up my throat.  I put the glass I was holding down, folded and refolded the napkin in my lap, and flicked a crumb off of the placemat and onto the floor.

I took my time as my hands moved in front of me, fearing the moment when I would have to look up at them, knowing that I couldn't do it without yelling for them to reconsider.  Still not able to meet their eyes, I followed the light that came through the lace curtains as it made delicate patterns across the tablecloth.  I could feel them watching me, waiting for me to say something to make them feel better; to make them feel like what they were doing wasn't going to warp me, turn me bad, make me into the kind of kid they held after class in parent teacher conferences because their home life was disrupting their school work.  But, in spite of my normal first instinct to please them, I kept quiet.  Cris was sitting across from me with his head down and I fought the urge to kick him underneath the table for not warning me.

It was quick.  In a sentence we were over.  The four of us would never sit like that again, I knew it even then.  I went to my room when I thought I had listened enough and later that night I took the ride with my Dad as he drove my brother back up to college in New Paltz.  On the way home I asked him what was going to happen to us next.  If we even were an us anymore.  He looked tired, and sad, and said he didn't know. 

But I do.  The next week Dad would move over to the apartment they had rented.  He and my Mom would move back and forth each Sunday so I didn't have to, but after a year that stopped working and the shared apartment was given up.  My mom would move to a one bedroom apartment and I would spend the next few years shuffling between the two, sharing a bed with my mom in one space, living with my Dad and my future stepmom in the other.  My mother, so ready to leave that she would give up her dream house, though when I picture it now it seems small to me, off in ways I know she didn't see then.  For her, the picket fence out front, the "french blue" living room and "soft pink" dining room, the dormers on the second floor, one just big enough for a reading nook and window seat.  But together, the blue was too blue, the pink clashed in the room next to it, the window seat only ever used for piles of laundry and papers.

There were beginnings that came along afterward, happy and whole beginnings, but that end will stay with me.  I imagine that when I am an old woman I will still be able to recall the way the light came through the lace curtains that morning, the intricate layers of light and dark spread out before me.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

on poor fundraising

I saw a woman on the street today with a box of candy bars.  Not any old candy bars, but "World's Finest" Candy bars.  The ones parents all over the tri-state area lug into work to sell to eager colleagues for their kids' school fundraising.  I saw the box, and felt just a little sick.  The box mocked me, stared back at me through layers of foil and deliciosness and said, "and you call yourself a fundraiser?".  Ok, it probably didn't say anything, but that's how I felt.  Because I may have worked in Development (that's fancy speak for fundraising) for the past eight years, but I used to be the worst fundraiser ever.

I was given these boxes of chocolate to sell on several different occasions in middle school.  But because I was a sugar crazed and kind of chubby kid who had very little portion control, I had a problem keeping the boxes of individually wrapped $1 bars in my room.  I'm not sure why I didn't hand the box over to my parents to bring into their work to sell like everyone else did, maybe I was struck with some strange code of ethic where I thought I was the one who was responsible for the actual raising of funds, selling of chocolate, but, either way, I failed: over a period of a few weeks, I ate most of the chocolate and paid myself back with my saved up babysitting money.  I repeat, I fundraised for myself from myself.

Pretty sad, but still not as bad as those times when I didn't turn in the change* that I had collected in my UNICEF boxes on Halloween-that's another confession for another day.

*I know, I know, that change was to help put an end to children's suffering around the world and not for me, I know, I'm awful, I get it. OK, fine, I'll go make a donation to UNICEF right now, I feel guilty enough as it is without you looking at me like that!

Monday, November 14, 2011

on the strangeness of google

I checked the blogger stats tab yesterday and scrolled down the list, curious as to how people had found this site.  Most of them stumbled upon it accidentally while googling something else (surprisingly, there are a lot of people out there who search for Jane Eyre or Bertha Mason images, bringing them to this post), some came from sites where I had left comments for other bloggers, but the best was this one yesterday.  A google search of "where to aim for moose kill" led some unsuspecting hunter to my sappy post about wanting to see a moose when I went to Vermont to visit my family.  That poor person did not find what they were looking for here.

looking up 5th...not sure how this fits today, but it's pretty, is that enough?

Friday, November 11, 2011

on November 11th

I finished this book two days ago (with no intention of coinciding with Veteran's Day) and have not been able to shake it since.  Louis Zamperini was with me on the subway yesterday morning and then in my dream last night.  In that one he was an old man, sitting in our livingroom telling me about Japan and coming home and the years since.  It's a testament to Laura Hillenbrand that he has stuck with me in this way.  And maybe to how much I miss my grandfathers and their largely untold stories.

Unbroken is a hard-to-put-down (really technical review here) story of survival in the Pacific theater of World War II.  The story was beautiful in ways I didn't expect something so harrowing to be and even though I am always wary of book titles that resemble Lifetime movies ("A Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption"), I shouldn't have been with this one.  I am not in the habit of reviewing my book finds here, but it seems fitting today. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

on the lasts

For the first three years of our relationship, Mike lived at home with his mom, dad, two sisters, a dog, and a cat.  I would tell him, enjoy this, don't rush it, and when it ends, when you come down to the city to live with me, you're going to know when your lasts are, you're going to be able to say goodbye to them.  I told him this because I couldn't remember the last time I woke up in my parents house as a kid who lived there with them.  The last time I had breakfast with them before moving out.  I didn't know when the lasts would be, there were gradual movements towards independence, there was no singular end like there was for Mike, and I missed not enjoying them enough before they were over.  So he had the lasts, and now that so much has changed since then, I'm glad he knew them.

A few weeks ago, Mike took the day off to have his last meeting with the attorney who was handling his mom's affairs.  He drove up Friday morning and, since we had a wedding to go to farther upstate that night, I took the train and met him there in the afternoon.  As I was walking to Grand Central, I realized that this would most likely be my last time making that trip.

That trip, the one I could do in my sleep by now.  The walk from 20th and 5th to 23rd and Lex.  The uptown 6 train to grand central, the flight of stairs at the middle of the track to the station, the train at track 32 at 5:53.  Then the Hudson at my side as we passed Yonkers, Ossining, Croton, and the rest of the stops until New Hamburg.  For the first few years of our relationship, I made this 90 minute commute at least two Fridays a month, and then even when Mike moved down to the city, visiting his home and that trip were still such a part of our weekend routine.

Last August, the morning after we got the call that we needed to get to the hospital as soon as we could, we took the train to Mike's hometown and his sisters picked us up at the station.  Bernadette passed away a few hours later, we stayed for the funeral, our wedding, and then when things had settled and it was time to go home, we took her car with us and have had it here ever since.  We don't need the train to visit anymore.  I didn't know that August trip would be the last, so, when I got on the train a few weeks ago, I thought of all that trip had meant for us, and I memorized it.

I love that trip along the Hudson.  For years it was what brought me to Mike and then to the family that became my own.  Maybe it's a strange thing, but I like knowing when I'm saying goodbye to something rather than the pang of memory years later when I realize I never knew a last was a last.  So I had that last.  And I knew it.  And I was thankful for it.

poor quality phone photo through the window of the train

Thursday, November 3, 2011

on moving

Even when you know something is the right choice, the right decision, the right move, it still feels so strange to pack up and leave.  We moved in four years ago sad and broke just three months after we lost Mike's dad and Mike's job and we left last night* a little less sad and a little less broke, a year after we lost his mom.  In between there were good things, happy things**, but that place still feels weighed down with loss and mourning.  With just a little too much struggle.

Our new apartment is clean and bright and feels, well, new.  A break, a fresh start, a real physical change to help along the emotional one.  It's time.  And it hasn't even been twenty-four hours yet, but it feels kind of amazing already.

*yes, last night, being Wednesday, which means on Tuesday, the morning of moving day, we got a call from our broker letting us know that the place wasn't ready yet. Stressful two days ensued.
**Mike proposed in the living room of 2A.  He got down on one knee right there in front of the couch and asked me to marry him.  It wasn't all bad there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

on radio silence and an apartment

I woke up this morning before my alarm went off to the smell of the heat coming up through the pipes.  I'd like to say that the first signs of winter coming smelled sweet, but instead it came up through the building as warming paint and chemicals.  It stung a bit and I knew it must be cold out, so I stayed under the comforter and hit snooze three too many times.

But there is happy news to report.  A lease has been signed, checks have been written, we move Tuesday.  At some point before then we'll find something to be for Halloween, turns out when you are only thinking about where you are going to be living in one week you forget what day it is.

The frantic stress of finding a place and the happy stress of my writing class has meant that I've been quiet here this month.  But soon I hope to be settled in the new place and back to here. 

Halloween's past will make up for our lack of spirit this year: 

it seems we only take photos of our costumes on the subway platform

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

on finding an apartment, please

Who knew finding a place to live would be this difficult.  We found a place a few weeks ago, liked it, it fell through.  We tried again, same building, liked it, it fell through.  We felt just a little defeated yesterday when the call came in from the broker letting us know that the management company had gone with another couple.  We had never interviewed for a place before, it felt a little formal for a rental, but we thought they loved us.  We were wrong.  What did that other couple have that we didn't?  Our credit is great, we laughed at her jokes, were they just prettier?  Do management companies actually choose the prettier people to rent to?  I'm exaggerating only a little.  Self doubt spiral was in full effect.

So yesterday afternoon as I was still on the phone with the broker who was telling me what a tough decision it was to not choose us, I got an email out to the broker of our runner-up place.  Mike was disappointed, he thought it felt like settling, but I tried to be optimistic.  But then last night, waiting outside the runner-up building for the broker to meet me so I could hand over the application materials, I started to cry*.  Just a little.  Not in a sobbing way but more like a whimpering bad actress kind of way.  I stopped as Richard, the runner-up broker, came out of the building with another couple and told me that I had emailed him just a half hour before they did and so, because of the timing, we were first on the list for the place.  That felt like something.  Like the world was shifting in our favor again.

I had already seen the place twice before but Richard took me up again.  The super was in there tiling the bathroom and, since the person who just moved out was in there for a few decades, the wiring and the floors and the ceilings have been gutted and refinished, it will be the newest apartment in a very old building.  There's that optimistic thing kicking in again.  Afterwards Richard brought me across the street for coffee (which at 8pm meant we both got some fizzy juice drink instead) and we went over the application.  When I gave him the name of the apartment-falling-through-brokers we had been dealing with, he told me they were crooks.  As in, about to go to jail kind of crooks**.  That if we had moved forward with them and had given them more than just a deposit, that many clients find themselves out of an apartment and out of the first/last/broker's fee money.

He told me we'd know something soon, and as we said goodnight, I kind of wanted to hug him in the hope that this time it will work.  That in two weeks we'll have a place to move to. 

*That's two mentions of crying in one week and in between a fictional story about a woman trying to kill herself.  I promise I am ok.  Really.
**We found this video of our previous broker getting slammed by the Fox News "shame on you" guy.  Turns out it's a good thing they didn't go with us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

on homework #2

My second assignment is due tonight.  And so, in the spirit of continuing the scary habit of sharing, here it is (I'm not sure why I'm on such a dark kick with these assignments).  It's long, I still need to figure out how to condense a post and add one of those "read more" links so it doesn't all appear here.  Baby steps.   

Write a story, or a section of a story, inspired by the opening line of Dante's Inferno:  "Midway on our life's journey, I found myself in the dark woods, the right road lost."   

“Joe, it’s me, are you there? Joe?”  Sarah waits and listens as if she could hear him through the answering machine.  She closes her eyes, “pick up, pick up, pick up”, willing him to hear her.  She can see the machine on his desk at home, the light from the green glass lamp illuminating his face as he watches the blinking red message.  She sees him reach for the Jameson.  Sarah shakes her head and opens her eyes, no, there is no bottle.  It would be easier if there was, if he was hurting, but he wasn’t.    

“I need to talk to you, Joe, please.  I’m sorry about before.  But you have to pick up now.”  
Sarah stays on the line for a minute that feels like twenty before hanging up.  She moves from the bed to the window, peels back the curtain and looks out through her own reflection.  The light in the parking lot from the funeral home next door is broken and shudders off every few minutes.  When it does the street is dark except for the lights from inside the home.  There are shadows of people in there.  Maybe a family planning some services, she thinks.  She looks at the cars in the lot to see if she recognizes any of them.  She doesn’t. 

Back to the bed, the pills are laid out on the nightstand in neat rows.  First the whites, then the pinks, then the blues.  They look like candy, like she could run a string through them and make one of those necklaces the kids used to wear and chew off each other.  She tries the phone again.  On the fourth ring the machine clicks over and she hears her own voice, "Hi, you've reached the Brady's.  We can't come to the phone right now."
In the background of the message she can almost hear Lucy and Liam choking back laughs as they held the script up in front of her, how hard it had been to create one simple outgoing message, the laughing causing them to stop and record and stop and record again.  Something inside hurts like a punch at the memory and Sarah hangs up again.  

Leaning back into the pillows she puts the phone in her lap and pulls at the cord to untangle it.  She hadn’t planned on not being able to talk to Joe.  Sarah finds the marble notebook in the top drawer in the nightstand, takes a few of the white ones, and picks up a pen.  She writes Lucy and Liam’s names, that she’s sorry they’ll have to go through this, how she just couldn’t find her way back, how she hates feeling like a burden, that they seem so grownup now.  She pauses, flips the first of the blue pills around on her tongue and thinks of what to write to Joe.  She doesn’t want him to be happy without her, but thinks that it might make for better reading for the kids if she adds it.  She scribbles the words and hopes he’ll know she doesn’t really mean them.  She thinks of the woman who has moved into her home.  How she is nothing like her.  How she won't know about that summer in Syracuse with Joe in '71 or what her babies looked like minutes after they were born.

She flips the page and signs it, reaches for the glass of water and forces the pinks down in two swallows.  She finds the window in the now dark, blurry room and slips down the wall to the floor, rests her chin on the sill.  The street light sputters off but she can still make out the foggy outlines of the family from the funeral home walking to their cars, hugging goodbye in turns.  

The phone ringing behind her sounds like bells and she closes her eyes, imagines her own family in the lot beneath her, hugging goodbye after they’ve let her go.

Friday, October 14, 2011

on Fernando

Walking to the subway yesterday morning, I saw an older man coming toward me and as he got closer I smiled, nodded my head, and said good morning.  As soon as I saw him I felt the need to give him a warm hello, but as I walked passed I couldn't remember how I knew him, or why I greeted him that way.  I thought of it for a minute but forgot about it until last night when, walking home from the subway, I saw him again.

This time, as I walked passed him, he said, "I know you."  I stopped and, since I am always just a little more enthusiastic than a situation calls for, half shouted, "yes, hi, but how."  He told me his name was Fernando and that he owned a store on Astoria Boulevard.  Four years ago Mike and I lived there and as soon as he said it I could see him standing outside the store and knew him.  He told me that I walked by him every morning for a few years back then and always said hello, that he knew my hello when I gave it to him earlier that day.  I asked why he was down in this part of the neighborhood and he said that he moved into the building next door and relocated his shop to 35th Avenue.

It was a small thing, two minutes of talking in front of my building, but I love that a hundred mornings of hello's a few years ago can mean that this man and I are still connected.  And, in a selfish way, I kind of love feeling remembered. 

from here

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

on Vermont

Four days in Vermont.  I didn't get to see my moose, but I did see a kiddie pool filled with bleaching moose skulls.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  Did I mention my uncle Walt is a taxidermist?  I canoed and hiked with my uncle Terry and my Dad.  I spent time with my grandmother who didn't know who I was, but did read her book out loud to me and at times stared so long and hard at my face that I wondered if she was trying to place me in her past somehow.  On Monday my Dad dropped me off at the Albany train station and I only cried for a minute after I said, "see you in Mexico in January".  


Friday, October 7, 2011

on remembering

I'm leaving soon to get to Penn and onto a train to meet up with my Dad in Albany.  From there we will drive the five hours to my family in Vermont.  My grandma lives there and it's been too long since I've seen her, not since our family reunion there in July 2009.  She didn't know who I was then, and the time before that she thought I was my mom, so I'm not exactly sure what this visit will be like.  I think it's harder for us than it is for her, at least I hope so.  I like to think of her as she was when she knew me, humming in the kitchen after dinner and yelling that it was time for music, moving us all out onto the porch where my uncles and cousins and brother and I would play and sing for the next few hours while she watched on with pride. 

I will visit with her, but there will also be room for walks with changing leaves and time with the part of my family I rarely see, and with my Dad, who leaves for Mexico again in a few weeks.  And if I see a moose*, I will come home the happiest woman this side of the East River.

Have a happy weekend.

*Although the Vermont Driscoll's will not understand why I just want to "see" the moose, not aim a rifle at it (is that the kind of gun you hunt with? I have no idea. We're not those kind of Driscoll's).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

on homework

Last week I talked about my first writing class and Nina wrote in the comments that maybe I should share some things here.  So since I've been running around looking at apartments and swamped at work and a little too busy to write a real post today, here is the first week's homework assignment.  Mike said I should wait to post it here until I got comments back from my teacher, but that feels like cheating.  So here's what I submitted (ignore dialogue setup, I didn't worry about formatting too much, and be kind, this is my first attempt at fiction.  OK that's all the apologizing I'll do for now): 

Homework #1: A person is entering the waiting room of a doctor or other medical professional.  It's the first time the person has been there.  The type of therapy the person is waiting to receive is up to you (it may even involve bringing a spouse or pet), but chances are this person will be feeling a little stressed.  Keeping the character in the waiting room, write a passage where he or she is revealed through all four showing methods—action, speech, appearance, thought. 

There's a song coming out of the speakers in the corners of the waiting room and I start humming along.  I can't recall the name, but can see Tim and me dancing to it in the gym at St. John's.  Tim's in there.  I should have gone in with him, for his sake and mine.  He hates doctors, I’ll have to do something nice tonight for dinner.  Maybe shepherd’s pie.  I wish I wore something better, this dress is faded and I can't believe I let myself go out in my house shoes. 

The woman next to me is sweet.  She got herself water from the cooler and asked if I wanted some.  She looks so much like my Susan, just older, I tell her so and it seems to make her sad.  People don't like hearing that they look like someone else.  Either they want to be unique or they are nervous the person they are being compared to is ugly.  I assure her, "Don't worry, Susan is beautiful. It's a compliment!"  She looks a bit happier but goes back to staring at the door.  She doesn't like waiting either, her knee is bouncing and she's nervously playing with the ring on her left hand. "I hate waiting too", I say and try my warmest smile to calm her. 

She stands up as the nurse enters the room.  I can't hear it all, but it sounds like her mother is sick.  Poor thing, when she sits back down she looks tired.  I turn to the nurse, "Excuse me, do you know how much longer it will be?  My husband is Tim O’Neill.  He's been in there for quite a while."  The nurse looks confused as the woman next to me puts her chin to her chest and lets out a cry.  I watch them both and wait for a response but before I can ask again the woman next to me is wrapping her hands in mine.  I try to move away but she's holding on tight. 

“Tim's not here, mom.  Dad's gone.  He's been gone for a long time now.  We're here for you, remember?" 

I peel my hands out from under hers as quickly as I can and shake my head.  It hurts and I shut my eyes, sink back into the chair, slap at the air to keep her away.  Susan, my Susan, grabs my wrists to keep me still and whispers in my ear that everything is going to be alright, that the doctor will see me soon.  I lean my head into hers and there it is laid out before my closed eyes like the vacation slides in our old projector.  Tim calling me in to hear the news, those last awful months, the funeral, all that time alone, and then the forgetting. 

I shake my head again as I feel the tears slide down my cheeks, "Yes, yes, now I remember." 

from here