Skip to content

The Long Goodbye

April 24, 2021
tags:

Yesterday was my last day. Monday I start a whole different kind of toymaking. I am the one who made this declaration, drew the line in the sand with my pencil. I need it to be true (it’s not quite true), or it will never happen.

On Thursday, I got a goodbye email, the official announcement of my departure that isn’t really a departure but more of a metamorphosis. I am entering a new cocoon. It was unexpected, not the email itself, but the many contributors to it. I am being remembered by the people whose opinions most matter to me for the things I have done that have mattered to me most: my favorite toys, the ways I have chosen to make them, the things I’ve done to try to make our business of toymaking better, fairer. I feel like my colleagues have seen into the windows of my soul, like I’ve brought my entire self to this job (I have brought my entire self to this job and it’s why it’s so hard to let go). I feel very much myself. I don’t think I’m explaining it well. I feel like I have been seen as the person I feel I am at my core and appreciated for being just that person. Everyone should have this. I will be carrying it with me for a long time. As I told the person who put the email together, I am saving it for all of the many days I will be feeling slow and stupid in the coming weeks.

I have also received dozens of messages of thanks and good wishes, some from people I have never met or even heard of. I realized I’ve done something – I’d hoped I had, but I wasn’t sure. I feel like I don’t deserve it and also I am proud of myself, damn it.

The flip side of this is that I am also slow and stupid. I am struggling to understand what I am supposed to be doing and how I am supposed to be doing it, but whatever it is I need to be doing it immediately. I feel like I’m doing nothing but ask questions. Every answer is another piece of the puzzle, but it’s still a half-empty mosaic. I am focusing on the wrong things, nearly missing deadlines, making mistake after mistake. I remind myself it is part of the process. Fortunately, I have several colleagues in exactly the same boat. Unfortunately, we are all used to being the best at what we do and we are overcompensating, which is intimidating from the outside and tends to make you feel like you are the only one who is not able to keep up.

My first days at the Toy Factory were a lot like this. I didn’t understand 80% of what happened in any given meeting. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, and certainly not what I was supposed to be doing first. Many days I was waiting for someone to say, “I’m sorry, we made a mistake. Pack up your things and go. Better luck next time.” But I started in on the things I understood, and gradually connected the pieces between the things I knew and didn’t. I built this expertise. I will build it again. I need to keep remembering that. And also, I chose this. “Buck up, private!” is something I’ve said to myself more than once this week.

I have said goodbye to my advisors. To the people I manage, some of whom I will still be working with, but in a different way. Goodbye to my sacred cows and my unfinished projects, the embarrassing cobwebs, and the tasks I’ve been avoiding. The hardest goodbye was with the person I work most closely with, a mentor and a friend too – more like family, really – he told me he was proud of me and told me to remember there are many, many people who care about me and will support or help me if I say the word. I’m not sure if that’s true or if what he means is that he would. Either way, it’s a gift I did not anticipate. He is the one person who didn’t send me an email. He told me what he wanted to say. In July, I will have been at the Toy Factory for ten years and will get a certificate and a clock or a pen or a set of steak knives. None of that recognition matters, but this does, more than I could have imagined.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

And Monday, hello.

You Go Down Smooth

April 9, 2021

Every morning for the last week I have awakened at 4:30 or 5 am with “You Go Down Smooth” by Lake Street Dive in my head.

Most mornings, I shove my earbuds in my ears find my slippiest slippers and crank it up for a silent solo dance party before the sun is up, before I lace up my running shoes. The opening riff is lurking just below my surface all day, a rapid heartbeat that’s chomping at the bit to get faster. That’s my frequency right now. I am resigned to it. I may be enjoying it. It goes down smooth.

It’s not that the work has eased up. The opposite is probably true. But somehow it’s okay. People have been understanding. I’m getting a surprising amount of control not only over my own time, but also over what I’m leaving behind. I make recommendations and for the most part, they say yes and yes and also yes. This is the first time I have been in a position to leave something like a legacy. It’s nice to be able to arrange the furniture the way I want it before I go. I know someone will move the chairs eventually, but there’s a floorplan of what I’ve accomplished and that means something to me.

We are sliding into spring with a sneeze and a sleeping cat on the sun-warmed stoop. The cherries and magnolias have exploded in the last week. The light is different. We sit on the front porch when it’s a little too cold to do so and pretend it is warmer. Last weekend there was a birthday party in the park and I came home puzzled from my achy face and ribs until I realized that it was from smiling and laughing more than I have in months. There are jazz bands on porches and there’s baseball in the park. One night this week I took the subway for the first time in over a year and walked down Vanderbilt Avenue to a friend’s house and sat in her backyard with wine and snacks and a firepit and it almost felt like before.

The neighborhood is waking up. I saw the young couple who moved in next door for the first time in months. Jaguar and I are back to our routine of sitting on the stoop after work. She has regular visitors, some children who love to pet her on their way to the playground that finally opened on the next block after years of renovation. There’s an older couple too. I see her face light up from the other end of the block. “Oh, my Jaguar,” she says when she arrives – we always wait for her – “I was hoping you would be there.” The guy who plays Neil Young out of a speaker on his bike is back, rolling by against traffic a couple of times a day.

I miss my neighbor Louise, though. We’d always sit on our front porches on sunny days and yell about the weather (our hearing wasn’t what it used to be) and she’d always slip her Wall Street Journal on our porch after she was through with it because she knows that Mr. Spy is a writer and reads things. She died just before Christmas, peacefully, asleep, in the house she grew up in. It’s a hole, like a gap in your teeth you can’t stop worrying with your tongue. She’d left her clothesline out in the back, a single mask clipped with a peg. It was there for months. And then one afternoon, looking out my kitchen window, I caught her nephew, who is taking care of the building, standing and looking at it for a long while before pocketing the peg and mask and moving on with his day. She is still with us. Sometimes the lights are on in her apartment and sometimes they are not. Things are changing, have already changed, but there’s an ease to it, a gracefulness I haven’t felt in years. It goes down smooth.

I used to see her all the time

April 3, 2021
tags:

Apparently I am someone who likes to if not actually burn bridges, at least roll them up behind her. Because up until now, whenever I’ve changed jobs – really changed jobs, from doing one thing and then doing something different, not just adding a couple of more responsibilities – I’ve not only left the company, but left the industry entirely. As a result, I’m finding my current experience at the Toy Factory a bit unexpected.

There are definite advantages to being hired by the same place you are working already. You will know at least some people. You’ll understand the culture and probably some of the procedures. And you will also be able to ease into a transition. You don’t have to have a panicky brain dump before you leave because you’re still in the thick of it.

But here’s the thing I’m learning: these are all also disadvantages. Or at least points to be wary of. My relationships with the people I know are changing and all of my conversations are a little awkward. And the people I don’t know are digging for information about me (as I would surely do in their shoes). “Several people have asked me what you’re like,” one of my current colleagues, who used to work in the department I’m heading to, told me. “I’m thinking I’ll tell them you’re a heartless ogre,” she laughed. “That’s perfect,” I said. “Set the bar low.”

And I don’t know as much about the culture and procedures as I thought I did. There is nuance I couldn’t see before, the way the ocean looks blue until you get up close to it. Distinctions that aren’t especially evident from outside the new area look like a major cultural shift as I try to climb inside it. The work is similar but there are new layers to it, a new language for talking about it, and their thinking focuses on different things. It’s eye opening. And it also makes me feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And compared to my new colleagues, I don’t. I mean, there are four people on my team that collectively have worked here for just under 150 years.

This is exactly what I signed on for. After ten years in one place, I’m ready for a shakeup, but it’s humbling, especially in a business based on expertise, to move from being a long proven expert. I’m now having to prove myself over and over again daily. I feel stupid and slow and also very, very wide awake. I can sense the gears in my brain mapping the new terrain. I like that feeling but it’s exhausting. On the days where I wasn’t working until 10:30 this week, I crashed between 7 and 8. Several days this week I forgot to have lunch. All my routines are out the window.

Even the easy transition may not be so easy. Without a firm line, a departure date, a bridge to pull up, will I ever finish crossing things off my lists? And do I want to? The expertise I have on one side his helping power me through the lack of it on the other, to remember how I got here. Once I roll up that bridge, there will be no turning back. It’s not just expertise but my sense of identity too. For ten years I’ve been firmly a creative, a toymaker. But now I’m something of a spokesperson for toymakers, with one foot on the creative side and another in the business itself, and in so doing, I’ve given up a piece of the work that means a great deal to me personally. I can still do it, but it won’t be part of my job. I need to commit some of my personal time to it. Figuring this out made me realize how utterly remarkable it has been to have a job for a decade that met most of my personal and professional needs. But it doesn’t anymore. This still feels like the right move. I’m getting exactly what I signed up for.

By 4 pm Friday, I could barely form complete sentences. So even though I popped up Saturday morning at 5 am thinking about all the things I wanted to find out, I am committed to letting them be for at least today, to giving my brain a chance to unhook from the effort. I am glad to have that feeling of wanting to jump in with both feet, even if at the moment it is largely fueled by fear. I haven’t had that for a while and I’ve missed it. Only two days to Monday.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

March 27, 2021

Last night, I dreamed I could call foxes when I needed them. When I was lost or alone, I would look towards the nearest woods, and in a minute or two, a fox would dart wildly out of the trees and come to rest sitting at my feet and let me pat its copper head. Once, I was climbing a steep and slippery hill, surrounded by walls of smooth, black stone. It was dark and rainy and there was nothing to hold onto. But a fox came a sat with me for a few minutes and I felt calm and remembered the way.

* * * * *

Big changes are happening at The Toy Factory at the moment. They are good changes, both for The Toy Factory and for me, but also unsettling in the way big changes always are. And something I’ve been saying I wanted finally happened and now I have to climb a steep and hopefully not too slippery hill and move on to the next thing. Last night the stress of the last few weeks hit me like a wall and suddenly, the weight of the whole last year came crashing down on me. Up until now, I think I hadn’t fully recognized the toll it’s taken on me. I’m someone who likes a lot of quiet, who likes being home, who’s partnered and thus has not been totally alone. I’ve enjoyed many of the changes to my daily life. But after a day of 7 straight hours of telling people I care about that changes that are happening to me will be affecting them, something just broke. I miss my family. I miss everyone. I miss hugging people. I miss sitting in the back room of Freddy’s bar with a pint of cider and a jumble of instruments and playing music with my friends. I miss leaning against the subway car door that says not to lean on it listening to a new album and reading a new book. I miss walking up 35th street in the morning with the sun in my eyes. I miss watching the jugglers in Bryant Park. I miss the wall of books in my office, the way I sometimes forget to push the elevator button, the steam rising up from the manhole cover at the corner of Fifth Avenue that smells like something growing in the back of my kid’s closet. I miss the way the Jamaican bus driver says good morning. I miss the skeleton slumped over the picnic table between the FDR and the river. I miss walking through the Empire State Building lobby to buy a salad for lunch and that restaurant in Korea Town where you have to take off your shoes and everyone can see that you need new socks. I miss being squished around one of their sunken tables, surrounded by soft pillows and people who want to argue about music. I miss having lunch on a bench on a secret terrace with my friend M, the smell from the coffee cart of its proprieter making a baconeggandcheese, and the sound of standing in the middle of the library room at the Morgan Library and just listening.

* * * * *

Foxes have always loomed large in my personal mythology. I’m not sure where that comes from. But they always show up when I need them. They seem to be a stand in for wisdom, for guidance, to help me find where I am going. They are wild things that seem tame.

* * * * *

I’ve been thinking about making a job change for a while now. In July I will have been at the Toy Factory for 10 years. It feels like time. Last fall I asked for the chance to participate in a mentoring program that would take me outside my comfort zone, outside the business, in fact, and help me figure out what next.  It’s been my first time being on the receiving end of formal mentorship and I have thrived there and have been able to figure out hard things. My assigned mentor and I have some unusual coincidences of background that make our relationship work especially well. She asks me hard questions and she cheers me on when I do hard things. Everyone should have this. And here is what I have learned: my frustrations with work have actually been frustrations with myself. Time to shed the cocoon.

The job I’ve been doing since I came to the Toy Factory had been my dream, and the job itself was even better than imagined and harder too. It’s given me a new place in the world, a new sense of myself, and confidence I didn’t know I had. But lately it’s feeling smaller, a little tight around the collar, a pair of shoes that used to be comfortable and suddenly aren’t quite, although you wear them anyway because they are perfect. I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and do something different with it, but the work has become so tied up with my identity, that the separation is painful, even though I’m not going very far.

* * * * *

Once, when my parents still lived near the beach in South Carolina, I was walking near their house and saw a fox with long silver fur, nearly blue. It ran up the path I was aiming for and paused in the driveway of a nearby house and looked at me. We stared at each other from a few feet away for a long while and I’m not sure if I was breathing. And then the world started up again.

* * * * *

I am in the pause between old and new. My days for the foreseeable future will be filled with lists and conversations. As a friend said recently, “You need to download your brain.” I do, both to let someone else upload it and also to make room for new things. I’m a little afraid of the amount of this job that I’ve been carrying around in my head for a decade that I now need to find a way to share. But in between lists and conversations, there is something that feels like suspended animation where I’m not quite the person I was before but can’t yet see who I will be next. I like this feeling and hate it too. It is filled with possibility and uncertainty. On Monday everything will change. But for now, I am lying in bed thinking with the sun and sounds of spring birds streaming through my open window.

Chrysalis

March 21, 2020

It’s been a long, strange week. Last week at this time, I was walking around AJ’s deserted college campus as Mr. Spy helped him load his things into our car two months prematurely. I am glad to see him, grateful he is home, but he is utterly miserable and I am miserable for him.

IMG_3238

New Yorkers are not accustomed to social distancing. We are used to our faces being pressed into someone else’s armpit on the subway on a hot summer day, to people barreling straight into us on the sidewalk rather than veering a few inches to the left, to lines, to crowds. But we are good at waiting for things.
Treating people like they might be poison feels wrong. So did not petting the corgi pup who flopped up to me on my run on Thursday. Instead I yelled to the owner 6 feet away, over the music pounding in my headphones, “Your dog is beautiful!” “Gracias, thank you.”

I am not a runner but now I am a runner, every day this week out the door by 7:30. I walk fast past the shopping street, past the school, past the porched houses to the road full of mansions with the green parkway. I use it like a track because the park is too crowded. Three laps then home. Running to or from something, I’m not sure. It makes me feel stronger. It burns the nervous energy I have nowhere to put. I have lost more than two pounds this week and I feel like I barely leave the armchair in the corner of my bedroom that is serving as my office for now.

AJ turns 19 this week. We can’t even shop for him properly, but we will attempt a celebration and I have ordered an ice cream cake, which I will attempt to shoehorn into the freezer until Wednesday. Our pantry is full, we are healthy, at least for now. I still have a job, at least for now. We check in on our neighbors through the kitchen window. The twin babies next door point at Jaguar in the window and say “cat!.” They are nearly walking and if you put on Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” they will dance in the stroller that their parents push them around in for hours. One kicks her feet high in the air; the other shakes her head back and forth and wriggles.

Last night was unexpectedly warm. We sat on our porch and watched the parade of skateboarders, bikers, walkers, convertibles going by. But for the masks there was hardly a sign that anything had changed.

Everything is blooming. Everything is beautiful. Everything is making me sneeze (into my elbow, of course).

Albermarle Rd.

I don’t know if we should leave the city.

I don’t know what I want to have for lunch.

I don’t know if I can pay my rent.

I don’t know if I can finish the song I started.

I don’t know if I can make one more decision.

I don’t know when I will walk out my door and feel like I’m not under attack from an invisible enemy.

I don’t know if I can do this for one minute longer, but I will.

I don’t know who we will be when we emerge from this cocoon.

IMG_3289

Neighbors

April 24, 2019

It has been a long time since we had a cat, but AJ has been pestering us for one for a while now. He’s fallen for his friends’ cats and wanted one at his house. “You are leaving for college in four months. Why now?” I’ve missed having cats around the house, but I was also feeling like with AJ away, it was our chance to do some spur of the moment traveling without worrying about someone back home. But AJ is persistent. He wore down Mr. Spy first, which is amazing because he is not particularly pet oriented. He didn’t grow up with animals and, since he works at home, tends to be the one who spends the most time with them. But he liked the idea and we finally decided to try it.

AJ and I went to a local no-kill animal shelter with a great reputation a few weeks ago, but the cats looked sad and ill and it didn’t feel very friendly to us. We waited a few weeks and the weekend before Easter went to an adoption event at a pet store run by another animal rescue not-for profit. This organization specializes in cat rescue and doesn’t have a shelter. All their animals are fostered. AJ and I both fell in love with a black and white kitten at first but she needed to be adopted into a home that already had a cat, which wasn’t us. Then AJ spotted a tiny black cat, full grown but kittenish, all black with a tiny white spot on her chest. Her name was Jaguar. Jaguar charmed AJ immediately and we put in an application. Just under a week later, she moved in and now we wonder how we survived without her. She’s approximately 70% cuddles and 30% ninja, which is about right. When I come home from work, she meets me at the door and when I sack out on my bed in the evening, She jumps up and sits on me purring. Somewhere in between, she generally likes to hide behind our bedskirt and leap out at passing feet. Also, she is a champion napper. She was purring up a storm when I took this photo.

fullsizeoutput_1612

We are glad she’s here. And I think she’s glad too.

* * * * *

I’ve taken a few days off this week to get my head together after a pretty grueling few months at work. Mr. Spy is away for a few days with his baseball team. AJ is on spring break and is getting himself to and from baseball games and working at a baseball break-week camp in the park. I am spring cleaning.

The weather is perfect today, so I started on the front porch, watering the plants, washing the windows, attempting to mend the table that inexplicably has shed several screws over the winter. I was in the middle of the latter task when I heard someone say hello. I looked up and saw a small woman, maybe about my mother’s age standing on my steps. “I’m Estelle.”

* * * * *

Our first spring in the house, Mr. Spy texted me one Friday while I was kayaking in the park. “Estelle stopped by. She likes your flowers.”

“Who’s Estelle?”
“She knew someone who used to live in our apartment and they had flowers too.”
I had just filled the windowboxes attached to our front porch rail with herbs and purple petunias. She was happy to see them.

The whole thing had made me smile. I was sorry not to have been home. Stopping by to admire the flowers seemed like something Mr. Spy’s mother would have done, and she was rich in neighbors and friends.

* * * * *

One of the traditions where I went to college was Friday afternoon tea. We would all pile down into the living room of our dorm and drink tea and eat cookies and catch up with each other on our week. It was a relic from long ago and we all loved it. On VisageTome, there is an alum group devoted to Friday tea. Every Friday, people from all over post their college dorm and year, what “tea” they are drinking, the best thing that happened this week, and the worst, and a photo of the tea (or sometimes of something else). It is an amazingly lovely space, a moving history of women’s experiences in the world, the remarkable and the mundane. We are learning each other’s stories. One day last year I was working at the table I was trying to fix today on my front porch. I took a picture of the cup of coffee on my porch looking down the street. Someone commented on my photo. “I know this sounds crazy, but I think my aunt used to live in your apartment.”

She wasn’t crazy. Her aunt did live in our apartment. Her aunt was Estelle’s sister. Estelle is her mother. And she herself lives a few blocks from me.

* * * * *

“I’m so glad to meet you!” I said to Estelle. “I’ve heard so much about you. Would you like to come in?”

Estelle was amazed to see the place. It had been carpeted before and she didn’t know about the intricately patterned wood floors. Her sister’s husband was an editor. “Like me,” I said. Our dining room had been his office. “It’s good there are still a lot of books here.” Her sister had been a weaver and our bedroom was the loom room. “There were floor to ceiling shelves full of beautiful wools there,” she aid, gesturing toward the wall behind the headboard of our bed. She told me how after her sister had died, she’d had to figure out how to dispose of all of her weavings. “I heard about a place in Massachusetts where they were asking for volunteers to make shawls for the residents.” She sent them 40 shawls. “I like thinking about them having another life.” In the kitchen she told us that the refrigerator had been in the closet that now houses our washer and dryer and how when her sister’s husband was ill and in the hospital she came over to check on things and discovered the freezer was a solid block of ice.

“I came over to take care the cat. She was called Pearl because she was a little black cat with a tiny white spot right here,” and she pointed to her heart.” Just then Jaguar walked in.

fullsizeoutput_15e9

“Just like our cat.”

“Wow, that’s spooky. She looks just like Pearl.”

* * * * *

Like most cats, Jaguar is a little spooky. She has been with us for less than a week and she already seems to know who needs her the most at any given moment. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of her nine lives was as Pearl the cat who used to live here. She’s our benevolent household spirit, currently snoozing in the armchair in the corner. I wonder what she is dreaming about.

Lookout

February 3, 2019

One of the things I love about my apartment is the windows. Our last apartment had a row of windows over the street in the front room and a skylight that brought in light from above. AJ’s bedroom looked down the narrow walkway between our building and the one next door and he could see the top of a tree in the yard behind and a sliver of sky, a real Brooklyn view. Our bedroom looked into a dim airshaft, darkened further by the mesh covering to keep the pigeons out and the air conditioner that blocked most of the window. Our current apartment is a full floor of a freestanding house, so we have windows all the way around. 17 of them. It seemed important to count when we moved in. Windows are a luxury. I did laps around the house, looking out each one.

The kitchen has two windows—well, three if you count the tiny one in the laundry closet. They overlook the backyard of our net door neighbor, Louise. Louise grew up in the neighborhood and has lived in her house since she was 10 (she is now, I’d guess, somewhere around 80). Louise’s backyard is mostly cement. Her driveway runs between our buildings into a garage. There is an unused brick grill, some cement statues of children carrying umbrellas, a few white plastic chairs, and clotheslines. She hangs out her laundry a couple of times a week and also the plastic bags that she washes and saves. A large fig tree grows along the chain link fence on the far side of her yard. In the summer, just visible around the edge of her garage, roses grow against its far wall.

Beyond Louise’s yard is a view to the apartment buildings one street over. I occasionally see people smoking on their balconies or shaking out their rugs or having a cold beer on a hot day. At this time of year, there are cheerful lights on the balconies. Between the buildings and the trees on the street I can see a patch of sky. Out the rest of the windows in the house, I see trees and birds and people walking dogs, but I love the view out the kitchen with its layers and abstract angles. I find myself looking out those windows a lot.

Last night as I was puttering around the kitchen and listening to a podcast, I looked up to see the room bathed in a pink-gold light that made even the white plastic chairs look elegant. It didn’t last long and felt like such a privilege to see it. I walked to the next room to get Mr. Spy but by the time we came back it had already changed.

fullsizeoutput_1552

The beak of the hawk

January 26, 2019

It is cold in New York. Not Chicago cold, but cold enough that it requires the big parka with the furry hood. Cold and sunny. Every Saturday I head to my old neighborhood to go to the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market with my college friend Cranky. Now that Cranky’s daughter J is old enough, she stays home on our Saturday mornings when the weather doesn’t suit her. And so today Cranky and I took the long way home through the park, past fat corgis and wiener dogs in parkas and ducks skating flat-footed on the pond, around the hill and up the other side where we spotted a hawk in a tree and a nearly brave and stupid squirrel who briefly considered running at the hawk and then, once peering at his beak from inches away, swiftly spun and scurried away.

* * * * *

Let me catch you up.

Spy headquarters is still in Brooklyn. We’ve been here more than six years now, in this apartment for nearly two, and I’m coming up on my eighth anniversary at The Toy Factory this summer. My job has changed over the years, but not all of it. Mostly every so often they pile on some more responsibilities and, if I’m lucky, give me a raise. I still love the job, but I’m getting a little restless. I’ve never worked anywhere this long before. I’m not unhappy, but I’m starting to wonder if I should want to move on. I’m feeling lately more like the squirrel, alternately confidently striding forwards and hesitating, mistrusting my abilities. some days I’m staring at the cloudless sky, others at the hawk’s beak.

Part of this restlessness is driven, I think, by looking forward to all the changes ahead for AJ and for us. He was accepted and has committed to his first choice college. I think it’s a perfect fit and I’m excited for him. His new campus is stunning and a beautiful drive from here, close enough to go up and back in a day, far enough to not want to do that all the time. It’s reassuring.

AJ had a bit of a tough time in high school. After having his pick of schools for high school, he chose a school known for math and science. This wasn’t surprising. Math and science were always his strongest subjects, until suddenly they weren’t. And while he loved the people he met at school, the test-driven curriculum felt like a grind. His grades tanked. But he got himself out of the hole he dug in a fairly spectacular way. He’s turned out to be a very talented writer, musician and entrepreneur. Go figure. He’s composing and producing albums where he plays all the instruments, producing art and music events, and engineering others’ recordings. I learned most of this from reading his college essays. He plays his cards close to the vest. It’s a pleasure to continue to get to know him. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Mr. Spy is still writing and also coaching baseball. His book is now almost a year old and is just out in paperback and he’s doing another round of book events.

* * * * *

Here are some of the things I worry about as a parent in New York City: drugs, muggers, crazy people, school bureaucracy, irresponsible sex, dumb decisions, budget cuts, subway breakdowns, dirty tattoo needles. Here is what I don’t worry about: drinking while driving, drugs while driving, texting while driving, driving. Here is what I feel bad about: we haven’t made AJ learn to drive. There was always something better to do.

* * * * *

I have a word document of things I want to make sure AJ knows before he goes to school. I add to it whenever something springs to mind. Here is what it currently says:

How to do your laundry
How to make your bed
What to do when you are sick
What to do when you are sad
How to keep track of your work
How to cook one simple but impressive meal
How to survive when broke
How to open a bank account
How to keep track of your money
How to drive
How to get help in any situation
How to sew a button
How to iron a shirt
How to tie a tie
How much I love you

It is a year of lists and more lists. The preparation for AJ’s next act is half running forward to see the future, half running away and holding tight to these last months together. It will take me that long to get my head around it and then a month or two longer. Exciting times ahead.

Rethreading

January 19, 2019

It has been nearly two years since I’ve written here. After 7+ years of writing nearly daily across a couple of different platforms, I fizzled, succumbed to an ever-expanding day job, family life, my guitar, a million distractions of the big city. The blog community was breaking up anyhow. The demise of google reader with no viable replacement was the last straw, I think, but Facebook and twitter had already drawn us away.

But for a million reasons, I’m feeling dissatisfied. I’ve Konmaried my drawers. Now I need to spark some joy in my own head. I miss writing longer strings of sentences. I’m sticking my toe back in the water. I make no promises.

I started my first blog back when AJ was 2 and just starting preschool. So there’s some poetic balance in considering beginning again, now that he’s about to graduate from high school and head to college. I’m starting to feel some space in my head again, but — or maybe because — the ground is shifting. More unrest. I have been just over seven years at the Toy Factory and am starting to understand why the concept of sabbatical exists. A major project is almost complete. I am trying to relearn my job as I used to do it and am finding I am a little burnt out, a little dissatisfied, unreasonably irked by petty things. I am trying to get my groove back, trying to figure out my next act. The blog has helped me navigate uncharted waters before. Perhaps it will again. Still, I make no promises, neither to myself (yet), nor to anyone else.

What drove me here today, though, was not nostalgia for this space per se, but by an assignment I had 35 years ago in my HS sophomore year English class.

I think about this assignment surprisingly often. I probably think about this class once a week how it changed my life in many ways, opening my world in a way that has not happened on that scale before or since. We’d been reading short stories. Richard Brautigan. Robert Coover. John Cheever. Donald Barthelme. I don’t remember which story it was that led us to this assignment exactly, maybe Barthelme’s “The Glass Mountain,” maybe something I can’t recall. But the assignment was to write a short story where the narrative was told with a mix of encyclopedic facts and narrative. My kind of story. There was research involved. I still have the result, a story of a girl choosing artistic ambition over love. It was terrible. Well, maybe not terrible — I got an A+ — but, well, sophomoric. It’s painful to read in much the same way that my 7th grade journal, the blue one with the silver unicorn on the cover, is painful to read. It will always have a metastory about a nerdy suburban high school sophomore who wants to be a sophisticated writer-musician in the city.

This time, I was thinking about this assignment because I am reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book (which is wonderful and you should all read it too). Mr. Spy gave it to me for Christmas. It is the kind of writing I wanted to do when I was that sophomore in high school and that I find I still want to do today. It tells the story of the 1986 fire that gutted the Los Angeles Central Library and in so telling reveals what matters to us about libraries. It is impeccably researched with archival work and secondary sources but also first person accounts from a million different perspectives. It is full of small details that another writer might not think to mention but which are like bolts to the reader’s heart, drawing you in to find out about that handbag left behind, the temperature of the ceiling, the way the glossy pages of art books dissolve in a flood, the Dewey decimal numbers for any number of books. I am only a third of the way through and I am already reading slower and slower, not wanting it to end.

There were many assignments I loved in that English class. I wrote better papers that year, but this is the one I come back to again and again and I realized while reading The Library Book (I take pleasure in the fact that it is not, in fact A library book), it’s because that’s the moment where the pleasure of research and the pleasure of telling a story could come together. It was the beginning of the work that’s followed me ever since that I’ve never quite managed to put together.

Still no promises, but food for thought. It’s time to start writing again. This book is maybe showing me a way forward.

Just before Christmas, I encountered my sophomore English teacher in the comments on a high school friend’s Facebook post. The friend was the inspiration for the main character in my story. She is an actress now and was writing about seaweed. We met in that English class. I took the opportunity to tell my teacher how much that class meant to me. I don’t know if he remembers me. But I will always remember him. He was clearly pleased. “That course was where I first understood how amazing kids were, and how interestingly they could think.”

This year, finally, in his last year of high school, AJ seems to have found a teacher like this. He can definitely think interestingly and seems to be turning into a writer himself. I make no promises about him either, though. His world should be wide open right now. Wide open with a spark.

As for my friend, she did choose ambition over love, but in the end she found both. Sometimes there are happy endings. And sometimes there are conflagrations and new things built from the ashes, a mosaic of tiny facts reassembled, stitched together. But still no promises of what next.

30 days

March 29, 2017

On February 28th, our landlord informed us that she wanted to sell our apartment and wanted us out in 30 days. While this adheres to the letter of New York law for this type of apartment, it is just not done. Finding housing in New York City is hard. The last time we tried, there was exactly one apartment available in our price range that came close to meeting our needs and we were living in it.

18 days later, we were moved into a new place that is twice as big in a neighborhood we love and has the same rent. We’re not quite sure how we did it. The place is gorgeous, with spectacular 1920s inlaid wood floors, a stained glass window in the entry way, a huge front porch overlooking a street of painted Victorian houses and a shorter commute to work. We can’t believe our luck.

The thing that has been most interesting to me, though, is how fast our habits have changed. A little more space has meant we all seem happier, sniping at each other less, all eating dinner together because there’s more room to coexist. We miss being right next to the park but very little else. I thought I was going to miss the sound of ships on the bay but the other evening when we sat on our front porch with a glass of wine, we heard one, a low, comforting foghorn that reminds you the ocean is not far away.

We moved last Saturday and early Wednesday morning, I left for Montreal to attend a conference. It was the first time I’d been there since my honeymoon. I spent most of my time working, but some of that work involved dining out and one night was spent stomping through the driving snowstorm to a bar with 400 kinds of beer, hockey on a giant screen, and poutine, which was much more delicious than you might expect from looking at it.

Among the useful things that happened was I found a writing partner. We had our first meeting over Skype today and I think this is going to be good. We’ll be able to help each other through our projects. We’re in similar places in our lives with too many things to do and our own research always ending up on the back burner. It is good to have allies.

When I came back, I had to clean out the old apartment. Going back, it looked so tiny and dingy. We are wondering how we lasted so long. Climbing the stairs to the roof one last time, I knew I’d miss the view of Manhattan, the planes lining up for Laguardia, the music drifting up from the bandshell in the summer time, the smell of lighter fluid coming from the grills in the park.

But we are looking forward to planting the window boxes on the porch railing, finally hanging up the hammock we’ve been carrying around with us, drinking mojito’s on the porch, playing guitar in the book-lined living room. We are thinking of buying bikes so we can ride to the park or to Coney Island in the summer. The new apartment is for making plans. I like plans.