Category Archives: writing

Afternoon in the Park

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Whenever I whine to my sister about distractions that seem to constantly be getting in the way of my writing, she says that if I want to really finish my manuscript—which I’ve been talking about and toiling over, for way too long now—I need to work like I’m on a deadline. I have to act as if I’m turning it in for a grade. And sometimes, I need to say no, even if I really want to say yes. Like this past weekend, Memorial Day weekend, the first weekend of beach season…where everyone in New York City gets out of town.

I got on the pale-skin bandwagon at least a decade ago, after years in Florida, striving to achieve a permanent honey brown. These days, I accept my naturally fluorescent-white complexion (that has only become more blinding by living in the north), and have gotten used to the ritual of tanning by way of a bottle. Still, a little Vitamin D will always do a body good, and who doesn’t love a day at the beach? So when my friend invited me to head out with her on Monday, I jumped. But then the scene of me standing on the rooftop, shouting that I have FINALLY FINISHED MY BOOK flashed in my head. And though I really wanted to say yes, I had suck it up and politely decline. Because as much peace as the beach is to me, the hot sun on my skin, the powdery sand the most comfortable bed, it’s a place to shut off and not feel guilty about doing so.

So I’d turned down Robert Moses, but I still needed a plan. Finally seeing sunshine after the long, grey, winter, almost overnight, the trees alive again with lacy leaves, the sky a comforting, chalky blue, I felt like I’d be sinning, staying cooped up inside my apartment, or anywhere inside for that matter. But ‘outside’ in New York City pretty much means a day at the park, and a day at the park—be it Central Park or Prospect Park, Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, or even Washington Square Park (though the bravery quotient in the squirrels there has me a little on edge)—means a day of napping in the grass. But then it came to me—Bryant Park. I’ve been there countless times for summer movies, and I tell myself I should visit more during the weekday lunch hour so to maybe find my husband, but I don’t think I’ve really ever given it enough credit. It really is a masterpiece, with the feel more of a classic garden than your typical city park. Aside from its central lawn, that is the only part of it I’ve really ever paid attention to, there’s a bubbling fountain, two grand tree allées, ping pong tables and Pétanque, a carousel, a reading room, and best… for a writer… café tables and chairs lined all along its promenade. So as my friend headed to the beach, I packed my bag…and headed for midtown.

When I arrived at the Bryant Park subway station, it being one I rarely travel through, I was clueless as to which staircase would lead me where, above ground. So I chose the nearest one, and lucky me, I landed in a quiet corner where an empty table was calling my name. I sat down and positioned my chair inward, so that just beyond the sprawling blanket of wild—or at least wild-looking—ivy in front of me, there was the lawn with families picnicking, children skipping, an intermediate yogi repeatedly practicing his headstand and tumbling; and bordering that, the park’s perimeter trees, behind which stands a wall of city buildings. The trees planted in Bryant Park are London plane trees, the same species in one of my favorite places in Paris, the Jardin des Tuileries. They can grow to be 120 feet tall. I sat under one so high I couldn’t see the top of it, I thought it must’ve been at least that. Tiny sparrows played in the shrubs, pigeons pecked at crumbs near my feet, and high above, a covey of others sang songs to one another from tree to tree, and zoomed in flight from lamppost to lamppost, making me jealous, wishing I too could fly. The sun peaked through the canopy of leafy branches, warming the shady ground where a father and son played chess, and two wrinkly, white-haired ladies gossiped with iced teas, and an odd couple walked hand-in-hand. I wrote, alone in my green corner, and in between words, would pick my head up to just watch, in awe of the beauty surrounding me, even despite the city bustling fifty feet away. It was perfect…

Almost perfect…

About an hour in, at one of my pauses, I noticed a man approaching my table. He was in his early 60s I would guess, dressed nicely, appearing clean. There was nothing about him that alarmed me. I figured he had a question; needed directions, or the time. After all, I am the one people pick out amongst a crowd at the post office to ask if I think their package has enough postage on it. I’m used to strangers. “I noticed you’re writing,” he said. “And I just couldn’t help but admire the magical quality you have, here on this beautiful day, working so peacefully. I used to write poetry and I know, sometimes you can be searching for the perfect word for hours, and it helps to just look into the distance.” Ok. Not what I expected, but he kind of nailed it! It was, in fact, a beautiful day, and the scene to me, did feel magical. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s really perfect.” And then I remembered his mint green pants and his fedora. I’d seen him earlier, walking around with a younger man at his side. Thieves? I reached, nonchalantly, down to my bag that I’d nestled in between my ankles, making sure it was still there; that his chit-chat wasn’t really a way of distracting me while his pick-pocket sidekick got to work. After years in New York, as sad a truth it is, you learn to watch out for this. But my bag was there. All good. “So are you writing poetry?” he asked. “A novel,” I replied. “Wow,” he said back with a bow of his head. “Great that you have a novel in you at your age. You’re not writing the sequel to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ are you?” Seriously? Never mind the fact that I’m pretty sure there’s already a sequel, and maybe even a third volume—Eewww!! Where was he hoping this would go? “No. I’m working on something of my own,” I replied with a disapproving shake of my head. After another two minutes of trying to engage me, he got the hint, offered his best wishes and finally parted.

A while later, a homeless lady came up to me asking for change, and then a toothless man asking to borrow my pen. Ok, fine. Minor distractions. Back to work. Then some time later, a pasty kid with a choppy Mohawk and an array of haphazardly placed tattoos and a pierced septum came up and introduced himself as an image consultant and tried to convince me to take his card. Yeah, thanks but no thanks. I think I’ll stick to the path I’m on…image wise. Soon enough, he noticed my disinterest and walked away and again, I got back to work. Then the man two tables down from me, who had been quiet and keeping to himself the whole afternoon, started rummaging through belongings he had stuffed into a collection of tattered, plastic grocery bags. And then he broke out in a fit of maniacal laughter. And that sent me packing.

I closed my notebook, happy with what I’d accomplished for the day, feeling ok to call it quits. It was six o’clock and I was hungry. I took a look around once more before leaving, and felt thankful—for the beauty surrounding me…and even for some of the crazy. I mean, after all, that’s New York.

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I’ve been absent for some time I know. A friend asked at dinner a few nights ago, “What happened to your blog? I haven’t seen a post in forever.” He pushed. “Are you done? Finished with it? On to something new?”

I hated hearing that anyone would ever think I just quit.

It’s not possible that I could ever run out of things to talk about and want to write them. It’s more that I sometimes lack the motivation to get my thoughts out and into words. And in time, I begin to doubt whether they are even worthy of being shared.

Thankfully, I always bounce back. The time away—the period of inactivity—can in itself become the motivation. You’re on a break with no plans of getting up and starting again and then one day you wake up and think: It’s been so long. I miss it. I must get back!

And so here I am… with some good things to come, that hopefully you, my dear readers, will find worthy of me sharing.

Hello Again

On ‘Leaning In’

It’s a little over a week ago now, that I first heard about this new book ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. It was my mom who mentioned it to me in the middle of one of our weeknight phone calls. She’d caught an interview with the author on some morning show, and told me that I should find it online and watch it. For a second I wondered whySure, it’s a book about women in the workplace, gender inequality and the need for us [women] to push ourselves a little harder, or lean in a little closer, to get that place in front, or at the top, that we deserve. I get it. But it’s written by the COO of Facebook—a woman with two degrees from Harvard. My mother is fully aware that I’m nowhere near even standing next to the ladder, let alone trying to climb it, and that I have no ambitions of the high-powered executive ilk.

Maybe it was just her being a good mom, wanting the best for me; wanting me to be successful, and able to take care of myself, and achieve whatever goals or life dreams I set down when I got out of college. Who knows, maybe there’s some unfulfilled career dream that she had, that I never knew about. Whatever the case, I said ok, and found a segment that had aired on NPR and pushed play. Immediately, I was aligned with Sandberg, and in days that followed, in reading reviews both for and against her advice and her mission, even having not yet read the book, I agreed with her. Regardless of what kind of work I do now or ever will do, I feel very strongly that these hurdles we women face are ours to confront head on if we want to see change.

Growing up in a house full of girls with a father who didn’t want to raise little prisses, it was hard not to end up a feminist. So, like my sisters, I have feminist blood coursing through my veins, empowering me with the die-hard belief that I can do anything the boys can do. Ok, obviously not anything, but you get my point. I can do anything boys can do—and some things I can even do better.

What’s sort of backwards in all of this, for me personally, is that as much as I believe in leaning in, fighting the fight, at the same time, I think I might very easily be able to throw my hands up and say “Forget it.” The cover story in this week’s New York magazine is entitled, ‘The Feminist Housewife’. I read the article yesterday over lunch. It talks about the growing trend of stay-at-home mommyhood and how many young (and some not so young) women in today’s society actually don’t want to lean in to their careers—not because they’re wimping out, but because they want to be mothers, want to give their blood, sweat and tears to the job of taking care of their families. I have forever imagined having a family; but I’ve also always imagined working. I enjoy being part of the team setting, the regular interaction with intelligent, articulate, witty adult peers, the chit-chats and inside jokes and collaborating on projects and going for post workday beers. I have to say however, the article did make the housewife-mommy lifestyle sound very appealing, and by the end of it, I was kind of wanting it for myself.

But, let’s get back to reality. I’m a single, 36-year-old woman in New York City with not even a prospect for a husband on the horizon. So, as I wait for the housewife-mommy lifestyle to meet up with me some day (hopefully), I have to work.

This brings me back to a conversation I had over dinner last weekend with my cousin’s seven-year-old son Jack. He asked me at one point, “Andrea, what’s your career?” There is nothing quite like being put on the spot by a seven-year-old, let me tell you. I took a swig of wine, cleared my throat and replied frankly (because I was really answering the whole table of people staring at me and not just him). “I don’t really have a career,” I said. “It’s more of a…job.” Of course I wondered: at seven, do you even know the difference? “Well then what’s your job?” he asked back immediately. I stared into his brown marble eyes wishing the telephone would ring or that someone would swallow something down a wrong pipe and fall into a fit of coughing, but alas, no luck. So I started on about how I manage an office, and am the assistant to the boss, and that I take care of him to make sure his day runs smoothly. Of course I wasn’t feeling so proud but, whatever, it’s a job and I do it well. And Jack replies (and here I almost choked): “So you basically make sure his desk is clean?”

Well thanks to my mother, who was in town visiting and sitting next to me, the conversation was smoothed out and in the end, I was still breathing and Jack was at least somewhat satisfied with the work I do, however different or less it is than what he expected. Thinking back on the whole exchange, that initial question of why my mother felt so strongly about me needing to hear Sheryl Sandberg’s interview comes to mind—the question of how leaning in applies to me. I actually can quite easily see the answer. I think the basic principles Ms. Sandberg discusses can be applied to any of us in any environment if what we want is to be recognized for the work we do, and rewarded or compensated as we see fit.

So my job is not work that I am wholeheartedly fulfilled by, but this is by choice. I made the decision to veer away from what I thought years ago would be my career, because I fell out of love with it and found it eating up my life. A job, on the other hand, allows me to pursue the longtime love I never before focused on, which is writing. Granted, it means writing in my spare time, but I’ll take what I can get. Earlier this month, the website VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) published their ‘2012 Count’ which takes a look at the numbers of women versus men in various segments of the literary world. Without having to study their charts with much scrutiny, it’s quite clear, the dismal disparity that exists and subsequently, the message that success in the literary world is no easier to achieve than success in the corporate world…if you’re a woman. My dream may not be to have the corner office, or be the highest paid executive, but yeah, I’d love to be a successful and respected writer one day. So is the idea of leaning in, for me, really backwards at all? I think not.

The bottom line is that we all deserve to have what we want in life. I don’t think anyone is saying success in the corporate world is any greater than a happy, healthy, well-cared-for home, or that it makes you any better a woman. And I don’t think, despite what a lot of the critics have said, that Sheryl Sandberg’s advice can’t apply to all of us. She’s coming to us with first hand experience. She knows the challenges that come with being a woman. She’s definitely on our side in this. I remember being a little girl, afraid to put my hand up in a classroom full of boys but being free and speaking up at Brownies. Sadly, I know that that insecurity, despite believing I can do anything boys can do, has stayed with me to some extent. I hope one day we see change. And in the meantime, to Sheryl Sandberg (and to my mother)—thanks for the push… to lean in.

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Ah Yes…This Is Why I’m Here.

At the end of a long day, when stepping across the threshold of my cozy apartment is my heart’s absolute greatest desire, the walk home, short as it is, can sometimes feel like a painfully eternal trek. The freezing cold air bites at my face and my fingertips feel as if they are only moments from lifelessness. I pace briskly, but can’t seem to get there fast enough. At times I even wonder, exhausted from New York City life—commuting and all the rest of it: Shouldn’t I be done with this nonsense? In another town I’d have a car.” I think that after seventeen years, yes (and I think even Frank Sinatra would agree), I could make it anywhere. I wonder isn’t it time I trade the rat race in for a quieter, more peaceful existence. I even go as far as asking myself: “Why am I still here?”

On Mondays, it’s a residual high from my 7 o’clock spin class that keeps me from counting the number of steps I still have before reaching my block or questioning my life in New York. Despite the fatigue that inhabits me, my mind is off in some euphoric place after the 45-minute all-out blood and guts ride. It’s this class that gets me out of bed on Monday mornings as I dread the start of the workweek; this class, that I turn down all other Monday evening invitations for. Little can sooth my soul quite like it. But when a certain email caught my eye last week, while sifting through my inbox, without hesitation, I deemed that missing it every once in a blue moon certainly wouldn’t kill me.

The email was from a group I once took a class with called Sackett Street Writers Workshop. It was an invitation for a reading that they were hosting at an indie bookstore called BookCourt in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Just like I was first drawn to Sackett Street for the cozy appeal of its classes, many of which take place in the teachers’ brownstone apartments, I was drawn to BookCourt, perhaps because of the neighborhood it’s located in, or its story as a little community bookseller that could.

So last week, when Monday rolled around, I nixed the spin class and instead, after work, took a detour to Cobble Hill for the event. Well, as I had imagined it would be, BookCourt turned out to be a dreamland—where every title in the wide yet carefully curated collection called my name; the kind of place (if you are a book lover) that you want to visit everyday, or move into, if bookstore owners allowed such a thing. I found my way to the back of the store, to the events space known as The Greenhouse. A group of about 40 people were seated in folding chairs, as Julia from Sackett Street, a woman I’d never met, but through emails, introduced the evening and brought up the first author.

There were four in total, including Julia herself, each reading an excerpt from a recently published or soon-to-be published piece of work. As it is any time when you have a bunch of writers in a room, each was different from the next, and with every one, I connected differently. What I saw as the common thread was that each one of these authors was such a seemingly regular person. And though yes, there was a obvious disparity that existed between myself and each of them—that they have published books and I don’t—I like to think that they started at the same place I did, with that goal in mind, that ache, that need.

At the end of the night, before leaving, after introducing myself to Julia, I went up to the counter in search of the last author’s book. As a treat to myself, and because I am a lover of paper books and because I desperately want to save the disappearing brick and mortar stores that sell them, I decided I would buy a copy. The book was ‘Dare Me‘, about high school cheerleaders—what a NY Times book review called “Heathers meets Fight Club good”. The author? Megan Abbott, a petite redhead with a big smile and contagious enthusiasm. I’d heard Julia mention Megan was the author of six novels, but her name was not familiar to me. But then at the counter, I saw another book next to Dare Me, with the same name, Megan Abbott stretched across the bottom of its watery blue cover. This one was called ‘The End of Everything’, and it was one I realized then and there, that I’d seen on numerous reading lists in the past few months. So of course, I had to buy it too. And I would have Megan, the author sign the both of them.

An hour later, when I climbed up the stairs from the subway to begin my long, short walk home, I recognized, though it wasn’t my typical Monday night post-spin class high, that I had a feeling of lightness inside me. It was a pleasant mix of happiness and inspiration. What a perfect creative evening it had been. I paced the broken sidewalk, the winter air fresh on my skin, recalling Julia and my conversation, when she talked about New York and its wealth of resources for writers. I shook my head in agreement again, smiled and said to myself, “Ah yes—this is why I’m still here.”

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IF….

Once, years ago, I had a doctor friend of mine tell me that if he hadn’t chosen medicine as his path, he’d have gone the route of architecture or some kind of design. I laughed to myself, hearing his “if”, thinking how I, then a creative project manager, had so many times, wished I could do what he did. I sob, watching television dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy thinking, I want to save lives. I want to be a doctor.

At 17, I decided I was going to be an interior designer. That was it. And of course I assumed it would be my job—or my career– forever. I never imagined that at 30, I’d stop and question it and the whole direction my life was going. But I did. And now here I am working on being a writer. This is it. For real. (Or so I’m thinking.)

My mind still wanders though. If I could be anything…

It happened just the other day at work– at the architecture firm where I’m office manager (which ordinarily is just fine by me, as it provides me the freedom to leave with enough brain-power to be creative by night). It was during our office-wide meeting, when a line of architects stood up, one after another to present their projects. I was in the back of the room, craning my neck so to get a peak, and hear at least mumbles of what that had to say. One of them talked about their design for a clothing boutique in Japan, another about a penthouse apartment in the West Village; one was working on a flagship store uptown, and another on a beach house in the Hamptons. I felt a twinge somewhere between envy and longing as I stood there in admiration of their work, saying to myself, I want to do that. Architecture! I quietly slipped into a daydream– a ridiculous one of course– where I saw myself carrying tubes of drawings wherever I went, with a pencil always in hand, or twisted in my hair at all times that I could reach for at a moment’s notice to sketch random ideas as they came to me, on cocktail napkins or pieces of mail; I pictured myself adopting a wardrobe of all black and wearing my glasses every day, with great commissions coming my way from the US and abroad. I snapped back to reality.

But so quickly, I fall again into la-la land. Maybe it’s an athlete that I really want to be. That is my wish whenever the Olympics come around. Or I’d love to be a musician… or better an actor, where I could be so many different things without really being them.  My “If” list could go on for days.

Really, though what’s the point? Don’t get me wrong– I’m all for changing your path if the one you’re on is getting stale. But come on…sometimes it’s just gotta be said that reality bites. In a lifetime, there is no way for any one of us to do all that we’d like to do. It would be easy if we were all born with one-track minds. Unfortunately, I was not; and there is never a shortage of things I want to try and do and be great at. But since eventually we all must choose, I suppose we should just trust ourselves, that the choices we make, are the right ones for us.

Ah, To Be Freshly Pressed

If I could have a super power, it would be one that would allow for me to insert extra hours into the day, so that whenever I was feeling that the standard 24 were not sufficient for me to get done what I wanted to get done, I’d have a solution. Of course there would have to be a limit as to how often I could use the power, otherwise the calendar would never move.

I don’t blog enough. I’m aware of that. I’m envious of those who find time to post daily and wish I could be better at that (hence my wish for the super power). But beyond the ‘how often’ with blogging, there is an issue of the ‘what’. What is it that people want to read? What exactly will get me the attention I want, or really the attention that I need so that people will know my name when it’s time my book comes out? The other day my inbox went from having 20 unread messages in it to having 16,284. It seems unreal, I know. But have you heard of Nerdy Apple Bottom?

A few weeks ago I started a daily ritual of logging onto wordpress during lunch to look at the Freshly Pressed page where a sample of the day’s most noteworthy blog posts are in the spotlight. Sure, it might be a better use of my time if I were drafting my own new posts but, a) I’m reading some really good writing, some of which is written by my competition and b) I’m feeling extra motivated, wanting very badly to be amongst the lucky ones on Freshly Pressed. (Thank you Freshly Pressed for lighting a match under my ass.)

So the inbox explosion—it happened the other day after logging on [to Freshly Pressed] and seeing a post titled, “My Son Is Gay.”” Hmm,” I wondered, “I’ll have to see what that’s about.” So I clicked on it. It was an essay written by a mother whose little boy wanted to dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. Instead of telling you the whole story, I’ll let you click on the link above. What I will say was that reading it, the hair on my arms stood up, it was so emotional. And when I was finished, there was no way I could leave this woman’s blog without thanking her. So I clicked on the comment link, wrote her a little note and went to hit “send”. But before actually doing that, I checked a little box that asked if I wanted to see others’ comments as they were posted. “Sure,” I thought, figuring it would be interesting to see what others had to say. That’s where I made my mistake…

…because I never imagined 37,000 comments. Who can read 37,000 comments? Certainly not I. But the email alerts kept coming. And not one or two. Hundreds…thousands…by the minute, continuously rolling in, like the oil from the BP rig that kept spewing this past summer, day after day after day. Thankfully, before all 37,000 of the comments reached me, I was able to redirect any incoming ones to my recycle bin. But as for the 16,000 that did make it to my inbox, I’m still working on deleting them… a chunk at a time in fear my computer might spontaneously combust.

Of course I wish I had the time to read each and every reply in support of the anonymous mother writer. And I congratulate any blogger who can garner such a wealth of attention. Now, for brainstorming!

Should I ever make it to a point where my readership hits the quadruple digits and every one of my visitors takes time to comment, I promise, I will somehow find the time to read every one… even if I do have to fit it into my 24-hour day.

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