the best medicine for grief

Originally posted on Southern Exposure: Going to the Chapel (Hill):

Magnolia

Is a hundred-and-one-pound rescue dog: half Mastiff, half Shepherd, and no small amount of wooly mammoth.

Here I am in this new tiny house, with this new massive dog, getting up at dawn to write before I drive my mother’s bucket of a car to my new job, where I sit tethered to a desk from 9 to 5. This new world is strange and pretty, with wild packs of thug mosquitoes, mutant spiders, heat—heat that in heft and force could blind a man and fell him—and every kind of tree: scrubby, piney, stately, savage, towering, or choked by vines. These things require adjustment. But there are also bounties here, pleasures to which the soul adapts quite easily. The quiet. The watercolor cotton sky. The jackpot rattle of the cicadas. Sweet corn and farm-warmed peaches. The unsullied scent of rain.

I want to call my mother and tell her she was right. But, awfully, in this singular…

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and so it goes

Originally posted on Southern Exposure: Going to the Chapel (Hill):

Mum's stone, new home

Of all the things that I expected to be difficult (moving here), losing my mother was never even in the realm of my most terrible imagination. But it has become the only thing. Now there are vampires sucking at my words and rendering them bloodless. Suddenly. Tragically. Impossibly. I need every adverb in the book. I need to bend the language until it howls, then breaks. Or else I will resort to saying all the dumb things that now feel like the only things to say. It really does feel like a hole in your heart.

But then it isn’t real. There are arrangements to be made, and boxes to be packed. Loaded. Unloaded. Unpacked. And little moments managing to be beautiful in spite of this. Little jokes she might have made. Her memory, the act of her on a planet which is now unreal and immeasurable—both too big and too…

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Independence Day

Originally posted on Southern Exposure: Going to the Chapel (Hill):

empire state, fourth of july

9 pm July 4th, 2014 found me on the couch (in front of yet another episode of Call the Midwife), in sweatpants (or summer equivalent), with mac n’ cheese and one of those single-woman half bottles of Cavit pinot grigio.  I was not ashamed. Just home from schlepping syrupy mojitos to FIFA fans for nine hours straight, I decided not to go to Brooklyn, where friends were gathering to watch the fireworks; not to put on patriotic eyeshadow (even if I owned such frippery, which I do not); not to go anywhere at all. Instead I opened up the balcony and, once the crackleboom of the Macy’s display got going, watched with passive admiration at its reflection in the windows of a nearby building. It wasn’t lonely and it wasn’t lame. By the time I’d made myself (and polished off) a hot fudge sundae (and the modest glug of wine), I experienced my one brief…

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what my boyfriend has to say about Woody Allen

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{ trigger warning }

Men have been abusing women in one way or another for most of human history. Fortunately things are improving, but they are a long way from being ideal. This should be a source of embarrassment and motivation to all sensible men. In turn this should motivate us to be more careful and sensitive when putative cases come to light. Most of us liked Woody Allen, and his films. The world would be worse in a small way if the allegations are correct. We don’t know whether or not they are. But we do know lots of things. We know that we should be careful and sensitive when dealing with issues like this. We know that our liking his films or his screen personality provide us with no evidence one way or another about these allegations. We know that it is almost impossible to imagine forcing our own child to invent allegations like this, to put our own child through the invasive examinations, the awful psychological trauma. We know that, unfortunately, men have been abusing women, old and young, for many years, and continue to do so, and that they have done so in a culture in which they were the dominant subgroup, and have traditionally not suffered the appropriate consequences. But we also know that the way we react to allegations like this says more about our culture than whether they are true. If we react with sensitivity and concern, this will not only make things a little less bad for the would-be victim, but also for the many other victims who have suffered in the past. For what its worth, I think the main thing we should be talking about these days is what we can do to protect women, young and old, and to support them when this protection fails. Fuck Woody Allen; he’s not important.

I’d like to hide behind this quote for days, for weeks, for as long as it takes for social media to stop talking about Woody Allen. I’d like to let it speak for me.

The fact is that I can’t. The fact is I’m the one whose anger has been bloating up our studio apartment with its fat red force. And no matter how eloquently he comes to the defense of women, I feel a squiggling sense of shame for all the links and likes and other people’s words that I’ve been quietly adding to the Internet this week.

The particulars don’t matter. There are plenty of articles out there fact-checking each other ad nauseum. It’s not about he’s guilty, she’s telling the truth. It’s not a matter of I don’t like his movies, nor should you. I have no authority in either matter. But what has me wailing at the ceiling is how much instant hatred there was out there once this woman told her story to the readership of the New York Times.

One thing the “we’ll never know what happened” camp has right is that there’s not a lot of evidence—on either side—and it’s not our job to adjudicate. I’m not looking for a manhunt. But don’t we have it in us to acknowledge that just because we like a man or that man’s art doesn’t mean all those who cry against him must be liars, or manipulators, or, my favorite: “women scorned?”

There are predators out there, and so few of them are caught. When it comes to children (and here we’re talking about a seven-year-old child, not an adult woman; this isn’t just another post about rape culture and victim-shaming), they are smart enough not to be caught. Without going into motives, or the ethics of consent, I’ll just say that there are ways to discredit children. Easy ways, like: Choose your moment. Use your fingers or your mouth—not an object or a penis that might bruise them—and be gentle; this will leave no evidence. Tell yourself you’ve taken pleasure for yourself and done no lasting harm. Then tell the child that what’s just happened wasn’t wrong, that they are special. And, if that fails, instruct them not to tell. “This is our little secret.” “No one else would understand.” This is where abusers do the real damage. Because children know enough to feel shame, to feel in their guts that what’s just happened wasn’t right.

The point is, Woody Allen doesn’t matter. But a case like this, out in the open, with every intellectual who ever saw an art-house screening of Manhattan or Annie Hall at attention? That’s an opportunity to take a good long look at what it says about our culture that we’d rather defame the victim than consider an uncomfortable truth, be that about a total stranger or a famous man.

As a child who’s been through something like this—and the daughter of a mother who has too—I can only say: it would be the sickest kind of woman who would put a child through this scrutiny, let alone subject her to the speculum, just because she’s “pissed at her ex-husband.” Who knows, maybe Mia Farrow did. But ask yourselves, what do you really think of women?

I can’t say with any certainty that Dylan Farrow told the truth. You can’t say she didn’t.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter if he touched her in an attic or he never touched her anywhere. Woody Allen made her feel like he could or would or wanted to. And that is not a way a father ought to make a seven-year-old girl feel.

Glasgow, winter, four p.m.

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It’s not yet four p.m. and not quite dark. That’s how I know our time is almost up.

We’ve been here a month, which includes the day they called the darkest of the year. December 21st: six hours, fifty-eight minutes, and forty-one seconds in the sun.

We’re into seven-hour days now, as winter begins to wane and the low ceiling above Glasgow lightens. Every year I get a little sad to see the days get gradually longer; soon the lamps will be of lesser use, and the sun’s fluorescence will be turned up to full blast. This year, doubly so. This year, I’ve watched whole days disappear in gloaming. Sunrises at 8:45 a.m., sunsets at 3:45 p.m. Pitch black by half-past four. And I will miss it.

Today, the twilight has a whitish glare to it. That’s how I know it isn’t proper twilight yet. Night is still an hour off. It’s still light enough to see the rain (and there is almost always rain).

In addition to these holidays with B. and his family (basking in the warmth of meats and meals and mince pies, pints and pints of Guinness, plus a bottle or two of Islay whisky and the wondrous fact of people who all genuinely like each other—even at the stressful times of year), I will remember one morning most clearly. A day that, even with the blinds and curtains opened wide, never quite became a day. There was just a deep, wet greyness.

I imagine if I lived here all year round I might feel flattened by this season of black and quiet gloom. Instead I’m rapt and warmed by it. As if, somehow, I might be hidden from the world back home by five time zones and this omnipresent dusk.

The world back home means forty hours a week spent in a chiropractic office, whose windows open only to an airshaft. But I’m going back a little warmer, with the knowledge that darkness isn’t always heavier than day.

on contributing to society after grad school

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This weeks’s progress:

Making my first student loan payment, a sternum-wrenching $700 debit.

Lovingly selecting (and then putting back) thirty dollars’ worth of groceries to make one meal I was craving, then purchasing instead a carton of cage-free eggs and a jar of mayo, because… protein!

Spending all day Saturday and all day Sunday at the desk (read: my kitchen table), revising chapters of the-thing-that-was-my-thesis-and-would-like-to-be-a-book.

Staying in evenings to watch Friday Night Lights (which I have already seen in its entirety) with B (who hasn’t).

Forgoing a desperately-needed pedicure for a private toe-scouring in the little tub I use to handwash clothes.

Baby steps, y’all.

Sox fan in exile: memories in honor of the ALDS

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As a lifelong Red Sox fan, the first thing I did when moving to New York was look up baseball bars that might be somewhat less than hostile. I made a list, by neighborhood, then set about cajoling my handful of new friends to try them out, hoping to be spared the awkwardness of perching at a bar, alone, and having to prove to (male) strangers that a girl can follow baseball without assistance or flirtation.

I washed down Hairy Monk burgers with pints of Guinness—sometimes with a little Boston ‘B’ drawn in the head, but soon that got expensive.

One year, I went splitsies with my father on a satellite package that would give me NESN coverage of every game. For three-odd hours, my roach-infested living room filled with the dulcet tones of NESN jingles and salty Boston accents selling mattresses. But what a tease; the feed opened for the first pitch and closed with the last. Cut to black. No Eck, no RemDawg, no Dan Shaughnessy. No W.B. Mason Extra Innings, or Granite City Electric’s Extra Innings Extra.

The iPhone brought me the At Bat app, a glorious model of stats and battery-draining cartoon-batter-in-a-strike-box coverage, pitch by 90 mile per hour pitch. Fastball. Inside. Ball four. I plunked it in my speaker dock and reveled in the trusty ballpark lilt of WEEI Red Sox Radio, listening to the crowd, the claps, the crack of bats on balls. I found Joe Castiglione’s nasal twang extremely comforting.

But mostly, as an exiled member of the Fenway Faithful, I went gently into that pinstriped good night. I took the grunts and jeers of those I passed while in my Boston cap. I suffered the scoffs and tuts of cashiers I paid with my BoSox bank card. Eventually I was inured. Cashiers would raise an eyebrow, daring; I would raise my eyebrow back. It was just another debit card.

I bought a tank top that read, “Real Women Don’t Date Yankee Fans,” and wore it proudly even when, by force of demographic overpowering, I did not heed its wisdom. That got expensive too. I went to Yankee Stadium, even when the Sox were not in town. I forged a maybe-more-than friendship with a man who wore his Yankee braided-magnet-necklaces in the shower and to bed. For a golden year or two, we traded stats like barbs. We agreed on mutually important things, like A-rod’s (talent granted, but) lack of greatness, Big Papi’s likeability, Joe Torre’s class, Jacoby’s speed… I told myself my love for baseball wasn’t Sox-exclusive. I could clap politely when Jeter broke Lou Gehrig’s record on that fine September night. This would not forfeit my soul—or displease my nana’s, may she rest in peace.

Some seasons, I simply lacked the fortitude or funds to keep up as I should. I spent summers bumming around Europe. A trade, an injury would come and go, with me no wiser. I’d lose track of starting pitcher ERAs. (I did tear up, however, when I first saw Youk in Yankee uniform. Likewise when V-tek finally retired.) But I always tuned in for the big games. I grew comfortable behind enemy lines. I bellied up to sports bars four-deep with my foes and clapped, starkly and loud, against the silence when the Sox scored hits against the Yanks. I urged acquaintances and friends to do the same.

Which is how I ended up taking a Scotsman and two Mexicans to the Bronx.

Thursday, September 5th. Night of the first autumn nip. We bore the insult of New York fans and New York frankfurter inferiority and settled in our seats—wedged up in the grandstand about as far as one can go before falling out the back. And there, in the gentle, late-season fluorescence of a night game, having convinced two-thirds of the assembled company (my philosopher boyfriend and his female colleague) to root for Boston, I set about detailing finer points.

“What is it for a pitch to be ‘nasty?’” they inquired, looking for the exegesis of the term.

As if the very gods themselves were smiling on my errand, the things I spoke were manifest. “If this,” I said… “then this.” “If in a ground-out the shortstop throws to second and the second baseman throws to first, then, feasibly, two batters can be out; that’s called a double play.” All of a sudden, 6-4-3. Oooh. “And if a fair ball bounces out into the stands, it’s called a ground rule double…” Immediately one was hit. Aaah. I knew better than to burden them with niggly matters like the strategies of bunting or the infield fly.

Being newly-doctored, they were fast to learn. Fast, also, to internalize the love for this year’s red-socked journeymen.

“If this hitter gets a homerun, then the Red Sox get three points!” declaimed my Glaswegian boyfriend in one at-bat.

“They aren’t points,” his interlocutor dissented, “they’re runs. Right?” She shot to me.

“Right!”

*

             It was just one of those magic nights. The air was crisp. The stadium was somewhat empty (it was the second night of Rosh Hashanah) and we had landed in a patch of somewhat-less-than-hostile Yankee fans, interspersed with energetic, orphan pockets of folk in Red Sox jerseys, hooting quietly into their beers.

“Boo!” I cried, against my usual decorum, when A-Rod took the plate.       “Booooooo!” my cohort cried, with joiners’ glee.

“Hey! Eeeeeeasy, Boston,” razzed the (already red-faced) Yankee diehard in the “28 Championships” hat and jacket, at which point I promised him I wouldn’t boo anybody but A-Rod. The end of the game would find us fist-pounding in mutual respect.

And the game. Oh what a game. Two scoreless innings, and then a third-inning two-run swap. A tie-breaking fourth followed by three runs of insurance in the fifth. The Red sox were on top.

My friends clapped, bouncing in their seats. “We are so going to win this!” As much as their blossoming love for America’s (and my) favorite pastime warmed my heart, their gloat needled my guts. “No no no no no no no,” I slurred at them, cross-eyed with trepidation. “You must never ever say that.” I did everything but make them perform some unsaying ritual—like jumping up and down one-footed, rubbing their bellies and their heads, intoning, “Go Mass, wicked pissah, I shall never speak so cockily about a four-run lead…especially against the Yankees.” But they didn’t understand about the House of Pain.

As if on cue, Jacoby got picked off at first (after several attempts).

“You see?” I said to them.

“Pffft,” they said to me. Lavarnway singled Nava in and Boston scored another run. But I sank into my seat to witness history’s umpteenth encore. The Yanks slapped us to the tune of six runs in the bottom of the seventh. The newest immigrants to Red Sox Nation were aghast.

The lone Yank fan in our party, my boyfriend’s colleague’s boyfriend, was a businessman. He had been trained to think the Yankees, by statistical imperative, were doomed to win. He came to life quite suddenly and started clapping. Clapping and smirking. Smirking and clapping.

“How could this happen?” They wailed and gnashed their teeth.

I smiled a tight-lipped smile and spoke the mantra—to which my dear old Dad had always taught me I should turn when times were tough—the very same words we muttered to each other after Game Three of the 2004 ALCS: “We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em.”

Like children facing their first disappointment, they watched, mouths open, stunned, as our three batsmen in the eighth went up then down. They clawed me—and their armrests—as the Yankees did the same.

Top of the ninth, and we were one run down. Yankee Stadium roared for Mo, who jogged in, warmed up, and swiftly logged two outs. And then?

And then. By this time, some of the Yankee yuppies in our section had departed. Little islands of us good guys tried to keep our faith above the two-out din.

And then. As if by magic, Mike Napoli knocked Mariano’s fourteenth pitch—a cutter—to centerfield. Quintin Berry (the new Dave Roberts?) snuck his way to third. Drew singled, Berry scored. Tie ballgame.

Bottom of the ninth. One out. Soriano walked, stole second. And then—as if by hand of retributive god—we caught him stealing third. Two outs. Curtis Granderson went down swinging.

Top of the tenth. The thunder of Yankee rally had kittened out into an indignant bellow here and there. Joe Girardi sent in Joba, and the rest was history. The Boston fans and I were on our feet, out-shouting the enemy. My boyfriend was hopping up and down. Mexico’s newest baseball fan was chanting, “SÍ SE PUEDE!” at the very top of her lovely academic lungs as her boyfriend glowered. Middlebrooks flew out, but Jacoby singled and stole second (take that, Adam Warren), and Victorino brought him home. It didn’t matter that Papi was intentionally walked for the second time that evening. Or that we stranded a pair of men on base. Koji Uehara came in for the 10th inning save—getting A-Rod in two pitches and Overbay in twelve. Suzuki whiffed the number 20 pitch, and that was that. The Sox had won it, 9 to 8. “New York, New York.”

They may not be as frequent, my moments as a Sox fan among strangers, but they’re there. I fall somewhere on the exile spectrum. A better fan, perhaps, would pay closer attention, from April to August. A lesser woman, however, may have given up.

I go home and plug the WEEI boys back into my stereo. I try to evoke, for two newly-minted citizens of the Nation, the ethos of the Bearded Idiots of yesteryear. (My boyfriend liked this; he’s hirsute.) I try to explain about small ball. About keeping the faith. And what it means for us to be the first team to net 90 Ws. Or what it will mean to win the AL East.

“There’s just something about this team,” I tell them, as Salty smacks a go-ahead Grand Salami against the Yanks. I tell them about a ballpark someways to the North, nestled above a turnpike, about a place where baseballs sail into the bluest night above the monstah green.

“You think this is good?” I ask them. “Just you wait until October.”

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