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


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


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


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


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

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:


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


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.