Thrilled to announce a new poetry collection. Published today in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.
“I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
It happens every year.
There are holiday parties I love to go to and others that are painful. I have a friend who is brilliant with small talk so I go to parties with her so I don’t have to say much. I marvel at how she can ask thoughtful, personal questions based on what the other person has told her. It just never occurs to me. I can talk about how good the spread is or how much I like the music, but small talk, the kind where you actually learn something about people, that eludes me.
It’s probably why I disliked family holidays so much. I can only remember about three family holiday dinners in my life where I walked away thinking how lovely that was, how wonderful that was. The constant in these three wasn’t the food or the event but the person who invited me. She has a gift for putting the right people in a room with the right food and the right mood and I measure other parties against hers.
Wishing someone a “merry” Christmas is just a greeting, of course, but I like to think it means, “have the kind of Christmas you need this year.” If you are having a terrible time at your job, I wish that you could be able to put the job on a shelf just long enough to have some peace. If you have trouble with your children or your parents, I wish you the ability to appreciate that they are just trying to get through their day too. And if you find yourself alone, and everyone asks you how you will be spending the holidays, I wish you the courage to say, “I will be spending it alone and I look forward to the solitude because it will feed my soul.”
When you spend the day alone, Christmas never really seems like just another day. There’s something in the air, there are fewer people out and about because they are all inside with presents and trees, and the day is suspended somehow and everything waits.
Holidays can be stressful because it’s easy to let others tell you how to spend them. It’s not always the most wonderful time of the year, there’s never peace on earth, and stores don’t care if you can’t handle the debt. People are still homeless and poor, they are hurting and sad. Families can’t get together and when they do, even when there is tremendous love present, personalities collide, hidden agendas reveal themselves.
But then, there’s this light. This particular holiday holds hope and promise in its open hand and the symbol is light. Christmas is a celebration of a better tomorrow. You can acknowledge that regardless of the hopelessness and grief that you feel today, the sun will come out tomorrow, just like Annie wails. There is tremendous vulnerability in evidence here in all the Christmas card pictures of a baby boy whose poor parents were left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving landscape. But it’s still all about hope. Be honest and craft the holiday you need.
I’ve selected my river this year and I will skate away. But I always hold the promise of growth and change, and even peace for tomorrow.
So, have yourself your very own personal kind of Christmas and cherish the light.
I’m delighted to announce the next title in my series of collected stories written on the MTA!
I write about New York – and everywhere else!
Wake me with stillness in the morning.
Start the coffee, let the water run cold.
No need to measure out the beans into the grinder,
the water to the pot.
It’s a day to be reckless, starting softly.
I will pay attention to the measure later,
But not now.
The sun lights up the fire escape copper and slips across the Concourse, splashing up against the Courthouse gold, the wave smacking the sides of the elevated train silver snaking across my horizon.
For just a few minutes, I’ll drink the coffee,
As if nothing amazing were going on outside.
I thought I had Kondo-ized my apartment last spring when I wrote about the 40 Bags Challenge and my take on how Marie Kondo’s mantras applied to me. I embraced letting go, I recycled like a crazy person, I made a bazillion trips to the Goodwill Store, the clothing giveaway box in the building’s laundry room, and NY Public Library – all in a deliberate attempt to unclutter my living space. And then, I thought I was done.
But lo, I had only scratched the surface. I really don’t have anything near what I could honestly call clutter, but oh my, do I still have stuff. It is weighing me down when I need to fly. It surrounds me and makes me crave the inertia I feel when I sit on my very comfy couch, watching reruns of Law and Order. I take off my shoes, my feet become one with the rug on the floor, and I look around to find many, many familiar things – even after letting go of around 65 bags of stuff during Lent.
It’s all about the inertia that I am causing. I rest, I am calm, I am safe, I have no burning reason to get up, get dressed, and get out of my living room. I’m cushioned by stuff – still. When I come home, my stuff flows and pools around me like those empty plastic balls the kids jump into when you go to playrooms.
Specifically, I have an embarrassment of dishes. I have four separate sets of dishes, if you don’t count my mother’s china which is stored in Michigan. The set I use every day is made of cheap plastic. Some dishes are souvenirs from McDonald’s, some were on sale after Halloween a few years ago, and three pieces came from one time I thought if I was going to eat my lunch at my desk at work, I should have dishes. Dumbest idea ever – why would I want to wash dishes at work when I could order takeout and eat out of the containers?
The next set is comprised of the remnants of six clear glass plates I bought when we first moved to Washington Heights almost 20 years ago. I have three left – they mean a lot to me. And they are still really popular alternatives to the everyday plastic.
Then, I have the set of six place settings and a serving platter with a New York skyline border from 2001. I bought them right after the attack on the World Trade Center to commemorate the Twin Towers’ place on the skyline. I have mugs that match and the bowls are really heavy, but perfect for big servings of pasta.
And finally, I have lovely china from my kids’ great grandmother. When they sold her house, the china traveled across the street to the new house, where it sat mostly unused until the new house was sold decades later and it all came to me. The china has moved twice since then and I have lost a number of plates and a few teacups – which under normal china conditions would be a deal breaker. But this massive collection was once 14 complete place settings with service plates and extra teacups. I still have 21 teacups, 14 lunch plates, 14 bread and butter plates, but only 9 dinner plates. I’ve used it all twice in nearly 20 years.
So, I can’t tell exactly what makes me want to keep things I never use. I agree that variety is key to living a rich life, but I have so much that I never use and now, it’s got to go. I have sold my home and I am replacing a very spacious two-bedroom apartment with a minuscule, pied a terre studio. If I don’t use it, I don’t take it with me.
Channeling my new-found Kondo organizing skills, I have been taking things into my hands, giving them a little kiss goodbye, thanking them for their service, and then letting them all go. Clothes, linens, coats, papers, magazines – all thanked, all gone. I have cleared out two whole kitchen cupboards already and two shelves in each of two more cupboards. Drawers will be easy because I already have Baggie-ized my office supplies with pens in one Baggie, paper clips in another. and my clothes are now 7 bags fewer than I had a month ago.
I am still downsizing, tossing, giving away, throwing away, and I have learned some key things:
- When Marie Kondo talks about putting everything in one category, like books or clothes, in the middle of the floor and then sorting through it, she is so right. When I did books, I found a Volume One to a book series I nearly gave away because I only had in front of me Volume Two. Once I put all the books together I could see where I had too many of a single author or book and where I could reunite volumes in a series.
- I now know how important that step is when Marie Kondo talks about thanking something for its service. I found I really did need to say goodbye to some things that had time-traveled with me. Like my nightshirt from Interlochen where I was a summer camper in 1972. I had not worn it since 1972, but it always made me smile when I fished it out of the trunk.
- Sort and organize mail in the moment. This is something I think will be most difficult going forward. I tend to keep things now, toss things later. I have to learn how to assess keeping something so I don’t have to deal with it later. The best organizers will tell you that the fewest times you handle something the more efficient is its use.
I went shopping for a new couch today – I’m not ready yet to buy a new couch, but it’s coming up. Now I have a massive sectional sleeper sofa that could fit in the new place but I would have to sacrifice a lot to make it work. The saleswoman was pretty insistent and a little grumpy and confused at my questions. She’s probably working in a job that isn’t satisfying, And she probably has too much furniture, all bought at an employee discount under some obligation to the store.
I am moving on. I know I will be very happy knowing that I am keeping what I use and giving away what I don’t use. I can honestly say I no longer need to see collections of objects in order to be happy and feel safe at home. I can remember the nightshirt, the dishes, the books – I do not need to keep them stored around me.
Marie Kondo says that if something is so desperately important to you that you cannot let it go, then why keep it in a box in a cupboard or closet. Bring it out, enjoy it. I’m ready to do that.
This is just an advance notice about a book project called Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. I am so proud to be one of the voices in this collection of essays that discusses the love-hate relationship many women have with the Democratic front runner, former Secretary Clinton.
Please keep it on your radar! Pub date is November 3, 2015. It is edited by Joanne Bamberger. And we will be available for readings and book signings this fall. #hillaryparadoxbook
Can’t wait til fall? Find many of these wonderful writers at The Broad Side. And be sure to add Love Her, Love Her Not to your Goodreads bookshelf!
There may be a fine line between love and hate, but at least it is visible and you know when you’ve crossed it, I think. What I am finding is that the line that defines the end of just irritating and the beginning of completely infuriating is often blurred, hidden, invisible altogether. So, I wonder how it is that our boundaries are so ill-defined when the outcome of crossing them can be so dire?
I woke up to the soft sound of the rain this morning, the gentle patter of raindrops on my windowsill. I listened for the nearly still morning sounds and thought about how poetic the word raindrop is and how lovely, … no wait. I have to stop here. It was this totally annoying drip, drip, drip without any pattern and all I could think was, “where is my umbrella and how long will this last?”
What has happened here is not all that poetic. My morning reverie was shot through and through with practical worrying about keeping the rain off me while I run out to catch the bus. I would much rather be the guy who says, “Let me hit the snooze button and just listen to the rain.” But instead, I got up right away to assess the damage. It was only when I checked the weather report and found that the rain was supposed to stop at noon that I was able to relax and think about breakfast.
That’s not right.
Isn’t it the same with a lot of other common sights and sounds? The sound of a child laughing is charming. But the sound of a grownup laughing has an internal clock that starts to tick for me. Chuckle and it’s fine. Keep it up though and I will move to the other end of the bus. The sound of a car alarm doesn’t even cross over into my consciousness when I hear it the first time. But keep it up and I think about calling the police.
There are all kinds of things that we can tune out, turn off, not react to, as long as it doesn’t continue. But then there is that line, the one I don’t see, that when I have gone past it, I know I need to be more aware rather than less. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that humans can endure practically anything as long as they know it’s not going to last. Maybe that’s the key. Maybe it’s just my inability to make simple irritations stop that makes their continuing all that irritating. It’s more about a loss of control of the environment. I can’t turn off the car alarm.
There is a woman now who is on trial for stabbing her husband to death. She says, on that day, she was going to kill herself with a very large knife, but when her husband confronted her, she turned it on him in the heat of the moment and he died. How was it she lacked the simple inner strength to walk away? How will the jury ever know for certain that she wouldn’t react this way again? Will she see that line in the future or will she cross it again and not be able to stop herself? Her violent reaction to not being able to control her environment, her life, or the outcome of this one conversation caused his death.
They say that familiar music is the most calming to listen to because for only a few moments, you can, in some small way, predict the future. When you hear a song that you know, that you can sing, you know how it goes and you know how it ends. You know there’s a second verse or a section where the piano does something. It’s that very predictability that calms you. You know the outcome, and, especially if you don’t enjoy the song, at least you know it’s going to stop.
So I am working on this. Put simply, I want to have minor irritations not bother me so much. C.S. Lewis would probably say that’s a good idea.