The Bookmobile

The first public library I ever walked into was on wheels. 

There was an elementary school, more than one synagogue and church, but no nearby library in the Brooklyn neighborhood of my early childhood years.

Pre-library days, when the love of reading began.

Situated on the edge of East Flatbush and Canarsie, that maze of 20 six-story buildings known as the Glenwood Houses would be something of an anchor for a neighborhood on the cusp of change. It was the 1950s and affordable, income-based public housing would be a big draw for middle-class families like mine. I was not yet seven, about to enter second grade, when we moved there. By the time I was in third grade, that thing we think of as independent reading began to kick in. By fourth grade it was something of a hunger. 

My idea of manna was the Bookmobile making its weekly visit, etched in my memory as Wednesday.

The back door of the blue and white vehicle emblazoned with a Library on Wheels logo was for returning books. I walked up the steps, deposited the books I’d read. There was no lingering in this 20-by-8-foot dimly lit space, but ten minutes—just enough time to find something recommended or see what jumped out at me—could seem like a blissful eternity before exiting via the front end, filled with the anticipation of where the books I’d chosen would take me. 

Every time felt like the first time—the wonder that so many books could exist about so many things, the growing awareness that stories could take me far beyond my circumscribed world. From a cultural standpoint, music and TV played a big part in my family life, books not so much. Newspapers—the Daily NewsNew York PostNational Enquirer—kept my parents engaged, though my father did read an occasional book, even bought me one, a collection of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales that got me through my bout with measles.

Time has a way of shaping memories. On the day the Bookmobile came around (maybe Wednesday, maybe not), I see myself walking alone from the street on which I lived to the other end of the housing project, where it would be parked. Maybe I was alone, more likely not. But that sense of aloneness strikes at the chord of a young girl’s secret pleasure and the way her life is turned around by a library on wheels that first brought her Ramona and Pippi Longstocking, fictional girls who spoke their minds, did brave, sometimes nonsensical, things. 

It doesn’t take much to imagine my thrill when construction began on a permanent library. More books. More choices. I could take out ten at a time for summer reading, sit on my favorite bench, in the shade of a tree overlooking a patch of grass. If books are the embodiment of shared stories, libraries elevate them to a collective consciousness.  Someone else has held the book I’m now reading. I relished the slight crackle of the translucent, protective covers. The smell—not so much musty as reminiscent of aged wood—was an invitation: come inside, see what I have for you.

My first job would be at the new library.  I was about to turn 16, my last year in high school. I would shelve books, check them in and out, do managerial tasks in the back office.  The library manager would give me a lifelong lesson in learning to type, a skill not necessarily in the course listing for students on track for an academic diploma.

There’s a national day for everything. As it happens, this is National Library Week and Wednesday is National Bookmobile Day. Google found me a 1950s photo of my very own Glenwood Houses Library on Wheels, hashtag-ready for its Instagram/Facebook/Twitter closeup celebrating those oversize vehicles that make books available in hard-to-reach places of our country, not to mention the world. 

Wednesday, April 10, also happens to be the date my novel, Just Like February, was published last year. An anniversary is a good time for a giveaway. Leave a comment with your thoughts re: the special place libraries have had in your life and you’ll be eligible to receive a signed copy.

Letting Go

The other day I became obsessed with finding two books I could not easily locate.  It was a reference to one of them—The Family of Man—in Sally Mann’s wonderful memoir that set me on my mission.  The other book, To Be Nobody Else, bears a connection in my mind to The Family of Man, mostly for the photographs that make for a compelling narrative. They speak to a certain time in my life.

I looked in all the logical places I would have placed them after they’d been released from boxes following completion of a renovation.

I created stories – did I lend them to someone? Did I use them in a writing workshop?  Did I share them with a visiting friend who inadvertently tucked them under the sofabed? Books have a way of disappearing, then turning up in unexpected places.

Let it go, I said.

I looked at the same shelves over and over again, a strategy that sometimes works when my mind or eyes are not playing tricks on me.

Are they under a couch?

Let it go, I said.  They’ll either turn up. Or they won’t.

But I couldn’t let it go, and my last-ditch effort took me to the last place I would have expected to find them—a crawl space where my husband stores old files. Apparently some overflow boxes from the renovation were tucked away here, until they were forgotten.

I can breathe better now.

* * *

I grapple with letting go. The two concepts—‘grapple’ and ‘letting go’—would seem to be a contradiction, maybe even an oxymoron. Years of doing yoga have me yearning for ‘effortless effort’, that sense of moving from pose to pose with such fluidity that I’m (almost) light as a feather. I have my moments of grace, and I’m thankful for the patience and, yes, the consistent work that has brought me to these moments.  But I can’t help thinking the greatest insights come during the plateau phases or the walls we hit when striving for something. It’s the reason I decided to learn to swim at 66. 

There’s an image that comes to me sometimes when my breath moves into a slow, easy rhythm during meditation. I’m sitting on the edge of a high cliff, very much at peace. How I got here is beside the point.  To watch Alex Honnhold do his free solo climb of El Capitan is to bear witness to being as in the moment as it gets. Letting go is not an option.

Language is my métier. ‘Let go’ is a world apart from ‘let it go.’ One added word brings a pause. The free fall of letting go now has room to negotiate its landing.  

***

On a visit that my daughter used as an opportunity to clear out clutter (pre-Marie Kondo) she handed me a small box fashioned from a cut-up manila folder. Decals (a bat and a cat) adorn the outside of this time capsule. Inside is a cornucopia of candy wrappers, her private stash of indulgences not readily available in our home. 

I smiled.  This was not deprivation by design.  Her sweet tooth, like her father’s, found satisfaction enough during family outings, movie nights, birthdays, Halloween.  Or so I thought. No surprise that she’s become the baker her mother never was.

As I move into my own decluttering, is it time to let this precious memorabilia go? My daughter insists it is.

***

A very large Webster’s dictionary sits in a cubby all its own in my office. It’s something I acquired many years ago—1962, to be exact—an award with a name as cumbersome as the dictionary itself.

Take a peek. Read the inscription.

Elsa Ebeling—now there’s a name worthy of a short story.

I was just twelve when I graduated from eighth grade. A December baby, I would enter kindergarten before I turned five. In the middle of fourth grade I was plucked out of my class and moved into fifth grade. They called it ‘acceleration.’ I could only see it as displacement, but who was I to complain?

Eighth Grade Graduation Day, 1962. Valedictorian. As if the isolation of being singled out—oh so smart—weren’t enough, here I was standing on a stage looking out at a sea of faces, speaking words (mostly mine) but possibly made a little loftier by a teacher’s coaching. I finished my speech, back to my seat, a sigh of relief.  Only to find myself called back to the stage when the award was announced. 

I can still feel my heart thumping.

The gift of an oversize dictionary was, is, and will always be cumbersome.  It requires a table, maybe even a room, of its own to be of any practical use.  We kept it on a low bookshelf.  Sometimes I would lug it out for more than a basic definition of a word, other times just to be awed by words and illustrations that might open me to something unknown.

To call it an underutilized, if not underappreciated, tome is an understatement. 

Today, as I pull it from its cubby with every intention of letting it go, I can’t help seeing it as the embodiment of a very particular moment in my life much better expressed without words.

Gods. Heroes. Monsters.

II you’re a mother (even if you’re not) picture this scenario: 

It’s the ‘80s.  You’ve been invited to Michael Jackson’s Xanadu,  otherwise known as Neverland, with your adorable, talented seven-year-old son. Once he caught Michael’s eye in a dance competition, the two-way spell was cast.

Your son, it appears, will be sleeping in the prince’s quarters, Michael’s bedroom itself. You’re a guest, invited to fend for yourself. Is this ignorance on your part, naiveté born of not believing it’s possible that Michael Jackson would do anything inappropriate to your innocent child?  Is it a form of being blinded by the thrilling light of Michael Jackson?

As it’s told, the two boys at the heart of the HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” were nothing short of Michael Jackson’s boy toys. And to hear them, in their own words, give the graphic details of their sexual ‘awakening’ is seriously more than I could bear. 

If you watched, or plan to watch, the documentary—and if you’re anything like me—you’re likely to find yourself on this side of revulsion during the first part especially. Compassion certainly kicks in for what the men endured and how their demons finally forced their hand.

While I wouldn’t call myself a Michael Jackson fan, I certainly appreciated his musical genius. His early ‘80s songs always got me onto the dance floor. I’m a sucker for “Billie Jean.” 

So why did I watch?  

Well, like all things we watch with a certain incredulity, we keep thinking there’s going to be a turning point to justify our time and attention.  There is no cutting to the quick here when viewers bear witness to the distanced specificity with which James recalls the first episode of what is by all measures abuse but is meant to be something of a teaching moment for a young boy in love and in awe of his hero.  He was seven years old.  His parents put him into the fire. He endured it for seven years. Wade’s experience was very much the same. 

In recounting their experiences, both men have what would seem a measured, muted demeanor, almost as if they are those young boys again, albeit emotionally distanced by time. Without the therapy that started the healing process for them, going public like this would not be possible. Their mothers figure prominently in the documentary, doing their best to recall how they were drawn into acceptance of whatever Michael asked.  He was generous to them. Good-spirited. No way could he harm their sons, or so it would seem from their acquiescence. 

To even ask if anything strange was happening behind closed doors would have gotten them nowhere. More than instructing the boys in the ways of pleasure, Michael taught them the importance of silence. People might get the wrong idea. 

I bristle even as I write.

Michael Jackson was a pedophile.  And even when he was charged with his crimes, Wade and James were put on notice: say nothing. There was a sense, too, on their part of saving Michael.  As James tells it, Michael would cry when he left. This young boy robbed of his innocence was afraid Michael would turn into the werewolf in “Thriller.”

Wade explains his reasons for lying at the trial: “That person is your whole life.  If I tell the truth, it would shatter.”

To sit through the documentary, as either of their mothers, is to be shattered.  Wade’s sister says she worried that her mother would kill herself. I could readily imagine wanting to do the same. Oprah Winfrey, in a televised follow-up to the documentary that was actually a preview screening with an audience of mostly sexual abuse survivors, asks if the men have come to a place of forgiveness with regard to their mothers.  Wade suggests it was all a big seduction, and, yes, he blames his parents. As to forgiveness, he’s still working on it.

It’s a journey, as James puts it, and it’s something he’ll be working on his whole life. 

Hard-core Michael Jackson fans may not buy this truth about their hero. The men have endured death threats. In answering a question about his lawsuit against the Jackson estate, Wade said it was never about the money. In the world in which we live, alas, the only way to get the estate to pay attention was by suing.

Even as I try to contemplate how what appears to be so painfully true can be spun into another episode of ‘vilify the victim’, I bristle.  

Mythology tells us again and again how the pantheon of Greek gods played with human frailty, pitted heroes against monsters.  Sometimes I can’t help but see that pantheon played out in the worship of entertainment heroes, especially come Grammy and Oscar time.

Mythology tells us, too, the story of Persephone and her abduction by Hades, god of the underworld. Her disconsolate mother, Demeter, brings vengeance by creating a famine on earth, until a rapprochement (more a trick) is reached wherein Persephone spends six months on earth and six months in the underworld. 

Buddhism suggests there’s no internal peace, no enlightenment without forgiveness.

We all have traumas, small and large ones, embodied within. Sooner or later they haunt us in insidious ways. Even if I can’t ever imagine allowing a child of mine to sleep in the room of an adult stranger, I can imagine how blame and misjudgment wreak havoc on our sense of perspective in the blinding light of a false god. 

I can imagine, too, the monsters that will forever haunt the mothers of two boys once lost in Neverland. 

Isn’t it just like February?

It hits me every year, just as January rolls into February: the shift in daylight, so incremental until it’s suddenly noticeable, particularly around sunset.

Groundhog aside, all you need is to pay attention to the light to know spring is on its way.

Of all the months in the year, February has me most mystified. How/why did February become the shortest month?  What would it mean to be born on February 29th, a leap year baby? More to the point, learning that, in ancient times, it was the last month of a 355-day year and it gets its name from the god of ritual purification sealed the deal on the title of my novel. What sounds like a simile—Just like February—has all the makings of a metaphor.

“Even in an age of femtoseconds and star clusters 11 billion light-years away, time defies true objective measurement,” writes David Ewing Duncan in Calendar, a book very cleverly subtitled Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.  “It can seem to go slow and even stall out at certain moments only to brashly and breathlessly rush forward at others.” Albert Einstein taught us everything we need to know about time and its relative aspects, something Alan Lightman captured so poetically and brilliantly in Einstein’s Dreams.

There’s no stopping time but doesn’t the very notion of mindfulness, coupled with meditation, speak to slowing it down in a way that brings on the present-moment sense of timelessness?

Time measurement is as universal as it is personal. We count on our calendar to tell us the day/month/year. But don’t we more often measure the passage of time in terms of rituals and events both personal and part of our collective consciousness? Jewish holidays, based on a lunar calendar, come on different dates each year. Christmas, a day fixed according to the Gregorian calendar that rules are secular year, is always December 25th.

Yes, the expertise of astronomers factored into how the calendar might be synchronized to the seasons and the stars, but politics and religion played their part.  Priests and aristocrats kept the calendar a secret.  A year might be lengthened to keep a favored senator in office, decreased to get a rival out of office sooner. (How frightening a thought is that?)

Until one year, a crafty plebian, Cneius Flavius, pilfered a copy of the codes that determined the calendar and made it public, smack on tablets in the middle of the Roman Forum. (An early descendant of Edward Snowdon?)

Alas, poor Flavius did not entirely win the day: the calendar would become a public document but patricians could still manipulate it for financial and political gain.You can’t make this shit up. But you can, as a writer, take great pleasure in the research that answers as many questions as it raises and brings enormous context to a narrative. As if to give timely grist to my February musings, along comes What Lunar New Year Reveals about the World’s Calendars via the New York Times.

February. Lengthening days. A month on the cusp between winter’s darkness and the encroaching light of spring.  

A transitional time that reminds us that no matter how much we count on a certain order to the universe, time and again something is bound to throw us out of whack. Some might see it as a fateful event, a teaching moment.  I see it in the way my father, a gambler, might have seen it: an aspect of chance or randomness, maybe even luck (good or bad), changes everything.

A writer can’t always be sure that the story she intended to tell is in fact the one she told. With novels especially, the time lag between inception to draft after draft to publication puts us on shaky ground. Readers have different ways of receiving/perceiving what we wrote.  I hold suspect any writer who says she doesn’t read reviews. I admire any writer who says she doesn’t take them to heart. I learn as much from criticism as from praise.

 All of which brings an extra measure of gratification when readers see the subtext of a novel for what it is. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about mine:

“What is February? A wonderful metaphor for the unpredictable, of opposites, a reminder to live without expectation while also appreciating ritual and traditional when it is gifted.”

And here’s the most charming of gifts from a fan.

Today’s walk around the lake had the look and feel of what I can only call winter/spring. Barely 30 degrees, leftover snow with a sheen of ice or slushy in the way that calls to mind a frozen Margarita. And these perfect-as-it-gets  images of a season in transition.

Once in a blue moon

A week ago an email database of mine disappeared. 

Gone from the server, no clear explanation of how it happened other than an unfortunate glitch in the process of moving my website/blog from one server to another. That’s reason enough to warrant freaking out (or appeal to the Russians for help) but what kept me sane was my suspicion that all was not lost since those very emails exist on my laptop via a desktop app.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a sleepless night or two figuring out how to save a retrievable backup of the emails. In the best of all possible worlds, emails backed up from one database waltz smoothly into another. More often than not, the transition requires a little tech support even for a reasonably tech-savvy woman like me.

Yet a funny thing happens along the way. You look at your inbox and ask yourself: how do I have thousands of emails? A file cabinet filled with letters would likely be thinned down from time to time. But emails—received, read, flagged, sent, discarded—find their way into that deceptive out-of-sight/out-of-mind compartment of our brains.

Until one day a potential disaster forces your hand. Maybe you saved a bunch of emails for a good reason back in 2014. Or maybe you just didn’t give it that much thought.  They don’t take up space after all. 

And maybe it’s a hedge against that once-in-a-blue-moon moment when there’s an email you absolutely need to unearth and you simply can’t rest until you do. Why that particular email is so important is beside the point. 

We all hate losing things. We all resent the feeling of vulnerability that kicks in when the very technology that has been such a good friend begins to give us pause. 

Pause is a perfect word for the moment, once in a blue moon the most exquisite of tropes. There’s nothing necessarily blue about a blue moon, even if it’s riddled with everything the color evokes. Melancholy comes to mind. Elvis may have defined the song, but Cowboy Junkies took it to another level.  

Powder blue. Dusk blue. Midnight blue. 

Sky blue. Ice blue. Cerulean. 

Yves Klein blue.

The blue of distance that Rebecca Solnit writes about so evocatively. 

More than a color, it’s a mood, a state of mind. In a recent Brainpickings roundup, Maria Popova characterizes it as “a symbol, a state of being, a foothold to the most lyrical and transcendent heights of the imagination.”

Listen to the blues as much as I do and you’d be hard put to disagree. What genre of music is as riddled with sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability? Not to mention the cultural undertones it embodies.

There’s a thread here, and vulnerability may be its epicenter. 

Who isn’t feeling vulnerable these days, what with the Manchurian Candidate occupying the Oval Office? 

Last week brought me a riveting poem by Terrance Hayes via The New Yorker.

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

Last week also brought me to Springsteen on Broadway via Netflix. As a longtime Bruce fan, I resisted the impulse to get tickets when the show had its Broadway run. The intimacy of a solo performance struck me as out of character with the nature of the large venue. The price of a ticket to be up close enough struck me as out of sync with a performer who prides himself on being a working class hero. More to the point, nothing will ever come close to having seen him in his up-and-coming days at a small club, the Bottom Line, NYC.

Streaming the show, via Netflix, on a large-screen television, was the way it was meant to be seen for fans like me. The vulnerability of the man behind the music shines through as he takes us through his life, via excerpts/adaptations from his wonderful memoir and the songs he sings.

This week brought me to “Sonny’s Blues,” a masterful James Baldwin story in which music becomes a catalyst for a moment of transcendence between two estranged brothers. The fragile reconciliation that unfolds in the course of the story brings the brothers to a new understanding of each other.

“Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. . . . I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours.”

All of which has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the things we hold onto are the ones most in need of being let go. Even if it takes a blue moon to realize it.


Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

Last week found me a little more adventurous than usual on Instagram. I posted a photo, with a  caption, a bit tongue-in-cheek: ‘Cozying up for some inspirational reading. What will I choose first?”

If the purpose of social media, in its varied forms, is to let people know what you’re up to, get a conversation going, well, this photo says it all loudly and clearly. 

Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

A day or so later I posted a selfie, the me (almost nobody) knows. I almost never post photos of myself, except within some cultural context: a museum, a reading, a rock concert. But, as I said, I was in a playful mood. Days later I was still getting responses.

Buddhist wisdom tells us intention is everything. What does it suggest when many of the less whimsical photos and posts I share—snapshots I deem artsy, New Yorker cartoons, essays on writers or books, news stories (sometimes political, more often not)—don’t necessarily spark the kind of conversation social media was set up to foster? 

Is it me?

Is it the nature of a beast more eager to feast on the up close and personal, moments as in-the-moment as it gets, than take the time to chew on fodder not so readily digested in the blink of an eye?  

Chanukah, the festival of lights in a season embodied by darkness, has come and gone.  From a standpoint of Staying Healthy with the Seasons, there’s something anomalous about all the frenzied gift-giving and partying that goes hand in hand with what Madison Avenue pumped up as a time to be merry.  Introspection—going inside, literally and figuratively—is the real call of winter. There’s a reason bears hibernate. 

Right now I’m introspecting (yes, that’s a word) about Idris Elba. Retro as the whole notion of ‘sexiest man alive’ may be in a #MeToo world, I can’t help but smile at his smile on the cover of People. It seems he was ‘robbed’ of that title in 2017, when it went to Blake Shelton (a travesty, indeed). But here we are, a year later, where my wait at the supermarket checkout found me deliberating whether to buy the one remaining copy on the magazine rack. A cover line—Did a Romance Novelist Murder Her Husband?—sealed the deal.  Oh, I’m in store for some meaty reading.

Apparently even more beefy than I realized at first glance. Hot Idris is followed by a host of runners up, cleverly anointed: John Krasinski: sexiest man of action. Chadwick Boseman: sexiest superhero. Chris Pine: sexiest dreamboat. And that’s just a sampling. My heart positively throbs when I see Terrance Hayes: sexiest writer 2014.

Glibness aside, I marvel at how the mind works. Months after hearing Terrance Hayes read from his work, his poetry continues to cast a spell. His latest collection, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin is astonishing for its vision, power, and timeliness. 

 In the midst of all this introspecting comes a riveting James Baldwin essay from the New Yorker archives, “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” that only adds to the despairing chill. Please don’t remind me we’ve been here before. Please let me believe that some of the progress we’ve made counts for something that allows me to be lifted by a feel-good holiday movie, Green Book and a subtly powerful play by Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country. Set in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, and built on the songs of Bob Dylan, it’s nothing short of a reminder of Dylan’s brilliant way with music and words. 

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you a king

Inspiration takes many forms, although a more apt description of what happens when a piece of music or a movie or a book captivates me is a sense of being infused with some aspect of it. 

Great fiction is often my best reboot. Then there’s meditation and the simple act of taking a walk. Crisp winter mornings, with the reflection of clouds in a lake, are a particular pleasure.

 And even if I may not, in this lifetime, experience the dissolution of ego that brings with it the sense of oneness with the universe,  I get glimpses of what might be that peaceful prelude to heightened consciousness via meditation.  

Or, again, via music, for the way it can’t help but infuse itself into the body.  In Michael Pollan’s thoroughly researched, personally validated examination of the new science of psychedelics and why they may be a powerful tool in psychotherapy, not to mention our understanding of consciousness, he makes note of an experiment in which  “pieces of music that held no personal relevance for volunteers were played for them while on LSD. Under the influence of the psychedelic, however, volunteers attributed marked and lasting personal meaning to the same songs.”

He also has this to say:

“If you want to understand what an expanded consciousness looks like, all you have to do is have tea with a four-year-old.”

knitting a scarf and hat, writing a novel

Knitting and writing: what do they have in common?

I recently stumbled on a book, a perfect holiday gift for those of us who love reading as well as knitting. Alice Hoffman, author of so many notable novels (I especially loved The Dovekeepers), joined forces with her cousin Lisa Hoffman, a master knitter, to come up with a book that weaves together fairy-tale-like stories with knitted accessories (instructions included) at the heart of the stories. it’s an inspired idea, indeed. The stories have their charm and the knitting patterns their varying degrees of complexity.knitting and writing: what they have in common

Here’s what Alice Hoffman says in the introduction about the connection between writing and knitting:

“To be a writer or a knitter, one has to be willing to take things apart and put them back together again. It’s hard work to do so, and it takes courage. Patience is required, and the willingness to start over if need be, to rewrite or unravel.”

How could I help but revisit a post a wrote a few years back in which I shared my own thoughts about what writing and knitting have in common?

I write, therefore I knit

The day I released my dog from her suffering, I took up knitting again. My daughter had been wanting a scarf patterned with Griffyndor stripes since Harry Potter enchantment overtook her, and my decision to start knitting that day somehow felt life-affirming. I could not settle my thoughts enough to write about the grief, or even try to imagine the hold it would have on me. No point in that anyway. Grief demands that you be with it. The word itself carries a weight, made a little heavier by the weeks of ministration to an ailing creature. To try and push aside grief, ‘get on with one’s life,’ misses the point. I could easily co-opt and modify words from a familiar song, Gospel in origin – so high you can’t get over it / so wide you can’t get around it – to give voice to my feelings. The only way is through. Be with it.

Which brings me to knitting. I remember learning to knit as an adolescent, something to occupy me as I sat with my family at night, watching TV. Or was it a fascination of sorts, something about a single strand of wool being shaped into a sweater or a scarf? Even the simplest pattern, no fancy cables stitches, can yield something beautiful. Even the most straightforward garter or seed stitch requires an attention to detail. There is a rhythm to knitting and purling, not a far cry from a meditative settling of the breath or the quieting of the mind needed when I sit down to write.

Is it a stretch to suggest that a story exists in a hand-made sweater? Or that the very act of knitting, steadying as it is, is akin to that state of receptivity when I leave my laptop behind, take a walk or a drive, always surprised, and delighted, at the way le mot juste will make itself manifest? Putting aside the pleasure I get from knitting, or my own suspicion that it serves as some physical manifestation of the same creative impulse that drives me to write, I find myself thinking about metaphor: the Fates weave; Madame Defarge knits; I pull out some stitches, too loose to my liking, redo them. Getting it right means seeing how the parts become the whole. Finishing it off means understanding that a hand-made scarf or hat, like a story or novel, can be less than perfect and still exquisitely cohesive.

Addendum:  So now the novel is out, published, and something of a triple crown finalist in three different contests. Since the catalyst for Just Like February was the AIDS crisis of the ’80s, from now until December 1st, which marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the ebook edition will be available for 99 cents via all online booksellers.

 

The writing on the wall

My mother’s birthday was a few days ago. She would have turned 92.

Birthdays, holidays, sentimental moments make us think of beloved people gone from our lives.  But today she’s on my mind mostly because of something she said more than once. On almost any night of the week our tiny Brooklyn apartment would be filled with family sitting around the kitchen table, smoking, drinking, laughing, fighting.  An uncle would storm out.  He’d be back the following night.

That’s the way it was with family.

That’s not the way it is anymore.

What my mother said, more than once—her eyes watery, her heart softened by a drink—was they don’t listen to me.  More often than not, trying to convince a grown sibling that he was (possibly) being too reactive to a situation got her nowhere. She had advice to offer. She wanted to be heard.

We called them ‘lively discussions,’ not arguments, and family dramas, not politics, were at the heart of them. Today we can’t even sit around the table anymore, and I don’t necessarily want to, which saddens me.  I could argue that politics has made it more urgent that we sit across from each other and air our thoughts.  But what, in truth, is more important than the personal dynamics that hold families together?

We use our Facebook walls to spout words that are not even necessarily our own—neatly constructed platitude-filled appeals that feed personal indignation in their longing for a time when the order of things seemed ruled by an unquestioned morality. Just to be clear, I have no issue with what we think of as moral questions that give rise to healthy discourse. It’s the simplistic picking and choosing—e.g., share this post if you agree that we used to cite the Pledge of Allegiance without worrying about offending anyone—that makes me bristle.

Everyone wants to be heard.

We all want to know that people are paying attention.

Last week brought a double whammy of despair to our country, with the most non-presidential of presidents at the helm. Thoughts and prayers, a given in the face of tragedies, gave way to editorials sounding the wake-up call to anyone still unwilling to connect the dots between the hate-mongering and lies of the man in the Oval Office and the violence his words and actions have given license to. What Has Trump Done to Us, America?, appearing in The Forward, got straight to the heart of things. I shared it on my Facebook wall yesterday, along with the hope that it might jolt anyone who does not see the writing on the wall into coming to their senses when it comes time to vote.

Transparent as my words are, they contain a not-so-veiled plea to cousins of mine who tend to vote Republican. Facebook, alas, may have replaced that crowded kitchen table as a place to air our viewpoints. Problem is, when you’re not looking someone in the eye it gets too easy to blow them off. Ignore the Facebook post. Delete the text. Voilà—the conversation never takes place.

They don’t listen to me, and I wish to high heaven they would.

And, yet, maybe there really is hope. How else to explain that in the middle of last week’s horrifying events 2,000 people attended a service at the National Cathedral in Washington to memorialize Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally murdered 20 years ago? His ashes would finally be interred. His life would be celebrated. And presiding over the service would be Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church.