Category Archives: happiness

Baby’s First Mobile Home Goes to VT

At lunch with coworkers today, I asked the waitress for a refill of my Diet Coke. “We don’t really do that,” she said, hesitating, so I assured her, “It’s not for me. It’s for the baby.” She laughed and said, “OK!”

Apparently last night, I was snoring and farting in my sleep, because pregnancy is beautiful. Much more of this, and I wouldn’t blame Mr. Ben for deciding that maybe we’ve been doing too much co-sleeping and we should move from Attachment Relationship-ing to an arrangement that has me in another room in a crib. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This is parenting humor. If you don’t get it, you should reward yourself with another vodka shot and one night stand.] I mean, I’ve never snored before, and “it was so loud in my dream that it was a dog,” he reported. “Then I woke up and found it was you.”

The baby totally owed me for that, so helping me get that Diet Coke was the least Squee could do.

Not to mention, if it hadn’t been for the baby, I wouldn’t have had to throw myself out of paradise after only two weeks.


No, I shouldn’t complain: it was great that I could go at all & take Squee — she’ll never be so easy to transport again; in fact, I am her very first mobile home! I had a fantastic time filled with sunny gem-colored days, waterfalls, mountains, swimming holes, ping pong, pool, karaoke, three meals a day served to me in the company of friends, Adirondack chairs, old barns, even older cemeteries, horror movie showings, books, cable TV, freshly baked bread, and massages that cost $45 for an hour. Communing with animals helped me get in touch with my maternal side!

Getting to know King Kong, by Gala


Pretending to liberate Giraffe, by Aliza Morell

There were a couple of days in the midst of the heatwave when the humid airlessness of my studio, which was utterly unprepared for temperatures over 75 degrees, made it difficult to write. Still, I got to page 60 of my nascent novel. Plus research, plotting, charting, reading & thinking! Yeah accomplishment.

I also felt so social — thanks very little to my own extroversion and more to the set up of the fellowship. A whole slew of residents arrived in unison, a mix of young, old, poets, fiction-writers, visual artists, students, teachers, and guest lecturers, to live and eat and play together on a campus well-integrated into a picturesque little northern Vermont town. Almost immediately, I was lucky enough to fall into a cadre of talented, smart, incredibly good and beautiful girls, with whom a run to the supermarket became as entertaining as a road trip.

And I got to bond with some impressive writers & artists of various ages, including the funny, kind Matthew Guenette, with whom I did work study in the kitchens, an experience that bonds participants together much like service in ‘Nam; high priestess of Tarot, calm, and good-humor Lynne Thompson; knife-making Mountain Man with a heart of gold Nick Anger; pop culture feminist professor-poet extraordinaire Simone Muench; and others.

Far be it from me to exaggerate the quality of the work done by the other VSC residents. Check it out for yourself: the word-art of Brett Lysne, which takes over-thinking to a whole new level; the eerie, beautiful, obsessively-rendered ladies of Katy Horan; the painstakingly precise, whimsical Americana collages of Rachel Grobstein; and oh my god so many, many more.

Untitled by Katy Horan
Art by Rachel Grobstein
The World Doesn’t End!! by Rachel Grobstein

Caitlin Doyle’s creepy masterpiece about adolescence “Thirteen” stuck with me for days. (Apparently it also pleased the editors of Best New Poets 2009.) And I’m still in awe of Nomi Stone, who has managed to publish poetry while amassing Fulbrights, advanced degrees, and experiences living around the world. As I discovered this fall during my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, it’s invigorating to be around so much skill & energy.

Leaving was hard, and I would like to go back if at all possible please. Not for me — for the baby.

gratitude: it’s not just an ani difranco song

At the approach of Thanksgiving, it is customary to stop and consider what we are grateful for. When my head stops whirling and allows me a moment to think straight, I am grateful for many things:

  • Mr. Ben and I are progressing — slowly, and with many setbacks, but progressing — toward buying our very first apartment. We have signed the contract. We have interviewed with the co-op board. We have given over so much money already that I have to conceive of it as merely pretty-colored paper. If all goes well, we will give over even more money, walloping amounts of it, really, money we’ve been hoarding so closely it has never seen the light of day; and in exchange we will get 850 square feet of our own (2 bedrooms, 1 bath, 1 washer-dryer) in a small, well-run Prospect Heights co-op that has already paid off the mortgage on the building. Good? Good enough? The consensus seems to be yes but adult decisions like this make me squirrelly.
  • The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts just hosted me for two weeks, providing me with a bedroom and a studio and three meals a day, as well as the company to eat them with and scenery to admire while I chewed. I hiked with poets, played Scrabble with musicians and ping pong with Germans (and Future Famous Writers of America), gave a reading with a novelist, and spent most of my recreational time running back and forth to Sweet Briar College, building fires, and thrift-store shopping with flash-fiction writer / VCCA MVP Katie Schultz. No one got to know me except as the all-smiling, creatively-fulfilled version of myself.
A room of one's own
The view from my studio

More pictures here, for anyone curious about what a writer’s retreat looks like.

  • My job, for letting me off the leash to frolic in the rural Virginia wilderness.
  • My Brooklyn community, with whom I am celebrating Friendsgiving tonight. My contribution: A huge bowl of massaged kale salad, or dressed-up raw roughage a la New York Times. They’re all going to poop like champions later.
  • My family, for having something to celebrate and for knowing how it should be done. My mother, being the overachieving domestic war goddess that she is, put on three events this past weekend back-to-back-to-back, but the high point came on Saturday night when my brother Adam and his bride-to-be Jenn addressed the crowd. “We’re going to start a family,” announced Adam. The whole room inhaled in a whoosh; Jenn turned brick red. “Not right now!” she says. “I don’t get it,” said Adam over and over again, afterwards. “We’re getting married — isn’t that what starting a family means?”

To Bear or Not To Bear?

When I get too many writing rejections in a row, I often return to one particular despairing thought: “Maybe I should just give up and have kids.”


Perhaps not EIGHT of them and perhaps not all at once. But I could have kids! Then I’d be too tired to think about writing, and agents, and publishing, and whether Katie Roiphe would hate me if she knew me (Team Chabon/Waldman!), and should I be heartened or threatened by the success of Sarah Vowell, who is who I want to be when I grow up (also: Margaret Atwood), and is 28 young or old, really, when it comes down to it?

Everyone has ideas for me. One agent suggested I turn my first novel into a Young Adult book because kids, unlike adults, wouldn’t be turned off by magic realism. Another agent suggested I write essays because fiction doesn’t sell. A third agent said essays don’t sell, and have I considered turning memoir into fiction? So round and round we go.

Unless I give up! In which case, I could live here, in Barbie’s Southern Dream House, complete with arbor:

Wouldn't you visit to sit in that arbor?

Or here! Look at that kitchen:

Mmmmm kitchen ...

I could get involved in local politics or something, and garden, and raise the kids with one hand while I read with the other. (Do the kids deserve better? No! Entitled brats. Unless they’re Tina Fey’s kids, in which case, duh, yes, of course. I will be extra-nice to Tina Fey’s kids. They will get to eat sugar and meat while my own offspring will be raised on veggie burgers out of the box which they’ll be lucky if I bother to thaw.)

Or I could redouble my efforts. Grit my teeth and get the IUD I am scheduled to get on April 9th, which I expect to be about as traumatic as that time I got my wisdom teeth out but not quite as bad as Scientologist home-birth. If I succeed in not passing out from the pain, I could go shooting, and then come home and write more of whatever I am moved to write, whether it be YA, fiction, or memoir, and keep on hoping.


PS — If you have any stories about getting an IUD that do not involve you going all swoony and unconscious, please share!

The Big Easy

This is the fantastic Google map we put together for our holiday vacation 2010, codename: “Persistence.” Twice JetBlue canceled our flights to New Orleans because of the blizzard — you know, the one that was highly anticipated and yet took everyone by surprise, much like the difficulty of raising children. (I imagine.)

So, on the day that Brooklyn was flooded with snow, and no one had shoveled sidewalks or plowed streets, Mr. Ben and I threw on expressions of great determination, and dragged our suitcases behind us to the subway station — an exercise that gave me new insight into what it must be like to dispose of a dead body. We took that train to Penn Station, where we waited 45 minutes for a delayed and usuriously overpriced Acela train to DC.

My little brother, god rest his soul, volunteered to pick us up at Union Station and ferry us over to Don’t-You-Dare-Call-It-Reagan National Airport. And from there, at long last and great expense, we caught a new, on-time flight to New Orleans, where the weather was a crisp 40 degrees but the ground blessedly free of snow.

We made it to our hotel on Bourbon Street and collapsed. Yes, I know, Bourbon Street is Boobies Street, a hilarious choice for a non-drinker and non-exhibitionist who likes her sleep, but when you plan things last minute, you have to make some concessions. The hotel itself was pleasant enough but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t enjoy hopscotching around puddles of vomit on their way home at night.

Virtually everything else about our trip to N’awlins though was vomit-free and, frankly, spectacular. The food — from crayfish omelettes to hidden Vietnamese cafes! The music!

As vain as a fat man can be

That’s New Orleans’ own Dr. John, with whom we had an appointment at the famous club, Tipitina’s. We made it to the very front row and so stood close enough to the old-time blues man that we could make out the paisley print on his buttercup-yellow silk shirt and smell the marijuana drifting off the stage.

The houses!

Look at that porch!

This one was in Treme, where American music was born — at least according to the guide of our walking tour and our friend Robert, the docent of the Backstreet Cultural Museum:

These things are made by hand

Robert was full of stories from the many years he spent working for the mob bosses who own and run the French Quarter. Incidentally, he makes those fantastic Mardi Gras Indian costumes — one a year — by hand.

In short, whether tromping through cemeteries or parks or museums or zoos, we were in Heaven. Isn’t this what Heaven looks like, after all?

Photo by Mr. Ben

Photo by moi

These and more, btw, on Flickr.

Contents are (marginally less) fragile

I knew Friday was going to be rough when I started off the morning by almost stepping on a cockroach in my bare feet.

Friday *was* rough, as expected. Even by the evening, when I abandoned all attempts to feign normalcy and instead went to the gym for an hour, I was faced with a Very Special Episode of “What Not to Wear” starring a cancer survivor who had lost both her breasts as well as ninety pounds. “Now that she has beaten cancer through sheer determination,” said the voiceover, “she faces another challenge: how to dress her new body.”

Luckily all my energy was going into propelling my body forward on the treadmill, so I had no strength with which to pummel the screen.

Yeah, Friday sucked, as did Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There were bright spots! If you were with me on any of those days, you made them bearable, so thank you. Overall, though, I felt like a plucked chicken, and not even a tasty one.

Then, this morning, I woke up to a brilliant, sparkling sky. Suddenly I am sympathetic to all of God’s children. I am nodding and smiling. I am identifying with everything I read, like this, via Finslippy:

I’ve been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, “CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE,” and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we’re only here for a little while.

Yes, Alice, goddammit! Yes. I embrace you! Mwah!

And you, Morning News Tournament of Books! Come over here, you old so-and-so. You are almost making me weep with happiness. (At least so far. I cannot vouch for what will happen if Wolf Hall and other favorites of mine from 09 don’t keep advancing.) Quotes like these made my morning:

Let’s say that the standards that apply to people-—the basic character-defining requirements—=are that a person be funny, smart, and kind. This is my rubric and possibly yours. If a person is funny, smart, and kind (or two out of the three) any other flaw can be forgiven.

It has never occurred to me to apply the same standard to books, which have an aesthetic dimension not even touched in the funny-smart-kind paradigm. And yet …

Yes, TOB! That is exactly right! Thank you.

You know what else is sublimely right? This chart matching famous writers with their day jobs. YES. I cheer for you, Lapham Quarterly. Hurrah!

Maybe Mr. Ben sprinkled MDMA on my Oatmeal Flakes this morning. After four days of Fester Gloom walking around (who has, to be honest, been making guest appearances in our apartment all month) I couldn’t blame him.

a swelling heart

I love this illustrated essay from the NYT: “May It Please the Court.”

I love the power of context to say, sometimes, what words can’t:

I love having neighbors, especially ones with a roofdeck, thanks to which I have my very first suntan of the season.

I love that I live with someone who loves me more than I love me, and gives me something to strive for everyday. Also he hangs pictures. Welcome, Marilyn, to Montague Street!

I love that it’s in the 80s and beautiful today, that our windows are flung open and I’m wearing a bright blue dress, that I have a new book from the library and what feels like all the time and the all the luck in the world.