Category Archives: memoir

Two TPM Pieces and Two Reactions

Twice recently people have tried to post comments on my Bio page. They don’t really make sense there, though; what Bio page comes with reader comments? I’ve decided to post them here where hopefully they can live more in context.

This first one is from “meg” in response to my piece for Talking Points Memo, “The Abortion Tipping Point.”

I just want to say how much I appreciated your article, “the Abortion Tipping Point.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about the fear of pregnancy in a way I could relate to before now. I also appreciated that you made a point of saying that maturity “may or may not include children”. So often when articles discuss ambivalence or rejection of motherhood, the message is that eventually every woman will realize what they’re missing. It’s very refreshing to hear the media acknowledge that some women will never come around and that it’s okay. So thank you.

The second is from Chip Zien (!), who originated the role of the Baker for the Broadway production of “Into the Woods,” and it came in response to my piece for Talking Points Memo about that show, the Disney reboot, and the AIDS crisis.

Dear Ms. Bloom,
I’m always fascinated by these thought pieces that seek to understand the “true meaning” of INTO THE WOODS. I’m also frequently annoyed by those who reduce the show to one enticingly narrow agenda. Particularly, those writers that never mention James Lapine  – who actually wrote the show and, yes, in close collaboration with Steven, decided what the music might be about and where it would be effective. You refer to “some institutions (?)” and “some critics” who have written what they thought was the show’s meaning and their dissatisfaction with Act 2. Personally, I have always thought the show is about lots of big things, but the show is also certainly open to various interpretations because, just like life, complexity is oddly accurate. I have also always loved Act 2.  I loved it in our original production and I loved in the movie.

Chip Zien

SLEEP NO MORE and My One-Night-Hand-Stand

vanity fair sleep no moreLast night a strange man held my hand. That’s right: I, Ester Bloom, married lady, mother of a young child, partnered with the same dude since I was 18 years old, committed hand-adultery. I had an anonymous one-night-hand-stand.

Mr. Ben and I were at SLEEP NO MORE, the immersive theater experience where you wander around a huge, five-floor, dimly lit but extravagantly designed set that was once a hotel, forbidden to speak or to remove your opaque white mask. Around you, actors and dancers silently recreate scenes from and inspired by “Macbeth.”

To reach peak surreality, as an audience member, you are encouraged to explore the dreamscape solo. Mr. Ben, who takes this shit very seriously, waved me goodbye early on and dashed off to try to get as many one-on-ones as possible. (That’s when certain cast members take you “off-stage,” into a small enclosed space, for a special bonus dose of weirdness.)

So there I was, be-masked, silent, and alone, watching the banquet scene in the basement, when another audience member — a well-dressed white dude — took my hand. TOOK IT, LIKE IT WAS HIS. Like he was Christopher Columbus and my hand was America.

I cycled through several immediate thoughts:

+ Oh, how embarrassing for him! He must think I’m someone else.

+ Is he a member of the cast who’s going undercover, The Prince and the Pauper-style, by wearing the mask of an audience member?

+ His hand-holding sure is confident! He probably works in derivatives.

+ If I can’t speak, how can I say “no”?

+ Is this like improv, where I’m not supposed to say “no,” at least unless he does something super creepy?

While I was wrestling with all that, Christopher Columbus assertively led me out of the ballroom and to another scene, and then another. After a few minutes it became impossible to shake him off, not just because he was holding my hand so tightly but because perhaps I had missed my window of opportunity. Soon we would be joined together for life! What would I say to Mr. Ben and Babygirl? “Sorry, Christopher Columbus grabbed me. Gotta go. See you maybe in twenty years when he lets go!”

His hand was very warm, yet dry. I didn’t hold his hand back, per se, but I did allow my hand to be held. In almost fourteen years, this is as close as I’ve come to sexual contact with a person besides the father of my child.

Finally, Christopher Columbus led me to the bar on the second floor, which is the oasis in the SLEEP NO MORE desert: the place where you’re allowed to eat and drink and catch your breath and talk.

“Hello,” I said, because I’m exceedingly clever and make my living using words.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he said.

“No thanks?” I said.

He shrugged and smiled and disappeared. That was the last I saw of Christopher Columbus. I put my mask on and went back to SLEEP NO MORE.

“For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” —
Romeo & Juliet

Learning the Meaning of Christmas

I didn’t have Christmas growing up, so I never got what was funny about leg lamps. I never sang “Jingle Bells” unironically or even saw It’s a Wonderful Life. Over the years, mostly from pop culture parodies, I’ve picked up the salient bits: small-town family, bad bankers, wise angels, rash decision reversed, and voila! Happily ever after. That understanding in no way prepared me for my first real Christmas, which I celebrated with my Russian-Jewish father-in-law, his Italian-American wife, her brother the priest, and the priest’s surprise.

As a child, I was an outsider when the whole country went Christmas crazy. I had only Hannukah, which is like a kid playing a kazoo on the sidelines while a marching band in full regalia, with cheerleaders and baton twirlers and gymnasts and everything, spends a month slowly parading by. Then, I got older, and the meaning of Christmas evolved—it became the time I got laid off. Twice, including once during the Great New York Transit Strike of 2005. Even for someone who doesn’t celebrate the baby Jesus, that’s pretty harsh.

My first real Christmas on the inside made all the difference. Suddenly I understood. We go nuts for four to six weeks in advance of this holiday because it’s terrifying. 24 hours with our families where we’re expected to be kinder, gentler, more charitable versions of our screwed up selves? Where we have to open boxes of things we never wanted in front of everyone and pretend to be excited, while nervously watching everyone else open the presents we got them to see if they’re sufficiently appreciative? Where we have several meals with extended family members and in-laws, who take a long looks at us and comment on whether we’re more or less skinny than before? Those stakes are high.

Mr. Ben, my husband, is also Jewish, but unlike me, he grew up with mistletoe and ornaments. His father brought the tradition over from Russia when he emigrated; there, under Communism, it was a Secular Mandatory Fun Day, with the part of Big Brother played by the ominous-sounding Father Snow. (Particularly ominous if you’ve read Game of Thrones.)

Once we were living together and engaged, Mr. Ben asked me to come to Christmas. For reasons of principle, I was hard to convince, but finally, like anyone who’s ever been in a lasting relationship, I caved. Mr. Ben’s dad’s second wife, Carla, was Italian and an excellent cook; she also had a reputation for giving such good presents that all the Hunger Games-level agony of Christmas shopping became retroactively worth it. Between a bounty of material goods and Martha Stewart-type treats, I figured the holiday would be painless, maybe even kind of fun.

Carla had invited her brother Ned, a 50-year-old Catholic priest, as well as their aged old-world Italian mother. Shortly before he arrived, Ned told Carla that he would be accompanied by his friend, Winston.

Ned went to seminary at 18. He had never so much had dated a girl; from childhood, his vocation was clear. That is partly why Ned’s mother, always so proud of her son the priest, looked confused to be introduced to Winston, a very nice middle-aged Asian-American man. Mr. Ben’s Russian grandmother sat next to her on the couch across from the fireplace, perhaps thinking that the fact that her own son had re-married a shiksa now seemed not so bad. Winston and Ned, oblivious, glowed happily next to each other on the piano bench.

Still: Christmas! A brightly-lit, colorfully-decorated tree presided over an avalanche of boxes and bags. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen, where Carla, tongue-tied with awkwardness, had escaped to tend to the meal.

“Let’s play a duet!” Ned suggested.

“Great!” replied Winston.

Being that this was my first real Christmas, I had no idea whether any of this was normal. Maybe Catholic priests always used Christmas with their Russian-Jewish extended families to come out to their horrified, blindsided mothers, one piano duet at a time. Or maybe Winston was really just a friend and we were all over-reacting.

As we began to exchange presents en masse, that hope faded. “For you!” said Ned.

“Thank you!” cried Winston, opening a box of two button-down shirts: one bright purple, the other bright pink. “And that one’s for you.”

Ned picked up the flat package and ripped it open. “Oh my gosh!” he said. “You didn’t!”

Ned showed us the present he had just received, and I choked on my Diet Coke. It was a framed, signed poster of “Will and Grace.”

The only gayer present? Probably a butt plug. Probably.

The next morning, Ned’s mother and Carla appeared dressed and ready for church. Ned and Winston came out of the guest room dressed and ready to go antiquing. It was at this point that Ned’s mother’s heart fell to the hardwood floor like a big red shiny ornament and smashed into a million pieces. We could all hear it except for Ned, who, with Winston, went on his merry way. And at last, Christmas was over.

Ned and Winston now live together in a wonderful old house in Amish country with two pianos and lots of knickknacks. Ned is no longer a priest. I don’t know if he ever officially came out to the family or whether he figures that, after the “Will and Grace” poster, it would be redundant, but he has reconciled with his mother, who is very fond of Winston. And I have learned that while Thanksgiving may be a big deal for drama, Christmas totally takes the (fruit)cake.

To Praise, To Labor, & To Love: A Birth Story, Pt 2

To recap, this is how I looked at 40 weeks, right before I was catapulted into labor by a brownie & a really good massage:

40 Weeks. Ready to pop, with an emphasis on ready.

Labor progressed early, as I mentioned, leading me to the hospital within hours; then a mean midwife threw me into reverse and sent me home. An hour later, though, I was back to where I started, contracting regularly, and in increasing, sledge-hammer quality pain from what turned out to be back labor. But we couldn’t go to the hospital or we’d be back once more under the jurisdiction of the mean midwife. We decided to tough it out at home.

From about 12:30 AM until 6:30, we used the tools at our disposal: a yoga mat, water, highly-diluted Vitamin Water, bendy straws, massage, frozen vegetables, mantras, more water, and a rubber ducky from the O’Haire Motor Inn in Montana. There was also quite a bit of cursing and crying. Every few minutes, I looked at Mr. Ben and said either:  “It huuuuuurts” or “I can’t do it. I’m sorry, honey, I can’t.” And he would say, “You are doing it. You’re doing great,” and empty the freezer of more bagged produce to push against my back.

“Breathe, honey,” he told me. “Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing.”

We ruined the frozen corn, the raspberries, the edamame, turned them all to slime. I didn’t notice. I sprawled on the bathroom floor in various positions, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to him tell me it would be okay. I spent about an hour in the shower and then another hour in the bath with him pouring water on me, singing to me, doing anything he could to distract me from my certainty that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t push to the other side of the smashing, obliterating pain.

BEN NOTE: The pain had a predictable peak, it would be painful and seem endurable, and then would ebb, and then would come back much much stronger and you would cry out and you would have to breathe in and out about four times until it was finally over.  I was aware of every contraction because I was trying to time them on the app I had downloaded to my iPod touch, at least at first.  I stopped for a while when I realized that we were in it for the long haul and the contractions were not really changing in length or frequency much.

(Hereafter Mr. Ben’s comments are in blue bracketed italics within the text.)

I shivered, and then I sweated, and then I shivered again. [We got to know our bathroom floor better than any other bathroom floor before or since.]  I drank what felt like gallons of water [in fact you took on the tiniest sips that I had to force on you] until the very sight of a bendy straw made me nauseous. When I could catch my breath between contractions, I repeated a phrase from a prayer my shul’s congregation recites every Shabbes: “We have not come into being to hate or to destroy; we have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.” Possibly this nauseous, moaning, hand-gripping, childbirth-type labor was not exactly what the writers of that prayer had in mind, but the words helped soothe me, even the tiniest bit, so I kept saying them. To praise, to labor, and to love.

And eventually, after hours that felt like whole deserts that had to be crawled across, the sun began to rise, timed perfectly to a newer, even more intense kind of pain and pressure. If I stayed at home any longer, I felt like I would have the baby right there on the bathroom floor, which, though not cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile, was not my ideal birthing locale, either. Mr. Ben called a car and a portly bearded man from Arecibo arrived with his chariot. “It’s okay, Mama-ji,” he told me as he helped unload me in front of Park Slope Methodist hospital in the misty half-light. “Girls do this every day, all over the world. Fifteen, sixteen year old girls!”

All the wheelchairs must have gossiping over their morning coffee together or something, because the lobby was empty. A resident who happened to be walking by changed direction and helped Mr. Ben support me up to Labor and Delivery. At that point, I could barely stand on my own. “I can’t do this,” I told Mr. Ben for the bazillionth time as we made it to triage. “You are doing it,” he assured me. The nurses summoned the midwife on call, and we held our collective breath until she entered — Donna, one of the other four midwives, a practical, confidence-inspiring woman with a wry sense of humor. Glory be, Hosannah, we had done it. If I could have relaxed, I would have. The mean midwife faded from memory as Donna took charge.


“Seven centimeters,” she told me. “Let’s get you to a room.” [That moment was one that I will never forget.  Donna waited for a contraction to end, and you whimpered “It huuurts” while you were having the contraction.  Then when it was done, she stuck her fingers up into your vagina and said, “You’re seven centimeters dilated” and smiled, and then I think she said “You’re not kidding it hurts.”   I was so relieved, I just beamed at you.  Because up until that point I really didn’t know how painful it had to be.  Everyone was saying that women want the epidural at 3-4 centimeters, and I was just praying that we had gotten at least a little further than that.  When we were at seven, I knew that we had gotten through the worst, the endurance/psychology of pain part.]

For the first time in my life, I saw things from the perspective of a patient on a gurney as I was wheeled through double doors and down a hall.  [And I got to be by your side in the crowd of nurses and midwife wheeling the gurney!]  For the first time, I felt myself attached to an IV and then given a HepLock so that I could move around. Seven centimeters meant that I had made it through active labor and was now in transition: the most challenging phase but also the shortest, and the very last before pushing. A very nice nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. [She said it in a really sweet voice, like she was offering you candy.  She was not making it easy for you to say “no thanks.”] I quavered. If I got the drugs, I could stop feeling like I was being repeatedly run over by an SUV. But they might also interfere with the last stage of the process and lead to a c-section.

The only decision I could make was that I wanted to be in the shower again. [Actually, you looked at me and said “I think I might want the epidural . . . .”  And the nurse said “OK,” and started making arrangements for it.  And then I had to say “she hasn’t decided yet,” because I knew that your use of the word “might” meant that you weren’t sure.] Charrow appeared and she and Mr. Ben together took on the job of getting me from 7 cm to 10 and across the finish line. They supported me as I stood crying under the [pathetically low-water-pressure] faucet, trying to twist myself into a comfortable position; afterwards, they took turns rubbing my back and holding my hand, listening to me babble and telling me I was doing great. They used up all the cold-packs in the room and moved on to latex gloves filled with ice, which they had to refill from the machine in the hall. I couldn’t have made it through without them. They propelled me forward; they propped me up; they cheered me on.

Then it was time to push.

“Hold your breath, bear down, and then roar like a lion,” said my otherwise sensible midwife. I looked at her like she was crazy, but she didn’t offer an alternative. I tried, though I wasn’t very successful. After several really strong contractions, she broke my water for me on the table and unspeakable liquids poured out of me, including meconium, a sign of fetal distress. Donna’s demeanor didn’t change — she remained calm and controlled — but a grim nervousness settled around the table: it was clear that I needed to deliver the baby soon. An hour later I was doing no better at the purple pushing. “I can’t, I can’t,” I sobbed. “She’s coming, she’s coming!” everyone replied. “Just a little more! We can see her hair!”

Donna summoned a team of pediatricians to be on hand as soon as the baby emerged. I was beginning to feel like she never would. All there would ever be of her was hair. Why had I not immediately said yes to the drugs? I couldn’t stand the pain; the pain was bigger than I was and it had eaten me alive. I wanted to go unconscious, to have them cut the baby out of me, to be done with all of this. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t.

“Her head! It’s coming! Just a little more!”

Mr. Ben on one side, Charrow on the other, pushing with me, crying with me; the nurse and the midwife exhorting me from between my legs; the unbelievable pressure; the pediatricians grouped just out of sight, waiting; roaring; and finally, finally, a tremendous swoosh and release. Donna caught something squirming and hot and passed it to the pediatricians. My eyes couldn’t focus — I found out later than I had burst blood vessels in and around them, leaving me looking like a boxer who’d gone down in the fifth. Charrow stayed with me while Mr. Ben followed the tiny, messy human being struggling in the gloved hands of the doctors.

[Things happened very quickly: there was the moment when Donna pulled over her rolling tray covered with surgical tools from the side of the room. Then there was the moment when they got your legs into the stirrups, the moment when there was a quick snip snip that no one commented on, but I asked about afterwards, and the moment when they put the big blue tarp up to catch whatever liquid came out with the baby. When the baby came out, it looked like the impossible was happening, it looked like CGI. There was this smushy yellow elongated alien with hair and eyes that emerged out of the area immediately next to your vag.]

An aggrieved cry resounded through the hospital room and we all breathed again. “Can I stop pushing now?” I asked the nurse, who rewarded me with a laugh. Then I added, “OK, I’ll take the drugs.” Charrow grinned. A world with no contractions in it! The very air was euphoric. My sense of humor, my sense of self, came back. I had a brief glimpse of something pulsing, huge, and red, like a jellyfish from outer space, as Donna delivered my placenta and started sewing me back together.

Lara had come out occipital posterior, or sunny-side up, which is rare and accounts for the extra difficulty of the delivery, including a natural tear and Donna’s small incision. (Which, by the way? OUCH.) The difficulty was compounded by Lara holding one fist stubbornly next to her face, like a stuffed animal she was clinging to, as she emerged.

The doctors finished prodding the baby, whose Apgar score had gone from an initial, worrisome 4 to a robust 8 within minutes, and handed her to me to warm up against my chest. She was skinny and long, funny-colored and scrunchy-faced, with lots of dark hair and an exhausted look in her eyes that I could imagine mirrored the one in mine. She was amazing: an amphibian churned out of dark water and thrown up on the shore of my body. All I could do was hold her and breathe.

Nearly two months later, I haven’t advanced much further than that, but she has. She’s become a very successful, charming, chubby little mammal who seems none the worse for her atypical delivery. I spend half my day staring at her, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she used to be floating inside me, and and now thrives on the milk my all-you-can-eat Brestaurant provides. We had quite an adventure together, her and her father and me, one I can’t imagine two of the three of us, or Aunt / Doula Charrow, will ever forget.

And baby makes three

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?”

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.

A Dirty but Important Question

Internets! Help me out. I’ve sold another essay (yay) to some very nice folks and, in the editing process, a question was raised:

To what does “second base” refer?

In my essay, I reflect on an encounter in summer camp where my boyfriend continually tried and failed to get me excited about him. I should never have dated him; I wasn’t attracted to him, and I couldn’t make myself pretend. This meant our relationship had an antebellum quality: we held hands, we took walks, he kissed me and I allowed it. It was all very proper and chaste.

Sure, we were 13. But this was a guy whose exploits with his previous girlfriend were legendary. In fact, I think he rather fancied himself a Barney (in the “How I Met Your Mother” sense, not the “Flintstones” sense).

On the last day of camp, he made a desperate move. While his mother waited outside in the minivan, he brought me back into his empty bunk, looked into my eyes, and told me that he loved me.

I knew what he meant. I was a pretty savvy — and somewhat cynical — middle-schooler. His “I love you” was a grand gesture, one that was meant to sweep me off my feet and, most importantly, out of my shirt.

Thinking fast, I ran through my options. (What would Scarlet O’Hara do?) I couldn’t lie and say I loved him too. All the same, I couldn’t be honest and confess I didn’t love him, that I didn’t even like him. Not on the last day of camp!

His was, indeed, a very clever gambit. As I saw it, I had one course of action, and I followed it: I cried. Thus I was spared from having to give any answer and from having to engage in any hanky-panky.

Ah, the love lives of teenagers. Very well. In the essay, I refer to boob-related hanky-panky as “second base.” My editor flagged that. Her husband, she said, recalled a different definition of the term. This stupid t-shirt seems to agree with me. Wikipedia has opinions, of course, but my editor specifically asked me to survey my friends, who are more reliable.

Friends, what say you? 2nd base = boobs? Or something else altogether?

On Writing

Jezebel takes on the prickly subject of women & memoirs in their post about Mary Karr, who says of her latest book: “I didn’t [write] it to help anybody. I did it for the money. I did it because I’m greedy and I like living in New York.”

Jezebel wavers before deciding to applaud Karr’s “narcissism” and “burst of arrogance,” but like some of the commenters, I wouldn’t leap to either of those judgements. First of all, it seems to me like Karr is laughing at herself, as she is — I hope? — when she attributes her success to the fact that God loves her. But secondly, if the market values her stories, as it has her previous two books, why *not* sell them? Why is it considered low-class to be straightforward about the fact that writing can be not merely a craft but a trade?

I wish I could make money writing. I am doing my damnedest. Or, well, I haven’t been for the last few months: what with absorbing the blow of my book not getting picked up, and then the much more destabilizing blow of my father’s illness & death, I haven’t had any creative energy at all.

My body is getting up every day and going to work. It is managing to eat and see people and even go to the gym. But my mind, to some degree, has stalled. It can’t comprehend a world in which I can’t call my father, or walk into his room to see him rereading Pickwick Papers yet again, or hear him groan, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth ….”

At least I can still hear his voice. Last week, while cooking, I put on a movie in the background which I immediately heard him condemn as “Dreck!” It is very small solace but occasionally that will do.

Overall, though, my emotional immune system is out of whack, so stupid shit affects me much more than it should. Like the most recent Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, which last time I managed to greet with the eye-rolling it deserved, and which this time led to a melodramatic crisis of confidence. My mother had to remind me that failure can build character, that there is something to be learned from the fact that you can fall and get up again.

A friend of mine recently voiced her fear that if she lost her current amazing job, she wouldn’t be able to look people in the face. Well, I’ve done it, and then I’ve done it again. As Mary Karr says, quoting Beckett, aspire to “Fail better.”

She also has excellent advice for young writers in general:

[O]ften what we’re most talented at we resist, because we think it’s silly, or small, or not good enough. I teach with George Saunders, a brilliant fiction writer, and he’s so funny. He went to Syracuse when Ray Carver and Toby Wolff were there, and he kept trying to write these gritty, minimalist, realistic stories, and then he’d have some bizarre thing in the middle of it, and Ray and Toby would kill themselves, and tell him, “Just do more of this! Just do this all the time!” And he’d be like, “I want to be a man!”

I will try to keep this in mind. I will also try to blog more, if only because it is a start.

six word memoirs

In the spirit of this project, I’ve been brainstorming six word memoirs of my time at Swarthmore for work. So far I’ve come up with:

“dorks everywhere! never been so happy”

“I learned to love my belly”

“School funded film about dancing tampons”

“They say, ‘Wait til college.’ They’re right.”

These are sort of rosy … maybe I’ll write a more cynical series. Ones for my actual life would be even harder. I could write one for Mr. Ben, who is finally getting sworn into the New York bar tomorrow morning: “After 3.5 years, attorney at last.”

ETA: More cynical ones:

“Four full years of sensitivity training”

“Blissful navel gazing in ivory tower”