Vignette #5: The Pork Store

IMG_4610

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.

Advertisements

Vignette #4: The Library

IMG_6394

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. 

Vignette #3: The Highway’s Hum

IMG_2049

We’re on the other side of the BQE, we say when people ask where we liveOver the highway, we say of our neighborhood, this other-world along the waterfront.

We’ll always and forever be near Pok-Pok? they’ll ask, or Alma?, but, really, just past the hum of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway; a concrete river snaking like the Arno through Florence. Our Ponte Vecchio is the walking bridge connecting 1st Place to Summit, with St. Stephen’s steeple chin-yanking you into the sky. You can also get across to us by walking over Union, Sackett, Kane or Congress. You have to trespass above the traffic, peering down through chain-linked fences into rush-hour sludge. A highway that’ll get you to one bridge or another, to the Verrazano or the Kosciuszko, to the red sauce of Staten Island or the kielbasa of Greenpoint, whichever you prefer.

Our six windows are a speaker for its scratchy, worn out turntable. You can hear it, always. Like holding a conch shell up to your ear to find the ocean (the metaphor of a river is now too quaint for its audio.) Large trucks hammer along in the distance, shaking the jar of pennies on the bookshelf. There are sirens and tractor trailer wails. Someone whizzing through the left lane in the dark.

Its tides are high and frequent, battering beneath full moons and crescent moons. Waxing at rush hour sunset, waning just before sunrise. I’ve heard its silence. Just three times. All three on significant day-befores. Hurricane Irene. Super Storm Sandy. And a blizzard just two months ago.

The BQE is a line, a marker, a splinter in Brooklyn’s earth that makes us us. We sit between two skulking channels, a waterway and a motorway, wiping the sleep from Robert Moses’ eyes, dreaming past the hum, the rush, the strip of road that sets us here, if apart, but in place.

 

Vignette #2: The Promise of a Pear

This vignette is about one of my first experiences at the barber shop with my son. It sparked the idea for this little informal vignette series and was published, here, in the New York Times Metropolitan Diary; a happy moment for me.

It starts like this:

I stand on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens and look in. The glass door has an authentic barber-pole swirl.

As a woman, I am used to fussy appointments at hair salons, having to decide between a junior or senior stylist. But there are no appointments at Lana’s Barber Shop, and when I enter, I sit in a kind of line, a head count of who came first, who will come back later, who is in no rush, so go ahead, it’s fine.

Vignette #1: Left Behind


IMG_1987I’ve decided to write a few vignettes about my daily life in Brooklyn in the next few weeks. Our landlord is renovating the building we’ve lived in for seven years so we’re leaving our apartment in Brooklyn on April 1st. 
We’ll be subletting an apartment nearby  but soon to be homeowners North of the city (more on this soon!) so our move is as exciting as it is bittersweet. In the meantime, I hope to capture what I love about our Brooklyn neighborhood, here. 

I walk with the blue laundry bag that’s lost its cinch, a rope unwound and vanished. The community garden hibernates. Wooden chairs on their heads and a table with its legs sticking up. The crocuses have been up and frosted over, again and again, in an ever dissolving and evolving winter.

I walk past the bus stop and the President Street market, near the grates that Little O likes to stomp on. Here, on the corner, is the bodega we never go to because we have our bodega on Union. And we are loyal. We know its rows and its overpriced milk and the deli meats graying and dulled behind the glass. We know its day-old, speckled bananas because Miss Li gives them away as if she’s doing us the favor.

It’s here, I stop, with my laundry bag. I rest the blue fabric against the sidewalk. He stands next to the rack of newspapers with a stripe of white mustache. I nod a ‘hi’. He nods his. I leave him behind. As I have done for years. I leave him on the way to the markets and the laundromats, on the way to the rest of my day.

When I turn the corner, I stop, let the bag fall in a lump at my feet. I adjust it again. I tell myself I will make it to the laundromat without letting go. And I do. The door swings its tinkling bell. I place it on the old metal scale. A girl, who changes too often, who can not remain a constant in my life because she has to get on with her own, takes my telephone number. She asks separate or together? 

Together, I say. Because I do not know the nuances of temperature and color. I do not know the heat of a laundry’s steaming swirl.

She hands me my ticket and when I return, that evening to pick it up, she’s gone. Someone else in her place. And the next time another in hers.

With the hope that slowing down means seeing

IMG_5032
This morning we walked three blocks to the neighborhood playspace, to Nanette with her wild hair and her bins of toys, who sets up at the local Akido studio and lets us come in from the cold to play. With the streets and sidewalks covered in snow from this weekend’s storm, Brooklyn is a series of white mounds. We can’t maneuver the stroller through any of it and Little O, having just turned two, toddled in his onesie snowsuit and spider boots, a marshmallowed bundle, with mittened hands jutting out.

So we walked at snail pace. We stopped to kick at the snow, to pat it down, to look at the doggies and woofwoofs. We stopped to watch the swinging door of the corner bodega, to marvel at the dripping branches, and to point at every delivery truck or bus trudging by. At one point, O threw his arm out and shouted, Elmo!  and I had to send my gaze all around our small corner of Brooklyn to say, “Where’s Elmo? Elmo’s at home.” He’s bunched up in the crib. He’s on a video screen. He is not caught on the narrow lanes of sidewalk in between masses of 4 foot snow piles. Still he insisted, Elmo! 

We continued on, at our pace, walking our rubber boots through the slush. I carried him across the street when the snow got too tall, his wet boots dripping at my knees. About a block and a half later, we passed a bus stop and he pointed at the ad poster. Elmo!  

I looked at the Sesame Street advertisement and, sure enough, there was Elmo, in all his furry red glory. This advertisement my son had seen, a block and a half away, through the reflected glass walls of the bus stop, beyond all the trees and garbage cans, not to mention the piled up remains of a blizzard. He was right. Elmo had been there all along.

Since having O, my life has physically slowed. It has meant telling myself I’ll leave at 2:30pm in order to get out the door by 3pm. It has meant standing at the foot of our third floor walk-up and recognizing that it will be a long time before I reach the top floor because my son’s stubborn independence to do it on his own, to pause to look in the mirrored hallways and marvel at his reflection, is part of getting from point A to a belated point B. It has meant twenty minutes to walk three blocks.

But slowing and stopping has also meant seeing. The Elmo in the distance. The app-oo (apple) in the corner. Each leaf, newly fallen. Examining it as we twist the stem between two fingers.

Tackling yet another revision for a novel I can never seem to get right, I think of this. How stopping and slowing might mean seeing. I have wanted to rush into writing a world I know and love and so desperately want to get right. And it’s funny, to try at this writing gig for so long, to fail so many times, to watch weeks and years, almost an entire decade, disappear, only to think I’ll cure the work in minutes. It’s funny to not take the time, heck, to not take forever and forever’s extra day if I need it.

So, I step away from the keyboard. I sit with a notebook and a purple pen and dream longhand. In snippets of imagined conversations, in writing from her perspective instead of hers. Stopping every instinct to dig in and start rearranging paragraphs, slashing words, throwing sentences and scenes into a novel I think I know, I am slowing down in the hopes that I’ll see what’s been there all along.

A Writer in the Kitchen

163507_10151180595749896_824377939_nSince reading Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (and it’s companion More Home Cooking) I’ve been thinking about that question, the business of inviting writers to your dinner table, any writer, dead or alive, the meal served, the drinks consumed, the table setting, who might sit across from whom.

For a writer, I’m pretty terrible at oral storytelling. I forget details and timelines, oh wait, I’ll revert, and then, no, but, yeah, okay. I don’t know how to give the headlines. I bury leads. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame anyone for walking away from a conversation with me. I’d rather listen to all of your stories and write out my own as neatly as I can on the page. But there is one thing I can talk about for hours and I’m not even sure I’ve ever mentioned here:

Food.

I’ve done it. There’s proof. Two cousins have sat through home-cooked meals in which all we discussed were other meals. Village cafes, to tasting menus, to the illegality of durian on a plane. I have friends who have sat with me to strategize all-you-can-eat options and first and last stops at food markets and festivals. I have a husband who will recount in excruciating detail everything we’ve ever ordered, where we ordered it, and whether we’ll order it again. I even sent a cookie recipe to a friend the other day and, in a string of follow-up texts, I mentioned how it might feel to whisk the dry ingredients with wet, where you’ll probably think you’re about to fail and then discover you haven’t, the moments that are humbling and frustrating and then surprisingly benign. Poor girl didn’t know she’d request a recipe and find her phone chiming with emoji-less emotions about a simple cookie.

All this to say, when it comes to writers at the hypothetical table, I don’t yet have it all filled. I don’t know what we’re eating (but, trust me, I’m working on it.) All I know is that I’d probably need one of them to be Laurie Colwin. I’d need someone to talk as much about life as the food that’s served.

One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.
– Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

 

Welcome! A new blog design

IMG_4853

It’s a new year and 2016 blows in with crisp, cold air and the feeling of a fresh start beneath all the blue. I decided to redesign my website and switch over to WordPress. Without changing the content of my blog, I wanted to design a better space to reflect my work as a writer and freelancer.

I’ll still be here to reflect on life, writing, and the books I love. None of that has changed. I just wanted a cleaner, brighter space to share it all with you.

So please click around and learn about the books I’m writing, as well as my work writing for kids.

A Year In Reading – 2015

It’s been a terrific year of reading for me. Last year felt like a jumble of misplaced words and thoughts, after losing my reading list in the birth year of my son. I remember reading Me Before You early last January, in a strange, milky haze of motherhood and misplaced sleep. Beyond that, everything in that year, including my newfound identity of ‘mother’, felt like an interrupted thought, a word at the tip of my tongue that never quite leaked out.

This year felt more solid and whole on the reading front (and many others). I aimed to read a book a week, which is my goal every year. And that seems to work for me. I guess I even surpassed that goal.

I don’t like to list favorites here. Books are so uniquely their own, to stand them up against one another feels wrong. However, I was asked to compile a list of recommended young adult books for Cleaver Magazine and, while I personally hesitate to call it a ‘best of’ anything, it is a list of amazing books that were powerful and meant something to me and each of our awesome reviewers. I link to it here.

I love to list the books I’ve read, to remember where I’ve been and where I ended up in my reading year, in the hopes that you’ll tell me where you were and we can talk about the places we overlapped. I only included books I completed and enjoyed. So this list is made up of a ton of excellent reads and I celebrate all of them. I also linked to the books I offered more thoughts on in my blog or on the Barnes and Noble Kids blog.

I suppose the best thing about this reading year were how many of my amazing friends published incredible books this year and last (highlighted below). And I discovered some new-to-me authors that are probably not new to anyone else whose books I’m thrilled to have finally found: Lauren Groff, Nova Ren Suma, Lucia Berlin, Elana K. Arnold, Celeste Ng, Angela Flournoy, and Marilynne Robinson.

I hope you had a terrific reading year too. And I have more news soon, about a redesign for this ole blog in the new year.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Brunt Rifka

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

The Summer Prince by Alaya Johnson Dawn

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin

The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rosetti

The Color Master: Stories by Aimee Bender

Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The Professor and the Madmen by Simon Winchester

Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Neilsen

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Suart Little by E.B. White

The Penderwicks #1 by Jeanne Birdsall

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

For Real by Alison Cherry

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich

Smile by Raina Telegmeier

He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

M Train by Patti Smith

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Infandous by Elana K. Arnold

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

My True Love Gave to Me: Stories Edited by Stephanie Perkins

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Stories by Lucia Berlin

The Reading Spot

Thinking of my reading spot. The spot I sit in now. The burgundy pillow pushed up against the arm of the old tan couch. My shoulder bone shelved against one of four pillow points, curled like withered leaves in winter.

There’s a spit-up stain beneath me and I remember how I stood hunched over a toothbrush and clump of baking soda, sprayed cleansers, sighed at the distorted rings of forever, as they blackened like mildew into the folds.

I read here. I write. I watch television and movies. Tyler stands at the edge of the kitchen counter, waiting for risotto to plump. Buttered onions seer my vision. I sink into the heat of our summers. I listen to the clang of the metal heater, the croak of the wobbly kitchen table as my son slams his plastic car against its limping wooden leg.

There are days I push forward, scoot my bottom to the crack of the cushions, close my eyes and wish for a few moments of quiet, before a sticky hand is at my thigh, a knee at my knee, my boy breathing through his stuffed-up nose with a book in his hands.

Because this is the reading spot. This is years of a butt-marked dip in the catalog couch, with its velcroed cushions and the lump and sag of never-forgetting. This is the spot where the laptop fidgets against my thighs, where the overhead light cuts at the sharp edge of books from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Strand, Book Court, and the rug of my old bedroom.

This is where, he knows, we read.

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. And a tiny finger goes from one white round circle to the other. From egg to moon. Two gaps amongst splotches of wet-paint color.

Together we sink deeper. We carve our places in the space we make for words.

You have a reading spot, too, I bet.