Tiny / Infinite

To say that time is flying is unbelievably trite, but it is, like, more than figuratively so. Minutes spill into hours into days into weeks; and suddenly, impossibly, it’s a new year—yours.

There’s so much that has happened since September. So much that we’ve done and still to do. (Less, though, slowly.) Because in pregnancy—and, I imagine, new parenthood, the tiny becomes the infinite, which is both a bummer and a wonder of a thing. Like, how a page of text can take and therefore be an afternoon, because sleep—because January light, and you. How, too, nesting is the realest thing, and everything hinges on the perfect diaper bag, and there is magic in a Pinterest board. And how when you’re injured on top of everything, a walk to the mailbox stretches time and ligament and is, actually, an event.

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Somewhere and sometime this winter, I read a woman’s description of how in her pregnancy, her husband would often say that she was running a duathlon. As in, that morning she grew a human and walked the dog / made a meal / climbed the stairs. Cheer! I miss doing “more,” yes, but at thirty-three weeks, I love and believe that entirely.

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Today, little one, we’re closer to ready than not. There are clothes in a closet and diapers in a drawer and soft landing spots aplenty. Your room is nearly done and, we hope, a haven—simple, serene, wholly yours.

Still to do? Heal my feet. Procure a hospital bag and its contents. Install a car seat. Learn to change a diaper. Learn not to be afraid of words like, flange.  Nothing, everything; continual duathlons; miraculous smallness.

September Words, Belatedly

It can be hard to write during the first trimester of pregnancy—in part, because how you’re going through the world now is a subject taboo (with which I take issue, but was complicit, so), and to write about anything else seems evasive and small; but in greater part, because whatever intellectual capacities you may once have possessed have been quelled by a new-beating heart.

Now, I know, for every woman these early months are different. For some, they pass gently—steady dips and rises, a carousel. You live as you mostly always have, and do things like get out of bed and eat. For many others, though—for me, they are a nadir, and you can’t even remember what it feels like to feel well, and you wonder aloud, in tears, if you’ll ever know it again.

There are pregnancy forums innumerable, I’ve learned, with threads aplenty on “morning sickness.” But the things you read generally are brief, and half-emoji (green face / green face / green face), and just totally un-encompassing. There is such a dearth of real, coherent, longform writing about this maybe unbelievably hard time; and so often, when you do spot a promising line, it’s appended with a “but.” But I’m so grateful for this journey; but it’s all worth it; but this will only make me a better mother.

These are lovely and not at all untrue silver linings; because of course, you are utterly grateful for this babe-to-be; and all that matters is that, deo volente, she’ll soon be here in your arms; and yes, this trial may help prepare you for the countless you’ll face as a parent.

But I very firmly believe that it’s okay—necessary, actually—for women writing about their pregnancies to sink into the visceral, without attenuation; to say afterward, if it was, Wow, that part was awful, and I really suffered. Because I read—a lot—and I was totally unprepared.

With large thanks to Instagram, I think, pregnancy has become this weirdly performative act. Golden-haired, lithe-limbed “mamas,” in flowing Dôen dresses. (No shade to Dôen; I really like your dresses.) And yes! It is such a special and to-be-celebrated thing. But let’s be real: your mom did it, and so did her mom before her; and this total glorification of the experience, and compulsion to perform to it—as a writer, as anyone with a social platform—not only fetishizes pregnancy in ways truly bizarre, but warps the conversation and obscures what’s really real.

So, what I didn’t expect: I wouldn’t write very much, or do very much, this summer. In quick succession, I learned I was pregnant, floated in a fog of bliss, and got sick. It was a day or two of, hmm, something’s off; and then I was fully there. I was nauseous every moment I was awake. I vomited without warning or reason. I was given a prescription that helped not at all and also scared me to take. For weeks I could barely eat, and I lost weight. Cooking smells—all smells—were noxious. Helpfully, it was a thousand degrees; and if you don’t believe in climate change then I could wring your neck, because there were days in August when I would step outside and literally start to cry. And because the first months carry a particular terror, I walked (lay supine) on eggshells. On the positive, I read the New Yorker from cover to cover each week, and gained as clear an understanding as I’d ever had of what matters and what does not. (Not: the dishes.)

Sometime in week 14, things started to improve. I still felt nauseous, especially so at night; and by mid-afternoon, sleep was a siren song. But most days, at least in part, I could think and write and generally feel like a human, which—what an incredible feeling.

So in the beginning, there is such loveliness and un-loveliness both; and if you know what I mean, then I know what you mean, too. Shoot me a note; let’s commune.

And P.S.—baby girl, if it wasn’t entirely clear: I love you so much, it hurts.

Summer Reading

The 5:30 a.m. of today felt decidedly different from the 5:30 a.m.s of weeks past. The sunrise cached low, biding time—an hour longer, more? The floorboards cooler beneath listless first steps. A sweatshirt, musty from disuse, pulled from a dresser drawer. For the first time in a long time, fall(-ish); and thank goodness for it.

If you’ve spent any time in Greater New York City this summer, then you know that times have been hot. Relentlessly, sweat pooling along your collar as you step inside the car—9:00 a.m., why did I not bring a water for this ten-minute ’round-the-block walk? hot. While I’m generally one to spend every possible un-wintry moment outdoors, this was a season for nesting. For stepping outside for brief strolls—sunrise or sunset, ideally—eyes darting across the street for spots of shade, and moving towards them; for keeping the appointments and running the errands required; but mostly, for being home, and turning on the normally-loathed central air, and in quiet moments reading.

Below are a few books from my reading list of late. I liked them all, and think you may, too.

An American Marriage (Tayari Jones). First, listen to Tayari Jones speak on Death, Sex & Money, and daydream for a while about sharing a margarita or three. (I mean, really. Don’t you want to be friends with this woman?) Then, head to your local library, and if you’re lucky enough to secure a copy, bring An American Marriage home. It’s a portrait of a marriage torn asunder, but also of race, and ambition, and criminal (in)justice, and why we even marry—and stay so—at all.

Look Alive Out There (Sloane Crosley). I first encountered Sloane Crosley in a “desert island books” interview with T Magazine, in which, speaking of Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, she said something to the effect of, Just reading that table of contents makes me happy. Instant kinship. Since then, I’ve read and enjoyed her essay collections—the most well-known among them, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. (Though, not so critics’ continual David Sedaris comparisons. Why? Not really at all, IMO… {Also, is anyone else out there not all that into David Sedaris?} Anyway.) This one, I loved. I laughed out loud (literally, often) and among other things, gained affirmation in whatever vague sense I had that there is really no reason to ever hike an active volcano, on your period especially, in South America.

Forest Dark (Nicole Krauss). So historically, I’ve not been the world’s biggest fan of Nicole Krauss; in fact, I’ve made some very snarky and deeply un-feminist comments about her narrative talents vis-à-vis those of her former spouse. But. This I liked! Set primarily in and around the Hilton Tel Aviv, the novel tells two distinct stories—one of an aging Jules Epstein and the other of a Nicole Krauss stand-in, both of whom are seeking meaning and metamorphosis in the desert amid dissolution on their respective home fronts. I’ll admit, I found the final chapters a bit…tortuous? elusive? off? But maybe I just need to give them another go-around.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win (Jo Piazza). I loved Jo Piazza with How to Be Married; and I loved her more when I learned she’d ghostwritten the whole Younger meta-novel thing. (Aside: please tell me you’re also watching Younger? Darren Star x Gossip Girl x Sutton Foster x lit-ra-cha? I mean, come on…) If you have any interest at all in the current state of womanhood and/or politics in America, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s fun and whip-smart and makes me more than a little bit hopeful for these midterms ahead, and for the future beyond them.

Now, how about you? What have you been reading and liking? I’d love to know.

A Summer’s Roundup

No such thing as a permanent record.

Rare, hard, special.

Fiers d’être bleus.

How to spend your privilege.

Shoes. (Also.)

Motherhood in the age of fear.

Slow burn.

Wuthering.

Impossible owls. (!)

A pie of great beauty.

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“Remembering Summer”
by W. S. Merwin

Being too warm the old lady said to me
is better than being too cold I think now
in between is the best because you never
give it a thought but it goes by too fast
I remember the winter how cold it got
I could never get warm wherever I was
but I don’t remember the summer heat like that
only the long days the breathing of the trees
the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane
and the light getting longer in the valley
the sound of a bell from down there somewhere
I can sit here now still listening to it

From Garden Time. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

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March Words

In my humble but firm opinion, Lana Del Rey’s “Love” requires a level of intimacy with the streets of Boston, MA. Like, in the way that Infinite Jest more explicitly demands—with its willows greening by the mare des canards and not yet true twilight blanketing Newton. There’s a feeling evoked, of hurt and greater hope commingled. And how can one listen or read, and get it, without knowing what it is to walk through Inman Square on a Sunday afternoon, or plant oneself by the Harvard Book Store remainders (piles on piles of Philip K. Dick), or stand beneath a sky that must have been a model for the Ludwig Instagram filter—because that’s what it is, save for a few summer days or weeks. And, to be young and in love. {question mark}

It’s March 6th, a Tuesday, and I am thinking of New Year’s Eve. Of driving past our old, first apartment in East Cambridge—warm and buzzed at four o’clock, listening to Lust for Life and beginning to remember-when. Remember when we went there, ate that, saw/heard/did that ridiculous thing, with those friends, alone. {question mark} Of, later, sitting in the bar of the Taj Hotel and looking out on the shadow of the Public Garden, drinking martinis and sort of weeping from too-much-vodka feeling. Of having dinner beside a jazz quartet and waking up the next day, January 1, with resolutions.

I am lying in bed before work, computer on a cloud duvet on my lap. The curtain—the only one we ever really touch—is pulled to the side, and there’s a cat on the dresser who’s staring out the window. Birdsong rises from the tulip tree, and light spills into the room, making everything amber-tinged. March, in other words. And now I set “Love” on low, and I’m driving/laughing/crying/hoping. Bass beating {there, here}, so happy.

There’s more to say or not say; but this morning, simply, for you: I love this song/husband/life, Boston, and I’ve been keeping resolutions.

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A New Year’s Roundup

Why children’s books should be a little sad.*

To-do list.

“…crackling with the kind of raw power that can change the course of a life…”

Noted.

The art of monstrous men.

We need bodice-ripper sex ed.

Au jardin des oliviers.

Numbers 1-19.

In her eyes, I see the revolution.

Still I’ll rise.

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*Of a theme, I guess…

“These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, then the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur — this lovely world, these precious days…”
—E. B. White

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Everything Is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and to invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

—David Whyte

Book Club: Charlotte’s Web

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” (Goals, you know?)

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There are rare perfect sentences that catch like a light on glass. Rarer, still, are perfect passages. Rarest of all, are perfect books; and Charlotte’s Web is one.

I wish I remembered reading the book as a child. I did, of course; I am a person who was young in this country in the last sixty-odd years. There is, most definitely, a hardback procured c. 1994, deep in my parents’ attic. For whatever reason, though, I don’t. I have no recollection of when and where I read it—or was read it, and by whom. I remember the cover (Who wouldn’t? Those eyes!). But beyond a lingering vegetarianism, I can’t for the life of me tell you of the impression it left.

So many years later, in graduate school, a class* brought me back to the story; and it was then that White’s words became something indelible. That I felt their weight—as narrative, and meaning—and carried it with me. Each one gracefully plain, but together weaving this scintillant web.

Id est, all of the tears.

A few weeks ago, I found a new edition at the lovely Diane’s in Greenwich, and brought it home. In her introduction, Kate DiCamillo (insert: heart-eyes) describes coming late to the book at age thirty-one, when a teacher urged: read this, if you wish to be a writer. Yes; agreed.

There’s no reason for synopsis here. Whoever you are, you know that there is Wilbur and Charlotte and Fern. That there is a pig who is loved, and saved. I won’t get into all that.

What I simply want to say, is: (re-)read it. If you must drive to the store for a copy, go and invest. If there is one in your home right now, all the better. Charlotte’s Web is something rare. It is a window and a mirror, both. It is a book for readers and writers, and children and “grown-ups”; and in its disquieting-comforting-generous-true portrayal of what it is to live in—and with—this world, it is nothing less than a miracle. And it’s the season for those, after all.

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*Whose syllabus, of a few years later, can be found here.

A Birthday

Something continues and I don’t know what to call it
though the language is full of suggestions
in the way of language
but they are all anonymous
and it’s almost your birthday music next to my bones

these nights we hear the horses running in the rain
it stops and the moon comes out and we are still here
the leaks in the roof go on dripping after the rain has passed
smell of ginger flowers slips through the dark house
down near the sea the slow heart of the beacon flashes

the long way to you is still tied to me but it brought me to you
I keep wanting to give you what is already yours
it is the morning of the mornings together
breath of summer oh my found one
the sleep in the same current and each waking to you

when I open my eyes you are what I wanted to see.

—W. S. Merwin

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Weekly Roundup

On Saturday morning, I woke up with pains in my stomach. Before I knew them to be appendicitis, though, I drove with my husband to our local Ring’s End showroom. We walked inside and were greeted by the manager, who turned to Malcolm and asked, “What are you buying her?”

We were pressed for time, and I felt like shit. Malcolm answered, “A deck,” and I smiled.

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When I was in the seventh grade, I was harassed every day for a period of months by a couple of boys in my class. They made weird, lewd comments; passed me weird, lewd notes; pushed their bodies against mine on the bus and pulled up my skirt. I was a new girl in a school I otherwise loved, and I kept quiet—thought: okay, this is how things are here. It took another student, a younger boy, speaking up to a teacher for anything to happen.* And then, of course, began the usual burden-of-proof process—finding the words to convey why I hadn’t spoken up for myself, and sooner; to describe every humiliating interaction. A child, pleading this awful, awkward case before male administrators four times my age.

This isn’t something that’s haunted me, exactly; or that I’ve even thought about, in a long time. But it has stayed with me after seventeen years, and has been on my mind this week.

It was my first—though certainly not last—experience with sexual harassment, and it was an experience from which, at twelve years old, I developed a changed conception of myself. Thought differently about my body; became less confident in my expression, more demure. The tragically common “extroverted girls, introverted women” tack.

Today, I can’t think of a woman I know who hasn’t been harassed in her life—many, in ways so much worse than I. And while I’m glad for the narrative shift that this Harvey Weinstein scandal has spurred, it’s shameful and heartbreaking that the narrative requires such seismic shifting.

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And so there is harassment, and rape, but there are all the “lesser” violations, too. The ones that feel so small and unworthy of acknowledgement, but that are insidious and pervasive and lay the groundwork for everything else. The guy who drapes his arm across your seatback at the dinner party; the salesman who looks only at your husband and asks what he is buying for you. The myriad ways in which a woman become an object in a sentence or a circumstance, and the nothingness that’s rendered in response—so that the boy who’s there at the party or the store with his parents imbues the exchange and believes that that’s the world.

I hope that things will change. I hope the Harvey Weinsteins and the Roger Aileses and the Donald Trumps will become fewer and farther between; that their actions will become so unequivocally condemnable and are condemned—and so become less possible. But I don’t think they will, until change happens on these smaller stages first.

I’m sorry I didn’t say something last weekend. I wish I had, and I hope that next time—because of course there will be one—that I do.

(*You’ll never see this, I’m sure, but thanks. I remember you, and I think you’re great.)

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Below are a few links from my week—to stories that made me take a breath and nod, yes; and to places I admire, led by and fighting for women and girls.

Dear men.

The conversation we should be having.

The story writes itself.

He harassed. Later, I responded.

Lupita Nyong’o, speaking out.

Believe women.

“Our sons can still learn to carry their own weight. Our daughter can learn to not carry others’.”

Circle of Women.

The Center for Family Justice.