Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books of the year, 2011

In chronological order, here are the books I loved most in 2011:
  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  • Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life by Carol Sklenicka
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  • Something is Out There by Richard Bausch
  • Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar edited by Richard Ford
  • The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Themes of this year's reading: more short fiction; more biography; bloated long novels; and starting things without finishing them.  New batches of short stories from Alice Munro and Richard Bausch were as enticing and flawless as their previous efforts.  Adam Ross wrote stories that made me jealous.  And the Ford-edited collection, a gathering of stories dealing with work, achieved an unexpectedly elegant cohesion with its subject matter.  It made me think about how we relate to our jobs and vocations in a new way, and to see diverse writers grapple with this fundamental source of identity and purpose was inspiring.

This year I also found myself getting stuck in long novels that could have used some decent editing, particularly Paul Murray's Skippy Dies and, as much as it pains me to say it, 1Q84.  It frustrated me to wade through bloated prose that deserved to be leaner and finer.  I am usually very lenient with big ol' doorstops, but these books tested my patience (even if I enjoyed the ride, as in the Murakami).  

This year I also ended reading chunks of books and then dropping them, for various reasons: The Imperfectionists, Love and Summer, Madame Bovary, and others.  This was embarrassing but unavoidable.

I think my favorite novel this year was The Lonely Polygamist, a sprawling look at a polygamist in contemporary Utah.  The writer juggled multiple voices and created a universe all his own.  It was moving, funny, exciting, and unpredictable.  It's a long novel that justified its scope and breadth.

I'm currently reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now (as I said I would in last year's annual book round-up, oddly enough).  I've been pleasantly surprised so far - Trollope knows how to maintain the reader's interest, and his characters are well-developed, complicated, and profoundly, irredeemably selfish.  It makes for great reading (more on this soon).  Other books in the queue for 2012: The Steve Jobs biography, Game of Thrones, and who knows what else.  I'm hoping the final volume of Lyndon Johnson comes out in the fall, and then we'll see whatever comes my way.  Hooray for reading!

Music of the year, 2011

My music consumption this year was dominated by two big, random albums.  Last winter I bought Diddy-Dirty Money's "Last Train to Paris," a completely synthetic piece of music that nonetheless captured my interest for much of the year.  For this album Sean "Diddy" Combs gathered two girl singers by his side and attempted to replicate the magic of his old duet with Keyshia Cole, "Last Night."  The result was a solid and shockingly consistent album of R&B/electronic/dance music.  My two favorite tracks were the classily named "A** on the Floor" and the epic "Shades."  Although the videos for this album were uniformly grim and lifeless, like some kind of dank urban vampire film, the music was compulsively danceable and great for running.  There were a good 6-8 songs I really loved here, which is rare.  This was an amazing album for me.

The second big album this year was Foster the People's "Torches," a relentlessly peppy and energetic jumble of indie rock with deep undercurrents of R&B and hip hop (at least as I found it).  The rock elements were balanced by some good electronic arrangements and some definite swag.  This album reminds me of training for the marathon in Central Park and it revs me up.  There were a lot of great songs on here:  "Helena Beat," "Life on the Nickel," "Miss You," among others.

Inspired by "Torches," I followed Foster the People down the rabbit hole of Pandora to discover myself really enjoying some twee white people music performed by dirty hippies.  Two songs really wormed their way into my consciousness and conjured great feelings about life and family: The Middle East's "Blood" and "Home" by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.  (I'm a couple years late on the latter, but whatever.)  I found myself enjoying a lot of other songs of similar ilk, although I couldn't help thinking that this is music for racists who don't want any trace of black culture in their music.  I don't know if this is true or not. 

There were some other great songs this year too.  I enjoyed the unabashed dance music of David Guetta's "Where Them Girls At," featuring Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj, and Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love."   The-Dream released an EP online under his given name, Terius Nash, that was mostly forgettable except for the aggressive and rhythmic "Ghetto," featuring a great verse by Big Sean.  Kelly Rowland's song "Motivation," featuring Lil Wayne, was an odd little confection.  I'm still not sure what the song is actually about, but it always engaged me with its mysterious structure and lilting chorus.  The remix with Trey Songz was great too.  And Kelly's former bandmate Beyonce had some interesting songs on her latest album, particularly "Countdown," featuring a bizarre use of a Boyz II Men video and a music video that was irresistible and jubilant.

One other album hit it big for me this year, like it did for everybody: Adele's "21."  At this point she has reached a peak of cultural saturation, and the recent SNL sketch mocking the emotional depth of "Someone Like You" both proved the point and laughed at the power of the song.  But "Rolling in the Deep" remains a profoundly amazing song, and other songs carried a similar power and honesty, especially "Turning Tables" and her cover of "Lovesong."

Overall this didn't feel like a great year of music.  There were albums I meant to get, like the new Coldplay and the new Drake, but I just didn't.  I feel like I'm aging out of pop music and hip hop, and a lot of R&B feels musty and repetitive.  Where do I go now?  Into the flannel-clad arms of all these bearded white people? I refuse to let that happen.  In the meantime I'll keep listening to find something new, something to keep me moving.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shake Shack

The other Friday night the three of us headed down to 79th Street to have dinner at Shake Shack.  It was a cold night on the Upper West Side, the kind of night that reminds me of my first year in the city, when I would walk down to the Loews theatre on 68th Street to watch movies by myself on Saturday nights.  It's the feeling of being wrapped up in a hat and scarf, carrying a book, and knowing you have everything you could need for the moment.

Shake Shack was its usual riot of children and strollers, but we were able to find a table by the wall-length windows.  The glass was cold and dark to our touch, but we were warm and comfortable.  The food was delicious.  Afterwards we walked eastward back towards the train.  Alice acquiesced to wearing her hat and mittens, and we made our way by playing "One-two-three-RUN," in which the family counts to three and then runs for a bit.  She was flushed and beautiful.  I carried two half-drunk milkshakes in my hands.  It was a good night.


 Ah, December.  Where are we.  Our Christmas tree this year is a thing of beauty.  It's taller than last year's, and Alice seems impressed by it.  We have rituals during the day when we plug in the lights and turn the tree "on," after the fanfare of Alice's countdown (parents: "one..." Alice: "two...three!"), and she and I have a ritual at night of watering the tree (both of us kneeling on the ground, an incantatory "pour pour pour," following a similar counting exercise).  We have taught her to treat the tree gingerly -- after a few early ornaments made the ultimate sacrifice -- and now Alice eyes it warily, an object of beauty stricken with risk. 

I'm trying to compile my lists of my favorite songs of the year and the best books I read, so it's time to take stock of the year.  When I look backwards I see a lot of great things.  In chronological order: I took an amazing writing class; we went to Spain; we went to Rehoboth; I ran a marathon; we cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  Throughout the year I felt good about my work professionally, and I've had a good semester with my students.  Alice has brought an absurd, abundant measure of joy into our lives.  We worry about money, but we sleep well most nights. 

In some ways, though, I also feel like this year has been affected by an undercurrent of exhaustion, or compromise.  There is never enough time or energy to do what I think I should be doing.  Time spent pursuing my own endeavors -- exercise, running, writing -- often feels like time taken away from my family.  After spending much of my work day staring at a computer and pinging back emails, I struggle to want to come home to write for pleasure, or to write the personal emails that I should be sending to maintain important ties.  After a workweek spent sprinting through our precarious routines, I can't find it in myself to get up early for the gym on Sunday mornings.  It just doesn't make sense right now.  And yet there's always time for garbage television.  But I'm trying to revise my internet consumption to get away from the things that don't really excite me -- no more Gawker, less Facebook.  Less time wasted, hopefully.   

I think as 2012 begins I want to try to be more purposeful about the decisions I make, how I decide to expend my time and energy.  Because this was a good year, and I think a great one could be around the corner.  It feels good to put words together.  I want to do more of that.

More to come in the next few days.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


There's not much to say about Thanksgiving besides the fact that it was wonderful.  Four generations around the table -- a table nearly buckling under the weight of so much good food, most of it prepared by my beautiful wife/executive chef, L.  My grandma said the turkey was the best she's ever eaten.  The weather was nice enough to allow for plenty of long walks and an excursion to Central Park.  We all had the chance to express our gratitude for the chance to be together to celebrate the holiday and enjoy the gifts and blessings of a growing family.  I don't know what more one could want.

...Oh wait!  I DO know what more one could want.  We had a huge debacle in the morning thanks to the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We had received tickets from an extremely kind colleague of L's, so my parents and I, along with Alice, trooped down to Columbus Circle early in the morning to claim our seats in the bleachers in Central Park.  We unexpectedly had to walk ten blocks north to get to the only available entrance, and by the time we got there, the police weren't allowing anybody else in.  People were walking out of the parade route area a block away, telling all of us who were assembled, "Don't bother!  There's nowhere to sit and you can't even see!  We had tickets too!"  As you may be able to tell, the people telling us this were fashionable gay men who were waving their hands in disgust.  We bought Alice a blow-up Dora the Explorer doll as a consolation prize (she loves it - ever since she has been pushing Dora in the stroller, dancing with Dora, making us include Dora in "Ring Around the Rosy," and dragging Dora to the table to eat with us).

So, rejected by the parade, we went to a little cafe to eat some breakfast, where we encountered the people I will always think of fondly as the Thanksgiving Assholes of 2011.  Let me set the scene: picture three rectangular two-top tables lined up along the window.  Simple, right?  We pushed two tables together to accommodate our party, dumped our stuff there, and went to get our food.  When we returned, we found that the Thanksgiving Assholes - a well-dressed middle aged couple - had turned the remaining two-top around, so that both seats were now parallel to the window I guess, which had the effect of blocking us from getting into our table.  I said, excuse me, please let us in, and my polite mom said, oh, we'll just sit elsewhere (forcing us to crowd around a skimpy little table), and the male Thanksgiving Asshole said, "Oh, you'll be fine, there's plenty of room there."  The woman concurred, and after a bit more completely disrespectful small talk, the encounter was formally over. 

But not for me, of course!  I spent the rest of the meal shooting them dirty looks, saying loud remarks like "that was really rude" and "we have no room for my daughter now," and subtly jabbing the man with our inflatable Dora.  Even days later, while out on a run, I thought about them and their absolute thoughtlessness and blithe disregard for us and got irritated again.  I hope their turkey tasted like sand.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hand, foot and mouth

There was a period last week when I was debilitated by a nasty little virus called Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.  Alice had it first, an extremely mild case, thank God, and then passed it to me.  On Friday night I felt feverish and exhausted.  On Sunday bright red little sores started pocking the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet.  I had a few sores on my face but thankfully I was spared the wounds on the inside of the mouth that make it nearly impossible to eat.

Over the next few days these sores blossomed into bright throbbing little nubs of pain.  I could barely walk.  It hurt to bend my fingers.  My extremities felt red-hot, contorted by this raging pressure.  I went to work on Monday but left after half the day.  My colleagues were horrified.  People asked if I was staggering because of a marathon-related malady, and I told them no.  I had to lean on my desk and lurch sideways to open the door to my students.  I didn't go to the bathroom because I couldn't bear the idea of walking that far.  At home, when I removed my shoes and socks, I felt sure that my feet would be covered in blood. 

At home I crawled to the bathroom on my hands and knees to avoid pressure on my feet.  It felt a little better to elevate my feet, so I sat on the couch, responded to work emails, and watched wretched daytime programming like "The Talk."  I stayed home on Tuesday, in a haze of Benadryl.  By Wednesday the sores started receding, yet even today my hands and feet are still slightly pocked.  The skin along my fingers and toes has been peeling for days now and I don't really know when this process will be completely over.  I am basically molting dead skin over everything. 

The key point here is: it's disgusting, and it knocked me out for a couple of days.  I just wanted to record this for posterity.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Marathon closure

Well, it happened.  I finished the marathon, a couple weeks back.  My final time was 4:04:27, nine minutes slower than last time, and four minutes under the stark boundary of the four-hour line.  It was a very intense experience, in some ways more difficult than last time.  Due to the demands of work and family I really pulled back on the training in the last couple months, basically abandoning my mid-week runs and focusing solely on the Saturday long runs, which generally went well through the entire program.  As a result I knew I was taking a gamble on marathon day; the question was, did I train enough?

Well, yes and no.  I trained enough so that I felt pretty darn good the day after the marathon - no injuries, no sprains, no lingering effects.  Unfortunately, though, I did feel like I ran out of steam during the final third of the race.  I was breathing fine, my legs felt great, but I just felt tapped out.  I was fantasizing about icy glasses of Coke; my mouth would actually tingle with anticipation as I ran.  I felt that if I let my eyes close, I would fall asleep mid-stride.  During the run I had to go to the bathroom four times, which never, ever, ever happens.  And I took the chance to talk to L, Alice, and my folks for a minute the three times I saw them, for three reasons: to make sure Alice understood that I was there, to reassure everyone that I was okay, and to make the whole endeavor a little more worthwhile of their time.

Running the New York marathon for a second time was surprisingly similar to the first.  I was sorry to realize it, but it felt like a diminishing return.  The great parts were great.  The tough parts were really tough.  And there were no real surprises.  The crowds were supportive when they yelled out my name, unless I was walking in pain, at which point they felt taunting.  This time around I tried hard to high-five all the little kids in Brooklyn, when I felt great and invincible.  During the final miles, when Central Park seemed absolutely alien to me through my fog of exhaustion, I couldn't stop myself from walking.  I was more generous with breaks than I have ever been before.  I tried not to hold myself to an impossible standard, but I couldn't, so I wasn't pleased with things.

After the race I staggered through the finishers staging area in desperate need of a porta-potty.  I rehydrated too quickly and ended up vomiting over a fence in the park, a few dozen yards away from Central Park West.  After we reunited, as I walked with my family searching for a cab, they peppered me with questions about the run, and I just said, "Can we please not talk about it yet."  At home I vomited again, took an ice bath, took a shower, fell asleep.  Two hours later I was awake and ravenous.  I ate heartily, drank a lot of Coke, and told everyone about the day's adventure.  I was fine, I was a champion.

I don't mean to sound negative about the experience, but I think this was my last New York marathon for a while.  Now I'm thinking about next year's Marine Corps Marathon in DC, not to break any speed records, but to give myself a challenge and a goal.  Ultimately what I learned is that my modified training schedule actually worked pretty darn well, given the demands on my time and the fact that I'm four years older than the last time around.  (As my mom pointed out, I'm also heavier than I was last time.  As I looked at her, agog, she added, "Well, we all said it!")  And most importantly, I did the race and I'm not injured.  Last time I ran it was six months before I laced up my running shoes again.  The training process had exhausted me and given me knee pain that lasted for weeks.  Yet I've already been running since this marathon, and I'm very deliberate about starting a new chapter in my running life right away.  I may not have triumphed on marathon day the way I hoped to, but I endured in a way that I didn't quite expect.  And that kind of sneaky lesson is what the marathon is all about.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Marathon eve

Tomorrow is the marathon!  The thought of this puts a weight in the pit of my stomach.  I can't believe it's here, and that this largely theoretical training program of mine is about to come to fruition.  Doing this the second time around is very different.  I'm not full of the abject fear and wonder of what the experience would be like.  I'm not asking myself, "Are you even going to finish it?"  Last time around, when there were a lot of people cheering for me and wearing homemade t-shirts, I needed that support and enthusiasm to paper over my own doubts and worries.  This time I feel more confident, more ready to enjoy the experience.

In some ways the marathon is a passive thing, like riding the rapids - you enter the current of runners and follow it, turning when they turn, pounding your feet in time with all the others.  You wear a shirt with your name on it and listen to people cheer for you.  You mentally tick off the miles, the landmarks, the boroughs, and note that the pain and discomfort you are uniquely experiencing is being shared by the people around you, all in their own way.

This time around I feel like I am making some smarter decisions.  I can't expect to beat my time from four years ago -- a simpler time, a more fit time, a time of graduate school and oodles of hours to go running in the middle of the week -- but I'm going to try.  My training schedule, slashed by the mostly welcome demands of family and work, seems to have still positioned me well for this event.  I think my concerns now are more based in the logistics of the whole thing: getting to the Staten Island ferry on time, staying warm while we wait, not getting bored or getting too lost in my head during those slow hours of anticipation.  Once we run, once we are launched out of the cannon, then all I have to do is finish it.  It's just another long run.

This is the marathon!  This time is for Alice.  Wish me well.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Moments with Alice

I worked late tonight and came home when Alice had already been in bed for about half an hour.  We could hear her burbling in there.  I thought to myself, I want to see her.

I went in and she turned around to look at me.  She stood up in her crib and raised her arms so I could lift her, first gathering up her blankie and her froggy and her little striped zebra and her board book about counting.  Her pacifier bobbed in her mouth.  I picked her up and whispered hello, and she pointed to the rocking chair behind me.  I sat down and she leaned into me, her legs around my waist, resting her head against my chest.  I could see her eyes closing beneath me.  We rocked for a while.  Hoped she could hear my heart beat.  After a bit she leaned back and we made funny faces at each other, and she would laugh quietly at me.  She poked at the buttons on my shirt, saying "boop," like we do.  "Are you ready to get back in your crib?"  She nodded. 

I stood up -- her book fell to the floor and we leaned over to pick it up.  She was silent as I lowered her into the crib.  I walked over to the side, near the door, and squatted down so that we could share a goodnight kiss through the wooden slats.  "Goodnight sweet girl, I love you."  One more kiss and then she turned to her blankie.  I went back into the family room.  Best part of the day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

12, 13.1, 20 miles

Marathon training update!

12 miles: Two weeks ago I did a nice leisurely twelve miles through Central Park.  After the previous 18-mile disaster, my goal here was just to survive.  The run went very well; I felt great, especially with the short distance, and there was a half-marathon road race occurring at the same time.  On the plus side this meant that I could take advantage of the water and Gatorade prepared for the runners; on the negative side this meant that I was completely subsumed by a tidal wave of fast runners during the last quarter of the run, when I was at my slowest and most pathetic.  But the race went well, and I don't care what other people think of me!

13.1 miles: Last weekend I participated in the Staten Island Half Marathon.  Woke up at 5 to take the train all the way to South Ferry, then the ferry over to the island.  Staten Island, it turns out, is kind of a pit.  We ran through some industrial areas with very little shade or scenery, and the landscape was so bleak that they had a couple of DJs stationed intermittently to keep things moving.  Even though the day was hot, I was very pleased with my time.  I did well, and I think the excitement of running on unfamiliar roads (rather than the intimately familiar topography of Central Park) gave me some fresh power.  On the way back I felt a little queasy, but I distracted myself by talking to some nice Canadian tourists about all the sights and sounds of our fair city.  I came back and showered at the our old gym in the Village, which was about as nostalgic and bittersweet as showering at a gym can be, I guess. 

20 miles: Today I ran 20 miles!  Approximately.  I ran down the West side of Manhattan, then back up the east side, then cut over along 110th street until I reached my familiar end-point in the Park.  The run went very well - I felt good and strong, although on the Upper East Side I couldn't figure out how to get down to the riverfront, so I had to stagger along York and First Avenues for much of the time.  Also, early on in the run, there were a couple of miles when I was afraid I had pooped myself a little.  But thankfully, false alarm!  I felt good and strong after the run, too, and I think I figured out the nutritional/hydration element I had been missing: I carried some salt packets and pretzels with me, and I snacked on them at the halfway point as well as at the finish.  It was a little odd downing a packet of salt (it all just stuck to my tongue, until I drank something to wash it down), but my body seemed to appreciate it.

Now, I just have shorter runs until the actual marathon, three weeks from today.  It's happening!  And I'll be ready.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eighteen miles

What brutality!  Today was the official marathon "Tune Up" race, 18 miles through Central Park, three scathingly repetitive six-mile loops.  Because I expected it to be cold and rainy, I wore long pants and a long-sleeve shirt (my official 2007 marathon shirt, as a matter of fact - I wanted some of its mojo today).  As soon as I arrived at the race I realized I must have made a grave miscalculation.  Everyone else was wearing standard warm-weather running gear, and there I was, wearing basically an athletic burqa.  At some point during the race, around mile 6, a woman ran alongside me and said, "You're really overdressed compared to everyone here, huh?"  Who says that?  "I feel great," I said huffily, "Have a great run."  I pulled away and was happily convinced that I had left her in my dust, until I saw her trotting along ahead of me a few minutes later.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be a high point of the race.  It was hot and humid and I was drenched in sweat.  I tried to stay well-hydrated with gatorade and water and allowed myself generous walking breaks.  I even tried one of those disgusting goo packets, full of carbs and electrolytes in a liquid with the consistency of motor oil.  After the race ended, as my leg muscles blazed and the sweat continued pouring, I jumped in a cab to head home - L had to go to a work function on Staten Island and I needed to return to watch Alice as quickly as possible. 

"You look a little piqued,"  L told me.  I felt horrible.  I couldn't stray far from the bathroom.  After L departed it was just me and LB (Alice), which meant that during my long sojourns to the bathroom, I had to leave the door open to keep an eye on the baby.  So during the same period of time when it felt like I was losing all of the fluids (and several of the major organs) in my body, thus rendering me basically incapacitated, Alice was sitting there merrily unrolling toilet paper or playing with feminine hygiene projects.  The low point arrived when I had to inform L by text that I had just thrown up into a trash can while sitting on the toilet, and that Alice had watched the whole thing.  She stared at me with a disconcerting mixture of innocent curiosity and prurient interest. 

At this late point in the day I have finally managed to keep some food down, and my skin is no longer the color of paper.   Was this an obstacle on my marathon journey?  Yes, yes it was.  Over the coming days I will try to figure out how and why my body betrayed me so.  But am I giving up on my marathon dreams of 2011?  No, sir, I am not.  I'm busted, but not broken.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sixteen miles

Saturday's run was a sixteen-miler.  I was very anxious about it overnight; I kept waking up wondering if it was time to go yet.  I was worried that my dinner wasn't substantial enough to fuel me through.  The run was okay - I am still being slow and generous with myself, but my leg muscles were just exhausted by the end.  I feel like I am good cardio-wise, but I am trying to work on my leg muscles.  I have accumulated an almost silly regime of preparation and recovery: Nip guards!  Vaseline on the thighs!  Two bottles of Gatorade!  Ice baths!  There is no glamor in this task.

In other news, our nanny quit on Wednesday, after missing work on Tuesday for health reasons, and announced that Friday would be her last day.  Amid a week of bad news and unpleasant events, this one took the cake.  We pulled it together and hired a delightful new nanny on Saturday, and so far she is great.  Our third nanny in about 14 months.  I'm feeling like Destiny's Child up in here, but hopefully now things can settle down.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th, ten years later

For the last couple of days I've been immersing myself in a lot of the immediate coverage that followed the terrorist attacks ten years ago.  It's hard not to watch the footage without a rock in my stomach.  The newscasters' fumbling narration in real time, the background whine of sirens that seemed so feeble in the face of such destruction. 

When I think about my life, I tend to believe that the Modern Era -- that is, adulthood -- began when I graduated college and moved to New York in 2002.  September 11th occurred during the first few weeks of my senior year at UVA.  My memories of that day are stark and clear, and many of the people with whom I experienced that day are still deeply involved in my life (most especially, my wife).  When I arrived in New York months later that experience was still burned onto the short-term memory of the city.  Every summer hordes of young people arrive in the city determined to start their lives, and I felt proud to be part of the first wave of new arrivals following the attacks.  Yet I also felt like an interloper -- someone who skips the funeral but attends the reception afterwards.

Living in the city has given me a new intimacy with the events of that day, a new understanding of the geography of grief.  I used to run by Ground Zero all the time when we lived downtown.  My wife's old workplace was near the scene of a major staging area for the first responders.  The same hospital where the victims were sent, where Cardinal Egan stood outside administering last rites to the dead and dying, is where my daughter was born.

Today L and I took Alice downtown to get out of the house and go eat at a burger joint from back home.  Impromptu memorials had been established all around the old neighborhood, in front of firehouses, along the chain-link fence where people have hung dozens of ceramic tiles commemorating that day.  On the subway we saw many law enforcement personnel in dress uniform.  We saw people who had come from the major memorial service, relatives of the victims, including someone who wore a badge identifying them as a reader of the names.  I felt frivolous sitting there in my shorts with my soda, frivolous and irreverent in the face of their grief and the tragedy this city -- now my city -- endured. 

And yet life goes on.  Just like ten years ago, this weekend felt like one of the last vanishing weekends of summer.  Today Alice enjoyed her french fries and milkshake, and she was smiling and chatty for her momma and daddy.  Events that were unthinkable ten years ago have somehow been folded into our understanding of ourselves and our home, and we all move forward, more or less, with an even keel.  Resilience and grief, change and memory, ever forward, ever forward.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fifteen miles

Fifteen-mile run today, enough of a distance to make me feel proud and want to tell other people about it.  Three five-mile loops in Central Park, which was almost immediately boring.  I listened to music, thought about work and family, thought about the act of running: what each muscle and joint was doing, how far I had traveled, how much farther to go, always calculating times and percentages.  When I am in the middle of a grueling run I tell myself that I have already completed it, that the act of wanting is the same as achieving.  "Action is intention," I repeat to myself, and somehow it works well enough.

Starting around the halfway point today the uphill segments of the run began to feel unusually grueling.  The slightest change in slope would threaten to wreck me.  I was generous with the walking breaks, but it got to be extremely difficult.  I was hungry and wanted to sleep.  My proudest moment was during my final ascent up the Great Hill, when I maintained a running pace up the entire thing when every fiber of my body wanted to stop and walk.  A small victory over myself.

I was fairly useless for much of the day after that.  I came home and showered and went to Chipotle for some protein and carbs.  L left the bed unmade for me so I could take a nap, but that felt indolent at two in the afternoon.  I just took an ice bath and now my entire lower body is quivering, not in the good way.

I had to remind myself that the training process actually will make me stronger.  Today it felt like these longer runs merely sap the energy and power that I already have, draining me of what I will need to complete the marathon.  Today I saw two runners in particular whose t-shirts resonated with me: the first,"Running sucks"; but then the second: "If you're still sweating, you're still alive."  Amen to that.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Status updates

Today I was walking along on the street when I inadvertently stepped on a Capri Sun juice thing on the ground, causing a stream of liquid to shoot through the straw and across some girl's thighs and butt.  She was audibly shocked, and started gasping and looking around.  I had to explain that I had stepped on a juice box, apologize profusely, and walk the hell away as fast as possible.

Also today I went to get a haircut, and the woman cutting my hair said to me, "How much do you want on top, well you don't have much on top, heh heh."  Only women barbers say things like this.  And yet I tipped her. 

I didn't see much of L last weekend, because of the hurricane.  And I haven't seen much of my family either, because work has been crazy.  This is one of the most hectic weeks of the entire academic year, as we launch a new academic year and welcome the new students.  There are moments when we participate in the life of the school community, when the students' youth and naivete erupts in moments of genuine enthusiasm and gratitude, that are actually quite moving.  And then there are moments when I have pull back the reins on my irritation, such as when students march directly into my office without invitation and start talking at me, or when I receive an email from someone with a completely inscrutable email address who doesn't sign their message.  "Who sent this email to me?" I replied back, before I could stop myself. 

I have been a negligent marathon trainee, I regret to report.  For the first time ever, I missed my long run last weekend because of hurricane-related childcare responsibilities.  I only had time for one early-morning three mile run this week.  And I don't know if I'll get in a long run this weekend.  But then I will get back on track. 

But tomorrow: we are packing up a rental car and driving to Rehoboth.  A couple of days at the beach, a couple of days to introduce Alice to important things like Funland and Grotto Pizza and Browseabout Books.  Jumping in the waves.  Walking in the cool evening sand.  The cry of the seagulls, ice cream on the boardwalk.  It's important that she knows this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene

The city is freaking out about Hurricane Irene.  It was a beautiful day today but there was a nervous energy in the street; the sidewalks seemed more crowded than usual, the lines at drugstores and groceries snaking down the aisles.  People clutching bottled water, toilet paper.  I went to five stores looking for D batteries to no avail.

My wife the civil servant is in Brooklyn tonight.  She is part of the city's emergency response team, working 12 hour shifts at an evacuation center in Brooklyn.  Hopefully I'll see her tonight before she has to report again for duty tomorrow.  Once the city's transit system has shuddered to a halt tomorrow afternoon, I'm not sure how she'll be able to come back home from Brooklyn.  So when does my wife come home?

The idea of going through a hurricane with just me and Alice, without L, is boggling and ridiculous.  I am very proud of my wife for the work she does and the spirit she brings to her job.  I hope she understands that she is doing important, humane work.  But her absence tonight - and presumably, through this long weekend of emergency - baffles me.

I found some batteries at home and we have one good flashlight.  I pulled aside candles and matches.  We have enough food, I guess, and milk and water.  Water bottles in the freezer.  I guess we are almost ready, with almost everything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The vise

I have been uncharacteristically worried lately about the state of things in our life (and that's saying something).  L and I have had some big talks about our family, our careers, our home, and our finances, trying to find the best way to manage everything in a sustainable way, a way that will keep us on a good path to prosperity.  In some ways I feel like the same few questions are constantly swirling around us, and each passing day pushes us towards an answer.  Can we stay in New York?  Can we stay where we are?  Does our life require changes, large or small?  (The questions are more specific in my mind, of course, but they thunder down to the same basic propositions.)  I worry about making a choice.  I worry about not making a choice -- that our inaction will lead us to an answer in itself, an answer we may not want. 

Sometimes I wonder if we are somehow being selfish, living in Manhattan and raising a family here.  Is it stupid to try to do this?  Does it matter that we still live in New York, since we are not exactly regulars on Broadway or at the museums?  Are we trying to accomplish something best left to the financiers and their dowager mothers-in-law?  Perhaps worse: are we the last ones left at the party, still toughing it out in Manhattan while so many of our friends have cycled in and out of the city?  And yet so much of our life is grounded in the structures of urban living -- walking to playgrounds, enjoying the parks, living in a certain kind of community.  I fear that if we lived someplace surburban, we would enjoy the luxuries of the 'burbs for a few months until we woke up in horror one day, realizing: I am bored.  And then it would spiral downwards, Revolutionary Road-style.  (Not to say that city life is inherently better or more exciting; just that it has clearly become our preference.) 

If I think about these questions hard enough, it feels like the floor gives way under my feet, and all of the structures we have created to organize our life - the jobs, the childcare, the commute, the apartment, the friendships - are ripped to shreds in a single thoughtless moment, and the stark precarious nature of this balance emerges.  Yet does life ever become more solid than this?  What exactly could I expect someplace else?

I hit the point a few days ago where I just grew weary of worrying.  We had a good talk with my folks about things, and I feel like we're doing the best we can.  We are not sitting back passively and letting the circumstances of life dictate our fates; we are doing everything we can to best protect and support our lives.  Beyond that I don't know what else can be done, besides work on my patience and serenity.  Like I was saying to L tonight:  I'm worried something will happen.  And I'm also worried something won't.

At some point, I have to take a breath and just stop worrying.

Photo: my favorite monkey at the Manhattan Children's Museum.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Like the wind

I've had a really good running week.  For the last three mornings I've woken up at 6 a.m. (sacrificing an invaluable 45 minutes of sleep) to go for a run before heading to work -- 3 miles, 4 miles, 3 miles.  Despite the disgusting heat, which feels like a thick soggy curtain laying on top of the city, the runs have been pretty good.  My times are where I want them to be and my body is slowly creaking into action.  This is definitely the most exercise I've gotten in a while, and the only way I was able to do it for the week was with L dropping off Alice for two of those mornings.  We'll see what the coming weeks bring.

The downside of my athletic triumph, of course, is that I am exhausted and ravenous all the time.  At work, at approximately 3:30 or so each day, I find myself skulking around the office looking for a snack to eat -- some kind of leftovers offered for public consumption or something I can poach without incident.  Like a pathetic woodland creature doomed to die in the winter, I usually find nothing.  I have also been extremely tired all week.  Last night we were reading when I was suddenly overcome with exhaustion and had to excuse myself to the bedroom to take a nap.  It was eight p.m., and this was distressing.  I woke up at nine feeling very discombobulated.

Tonight I'm celebrating tomorrow's rest day by staying up for a thrilling evening of "The Real Housewives of New York."  I don't have to run tomorrow.  I just have to navigate the heat, and try to combat the self-loathing that comes from watching too much Bravo.  And that sounds great to me.

Photo: Alice trying on my running shoes after I returned home on Wednesday morning

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter

Today I saw the last Harry Potter movie.  It was excellent, and I greatly enjoyed it.  I read the books as they all came out, but I am not an expert in the intricacies of wand lore and things like that.  I came to the movie as a mere novice, but that was enough.

I was surprised at the strength of the movie's emotional impact.  The overall story has unfolded in enough time and with enough stateliness to allow it to gather some real heft and meaning.  This is ultimately the story of an orphaned boy and his long, painful process of understanding his parents and the world they lived in.  The passions and jealousies that animated them and their peers. 

What's strange to me now is how much I relate to the parents.  Seeing Harry's ghostly parents promise him, in his hour of greatest danger, that they would be with him -- that they were always with him -- struck a deep chord.  Ever since Alice was born I have been grappling with this new emotional force, the instant and primal love that propels so much of what I do nowadays, in one way or another.  My mom told me, "You will kill for your kids," and boy, was she right.  (Mrs. Weasley cursing the witch who was attempting to kill her daughter, moments before she dispatched her nemesis into the great beyond: "Not my daughter, you bitch!"  Now I understand.)  It's interesting to me to track my own experience with Harry Potter over the last decade or so, watching the easy, thoughtless narcissism of adolescence slough away, later to be replaced by the sweet, gnawing ache of parental love.  It is about Harry and his gifts, but it's also about the ones who placed him there.  The whole story changes. 

Blueberry festival 2011

We spent this past weekend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to visit James and attend the Blueberry Festival.  I knew Alice would get a kick out of it and sure enough she did -- she was very enamored with the animals at the petting zoo (the ducklings, the fuzzy things I presume were chickens, the goats, the cows, the pigs) and she enjoyed watching a wood turner craft little wooden tops on a lathe.  She also enjoyed the man who played old coal country songs on his guitars, songs that struck a sweet, poignant note to me -- I appreciate these dashes of northeastern Pennsylvania culture.  Other highlights included the inevitable bossy woman who told us how we should be raising Alice -- "Put a hat on her!  She needs a hat!" -- as well as the woman who intercepted Alice when she was walking around and took her by the hand until we popped up to retrieve our child from this well-meaning but completely unnecessary mini-abduction.

It was nice to see our girl trundling through the grass and eating bits of blueberry pie a la mode.  She loved watching the horses as they trotted around the dirt area behind the barn; with all of the animals, she would creep closer and closer, an arm outstretched towards them, until the beast made any kind of quick motion -- some sniff or snort -- and then Alice would startle and shuffle backwards to the safety of her parents.  Until it was time to investigate once again.

Thank you James for the photos...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marathon training, week 1

Last week was the first week of marathon training!  Overall, successful.  I ran three miles on Tuesday evening, which was very unpleasant -- hot, soupy weather and clothing that felt too tight.  I am aiming for an 8:30 pace (last time around I ran at 8:55) and I ended up clocking these three at 8:26, so that was nice.  Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be "rest days," because I didn't want to/couldn't run, so that's fine.

On Saturday I had my first long run -- six miles, which is not bad at all.  Just one good loop around Central Park.  I was hurting a little bit from the late dinner with friends we had enjoyed the night before, and I realized that there was a road race also going on that morning.  I pictured myself being devoured by an avalanche of thousands of runners in matching bibs, but through some miracle of geography and pacing I managed to avoid the entire pack.  I would pass mile markers and realize that the race had been going for 20 minutes already, and then 30, and yet I never got lapped and I eventually reached the tail end of the pack.  The goal with the long runs is to run slow, so my mantra was "slow and in control."  Yet at the end I realized that I was running 8:45.  It was a nice run -- stately, elegant, almost matronly.

Then finally Sunday was cross-training, after another late night of "Horrible Bosses" and $9 pitchers (plural) or of Rolling Rock.  After almost five hours of sleep I staggered to the gym for the R. & B./gospel spin class I have come to love, along with some weights.

In class we were listening to something ("To Worship You I Live" or "God Favored Me," I forget) with the resistance on the bike near its maximum -- pushing the pedals required such effort, such rhythm to keep moving -- leaning into it, heart beating steadily, sweat along my arms, shirt stuck on my back, eyes stinging.  The song was rising to a crescendo and the instructor started telling us, "Let go of the resistance.  Let go of the opposition.  Rise to the top of the hill.  The top of the hill is waiting for you."  And I started picturing L and A at the top of the hill, waiting for me in their golden light, waiting for me to move through all of this to reach them.  I don't know if it was the physical strain or my exhaustion or the music or the words, but I almost got a little emotional in that spin class.  Finally the song reach its peak and the instructor slowly brought us back to the bikes, to the small room, to the stinging and the sweat.  The moment had ended and we all looked up and around the studio, wiping the sweat out of our eyes, preparing for the next stage of the ride.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Going on a cruise around the western and southern coasts of Spain entails two trips.  On the one hand, you go to Spain.  On the other, you go on a cruise ship.  I naively expected the cruise to be somewhat Spanish – paella at dinner, sangria in the afternoon – but the cruise ship is a culture unto itself: English-speaking, abundant and plush, non-threatening, as boisterous as a seven-day wedding reception.  It’s CruiseLand!

CruiseLand is mostly populated by old Europeans, mainly English – round, burnt-pink people, shuffling along the corridors, moving with a grim determination to the buffet spreads.  They wake up early to begin baking on deck chairs under the unadulterated Mediterranean sun, or they gather in long queues to collect their baked beans at breakfast.  On formal nights they emerge from their cabins in tuxedos and gowns – tuxedos and gowns!  Packed away on a cruise ship! – to eat the delicious three-course meal in the dining hall and then settle in for more drinks around the boat.  The ideal cruise ship would not have any stairs; there would merely be ramps sloping downwards, from the upper decks with the swimming pools and nightclubs and unused jogging track, all the way to a series of troughs and buffet lines and bars.  The old English sunbirds could roll or shuffle or zoom along in their motorized carts (plenty of those onboard), smiling broadly and saying “excuse us, pet,” as they tumble on down to feed.

L and I quickly realized that we occupied a demographic black hole on this ship: early thirties, americanos, with a baby.  In addition to the elderly European crowd, there were a number of sloshed twenty-somethings – friendly, game United Kingdom kids who could always be relied on to volunteer for the ship beauty pageant or sexiest man contest or nightly karaoke (I myself performed a 1990s N’Sync hit at karaoke one night and received a warm reception from the Irish lasses).  These cool young kids seemed to be drunk much of the time, and were having fun in their flamboyantly obnoxious way.  How we envied them!  There were other young families on the boat, but being European, they had weird customs we could not adopt.  At midnight they could be found in the bars, their stroller parked beside them, their bonny wee tot sleeping peacefully inside.  There’s nothing like being in a bar on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, surrounded by old Europeans in wheelchairs and young Europeans in strollers, listening to an outer-borough piano man bang away at “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”  Viva Espana!

The hallmark of CruiseLand was aggressive hospitality and good cheer.  I distinctly remember crossing an empty atrium at seven in the morning, not a soul to be found, while “La Bamba” blasted gaily through the speakers.  At meals, attendants and waiters would approach us bearing gifts of strawberries and napkin animals for Alice.  People would pat her, tickle her, hug her, pick her up, with barely a glance at us.  It took a day or two to become acclimated to this life: the endless food, the available drinks, the towels, the dinners, the tuxedos, the karaoke, the internet by the minute, the champagne bar, the spa, the lack of care or context.  The small grace of falling to sleep each night listening to the waves breaking off the hull of the ship. 

Seven days in CruiseLand wasn’t enough time.  Not even close.

Monday, June 13, 2011

State update: Massachusetts

I spent most of last week at a conference in Boston, a city I haven't visited in an extremely long time.  It was unexpectedly lovely -- amidst the usual unpredictable cruelty of Massachusetts weather, we enjoyed a beautiful summer evening on my first night in town.  I went for a run on a route traced out for me by the hotel: from Boston Common along Cambridge Street, across Longfellow Bridge and along the Charles River, then crossing back over on Harvard Bridge and running along the Esplanade back to Cambridge -- a nice four-mile loop.  As I ran, I kept thinking, "I am not in New York, these are not New Yorkers, this is another city where people live.  And it is beautiful here."  Sunset over the water, sailboats bobbing along.  Brilliant office towers reflecting the orange-yellow light.  Running blindly and confidently.

One evening I abandoned the conference program to visit with my grandparents and aunt in nearby Beverly.  I was proud of myself for navigating the commuter train and making it to the Beverly Depot, where I had a great summer dinner with my aunt and grandfather (steak, grilled out in the spitting rain; salad, potato salad, sliced tomato (first good one of the year), brownie and ice cream, Bud Light) and then went on to the hospital where my grandmother was unfortunately checked in.  It had been five years since I had seen this side of the family, and being with them again felt easy and familiar.  I saw unexpected glimpses of my dad in my aunt's features or my grandfather's gestures.  Their home was full of pictures of my sister and me, Alice and L.  I felt like I had discovered some kind of reservoir of love, and I felt horrible and strange about letting so much time pass between visits.  It was wonderful, but it came with a certain ache, too.  I called L when I was standing on the dark, rainy platform, waiting for the train to arrive to roll me through the night back to Boston, but we could barely talk before the flashing lights and clatter of the train roared into the station. 

Another train ride and a few days later, and now I'm back at home.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


This morning at 8:30, I was walking out of the apartment to head to the gym, untangling my headphones in my hands, when I heard our next-door neighbor yelling for help inside his apartment.  "Help me!  Help me!  Is anyone there?  Please help me!"  I continued walking down the first flight of stairs before I stopped and came back up.  I called to him through the door.  From what I could understand, he said he had been stuck in his bathtub for two days, and could I go to the superintendent and get the keys to his apartment.  I said I would.  I went downstairs and knocked on the super's door, and got no response.  I called him and left a voice message.  I knocked on my neighbor's door and he started yelling again -- "Help!  Someone, please!" -- and his voice faltered.  He must have thought I had left.

I conferred with L and we decided to call the police.  She called 911 and spoke to the operators.  Soon other neighbors had gathered with us outside of his door: the neighbor who was the reason we called 911 the last time, a girl doing her laundry.  When the police arrived at the building, they buzzed our neighbor's apartment to be let in, which struck me as grimly hilarious.  Key in hand, the superintendent came spilling out of the elevator with the cops and EMTs.  Everyone went inside the apartment.  We hung back, afraid to look through the doorway.  They were worried about what kind of mess they might find.
A few minutes later they rolled our neighbor out in a rickety wheelchair that looked like lawn furniture.  He was wrapped from head to toe in a white bedsheet, with his skinny legs dangling and his gnarled feet dragging on the floor tile.  He was every figure of the Pieta.  His body was bisected by bright orange straps tied tightly to secure him.   They asked him his name and if he knew his social.  Soon he and the police and EMTs had all vanished back down the elevator.  L said, "Should we wish him good luck?," but by the time we tried to say it they had already gone.  Before they left one of the cops made sure his lights and air conditioner were turned off. 

A few of us were still on the landing.  The super said he didn't mind helping our neighbor.  He was old and alone, and not all there.  Lou Gehrig's disease.  From our apartment we can hear him playing classical music most of the time, and yelling to himself when he gets frustrated.

In the afternoon we saw the neighbor from the last 911 call, who said he was going to the hospital to check on the man.  Since he's all alone, you know.  But before he left for the hospital, our neighbor had to check the building directory posted by the buzzer to make sure he knew the man's last name.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Alice update

What has she been up to?

Walking confidently.  Starting to mangle words into something coherent:  "Mama" and the like are pretty solid.  References to me include: "Dada," "Didi," "Dee," and sometimes "Gagy."  She is pretty good with "Shoe."  She seemed to be on the brink of "Cheese" this morning.  Recently, during our morning bus rides, she has been insisting on sitting in her own seat next to me, her shoes reaching the lip of the seat, her head leaning downward on her chest.  This is reminiscent of one of her favorite perches at home, resting against all of the pillows on our bed (we call it Mt. Pillow, as she enjoys climbing it). She likes to splay out, reclining with her belly out and her legs crossed daintily.  When I see her do this I see a streak of laziness and indolence that I know came from me.

She loves gnawing on her toothbrush, although she is resistant to let anyone actually brush her teeth.  She gets upset when L tries to change her diaper, but she's calm when I do it.  Now that the weather is nicer and I'm wearing shorts around the house, she is very interested in my legs.  Earlier this week, we lost one of her shoes for two days because she had put it in the recycling bin, and we couldn't find it.  For Easter, my parents got her one of those storybooks where you can record your voice reading the text.  Yesterday I opened it up and my parents' voices started reading the story out loud, and Alice walked over and sat in my lap and listened to the whole story.  Lately she has been enjoying drawing at her little white table, and she figured out how to lift one leg to get herself up into the chair.   The other night on the walk home, she stopped to wave at some people drinking at the bar, who waved back, and then she clapped for herself and waved again. 

A genius, our girl.

Jury duty

I was on jury duty this week.  Unlike my first time as a juror, six years ago, this experience felt a lot more...coerced.  I felt like I had been conscripted into something unpleasant.  At every step of the way, people reminded us that it was our duty to be there, that it was an inconvenience, that we may be occupied for the next several weeks, that they would let us go as soon as possible but not yet, and that the fate of our democracy depended on our presence in the sad little waiting room.  It was like a hostage situation, but more principled.

I had two close brushes with juryhood.  The first case was an attempted assault.  Someone was accused of beating a Christmas tree vendor with a bicycle chain.  The second case was a murder and at attempted murder.  That trial would last several weeks.  The death penalty would not be an issue before us.  We were not to look up this case on the Internet.  There had been media attention before, and there would likely be more attention to come.  Can we handle that?

Well, I guess I could, probably, but it's not really a good time for me to spend a month as a juror.  Not when we're going to Spain and already got Alice a passport, a hellish process involving four post offices in two states.  When I made this excuse before the judge I felt very spineless and pathetic, whimpering my way out of jury service.  I was excused and sent to a different room upstairs where I got my letter stating that I was done with jury service until 2017, which so far is convenient for me.

Last week was exhausting, with graduation activities and jury duty.  This coming week I have two work retreats, and the slow transition into the summer season of the academic calendar.  I'm also trying to submit a story to a few publications/contests with a May 31 deadline, so that should keep me occupied too. 

Thursday, May 05, 2011


My beloved writing class ended this week.  When it's all said and done I have one brand new story I'm really excited about, one new story I'm worried might be a noble failure and a set of revisions/suggestions for a third story in draft form.  My plan for the summer is to work on revisions for the latter two stories, and maybe try to submit the first story and see if I get any bites (and of course try to kick around some new ideas).  One lesson from the class: writing requires discipline and regularity.  I need to be better about writing consistently throughout the week, rather than binging for a few harried, exhausting nights in a row.

I had been planning on trying to take the next-level workshop in the fall, until I learned that I have somehow won a spot in the lottery for this year's New York City marathon.  So now I think my fall will be devoted to running the marathon.  When I did it in 2007 (copiously recorded on this blog) it was one of the best experiences of my entire life.  Back then I had to run 10 races in the preceding year in order to guarantee my spot; this year I fell into it through the dumb luck of a random drawing.  I think I could use this kind of long-range goal, this kind of physical challenge; something to remind me that I'm more than a brain with an email account.  (Plus, this year I can actually take ice baths after my long runs, since we now have a bathtub.)

I don't think I can swing a writing class as well as marathon training.  That's one too many selfish endeavors for someone who is still trying to do a good job at work and be an equal partner at home.  I'm excited to get some good writing done over the summer -- this is the year of writing, after all -- but the jolt of this marathon entry is an opportunity I can't ignore.  Not this year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I got my ass kicked at a writing workshop

Last night my second and final story got workshopped in my beginning fiction class.  I had been very excited about this; my first story was well-received, and I tried to really amp up the work this time around.  I was trying to be ambitious and worldly, to move around chronologically and write two interweaving stories, one when the protagonist is 15 and one when he is 45.  I was trying to write in a non-linear way about a character who was not a carbon copy of me at the present moment.  Enough of these short stories that take place within a few hours, when some protagonist who is the demographic equivalent of the author experiences some precious little epiphany.  I wanted to be narratively bold and sophisticated, to tackle some big themes.  When I passed out my story for the class to read, I was pretty proud of myself, and I thought that it had turned out well for a first draft, although obviously it needed a lot of work.

Well, unfortunately, as the workshop got under way, things were not looking so hot.  The conversation zoomed in immediately on the weak spots of the piece.  "Uneven" was the adjective that really set the tone for the discussion of the story.  I concentrated on taking copious notes, to avoid having to look at anyone as we all discussed my stilted dialogue, or how the tone was too even, or how there should be more anger.  As time passed I kept hoping for the conversation to move on to other elements (how about that sophisticated chronology?  did anyone catch how narratively bold I'm being?) but we remained mired in the bad parts.  As someone who is bad at hiding my emotions, I think it was pretty obvious that I was deflating.  By the end of the conversation, the instructor was noting that although the class discussion had focused on the problematic areas, there was a lot in the piece that worked very well -- and then he quickly went through a laundry list of good things.  But the damage was done.

I felt like a real jackass for being so proud and happy about the work.  I was embarrassed at having talked to the instructor about how excited I was to get feedback from the class.  I tried to pull myself out of my funk for the rest of the session, but I couldn't manage it -- I didn't say a word for the rest of class.  I felt like I had left my guts on the page, that I had dug really deep and put myself out there, and that I had just gotten shat on for my efforts.  I wanted to pause in the conversation and ask: "So did anyone like anything about it?  Did anything work for anyone?"  But of course you can't do that in a writing class, where workshop protocol is as sacred and inviolable as, say, the procedure for selecting a new Pope.

I had a long, redemptive, enjoyable conference with the instructor afterwards.  He said my impression of the conversation was probably a lot worse than it actually had been.  This could very well be true.  When I got home I read everyone's written critiques, and suddenly there it was -- proof that the story was not the abject failure I had thought.  People appreciated different elements of it, and found it moving in different ways, and said some really nice and thoughtful things about it.  Great.

Although I still feel dumb and embarrassed for letting myself be so crushed by all of this, I am still licking my wounds over the whole thing.  I have to put that particular story aside for a while and work on some other stuff for the time being.  Part of this is vanity, and part of it is the need for constructive criticism to come bundled with something good, something I can hang on to.  When in doubt, blame astrology -- I'm a Pisces, and I'm sensitive about my shit.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Happy birthday, Alice

Yesterday was Alice's first birthday.  The main festivities took place on Saturday, when we somehow wedged about 30 people into our apartment (the crowd included six or eight children).  Alice, looking like a confection in her pink sequined birthday dress, took it all in stride.  We ordered a box-full of Chipotle burritos and hung up some pink and green streamers.  There were balloons.  Everyone who came was really nice and excited to see the baby.  Before we had birthday cake I gave a little mini-speech about What It All Means, then we sang and Alice devoured her first bites of chocolate, quickly developing a dark brown goatee of frosting around her lips.

After it was all over -- after the guests had left, after our family members had decamped for their hotels in New Jersey -- we were exhausted.  We were consigned to eat leftover burritos for the next six meals or so.  A fitting coda to the night: Alice throwing up her cake and continuing to vomit sporadically all evening; an unopened bottle of wine somehow falling out of the refrigerator and shattering on the kitchen floor.

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Alice came into our lives.  My memories of that day and the days that followed are so vivid, I can't believe we've gone through a whole year of seasons, changes, holidays.  Like a friend told me today, with children the days are long and the years are short.  I feel like my whole orientation towards life has changed since she was born -- what I consider important or meaningful, how I value my time, where I want to direct my energy and resources. 

If it's hard to believe a year has passed, it's also difficult to overstate the joy she's brought into our lives.  Tonight at dinner we were playing a little game where we were feeding each other Cheerios.  I would open my mouth in an exaggerated way and say "aah" so that she could place the Cheerio inside.  She opened her mouth to mimic me, and said "aah" in the exact same tone.  She had never done that before. Then she would touch my finger with her finger and we would spend a few moments considering fingers.  All of these little tiny doors opening, connections being forged, ideas linking together.  It's like you can see her memories sharpening, her smiles becoming more genuine, her sense of herself and our family becoming more clear.  It's still miraculous.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Long run

Yesterday my brother-in-law Henry and I went on an epic run down the west side of Manhattan, from my apartment at 125th Street all the way to Battery Park.  It ultimately clocked in at over 9 miles, by far the longest run I've done since the marathon.  It was a beautiful day, clear and breezy, and there were plenty of other runners and bikers keeping us company.  It felt great to run beyond my usual uptown route, to then explore uncharted new parks along the Upper West Side and midtown, and to conclude the run along the familiar downtown stretches of the Hudson River Park.  I felt buoyant during those last couple of miles -- I haven't run down there since we moved uptwon, and it really felt like a homecoming.

We ran at a nice leisurely place, so I was never too uncomfortable.  Only one of my headphones worked, but I got used to it after a while.  My legs were tired but I didn't experience any alarming pains.  A few stitches in my side, but nothing too bad.  Afterwards I was exhausted for the rest of the afternoon, but no worse for the wear, and even now I don't have any sharp pains or discomfort.  All in all, it was a really great experience -- a great discovery that I can still do things I might not have thought I could.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


L arrived home late from work, around 9.  I had put the baby down and had ordered a pizza for us.  L had just walked in and was standing in the doorway of the apartment, talking to a woman in the hallway.  The woman was wearing baggy gray longjohns, clutching a cordless phone and her eyeglasses and a pen.  Apparently her boyfriend, who lives with her, was drunk and raging.  He had smashed his hand through some glass case in their apartment and was bleeding.  He had locked her out.

L invited her inside to have a place to think for a few minutes.  The woman said she just wanted him out of her apartment, but she didn't want the police involved.  She came in and stood in our doorway for a few minutes, then returned to the hallway. We offered to call the police but she declined.  The woman suggested that maybe we could ask him to come into our apartment for a few moments, and then she could return to her apartment and lock him out.  We said no. 

The man opened the door to his apartment and started yelling at her again.  He moved into the hallway, bleary-eyed.  L, the sentinel, held our door open in case the woman needed it.  The man was blathering on and on.  He started referring to us and pointing to us.  "Now my neighbor won't even talk to me!" He started comparing himself to Libya, saying it would take more than one policeman to take him down.  He talked about the Irish.  Staring at L's face to not look at the man's, I kept asking her: should we call the police now?  Are we justified now?  Finally, feeling vaguely threatened as he shuffled into the middle of the hallway, closer to the woman and our door, I called 911.  Not the first time I've done it, here in this city of shit and blood.  I put on a fleece and some flip flops to get ready.

A few minutes later I heard distant sirens, then three cruisers pulled up in front of our building.  A group of policemen swarmed inside.  Someone from dispatch called me to tell me to buzz them up.  When they poured out of the elevator I gestured to the poor woman who was standing forlornly by the stair railing, and they directed their procedures and protocols at her.  One officer, calm and low-voiced, hung back to talk to me about the call.

A little while later I got another call from dispatch, telling me to buzz up the ambulance crew.  I also thought, where is our pizza?  It's been thirty minutes.  Maybe the law enforcement can let our pizza guy in.  The ambulance crew had arrived because the man was apparently bleeding from the broken glass he had smashed.  A little while later we heard yelling from outside -- it was the man, now on the sidewalk, surrounded by cops trying to secure him onto a gurney to go into the ambulance.  He was hollering, howling at them.  Craning out of our window we could see him thrashing on the ground, the lumpy mounds of the officers' backs surrounding him.  Someone was pinning him to the ground with a knee.  Suddenly I saw our pizza delivery guy, toodling along on his bike up the block, past the spectacle of double-parked law enforcement vehicles with their lights ablaze.  "Well, at least the pizza's here."

A few minutes later the man was secured in the ambulance and the cars dispersed.  His antics made me feel more justified in calling 911 in the first place.  The cars and ambulance revved up their lights and sirens to facilitate illegal U-turns on our block, and then they were screaming up Broadway, away from our home. 

The pizza was lukewarm and doughy when we finally ate it.  We wondered what it would be like when the man inevitably returned to his apartment, to the woman in longjohns.  The city is a forceful, unrelenting place on nights like this.  Discretion, or the opportunity to ignore your neighbor, is a luxury.  What were we supposed to do?  Wait for the woman to get hit?  Wait for the drunken man to sober up, stop bleeding, stop pounding on the walls? 

What if we had just closed our door?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Awesome Friday/[Law firm] Saturday

Really good weekend so far:

On Friday I took a half-day of vacation and left work early to go for a long run in the park.  I had bought new sneakers earlier in the week (I endured the full treatment to get the appropriate shoe, running on the treadmill with my dress pants ludicrously cuffed upwards while in loaner sneakers, and noticing on the playback video a disturbing outward kick at the rear point in my stride, leading to possibly an even more gangly form that I thought I had, so that now I'm concerned I run like a Muppet) and I was ready to go.

I did a solid six mile loop in Central Park without any stops or water breaks.  I was happy with this, simply for the endurance factor.  The weather was glorious and it was a great afternoon to run.  The Park felt familiar and challenging, and by the end of the run I was happy that my leg muscles were killing me, but I was ok cardio-wise.  At home I found that I had a massive blister under a pinkie toe, but hopefully this is just a casualty of brand-new running shoes.  I showered and headed to Chipotle for some lunch along with Entertainment Weekly and the New Yorker, and then I went and sat in the sun in Riverside Park and continued reading.  The sun was warm and plenty of people were walking by.  I read a great short story in the New Yorker by Ben Marcus that really captured one part of fatherhood, the part where you love your child and are confounded by her at the same time, and the part where you realize you are still a lazy bastard but it's not as easy to indulge in it anymore.

We had dinner at J&A's, some great pasta with wine and sambuca.  A wonderful evening -- we ended up waking up Alice to take her home around midnight, and she was exhausted but peaceable in the taxi.  It was a really great day.

And today was the one-year anniversary of my last day at my previous job.  My friends have been very excited about this day, and we were able to observe it last night, around the fourth glass of wine.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about my last job and what I learned from there.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, many levels of pride and disappointment.  As it recedes further into the past I'm able to appreciate the experience in different ways, and the passage of time has really been a blessing in may ways.  

In any event, I was reading the March 2010 entries in ol' Clarity and realizing that this period of time last year was extremely consequential.  March 19: last day of work!  March 24: first day of work!  April 5: baby is born!  What a season that was.  Thank God it's over, and that we emerged unscathed, baby in arms.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Alice at Chipotle

Last night I left work in a foul mood.  I had planned on taking a break at some point in the afternoon and grabbing a Coke, but I was unexpectedly busy and spent the hours watching the window of opportunity close before me.  I was resentful of the amount of work I had to do over spring break, when the office is a ghost town yet my own little shop keeps humming along. 

I had to pick up Alice, and on my way to get her I thought, F it, I'm taking her to Chipotle.  Even though she's been around for almost a year now I still feel weirdly not-autonomous with her.  Like I can't just decide to take her places, that I should be asking L for permission, or that we have to head immediately home if we don't have a fully stocked diaper bag with complete sets of extra clothing and outerwear.  Perhaps this stems from the nasty old cow on the bus who made a comment about how Alice wasn't wearing shoes or a hat one morning.  Turns out none of her toes froze off, heifer!  Thanks for your concern!

Anyways, I took Alice to Chipotle and we had a great time.  I managed to carry our tray of food, plus her, plus a high chair.  I managed to fill our drinks, sit her down, and enjoy a snack of chips and guac and a quesadilla.  She was laughing and babbling the whole time and only nearly choked to death once.  Overall, a wild success.

She is in this painfully cute stage right now.  She does this thing where she runs her tongue side to side, along the edges of her teeth, making this wonderful burbling sound like this: BllBllBllBllBll.  So of course now I make the noise to her, and she'll make it to me.  I made the noise to L once when the two of us were lying on the couch, just because I kind of forgot.  On the walk home from Chipotle Alice was making the noise contentedly, smiling at anyone, craning her neck upwards to look at the sky, reaching in the elevator to poke at the buttons, happy to walk around the apartment with my assistance, euphoric to be playing hide and seek and finding me in such sophisticated hiding spots as on the other side of the bed or behind a door.

I read somewhere that the first year or two of parenthood is about drawing your child close to you, and the rest of it is letting your child go.  I am trying to be aware of and appreciate this moment of drawing her near, welcoming her to our fold, and seeing her light up in the midst of it all.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Night clapping

Last night L was in Atlanta for work, so it was just LB and me on the home front.  She had been fussy in the evening and it took her an extra hour to fall asleep.  She woke up around 11 and 12, but quickly whimpered herself back to sleep both times.  I considered this a personal victory.

She woke up again around 1:45 in the morning, with a shrill, insistent cry.  I slugged myself out of sleep and went in to see her.  She was inconsolable, not hungry or wet.  She missed her mama.  We walked around the apartment for a few minutes, then I just decided to let her fall asleep in bed with me.  I set up some pillows so she couldn't roll off and the tried to demonstrate how to fall asleep.  I approached this task with a sense of willful optimism, knowing it probably wouldn't work anyway, but hoping that she would fall asleep calmly beside me; that I would successfully fight the urge to roll over away from her; that she would not crawl or roll right over the edge of the bed.

She was so tired, my girl, and the night was so thick around us.  She stared at me with large brown eyes as the pacifier bobbed in her mouth.  She put her hands on my face and tried to hide in the crook of my neck.  She lay on my chest.  She rested her head on my belly and stretched her legs out like she was staring at the stars.  She would lie comfortably for a little while, then huff and reposition herself.  I rubbed her back and tried to calm her.  She sprawled next to me with a hand on my arm.  She rested her head on the pillow and stared at me from mere inches away.  The corners of her eyes shading in a familiar smile.

I feigned sleep and she sat up and murmured to herself.  She clapped her hands a few times.  She looked at me and placed a hand on my cheek.  She clapped her hands again.

I felt fortunate to see her night behaviors up close like this.  It felt like watching a wild animal in its natural habitat.  My nocturnal kid.  After an hour it was evident that sleep was not likely for either of us.  I picked her up and we walked around the apartment for a bit.  We moseyed into her room and she leaned down towards her crib.  I placed her in it and she lay down peacefully.  I returned to bed, deconstructed the pillow walls I had built to protect her, and soon enough sleep had claimed us both.

Friday, March 04, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was at the gym on Sunday morning, like I do, and was half-heartedly lifting some weights on the machines while waiting for my awesome R&B/gospel spinning class to start.  A trainer approached me and pointed out how I was using the machines incorrectly, then he said he could show me some moves that might be better the next week.  Ok fine, I said.

The following Sunday (last Sunday) I found the trainer and he put me through the paces, to the point where I was still sore four days later.  The highlight was when he said I had really good form with squats. 

The unfortunate part, though, came when I was doing dead lifts and he said my back wasn't flat enough.  This turned into a broader discussion of posture, and how apparently I should be puffing my chest up and out at all times.  (I tried this for a little bit at work and felt uncomfortable.)  He gave me some stretches to do to improve my posture -- basically reverse-humping a doorframe, then repeating it three times -- and I've even altered my computer monitor and tried to be more conscientious about how I sit and stand. 

At one point during the session he said, "Just wait, you'll see, when  you stand up straight you'll get more respect at work, people will treat you differently."

I let this sit for a moment while I continued the painful stretch he had me holding for a minute.  Finally I said, "Just so you know, I do get respect at work.  It's not like I get picked on in the hallways or anything."

"Whoa whoa I don't even know you!  I'm just saying, it makes a difference."

"Okay, I'm just saying.  It's not like I'm getting beaten up at work."

So I have spent this last week trying to stand up straight, uncurl my spine, flatten my back.  We'll see if it takes.

Friday, February 25, 2011


[I'm actually writing this on March 4, but I'm posting it under 2/25/11 for the sake of posterity.]

On February 25 I turned 31.  As I've said before, 30 was an extremely good year for me.  The first part of this birthday was spent on the night of the 24th, celebrating on a boat called the Calypso Queen toodling around Tampa Bay.  I was having an unexpectedly pleasant evening with colleagues -- cans of Bud Light, a DJ playing fun and laughable songs, the sun sinking far off into the Gulf.  The Electric Slide.  At one moment I was standing alone on the top deck, looking at the sky framed between two gaudily-decorated plastic palm trees, as a reggae song bounced in the air -- and for the first time in my life, I kind of liked reggae!  For that brief moment, it made sense at the time!

Much of my actual birthday was spent in transit from Florida to home.  We had a nice dinner at home, L made a delicious cake.  On Saturday night we had a fun night at Nectar, partying like we were childless (almost), and then rushing home so we could stop the clock on the babysitter.  When childcare costs loom over you just like the threat of a hangover -- that's what 31 is like, so far.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I've been sending a story out to various literary journals, and getting a bunch of rejections in return.  I'm fine with this.  But today one of the rejection notes -- which, like most others, was tersely written and signed "The Editors" -- also came with this:

"P.S. I really enjoyed reading this piece."

The heart leaps.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dateline: Clearwater

I'm in Clearwater Beach, Florida, for a few days to attend a conference.  The privilege of sleeping in a big pristine bed, uninterrupted by the cries of an anguished or surly ten month-old child, can't be overstated.  But it's definitely a little lonely here.  Today after 10 hours of conference activities I went for a walk on the beach -- jean cuffs rolled up, name tag discreetly folded over -- to watch the setting sun dissolve into the gulf.  It was beautiful, and also melancholy.  It reminded me of the solitude of my first year in New York, before L had arrived, when the city was the perfect place to languish in your loneliness. 

Since my last post, things have gotten much better with Alice, thanks in part to some quality time we got to spend when L had to work late or early.  The baby and I had a lot of fun clapping, playing, reading, eating, etc.  She will now feed you a Cheerio or a morsel of some other food if you ask her, and reinforce the request by opening your mouth and aiming towards her food.  I think this is the first real sign of generosity or compassion we've seen from her, and it's encouraging.  She's also just a lot of fun right now, with her endearing wobbly movements, her vocalizations, and her overwhelming cuteness.  I'm glad I'm back in the fold.  (I would also note we went through a low point when she fell off the couch and landed on her forehead, then proceeded to flip over.  I was a wreck on wheels that night, and being on Concussion Watch for the next two days wasn't fun either, but fortunately she is fine and doesn't hold a grudge.)

Not sure what else I have to say about Florida.  I've been eating a lot of grouper and key lime pie.  The people are friendly, and nice, and slow, and they seem unafflicted by the neuroses and chronic impatience that characterizes me and everyone I know.  Like most other places I go, I look around at the white beaches, and the broad sky, and the sweet pace of life, and I ask myself, why not live here?  Why not live and be happy here?  It seems like it could work.

Two more days in Florida, then back home to my ladies.  And my birthday.  Not a bad week.