Thursday, December 31, 2020


Challenging. Unprecedented. Unpredictable. Difficult. Dismal. Brutal. Of the many adjectives I’ve seen applied to this year, probably the oddest is “odd.” I mean, 2020 wasn’t like your quirky, wayward cousin. It was a steady stripping away of lives, livelihoods, faith in democracy, and whatever fantasy of racial equality many of us white people were complacently enjoying. 

Of course it’s arbitrary to call December 31 an end to any of this, to look at it in some sort of rear view, as if we aren’t still facing all of these things. But don’t we all need a sense that some dark chapter is closing and perhaps a brighter one is ahead?

On the penultimate day of this fantastically fucked up year, Sir UncMo and I went for a walk. It was the first time in many months that we had gone anywhere together other than to pick up food or run something to my parents. We were at a park near where I grew up, a pretty one with sloping pathways, playgrounds, a little amphitheater, and a talking trash receptacle called Porky the Litter Eater that miraculously still works just like it did when I was a child.

The ground was blanketed in brown leaves that complemented the tan paint on all the park’s buildings. Nothing spectacular, but it was sunny and the air felt good. As we walked back to the parking lot, we slowed behind a couple who looked to be in their 60s. The woman was walking on a wooden beam bordering the road, holding her arms out for balance like a child. I can’t tell in retrospect whether that detail makes what happened next more surprising or less.

The man decided without a word to pull over and sit down, veering to the left. The woman, still in her own world, didn’t realize this at first. When she did, she cut across in front of us to join him. We both stopped to maintain a distance and let her pass. Since we both had to pee, I was focused on getting to the car and didn’t give her a second glance. But suddenly I heard Sir UncMo saying, “Are you OK?” He said it so mildly and carefully that I thought the woman, who was behind him and out of my line of sight, had fallen or something.

“No, I’m not,” she said. At this point she was sitting next to her husband with her chin up. I can’t remember whether she said “actually” at the end of the sentence, but if she didn’t, it was implied by her tone. “Is there a problem?” Sir UncMo asked. She held up a limp hand on an outstretched arm and shooed us away. “Just go on,” she said, dismissing him.

He turned away. “Well, you have a nice day,” he said. “I’m sure you mean that,” she snorted.

“What happened?” I asked with alarm, completely perplexed. Apparently on her trajectory in front of us, as she passed by Sir UncMo, this white woman had stopped and glared hard at him. We were wearing masks, but she wasn’t, so he was able to see her full expression. It was the same mean stare he’d gotten from our Trump-loving neighbors: the one that says, I don’t like you being here.

“Tell me that’s not racism,” he said to me in the car after explaining what happened. There was no other explanation for it. She’d looked only at the Asian man, not me. The only question was whether it was racism of the conscious, “Chinese virus” variety, or something more subtle. We may have walked too close for her liking—but she chose to focus her hostility only on him, and there were several other people within the same range of distance. This second scenario seems less likely, since she wasn't exactly being a stickler for pandemic protocols.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a chatty, friendly acquaintance with a guy who worked at the gym I went to. He was a Black man who one day told me about getting profiled in stores on a regular basis. You know, suspected shoplifter. I had the audacity to argue with him about this. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of, I don’t believe it—surely you’re imagining things. (Did this reality seem more unlikely to me because he happened to be light-skinned and the type to always button the top button of his polo shirt? Probably.) He gave up on me eventually and shook his head: “You don’t understand.”

I’m ashamed of this memory, of how incredulous I was, and have been, about what happens to people of color in this country. Even on this day in the park, some small reflex within me wanted to find a “rational” reason for this woman’s behavior. I guess that’s because when you’ve been living as a privileged white person your whole life, things more or less work the way they “rationally” should for you. Thanks to the advent of phone cameras, Trump’s encouragement, and, for me, witnessing my husband's experience, all of this society’s most irrational, cruel, and murderous tendencies are now on full display, no longer to be denied or ignored. Whatever change comes because of this will be too late for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others.

Tell me that’s not racism. This time I knew better. I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, explain it away. I wished I’d seen and understood what was happening in the moment, so that I could have stood with him.

“I have to be prepared for this,” he said, meaning that woman’s stare and future attacks of all kinds. Yes, sadly, he does. But also, we do, together. It struck me yet again how many people are fighting enemy on top of enemy for survival in this country. Sir UncMo and I joke that 2020 has been Project Stay Alive. The year left us with one more reminder, small and unsettling, of how relentlessly, unfairly hard that project is for too many people.

Friday, April 19, 2019


"Wow, look at those nails. Did you do that yourself?" the anesthesiologist asked.

He was lifting the top of my gown and plunking electrodes along the top of my chest as he talked. Yes, I said, I'd done it myself. It looked like nail art, but it was just a polish. 

The night before, I’d chosen the multichrome coating of sparkle expressly for this day, anticipating the discomfort and the waiting. Within the small universe of things I could control, applying what looked like a far-away galaxy on my fingertips was one.

But that felt like a lot to say, so instead I muttered, “There’s a lot of innovation in nail polish these days.” The anesthesiologist, though, seemed to have stopped listening for my answers and had moved on to joke with the (male) assistant about how he maybe he would do the same to his nails later. As they worked over me, enjoying their own banter, I realized I didn’t need to be part of this conversation. In 90 seconds I was going to be unconscious.

On the phone before the surgery, the nurse had made a point of saying my anesthesia would be of the "twilight" variety. As she described it, I would be unconscious but would wake up quickly afterward. Though the use of twilight didn't really make sense to me in this context, I appreciated the word. It suggested a sunset, winding down, and cheesy novels.

But when asked before the surgery which type the anesthesia would be—"twilight" or "general"—the doctor wasn't having it. 

"Well, that's semantics," he said. "If you're asleep, it's all general, right?" 

I looked at him blankly. "Any other questions?" he asked. His demeanor did not encourage further questions.

In another room, a nurse was interviewing an elderly man. "On a scale of 0 to 10, what is your pain?" 

"Three or four," he said, "But I can't walk!" As in, "Duh, I'd be having a lot more pain if I were ambulatory."

"And when you leave here, what would you like your pain level to be, on a scale of 0 to 10?"

"Zero!" he answered, quite reasonably.

"We can't do zero," she said, making me wonder what she was really asking, then. Another nurse had told me the same thing when going over the discharge instructions. "We will manage your pain as best we can," she said, "keeping in mind that we can't necessarily get it to zero."

These conversations were not the first time the problem of semantics had appeared over the past several weeks, when words seemed like critically important yet wholly inadequate tools for describing whatever was happening to me. The medical oncologist I saw, for example, had stopped herself from uttering the C-word when describing my condition. My surgeon, on the other hand, was unequivocal. “This is cancer,” she said.

Ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, apparently, occupies the same place of semantic limbo as twilight anesthesia and pain scales. Mine was extremely low grade and going nowhere, I was assured. To some, this means it qualifies as something else. But to others—well, semantics. That C in DCIS is there for a reason.

Many doctors agree that DCIS is, in and of itself, not life-threatening, but they do not seem to agree on what can or should be done to ensure it stays that way. "DCIS is probably overtreated," my oncologist said. That's because if it comes back, half the time it will be invasive. Who's up for a game of boobie roulette? 

In my case, the DCIS was not palpable and nearly invisible. If the radiologist hadn't spotted some tiny but suspicious calcifications on my annual mammogram, I wouldn't have known it was there. 

That, combined with the lack of consensus on whether DCIS even rates as cancer, made the whole experience feel disconcertingly interpretive. I had a range of options, from preventive mastectomy to minor surgery with or without radiation and/or Tamoxifen, with no "right" answer. 

How aggressive I wanted to be in treating this essentially came down to how unlucky I was feeling. 

I was handed multiple comparative probability charts, with caveats—there is no handy scale that includes every single factor that will influence whether not you get cancer. The highest number I saw was an 18 percent chance of DCIS recurrence within 10 years—that's with no mastectomy, no radiation therapy, no Tamoxifen. 

Some people might be OK with 18 percent. Others find even 10 percent intolerable, my doctor told me. They want zero.

But there is no zero guarantee for recurrence, any more than for pain. Even a mastectomy carries with it a 5 percent chance that some cell in there will, once again, go rogue. For me, even though the genetics testing came back clear, my mom's breast cancer, along with other factors, put me in a "high risk" category.

The day after my second surgery, which was done to "clear the margins" after the first round revealed DCIS, I was lying comfortably on the couch reading Anne Boyer's harrowing account in The New Yorker of what it is like to really have breast cancer. My pathology on the second round had come back clear. For the umpteenth time I became aware of how the odds had worked out in my favor. This should make me relieved and happy—and intellectually, it does. 

But emotionally, I've been feeling mainly grief, numbness and confusion after weeks of tests and scans and needles and surgeries. It is as if I've watched myself narrowly avoid a very bad accident. It feels like there should be explanations—reasons that can help me face a non-zero future, matrices to explain why so many others fall on the wrong side of the odds, semantics to smooth it all out—but there aren't. 

Of course there aren't. Such a preposterous notion would occur only to someone gifted years of luck and health. We're talking about a life with only one surgery before I was in my 40s, and it was a tonsillectomy for which I was perfectly prepared by a pop-up book called Going to the Hospital, by Bettina Clark. 

In some ways, for better or worse, this interlude feels similarly preparatory. I couldn't see or feel the DCIS, but could only imagine it. I imagined it as a seed that lived in the twilight. The seed, I am inexpressibly grateful to say, is no longer malevolent. Now that I am awake, maybe it can grow into something else.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


She had sat there, she said, and thought about her own lifelong habit of explaining herself, and she thought about this power of silence, which put people out of one another's reach....Yet if people were silent about the things that happened to them, was something not being betrayed, even if only the version of themselves that had experienced them? —Rachel Cusk, Outline

More and more I wondered what the point was of constantly chronicling my own experience. How could I possibly say anything original, or worth reading? And why was I even trying to, when so many talented writers could do it so much better than I, and meanwhile, people were paying me to write other, far more practical things?

After awhile, even writing in my own "journal," which had transitioned from paper books to a Word document, because typing was so much faster than writing and I was always rushing somehow to "catch up" the story as if a coherent narrative needed to be maintained, began to seem pointless. Well, pointless and painful. Why dwell on emotions I didn't like to have, or worse yet, chronicle a stretch that felt bland and unremarkable? Why did I need to make some sense of order of my experience? Wasn't that just a way of avoiding the experience itself?

I silenced myself. If I thought of it, the blame would go to my freelance work, which felt unrelenting, or my fatigue, which also felt unrelenting, or just life, with someone or something else's needs constantly on the verge of neglect. Too much going on. Plus, you know, Trump.

But really there was still plenty of time to write for myself. I just declined to take it and instead looked at my phone a lot. Most days, I didn't miss the writing or even recognize that, yes, I was betraying myself. Not because everyone should do this, but because in the moments when I am restored to myself, I do this.

I composed a long farewell post here, saying that I was going to keep this blog up as a sort of archive, but that I would not be writing here anymore, and how I appreciated anyone who had ever visited this blog. 

I still appreciate anyone who has ever visited this blog. And I guess I still feel that there is some value, if only for myself, in framing my experience on a page. Why does it have to be public, though, when half the time I feel embarrassed to think anyone would actually "discover" what I had written and, god forbid, actually read it? Why, in other words, does there have to be a reader?

Sir Uncmo asked me this once. Why did I want to put personal stuff out there for people to read? He wasn't being accusatory, just curious. I couldn't come up with an answer that made sense, and still can't. 

I guess when you've spent a lot of your life feeling locked in, apart somehow from other people, there is a thrill in thinking that you might show something of yourself that you could never adequately speak, and have someone—even a stranger—nod in recognition. It's like assembling the various parts inside yourself into a different body, one that is tied to you but exists separately, and which goes out like a satellite to find other sympathetic beings, even if in the end it's just a different version of yourself a few years down the road.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Like and Subscribe.

There's a subscription box for everything: makeup, snacks, meats. Maybe one day there will be a subscription box for what’s left of the world. You'll receive last of the sea ice, the coral, the fresh water, the endangered species, and put it in your biosphere on Mars storage locker or wherever. An eesthetic commodity just like anything else.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Sometimes getting older feels like a complimentary crash course in things you never wanted to understand. What it’s like to become seemingly blurrier to other people as a woman. How it feels to have losses accumulate at a higher and higher rate, like contractions before a birth. How you were wrong all of the times you clucked over other people’s misfortunes while vaguely assuming no such thing would ever happen to you—after all, you’re different. Special. Until you’re not.

Slowly at first, and then with alarming speed, you acquire the same wrinkles, the same sags, the same blue veins as every other old person you have looked at without focusing in enough to recognize your own reflection. You inherit some of the same sad stories, too. You let go of trivial worries, because now there are heavier ones to carry. Loves you once thought were fortresses turn out to be not so impenetrable. All of the mental safeguards that you constructed, all of the little protections for yourself that you carefully laid in over time, like tissue paper in a box, fail to prevent things from shattering. Again.

To top it all off, this is the best-case scenario.

Then again, you find yourself just slightly less prone to repeating old mistakes. That's one blessing. In spite of your best efforts, you have indeed learned a few things—some of those crash courses proved useful. Even if other people don't notice you so much, you're better at noticing yourself (though it's easier after you put your glasses on). You realize what's broken can come to seem beautiful. And when you look back, you see that every time you thought you might be done in, it was just another contraction. This time, when you get the wake-up call, you actually wake up. You understand that you’re not finished. Not quite yet.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Waking Up.

I am not here to add words or feelings about the election of our nation's first orange president. Several other people have expressed all of the words and all of the feelings much more eloquently than I ever could.

I am here to talk about snoring. On Wednesday morning the house was empty but for me and a very persistent, shuffling bass note note rising and falling in the hallway. After picking up my phone to check results, and then putting down the phone to let reality sink in, I just stared at the wall and felt surprisingly comforted by that sound.

GeorginaThe canine doing the snoring, a rescue we are fostering and who herself has caused a whole separate tide of words and feelings on my part, is obviously unconcerned about recent events. She is safe, after too long not being safe. She harbors no feelings for orange people or elections or the climate or the future. Her chief outrages involve the groomer and being denied the couch. It's pretty simple.

You probably have a sound like that in your life. Maybe it's your kid playing, or laughing at something silly. Maybe it's your life boss saying that one phrase, for the millionth time, to the kid or canine, where they use that special voice they use only with that special being—the way they say good morning, or well done, or you're loved. Maybe it's a clock you treasure because it ticked for someone who lived long before you in another place, and now it ticks for you. Maybe it's the trees rustling off their last leaves and your feet shuffling them along, just like last year and the year before that.

When you dial into that sound, whatever it is, understand that it means you have created a place here, and you have life around you that is more important than any four-year turn of events. You have people and creatures who need you, causes you can support, and kindnesses you can supply. We could all stand to listen better. More. Now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I love this thought, speaking as the child author of an unpublished how-to series on spying.

I think innocence is something that adults project upon children that's not really there. Children--in f you think back really what it was like to be a child and what it was like to know other children--children lie all the time. They have to lie. It's the only way they can do what they want to. They have no financial control. They have no control whatsoever. In order to go where they want to, do what they want to--`Oh, I'm just running down to Joshua's house.' Children do it all the time. And I think when adults become parents that a veil of forgetfulness sort of drips gently over them and I think they just forget how much children depend on lying and secrecy. Children love secret club houses. They love secrecy even when there's no need for secrecy.
-- Donna Tartt

Music: "Feeling Nostalgic" (Less Than Zero score by Thomas Newman)

Friday, July 01, 2016

Independence Day.

The passage below, scrabbled on the back of a flyer, was recently culled from my extensive archive. I decided to share it here because to me it's an embarrassingly perfect expression of pure self-pity, especially the kind you feel when you're a single twentysomething in New York in the 1990s.

I can remember whom this is about, but the details, as well as the feelings, are like one of those faded ad murals on the side of brick buildings, chipped away and barely legible. Like... I guess I cared about this at one point?

Still haven't totally conquered the self-pity reflex, and still don't have a good vantage point for the fireworks, but it's nice to come across stuff like this and recognize freedom from the b.s. of the past.


It's Independence Day, and appropriately, I have been ditched by friends, who migrated to Long Island, which in an odd reversal becomes the inside for a day while Manhattan is the outside. Realized that my window faces West instead of East, where the fireworks are, and without any rooftop access I'm able to discern, stayed inside alone and watched the reflection of the fireworks in the skyscrapers, listening and wishing the sound was a thunderstorm instead.

I don't feel independent at all. I feel shackled to this notion I had six weeks ago, when we were walking near his apartment one night and, inexplicably, fireworks began going off, so we watched from the corner. I looked forward to watching the "real" show later that summer with him and his friends, having someone to kiss, not having to wonder whether I'd be sitting alone in my apartment, thinking of him watching the same stupid show while kissing someone else.

Generally I don't really care much for the Fourth, anyway.

Music: "Game for Fools"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


The beginning of this year was a doozy, wasn't it? My posts to this blog seemed like they were going to take flight as if it were the mid-2000s again, as if blogging were still a thing. Then the funding for my job went into slow-motion implosion and, well, priorities shifted.

But it's not just that. This blog sometimes feels like that friend you haven't written to in awhile. You really want to be in touch. You're thinking about that person and wishing you could just sit down and talk, like you used to in the old days. But now so much shit has happened, and there's that one email from a month ago that you never even answered—you're such a dick—and the task of capturing everything you've been feeling and wanting to say is hopelessly gargantuan at this point, and you think...

I have to, have to finally write [him/her/that post] this week.

And that never happens, because you waded out a little too far, and now the waves keep crashing, one after another, a new one towering ahead just as you've managed to catch your breath from the last one.

So you pick the easy things. You fall in love with a hibiscus plant at the Home Depot (not Home Depot, THE Home Depot), a store you used to vaguely recognize as the place your dad likes before it became a prime destination for you. You decide you must adopt the lonely hibiscus displayed way in the back because it looks like a full-on sunset in five petals, and even though you don't live in the tropics, what's so bad about pretending to for a summer and then bringing the thing inside for the winter? You just need the huge ceramic pot and the fertilizer and the specially draining soil...

When everything was still frosted over, you said goodbye to your office and set about building your own business as an army of daffodils marched into the garden, early this year because they were fooled into it by humans, and they reminded you that soon the days wouldn't be so dark. 

You'd always wanted to do your own thing, but you'd been afraid to. Plus, you never had an impetus, until life gave you an impetus, along with a new gig that let you set some of your own terms.

You retrieve some items from your collection to play on the turntable that Sir UM got for the house. The records you have are deep. Like almost comically deep, as things stood on April 2. Bootlegs and side projects, collectibles.

Then, exactly two months ago today, the strangest thing happened.

Even though I've emailed myself some Feelings and tried to draft posts, I still don't have the words to address it, and lord knows no one needs me to, given just how much has been said about it.

So, outside of work, it's picking the low-hanging fruit. It's gazing excessively at plants and nail polishes. Finishing out the school year doing lunch-hour reading with a fifth-grader friend. Making dinners and sometimes desserts for me and Sir UM, who is currently doing his own incredibly hard thing.

We look at rescue dogs online, mentally adopting them, getting ready to maybe one day do it for real. We go to Philadelphia so I can watch my college singing group's amazing spring show and visit with old friends.

But see, all of this is taking place within a new framework, a freelance one where every hour has to be accounted for. In the new world, there's no "slow day." No paid hours chatting by the coffee maker or mooning over terrible world events (so many terrible events), no bank credit while you run to the doctor, or go on vacation.

There's just billable, or not billable. For example:

- The daytime hours doing assigned writing in my sunroom with good coffee, yay
- The weeknight hours spent interviewing a coal expert in Australia or a conservationist in Indonesia, alright
- The time I spend researching and reporting on topics largely of my own choosing, thank you            

Not Billable
- The daytime trip downtown to meet a friend for coffee, heygoodtoseeyou
- The hours spent looking at Prince-related stories, stopitnowstopit
- Yard breaks, justgoingoutsideforasecond

No complaints. I like working on assignment. I like making the deadlines, helping people out. And it's probably a good thing that I now have to think about my time in a much more granular, purpose-driven way. Sometimes, yes, I miss paid vacation days. but wouldn't trade it for anything. The upshot is, every hour is billable to something. Your livelihood. Your loved ones. Your sanity. Your soul. Remember that's always true, whether you're freelance or not: Every hour is billable.

Music: "Same Ol' Mistakes"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stop Telling Women to Smile.

On the way back to the office from an outing today, I spent a good few minutes thinking about being told to smile by strangers on the street. I'd just passed a potential "smile" zone that proved to be quiet, but it made me think how amazing it is that women who go around minding their own business all day long still have to deal with so much unsolicited running commentary.

"Smile for me!"
"Smile, it's not so bad."
"Aw, it's not that bad is it?"

This kind of b.s. used to happen to me so regularly in New York that I thought it must be a side-effect of my condition, RBF. Now that I am old, I get it far less often, but it still happens from time to time. What's even more amazing is how this never really registered to me as harassment, or at least not in any real way, because it wasn't hissing or sex-faces, which would happen too.

Then I heard an interview with the founder of this awesome street-art movement, Stop Telling Women to Smile, and realized it wasn't my RBF, and it wasn't just New York and D.C., and furthermore, it really wasn't my motherfucking problem if some random-ass dude feels entitled to tell me what expression to put on my face.

I thought about how unfortunate it was that the younger me always felt obligated to smile in response, to be "polite" somehow. That maybe I should indeed try to go around looking more cheerful. Not anymore, I thought to myself. How ridiculous. Shaking my head.

I swear what I am about to relate is true. Not 10 minutes after this particular train of thought, I get back to the office, walk through the lobby, and get into the elevator. It's me, a younger dude, and an older dude with a mustache that I've seen around the building before.

Younger dude gets off the elevator and then it's me and the older dude for two more floors. It's quiet and I can tell he's just itching to say something.

Can you guess, reader, what he said?

Oh yes. "Smile," I hear from my periphery. "It's not so bad." A laugh.

But of course, I'm not on the street. I'm in an elevator, next to a fellow employee I might see again. So what did I do? I smiled. It was a sour, weary smile, to be sure, but not the stone-cold shutdown I'd been mentally practicing just a few minutes ago.

Sigh. Maybe next time.