Monday, June 08, 2009


Last night I woke with a start, opening my eyes to a pitch-dark bedroom. Outside there was a strange murmur of voices, and I knew something was wrong. It was too late for people to be outside. I lay in bed and turned towards the windows in the far room, listening to the litany of voices churning outside. It didn't make sense.


I cowered in bed for a second, ashamed and afraid. My heart was pounding.


I thought about calling 911. I thought about Kitty Genovese. I thought about the previous time I called 911, when my phone locked itself in 'emergency phone' and the police called me back a few minutes later with questions I struggled to answer. The woman screamed again. I leapt out of bed and ran to the window, grabbing my glasses and my cellphone. Angled against the glass, I could see several police cars parked askew in front of our building. Their lights and sirens were off, making the cars look oddly demure. The police were standing around, and the person screaming was strapped to a gurney that they were loading into an ambulance. Her cries softened, and then stopped.

L was awake at this point too. Across the street I could see a few more lit windows separating themselves from the uniform darkness of night. I came back to bed, noticing that it was 4:30 in the morning.

I lay in bed for a while, waiting for my heart to slow down. James and I used to talk about the worst things about living in the city, and for me it was always this: there is no insulation, no protection from ugliness of so many kinds. Since I've lived here I've heard screams of abject fear. I've called 911 to help someone who was being attacked. I've seen people doing drugs on the street in front of me. I've seen people whose lives seem so irrevocably broken.

Last night was one of those nights when the city seems like a place of chaos and fear. There is no luxury of ignorance here. Eventually I fell back asleep, and woke up again to another new morning, no police cars in sight. How this place can turn on you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Writing class

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to take a writing course this summer. I feel like there's a lot of stuff inside me that I want to get out, but I don't feel like I have the tools or structure or discipline to do that. And I thought summer would be a good time to challenge myself and try to think in a creative and different way about things. Since I have been so into short stories lately, I signed up for a 9-week online short story class.

Of course, since work has been pretty exhausting this week, I am now struggling to turn in my assignment by the Saturday noon deadline. But I've been hammering out something and I think it might be ok. As I was writing it I was trying to be clever and symbolic and theme-y, and I fear that when I start going down that road the strings and seams are very evident, but that's why I'm in the class. Sometimes I feel so stunted and immature as a writer, which feels wrong since I read so much and feel like I should be better, just through osmosis.

I do love writing late at night, though. You want to know my ritual? After L goes to bed I sit at the desk and put on my headphones and listen to Adele's "Hometown Glory" a couple times. That song opens me up, man. It's so beautiful and reflective and mournful. It gets my juices flowing and helps me find the words. Then I skip around my itunes list, playing whatever slow, night music strikes me. The crazy thing is the visceral reaction some of these songs produce. Sometimes it will be Frou Frou or Coldplay or Jill Scott or David Gray or Erykah Badu -- and it takes me back, and it's just this rush of sense memory and it feels like I am 20 or 24 or 26 again, sitting in a different room with a different set of circumstances. Sometimes the only common thread is the love of a song. Sometimes it's a lot more. Either way, it gets me going and makes me discover a place where the words introduce themselves.

I am really excited about this writing class. I want to do it well. I think I have a gift that I've ignored for a while, and if there's one thing working full-time as a lawyer has taught me, it's that I have to hold on to every damn scrap and piece of myself that I can. Preservation of self, preservation of sanity.

Wish me luck.