Friday, September 30, 2016


They gave my son a bullet proof vest with his name embroidered on it today. Also winter outerwear, again with his name embroidered over the heart, and FDNY EMT in huge letters on the back. He won't let me take a picture of him in any of the gear, because his clinical scenarios are next week, and that's the last hurdle. Then, he says, I can take all the pictures I want.

Tomorrow, he and all the probies are attending the funeral of the firefighter who died earlier this week when flying debris from a gas explosion in the Bronx hit him in the head. It was the saddest thing; a husband and father of three who won't be coming home. Naturally, this feels more personal to me now than it ever has. It also sent me down the rabbit hole, researching how many firefighters have died in the line of duty since 2000. Apart from that horrific year, 2001, the numbers are one or two or none a year, and most often not from fires, but from freak accidents like the one this week, or else from heart attacks on the job, usually in older veterans, the ones in their fifties who might not be in such great shape anymore. It's a tough, physical job. But even one loss feels like too many.

At the other end of the spectrum, my husband and I saw a bunch of firefighters in the supermarket today, picking up groceries for their fire house, and my heart swelled with giddy pride when I thought that my boy was now one of their tribe. Same big, steel toed boots. Same swagger. Same dream.

My girl meanwhile had an insanely busy week, as one of the big annual fundraisers for the nonprofit she works for is being held next week. It's a fancy affair, the cheapest tickets are $750, and top chefs and dignitaries from all over will be sponsoring and hosting. She was practically hyperventilating when she got home tonight: Some of her friends wanted her to come out with them, and she just wanted to curl up on the couch with a blanket. "I had such a long hard week," she wailed, because you can get sympathy for such declarations from mothers. "Poor baby," I played along. "How did you do?" "I did well," she said readily. "My boss was really happy. But," she began wailing again, dramatically raising a hand to her brow, "it was at such great personal expense." I went to hug her, and we burst out laughing.

As for me, I closed the deal on a new project this week, and will be meeting with the subject next week to begin interviewing. As always, I don't know how I will do this, I am completely at a loss, but I keep reminding myself that I always feel this way in the beginning. One foot in front of the other. One breath, one thought, one idea at a time. I have work, y'all. This brings its own kind of stress, but I vastly prefer it to the alternative.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Noisy brain syndrome, part whatever

I'm feeling unsettled because I asked someone I love to do something, a small thing, and to be honest I was a little irritated that I had to ask this thing that should have already been done, but now that person is probably feeling irritated with me (I don't even know this for sure), and that unsettles me, because I have no tolerance for people I love being annoyed with me. I turn it into a huge thing in my mind, and I can think of nothing else, and I want to pour oil on ruffled water, even when I know I wasn't being unreasonable. This probably makes no sense at all. I'm just trying to set it down here so I don't keep worrying the situation.

Last Saturday night, when my daughter was out with friends in the city in the wee hours after midnight, I was texting her obsessively because she wasn't responding, and I knew she would at some point be traveling home alone, and my imagination was going haywire because why hadn't she responded to a single one of my texts? She told me the next day, "Mom, I'm not stupid. I can take care of myself and assess my surroundings. And I had texted you just an hour before. There was no reason to think anything was wrong. So the next time you're in a panic about my safety for no good reason, I really need you to manage your anxieties and not make me responsible for them. Because I'm managing enough anxiety of my own."

Well, okay then! But I got what she was saying and rather admired her forthrightness in expressing herself. I hate that I gave her a brain that is as noisy as mine, though. It's hard for a noisy brain to handle randomized fear decorously. I am glad sometimes (only sometimes) that when things get complicated my husband seems able to shut down his thoughts and not pick at an uncontrollable, unresolvable, and sometimes very minor thing until it becomes all consuming and heart stopping.

My loved one just texted me and isn't irritated at all: "lolol," she said, "love you."

Here's a photo circa 1997 that gentles me right down.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

In the wind

I hesitate to write here. How many days in a row is it okay to say I'm struggling? My mind is a lonely maze and I can't find my way out.

Yes, I miss my mother. I am dealing with the continuing absurdity of documents requested by the New York City courts in order to probate her will. It all just keeps reminding me that she's not here. But I don't miss just her. I miss my aunts who are also gone, I miss the way everything used to be when any of those six sisters got together, I miss being with them as they laughed and fussed and loved, I miss the way they smelled, the softness of them as I rested against them. I miss me with them. I miss me.

Here's something from Story People. It's good advice.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The why

Woke up cranky. My husband, bless him, refused to get sucked in. But why am I feeling like this? I don't have good enough reasons, not even chemistry, so what is it? Last night, at dinner with two dear women friends, I thought I'd figured it out: I feel rudderless. Purposeless. My children are doing well, they're launched, as they say, and I'm happy for that, but the great and beloved work of the past two and a half decades of my life—raising them—is largely complete, and what do I do now? My next book project is taking a while to come on line, and I am at such a loose end. The project still looks promising, and the subject matter is important, so fingers crossed that it actually happens, but in the meantime, I don't know what to do with myself. I suppose I should volunteer somewhere, make myself useful, but where? Doing what? Definitely I should attend to my health, which means a round of doctors appointments, and I'm doing that finally. But what will my next great purpose be? Sure, I can get busy with work and distract myself for a while, but then the lull comes, and I find myself asking: Why am I here?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Talk therapy

I went to a follow-up doctor's appointment this afternoon, and as he was going through his checklist of questions for me he suddenly stopped. He looked at me levelly. "Are you sad?" he said, and my eyes filled with unexpected tears.

"Yes," I said. "I thought it was better disguised."

"No, not disguised at all," he said. "I see it plain as day."

This took us on a tangent, which ended with him handing me a slip of paper with the names of three therapists, and suggesting that I might want to consider medication. I told him talk therapy had worked wonderfully for me in the past, and that perhaps I should try that first. I explained that I was an addictive sort, and so didn't want to fool around with mood meds.

"Mood medication doesn't really work that way," he said. "It really just takes the edge off. But I hear you. Talk therapy might be all you need. But promise me you'll go. It's really hard to take care of ourselves if we're sad."

Someone on outside looking on might say I have nothing really to be sad about, except maybe the fact that I feel utterly imprisoned in a body that isn't working very well structurally, and the extra weight doesn't help. And then of course there are the pervasive social and political things, heartbreaking things happening all over, but let's keep this in microcosm.

"You can't lose weight very well when you're sad," the doctor said gently. "It's emotionally exhausting. You have no cushion."

I wanted to say, Oh, I have plenty of cushion, too much in fact, but I didn't. Problem was, three of the names he gave me were men, and I've never done therapy with a man before. I imagine I want a woman, someone tough but maternal, and maybe also a person of color, someone who gets what it's like to be in the skin I'm in, though none of referrals he gave me were people of color. The fourth name was a women he spoke so highly of, and she sounds amazing, except that she is a psychiatrist, and doesn't take insurance, which means no matter how good she is, I won't be able to afford her. So I'm back to the men. Which leads me to ask: Have any of the women who read here had a male therapist for any period of time? How did that work out? Am I just imagining I need a woman because the two incredible therapists I've had in the past were both women? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I dreamed about my mother

It was the first time she appeared in my dreams since she died a year and a half ago, and she looked good. She looked like that picture of her I love, maybe she was even wearing that blue and white dress, and she was making elegant tea sandwiches in my kitchen while talking to me in her gently wise way. At one point she put her hand on my cheek, a soft, cool hand, cradling my face, and even though I can't recall what she was telling me, it was the most comforting feeling ever.

I have had no work since early September. No work at all. I've been hard pressed to fill my days, as I am most grounded when I am working. "You are truly the child of civil servants," my cousin said. "They planted that work ethic in you deep." It's true. Working. Writing. They are my source of balance, my sense of purpose and reason, especially now that my children are all raised and efficiently running their lives without my help. I tried to stay busy, cleaning the house, reading, binge watching The Americans, doing jigsaw puzzles, catching up on doctor visits, getting way too involved with the news, or sitting on a bench in the gardens at twilight with my neighbor and friend.

Yesterday, I got up in the morning, straightened the house, and went down Broadway for a pedicure. I considered a movie on my own, but in the end, just came back home. I lay on my bed, reading JK Rowling's third Cormoran Strike novel, when suddenly I couldn't stand it anymore. I needed work. There is someone I can call for possible projects when I'm at a loose end. I'd hesitated to call because I didn't want to be tied up if another project that I'd been waiting to hear about, and that I very much want to do, actually came through. But I couldn't just sit around anymore. So I opened my laptop, logged in to my email, and there at the top of my messages was an email from my agent saying the subject of the book I was waiting to hear about, was ready to move forward. I think now that my mother was whispering to me not to lose hope.

For no reason, here's a sweet picture I found of my girl and two of her lifer friends, when they were in seventh grade. They were spending the week at their school's farm. Last night, my girl was on the phone with one of these boys for hours. They went to college in the same town upstate, and now he's moved to LA and is working as a writers' PA on a TV sitcom. He calls my girl in the evenings on his commute home. I love how their friendship endures.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Another black life didn't matter to cops

I can't do it. I can't take in yet another black man shot and killed by police. Terence Crutcher. His car broke down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was driving home from music appreciation class when his car stalled. He was unarmed. No weapons on him or in his car. He did not call for the police help. He knew better. But police on their way to another call stopped when they saw him. He didn't wave them down. He was just standing quietly by his car, waiting for roadside assistance. Suddenly, by virtue of nothing more than his being black, he became a criminal in the eyes of the ones who had weapons. He had his hands in the air yet they tasered and shot him. Then they stood around watching him die. The police dash cam and a helicopter cam caught it all, and recorded one of the officers saying, "That looks like a bad dude too." No. No no no no no. You knew nothing about him. All you saw were the stereotypes in your head. Terence Crutcher was someone's husband. Someone's father. He loved and was beloved. I guarantee you that police in Tulsa are scrambling right now to find something, anything to paint him as the "bad dude" they thought they saw, when in fact all they saw was his skin color. They're going to say they were in fear for their lives even though Terence Crutcher did not lunge at them or in any way menace them on the video footage. He did not reach inside his car. All the windows were rolled up. Whatever cops say in coming days, he wasn't threatening anybody. He was just a man trying to get home to his family. He was a big guy like my husband. Fierce faced perhaps, like my husband's face in repose. Would they look at my good responsible sweet funny wonderful husband by the side of the road because his car broke down and think he was a bad dude too? Cops managed yesterday to bring in alive a man accused of setting off bombs in New York and New Jersey, a man who was actively shooting at them as they tried to arrest him. They brought him down with a shot in the leg, then called 911 and took him to the hospital where he was operated on. That was good police work. What happened in Tulsa to Terence Crutcher was murder.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dark days

Saturday night brought news of an explosion on New York City's West 23rd Street and an undetonated pressure cooker bomb later found some four blocks north. That area, Chelsea, is one of the busiest in the city on any Saturday night. I watched on TV as police and firefighters and EMTs worked the scene. I worried about other bombs that might not yet have been discovered, and was silently grateful my son hasn't finished his training and been assigned to a station house yet.

Thankfully no one died in Chelsea, and all of the 29 injured have now been released from area hospitals. But this morning brought more disturbing news—several unexploded pipe bombs discovered in a New Jersey train station, right next to Newark airport. Get it together, people. We are not doing this!

I fear these events will only embolden Trump. The young people in my life actually think Trump might win, not because they want him to, but they are talking to other young people, former Bernie supporters who are having a hard time voting for either main party candidate, and who may vote for a third party candidate or not at all. Endless conversations are being had to try and convince the reasonable to vote for the only candidate in the race who makes any kind of sense. But of course, there are those who will vote for Trump no matter what. How did we get here again? I still can't quite fathom it, even though I thought I was watching the whole time.

I spent most of the weekend indoors with my family. My children's loves and various friends were here, too. My living room was crowded with tall men, including my husband, watching football and noshing on beer and chicken wings. In another room, my daughter and I watched Gray's Anatomy on Netflix, and later, my son's girlfriend and I watched the Emmys. I was intrigued by Mr. Robot's best actor win. I've never seen the show, but the premise sounds interesting. Is anybody watching? Is it worth tuning in?

It's a rainy, dark Monday here in the city. I have choir rehearsal tonight. If I didn't, I might not go out today either. My house feels hidden away and safe.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Two very different takes on a day

My son took his EMS state certification exam yesterday morning, with the results to be posted at 9 pm last night. His instructors at the FDNY Academy told the probies that if they received a call last night, it meant they'd failed, and were effectively released from the department. Otherwise show up this morning as usual. My son arrived home at four yesterday afternoon, very worried that he'd failed. He said the test was crazy, not hard exactly, but very ambiguously worded, and that he and his group were so deeply knowledgeable at this point that very often they could make a case for more than one of the answer choices. When he compared his responses to others, he grew even more concerned. I told him not to worry. I reminded him that he'd scored in the nineties on all the tests leading up to this. I was sure he'd passed. Still, I was scared for him, because this has been his dream. He told me that many of the people in his class had, like him, been inspired by 9/11, and with all the memorial events they attended last week to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the attack, they were now very emotionally bonded.

"They use the word family a lot in the FDNY," he said. "They're not tossing it around though. They mean it deeply." He marveled that a life dream should come down to a few hours of testing. I admit I hadn't really taken in that if he failed the state exam, that would be it; he'd be out of the service. I've been talking and writing about him being in the department as if it was a done deal. After my son went to sleep to pass the hours till he could learn his fate, I sat in my room and prayed for him to pass the exam, because the alternative would be heartbreaking.

My boy emerged from his room at 10 pm. "No phone calls yet," he said. All night he held his phone in his hand, but all that came in were messages back and forth from the other probies checking in with one another. There are fourteen in his group. None received the dreaded call.

"I knew you passed," I told him. "Didn't you know deep down you'd passed?"

"No," he said seriously. "I thought I'd failed. And I really won't stop worrying till I hear my score tomorrow morning."

My son has never given himself credit for how smart he is, and how much he knows. This morning, he texted me that he'd earned a score of 92 percent. Now all that's left are the clinical scenarios in a few weeks. He won't relax till he passes those, too, but I have faith in him. All the same, it won't hurt, if you're so inclined, to send all good thoughts his way.


Our daughter, meanwhile, was having a very different kind of day from her brother. Through her job, she got invited to one of the most exclusive foodie events of the year, Diner en Blanc, where everyone wears white and brings their own table, chairs, cloths, cutlery and food, and they set up together for a pop-up dinner and dance party in a location that isn't revealed until the day itself.

All over the city yesterday, clusters of people in dressy whites waited on designated street corners for the guides who would take them to the outdoor location of the party. It was fancy, with feather boas and white top hats and corseted Francophile gowns. The top-secret concept apparently originated in Paris years ago, and now similar events are held in New York and other cities annually. The waiting list for invitations is some 25,000 long—no wonder I've never heard of the event. My girl in her lacy white dress and bright red lipstick and sleekly pulled back hair danced with young people from her job into the evening. From the pictures she posted on Snapchat, she throughly enjoyed herself.

It might be that the nut of parenting is watching our kids go out and meet life, and when their experiences are unabashedly good, on those days we can exhale.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


At dusk fifteen years ago today, we took our children outside to play with other children whose parents were also seeking an escape from the continuous loop of the two towers falling. As I sat on a bench, watching my kids and talking with some of the other adults, my son, then 9, broke away from his game of wiffle ball and came to stand in front of me. His face was solemn. "A lot of heroes died today," he said. I had no idea how to respond, so I just hugged him close. I didn't know it at the time, but his ambition to be one of New York's Bravest was crystallizing inside him. He was gobsmacked by the kind of bravery it took to run into a burning building to save people unknown to you. Since that time, through high school and college and jobs, he never wavered in his desire to join the FDNY, and he never stopped working toward it. This was the year he made his dream happen.

This morning, before daylight, while the rest of us slept, he showered and put on his full dress uniform to attend a department-wide memorial service for the men and women in the fire service who died on 9/11. I realize this is what he will be doing on this day every year from now on. And when there is a storm or any sort of public crisis, he will be there in his big steel toed black boots, wading into the center of everything to secure life and limb. It's what he wanted.

"When everything is going to hell, I plan to be one of the people who has the training to help keep it from getting there," he told me once. He is now an EMT with the FDNY, and will train as a paramedic, and take the promotion exam to firefighter. His paperwork for all that is already in. One part of me wishes he would remain on the medical side, because I am not as brave as he is. I don't want him running into any burning buildings. But when one feels called, you can't stand in the way of that. May there never be another day in history like the day those Twin Towers kneeled into rubble. May all those who lost people that day be somehow comforted. And may my boy ever be safe, as he lives this call to safeguard others when everything around them is burning down.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Last June, a couple of weeks after my daughter and her cohort group graduated from college, she and the kids with whom she started her education journey at age four, had a grand reunion at their former school's farm. There, they prepared meals together, took hikes by the river, roasted marshmallows over a bonfire, reacquainted themselves with the animals, sang along and laughed a lot, jumped on pogo sticks, and just took time to play. Before they left, they cleaned up scrupulously after themselves, so that one of the farm teachers, Ed, who knew them when they were little ones, finally said, "Enough. The farmhouse has never been this spotless. I'm proud of you all." When my girl returned home after three days in the Catskills with her crew, she said the weekend had restored her to herself. She said that everyone who went felt the same way. If I'm keeping my focus on what is good, then these young people who have grown up together and who, starting in second grade, spent time together on a working farm several times a year, are a demonstration of that. Ever since their weekend away, their photos have been appearing on social media. Here are a few, put here for my own record, as a reminder of what is possible when we go beyond our cultural soup's notions about who we are to one another, and how we can be in the world.

Good stuff.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching and I don't know why."
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America, all come 
To look for America, all come to look for America.

From "America" by Simone and Garfunkel


I am alone in the house, brooding. I could rant about Donald Trump, about how insane it is that he is this close to the presidency, though I have to believe the Hillary Clinton will clean his clock in November. Nothing else makes sense to me, but then it makes no sense to me now that he is even the Republican nominee. How did that happen? How did this hateful man, this empty suit, this man completely devoid of human decency and compassion, this psychopathic attention hound with no sense of proportion or consequence, get to this place? This man who says rape is "to be expected" if women are in the armed forces. This man who says that the Russian leader, who has murdered journalists and his own comrades, is a superior leader to our own President Obama. This man who says he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and he wouldn't lose any votes. I could go on and on. But what's the point? This is where we are in America right now, and the implications are shattering.

I'm so lonely. Honestly, it feels like a cosmic loneliness, something deep and sorrowing and untouchable, and I wonder sometimes if I am just absorbing all the painful, fearful energies swirling around us right now. When I look at Trump, I feel as if I am staring into the abyss, he makes me believe in the devil incarnate, walking among us right here on earth. Heaven and hell are right here in our midst. We are creating one or the other every second that we breathe, every thought that we allow to build a nest in our heads, every action we take. Trump tempts me to believe that hell is winning, but then I look at the Obamas, and at the deeply good people in every direction, and I have to pull myself back from the brink of the abyss, and remind myself that we will wake from the long nightmare only if we can love each other hard enough, and with enough faith in our ability to create a bright heaven from the shards of this bleating hell. 

I am heartsick if you want to know the truth. I'm empty and aching and counting cars. Trying to make it through to the next moment, and then the next, and to believe in the good.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Letting there be room

"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." —Pema Chodron

Sabine left this quote for me in comments a week or so ago, and it really resonated. She also said the body is always, at every moment, trying to heal itself. That gifted me with a whole new way of understanding my own body, which I began to see as lovingly trying to take care of me. And even though I respect what another friend recently said—that if anyone told her to read Pema during her hard time she would "cut a bitch"—I'm putting this quote here, to remind myself that things are always falling apart and always healing, and every emotion that attends the cycle, which is simply life, we need to welcome in, and then gently usher on. 

Photo: Doctor's Cave Beach, Montego Bay, Jamaica