Category Archives: Time

may we all have our hopes, our will to try

“Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…”

“Happy New Year” – ABBA

You know how much I love ABBA and how they have a song for every possible situation and event in life. “Happy New Year” (recorded in 1980 for the “Super Trouper” album but not released as a single until 1999) feels apropos at the conclusion of this godforsaken year. And before you chastise me for being one of those miserable souls complaining how horrible 2016 was, I know it wasn’t entirely awful; some good things did occur. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017. I speak of the political, of course, since such events have been so dominant this year and will be into the next. As focused as I am on that (and will continue to be), this was an extremely difficult, stressful, overwhelmingly hard year for our immediate family on many levels. There have been a lot of losses — namely the financial and professional, but also changes with longtime friendships and some emotional and medical setbacks. I’ve gone into this in previous posts and most of it is better left off the blog, but suffice it to say this year has been a tough one.

Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling
The silver lining of not being able to afford a summer vacation means that I had an abundance of “use them or lose them” vacation days from work. So, I’ve been using them to catch up on TV shows, read a book or two, and spend some time with friends and family.

I’ve been binge-watching “This Is Us” and all of you who were telling me how much I would love this show were absolutely right. I know it’s been compared to “Parenthood”, but for me, it feels more like “thirtysomething”, for those of us who are old enough to remember watching that show, which was set in Philadelphia and ran from 1987-1991. Ken Olin, who played Michael Steadman on “thirtysomething” and directed several episodes, happens to be the executive producer of “This Is Us.”  Regardless, this is my kind of show and I love everything about it — the writing, the actors, the music, and (of course) the Pittsburgh setting.

Over Christmas, we spent some time back in Philly. It was a trip heavy on the nostalgia factor, which can be both good as well as unsettling. I had long, heartfelt conversations with two special people who I don’t see nearly enough, drove streets I haven’t been on for more than a decade, attended the Christmas Eve service at my former UU congregation with people who sustained us during some tough days long ago.  The Girl and I visited the family at the cemetery and I told her stories of those long gone. She and I had a delicious mother-daughter Christmas Day dinner at my all-time favorite restaurants, an unassuming gourmet Chinese place tucked in a suburban Philadelphia strip mall, the scene of many a date night back in The Husband and my glory days.

Moments That Mattered
So much of this holiday season wasn’t perfect (what is?) but many moments were pretty good. And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany — just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper.

Here’s some of what was good about this year:

I stepped up my writing game a bit this year with several book reviews published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and on Shelf Awareness.

Both kids made the honor roll this past semester.

I spent an inspiring and joyful day in my hometown connecting with my MRKH sisters.

I started running, at age 47, and discovered it’s not like high school gym class after all and, as such, I really like it.

Related to the running, I’ve lost 11 pounds.

A friend sent a generous gift.

I got to see Hillary Clinton the day before the election, and was close enough to wave and holler thank you.

Our cat made it through her dental surgery. (All of her teeth, sans two, needed to be removed.)

I went back to church.

And this. Oh my God, this … this absolute highlight of my year.

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016 cast, pre-show toast before our May 6, 2016 performance. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

Being in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments — not only of 2016, but of my LIFE — and it will remain that way for me forever. I stepped way, way out of my comfort zone by auditioning for a chance to tell 500 strangers the most personal, intimate, defining story of my life in a performance shared via YouTube. (No pressure or anxiety there.) It was an experience that changed me. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year.

I hope that 2016 held some good moments for you, too. Without a doubt, it has been quite the year — and the one we’re headed into is, I’m afraid, going to be one where we will see some unprecedented moments that will change all of us. We will keep on going anyway, because, really, what other choice do we have?

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s ABBA to take us out.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbor is a friend
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

sunday salon/currently …moment in time

Sunday Salon 4

Sitting out here on the deck, with the sunny and 75 degrees and no humidity weather as perfect as it gets here in Pittsburgh, this feels like a moment in time. Summer is definitely winding down. Only two days remain before school starts, and it’s a milestone one: this is the year we turn a corner and become the parents of high schoolers.

“I remember thinking, back when we were in the NICU, that their high school graduation year of 2020 seemed so far away,”  The Husband commented on Wednesday, as the four of us sat in the school’s auditorium for high school orientation.  This is where it all starts, the principal said, the plans and decisions and classes that shape the next four years.

Of course, he was careful to say that there’s still time to decide on a post-graduation pathway; nothing needs to be determined this week.  But the message was clear: time’s a-tickin’. Time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ tickin’ into the future …. 

It’s all a bit unsettling. Even without a new building to navigate and new school personnel to get used to, the beginning of school historically tends to be a difficult, stressful, anxiety-levels-through-the-stratosphere transition for our family. Much of this past week has been spent trying to mitigate as much of that as possible. To put it mildly,  it’s been exhausting on every level.

Bright Precious DayOne of my go-to coping strategies has been to seek out a mindless read, and Jay McInerney’s latest, Bright, Precious Days is fitting that bill perfectly. It’s another incarnation of the insufferable lives of Corrine and Russell Calloway, the protagonists in two of McInerney’s Brightness Falls and The Good Life. Just like his earlier works, Bright, Precious Days is yet another one of McInerney’s name-dropping romps through the New York City playgrounds of the glitterati.

If you’ve read any of McInerney’s earlier novels, you know what you’ll be getting with any of his subsequent books. Bright, Precious Days does not veer from the formula that has made him successful. It’s a navel-gazing, salad-eating, charity-gala-going, Chanel-wearing, hedge-fund managing narrative set in New York (of course) between 2006-2008.  Hillary is running for president against a guy named Barack whose only major political experience is a short stint as a Senator;  the subprime mortgage crisis and the recession hasn’t yet happened, and people still carry flip phones.

It all seems like an ancient time, as much of a relic from the past as the cocaine-laced ’80s that define McInerney’s characters own bright, precious days. Those they lost in the era of drugs and AIDS, as well as the horror of 9/11, are still very much part of their present.

Like I said, sometimes you just need a book where you don’t have to think much and if I was in a different state of mind, this might not be holding my interest. But it’s doing its job right now by being an effective diversion, so that’s something. And even though The Husband and I never were nor will ever be in the same social and economic class as the Calloways, there’s a part of me that can relate to them.  At 47, we don’t feel old enough to have kids in high school, despite my insistence to The Husband at the school orientation that we are, in fact older than the typical parents.  At nearly 50 (the age of the Calloways), it seems we should have our act together by now, have done more, know what we’re doing with our lives.  Instead, the decisions we’ve put into place and the assumptions we’ve made about our future feel shaky, at best.

It’s twilight.  The clouds are aflame, there’s a slight autumnal chill in the air. All any of us really have in this moment in time are these bright, precious days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #84 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

zombies

Halloween Parade (19)

Front row to Halloween. Taken by me, October 2008, somewhere in central Delaware.

“All You Zombies” shuffles onto my Spotify playlist
as I pull into the parking garage
late for work on a Thursday
but because The Hooters are a track
on The Soundtrack to My Life
available on 45, cassette tape, compact disc
I remain seated in my car
(my paper-laden desk can wait)
because me and Jen and Seunah are singing
on a cold January night in an overheated gym
where we paid five bucks to see Philly’s hottest band
because someday they would be really, really big,
someday in our big scary future.

sequel (47/99)

“When you were 15, what did you think you’d be doing now?”

We were at lunch and my co-worker had posed the question as part of a conversation we were having about the pressure to go immediately to a four year college, rather than saving a significant amount of money by taking basic classes elsewhere (such as at a community college) or by pursuing a trade.

I knew my answer immediately.

“I was going to be living in New York City, writing my latest bestselling novel (the first bestseller having been published by the time I was 18, of course) and having a fabulous career.”

(If those words sound familiar, you either knew me when I was 15 or you’ve watched at least the first 15 seconds of my Listen to Your Mother video.)

At 47, the closest I am to living in the Big Apple is the fact that we have an apple tree in our backyard.  In Pittsburgh.  And yes, I have a career, the same one for the past 25 years now and one that I generally like and (in my opinion) am pretty good at.  And I am indeed writing a novel (or a memoir, or a collection of linked stories) — the same one I’ve been writing on and off for years, and which probably won’t be a bestseller because my last name isn’t Kardashian.

Several times this week my younger years have crept into my present. They’re always there, of course — they’re not called one’s formative years for nothing.  I’m sure that has to do with the release of my Listen to Your Mother video since my piece focuses on my teenage years in a significant way. I also spent Tuesday evening in the company of the one and only Judy Blume, who wrote the script for my adolescence and every else’s in the sold out crowd.  (I know, I promised you a post. I’m working on it.)

My girl and I got to the Judy Blume lecture more than 90 minutes early, snagging a good spot in line and seats in the third row. While we waited, I started re-reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret on my Kindle. As I posted on Facebook, there’s only one book to read while waiting for Judy Blume.

Are You There God

(Incidentally, did you know that Judy Blume wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in approximately six weeks?!  It’s true; she told us so herself on Tuesday night.)

So I sat there reading and being transported back in time to my pre-teen self. My girl’s main reason for coming was to “see an icon” (clearly, I’ve taught her well) and to get an autographed copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret for HER best friend, who lives in Texas and who she had plans with for today.

Those plans changed due to a death in their family, but we still managed to get the girls together for a quick breakfast at Panera this morning. While the girls sat inside laughing and talking for an hour and catching up, I sat outside on the patio, finishing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and keeping an eye on the girls without being intrusive on their conversation.

It felt somewhat surreal, watching the bond between my girl and her BFF and reading this pivotal book from when I was almost their age.  I believe books (even ones we’ve read previously) have a way of finding us when we need them most, not unlike how a good friend shows up when we’re struggling.

The themes within Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret of changing bodies, friendships, and questioning the beliefs handed down from one’s parents seem especially resonant for both me and my girl right now.  We’re both dealing with changing dynamics within friendships and while neither real-life story is one that can be told in this space, suffice it to say both have been difficult and painful journeys.

On Tuesday night, I was trying to think of a question for Judy Blume that wasn’t the usual stuff of author Q & A (“how do you get your ideas?”  “what advice do you have for aspiring writers?”). This morning, it occurred to me that I would love to know what Margaret Simon, Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter, and Janie Loomis are up to now at 58 years old. Did Margaret ever find religion or is she still searching?

Sitting at the Panera reading Judy Blume, I was mentally kicking myself for not asking her if she had ever considered writing a sequel of sorts to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

While seeing life come full circle by watching my girl and her friend, I realized that perhaps we didn’t need a sequel to know how their lives turned out.

Life has already written it for us.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #47 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

afterglow

LTYM - Poster

LTYM poster at the entrance, as the audience arrived. 

LTYM - Ready, Set ...

Our words, waiting to be released into the world.

LTYM - Roses and quoteTwo dozen roses from The Husband (a.k.a. as my perfect guy) along with a lovely gift from the LTYM producers  ~ a framed quote from my essay, about love and differences and acceptance.
The meaning behind this at this particular time defies words right now. 


“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” 
~ Muriel Rukeyser, “Käthe Kollwitz” 


Sometimes in this life, you have the kind of experience when you can physically feel yourself being transformed.

When your heart becomes lighter while simultaneously overflowing, spilling over the brim.

When your perspective and understanding becomes a kaleidoscope, shifting your view of yourself and your world.

When you can almost see your words in the air, and you take a leap and ride.

All of that and so much more was Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016.

So much more. 


On Friday night, I stood on a stage and told more than 400 people the most personal story of my life.

I told them I was born without a uterus.

I told them I didn’t get my period.

I told them this is called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser syndrome.

Here’s where I’d expected to write “and the room got completely quiet and still.” That’s not what happened.

Some people laughed.

They laughed.

Mind you, it wasn’t in a mean way, but nervously. Like when you laugh at an inappropriate time.

Onstage, I heard those laughs and for a moment I was terrified.

I thought, holy shit, what the fuck have I done?

And then I did the only thing I could do.


I told them how it felt, back then.

I told them about being 1 in 5,000 women with MRKH.

I told them about the shock, the tears, the denial, the wishing-away, the feelings of being like a freak, the hopelessness.

I told them all of this and how I thought all the plans I had for my life were over. I told them how I thought I was given MRKH because I would be a crappy mom and that maybe I was better off.

I told them about meeting someone who saw me for who I am. I told them about acceptance and being different and being loved despite those differences and the challenges that would lie ahead.

I told them about those challenges, about chemical pregnancies and depths of sadness.

I told them about the power and mystery of the science and faith that makes it possible to turn a handful of cells into two teenagers.

I told them this and the room got very, very still and quiet.

(Except for the knocking of my knees, which started about mid-way through my talk and which I was convinced could be heard echoing off the walls.)

I told them all this because Friday will be exactly 31 years since I learned I have MRKH and that’s a really long time to stay silent.

I told them this because I want — no, because I need — women and girls like the one in India who took her life because she couldn’t see a future post-MRKH to know she is seen and respected and loved.


After the show, many people came up to me, thanking me and letting me know of their similar journeys. A few moments before the show, our producers gathered our incredible, amazing cast together in the “green room” and told us that there would be someone out there who needed our words, our story.

Who needed to feel heard and to be seen.


Nearly 48 hours later, I am still running on the electricity that surged through the Lecture Hall on Friday night, powered by the incredible women onstage with me and the generosity and compassion from everyone in the audience. I’m so grateful for those who were part of this and the support from so many people in my life, here in Pittsburgh and those far away.

You know who you are. You know what you did to give me the courage and strength to do this.

You know.

When I say that Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh was — and is — a significant life event for me, I mean it like this:

I was one person before getting on that stage and a very different person after.

This isn’t hyperbole.  This is right up there with seeing our children for the first time and marrying The Husband.

It is a defining, specific moment. A life event in every sense.

There’s so much I still need to reflect, process, and write about from this experience.

So much more.

This is just the beginning.

LTYM Cast - Final Bow (2)

 

we could all die any day

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (65)

It’s been seven days since the news broke and I’m still listening to Prince at top volume in the car, still singing at the top of my lungs about doves crying and horses running free. I’ve exhausted my inventory of appropriate-for-work purple clothing.

My kids are perplexed at this behavior. “So, when did you become so crazy about Prince?” they half-sneer, their teenage mortification on full display.

We see this attitude frequently, The Husband and I, whenever we give off any indication that we are … well, human.  The eye-rolls when we kiss goodbye in the morning for a few seconds longer than usual with a sly slip of tongue or when we dance in the kitchen when our wedding song shuffles into queue on Spotify. To our offspring, we have no life besides folding laundry and cooking dinner, and despite our assurances to the contrary, we never did. And we certainly have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager. Never were we caught up in the adolescent maelstrom of emotions and hormones and young jungle love.

My attempts at explaining my sudden Prince obsession fall flat with my kids.  Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a passionate Prince fan, I have an appreciation of his music and his artistry.  And, like all of us who came of age in the mid-’80s, Prince’s music is an indelible part of the mixtape of my life.

Which is why, like everyone else, I was shocked upon hearing Prince had died.  Thursday was a surreal day; I wasn’t feeling well and took a sick day from work. By mid-afternoon, I felt well enough to pick up my son from school for a previously-scheduled doctor’s appointment. We were early, for once, with enough time to stop home so I could throw dinner in the crockpot.

“I texted you,” my husband said, greeting me as we walked in the house.  “Prince is dead. Flu-like symptoms, they’re saying.”

I stopped in my tracks.  If anyone knows how possible it is to drop dead of the flu in one’s prime, it’s my family. In 1985, my dad was a relatively healthy father of two teenagers when he got the flu.  Unbeknownst to any of us, the virus was silently and quickly attacking his heart and at 44, he became fourth in line on the transplant list at Philadelphia’s best hospital for when your heart breaks. He died several hours later, having been sick for less than a week.

We could all die any day. 

The aftermath of my father’s death ushered in several confusing and sad years for me.  In college, it was easy to party like it was 1999 because that represented a life we couldn’t fathom from our dorm rooms — Christ, we would be goddamned geriatrics when we turned the century, forty fucking years old.  It felt impossible, far in the future. We made a solemn, beer-buzzed pact: no matter what happened in this life, we’d be together on New Year’s Eve 1999, dancing our lives away.

We weren’t, of course. We became scattered and unknown to each other. Close friends we thought would be in our lives forever went missing, our long conversations now silent.  Instead of partying like it was 1999, we became adults, on edge and hunkered down with emergency cash from the ATM, cases of water and canned goods and duct tape, backups of our financial lives at the ready for Y2K, a moniker that could have been ripped from a Prince album.

Now on this side of 1999, in this strange year when nostalgia becomes more and more clouded with sadness and when we face our own medical crises and wonder just how much of our time and minds are left, our own Judgment Day feels closer than ever. Prince was right; two thousand zero zero really did mean we would be out of time or damn close to it.

I can’t convey all this to my wiser-than-their-years kids when they ask why I’m blasting Prince’s Little Red Corvette in my decidedly uncool red Chevy HHR as I shuttle them around town.  And part of me doesn’t want to.

Let them believe they have all the time in the world.

 

sunday salon: so, today we’re gonna party like it’s blog post #1,999

The Sunday Salon

Indulge me, my friends, if I seem more nostalgic than usual today, which I am.  Undoubtedly, this is the result of seeing too many Facebook photos of high school and college friends schlepping the equivalent of several Bed, Bath and Beyond stores into dorms that only merely resemble the SINGLE room that I moved into WITH TWO OTHER ROOMMATES nearly three million decades ago.

For whatever reason, there seems to be more than the usual number of these photos – of which I am not complaining, except for the fact that they are making me feel So. Fucking. Old.

Learning
Coincidentally (or not so much) I’ve discovered the world of MOOCs (massive online open courses) – which, yes, I know have been around for quite some time now. As I tend to do with every new shiny toy I come across, I’ve been going a little overboard signing myself up for free online courses. I’m currently enrolled in four such classes and a few others starting later this fall.

This weekend, I’m trying to finish up Literature of the English Country House which was offered through the University of Sheffield in the UK (and which ended earlier this month) and Childhood in the Digital Age through The Open University, which ends this week. I’m enjoying the former more; we’re dipping into excerpts from Jane Austen, Dickens and Oscar Wilde and looking at the houses that inspired their work.

My newest course is Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, taught by Bruce Holsinger of the University of Virginia. This just started but already seems intense in a way that I love; at 8 weeks long and with a lot of readings, it feels like a literature course I would have taken in college.

Reflecting
I don’t need a therapist to tell me that these indulgences are no coincidence, given my mental rewinding of the videotape of my own glory days. Without getting into details that I’m not allowed to write about publicly, suffice it to say that there has been a great deal of reflection in our house lately about choices we’ve made or didn’t make, paths we pursued and those left untrodden.

It could also be the new start that is the school year itself; my kids start 8th grade this week. I am extremely conscious that their own “real world” paths of college or what have you are only five years away. It is the most infinitesimal sliver of time, I know this, but sometimes it seems as if there is a chasm between here and there.

Celebrating
A week ago, this blog celebrated its 7th anniversary. Today’s post happens to be a milestone, too: it’s blog post #1,999. Two thousand posts seems like something to celebrate and I feel like I should be commemorating this. I’ve been kicking around an idea in my mind and the 2,000th post might be a good time to announce it. Stay tuned.

Reading and Reviewing
Not too much to report on the reading front this week. I breezed through The Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity by Carrie Bloomston. (I’m thisclose to reaching my goal for the library’s adult summer reading program, so I needed something relatively short.) It’s part motivation, part how-to/workbook, and part inspiration for jump-starting your “little spark” of creativity. I also finished True Stories, Well Told which I mentioned in last week’s Salon post.

The Picture of Dorian GrayStill listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I have less than 100 pages left, so this will likely be finished up this week. I’m reading a new YA novel for a review I’m doing for Cleaver Magazine, and another review was just accepted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is scheduled to appear next Sunday.

Creating
Speaking of creating, we’re looking into ways of re-configuring our basement family room/game room area. This is a ridiculously underutilized space in our house.  My overflowing bookshelves live there, my even messier scrapbooking table is there, and aside from the kids going downstairs to watch TV every once in awhile, the entire space is really a glorified storage unit. It would be an interior designer’s dream, seriously. We’re looking into how best to expand the home office space by adding a desk and bookshelves for The Husband.

It seems as if there is a lot going on … and I guess there is. Right now, though, I’m savoring this quiet, late summer day on the deck with one of the most picture-perfect days that Pittsburgh has to offer, while trying not to live too much in the distant past or the uncertain future, but right here, in these small but monumental moments.