Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Last weekend, my amazing husband decided I needed a break from big city life. When I climbed off the Bolt Bus to Philadelphia on Friday, he promptly bundled me into his car and drove me north again for a surprise weekend trip. I began to be delightfully suspicious when we entered the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, but when we drove through Milford onto ever darker and more winding roads, I was concerned. Where on earth was he taking me?

Eventually we ended up in what appeared to be a dead-end. After two false starts—one into somebody else's driveway and one into a defunct trail—we finally found our pitch-black private road, our own driveway, and a tiny cabin that loomed in the headlights. Inside: bliss.

We stayed up until three o'clock in the morning enjoying beer and popcorn in front of the fire (something we have sorely missed in our Philadephia row house). Kira the dog fell asleep long before we did. In the morning, I ventured outdoors to see the creek I could only hear the night before, gurgling along below the stone terrace behind the cabin. I discovered that the leaves were already gorgeous shades of gold and orange and russet.

Later that afternoon, we drove back down Route 209 to hike to two waterfalls we had passed in the dark the night before: Ramondskill Falls (the longest waterfall in Pennsylvania) and Dingmans Falls (the second-longest). Derek climbed a shaley mountainside and spotted a red dragonfly. I got a new stamp in my National Parks Passport. We visited a waterwheel and bought some excellent cookies. By the time we went back to the cabin, my smiling muscles were tired.

Middle Raymondskill Falls

Red dragonfly

Snaky roots

That night we made fondue from wine and cheese Derek had brought from home, and sat in front of the fire slurping it up with chunks of poorly baked Shoprite bread. It was fantastic. I've never been so happy to be kidnapped. It's good to know that, even while New York City roars around me, a little cabin sits in quiet woods, waiting for my return. And that I have the most thoughtful husband in the world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two Dreams and a Sunset

The sky was gorgeous on the way home tonight: a field of flat, broken clouds awash in pink light. "Red at night, sailors' delight," my parents (the sailors) used to say. So I guess we can hope for good weather tomorrow. Still, I'm not taking my umbrella out of my purse. I left it at the apartment over the weekend, so I walked home from the subway at 11:00 last night in a rioting thunderstorm. Note to self: Put taxi numbers on your cell phone.

As for the dreams, I have two to share. If you enjoy dreams and ponderings on the unconscious, you should also check out my friend Brent's blog: Nine Long Nights. I scribbled both of my dreams in my journal shortly after waking up.

Dream 1: There is a hurricane, or perhaps an earthquake. Across the street, the fronts of buildings move like the surface of water, like a wave. I hear no wind, feel no shifting ground. Now a wrecking ball begins demolishing the buildings on my side of the street. It crashes through the side wall of a building just across an alley from me. In the back of the building, people eating in a Chinese restaurant carry on, unconcerned.

At the front of the building, a man steps up to have his picture taken with the destruction. The ball slices through the building, leaves chaos behind. The man is in the path of the next swing. He sidles out of view of the crane operator, smiling at me. I shut my eyes. The ball swings. I keep my eyes closed. Collision.

In the darkness behind my eyelids, I overhear horrified voices discussing the body in pieces, the impossibility of saving a life so shattered. In my mind's eye, I see the scattered body parts, the brains and blood on the ball and chain. I turn away with my eyes still shut and move toward the back of the building to warn the happy restaurant-goers not to leave by the front. I am thinking, I have seen two people die today. (How two? The logic of dreams.) I could have prevented this death, but I said nothing and shut my eyes.

My friend Sue is in the restaurant, which is enormous, like a beer garden, and crowded with people from some kind of mission trip, all in matching t-shirts. I begin warning them, and then the dream dissolves into wakefulness.

Dream 2: I am standing in crystal-clear Australian ocean water with my friend Saedra, carrying a heavy purse. We are surrounded by the white hot clarity of noon. Bubbles skid and swirl around our feet. On the beach nearby, others splash and play. I want to go swimming, but I'm carrying too much stuff. "Wait here," I tell Saedra. "I'll go lock up my purse at the place where I'm house-sitting, and then I'll only have to carry a couple of keys."

Back at the house—a ramshackle warren of interconnecting rooms—I discover a dozen doors, each with its own keys, some with multiple locks. There are keys of all types: door keys, car keys, tiny and huge keys. I mean to lock up and leave, but I keep getting distracted. For one thing, the neighbors seem to have their own sets of keys, and they keep invading the house. They appear out of nowhere, setting up a party in the living room, taking a shower in one of the bathrooms. As I pass through that bathroom on my way to lock one of the doors, the woman showering grabs me through the curtain, enveloping me in plastic. I shriek, but even in the dream some part of my brain analyzes the moment, realizes it's a reversal of Psycho.

I never escape the house and return to the beautiful, hot, sunny beach and the cool crystal water. At the end of the dream, I'm watching TV with the invading neighbors. It's a show where we can call in and rate old music videos. Somehow, a subliminal message of "Vote no, it's awful" has been laid down to the beat of the current song. On screen, Elton John (flabby, tattooed, in a midriff-baring top) and Bono (in silly amber-colored glasses) squat and sing together.

So, dear readers, what do we make of this? I theorize that both dreams refer to my anxiety about living in a crummy Queens apartment two states away from my husband and our home in Philadelphia. The proliferation of keys in the second dream probably reflects on the fact that I have three keys to the apartment, but cannot even latch my bedroom door. I'm both secure and exposed. Lately I've been ogling the other apartment buildings on the way home, thinking, "Look at those fire escapes! I bet THEY have smoke detectors." And in a fair world, I wouldn't be paying the same amount of rent as the other two roommates, who both have rooms twice the size of mine. But perhaps at this point I'm veering from dream interpretation into straightforward whining.

New York does make me nervous, though: the kind of nervous that makes you want to shut your eyes in front of the wrecking ball. Sensory overload: the subway roars and sways, the cars honk, the elevated train rattles its cage. Gum and dog shit on the sidewalk. People speaking in tongues, refusing eye contact. I feel my smile going underground.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Snotty and Thankful

So, I'm sitting at home in Philadelphia with a cold. If I had been in New York today, I would have sat in on a meeting with a vendor of archival materials and possibly helped install some priceless treasures in the Three Faiths exhibit set to open October 22 at the Steven A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. I got to help some last week, and the books were awe-inspiring: Coptic and medieval Christian scrolls, thoroughly painted and illuminated; beautifully decorated Islamic books with flap closures and polished purple paper; Jewish manuscripts and sacred commentary. Books covered in velvet, books covered in gilt silver with painted enamel bosses and semi-precious stones. Parchment, paper, leather, hand-colored maps, woodcut prints of the saved and the damned. If you'll be in New York, go see this exhibition. The books are exquisite.

But I'm not there today, helping out. No, I'm alternately lying down, blowing my nose, sneezing, watching recorded Mystery! shows, eating grilled cheese and soup, and sleeping. Thankful that I don't always feel this bad. Thankful that normally I can run up the stairs rather than dragging my slow way one step at a time. Thankful that I've got a Mom three states away who would make me tea if she were here instead of there. And a Dad who would light a fire in my fireplace if I had one. And a husband who taught me how to make grilled cheese without burning the bread. And a neurotic black cat who sleeps between my knees and keeps me warm.

My parents have both retired now. That's them at the top of this post: Dad's in the huge bag his department gave him at the party this spring, and Mom's ready to haul him off on their new adventures. It's a bittersweet thing, having your parents retire. On the phone, Mom tells me she's selling off or giving away the smoked-glass stemware they never use, since it's both too fancy and too out-of-date for their lifestyle. Ditto the silver. Do I want it? But I don't use the scraps of silver I got, either. We're all too busy to spend hours cleaning off the tarnish.

Of course, the subtext for all this retirement house-cleaning is that Mom doesn't want me and my brother to have to do it, someday—let it be far, far off!—when she and Dad are gone. I know that day will come. I cry about it, sometimes, in advance, like a pressure-cooker letting off steam. As I get older myself, I know more and more people in the sandwich generation, taking care of both their kids and their parents. And it feels strange to know that I'll never be a sandwich. I'm the end of the line. No kids. Nobody to give my crystal and silver to when I retire. Nobody to mother when my own mother is gone.

Recently, I told a new friend—older, with a young son—that my husband and I probably wouldn't have kids. Some other people close to my age voiced the same opinion. We didn't like kids, particularly, or we were ambivalent; we had other things we wanted to do with our lives. Selfish! she exclaimed. And I'm sure that—in the right circumstances—she's right: having a child turns into the most selfless love of your life. Yet we all see around us the consequences of selfish child-rearing: neglected, abandoned, abused, or just plain spoiled children. Give them whatever they want, just so they stop bothering us.

I think having children must be like responding to a fire: You never know what you'll do—what you're capable of—until it happens. Will you run into the burning building? It could be the love of your life, a selfless, unconditional act of giving. It could be the opposite. Lingering resentment and hardness of heart. I don't know what would happen to me if, in the short fertile time I have left, I had a child. I've always liked babies more than children. And perhaps by the time the baby began to turn into a greedy, manipulative little human, he or she would have claimed my heart already. I'd be able to put up with the tantrums, the messes, the playdates, the tears. The snotty noses. All I know is that my parents did it for me. They're still doing it. And I'm thankful.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Where did September go? And how about the rest of August? In my case, they went to finishing up my internship at the National Portrait Gallery, completing leftover treatment and research projects at Winterthur, visiting family and friends in North Carolina, and starting my next internship at New York Public Library. This one goes from mid-September through the end of May.

The day I took the above picture was memorably bad: I rented a cargo van, bashed it into a car on my street in Manayunk while trying to parallel park it, wrestled with my conscience, left a note, loaded the car, drove it to Queens, parked in somebody's private driveway without realizing it, got yelled at, prayed, managed to parallel park successfully, said thank you, unloaded in the gasping heat, drank a half-gallon of cold water, and assembled my tiny bedroom, which is the size of a walk-in closet: 7 x 11 feet. The door to the rest of the apartment has a knob, but the doorjamb has no hole in it and no catchplate to accept the tongue of the knob. So it doesn't latch. Ah, New York.

Since taking this picture, I have opened up the futon (which almost makes a queen-sized bed) and lost the little floor space remaining. But it does make sleeping more comfortable.

I have also read Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit (fabulous) and Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, which joins a string of good novels named after lines of hymns. However, I think Hour is not quite as coherent as I Know This Much Is True. (In general, Lamb likes to bite off a bit more than is comfortably chewed. And in this book, he certainly embraces discomfort: Columbine, Iraq, PTSD, adultery, vehicular manslaughter.)

And I've thought a lot about writing. I've seen Jonathan Lethem speak. I've gotten my friend Amy Rogers' excellent advice on using artificial deadlines to make yourself productive and overcome your fear of the sh!tty rough draft. I've written in journals and notebooks. Just not on this blog. I hope to remedy that as time goes on, even if nobody's reading!