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.