This Old Dag

Digging up the past, for your viewing pleasure

27 notes

There’s a lake now in our backyard. It looks like a lake, for sure. And we can sit for hours and dangle our feet and stare in awe until it becomes normal. That we have it. That it’s ours. That we have this house and this yard and these dogs and all of these flowers. 

Except I never want it to become normal. I want to be aware of it every time I glance up from doing dishes and there it is, landscaped within an inch of it’s life, this glorious behemoth of a thing: a pool in our backyard. 

Bedtime and I say let’s give thanks, alright? Let’s thank god and the universe for how blessed and lucky we are. Let’s thank Daddy for working so hard. Let’s thank the stars that life has come to this, because who knows where life will take us later on. 

Every day the workers pour out of their trucks. They see me smoking on the back porch in front of my computer where I write. I wave to them and remind them there’s soda and water in the garage. Every day the workers come and I watch our secret garden grow and take shape. More flowers. More trees. More concrete and moss and grass. The puppy takes a shit right as one of them is watering the roses he will plant that afternoon. Look at her, I say, shitting as she goes. We laugh. I never had a house before, I want to tell him. I never had any of this. But it wouldn’t matter. It would be a stupid thing to say. 

There’s a pizza oven set in a brick fireplace on a brand new patio. It overlooks the giant trees that make a canopy which shrouds us. If we wanted to we could hide out right here, in this town on this street behind this house. But we don’t like to hide. We are open arms, arms wide open, welcome. And somehow that small sentiment makes everything alright. It seems fair, somehow. It seems doable. That my children are growing up in a tiny bit of paradise. 

The world gnaws at me. It bears down. I remember things. I remind myself of what my therapist told me after my son was born - all the bad things have already happened, and now enjoy the rest. The rest is your reward. This is my go-to thought when I am flailing in the face of such pure happiness. 

Gratitude anchors me. I am grateful for finding my husband or him finding me or us stumbling upon one another at a bar in midtown ten years ago. I grew up Polish, in chaos, in the Projects, and he grew up with a pool. We swap stories. Everything is relative. Everything has its counterpoint and polar opposite. We meet in the middle. We learn. I learn. I learn to accept peoples inherent niceness without suspicion. I leave big tips at restaurants. I help. I give. I do my best to feel alright living in a big house and these waterfalls now that we can activate with just a push of a button. 

I am grateful. But always, always, I am waiting for the other shoe to fall. I have a hard time letting go. I remind myself of hurts and awful things. It calms me down. 

My husband and sons jumping into freezing water and I take pictures and tell them it’s a horrible idea and what about hypothermia? They laugh. They are used to my worries. 

The water is perfectly blue. It came from deep in the earth, and we cannot heat it for weeks, so things can settle. 

I am all for things settling.

There’s a lake now in our backyard. It looks like a lake, for sure. And we can sit for hours and dangle our feet and stare in awe until it becomes normal. That we have it. That it’s ours. That we have this house and this yard and these dogs and all of these flowers.

Except I never want it to become normal. I want to be aware of it every time I glance up from doing dishes and there it is, landscaped within an inch of it’s life, this glorious behemoth of a thing: a pool in our backyard.

Bedtime and I say let’s give thanks, alright? Let’s thank god and the universe for how blessed and lucky we are. Let’s thank Daddy for working so hard. Let’s thank the stars that life has come to this, because who knows where life will take us later on.

Every day the workers pour out of their trucks. They see me smoking on the back porch in front of my computer where I write. I wave to them and remind them there’s soda and water in the garage. Every day the workers come and I watch our secret garden grow and take shape. More flowers. More trees. More concrete and moss and grass. The puppy takes a shit right as one of them is watering the roses he will plant that afternoon. Look at her, I say, shitting as she goes. We laugh. I never had a house before, I want to tell him. I never had any of this. But it wouldn’t matter. It would be a stupid thing to say.

There’s a pizza oven set in a brick fireplace on a brand new patio. It overlooks the giant trees that make a canopy which shrouds us. If we wanted to we could hide out right here, in this town on this street behind this house. But we don’t like to hide. We are open arms, arms wide open, welcome. And somehow that small sentiment makes everything alright. It seems fair, somehow. It seems doable. That my children are growing up in a tiny bit of paradise.

The world gnaws at me. It bears down. I remember things. I remind myself of what my therapist told me after my son was born - all the bad things have already happened, and now enjoy the rest. The rest is your reward. This is my go-to thought when I am flailing in the face of such pure happiness.

Gratitude anchors me. I am grateful for finding my husband or him finding me or us stumbling upon one another at a bar in midtown ten years ago. I grew up Polish, in chaos, in the Projects, and he grew up with a pool. We swap stories. Everything is relative. Everything has its counterpoint and polar opposite. We meet in the middle. We learn. I learn. I learn to accept peoples inherent niceness without suspicion. I leave big tips at restaurants. I help. I give. I do my best to feel alright living in a big house and these waterfalls now that we can activate with just a push of a button.

I am grateful. But always, always, I am waiting for the other shoe to fall. I have a hard time letting go. I remind myself of hurts and awful things. It calms me down.

My husband and sons jumping into freezing water and I take pictures and tell them it’s a horrible idea and what about hypothermia? They laugh. They are used to my worries.

The water is perfectly blue. It came from deep in the earth, and we cannot heat it for weeks, so things can settle.

I am all for things settling.

Filed under gratitude happiness

10 notes

These are the dog days and they’ve got a hold on me. The air is steamy, clammy and bears down till I find myself motionless, till I can do nothing but stare at the seismic cracks in the ceiling of my office or the pretty rug. 

Sometimes, I like to imagine my writing as sharp, an edginess like the blade of a serrated knife, cutting deeply, nicking things. But I know there’s a quality here that shines on despite my renegade intentions: sentimentality. I am sentimental but there are worse fucking things I could be. 

Tonight my dad went back to Poland. My dad is thunder and lightning, a storm to muddle through and sometimes he is the peace that comes after tumult, when the world is restful and calm. Our goodbye was quick and tearful, because my dad happens to be the kind of person you never know when or if you’ll see again. This is how the goodbye feels, and it always has. 

Tonight my husband is broiling hot dogs in a frying pan: a new method he read about. That will be dinner for the boys, but it’s ok by me. I’m gonna have a hard time letting things go tonight. But we might rent a light-hearted comedy after the boys fall asleep, so that’s good. 

I have a new title for the book I keep rewriting and rewriting. 
“you and me in bits and pieces”
This title makes sense for the story but it makes sense privately too. It makes sense. I want to write great things. This greatness is an idea, or a joke, but at least it’s a joke I’m in on. Any day now, genius things will happen. I’m choosing to believe this. 

I did cut my hair off. All day long, I twist the ends around my fingers. I scrunch. It’s choppy and not how I imagined it, and of course this is symbolic of where I am in life right now. It’s symbolic because I read into everything. It’s fun to be married to me, wink wink. 

Soon, I will go inside. My husband is watching a video with the boys about the elusive goblin shark. They are big on mysteries, lately, the five and eight year old. Shadows and inklings of things. Last night, the five year old’s topic of conversation was ghosts & angels. Do they talk? Can they leave you presents? What annoys them? My dad said ‘ghosts are real, son.’ He calls my boys that. He calls them “son” because he never had any for himself, they are it right now. It makes me happy. 

Soon, I’ll climb into the bottom bunk and read the boys a chapter, from the book we are on, Goblin Secrets. You see, no matter how late or how tired, they can’t fall asleep without me reading to them. It’s something I have passed on, it’s in their blood now, this love, this desire, to always share stories. It calms them.

These are the dog days and they’ve got a hold on me. The air is steamy, clammy and bears down till I find myself motionless, till I can do nothing but stare at the seismic cracks in the ceiling of my office or the pretty rug.

Sometimes, I like to imagine my writing as sharp, an edginess like the blade of a serrated knife, cutting deeply, nicking things. But I know there’s a quality here that shines on despite my renegade intentions: sentimentality. I am sentimental but there are worse fucking things I could be.

Tonight my dad went back to Poland. My dad is thunder and lightning, a storm to muddle through and sometimes he is the peace that comes after tumult, when the world is restful and calm. Our goodbye was quick and tearful, because my dad happens to be the kind of person you never know when or if you’ll see again. This is how the goodbye feels, and it always has.

Tonight my husband is broiling hot dogs in a frying pan: a new method he read about. That will be dinner for the boys, but it’s ok by me. I’m gonna have a hard time letting things go tonight. But we might rent a light-hearted comedy after the boys fall asleep, so that’s good.

I have a new title for the book I keep rewriting and rewriting.
“you and me in bits and pieces”
This title makes sense for the story but it makes sense privately too. It makes sense. I want to write great things. This greatness is an idea, or a joke, but at least it’s a joke I’m in on. Any day now, genius things will happen. I’m choosing to believe this.

I did cut my hair off. All day long, I twist the ends around my fingers. I scrunch. It’s choppy and not how I imagined it, and of course this is symbolic of where I am in life right now. It’s symbolic because I read into everything. It’s fun to be married to me, wink wink.

Soon, I will go inside. My husband is watching a video with the boys about the elusive goblin shark. They are big on mysteries, lately, the five and eight year old. Shadows and inklings of things. Last night, the five year old’s topic of conversation was ghosts & angels. Do they talk? Can they leave you presents? What annoys them? My dad said ‘ghosts are real, son.’ He calls my boys that. He calls them “son” because he never had any for himself, they are it right now. It makes me happy.

Soon, I’ll climb into the bottom bunk and read the boys a chapter, from the book we are on, Goblin Secrets. You see, no matter how late or how tired, they can’t fall asleep without me reading to them. It’s something I have passed on, it’s in their blood now, this love, this desire, to always share stories. It calms them.

30 notes

I’m gonna cut my hair even shorter, till I can feel air on the nape of neck, something cool settling down and I’m gonna bring my hand there often and feel my skin, newly exposed
I’m gonna do this tomorrow 

I’m gonna get back on a treadmill so I can sweat my way toward a body I miss because I now love my muffin top symbolically and that’s the fucking truth
I’m gonna rebuild 

I’m gonna listen to new music 

I’m gonna mourn summer for a long, long time because that is what I’ve always done

I’m gonna watch my youngest son get on a yellow school bus this Thursday and I’m gonna make sure he holds his brother’s hand and I’m gonna worry for six hours - I’m gonna imagine him sitting there like a big boy 
And I’m gonna cry even though I don’t like the kindergarten-is-a-big-deal mommy blogs because it’s ok, really it is, and he’s just out there now to prove his budding independence and grasp phonics and it’s a small thing compared to what the rest of his life will bring and I’m gonna like the six hours I will have to write etc
but those first few days I’m gonna bite my cuticles and at some point I’m gonna find his baby photos and stare at them and I’m gonna
hope he’s not weeping or calling out for me and I’m gonna be early when it’s time to pick him up

I’m gonna pretend there are no bad guys out there 
I’m gonna pretend we live in a world where goodness trumps gun shots and missiles and dictators and disease
I’m gonna make myself pretend because it’s do or die, sink or swim 
in this muggy new September 

I’m gonna draw cartoons on snack bags

I’m gonna buy books and read books and write books and give books away

I’m gonna go on dates with this man I married who feeds me fuels me and forgives me way too easily but now we’re getting into private territory and it’s something I promised him I wouldn’t do but I can’t help myself -
you see, that’s me - I can’t help myself
I’m gonna spend more time with family and dogs 

I’m gonna say whatever is on my mind
but I’m gonna say it kindly

I’m gonna clean out the attic and the downstairs closet and I’m gonna bring bags and bags to goodwill and it will feel like a cleansing
I’m gonna cut my losses 

I’m gonna remember things that make me happy 

I’m gonna try to quit hard habits 
I’m gonna lose in my trying but damnit
I’m gonna keep trying without stopping

I’m gonna cut my hair even shorter, till I can feel air on the nape of neck, something cool settling down and I’m gonna bring my hand there often and feel my skin, newly exposed
I’m gonna do this tomorrow

I’m gonna get back on a treadmill so I can sweat my way toward a body I miss because I now love my muffin top symbolically and that’s the fucking truth
I’m gonna rebuild

I’m gonna listen to new music

I’m gonna mourn summer for a long, long time because that is what I’ve always done

I’m gonna watch my youngest son get on a yellow school bus this Thursday and I’m gonna make sure he holds his brother’s hand and I’m gonna worry for six hours - I’m gonna imagine him sitting there like a big boy
And I’m gonna cry even though I don’t like the kindergarten-is-a-big-deal mommy blogs because it’s ok, really it is, and he’s just out there now to prove his budding independence and grasp phonics and it’s a small thing compared to what the rest of his life will bring and I’m gonna like the six hours I will have to write etc
but those first few days I’m gonna bite my cuticles and at some point I’m gonna find his baby photos and stare at them and I’m gonna
hope he’s not weeping or calling out for me and I’m gonna be early when it’s time to pick him up

I’m gonna pretend there are no bad guys out there
I’m gonna pretend we live in a world where goodness trumps gun shots and missiles and dictators and disease
I’m gonna make myself pretend because it’s do or die, sink or swim
in this muggy new September

I’m gonna draw cartoons on snack bags
I’m gonna buy books and read books and write books and give books away

I’m gonna go on dates with this man I married who feeds me fuels me and forgives me way too easily but now we’re getting into private territory and it’s something I promised him I wouldn’t do but I can’t help myself -
you see, that’s me - I can’t help myself

I’m gonna spend more time with family and dogs

I’m gonna say whatever is on my mind
but I’m gonna say it kindly

I’m gonna clean out the attic and the downstairs closet and I’m gonna bring bags and bags to goodwill and it will feel like a cleansing
I’m gonna cut my losses

I’m gonna remember things that make me happy

I’m gonna try to quit hard habits
I’m gonna lose in my trying but damnit
I’m gonna keep trying without stopping

19 notes

Things I Change Often

1.  My hair, on a whim and drastically. Color, length, style. After a break up. After falling in love. After giving birth - that time disastrous, just walked into a Polish hair place in Greenpoint, paid 24 dollars and walked out looking like a fucked up Carol Brady. My husband just said ‘wow, look what u did!’ and this is why I love him. 

2. Places of residence. If I have just counted right, about 12 times in my life. 11 apartments and 1 house. 

3. Furniture, all the time, especially when it’s midnight or I am alone, always in a possessed frenzy. Secretly rearranging shit is my calling. 

4. Dress size. 10 to 6 to 8 to 4 to 8 to 12 to 16 to 10 to 8 to 10. FUCK ME. 

5. Passwords.

Things I Change Often

1. My hair, on a whim and drastically. Color, length, style. After a break up. After falling in love. After giving birth - that time disastrous, just walked into a Polish hair place in Greenpoint, paid 24 dollars and walked out looking like a fucked up Carol Brady. My husband just said ‘wow, look what u did!’ and this is why I love him.

2. Places of residence. If I have just counted right, about 12 times in my life. 11 apartments and 1 house.

3. Furniture, all the time, especially when it’s midnight or I am alone, always in a possessed frenzy. Secretly rearranging shit is my calling.

4. Dress size. 10 to 6 to 8 to 4 to 8 to 12 to 16 to 10 to 8 to 10. FUCK ME.

5. Passwords.

3 notes

centralfloridian asked: I enjoyed reading your post. I spent my formative years in El Salvador, where there were no black people allowed in the country per its constitution. It was quite an awakening for me when we moved to FL, where everyone is equal (at least on paper). Sometimes I find myself noticing "out of place" situations the way you did at your concert. Does it ever go away? I'm not sure. I think we all do it, even if we don't notice it. I plan to buy your book today. Glad to have found you. Melanie

I don’t know if it ever goes away but we must learn to acknowledge those moments - those moments that startle us because we thought we had it figured out - and we must ask why, where does it come from. The need to understand and relate should supersede the need to alienate one another. Hope u like the book ;)

2 notes

bullthistle71 asked: Not exactly asking something, but can I just tell you... your writing is so beautiful! It stirs me deeply and I look forward to a new blog entry from you about the same way as I look forward to the first chocolate soft-serve ice cream cone every summer (if you knew me, you'd know I like chocolate soft-serve a LOT.) What an amazing gift you have! I hope you never stop writing because you paint more than just pictures with your words - you paint emotions. Thank you!

Thank YOU.

57 notes

When I arrived in New York City in 1983, I was almost seven years old and I’d never seen a black person in real life. I’d never seen one on television either. There were no children of color in my neighborhood, school or city. In kindergarten we had to memorize a famous Polish poem about a nice little African boy called Bambo who scurried up a tree because his mother told him he needed a bath and he was afraid of turning white. “Little black boy Bambo lives in Africa; such beautiful skin our little friend has…” That was the extent of it - the extent of my knowledge of what it mean to be black.

Poland was heavily ensconced behind the Iron Curtain back then and my parents were political refugees, coming to start a new life in a new land. This new land was full of new faces - brown and black faces, so many shades of color I didn’t know where to look. It was overwhelming, incredible, and very soon, completely normal, just another thing I got used too, like seven whole channels on TV and supermarkets full of anything you could ever ask for.

Back home we feared the government and those in charge; they were the enemy, they were the ones who had the dollars to shop in Pevex stores - stores where you could buy furs and imported PespiCola and Levi jeans. If you shopped at the Pevex, you were suspicious and lucky because you could afford luxury in a place where the average person waited on three-hour long lines for toilet paper and a rationed out pound of sugar. Color didn’t scare me; Commies and rich people did.

In America, my skin was white, but my voice was tinged with a heavy accent. I was a foreigner from a Soviet Bloc nation which in 1983 meant something scary. 

By second grade, I stopped going to ESL classes. I was learning. I lived in the Glenwood Housing Projects in Brooklyn. There was a boy in my class who was nicer to me than anybody else. His name was James. He had a huge smile and beautiful white teeth, American teeth. We were paired up in Social Studies. Our job was to make a papier mache Statute of Liberty, and we worked hard. He was my first black friend, and then he became just my friend. I wonder what happened to James and where he is now. 

It’s hard for me to write this, because I don’t really know what to say. But I think about color every day now; I think about Ferguson and race and riots and change. And all I know is no one around me is really talking about any of it, about how our country seems to be imploding, about how it’s sitting on some ugly little secret nobody white wants to mention. No one on my Facebook is mentioning it either, save for a few “activist” friends, and a writer I look up to. Are the others afraid to speak about their concern? Or are they afraid because they have none?

I’ve been afraid too; to say the wrong thing, to hurt feelings or be told off. Afraid even that I am writing the word “black” too much; that I am writing the wrong words. I am uncomfortable and I don’t know why. Or I do know why - the events in Ferguson gnaw at me late at night, because they are making me question who I am, how I think, and what my adopted country has become. So I write this despite my fear. I write this because my gut tells me that if I felt compelled to write about Robin Williams dying, I should be compelled to write about Mike Brown. Because in a way, they are about the same thing; senseless death.

I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr in the second grade too. We read about his life and then were told to draw something inspired by his story. I drew a picture of two white kids and two black kids holding hands on a green hill. My teacher beamed. She said I got the ‘message.’

All my life, I’ve prided myself on not being “racist.” This means, among other things, that I have black friends, that I am curious about African-American culture and history, that I have devoured An Invisible Man and all of Toni Morrison’s books, that I’ve cried during movies like Twelve Years a Slave, that my roommate in college was black, that I teach my children to celebrate and respect differences like skin color and faith while reminding them we are all part of the human race. There. I am doing my job. I am a white privileged person, I am a Polish immigrant, and for whatever reason, my empathy for the mistreated runs deep. I had nothing once. I had close to nothing. I worked hard. I reached for the fucking stars, and here I am now and I still believe that this is some kind of magic formula - hard work plus faith - and in the US of A, no matter where you come from or what you look like, the formula works. Maybe this is me being naive. Maybe this is me being optimistic. I am sensitive about coming off better than simply because I am better off. My eight year old son has a best buddy in school whose father is Polish, whose mother is African-American, and whose skin is brown, and none of that matters except for the fact that his buddy also really loves The Teenage Mutant Turtles. And I feel good about that. I feel ‘proud.’

But I don’t know what the fuck that means anymore. What does that even mean?

And there’s a bigger but. The but I can’t get out of my head, and why I am finally writing this blog.

Last Saturday night my husband performed at a charity concert in St. Petersburg, Florida. There was a crowd of 800 people, all of them white. They came to hear some Van Halen covers, to help raise money for a good cause, and maybe to get a picture with Patrick Wilson, who happened to be the drummer of this little band he’d formed with his brothers. My sons and I were ushered to the ‘VIP’ section. The venue was a sweltering and smelly brewery and God knows why the hell I wore heels and ‘VIP’ just meant plastic chairs and a thin blue rope. There were three rows of VIP seats. My kids and I sat in the third row because the first two were already occupied. They were occupied by faces I couldn’t place. Were they friends of the family? Were they friends at all? Were they lost? Who the hell were they? I smiled warily as I sat down, but it bugged me. It bugged me because the reason I was so thrown off was because the people sitting in front of me were African-American. And I felt like they were in the wrong place simply because of that. I caught myself. I felt shame at the thought, and I forced it away, pretended like the thought had never happened. Halfway through the concert a young man was brought  to the stage, to talk a little about where the proceeds of the concert that night would go. They would go to his school, a school that gave out merit based scholarships to students in financial need. It was a rigorous program, 11 months out of the year, ten hours a day of learning -  a program that got these smart kids who needed help, ready for college and beyond. The boy speaking was charming and eloquent, nervous and humble. On the stage, my husband beamed at him. In the crowd, I beamed at him. What a great kid, I thought. And then I realized the people sitting in the first two rows of the VIP section belonged there. They were his family, and they were also beaming. And I fucking died a little bit inside. Because me, consummate lover of humanity & just causes, me the ‘non-racist,’ had just had a very racist moment. And it scared the hell out of me.

In the middle of writing this, I take a break. I walk upstairs to say goodnight to my boys. I see my dad and stop in my tracks. I call out to him.

"Dad, when we first got here in 1983, were you afraid of black people?"

I expect him to say no. He was a defender of human rights, a freedom fighter back in Poland, imprisoned for his politics and then deported. But my father turns his eyebrows downward and looks sheepish as he nods his head yes.

"You were? Why?”

"I dunno. I’d never seen so many in person. I was afraid because they looked different." And then he quotes the Polish poem about Bambo.  I am dumbfounded. My father is a radical-liberal-conservative. He is a conundrum. Someone who can spew bizarre ideology and then call my old college roommate his ‘fourth daughter’ because he loves her so much. He is not a racist but he is prone to stereotypical thinking. He tells me there were black Communist students from Cuba in Poland in the late 60s and him and his “white trash” teenage buddies would beat up on them sometimes. I widen my eyes in disbelief. I yell at him, why?

"Because we were fucking stupid."

He tells me back then in Poland if you were gay and someone reported you, you were imprisoned for three years. He tells me people were scared all the time. He tells me things I don’t want to hear. He tells me some of his best pals when he was a NYC taxi driver were African and Jamaican cabbies, “good hard-working people.” He tells me things that don’t fit the narrative. He tells me it’s wrong to judge someone based on their skin color because that is basic ignorance and he tells me when he first got to the States he was afraid to touch black people. "But then I learn."

After our conversation, I tell my father thanks and continue up the stairs before he stops me.”

"Why do you wanna know all of this, anyway? You writing another book?"

"No. I just wanted to talk about it."

He nods his head.

Later, I go back to this blog and I feel like crying.

I want America to dust itself off and be better than this. I want justice for Mike Brown’s family. I want the looting to stop. I want the police officers in Missouri and beyond to remind themselves why they took an oath to protect and serve. I want us to dig deep and stop being such fucking cowards. Mostly, I want fear to give way to dialogue. 

We learn to love as much as we learn to hate.

It’s time we learn to talk about the things we don’t know how to talk about. Now would be a good start.

Filed under ferguson race relations color

16 notes

A list of things that have made me happy in the last 24 hours. 

1. The Dali museum today - specifically the painting ‘Sandia’ because in some circles I am known as the girl who can eat an entire watermelon. 

2. My sons in the Dali museum exclaiming things like “this painting makes me feel kinda sad (poignant) and “I see a penis!” (unnecessary)

3. My husband’s 94 year old grandmother talking to me about how she cold-turkey quit smoking after a 5 decade 2 pack a day habit. She kept the last pack of Century cigarettes with a note taped to it ‘October 6 1986 stopped smoking” Still has it in a drawer somewhere. 

4. My sons crazed on the giant blow up bed, elbowing each other and then settling down as I began reading chapter 3 of Pippi Longstocking and then hours later I peeked in and saw them curled up next to one another like two little cubs

5. My sprained foot is mostly healed. Which makes me think my body is stronger and healthier than I morbidly imagine. Like I can regenerate or something. Which is dumb but still, I can bear weight without pain. I really like saying “I can bear weight now.”

6. The fact that I can wirelessly transfer pics from my Canon to my iPhone. I hate wires. 

7. Being in Florida, because I get to witness in my husband’s eyes what I experience when we are back in Poland: the joy and awe of watching our children playing in the same place that was once ours. Madonna’s This Used To Be My Playground comes to mind. 

8. Googling quotes about ‘hope’ at 2 in the morning and Anne Frank won. Thought about her words, those lovely sentiments she wrote down, those things she really and truly believed in. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” 

9. My bra didn’t hurt. 

10. On my in-laws patio, discussing flesh-eating bacteria with my dad at midnight, over cigarettes and lemonade, our skin crawling, both of us utterly skeeved. It’s killed 10 people along Florida’s Gulf coast this summer and we were all ‘your first time in Florida dad but we’ll just take pictures of u on the shore, cuz fuck that vibro vulnificus.’ Any time I get to laugh with my dad is a great time. 

11. My mother in law’s blackberry cobbler. 

12. The idea that people can be passionate and dignified at the same time. 

13. Looking at pictures of Greece. Remembering the calm, blue waters. Turning my head to look at my husband sleeping, breathing peacefully. Pretending there’s still loads of time for good things to happen in the world, that collectively we can make up for the upheaval and loss this summer brought upon us. 

14. My cute pajamas bought for 14 dollars at Target. When people compliment pajamas, that’s like a total bonus.

A list of things that have made me happy in the last 24 hours.

1. The Dali museum today - specifically the painting ‘Sandia’ because in some circles I am known as the girl who can eat an entire watermelon.

2. My sons in the Dali museum exclaiming things like “this painting makes me feel kinda sad (poignant) and “I see a penis!” (unnecessary)

3. My husband’s 94 year old grandmother talking to me about how she cold-turkey quit smoking after a 5 decade 2 pack a day habit. She kept the last pack of Century cigarettes with a note taped to it ‘October 6 1986 stopped smoking” Still has it in a drawer somewhere.

4. My sons crazed on the giant blow up bed, elbowing each other and then settling down as I began reading chapter 3 of Pippi Longstocking and then hours later I peeked in and saw them curled up next to one another like two little cubs

5. My sprained foot is mostly healed. Which makes me think my body is stronger and healthier than I morbidly imagine. Like I can regenerate or something. Which is dumb but still, I can bear weight without pain. I really like saying “I can bear weight now.”

6. The fact that I can wirelessly transfer pics from my Canon to my iPhone. I hate wires.

7. Being in Florida, because I get to witness in my husband’s eyes what I experience when we are back in Poland: the joy and awe of watching our children playing in the same place that was once ours. Madonna’s This Used To Be My Playground comes to mind.

8. Googling quotes about ‘hope’ at 2 in the morning and Anne Frank won. Thought about her words, those lovely sentiments she wrote down, those things she really and truly believed in. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

9. My bra didn’t hurt.

10. On my in-laws patio, discussing flesh-eating bacteria with my dad at midnight, over cigarettes and lemonade, our skin crawling, both of us utterly skeeved. It’s killed 10 people along Florida’s Gulf coast this summer and we were all ‘your first time in Florida dad but we’ll just take pictures of u on the shore, cuz fuck that vibro vulnificus.’ Any time I get to laugh with my dad is a great time.

11. My mother in law’s blackberry cobbler.

12. The idea that people can be passionate and dignified at the same time.

13. Looking at pictures of Greece. Remembering the calm, blue waters. Turning my head to look at my husband sleeping, breathing peacefully. Pretending there’s still loads of time for good things to happen in the world, that collectively we can make up for the upheaval and loss this summer brought upon us.

14. My cute pajamas bought for 14 dollars at Target. When people compliment pajamas, that’s like a total bonus.

Filed under happiness hope

23 notes

In the quiet

The only sound now is my dog barking at someone or something passing by the house
At this late hour it could be a lone car or a college kid on his way back to campus or a jogger because as insane as it sounds we’ve got midnight joggers in these parts of New Jersey
And when my dog stops her barking there is nothing again and it feels like a Sunday in December -
There are sounds but I can only pinpoint them if I focus and cock my ear like people do in the movies -
There’s the thrum of cicadas - is thrum a word? - and the TV on almost silent in the living room - my husband no doubt watching something with fishing boats or martial artists -
My father is upstairs asleep as are the boys.
Otherwise the house is muffled as if I am listening from under the water, as if I am submerged under something warm, heavy and slow moving -
Just this morning the house was hopping, pulsing, echoes bouncing off the walls
A house full of family and children and laundry machines and laughter and suitcase wheels and countless doors opening and closing.
It’s been a good week inside this house and a hellish one out in the world, which is par for the course for this summer.
I’ve gotten sad over deaths reported on the news - deaths of soldiers and innocent teenagers and Israelis and Palestinians and Ukrainians and airline passengers and the disease stricken and celebrities - yes, sad and weighed down and at a loss and my eyes have watered yes -
But I have never really shed tears until Robin Williams
And for some fucking reason my heart feels absolutely broken
Maybe it was the straw that broke the camel’s back the last straw the very last piece of senseless news I could take
But coming back from the beach on Monday I stared out the car window and saw his lovable beautiful face and I cried and cried, not bothering to wipe my face.
How do I explain the world to my sons
How do I explain the word suicide
How do I explain loss and heartache
I can’t
I can hint at it
I can say it exists
In a far away land in some book on TV
It exists
And I’ll tell them why later
When I have figured it out for myself

Filed under death current events quiet sadness robin williams

16 notes

I’m not finished with An Untamed State yet, but I’m nearly there. I haven’t had too much time for reading, because even vacations are a bit of work when two of your traveling companions are ages 4.10 and 8.

I read in the early morning when the boys are still asleep, out by the pool deck, town shimmering alive, rooftops and windows like scales of fish, glistening in the sun. I read at 3am when I wake up from another dream about an earthquake, and I wobble to the bathroom for a pee, cool marble tiles underfoot, and I slip back into bed and reach for the book under my pillow, because I am powerless. There’s a nifty nightlight in the wall by the bed, and a gauzy curtain hanging like a canopy. I read till it’s too late, or too early. I know we are six hours ahead but that is a meaningless thing. 

I read in the evening after putting the kids to sleep, and after having my cigarette, and when my husband raises his eyebrows in my direction, I shake my head and remind him how bloated I’ve been feeling. Which is the truth. The other other truth is I just want to read, because in this beautiful luxury resort, I’ve found the biggest luxury of all is having an hour or two just to flip pages in a book and stare out to sea when I am done. 

I’ve finished two novels now, both zesty and witty and smart, the kind of books that are like a delectable soufflé. Not treacle, not even ‘breezy’ - because of my entertaining middle-class family tragicomedies I demand a certain style too - mainly, the authors must know how to write, how to turn a cliche on its head, how to make me see beauty in the simplest of sentences. The books have been lovely to read and take in, a balm. 

I don’t know why I saved An Untamed State till two days before we leave Crete. There was no lottery I drew to pick the order. I started reading it in the evening, cool breeze, boys asleep on their spongy white cots, my husband having a cold local beer by the pool. My heart raced after the first paragraph, and it’s been steadily racing since, just like the blurb on the cover warned me it would. 

When not reading it, between last jaunts to town, between reapplying sunscreen on the boys and packing bags and deleting pictures from my iPhone that are too blurry or redundant or haven’t done this trip justice, I think about what I have read. I think about the story. I think about how the story fits into my life. I think about Mireille and what happened to her. I’m past the part where she’s trapped in the Commander’s cage, but the terror of her returning to her former life is as impossible and brutal as her torture was. 

I can’t stop thinking about it. About the cage and what happened to her. About her passionate fairytale marriage. About the fathers in the book, and the mothers. About the cigarette burns. I feel wrecked and fortified. I feel cracked in two and stronger than before. I don’t know how to tweet Roxane Gay about my feelings for her novel. I fear I would come off giddy. But it’s been a long time since a book has clearly made such an impact on who I am, and who I have become.  

It’s not the violence that lingers, though reading those scenes, I forget to breathe. I don’t come from Haiti and I’ve never been to Haiti, but I imagine its beauty and I think I understand it’s violence. I know from violence. I know men who look at women as the cause and the effect of all their impotent dreams and fears. Poland has many corners and pockets where women are smacked slapped raped pinched warned threatened belittled and ignored. It’s a fiber of our culture too: the lurking of drunk, desperate, angry, forgotten Eastern European men and boys, oppressed by dictatorship afer dictatorship, by demons real and imagined, men and boys who cannot control anything except for their wives and girlfriends, whom they push against the wall and wallop in the stomach. I’ve seen women punched and broken. I’ve seen their denial, a deep and vast sea of its own, prone to drownings.  

Roxane Gay writes about violence with scathing, simple words, like a fire that burns elegantly, flames like rope. I don’t get squeamish. I don’t mind bad language of graphic sex or detailed violence. There is nothing proper about the woman in me. At my core, I am unbridled, and struggle with my own kind of fury. If there’s anything I can’t stand it’s pretense, especially in my writers. There is not an ounce of pretense in Gay’s writing, and yet there, in the midst of sweltering heat and dirt and anger, there is a quiet, unstoppable  dignity. 

I have never seen or known the violence Roxane’s Miri goes through. Her writing has made me see it, imagine and feel it - late at night, staring past Spinalonga Island, in my fancy fucking hotel suite with a private pool - I read and know in my bones what privilege means to someone who grew up with none. How it gnaws on you, this newfound wealth and those raggedy beginnings. That is what lingers. What it means to be rich when u were once poor, and what it means to go back to a place that you are forever indebted to and conflicted about, and try to walk with your held high, and hope that the joy on your face at being home again, is not mistaken for arrogance. 

Children of immigrants see life - the one in their adopted country and their first one - as if through those lenses optometrists place against your forehead during an eye exam. The lens flips and clicks quickly. Is this better? Or this? Number one? Or number two? Things sharpen and fade, contours shift, the smallest of differences, and you must make a decision every few seconds - is this one better or is that one. That I have in common with Mireille Duval. I too have a husband who loves me deeply, purely and sometimes is at a loss at how to tame me. “I hoped he would understand he could not love me without loving where I am from.” I read that sentence over and over again, relief flooding me. It’s been nine years now and he’s been to my country seven times and he loves it because he understand I need him to love it. 

Now we are in another hotel, in Athens. We have two rooms, and our balconies overlook the sea - everywhere u go in Greece, inescapable, the water - and two bright swimming pools on the ground floor glimmer like giant puddles of aquamarine. I feel blessed. I feel lost. I remember just days ago being in my grandmothers apartment in Poland, staring at the painting she’s had in her tiny room, of a bearded, watchful Jesus. I try to help my family back there. I try to help them without calling attention to it. I have nothing in common with people born into wealth but here I am staying in the same hotels they stay. I feel badly. I feel fine. The most I desire as a mother is to ground my sons and to remind them - respect people and remember where your mother came from.

I have one and half days left to the end of our vacation and 67 pages left to the end of this magnificent, seering book. I don’t want either to end, but in a way I am ready. Both will stay with me for a long time. Sometimes you read something, and go somewhere, and you are forced to take inventory of your own life, and it is those moments where you are reborn, where you remember what you are.

I’m not finished with An Untamed State yet, but I’m nearly there. I haven’t had too much time for reading, because even vacations are a bit of work when two of your traveling companions are ages 4.10 and 8.

I read in the early morning when the boys are still asleep, out by the pool deck, town shimmering alive, rooftops and windows like scales of fish, glistening in the sun. I read at 3am when I wake up from another dream about an earthquake, and I wobble to the bathroom for a pee, cool marble tiles underfoot, and I slip back into bed and reach for the book under my pillow, because I am powerless. There’s a nifty nightlight in the wall by the bed, and a gauzy curtain hanging like a canopy. I read till it’s too late, or too early. I know we are six hours ahead but that is a meaningless thing.

I read in the evening after putting the kids to sleep, and after having my cigarette, and when my husband raises his eyebrows in my direction, I shake my head and remind him how bloated I’ve been feeling. Which is the truth. The other other truth is I just want to read, because in this beautiful luxury resort, I’ve found the biggest luxury of all is having an hour or two just to flip pages in a book and stare out to sea when I am done.

I’ve finished two novels now, both zesty and witty and smart, the kind of books that are like a delectable soufflé. Not treacle, not even ‘breezy’ - because of my entertaining middle-class family tragicomedies I demand a certain style too - mainly, the authors must know how to write, how to turn a cliche on its head, how to make me see beauty in the simplest of sentences. The books have been lovely to read and take in, a balm.

I don’t know why I saved An Untamed State till two days before we leave Crete. There was no lottery I drew to pick the order. I started reading it in the evening, cool breeze, boys asleep on their spongy white cots, my husband having a cold local beer by the pool. My heart raced after the first paragraph, and it’s been steadily racing since, just like the blurb on the cover warned me it would.

When not reading it, between last jaunts to town, between reapplying sunscreen on the boys and packing bags and deleting pictures from my iPhone that are too blurry or redundant or haven’t done this trip justice, I think about what I have read. I think about the story. I think about how the story fits into my life. I think about Mireille and what happened to her. I’m past the part where she’s trapped in the Commander’s cage, but the terror of her returning to her former life is as impossible and brutal as her torture was.

I can’t stop thinking about it. About the cage and what happened to her. About her passionate fairytale marriage. About the fathers in the book, and the mothers. About the cigarette burns. I feel wrecked and fortified. I feel cracked in two and stronger than before. I don’t know how to tweet Roxane Gay about my feelings for her novel. I fear I would come off giddy. But it’s been a long time since a book has clearly made such an impact on who I am, and who I have become.

It’s not the violence that lingers, though reading those scenes, I forget to breathe. I don’t come from Haiti and I’ve never been to Haiti, but I imagine its beauty and I think I understand it’s violence. I know from violence. I know men who look at women as the cause and the effect of all their impotent dreams and fears. Poland has many corners and pockets where women are smacked slapped raped pinched warned threatened belittled and ignored. It’s a fiber of our culture too: the lurking of drunk, desperate, angry, forgotten Eastern European men and boys, oppressed by dictatorship afer dictatorship, by demons real and imagined, men and boys who cannot control anything except for their wives and girlfriends, whom they push against the wall and wallop in the stomach. I’ve seen women punched and broken. I’ve seen their denial, a deep and vast sea of its own, prone to drownings.

Roxane Gay writes about violence with scathing, simple words, like a fire that burns elegantly, flames like rope. I don’t get squeamish. I don’t mind bad language of graphic sex or detailed violence. There is nothing proper about the woman in me. At my core, I am unbridled, and struggle with my own kind of fury. If there’s anything I can’t stand it’s pretense, especially in my writers. There is not an ounce of pretense in Gay’s writing, and yet there, in the midst of sweltering heat and dirt and anger, there is a quiet, unstoppable dignity.

I have never seen or known the violence Roxane’s Miri goes through. Her writing has made me see it, imagine and feel it - late at night, staring past Spinalonga Island, in my fancy fucking hotel suite with a private pool - I read and know in my bones what privilege means to someone who grew up with none. How it gnaws on you, this newfound wealth and those raggedy beginnings. That is what lingers. What it means to be rich when u were once poor, and what it means to go back to a place that you are forever indebted to and conflicted about, and try to walk with your held high, and hope that the joy on your face at being home again, is not mistaken for arrogance.

Children of immigrants see life - the one in their adopted country and their first one - as if through those lenses optometrists place against your forehead during an eye exam. The lens flips and clicks quickly. Is this better? Or this? Number one? Or number two? Things sharpen and fade, contours shift, the smallest of differences, and you must make a decision every few seconds - is this one better or is that one. That I have in common with Mireille Duval. I too have a husband who loves me deeply, purely and sometimes is at a loss at how to tame me. “I hoped he would understand he could not love me without loving where I am from.” I read that sentence over and over again, relief flooding me. It’s been nine years now and he’s been to my country seven times and he loves it because he understand I need him to love it.

Now we are in another hotel, in Athens. We have two rooms, and our balconies overlook the sea - everywhere u go in Greece, inescapable, the water - and two bright swimming pools on the ground floor glimmer like giant puddles of aquamarine. I feel blessed. I feel lost. I remember just days ago being in my grandmothers apartment in Poland, staring at the painting she’s had in her tiny room, of a bearded, watchful Jesus. I try to help my family back there. I try to help them without calling attention to it. I have nothing in common with people born into wealth but here I am staying in the same hotels they stay. I feel badly. I feel fine. The most I desire as a mother is to ground my sons and to remind them - respect people and remember where your mother came from.

I have one and half days left to the end of our vacation and 67 pages left to the end of this magnificent, seering book. I don’t want either to end, but in a way I am ready. Both will stay with me for a long time. Sometimes you read something, and go somewhere, and you are forced to take inventory of your own life, and it is those moments where you are reborn, where you remember what you are.

Filed under An Untamed State novels immigrant violence