9/11: Past, Present and Beyond

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We were living in Brooklyn for the 10 year anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks, and I wrote a blog post that weekend on my experience. I dug it out to share pieces of it with you today.

On the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks, I found myself at a Brooklyn Catholic Mass. As we approached the anniversary, the wounds stung in the hearts of the country. It is felt all over with acute pain, but here in New York they saw the smoke in the sky, they stood in their streets watching it rise. Here in New York they knew the people that worked in those towers and performed the service of going in to search for the living, and the dead.

I was new to writing. I was new to motherhood and adulthood and my neighborhood. I was living in a strange city, one I simultaneously hated and adored, and I was trying to connect.

 As I sat on my stoop yesterday, Maria, my landlord’s wife, shared a few memories with me about the event.

She is not one to mince words. She is a matter-of-fact, Italian-Catholic with jet-black hair and eyes almost as dark. She is an immigrant to this country, and she is a Brooklynite to the core. She was pregnant with her son Anthony when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She was the one to tell me she could see the smoke from the impact of the planes. Then, as the dust began to settle, so did the debris. It settled as far as our street.

She watched people flock to the churches, crying for mercy and understanding. She watched anger and resentment wash away — it was replaced by deep and confusing wounds. She hoped people would see why they need a saviour and she told me she secretly knew that most of them would forget.

This is the way I will always remember Maria. Her stern, serious face turned outward, watching her street from the top step of her stoop, hair braided to fight frizz and heat, hands gently clasped in front of her. I knew I was not that kind of woman — she was black and white, I lived often in the murky gray area.

We were different, unique, not better or worse, and I was still learning what that meant.

When the attacks happened, I was sixteen-years-old. I was floundering, lost in my own world. I had never really felt the impact of this global war we are in. 9/11 was the first time I really saw the horror and senselessness bred by ignorance. It was hatred illustrated in a tangible way. It did that for all of us. It opened our eyes to the reality that we are not immune to terror, we are not isolated, and we are not untouchable. In this world we are unsuccessfully trying to share, we can be hit, we can be shocked.

We will never forget 9/11, we can’t, but there is a whole generation of children who did not know the time before, who only know now. They never got to meet someone at the airport arrival gate, they never saw the New York skyline with those towers shining in the sun. We will never forget the moment the towers were hit, but they will never a know a time when they weren’t.

The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2

The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2

If current events are any indication, they will never know a time without war. They will grow up fast. They will get their news from Twitter because sometimes that is more reliable. They will breathe air that is more polluted, but maybe they will drive cars that are kinder to the environment. They will have less wild land to explore, but more options for affordable housing.

We will watch them grow up while we are still growing up ourselves.

So, today, we went to Mass at our landlord’s church. We went to remember this tragedy and the hope that came out of it, with people who felt it deeply, with people who watched it happen on their stoops and from their balconies.

There were elements of Mass that I will never understand, and don’t need to, but I am not threatened by what I do not understand. I wouldn’t be here, in New York or at Mass, if I were.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy I got a chance to do something the people who took down the towers will never get to do — share in an expression of faith that is different from my own, and see it as no less valid.

I lived two years in New York City, and I discovered the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves. I have watched people I love be unwilling to change, and become lesser for it, while others have overcome impossible hurdles, transforming themselves, changing lives around them. have changed in ways that are terrifying and breathtaking, that are obvious and personal and none of your business.

It is not enough to Never Forget. It was a national tragedy, but since 9/11 there have been tragedies beyond measure all across the world. There has always been war. There has always been terror. These are not things we can prevent on a grand scale. It begins with you, and me, and here and now.

We are the post-9/11 heroes.

 

 

 

A Picture Post of Packing

“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.”
― Anne LamottPlan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Exhaustion is an overwhelming feeling. It dulls all other sensations. I imagine the next days and weeks, the detox of my emotions will yield an interesting uncovering of my feelings. I don’t know how most people deal with major life changes, but I tend to deal by pushing forward. I set my eyes on where I am going, and little can distract from that.

Some would say that kind of single-mindedness is a gift. I don’t know if I would agree. For me, I know no other way. It just is what it is. It is never comfortable, and then, when it is over, the wave of all I have held at bay rushes over me.

Yesterday we finished packing and loaded a POD to the brim. I’ll easily admit that I was not connected to the process for a lot of its unfolding. I wasn’t crying or laughing. I wasn’t fighting or relaxing. I was only being swept along by the current of events set in motion.

Then my son said goodbye to his best friend. Goodbye, from such little mouths, with such sweet faces, distracted me from my purpose enough to feel it. And I cried. I cried enough to know that there will be more tears.

Tears are funny. (Odd statement, I know.) They come in happiness, in sadness, in anger, in desperation. The breakdown walls we build up with pretense. They remind us we are not machines. We are feeling human beings. We lose and gain. We begin and end. Then we do it all again.

A special thanks goes out to Brian, John, and Stephen. The move would not have happened without you fellas. My love goes to my Brooklyn family — Nadia, Jonah, Sophia, Harold, Julie and Lewis — you gave me gifts everyday by your presence. To my landlord — a huge thanks for the home and the peace-of-mind in having such good people looking out for us. To my Manhattan pals — Amy and Anna — your fabulousness is unmatched.

Now, a sampling of the process by picture!

Brooklyn Bye Bye

We are moving. This is evidenced in our home by boxes and bubble wrap and tape guns strewn on tables and stacked in corners. We are going from here to somewhere else. So goes our belongings. It’s funny how moving makes everything feel new again. Not unfamiliar or shiny, that’s not what I mean by new. I mean unbroken. Untarnished. The edges all smooth, not chipped. No missing pieces.

The lingering irritation you might have felt with your home before you began to pack falls away. It is replaced by the whimsy of memory. You love, again, the creaking 100 year old floors that are beautiful but grating when you just want to pee in the middle of the night without waking up your son.

You suddenly realize you will miss briskly walking fifteen blocks home from dinner in the bitter cold, or the scent of garbage mixing with baking bread as you do. There will be a certain emptiness, and yes, peace to your morning now that the intoxicated local woman who brings your dog treats from the liquor store, won’t be able to violate your personal space on the benches outside Connecticut Muffin.

There is a loneliness to going about your day without a stranger asking how much you pay in rent, or telling you you’re too young to be a mother.

There is a disconcerting quiet to a world without city noise. A world where your son and his best friend can’t migrate back and forth between your home and your upstairs neighbors home.

Paths

Paths

We are happy to begin a new adventure, but it is with weeping we pack up this one. The charms of Brooklyn, which read like annoyances to outsiders, are what make this life here what it is. It is odd encounters with rough diamonds. It is food for the creative. It is the city that never sleeps, but that reminds you why you must.

Tonight I remember the joys, not the heartache, of being a transplant in the five boroughs. In my borough. In Brooklyn. In the future when I visit, I will once again be an outsider, but for a couple more days, I am a Brooklynite. And I am proud.

Chapters End

Credit John Maxwell's Writers Refuge

Credit John Maxwell’s Writers Refuge

My relative radio silence for the last few weeks may seem a little odd. No, it’s not that I was sequestered in my writing cave, hunkered over a desk sculpting words like clay. I have not been deathly ill with an exotic disease you can only contract in the Amazon jungle, therefor indicating I was in the Amazon jungle and that’s why I wasn’t writing.

It’s only that we have been preparing for a major life change and so I have been quiet. I have been waiting to share until what I was sharing was less transparent-like.

About a month ago, my husband and I made the decision to move back to Texas. This was a hard fought choice. When we moved to Brooklyn almost two years ago, we were babies with a baby. We had no idea how significant this move would be in our lives.

And we have cherished, sometimes begrudgingly, the chance to live in a city most people only dream of living in. As I said in my “About” page, moving to New York changed my perspective on what kind of writer I was going to be.

It made me a writer.

The challenge of living here, and the bursting creative energy that is New York City, was a force behind the novel I am now revising for publication.

I am thankful to New York City for her help.

Now I have to go. It’s hard to say exactly when we knew the time here was coming to an end, but once we knew we made the move. We’ve always been this way, and I hope that never changes.

Over the next weeks we will be packing our apartment, finalizing details of our move, and waiting in earnest to see the purchase of a new home come through. I will try to share as much of the transition with you as possible.

We want to send out a very heartfelt thanks to our Brooklyn friends. The life we have had up here has worked because you guys found us and we you.

If you look at life like a novel, (and when you are a writer of a novel, everything becomes comparable to the writing process) you see that chapters don’t end without connecting to the next. Backstory, action, characters woven through the narrative, create the overall arc. Nothing is random, and nothing ends. Until the end anyway.

What I’m trying to say — and maybe not saying clearly — is that this is not a goodbye. This is a turning of a page. A chapter that leads to another chapter, and the work I’ve done developing my life in Brooklyn, will not be scrapped for revision.

This move is not the beginning of a new book. It’s the continuation of my family’s story arc.

My husband and I watched Battlestar Galactica for all four seasons. (I must be careful here, because when the BSG comparison floodgates open, with the waters come my longing.) BSG was a show that completed it’s arcs well. It built a meticulous framework, filled it in, roofed it off, and then landscaped it.

What I learned from BSG (besides some new curse words) was simple: everything is connected when telling a story. Every story must be filled with peaks and valley’s, comings and goings, location changes and losses. And in the end, every part of the story matters equally. If it doesn’t, it wouldn’t end up in the final draft or make it through post-production.

I intend on keeping New York a part of my life for years to come. I intend to have to because of my career. And I expect it not to be long before I am visiting. (And crashing on above mentioned friends couch/second bedroom.)

Now on to the wild lands of Texas again!

Pending the signing of a Warranty Deed and funding, my husband and I will once again be homeowners. So I leave you with the wisdom of Stewie Griffon and whatever you are able to glean from it.

After the Storm

Today is Halloween, and while much of the five boroughs still grapples with power outages and isolation from the shutdown subways, the children in my neighborhood prepare to Trick or Treat. It is an odd sensation, being in a city hit so hard by the storm, and yet going about our day as if that disaster didn’t just happen. Our neighborhood, which sits at the top of a steep hill in Brooklyn, has emerged almost completely unscathed by the storm. In fact, out of respect for the areas hit hard I will not even post pics. We never lost power, we never lost water. Our lights flickered, our microwave beeped, and the wind howled, but the storm passed overhead and left us to ourselves.

I find myself feeling reflective in the wake of that, and feeling a different kind of isolation all-together. When a disaster happens so close to you that you can hear it, but yet you feel none of it, what does that mean? There are grand ideas of lending a hand, but without transportation that seems impossible. I have heard stories trickle in of other neighborhoods around the five boroughs banding together to charge cell phones and make calls to loved ones outside the city. I have heard about darkness that prevailed over the streets of Manhattan broken only by the whirring lights of the police sirens.

Then there was a devastating fire that stole homes and lives in Queens. All of this startles me, shakes me, and makes me bashful of my thankfulness for my own safety. I realized this morning — walking in the stream of sunlight breaking clouds and letting a chilling blue sky through — that life will go on in spite of our need to process. Life goes on when death occurs. Life goes on when trauma is felt. New York City can shed the skin of this disaster, and will, because that is the New York way. That is the human way.

And, even in the midst of humility, I can say I am thankful that the storm didn’t destroy everything. I am thankful to take my son Trick or Treating. I am thankful to be able to get coffee with my friends at a new neighborhood cafe. I ache for those displaced by the storm, and those who lost homes, whose cars marinate in storm water in the underground parking garages of Lower Manhattan, and who still haven’t gotten in touch with family. This is the way I can process my own storm, and find my own recovery.

New York City Braces

When we moved to New York City, I don’t remember expecting to deal with two hurricanes, an earthquake, and tornados in the span of fifteen months. Under the threat of Sandy, we have all begun to prep for war, it would seem. We gather our ammunition against the storm (candles, flashlights, lanterns); we gather our sustenance (canned, food, bread, water); we fill our tubs and pots for clean bathing water should the lines be shut off.

We prepare because it is the only thing we can possibly do when faced with a storm so much larger and so much wilder than we are. When a storm rages at sea, and the sea consumes land for it’s supper. We are forced to watch and wonder and scramble for safety because that gives our fear purpose. It is what we must do. As a believer, I do something else though. I pray. I petition the one who sees all storms as small and manageable that He would remember my family in the midst of it.

I do not hide behind the belief, I allow it to support me as I stack my cans of food and set out my candles to light. I remember that the earth rages with dangers, and natural disasters are no more than that. They are natural to a world weakened by its many years. They are something we cannot escape, but we have to face. Whether that means we heed the warnings of our city officials and evacuate, or we hunker down in our home with more food than we need and enough batteries to last out a zombie apocalypse. (Though should Sandy bring flesh-eaters to the shores of Brooklyn, I fear I am ill-prepared to fight them.)

Today, as the winds began to pick up, and the windows were splattered with the spit of rain, I sat in a tent in our playroom with three kids. I made smores and told fables and pretended the storm was a backdrop for fantasy. The storm was an excuse to stay still, to imagine. Life goes on in the midst of a storm, and that is how you triumph. You move wisely. If the tumult tosses you, you regain your footing. You allow the fear and the certainty of your mortality to give you strength. And then you snack, you watch movies while the electricity is still on, you make sure all your electronics are charged, and you wait for the storm to pass. You can try to fight it, or ignore it, but in a storm, the best thing to do is just to weather it.

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What to do? What To Do?

It sometimes takes a lot for me to dig myself out of my own mind. On days like this I find it difficult to do much more than coast. I am a bad coaster. I don’t like to feel unproductive, or directionless — and I really don’t like to be at the receiving end of my own disapproval. On those kinds of days — or weeks, or over-long months — I try to place this wandering mind on something to refocus it. Some of the ways I do that are as follows, in no particular order, with no discernible reasoning:

  • My son’s long black eyelashes. There is something mesmerizing about sapphire blue eyes curtained in charcoal lashes so long they can tickle your cheeks when he kisses your nose.
  • Real Estate. Not real estate in my budget were I looking to by a house or apartment. Not even real estate where I live or have lived before. Usually real estate in the most fantastic sense of the word.
  • Wander around the park (Central or Prospect) and pretend I’m in the woods. This is good for many reasons. Quiet. The location of the first third of my novel which I’m in revisions with. The chance to climb a rock or a tree. Running water. Playing pretend.
  • A nice glass of wine well before evening time. This may be counter productive since wine can also make you tired, but it definitely calms me down.
  • Default to reading some YA I need to familiarize myself with in order to be able to hold conversation with the rest of the YA writer/bloggers out there. I am behind. Sometimes this helps by merely triggering my longing to see my book in print and putting my brain back in the place it needs to make sentences someone might want to read.
  • Remember that everyone needs a break and then turn on an episode of Weeds because I am way, way behind on it.

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Being a writer, mom, and wife I forget sometimes to also be an individual person with many facets and needs. Sometimes I forget to place my mind on things beyond my need to finish rewrites. (To just get.it.done!) This can be a bad place to write from, because it can make you very selfish and one-sided. Writers revel in their solitude, but solitude and hard work is not the only way to create. And probably not the best.

Method Writing

There are a lot of different ways to approach writing. I don’t know what they are, but I’ve heard they exist. For me there is only one way: voices. I am prepared to sound totally insane here, but when I sit down to write, there must be a voice in my head. This is my narrator. Whether that voice manifests itself as the protagonist (as with my current work) or an observer (omniscient or otherwise), it tells me where I am going. It tells me who I am writing about. It tells me when I’m wrong. 

Writing first person it has become increasingly important to listen to the voice because she has become alive in me. I liken this process to that of a method actor. There are other ways to approach acting as well, but many of the actors we hold in high esteem are the ones who let the character into every part of their lives. This is a hard place to be — I have no doubt, it’s even harder for an actor, what with the actual being the character and all — because some of the control you have over things, over thoughts, or reactions, slips away.

As I lived the story, dug in deeper to my characters existence and what her journey was about, she became a bigger part of me. Life began to filter through her eyes. The life she was living in my novel, and the life I was living in Brooklyn. I’m not going to lie, this has been a little scary. But it has been the only way. My protagonist is one with a lot of kinetic, anxious energy. She’s one with a lot to lose, and at the same time, nothing she’s attached to. When I had a panic attack in a large department store because I was overly conscious of my surroundings, and the amount people who may touch me, I realized things were changing for me.

For the past couple months it has been this way, and I have had to learn to deal. The question I have is simple: Am I the only one who works this way? My first guess is, nope. Also, I am not looking for feedback on where I can get some good psychotherapy, that will not be well-received. Yes, I know I can shop online to avoid hyperventilating in Manhattan. The upside to this is that I have finished a huge rewrite on my novel and my protagonist is now quiet. She seems to be resting. I am letting her, because this book will have a sequel, at which time I may check into some kind of happy farm. Now, an illustration.

Closings

Where have all the good bloodsucking corporations gone? Last month we learned that our beloved grocery store (the one very near my lovely, sunny apartment) was sold to a Walgreens. I learned this from one of the cashiers, a familiar teenager with long black hair and creamy caramel skin who was always a little aloof with me. As she rung up my diapers and box of Oreos, some toothpaste and a jug of milk —for the Oreos, milk’s favorite cookie — she leaned over and whispered, Hey, did you hear the Key Food is closing? I did a double take on the information, letting my mouth drop open, and groaned. Was this some sort of cruel joke she was playing on me? The frazzled mom who always argued with her son about buying a stick on tattoo from the vending machine.

The next few days would prove that this was not, in fact, some kind of belated April Fools prank, but was reality. When we decided to move to Windsor Terrace, this grocery stores proximity to our prospective apartment was a huge draw for us, newcomers to the Big City, and all. We felt safe with all that food and bathroom supplies across the street. Comforted that if we wanted a half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s after our son went to bed we could pop over easily and get it. Secure in the knowledge when it was blazin’ hot outside we could go stand in the freezer section for relief. This was all true for us, but overall, our plight is nothing in comparison to the longtime residents of the neighborhood.

This neighborhood is home to a lot of young families, but even more elderly residents, as well as a slew of independent businesses. The Key Food, for all intents and purposes, was the only supermarket in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood packed with people dependent on that fact. I personally do not own a car, and am now being graciously carted to a grocery in Red Hook by my wonderful neighbor. My landlord’s parents live next door to us. They’re a lovely Italian couple in their 70s. They don’t drive, and aren’t in a position where they can walk down to 7th and Carroll St. to buy their groceries (then pay to have them delivered, and haul the perishables home.) The grocery gave them, and countless others, independence sorely needed and an ability to fend for themselves with dignity.

As I watch all of this unfold before my eyes, still a relative outsider in a neighborhood built by blue bloods, it pains me to see the lack of respect and consideration coming from this major corporation for the people they expect to patronize their store. Their unwillingness to comply with the simple request for a grocery section has shown their hand, and they’re already cheating. Where I come from, large pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS have food, wine and beer, along with aisles of shampoo and cough syrup.

In an online petition, written by one of the local business owners in Windsor Terrace, she goes so far as to tell Walgreens, “Don’t come here, we won’t buy from you.” And that is true. Many local residents have put signs in their windows that simply say: Boycott Walgreens. Others attended a rally at the Key Food shell where Walgreens reps discouraged further the idea that this neighborhood, and all the wonderfully weird people who live here, will not be seeing an ounce of sway on their part.

This little neighborhood war is a tragic statement, not only about this corporation, but about the thoughtless man who sold his grocery to a pharmacy. A man who made his money on the people of this neighborhood and then gave all of them the middle finger. Maybe that middle finger points to the real issue, the picture this paints for us a people. We talk a big game about respect, culture, and human equality in New York City, but we can’t get it right on a basic level. We can’t hear. This neighborhood has asked that they be heard. And Walgreens is choosing not to listen.

There is a real need in Windsor Terrace for a grocery. That need will exist whether Walgreens wants it to or not. Do I believe we’ll eventually let it go? Sure, some will, but others — those with deep roots here — are shaken where they live. Talking to neighbors on my block, many over sixty years old, the downturn in their eyes and the confusion is what registers most. And what about the fifty people now put out of jobs? The poor Walgreens CEO and Multimillionaire Key Food owner will say it’s just business, I get it. And maybe that’s true. But if they want to make money, they better start listening.

This blog is about Writing (Or whatever I want, cause it’s mine.)

You may think my name is a pretty lame title, but consider that this blog will hopefully carry over into my splash as a published author, and then it may make more sense. Most of what you will read here will be about the process, which can be daunting, of getting a novel published. Though, there is no guarantee that I will not write about my son, Sam.

Or my dog, Samson.

But mostly I believe it will be about writing. Writing bleeds into everything I do, filling my world with ideas and voices I sometimes wish I could silence. One of these voices became the heroine of my first novel, and others sometimes find there way into the cracks and crannies of the narrative I’m trying to construct. Sometimes I have chats with them, which prompts my son to ask me who I’m talking to, and sometimes I just let them stew inside. I marinate them.

So, if you are a writer, or a reader, or a person who thinks children, yorkies, and Brooklyn, NY are interesting, then you may find this blog a welcome distraction. It may also be a useful tool to draw from, or a source of amusement. (If you think someone rambling on about YA romances or the crazy shit her son says is humorous.)Whatever it becomes, I hope we can learn from it together, or laugh at it together, or triumph in it together.

Alright, that said, I really must get back to work, and you probably should too since I’m posting this in the afternoon on a Monday. Enjoy your day, wherever you are, and remember to look around you. Inspiration is literally everywhere.