Sunday, May 30, 2010


There are so many stories we tell ourselves about ourselves: we come of age; we overcome obstacles; we fall in love; we become parents; we lose parents; we struggle against odds; we triumph over disease; we come to power. We narrate and we order, we align and we reconfigure.

I’ve been thinking about the stories I tell myself about myself. As I was cleaning my closet a few weeks ago, I sifted through a box of amber pill bottles. Oh yeah, I remember that back injury, and god, do I remember those muscle relaxants. Oh right, that kidney infection and that case of pneumonia. Oh and those damnable allergies that never go away. I was wishing that twenty or thirty years ago I started saving all of those bottles. Had I done it, I’d start gluing them together into a structure, a house made of pills, a pharmaceutical autobiography. The late ‘70s could be the portico of infant illness, the ‘80s the entryway of youthful maladies, and then a bedroom for each decade thereafter. I could build a house made of amber bricks, all signifying an ailing moment, a glimpse of pathology.

The room I’ve really wanted to build lately, though, is an entire living room of the pills I’ve taken since 1994: Trazodone. Prozac. Lexapro. Wellburtrin. Celexa. Zoloft. Paxil. I could then enact a bit of performance art in said room: miming side effects at a medicinal sideshow of sorts. I’d build this room and then open it to the public. I’d let people wander through and judge me if they liked.

I’d build this room to make sense of sixteen years of little white pills. I’d build this room to make all those pills into something beautiful. Imagine the amber glow. Imagine the way it could radiate the heat.

Mostly, though, I’d build this room as a way to understand what it means to stop taking these pills. This is what I’m building now: a body not dependent, a mind not reliant, a braver self willing to go without. I’ve tried this before—though not very often—and this time feels decidedly different. Not different because I’m somehow stronger or more able, but different because I seem more willing to sit with the anxiety, to feel the panic that’s sure to come, ready to try to endure in new ways.

I wish others talked about this process. I wish there were more open houses made of amber.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Unexpected discoveries

Last weekend my mom ferried me around town. We met with the bouquet-maker; we “rehearsed” my hair-do; we got pinned at the seamstress; we took measurements at the barn; we celebrated at a perfect shower; we strategized lighting; we took commands from my sister M (who incidentally says that I need to be more “dictatorial.” Hmm.) As we drove around, I felt like I was 12, unable to drive, exhausted by demands, more taciturn than revealing. On Friday morning, we headed out, had a few moments to spare, and to my delight, found ourselves knee-deep in a tag sale. The house was full of treasures, real treasures. Unfortunately, an antiques auction house had priced everything already, so these treasures were priced as such. And so while I didn’t get this ambrotype for a mere song, I adore it nonetheless. I had to pass on five others, but I couldn’t pass on her. I love her golden jewels and her eyes are just haunting enough to make me gasp. I think she’s mid-to-late19th century, though J thinks a bit later.

My other delightful discovery was this baby. In high school, I made skirt patterns for myself by draping newspapers over my hips and penciling rough shapes as quickly as possible. I played fast and loose with seams. I didn’t worry about allowances. I figured it out as I went along. I dreamed about one day having a dress form. J has had one on his “eventual gifts for A” list since he met me. And this one, well, this one was just my size—and also full adjustable—and very sturdy. It could use a new cover, but the pinning pad below is in great shape. At 40 bucks, it was about an eighth of the price of a new one of comparable quality. It will reside temporarily in my mom’s garage, but then it will move in with me for about the next twenty or thirty years. We’re bound to be fast friends.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Two years ago today I held you as we said good-bye so peacefully. Two years ago today, I cried and cried and kissed your long nose. Two years ago today I left the vet’s office without you. Two years ago today everything seemed to shift. I still thought that I saw you out of the corner of my eye. I kept seeing you, in fact. I saw you and smelled you every day for weeks afterward. I didn’t want to vacuum after you were gone and I let the dust and grime accumulate for a month before I relented. I wanted your fur to linger, traces of you in the carpet. Even now I pull out a long-forgotten sweater to find your blonde bits on the sleeve. I think of each day, especially now as I get ready to make another kind of commitment. You were my first, the first someone whom I thought of each day, whom I worried about each afternoon, whom I considered every time I made a decision to be here or there, to travel or to visit a friend. We were rarely apart, you and me. Our best times, of course, were in the woods and there were thousands of them. We also had two glorious winters of cross-country skiing on that lake in Connecticut, the one you fell into in February and cut your paw so deep and so long that you painted the hillside scarlet as we lopped to the car. You sought squirrels, though in nearly twelve years, you only ever caught three and two of them were, well, infirm. But you never lost hope. I liked your determination even as it drove me mad. I liked the way that when you were young, you’d spot a fawn across a meadow and race 300 yards across it with only the vaguest of hopes. I liked that next to chasing animals, I was your favorite thing. But sometimes—and I can admit this now—I felt suffocated by your expectations. And so once you were gone, I realized how much of myself I gave you and how much of myself was now free to give to another. When I marry him next month, I’ll be thinking of you and the kind of commitment you showed me I could make. For that, I’m always thankful.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I went to Michigan to do more than meet Lucy, though that was certainly part of the plan. I also went as more than an excuse for some in-flight knitting. This was, in fact, the first of three planned trips to Michigan over the next eight weeks. I love Michigan in the summer and as I get older, I love to be in my hometown. It’s less vexed now than it has been in the past, though one’s ghosts seem never too far distant in one’s childhood haunts. As my mom and I were driving to the airport on Monday, we crested a small hill and I had a long view of 8th street, a charmless avenue that has changed little in the last thirty years. The storefronts, of course, change color, but they remain. Everything is short and squat, gray and beige; it’s a luckless street that traverses the town. As we drove, I felt what I feel so often in Michigan, the layers of the past all stacked atop one another and yet distinct, a palimpsest of the past.

The layers were ever more discernible at one of the events for which I came home. My grandfather turned 90. 90 years old. My family—cousins, and great aunts, friends, and parents—gathered in what felt like nothing but pleasure. Even my father, who often inclines more toward tears than laughter, couldn’t help but laugh as he toasted his father, a man who still plays tennis each week, and whose delight in living a full life seems undiminished after nearly a century. There were three things that I loved about this event:

1. For at least a decade my grandfather has talked about the “young guys” that are his tennis partners. I always—and stupidly—imagined these to be, well, young guys. So as I was chatting with a few octogenarians on Sunday about their tennis game, I asked them where I could find the “young guys.” I was eager to ask them what it was like to play with the decidedly old guys three times a week for more than twenty years. At first they looked confused, then a bit aghast, and then they just started laughing; “We’re the young guys!”

2. During my father’s toast to his father he talked about Grandpa’s working life, a subject about which I know shamefully little. One time about ten years ago I found a packet of letters from my grandparents that were written to my parents during the 1970s, at a time when they were living near Zagreb, in what was then Yugoslavia. I had remembered—at least I thought I remembered—my grandmother telling me about buying down feathers directly from the geese (this can’t be right) for her pillows in Yugoslavia. In any case, I knew that they had lived in Europe for long stretches of time during the 60s and 70s and I knew that Grandpa was an engineer for Dow Chemical, but I didn’t know much more (and who really knows what engineers do). So when my father started talking about Grandpa opening plastics plants in Europe, I just started giggling. It was like living in The Graduate for a minute. He just kept saying “plastics.” “He brought plastics to Europe.” This cracks me up. Plastics.

3. Cousins! I love, love, love my cousins. I love hanging out with them and whenever we get to see each other, I just end up wishing that I got to see them all of the time. They’re smart and interesting, incredibly funny and definitely a little crazy.

I’m hoping that we can celebrate again at 100.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


As I was walking, err, losing, Lucy in the orchard. J's sister was bringing her first baby, a son, into the world. And as she labored--hard work no doubt--I sat on a plane and knit--easy work--her son a pair of bright lime booties to match his surprise sweater. I wish I could ditch out for a day and take the bus and meet the newest delivery.

Alternatively, I'll wait patiently for J to make his way up here and we can go greet our newest nephew together. Oh joy!


I know, I know. I’ve been remiss. It’s not like I’m not aware of my lapses, my delays, my tardiness. As someone who feels obligations heavily, I’m always aware of my absence from this space, my space. But I’m also always aware of returns, of homecomings, of starts and restarts.

In the spirit of a restart, I’m going to take it in reverse. And in reverse I end up at yesterday, a day in which I awoke to the sun in my eyes in the downstairs bedroom at my Mom’s house in Michigan. She has a new pup, an almost pathologically shy poodle named Lucy.

Lucy is the kind of dog who seems to understand that there are things in life that are preferable to slavish adoration of her owners, like half-heartedly chasing a ball or lazily lounging in the sun. I think it’s fair to say that Lucy has really no interest in me. Nevertheless, she and I set off for a mid-morning walk in an old, maybe abandoned, orchard. I couldn’t help musing about Arlo, the pup whom I really got to know during the year we lived with my Mom close to another orchard nearby. As I was remembering how much Arlo loved playing a little game I used to call “chase me around the tree, please,” Lucy bolted. Took off. Made haste. She was done with me. I didn’t worry. She wasn’t chasing a deer. She wasn’t chasing a car. She just decided that she’d had enough and so she left. When I got back to my mom’s, she was happily snoozing in the sun, just where I knew that she’d be. The strange thing is that I like a dog that clearly doesn’t really like me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

aches and pains

A sore neck. A sore knee. A sore foot. Everything, it seems, is aching. I hurt my right knee years ago. It a permanent pain, a sharp reminder that I can’t quite move the way that I’d like to. I can no longer do the hour-long runs every day that I did throughout my twenties. My beloved hound Arlo and I had a standing 4 pm date in the woods—the woods of Michigan, the woods of Massachusetts, the woods of Connecticut, the woods of North Carolina. Sometimes we had a guest in tow—a boyfriend, an Elena, a perambulating visitor. Mostly it was just the two of us. For years we would part ways at the trailhead and I’d then spend the better part of an hour trying to find that irascible dog to get back in the car and head home. In later years I found myself taking the lead, slowing a bit and waiting for my panting pal to catch up. By the time Arlo died—almost two years ago—I was ready to give my running shoes a break. Or really, my back and my knee were ready for me to them a break.

I started practicing yoga around the time I met Josh. I have a lot to say about my transition to yoga—and this moment isn’t the right one—but it was swift and compelling, the result of an intensely committed teacher in Carrboro who has changed more than one body and certainly more than one life. When I moved to Philadelphia, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to afford yoga, but I stretched my tiny budget because it seemed essential. I practiced at a studio near my apartment for seven or eight months—in which time I finally mastered several inversions and got a bunch stronger—until just before Christmas, but then I just stopped going. I could no longer locate a desire to practice. I was exhausted after work and committing to yoga meant that I had absolutely no free time. So I joined a gym and started running and lifting weights again. I liked how easy it was to go in, run for 20 minutes, do a dozen squats, sit up fifty times, and leave. I liked that I wasn’t being asked to examine my soul. I liked that I wasn’t forced to slow down. I liked that I didn’t have to breathe or think or relax in any prescribed way. I knew that I was, in some weird way, regressing, but I just needed to run.

But now, five months and four injuries later, I’m sore. I’m stiff. My neck aches. My foot kills. My knee is getting worse. I’m not sleeping as well. My panic is starting to come back.

I think I might need to reexamine my choices. I think it might be time to return to yoga. I’m not sure what this will look like, but I think it’s time. And isn’t it a fine thing that my other houndish pal, the downward dog, will meet me there?

Monday, May 10, 2010


I’m not usually a real rusher. I don’t speed through things. I’m efficient, I suppose. I work at a pace that allows to me to notice when other people do things really fast or really slow. Take my friend EM, a poet and English instructor extraordinaire. She teaches 180 students, writes seriously good poetry, is in a band that performs regularly in New York, and is about to take her Ph.D. exams. She also writes lovely letters, is in a serious relationship, and makes time for friends and family. She does all of these things because many of them she can do quite quickly. She can bake a batch of cookies—from cracking the eggs to painting the frosting—in less than an hour. She’s quick. I’m not nearly that quick. But I’m also not slow, like another friend who shall remain nameless, and who takes a half an hour to shower and another half an hour to brush her hair. She’s a stunningly good writer, but deliberates over every word, every syllable really, and so things take a long time. J is also what I might call deliberate. He thanks me for my patience occasionally, like at times when he takes an entire day—and uses every dish in the house—to cook a dinner, but often my desire to have something done runs directly into his desire to have something done well.

So when I take on a new project I’m often hyper-aware of my speed and the way that my speed affects the outcome. Recently I was getting nervous that I wasn’t going to have something made for J’s sister’s soon-to-arrive baby [perhaps I should pause here and say that I’m painfully aware that this little blog space has recently been taken over by all things baby. Rest assured that it’s a passing phase – though with not one, not two, but three of my facebook friends announcing the births of their children yesterday alone, I’m not so sure…] and so I abandoned what I had been working on to frantically get this on and off the needles:

It’s the ubiquitous Zimmerman surprise jacket. I made it in worsted cotton in hopes that it would be easy to wash and quick to make. It was certainly quick, but I think that’s because I ramped up my speed out of anxiety. As a result, I didn’t love the process. I was just frantically trying to finish it and now of course, there’s not a baby due in sight for the next two weeks. I could have slowed down, been more deliberate (especially with the seaming), and probably enjoyed it a bunch more. I need to remember that: slow down, enjoy the process, breathe. Slow down, enjoy the process, breathe. Slow down, enjoy the process, breathe. Oh no, I guess knitting has once again become a metaphor for life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

nipple confusion

The end of the semester is always a crazy time -- students frantically trying to write that paper a little better ("can I please just email you one more draft?"), my trying to grade that paper a little faster ("no, sorry. I just can't."(finger down throat gesture)) -- and this year the crazies have been compounded by wedding planning, shower attending, karaoke singing, book editing, weight watching. Usually the semester ends and I approach my summer doings with a relish. In North Carolina, I would plant like mad and sew a quilt top in a weekend, as if all the intensity of the semester would simply translate into all the intensity of summer doings. By August, though, things would always slow down, my ambitions diminished in the heat of the South. This year is different. The semester has ended, but its ending has only made the looming deadline of my book project (a new edited history of Bryn Mawr) more glaring. I still have about fifty years to account for and I'm just absolutely exhausted.

The kind of exhausted that feels like you're always looking through a dirty window, like you forgot to put in your contacts, but they're actually in. Exhausted like you don't feel like taking off your shoes before you go to sleep.

So this weekend was all about resting...and grading those papers, and writing thank you notes for the best (really, truly, the best) celebration with my lady friends last weekend, sealing up invitations, and well, you know, sewing and knitting. I've been champing at the bit to finish a couple project, like this one:

Booties! I love booties. I didn't know that I loved booties until this morning, but I do. I mean, what's not to love? The pattern is from Anna Maria Horner's new book, Handmade Beginnings. This pair is for a super special friend who, I hope, will find these the perfect little coverings for her new babe's tootsies. Horner's book seems to have several good projects and the directions were clear and concise. M would be well satisfied.

But now let's get down to business. You ask, why the cheeky title today? Nipple confusion, huh? Well, that's what I said. I mean that's what I said when my kindly doorman fetched this package for me yesterday:

Yes, it seems that the kind folks at Similac ("For Strong Moms") seem to think that I'm the one due to deliver. I can't quite explain how the arrival of this little care package made me feel. Equal parts bemused, confused, angered and saddened. I will say that the anger seems to have stemmed from a kind of consternation: why does Similac think I'm the kind of lady not to breastfeed? But as I looked up a near-by women's shelter at which to donate this little bit of bizarre benevolence from corporate America, I just felt a strange kind of empty terror. I don't know what else to say about it, but I think I'm just going to sit with that feeling. I haven't yet thought of a brilliant response to Similac (surely this calls for one), but its arrival has got me wondering: why in the world is this company sending me baby formula?

How did I get on a list of expectant moms?

Did this package intentionally arrive the day before mother's day as a cruel joke calling to the absence of a baby in my life?

Might my recent purchase of several baby sewing books put me on a list of pregnant ladies (which doesn't seem like a particularly smart marketing move on Similac's part given all those sewing grandmothers)?

Does Similac simply send formula to all women who have wedding registries? Oh the horror.

Or should I just give over to obvious: that there's just far too much private information out there in circulation and Similac actually knows something that I don't?

In any case, I think this is, in fact, nothing more than a true--and cruel--case of nipple confusion.