Thrilled to announce a new poetry collection. Published today in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.
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.
All I need in the morning, I think,
I think all that I need in the morning is to know my pants fit.
You can’t complain really if your pants fit.
Then, I guess I‘d like water – cold to make coffee,
Hot to shower.
Can I get a raisin scone too?
That’s not too much, is it?
I like scones.
And you know, if my pants fit, I should be good.
But maybe a croissant a la plancha
Like they make in that place in Barcelona?
I remember that time in the hotel,
The waiter explaining how to say that awkward
Spelling it out slowly to unsuspecting
And you know, if my pants fit, I should be good.
But maybe if the sky had some fluffy clouds?
Is that too much to ask?
And a breeze to sweep my hair off my face a bit?
I don’t need cloud-less, I need cloud more
So I can take some pictures
And share them with my kids
To watch them roll their eyes
And say, “So?”
And you know, if my pants fit, I should be good.
But maybe a seat on the train?
I like to get a seat by the time my train gets to 149.
Otherwise, I have zip chance in Hades
Of getting one at 125.
On the night train home, I just stand by
The fancy people who never go all the way uptown by me.
I bet their pants fit.
I bet they don’t even think about it, being fancy and all.
And you know, if my pants fit, I should be good.
Because I have pants, and I have water
And I can buy my scones on the corner,
Just out the back door.
Clouds and breezes are great
But not really needed,
Not every day at least.
I can even sleep better knowing
In the morning, my pants will fit.
After all, they are my pants
After all, mostly there’s hot water,
After all, if I just run the tap, there’s cold too,
After all, what makes me happiest is just this little thing:
Pants or no pants,
Even when I order croissants
I am no longer an unsuspecting
The new 9/11 Museum is open now in lower Manhattan. Previews of the museum were offered to 9/11 families and to the workers who spent so many months recovering the remains and clearing the site. I was fortunate to be able to attend as a guest of one of the 9/11 families. My friend and I had agreed in advance that we would just do this somehow, get through it, and focus on getting a nice lunch afterward.
While I was waiting to meet her, I walked around a handful of the neighboring streets adjacent to the memorial and this new museum. It’s funny – she and I both got a little lost getting there. I never had to know where the World Trade Center was before, because I could always look up. I never looked for streets or coordinates the way you do in every other part of the city, I would just look up. Remarkably, the new Freedom Tower was topped in mist and fog yesterday so looking up, even if that building were something I would look for, was futile. There was nothing visible up past the first couple dozen storeys.
You enter the museum and go down. There is a coffee and snack bar and a conference room just up a flight of stairs, but everything else is below ground where you can view the slurry wall that held back the Hudson River, preventing all of lower Manhattan from going under water. And there are exhibits specific to each of the towers, along with photos of each of the nearly 3000 people who died.
The twisted beams and steel supports that were pulled out of the pile are displayed as if they were objets d’art, something better suited to a contemporary art museum. One of the fire trucks that was destroyed is there in a large room that also has the remains of the communication towers that supported the antennas. That’s one of the things I remember from September 11 – those antennas were integral in most cellphone communication in 2001. It’s why telephone calls, in the first few hours of the event, were so difficult.
What struck me, beyond the enormity of the exhibits and the massive amount of painful and painstaking work that went into creating this place, was one small room where they played music. In other rooms, there were recordings of news broadcasts, tapes of the voicemail messages that were left by the people in the towers, and I heard Amazing Grace playing off in the distance when I was about to leave.
But for just this one room, just for a small exhibit, nothing struck me like the recording of a Rimsky-Korsakov excerpt from Scheherazade. How terribly perfect it was. While the photos, the objects, and the collected debris were all so very important, nothing is more important than telling the story. That’s Scheherazade – she lived because her stories held the king in thrall. She was the iconic storyteller, the one whose very existence relied on her ability to tell a story. I was so moved by the selection of that particular piece of music in that tiny room in that vast and sorrowful place that I can’t even remember now what it was accompanying, what part of the story that room was trying to tell.
But that’s what I came away with: the story of 9/11 is how bold and visionary New Yorkers built two tall, arrogant, spectacular, landmark buildings and how a small group of envious, hateful men thought they could bring down those buildings and bring down America at the same time.
And how wrong those men were.
While we might have been thrown off balance and it might have taken us months to mourn the dead and grieve our loss, we’re not down. The Freedom Tower is up, the new transportation hub is nearly ready, and there is so much for us to be thankful for. The twin memorial fountains are lovely with the sound of fresh water running over stone. It’s a gentle place to remember both the people who died and the day that took them from us.
This story is still being written. We will keep telling this 9/11 story, we will tell stories of the courage and the heroism, the lives lost, and how everything changed that one frightfully beautiful day in September, when the clear blue sky was suddenly filled with the smoke from a terrible fire.
We are all storytellers now and it’s what keeps us alive. Just like Scheherazade.
Photos by me!
Winter this year has brought a lot of snow into our lives. New Yorkers got used to not having it for so long, it’s almost like a surprise when the forecast calls for some inches of snowfall. Today we were supposed to be visited by what meteorologists call a Classic Nor’easter. It was supposed to drop 30 inches of snow on the city tonight and the prospect of all that snow started to sound pretty dire. Then, mid-week, the weather people all backed off the original forecast and re-calibrated the inches to a mere tenth of the original estimate. As I write, it hasn’t started snowing yet, but odds are we’ll only see a dusting. What that means is simply this: no boots.
Sidewalks and most streets in New York are cleared of snow in a way that I do not remember streets getting clean when I was growing up in Michigan. I remember walking through streets that had been plowed where the snow was measured more accurately in feet than in inches. And I wore boots all the time. My mother would cut off sheets of wax paper for me to wrap up my stockinged feet so they would slide in my boots. It would get all wet when the snow came over the tops of my boots, but everyone had wax paper so it just became part of the deal.
Except for my dad. My dad had a regular boot protocol too but it was more efficient and less necessary at the same time. More efficient, because the way he would tuck his pants’ cuffs into his boots made it virtually impossible for snow to get into his socks and less necessary, because he drove a car everywhere and rarely walked any great distance in the snow. He would shovel out the driveway every time it snowed of course, but his feet followed the shovel he pushed ahead of him and he walked on the clear ground left by the path.
But every time I pull on my snow boots now, I think about my dad and his boots. They were dark, thick rubber boots, about 10 inches tall with a center front gusset and two big tin buckles. He would sit in the kitchen with the boots next to him on the floor. Then he would carefully fold his pants’ cuffs around his ankles so they lay flat on his socks. Like hospital corners on bedsheets, his neatly folded pants fit perfectly into his boots. The gusset would close and lay flat too so the buckles would make everything close up tight and everything was neat.
Watching my dad perform this simple procedure made me feel safe. Regardless of how imperfect my own boot application was on any given day, I thought if my dad could do this with such precision, it must mean that he did other things with equal thought and experience and knowledge. He knew how to make sure no snow got in his boots and I was always coming home with wet socks. He had neat buckles and creased pants and I had wax paper. I had something to aspire to, something to assign to being a grownup. Kids got wet socks, grownups had that all solved.
My dad stays indoors most of the time now and I’m not sure he still has the boots I remember. When I bought the ones I wear in the New York slush now, I tried to find something practical like the ones he used to wear. I got short Wellies that do the job and I make sure I take the time to fold my pants’ cuffs across my ankles the way he did. I take the extra step of pulling my stretchy socks over the bottoms to make sure everything is snug because, after all, that’s what grownups do.
Last week, I was wearing the boots on my way in from the train station when I came up to a stretch of blocked sidewalk that forced me to walk out into the street, around the car that was pulled over the path. I took one step out to the street and stepped into deep water that had puddled against the curb and the slush went up nearly to the stop of my boots, roughly eight inches. But my feet were still dry! I started laughing out loud at how clever I was to have worn my boots and to have dry socks.
But it was all my dad. And, I have to be honest, I started to feel like a grownup.