Friday, September 3, 2010

The Tour

This is a rough account of my trip to visit grad schools back in March:

The morning before I left, we had a stupid argument. I was hassling Billy about wasting water, because he was letting the faucet pour waiting for the temperature to heat up when I’d already told him there was no hot water. He grew sullen and angry at the breakfast table, refusing to look at me, and my voice became shrill. I tossed his phone at him poorly (on purpose) so that it skittered out of his hands, and he swatted the expensive fresh cream I’d bought off the table, onto the floor. We were both behaving badly, in other words. These things happen.

We apologized stiffly in front of the taxi. I was leaving for five days, and our fight felt like a bad omen. I was looking at places to potentially move to for graduate school while he stayed behind, watering the plants in our back yard and feeding the cats.


More than anything else, the light in North Carolina held a different quality. It was brighter, for one thing, and also sharper. The sand, the air, the whitewashed walls, all had an overexposed quality. Like you might disappear into the background, a pair of eyes and a hand thrown up for shade, barely discernible in the flood of sun.

The ground, when I walked on it, was a mix of sand and grass. Sand with sparse blades crunching under my feet. The University buildings were brick and clean, and everything was still.

I drove my car with a broken right foot, using my healthy left foot to brake while I nodded along to classic rock and country radio stations. I spent a lot of time alone there. I ate alone at Outback, happily chewing on ribs and sipping Shiraz while I read Mary Gaitskill. I took a whole booth to myself and tipped my waitress nicely. Wilmington.

I thought maybe I could live there. When I went to the beach, a woman let me park my car in her neighbor’s driveway rather than feed money into the parking permit machine. A girl on the sidewalk smiled shyly and complimented my purse. The beach was shelly and crowded but real, a real beach, and I imagined summer bonfires and trips to the islands that dot the coast there. I would drink whiskey with professors and tan my shoulders while deeper, inside me, something slowed down.

But then there were the students, who made too big a fuss about me being from New York City, and my own reaction to their attention, knowing-it-all and puffed-up like a threatened bird. I spoke loudly, rudely, I thought, in class when the teacher asked for my perspective. I could sense (or was I imagining) their irritated glances. I was exhausted. The star student was a twenty-four-year-old named Keith who twisted his hair in mock dreads and wore his shirt unbuttoned far down his knobby tanned chest. His work was fantastic and I admired it, but he seemed committed to avoiding eye contact. When, after class, a couple of students invited me to a poetry party at a professor’s bungalow, I declined. I drove to my motel room instead, swallowed a xanax with a swig of bottled water, and set my alarm.

The 5am flight to Columbus was spent nodding in and out of a foggy half-sleep, my head thrown back and mouth drying out next to a polite businesswoman in a skirt-suit. I landed at 9am and got a text right away from my student guide, who was waiting at baggage claim for me. Here we go, I thought.

Raymond was short and stocky with wispy pale hair and pink skin. He didn’t offer to help me with my suitcase (I annoyed myself by noticing, but it’s true); still, he was right on time and parked close. His car was not just messy but dirty, dusted with crumbs and emitting a certain smell, like dirty laundry, old takeout and beneath that something more intimate. He hailed from northern Virginia like me, so we had that to talk about, and as we puttered along the highway and the buildings of downtown Columbus rose into view, he swept his arm in mock grandeur towards them and said, “and here’s the famed Columbus skyline.”

Raymond hated Columbus, though he didn’t care for Arlington, Virginia either. His ideal city was Madison, Wisconsin, where he’d gone for undergraduate and lived happily until grad school lured him away. These were cities I would never have considered as places to live, but here I was, nodding along. This could be your life, I thought. It was a baffling but not unhappy thought.

We did things for a few hours: drank coffee at Starbucks, drove through Columbus, stopped by his house, which also smelled, mostly of cat shit, and picked up another potential student named Nick. Nick was visiting from Possumneck, Mississippi, and when he introduced himself I asked him to repeat that. “Possum Neck?” I said, “really?” He laughed and said, “Yeah. Possumneck.”

That was point one for Columbus. Manhattan and Columbia might attract students from Prague, Mexico City or New Zealand, but they sure as shit wouldn’t have goofy guys with sky-blue eyes named Nick from Possumneck, Mississippi. Nick told me he wore steel-toed work boots to teach his students at the state school so that they’d respect him more. “They like good old boys there,” he said. “They loved Ariel, though. I told them the whole story about the gas oven, and they got really into it.”

The day was packed with activities – introductions, receptions, tours. I crunched around campus with my geriatric boot, marveling at the great lawn where undergrads in bikinis lugged stereos and blankets on which to roast themselves. We stopped for iced tea in the newly renovated student center, where we could hold office hours, we were told, whenever the 1960s-era English building got too depressing. The girl who told us that was beautiful, petite and charming in a flouncey sundress. Her father had been part of the Manson family.

Everyone was just so nice. The cliché about Midwesterners, it turns out, is true: they really are that friendly and welcoming and laid back. We were standing in a reception hall holding plates piled with cheese and crackers while around us people wheeled, laughing and chatting and shaking hands, and I felt like crying.

There were more events: dinner and drinks with the third-year women; a students-only open mic where people hollered and cheered, getting drunk on local beers; a keg party where the host played Britney Spears and people milled around the back yard wiping foam from their mouths and trading jokes.

I stood under a tree with a recent grad who was heading to Yale in the fall for his Ph.D. in Medieval Literature. It was getting late, and the party had evolved to its sloppy apex, people playing drinking games and grabbing each other, the music turned up louder. “I’m worried I’m too concerned about reputation,” I shouted. “Like what if this is a better place for me, but in the end I need the big name because I don’t believe in my talent enough. Like I need the big name to legitimize me?” He nodded, thinking. He leaned in closer, our temples side-by side, shoulders bumping into each other. “If that’s your thing, though, that’s your thing. I mean, if that’s your neurosis, everyone’s got something, there’s nothing wrong with it.” My ride home was standing on the porch steps; I could see her biding her time in a boring conversation while she waited for me. “I know, I just, I don’t think I can say no to Columbia,” I said. I felt mournful, like I knew just then that I was giving up my last chance at simplicity, at slowing down, at being on my own, away from anyone who ever knew me before, at some rare opportunity to start from nothing, as no one, unfettered. “Columbia’s the big time,” he agreed.

The ride to the airport the next morning, after I’d been treated to brunch and fig ice cream and a view of the park, was smooth and quiet. I watched the city shrink as the flat land around us expanded, the highway arcing over it towards the plane that would carry me home. This place would make you happy, I thought, but you’ll never let yourself come here again.

In the weeks that followed I would wrestle that voice, attempt to pin it on the mat and force it into submission, but in the end it spoke the truth. There was something larger I had to do, a stronger and more immediate call to finish what I’d started in New York – with Billy, with my home, with my friends, with my writing. I did not, ultimately, choose to leave. On the other hand, that voice had been layered with deception. Going away wouldn’t really be leaving, after all. I long to be less attached sometimes, but I’m not a tree that can be transplanted, gingerly dug up and then repotted, watered and sunned until I’ve forgotten my old plot of land. I’ve never known how to let go of things. I’d have left behind a severed hand, still holding on to what was mine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

This is water

I ate an egg and cheese biscuit while I walked. The yolk spilled out with my first bite, a hot splash on my forearm, shockingly yellow. There was something obscene about it, like a tiny miscarriage. It was one hundred degrees out and the street was sizzling, people were leaning into the shade, barely moving. I licked the yolk off and then looked around, embarrassed.

I was on my way to the tattoo shop and knew I was supposed to eat, but I was nervous and the dough felt thick in my mouth. Halfway through I discarded it, then felt bad about the waste.

That was the point. I was always feeling bad.

When I got the idea to get a tattoo, it was my secret. I turned the phrase over in my head and nodded in covert agreement with myself. Yes. That would be it. Weeks later I told Billy about it on Canal Street, ducking my head and letting my voice get high and squeaky like a child. He couldn’t hear me and asked me to repeat myself, twice. When I finally blurted it out he shrugged, nodding. Yeah, he said, that’d be cool.

Except there wouldn’t be anything cool about it, because it was painfully earnest – a David Foster Wallace quote on the MFA student’s ribcage. The imagined eye rolls stung like a string of canker sores. I prodded them with my metaphoric tongue, tasting the iron.

I still wanted it. That was the thing. Weeks turned into months and I was still tooling around on type blogs, testing different fonts, so fine, fuck it, I decided to do it. Then I obsessed over tattoo artists, finding the very best, the perfect, the predestined. Which didn’t exist, of course. There was something imperfect in all of them.

The one I ended up choosing bullshitted with her friends while she set up her station, filling a cup with ink and fiddling with her gun. I was alarmed. I looked from her friends to her and back to her friends, neck to ankles in ink talking about an Edwardian jewelry store in Red Hook, and considered bolting. I glowered at the one closest to me, willing him to leave, but he didn’t notice.

This was not the spiritually enlightening experience I had crafted in my mind. We had not discussed the deep meaning of my phrase and my reasons for choosing the font I’d brought with me, and she’d shrugged when I asked if she thought we’d picked the best spot for it.

I think it looks good, she’d said, but what do you think?

Her friends were not leaving and so I asked if we could have some privacy once she was ready to start working. I’m kind of nervous, I said. That was all it took, and she hopped up to grab a screen, shaping it around her station. They left and the only noises after that were Led Zeppelin and the buzz of her gun.

It didn’t hurt, if you’re wondering. It stung a little bit and I felt dazed and wobbly afterward, and that was pretty much it.

I have a tattoo.

I have a tattoo, I told Billy when I walked in the door. I shimmied around the bedroom, doing a funny hop-step. I do, I do, I have a tattoo. He laughed and nodded. Meggie, he said, it looks good.

I felt happy and then later I felt sad, taking the bandage off and washing with soap. Little curls of ink fell away and there it was, black and bright on my skin. My skin! I wandered into the bedroom shirtless and bloated from the Chinese food I’d ordered in celebration and stood in front of the mirror. Maybe this was stupid, I said. Maybe this was better as an idea.

It’s just a change, Billy said.

I said that’s true, and then we took a walk.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Magic Moment

(Right now) Hey, it's your tomorrow
(Right now) Come on, it's everything
(Right now) catch that magic moment
Do it right here and now
It means everything

In the spring of 1993, Crystal Pepsi was going to change our lives. We were twelve years old, my classmates and I, wobbling on the precipice of puberty that would soon swallow us, when the commercials started. Conceived by executives as the ‘pure’ alternative to cola – free of dyes, free of caffeine – Crystal Pepsi was marketed as a new soda, yes, but also the new fuel for an unprecedented, eco-conscious moment in history, and its timing was impeccable.

In school we were learning how our older sisters’ hairspray ate holes in our sky, letting our big yellow sun wreck us with cancer and melt frozen continents. We were taught to snip the plastic rings that held six-packs together into tiny pieces, so that baby seals would not be strangled in their inadvertent nooses. The products we’d grown up with, we were learning, held death; responsibility was handed to us along with plastic scissors that we might become guardians of our world and preserve its wonder. It was, you might say, a tall order. We were twelve years old and we loved animals, but we also loved pizza and MTV.

And then there was Crystal Pepsi. It’s strange, in retrospect, to remember a product marketed so effectively that a nation’s schoolchildren held their breath in collective anticipation not just for the launch of a new soda, but the new world order embodied in that soda, but it was so. Sammy Hagar wailed “Right now,” and our mouths fell open into little fish-gaps. We waited.

The Crystal Pepsi commercial, launched during Super Bowl XXVII, was epic: Van Halen’s anthem rocketed from our TV sets while images of babies, computer screens and endangered species flashed in time with typed proclamations: “Right now nature’s inventing better stuff than science,” “Right now computers still can’t laugh,” “Right now artificial just doesn’t feel right,” and “Right now only nature needs preservatives.” We stared, breathless, as our anxieties and excitements about the future were fingered in their deepest crevices. For all of us at that time were becoming aware of the paradox intrinsic to our existence: that nature (did our minds flick, unconsciously, to the rolling lawns and surf spray of our childhoods?) was dying, while technology – the avenue to all things adult – bloomed.

Crystal Pepsi winked at us and held out a hand, promising to lead the way: It was all going to be fine – better than fine. In sixty glorious seconds, Crystal Pepsi defined the world we longed to join – not the world as it was, threatened by environmental disaster, but a magical hybrid world where mankind lived in harmony with nature – Eden with the Internet. In the land of the Crystal Pepsi commercial, animals we’d grown up doodling in our bedrooms were going to flourish at the same time as astronauts orbited the earth. Everything was possible. Soon we would dive into crystal clear waters and grasp the very essence of life. We would emerge reborn.

It’s difficult to explain the fervor with which we anticipated our first sips of Crystal Pepsi to those who didn’t live through the marketing campaign, or who lived through it at older, less impressionable ages. But the tension was real. I have only one memory from a week-long trip to Ocean City that year, for instance: sitting with my friend Sarah in her Aunt’s beach house, sprawled out on the industrial carpeting in the living room while the sun beat down on the sliding glass doors and children’s screams mingled with seagulls’ outside, watching the Crystal Pepsi rhinoceros slowly lower its head (RIGHT NOW!) and the astronaut float above the earth, giving the double thumbs-up (RIGHT NOW!) and yes, right now we all were thirsty for something different, and we couldn’t believe it was finally happening. It was almost here.

You are, I’m sure, anticipating the revelatory moment when we finally plunked our change into the vending machine, drew the ice-cold can from its bowels and cracked the tab open with a spritzy hiss. You are imagining what that first sip felt like, what our first true experience of cultural disillusionment tasted like, and I will tell you: it tasted sweet. That first sip tasted like nothing but sweetness, because we could not bear the knowledge, so immediate and visceral, fizzing on our very tongues, that Crystal Pepsi was, after everything, just soda.

Some of us argued – insisted – that it really was good (I, tragic optimist that I am, fell in that camp), while others rolled their eyes with contempt. Because it wasn’t good, not at all; if anything it tasted worse than regular Pepsi, a silly, pale, carbonated drink that none of us so much as worked up a craving for. A few of us attempted subsequent cans, and then we all stopped. The backlash was quick and it was ferocious: Crystal Pepsi sucked. The product was pulled from shelves.

The loss, of course, was not of a snack that failed to deliver deliciousness. It was the loss of faith in a promise of change. We, the first children to be raised with knowledge of global warming, holes in the ozone layer, rainforest desecration, we who were entering the first AOL chat rooms and shyly lying about our ages to strangers with stupid screen names, wanted to believe that the world laid out before us held hope. It wasn’t that terrible things were happening and we wanted improvement – it was that things both terrible and wondrous were happening concurrently, and we wanted assurance that we were headed in the right direction. Crystal Pepsi told us we could trust in known entities and their ability to adapt benevolently to change, and what we learned was that no one knew a thing. There were no parachute packs assembled to gentle us into wondrous new lands. The notion of a new world was itself a fallacy. It was all a sham, a bunch of bumbling idiots shilling syrup for change – for coins. Money. Worse, those idiots had somehow known what we needed to hear, and they’d exploited us. We were their suckers.

What did we do, after we’d thrown our half-full bottles of Crystal Pepsi in the trash? Did we run for our tire swings or stay past dusk on our trampolines? Or did we swing our hair, scoffing? We didn’t care, after all – it was just a freaking soda. Only a baby would care.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Varet Street

We walked through the streets late at night, early in the morning, noticing the industrial buildings around us. The air was warm and my heels clacked like army boots. Everything I'd been worrying about felt safely far away - my sister with her stomach stitched up, my father with a tube in his head. Music from a neighborhood party echoed off the rooftops. We shared a bottle of water and looked at the factories, where the Boar's Head cold cuts are frozen and distributed, where corrugated boxes are made to order. Bushwick had never felt so safe, all five of us marching like a little band. I wondered if these were my friends, my Brooklyn family. It's lonely here sometimes.

We made our way back to Mark's car and drove the short distance to my apartment, gazing at the late party-goers straggling home. I said I worry sometimes that living here prolongs a sense of adolescence, freezes our growth in time. We're almost thirty and still doing the same old things, still noticing things together. What will happen when that changes? And when should it change? I don't think any of us knows.

I let myself into my apartment and started cleaning. I swept under the couch, in neglected corners, coaxing balls of hair and dust from hiding. It felt like teasing out pockets of shame, the detritus of my life. I listened to the mix I made for my parents' wedding anniversary two years ago, the old love songs I'd put in order for them. How do you know what your own life is, and what your managed idea of your life is? I spend so much of my time thinking of myself as I relate to other people. I don't know where I am if there's no one there to place me. I finished cleaning and I sat on the couch and I listened to the Byrds, and I thought about it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The first time

The first time we thought my dad was really sick was a summer night two years ago. I had gotten off the Greyhound in DC and found my sister's car waiting outside, slung my bags in her trunk and climbed in the passenger seat when she looked at me, gripping the steering wheel, her eyes like bowls.

We drove straight to the hospital.

It took some time to get back to the room where they had him; they were only letting in two visitors at a time, and there were four of us: me, my mom and my sisters. It became a game, dodging past the orderly when he wasn't looking - slinking through the electronic gated doors.

My dad was scrooge in a nightgown, white-haired and naked under his hospital gown. He was busy plucking off the electrodes stuck all over him, which was sending the heart monitor into an alarmed wail. No no no, we said, pulling them from his hands and pasting them back onto his skin. Even with them in place the heart monitor was skipping all over the place. I'm leaving, he insisted, trying to swing his legs off the bed. Tracey sat like a bulldog at the foot of the mattress and taunted him: How are you gonna do that?

Dehydration, they eventually said. My mom had found him in the backyard with soiled sweatpants and a sweat-drenched sweatshirt in the afternoon sun. She had washed him in the shower and he had gone to the bathroom again, so she washed him off a second time. She thought he'd had a stroke because he couldn't string a sentence together.

That night on the way to the hospital we didn't know if we were driving to say goodbye, and so I started memorizing. My sister's face, the shake in her voice, the night highway.


Saturday, June 5, 2010


New York was breaking my heart yesterday. It was one of those days where I was rattled, feeling less than sane, and so everywhere I went I saw castaways. Men lurching past me, reeking. Women who looked normal, were dressed well enough, but upon passing were sputtering gibberish. People cross-legged in doorways with filthy, encrusted feet. Why does that happen? It's like a magnetic force, my crazy drawing all the other crazy into my field. In the city you see plenty of damaged people every day, but it's not usually all you see.

I was done, finally, with my day, descending into the bowels of Port Authority when a bright-eyed Chihuahua wanted to say hello to me. He strained at his leash, ears perked and tiny tail vibrating. His owner was an old man having trouble with the stairs, paused halfway up with a walker, and I went to smile at him, him and his dog. But his eyes were milky and he was muttering. That was it for me, the last straw. I went home home home and quickly to bed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


They say evolution comes in spurts, and I believe that’s true. The sudden explosion rather than the gentle uphill slope. I worried so long about what to change and when, but when change came it came of its own accord, without my consent.

You do the work. You plod along and do what you believe should help, and nothing changes. You obsess over one thing over and over, night after night, losing sleep and drinking too much. Friends get tired of listening, poor things, and they’re right. You’re going in circles.

What I know is that the real growth happens without forethought. You’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly you say words you’ve never been able to say. You say, “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry.” Or you say, “Go to hell.” You watch as the light changes around you, revealing a new landscape.

The Bible has a line about God never giving us problems we can’t handle, and I don’t believe that. People shoot themselves and hang themselves and drink themselves to death because they can’t survive. So I don’t believe that’s so. Still, we can be surprised by our sudden ability to take things that for so long were the stuff of nightmares. Things can suddenly become easy and right.

I’m being intentionally opaque, and I’m sorry about that. This is a public space and so I don’t want to be specific. I’m not deluding myself into thinking my prose is poetically elusive rather than just plain hard to get through. You, whoever you are, are probably rolling your eyes. But that’s alright. I can’t believe you’re reading in the first place.

It’s a beautiful day here in New York. Is it sunny where you are? Funny how things devolve to small talk when there’s not much more to say. We might try silence.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I’ve been thinking about signifiers of wealth and what they afford us. I’m going to a movie premier with celebrities tonight, for example, and so I put on my good jewelry. None of this jewelry belongs to me in the sense that all of it was given to me – my mother’s moonstone ring, my mother’s David Yurman bracelet, the gold chains and earrings Billy gave me as birthday gifts. I put them on and my limbs sparkle. I hold my hands in my lap on the subway and there are glints of gold.

My family has money and I do not, but growing up I shared it with them. I attended a ballroom dance academy, I think they also call it cotillion, where we wore velvet dresses and learned manners: how to move through a receiving line, how to accept a dance, how to dance (of course). We clomped around doing waltzes, foxtrots, cha-chas. Afterwards we spilled out of the building with our wool coats on and bundled into our parents’ cars, driven home through cold winter nights.

It was an outdated tradition even then – we never attended coming out parties and I’ve since seen waltzes only on tacky television dance competitions and a handful of stuffy weddings. No, the biggest lesson we learned at Mrs. Simpson’s Dance Academy was that class is a construct. You are taught to hold yourself with regard and to see the world as a system of exchanges, to learn to navigate those exchanges – nothing about that comes naturally. You are taught to give with the expectation of receiving, to receive with the expectation that things be given.

I straddle the line now. I sit on the deck of an unimaginably expensive yacht and accept a stranger’s fine wine in my glass, saying please and thank you with every interaction. I’ve been served but also done the serving, in high school and college with ketchup stains on my button-down and a sweaty ponytail. I probably made it weird for the server last night with my too-polite smile and my stiff shoulders. Thanks, sorry, thanks, sorry, is what I was really saying. Sorry for what? I can’t decide if guilt is condescension or a healthy reaction to arbitrary demarcations.

Afterwards we relaxed in a grand sitting room, the yacht bobbing up and down on the water and the Jersey skyline looming and disappearing with each swell. The staff introduced themselves and plopped down on the far couch, all together, all on the same couch. Billy and I shared the other couch, and Megan sat in her own chair. We watched Megan’s pilot episode and she hid her face under her wool scarf, laughing at the corniest scenes. Last night I wrote that they were all friends, Megan and the staff, but now that seems naïve. I keep thinking about her silk tunic and their cotton work shirts. It’s not a sign of worth, only an idiot would think that, but it’s a sign of difference.

The problem with being on unequal footing with people is that you can never really know what’s choice and what’s obligation. Servers are adept, after all, at pretending. I’m not saying that Megan’s not likeable or that they’re not fond of her, but I am saying that lines exist.

But people are people are people – children know this. Children are given books with titles like Everybody Poops to help them understand their bodies and their place in the world. I guess that’s the discomfort – we’re the same, we’re the same, we’re the same. Still, most jobs depend on being nice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yacht club

Tonight was one of those rare nights when New York unfurls itself and its pieces tumble down around you like confetti. So many pieces you just stand there and gape. Megan invited us to her grandfather's yacht, an epic ship that you have to take your shoes off to enter. We found it resting by itself in the waters outside Battery City, just itself, lolling confidently in the harbor. A staff member lowered a walkway for us and held a basket out for our shoes.

Billy and I gawked. We walked through the ship and gawked. There was a master bedroom with a whirlpool tub, there was marble and beautiful wood and antique globes. The rooms were not rooms but parlors, and when we reached the dining table on the top deck we were offered wine. It was a warm night with a chill sifting in on the wind, and we sat with our jackets zipped up looking at the statue of liberty. Be polite, I thought when the staff member offered me bread. Don't eat too fast, and for god's sake don't gulp your wine.

Megan joked with the woman like they were friends, and the woman joked back. I was being too formal but I couldn't help it.

Steak came out, filet mignon cooked rare with lobster on top, drizzled in rich gravy. Mashed potatoes and salad with prosciutto and brie and squash. We ate it all. Dessert came out, my wine glass was filled, maple ice cream with apple rhubarb pie and fresh blueberries. We posed for a picture afterwards in the mist of the hot tub and acted like we were accustomed to such finery.

Afterward we sat on couches with the ship's crew and watched Megan's pilot, the one that didn't get picked up. It was decent for its genre, a feel-good inspirational and aspirational CW drama, and everyone complimented her. The crew knew Megan and were surprisingly relaxed with her, and it struck me how comfortable she was with their unequal positions and how that comfort allowed them to be friends. They were all meeting her for drinks later.

I thought about Megan with her bright eyes and funny laugh, which is almost a bray, and I thought about her absolute confounding exuberance. She is someone who does not stay down. She is beautiful and rich and everything everyone who wants what she has loves to knock, but they miss the point that she also works harder than them. She tells the story of running into an old acquaintance, an aspiring actor, who said, "Your hair looks terrible." He said, "I heard your pilot didn't get picked up."

We went to Mercury Lounge and stood in the bar while a metal band thrashed around on stage. The lead singer wore a leather corset and whipped her long blond locks, roaring at the audience. She looked like someone who might love to eat burgers and milkshakes at 5am after a hard night partying, but maybe she was a sweet gentle soul who loves to help people. Who knows. The two aren't mutually exclusive, obviously. We met another actor friend of Megan's who wore a fedora and chewed on a toothpick, telling self-deprecating stories about his career. I don't understand actors but I want to believe in their intelligence, their sight which is not like mine, I just don't get it. Yet. Maybe.

We left Megan and walked to the subway, admiring the East Village apartment buildings with their old oval windows. On the way down the L train stairs I passed an old woman in a black cape who stopped me and said, "Please don't go to the end of the platform. The creatures are running around." She gave me a searching look and nodded, and I nodded back as if I understood. It satisfied her, which is all I think I could have given her. The creatures were not there, of course, but I wondered what she saw. Black shapes flitting around and whispering in high harsh tones.

Tomorrow I'll go with Megan to the Sex and the City 2 cast event, where all the cast members will watch the movie and then mingle. I'll put on my cocktail dress and think about how fat I am in comparison to the other women, which is cliche and banal and all sorts of boring things, but true nonetheless. I'll see celebrities and wonder what on earth I'm doing there, how I ended up at a place like that. It'll be an experience. That's the thing - it will be an experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nuts, bolts

Three days back in New York and I feel weepy, the sky is falling. It’s raining steadily and I know the hammock in my backyard must be waterlogged, the plants are stewing.

My world is small and I keep it that way. I pace the narrow rooms in my apartment and glance at the plants outside, see how they’re doing. The Japanese maple has new leaves, the irises are wilting. I talk to the cats. Sometimes this is sweet and sometimes it feels like insanity. What am I really doing?

I should thank Stephen Elliot because every time I read his emails I want to write. I read his emails and I do away with commas.

Oh it’s dark, it’s so dark outside. The printer is jammed and IT complains. Soup for lunch, seven dollars.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On feeling

Stephen Elliott writes about missing someone, a girl he used to love, so intensely it feels like a hand around his throat. I know what he means but I haven’t felt like that in a long time.

I’ve been thinking about feelings and how my approach to them recently borders on caution. I’m careful with my feelings. I like to intellectualize them and keep myself at a remove from them. ‘There they are,’ I think. Or, ‘If I were in a different place or time I might mourn that.’

Partly this is because my feelings lead to destructive behavior. When I pine and obsess I also destroy, and my new thing is building, moving along. Moving forward. But what does that mean? I worry it’s a life less lived.

There are men I used to love but loving them ended in silence. We disappeared from each other. Should I think about Ed with his stutter and big hands? I actually just shrugged. I’m not sure.

Ed was from southern Virginia, a small town outside Roanoke, and his voice had a sweet twang. He works in the dirt and loves astronomy.

Andrew wanted to be mod and had an affected way of holding a cigarette. He wore wire-framed glasses and drove a hatchback Hyundai. Once when we were in his parents’ kitchen I told him I liked his smell, so he ran upstairs and doused himself with more cologne. It was way too much, a noxious fog, but we kissed passionately. I was 17.

Andrew was easy to write about; Ed was not.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I’ve been doing this thing recently where I try not to feel things too deeply. I try to keep a little distance between the thought that pains me and my thoughts about that thought, and I try to keep cool, because that always ends up being the truth anyway. I always end up thinking that things are not so bad. So I’m being less dramatic.

For the first time in a long time I feel glad to be alive. I like being outside and touching things with my hands. That sounds dirty. I’m talking about cooking, and planting, and walking the dog. Doing some stretches.

I’m up on the 29th floor and I’m sounding boring. I know that. There are men suspended outside my window, eight feet from me, scraping the grout out of the windows’ edges. Eight feet away, 29 floors up. They’re chatting and shrugging like it’s no big deal. They’re just at work.

What will happen to me? I wonder if I’ll ever write anything. I mean anything real that people read. I don’t really care, I mean I don’t feel so invested in that, but I’d like to not work in an office after all this is over.

Things could be worse. Do you know that? It’s something that we get to go home and make dinner. There is red wine, all the red wine in the world. We have conversations and friendships. It’s almost too much to handle, all the basic decency that exists.

Nada, says one of the guys outside the window. I swear it’s like they’re on a street corner, not dangling above the world.


I’ve been sitting on the 29th floor of an office building in Rosslyn, Virginia for three days, and it’s starting to make me sad. You can see the city from here, chalky grey monuments and courthouses, as well as the Virginia tree canopy. Everything is lush and verdant out there and the floors in here echo when you step on them. When I walk to the kitchen I pad softly, because I don’t like the noise. People look up with disinterest from their screens.

My mom has staples in her leg and her knee is swollen like a side of pork. Her leg looks inhuman, like dressed meat. I thought it would be worse, but last night I helped her pull on her compression socks without wincing.

I take care of her dog every day, a black puppy that wiggles and snorts and gnaws on my boots. I praise her when she poops and then I pick up the poop. I leave notes in the morning to this effect, detailing her processes. I sign them “XO.”

What should I buy for dinner? That’s what I think about. I drive my mom’s black Mercedes down the GW Parkway every morning and listen to satellite radio. The stations are called things like “Coffee House,” “Lithium” and “BPM.” This is not my life.

A teenager at Giant followed me to my car two days ago, claiming she needed to retrieve my cart when I was done loading groceries. At my open trunk she paused, shy: “Can I ask you a personal question?” She wanted to know where I’d gotten my nosed pierced. We talked for a couple minutes about options in the area and I told her to always use hollow needles for cartilage piercings, never guns, and she looked startled. I was telling her things she didn’t know. “Have a good day,” she said afterwards, pushing my cart away, and I felt happy and strange.

“Lithium” plays things like Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters. They make jokes about Unplugged.

I feel old here, oh I feel old. My nephew expounds on the dive bar he frequents and tells me to call him up if I’m bored. He’s stoned and I’m not – I don’t get stoned anymore – and I feel old. What would we talk about? He has experiences with the world that are not mine.

Tonight I might treat my mom to something special and pick up sushi for dinner. I might have a go at some yoga before I settle into my wine. I’ve got that book on Rwanda but I’m not making progress. I’m worried it will give me nightmares if I read it before bed.

Three more days and counting, hello Virginia.

Friday, February 19, 2010

After my subway commute:

Sometimes living in New York is like unwittingly signing up for a slave/master relationship with a crazy dominatrix. I expected tulips, and here I am in a ball gag.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Circling celebrities like paltry little sharks, that was the premiere. We sat in a grand theater and frantically inhaled free popcorn. Martin Scorsese spoke, he was short. I trailed Mark Ruffalo into the after party and watched his handler speak to him in soothing tones, shepherd him through cameras. I stood behind an eccentric old woman and perhaps exist in photographs, somewhere. She had red crayola lipstick and tufty grey hair. She wore a sly, pleased smile.

Coat check was downstairs and took an impossibly long time to reach. The crowd ground to a gridlock stop and we peered above heads, confused. Oh, Leo. The cameras snapped and flashed. His hair was combed back like his character in the movie, divided in straight grooves by a comb and copious hair gel. He wore a smug smile, deservedly so I suppose. People slapped his back and hollered, "Good job, buddy!" They looked depressed when he failed to respond.

We found perches and peered down. We shrugged and gobbled desserts, slurped sweet champagne.

At home I felt heavy. The heat was off in our apartment and I curled up in a ball on the bed in my fancy wool coat. The fabric was stiff around my arms. Somehow I washed my face and removed my contacts, shed my darling black dress in a heap and found a tee shirt. I was asleep mid conversation and woke up bleary, melancholy.

I went to work and came home. I watched the Olympics and heated up Chinese mustard greens.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Someone wrote a poem about me this morning.

It was a morning for music, and I was soaring in my headphones. Dionne Warwick was screaming, "Accept me for who I am; accept me for the things that I do." It was frigid and bright out. I had my headphones turned up too loud, and her high notes hurt my ears, but I wanted to feel her.

Even the subway seemed beautiful. I felt comfortable with my hand on the rail, space around me. I put my hand on my hip and relaxed like I was standing in my own kitchen. I even closed my eyes, tilted my head back and smiled as the song reached its climax.

A few feet away someone was watching me. He had on a grey driver's cap and a green scarf and had a face like a rodent. Not a disturbing face, but a shrewd strange angularity like a rat. He was watching me keenly, actually seeing me. I often zero in on strangers in the subway, examine their demeanor and clothes and craft a life around them, and it was odd to find myself the subject for once. His gaze made me uncomfortable, so I avoided his eyes.

On my way out of the doors, a woman about my age tapped me on the shoulder. At first I thought I must know her from some place, because her demeanor was friendly, familiar, but I couldn't place her.

"That guy in the green scarf was writing a poem about you," she said, "I saw him."

How strange! I asked her to elaborate. It was a description, and he was at it for a while. "The blonde girl in the black and white scarf" were the words that tipped her off. I laughed and jostled her with my elbow as though we were good friends sharing a joke. Then I thanked her and jogged up the stairs, away from her.

Through the station at Grand Central I walked with a new purpose, as if there were a current of energy flowing through me. I moved swiftly and dodged through clusters of strangers gracefully, and felt that everyone around me could feel something too. I know, of course, that that's crazy. But I felt alert and switched on in a way that I haven't for a long time.

I thought about how I woke up feeling beautiful this morning, how I looked at my reflection with something like admiration while I dressed. Was that vanity or love or something else? I can't say. I don't often see myself favorably, though, and today I did. It wasn't the stranger who started the current; I believe he noticed it because it was already thrumming; or maybe I noticed him noticing because I had my eyes open. And anyway, it was a beautiful morning. Isn't that strange?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's talk about sex is seeking bloggers to write posts about sex-related products. They're paying people to do this, which is, you know, enticing. Why not apply, I thought.

I was getting pretty excited about a conceptual piece in which I'd contrast merkins and brazilian waxes, discuss my bafflement when it comes to proper and reasonable maintenance 'down there,' but then I checked their site for inspiration. Ah. A post about a book of bourbon recipes with (wait for it) a bunch of Mad Men references! A promo post about a new sex book now available on! Well, sigh. They seem to be looking for the types of clips I used to write for Metro, and I don't really have that market-driven friendly cornball voice in me anymore. (I could, of course, if the price were right or if I needed it enough; let's not get too haughty here.) Anyway, it was clear as I was reading through their entries that I wouldn't fit, and I gave up. I reluctantly put the merkin back on the shelf.

It's a funny thing, though, writing about sex. Even loosely sex-related products. I think about it, and suddenly I'm a gawky sixteen, shifting uncomfortably in my baggy Gap jeans and sneaking sideways glances at CJ, the youth group Jordan Catalano lookalike. Suddenly I'm worrying what my mom will think.

I'm trying to imagine what I would have told Nerve readers about attraction, love, about trying to get it right. What do I know of it? I think of the fleeting moments I sometimes have, we all have, pressed on the subway next to a stranger we suddenly realize - recognize - is attractive. Glancing up and across his face, away, down, flustered. Up again, quick eye contact, and away. Up and together and away, again. Then finally away, definitively away, head lowered and shouldering out of the open doors, jogging up the exit stairs, away.

There's an inherent loneliness in attraction.

I'm sitting here thinking I had more to say, something about the way we imprint on early loves and are doomed to see their faces over and over, cast over strangers' faces and slipping away around corners, forever. Certain bodies we know without having to touch, always. But that's a mouthful, isn't it? Too much for right now.

Let's get a glass of water instead. We'll change into loose clothes, curl up with a book and take our pills. We'll remember to moisturize and floss. Soon we'll sleep, and in the morning if we're lucky, our boyfriend will make the coffee.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Industry event

Back in December I wrote a business plan, part of which entailed seeking out some mentoring opportunities in order to get a promotion. I found a program through a local trade organization, applied and was accepted, and began exchanging emails with my designated mentor. Tonight was the orientation meeting.

I had disliked my mentor from the start of our exchanges - he seemed eager to impress me with his knowledge of my firm and its leadership, dropping names and even inquiring about the reasons behind a recent layoff. My emails back to him were forced, generically enthusiastic and cordial. "That all sounds great!" I wrote. "Looking forward to meeting you! Best, Megan."

Before I left for the meeting I declared that he gave me the feeling of industrial carpet and mothballs. Something stale and undesirable. I just had that sense about him, though I knew it was an unfair and premature judgment. "He's tall, with bad breath and a close talker," I told my coworker on my way out the door. She rolled her eyes.

The meeting was being held in an unremarkable office two blocks from Penn Station. I walked in late to a group of ten or so women picking at styrofoam plates of nacho cheese Doritos. "Hello," called the host cheerfully, a round-cheeked man with fly-away hair in his 50's. I introduced myself and scanned the room, stopping at the only other man in the room, my mentor.

He was as I'd pictured him, slouching nonchalantly in an ill-fitting button down and goofy tie. He had patchy bald spots and lopsided, watery eyes. We waved hello.

The orientation presentation was boring. Our host talked about Myers-Briggs tests and the wealth of other management personality tests one could find on 'da intahnet,' walking us through a few he'd printed out for us. I began doodling leaves and mouths on my paper, thinking about sex. Then the presentation was over. People were standing up, gravitating towards their assigned mentors and proteges. Oh no. I looked up, and my mentor smiled at me. "Don't go anywhere, Megan!" he barked jovially. I pulled out a business card and began my reluctant walk around the room to the other side of the table to meet him.

He smelled like English Leather up close - a spicy, cloying old-man cologne. I worried he'd ask me about my goals and try to pump me for more information about my no-longer coworker, and he did, but mostly he talked. He told me what was hard about working in marketing, lambasting the types of pricipals (like mine, he seemed to be saying) who didn't respect or understand business development. "They fire the marketing people and then they're shocked when it takes a week to put a proposal together!" he cried. "And it looks like crap! Not like what we did!" I smiled wanly. He was off target, wrong about my experience, but he didn't absorb my corrections when I offered them.

He is, presumably, trying to help by involving himself on this committee, by agreeing to meet with me every month and talk about my career goals. The lapsed Christian in me chides myself for my bad, ungrateful attitude. But then I think, maybe he's just doing it for himself, for the sense of importance and knowledge it gives him, and isn't it possible he's misrepresenting himself, wasting my time.

Industry gatherings are dreadful, deathly things. I go because I feel it's a small insurance policy, a spotty one most likely, but some assurance that if I'm ever laid off, I'll know people who will at least look at my resume. But I can never shake the awareness of all the strange bodies folded in chairs around me, their scents and variously processed hair and sagging skin. How did I end up here, I wonder. What am I doing here? And what will I talk about with my mentor, every month, face to face across a Starbucks coffee table? How long will I have to sit through this?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I woke up absurdly early a couple nights ago – 2:45AM, right in the dead zone. Billy was sighing and flopping around like he does sometimes, shaking the bed. The minutes passed and I grew more awake.

I tried sleeping on the couch, but his breathing disturbed me. I couldn’t say why; it was irrational, but sleep felt like an impossibility as long as I was cognizant of his presence. How horrible, I thought. I remembered sleepovers when I was little, the mounting panic as my friend settled into sleep with light snores and murmurs and I just lay there, wishing them gone. I would never sleep as long as I could hear them, I thought.

I stumbled into the bedroom and crashed onto the bed face-first. “I can’t sleep,” I howled into my pillow. He blearily sat up and stumbled into the living room to take the couch. I’ve been complaining a lot about his sleep behavior lately, and he knew the drill. How mean am I, I thought. Still, I stretched diagonally across the bed and swished my legs happily across the cool sheets.

An hour later I still wasn’t asleep, and I decided to take some Xanax. I don’t like to, as a general rule, but I remembered something Billy had read about putting a tiny piece under your tongue to stop panic attacks, and at 4:30 in the morning it seemed reasonable. I fumbled my way into the bathroom with my purse, squinting in the fluorescent light. It was easy to chip a sliver off with my thumbnail, and it didn’t take long for the pill to start dissolving. It was bitter, and it took a lot of swallows to get it all down. But fine, I thought, whatever works. Soon I felt stupid. I don’t feel good, necessarily, I thought, but I feel kind of dulled, and that’s a relief.

I started thinking about James. I remembered the apartments we lived in together in DC. I thought about the year before that, sitting in the passenger seat of his car while he drove us down K Street looking for something to do. There was nothing to do down there in the corporate part of town, just Cosi and Potbelly sandwich shops and pricey Thai restaurants with white tablecloths. We put on a Sleater Kinney tape and smoked weed with the windows cracked, just cruising around with nowhere to go. But somehow it felt romantic. Eventually we sneaked into my dorm room and pulled on sweatpants, crawling into my twin sized bed together. We slept ramrod straight, two pipe cleaners comfortably laid out side by side. My roommates thought I was strange.

The year after that we moved into an apartment together in Adams Morgan. I had a boyfriend who I didn’t really like, but he had lots of friends and suddenly James and I had things to do, people to go out with. But mainly, I had James.

I will never have that again, I thought as I lay in bed. It’s true. It’s why I felt bereft after leaving him in LA last summer and coming back to Brooklyn; I’d forgotten what it felt like to be in the passenger seat with him driving.

When he comes to New York and stays with me, I don’t feel that magic. We’re just on my same old turf, amiably going through my daily routine together. Even when he lived in Brooklyn, visits to his apartment felt comfortable, normal. It wasn’t like coming home in the Dorchester House to find him fixing the gravity bong in the kitchen and playing Erykah Badu. For so long I had been locked up inside myself, but with James I felt free. How facile is that, to say it like that, but how true.

I’ve been feeling locked up inside myself again recently. There’s been a restless panic rattling around inside of me, waking me at odd hours. What’s the solution. Is this just a phase. Over and over, I spin wheels and sigh. I’d like to be able to rest. Theoretically.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


The first woman was German, with pale eyes and thin hair. She dressed neatly in v-neck sweaters. She was contained and containing.

But I didn't want to be contained. I wanted to be cracked open like an egg.