As Good As It Gets

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“This is as good as it gets,” a new friend said, running through the sprinkler with his kid over his shoulder. The boy was shrieking, laughing, the summer sun not yet wanting to set.

I stood and watched as Little O followed, grinning, his shorts and tee soaked, his lips faded and shivering, but, like summer, refusing to leave.

We were at a new friend’s home and this was the this, the as-good-as-it-gets moment, summer and sprinklers, bare feet and wet grass, watermelon dripping down chins, not a hint of breeze in the air. On the surface, I saw what he saw in this moment. But I felt somewhat numb to it, going through the motions of the day, wondering how many tantrums it would take to get O to leave, how we would change into the extra clothes we had forgotten to pack, the wet car-ride home, the dinner he would later refuse to eat, the bedtime he might ignore.

I was tired, exhausted really, and this was a moment that, at one time in my life, I might have marveled at in the same way, but, for some reason, I was removed from. I longed to get inside of it. I felt ashamed of not being able to fuss or fight my way in.

I don’t know what I’m mired in. Doubt or shame or guilt or fear or or or. I can’t tell if others aren’t really sharing the truth of their lives  or if my truth is just entirely different. I only know I’m not the person who sees as-good-as-it-gets moments as well as she once did.

They say be present.  But I don’t know that I’m not. Maybe it’s okay to stand outside of a moment every once in a while and acknowledge it’s not exactly the moment you wish it was.

Maybe it’s better to admit that your truth isn’t as good as good gets so you can more easily recognize when it is.

Book Deal News

If anyone knows a little about my writing journey over the years, it’s the readers of this blog. So, I’m beyond thrilled to share the news that my middle grade novel, NEXT TO NOTHING, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in 2018.

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It’s been a long journey, as most of you know. A lot of writing, rewriting, revising, stopping, starting, from the middle and back, trying again and again and well, maybe, just one more time. I’ve had people have faith in my work, lose faith in my work, find faith in my work after a few tries, and people who have believed in me long before I knew how to believe in myself. I have novels and screenplays and short stories and plays in drawers, novels no one wanted to sell, and, then, a novel no one wanted to buy.

So I’m proud and thrilled that this book found a home. Rebecca Stead, a writer I have long admired, now, also, an agent, my agent (I still can’t quite believe that) was the one who, through some slush pile December miracle, took a leap of faith with this novel. She worked with me to refine it and, then, after an overwhelmingly positive response, beyond my wildest dreams, she found a place for it with Allison Wortche at Knopf Books for Young Readers. Allison is an editor who had taken some interest in my work in the past and I always secretly hoped she would love something I wrote and become my editor. She did and she is and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

I was a reader long before I was a writer — a girl who spent too much time with books and then sprawled out on the scratchy bedroom rug with marble notebooks dreaming my own stories in the middle of the night. As a kid (and adult) I wrote in secret for so many years. But back in 2007 I decided to gradually let people in, even when it scared me, even when, sometimes, I thought, is it perfect enough?, is it there?, it’s not there, it will never be there.

This book, I’ll admit, became a secret for me. I didn’t want to have to believe in it because that meant having to try to get someone else to believe in it and that can be exhausting. I didn’t want to answer when people would ask about all the books I wrote that never found their way. I was tired of telling people I was a writer when, in truth, all I had were thousands and thousands of pages the world would never see. I felt like I had made too many mistakes and I had sent too many wishes into the world before the sky was ready to hear them.

But I guess, I knew, deep down, that, even if you feel like you can’t shout, then you, at least, have to whisper your books out into the world. You have to hope someone will hear. That’s the only way. I’m glad I didn’t keep this book a secret. I’m glad it’s finding its way. And I’m excited to see where it all leads.

Some Things

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I am struck by two friends I couldn’t capture in this photo, washed out by exposure, soaked in sun, while I stand between trees with my camera. Maybe you can see the red of her shirt, the gray of her pants, even if you can’t see the whole of their friendship.

As we settle into our new home, I try new ways of being outside of the city. I talk to strangers. I make phone calls. I take the long route. I don’t crush the spiders that come into our house with Tyler’s shoe. I send paper towels under their shifting legs, their very own Bounty select-a-size red carpet. I carry them to the side door and set them free.

The other night, I wished I was in Brooklyn meeting a friend for a drink. I wished I was walking, in the dark, from the subway to our third floor walkup, passing the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose steeple was a marker of home.

Here, the markers vanish. Our neighbors had set out old furniture for weeks to be picked up by the garbage truck. Yesterday, it was gone and I drove right past our house, because I don’t know my own home in relation to anything else.

I figure, if I need to walk, and I need to walk, and if I can’t walk sidewalks, and I can’t walk sidewalks, not here…then I’ll walk hills. I’ll send myself into forests, into tall trees, where there aren’t any people anyway. I take my camera and my backpack with the gaping hole that needs to be patched. I take a water bottle that Little O calls mine, as in his. I set a timer as I walk off into the woods because I have to be at the daycare at 3pm and it takes twenty minutes, I think, to get there, so I can only walk half as long as it will take to get back to twenty minutes before.

When I reach a clearing, I see enormous wings. A blue heron taking flight. I gasp, out loud, because I’ve only seen a heron standing, stark, and I’ve never seen one fly. I turn to the empty space on either side of me and feel my camera, heavy, at my neck. Because, it turns out, there are great birds here, and there are people, anyway. There’s a great bird and two friends I can not capture and take with me on the memory card of a digital camera. My word and a blur are all anyone else can have.

The other day, after I had saved too many spiders to count, another bug flew and landed on the living room wall, which is bare because we haven’t hung any wall fixtures anywhere yet. I knew what it was, immediately, and I ran to it, fast, cupped it in my hands as quick as I could. Tyler, who has never before seen me run toward an insect instead of away, wondered what I was doing. It’s a firefly, I said. I opened the door and let it go into the night.

There are some things, I guess, that the city doesn’t take away from you. There are some things from a suburban childhood you do not forget.

Knowing

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“Which view do you like better?” my husband asks.

I can’t answer. They are too different, these two separate scenes, from two separate runs, along two separate rivers. But both views loom tall. Both feel majestic in their own ways. Both are as distant as they are within reach.

I ran the Brooklyn waterfront for seven years and I’ve only run the lower Hudson Valley for seven days. There’s something to be said for the ‘knowing’ I feel at every turn along Brooklyn Bridge Park. I’ve biked or run its paths hundreds of times. I’ve slung my camera around my neck and taken photos from every angle. I know where Governor’s island peeks out, where the bridge leads, where the promenade hovers along the other side. I know the underground veins of the city, its subways and tunnels. I know the city’s sky in every kind of weather.

Here, I don’t know the names of those three hunchbacked mountains. I don’t know where the running paths start or end. I don’t know where to turn into the shopping center. I’ve criss-crossed open fields in my running sneakers because I didn’t know that the path ended and began again somewhere else.  I’ve circled and backtracked the car up and around Rt. 6 because I didn’t know the entrance or exit, where one store was in relation to another. I don’t know the sky through these trees, what shape or color it will take.

It’s impossible to say which view I like better. One view I’ll come to know. The other I’ll only have known.

(Dis)connected

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I don’t know why it’s been so difficult to come to this space, to give voice to something inside me waiting to come out. I used to find comfort in the art of an ordinary hour. I used to hand over a quiet walk or a glance at the sky to words.

Lately, it feels harder to do that. Maybe it is too much like giving away these small moments all together. Maybe I’m not as engaged with the world as I once was. Or maybe the opposite. Maybe it’s easier than it used to be to live them and not reflect upon them. I don’t know.

Likes and comments, retweets and shares — the new ways we show one another we’re out there, we’re listening. I’ll post something somewhere, refresh and wonder what it means to someone else. Are they feeling the same? Are they as outraged, as sullen, as nostalgic, as passionate, as confused, as happy, as curious as me? And, somehow, these new ways we connect, don’t feel like a connection at all.

They feel brief. Fleeting. Like there’s only enough time to say ‘me too’ but not enough time to sit and understand how we are the same.

I feel like we might all be hungry for something we’re not getting.

The Starting Line

IMG_6369Sometimes you’re lost for words about all you’re feeling, about an experience, or a life. And then someone articulates those feelings for you. And all you can do is feel grateful.

I love this beautiful essay in Brooklyn Magazine from Helena Fitzgerald, The View Behind: This is Your Life, Until It Isn’t. As Fitzgerald says,

I long to return to the time when everyone I loved stood together on the starting line, in a briefly available closeness spurred by the fact that nothing had happened to us yet, that we were the things that were going to happen to one another.

New York City Unfinished

IMG_6419I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to think about the fact that, next week, my decade long love affair with New York City will be over. While I’m excited about all the opportunities that await us in our new home in Westchester, the trees, the space, the quiet, the slower pace I know I need – I feel overwhelmingly sad right now.

I feel, a little, like I’m mourning someone I used to be. An experience I’ve grown accustomed to, as a new mother; shedding the malleable cloak of one woman, shifting into the sometimes roomy, sometimes ill-fitted and starched suit of another. Growing up, I lived one body of water away from ‘the city’, on Long Island. I dreamed I’d live there someday. That it would keep me in a way the small, strip-malled town of Hicksville couldn’t. I didn’t know who I would become there, I just imagined it as the place of my becoming. The vast, booming stage-set in my awkward, small-voiced play.

When I went away to college in upstate New York, it was the home of my summer internships. Working for a magazine in mid-town, I ate lunch on the steps of the New York Public Library, wearing an ugly brown shirt-skirt combo, which the editor-in-chief had, earlier in the day, called hideous. I ate my brown-bagged lunch, with my brown hair, and my brown eyes, feeling remarkably, well, brown. But, looking around, at a splatter paint portrait of hundreds of thousands of people on the steps, on the sidewalks, in the streets, past the buildings, I knew that no one was looking at me. No one cared. And I knew I belonged in a place where I could sit that way, caught in a magnificent pattern of yesterdays, in a place where I could wake up entirely new the next day.

A few years later, interning at a documentary film company, I sat at a sushi restaurant, pretending I liked raw fish, awkwardly holding chopsticks, dressed in jeans and a graphic tee. The executive producer asked me about my writing which, at that time, was a patchy mix of unfinished plays, scripts, and short stories. He told me about his own films, the kind he made when he wasn’t shooting documentary television for A&E. He talked to me like we were both creators. He talked to me like I had something in me I should finish.

After graduate school in Boston, I moved to New York City, for real. I lived on a 6th floor walk-up with two girlfriends. Our electricity went out every single summer night and we had to befriend the workers at the Tasti D-lite downstairs, in order to access the circuit box and switch it back on. I worked a job I hated for a salary that I could barely live on.

But there are miracles in New York City.

There are ways of living on $1 dumplings and $15 martinis. There are ways of getting on the list into the club you don’t care about to dance like you don’t have a care in the world. And there are ways of drinking too much with the right friends and too little around the wrong ones when you’ve been warned the opposite all your life. There are summer nights when all you can afford are the french fries at the Chirpin’ Chicken downstairs and there are others when you end up in someone’s penthouse looking at Fourth of July fireworks, cruising on someone’s boat in the Hamptons, these things happen, they do, when you’re friends with a friend of a friend of a friend, when you aren’t looking, when you’re twenty-four and a shopping spree I’d like to say was at a thrift shop but was really at Forever 21 makes you feel like you’ve exited the gates of Prada, and you walk out into the street believing you belong anywhere you step foot.

I found a job I loved, for a few years, at least. A job where I fit, maybe, for the first time. I wore what I wanted and people, even my boss, called me Sarno, a nickname that always makes me feel like me. I wrote there. I made stuff with amazing people. I made enough money to eat at restaurants I couldn’t afford but ate at anyway. I lived in a first-floor studio with peeling french doors, with a desk I’d like to say I found on the street but really got at Target where I’d write the first chapters of a terrible novel, where the bathroom ceiling would cave in monthly, where I caught a dozen mice and met the boy who would remove them from their traps while I covered my eyes, until I opened them, finally, and realized I’d fallen for him.

I moved to Brooklyn with him, to the third-floor with its low ceilings and its safari temperatures. I somehow finished three novels at that beat-up desk. I got engaged on the couch while the credits to my favorite 80’s sitcom fell. I tossed a wedding bouquet and Tyler’s crumpled tux on the coffee table chest while we went on our honeymoon in Spain. And I nursed a baby, everywhere, it felt, in that apartment where my son would experience all the firsts of his life and I would experience all of mine as mother. An apartment he won’t remember, just as I don’t remember the Astoria, Queens where my parents grew up and where I spent the first two years of my life. But it was in their memories, in the brightness in their voice when they talked of Ditmars and and stickball in the streets and getting caught with cigarettes, when they talked of the subway and the bus and the jobs on the sixty-something floor and meeting Bob Dylan on a lunch break, that I moved to ‘the city’ in the first place.

I’ve stitched many pieces of myself here and, as the seams come undone, I feel like I’m finished in a place where I’ve been my most unfinished. I feel like I don’t know how to be messy somewhere else, how to wake up the next day and be the next version of me.

Vignette #6: Brooklyn Bridge Park

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It was dark early, light late. I spent hours on a couch cushion in a weird sleepless haze. It felt, in those early months, that I was looking at the world through a milky film. The daylight, as short as it was, shocked me into stillness. Best to see it all from our third story window. A static glare into our neighbors empty backyards. It was cold. And there were two many layers to sort through, too many things to forget, so the diaper bag sat hunched at the closet door.

This is how it felt being a new mother to a winter baby. Like a sleeping crocus waiting to push through.

In early spring, I scrolled with a finger on my phone through the posts of a local parenting list-serve. Amidst the ‘for-sale’ and the ‘in-search-of’ baby gear, I found a post about a few new mothers taking a walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park.

I showed up in sunglasses, in a thick black jacket, in bangs that fell so long I had to continuously sweep them aside. My hands were plastered to the handle of the Citi Mini stroller, where they would stay for the foreseeable future, feeling every bump of Brooklyn sidewalk as I walked.

Our leader seemed fearless, friendly, with a bold, red stroller, her hair in a high ponytail, a headband at her ears. She and I would later sit at the coffee shop, Henry’s Local, with two infants at our chests, her with coffee, me with tea, her making me laugh while she sneered at a too-serious patron reading Voltaire.

But that day, she would lead us into the park and back out again. Trees barely planted, the river quiet, the soccer fields empty. Mothers marching with our infants across all the newly paved paths.

I felt that day as if I had survived something, a storm I hadn’t been fit to weather. A stroke of luck, of fate, to be able to take a walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and back.

Vignette #5: The Pork Store

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He’s gray-haired and raspy-voiced, tells stories of his home in the Rockaways, which could have been knocked out by Sandy and still has some damage, but this is life on the water, you don’t leave, where would you go? He talks of the neighborhood here, where his store still stands, as the ‘old neighborhood’ where he played ‘stickball on the streets.’ I hear the echo of my own father’s memories. Their shared vocabulary lets me know I’ve found some kind of home.

When I order ‘Georgie’s Bowler’, he tells me that’s his sandwich.

Soppressata, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Vignette #4: The Library

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We battle the stroller through the door, butt and hands and handles and wheels until the door slams us in fast. We press the button that doesn’t light, while Little O shouts ell-ator! ell-ator!  Doors open and shut, open and shut, and we’ve made a big deal out of them, these ell-ator doors, so his mouth goes wide into a Home Alone scream-face, until we’re there, we’re in, arranging our stroller inside clusters of other strollers, and he’s nagging at the stroller straps until he’s out, somehow, before they’re even undone.

He’s at the little kid computers before I can snatch his hand from drumming the keyboard and mouse, before the librarian can say, no banging the keyboards, with this bored look, like why did anyone even bother to set up these computers with the old software and the twelve number long passwords anyway.

Little O runs to the rug, dusted in goldfish cracker crumbs, rolls on the padded round chairs the way he saw the older kids do, then he drags a wooden chair from where he shouldn’t, and while I’m at the shelf saying try this one or this one or oh look at this!, he plops himself down to read all the books we already have at home.

On Fridays, I go alone. I drop the already-read books down into the whistling spring at the bottom of the book well. I scan the on-hold shelves for Sarno and find my books waiting. I slip them in my backpack, then I write.

I set my laptop near bushy blonde-haired Pat. She reads the New York Times. Sometimes she swaps sections with an elderly man, their movements like two acrobats passing lilting scarves. She tells me, each time, without fail, that I’m a member of the laptop generation. And I laugh.

Sometimes I sit on the second floor, next to a man with a calculator and notebooks of numbers and charts. He’s mustached, tall, smiling, and he always informs confused patrons that they’re on the wrong floor when a stroller finds its way to the top. We watch one another’s lumpy coats and packs when we have to use the bathroom.

I look down, over the railing, at two sides of a library. On one: schoolbags huddle over piles of coats, kids on their stomachs next to book stacks, toddlers running back and forth banging keyboards.

On the other, laptops and computers glow in their neat rows, and Pat, with inky thumbs, turns the pages of the Times.