I’m on a PLANE

I’m flying high over Nashville, Tennessee and we’re all about to die. The thunderstorm rolled in just as I was taking off and as it turns out, I do not like flying through dense clouds filled with lightening.  I do not like that even a little bit. And I know, I KNOW that the plane wants to stay in the sky, but does the sky want the plane to stay there? Have we ever asked? Does the sky get a say?

There is a girl on this plane flying for the first time and the man behind her calmed her by telling her that it would probably be a bumpy flight because of the storm. And by calmed I mean he had the opposite effect. On me. A girl to whom he was not speaking.

After the initial ascent through the clouds and once my dramatic sighing had ceased, I realized we are okay. The clouds are too thick to fall through. They’ll hold us up. And also with the thigh of the manspreader next to me resting heavily against my own I feel oddly at peace. As though this muscly man can hold us up if we fall, like Atlas shouldering the weight of the world. Maybe it’s residual safety from the weekend where the only thing that could have hurt us didn’t even have hands. Probably teeth though. Ghosts totally have teeth

Had a writing retreat in Gatlinburg this weekend with some of the funniest and funnest and most talented people I’ve ever met and when I say writing retreat I mean I wrote hardly anything at all, but I laughed more than I have in a long time and I call that a success. Not for my potential career, of course, but in general for sure. It’s a rare thing for me to go to a place with so many people and feel safe. If you are reading this and you were in Gatlinburg this weekend, I don’t mean a word of this. After all, I have a reputation to uphold.

When I fly, I am like a toddler standing outside a toy store, face pressed against the glass, desperate to get in. Out? I don’t want to go where I’m going. I want to go literally to any place other than the one to which I’m going. I want to keep going.

Our flight IS bumpy, but I’m far less scared than I was on the way TO Nashville, when the woman in the seat in front of me put the the shade on her window down. Who flies with the shade drawn? What kind of life is that, all trapped and unseeing. Like we are in a box? What did we do that was so bad that we have to be in this box?

The guy next to me resembles Pauly D if Pauly D had gone to college and didn’t spray tan. That was unfair. I have no idea whether or not the man next to me has gone to college. He’s watching something on his phone and I keep trying to see what it is but I think he can tell and he keeps covering the screen. Don’t worry. It’s not porn. I know this. I definitely know what porn is. I’ve seen many porns.

They turned out the cabin lights and now I can see what he’s watching and it’s a movie with The Rock and Kevin Hart? Is this Moana? Just kidding! I watched Moana. I cried a lot when I watched Moana. Oh man. I’m fun.

He’s manspreading mostly because the overhead bins are filled with guitars and his large bag is stuck under the seat in front of him and taking up most of the space for his feet. Because I’m flying out of Nashville. Ugh. Musicians. Right? Ugh.

The lights on ground twinkle like stars. Is this how the man in the moon feels? Or God? Am I God?

(I’m not God.)

Mini Book Reviews

It’s migraine season, so after work I avoid screens as much as possible and therefore have been reading a lot. Reading! Who knew! I finished two books this week already! Here are some reviews of what I’ve read this year.

Strange Pilgrims – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is a short story collection and there are two stories in there that are mind-blowing amazing. I don’t remember the titles. If I’m reading the stories one after the other, like I don’t know, a book, I don’t read titles. It’s a problem that will come up in a later review as well. Anyway, so I don’t know the titles, but one of the amazing stories is about a woman who teaches her dog how to catch the bus, where to get off, and shows him her plot of land in the cemetery so that after she’s dead he can go and mourn her. I mean wtf that’s so good.

The other amazing story is about a woman whose car breaks down. A bus full of women passes and they’re like, “oh no! That’s terrible, we can definitely take you to a place where you can use a phone!” So they take her to this place, but they don’t let her use the phone and it turns out it’s a mental hospital of some kind and she just keeps saying, “I only came to use the phone” (also maybe the title? Who knows!) and they’re like, “sure, dear, sure.” Then her husband finds her and visits and she’s like, “I only came to use the phone,” and he’s all, “yes, yes, it makes sense that she’s here. Love you! Byeeeee!” Like shut up. Just shut up. That’s so good.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Marquez
I guess I got on a bit of a Marquez kick. So anyway, in this book there are these guys who are all, “We’re going to kill Santiago!” And they do. And the narrator is speaking from like years after the fact and he’s like, “maybe perhaps it’s possible this could have been avoided? Since they told literally everyone it was going to happen? Maybe?” And that’s the book and it’s great? Stop being amazing, Gabe, it’s annoying.

Caraval – Stephanie Garber
This is a pretty book. Like, the setting sounds really pretty and I want to go to Caraval even though it’s a tiny bit scary. Also I think the moral of this story is men are evil. Don’t trust any men. Down with men. Until you decide to forgive them, then it’s fine, but they’re still evil, so keep that in mind. TW for abuse like whoa. But it’s pretty?

We Are Okay – Nina LaCour
If there’s such a thing as a perfect book, this is pretty close to it, I think. I think the slow reveal of what went down was really great and nicely paced and not annoying to the point where I was like, “JUST TELL ME OMG.” I never felt that! So that was great! Also there were some beach scenes and I’m just automatically here for any and all beach scenes. The book kept flipping back and forth in time and it wasn’t until I was almost finished that I realized that the chapters gave you the date? Did they do that all the way through? I honestly have no idea. I don’t read chapter titles! It’s a problem. I’m aware of it. It made THE NIGHT CIRCUS way confusing. I’d be like, “Megan, don’t forget to read the chapter titles so we know where we are!” But I never did. I never did…. Anyway, WE ARE OKAY was fine and not confusing even when I skipped all that! So that was good!

Currently Reading: Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino is one of those authors who when I say he’s a favorite makes me feel really pretentious. But whatever. He’s a fave! It’s a story collection and these stories are about space but they are funny? I’ve only read one story so far. What was the title? Who knows. It was about the moon and it’s basically everything I’ve ever wanted to write every time I try to write about the moon and I loved it a lot and can’t wait to read the rest. Yay books, right!?

Some Things I’ve Loved

It is almost Christmas and almost a new year. I am sure, that like many of you, doing anything productive for the past month and a half has been difficult. It’s hard to rally when it feels like everything is falling apart.

I had been doing research for a new WIP and wondering why it didn’t come as easily as the last WIP and realized that the last WIP was about things I know in my bones. The ocean, which flows through my veins. It required no research, just digging into memories and feelings that already existed but had been buried in the sand. This one is about the stars and I know nothing about them other than that they exist. Which is sort of the basis of the story. But I need to know more. And I will. Maybe in January…

A couple weeks ago I just accepted that nothing else writing related would happen in December and I gave up and I felt great about it. So I’ve been taking time to binge watch television and not feel guilty about it. I waste so much time and I don’t feel guilty about it. And in January, when everything is new again, I’ll get up and do what needs to be done.
So, here are some things I’ve loved.
The OA. It’s a new show on Netflix and it’s AMAZING and I don’t want to tell you anything about it because it’s better that you go in knowing nothing. I knew the first 10 minutes and wished I hadn’t even known that. Go in blind. Thank me later.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager. If you want a show about teenagers that basically teaches you how not to talk like a teenager, this is that show. They are 16 and having babies and getting married and their parents are like, “Great! It’s great to be married if you’re having a baby!” It’s a crazy disaster of a show and I love it.
Mozart in the Jungle. I finally sucked it up and got an Amazon Prime subscription and I was finally able to watch this show. I’ve had a crush on Gael Garcia Bernal for YEARS and I love him so much on this show. He’s so arrogant and beautiful and I want to change my name to Hailey and have him say it all the time. I mean the show is good too.
Sing Street. Why didn’t more people talk about this movie?? It’s the great, feel-good music movie of the year. It’s That Thing You Do for this generation without the dickish lead singer. And the songs are legit good. Somebody buy me the soundtrack.
How Far You’ll Go. It’s no secret that I love songs about chasing your dreams and I also love Lin Manuel Miranda and Alessia Cara and those three things came together to make a song that I listen to at least three times a day. Sometimes ten times a day. Sometimes when I’m driving home from work I repeat it the entire way.
Songs from Waitress. Sometime last year I was in Target and they were playing the Sara Barreilles album inspired by the film Waitress. I heard part of She Used to Be Mine and I almost burst into tears right there in the DVD section. I still haven’t listened to the cast recording, but I have watched a video of Jessie Mueller singing that song and oh my God. If I am not listening to How Far You’ll Go I’m listening to She Used to be Mine and sometimes I even play the whole album. It’s so good it sort of makes me forget about Hamilton and if it had debuted a different year, it would definitely have won all of the Tonys.
Next week I’m house/cat sitting again and plan on reading all of the books. All of them. Literally. They are boarding the dog so it will just be me and the cat, which is how life should always be.
Happy holidays. Happy New Year. Here’s to 2017 not being as big a disaster as 2016. Here’s to scrolling social media and not crying over something else. Here’s to the news t being horribly depressing every single day. Today the electoral college votes and I’m uncharacteristically optimistic and am the only one, I know. But I hope it will change this outcome. That’s all that we have. Hope.

We Dance on the Edge of Destruction

I’m not okay with last week’s election results. This weekend I indulged in self-care. Then I picked myself up. And I’m totally and completely aware of the privilege I have in being able to do that. That I can be upset, but continue on with my normal life without the fear that is plaguing people I love, strangers I see on the street. I am lucky, in so many ways, and the only way I know to help is in small, voiceless ways and acts of kindness. It’s not something I’ll scream about because that’s just not me and again, I’m aware of the privilege I have that I don’t have to scream and I don’t have to fight. But because I’m not screaming and not fighting doesn’t mean that I don’t care.

There’s a song in the musical NEXT TO NORMAL called Perfect For You. Lyrics are below, if you are interested. I maintain that the love story in Next to Normal is the best love story in all of musical theater, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that this song has been in my head for months. Almost a year, maybe. Every single day when something happens (literally every day it seems), I start singing this. The world is a mess. That part of this is relevant.
It used to be a fear of the end of the world that kept me up at night. Mega-tsunamis and earthquakes and asteroids and other various natural disasters that ushered in the apocalypse. But lately that fear has subsided and now it’s a fear of a man-made apocalypse. War, and death, and disease. That this new regime will usher us into a country of fear, always cowering and watching our backs, watching each other’s backs. Looking overhead for a bomb to drop, literally or figuratively. I’m scared. I can’t even remotely imagine how scared other people must be.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know what will happen. I worry that now there is so much hate and fear in the world that nothing can be done to stop it. Maybe this is a moment of worse-case scenario and it will get better. We’ll get better. But I fear that it won’t.
I know that wearing a safety pin is a meaningless gesture. I know it says, “I’m here for you, but I’m going to stay on this side.” But to me it means that you can look at me and see I’m a safe space in a bad world. If you feel threatened, you can sit by me. If you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me. I’ll do what I can, which may not be enough. It may never be enough.
This morning I came in to work and there was an email from the firm’s managing partner. We are an international firm with over 1,000 attorneys. The email was to assure everyone in our office that this is a safe space. That no matter in what direction the country goes, you can count on us. We are here for you. It’s small. It’s something. It’s all some of us know or are able to do at this point.
There is a lot of uncertainty right now. A lot of anger and a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear. So much fear. And I can’t do much. I’ll try to be better, but I’m hindered by things I can’t talk about here. I can’t talk about them for the same reason I can’t be better for you. But I want to. I’ll try.
For now, all I can say is, this is a safe space. I am a safe space. I’m here if you need me. “I can’t fix what’s fucked up, but one thing I know I can do – I can be perfect for you.”*
HENRY
Our planet is poison, the oceans the air
Around and beneath and above you
 
NATALIE
Um Henry that’s true and I totally care
 
HENRY
I’m trying to tell you I love you
 
(spoken)
NATALIE
What?
 
HENRY
The world is at war
Filled with death and disease
We dance on the edge of destruction
The globe’s getting warmer by deadly degrees
 
NATALIE
And this is one fucked up seduction
 
HENRY
This planet is pretty much broken beyond all repair
But one thing is working if you’re standing there.
Perfect for you, I could be perfect for you
I might be lazy, a loner, a bit of a stoner, it’s true
But I might be perfect,
I’ll make myself perfect,
Perfect for you.
You square all the corners,
I straighten the curves.
 
NATALIE
You’ve got some nerve Henry,
And I’m just all nerves.
 
HENRY
But even if everything else turns to dirt
 
BOTH
We’ll be the one thing in this world that wont hurt.
 
HENRY
I can’t fix what’s fucked up
But one thing I know I can do
I can be perfect for you
 
NATALIE
I can be perfect for you.
 
BOTH
Perfect for you.
*This is so cheesy, I’m sorry.

Halloween Through the Years

I am sort of notoriously anti-holiday of any kind. Christmas is awkward. I don’t like turkey, so Thanksgiving is out. Valentine’s Day? More like “drink wine on the couch and cry” day, amiright?? Ha ha! Just kidding. Totally kidding. I’m kidding, really.

Easter, you know. Okay. I guess you could say the Monday holidays are my favorite because free three-day weekend! But IF forced to choose a holiday, like if someone said, “there can only be one holiday ever again, and all of the other holidays change to this holiday, what would you choose??” I’d choose Halloween. I don’t know why all of the other holidays have to change. They could just go away? The world in my head makes no sense.

Anyway, yes, I trick-or-treated most of the way through high school and no I do not feel guilty about that, come at me. Here are most of my costumes through the years. Because I don’t know what else to do with my time apparently.

In kindergarten I was a witch, with a shiny, purple dress that I loved so much I wanted to wear it every day of my life. My dad was Santa Clause. He carried my candy over his shoulder like a sack of toys. It’s one of my earliest memories. I remember how dark it was and I remember the stars and I remember the street where we lived at the time. I still love that costume.

In first grade I was a princess. My grandma made me a costume of pink and I had a sparkly tiara and wand and there is probably still glitter in my grandparent’s house, unless the new owners ripped up the carpet. I was also at the front of the town Halloween parade, so what up lesser first-graders!

In second grade I was a bunny and I was effing adorable. I pinned my little fluffy tail to the back of a sweatshirt and paraded around in pink tights like there were pants. And, it being the nineties, wearing tights as pants was something I did with alarming frequency. (Mother, LOOK AT MY LIFE, LOOK AT MY CHOICES.)

In third grade I was a witch again. You get to a point where you start recycling costumes because the good ones are few and far between. For some reason, this was the year of the mime. So many people were mimes. I think it’s because just a few weeks before mimes had performed at our school? I was not a mime, but it did begin a life-long love of mimes. And street performers. If I see someone performing on a corner, I don’t care what it is, I will watch and take pictures, but I will run away before they make eye contact and expect money. Get a real job, hippies.

Fourth grade was the bride of Frankenstein, but we were too cheap to buy an actual costume and wig, so my mom spray-painted a gray streak in my teased hair and literally not one person knew what I was supposed to be. “umm…zombie ,maybe” was what people said.

Fifth grade was the year I was a cat. Animals are popular and “cute” when you’re in elementary school.

Then sixth grade was the year of the fortune teller, a year of which I am particularly proud. I wore a long skirt and peasant blouse and a colorful scarf on my head and lots of jangly jewelry and I carried a hamster ball as my crystal ball. It was spectacular. Carrying a hamster ball and a heavy pillow case of candy was actually sort of difficult, but I persevered. For the love of costume. Also, yes. Pillow case. I see these kids out now with tiny pumpkin buckets or grocery bags and I’m like, “AMATEURS.” Because I’m mature. Actually I don’t say anything. Most of the time I turn off the light and hide in my house until trick-or-treating is over.

Seventh grade is when things started getting weird and I went out as a “coked-out Punky Brewster.” I made my fuzzy shirt a half shirt, and I wore a pink quilted jacket and shorts and tights and different colored socks and mostly it was an excuse to show off some skin. Seventh grade, yo!

The next year I was a farm girl, with a blonde, braided wig and denim overalls. Creativity is going down the drain.

Ninth and tenth grade and eleventh grade are a blur. Did I even go trick-or-treating? Senior year I went “80s girl” with some friends, but people thought we were the Spice Girls. We just wanted candy, so, you know. Sure. Whatever you say. The fact that I’ve always looked younger than my age was particularly helpful on Halloween.

When I was 25 I walked around Georgetown on Halloween and it was last minute so I threw on a choker and a bunch of rings and went as a 90s teenager. Basically I was myself with a choker.

I didn’t dress up again until last year, when I put a lot of thought into my broken baby doll costume, but the party was dark and people were just like, “oh, a girl in a baby doll dress.” They couldn’t see the cracks I meticulously painted on my face. What a waste. (Kidding! It was fun either way! Even if Nicole got all the compliments on the costume she bought literally THE DAY BEFORE. But it’s fine. I’m not bitter. I definitely didn’t think about it on “Drink wine on the couch and cry day.”)

This year I’m dressing as a writer who wants to finish revisions before NaNo. So, pajamas. And also drinking wine on the couch and crying. Maybe THAT’s my favorite holiday…

Face Your Fears

Last weekend I went to Six Flags for their Fright Fest event. I have a weird relationship with fear, in that I hate being scared but also I crave it? I guess the difference is, like, when I’m alone in my house and I hear a noise and don’t know what it is and I think it’s a murderer, that kind of fear I don’t like. But controlled fear? Yes, please. Make me scream. It helps that I’m naturally jumpy and jittery. If you’re too quiet and you walk up to my desk unexpectedly, I will jump very high. People have fun with this. It’s a riot.

I used to love roller coasters. I’d be first in line, I’d sit in the front, or the back because sometimes the back is even scarier. There’s this ride in Kennywood, the amusement park in Pittsburgh, called the Jack Rabbit. It’s an old wooden coaster and toward the end it skips the track. If you’re in the back, you fly. It’s terrifying. I loved it. There’s another ride there, one of the oldest in the country, another wooden coaster, called The Thunderbolt. I was SO EXCITED the first summer I was tall enough to ride it. Sometime during high school I went to Cedar Point where I rode my first stand-up coaster and the kind where you’re feet dangle. I rode them multiple times in one day.

And then I grew up. The longer I go without riding a roller coaster, the more terrifying they become. A few years ago, my friend Anna forced me to ride the Cyclone at Coney Island. I held the bar so tight that I aggravated my carpal tunnel and my fingers were numb for days. And because I didn’t want to be a loser, I went on rides last weekend. I strapped myself in, pulling the belt so tight that my hip hurt. I pulled the harness in until I could only take shallow breaths, but at least I wouldn’t move or fall out. I screamed a lot. I swore. But I did it. I only sat one out. Something about Superman. It was so high, guys. I looked at people going up the first hill and then I looked away and then I looked back and they were STILL going. They weren’t even close to the top. So I stayed where my feet were firmly planted on the ground. I faced my fear of roller coasters and I lived to tell the tale. That’s my favorite thing about being scared. Living through it.

Then came the haunted houses. For some reason when I’m scared, my instinct is to cover my head with my hands and crouch down in the fetal position. While walking. So I when through these haunted houses sort of hunched over with my hands in an awkward half-surrender, always ready to cover my head when the danger came. I jumped a lot. I screamed. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who left with a raspy voice that day. But I loved it. Because walking through I know that even if someone follows me, they will stop eventually. When they burst through a wall, I know they’re just going to go back into the wall. It’s scary, but it’s fine.

I guess the true lesson in all of this, is that you don’t want me on your zombie apocalypse team. I knew this, but now it is confirmed. I will not want to drive fast over rough roads and when faced with fear I will crouch into the fetal position with my hands over my head until the threat disappears. Which, in an apocalypse it never does. So that’s how I’ll die. Rolled up like an armadillo or a scared ‘possum. I absolutely will not face real fears. But the fake ones? Bring it on.

What I’m Talking About When I Talk About Islands

The book I’m revising is about an island and the ocean and a lighthouse and saltwater taffy. It’s based, very loosely, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which is where I went on vacation every summer when I was growing up. I often tell people it’s my favorite place in the US and they ask me why and all I can do is shrug and say “it’s where I grew up going.”

But it’s more than that. When I was a kid, we moved a lot. By the time I went to college I had lived in seven different apartments. I never had a place I could point to and call my childhood home. But for the first ten years I went to the beach, we went to the same house. I had a room I called my own. I would pack up the car with things from home so that every summer it felt like mine. It was the one stable thing in my somewhat unstable life. I never knew how things would be week to week or month to month. But no matter what else was going on I could count on those two weeks every summer.

My mom married into this family so the first year we went I was seven. The weekend before, my grandpa took me to the basement of his house and taught me how to polish shells with vinegar and how to hear the ocean in them. I genuinely believed I heard it in the shell held to my ear. I felt like he had given me the world and one week later my grandmother delivered the world, which was bigger and louder and stronger than the shell had made me believe.

Every summer, in those early years, my grandpa and I would take a night and wrap all of the change we’d saved over the previous year and we’d take it to the bank so I’d have my own spending money. He’d joke that he was going to keep his to buy ice cream but he always gave it to me. And every summer he’d arrive with a new project or toy to entertain us. There was the year of stained glass light catchers and the year of puffy paint shirts and the year of counted cross stitch and the year of the boogie board. The year he introduced Christmas in August and we bought each other souvenirs that we’d wrap and hand out. We used an ottoman as a tree. After that it became a yearly tradition.

Before my grandpa retired, my mom, grandma, and I would drive in on Saturday to set up the house. Every year we’d have lunch at a picnic table on the side of the turnpike and every year, that first night, we had sloppy joes that she’d prepared in advance. My grandpa and dad would arrive the next day so my grandpa could preach one last Sunday. Later, we’d all drive the same day and I’d ride with my grandparents, sitting in the backseat with my diskman while they verbally completed the crossword together up front.

I once claimed that there were still pieces of me in the sands of LBI, but the reverse is also true. There are pieces of the island left in me. I bled in that water when I stepped on shells. I burned my feet on the asphalt when I was too stubborn to put on shoes. I fed birds on the shore. I watched sunsets and sunrises. I flew kites and got buried in the sand and showered in what was basically an outhouse. I climbed on the lifeguard chair after hours, even though we weren’t supposed to and I climbed on the dunes, even though we weren’t supposed to. I walked on the jetties, even though it was dangerous. I climbed all 217 steps of the lighthouse and looked out over the breakers.

image

I swam in the rain and stood on the shore during a thunderstorm as lightning struck the water. I sat at a table playing board games with my family while a nor’easter blew through and I watched my dad and grandpa chase garbage cans down the flooded street when the wind ripped them from the gravel lawn. I experimented with looks and personalities and music in the shops on the island that were so different from anything in Pittsburgh. I sat on a deck and looked at the stars while the ocean roared in the distance. I know which way is south and which way is north and I know which direction to go to find the grocery store or the candy shop or the lighthouse. I remember the bookstore my grandpa used to take me to for secret outings, which we’d follow with secret ice cream and I remember the bakery he went to every morning for pastries when he went out to get the paper.

This summer I went to the Jersey Shore for the first time in 13 years. We didn’t stay on LBI, but Carey graciously allowed me to detour there for a few hours that first day. I’d always irrationally hated Ron Jon’s Surf Shop because when I was a kid I thought they had too many billboards. But then a few years later I came across one of their stores in Cozumel and it was so important to me. The one on LBI is the original Ron Jon’s and it’s one of the first things you see when you arrive on the island and after 13 years it felt like a banner, waving me in. Welcoming me home. Because I was home. The island feels more like home to me than any place I’ve ever lived.

The house we used to stay in has been torn down and one more than twice its size has taken its place. My favorite ice cream shop is gone. Some stores are still there and some aren’t and the island felt both bigger and smaller than I remembered.

I parked on our old street in front of the spot where our old house sat and I walked to the beach. I stood in the ocean. I wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt and everybody stared when I waded in to my knees, but I was home. In that moment, everything I’ve been going through the past few years disappeared. Everything felt right and perfect and comfortable, like the only place I belong is standing on the shore gazing out at the horizon.

image

That is not a picture of my shadow. That is a picture of everything of me that I’ve left behind on LBI.

I was afraid it would be hard to go back because it’s often hard for me to go to Pittsburgh. But it wasn’t. It was easy. It was the easiest thing in the world. They say you can’t go home again, but if that home is LBI, maybe I can.