Essays

One Way to Shut Her Upwinner of the 2014 Dogwood Literary First Prize for Non-Fiction. Available in print and via LitRagger. Longlisted as “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2015.

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Life With A Body, From Puberty To Childbirth at The Toast:

Pregnancy is like going through puberty again, only in fast-forward: your body, without seeking your consent, becomes cartoonishly, attention-grabbingly feminine. And I was sub-par at going through puberty the first time around.

When I was almost 12, I auditioned for a suburban summer camp production of Into the Woods and was cast as the Steward. More precisely, I was cast as one of three Stewards, as I had to share my crumbs with two other lacklusters. The previous summer, in a production by the same company, I had played the Princess in The Princess and the Pea. Somehow, over the course of a year, I had morphed from royalty to servant, from desired feminine object to androgyne, from curtseying at the last curtain call to bowing at the first.

Why was being a pubescent almost-12 so much harder than being a pre-pubescent almost-11?

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New Yorkers Are Nicer Than I Thought at Dame Magazine:

On a February morning six years ago, as a packed Q train shrieked into the Union Square subway station, I realized I was going to throw up in front of an audience. It wasn’t the first time. The doors parted and I made it past the commuters to the big black trashcan before I was contorted over it on my tiptoes, retching into the abyss.

I tried to vomit demurely, to convey through body language and the ingratiating bright red bow on my hat, that I was not the sort of person who puked in public. To whom I was trying to defend myself, and why, did not matter: I was not in my right mind any more than I was in my right stomach. I was in the throes of an anxiety attack.

People pushed by on either side as I lurched over the trashcan, emptying my wretchedness into it. The trashcan seemed resigned, like, Someone throwing up in me? Must be Tuesday. Guilt bubbled up with the bile, since I try not to be a nuisance, even to objects. Suddenly, a guy in a blue button-down shirt broke free from the pack and came toward me. Over my roiling gut, my heart fluttered with equal parts fear and hope. His eyes reflected his own mix of disgust and boredom. He reached the trashcan. He tossed his coffee cup into the same black hole I was filling with my breakfast. He walked on.

Now that, I thought as he disappeared, is a New Yorker.

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My First Wedding at the Jet Fuel Review (as referenced in Hannah Seligson’s Newsweek feature “The Me, Me, Me Wedding”):

“Will you marry me?” he said. “Yes,” I said. That’s when the trouble started. In agreeing to a marriage, I unwittingly agreed to a wedding. I agreed to be a Bride.

Until I was ten years old, I looked like a little boy. Then, having eaten some of the wrong “Eat Me” cake or drunk the wrong “Drink Me” potion, my body exploded into that of a 30-year-old woman. Life on both sides of the transition was occasionally traumatic. In third grade, I walked into the girls’ bathroom and something righteous with pigtails screamed and pushed me out again. By seventh grade, I was skulking around in my older brother’s over-sized T-shirts to hide the thought-balloon sized breasts that threatened to speak of my behalf. From puberty on, I felt like my body was writing checks that the rest of me couldn’t cash.

Ben, my fiancé, was the first person to make me feel comfortable with my exterior, but even then it and I only struck a cold peace. How could I walk down the aisle as though I were, inside and out, some archetype of femininity? At 24, I was, at best, a capable imposter; often I still felt like the nine-year-old who had been pushed out of that bathroom, albeit one with the boobs of Joan Holloway.

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The Little Chairs at Phoebe:

… When people talk about “sitting shiva,” they mean literally that, when you mourn, you spend the first week after the funeral in your house while the community brings you food and prays with you. You lie down normally and stand up normally but when you sit, you sit in a little chair. After shiva is over, you re-enter the real world, as though you have left the little chair behind. The truth is that the chair travels with you. It’s awkward and heavy, your grief, and it’s your place: lower to the ground than everyone else.

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My Mistresses at Pixelhose:

For much of my New York life, I had two close friends who had nothing in common with other except me. Tall, blond, broad-shouldered Tara Leigh, built on a Nordic scale, looked like she was on a travel visa from Valhalla, while short, dark-haired Deborah, all breasts and belly, was pure Eastern-European shtetl. Deborah hailed from rural Vermont, where her parents had fled to escape their bourgeois Jewish families; Tara Leigh and her five older siblings were raised going to church three times a week in Tennessee. Both were passionate, Deborah about hedonism, Tara Leigh about self-restraint, and both abounded with confidence in their own belief systems—confidence that I lacked, and envied.

Post-college, in the big city without a mentor or a roadmap, I had never felt more like an unformed lump of clay. I wanted to be a writer, a successful urbanite, a maker-of-money—I wanted to be, and I wasn’t, not yet. Tara Leigh and Deborah were older than I was, more confident, more successful. They were bigger than I was, physically and emotionally, and I basked like a moon in their reflected light.

How I could be so into both of them, when they were so vastly different? Initially I justified the balancing act as being able to hold two contradictory thoughts in my head at once, which felt like a talent; later, I began to wonder what my ability to shape-shift so readily said about me, what I valued and, frankly, who I was.

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Papa-loshen at Bluestem:

In English, my father, like many intellectual men, could be cynical and world-weary, but in Yiddish, he was his better self: generous, humorous, a little sentimental. My father loved us, his three children, in Yiddish. Even then, though, it was a tough love.

Straightforward phrases like “I’m proud of you” did not roll off his tongue. “Ziskeit!” he exclaimed when I came downstairs for breakfast. “Bas malkah-meins, shaina maidel, good morning.” From that, and from the fondness in his eyes, I extrapolated. Still, I was the lucky one. I got the “shaina maidel” treatment; my older and younger brothers, Adam and Judah, were “kunielemel” (mooncalf) and “teivel” (devil), respectively, and that was on a good day.

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My Father’s Gun on Salon.com:

My mother and I are having dinner with a few of my father Paul’s cousins when she says, “Did you know Paul had a gun?” A vodka on ice sits in front of her, and a pan-fried branzino. She favors the vodka.

“No,” say the cousins.

“Not long after we moved to D.C.,” my mother says, “there were riots. Paul was nervous. So when he was in New Mexico, he went to Uncle Jack’s secondhand store and bought a gun. When he showed it to me, I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I took the gun from him, wrapped it in a kerchief, and put it in an Anne Klein shoebox. I tied the whole thing up in duct tape and put it on the top shelf of my closet. Nobody looks at it again for 25 years.

“Paul dies. I move to the new condo. I look at that Anne Klein shoebox and I realize, ‘Why do I need a gun?’ Instead of putting it on a top shelf of a closet in the condo, I take the Anne Klein shoebox and bring it to a Montgomery County police station.”

“Did he have a permit for the gun?” asks Cousin Don, who looks like a psychologist.

“Of course he didn’t,” says his brother Mark, who actually is a psychologist.

“Of course he didn’t,” confirms my mother. “I bring the Anne Klein shoebox into the police station, right up to the bulletproof glass, and one of the cops says, ‘No one here wears that size.'” … more

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The Other Ester(s) at the Morning News:

The only other person I have met in my life with my name, spelled my way (E-S-T-E-R-No-H), was in my grade at my school. She had an older brother my older brother’s age and a younger brother my younger brother’s age. Taller, thinner, prettier, and more popular than I was, and with redder hair than mine, she must have been designed by someone truly fiendish, because on top of everything else she was nice. … more

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Hope Over Experience in the Morning News:

My friends have always told me I take politics too personally. Well, sure. Growing up in Washington, D.C., I logically developed an interest in what makes the town work. When you consider, as well, that I am the daughter of two government lawyers and that I started college in the year 2000 and graduated in the year 2004, and that my older brother was born on the very day Ronald Reagan was elected and himself went into politics, it is not only likely that I would have a life defined by electoral cycles. It is virtually written in the stars. … more

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Delayed Gratification on Nerve.com:

I got engaged slowly, over the course of months. The process began with a vase of flowers which greeted me when I walked into my Brooklyn Heights studio at 2:00 AM, wearing my glasses and covered with dog hair from having shared the backseat of my friend Erin’s car with her terrier all the way back from Kentucky. Ben, my boyfriend, looked as bouncy as a toddler who has just learned to walk. The apartment was as clean as he was: it smelled like springtime distilled into a few hundred square feet. … more

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Revelations on Nerve.com:

Lucinda, my pretty teenage babysitter, was crying again, and she kept talking about sin. She did not have to tell me she was pregnant for me to know something was up — I was a canny ten-year-old. Her boyfriend, Rob, was a DC cop; her True Love had died in a gruesome motorcycle accident. There was, it seemed to me, an unfair amount of gore in Lucinda’s life, and I felt for her the same way I felt for neglected stuffed animals and silverware unevenly distributed in the drawer.

No matter what doubts she may have had about Rob, she believed she only had one choice. My parents smiled a lot and said supportive things. When she was not there they put their heads in their hands. … more

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Not an English Person on PANK:

To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune but, as Oscar Wilde might say, to lose two looks like carelessness. I am on my fifth in five years. A monogamist by nature, when I was first hired by the Very Important Talent Agency straight out of college, my fantasy was that I would love and be loved by my corporate family, and that I would rise to the top of my new office like bubbles in a glass of Diet Coke.  Instead, I found myself on Unemployment only a year and half after graduating (with Honors!). Two jobs and three years later, I was on the dole again and starting, again, from scratch. … more

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