Category Archives: life in new york

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!


ART. It is so above and beyond me, and at the same time it can be so banal: Oh, look, naked ladies. A soup can. Some colors. More naked ladies. (And they all look the same!)

I need story. STORY and when possible, words. Visual media often dispense with both.

So I was surprised at how fantastic it was to wander around the AIPAD photography show this past weekend as a guest of InMotion. Two artists in particular ran away with me. Ordinarily I would not reveal my preference for anything without knowing in advance what conventional wisdom has to say. Am I making a sophisticated choice or a ridiculous one? Are my tastes bourgeois, or passe? I’m much more comfortable stating my opinions about films, but then, it is no risk to state an appreciation of Jane Eyre, for example, which I also saw this weekend.

When it comes to art, I am a total naif — and I hope to be judged as such. So if my taste is laughable or offends you, forgive me. I am coming from a position of knowing almost nothing except What I Like (story!) and What I Like Less (having to look at boobies & bush in ascetic public contexts and alongside strange men).

Okay, ready? These were the two folks I totally fell for: Tim Walker and Julie Blackmon.

Wicker Swing by Julie Blackmon


Otis Ferry and his hunting hounds by Tim Walker

Cool, right? $5000 worth of cool, not counting the frames. Art is for the rich. But I enjoyed the work of these artists! In fact I wanted to jump through the frames and live in their pictures. Flip through their other photos — they really are worth your time, and probably your $5K, although I really wouldn’t know about that.

Grande Dames

Being that today is one in a series of drearily cold, wet days, and everyone could use some cheering up, please accept this gift of Helen Mirren on a motorcycle:

Made a crack, did it? But you’re still glum? How about calling in sick and kicking back on the couch with the DVD version of the sublimely soapy UK costume drama Downton Abbey? I mean, let’s face it, with all this icy mist seeping into your bones, you probably are sick, whether you realize it or not. And Maggie Smith in a swivel chair does wonders for the constitution.

A similar marathon viewing of the BBC’s Cranford did the trick for me. Friends crowded into my living room to feast on ricotta-and-bulgur pancakes and cheer for the lovelorn, careworn citizens of Victorian small-town England. For one day, at least, we could avoid thinking about the clouds scything through Manhattan, chopping off the heads of buildings left and right.

If you’ve missed it up to now, by the way, check out my piece on The headline and subhead made the essay seem much more sensationalist — and anti-gun — than it is, which inflamed some readers. My point, as a commenter late in the game said for me, was to investigate the end-of-life choices made by two men I loved very much. What I realized writing the piece was that, when you watch someone die, you find yourself knowing way too much; and when someone kills himself, you find yourself questioning whether you ever knew him at all.

Anyway, read on, if you dare, and enter the Comments section at your own risk.


Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore were beyond charming last night at 92Y — where I had never actually been before. My darling Aunts Marjy & Jane took me to that hallowed ground, which Jon Stewart described as the third holiest site to Judaism, after Jerusalem and Zabar’s.

On stage, Moore and Franzen giggled like old friends. They also each had great answers to an audience question: When do you know you’ve arrived at the right ending?

Lorrie Moore talked about the difference between novels and short stories in this respect. Short stories demand endings that shine light backwards on everything that has come before, she said. Novels, by contrast, shine light outwards on what could come next.

Jonathan Franzen said that you know you’ve hit on a good ending (if not the “right” one) when the paralyzing anxiety occasioned by all the worse endings you’ve thought of begins to fall away.

The audience sort of mooed happily, the way groups do when someone says something that makes perfect sense.

Walking out, I told my aunts that Franzen is one of my literary boyfriends. (Adorable Brit David Mitchell, who I saw read at BookCourt, is another, because I am not so monogamous in my literary life: I also go on crazy dates with Jonathan Ames, talk politics with hot grandma Anne Lamott, and have passionate Southern evenings with Ann Patchett.)

Imagine my surprise when I went to sleep that night and dreamed Franzen had become my *actual* boyfriend. Which led to this exchange over GChat:

Logan: um, did you do it?
Me: no!
Logan: just checking
Me: we walked around swarthmore arm in arm
Logan: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: isn’t that kind of even better??
Logan: that is even better. amazing, amazing dream.
Me: i also dreamt that i had to pee in a suitcase for some reason. like, everyone else got to use a toilet and i had to pee in a suitcase. but that was a separate dream.

Making Love to an Ice Pack

Here’s a lesson I have now learned that I am sharing with you: Before you are scheduled to have surgery at a place, check that place out. Meet the doctor, if possible. And make sure you’re not going to be outnumbered by people in Ed Hardy shirts.

I arrived at my oral surgeon’s office yesterday at 12:20 for an appointment at 12:30. After two hours of waiting in a crowd that would have been equally comfortable at an OTB parlor, I was finally taken to the back and put in one of a room’s two dentist’s chairs. The other was occupied.

The guy in the other chair and I waited for another half an hour or so as moans came through the walls from other rooms and hygienists walked in and out changing their gloves. Hip hop blasted from a Panasonic boom box on the floor, circa 1991, so retro that it didn’t even have a CD player, only a tape deck and a radio.

At some point I started to shake — a normal enough response to perpetual anticipation, especially when you’re waiting to get all four wisdom teeth out to the soothing sounds of Jay-Z. Hygienists shot me amused looks and talked to each other in Spanish. I tried to calm myself down by silently reciting the Kipling poem “If,” which my dad had me memorize ages ago:

If you can keep your head / when all about you are losing theirs / And blaming it on you / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / Yet make allowance for their doubting too / If you can wait and not be tired by waiting —

Then the surgeon and a fleet of hygienists came in to start working on my roommate. They wasted no time: within five minutes, he was gasping and twitching; within ten, he had arched his entire back off the table like Cary Elwes in the Princess Bride when his life is being sucked from him by the Machine.

I’m not a brave person. There’s a reason I carry small, dissolving tablets of Klonopin around with me in my change purse. I don’t like pain, I hide from danger, and I am not even that crazy about excitement. I am CERTAINLY not crazy about watching dental patients reduced to begging for their lives.

Roommate #1 was restored to a sitting position, stuffed with cotton, and released. Then the hygienists ushered in Roommate #2.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master / If you can think and not make thoughts your aim …

You’ve got to be joking, I thought to myself. But the same team went to work, and again I had to watch. There wasn’t so much as a curtain dividing my side of the room from theirs.

The surgeon approached me and I asked to be knocked out. Retroactively, if possible. Wake me up when it’s over.

Sorry, said the surgeon. We don’t do that here. We don’t have the equipment to monitor if your heart stops.

I don’t care if my heart stops, I said, glancing across the room.

He laughed, and then shot me in the mouth from all angles.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster / and treat those two impostors just the same. …

I was left to grow increasingly numb as they finished with Roommate #2. By the time Roommate #3 had come and gone, I was ready to give up. If this were war, I would have been ready to tell them anything — name, rank, serial number, state secrets, battle plans, you name it. I didn’t sign up to be a soldier. I work in a Jewish non-profit, for God’s sake!

But they didn’t want secrets. They wanted my teeth.

They switched me from my chair — where I’d been sitting, by that point, for an hour and a half, feeling much like I had when a film prof put on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class — to the other chair. The one that had been wiped down three times already.

New York … trilled the voice from the boom box. These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights will inspire you …

Ready? asked the surgeon.

I whimpered, and he went to work.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / to serve their turn long after they’re gone / and so hold on til there is nothing in you / except the will that says to them “Hold on.” / If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with 60 seconds worth of distance run …

Thankfully, compared to the agonies of waiting and watching, the pain of the procedure itself was not too bad. I mean, it didn’t feel GOOD — it felt like someone was tearing my teeth from their sockets, which is more or less what was happening. But the surgeon was done in ten minutes. I was stuffed with cotton and returned to a sitting position, given two prescriptions and a pack full of sterile pads, and proclaimed a champ.

Yours is the earth / and everything that’s in it. / And, what is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

In my case, a man who eats lots of applesauce and watches episode after episode of Buffy. But Rudyard helped me through it, for which I am grateful. More, I am grateful to Charrow, who spent her whole afternoon in the dentist’s office and then helped get me home, ignoring all emissions of bloody drool. That is true friendship.

The More You Know …

PSA of the week, courtesy of my having time to kill. You’re welcome.

 Men more likely to cheat on women with bigger paychecks, study says – Like MUCH more likely: “Men who are completely economically dependent on their female partners are five times more likely to cheat than men in relationships with women who earned similar amounts.”

Thanks, CNN! I needed an excuse to hop off the career ladder and focus on my writing which, in the past six months, has netted me a total of $100.00. It does seem to me, though, that a man who is completely economically dependent on his female partner is a unicorn. Could anyone really gather enough unicorns to make a statistically-significant sample?

Mythology aside, I can’t resign myself to a happy, faithful, penurious marriage just yet, because, as we know from the Sopranos, Mad Men, and the entire history of EVERYTHING since we got down from the trees, “A man who makes significantly more money than his girlfriend or wife is also more likely to cheat.”

Hmmm, it’s wet and salty in here. Where are we again, exactly? Oh yes: we’re in a pickle. By “we,” of course, I mean ladies. We’re damned if we support a guy and damned if we are supported by him. Is there any hope in sight, CNN-cited pseudo-scientists?

“Men in relationships with women who made about 75 percent of the men’s income were the least likely to cheat.”

Well! There it is. Make exactly 3/4 of whatever your resident male rakes in and you’ll be set. Or go lez. I know which I think would be less of a hassle.

There are fun facts aplenty in this article about How Not to Die While Walking from the NYT. Don’t cross in the crosswalk, for example. Avoid “crosstown thoroughfares like 125th Street or Canal Street,” where half of all pedestrian deaths occur. (Yikes!)

You want more? Of course you do:

Do not go anywhere between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., stick to the side streets and skip Manhattan entirely. … cabs accounted for far fewer pedestrian accidents in Manhattan than privately owned vehicles. Jaywalkers, surely the city’s most numerous scofflaws, were involved in fewer collisions than their law-abiding counterparts who waited for the “walk” sign — although accidents involving jaywalkers are more likely to result in death.

And one discovery could permanently upend one of the uglier stereotypes of the motoring world: in 80 percent of city accidents that resulted in a pedestrian’s death or serious injury, a male driver was behind the wheel. (Fifty-seven percent of New York City vehicles are registered to men.)

This edition of “the More You Know” is brought to you by my latent anti-man bias, apparently. Some of my closest friends are guys, I swear!

One last tidbit: “Pedestrians would be well advised to favor sidewalks to the right of moving traffic — left-hand turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash as right-hand turns.” Left-hand turns: sinister & deadly. Got it.

By the way, feeling good about America these days? You shouldn’t be.

Lastly, this just in: Power corrupts! No word yet on “absolute power,” but I have a working hypothesis.

Bishops, Bishops Everywhere

The depression that gets to one after reading this article — Abuse Took Years to Ignite Belgian Clergy Inquiry — is at least somewhat relieved by reading this one, Church of England Paves the Way for Women Bishops. So I recommend engaging with them in that order, and then taking deep, restorative breaths.

Or avoid thinking about how religion often makes people’s lives worse instead of better altogether by getting away from the computer. Go to PortSide in Red Hook, Brooklyn (near to which, on August 3rd, you can watch Jaws on the water.) Read a strikingly good book, or several.

Play pinochle. Eat something delicious. See Bernadette Peters & Elaine Stritch together on Broadway.

Plan a drunken Popsicle party in Prospect Park. See writer-who’ll-change-your-world David Mitchell live at BookCourt. Watch pretty, joyous people kissing or a hot, dangerous woman kick ass.

Jon Hamm is helpful, in Mad Men and in person:

W: Rebecca, in stories earlier this year about the breakup of Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet—
Hall: Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?
W: —your name was mentioned in a way that implicated you in the breakup of their marriage. Is there any accuracy to that perception?
Hall: No.
Hamm: The reality is that I broke them up.
Hall: Jon Hamm was sleeping with Sam Mendes.
W: Wow. Does a sex tape exist?
Hamm: Does it? He directed it. It’s beautiful.

Oh Jon. You can Hamm me anytime.

At any rate, that’s how I’m getting by.

The Piano Man Has Been Drinking

Last night I wrote in my journal, “I’m going home this weekend.” Then I stopped and stared at the page, because “home” has never been so abstract. My parents sold the house I grew up in, the house on, yes, for real, Unicorn Lane, and moved to an apartment. This was somewhat tragic for me. However, they managed to squeeze the house into the apartment so that nothing looked *that* different, and to some extent I was satisfied.

Now the house is gone and the apartment is gone. My mother’s new apartment is not yet finished, so in the meantime she is shacked up with my grandma. When I go down this weekend, then, I will be stay there with them — three generations of females under one roof with the piano I get calls about from time to time.

[Phone rings]
ME: Hi Mom!
MOM: Hi sweetie. Grandma’s been worrying about the piano again.
ME: Mom, we’ve talked about this. I can’t take the piano.
MOM: I know, I know, but —
ME: No but! We already share a small one-bedroom with two African drums, a bicycle, and a whole arboretum of chairs!*
MOM: I know, I know. … Are you thinking of maybe buying a bigger place?

Well, regardless, to DC I go, and I guess “home” is wherever my mom is, unless she moves to Mississippi or Brazil. Oh, dear, they must be very sad in Brazil today. I am happy, however, because I am rooting for the Netherlands and Ghana. (The Netherlands because we had Dutch au pairs growing up; because they have the best airport in Europe; & because it’s not their fault Anne Frank died / Ghana because a number of my friends have lived there and not all of them contracted malaria; because the players are handsome; & because of white guilt. If Ghana plays Holland I do not know what I will do.)

When I was watching the end of the game today, an African gentleman approached me and asked who won. “The Netherlands!” I said. He looked at me without understanding. “Holland?” I tried. “The Dutch?” Still nothing. Finally, I said, “Europe. Europe won.” And at last he said, “Ah! Okay.”

That gentleman is almost as good at sports as I am! I really only know enough to root against countries that harbored Nazis or countries I’m temporarily mad at because I’ve just read the devastating but extremely well-written British novel, Little Bee.

But perhaps this is obvious. Perhaps you know this about me, that I am bad at sports, the same you already know Mel Gibson is an asshole and Shalom Auslander is adorably neurotic.

*I’m not sure how it happened but in our one-bedroom, we have:

– one arm chair
– one black metal desk chair
– two white table chairs
– two blue smaller arm-chairs
– one wooden fold-up chair
– one huge wooden rocking chair.

There are so many chairs there almost isn’t room for people. Still, my friends cried out for a couch, so now, on top of all that seating, there is also a couch.

Events, Summer 2010

Last summer, I was rather proud of how many things I did for $20 or less — mini-golf on Governor’s Island, a Magic School Bus Tour through several boroughs, burlesque shows, Moth shows, drag bingo … And, as I believe in an Onwards and Upwards theory of life management, this summer should be better yet.

So far, I’ve seen the New York Liberty play at Madison Square Garden ($10) and Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet, the Little Stranger) interviewed by Maud Newton (free). I’m psyched to make it to a Brooklyn Cyclones game ($8-$16) and maybe a Dorothy Parker Society event (just for contrast).

The calendar is shaping up nicely.

+ Monday, June 28: NY Moth StorySLAM. Showing Off at The Bitter End

+ Wednesday, June 30: River to River: Beth Orton in Rockefeller Park

+ Wednesday, July 7: Riverside Park showing of The Never-Ending Story

+ Wednesday, July 14: Riverside Park showing of Pan’s Labyrinth

+ Friday, July 16: David Mitchell (of Cloud Atlas, one of the #BooksThatChangedMyWorld) at Book Court.

+ Wednesday, July 21: Central Park Main Stage presents the Daily Show & Friends featuring Rob Riggle & Jamie Oliver

+ Thursday, July 22: The Big Lebowski in Brooklyn Bridge Park

+ Saturday, July 31: Get out the peasant skirts — it’s Lilith Fair!

+ Thursday, August 5: Brokeback Mountain in Brooklyn Bridge Park

+ Monday, August 23: Bryant Park showing of Bonnie and Clyde

+ Wednesday, September 8: Jonathan Franzen at the B&N in Union Square with his new book, Freedom

+ Sunday, September 12: Brooklyn Book Festival

Delayed Gratification

It has been edited in parts, and the name of the byline is not quite mine, but who cares?* My essay, “Delayed Gratification,” is up on as one of their featured pieces! Check it out:

N.B.: Family members and anyone worried about knowing too much about me, read at your own risk. Nerve is, you know, a sexy site, with sexy stuff in it. Also, they italicize an awful lot of words.

*Okay, I kind of do care. I’m trying not to! I remember this feeling from working at the Swarthmore student paper, the Phoenix. Focusing on the edits is silly. I’m on Nerve! The world can see me! The one comment that’s up so far is incredibly sweet!